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Author Topic: How to enjoy Story Before without Participationism  (Read 4687 times)
Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #30 on: December 21, 2011, 05:51:48 AM »

Hey Josh,

As Iím a bit of an advocate of Story Before Participationism (SBP) around here, I feel a need to clarify the following: What you are describing in your first post with ďdriving from one diner to the nextĒ may be SBP, but thatís not the problem. The problem is that itís pointless and lame. Iíve seen this kind of games, where most of the session consist of the GM dropping breadcrumbs and revealing the back story bit by bit, at an annoyingly slow pace, just to get to the inevitable boss fight at the end.

Now maybe that isnít all your game is about, maybe the GMís plot (okay, his 2-3 alternative plots) contain interesting and somewhat surprising turns and some meaningful challenges to the players and characters (yep, they have their place in SBP). But if so, you donít mention them. Typically I would guess the back story is quite cool and Dresden-esque, but all the characters ever do is hear about it, and fight the bad guy at the end.

What I have to give your GM credit for, he is very up-front about his GM style. He did not let you get away with your childish attempts of disrupting his game at all, instead firmly communicating his expectations without getting rude. However, this would be much more admirable if the rest of the group were actually enjoying his GM style. As you describe it, he seems to be doing it more or less out of habit and nobody really digs it, not in this game and not in the L5R game before.

Iím skeptical whether those emails and more talk along those lines will be helpful. From my experience, in particular when talking on an abstract level, miscommunication is inevitable as everyone is caught up in their way of thinking. Callan is right: When your GM says he wants you to be more pro-active, he means he wants you to do what he expects you to do without him having to basically force it down your throat, as in the Yeti example. He would have to think completely outside his box to even conceive the possibility that interesting things could happen in any other way then the GM setting them up to happen.

Sorry to be so discouraging, but Iím afraid youíre beating a dead horse. Please donít blame SBP, though. In my capacity as the unofficial emissary of SBP-land here at the Forge, I might try and explain how I would run such a game with more fun and stronger participation of the players, if youíre interested. But I guess what you really want is not better SBP and a coherent Sim game, itís Bass-Playing and a coherent Nar game. Unfortunately, FATE as a game system is pretty ambiguous between those two.

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #31 on: December 21, 2011, 05:55:28 AM »

P.S.: I just skimmed over the older thread you linked, and this quote stands out to me:

Quote
In addition, there are very few players in my group who are interested in the other characters.  People will pull out their phones/iPads/etc. whenever someone else has the spotlight.

Man, that's not a good sign. Beating a dead horse, I say.
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Alfryd
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« Reply #32 on: December 21, 2011, 08:03:12 AM »

Iím skeptical whether those emails and more talk along those lines will be helpful. From my experience, in particular when talking on an abstract level, miscommunication is inevitable as everyone is caught up in their way of thinking. Callan is right: When your GM says he wants you to be more pro-active, he means he wants you to do what he expects you to do without him having to basically force it down your throat, as in the Yeti example.
If the sole purpose of the players is to do what you expect, why do you even want players?  As far as I can tell, Lloyd as a character had perfectly good reasons for not telling the rest of the group, and if the GM failed to pick up on that, it's unfair to blame the player for it.

I don't understand how GMs that insist on allowing players only in-character knowledge about their environment can then expect their characters to act based on out-of-character motives (i.e, what will keep the GM happy.)
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Frank Tarcikowski
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a.k.a. Frank T


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« Reply #33 on: December 21, 2011, 09:17:11 AM »

Ah, what the heck, I guess all I needed was an excuse to procrastinate today. So I wrote a lengthy post about how I would run such a game as SBP. Maybe it serves to highlight what a functional SBP game with the given group and game might look like, so you can see if thatís what you want, or not. Or at least it can show that SBP needs not be lame. Feel free to ignore it if itís derailing the discussion.

Okay, so letís say this group wasnít a dead horse to begin with, and letís say this group was interested in playing SBP. They are not interested in engaging in ďspotlight scenesĒ for single characters, so we need group action most of the time. If left to themselves, they like to hang out at the local waterhole, which is fine. These hang-out scenes will give them the opportunity to portray their characters (show to the other players what their characters are like), and reflect on the GM-driven plot events. But when they are not hanging out, I donít want them poking around in the fog. I want to give them a clear objective of what to do.

So I need to set them up with a strong group objective. I cannot have them be just a random handful of supernatural people in the Dresdenverse, that will never work out. They need a reason to stick together, and a good hook to draw them into the GM-driven plot. They canít all be Harry Dresden, the lone wolf. But they do need that job that will get them into all kinds of trouble. Thatís what Iíll lay out to the players at the very start, then pass the ball.

Letís say they come up with something. Letís say theyíre all college students and part of a secret club of supernatural beings, sort of naÔve like Billy and the Alphas, and not as secret as theyíd like, so people who get into supernatural trouble have a habit of asking them for help, and their code of conduct is to help those in need. I might request each of them to dedicate one Aspect to this secret club or code of conduct.

Their hangout, then, is a bar near campus where ďsmallĒ supernatural folk and new age idiots mix but no serious white council wizard would ever dream of spending his time. Maybe they have a bit of personal stuff cooking on the side, thatís fine, I wonít want to play that out at length with every single player unless I can use it as a plot hook, but Iíll address it in fast forward mode from time to time. The crush on that goth chick. The trouble with the philosophy class. The visit from the grand parents at the worst imaginable time. In the Dresden vibe, these personal things can either be complications to the ďmissionĒ, or comic relief, or both.

And now for the main part.

1) Putting the Story in Story Before

Now I come up with a back story. Some evil scheme, some supernatural trouble that will lead to disaster if nobody interferes. Iíll keep it straight and simple. The Dresden novels are sometimes pretty layered and you wonít know whatís really going on for a long time, but you canít craft an RPG session that way, it just requires too much scripting. So I just come up with a straightforward plot, hopefully spiced with some appropriate Dresden-esque absurdity, and a handful of interesting NPCs caught up in the plot. Then I come up with exactly one second layer: What I will make the players believe is going on, before they discover what is really going on. I wonít try to be subtle: Subtlety is too often lost when a bunch of role-players are talking all at once. They should smell the ruse pretty easily.

Then I come up with a plot hook, someone to ask the characters for help or maybe some personal stuff of one or two characters that I can use to draw them into the plot. This must not be a weak hook because in order to get into their characters and enjoy playing them, the players need a convincing motivation. So I will dedicate some thought to the plot hook. In particular, I need a good answer to the question: ďWhy donít they just call the cops?Ē (Or the White Council, or whatever?) Why should they do it on their own?

After Iíve hooked the characters, Iíll spring my ďoutside layerĒ at them pretty quickly and completely (with a few obvious missing links), so they have a lot of information to work with. They can start investigating and Iíll give them two or three pretty obvious places or persons to seek out. Important note: Every one of these should actually lead somewhere! No red herrings. No breadcrumbs. Person A does not send them to person B who sends them to person C. Person A tells them something new that gives them an important clue about the ďinside layerĒ, either by telling them outright, or by telling a blatant lie that they see through immediately. Or the characters get into a fight when they go looking for person A. Or person A might be persuaded to help the characters, which will help them but wonít produce a dead end if they cannot secure person Aís help.

Iíll have an emergency plan up my sleeve how I can reveal the ďinside layerĒ if the players donít figure it out by themselves, but I wonít use that too soon, they should get their chance to draw the right conclusions (and if they do, Iíll reassure them OOC that theyíve got it). At this point, I will want to allow for some flexibility. The bad guys need to be stopped, but after the players have learned what the bad guys are up to, they can try to stop them in whatever way they like (Iíll try to offer them some weak spot or special weapon without making it a do-or-die solution). Whatever plan they cook up, Iíll usually roll along with it and try to steer things in such way that the tension builds toward a dramatic climax, using the tools I have at hand, like improbable coincidence or the sudden appearance of an old friend or enemyÖ and maybe Iíll have one last nasty surprise at hand which I may or may not decide to use, depending on how things evolve.

Iíll have some outcomes that I need to happen but they will normally be what the story is obviously steering towards anyway, maybe with a little twist. I donít like scripted endings that turn everything upside down. I know some players appreciate them but I as a player, I mostly find them annoying, so I donít use them as GM either.

2) Putting the Participation in Participationism

Once you note that certain things are just going to happen no matter what, you can accept these things and take your liberties elsewhere. Sure you as a player want to make some sort of meaningful impact on the groupís experience of play and on the fiction. It is not enough to just trot along and sometimes roll dice as the GM narrates what happens. But some things are just not up for negotiation.
 
No, you wonít turn down the ďmissionĒ. It is my job as GM to make sure the mission is acceptable to your character, or we will collaborate to achieve that. And no, you wonít be running off from the mission to chase your long-lost high school love interest. If you want to chase your long-lost high school love interest, you will tell me, the GM, and a few sessions down the road, you might just find that she is somehow involved in your next mission in some sort of shady way. And of course youíll ask your friends and fellow player characters to help you rescue her, because thatís just how our game rolls.

But that doesnít mean there is nothing meaningful for you to do. Your witty banter with the other PCs will be well remembered and who knows, maybe they will even forget their iPad as you swear your undying love to your high school darling, just before the demon she pledged her soul to takes her away to the Never-Never.

And when you try to persuade that moody spirit to help you with a potion, youíll have to play it well or youíll have to go without the potion. (The good guys will probably still win, but youíll need me to pull my punches, whereas when you pull out that potion to save the day, you have every reason to be smug!) And when you fight those thugs in the early stages of the story, sure you canít die and probably you canít even really lose much, but if you as player fuck up, your character will look like an idiot and while that can be fun every once in a while, it should be your ambition as a player to make your character look badass instead. Itís not a competition, really, if everybody gets to be badass, thatís fine, but youíve got to sell it to us so we buy it.

This is how my SBP games roll.

- Frank
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #34 on: December 21, 2011, 09:41:20 AM »

As far as I can tell, Lloyd as a character had perfectly good reasons for not telling the rest of the group, and if the GM failed to pick up on that, it's unfair to blame the player for it.

I don't understand how GMs that insist on allowing players only in-character knowledge about their environment can then expect their characters to act based on out-of-character motives (i.e, what will keep the GM happy.)

Well, if I interpreted correctly, Josh made those "perfectly good reasons" up on the spot because he was annoyed by the GM's spoon-feeding techniques and wanted to derail him.

Amen for the second paragraph, though. This whole "good role-players don't use OOC knowledge" stuff is just bogus.

- Frank
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Josh Porter
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« Reply #35 on: December 21, 2011, 09:59:35 AM »

Awesome.  There's some really good discussion going on here.  Thanks, folks!

Joywriter, your advice with regards to the GM using compels is spot on.  It's so obvious that I don't know why I didn't think of it before (especially after nine months of Dresden GMing).  I will make sure to mention it to the GM.

Frank, I appreciate all your input.  It's some really good insight into the way SBP should work.  The only problem I see in this particular situation is that a) the GM doesn't think he is running an SBP game, and b) the players (with the exception of me) don't think he is either.  Among the various things I've chatted about with the GM, one of them is the way he is specifically using the prep tactics in the DFRPG book to create his plot.  In other words, he's linking character aspects to come up with ideas and creating scenes around them, without creating endings to those specific scenes. 

The problem is, he doesn't have the tools to implement them within his GM experience without falling back on what works in primarily SBP games (D&D, Shadowrun, etc.).  So we're left with a conflicting set of expectations between the GM and the players.  Now the one time I tried to bring up the whole Story Before thing with him, he vehemently denied it.  He also has some (mysterious) issues with the Forge as well, so trying to use any terminology or game theory just kind of sets him off. 

So I guess what I'm saying is that I'm not disagreeing with your posts at all.  I'm just not sure they perfectly apply to this situation.  Which is why I'm trying to "get on board" with the Participationism.
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Alfryd
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« Reply #36 on: December 21, 2011, 11:14:11 AM »

Well, if I interpreted correctly, Josh made those "perfectly good reasons" up on the spot because he was annoyed by the GM's spoon-feeding techniques and wanted to derail him.

Amen for the second paragraph, though. This whole "good role-players don't use OOC knowledge" stuff is just bogus.

- Frank
The impression I got from Josh's account was that there were pre-established reasons/background-lore to suggest that Yetis don't appreciate being sought out at all, which is a valid motive for Lloyd not to share such info with the group.  (Of course, wanting help with a difficult search could also be seen as a valid motive for sharing such information, but that merely makes it a 50/50 chance for IC decision-making to go either way.)  So while Josh's OOC motivation- wanting to strike off alone- certainly influenced the decision, the premise wasn't exactly fabricated on the spot.

In line with your advice to ensure that 'mission hooks' are tuned to the PCs' background/motives, the GM here apparently forgot that, while Lloyd had good reason to go on this mission, he had equally good reason to not invite anyone else.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #37 on: December 21, 2011, 02:20:42 PM »

Hey Josh, I haven't read the DFRPG books but if your GM really believes he is "linking character aspects to come up with ideas and creating scenes around them, without creating endings to those specific scenes", when in fact he's a case of chronic breadcrumb syndrome, then all the emails and talks in the world will do no good. He is hearing the words but he just cannot imagine the thing they describe. I've experienced this kind of fruitless conversation first hand. It's always hard to let go your good old group with all your best friends, but many of us have gone through it, me included, and now I'm afraid it's your turn.

- Frank
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Josh Porter
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« Reply #38 on: December 21, 2011, 02:36:35 PM »

I don't know if the future is quite that bleak.

I'm positive that the GM is learning new things from running DFRPG and that he is attempting to develop his skills in that department.  He's also asked the advice of a couple of the players with regards to making this game work.  I think there's room for growth there, and I'm going to try and facilitate it as best I can.  That may mean sticking the game out through some sloggy sessions, but I can see it paying off in the end.  If I can make him want to play more indie games through this experience, I'll come out a winner.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #39 on: December 21, 2011, 06:11:54 PM »

Josh, could he make you want to play more trad games and grab onto his story hooks and engage (as he puts it, whatever that means) rather than do indie games? Don't expect to have more influence over him than he has over you. He's not your student (and doesn't know it yet....dang, have I been on the pointy end of that one before!)). I think I've noted your both alot alike - that causes alot of trouble when you both think you can make the other guy do stuff in a non-reciprocal way.
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Josh Porter
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I want to be old.


« Reply #40 on: December 22, 2011, 09:58:24 AM »

Fair enough, Callan.  I guess that did sound a bit pretentious on my part.  I suppose the reason I feel un-douchey about trying to get him into indie games is that he fucking loves Apocalypse World and wants to run it.  I would love to play in that game.  It kind of seems like running DFRPG is his learning curve toward running non-Story-Before games.  So if he's going to run AW in the future, there are some kinks that need to be worked out, which he is consciously doing and asking for advice on.

So I'm still kind of a douche, but at least not a completely self-absorbed one.
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adam m
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« Reply #41 on: December 22, 2011, 10:27:15 AM »

Honestly, the rulebook for Apocalypse World might do a better job of what you're trying to do here than you can. There's something, to me, about the rulebook stating "DO NOT pre-plan a storyline, and I'm not fucking around", that makes it less objectionable than a fellow player saying the same thing.
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Josh Porter
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I want to be old.


« Reply #42 on: January 08, 2012, 01:20:01 PM »

So earlier this week we played this game again, after a break for Christmas.  And I had tons of fun.  Here's what happened.

In the Fiction
The group had found the home of the dead sasquatch at the end of the previous session and found her body floating in a pool.  So Lloyd decided to go take her body into the Nevernever as a prequel to a funeral, as is the bigfoot way.  While I did that, the others investigated her home and found a trail camera, partially dismantled, with a pipe bomb inside.  They put the pipe bomb inside a dead elk (it was already there) and rigged it to explode to soften the blow and get rid of the dangerous device.  Lloyd happened to emerge back from the Nevernever just in time to get exploded upon.  He got some bad burns.

Stuart (another PC) found some bootprints and had a flash of insight.  He knew who the prints belonged to: Randy Doakes, infamous bigfoot hunter.  Lloyd became incensed, caught Randy's scent and tracked him down.  The others tried to keep up with his pace.  Well, Randy's compound was found, encircled with claymore mines and rigged with motion sensing spotlights.  Lloyd, in anger, charged straight through the minefield and demanded to know why Randy killed Rachel (the dead sasquatch).  Randy was confused for two reasons.  A) Lloyd turned back into a regular human around Randy's "home" (Sasquatches are like were-apes kind of.  The farther into the wilderness they are, the more ape-like.  The further into civilization, more human-like), and B) he didn't even know she was dead. 

A touching apology scene followed where Lloyd calmed the fuck down and they looked at footage from some trail cameras to find Rachel's killer.  What do you know?  It appears that Chu-luun (the sasquatch who told Lloyd to look for Rachel) was the last thing caught by the camera.  Spooooooky...  The group heads back into the Nevernever to give Rachel a proper funeral, and are interrupted by Chu-luun and a yeti posse accusing Lloyd of murder.  End of session.

Around the Table
I started the session with an agenda: create an emotional or dramatic hook for myself to up my investment in the game right from the get-go.  So I purposely got Lloyd caught in a pipe bomb explosion.  The GM was confused as to why I would want my character hurt, but I pushed it a little and he let me do it.  It was a great choice.  Lloyd was now pissed-off enough to justify some more emotionally-charged play, so when boot prints were found, I had him bent on vengeance.  Hooray!  A character goal!  It was super fun to roleplay.  He stormed off through the woods, forcing his friends to follow, and shrugging off most of their advice.  If he happened to step in a trap or something, I was totally fine with that.  But he didn't. 

When Randy's home was found, I pushed harder, trying to convince the others to give me the other pipe bomb we found on the way so I could light it and throw it into his house.  No one would go for it, so I braved the claymores (which didn't go off, to my surprise) and went straight up to the man I thought killed my friend.  I asked the GM for a compel at this point.  I wanted to reach through the tiny window and yank this dude out by his head.  But the GM turned me down, saying "That's not really where I want this scene to go."  BUT, he offered me another compel instead.  He compelled me to turn back into human form, taming my rage a bit, as Lloyd is a bit of an old hippie as a human.  The conversation during which I apologized to Randy was awesome and touching, and felt incredibly real.  And then the rest of the session was just gravy on top.

I think the real difference for me, in terms of my enjoyment, was finding an honest-to-goodness character goal.  It's a hard thing to do sometimes in a Story Before game.  But I think that finding it here was what made all the difference.  I wonder if I can find it again next week...
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pawsplay
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« Reply #43 on: January 21, 2012, 10:19:29 PM »

Something about this post jumped out at me. I've been in games where I felt dragged along. On the one hand, I sometimes resented the GM's pre-judgments about what would be good play, but on the other, I also knew I was responsible for my own engagement and enjoyment. Story Now and other approaches and tools are often directed at GMs, asking them to let go of outcomes and let the events unfold naturally. So why not embrace that as a player? So what if all roads lead to Rome. As long as I treat my character and their actions honestly, I still get the real story of how they went to England and fought a zombie on a train, or whatever, with the whole-roleplaying experience. Now, ultimately, if the game just limps along, direct communication is key, just like you did. It's like when you watch some old B-movie that turns out to be a real treat, and part of it is they got some old A-list actors in it. But these guys are troopers, and they don't act embarassed to be a B-movie. They just act the hell out of it. Or they ham it up. So if you end in the RPG equivalent of a lesser episode of Star Trek, you can still be Patrick Stewart about it.

So yeah. Roleplay the Hell out of that character!

Thanks for posting the updates and stuff. It's very cool and interesting to hear the process of developing the narrative from a player standpoint.
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