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Author Topic: [OTE] Cats Successfully Herded.  (Read 3071 times)
Joel P. Shempert

Posts: 451

« on: July 18, 2006, 11:06:38 PM »

WARNING: This is a long'un. I tried to break it up as best I could for easy reading.

So I played Friday night with almost the whole group. Some good, some bad, but overall it was cool.

I began with a bit of a talk about my changes in GMing style, much as I did the three that showed up last time:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20222.0 I covered scene framing and flags, as well as Vincent Baker's "so what you're trying to accomplish is. . ." I also explained that I want to play fast and loose with time (hand in hand with scene framing), to avoid the hassles of "well, today is a Tuesday and you said you'd meet him for lunch on Wednesday."

A quick run-down:

Ben plays James, a reformed assassin a la Replacement Killers
Matt plays Kyle, a young Egyptologist with a strange curse
Cranston plays Frank, a photographer who Saw Too Much
Colleen plays Ai'li, a psychic superspy on the run from her organization
Joe plays Delcus, a true crime novelist who is researching Ai'li's international crimes
Adam plays Gaelinar, a vicious sneak thief searching for the other half of a mysterious stone
Travis plays Eddie, a wandering magician seeking his mage father
Sheldon plays Phil, a paranormal investigator whose loved ones died in ritual killings
Mark plays Shane, a couch-surfing teenage martial artist who looks out for his neighborhood

The Passive-aggressive Gatecrasher

An odd incident before play. . .Mark wasn't currently a player in my game.  He had gamed with our group a few years ago and recently rejoined us; I had asked him if he wanted to come back to OTE and play his old character, and he told me very clearly, no. Colleen had him on the phone Friday, and let him know we were doing OTE, and that she MIGHT have time to run a little of her campaign with him for a short time. So he came over and I was preparing to start play, and conversing as if he wasn't playing, and he said, "well, I do have a character." I said, "but you told me you didn't want to play." His response: "well, I'm here, I might as well." I didn't quite know how to deal with this, but he DID have a character, and one that I had cool things in store for before he left, so I told him OK, but not to expect much this session because I hadn't prepped for him at all. The results were actually surprising; I'll return to them at the end of the post.

Paperwork of Destiny!

Since I had done a cool slew of stuff with Sheldon, Ben, and Cranston, leaving off with them rushing off to a juicy situation, I started off this week running the other characters piecemeal to kind of help them "catch up" and possibly slot into said juicy situation. I basically went around the room and asked players in turn what their immediate plans were for their characters. We hit a snag in that Travis hadn't shown up yet, though he had called people and said he was on his way, and both Colleen's and Joe's characters had plans with his. In fact, Joe's character's ONLY plan was to meet with Eddie for breakfast, and explore the city together. I told Joe that Eddie never showed for breakfast. Joe said Delcus would wait til noon and check Ed's hotel room. When Ed wasn't there, Delcus went to his own room to organize paperwork for the rest of the day.

I have some strong feelings about this, but my thoughts are too lengthy for here, so I'm splitting to another thread; save comments for there, please.

You're Protagonized; Good Luck With That

Travis's absence caused additional complication: I knew Ai'li was planning on introducing Eddie to Sir Arthur Compton, an evil and decadent warlock, which I planned to tie in to Eddie's quest for his wizard father. I also wanted to further develop Ai'li's relationship with Compton and allow Colleen to further Ai'li's plans with him, AND a Compton visit would be a great way to tie Aili Ed and Delcus into Sheldon, Ben and Cranston's scene, as their mysterious cultic killing was connected to Compton.

I didn't really want to run Ai'Li's Compton visit without Eddie, so I tried to come up with an alternative. (I still believed Travis to be en route, too, so I was trying to stall rather than cut out the scene altogether, same with Joe's situation above.) I looked at the list of Bangs I'd jotted down based on flag framing, and the Compton-related stuff was the only material that would work well right now; there were other juicy bangs that required setting up or gradually developing first. So I asked Colleen what she would like to see happen with Ai'li next.  She proceeded to recite a whole laundry list of things Ai'li has "going," people to meet with, things to investigate, plans to implement. . .she's one of my original players and she's accumulated connections like mad over the years. I asked her what, of those, she most wanted to do. She looked at me kind of confused, and was like, "well, whatever you want to do." I think she even said something like "you're the GM." I tried to explain to her that any of these things could happen and I wanted to know what SHE was most interested in. She said she was confused; was I saying that if she wanted to meet with someone she just says so and they meet, instead of waiting for them to contact her? I said basically, yes, and she was like, "but I'm not the GM, I don't know if you have things going on behind the scenes with those characters." Matt jumped in and said, "I think what he's saying is that you tell him what you want to see happen, and if it doesn't work right now for whatever reason, he'll tell you." I said that basically, yes, that's the deal. But Colleen still couldn't make a choice. We talked about it a bit more and discovered one of her hang-ups was this whole "play fast and loose with time" thing; I think her main framework for determining what's possible to happen is keeping meticulous track of in-game "time." And like I said, she collects contacts and agenda like mad, and figuring out if it's a Wednesday or not so she can meet such and such who she called last week has been slowly driving me insane because I simply can't DO it. I can't keep track of it all and I get bewildered and constantly have to ask her to clarify what's happening when and such.

This is all partly my fault. . .I realized in dialoguing with her that I had poorly prepared her (and the group) for a lot of GMing changes that go deeply against the grain of our usual play style. I mentioned the changes in passing, yes, but didn't really explain them well, kind of doing that "well, I understand what it means in my head" thing without making sure I was conveying that to everybody. So when I say unfamiliar things they're interpreting them from a traditional "the GM introduces events into play, we react to those events" stance. And when those two things create a paradox, it causes confusion and frustration.

I also feel I'm at fault in not being proactive enough. . .if Colleen didn't have a strong preference off of her list then I should have bloody well picked something and run with it. Not only was she confronting new and strange methods of roleplay, she was also faced with a GM basically telling her to "do it herself." I think she felt pretty lost and unsupported, and it was unfair of me. I've talked to her about it since, and she doesn't have any animosity about it; mainly she agrees with the assessment that I was unintentionally expecting everyone to read my mind, and now that she understands what I'm looking for, we're cool. She still doesn't know how she likes the play style I'm trying, but she's willing to try it out and support my quest for fulfilling roleplay.

One thing, in the midst of all this Colleen made it clear that what she REALLY wanted to do was play Gemini, a psychic talking cat who is a supporting character she declared for Ai'li. She's been talking to me for awhile about having Gemini turn up, and even described how she wanted the scene set for it. So I told her to just speak up whenever she wanted Gemini to make his entrance.

Zen and the Art of Infinite Retries

Anyway, after working so hard to clear that up, I turned to Matt to ask HIM what his plans for Kyle were, and Colleen remembered that she had a scene with Kyle to do, at his campus apartment where Ai'Li is staying. So we ran with that. Kyle had come home drunk, and put on the "8-hour director's cut of Akira" that he had acquired some time ago. . .we had been dithering about what odd thing he might find in a video store, and another player had shouted out that idea. I ran with it, but hadn't really done anything with it, until now when Matt decided Kyle was going to watch it. Matt, and I think the player who shouted it out, both thought it was just an inconsequential bit of color, but I had always intended it to be something strange and significant, containing a juicy clue or powerful spells or the mystery of life or something. So Matt was a little confused when the video started taking Kyle on a mystical vision quest. He kept saying "I'm drunk, not high." So when Ai'li walked in on Kyle enraptured, I told her she received powerful psychic emanations from the DVD. This was mostly to sell the "there's something strange going on, trust me" idea, as I was picking up resistance to the idea that the movie could affect Kyle that way.

Anyway, Ai'li stopped the movie and put Kyle to bed against his wishes. In the morning, she tried to probe him psychically to determine if the dvd had messed him up in any way, and she rolled a botch. So I ruled that Kyle's epiphany of last night awoke in him full force, and he was seized by a burning desire for the DVD. Matt played it out great, tearing through the apartment looking for the DVD, rambling free-associated Taoist nonsense. Colleen had Ai'li try to calm him down psychically. She rolled and failed. We all kind of looked at each other for a moment trying to think of what happens now, then Colleen shrugged and said, "I guess there's nothing to do but try again." I desperately tried to think of some way to avoid this, but I couldn't come up with anything with OTE's resolution system.

I think she rolled again and failed again, and we all decided that it would be silly to just keep rolling until she succeeds, so I said that, as fallout from the failed rolls, she DOES succeed in calming Kyle down, but he is badly shaken and shell-shocked from the experience.

I told Matt later that I was DYING for a "no repeat attempts" rule like Heroquest. Matt said that in this particular case, he didn't think there was any interesting outcome suggested by Ai'li's failure. To him, calming Kyle down was the only desirable result of the scene. Off the top of my head I suggested "how about Ai'li fails to calm him down so he runs raving out of the apartment; instead of crazy and contained, he's now crazy and loose in the city." Matt didn't like it because if Kyle is fixated on the DVD, which is in the apartment, he wouldn't run out of the apartment. He also felt like I cut the scene short; to him and Colleen, the really interesting thing was Kyle and Ai'li talking about what happened, so calming him down is just a preamble to that. To me, resolving the crisis was the meat of the scene, and talking it out could come later. I also didn't mean for "shell-shocked and shaking, like a vietnam flashback" to sound like an opening for lengthy dialogue.

Matt also talked to me about something that's bothering him: I'm being too controlling about how Kyle reacts or feels about things. . .this specifically seems to happen when I'm adjudicating some weird power or mystical force, or just someone with strange influence over others, all of which are present in OTE in abundance. Basically Matt says that I need to trust him more to run his character in tune with the input I give him, and not try to predetermine his feedback with too-detailed input. I can buy that, though I'm not sure exactly where to strike a balance.

The right to Life, Liberty, and Picking up Cats

I cut over to Ben, Sheldon and Cranston's characters, en route with "reporter" and secret Men-in-Black dude Islam Petri to investigate some cultic killings on Satanist turf. Here Colleen spoke up and declared that Gemini the cat would enter. So after Islam left them waiting curbside to get directions from his informer, I let Colleen narrate it in. She had already told me how she wanted to set the scene. . .the former PC of a player who recently moved, who uis a vampiric special forces operative (long story) who poses as a loud tourist, would come face to face with the cat, dressed in identical hawaiian shirt, straw hat, and huge camera. Just color, but Colleen was really invested in it for humor-value. So she narrated the strangely-attired feline walking past the PCs, and I was trying to narrate the vampire-tourist coming around the corner, when Ben spoke up, in a whoa, whoa, not so fast, kind of way, that he was picking up the cat. There was an instant tension that Colleen and Matt and I, at least, picked up, like DAMMIT I am GOING to exert my influence on this situation. We've seen this kind of contentiousness in Ben before, particularly directed at Colleen (both here and in the several games that she runs). So we rolled, and James succeeded in picking up the cat. Gemini then used a jedi-mind trick power to make James lose interest in him and put him down. Ben got edgy and incredulous, like Colleen was "pulling something" and he was being denied the ability to stop it. He tried to argue the ridiculousness of James just "losing interest" in something so strange as a cat in a hawaiian shirt and camera, even though it was obvious by then that a weird power was at play.

Once the cat was down I narrated the vamp-dude coming around the corner, and set up the humorous little "shot" that was all Colleen was going for. Gemini then talked to the vamp, and Ben was all over it, asking if he could now take interest in the cat, and i said yes, so he grabbed it again. The cat griped about people thinking they can do whatever they want just 'cause he's a cat, the vamp threatened James to get him to respect the cat's wishes and let go, James apologized respectfully, and the scene had the unexpected result of TWO PCs, James and Philip, making a deal with Gemini to act as a spy and informant, as a talking cat is uniquely suited to such work. (funny, the source material already employs this concept with a talking dog. . .)

Don't Cry over Spilled Beans

I asked Adam what Gaelinar was up to next. This is the player and character I was agonizing over in this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19018.0), feeling he was sidestepping the dilemma I tried to present. Well, Adam surprised me tonight. Usually Adam hangs at the back of the room in a pose of affectatious boredom, sleeps when he's not in a scene, reads or plays a portable playstation and then grunts out "sure, I'm listening" when asked. This week, he was alert and attentive and enthusiastic about playing; he kept engaged when it wasn't his turn, and he was eager to give input and react to others. It was a breath of fresh air. AND he took the ball I'd handed him in his last session and ran for the endzone. He went to the sewer looking for his Lurker friends, and found Starwalk herself. He dropped the name of the guy who had asked him to betray Starwalk and join him, and she took him topside to a bar to talk. (Here's where Mark comes in, he declared Shane at the bar, which was cool.) Gaelinar spilled all the beans to her, said he wanted to help her, and also that he was afraid for his life because this guy's assassins will come for him in the night. The biggest bombshell he dropped was that (as he'd learned last session) one of Starwalk's trusted aides is in fact working for the other guy. Starwalk was shocked, and worked out a plan with G toplay like he IS joining the opposition, and communicate secretly, and whatnot. This said to me several things, all good: that Adam is indeed paying attention rather than me having to constantly remind him, "you know, that woman that Gaelinar met who he was attracted to you, and asked you to. . ."; that he didn't misunderstand or flat-out ignore the moral content of the dilemma presented him (last time he seemed to block the input by insisting that the guys asking him to turn traitor were incompetent); that he is being proactive and making plans and decisions in general (most of the plan between G and Starwalk was his input). I was THRILLED. And I'm looking forward to applying the heat as this situation builds in pressure.

Gaelinar left the bar and separated from Starwalk. Mark had Shane follow him to see that he didn't cause trouble. Gaelinar was about to pop back into the sewers when an ambush of Satanists pops up, gloating that they were staking out manholes figuring to catch him for revenge. There are several Aries goons, a rival gang, and with home turf advantage, patrolling nearby, but they very deliberately look the other way; Gaelinar's been causing or exacerbating a lot of trouble in their hood lately, and they're hanging him out to dry. I had this written as a bang for Gaelinar, though really, it was more just fallout for past actions. But it turned out to be a great Bang for Mark. As soon as he saw Satanists pop up, he was ready to charge in because he hates them, but when he saw the Aries, his buddies, hanging back, AND Gaelinar cursing and denouncing the Aries as cowards, he stopped short. In the end, the Satanists attacked Gaelinar, he counterattacked and retreated down the manhole, and while the Satanist ringleader is tugging on the manhole cover, Mark had Shane go up to him, help him lift the cover, and tell him, "Go, get out of our turf." It was a great choice, so far removed from the "guys I hate, gotta slaughter 'em" kind of play that I've gotten out of many players in the past, Mark included. I think he plays Shane with more humanity by far than any other character he's had. And once again, I can't wait to watch the ramifications--strain on his relationship with the Aries, maybe, that they'd pull that kind of collusion with their rivals, and even juicier, possible respect between Shane and the Satanists, now he's done them a good turn--this I especially crave, since so far the Satanist gang has been the Orcs of Al Amarja, both in my portrayal and the players' reaction.

So, a little good, maybe more than a little bad, but pretty functional considering this is the first session using my reformed GMing with the entire group. I welcome feedback of course, particularly on how i handled things, whether my assessment of players' behavior seems on track or not, etc. I should mention that one thing that DIDN'T happen is the usual attention-span problems, boredom-whining, and disruptive chatter that usually marks our games, even with a couple of the biggest perpetrators having little to do. We had a talk last week about being respectful and more focused in this area, and for once such a round-table discussion for social problsolving seems to have worked. Yay! And just like your first back massage, there are a lot of big knots to work out that you didn't even know were there until you started probing them. So I see this session as essentially positive. I may not be playing as I want to, but I'm on my way.


Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
Joel P. Shempert

Posts: 451

« Reply #1 on: July 21, 2006, 04:42:12 PM »

I was talking to my brother Matt and he pointed out something else cool about Adam's play: Gaelinar didn't just try to slaughter the Satanists; in keeping with his character concept he took a cheap shot and beat a well-advised retreat. This is unusual both for Adam's portrayal of Gaelinar and the actions of the players in general. Nearly everyone seems to go for the lethal option at the drop of the hat, especially vs. the Satanists who have been, as I said, my game's "orcs." Even if his decision isn't some big deep statement about the character (it could be purely tactical "I'm outnumbered and also surrounded by the Aries gang," or "if I stay Mark's character might come kick my ass"), it still has a wealth of sheer humanity, a break from the "kill things, take their stuff" mode, that character portrayals have tended to lack in our group. This is pretty against type for Adam; I'd like nothing more than to see his play continue to mature along these lines.

Also, these remarks by Bill White over in Final Fantasy and the Art of Railroad Maintenance caught my attention:

I am moving away from the position that the game is the GM's show and I'm doing the players a favor by running the game.  In fact, I've come almost 180 degrees around.  Today I'm more like, "Please play my game so that I can watch the cool shit you're going to do!"  But every me to you should invite a reciprocal you to me, so there's an implicit bargain there as well:  "...and I promise that I'll try really hard to do cool shit too."


Maybe so but please realise then that the idea that the a) the world gets changed in play, and b) that the non-GM players change it are both anathema to me, and that a game that did both would be anathema squared.  More power to you if it's your cup of tea however.

Trust the players.  Trust the players.  Trust the players.

I read these, thought of my game, and said "A-fucking-men." I think this process in overhauling my game is as much me learning to trust, and frickin' value, the input that the players give me, as it is to refine the nature and quality of my own. To move with them, and complimentary to them, rather constantly pushing against them, insisting on my "vision." I don't even have to give up having a vision, just be willing to share it, to empower the players to embetter it in ways I couldn't have foreseen alone. And to kindly, politely (though still perhaps passionately) discuss with them when their input seems to trample on mine, and come up with a way of correcting that which doesn't negate their own input. And the flipside is that maybe in the process I'll inspire the same kind of trust and appreciation for my input.



Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
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