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Author Topic: Story Now in a one-on-one setup  (Read 2152 times)
Blackrat
Member

Posts: 6


« on: February 13, 2012, 04:03:53 PM »

This is more of a request for actual play experiences than a report of them; I hope that fits within the spirit of the guidelines.

Due to the busy schedules of the players in my gaming circle, it can prove tricky to fit a full group together and we quite often end up running one-on-one campaigns with a single GM and a single other player, as those sessions can be organised much more easily. So far I'm the player in an Amber campaign and a fledgling Nobilis game, and I'm GMing an Everway game and discussing character creation for a Sorcerer game. We had a game of Murderous Ghosts during its playtest phase, but I'm looking for something a bit longer-lasting. I've also been asked to run a short one-on-one game for someone else who's curious about RP and doesn't want to get involved with a full group game yet.

However, I'm not finding the format terribly conducive to Story Now play. The Amber game is great fun but does mostly involve me following plot hooks laid by the GM rather than following my character's drives. I'm finding similar things with Everway, and I'm struggling to keep that game moving as I don't want to be writing a load of plot hooks to be followed - I want the story to emerge from play in the way described by Story Now. Nobilis and Sorcerer are both too new to say as yet, but I imagine the same might be true for them when they get rolling.

As far as I can tell, it's simply quite difficult for the non-GM player in these games to have enough opposing forces to bounce off and therefore create story from. Certainly I get the impression from some Story Now game texts that a lot of the story potential is borne out of conflicts of interest between the players' characters - in Apocalypse World, for example, it's explicit in the form of "PC-NPC-PC triangles".

(Part of the problem may also be that I'm quite new to Story Now play and so don't have a lot of experience playing it or running it in any form, let alone one-on-one.)

Does anyone have any experience of running Story Now games in a one-on-one setup that they wouldn't mind sharing? Did it work? Do you have any recommendations of systems and/or techniques that helped the story emerge more smoothly despite the limited player numbers?

Thanks in advance,
Nick
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Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #1 on: February 13, 2012, 07:38:08 PM »

Hi Nick!

Your use of "story Now" is.. problematic. I am not really sure you are using it the way it should be used (citing Amber is a yellow alert. Not Red yet, but...). It would be much better f you simply describe the kind of game experience you are searching for, using some of your past experiences as example (of what you are searching for or what you want to avoid)

This, by the way, will have the added benefit to make this thread compliant with the forum rules:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=30748.0
.. that say that every single thread should start with some actual-play experience.

No need to write a lot, there is no need to describe an entire session or something like that. A few lines are enough, if they show what you mean (or what you don't mean). The important thing is that you should talk about what happen between what the platyers at the table did, too, not only about the fictional content.

There are really A LOT of games for two persons these days, all it's needed is a better idea about what you are really searching for.
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Blackrat
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #2 on: February 14, 2012, 07:16:37 AM »

Hi Moreno, thanks for your reply. Let me see if I can be a bit clearer about what I'm looking for.

Firstly I should clarify that I'm not holding the Amber game up as an example of Story Now - indeed, I specifically don't think it's providing what I'm looking for.

But yes, let me try and give some examples of what I mean - apologies for not providing this in the first place. Part of the problem, as I say, is that I simply don't have that much experience of the sort of play I'm talking about - I'm only just discovering it really - and so "what I'm looking for" is itself a little vague, and based mostly on what I infer from writings on the Forge and in various game texts. However, here's an example:

I'm running a WFRP campaign at the moment set in a fantasy world where the bad guys won, and the PCs are trying to survive in the harsh landscape that results. Sort of a fantasy take on a post-apocalyptic setting. It started out ok, the players seemed engaged by the campaign setup and I was enjoying showing them the world in broad brush strokes. However, I found my interest declining very quickly after the first couple of sessions - it felt very much like I was leading the players by the nose, churning out plot hooks and leading them down a pre-planned route. What I wanted was for them to take the initiative and engage with their characters / the setting, and produce their own story as a result rather than relying on quests that I threw at them.

In parallel to this, I was just discovering The Forge and a bunch of indie games, including Apocalypse World - and it struck me that several of the techniques from AW might help solve the problems I was seeing with WFRP. So I implemented a bunch of house rules based on the AW book (e.g. the three-tier success criteria - strong hit, weak hit, miss) and started using the AW move resolution mechanics to inspire my narration of the WFRP resolution rolls. Similarly, I'm trying to implement the guidance from the AW MCing chapter, and I've started prepping fronts for the various things that are getting in the PCs' way.

This has improved the game dramatically for me (largely by changing my GMing style to be better / preferable!); now when the characters try to solve a problem, it has interesting consequences whether they succeed or not. Examples...

1. The party need to get down to the shanty town at the base of the cliff as fast as possible, but they mostly fail their climb checks - all except one, who gets a weak hit. I offer him an ugly choice: "Ok - you can make it down, but you'll be sliding most of the way so you'll take some damage, and you'll be separated from the rest of the party who will have to go the long way round. Do you do it or do you go back?" He does it. (Don't ask me why.) So when he's picking himself up at the bottom of the cliff, the player looks at me expectantly - my turn to make a move, then. So I put him in a spot - I surround him with a few thugs who try to extort money from him. I invented these thugs on the fly, but after that encounter the players started interacting with them, and they've become one of the major threats in the setting - a large gang that owns the shanty town and controls the water supply. We're still waiting to see how far the party will go to liberate the town from the influence of the gang.

2. One member of the party is making his way across town alone. He looks at me expectantly so I put him in a spot - and the first thing that springs to mind is that he sees someone stealing the wood that's being used to rebuild the city walls. He goes over and tries to stop the thief. I can't remember off-hand if he used intimidation or more diplomatic persuasion, but anyway he got a strong hit so the guy starts sloping off, leaving the wood where it is. However, the player is concerned and sends his character after the thief to keep talking, and tries to Read Person during the conversation. He hits, and asks what the thief is intending to do next. I tell him (again, invented on the spot) that the guy is going to kill himself because he doesn't know how to support his ill wife and newborn child without resorting to thievery. This knocks the player for six, and eventually he talks the guy out of it, and that would-be-thief and his family have now become significant NPC allies and potentially quite an interesting part of the campaign - we're waiting to see whether they'll be useful allies or just a burden that the PCs have to support (and if so, whether they'll do so or simply turn them loose to fend for themselves).

I guess both examples raise a question something like "in a harsh world, you need to be harsh yourself to survive - but how far are you willing to take that?" It's quite early days for the AW-fied version of the campaign, so we have yet to see what the answer is in either case - but as the campaign progresses, we'll find out. (And there'll be plenty of other examples too, of course.)

In both cases I really enjoyed coming up with the stuff on the fly, prompted by the PCs' actions - and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the players decide to resolve the questions raised. From the feedback I got from the players, I think they're enjoying seeing the world respond, really change, as a result of their actions, and are also excited about deciding how to resolve the questions.

--

Is that any clearer? Hopefully you can see how in both those examples the events sprang reasonably naturally from the PCs' actions - and they set up interesting questions and potential conflicts that the players can choose to go and resolve. That's what I'm looking for.

Conclusion: Although the WFRP / AW blend has definitely shown me some techniques to move towards the kind of game I'm talking about, I'm not yet practised enough to apply them confidently - I don't want to be bullying an uncooperative game text into working the way I want. I'd much rather pick a system that's going to support it from the start - but one that suits two players well. I get the impression from the game text that AW works best with at least a couple of non-GM players to interact and get in each other's way.

Side note: I guess it's worth mentioning that I also want something that supports a variety of different situations - I've seen a few games that choose quite specific scenarios that might / do work well with two players (e.g. Murderous Ghosts), but I want something that supports a broader and longer-running campaign.
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Abkajud
Member

Posts: 285


« Reply #3 on: February 14, 2012, 08:00:10 AM »

Hey, Nick!
Sounds like you've had some tremendous successes with your hack. Congrats!
I really enjoy the world of Warhammer, but I wasn't crazy about the mechanics in any edition. I think incorporating what you have, here, would help make it work for me. So, thanks!
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Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/
Moreno R.
Member

Posts: 547


« Reply #4 on: February 14, 2012, 08:28:02 PM »

Hi Nick!

it felt very much like I was leading the players by the nose, churning out plot hooks and leading them down a pre-planned route. What I wanted was for them to take the initiative and engage with their characters / the setting, and produce their own story as a result rather than relying on quests that I threw at them.

I feel your pain.  It's a problem I had for a long time, and it's very common. And it become worse with time: the more you led them b the nose, the more the players become passive.

If you play with a group "trained" to play like this, even with a good system it takes time to get them out of the shell...

Quote
In both cases I really enjoyed coming up with the stuff on the fly, prompted by the PCs' actions - and I'm really looking forward to seeing how the players decide to resolve the questions raised. From the feedback I got from the players, I think they're enjoying seeing the world respond, really change, as a result of their actions, and are also excited about deciding how to resolve the questions.

--

Is that any clearer? Hopefully you can see how in both those examples the events sprang reasonably naturally from the PCs' actions - and they set up interesting questions and potential conflicts that the players can choose to go and resolve. That's what I'm looking for.

Yes, now it's much more clear, thanks.

Quote
Conclusion: Although the WFRP / AW blend has definitely shown me some techniques to move towards the kind of game I'm talking about, I'm not yet practised enough to apply them confidently - I don't want to be bullying an uncooperative game text into working the way I want. I'd much rather pick a system that's going to support it from the start - but one that suits two players well. I get the impression from the game text that AW works best with at least a couple of non-GM players to interact and get in each other's way.

Side note: I guess it's worth mentioning that I also want something that supports a variety of different situations - I've seen a few games that choose quite specific scenarios that might / do work well with two players (e.g. Murderous Ghosts), but I want something that supports a broader and longer-running campaign.

OK, let's try to summarize what you are searching for:

1) A game with no pre-planned plot or story hooks, but where the "story" is created by the PC's actions
2) A game that can be played one-on-one for more than one sesson.

About the (2): could be tricky: most 2-players games I know are for single session play.   And I am not sure about one thing: do you need a game to play always with a single player, or a game that you can play even with a single player at a time of a bigger group? I mean, a game that is not really one-on-one but that can be played even if almost all the players are missing one evening.(for example a game where every PC is in a different adventure, like Trollbabe)

In both cases, you are asking about games that satisfy some lateral conditions. You are not asking for specific content, only about the number of players and sessions.  The problem of this approach is that with a question like that, you risk to be swamped with a lot of names of games, with everyone who will reply listing his/her favorites (I am tempted to do exactly that right now: such is the corrupting power of the "survey threads": they are to be avoided at all cost)

I suggest that this thread could be much more useful for you if you first select some games that get your attention from the description or the premise, something you think you will like, so that you will be able to get detailed descriptions or links to actual play thread about them, instead of a simple citation in a long survey thread

A good place to start is the unStore, here: http://theunstore.com/unstore/browse
I don't know every game there, but it's a good bet that for every game you'll find someone who played it (or even the author) here.
Sadly, not every game has a good description there. In particular, two games that could be of interest to you are not really described. One is "S/Lay with/Me" (this link point to the game's page on the author's site) and the other is [Trollbabe (the link point to a old recension of a old version)

Not every game that satisfy these condition is listed there, but it's a start, and talking about a few concrete games should help avoiding turning this thread in a survey
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Ciao,
Moreno.

(Excuse my errors, English is not my native language. I'm Italian.)
Blackrat
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #5 on: February 15, 2012, 02:11:17 AM »

And I am not sure about one thing: do you need a game to play always with a single player, or a game that you can play even with a single player at a time of a bigger group? I mean, a game that is not really one-on-one but that can be played even if almost all the players are missing one evening.(for example a game where every PC is in a different adventure, like Trollbabe)

Well, mainly just for one-on-one play. The model in the Amber campaign is that the GM is running a couple of different one-on-one campaigns in the same universe, so there is the potential for crossover sessions with more than two players, but the players' campaigns are mostly kept separate. Something that supported that sort of model would be ideal, but if it just supports one-on-one play that's fine too. A system that mostly does group play and just doesn't break when most players are away is not what I'm after - I'm definitely looking for something that works well with one-on-one as the default.

... But anyway, I'll pick some games in the Unstore as you suggest and see if I can find Actual Play threads for them. Trollbabe and S/Lay w/Me are already on my (long!) list of games to investigate, so I'll get hold of those. As I mentioned in my OP, I'm also considering Sorcerer for one game, as it suits the game concept perfectly - but again, I'm not sure how well this will work one-on-one. I did have a search for relevant threads before starting this one, but I'll look again.

The problem of this approach is that with a question like that, you risk to be swamped with a lot of names of games, with everyone who will reply listing his/her favorites

Yes, I see that. For exactly that reason, I did mention in the OP that I'm looking for descriptions of actual play, not just game names - that way I can judge for myself or perhaps apply similar ideas to other games. Anyway, I'll see what I can turn up.

Thanks for your help!
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Mel White
Member

Posts: 98


WWW
« Reply #6 on: February 15, 2012, 07:05:03 AM »

Does anyone have any experience of running Story Now games in a one-on-one setup that they wouldn't mind sharing? Did it work? Do you have any recommendations of systems and/or techniques that helped the story emerge more smoothly despite the limited player numbers?
Focusing on this part of your original post, my most recent experiences with two-player story games involve Beast Hunters (BH) and Mars Colony (MC).  These games are specifically designed for one ‘GM’ and one ‘player’, although at that point they diverge.  Both games were with a friend, Jeff, and played at the local game store where a group of us have been meeting in various combinations weekly since 2007. 

To summarize the actual play, in BH the protagonist, or ‘hunter’, was challenged by the tribal shaman to prove his loyalty and worth to the tribe.  The hunter had joined the tribe as an orphan.  The hunter lost this social conflict and to prove himself had to engage in a solitary hunt. The hunt, a physical conflict, was successful.  Returning from the hunt, though, the hunter was ambushed by a different tribe.  The ambushers were led by a rival from the hunter’s original tribe.  The hunter defeated the ambush, captured the rival, and returned to the village.  To mark his passage to adulthood and full status in the tribe, the hunter had to undergo a ‘dream hunt’; a night alone, tormented by images and hallucinations caused by the shaman’s magic potions.  The hunter succeeded in this mental conflict and emerged as an influential force in the tribe.

I was the GM, and I think I was more satisfied with the game and the adventure than Jeff was.  Jeff’s dissatisfaction arose from some confusion we had in the rules, although we were using the original rules and I see at the Berengad games web site version 1.5 is available that simplifies and speeds the game.  The story itself was completely emergent play, although tempered somewhat by the nature of the game—it’s called Beast Hunters, after all.  There is going to be beast hunting.  When we play again, we plan to modify the setting to something else—like questing knights or apprentice mages—but for this first time together we decided to play with the standard setup. 

The elements of BH that contribute to emergent play are found primarily in character creation.  During character creation, the player identifies resources and items that impact social, physical, or mental conflicts.  These things help create the backstory for the character and the setting, but also foreshadow future conflicts and provide hooks for ‘adventures’.  For example, Jeff’s character had traits along the lines of a reputation as a ‘water finder’, knowledge of ‘the lost tribe’ and ‘blood of the chief’—so from that we knew we were in a dry region, with increased competition between and inside tribes for resources, with the most likely rejects being individuals, like the protagonist, who did not really belong (because he was an orphan from another tribe).  The rival ambushing the hunter was from another trait—‘hunted by Jarok’ or something like that—that is ambiguous in its meaning.  It benefitted the character by making him good at surviving.  And it’s a clear flag to the GM that the rival, Jarok, should be part of the game at some point. 

I’ll talk about Mars Colony later, if this is the type of feedback you’re looking for. 
Mel
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Blackrat
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #7 on: February 15, 2012, 01:27:39 PM »

Thanks Mel, that's really interesting and exactly the sort of thing I was looking for. So am I correct in inferring that this game lasted only a single session? Do you think Beast Hunters would work well for an ongoing campaign? (Not forever, but maybe lasting up to a dozen sessions.)

And yes, I'd be very interested to hear your experiences with Mars Colony.

Having looked into both games, they seem very interesting but they do seem like the scenarios are a little too specific to last more than one session, which is what I'd ideally like to set up. I'll give them both a try, though - one-shots are great fun too and a good way to get more ideas. Thanks!

- Nick
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Mel White
Member

Posts: 98


WWW
« Reply #8 on: February 15, 2012, 02:48:50 PM »

Nick,
Right--one session each.  Beast Hunters could probably be maintained over a longer period.  That's one of the reasons I want to change the setting to tune it to my interests.  Mars Colony is designed to be resolved after one or two nights of play--I can't see it going much longer. But, for the person you mentioned looking for a sample of roleplaying, either would be a good start. 
Mel
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Virtual Play: A podcast of roleplaying games
http://virtualplay.podbus.com
Blackrat
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #9 on: February 16, 2012, 01:56:50 PM »

Mel - yes indeed. I'll propose them and see which she chooses! :-)

- Nick
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