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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13297 Members Latest Member: - Shane786 Most online today: 29 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: decoupling Reward Systems from broad-scale Story Arcs  (Read 6461 times)
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #15 on: October 20, 2011, 09:11:28 AM »

Filip,

Yeah, reasons abound for why this play style might not appeal to someone.  At the same time, I believe Todd's accounts are accurate.  I've had them corroborated by players.  Perhaps in the chaos of a convention, sitting down for an unknown activity and being given clear structure and expectations is welcome to most players.

Personally, I find the unique appeal of the is play style to be the discovery of well-crafted plot, like reading a good page-turner suspense novel.  Foreshadowing, dramatic timing, big reveals, etc.  As a player, that's audience-style enjoyment but from a "closer up" point of view than I usually feel when just reading.  As a GM, it's author/director-style satisfaction in presenting your vision to a receptive audience.

There are other appeals too, but for me, those are the most singular.  I think a lot of people are actually drawn to GMing because they want to tell their stories.  Wouldn't it be great for them if they were shown a way to do that that was not abusive to the other players?

-David
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David Berg
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« Reply #16 on: October 20, 2011, 09:54:17 AM »

Hi Paul,

Here's my take on Trail of Cthulhu:

The GM prep of a "spine" of core clues, plus the system's automatic successes for attempts to find core clues using Investigative Abilities, is sort of compatible with "GM runs a story".  I say "sort of" because the GM cedes control over timing, that is, when a player decides to use said Ability.  The GM still has a fair amount of control over pacing and the ingredients that go into a big reveal, but there's a slight compromise to that.  On the one hand, you could say this is cool because if a GM wants the dramatic timing to be just so, they need to get their players on board to make that happen.  So, yay, communication, pulling together, etc.  On the other hand, you could say that's half-assing this play style, compromising with a style with more distributed authorities.

Sanity and Stability tracks are totally compatible with Todd's style of game.  Pay attention to how crazy you're getting, and roleplay that.  Awesome.  It's a group-approved aesthetic meter measured out in check boxes on the character sheet.  Go all the way off the end, and the ToC book gives great options for how to represent amnesia, megalomania, and other forms of insanity at the table.  Gaining and losing Sanity and Stability is all about encountering stuff the GM throws at you, so the GM has input without needing to make every decision about who goes how nuts when (thanks to the randomness of the die roll).  Win-win.

Ability and skill rolls are totally not well-suited to Todd's game.  While technically compatible, they orient the players to the game all wrong.  My experience is that players get caught up in attempting to do stuff, and the intermittent rewards of the dice reinforce this.  So now the Hunting Horror is coming at me, and what am I thinking about?  I'm thinking about how difficult it should be for me to climb out this window, based on my Athletics and the GM's description of the window, which I will ask them to embellish as I grasp about for my most effective option.  My sense is that when Todd runs Hollow Earth Expedition, he does in fact use the game's pass/fail task mechanics, but no one gets hung up on optimizing their in-character striving because it's light-hearted and pulpy and they know they're not gonna die.  Cthulhu is the opposite of that.  And, indeed, when Todd runs Unknown Armies, I think his players roll only for Stress Checks.

Frankly, I think the more the players think about effectiveness options, the more Cthulhu gaming suffers*.  I think it's an ideal candidate to be run the way Todd runs Unknown Armies.

Ps,
-Dave

* Well, actually, that's an extreme simplification of what I think; longer version starts here.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: October 20, 2011, 10:15:15 AM »

Hi,

In another thread, I linked to a recent write-up I did called Setting and emergent stories; it's pretty focused on techniques for using settings, but my breakdown of story creation and role-playing might be good here. It turns out I cited Trail of Cthulhu as an example of explicit Participationist design, too.

Unknown Armies presents an interesting case. I cited it in the essay as at least having potential to be used for setting-heavy Story Now play, but I admit that is mainly wish-fulfillment on my part. In practice, I've found it to be designed practically exclusively for short-term, highly colorful, and quite Story Before play. Ken Hite, on the other hand, has GMed years-long, many-many-session games of Unknown Armies, so he'd be one to ask as well.

Best, Ron
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #18 on: October 20, 2011, 10:36:24 AM »

Dave, it seems to me that the tension in the type of games you're talking about is that the game's mechanics tell the players they can do one thing (e.g. shoot out the tires of a truck) but subtle and ambiguous social pressures tell them they need to do something else (e.g. "make a good movie", which apparently means "there must be a truck chase" if you have the right decoder ring). Is this the feature that you're trying to preserve or the bug that you're trying to fix? Games tell us all the time which things are valid and in-scope stakes for the resolution system, sometimes explicitly with mechanics and sometimes implicitly with setting or genre conventions (in DITV, nobody tries to travel back in time to fix the town before the problem began). It's perfectly possible to have pre-defined plot events as part of a game's design, too, as long as the rest of the game design doesn't conflict with that expectation.
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David Berg
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« Reply #19 on: October 20, 2011, 11:14:41 AM »

Dan,

Agreed on your last point about when pre-defined plot is viable. 

As for feature/bug, the subtle and ambiguous social pressures are the bug.  Todd applies a fix that doesn't come from any game text or ruleset.  I'm interested in creating a text & ruleset to provide such a fix, so people who aren't Todd can do it.  What I'm asking now is what such a game should include.
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contracycle
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« Reply #20 on: October 20, 2011, 11:49:37 AM »

Just want to chime in and agree with the point that Dan and Dave express.  FATE and so on, which was mentioned above, don't really facilitate this sort of thing because they are no more than task res, still with the iomplicit problem Dan identified.

When I've thought about this sort of thing, I have often been drawn to thoughts about playing boards of one kind or another.  Something that graphically displays some issue of concern that the players. Just off the top of my head, imagine a flowcharty type thing that had a box labelled "try to kill Goon 1" and an arrow to "Goon 1 dies".  And elsewhere there is a box labelled "Try to kill the Overlord" and an arrow to "The Overlord mind-controls you". Now you would know that if you tried to kill the Overlord, you're really saying "My PC gets mind-controlled".

Now that's a very crude sort of illustration, borrowing from the example used in Todd's game, and you could refine by, for example, covering the second boxes with cards that re only revealed when an attempt is made, which would preserve subjective surprise.  But the very fact that this sort of chart existed would communicate the expectation that things are set up, than it isn't a "physical universe" and so on.

I've come to increasingly suspect that the linkages that can exist between numbers on character sheets, dice, successes and whatnot are not enough to convey the concept of express, designed, edges to the area of free action.
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contracycle
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« Reply #21 on: October 20, 2011, 12:06:20 PM »

Oh and something else.  I think the one design element with which appears in an existing text, and is most conducive to this style of play, is the cut-away that appeared in the early iterations of the WEG Star Wars game.

Now I believe it got dropped later, and I'm pretty sure it never appeared anyway else, so I'll explain.  The idea was that the prepared story would include the kind of cut-away that happened in the movies, where the AUDIENCE sees the NPC's doing and saying things that bears on the action that just has happened or is just about to happen.  And this means the players get information that the characters do not have, which tacitly informs their decisions. 

So as an example, again borrowing them the situation established in the OP, perhaps before telling the players that their characters see the villains loading the truck and driving off, they also get a chunk of narration showing the obviously malevolent, bald-headed Overlord berating his minions, strangling a small furry creature, and taking up a meditative posture in the back of the truck.  Now as the players chase and clamber over the vehicle, wrestling with minions, dangling from the running boards and so on, they as players know that just inches away from the PC's the Overlord is squatting in the lotus position contemplating things unknown but no doubt diabolical.

PS: I've made up the title Overlord.

Anyway, I think that was a very effective technique that went quite some way to dealing with the points Ron raises in his essay.  I'm less convinced it worked very well in conjunction with the basic task res system that made up the rest of the game, but I think its the best of the existing in-print specific techniques.
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #22 on: October 20, 2011, 12:29:01 PM »

Dave, I think you'd want to start with figuring out what the resolution system should resolve. If the game's mechanics were all about the relationships between the PCs, for example, then whether the truck's tires are shot out or whether there's a chase becomes more akin to a setting or scene framing decision.

When I was working on the dice mechanic for Final Hour of a Storied Age, I looked at how Mouse Guard structured the GM's turn, and I concluded that the dice weren't really deciding between "yes" and "no" but between "yes" and "not yet", e.g., when you're rolling Pathfinder to get to Lockhaven, the dice are deciding whether that's a minor detail (success) or whether you'll go into depth and have an intense scene (success with a twist) or character moment (success with a condition) along the way. In some ways it's just a pacing mechanic. In my game, I made this pretty explicit: individual dice rolls tell you if you're doing well or poorly against obstacles in your path, and whether you overcome them, and winning chapters progresses you through your pre-outlined plot. I have some instructions in there that tell the players to keep their narration within the scope of what the mechanics can allow: since you can't kill the villain in chapter 1, narration that would logically result in the villain being dead isn't valid narration. I think it works, but maybe not for everybody, it's obviously not the only way to go.

Are more structural mechanics something you're open to, or do you also want to preserve the classic paradigm of players playing characters with capabilities described in terms what they can do within a fictional world?
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Filip Luszczyk
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« Reply #23 on: October 21, 2011, 07:47:43 AM »

I think a lot of people are actually drawn to GMing because they want to tell their stories.  Wouldn't it be great for them if they were shown a way to do that that was not abusive to the other players?

I notice there's this curious tendency in the hobby, but it's a bit difficult for me to relate to their motives, as I tend to refuse gaming with people who manifest this urge. Often, it comes packaged with social-level incompatibilities that make me want to avoid prolonged social interaction with them in the first place.

I think before considering the question of non-abusive methods, another question should be asked: why are those people drawn to GMing for this particular reason?

I think it might often be the case of social context in which they find themselves immersed. Like, for purely random reasons, perhaps their circles include a large number of gamers. It might seem easier for them to satisfy their storytelling urges by applying bait & switch strategies in such social environments, rather than reaching past it towards more appropriate audiences. However, it tends to result in abusive arrangements that have been plaguing the gaming fandom since forever.

Now, there's a large number of methods for telling your story readily available. What's the particular draw of GMing as opposed to, say, writing novels or engaging in traditional storytelling?

I think it's worth considering that perhaps what such people need are not ways of telling their stories by slaughtering gameplay in their games. Perhaps it would be more fruitful to show them ways of telling their stories via more effective medium, where the issue of abuse is simply not present?

It reminds me of all those fantasy heartbreakers designers who struggle with issues that have already been answered innumerable times in segments of hobby where they simply never looked for solutions. It's not that unusual for people to become fixated on creative directions that are in fact dead ends.
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contracycle
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« Reply #24 on: October 21, 2011, 10:04:31 AM »

Now you're just being offensive and ignorant, Filip.  What's more you;'re imputing motivations to people without knowing anything about them.  Most of what you have written above is little better than vile and vicious slander and bigotry.

The one serious question you pose in that outpouring of filth is "why this form".  And that should be easy enough to understand.  It;s because it is, relatively speaking, small scale and intimate.  Because it doesn't require such a monumental ego as to think that large numbers of people are going to want to read our words or watch your film, but those people whose interest and proclivities you already know. Because it doesn't require years of work followed by purely abstract consumption who experiences and feedback you will never see.  It;s something you can do for the people you know  that right here and now, more or less, in the same way you might cook them a meal or, in pre-TV days, the way people used to entertain each other by playing instruments and putting on plays and so on at home.

Now I don;t demand that everyone share the same aesthetic preferences, but however much you may dislike it, if you have nothing to contribute then you can at least get the hell out of the way.
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David Berg
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« Reply #25 on: October 21, 2011, 10:32:40 AM »

Filip,
Early in my roleplaying career, I tried to use my GM position to tell my stories, and though there were many times when that didn't go so well, there were some times where it went really well for everyone involved.  I know I got something unique out of it, and I think the players did too.  So I'm convinced that functional possibilities do exist in this direction.  How hard they are to design for is another question.

Everyone, I'd prefer that we keep the focus on the "designing for" part here in this thread, please. 

Filip and Gareth, if you guys want to explain yourselves to each other, maybe PMs?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: October 21, 2011, 10:33:31 AM »

Well, and here I was just about to post to say that preferences weren't the topic.

Gareth, notify me next time, please. I'm not saying your concern is not real.

Filip, I think there was more content in your posts than Gareth did, but if you could bring it forward in another post, without the issue of preference, it would help the thread.

Everyone, cool the tempers. Punch a pillow, type in a blog, whatever you need to do.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #27 on: October 21, 2011, 10:36:19 AM »

There's some interesting stuff here!

Ron,
I like the document you linked and I'm trying to figure out if it provides any takeaways or tools for this discussion.  The observations about how certain styles of set-up can interfere with the players getting what they signed up for seems relevant.  Todd uses pre-genned characters, so they're as integrated with the setting and plot as he can/wants to make them.  I think it's at least one valid approach for Participationist design.

Gareth,
I'm used to GM plans and GM cutaways, but I'm not used to them being one and the same!  Any thoughts on what's unique about that specific technique?

Dan,
My first thought is to look at reward system, but I feel kind of unfocused and that the possibilities there are quite broad, so maybe looking at resolution is a good place to start.  I will definitely return to this topic.  In the meantime, if you have any thoughts on appropriate resolution mechanics

Thanks, guys!
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David Berg
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« Reply #28 on: October 21, 2011, 10:38:44 AM »

Wow, bad editing by me.  That note to Dan should have concluded:

if you have any thoughts on appropriate resolution mechanics, please share!
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contracycle
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« Reply #29 on: October 21, 2011, 12:50:51 PM »

I'm not precisely saying that plans and cutaways are the same, but rather than cutaways suits planned styles.

What I'm essentially suggesting is that a huge amount of the conflict that potentially arises, and if not conflict then uncertainty and confusion, does so because task res systems assert that you can do anything you could to in the physical world,.  While in the GM-story type game, this isn't going to be true, or at least isn't going to be always true.

It can also serve to soften some of the dangers.  So if the cutaway reveals to you that the evil Imperials are going to sabotage the starliner, you take rooms that are closer to the escape pods.  Which has the convenient result of reducing the odds of a fairly rolled system event killing off characters, and so on.  In other words, it facilitates collusion between the players and GM, which is a great deal more elegant and friendly than fudging rolls and denying actions so a favoured NPC can escape, as the classic form of GM control has it.

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"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
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