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Author Topic: [Pitfighter] SBP: the GM's role in resolution  (Read 4946 times)
David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #15 on: January 07, 2012, 08:03:35 PM »

Chapter headings and exit conditions make sense to me.  I think it somewhat depends on the GM's Story Before leanings. 

In Pitfighter, I liked to think I was flexible, except when I wasn't.  In other words, though I needed the party to get to Haven, I didn't need them to get there in one step, and any number of intermediate steps might have turned out fine.  In fact, when a player invented their own scene B to connect my planned scenes A and C in a novel way, that was particularly rewarding to me as GM.

So, pre-determining, "After this scene, they'll be in Haven," is often a little beyond what I'd prefer to do.  At times I was a railroad conductor, but at other times I was more of a beat cop, who looks out for inappropriate stuff but otherwise stands back.

The keys for my decision of "No, you can't grab the badguys' boat and go after their organization" included:

1) The fictional focus of play.  Thinking about the Silent Wolves and pursuing a meeting with them was right where I wanted the players.  I had planned some reveals based on this focus, that would move them further into the intrigue and drama of my plot.  So going after the Diamondbacks would have been a problem, because:
a) It had nothing to do with discovering the Silent Wolves' secrets, and
b) It would take up lots of play time, making a quick return to the script unlikely.

2) Timeline.  Synchronizing the players with my NPCs.  I'd already established that the Silent Wolves, their allies, and their enemies, were all moving forward with some urgency.  New developments were coming soon, and I wanted the players there to witness them!  Letting the characters dick around in the southwest for a month of fictional time, only to eventually get to Haven and find that those same urgent developments were still waiting for them, would have seemed nonsensical.

3) Geography.  Haven's way north, the Diamondbacks are southwest.  Mainly relevant as it relates to the first two points.

Those were my concerns at the time.  Looking at it now, I can see many ways to navigate that situation.  Here are two ideas:

I. Handle digressions quickly

"Okay, guys, this is going to be an Interlude.  You grab the boat and row back into Diamondback territory.  You scope out a new place and can grab some exotic fruits and leaves, but there's a fire in the distance, and by the time you arrive, everything's been destroyed.  It's not clear whether they knew you were coming, or something else was afoot.  You've seen storms in the north, which might well delay overland travel, meaning Siltra and the Nightrunners haven't reached the Silent Wolves yet.  There should still be time to get there first."

What this requires is:

1) Some knowledge of an Interlude: what it is, when it may be used, and how it fits into the whole game.  I didn't have an elegant way to do this in Pitfighter.  The above quote would have struck my players as a pretty harsh "What you say doesn't matter" moment.  Is context enough?  If an SBP system gave payouts for squashing player agency, this could be a time for one.

2) Some sort of addressing the players' query.  "You get some weird fruit and the badguys torch their hideout," isn't great, but it's a step up from "Nothing happens."  This is an issue that probably deserves more discussion: How for the GM to respond to unanticipated player interests?  It seems to me that the optimal solution would be to somehow say, through the fiction, "You will get to explore that, but the best way is by following my script!"  Maybe in the remains of the Diamondbacks' burnt lair is a distinctive weapon from the Silent Wolves?

Some GMs can simply do this without help, but I'd like to provide help for the rest.  It could be a chapter outline, list of plot points, NPC arc checklist... plus some random table of "how this thing links to that other thing"...?  Seems helpful, but not perfect...

3) A non-stupid way to make the planned NPC actions and world events wait for the characters.  Something that's not just weather.  Maybe a random table of delays and/or intermediate actions/occurrences that lead into the main events.

II. Mechanically Define Possible Outcomes

Rather than making the GM match "what happens in the fiction, and how much we play through it" to various game situations, we could just say, "Identify this handful of situations and roll on the corresponding outcome lists."

Apocalypse World style:
When the players grab a tangent, roll 2d6 +Urgency of your next plot point.
10+ = The tangent effort becomes a dead end immediately.
7-9 = The tangent effort eventually dead-ends, but not before providing something.  Pick one of the following:
- clues leading to your next plot point
- unique resources
- info dump on a faction or area
6- = The tangent effort eventually dead-ends, but not before providing something.  Pick three of the above and one of the following:
- unavoidable injury
- unavoidable loss of resources

Through regular use of that mechanic, players will come to know what's on the table when they start taking their characters in non-obvious directions.  Alas, it gives no one any ability to anticipate what the GM will consider a tangent.  But maybe pairing it with a single Obvious Direction option could suffice.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #16 on: January 07, 2012, 08:19:18 PM »

Here's some more fodder for this discussion.  I'm not sure how to apply it, but hopefully someone else will have ideas.  This is Eero telling me about the Finnish diceless system FLOW, as used in the game Stalker, last year on Story Games.

Quote from: Eero Tuovinen
The GM in FLOW considers the player's contribution in two categories, Idea and Roleplaying; the former basically concerns the immediate realism of the character's proposed course of of action in the fictional context, while the the latter is about whether the proposed course matches with the abilities and nature of the character (and whether it's entertaining for the rest of the group and dramatic - entertainment concerns are usually scored in this category). Basically you fare well in the game by describing action that seems likely to succeed in achieving the stated goal while remaining true to and expressing with clarity who and what the character is.

Both of those categories are scored on a 1-5 range (there are various scoring tools in the book to help in this), and the results are then multiplied with each other to gain a final score, which is then compared against a difficulty level also determined by the GM.

Characters have skills that can influence the final score, too.

The weirdest thing in that whole system is that it's all in the GM's head, and the players basically have no mechanical input into it whatsoever aside from using the get out of jail free card when a challenge goes awry. To an outside observer the system doesn't differ from GM fiat in any way whatsoever, which is pretty neat if you're into immersionism and mechanics not "getting into way". From the GM viewpoint it's pretty different from pure fiat, though, as you're on your honor to utilize the authoritative yet reasonably objective standards of evaluation provided by the game. I myself make the scores public when playing, in fact, instead of just telling the player that he succeeded or failed; this can be pretty intense, as any pretense of the adjucation being something else than an expression of the GM's creativity is swept aside: your goal is to get rated well, and you only get rated well by having a good creative relationship with the GM. Matrix Games have a similar feature in how they rely on the players judging each other's contributions.

My judgment of the thing FLOW does is that it's not really qualitatively different from GM-as-physics-engine. In fact, that's very much the vision the designer in question has about the GM's job. The novel thing about the game is that it's very frank about the source of the adjudication by removing all interposing dice rolling and charts, and it gives you a mental framework to use in making the GMing choices. I find that this leads to more deliberate play on both the player and GM side as compared to the typical system that tries to accomplish the same by giving the GM a large number of rules references to use in judgment. Surprisingly enough it seems that participationism stripped of all mechanical fetishes leads to a sort of intensely cooperative creative interaction, which is something I wouldn't have expected without trying this game.

As a player, a big part of the game's challenge is to simultaneously cover the bases of "do what would work" and "be interesting, colorful, and true-to-character". Usually it's not difficult to get a high score in one category, but also typically you can't rely on being able to get very high in both at will - it takes fortunate circumstances, usually ones that highlight your character somehow.

In Stalker it is relatively easy to please the GM, because the genre of the work is very unstylized and low-key, and thus "pleasing the GM" isn't a big production of genre cliche so much as having searing insight into how the world works; the easiest way to please the GM is to say something about the game world that the GM in hindsight agrees to be true.

Idea and Roleplaying could be replaced by whatever's appropriate for the SBP GM's plot.  Idea and Plot-Relevance, or Plot-Relevance and Roleplaying, or something.
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contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #17 on: January 12, 2012, 04:14:01 AM »

I think your point about wanting to "railroad" some of the time, but not all of the time, is right on the mark.  At least, it is for the way I like to do things; I don;t mind the players pissing about with this or that for quite a lot of the time, but I do want to reliably move on to my set pieces and planned events.

What do you think of the Cutaway thing from Star Wars I mentioned in the other thread?  Maybe, say, after the players defeat the Silent Wolves, but before they set about sailing off into the wide white world, you did a cutaway scene that was a sort of "meanwhile, in Haven..." kind of thing, do you think that might have worked?

I also wonder if there might be some linkup here with having a greater hand in character design, perhaps a bit like other designs of recent vintage.  So frex, when the characters are built one of them must have a sort of "damsel in distress" motivation, and then a cutaway to showing how the damsel is now in more urgent peril in Haven might provide something of an explicit prompt.  That;s a way of saying to the player that their characters, personally, has reasons not to go off on an unnecessary diversion.
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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."
- Leonardo da Vinci
contracycle
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Posts: 2984


« Reply #18 on: January 12, 2012, 04:38:48 AM »

Actually a slighlty more coherent idea just occurred.  Many of the sandboxy CRPG's have a "Quest Log", for two reasons: first, because a player may save and then come back to the game, and need a reminder of what they were doing, and also because many of them can co-exist, and you are not opbliged to do them exclusively or in order.

Borrowing from that, maybe such a game could have a sort of "campaign sheet" which lists objectives for the players.  As with the CRPG's, XP and so on are awarded for resolving the quest in some pretty tight, particular manner, and its then cleared from the list.

This allows the list to be used to govern diversions.  A quest on the list might also have activation conditions, and only when those conditions are met does it become available to pursue.  In your shadow Wolves scenario, it might have been possible to do almost exactly what you did, have the boat catch fire etc, and to "reward" the players with a new quest on the list, something like "Pursue the Shadow Wolves to their lair", but in an Inactive state.  This communicates to the players that they will be able to do it at some point in the future, but that they don't have all the things or information they need right now (example: the must-have dragonslaying sword has not yet been found; they have not yet learned that the damsel-in-distress is being held hostage in said lair, which they need to know so they don't just nuke it from orbit).

This offers a number of possibilities.  First, the players achievements and intentions are being recognised by the GM, so they know they are not just being fobbed off; by implication, there is some kind of Plan at work.  Second, it directs play towards discovering the appropriate conditions to activate the quest, which also keeps the quest on the agenda and in the mind.  It also alerts them to ther fact that there may be other quests to be discovered in the rest of the game world.  Third, there is a mechanical linkage in the form of XP awards.

Fourth, there are some ways this structure can be manipulated.  For example, at a later date they can discover that they should be cooperating with the shadow Wolves; at that point, there's a little "tring" sound, they get some XP for clearing the quest they have, and a new quest is added indicating that they should "Join the Shadow Wolves" or similar. 

It also allows the GM to do a bit of bluffing, in the sense that if there is in fact no plan, it can give them time to go off and make one.
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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."
- Leonardo da Vinci
happysmellyfish
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Posts: 49


« Reply #19 on: January 12, 2012, 09:36:43 PM »

I like the Quest Log, but it seems to exacerbate the problem trying to be avoided: the world goes on hold while the players aren't around. There's no sense of urgency, and no sense of the world as a real and continuing context, if the PCs have time to mess around with every niggling task that comes their way - safe in the knowledge that the Evil Wizard won't cast Armageddon until they choose to arrive at his lair.

I do like it, but it only seems suited to pretty knowing and explicit "video game" worlds.
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Anders Gabrielsson
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Posts: 100


« Reply #20 on: January 12, 2012, 11:00:02 PM »

Options in the quest log don't need to be available forever... or the situation when the players decide to go after them doesn't need to be the same.

"Right, so you travel to Idyllic Village to help with the bandits you heard about a month ago. When you get there the village is burned to the ground." (Removes 'Save Idyllic Village' from the quest log and adds 'Investigate the burning of Idyllic Village'.)
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Callan S.
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WWW
« Reply #21 on: January 12, 2012, 11:56:43 PM »

Options in the quest log don't need to be available forever... or the situation when the players decide to go after them doesn't need to be the same.

"Right, so you travel to Idyllic Village to help with the bandits you heard about a month ago. When you get there the village is burned to the ground." (Removes 'Save Idyllic Village' from the quest log and adds 'Investigate the burning of Idyllic Village'.)
Sounds good! Though put a date on the quest when recorded, so the GM has some idea of how much game world time has passed once/if the players take it up again.
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Anders Gabrielsson
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« Reply #22 on: January 13, 2012, 02:23:21 AM »

Sounds good! Though put a date on the quest when recorded, so the GM has some idea of how much game world time has passed once/if the players take it up again.
Yes, I'd assume the GM would keep track of these things to have them mesh with whatever he's got going on behind the scenes.
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DWeird
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Posts: 87


« Reply #23 on: January 13, 2012, 12:12:06 PM »

There's one other technique - I'm playing in a game online right now where it's used succesfully.

Play we're talking about is a bit of the fill in the blanks variety, so why not extend that same thought to chargen?

The GM "owns" all of the characters, and "lends" some of them to the players as appropriate. The GM-created PC is basically an outline of a character that nevertheless has a motivation that points to the GM's plot (This is a fair and just general, he wants to win this war, but his forces are besieged and heavily outnumbered. Sam, what is this guy's name and what does he do?). Since the GM made the important bit of the character - the reason why he does things - he can then just railroad the character to the point where he want him and then "unload the passengers" into a free-play zone. What do the players do? Well, the characters so created are sketchy at start, and then get 'filled in' by players as time goes by.

This probably wouldn't be that fun in a party game, where after such a process a player would get *less* than one full character to play with, but it can totally rock when playing a wider faction, which we're doing now. The GM can "take away" characters he lent and zoom in to other ones (okay, so that was the general's plan! Lets see how things are going on the ground! Marksman, three troopers and a wounded sergeant, you're trying to hold your position when you hear the sound of enemy aircraft too near for comfort. What? Yes, you *do* have a Stinger-equivalent!), giving different viewpoints on the plot he crafted. This is significantly easier than making sure the same group of actual people is always where the most interesting stuff is happening, too.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #24 on: January 13, 2012, 02:18:18 PM »

I don't think any old Quest Log would help, but some of the specific stuff Gareth mentioned sounds excellent here.  Activating and revealing what's on the GM's to-do list for you sounds very promising.

Letting list items pass you by because you didn't get to them in time sounds like a good result, but I worry that the process of supporting that will be tough on the GM.  If you come up with something you really want the players to do, letting them do something else instead ruins the point of Story Before.  I guess I could see a Trail of Cthulhu deal, where there are mandatory core scenes and optional supplemental scenes, and it's the optional scenes that must be weighed against each other, with some not being pursued.
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David Berg
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« Reply #25 on: January 13, 2012, 02:43:58 PM »

DWeird, that is really interesting.  As GM, I would love those tools.

I also love what it says.  It tells the players that their job is about momentary contribution, not story direction, and that their reward is in story discovery, not in character tangents.

On the downside, I think it puts player plot discovery purely in audience terms.  It somewhat ruins one of the stronger roleplay opportunities that SBP provides, which is to experience and be changed by the unfolding plot.

There's probably a spectrum.  At one end, the desired experience requires one character per player, at the other end you can play 20 characters in 20 scenes, and in the middle you get 2 or 4 characters per player, plus occasional one-scene characters.

Can you relate this idea to resolution?  Under this system, what's the GM's role in determining what happens?

(Separately, a quick "hell yes" to plot-based GM direction of char-gen.  I think we might have covered that in one of the other 2 threads, actually.)
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DWeird
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Posts: 87


« Reply #26 on: January 13, 2012, 04:16:48 PM »

It's a freeform thing where the 'GM' basically sets the scenes and puts pretty pictures along with forum posts. I'm not even sure it's roleplaying exactly, but it scratches the same itch for me.

Here's a link, if you want.

We are totally an audience to an author's story there. But, we're a specific kind of audience - we're fans who the author likes. It might be impossible to play SBP if your players are not fans who you like, maybe! So there's this occassional mindmeld that has player-created ideas slip into the narrative, or the 'author of plot' delegating an important in-character, plot-defining choice to the players.

Also, in our case, there's always a backdrop that ties in all of our choices regardless of what character we're playing exactly. We're part of a faction that's fighting a war. The leader's decisions matter when we're playing grunts, the grunts' successes matter when we're doing interrogation of the prisoners they caught, the information they give us can be important to the resources we can muster, and so on...

And, yeah, we're definitelly somewhere in the middle there. There are definitelly major characters we see every once in a while and will mostly likely get to control directly if they get into trouble, there are recurring dudes who we see when missions demand their special skills, and there are sometimes moments with guys we never see afterwards.

So we are constantly experiencing and being changed by the unfolding plot in the "I'm a part of this! Me!" sense. Whatever we do, our success matter and our failures hurt. That doesn't stop the big reveals from coming, but it changes how well we can deal with what they bring. It's completelly possible that, for example, the characters we're playing in a given scene are all going to die, and then we can zoom to another character to see what problems our deaths have caused her. That doesn't really hinder experiencing or being changed by the plot - it might even help it ("*what* are they doing with the corpses of the guys we played? Vengeance!" - look at what's happening! We're experiencing real grief and anger for these people who just died, and we still have legit channels to express it in game).


In terms of GM's role in resolution, or at least how player success can become problematic by causing plot derailment, this whole thing mostly ties into the question of what's getting resolved, exactly. If a player does not have primary authority over a character, then the GM doesn't even need to inelegantly remove options through fiction - he can do that through pre-agreed authority direct. "Okay, you've won that fight! Now you're back on the road to Haven." Not doing what the GM says the characters would naturally do is never really an option that resolution could result in - unless the GM fancies to allow such things. It's exactly what you present in the OP, I guess, it's just that it pushes the "if the GM wants it to succeed or fail, it does" deeper into the game, so it requires less moment-to-moment legitimation and is probably easier for the GM to deal with.

A bit of a trick is all this is, I guess.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #27 on: January 13, 2012, 06:16:46 PM »

I guess developments in any story where one has input are gonna feel like some sort of experience.  All I can say is that I've played RPGs where input alone wasn't enough for me to get that "Oh my god!" rush I get from in-character discovery.  That said, this actually does sound super fun:

"*what* are they doing with the corpses of the guys we played? Vengeance!"

Following the fate of the specific thing you formerly controlled may be powerful in a way that most mere "I did stuff in your story" is not.

If a player does not have primary authority over a character, then the GM doesn't even need to inelegantly remove options through fiction - he can do that through pre-agreed authority direct. "Okay, you've won that fight! Now you're back on the road to Haven." Not doing what the GM says the characters would naturally do is never really an option that resolution could result in - unless the GM fancies to allow such things. It's exactly what you present in the OP, I guess, it's just that it pushes the "if the GM wants it to succeed or fail, it does" deeper into the game, so it requires less moment-to-moment legitimation and is probably easier for the GM to deal with.

Hmm.  I see how your crew does it (thanks for the link!), but in-person play presents different communication requirements than forum posting, and I'm failing to envision how to bridge that gap.  Let's say a player rolls the dice to kill the last Diamondback warrior, then instantly has the idea to commandeer their boat.  What do you envision happening there?

Does the player look to the GM for guidance on character motives, treating all their own inclinations as provisional?  "My guy realizes he could board the other ship; does he want to, GM?"

Or does the player just play ("I board the ship!") until the GM interjects with a correction ("No, actually, that guy wants to go to Haven.")?

There might be options with passing of character sheets...  A player's authority over the character would be complete, but the beginning and end of that period of authority would be clear.  You kill the Diamondback and then as you're coming up with your idea you see the GM reaching for your character sheet, and that's that.  Hmm...
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DWeird
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Posts: 87


« Reply #28 on: January 14, 2012, 02:48:32 AM »

Dave, could you tell me about an episode when you or your players experienced and were changed by plot, as you say? I don't know if I'm fully sure what you're talking about.

To me, there's nothing wrong with being an audience, nor is there a definite fix by giving players more control. Started my roleplaying in freeform where player contributions were the whole story. Most of that was of the "okay enough, I guess" variety, though there were some downright awesome moments as well. I do sometimes get that "Oh my god!" rush when I'm playing this current game, too.

Not sure if that's what you're talking about, though. Am sure that SBP play inevitably has the possibility of moments where the GM tells the players there's something their characters can't do. The secret is making them like it, I guess, and I suspect them "being an audience" may be one of the ways to do that.


Seamlessly making "GM character moves" is probably not as easy in a live setting, but it can probably be done. Something like "Yeah, you can take it, but the characters want to go to Haven right now. What do you do with it?" There's no changing what will actually happen - they're going to Haven, that's that. Details of the situation can change, though, and maybe the GM will incorporate that second boat into the story somehow sometime later.

This whole thing rests on the GM being able to say "the characters want to..." without breaking the social contract.

Works signficantly less well if going to Haven is not part of the character's motivations but plot makes it necessary for them to be there (because there is a surprise there that will, after the fact, make it part of the characters' motivations), which can be cool too.
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David Berg
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Posts: 997


« Reply #29 on: January 14, 2012, 03:35:05 AM »

Dave, could you tell me about an episode when you or your players experienced and were changed by plot, as you say?

One PC (Kwailun) had a mostly-offscreen relationship with Siltra.  When Siltra came up to him and tried to convince him to side with the badguys, revealing she'd been working for them, his reaction was pretty intense.  The player, Gabe, didn't generally react that strongly when he wasn't seeing things through his character's eyes.  Out of character, betrayals were more like, "Whoa!  Fuck.  Neat."  But in character there was a real jaw-drop shock moment.  As GM, I loved producing those.

I think that's all I have to say on that topic, I didn't mean to derail.  A lot of that comes down to taste, who finds what immersive, etc.

This whole thing rests on the GM being able to say "the characters want to..." without breaking the social contract.

Agreed!  The thing I'm trying to pin down is how that's handled moment to moment, especially in transition between player and GM authoring the wants of the same character.  Any ideas?  I think passing the character sheet might work, but may not be the most elegant for back-and-forth switches.
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