Avoiding the mechanics or damocles sword/finger on the button play?

Started by Callan S., October 25, 2010, 02:26:13 AM

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Callan S.

I was thinking about the Avoiding the Mechanics for Functional Play thread. In terms of taking the idea as a damocles sword sort of play, as one way of playing that seems fairly functional. I don't agree at all it's "refereeing>mechanics", as it operates under one pivotal rule that the GM can cut the thread and drop one of many swords at his disposal at any time. It depends though, I guess, whether you see yourself as all working under one rule, or your working under one alpha male or suchlike.

In my early play two guys there would often GM. They'd do stuff like drop a preditor (yes, from the movie, adapted to the RPG in question) in every so often. Sometimes the players even survived! Or they'd have a giant robot and once you beat that, a borg, who was piloting it, would jump out and you'd fight the borg.

I suppose I looked for the way this could be a game, as from my very first session I could see people/the GM was just making up the bulk of what he was doing and calling it official. And sometimes it sucked. And so when I ran things, I didn't want to run something that sucked.

So obviously I was very set in a direction that took me away from any notion of basically, how I would describe it, being maliciously ready to cut the strings/drop a sword at any point. Which, with a traditional design, seems the only real way to play with a bunch of non connected rules that have all been shoved into one book. Simply treat them all as swords, or hell, make up your own swords based on them. Then watch the players try to avoid system contact (which is itself system contact, actually - as much as trying to avoid mines in minesweeper is system contact) by talking. It's a bit like those scenes in a movie where a guy is being held at gun point and negotiating with the gunman, except made a game and the gun replaced with character maiming rules.

And I'm not the only one - you can see people, in regards to traditional RPG's, saying it's not GM vs players, you work together and you can get somewhere. And yeah, you can get somewhere - somewhere where there is no threat/edge to play. Of course for myself I've looked at trying to work out some overall budget to ensure threat AND one that people actually agreed to. But it occurs to me if you know a sessions about a malicious GM who might drop a bomb on you at any moment, it's quirky, but it's what's agreed to and presumably such a person, if they get killed in the first five minutes, has a plan on what they will do after having left play. Or perhaps has gamblers goggles on and thinks that they wont die in the first five minutes, and perchance they don't (though this is a little dysfunctional even if it appeared to 'work').

So yeah, I could see a structured way of playing there, but one that was entirely counter intuitive to what I tried to aim for, and indeed counter to what information I'd find on roleplaying. Though really there is a difference between just making stuff up and being malicious simply by personality in doing so, and conciously being a certain level of maliciousness as a facilitator of playing the game. The latter facilitates, the former is baggage that happened to be brought to the table and expressed. Atleast at first, it wasn't there because anyone asked for it.

So, like walking on thin ice can be entertaining, yeah, playing that way seems viable and the procedure is fairly straight forward - you need to enjoy maliciousness to GM, but to enjoy it for an extended period you reign it in to a degree, otherwise it's all over. And that reigning in grants some room for a sort of play to be possible.

I dunno, maybe I'm just making peace with that history now.

Mathew E. Reuther

I went through 3 characters in one session when I was in a campaign where my characters were constantly being mowed down. After a while, threat of death is irrelevant, so you can go too far in terms of making a game deadly, and it becomes pointless, and not suspenseful. (I knew I was going to die. Not very frightening when you know you're doomed.)
Knee deep in the Change System's guts . . .

Callan S.

And hoo boy, not meaning to single you out Mathew, but for years I've spent time on 'what is not the way to play' spoken by hundreds of people on various forums or from people I've met. The definitions that define how to play by how NOT to play. A sort of inverse definition. It's like defining a cat by saying it does not have eight legs, eight eyes, fangs or the capacity to produce a web. Roleplay/how to do this thing called roleplay/how to play gets much the same treatment - roleplay is not this, it's not that, it's not the other.

And for some rather controlling individuals I've met, I think they liked it that way - the other person was always left on the hop, never knowing where the next 'It's not that!' will come from. Which means it can come just as much from that persons desire to make someone jump when they want to and nothing constructive. Indeed the worse situation is when the person who likes to make people jump doesn't even recognise they have this desire and yet are initiating it unconciously all the same. Things are really out of control in that state as genuinely no one controls the ouija-board. Atleast no one control it in what I'd consider a human way.

But I'm genuinely thinking of someone I met in real life in regards to that, so it's a little off conversation to bring it up!

But Mathew, I'll pitch to you, how can it be suspensful when you start telling the GM what to do and so you know what will happen? Or is this not telling him what to do as it's telling him what not to do? But at the very least you know you wont go through three characters in one session - knowing this must reduce suspense to some degree?

Mathew E. Reuther

My point was merely that there's extremes on both sides. My personal preference in play is that I don't know if the next encounter might be extremely dangerous, or completely trivial. Knowing that I could very well die, yet also knowing that I have a chance if I play well.

There's no suspense if you know what's going to happen. Be that "I am toast" or "I will reign victorious" . . .

The key is to allow play to flow in such a manner that everyone feels as if there's a very real chance that things could go "poorly" . . . yet not oppress the players to the point of them knowing they need to have a new character ready to go before they even roll the dice.
Knee deep in the Change System's guts . . .

Callan S.

I want to untangle something from a long entanglement, but I don't know if it's viable to.

QuoteThe key is to allow play to flow in such a manner that everyone feels as if there's a very real chance that things could go "poorly" . . . yet not oppress the players to the point of them knowing they need to have a new character ready to go before they even roll the dice.
This hinges, as you say, on adjusting how people feel. We know feeling isn't necessarily how things actually are.

What if the full practical extension of this model is simply to become a master illusionist? I mean, let's say a master illusionist can make everyone feel as if there's a very real chance things could go "poorly" and also not make the players feel they need to have a new character ready to go before they even roll the dice.

Assuming a master illusionist can do this (I think they can and regularly do in various groups), that would be the most efficient and sensible way to meet the goal of making people feel a certain way? I mean, even real life danger doesn't consistantly make you feel things could go poorly, as an example. And sometimes real danger of character death in a board game might kill someone three times in a session, which goes against the feeling of danger and just makes it feel certain.

I'd propose that real danger of character death in a game actually goes against the feeling of things could go wrong and can go against avoiding people feeling they are going to lose their character even before they go dice. I'll even put it in a possitive sense - real danger isn't as fun as feeling there's danger.

I've tried to grasp, for years, the overall pattern of GM advice from many boards. But what if it came down to master illusionism in the end? There's a thought? I don't necessarily mean deliberately - people often think if they feel something, it must be there. The thought that if we shape how people feel, we are shaping what is actually there as well.

Big, long entanglement. I'm probably writing this out more for my benefit - I'm not trying to push you to respond or anything. Writing this out kinda helped me just by itself.

Mathew E. Reuther

I rarely ever kill anyone. I beat the hell out of them and terrify them. But I rarely let them die.

Because the close calls are what get them going and keep them coming back for more.

(I'm generally satisfied with a game session if I ave a player sweating out their character's fate.)
Knee deep in the Change System's guts . . .


I'll agree with Callan's point about "master illusionism" being more about making people feel they're in danger than actually being in danger.

For example, in one Exalted campaign I ran years ago, the player characters were so damn powerful they could basically mow down extra upon extra upon extra. They knew it, they'd been in battles I'd run where they'd consistently stunt their way through killing dozens in single attacks. However, time after time I would threaten them with huge armies coming at them and they'd still react with worry, based on the situation. "What? Trapped between an army at sea and an army on land, and we're on the coast? Whatever shall we do?" And they'd come up with all sorts of elaborate plans, or start a parley with the general, or something. But I knew they knew deep inside that they had the mechanics to just blast through one of those armies and get away... so why didn't they? I still couldn't tell you, really, but it might have had something to do with the picture I painted them, or maybe they just had an agenda that involved "roleplaying realistically"... either way, it made for play that was more fun for all of us.

Ar Kayon

I'm a big advocate of illusionism.  Whether or not the threat is real, it appears as a threat all the same.  In the end, what matters is the players' experience because I believe that a GM's enjoyment of the game is relatively proportionate to that experience.  Therefore, it behooves him to not mow down his players, nor to imply that victory is granted.  In my opinion, illusionism is the best way to maintain consistency within this middle ground.