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Author Topic: [AW] The Rules for GMing are Magic  (Read 1745 times)
Narmical
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Mitch "Narmical" Morris


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« on: March 19, 2011, 06:09:01 AM »

I just started GMing Apocalypse Word. I was GMing as part of my preparing for interviewing Vincent Baker about the game. Because of this reason, i followed the rules of the game slavishly, even when i didn't total trust them. Usually my GM sense would lead me to change things, in an "i know better" way, but i controlled myself, The interesting thing was, it made me, almost magically, successfully GM in a way that I have tried to GM before, but been unable to. Namely the kind of game where each player is a prominent member in society with there own power structures perusing there own, not necessarily aligned ends.

After this experience i resized isn't "that game about a world after civilization goes to shit" but rather "that game where each character has there own sphere of influence and we find out how they work together or against each other when shit gets bad". In other words there is a particular GMing style built into the rules of the game. This style permeates the game and it's foot print is visible right from character creation.

This led me to thinking, whats this GMing style called? Never before have i seen this topic discussed in a formal way, like is usually done with other game theory topics on the forge (or else where). I know that players and GMs have an intuitive understanding of this concept. If you read or listen to RPG advice media you will hear discussions you can hear terms like "Railroady", "Sandbox", "Tour de Realms" and "Player Driven" used to describe how a certain person GMs. These descriptions are very vague and emotional. I think this is because up until recently GM style was never written explicitly into the rules. No one was expecting it to be a concrete concept.

However, i hypothesize that it is a concrete concept. All lumply games that I have played have a concrete GMing style built into the rules of the game and an extensive GM rules section to help the GM along. Here is a list of games and there written in GMing styles.

Dogs In The Vineyard --> "Travel from fully fleshed out location to fully fleshed out location. Interact with the people in the location, Let the players decide how to solve there own problems"

Poisn'd --> "As you go about your life, bad shit just keeps happing to you. Let the team leader decide how to deal with it, allow the players to challenge the leader"

Apocalypse World --> "each character has there own sphere of influence and we find out how they work together or against each other when shit gets bad"

Mouse Guard --> "Step 1: lead the players around by the nose to the goal, they can never fail until the final confrontation. Step 2: Let the players loose to follow there characters hearts around for a while. Repeat"

This list is not exhaustive or exclusive. The style provided by Dogs is not unique to Dogs, people have GMed like that before. Even the TV show Kung Fu (from the 70s i think) follows a similar structure to Dogs.

My questions are, can we name these? should we name these?

I think it would be useful to name such concepts. The reason being, there is much time and effort spent in the RPG player communality on this topic. There are many advice columns and podcasts which discuss how to set expectations for a campaign. Part of this expectation setting is the GMing style. This seems to be a very difficult piece of the puzzle, judging by time spent on the topic. In contrast, any of the games mentioned above, have this expectation already set by the rules (assuming you GM by the rules)

Any thoughts?
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Moreno R.
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Posts: 547


« Reply #1 on: March 19, 2011, 07:27:04 AM »

Hi!

I don't think that you identify correctly the "GM style" of these games.

For example:
Dogs In The Vineyard --> "Travel from fully fleshed out location to fully fleshed out location. Interact with the people in the location, Let the players decide how to solve there own problems"

This is not a GM style. This is the way the game works. In OD&D it would be "you go into dungeons to get treasure and xp killing monsters".

To start a discussion about the GMs, the very first thing to say it's really simple: The GM? It doesn't exist. The idea that it exist, as a monolithic role without regard to game rules, it's a relic from less-enlightened times, when people thought that "rules don't matter" and every gdr was played the same way.

Many games still use "GM" as a term, but it's legacy term.  In a game where one player has a different role, it's often used as a way to call that player, but the "GM" in two different games can be so different in role and responsibilities to render that name, "GM", entirely meaningless.

(for more about this, I suggest these two threads:
Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
You've Landed on Gaming Group "Park Place", Pay $15 Rent)

Anyway, I talked about this because I wanted to explain my intense dislike for the term "GM Style". When you do different works, it's not a "style".  A cook is not a different "style" of hairdresser.  A farmer is not a different "style" of a singer.  It's not a matter of using more high-pitched voice or less, more dramatic (empty) gestures rolling dice or not, or having any female character in the gaming world resemble his girlfriend: these are different works, with different duties, different responsibilities, different authority.

How do you play the GM in dogs in the Vineyard? It's not a style, it's a role, and it' explained in the rules: you do what the game tell you to create the branch, do everything the game tell you to do before and after the adventure, and during the game you must roll the dice or say yes" and "drive the game toward conflicts (and play as if the Lord of Life did not exist"). Rules, not styles.

So, in different games, I literally can do different things.  In Dogs in the Vineyard I get to choose if I want to roll the dice or say yes. In Sorcerer I can't, I have to roll the dice when there is a conflict. In Trollbabe I never roll dice and everybody can call for a conflict anytime. Different games.

So, I don't think it would be useful to call the way a GM play in a game in any different way than "How the GM is played in game x" (if the game x has a GM.  Dirty Secret call the player with special responsibilities "Investigator", for example). It's more fruitful to examine not "the GM" (that doesn't exist) but the different authorities and roles associated indifferent games (as in the two threads I linked above)

But, seeing that this is the "actual play" forum, why don't you talk in more detail about how Apocalypse World enabled you to "GM in a way that I have tried to GM before, but been unable to".  In which games did you try it, failing? How did you "fail"?
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #2 on: March 19, 2011, 07:48:20 AM »

Hi Mitch,

Vincent had a phrase about AW, that I think applies to rpgs in general- different ways to GM a game "align" with different games- that is, certain methods make the game as much as anything else.

For much of our hobby, people assume all games have space to be GM'ed any-which-way, which has led to a lot of problems when it comes to playing games designed to work only in one way, or certain ways.  As you yourself mention, you probably would have imported a different GM style over Apocalypse World's rules if you weren't specifically on the look out for it.

I don't know if it makes sense to try to name each style, as much as it makes sense to recognize the larger phenomenon and the idea that, yes, different games should be played differently.  O

When I end up talking about it in a more particular manner, I usually end up talking about the differences between a game's procedures ("mechanics" is usually the word used) and the game's directives ("soft advice", "GMing style", "spirit of the rules" etc.). 

( Links to posts I've written about this:
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/gming-broad-authority-clear-directives/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/procedures-vs-directives/ )

I look at these things in more detail, because that's really what makes or breaks it- people often ignore the directives thinking they're just extra fluff when they are, in fact, crucial to play. 

For example, you can look up a lot of Sorcerer threads in the Adept Press subforum here, where people ran into trouble because they:

1. Ignored the procedural step to write important factors on the chart on the back of the character sheet
2.  Which is used by the GM, to improvise scenes and reactions while following the directive to put PCs into situations for humanity checks
3.  Which is necessary in order to follow the directive to not railroad play or have an outcome preplanned and still have interesting stuff happen.

You'll notice there are parallels and differences from how Apocalypse World does things ("Fronts", "Make AW Real", "Make their lives not boring"), but that these differences are actually important to talking about it in a meaningful way.

I don't think it's so much that people haven't spoken about it as a theory thing, as much as recognized that with different games having different needs, a broad category might not actually fit.

Chris
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Narmical
Member

Posts: 40

Mitch "Narmical" Morris


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« Reply #3 on: March 19, 2011, 08:21:13 AM »

Moreno, my post seems to have pushed a few of your buttons. Your feelings and reactions are exactly the reason why I am looking for a 'proper' or 'better' way to describe whats going on here. You make a very good point about what I called GMing style in the games I pointed out is a function of the rules. I use the term GMing style because when I started playing RPGs, concrete rules for GM were unknown to me or my playing partners. The differences in experiences and campaign structure were all a function of the GM you were playing with, not the brand name of the game text.

But you do make an important point, in games like Dogs, AW & Mouse Guard, assuming the rules are followed,  the GM is not the one why who is deciding what 'kind' of game it is, but rather the designed. The GM is only a conduit.

To the point of why did I fail at GMing the way AW enables you to GM, I have no idea why I failed. All i know is that the players lack any sort of independent intention. They would constantly look to me for what was next, and I would constantly look to them for it too. I don't know why that happened or why AW was different. If I knew what the difference was I would not have described the AW rules as magical. I going to guess it was just a lack of skill, witch the AW rules in my pocket I can benefit from Vincent's experience in a way that no GMing advice ever could.

Chris, you and I are defiantly on the same page as to whats going on in these games. There is a fundamental difference in the rules of the game and the design methodology. The RPGs I started playing with were a collection of isolated simulation mechanics to handle adjudication of situations. The only mechanics offered to the GM where how to play the other side of these situations, and how to judge changeless and rewards. The games we named, are fully integrated rule sets where each rule assumes the other are extant. As a whole they work, to engender a certain game play experience.

There are two things that I want to stress. These game experienced existed before any of these games we named were written. Dogs did not invent the going from town to town fixing people's problems story structure. It has existed in TV since at least the 1970s. And GMs have been using D&D to play a story like that since at least the 1990s (when someone GMed D&D like that for me).

Chris, you contend that these things don't need names, but i have to disagree. RPG now covers a wider range of ideas than it once did. At one point RPG meant games like D&D, and for some people it still dose. However  the popular view on what playing D&D is like is dungeon craw. Where as AW, Sorcerer et. al. have a much different play experience. It is useful, and I think required for the good of the hobby, to be able to label these differences. It will help people find the games they like to play.

Much to the same way that in board games you have strategy games, euro games, party games etc. Yes each game in those categories are different, but there share similar elements that make for a similar game experience. If your a board gamer I'm sure you have friends who love Cranium but hate Settlers. Sure, there both board games, but the experience is very different. One being from euro games and one from party.

Summing up, Apolypse World didn't invent the play experience it provides, there are other games out there that are "supposed" to be played that way. Admittedly there rules don't work as well as AW's for making it happen. But not being the fist I am reluctant to call all of these games Apolypse World-like RPGs.

What do you think?

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Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #4 on: March 19, 2011, 11:00:20 AM »

Hi Mitch,

You asked "My questions are, can we name these? should we name these?"

When talking about boardgames and "styles of play" usually folks end up talking about specific mechanic setups: "It's a resource trading game.", "It's a imperfect information guessing game", etc.  This is because a game might be like other games in a certain way, and different in another - each game sits in a large Venn diagram of multiple overlapping groups. 

Is Dominion a deck building game, a limited resource race, or a highly customizable variation game?  It's all 3, and each category is different.

When talking about rpgs, here at the Forge, historically, it's been the same way.

Should we name a style of play?  Sure, if you can find enough commonalities across enough games sharing enough techniques to name it, and it gets picked up, go for it!   Can we?  I don't know, depends on which category you're talking about.

You may want to look up Scene Framing, Flags, and Bangs, as some examples of things which, have been named because they work the same way across enough games to get mention as techniques.

Chris
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stefoid
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Posts: 657


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« Reply #5 on: March 19, 2011, 01:33:41 PM »

I just started GMing Apocalypse Word. I was GMing as part of my preparing for interviewing Vincent Baker about the game. Because of this reason, i followed the rules of the game slavishly, even when i didn't total trust them. Usually my GM sense would lead me to change things, in an "i know better" way, but i controlled myself, The interesting thing was, it made me, almost magically, successfully GM in a way that I have tried to GM before, but been unable to. Namely the kind of game where each player is a prominent member in society with there own power structures perusing there own, not necessarily aligned ends.

Hi.  This is really interseting. 

Which rules did you think of subverting but didnt?

Which rules were responsible for your new way of GMing. 

If the answer to both is 'too many to mention' pick the most important top 3 or 5.

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Narmical
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Posts: 40

Mitch "Narmical" Morris


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« Reply #6 on: March 20, 2011, 06:09:02 AM »

Quote from: stefoid
Which rules did you think of subverting but didnt?

Which rules were responsible for your new way of GMing. 

If the answer to both is 'too many to mention' pick the most important top 3 or 5.

If I was just playing business as usual, I would have only read the character creation and conflict resolution sections. A feeling of "I know how to GM" would have made me feel like reading anything else would have been a waste of time. In other words information I already knew.

But to get more specific here are things I might have done, even if i had read those sections, and wasn't compelled to follow the rules slavishly.

The first situation is a combination of 3 rules
1. Don't prepare anything as the GM before the first session
2. Draw your game inspiration from listening to the players create there characters.
3. Start the game by following the characters about there normal day.

These rules all come together to create the game world and to create the fiction for the first session. If any one of them is not in force, the others fail as well. So I will discuss them together. Firstly rule #1 would have gone straight out the window. I am an easily excited person, the excitement would have gotten me planning. And therefore the rule about listening to the players as they create characters would not have worked either. I would have had my idea, been married to it for a week, and just not listened, not out of malice or spite, just out of circumstance. Next I would have started the game with a brief description of MY conception of what apocalypse wold was, and MY conception of were the game began and then said "So what do you do?".

This game, and indeed games that share the character directed play style, rely on building strong player intentions. The players need intrinsic motivation to go out and do. I draw the above prediction about what I would have done from a rather boring attempt to play a similar style of game using Rifts. What happened is the players stared back at me blank faced, waiting for me to hand them something to do. They had no intention. However, AW's rules build that in from the gate. The characters creation rules, give each player a very real idea of what there character controls and what there motivations might be. Also the character creation rules force the players to speak aloud the relationships between them. This plain speaking allows #2 above. In the Rifts example, the characters arrived fully formed with respect to the rules before the first session. And "fully formed" in Rifts imply nothing about motivations or relationships with other characters or anything about in world influence. In Rifts, even if I had wanted to I could not have done #2. The third rule from above I could have done, but never thought of. Even so, in Rifts, little is stated or implied about what a "normal" day for a cyber knight is.

So what happened at the start of AW was, I started with the Chopper, he woke up bright an early at the strike of noon, and went down to the biker bar to find his men, but there were only like 2 or 3 bikes out front. What happened? The Choppers gang and the Hard Holder's gang got into a bit of rough and tumble, now the chopper's gang was being "held in custody".

Where did this come from when my previous attempt at this was so poor? We I came into the game truly disinterested and unprepared. I listed around the table, the Hard Holder decided the Chopper betrayed him during the Hx pass out, so I keyed in on that. It said to me that the Hard Holder wanted to but heads with the Chopper. So I played with that. Also the rule "make the characters' lives not boring" and "there is no status quo" helped there too.

An interesting observation that I just made about this game is that normally GMs when they chat about player intention talk about "hooking" the players into there plot. Giving them little bits of information to try and spark motivation to follow the plot. What I notice about AW is that it works the other way round here, the players hook the GM and the GM runs with there plot.. Thats what happened to me, and the rules seem to be in support of that kind of play. I think this is a better way to play, the GM is only one person, its easer for 4+ people to throw out at least one thing to hook the GM. But if one GM needs to hook all 4+ people, it seems like a harder job.

I also have some stuff about the front sheets, but this post has got too long. Ask me about it if interested.
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stefoid
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Posts: 657


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« Reply #7 on: March 20, 2011, 02:59:23 PM »

gold!

thanks!
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Narmical
Member

Posts: 40

Mitch "Narmical" Morris


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« Reply #8 on: March 31, 2011, 05:40:34 AM »

Ive done some more thinking on this topic and I'd like to share my new thoughts.

When I end up talking about it in a more particular manner, I usually end up talking about the differences between a game's procedures ("mechanics" is usually the word used) and the game's directives ("soft advice", "GMing style", "spirit of the rules" etc.). 

( Links to posts I've written about this:
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/04/11/gming-broad-authority-clear-directives/
http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/06/09/procedures-vs-directives/ )

Chris,
I want to respond to your blog about Procedures-Vs-Directives in the context of your suggestion to "[Talk] about the differences between a game's procedures ...  and the game's directives". When you talk a bout the difference between procedures and directives, you make a very interesting and very real distinction, however for the remainder of this post i will group these two concepts into the word mechanics.

That said, simply comparing the mechanics of games (procedures or directives or there sum total) is not enough to get at the 'thing' abut RPGs that i am calling for the categorizing of. Rather I want to talk about the dynamics of the game, in other words, the emergent behaviors or the take away play experience.

From your blogs I know that you understand this concept. but please bear with me because this is a subtle idea that many people miss, even ones who intutivly understand it. I mean no offence if you already fully grasp the concept. I'm just trying to be thurogh, not assume anything, and make the post accesable to others who this concept may be new to.

Quote
If you play D&D 4E and follow the procedures, you will get a tactically focused strategy game. You donít have to think about it, or put a guiding hand on the rules- they do what they do and the resulting game naturally rises from it.

When you make the statement about about D&D and the "tactically focused strategy game" thats its dynamics. If you follow the rules, thats what you get. D&D is an easy case, the dynamics follow almost at face value from the mechanics. Its rather clear from reading the book what play is going to be like. However, that is not always the case. Let me provide an example.

Poker is a game who's mechanics do not give away its dynamics. The dynamics being "Decit" the whole culture of poker faces and bluffing that surrounds the game. The mechanics being the hiding of some cards, the showing of others (in texas hold-em) the rounds of card gain and betting where you can give up when you want, the ranking of hands etc. Nowhere in the hard rules of poker is poker faces mention. But its an emergent behavior that everyone who plays poker for long enough eventually just understands. I contend, that just a reading of the rules does not obviously show that deceit is a dynamic.

Lets compare to Blackjack. This game as very similar mechanics to poker. Some cards are hidden, some are shown; There are successive rounds of card gain and betting where you can give up when you want, and a way to rank hands. But the dynamics of Blackjack are "Card Counting" not deceit. There is no Blackjack face. Why is this when the rules seem so similar?

The reason is there are small key differences that make the play experience diverge.

On the other hand there are other games which share few if any rules with poker that have a strong deceit element to them. If i compare dynamics, its possible for me to say, "you liked the bluffing in poker? well you might like Battle Star Galictia, Shadows over Camelot, Werewolf or Mafia". All those games have a strong deceit component, but share none of the rules of poker (except hidden cards)

Brining this back to RPGs, i want to be able to say the same thing. You liked the play that happened in game X, you might like the play in game Y because they play the same even though the mechanics are different. On that note I've come up with 3 categories with 2 game that fit into each. I will present one now, and the rest later as time allows.

Spheres of Influence Game
In this kind of game, each PC has a sphere of influence that they control. This is something greater than themselves that they are the leader of, each PC has there own. The PCs know each other but are not necessarily friends, and could be enemies. In this kind of game we play to find out how each faction deals with the badness of he greater world and its limited resources. "Do the spheres clash, do they work together, who comes out on top" are more important than "was the badness solved".

In this group we have two games, Apocalypse World and Vampire the Masquerade: Minds Eye Theater.
Apocalypse World is rather plain to see why this is the dynamic of that game. The mechanics really push it, PCs are defined primarily by the sphere of influence they control, and the GMing rules are all about how to make, track and announce the badness. And there is even a directive "Play to find out what happens".

Vampire is slightly less clear, for one its from the era where rules for GMing were not something that was even talked about. However 3/4 of the games of it that i played in where of this type. This is enough to convince me that there are its dynamics. The reason this happens is that in the larp the traditional set up has each player being either there clan's Representative in the ruling council, or one of the clan's oligarchs. This was coupled with the games unpredictable rock-paper-scissors conflict resolution mechanic, but very powerful influence mechanic. Influence allowed you to effect the world beyond the immediate play area, there were concrete rules that translated a level of influence into real results. The best example was Resources, this represented having a vast fortune. I may be misremembering the levels but with a 1 in resources you could call a private car once per game. With a resources of 2 or higher you could call one as much as you wanted. With a resources of 5 you could call a private jet. The outcome was, to resolve conflicts, people relied on using and trading influence, because it was predictable and easy to transfer, rather than the conflict rules. These realties of the mechanics came together to create the spheres of influence dynamic.

But notice the mechanics of these two games are wildly different. if we were to compare the mechanics, we might reach a conclusion that these games are not the same, which, from my argument above they clearly are.

Do others agree that these games play very much the same? Is there another game that you have played that might fit into this category, if so why?
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