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Author Topic: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism  (Read 4697 times)
Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« on: December 15, 2011, 03:41:06 PM »

So, I've been playing in a fairly new game of Dresden Files recently.  We've got four sessions under our belts so far.  The game is a spin-off of the Dresden Files game I ran previously, set in the same world, but featuring new characters in a new location.  I really like my character, a soft-hearted sasquatch who doesn't want to end up alone like the rest of his kind.  Lloyd is his name.

But I'm having a problem with the game.

My friend is GMing, something he has done many times before, and he seems to be stuck in dungeon crawl mode in a game that doesn't dig on that type of playstyle.  It seems very Story Before to me, but, as I'm not the GM, I can't say for sure.  He's set up many threads of plot for us to follow and given us the choice on which to go for, but I get the feeling that nothing my character does will change the outcome of the narrative. 

We spend a lot of time driving to the next place to talk to someone in a diner by happenstance who reveals a quest.  That sort of thing.  The GM makes a big deal of the quest-giver to try and ensure that we use the appropriate skill to get the quest info. Here's an example from the last session: "'You come into the diner.  There's a cop at the counter and a waitress pouring coffee.  You see some missing persons flyers posted above the counter.  Does anyone want to roll Investigate?'  'Sure.  I go look at the flyers.' [roll] 'I got a Good.'  'OK, you notice that these are some hikers who went missing yesterday.  They haven't been seen since.'  'Cool, I walk back to the car.'  'Does anyone want to talk to the cop?'  'OK, I'll do it.  I talk to him.'"  And so on.

It seems like he has every single scene planned out beforehand and is just waiting for us to push all the relevant buttons so he can move us to the next one.  But when we're actually getting into the characters and interacting with each other we get things like: "Doesn't anyone want to roll Alertness?"  Someone usually resigns to roll Alertness and then notices thing X: the clue to the next place to go.  So we get in the car and drive to a new town and talk to the people in the diner.

Now I don't want to be too negative here.  I am not shitting on Story Before or Participationism here, as they can be fun in their own ways.  But I don't think that's what I expected from this game.  I'm not even sure if that's what's truly going on.  It really feels like I'm playing World of Warcraft, except way slower.  Whether my die rolls succeed or fail, I know we're going to get the information we need to proceed to the next plot point no matter what, and that bothers me.

What I have done, as a result, is take the least expected paths for my character at every conceivable turn.  I guess I'm childishly trying to throw the GM off his story by inverting his expectations.  But it doesn't seem to work.  When another sasquatch secretly came and met with Lloyd and told him about a missing sasquatch Lloyd knew, I slow-played it.  I walked back to camp and sat quietly, not telling the other characters.  One of them had seen me secretly meeting and Lloyd didn't know.  I planned to sneak off in the middle of the night and go find the lost yeti, and hopefully he would follow me and we'd have an adventure together, off the books.  But it was not meant to be.  As soon as I get back to the rest of the characters, the GM says, "So he tells all of you about the missing sasquatch.  What do you do?"  Son of a bitch!  I'll try another tactic.  I tell the group that it is simply unheard of for one yeti to seek out another (all this made sense based on the world-building we'd done about bigfoots).  I tried to convince everyone not to go, as it would be suprememly disrespectful to us bigfeet.  I still had dreams of sneaking off in the night.  But after I had refused many times, the GM looked at me irritated and said, "Come on dude."  And so I was shamed into following the plot again.

So what do I do?  How do I break out of the tyranny of the "clue X leads to diner Y leads to quest Z" plot?  What can I do as a character or as a player to either enjoy the way the game is run, or rebel against it and win?  Please no "just quit the game" answers.  I love the people playing and I have almost no free time to game outside of this, so starting a new game with a different group isn't a valid option at the moment.  I need to adapt to this game or tear it asunder!!!
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stefoid
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« Reply #1 on: December 15, 2011, 04:19:35 PM »

ha, I could have written this post myself.

This kind of play  makes me want to smash things.

If youre not prepared to adjust your own expectations, theres nothing you can do, you are doomed to not enjoy this game and trying to change the nature of the game will not help AND it will piss people off at the same time.

There is no magic bullet other than to not play.  If you want to play a different style of game, youre going ot have to run it yourself when this one is over, in the (probably vain) hope that the group will adopt your style of play.

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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2011, 04:49:06 PM »

I imagine the folks here'll say your situation would require more analysis before any definite conclusions could be reached, but FWIW I recall an earlier thread on the subject that I bumped into browsing the archives:  frustration with "enigmas".

Here's the money quote:
In other words (and Paul said this first, so he gets credit), these types of rolls in many role-playing games are really no different from the “Find secret doors” rolls in a dungeon crawl. The players more or less roam around in Brownian motion until they bump the notch for the secret door the right way, and when they do, a panel slides aside and they can flow through it to bump around looking for the next one.

Quote
What I have done, as a result, is take the least expected paths for my character at every conceivable turn.  I guess I'm childishly trying to throw the GM off his story by inverting his expectations.  But it doesn't seem to work.  When another sasquatch secretly came and met with Lloyd and told him about a missing sasquatch Lloyd knew, I slow-played it.  I walked back to camp and sat quietly, not telling the other characters.  One of them had seen me secretly meeting and Lloyd didn't know.  I planned to sneak off in the middle of the night and go find the lost yeti, and hopefully he would follow me and we'd have an adventure together, off the books.  But it was not meant to be.  As soon as I get back to the rest of the characters, the GM says, "So he tells all of you about the missing sasquatch.  What do you do?"  Son of a bitch!  I'll try another tactic.  I tell the group that it is simply unheard of for one yeti to seek out another (all this made sense based on the world-building we'd done about bigfoots).  I tried to convince everyone not to go, as it would be suprememly disrespectful to us bigfeet.  I still had dreams of sneaking off in the night.  But after I had refused many times, the GM looked at me irritated and said, "Come on dude."  And so I was shamed into following the plot again.
I've run into something like this situation myself, though the GM in question at least had the grace to nudge me back onto the main plotline by relatively subtle methods.

Though, for the love of all that is holy, I remain baffled by why players should have to explicitly call for Awareness checks in situations where there is something significant to be aware of.  It's like GMs assume the PCs are blundering about with blindfolds on unless noted otherwise.  I guess, on that note, I might be inclined to ask, "Where was my awareness check to detect this NPC who was following me?"  Which may or may not be helpful, depending on whether the other players are likely to sympathise.

So, yeah, I'm with stefoid.  Offhand, I can't think of any simple solution to this problem.  You'll pretty much have to 'get with the program', or persuade your group to adopt a very different approach.
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stefoid
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« Reply #3 on: December 15, 2011, 05:22:06 PM »

Here's an example from the last session: "'You come into the diner.  There's a cop at the counter and a waitress pouring coffee.  You see some missing persons flyers posted above the counter.  Does anyone want to roll Investigate?'  'Sure.  I go look at the flyers.' [roll] 'I got a Good.'  'OK, you notice that these are some hikers who went missing yesterday.  They haven't been seen since.' 

I love this bit. 
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Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #4 on: December 15, 2011, 05:38:40 PM »

So the real question is: "How do I get on board and/or have fun with this?"

I have no problem getting into Participationist roleplaying.  But the story in this one plods along its course, never speeding up and getting to the action.  The action (conflict of any kind really) happens when we've gotten through enough of the ploddery to the point where the action was destined to happen all along.  Has anyone in a similar situation succeeded with pushing straight through to the things that matter?  If that was the case, I'd probably be having a ball, but I don't know how my character can make that happen.
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I am playtesting Flawed and Caterpillar.
I am playing Dresden Files.
Chris_Chinn
Member

Posts: 280


« Reply #5 on: December 15, 2011, 08:24:42 PM »

A couple of years back, I made my last attempt to play in an Illusionist game.  It was a game of Unknown Armies, with the players playing police detectives investigating what appeared to be the work of a serial killer, but actually was a series of magical rituals.

Like you, I tried two different tacks at different points in play:

1) Push the investigation

I would have my character make reasonable assumptions and investigation actions, and, sometimes it would reveal a clue, sometimes it would be a dead end, but ultimately it would peter out and nothing I could do would make the situation move forward.

2) Ignore the investigation, play character development with the other players

Whenever we did more than a few minutes of this, some form of crisis or clue-bat would swing at us and end that whole process.

What I realized after a point, was that the real "game" happening here was this:  Whatever the players were actively trying to do, the GM would tease along, stall, then finally block and divert.  Clues had to be strung out slowly, after all, that's "how suspense works" (at least in misguided Illusionist game advice).  Players ignoring the clue trail for too long had to be stopped, otherwise "There's no story".

There's a difference between challenges to goals in play (which, you could say is a feature of all game activities) and stonewalling all goals in play.  I cannot possibly fathom any fun in the latter, and when I realized this was the pattern the GM repeated over and over, I gracefully left.

Is there a way to make this fun for you?  I don't know, I feel like "types of fun" are like genres of music- there's some you like, some you don't like, and while you might shift over the years, it's pretty hard to FORCE yourself to enjoy something you don't.

Chris
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Callan S.
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« Reply #6 on: December 16, 2011, 02:17:41 AM »

Hi Josh,

How long are session times with this group, traditionally?

You might find the GM is in part trying to forfil an expectation even you impose - that it has to go for X number of hours.

Another reason it goes slow might also come from an expectation of your own - that fiction comes first in deciding events and in deciding what rules are used. He can't just cut to the chase - that's too boardgamey! No, the fiction has to decide the pace - and that's what you want, isn't it? Fiction comes first. I'm pretty sure that was the prob in an account I gave awhile ago, where I described the effect as like walking through molasses.

So, maybe if you have expectations like these, your contributing to your own problem? How is a GM supposed to pad out X number of hours? What will definately keep you occupied and not fall short your time expectation? How is play supposed to leap onto something else yet at the same time adhere to the pace of fiction and not be 'boardgamey' in how the next events progress is determined?

What play do you want? If you've just sat down without thinking about that, yet this slow game thing doesn't work for you - well, whats wrong with what the GM does? He's certainly put thought into what he wants to do. One of the strong expressions of having really thought about what play you want is to have written an RPG. It certainly cuts to the chase more than trying to be a sasquach that runs off into the woods.
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #7 on: December 16, 2011, 04:13:05 AM »

Another reason it goes slow might also come from an expectation of your own - that fiction comes first in deciding events and in deciding what rules are used. He can't just cut to the chase - that's too boardgamey! No, the fiction has to decide the pace - and that's what you want, isn't it? Fiction comes first. I'm pretty sure that was the prob in an account I gave awhile ago, where I described the effect as like walking through molasses.
I'm a little unclear on what 'fiction first' means in this context, so unless you want to clarify, I'm going to temporarily assume (A) that this is relevant to Josh's problem and (B) that 'fiction first' means 'strong attention paid to the details of in-world causality'.

If that's the case, I would hold that while 'fiction first' might well bog things down a bit, it would also help to solve one of Josh's other problems-  The example Josh mentioned of an in-group NPC who trails Lloyd and rats on his meeting is just such an example.  If fiction (consistent in-world causality) were genuinely first here, the GM would not be able to arbitrarily decide that this NPC was present to view that meeting.  He would have to roll one or more Stealth vs. Awareness tests to ensure that the NPC was able to follow Lloyd without being spotted, and if he failed, Lloyd would be able to either shake off the tail, or perhaps, failing that, to try to persuade or intimidate them into silence.

The details of in-world causality don't, in themselves, amount to a Force technique.  The problem is the selective cherry-picking of details of in-world causality by illusionist GMs, which they can get away with largely thanks to Rule Zero and similar textual exhortations.  But that selective cherry-picking, in itself, constitutes a metagame agenda, and therefore has nothing to do with in-world causality.
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Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #8 on: December 16, 2011, 10:22:08 AM »

Callan, in regards to the time each session lasts, we play for about three hours a week.  It's not that long of a session, at least in my experience.  I can see what you mean about the expectation that a session should last X number of hours, but I don't think that's a factor in this game.  Usually, at the end of the session, the GM expresses that he wanted to get through more in the time we had.  I don't know what that says about the game exactly.  Maybe he wants us to roll skills as quick as we can in every scene so that it can move to the next one.  But I feel that that style of play takes much of the roleplaying out of the game and makes the players very one dimensional.  "We are just characters here for the quest!  We have no interest in anything beyond the quest!"  That kind of thing.

Now as far as the fiction needing to lead to the lead to the good stuff as opposed to cutting right to the chase, I think I follow your train of thought, but I'm not sure.  Are you saying that every game needs to build up to climax?  I get that and mostly agree.  But I do think that even in the scenes leading up to the climax there should be risks, stakes, consequences, and ways that the players can impact the story.  It seems like the characters in this game are only allowed to influence the narrative in the planned out "conflict scenes", as though those are the only times our decisions make any difference whatsoever.

Now I should also clarify the scene I transcribed in which my character was having a secret conversation with another sasquatch.  The character spying on my was not an NPC, but another player character.  When the GM announced that the party was informed of the conversation, he was dictating my character's actions, not an NPC's.  When I disagreed the conversation went like this:
"So he tells you everything that they talked about..."
"No I don't, I stay quiet and go poke the fire with a stick."
"So you don't tell anyone?"
"Nope.  I just look very concerned."
[Casper, the character who had witnessed the conversation, comes over and sits by me around the fire.]
"I ask Lloyd what's going on.  He looks troubled."
"I'm OK man, I just have some things to think about."
"So you tell him what you talked about with the yeti..."
""No I don't.  I just sit staring into the fire."
"Hrrrrrrrrrmmmmmm! [annoyed grunt] So you don't tell anyone?"
"Nope."
"Why don't you just tell Casper."
"OK, fine.  I have a quiet conversation with him and fill him in a bit."
"OK, so he tells the group that a sasquatch is missing.  What do you all do about it?"

I was hoping for a two-man side quest of some sort with Casper, but the need for the group to know was paramount, I suppose.  And then the whole "yetis don't look for each other" conversation was had.  I hope that clarifies things a bit.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: December 16, 2011, 03:16:25 PM »

If you think of the GM not playing out a world, but a single character like the rest of the players do, you can sort of see your doing the same thing as the GM and he the same as you. You don't want to just roll quickly because that takes the roleplaying out and makes characters "Were here only for the quest" one dimensional. HE doesn't want to just cut to the action, because that takes the roleplaying out and makes the world/his character "I'm only here as a vehicle for the characters" one dimensional. You want to hide information from the other PC's/players for your fictional reasons. HE wants to stubbornly hide information from the PC's/players for his fictional reasons. You want ways to affect the story, but don't find any means offered by the GM. Maybe he wants ways to affect the characters as much as they expect to affect the story, but doesn't find any means offered by the players.

Really, with this method, even if a player starts determining story, they simply reverse the roles and they become the story before, participationist GM themselves. With 'character background before' replacing 'story before', ie, my character would do this and this because it's in his/her background...

Maybe that's not the case at all, but like I raised before on thinking about the play you want/how you would structure play you want, it's worth thinking how you'd do it - and whether that'd be different from how this GM does it?
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Alfryd
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Posts: 118


« Reply #10 on: December 16, 2011, 03:46:48 PM »

Now I should also clarify the scene I transcribed in which my character was having a secret conversation with another sasquatch.  The character spying on my was not an NPC, but another player character.
Okay, my mistake.  I had assumed that the GM had at least the modicum of respect for character autonomy necessary to not dictate your own actions to you or other players.  Hence, my assumption some GM-controlled 3rd party responsible for tattling.

Callan, there's a crucial difference between the GM's behaviour here and Josh's behaviour.  Josh, I presume, does not seize control of NPCs and dictate their responses to his character.  Josh cannot easily hide critical information about his character's actions from the other players.  This is nothing like a reciprocal exchange of responsibilities.  This isn't even Illusionism, because the GM can't be bothered to even maintain the pretence of PC autonomy.

I take it, from this conversation, that Casper's player was more-or-less okay with not announcing this secret to the rest of the PCs?  Maybe you could ask the other players how they feel about this kind of treatment?
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Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #11 on: December 16, 2011, 04:20:49 PM »

Callan, with regards to this point here:
Quote
Maybe that's not the case at all, but like I raised before on thinking about the play you want/how you would structure play you want, it's worth thinking how you'd do it - and whether that'd be different from how this GM does it?

As far as this piece is concerned, when I GM games I strive to make every roll the players make shape the story.  I suppose I am far more in the camp of "GM's world as a vehicle for the characters" in that case.  It might be because I'm lazy as a GM, but I've never run a Story Before game, with the exception of a D&D module.  If you're curious, you can check out this thread about the game I'm currently working on.

I see your point, but I guess I'm just not terribly sympathetic to it, as it's never a style of GMing that's appealed to me.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #12 on: December 16, 2011, 05:00:10 PM »

Hi Josh,

If you are trying to get the most fun you can out a situation that really isn't conducive to the kind of fun you prefer, I suggest looking for an entirely new way to enjoy it. 

For example:
Embrace the dark side and help the GM run the railroad.  Look for whatever the GM wants to make happen, then jump all over that and invest in it and make it meaningful to your character.  Put yourself in position to act as a plant.  Or maybe you don't event want a player character!  Ask if the GM wants help with anything; offer to play some NPCs or whatever seems fun to you.

Yeah, these are all hacks, and simply playing a different sort of game would be better... but if you can't achieve "different game" by talking to the players directly, you sure as hell won't pull it off through playing your character in a way that grinds against what everyone else is doing.  All that will ensure is that no one has fun.

That's what I've experienced, anyway.
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Josh Porter
Member

Posts: 58

I want to be old.


« Reply #13 on: December 16, 2011, 06:02:03 PM »

Quote
Embrace the dark side and help the GM run the railroad.

Boom!  That's the kind of thing I was looking for!  Each session I've tried a slightly different tack in playing my character, trying to get the most out of the game.  This one might do the trick.  Now I've just got to to up my clued-in-o-meter to try and see where we're headed.  I'll try this next session and see how it works out.  I guess this is just Participationism at its core, but hopefully it will speed up the action.  I think this has been said before in different words, but for whatever reason this made it click.

Incidentally, I don't think I've necessarily been going against what everyone else is doing.  We all seem to be stumbling around attempting to find out where we're supposed to go in the GM's plot.  We're all trying to get to the interesting stuff and have fun being caught up in our characters.  I think that may be why the GM seems frustrated at the end of each session; we're not picking up on what he wants us to do quickly enough.  If I can get my mindset switched to "see where the GM wants us to go" mode, I think it'll help.  But I still want to invert expectations every once and a while.  It's just more fun to go outside the box sometimes and think of creative solutions to the same problems.  Just without trying to actively take the game outside the Story Before script.

And Alfryd, to respond to your earlier question, yes.  Casper's player was indeed more or less OK with keeping the conversation under wraps for a while.  I think we both wanted to see where it went while keeping an open secret on the table. 
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I am playtesting Flawed and Caterpillar.
I am playing Dresden Files.
Alfryd
Member

Posts: 118


« Reply #14 on: December 17, 2011, 09:42:45 AM »

Incidentally, I don't think I've necessarily been going against what everyone else is doing.  We all seem to be stumbling around attempting to find out where we're supposed to go in the GM's plot.  We're all trying to get to the interesting stuff and have fun being caught up in our characters.  I think that may be why the GM seems frustrated at the end of each session; we're not picking up on what he wants us to do quickly enough.  If I can get my mindset switched to "see where the GM wants us to go" mode, I think it'll help.  But I still want to invert expectations every once and a while.  It's just more fun to go outside the box sometimes and think of creative solutions to the same problems.  Just without trying to actively take the game outside the Story Before script.

And Alfryd, to respond to your earlier question, yes.  Casper's player was indeed more or less OK with keeping the conversation under wraps for a while.  I think we both wanted to see where it went while keeping an open secret on the table.
Cool.  Well, if helping to drive the railroad is what you'd like to do, well and good... but, going by what you've said, what gives you the impression that you should neccesarily be conforming to what the GM expects, rather than having a discussion about what the group as a whole wants, and adjusting the GM-ing style accordingly?

I had assumed that you were the minority report here, because otherwise... well, why would the group put up with this GM?  But going by your description, the other players seem to be more on your wavelength, and no-one- including the GM- is 100% enjoying themselves because of that.  Pushing the railroad might work, but that's not your only option.
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