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Author Topic: Encouraging Player Involvement Outside ‘Their Turn’  (Read 2237 times)
JB
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Posts: 29


« on: April 18, 2010, 10:25:41 AM »

Some comments from the ‘Making the Transition from Mission Based Play” thread:

Eero:
Quote
To be more useful, I think that the party and mission are a big obstacle to dramatic play, just like you said. As a practical point one of the first things to do here is to get rid of the party - once you don't have a party you'll find that even if you still have missions, they tend to be rather more cross-purposes with each other, and therefore not real missions. So get rid of the party and assume that all characters have independent concerns and their own scenes, that'll get you 70% there.

Of course the big issue with not having a party is that players will have to sit around watching as others play. This is the big methodological shift in play, not because the GM has to do something difficult, but because it requires the players to adjust their attitudes to play. All players will have to learn how to be audience to each other and how to appreciate the scenes of play in which their own characters are not present. It also means that the entire group will have to learn to be economic about time - you can't forget yourself and waste an hour going through a dialogue with the shopkeeper when you have scene allotments to consider and other players sitting on their thumbs.

Frank T:
Quote
I once read an article by Wolfgang Kramer, renowned German board game designer, in which he explains how players must not wait too long for their turn, but an important factor of how long you can let them wait is whether they have a chance to participate while it’s not their turn.

... you should encourage players to engage in scenes where their characters are not present. This may be limited to listening and commenting here and there, but you could also (for instance) hand an NPC to one of the other players. Some games also explicitly use mechanics that let other players participate, the simplest being “Bennies” of some sort that you may spend on rolls other than your own, and/or may award to other players (popular example: “Fan Mail” in Primetime Adventure).

All this seems perfectly sensible and correct to me.  (I hadn’t picked up on that function of fanmail in PTA, but now that it’s been pointed out, it’s obvious and tightly integrated into the in-game economic cycle.)  So do people have ideas and/or examples of how to facilitate this kind of ‘player involvement when it’s not their turn’ in a game that doesn’t have a mechanism for it in the RAW?
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legion329
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2010, 08:00:48 PM »

I took a page from Nobilis and started letting players not directly active in a given scene play NPCs. Similarly, in Ars Magica they have the henchmen system (I can't recall it's exact name) where one player gets to be the Wizard and take the focus of a session, and others play the supporting cast. I import this into my 4th Edition D&D game all the time -- sometimes going so far as to let players control the members of the opposition.

At one point a player thought it would be fun to be captured by the enemy and encourage a search and rescue mission by the rest of the PCs. I let him control and act for the main antagonist -- an elder White Dragon. This could have gone HORRIBLY wrong, but my group was pretty comfortable with each other and everyone had an excellent time (and the completely improv'd death monologue delivered by the PC for the dying dragon was amazingly touching/funny/moving/etc).

When I was trying to figure out how to run Dogs in the Vineyard for eight people, I considered splitting the group into two and letting the inactive players roll and act for NPCs. I'm not quite sure how that would have worked, and as long as we're on the topic I'd love to hear feedback from others on that matter.
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Adam Dray
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« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2010, 08:41:58 AM »

My feeling is that play that does not involve all players at once should be engaging to everyone at the table. If it isn't, why not? Why is a person sitting at the table and not engaged with someone's story? If it isn't interesting to the "audience," then it probably should be left out of the game, or it should be made more interesting. One way to do this is to have it impact other characters. Another way to do this is to make sure all players care about what happens to all characters.
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Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2010, 09:19:16 AM »

You don't have to have rules for player involvement - most games that expect players to stay involved don't. I'd say that the typical way of doing this sort of thing is to have a slightly smaller group of players than is traditional (4-5 players instead of 5-6, say) and having the players be more aesthetically involved with each other's characters than is traditional. Also, the stories of characters are assumed to cross often, which makes every scene passingly relevant for a player. Thus: less players equals less downtime, more involvement equals more interest in what happens to other characters, more crossing equals more relevance even for scenes you are not in as context and backstory for your own character's scenes.

All of the above is not enough to make a group that is practiced in ignoring play not involving their character into one that is "on" all the time; many traditional gaming methods I've seen encourage being uncaring of anything your character is not involved with by having the down-times be very long and by having "good roleplaying" mean not reacting to OOC knowledge in any was as a person. In that sort of environment it's actually a virtue if you can compartmentalize and read comic books or whatever without getting bored while others play their own scenes. Game systems are involved in this as well - one typical feature of a traditional game is that player characters are not actually inherently interesting; the character sheets are full of means and devoid of goals, which means that the other players don't even generally know why your character is interesting. If anybody knows, it's you, but because nothing is written down or spoken aloud, the other players have difficult appreciating the greatness that is your character.

When it comes to introducing appropriate audience roles to players, I've found that explicit game mechanics are merely mediocre; they are not sufficient alone, although I have found that they are mildly helpful. The much more crucial thing is the attitude the GM brings to the game; I've found that by being an unrestrained audience member myself I also encourage the other players to keep attention, enjoy events that happen in other people's scenes and foremost, have opinions on what happens in the game. I suggest things to the players that their characters should do, I laught at excellent stuff when they make it up, and I approve of similar audience participation from everybody else. (I should note that this will make me annoying to anybody trying to play a different type of game when I'm in the room - I'll be throwing stupid commentary on the game all the time just out of habit, because that's what I do when I'm actually playing.)

Mechanics-wise, I'd say that games that work best for audience roles are the ones that make people be explicit about what is awesome in their characters. Primetime Adventures is good in that everybody sees you create your character and pick his Issue; everybody will also be able to reflect on the Issue against whatever scenes your character has. Thus they have the context for appreciating the creative work you do in your scenes. Games that do not make this sort of thing explicit are not as interesting for audience.

I should note here that I pretty intentionally and explicitly made the PTA fan mail thing a mechanical center-piece for Zombie Cinema because I wanted to take the single mechanic that most exemplifies the proper relationship audience players have to the game: the audience players are always in position to judge the events of the story, and it's their sympathies that influence the direction more than anything else.
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adam m
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« Reply #4 on: April 19, 2010, 12:18:12 PM »

I recently finished running an Unknown Armies campaign for six players. The PCs were all very much interested in their own goals, which intersected somewhat, but there was almost constant party-splitting. In one early session, two PCs were interviewing a junkie, and the other four were elsewhere. The players whose characters weren't present, after a minute or two, began their own in-character scene, off to the side. I normally would have tried to curtail that response, but, for whatever reason, I went with it, and focused on the two PCs and their interview.

And everything went fine. The two players were happy with their scene, and the other four were happy with theirs. The interviewers informed the other four about the events, later, in character, and there was none of the continuity damage I feared would take place from having some players not pay attention to what I was saying at the time.

This sort of thing happened a couple more times throughout the campaign, with little deleterious effect. All this is just to say that, perhaps, if circumstances align, it's acceptable or even beneficial to have offscreen PCs do their own thing without GM supervision.
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Jeff Russell
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« Reply #5 on: April 19, 2010, 01:18:58 PM »

Strangely enough, this is one of the few benefits I've noticed about a play-by-post game I'm engaged in over in-person play. Since the rate of play is somewhat slow (waiting on private messages, scheduling chats, et cetera), the players are hungry for game content and read other players' posts with interests. Our game is just starting to have connections between a few characters, but it's mostly an ensemble cast, but I can tell you almost as much about the other characters and what's been happening to them as mine, which is much different from similar 'separate storyline' games I've played in person which were more in the vein that Eero pointed out (your character's not around? Go play 'Captain America and the Avengers', we'll let you know when you're up).

Jeff Russell
Blessings of the Dice Gods - My little blog about games and game design
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Jeff Russell
Blessings of the Dice Gods - My Game Design Blog and home to my first game, The Book of Threes
JB
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Posts: 29


« Reply #6 on: April 20, 2010, 01:41:32 PM »

Good stuff all around. Thanks people.  A couple things I want to follow up on further, then.

If it isn't interesting to the "audience," then ... it should be made more interesting. One way to do this is to have it impact other characters. Another way to do this is to make sure all players care about what happens to all characters.

YES!  Care to elaborate further on specific techniques for either of these strategies?

All of the above is not enough to make a group that is practiced in ignoring play not involving their character into one that is "on" all the time; many traditional gaming methods I've seen encourage being uncaring of anything your character is not involved with by having the down-times be very long and by having "good roleplaying" mean not reacting to OOC knowledge in any was as a person. In that sort of environment it's actually a virtue if you can compartmentalize and read comic books or whatever without getting bored while others play their own scenes.

Yeah, as I said elsewhere, we’re having to unlearn some things in order to get what we want from the game.  To refer back to the ‘mission games’ and give a concrete example, we recently missed the opportunity to play out a player initiated scenario, partly because the GM wasn’t quick enough on picking up the idea and running with it, but also because a couple of the players focused more on the product of ‘achieving the objective’ than on the process, which meant it was basically accomplished via NPCs acting ‘off camera’.  It was perfectly plausible in terms of the ‘fiction’, but probably not as much fun as it could have been had we played it out, which was equally plausible.

Trying to stay closer to topic, I see the ‘compartmentalizing’ behavior you describe; the player may actually be perfectly happy doing this while their character isn’t involved in whatever’s happening.  Regardless of how the player feels about doing this, I’m inclined to look for ways to discourage it, as I think it’s detrimental to the kind of play we’re aiming for.

Game systems are involved in this as well - one typical feature of a traditional game is that player characters are not actually inherently interesting; the character sheets are full of means and devoid of goals, which means that the other players don't even generally know why your character is interesting. If anybody knows, it's you, but because nothing is written down or spoken aloud, the other players have difficult appreciating the greatness that is your character.

Absolutely.  Add to that a stigma attached to telling others about your ‘awesome character’.  And things that are ‘written down’ but never shared with the group as a whole.  This is what I was talking about when I referred to ‘Getting stuff off the character sheet and into play’ - it doesn’t have to be mechanically represented stuff, or found on the character sheet per se.  I know other players have just as much interesting stuff going on with their characters as I do with mine, but no idea what it is and no good way to share this stuff with one another.

This also may explain what Jeff’s talking about in regards to PbP games.  Every PbP game I’ve seen, at least, has players publicly posting stuff like character stats, descriptions, backgrounds and so on where everyone can look at it.  While this practice isn’t unknown in tabletop RPGs, I wouldn’t call it standard or common.

Finally, I want to be careful using the term ‘audience role’, as I draw a fairly hard distinction between ‘watching the game’ and ‘playing the game’, regardless of whether you’re ‘on the team’ and watching from the bench or a fan sitting in the bleachers.  Watching something awesome play out can be fun, but for me, that very act of simultaneously being author and audience is a big part of what distinguishes RPGs from other fictional entertainments with authors and audiences.

Whether it’s achieved mechanically or not, what I’m looking for are ways for the players to directly participate in the game at times when they would traditionally be regulated to observing, not ways to train players to agreeably accept time spent as a spectator.   I don’t think this is actually what Eero means by ‘audience role’, but I want to avoid confusion here.

JB
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Judd
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« Reply #7 on: April 20, 2010, 02:46:08 PM »

Okay, two thoughts on pro-active players:

1) The campaign is about something they give a shit about.

Getting that player buy-in from the first moment is important.  Not having the game be about Waterdeep but about gang warfare in Waterdeep, or the guards who look after the masked councilors, something with situation to it, something with bite and danger.

2) They have a mechanic reference or push.

When a player becomes stalled, they can:

In Burning Wheel, they can look at their Beliefs and pick something they care about and go for it

In Sorcerer they can look at their demon's need and decide how they want to handle it or look over the back of their sheet and decide on someone to seek out and interact with.

They have something to reference, something tangible that can inspire them towards motion.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: April 20, 2010, 05:14:28 PM »

Hey,

Great thread topics - but JB, please provide a brief account of play so we can really see exactly what you mean. Phrases like "player involvement" lend themselves to a lot of interpretation by the reader, so we need to know what it - or its notable lack - looks like to you during play.

Best, Ron
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JB
Member

Posts: 29


« Reply #9 on: April 21, 2010, 03:24:02 PM »

Fair enough.

As usual, writing the AP brought some things into focus for me.  You're right, 'player involvement' is a vague and not very useful term.  When I started this thread, I was mostly just looking for ways to keep people from getting bored 'watching other people play'.  (RPGs are a lame spectator sport - how many people do you know who regularly watch a game they're not playing in just for fun?)  But now I'm trying to get at ways to give Players ways to exert some influence in scenes their Character isn't present for. 

But you asked for some AP, so…

I ran a one-off game a few months ago.  Between the scenario and my GMing style, that game contained a lot of 'individual action', with the various characters off on their own pursuing their own agendas as their players saw fit.  When I called for feedback about what worked and what didn't after the game, it was mostly positive, but one comment came up about, "getting stuck playing the peanut gallery while other people were doing their thing," and a lot of the players shared this sentiment.  Now I'd been cycling thru the players, taking declarations of action and resolving same, and I'd been very conscious about keeping the turns pretty short, crosscutting as needed, so no one was waiting all that long for their turn to come up again.  My impression at the time was that it wasn't much different from the way combat encounters are usually played out, and I didn't really understand what the problem was. 

Next example:  A game I played in over the weekend featured a number of scenes instigated by players (something we're trying to do more often), involving just one or two PCs at a time.  Taken by themselves, the scenes had their share of interesting moments and all had at least the potential for things that happened in those scenes to have an impact on the group as a whole.   Again, the time spent on any one scene wasn't terribly long.  However, the players who weren't directly involved in a given scene displayed varying levels of engagement in what was being played out.  One player in particular spent most of the evening reading the rulebook, in contrast with his usual demeanor at the table.  (There are a whole lot of reasons the player may have had for withdrawing this way, but whatever it was, he wasn't very involved during the session.)  During one scene I found myself having a hard time being an 'appreciative audience' as well, and upon reflection, what was bugging me wasn't that the scene was boring, it was that the consequences of this one player's actions were steering the whole game in a direction I personally had no interest in exploring at the time and I felt like I didn't have any way to influence things in a different direction.

Now, players 'get the ball' and take the game in all kinds of unexpected directions all the time, and I'm a big boy who's willing to share my toys, so why did this bug me?  One of the things I've come up with is that it has to do with how much influence someone's able to exert in a given instance, before someone else gets a chance to influence things.

Basically, although it was an exchange between the player and the GM, it didn't feel that much different from those times when a GM delivers a big 'cut scene' monologue, the kind where you just want it to end with so you can take some kind of action?  ("So the dragon and the elf are quarreling over the medallion…" "I shoot the elf!" "No, let me finish.  Anyway, the elf grabs the medallion and…")  Or to draw an analogy to a whole noter game, it's like having your opponent run the table from the break in a game of pool. 

I think the group scene or group combat works pretty well to regulate this, first because it generally distributes influence in fairly small portions by limiting what you can do in a turn and also limiting how many turns you get before someone else gets one, and secondly because it gives the players the opportunity to 'interrupt' actions they find objectionable, either using their 'game piece' to do so (Player One: "My guy shoots the elf!" Player Two: "My guy will stop him from doing that." GM: "Roll initiative.") or more literally and directly (Player One: "My guy shoots the elf!" Player Two: "NO! Don't!").   I realize there's not really anything stopping someone from using the latter approach whether their character is present or not, but I have played in games where doing so is considered a breach of etiquette.  Just the fact that 'your piece isn't on the board' may act as a subtle discouragement to do so as well.

So our moving away from just playing scenes as a group towards more individual ones has me thinking about player authority and how that's different from character authority.

JB
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Anthony Sheets
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« Reply #10 on: May 04, 2010, 02:42:45 PM »

A group I've played D&D on and off with for years started running into this issue. As the game became more focused on character goals there were times when players would be entirely uninvolved in the current scene.  We ended up borrowing an idea from Paranoia of all games.  We assigned a certain number of points (akin to perversity points) at the start of each game session that could be spent to increase or decrease the difficulty of checks or any roll.  The amount of points used was public (We used poker chips) but the intent behind the points was written privately for the DM.  This worked well with our group, though we did have quite a bit of characters whose motivations were at odds with each other.  It kept interest in the scene even when the player wasn't involved as they waited for the best time to push things in the direction they wanted the scene to go. 
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Falc
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« Reply #11 on: May 04, 2010, 04:41:36 PM »

How about going all the way and allowing the spectators to set all difficulties? I mean, in quite a few games/systems that's a judgment call on the GM's behalf anyway, so why not just replace that with a consensus from all players present, current protagonist excluded?
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #12 on: May 05, 2010, 05:18:41 AM »

That's largely how Matrix games and Zombie Cinema work, incidentally. Works just fine.
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Brimshack
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« Reply #13 on: May 23, 2010, 06:56:06 PM »

I don't have anything to say for cases where the other PCs aren't around, but I have thought a lot about how to keep everyone focused during other people's turns while all the characters are in play. My ideas on this are actually included in my own game, so I'm going to shamelessly describe the relevant rules in WOH, then make suggestions for possible adaptation.

Players in my own game (Worlds of Hurt) stay focused on the other players' actions throughout the game session, much more so than either the 1st or 3.5 edition D&D games I used to run. I put the difference down to 2 things:

1) Specific tactics figure more highly in WOH  than character skills and the most effective skills are tied to specific tactics. So, there are fewer cases where a player might say; "Oh look 6 Ogres. I can kill 1 and a half of them a round, they will average 20% of my HP in the first round, with proportionate decreases in the following rounds etc. So, It will take me 4 rounds to kill them, and I will need a heal sometime in round 3, just to be safe, round 4 if the rolls work." No, even a bad-ass will be overwhelmed if she fights alone. So, the actions of the other characters matter, a LOT. Since what you do will change depending on what the other characters do, players are more likely to keep focused on the flow of battle, hoping for optimum conditions and monitoring things that will change their actions.

Generalizable Lesson? Enhance situational benefits (at least in combat games) so players will rely less on inherent ability and more on good tactics. When players realize their actions will depend on those of the other players they will be less inclined to doze off while waiting for their own turn.

2) I have very specific mechanisms for aiding other characters, and they specifically allow for helping on another player's turn. Any character standing within 1" of another character may aid her. This means spending a limited resource (1 point off an allotment of "persuasion effects" and going on hold (thus activating later on their next turn and losing 1 when doing so). The Aiding character then adds half her own bonus (rounded high) on the relevant roll to the player making that roll. This basic approach is enhanced in several ways.

A) A character may add affinity bonuses whenever she shares a trait with the character she is helping. (Elves, for example, possess the traits; "Enigmatic, Fair, and Wise." If a beautiful human is helping an elf, she may declare an affinity bonus based on "Fair." She thus spends another allotment for the Affinity and raises the bonus she provides by 3. (So, it pays for players to get to know each other's characters, because they want to know who they can help and who can help them. Learning about each other thus becomes part of the role-play challenge with a pay-off in combat.

B) Greater Magic (this resurrection as opposed to healing) always requires an assistant and the assistant must always certain qualifications, so spell casting characters must often recruit other characters to make their big spells work. There are other things that make greater magic a cooperative enterprise. Often every player is involved in the planning of a major spell, and often they all contribute in one form or another.

C) Some special abilities, careers, etc. enhance the helping system and some provide parallel means of helping each other. At least thee of the most popular character builds are essentially helping builds.

i) The Shieldman (really, this is how you keep your spell-casters alive; they use his defence bonus when rolling against melee or missile attacks).

ii) The Flanking Specialist with Generous Flanker. He gets extra bonuses for teaming up on an enemy and he gives really good bonuses to his ally when doing the same.

iii) The Inuli: This is a PC Kindred that specializes in helping in any manner possible. She gets extra bonuses for spreading the love around.

Generalizable Lesson? Incorporate a generous helping mechanism with a meaningful cost. For D&D for example, perhaps you go with a similar helping rule, but you decide how much of a bonus it generates. What's the penalty, perhaps a move action on the next turn, or maybe just a -4 on all die rolls until the end of their next turn (because now they have to rush a bit). Affinity rules could be established for alignment and/or creature types, maybe even base classes, common feats, etc.
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