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Author Topic: How Glorantha both inspired and frustrated my play.  (Read 3453 times)
Web_Weaver
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« on: November 12, 2011, 01:46:30 AM »

Story before 

Have been reading David's thread:

Decoupling Reward Systems from broad-scale Story Arcs

And Ron's thread:

Incipient Narrativism and its discontents

In the latter I asked if Story Before as a term has any real use outside of the context of Story Now?

I'm, going to try and rephrase that more reflexively. 

When I read David's description of Story Before Participationism, I can recognise at least a semi-functional play style, but it reminds me of many games that looking back were often doomed to fail. In my experiences as soon as the GM starts to construct more than a loose structure of a story that he becomes invested in, everyone else has to invest in it for things not to degenerate, and I have yet to see this happen in a way that I can have any fun.

As a GM with this kind of goal I had to spend a lot of time persuading and explaining in what was effectively a soft force manner. And, as a player I had to curtail my own idea of character or situation to fall in with the often less inspiring notions of the game.

 So example: I am going to talk about Glorantha as if you know this stuff, trust me on this it isn't that vital if the names don't make much sense.

 I remember being very inspired by a Gloranthan character of mine. This was mainly due to the 100 word method of Character Creation. 

Hero-wars kind of encouraged you right from the off to move your character out of the standard Gloranthan tropes. The way for example, that characters could be equally effective even when they weren't dedicated members of a cult structure aiming at 'Rune Status,' which was pretty much the point of Runequest, made me very excited.

So I picked a loner character, an Orlanthi focused on wilderness aspects who had no aspiration to move behind initiate status, but was interested in other forms of magic.

As his character developed in play he became very focused on two related things, a fascination with water as a symbol of magic, and a recognition that in his homeland of Furthest, water was also a potential rallying call for otherwise unrelated groups to unite against the nominally occupying Lunars. 

My story itch ran wild, I could imagine my character going in several directions and none of them ending well for him, he was almost certainly going to be pulled apart by forces greater than him if he had the courage to take his ideas forward. In all of my Roleplaying experiences I have never been as excited by potential as that moment. And of course it was doomed to fail miserably because the GM wasn't running a Story Now game. I could't even express the idea to him, because putting it into tangible story arc form was inherently limiting and not 'the exiting thing'. 

In trying to explain it later to the GM I picked on one idea that could have happened. My character could have become a shining example of inclusive humanism (not quite the term because he would be including non-humans but you get the drift) that was at the same time xenophobic to the point of fascism to outsiders, that's never going to end well for the character. His response was that in order for that cool story to have happened I would have had to explain it to him ahead of time so that he could bring it into play. It isn't easy to explain that by doing this I would have been limiting the potential into a pre-prepared story.
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Web_Weaver
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« Reply #1 on: November 12, 2011, 02:19:58 AM »

So returning to the question. To me the term story before implies that before we begin the exploration we have already narrowed down the options for play.

It doesn't matter if the ideas that inform the narrow choices are collaborative or even player focused, what mattes is that before we start we have removed a whole load of possibilities and throughout the multiple sessions this narrowing will probably occur multiple times.

It's the point at which you prune that makes all the difference. If you prune before play then you will never have the experience of watching the tree grow naturally.

So I would see Story Before Participationist as possible only if everyone gets to prune before play, which seems to limit the idea of exploration, or if during a play session everyone gets to have input into the next pruning, which could very easily result in unsatisfying compromise play unless everyone is bought into a very strong vision. And a strong single vision is kind anathema to the idea of exciting potential.

I am aware I am viewing this through a narrow lens of Story Now, but I can't see any way of marrying this idea with any other type of play I have experienced. All of the functional Runequest or Call of Cthulu, or even non Story Now HeroQuest I have ever played or run has been much more based on aiming towards a preconceived climax. To me that's not Story Before, that's Story Structure as a framework for exploration of character. Where is the participation in that?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: November 12, 2011, 05:05:31 AM »

Hi,

Great topic. I'm posting to let you know that I have plenty to say about this, although I'm not able to devote time to it for a little while.

Best, Ron
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Abkajud
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« Reply #3 on: November 12, 2011, 07:01:59 AM »

Web,
I don't think you're defining Story Now too loosely at all - - if players cannot freely make decisions about where they want to take things in terms of theme, it cannot be Story Now.
It seems to be possible that pre-determined events (but not outcomes) can be a feature of Story Now play without turning it into something else. The game Montsegur 1244, for example [http://thoughtfulgames.com/montsegur1244/] has a relatively "staged" plot:

"Montsegur 1244 is a tragedy in four acts... The acts are:
Prologue: The Assassination in Avignonet
Act One: The Siege Begins
Act Two: Winter Hardships...."


And so forth. In short, the game comes pre-packed with specific, if large-scale, events that serve as a backdrop to the smaller, personal stories that get swept up in the tide of war and politics. It's a bit like Polaris, but with even more of a "so, you're probably gonna die. What do you do?" theme going on.
It's not about "who's framing the plot?" per se; it's about "can the players react to events however they wish?" That's the real takeaway for Story Now, but again, only with regard to tackling theme.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: November 12, 2011, 09:36:21 AM »

Quote
So I would see Story Before Participationist as possible only if everyone gets to prune before play, which seems to limit the idea of exploration, or if during a play session everyone gets to have input into the next pruning, which could very easily result in unsatisfying compromise play unless everyone is bought into a very strong vision. And a strong single vision is kind anathema to the idea of exciting potential.
Yeah, but you have to think in the context of not having authored at all, before, only ever passive audience to books. But now you can suddenly author AND you have an audience. It seems incredibly exciting and the pruning and strong vision seem a great new thing in contrast with having, for years and years, merely being a reader of books. Compared to all those years, it seems alot more 'now'.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #5 on: November 12, 2011, 06:26:21 PM »

The idea of "pruning" as a fundamental contribution is pretty thought provoking. A lot of the conflicts the first time I ever played Universalis were about what should not be allowed in the story. The mechanics worked brilliantly for this, and the resulting story was pretty powerful. In conch-style games that give players uncontestable full-bore story power I've seen a lot of ridiculous stories that players try to convince themselves are awesome. Why are there so few games that recognize the importance of "everyone gets to prune"?

Paul
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contracycle
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« Reply #6 on: November 13, 2011, 08:26:07 AM »

Well, my first response to this is to think, more or less, "so what".  OK, so, this isn't for you - that's fine, nobody is forcing you to play this way, I hope, so what does it matter?

Taking your last point less flippantly, I think you're raising a question about what the agenda is.  I don't think that SBP is a "story based" agenda in the same way that Story Now is.  In fact I see no reason for making reference to story in this context at all.  As you say, the story structure really just serves as a platform for the exploration of character - or, indeed, setting or situation.  I'm quite conscious of the fact that I borrow from story structure, like the idea of the three act play, not to really "tell a story" as such but in order to provide a somewhat directed play experience.  The story in this case is a means, not an end.
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Abkajud
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« Reply #7 on: November 13, 2011, 08:56:20 AM »

So does pruning mean veto power, or the ability to go back and retroactively remove things from the "pool" of available subjects, setting elements, etc.?

@Contra:
Eero has written some interesting stuff about the utility of ignoring the nature of emerging events of play as "narrative", in that it can change the players' priorities from playing the game to "getting the story right".
This happened to one of my players yesterday in a session of Apocalypse World - - John, playing Rue (a Gunlugger), was debating whether to follow Diamond (the Chopper) into the cave to chase after Old Hugo, a sickly villager who turned out to be a sleeper agent for the local warlord.  (Oh, and John is super-new to RPGs - he'd played D&D3 previously, but before this game, that was all.)

Me: "Well, you did whang your head pretty hard on that rock; you're at 6 o'clock. Do you want to go with Diamond?"
John: "I'm kind of afraid of getting hurt even worse. But, you know, if I stay behind, I'm kind of writing myself out of the story."
Me: "Maybe, yeah. But try not to think about that so much as what you, John, want to get out of this session. What seems more interesting to you?"
John: "Checking out the cave."
Me: "Boo [the Angel, back in town] can patch you up if you need it, too."
John: "Yeah, that's true. Ok, I'm in."

Obviously, if I hadn't said anything, he would have done the same thing. But I think it's important to make it clear to everyone in Story Now play that they don't have to follow "hooks", or "stay with the party", or anything, if they don't wish to.
If anything, I'd say that SBP is an example of play in which the "story" or "plot" is absolutely paramount (as, likely, one person took the time to write it up and then "install" the characters in it), and if you don't engage with the material as/when it's presented, it's like playing Pac Man by putting a quarter in and then walking away from the machine. There's an expectation that if you sit down for some Story Before that you at least broadly understand how it works; if you know this but choose not to act accordingly, you're ignoring the social contract of play. 
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: November 13, 2011, 09:54:50 AM »

Hey everyone,

The trouble is that we have two very, very different topics at hand.

1. My setting essay is strictly and only from within the desire to play Story Now. I wrote it for people who have no idea what Creative Agenda is, no interest in anything except the one that they want, in this case, Narrativist, and quite likely, no real contact with systemic thinking except for various catch-phrases from RPG books. It is not supposed to be a comparative treatise at the level of CA. It’s about getting detailed settings and certain texts to work for Story Now play.

Before anyone wrinkles their noses at me for being so limited in outlook, I want to point out that people have been asking me for years to provide exactly such a techniques-based discussion of ways to achieve a given Creative Agenda goal, without reference to other ones, without any discussion at that level.

2. Therefore, “Story Before” and “Story Now,” in that essay are pure techniques terms. Using “Story Now” as a techniques term is not a violation of the Big Model terms; it makes sense insofar as the essay takes that Creative Agenda as a given and (locally) a universal, and hence, invisible.

3. It may be terribly tempting to say, “Gee, if Story Now is a CA, then Story Before must be its own CA,” but that does not stand up. In order to talk about techniques-families, which is what I’m trying to do, and what David is trying to do as well, we have to take CA as a pure and simple given – and indeed, treat it as a universal even when it’s not – in our respective cases. In other words, the Before/Now comparisons in each discussion have to be firewalled away from one another.

4. In my discussion, Story Now techniques are being discussed in the “universe” of Story Now CA. In David’s, CA is going unnamed, which is sort of an outstanding “if” in his thread, understandable considering that David is himself still dubious about the whole concept. Furthermore, we have never discussed whether guided-story, high-Force techniques go with any given CA, except to highlight that they go quite horribly with Narrativist play. Most of the time we’ve talked about them insofar as they feed into a certain application within Simulationist play. But I have never said, and I do not think, that the techniques he’s talking about are ear-tagged with that.

Jamie, I think that if you want to discuss your own experiences – which are, effectively, Narrativist play in a deep setting context – then you’ll have to jettison Story Before issues from the discussion entirely, and talk about something else. Or if you want to talk about those issues, then you’ll have to take off those Story Now lenses entirely.

I think the problem is illustrated by your brief summary of Story Before (“what it means to me” as you put it) and your use of the term Character Exploration, which at the fully abstract, all-CA level of Big Model talk, are both full of wailing siren alarms for me, begging for dissection and discussion and clarification. I just drafted an example which was so rich and stinky with fun potential that I realized it was a threadjack, so I deleted it.

Let me know if any of this makes sense. When David got all excited about “Ohhh! Story Before! Ooh! Aah!”, I groaned inwardly because I knew that CA-confusion was going to crop up sooner or later, the exact thing that I wanted to avoid by writing that essay the way I did. But here we are, and now let’s deal with it.

And then we can talk about pruning, because until we get the CA-universe settled for a given thread about these techniques, one man’s pruning will be another’s castration.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #9 on: November 13, 2011, 05:35:22 PM »

Hi Jamie, I have two quick notes to share here:

1) You inspired me to write about some of my own play that could have gone the route of your Glorantha game, but didn't.  I think it expresses my take on most of the issues you've raised here.  I also managed to find alternatives to the term "story", which could be handy.

2) I'm fully with Ron on the unsettled nature of where the SBP technique set can be used.  I'll also agree that Narrativism is clearly not a natural fit.  Whether it's a possible fit, I don't know.
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« Reply #10 on: November 14, 2011, 10:22:11 AM »

Jamie, I think that if you want to discuss your own experiences – which are, effectively, Narrativist play in a deep setting context – then you’ll have to jettison Story Before issues from the discussion entirely, and talk about something else. Or if you want to talk about those issues, then you’ll have to take off those Story Now lenses entirely.

And there in lies the rub, because the experience in this instance was frustrated incipient narrativism on my part, in a campaign that was quite clearly being plotted by the GM and probably didn't have a particularly coherent agenda.

BUT

That sudden awakening of the potential of my character and its interaction with the setting on a transformational scale is the context of that experience. Making it difficult to express it without viewing it from that angle.

Maybe the easiest thing to do would be to express the catch 22 situation that I was in?

Or maybe I would be better off just explaining what the potential was thereby providing an example of how setting and character can interact?

Any thoughts?

I think the problem is illustrated by your brief summary of Story Before (“what it means to me” as you put it) and your use of the term Character Exploration, which at the fully abstract, all-CA level of Big Model talk, are both full of wailing siren alarms for me, begging for dissection and discussion and clarification.

Problem here is I have a very abstract brain, and I was responding myself to the wailing siren alarms in my head from the very mention of Story Before, and then the switch to red alert as soon as Story Before Participationism was raised.

I was worried that it may encourage a "Story Before Participationism = CA / discuss" which seems likely to become a big can of worms. (I'm not interested in opening that so step away from the can opener everyone.)

Jamie
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Web_Weaver
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« Reply #11 on: November 14, 2011, 12:22:37 PM »

The idea of "pruning" as a fundamental contribution is pretty thought provoking. A lot of the conflicts the first time I ever played Universalis were about what should not be allowed in the story. The mechanics worked brilliantly for this, and the resulting story was pretty powerful. In conch-style games that give players uncontestable full-bore story power I've seen a lot of ridiculous stories that players try to convince themselves are awesome. Why are there so few games that recognize the importance of "everyone gets to prune"?

Yes, indeed the GM.of my example game equates Story Now as that kind of Gonzo Story, which puts him totally off th whole idea.

Pruning as narrowing of options is certainly more compatible with a more traditional strong setting play, and, is certainly a Story Now supporting concept as long as the pruning is being done in the moment.

So does pruning mean veto power, or the ability to go back and retroactively remove things from the "pool" of available subjects, setting elements, etc.?

Neither in the context I am focusing on. It is purely as a narrowing down of potential story directions. If during play you are concious of the overall potential options for the story as a group, and you are selectively choosing which options are not interesting or relevant then effectively you are directing the story in the now. If the GM, between sessions, is choosing which directions are suitable for his own aesthetic sensibilities and or preconceived direction then he is applying Story Before in a reflexive manner. He may mistake this for Story Now (I know I fell into this trap before I really understood what I was doing) if he perceives his role as story guide.

I suppose you could view it as veto power, but I am focusing on the growth potential of the plant rather than the removal of unwanted growth.
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Web_Weaver
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« Reply #12 on: November 15, 2011, 03:42:15 PM »

For context, I love transformational stories. The kind where the world is a certain rigid way, and a character or group of characters change the status quo and reshape the world.

However, I have never had much time for the theory that in drama either the characters change or the world changes around them. For these kinds of stories to work for me, they have to be about the interaction between the world and character, and both must be changed. The story is set up as unstoppable force versus immovable object, and is about how this seemingly unresolvable situation gets resolved through a transformation.

On one level this kind of story is mythology.

Which brings me back to Glorantha, a setting all about mythology.

So I am going to look back at my Hero-Wars character and try and tease out just how redolent with potential he was, and why this was both a function of setting and character. And hopefully, help explain how Story-Now play is entirely compatible with this kind of strong setting.

My character was Ham, and he begun more as an exercise in wresting as much out of a 100 word description as possible, without making the character a traditional mini-max character. The standard thing to do if you wanted a powerful character out of the blocks, was to make them a devotee of a powerful deity with cool magics, but the rules suggest that any skill is the equal to any spell or any personality trait.

So I ended up with an initiate who specialised in guiding adventurers to Snake Pipe Hollow. He was a bit of a loner with a murky past and maybe a bit of a rogue, but at around 30 years old was beginning to see the appeal of settling down.

In RuneQuest terms this guy is pointless, so I was keen to see if HW lived up to the promise of making any character fun.

We were playing in an Orlanthi tribe in Furthest, which is surrounded by Trolls, Elves, Giants and Chaos and has become a frontier province of the Lunar Empire. It is very ripe for adventure.

In the first few sessions we killed a dragon by using a dormant water spirit which my character communed with and this connection with spirits and water was expanded upon by me at every stage possible because it felt cool, and because the local environment is dominated by the Skyfall, a huge fall of water from beyond the sky dome where the god Sky River Titan was pierced. So it felt right thematically to get into the water thing.

(more detail to come tomorrow)
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Web_Weaver
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« Reply #13 on: November 16, 2011, 04:48:38 AM »

In a session a few weeks later my character decided to try and gain some information from some river spirits, I cant remember the context, but it was probably about looking for a place or some people that may have camped near the river. Anyway, I had previously taken a relationship with the water spirit of the nearby seasonal stream that had helped us with the dragon, so I decided to name drop as a way of attracting a water spirits attention. I ended up in a conversation with an intelligent fish who needed convincing that I was a friend, so I started expounding on an ideology for my character.

And this is the point at which the whole setting opened up for my character.

I detailed how in one way, because the river network and thereby the landscape Furthest was all dominated by the rainfall of the Skyfall, we were all children of the Sky-river, we were all nourished by its waters and we were all carrying his water in our blood. Becuse of this, whenever chaos threatened our land we owed it to Sky River Titan to do as his blood did (water of the Skyfall) and cleanse chaos from our land.

In the short term that did the trick with the fish and he told us what he knew, but for me there were endless possibilities for dramatic situations in that simple ideology. The kinds of situations that could put my loner initiate with little to mark him out in the Orlanthi religious community up against the priests or clan ring in a bid to get them to unify against the Lunar Oppressors. Could get me to use my background knowledge of the local trolls to try and get a faction of them onside. It could involve diplomacy with the other races of the area, who knows what kinds of situations it would lead towards.

I also saw a probable personal tragedy in this ideology, by slowly turning myself into a rallying point for an uprising, I would be exposing my character to lots of problems he wasn't equipped to handle. He was a loner with few friends in his community, he was charismatic but not political, and he was naive. He wouldn't see coming the extremist type of ideology that might arise from this kind of politics: unifying against a common enemy by highlighting concepts of nation/blood v foreign chaos tainted rulers.

Because the very landscape and peoples of the setting are so full of mythology, conflict and potential for dynamic action, it is no co-incidence that this potential emerged. It is sitting there ready for anyone to explore. With the right choice of characters and location on the map these things are Story Now waiting to happen.
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« Reply #14 on: November 17, 2011, 03:45:32 AM »

Quick note on Mythological Theory.

One of the things that is most difficult in current role paying games is the nature of character / setting interaction. And, at the top of my thread I suggest that I prefer the interaction to be both ways by some form of transformation.

This may seem difficult to achieve, and much narrative theory tends to stick to simple cases. But, any student of mythology would probably be able to draw parallels between this idea and Structuralism.

Structuralism is not the most current and fashionable method of studying mythology, but I firmly believe it has a lot to teach us in roleplaying. The most common out working of this theory is the identification of myth as reconciling the concepts of Nature and Culture. With the myth not using logical or procedural methods but rather symbolic connections. The protagonist in the myth demonstrates how seemingly different concepts can be seen as the same, and thereby changing both the perceived reality of the situation. It effectively changes both nature and culture through providing a way of looking at the situation.

For an example of this odd situation in drama see the end of the third Matrix movie. A film massively under rated from my perspective, due to its handling of these themes.

Ok I will try and step away from heavy theory in this thread for now, but it will inform some of what I say next.
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