I crit his guts out

Started by Rustin, November 02, 2010, 10:33:09 PM

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Proposal: Creative Agenda doesn't run through. It rides on top.
"Supported techniques" carry the Creative Agenda.
You get supported techniques when a reactive player enthusiastically judges the technique of another player.

I'm curious about the nature of support, the aesthetic choice behind it and how it relates to the Creative Agenda it lofts.

We are playing pathfinder. 
Technique: GM pulls a custom made critical hit card, consults the chart of the weapon to the damage.  "Guts ripped out, 1 CON bleed every round."
Support: Several players groan and laugh at the same time.  One player says, "That is so cool."

The support, the reaction to the technique, is where I'm interested.  I know one particular technique at any particular time and that person getting jazzed that they just did max damage, doesn't automatically say "Step on up."

But the overall reaction to the technique because it answered one of the following questions and the question was, prior to the technique being used, up in the air.

1) who stood up?
2) where is the story going now?
3) did it get the dream right?

When there is a cathartic resolution from a technique, that is what lifts the creative agenda.

Sure, the guy who swung the sword that got the crit, he did technically answer the question who stood up.  But the crit cards were new, there was nothing about it to "game" specifically, it wasn't a real convincing case of him standing up -- mostly it was just the result of luck.

And sure, the monster that got it's guts ripped out, it dying did direct the story, but that was never really at issue.  We all sort of knew the monster was going down. 

No, it was the surprise in how it got the dream of vicious, bloody combat "right" that brought the excitement and joy; an objective measure of involvment, i.e., support.

It makes me think a system that had specific ways to make support clear and required could help keep people on the same Creative Agenda page.

Other questions I have about this:
Am I using language of The Big Model correctly here?
Is support itself a technique? And if so, what does that mean?
Is this support tiered, in that a supportive reaction can itself be supported because it (technique +support) addressed a different question (1, 2 or 3 from above)?
How is support different from Reward?

Callan S.

Hi Rustin,

In terms of that support or getting the vicious, bloody combat 'right', it makes me think of this bit in the nar essay here
QuoteI suggest that both Gamist and Narrativist priorities are clear and automatic, with easy-to-see parallels in other activities and apparently founded upon a lot of hardwiring in the human mind (or "psyche" or "spirit" or whatever you want to call it). Whereas I think Simulationist priorities must be trained - it is highly derived play, based mainly on canonical fandom and focus on pastiche, and requires a great deal of contextualized knowledge and stern social reinforcement. This training is characterized by teaching people not to do what they're inclined to. No one needs to learn how to role-play, but most do need to learn to play Simulationist, by stifling their Gamist and/or Narrativist proclivities. Such training is often quite harsh and may involve rewards and punishments such as whether the person is "worthy" to be friends with the group members.

As a hypothesis I'm inclined towards it as well - that people are pretty much born with a taste for nar and a taste for gamism. And I think, but haven't exactly done any scientific testing on it, that people pretty much need to be trained to like sim. Or it's a particular inclination that isn't nearly as common as the nar/gam inclination.

So you could have a game that has that support and does so well in the text. But that doesn't mean someone will want it or enjoy it ('lead a horse to water' comes to mind - please don't kill me for the cliche!).

Is your pathfinder example a real one from some play you've been in?


Hey Rustin,
I'd like to take a crack at your questions here.
QuoteAm I using language of The Big Model correctly here?
Is support itself a technique? And if so, what does that mean?
Is this support tiered, in that a supportive reaction can itself be supported because it (technique +support) addressed a different question (1, 2 or 3 from above)?
How is support different from Reward?
First off, Creative Agenda is not a moment-to-moment thing. It is often mistaken for being that, but it is not at all. It is the overall thrust of why a particular player sits down for a game, at a particular time. I might be in the mood for a really emotionally gripping, engaging tale, and decide that getting the setting details just right, or showing off how well I can compete, is just not as important.
From how I phrased those three, it should be inferred that you can have supplemental Agendas, sort of playing second fiddle to others. But it's unlikely that your desire for emotional resonance will occur simultaneously with a desire to prove your mad skills. Getting the setting and details "correct" can certainly be a goal unto itself, but it also makes sense for "getting it right" to be something that makes you more interested in the competition, or for it to deepen the emotional resonance of play.
"Support" is not quite a technique - "support" doesn't happen in play so much as it happens in the text of the rules themselves.
In this helpful diagram here: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:The_Big_Model.svg we can see that the big arrow of Creative Agenda is our "ride" into the experience of play - when we arrive at Techniques, we use the ones that support the kind of Agenda we're pursuing.
"Support", then, is actually quite passive - the text gives us tools to work with, and we use the ones that make sense, in ways that make sense to us. If a game doesn't support the kind of play we like, but we use that game anyway, we'll make do, ignoring or reshaping mechanics as we see fit.

I don't quite follow your "tiered support" question, but as I said above, a given game text can definitely support different Agendas in different amounts; it's thus far unknown and unheard-of for a game to legitimately support all three, and most coherent game texts have one overriding Agenda they focus on. The alternative, equal support for different agendas, would mean a contradictory mess of rules - if some parts of the text exhort you to play hard, to win, and other parts tell you "it's all just about enjoying the mood and setting, about getting into your character", and there are rules that correspond to each of these goals, then you will have rules that don't seem to fit together.

As for support vs. Reward: support is something the text does. Rewards are something that happen to a player - you have to have priorities for play in order to have them rewarded! For example, if you're playing D&D, and you are excited about your fighter becoming more powerful when he levels up, that is something that will genuinely Reward you. But if character power is totally not a priority for you, if it wouldn't matter that you can level up, and you might even choose to deliberately avoid activities that cause leveling up, if there weren't some other benefit you were getting from it (you like exploring that facet of the setting, it's how you tell your character's story to the rest of us, etc.).
What's key to understand though, is that Rewards are a FORM of support - does that make sense?
For example: we're playing a homebrew RPG about corporate cutthroats in 1980s New York. You decide that, yes, you're an up-and-coming corporate defense attorney, but you care a lot about your family, and about the bonds of family that people have. You pick a trait for your character, called "Family Man", which gives you Plot Points (a generic metagame resource) every time you choose family over professional success. Basically, because you're choosing to make a hard decision in favor of something that you, the player, want to explore (the conflict between personal life and professional goals), the game is Rewarding you.
Plot Points are the game's method of rewarding you for *doing the thing you want to do at the table* - they give you greater ability to affect the plot, thus giving further opportunities to focus on that conflict you're interested in. This is an example of a game supporting Story Now by Rewarding that kind of play in a very specific way. There are zillions of other ways to Reward that kind of play, but this is an example that's kind of similar to, say, Burning Wheel's Belief system.

So, support can be lots of different things - the type of traits and abilities characters get can tell you a game's priorities, as can how your character improves, WHAT they improve at, how the text tells you to play your character, or how to GM the game... lots of things. Rewards are just one immediate, concrete aspect of that that supports a mode of play during play itself. Procedural text, i.e. "how to play the game", does that too, but in more of a "how do we do this activity" kind of way instead of "here's a carrot for playing this way!"

Some games may not have much in the way of explicit Reward systems at all, while others may set up rather convoluted "incentives" - Polaris, for example, will push your character closer to death if you, the player, refuse to compromise when negotiating a conflict. It's up to you to decide if this is a bad thing, but arguably it could encourage players (who want to keep their character sane and alive) to compromise more, to be willing to give more ground. But it's complicated - you're compromising with your most dire foe, so you're basically negotiating to reduce the *speed* of your decline. Polaris is meant to be a tragedy, though, so this bad-or-worse choice comes with the territory.
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/


Thanks for the reply.
I am in a Pathfinder campaign. Let me embellish.

I went into the game based on social obligations (i.e., the other guys would feel bad if I didn't game with them).
Knowing full well that the creative agenda was not Story Now, I was determined to engage and support their agenda as best I could.  I was of the mind: "Sure, it's not my preference, but I can enjoy a good Right to Dream/Step on Up Game-- just watch me!"

From the above example, where everyone got jazzed over the crit card, I just watched.  I was curious, sure.  Random critical hit tables are quite fun, but now that I reflect on it, it didn't immediately plug into the story. Perhaps that is why I didn't get jazzed.  I felt outside the game, despite my efforts to engage, participate and "enjoy some Dream/Step Up, dammit!"

Beyond Fanmail, what other concrete support mechanisms do you know of? 

I could see the "Stern social reinforcement" as a functional (if not gut wrenching) negative conditioner.  What of positive conditioning?
Perhaps with a specific tool, I too, would have been prompted to participate.
Like, what if there was a "and that's how it really would work" card that I would throw down on the table.  We count the cards at the end of the session, and . . . something... that just doesn't seem to work.  Seems artificial.

Do you think that support is more than just a technique vis-a-vis Creative Agenda?

Callan S.

I think there's indulging the idea that something exists and enjoying that (what one does at magic shows or in watching a movie or reading a book), and there's...something else, that your friends and I think my friends have been beholden to at times. Probably lots of posters at the forge too.

I think it's perhaps a mental short circuit - if you turn off your capacity to think "Maybe I'm wrong on this", then suddenly something seems very right/done the right way. Because what else can something seem, if you have no capacity to think your wrong in percieving it as seeming that way? Humans are great at gaming ambiguity to support the conclusion they want. They start with a conclusion, then work backwards to find only evidence that supports that conclusion.

So there's that short circuit and as an alternative, there's indulging the idea something exists.

Were your friends just indulging the idea that vicious, bloody combat was done right? Maybe they were. But on the other hand, I'm kind of thinking you saw them really keen and instantly excited over the matter while, as you say, you weren't drawn in in the way they appeared drawn in? And your kind of looking for how to get in on that deal? I think I've been in that situation a few times, anyway.

But I think if someones treating something as actually being done "right", if you only indulge the idea its done right, you can't join them. They are literally true believers. But that's just in the case of a group who actually think it's being done right (right as in some sort of galactic standard on what is right).


Ah. Heh, sorry I misunderstood you, Rustin!

It seems like Callan is following you - - if I may give it another crack, I'd say that the closest I've come to observing a supportive non-true-believer, so to speak, would be the act of just trying to pursue an unfamiliar Agenda and giving it your best, for the sake of something new.

I got my first shot at Step On Up play through a one-shot of Storming the Wizard's Tower - my Story Now instincts were on full alert, trying to make something more out of my character class and the GM characters I "bought" at character creation. When the game treated such things purely as tools, and not much else, and then again when we first entered combat, I started to get how things were supposed to work. It became clear that there wasn't enough meat in the setting material to really dwell there without a lot of effort.

I have seen Storming drifted into other territory, though - we were playing Etruscan pirates who were supposed to hunt down another group of pirates (dirty foreigners! This is our turf!), and my friend Allison and I ended up focusing on and playing off of one another's character-centered repartee - - we participated in the adventure, yes, but we used one another as the main springboard of conflict - she was clearly much more interested in focusing on the intra-group drama, and I was happy to get in on that too - - it pushed my Story Now! buttons pretty hard, and we had so much fun focusing on that, that the GM ended up ditching the final Big Bad altogether. Using Charged Conversations on each other, Allison and I explored a plot about a jealous, clueless father (me) and the tomboy shielding his pregnant daughter from discovery (her). The pirate adventure became a backdrop for this plot, totally something of our own design. I had played Storming before, and Allison had not - so I was consciously drifting play with her to explore where she wanted to take things.

Does this follow with what you guys are discussing? The rewards that came from drifting Storming the Wizard's Tower only existed in what we got out of our interaction; the rules had nothing to reward us with but the suspense of dice rolls ("Ask if the person's lying!").
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/


Thanks for the reply.  (Sorry, I had written a response, but wanted to sleep on it a second night-- I hope you did not feel ignored. This is just a reply to your first post, I haven't reflected on your latest).

When I say "support" I'm meaning a positive reaction from a player because a technique presented in play spoke to the question of creative agenda.  (Presumably not from the player responsible for the technique).

From the Narrativism: Story Now Adept Press 2003,
Techniques do not map 1:1 to Creative Agenda, but combinations of Techniques do support or obstruct Creative Agendas.

I'm curious about this combination of techniques.  Wherein we have a standard, traditionally technique (e.g., critical hit chart) plus a very specific type of technique which I've called "support" meaning: enthusiastic, engaged reaction.  I'm not saying a rule does this support, per se. This support is a social communication to others which tells them you are engaged, happy and have had a cathartic release in regards to one of the three questions (creative agendas) because of that technique.

Maybe what I'm saying is: If you want to achieve a specific creative agenda, you might need to prime yourself, so you can support a technique at the right time. Moreover, would it not help -- that part of that support specifically identified what Creative Agenda question it answered for you and how?

Callan S.

In terms of my hypothesis, priming yourself wont connect you to the groups play as a whole. It's as if you were gaming with people who actually believe in some religions god, and it has something to do with play. Unless you somehow believe that god exists, you can't prime yourself to connect with other players who genuinely do think it does. Here, instead of the notion of some deity, there's the notion of...I dunno how they'd put it, but some sort of yeah, that really critted him right in the guts, yeah!

Or if I'm wrong on that hypothesis, well somehow in your account they are all supporting the technique at the right time. How/by what method are they organising themselves? Could you ask them?

Or am I not reading you right? I'm getting the idea that your not clicking with that moment they all seem to click at, and your looking for a fix. Or am I reading that in and your just talking about making some new game and that part of playing it is getting ready to prime yourself so when the technique comes your ready? If it's just that, I'd say that seems a good idea - I'd just suggest having some text at the front of the game instructing players that advance priming is part of this particular game. But just looking at the idea of priming - it sounds like it'd be good and effective!


Rustin, like Callan said, it makes sense that new and unfamiliar Agendas could require a little practice to get right. One caveat, though, is that various games will use differing techniques to support a given Agenda, so such practice needs to involve a variety of games.

What's key about this approach is that you'll learn what does and doesn't work, and you'll get a much firmer grasp on how different Agendas... differ. And, of course, get out there and play!
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/


I gave your posts some thought.
I wrote my first post with a particular issue in mind (basically some reflections on the Big Model).
You saw a different, though no less interesting issue, and replied to that.

As for my main reason for posting, I've pretty much reached the conclusion that most Big Model observations come to: Meh, that's actually pretty obvious when one thinks about it.

The issue you've touched on is more interesting. 
You've made some pretty bold claims about how and if we can "plug into" any Creative Agenda, be it Story Now, Gamism or Right to Dream.

Yeah, I could go to church, watch the rituals, eat the crackers, drink the wine, etc. . . do all the ritualistic stuff--- but unless I've got the conviction, I won't really get the catharsis or aesthetic release the "true believers" have.  Are you saying this is analogous to just Right to Dream, or does it apply to each Creative Agenda? 

Am I following you? Have I correctly summarized your points?

Callan S.

Hi again, Rustin! That's a pretty accurate summery.

It can happen in any agenda, as I measure it. I think sim has been synonymous with the true believer aspect. But yeah, in any you can have just spoken sound waves, but then suddenly someone digs in their heals and says no, they 'did' get the can of peaches, or they 'did' cut the cable, or that they simply could not make a raise now, and with a certain intensity. That might just happen at a certain point or points in the session, or perhaps throughout the whole session (I think for some, a successful sim session involves it happening through the whole session). It's like trying to enjoy a magic show with people who think it's real magic. Your just not doing the same activity as them. So your not doing something with them.

I think there are traces of it in all of us. Take this example - someone verbally describes a character as being at the top of a cliff. The person playing that character describes a fiction that their character will get u, and the player declares their swim skill will determine if this fiction is part of the session record or not.

And you might think "You CAN'T use your swim skill for that!!!" - I know I get that feeling welling up in me. But you can - there is nothing that actually exists that is in the way of doing that, except true believerism. (well, unless you battle grid the whole thing, with certain squares designated as cliff, and the procedure for passing these squares is climb, etc.).

The difference between "Well, I just enjoy play more where you use climb for that, but I can pass on that" and "You CAN'T use your swim skill for that!!!" is pretty significant. Inclination Vs zelous belief.