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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 22 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: What Does Sharing Narrative Control Show?  (Read 2424 times)
Callan S.
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Posts: 4268


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« Reply #15 on: February 03, 2011, 04:40:55 PM »

Great account, Cliff!
Quote
Yet when the assassination mission began to go bad, stray comments here and there began filtering their way to me. How are you going to save this situation? No game this week on account of snow (we've had a lot of that lately), well, you've got another week to figure out how to get us out of that. Etc. I'd come back to them with the idea of removing the safety net from the campaign overall as well as the characters. That is, you screw up badly enough, and the game ends badly for you. I said I wouldn't be specifically gunning for them, but that I wouldn't take specific action to course correct a bad outcome due to player action.

That was not met well. I got everything from "You created a story and we should see it through to the end," to "I think that would lead to a disconnect from games, all of which would be ridiculously short." Maybe it's a matter of trust, since they feel like I do in fact put them in the crosshairs all the time, but if they want that thrill of potential death to be with them constantly, this seems to be a natural extension of that. I'm very seriously considering pushing the issue back into discussion, because I find this assumption that I'll always right their boat more unsatisfactory the more time I think on it. It removes any sense of victory, as you note, and more than that, it takes all responsibility and consequence out of their hands. No matter what they do, no matter how inane the action, it'll all ultimately turn out okay for them. That, more than the potential that the story could come out badly for them, seems like it would create a disconnect from the game.
I think I've trickled down this line of thought (or a similar one) with groups I've played with, myself. This is exactly what I was refering to with my pesimistic fears!

I've got these two thoughts in my head - the fair weather gamist and the sycophantic simulationist. And they both refer to the same thing! Where the supposedly up for a game person really only wants to win, and will deliver those stray comments. And so all they are gunning for is a simulation of gamism where they win. For them to lose would break the integrity of that simulation ('disconnect').

I'm actually inclined to blame the very nature of traditional roleplay for producing this gravitation. If you get knocked out in a real life boxing match and wake up on the mat, you know you lost. In roleplay, what happens when your guy is knocked out - well, play just continues - you find yourself in a cell...and some part of you starts to say 'Oh, I haven't lost yet! Play is still going so I haven't lost yet! I'll bust out and...!'. And if you can keep from losing by saying stray comments like 'so, how are you going to save the situation', that's totally like bluffing someone in poker or such, just a way of winning and legit, right? Totally! Not. I think of my woman, who is cutthroat in boardgames and cardgames - would she grab an opportunity to win? Of course she would - even if in the end it unraveled gamism and turned it into a sycophantic simulation of gamism? Yes, she would, over time, undercut her own priority.

Grave danger. I've got this idea for a mechanic - as GM you have two cards, one with 'Not death' and one with 'Death' on it. The players all have a poker chip or some token. Once you've done a skill check that's failed and you decide it could be lethal or declared something bads happened to a player that you think could be lethal, secretly you as GM pull the 'not death' or 'death' card (based on your reaction to the current fiction - ie, if they are falling into a live volcano you'd choose...?) and hold it secretly in your hand. Then AFTER that the player chooses whether they push their token forward or not. If they push it forward and you have chosen death, their character has died from the actions. If they don't push forward, you save their bacon while scuffing up their character - escape by falling in a sewer, whatever. If they don't push forward and you chose death, your choice is ignored.

You know what their very first move would be if you used this? Just like your account of them asking for grave danger all the time? They will all try to push forward their tokens and leave them there.

Here's where the psychology gets interesting. If they have all pushed forward their tokens, then as GM you KNOW they will die. Suddenly it's YOU cutting the story short. Suddenly it's YOU creating disconnect with the game and leading to rediculously short games. Because you KNEW!!!

It sounds so macho to be all grave danger all the time, but it's actually the act of giving up responsiblity for ones own actions and dumping them on someone else.

So, punch them in the face or say no (whichever is more fun) when they try to push forward the tokens and keep them there. They have to wait until the moment where you have decided without any knowledge of their choice, whether they would live or die. Then after you have chosen in absolute blindness, they choose to push forward or not.

And guess what is probably the next stage is for some (but hopefull not all) of them? They will say 'Why would I ever, ever push forward, huh? What's the benefit in that?'

And you say 'Because it puts you in grave danger. The thing you want to be in, right?'.

And the ones who only wanted a sycophantic simulation of grave danger will walk, because this isn't 'grave danger'. It's, like, REAL grave danger! Which is not what they want and...this is a terrible suggestion because it might very well split the gaming group. Damn, it was flowing so well as I typed it.........

BUT, some of them might suddenly become steely eyed, as if they looked in the eyes of the reaper and did not blink. And they will say, "Let's play..."

Shit, maybe all of them would! Awesome....


Anyway, I probably sound horrible, brining up the idea of the fair weather gamist/sycophantic simulationist. All I can say is that your talking about stuff that's on my cutting edge of investigation - and the edge is cutting. Haven't figured it all out enough to suger coat it, yet. And of couse none of it may apply at all - this is just my hypothesis, if that needs saying.

In terms of good examples of gamist games, from my actual play experience, none come to mind. I haven't played beast hunters, but you might want to look at that.
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Jeff B
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #16 on: February 03, 2011, 06:14:58 PM »

Callan -

I think you're onto some key issues/weaknesses in gamist play with these thoughts.  It seems there is so much potential for a gamist rpg to simply be a proxy for other social issues, such as (your suggestion) dumping your responsibility for your actions onto someone else.  The GM is, indeed, frequently victimized this way.  I think actually some gamist players simply have a predatory outlook upon the GM:  "I am going to get whatever I can from him and beat him in the process.  His ethical obligation to keep story/gameplay moving along shall be his downfall."

Your death/not-death mechanic is particularly interesting to me.  I see exactly the same issue that you do (at least, i think I do), but my solution is that, as an ethical GM, it is my responsibility to inform players of a potentially fatal action *before* they commit to that action.  Example:  Players are exploring that volcano.  One wishes to jump from ledge to ledge, because something shiny is barely visible on the next ledge.  With no attempt to mask the truth in story fiction, I say:  "You might be able to do that.  However, if you fail the jump roll, your character will die."  I think this is extremely important in preventing the GM from playing headgames with the players (the opposite of the predatory player).  Although one might reasonably think that leaping around inside a volcano is obviously potentially deadly, I disagree:  In a fantasy RPG context:  The illusion/hint/suggestion of certain death is so common in all situations, players become numbed to what is truly dangerous and sometimes do foolish things.  As we play the game, our perceptions become warped in strange ways, based on prior experience and god knows how many other, subtler elements.  So I therefore think setting firm points of reality is important from time to time ("This could kill you.  Go ahead and roll if you like, but I am not joking -- your character will die if he fails this roll").

If I understand you correctly then, my solution is the other-coin-side of your solution:  Defuse all such situations to prevent player bravado from undoing the story fiction (i.e., prevent them from committing suicide).

Lumpley/Vincent observed in one of his articles that the character should never die, except as an act of ultimate protest.  I believe he adopts this idea from good fiction writing, and I basically agree with him.  However, another solution would be if character death can somehow be made meaningful within the fiction, even for the player whose character died.  I don't know of any systems for accomplishing that, however.

Anyway, not to stray too far from the original post, I think Cliff sort of opened a Pandora's Box of hidden player wishes and motivations in his game.  Lots of good material to put under the rpg microscope!
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #17 on: February 03, 2011, 06:57:04 PM »

It sounds so macho to be all grave danger all the time, but it's actually the act of giving up responsiblity for ones own actions and dumping them on someone else.

So, punch them in the face or say no (whichever is more fun) when they try to push forward the tokens and keep them there. They have to wait until the moment where you have decided without any knowledge of their choice, whether they would live or die. Then after you have chosen in absolute blindness, they choose to push forward or not.

And guess what is probably the next stage is for some (but hopefull not all) of them? They will say 'Why would I ever, ever push forward, huh? What's the benefit in that?'

And you say 'Because it puts you in grave danger. The thing you want to be in, right?'.

Callan, that is fucking brilliant. More on that in a moment.

Your death/not-death mechanic is particularly interesting to me.  I see exactly the same issue that you do (at least, i think I do), but my solution is that, as an ethical GM, it is my responsibility to inform players of a potentially fatal action *before* they commit to that action.

In general I agree 100% with you, Jeff. I don't like to kill characters as a matter of course for a number of reasons. Frequent character death greatly reduces the odds that a player will create a conneciton with the character and seek to develop him (more personal bias, since a game can be about many more things than that, I know, but it's what I like to see). I've also seen players lose enthusiasm for an ongoing game when they lose the character they've had for a while, and all the attached, experienced history, sometimes causing them to leave the game (with no hard feelings, just a loss of interest in continuing with a different character). And, frankly, it's a pain in the ass as the GM to work in the new character sometimes.

That said, character death can be great stuff, as long as it's meaningful. So I'm fine killing characters, and have slain a number of them before, but I always have made sure people know going in that they faced death in those circumstances.

Callan, your card and token experiment, however, really sings to me. It's not a standard rule I'd employ in a game, but it instantly crystalizes the thing these players say they want, and you're right, it puts it on them to make that call. Even if it's a one time thing, I think it's very much worth introducing into the game. I think it has the potential to be illuminating for all, even if it doesn't start a discussion (which would be ideal).

I will most certainly be introducing this into the game next time we gather. How fitting we do it at a time of high danger. I'm eager to see the responses, both in terms of how they use the rule and what it shows all of us.
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Jeff B
Member

Posts: 35


« Reply #18 on: February 03, 2011, 10:12:41 PM »

I feel for you, Cliff.  Reading this over again, I'm beginning to agree that what you have is a group seeking a simulation of gamism, and that you yourself are a simulationist GM (or at least, that aspect of your GM'ing has become the present issue). 

You have the option, of course, of simply dishing out exactly what they want.  I assume that is somewhat unsatisfactory for you, and that in turn is why I think you have simulationist tendencies:  The arbitrary hand of fate violates the proper function of a balanced, detailed, imaginary world.  Furthermore, you also aren't interested in finding ways to trick, punish, or destroy the characters (except possibly that it added great value to the fiction), and so I think you are not one of these sadistic GM's who's real agenda is sowing anguish and frustration upon a group of players who mistakenly believe they have come together under a common social contract.

I think I encountered something like your situation in the distant past.  Let's say that during play I, as the GM, am at a loss to resolve a player's action -- I am trying to keep the campaign world balanced and looking for something of an impartial way to decide consequences for an action.  The player in this case says frankly they don't care about the system and think I should just decide what happens.  I try to explain to the player that what he's proposing isn't a game -- it's just "whatever Jeff says" imaginary play, with me re-evaluating my role every few moments in order to be consistent with player preferences.  But I was completely unable to drive the point home that what's being suggested here isn't any fun for ME!  Not only does it lack any sense of play or interest for me, but I cannot fathom what interest anybody would have in such a system, where the GM is all-powerful (not even beholden to any rulebook at all), so long as the players are having a good time.  And since they have no responsibilty toward the sessions, story, game, or system, then any potential fault in play is placed squarely in my lap.  In my opinion, this sort of interaction is not roleplay, nor is it a game.  I'm not sure what it is.  Never have been able to figure it out.

It sounds like you're experiencing some of the same thing:  When character get themselves into an unfixable mess (or are otherwise doomed), you are supposed to step in with the greatest subtlely and delicacy and fix the situation.  They interpret this as "living on the edge".  You interpret it as "breaking the story constantly to bail them out".  Your actions don't usually disrupt their sense of danger -- they turn a blind eye as the hand of fate sets the chess pieces back into a playable formation.

I slowly discovered this attitude was pervasive in this particular group.  I am sorry to say I never did figure out what creative goals or values motivated these people.  In my opinion, they and I sat down for two rather different reasons.  One thing I do know, however -- none of them ever GM'd a game.  I'm willing to bet none of your players ever have either, at least not any kind of "successful" stint at GM'ing.  Beware player groups who categorically refuse to have anything to do with GM'ing. 

Everybody comes to the roleplay table with their own agenda in mind.  If this group is open to discussion of this type, you might have an open discussion with them about what their personal goals are for the night's session.  It seems to me that these people are completely unable to understand your role and what your goal is for the session.

I am sorry to say I eventually stopped roleplaying with that old group of mine, period.  I began to feel that they were interested more in having a personal bard perform whatever tune they called, without pay.  And although they would say that as GM I hold all the power over the session, nothing could be further from the truth:  Their positions justified their inflexibility to change or negotiation of agenda, while mine was expected to conform to the needs of the group, moment by moment.

I am now thinking this was the very same phenomenon as suggested in this thread:  a simulation of gamism.  I believe GNS has a term called "illusionism" that means much the same thing, but don't quote me on that. I'm no expert.  The GNS definition of gamism seems to only define pure or "true" gamism, overlooking the fact that a great many RPG'ers have a secret goal of dominating a session, dominating other players, gaining attention not given them elsewhere, or otherwise indulging in social dysfunction, all of it done under a gamist banner.  I think an RPG session can even be a simple mask to disguise a group's true goal of simply arguing with one another and of being proven right in the end, without regard for any story fiction or simulated action.

I hope you have a better resolution to your situation than I did.  They sound like a very creative bunch, and presumably there is some way for all to be well satisfied and happy with the campaign.   If you think their understanding of play has any leeway at all, I would definitely try something like death/not-death mechanic/lesson/experiment/ordeal.  Heck, maybe they'll love it.  It could become an occasional feature by popular demand.
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Anders Gabrielsson
Member

Posts: 100


« Reply #19 on: February 04, 2011, 05:33:52 AM »

I may going off the deep end here, but what I would do in this situation is talk to the players. It seems they are more engaged with the game now than before - why is that? What was it they enjoyed now that wasn't there before, and is there something they're not enjoying now?

I would not, however, try to push them into a theory-heavy discussion, or make them think that the future of the game depends on their answers, but just engage them into a light talk about what they like more or less about the game.
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Cliff H
Member

Posts: 49


« Reply #20 on: February 04, 2011, 05:55:49 AM »

I feel for you, Cliff.  Reading this over again, I'm beginning to agree that what you have is a group seeking a simulation of gamism, and that you yourself are a simulationist GM (or at least, that aspect of your GM'ing has become the present issue). 

That's the second person who's tagged me as such, while I still think my concerns about consistent story tone and the like are in the service of facilitating character exploration and, most importantly to me, transformation.

Be that as it may, I too think my group doesn't really want to live on the knife edge of mortality all the time. But I also think they don't know that yet. That's what I like about Callan's suggestion: it puts that blade into their hands and asks them to deliver the death blow, and not just once. It makes clear what "grave danger" all the time really is, especially given that a game like 7th Sea has some nebulous death rules (intentionally so; it's supposed to be a low to no death game).

I do want to clarify something though: I'm not at my wits end with my group, nor do I think that all my gaming experiences with them are deeply flawed or that they are just incapable of delivering a good play experience for me or each other. My inquiry is based on a pattern of play I noticed that I was unfamiliar with and couldn't relate to (what I think are gamist behaviors).

As to the issue of simulationist gamism, does gamist play require that your character be at risk of death in everysituation? Yeah, that's what I've been asked for, and that's a load of bunk because I'm not a killer GM, they know this, and we're playing a game that softpeddles mortality to a great degree. That said, the desire to drop every potential opponent in a fight and the need to utterly humiliate opposition through slander and cuckoldry, just so they know they've got it over those against them sounds to me ighly competitive and thus gamist (in this case they compete with my through my NPCs). Does gamist play require risking your character's life in every altercation, or is the drive for competition sufficient? I had the impression it was the latter.

Now, that still leaves us with a poor fit for game system, as 7th Sea has a pretty poor win/loss mechanic and the game I'm running isn't normally divided up into specific misions with bullet point objectives (which seems easy to assess win/loss payoffs to), but at least at that point I'd know that I've got he right theory and look to pick whatever comes next (or write it myself) with that in mind.

I may going off the deep end here, but what I would do in this situation is talk to the players. It seems they are more engaged with the game now than before - why is that? What was it they enjoyed now that wasn't there before, and is there something they're not enjoying now?

I would not, however, try to push them into a theory-heavy discussion, or make them think that the future of the game depends on their answers, but just engage them into a light talk about what they like more or less about the game.

This, however, is downright maddening. Not the suggestion, but the discussion. I'm not averse to it. I'm a big believer in communication, but for whatever reason most of my players seem to have a reluctance to think too deeply about their hobby, or have such vague and ill formed notions of what it is that keeps them coming back that these discussions have gone nowhere in the past. When we pick a game to pay, there's no talk of why they like something. They just like certain titles. A few have expressed a preference for simpler systems with minimal calculations, and one continues to assert that D&D 2e is the most elegant and perfect game engine ever written, but in general they don't know why they like some things and not others, and any prying questions gets a bunch of shrugs instead of chin-cupped pondering.

On a related note, however, I began looking for something to follow this current game, since I think it'll be wrapping up sooner rather than later regardless of the outcome of the current mission, and I began doing so based on what I'd observed. I took that process to them, pointing out the things I thought they liked best about 7th Sea and the things no one seemed to touch, as well as the demonstrated play preferences. The response? "Go for it." No elaboration, no discussion of the details yay or nay, just "Go for it." This is what led me to finding my answers from behavior in play, which does, once you look at it objectively and less from the eyes of a GM desperately trying to make his own thing happen, demonstrate consistancy over a long period of time and spans multiple games. Clearly a higher level of awareness would help, but in the meantime a good fit in terms of game (both system and GM style) would go a long way.

And the occassional exposure to revelatory rules like the death call Callan suggested strikes me as a great way to explore elements of play preference in a way they're more likely to engage.

Then maybe we can have our talk.
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