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Author Topic: head games  (Read 4247 times)
Alfryd
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Posts: 118


« Reply #15 on: March 05, 2011, 06:26:12 AM »

Paul, what do you think "would" have been dramatic in those scenes. Was there something you expected to happen?

Maybe my character should have really ate the seed, or just handed the seed to the NPC, but those were pretty obvious choices and to be obvious isn't dramatic at all.
I'd just say that, while I agree the second example Paul gave did seem overly convoluted, I agree that the seed-eating choice doesn't seem particularly non-dramatic to me.  I mean, if you wanted to interpret this from a narrativist-thematic perspective, "sweet lies are preferable to hard truths" would seem to be the thrust of that decision.  What's wrong with that?  *shrugs*
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Alfryd
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« Reply #16 on: March 05, 2011, 06:28:54 AM »

...I agree that the [faked] seed-eating choice doesn't seem particularly non-dramatic to me...
Whoops, fixed.
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Jeff B
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« Reply #17 on: March 05, 2011, 02:33:06 PM »


Great topic.  I think the earliest days of RPG's misled so many of us in so many ways.  For example, the NPC-Employer quest model was over-used from the beginning.  Perhaps it has taken decades to figure out that this format has certain weaknesses in actual play.

To respond from another angle, what I don't see mentioned in the play example is direct communication on the social level.  If I were running that scenario, and the player faked the seed-swallow and then began to play head games, I would probably call for a pause in play and interact on the social level for a while:  "It's difficult for me to respond to your character's actions without understanding your motive.  Can you tell me about what your character wants to accomplish?  Is the gameplay working for you so far?"  This kind of communication can help ensure that the player is only messing with the NPC, rather than messing with the GM or just expressing superiority in a gamist way (as pointed out earlier in this thread).

In addition to the great comments I read here, tossing in my vote for direct player-to-player communication about goals and preferences.


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Paul Czege
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« Reply #18 on: March 06, 2011, 01:10:59 PM »

Hey Matt,

I think that non obvious character actions aren't an important part of the recipe for drama. Graham Walmsley writes about this in Play Unsafe. Aiming for non obvious actions has pitfalls.

Graham writes, "Be obvious....When you respond obviously, 90% of the time, you'll carry the story forward naturally. If you'd tried to be clever, 90% of the time, you'd have thrown the story off course. And when you're obvious, one time in ten, you'll be brilliant." Also, "Be average. Don't try to be good at games. Don't try to play well....If you're trying to scale the heights of Awesome, we don't see Awesome: we see you trying."

Anyway, drama doesn't come from the non obvious and unexpected. It comes from creating expectations about things that are going to happen and managing and releasing tension about how and when the expectations will be satisfied.

So I can't say specifically what would have been dramatic in those scenes. But I think that protagonists create expectations by pursuing things that are important to them, and trying to solve things that are problematic or troubling to them.

I understand how fucking with NPCs feels thrilling because I've done it myself as a player. But it's not drama. I think David nails it in his comments. His answer to my "what motivates this stuff?" question rings true to my experience. It's thrilling because it's about power dynamics: having an information advantage, and throwing monkey wrenches around. But monkey wrenches aren't expectations that will be resolved, and information advantages that won't ever be released don't feed into the flow of drama.

Audiences get hooked on characters who seem human, because their pursuits are important to them. Stories are about an audience figuring out events that will come to pass, and anticipating and dreading the inevitable events because the flow of the story manages and releases tension about how and when.

That's why the fuckery was seeming weird to me. I don't see the thrills, because I'm not on the inside.

Paul
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Renee
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« Reply #19 on: March 06, 2011, 02:10:20 PM »

Okay, so here's another wrinkle we haven't addressed: What about the role of resource management?

What I mean is that it was established early on that these seed pods are Pretty Fucking Cool(tm), and that possessing one was a fairly unique and interesting thing. Now, I'm not going to say that this was what Matt was doing, but maybe it makes sense to want to hold on to those things until you get maximum bang for them. And that bang could be a lot of things...not just using them, but bartering or trading them for other things or whatever. They are, after all, kind of a Big Deal in the setting (or so I've been led to believe).

And while that suggests yet more gaming of the situation, I don't think it's necessarily in disservice to the narrativist agenda (in fact, I'd say it's a gamist technique in service to narrativism...the seed pods have no system value whatsoever, they're wholly a story device with no other purpose in the game). We talk about "story now" and bangs as sussing out and doing whatever is most dramatic at the moment right now, but if the situation as presented wasn't dramatic (or dramatic enough, anyway) to inspire and provoke Matt, why would he be inclined to blow a valuable resource that he could later pull out for a bigger and more (personally) satisfying punch later on? The situation has to warrant pulling out the stops in that way.

And yeah, I know I'm kind of deflecting that back at you, and my intent isn't to defend Matt by fingerpointing in your direction...I mean this earnestly, as a topic for exploration. I don't know what Matt's read on that particular interaction was - whether he didn't think it was dramatic enough to go full tilt with his resources or not - but I know I've had scenes like that. My character doesn't have setting resources (like cool seed pods) available to him anyway (which is maybe why I keep going back to the jungle when I find myself creatively stymied...it's the ultimate, setting resource) but if I did, I wouldn't have been blowing them in hope of the scene becoming dramatic somewhere along the way...there has to be a promise of a payoff that I care about for me (using my favorite Ron phrase) to Step On Up in that way.

(Note: None of the above should be read as any kind of disappointment in the game. You know I really enjoy it. But it's a Pasta Flinger, not a Sausage Grinder, and an inherent characteristic of the Pasta Flinger is that some stuff is going to be good and stick and some isn't. And maybe sometimes we've glommed on to stuff we don't find that interesting and in so doing made it seem like it is, because we think maybe it'll become good, or at the very least, we know something better will eventually come along. But we're not going to waste our really cool stuff on story threads we're only mildly invested in because, you know, we may want that stuff later.)

(And here's a question for you, although I'm sure I know the answer: Suppose everything I wrote above does apply to Matt...that he just wasn't that invested in the scene/conflict/story arc of that NPC and as such, didn't want to waste his uber-cool seed pod right at that moment? Did he miss his one opportunity? Will his attempts to use the seed pod later in a cool and awesome way be undercut because he didn't use it in when the story most obviously was calling for it? I know you, so I'm pretty sure the answer is no, that seed pod isn't going to be relegated to the garbage pile of missed opportunities and forgotten about. The fact that something with that much dramatic potential is still in play is pretty cool to me.)

None of the above addresses what went on with Jason's scene obviously, and as I noted, it may have nothing to do with Matt either. But it's at least something interesting to discuss.

edited twice, once to correct a typo and once add the last sentence.
« Last Edit: March 06, 2011, 02:18:39 PM by hardcoremoose » Logged
Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #20 on: March 06, 2011, 02:15:30 PM »

Anyway, drama doesn't come from the non obvious and unexpected. It comes from creating expectations about things that are going to happen and managing and releasing tension about how and when the expectations will be satisfied.
Paul, it's entirely possible this is all going straight over my head, but the general impression I've gotten is that putting the PCs in dramatic situations, more or less by definition, creates a certain amount of unpredictable, divergent behaviour on their part.  Because you're focusing on the consequences of players' choices, and those have to be real choices, and that means you can't possibly already know which way they're going to choose.  This is why you can't combine a railroad plot with playing narrativist.  ...At least, that's the impression I get, stop me if I'm wrong.

Now, sure, drama also (to my understanding,) requires a focus on the players' internal motivations (and the potential for conflicts between them,) so if the player is just screwing with the NPC gratuitously, then that's a problem.  But if they're doing it as an expression of some underlying ethical stance or realisation or moral epiphany, then, again, I don't see the inherent problem.  *shrugs*  Again, I don't know the details of exactly what happened during this session, so maybe I'm talking out of my ass.  But I find it very difficult to reconcile the concept of story ownership with the idea that PC responses should always conform to the 'obvious' and 'expected'.
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Alfryd
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« Reply #21 on: March 06, 2011, 02:17:34 PM »

Because you're focusing on the consequences of players' choices...
Shoot, I should arguably be saying characters' choices here.  But you get the picture.
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #22 on: March 06, 2011, 03:02:04 PM »

Hey, Paul.

This is a game in playtest, right?

1) What are the design goals of the game, exactly? Are you trying to replicate "old school" play?

2) How well are the present mechanics answering that design goal?

I know you said it wasn't a mechanical problem, but I'm of the opinion that everything is ultimately a mechanical problem (or a social problem: I'm giving you and Matt and Renee the benefit of the doubt here.) I ask because this is a problem I see a lot in old-school setting rich games, and I think it's a pretty natural response to the disconnect between such systems and their promises.

yrs--
--Ben
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #23 on: March 06, 2011, 03:44:32 PM »

Hey Ben,

It's a rich setting game with traditional style GMing but non-traditional resolution mechanics. The mechanics are fun.

If the solution is mechanics, then what's the mechanical solution to the disconnect in the old school setting rich game?

Paul
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #24 on: March 06, 2011, 03:59:07 PM »

So, traditional GMing means a lot of things, but my experience with it in concert with rich-setting games is that it tends to be the single-step-removed from dungeon crawl thing where various NPCs give players missions and they complete them, with no particular purpose or goals on their own (you take the mission because, you know, that's what we're doing here, just like in a dungeon crawl game refusing to go into the dungeon is refusing to play.)

Is this accurate?

The thing about this sort of setup is that it can't deliver on its promises to everyone. The rich, textured world gives an implicit promise to the players about "go anywhere, do anything" and the ability of their own characters to make meaningful choices within the broad scope of the setting. But, ultimately, their choices are restricted to "take this job, do it," with any meaningful choice being just "how to do the job." There's a mismatch in setting as presented and the players ability to, you know, play in it.

(This is contrasting with a dungeon crawl, where the meaningful choices are on the same scale but the setting is small to match: your choices influence the setting as a whole because it's extent ends at the walls of the dungeon.)

This sort of set-up consistently results in two problematic things: The GM playing with himself while the players watch (this is because, in this sort of set-up, the NPCs are the real agonists of the situation, and thus to advance the story {as such} the GM must act out all parts) and the PCs engaging in random fuckery of NPCs, simply because it is the only way that they are given to play in the setting at all.

Your game has both of these issues, so I'm pretty sure that that's the disconnect that's going on.

There are several historical resolutions to these problems, but ultimately all of them are a shift away from "old-school GMing" or a shift towards even older-school GMing.

yrs--
--Ben
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stefoid
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« Reply #25 on: March 06, 2011, 04:29:30 PM »

This is a great thread. 

So the summary is, Ben, that if you see players pissing about with (assumption) irrelevant headgames, its because they lack clear direction about else they could/should be doing?   Assuming the game is not broken, and this is a temporary hickup, the response should be 'something happens that the players cant ignore and takes obvious priority over the headgames'  bang!
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Matt Gwinn
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« Reply #26 on: March 06, 2011, 05:00:21 PM »

I think Ben hit the problem right on the head
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #27 on: March 06, 2011, 05:08:16 PM »

Renee's characterization of the game as a pasta flinger rather than a meat grinder is dead on. The promise to the players isn't that they can go anywhere and do anything, but that they can have an impact on situations created by the GM, and that they can switch into different situations fairly readily if they want.

And I think it's also that they can be a protagonist if they want to. If you believe the definition of drama as tension over time about the when and how and outcomes of certain expected events, they don't start the game as protagonists, but more as proto-protagonists. Matt's character in particular has been across the landscape of the game and back, across numerous situations. The point at which he chooses to create some expectations, that's when he'll be a protagonist. There's no way that when Matt makes his purpose clear, that certain future events don't become installed by the social contract as inevitabilities.

Paul
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #28 on: March 06, 2011, 05:11:19 PM »

How would a player go about having a real impact on a situation (mission) created by the GM? Use the dead-lover-magic-seed mission as an example? What does actual engagement look like?

yrs--
--Ben
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Matt Gwinn
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« Reply #29 on: March 06, 2011, 05:48:51 PM »

Paul,
My character's primary focus since the beginning of the campaign has been his relationship with with the NPC Kaya. From his very first scene in fact. Yet over and over he is confronted with NPC after NPC that have continually led him away from that story.  I kind of agree with Ben and Renee about the situations placed before our characters. Many times they are distractions or obstacles that clutter up our story, yet we feel compelled to participate in them, especially since we know how much effort you have put into creating those story arcs.
 
The one time I made a concerted effort to ignore one of those obstacles the system kicked me back and I was forced to waste a scene on it. Which by the way are huge resources to us. With 4 players who usually do not share scenes we only get a few scenes per session, sometimes only 1, so what we do in those scenes HAS to matter to us.

I have hoped that ultimately all of the different story arcs placed before my character would lead him back to the Kaya storyline, that they somehow all tied together, but either they're not or they're taking too long. I've been saying it for weeks that there are too many NPCs to keep track of and that's a result of adding more and more story arcs that seem to be cluttering things up and preventing us from grasping on to a single goal to focus on. I think the new feature that we recently added about our goals might help curtail this kind of thing and more clearly alert you to what we find compelling. I now find myself forcing the issue trying to get back to the story which has clearly been at my character's core.

Going back to the scene with the seed, my character's actions were in part influenced by his desire to return to that original storyline with Kaya. While impersonating the dead woman he took the opportunity to convince his employer that he (the employer) needed to find some kind of quest to give him fulfillment. I knew full well that I'd be offering up that very opportunity once the scene reached a conclusion.  That quest was to help my character find the woman he loves. And since his employer is indeed accompanying him on that quest, I consider the scene to have been a success. The fact that you forgot that he was even with my character the next session highlights that we clearly see different aspects of the campaign interesting.
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