The Forge Forums

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: John Adams on January 10, 2008, 07:33:25 AM



Title: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 10, 2008, 07:33:25 AM
Damn. I can't believe it's been almost a year since I posted this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=23030.0). High time for an update! First, I can't thank you all enough for your help and thoughtful advice. I've learned a great deal and you have made a positive impact on my group. That's no small thing.

So now, a question. Given the goals and techniques I'll describe below, what else can I do in the same vein to improve my game?

Goals:

* Keep players creatively involved in the game at all times
* avoid GM-obstruction and Force
* focus on meaningful, meaty conflicts
* The PC's aren't moving around inside MY story, the story should be about the PCs
* Get more done, less fooling around and more focus
* Keep the backstory safe, GM retains Content Authority


Lessons Learned:

I first came to the Forge because my game had become boring and flat. Something was wrong, and I needed to find out what. Turns out I was (and still am) burnt out on the kind of hard-core Sim my group was used to running. I can answer the question Ron posed in his Sim essay: in my case, Sim was 'enough' for about 25 years. I'm done now. At the least I need a new kind of Sim, or maybe Narritivism is for me.

I think I have a better grip on Creative Agendas now, and I understand why changing the group's CA isn't the way to go. There will be breaks in the current campaign, and I'll work in some Nar games when we can. It will be a good diversion and I can 'get my Nar fix" without abandoning the main Sim game.

It's the "new kind of Sim" that I'm shooting for in my current game. I think most of the things on my goals list are things I associate with good Nar games, but I don't see any reason why they should apply only to Nar. Let me give you some concrete examples.

About a year ago we had a great Social Contract discussion about what each player liked, didn't like and wanted to get out of the game. Everyone agreed we spent too much time on unimportant things. This group had been running under the age-old Sim tenant that every moment of every day had to be accounted for. If it took 7 days to go from Town A to Town B, then all seven days had to at least be mentioned (usually in some detail) in the GM's narration. Basically, there was very little scene framing, Situation just flowed in one continuous stream. Aggressive scene framing totally changed my game; the plot is moving 100 times faster, we're getting to the bangs and everyone loves it.

Another thing we agreed to do was shoot economics in the head until it stopped moving, then shoot it a few more times just for good measure. Keeping track of how much you spent for a night at the inn wasn't adding to our fun. Now major purchases are negotiated and for the most part I can just "say yes." Our game just isn't about money anymore and again, everyone likes that.

Next: Hi, my name is John and I'm an Illusionist GM. "Welcome John, thanks for sharing." For decades my group ran illusionist games, varying in degrees of function and dysfunction ... just figuring it out for ourselves. I have a lot of bad habits to break. So these are "new" rules for the unwritten system that has guided all my games: Look out for GM Force. Just don't do it. If you slip up, cop to it immediately and give the players their due. Specifically, tell the players everything that might be relevant to the current situation, even if their characters are clueless. Let the dice decide if the PC's discover the secret, but stop trying to surprise the players.

So I started out looking for some magical mechanics that would "fix" my system and discovered that we got the most bang for our buck by working on the unwritten, procedural parts of the game. The game got a lot better just by changing our focus and by running things a bit differently.


Next Steps:

I want to focus even more on meaty, important conflicts. I'll be happy when we end up moving from one meaningful conflict to the next with almost nothing in between. I hope that Sim can be supported by what happens inside the conflicts. So far we don't miss the connecting filler at all.

I want to tweak the illusionist, GM-centered plot that the game is built on so that we make it a story about the PCs. Note that the players enjoy the GM plot lines and expect me to drive them forward and resolve them in a satisfying way, but I keep looking for tie-ins to make the story really revolve around the PCs as much as possible. In particular, I'd like to work in some meaty moral conflicts for the PCs but as a supporting feature, not as the end goal of our play. The conflicts are more likely to illuminate a specific feature of a character rather than force a true narrative choice, but we'll see. Either is OK with me, it puts the spotlight on the PCs which is where I want it.

More suggestions?


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Callan S. on January 10, 2008, 03:36:33 PM
Hi John,

I've begun to think aiming for a particular agenda, purely for its own sake, is a bad idea. If you think of the creative agenda's as tools like a saw or a wrench, then they are a means to an end, not the end itself. To aim for a sim or nar agenda is like saying 'I want wrench' or 'I want saw'. That doesn't make any sense. You don't want these things in and of themselves, you want them for some purpose - something needs to be cut in half, or tightened. 'I want to cut this plank in half...I want saw' makes sense.

What's the important thing you want to get at? When you start thinking and discussing how you want to get at it, you'll find yourself reaching for various tools to do so. Oh, and the important thing needs to exist already - either some idea from the real world or some imagined world or imagined thing you've already got in your head. It can't be story, that doesn't exist yet and tools are made to work on things that exist. Anyway, that's my short post and where I think it'd be a good idea to start. :)


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on January 10, 2008, 10:18:29 PM
I agree with Callan's points.  That said, John, I think your list of 6 goals is a perfectly solid reason to pursue Sim play.  I mean, if I envision achieving those while preserving my Right to Dream, it's hard for me envision not having fun.

I have an idea for how to give players a lot of control in deciding what a game's about, while still enabling one GM to have full Content Authority.  I call this idea the "seed adventure".

Basically, the GM thrusts the PCs into a situation with one clear goal and one clear path to that goal.  Lots of talk must be done before play to make sure the players can get pumped about this goal.  Tie-ins to backstory, a badass in-game reward, whatever motivates them.

The GM drops hooks for a million other adventures into his prep.  Using his knowledge of what his play group likes, he comes up with vague ideas of adventures or campaigns, and leaves hints of these lying around where the PCs can't help but find them.  A key, a map, a secret guild offering a deal, a crying peasant in need of help, a legend of a monster or palace or island, etc. etc.

Play the seed adventure.

Let the PCs decide what they want to do next.  Hopefully this will result in a lively discussion with plenty of good options to choose from.  The GM should pay attention and figure out why they're picking the option they're picking.  Then he can build a campaign that requires no Force to pursue.

If the PCs change their minds ("This is too dangerous, let's go get rich first.")?  Well, they've already seen other hooks that they can now pick from.  "Okay, how should we get rich?"  "Hmm, well there was that secret guild offer..."

I've found that long-term play in certain Settings eventually gets to the point where the players can always find something fun for the PCs to do.  The "seed adventure" is intented to expedite the process of getting to that point.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 11, 2008, 06:40:50 AM
Hi John,

I've begun to think aiming for a particular agenda, purely for its own sake, is a bad idea. If you think of the creative agenda's as tools like a saw or a wrench, then they are a means to an end, not the end itself. To aim for a sim or nar agenda is like saying 'I want wrench' or 'I want saw'. That doesn't make any sense. You don't want these things in and of themselves, you want them for some purpose - something needs to be cut in half, or tightened. 'I want to cut this plank in half...I want saw' makes sense.

Callan:

Then I'm very confused about GNS. My understanding was that CA is the point of play, it's why we as a group have fun playing this game, over the long haul. You use other tools to get to your CA, the CA is not a tool itself, but a goal. A particular tool (technique) either supports or undercuts a particular CA. Futher, I (mis)understood that in any particular game the participants will derive their fun from all three modes, but only one is the point or the main goal, for this game. So RPGs are tripods, but one leg is always longer than the other two. (What I mean is there will always be some moments of "I win!", some thematic content and some pure exploration and all are fun, but which is the main goal for this group?)

Please jump in and help me understand this.


Quote
What's the important thing you want to get at? When you start thinking and discussing how you want to get at it, you'll find yourself reaching for various tools to do so. Oh, and the important thing needs to exist already - either some idea from the real world or some imagined world or imagined thing you've already got in your head. It can't be story, that doesn't exist yet and tools are made to work on things that exist. Anyway, that's my short post and where I think it'd be a good idea to start. :)

And this sounds a lot like "the package" of Sim play. Our package is my Fantasy Heartbreaker, system and setting included. I can describe it for you, but suffice to say it's negotiated by our group over the years, I have final authority over  it for our group and we have a pretty good but imperfect idea of what to expect from each other. So in the sense you describe, our goal is "to play John's fantasy game" and we have a fairly clear idea of what that means.


David:

That is a great idea and I may use it someday. If the players choose to dump the existing plot lines and go in a different direction, I might pull this out of the toolbox and use the current scenario as the "seed".

For this game though, we have a good amount of plot already happening and the players are (finally) buying into it. But it still isn't their story. The plot for this campaign was my baby all the way, prepped as I was accustomed such that the players would know almost nothing at the outset and I would slowly reveal what was going on. Certain features come from that kind of prep:

1) All major plot events are caused by and primarily affect NPCs, not PCs.
2) The PCs theoretically carry out the wishes of one or more of these NPCs, so they're "involved", but only as a tangent.
3) Since the PC's don't know much about what's happening, the GM must railroad them to keep them in contact with the prepped plot lines ... we can't have them wandering off or they'll miss the action!
4) Players can't buy into the story until they see what the story is. This made the beginning of the campaign very flat.

Hopefully you see where I'm going here and why I see Nar play as a model. But that kind of PC-centered story need not be Nar, you should be able to do the same thing with a Sim agenda.

Here's how we solved the above problems (so far) and where I want us to go:

1) and 2)The "main plot" and the main question of the campaign are still rather remote from the PC's, but I'm tying them in every chance I get. One key is making them really care about these NPCs. Another is putting the important choices and conflicts in the player's laps, even when they are just agents of an NPC. We need to work on this more.

3) Let the PCs go off in other directions. Giving them the ability to teleport actually takes a lot of this pressure off ... they can go where they wish. I also loosened up the timing of the plot as much as possible, so when they want to engage a certain plotline they can TP to the correct location and the plot will be waiting for them.

4) Scene Framing let me focus on exposition, the plot is humming along and you can feel the momentum, so this is all good now. Freeing myself to talk to the players about the plot at a metagame level helped too.

So that's pretty good, but it's still not the same as a plot centered on the PCs, all the PCs tied together with grippy conflicts and so on. I just read Dogs in the Vinyard, and the issues I'm facing look a lot like the prep for a Dogs town. The PC's come riding in, how are they connected to the town? Why do they care about these people? Why do they care about each other? about the plot? My game doesn't have the benefit of all the crunchy goodness built into Dogs setting. You know the PCs are all Dogs, so they are connected by default. You know they are there to judge the town, so they have a built in reason to be there and they must take an interest in the town's plot or you don't have a game. Even at that I see a heavy reliance on "yeah, but she's your sister" to tie the PCs in further and give them more reasons to care about NPCs that the players are seeing for the first (and possibly last) time. In my case, the PCs are a pretty motley crew who happened to be hired by the same NPC. It's not exactly gripping drama there.

Any ideas on how to bridge that gap?


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 11, 2008, 09:50:54 AM
OK, so my last post was all about plot. This post is all about procedure and partly to help me get it straight in my head and force me to put it down on e-paper; but your suggestions and observations are badly needed.

Mapping Authority, the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast and What do the Players Do?

This is all one big jumble in my head. Pardon me while I try to untangle it. In this particular Sim game, what do you do as a player, exactly?

1) Illuminate your PCs
2) Contribute to everything via suggestions, even if you have no Authority over it
3) Make meaningful choices.

If the following shoe fits for your game, wear it.

You accomplish #1 through big conflicts and trivial bits of color, by pointing a flashlight at one aspect of the character and saying "here's what he is about." This is Exploration of Character. The GM can prompt this by pointing a flashlight in your direction, but it should be up to you to describe what's under the light. The GM doesn't tell you what your character is about, that should be a sacrosanct Authority of the player.

#2 should be obvious, but it's important to articulate it and it's key to my goal of getting players creatively involved in the whole game, not just in their PC's. I think a key to this on the GM side is to "Say Yes" as much a possible and let the player's ideas override GM prep which has not entered play. The GM should only edit the player's contributions to make them fit with established facts, and even then I'd be willing to retro-actively edit the fact if the player's idea was cooler and didn't cause major earthquakes in the continuity.

#3 is the real bitch, and it's where all the "good stuff" lies. I also think it's where the CA makes a big difference in the how, the when and the why. Meaningful choice is key, to be meaningful the outcomes need to be non-trivial and engage the player's interest, to be a choice there must be multiple outcomes with roughly equal weight in the player's mind.

For Nar, the player must be able to judge the Situation, for Gam the player must be able to exploit the Situation, and for Sim the player must be able to change the Situation. And I think that's key: my Sim players want their actions to really "make something happen", they want to have real control over resolving Situation A into Situation A-prime. Of course that can happen for any CA, but for Sim it's The Point of play, the tip of the spear for "what makes this game fun".

I think that may be a major thing that has been missing from my Sim play. It's not the whole nut, but not having it significantly hampers our CA.


Conflict Resolution:

We need it, we don't have it. My opinion is that conflict resolution is a necessary feature of System but it is often punted entirely to GM fiat (force, illusionism) or is negotiated free-form. In short, Task Resolution does nothing for me. Again, good Nar games have many attractive features that should work well in Sim.

* Who creates conflicts? When? How?
* How do we drive play toward conflict?
* How do we make sure the conflict is interesting to most or all of the players?
* Is the mechanic of resolution fun in itself?
* Is it challenging in a Step on Up sense? Just enough for the target CA, too little or too much?
* Do the mechanics require adding cool stuff to the SIS throughout resolution? (as opposed to only at the end)
* Are the resolutions produced consistently satisfying for the target CA?

So that's a gaping hole I need to deal with. What we have now is not very different from D20: stat + skill ranks + modifiers = chance of success. Straight task resolution is called for by the GM with no formal guidelines about when, how or what it all means. Here are some of the bits we use to improve on that.

* If I roll the dice, it must effect the outcome. (Anti-illusionist technique)
* Say Yes or roll the dice
* set stakes before you roll (this has been very uneven)
* if you roll, someone must add a chunk of narration to go with it. "You hit" isn't enough. (also uneven)


Whew! that's a lot to chew on. All thoughts, opinions, experiences and ideas are welcome!


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on January 11, 2008, 11:54:53 AM
2) Contribute to everything via suggestions, even if you have no Authority over it
. . .
#2 should be obvious, but it's important to articulate it and it's key to my goal of getting players creatively involved in the whole game, not just in their PC's.

I gotta ask: is this a goal in itself, or do you just think it's necessary in order to serve goal #3?

Personally, I prefer to pursue goal #3 without doing #2, because I don't like how the world and plot "come across" if the players are complicit in them.  But maybe that wouldn't be a problem for your players...?

3) Make meaningful choices.
. . .
#3 is the real bitch, and it's where all the "good stuff" lies
. . .
for Sim the player must be able to change the Situation.

Not sure if this'd be true for all Sim CAs, but it certainly has been true for most of my own Sim play, and I'll accept that it's true for yours too.  As a GM, I've had good success finding ways to give the PCs the power to impact my world-altering plot-lines:

1) The PCs can do something useful that no one else in the world can do.  Something that the world-changers (kings, generals, etc.) need.  Of course, this doesn't work if the PCs have no leverage and can simply be coerced, so try to make their usefulness something that must be voluntarily given.

2) The PCs know something that no one else knows.  Their decision of who to tell, and when, will tip whatever balance of power is in flux in the larger plot.

I've gotten immense mileage out of this latter, using everything from "the PCs know the Mandragon army has begun to march" to "the PCs know the Mandragon general is secretly a shape-shifting demon-worshipper."  This had led to play in which the payoff scenes are largely communication scenes, updating and advising the world's powerful people.  Want some combat?  Someone tries to kill the PCs to stop them from delivering their info. 

One slightly odd result of working this way has been that, if there's a Final Battle between the powers that be, the PCs usually don't contribute much to the outcome during the battle.  This has been a disappointment, but rarely a major one (cuz often, the players made the battle happen in the first place!).

Allowing players to manipulate the plot's events via their characters is a more satisfying version of "getting players creatively involved in the whole game" for me personally than allowing them "plot" or "world" suggestions.

I'm not trying to convince you that my way would work for your group (without some Actual Play accounts of your game, I couldn't even guess), I'm just throwing another data point your way.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Callan S. on January 11, 2008, 04:39:58 PM
Hi John,

When I say 'I've begun to think...' I really mean it. It's my line of thought - I may be deviating alot from the forge. Do not start doubting your own understanding of the theory - I'm merely offering my own conclusions to you.

In short (cause I just can do Ron length posts), lets take a game situation like a friend at work has commited fraud to support his gambling problem, and it's come to the point where you have to decide how your going to deal with that. This situation could be played in nar, gamist, or sim. Now lets take two designers who want to make a game about this situation and similar situations. One makes a nar game. One makes a gamist game. Why? If you asked them why they chose a certain CA, they'd give you all sorts of reasons (perhaps not articulated well, but they'd have strong reasons). Some part of that reasoning made them decide on a particular agenda. This reasoning is above agenda. It decides which agenda is used. Agenda isn't the whole point of play - that reasoning is. Agenda is decided from that reasoning, then techniques are decided from that agenda, and so on. But it starts at that reasoning!

What is your original reasoning about - what is it centered on (it has to be something that already exists)? It's not an easy question, but at the same time saying 'I don't know' is a fine start - because any sort of start is a good thing.

But...
Quote
And this sounds a lot like "the package" of Sim play. Our package is my Fantasy Heartbreaker, system and setting included. I can describe it for you, but suffice to say it's negotiated by our group over the years, I have final authority over  it for our group and we have a pretty good but imperfect idea of what to expect from each other. So in the sense you describe, our goal is "to play John's fantasy game" and we have a fairly clear idea of what that means.
Final authority is a technique, and having a good idea of what to expect from each other is essentially a technique. I think I have to add techniques to the list of 'things that don't exist yet'. As in, they only exist once the original reasoning decides agenda, and agenda has determined what techniques to use. Talking about techniques is too far removed from the original reasoning, except perhaps when talking over a beer at a convention or something :) You'll have to dig deeper.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 14, 2008, 04:11:56 PM
Callan, I'm afraid you lost me there. Maybe you could post an example of what you're talking about from one of your games and I'll see if I can relate.

David: That's close but I was thinking of small changes at a local level: "do we save the cheerleader," not so much "did we save the world?" It should be "SHOULD we save the cheerleader?" not just CAN we save her. I think the CAN part of the equation has a bigger role in Sim play and we would keep that, but the players should also consider outcomes where she dies and maybe work toward those. I was also thinking of many choices ... at least a couple every session, not just one or two big branch points in the campaign.

Creatively, meaningful choices are more engaging than suggestions, but why limit yourself? Take everything they can give you! Suggestions during play keep the players focused and should lead to more fun for everyone. Maybe some negative examples would illustrate it better:

* My players expect to spend entire sessions (3-5 hours) making minimal contributions to story lines which don't interest them. Another player has the spotlight, and everyone else is expected to ride along.

* Players yawning and even falling asleep at the table. (And yet they insist it was a good session! Go figure.) A less extreme but more frequent example is players flippingthrough other books, often unrelated to the game when they're not in the spotlight.

I want to shoot that damned spotlight.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on January 14, 2008, 10:33:42 PM
My best solutions to the "give players meaningful choice" conundrum, short of improv, can be found here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25104.msg243074#msg243074) (Phase C will probably be of most interest to you).

As for your "spotlight" problem, how exactly does the spotlight get grabbed?  Are the PCs all in the same place, or did one of them wander off to do something meaningful in private?  What triggers spotlight grabbing?  What triggers wandering off? 

In my own experience, this has been solved during character creation, by vetting character personalities and motives against "what we're gonna do together".


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 15, 2008, 08:50:40 AM
We're playing tonight, and I'm going to try to inject some of those meaningful choices.

Player/Character:  Mark/Tusk, Andy/Kenlei, George/Ephriam

Situation:

Tusk's race lost the Great War and was nearly destroyed. Fifty years later they live on the fringes of society, except for one last warlord named Blackbane who has rallied a sizable force and attacked the Empire. He has no hope of victory, he and his men are looking for an honorable death and to damage and disgrace the Empire as much as possible in the process. Tusk wants to kill Blackbane and save as many of his race as possible. He has tried and failed a couple of times now.

Kenlei's father is a Thane of a Noble Order of the Empire. The Noble Orders are all Clerics. The Empire created the Orders to separate military power from the Churches and bring it under direct Imperial control. So Kenlei's dad is a Cleric with strong religious loyalty to the Church, but he answers to the Chamberlain who answers directly to the Emperor, not to the head of the Church.

Tonight we will fight out the final battle between Blackbane and the Noble Orders. Kenlei's dad is there with Kenlei and the Chamberlain.

Now that's all good, but it doesn't provide the kind of meaningful choices I want.

1) One obvious way to go is to tie the result of the battle to the PC's success or failure. They could turn around a critical point in the fight or it could be more meta with the ebb and flow of the battle following their round-by-round success. Combat will give some tactical options and the players are already invested in the outcome of the battle.

But I'm not going to have a huge battle every week. I have some other things planned which are much closer to the bush I've been beating around in this thread. So here are good examples planned for tonight:

2) Tusk has promised he will do "anything" for another chance to kill Blackbane. The God of War heard him and possessed him with a Fire Spirit to give him the power he needs. Blackbane is almost certainly going down. Now there's a price ... "do anything" in this case means "kill the Chamberlain" once he's done with Blackbane. This will almost certainly put Kenlei and his dad against Tusk in battle. If they can't bring Tusk down, the Chamberlain dies.

This is tricky to pull off well. First, there is no chance Tusk will die. I recently convinced the group that PC death isn't a good thing for this game, and we agreed to have a go without it. (Fear of PC death forced me to pull my punches too much.) Second, this was Mark's suggestion, so I know he's invested in the outcome, but Andy doesn't have a clue. I may ask Andy before we start if he expected a fair chance to kill Blackbane himself. If so, this would amount to GM Force, so it needs to be fairly transparent. I might need to make it a "race" to see who kills Blackbane first.

Now meaningful choices will happen in that battle, but my hope is that the best stuff will come out afterward. Will Tusk decide to follow the God of War? Will Kenlei really trust Tusk after this? How will they explain this to the Chamberlain and Kenlei's dad, assuming they survive?

Hopefully you see how #2 is meatier than #1 and the fallout from #2 offers the most PC-centric story bits.

3) The flashlight. Last week George let a gem slip about his character. "I'm a healer" he said, "I'm here to save lives." Now to look at his PC you wouldn't guess that was so important, so that's precisely where I'm going to hit him. What about healing an enemy? what if he begs for you to let him die? (Wants an honorable death.)

4) This idea hit me out of the blue: Kenlei will fight a skilled warrior during this battle and when the final blow lands his opponent's helmet will fly off and he'll realize he was fighting a woman (Not typical for these folk) and she is badly injured and out of the fight, but alive. After the battle the Chamberlain (if he lives) will decree that Kenlei has the right to claim her as his slave. A beautiful, ass-kicking slave. Who is one of Tusk's race.

We'll see how that plays out!


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on January 15, 2008, 10:16:22 AM
I think you just answered my question about what triggers "spotlight" moments.  It's the way you go about providing character-centric bits. 

As far as giving the PCs meaningful choices, imagine if they could do the following:

1) stop the battle from happening, or make it short and decisive, or turn it into a bloodbath that doesn't end until one side is eliminated

2) convince Kenlei's dad to betray the chamberlain, or convince the chamberlain to betray the emperor

and imagine some meaningful consequences of these decisions:

Fire spirit scars Tusk for life for disobedience, Kenlei's dad becomes corrupt vs. Tusk's race wiped out, Kenlei's dad killed.

Maybe these examples are unfeasible for your game, but my point is that they are proactive, directing the flow of in-game events, rather than reactive, taking your decided events and processing them. 

I'd also make sure that outcomes that matter to one player are correlated withoutcomes that matter to the other (i.e. if Tusk's race is saved, Kenlei's dad dies - players opposed; or, if Tusk's race is saved, Kenlei's dad lives - players united).  Without this correlation, you get spotlights.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on January 15, 2008, 10:21:02 AM
Er, when I said "the other", I meant "the others."  Forgot about poor George entirely.  I hope you give him a reason to be invested in the larger events; dealing with some injured chick in battle sounds like a nice bonus, not a reason to play the session.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 16, 2008, 06:50:27 AM
Real life is a bitch. So George couldn't make it at all and Paul was an hour late and we got about 1/2 of what we wanted done. That's the reality of Actual Play as you get older, kids.

Update: Blackbane and his lieutenants are dead by Tusk's hand, the center of Blackbane's line is broken but the battle's outcome is still uncertain. I introduced the potential slave girl, for the moment she's unconscious and forgotten on the battlefield.

Combat was OK but on the slow side. It's a pretty crunchy system with high Points of Contact to put out a small bit of fiction. We made it more than a simple hack-n-slash and injected some tactics and some interesting story elements like Kenlei's overall confusion over what the heck was happening.

I gave Mark the buffed numbers for Tusk + Fire Spirit but let him narrate the effects so he became a ten foot tall pillar of fire stalking through the enemy lines. Player Creativity = More Fun.

Paul/Endymion magically possessed Blackbane's top LT and loudly exclaimed "Enough! You are no longer my Lord!" as he started attacking Blackbane's other defenders. This had a devastating effect on the morale of everyone in earshot. Player Creativity = Fun ++

Melee itself is highly structured, but the "good stuff" above, the meaning of the combat is entirely free-form. Maybe that's fine, but I feel it's lacking a formal structure.


David: We're basically on the same page about "what", but it's the "how" that I'm looking for. Surely, George needs a better reason to show up than to play 1 short, possibly disconnected scene. The plot definitely needs to weave the PCs together, and the fundamental problem is that this wasn't setup from the beginning. The answer to all of this is simply to "fix it" as opportunities allow without exerting GM force, creating new PCs or dumping whole story lines.

I like your examples of meaningful choices and the Phase C stuff, but I infer you mean I should set all this up during prep and that's not going to produce the kind of opportunity I'm talking about. Choices need to arise spontaneously during play. I don't really want the onus entirely on me, either. I'm not going to see every opportunity, and what I think is a meaningful choice (especially on the fly during play) may not grab the players the way I want it to. I need the player to see a choice that grabs him and have the power to go for it. I also need to retrain my players who still expect me to drive the entire story.

I think my "spotlight" is a red herring. The fundamental question is do all of the players care about this Situation? If not, how do we make that happen?

I think the "how" that I'm missing is a functional conflict resolution system which focuses and empowers the players. I look at the engine that drives a game like Capes or DitV and I say "hell yeah!". The trick is working within existing mechanics and supporting Sim rather than Nar.

Ideal Features:

1. several iterations of the technique must be applied to resolve a conflict
2. each iteration adds cool stuff to the fiction
3. each iteration builds interest and intensity
4. a great final payoff

This is a tough nut to crack. I have some ideas but I need to play them to see how they work. Vincent's ideas on resolution  (http://www.lumpley.com/hardcore.html)are a good start.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 16, 2008, 07:40:28 AM
Hi John,

I think you're coming to some strong conclusions, and I agree with you that spotlight is not the issue. I'm working up an extensive reply and wanted to let you know.

Back soon, Ron


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 16, 2008, 09:13:48 AM
Overall, I think there’s not much to tell you. I’m actually a little bit hesitant to interfere with the obviously successful process you’re undergoing under your own direction. Even before posting, you and the others have passed two major milestones already: the time thing and the money thing. This is where you guys finally admitted that Gary Gygax’s in-bold, in-caps advice in the D&D rulebook (see my Simulationism essay) was and is complete ass. So far so good.

The group seems to be right on track with you regarding all of these issues. I see a real success story brewing, and that’s exciting.

I think it’s especially valuable that you are willing to work in steps and are not demanding full insight, full techniques, full solutions, and perfect results to be handed to you in some kind of perfect instruction manual.

I’ll isolate a couple of quibble-type points or sentences that kicked off responses for me, and then I’ll try to summarize what I think your next steps or concepts might be.

Quote
* The PC's aren't moving around inside MY story, the story should be about the PCs

I’ll re-word this in a couple of different ways.

1. “There is no ‘the’ story. We won’t have a story until after we play together and the characters have made decisions right there in the developing fiction.”

2. “My job is to provide pregnant situations, interesting characers, and problems for which I do not have an answer in mind.”

3. “The players can be prompted into action of some kind, but not cued to deliver actions of particular kinds.”

Usually, I talk about these techniques in the context of Narrativist play, but you’re right, they aren’t restricted to that mode (although necessary to it).

The new kind of Sim

You’re absolutely right that this isn’t about finding magic mechanics. In terms of my Big Model, you are talking about fundamentals of the SIS, not about details of Techniques within System.

It might help to lay out some my thoughts about this thing. More and more, I’m coming to realize that a key portion of functional Simulationist play is to recognize what non-gaming information or material is going to be held up as valuable during play.

It could be a genre (“westerns! with magic!”), in which case, the problem is being too general. “Westerns” is actually pretty vague and various; one might consider, for instance, the role of Native Americans as critical content whose presentation causes westerns to differ greatly. “Science fiction,” “superheroes,” “horror,” all have the same problem, so my point is to narrow it down with specific examples. If I say “westerns like The Wild Bunch and magic like Hellblazer,” that’s pretty damned different from “westerns like Stagecoach and magic like Bewitched.”

It could be a value system, a subculture or style of some kind. In which case, the problem is flash over substance, basically verbal dress-up with nothing happening. Unless there’s some kind of social context with added value of its own (e.g. getting laid at clubs and LARPs), the activity founders. It’s worth considering what sort of problems and hassles the characters are expected to be dealing with (either pushed at them or generated by them), and that everyone understands that as an obligation

I can go through any number of other bases for Sim play (physics, fantasy-physics, probably being the next obvious one; some kind of scaleable physical modeling), but I think you probably get the idea. Get one’s head, and the shared group-head, out of role-playing, and into considering something that everyone recognizes and values. Then that’s the creative standard – and later, a procedural standard – that serves for the celebratory content, even if it’s radically tweaked.

Illusionism

Quote
Look out for GM Force. Just don't do it. If you slip up, cop to it immediately and give the players their due. Specifically, tell the players everything that might be relevant to the current situation, even if their characters are clueless. Let the dice decide if the PC's discover the secret, but stop trying to surprise the players.

Indeedy-do … or is it? I agree with you about the Force itself, but I also think that we should go over some of the things which are done in its absence. Let me pull out a couple of things from there.

1. About surprise, I suggest letting the players be surprised on their own time using information that’s available to them, primarily through observation. If it happens before the characters are surprised, fine; if it doesn’t, also fine.

2. I strongly, strongly suggest considering what information you know they must have, surprising or not, in order to play after a given point. In that case, remove all Fortune from the process of acquiring that information. Fortune, by definition, means that something might not happen. Trying to link “they must know” with “conversation skill roll” or “perception roll” is a quagmire in which entire groups become mired for years.
Overall, the real insight or point about this whole Force thing is easy (although scary): that the GM is not the font of the creative experience. This is not film, in which the director and other creative people present the film to the audience; it isn’t literature or painting or comics or any other art form or medium. Everyone is a contributor to the SIS (“shared”), and so that means everyone has his or her own relationship to the source material and to the tools of play (which may indeed be different, e.g. GM tools vs. player tools).

That’s a big deal, isn’t it? Even if, as a non-GM in your game, I have no Authority over back-story, I do have contributory Authority at other levels – and everyone trusts me to value our shared creative activity just as much as, in a traditional group, everyone is supposed to trust the GM.

Meaty, important conflicts, and the timing thereof

Seems to me as if you’re focusing on the timing, but I think that we might do better, at least at the moment, to look at the meat instead.

[Cue: very strong temptation on my part to joke about how “It’s not the meat, it’s the motion” is only partly true, but that reveals what a bad person I am and distracts the puritans among us, and we shall now move on. No one likes my sense of humor except for Vincent.]

Quote
I want to tweak the illusionist, GM-centered plot that the game is built on so that we make it a story about the PCs. Note that the players enjoy the GM plot lines and expect me to drive them forward and resolve them in a satisfying way, but I keep looking for tie-ins to make the story really revolve around the PCs as much as possible. In particular, I'd like to work in some meaty moral conflicts for the PCs but as a supporting feature, not as the end goal of our play. The conflicts are more likely to illuminate a specific feature of a character rather than force a true narrative choice, but we'll see.

Well, what can I say – you’re doing it, just as you’re describing in your posts. I like the conflict-situations you’re tossing up, because essentially you’re using Bangs, a concept I introduced in Sorcerer. Now, I gotta say, what I’m reading now is starting to look like plain ol’ Narrativism, and you said you didn’t want that so much, or at least not yet. How that turns out might depend more on them and less on you, actually. Maybe we ought to hold off on that issue until after you and the group have tried playing with these hard-framing, mind-blowing, character-specific situations (in which players choose or even create the conflicts within them) for a few sessions.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: dindenver on January 16, 2008, 10:46:46 AM
Hi!
  Here's my two cents.
  First, you have to put the players in a position that has influence over your "plot." Don't turn them into pawns, turn them into players. This does not mean that every char has to be a king or demi-god. But that whatever level the plot is set at (street level, epic level, etc), the players have influence commiserate to that level.
  A good example of how this can be done badly is Exalted. This is a great game and I love it. But starting characters still have the new char smell. Sure, compared to normal humans, they rock like gibralter. But, compared to the signature characters, they are less than pawns. so, your choices are: Run a gritty, street-level Exalted campaign with new characters, or 2) grant the characters XP at char gen and bring them in line with where the players want the characters to go (in line with the monks of the immaculate order, the Sidereals or even Mask of Winters).
  It sounds like you are almost there, but I wanted to state it in a different way than you have to maybe push you over the edge.

  Finally, you have plugged into a valuable idea (player creativity=fun), now you just need to kick it up a notch and let the players pick what decisions are meaningful to them, rather than trying to create meaning in the decisions you have chosen for them. This is not to say you are a bad GM or anything like that. You are making the best of the situation, but moving forward, its OK to just say to player X, "what is important to your character?" and go with it.

  Well, it sounds like your campaign is rocking, good luck with the future man!


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 18, 2008, 12:06:34 PM
Dave: That's it in a nutshell. Many potential conflicts will come up during play, the players will ignore or skim over most of them and that's OK. The conflicts they choose to grab will steer the fiction and determine whether we drift into complete vanilla Nar or a stronger, more fulfilling Sim.

Ron: I've been reading the threads about constructive denial and the Sim "package", but I haven't been able to nail down exactly what our cannon is. We take our inspiration from many places, but for this game there is a very strong expectation that I *am* the cannon. If I say it's in, it's in. If I say it doesn't fit, all of the players but one will support that. The game world has been rolling for 15 years now, so we have an instinctive feel for what fits. And there are no world creation rules at play, so what do I use to decide what fits? We just call it "cool". If it doesn't fit my group's general expectations of cool, it's out.

I have a feeling this group has been trying to get at Narrativism for a long time, but we've been banging our heads against tradition and some of the players have basically given up and expect Participationism is the closest they'll ever get. How they respond to the conflicts I mentioned will tell me a lot in the next couple of weeks. I'll follow where they lead and reinforce whatever grabs them.

I'm full of angst over our lack of conflict resolution but rationally I think we'll do OK; I just need practice with the new concepts involved.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 18, 2008, 03:53:09 PM
That's my impression too, John, from your posts. Your discussion of the new kind of Sim as a goal was rational, but didn't really jibe with what you were driving toward with your tactics, nor especially with that round of Bangs you prepped. I can only go by what you've posted, but I think Narrativism, or what we used to call "Vanilla Narr" sometimes, is being born. I like the steps you're taking and can't think of any advice or criticism.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Caldis on January 19, 2008, 08:39:45 AM

I think Ron posted a great example of a nar game that sounds fairly similar to what you are playing in his series of posts on D&D with the neighbors.

I think the 2nd and 3rd threads are probably more relevant but all three are a good read.  There's lots of talk there but Ron's first few posts are usually the best to check out, after that they kind of devolve into rules questions for the most part.  Here's the links.

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19311.0
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19690.0
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19889.0

You'll notice that Ron has created the plots without any input on the part of the players.  He talks about the players deciding the conflicts and what sides they will take.   


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 19, 2008, 09:13:55 AM
Hi,

Well, to quibble with phrasing just a little, it's not the plots that I created, but rather, the back-stories: the existing conflicts among the NPCs of the immediate setting. I think of "plot" as describing the outcomes of all our decisions and interactions (them playing the PCs, me playing the NPCs) throughout the process itself - something we generated, not something that was planned.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on January 23, 2008, 08:07:44 AM
Update: Right on the money Ron. After last night's session there is a ton of thematic material and tension out there, but the payoff will need to wait for next week.

Overall, I consciously spent the whole night empowering my players instead of blocking them and it felt great. More precisely, instead of saying "OK you want to do X, I'll throw something in your way to provide a 'challenge' " it felt more like "you want to do X? OK, lets find a cool, plausible way for that to happen ..." and the challenge came right out of the pregnant Situation already on the table.

Note to self: without any additional effort, everyone was plugged-in and focused on the developing story. This is exactly what I wanted. Now we just crank up the tension a bit and let the fur fly.

All of the players had major contributions and the plot took several hard turns away from where I thought it might go, and that's totally OK.

Summary: Once again George couldn't make it. Curse you Real Life! We soldiered on with ...

Mark/Tusk ... drunken, irresponsible half-Regent (noble humaniod) warrior/thug
Andy/Kenlei ... Andy sees him as a Ronin, though there is no such thing in his culture
John/Vendal ... fighter/magic-user/cleric/thief. It makes sense, really.
Paul/Endymion ... Solari (winged humaniod) mage, specialized in space/time spells

NPC/Chamberlain Petrius ... Fighter/Cleric, leader of the Church Militant for the Goddess of Earth/Fertility
NPC/Haldren ... Fighter/Cleric, reports to Petrius, Kenlei's dad
NPC/Fire Spirit ... servant of the God of Fire/War. Possesed Tusk (see last update)

The Fire Spirit compelled Tusk to attack the Chamberlain. Haldren bravely got in the way and Tusk mortally wounded him. A combination of spells from the other PCs rooted Tusk to the spot and took away his sword, so Tusk threw his other weapons at the Chamberlain, then resorted to taunting. The Chamberlain rallied his men in time and retreated to the relative safety of the hill where 200 reinforcements were guarding the army's camp. Haldren was carried to safety, Tusk was freed (see below) and the PC's retreated too. Thanks to major PC heroics, the remaining Regents left to fight another day and the battle ended.

Major impact by the players:

* Paul used his powerful spells to great effect. He created a hurricane-force wind to drive back the 100 mustering cavalry to the north, scattered them and drove them into the woods. So no charge, which helped the clerics escape.

* Paul almost pulled off an awesome spell which would have temporarily banished Fiery Tusk from spacetime and neatly solved their problem, but he chewed on the cast check.

* Paul put Haldren into temporal stasis and saved his life.

* Mark took on the role of possesed man with a vengance. He all but killed Kenlei's dad. (Defeated -- by our new rule it's up to the character's controller {me} if that means badly wounded, unconscious or dead.)

* Once Tusk was effectively neutralized, Mark suggested the Fire Spirit should return him to normal for now and return later to fulfill the oath. Awesome! How that came about was even cooler:

* I gave Mark a chance every round to fight the control; he couldn't break free but he could act normally for a round if he rolled well. John riffed off this and had his neophyte cleric challenge the Fire Spirit directly for control of Tusk's soul! We used this to justify the Fire Spirit releasing Tusk (John eventually won his conflict), so Vendal basically performed an exorcism. (Vendal doesn't have that as a clerical ability, it was just a happy convergence of ideas.)

* John almost single-handedly neutralized Tusk with Vendal's immobilize ability and forcing Tusk to fumble his sword. Swordless, Tusk grappled the Chamberlain and Vendal used fumble again to free him, then used the initiative rules well to slip in and drag the Chamberlain out of Tusk's reach.

* Andy beat the pudding out of Fiery Tusk, and he did a good job representing Kenlei's confusion and took several rounds before he actually believed Tusk was neutralized by essentially invisible magic.

* Then Andy pulled out a key leadership conflict to convince the clerics to back off and leave Tusk alone. "He's not the real threat!" (Pointing to the Regent cavalry ...)

* Andy made sure Haldren was carried off the field as the cavalry retreated.

* Andy also wins the best one-liner of the night award. John: "Help me! We need to bring Tusk's personality to the surface!" Andy: "Got any booze?"

* But the real eye-popper came at the end. After he was free and safe behind friendly lines, Mark had Tusk walk back out onto the battlefield alone, carrying a white flag. He set the stakes, "The Regents leave and fight another day." With only a 3% change of complete success, Mark nailed it on the first try and the Regents never attacked the hill. Great and unexpected dramatic moment.


Thematic Questions:

* Vendal begged the Chamberlain to spare Tusk, considering Tusk just prevented a costly battle on the hill. The Chamberlain decided to turn Tusk's fate over to Haldren's son (Kenlei!). After all, if the man's own son won't punish Tusk, who would question that Justice was done? What will Kenlei do?

* Vendal once broke his Oath to the God of Law and for most of his career was a fallen cleric. He only recently repented and regained his abilities, rejoined the Church and affirmed his Oath. Can he turn around and help Tusk break an oath to the God of War? If not, will he insist Tusk try to kill the Chamberlain?

* Tusk has never been one for promises. Now he's stuck with an oath he *must* keep. How will he deal with that?

* What will Kenlei do with the potential slave girl? How will Tusk react to THAT?

* What will become of 700 heavy Regent cavalry? They lost their leader and some morale, will they surrender? Raid the country side? How will the PCs help or hinder them? How will the Clerics react?

I can't wait to find out.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on February 04, 2008, 08:59:49 AM
Last week's game was short on action and long on dialog and social conflict, so some of those thematic questions came to the fore. Andy/Kenlei couldn't make it but George did, and we opened with a conflict to heal the battle wounded. I'm still working out conflict resolution so it was uneven and the stakes were too vague and weak, but it did give George an opportunity to narrate, get back into the game after missing a few weeks and show off aspects of his character. Also the other PCs were able to help out or react to the events of the conflict so all of the players were involved most of the time. So several of my major goals were met.

John/Vendal remembered and jumped into the "Pass judgment on Tusk" conflict which is still brewing. Because Andy couldn't play we decided Kenlei rode off with some clerics to chase stragglers from the battle, so Vendal let Tusk know that he would be keeping an eye on Tusk until Kenlei returned to judge him.

We played another conflict to convince the potential slave-girl to live, which the PC's won. She wanted to die with honor on the field, but George/Ephriam convinced her not to give up, and shortly afterward the Chamberlain showed up and declared that she and the surviving Regents would become slaves. All of the players jumped in on this one, though no one treated it as a formal conflict. I suggested several times, actually, to make it a conflict. I think when it comes to social interaction with NPC's the players are locked into the idea that they need to convince me to change the NPC's mind. I'll use this as an example next session and try to clear that up. In this case, everyone was deeply in character ("immersed", whatever) and I didn't want to break the moment with a lot of metagame discussion. We're still getting the hang of this and it may take a while.

Point #1: Social negotiations with the GM. This seems like poison to me, and I'm seeing how much of our old system absolutely depended on it. A player's only real input into the game was to convince the GM to let something happen, which meant invoking real social relationships for something as trivial as a game. Favoritism and hard feelings are inevitable, even for a group that knows each other as well as we do.

The whole point of resolving things using well defined, written rules is to avoid this. Per the Lumpley Principal, rules only exist to reach agreement on facts and events in the SIS, that is they assign Authority. The indie games I've read assign most of it directly to a person, but the other category of rules delegates authority to the rules themselves; that is we feed the Situation into the "game engine" and agree that whatever comes out the other end enters the SIS.

Suddenly it's crystal clear why Sim-heavy games often have a plethora of crunchy rules which try to cover every conceivable Situation: they try to foster the weird impression that the players shouldn't have Authority. Maybe the assumption is that exercising direct authority would break immersion or some such. Maybe it's just history and a failure of imagination that players ever could have authority. Everything is either delegated to the game engine or the GM.


Point #2: One of my goals was to make the PCs the center of the story to get all of the players involved and emotionally invested most of the time. I can't believe how easy the answer to this huge dilemma turned out to be.

PC centered story << Plot Authority << Let players declare conflicts

That's it! That's all there is to it! Declaring conflicts is Plot Authority: NOW we answer this question, now we resolve this conflict ... and Plot Authority seems to be all you really need to focus the story back on the PCs. It takes care of Dave's question ("what's important to your character?") in a most elegant direct way. The game isn't going anywhere until a player answers that question by declaring a conflict.

The only question left in my mind is whether there is any need for the GM to declare conflicts or whether that should be explicitly forbidden in my rules. Often I expect the GM to notice and enforce that the current course the player proposed is in fact a conflict, basically invoking the "Say Yes or roll" rule; but if the GM pulls a totally new conflict our of thin air isn't that invoking Plot Authority? I don't think I want that in our game.


Point #3: I'm re-writing the rules. The existing "rules" were written by me, for me and they are exceptionally sparse. They don't cover ANY of the important high-level issues like Authority, Agenda, or conflicts. They don't include a year's worth of drift described in this and the previous threads. I'd like all of my players to have a complete, thoroughly comprehensive set of rules in front of them while we play. I want them to hold me to those rules if I fall into old habits. I want someone to say "hey, the rules don't give the GM Plot Authority, so you can't do that."

Just having the rules at hand won't be enough. Our group has too much history with terrible rules, my players don't even try to read them anymore. They expect me to read and digest any new rulebook then tell them when to roll the dice. They know intuitively that the unwritten system we have culled from experience will run the game anyway, the particular rulebook isn't the biggest impact on our play. That's going to be a tough habit to break, but it's time we held our rulebooks to a higher standard.


Point #4: Conflict Resolution. I think I have a workable solution for our game. One neat coincidence is that my technique for opposed tests lets you win, lose or tie on any given test. So conflicts will just be a series of opposed tests; win or lose resolves the conflict, tie continues with another opposed test. For each roll we add a chunk of narration to describe the unfolding action, so the more ties the more detail. I'd also like to ramp up the tension with each tie, but I'm not sure how to do that formally. To make it "feel" right I'm leaning toward 3 rounds for each conflict, win 2 out of 3 to win the stakes. (Each round would be a series of ties ending in a win or loss for the player.)

One important shift is in the numbers I use for setting the opposition. Previously I'd prep important stats for important NPCs and make up the rest on the fly as needed. At bottom this was totally arbitrary. It will still be arbitrary, but I'm divorcing the idea of opposition from the skill list of the NPC and such; instead I will just set a number based on how important or dramatic I want the conflict to be. Is this a minor conflict that should be over quickly? Low opposition. Is this the big throw-down? High opposition for a longer, more detailed resolution.

Players or the GM can surrender a conflict at any time. You don't get a reward for doing so, at least so far. I'm thinking I might add that if I can come up with a good reward.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: contracycle on February 05, 2008, 01:59:04 AM
Suddenly it's crystal clear why Sim-heavy games often have a plethora of crunchy rules which try to cover every conceivable Situation: they try to foster the weird impression that the players shouldn't have Authority. Maybe the assumption is that exercising direct authority would break immersion or some such. Maybe it's just history and a failure of imagination that players ever could have authority. Everything is either delegated to the game engine or the GM.

Shrug.  Why would you want such authority?  You don't have it in the real, physical world you inhabit either.  Everything is indeed delegated to the engine (physics) or GM (god, if you are that way inclined).

Once again, I wish we could address this topic without unnecessarily emotive terms like "failure of the imagination" or "weird impressions" being bandied about.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on February 05, 2008, 07:25:21 AM
I know in my case it was exactly that: adherence to historical systems and a lack of understanding about how role-playing actually works, such that I literally couldn't imagine a functional game where players had authority. I suspect that's true for many games out there, including many mass-published games. If your group made an informed decision to give players no authority and everyone's having fun then more power to you. If, like my group you're just following "how it's done" then I suggest you consider that isn't necessary and you might have more fun with a different distribution of authority.

Zero player authority might support some skewers of Sim play, especially Realist and Purist for System, but not all of them, and not the skewer I'm shooting for if we indeed stay on the Sim side of things.

Is it really possible to give players no authority at all? Is it an important factor in Sim design that the elements of the SIS delegated to the game engine should very closely match the intended focus of the game? I think no and yes, but that's veering off topic so we can jump it to a new thread if you'd like to pursue it.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on February 05, 2008, 02:45:40 PM
John,

In my opinion, play with literally "zero" player authority isn't play at all.  It'd be, what, GM story time, and at best the players get to offer the GM suggestions?

Authority over your character's decisions is still authority, and I'm pretty sure that there could be skewers within all 3 CA families for which no additional authority is desirable (hell, I've played Gamist that way).  If your skewer isn't one of those, then kudos for recognizing that and questioning your status quo!  Just be careful about taking things that didn't work for your particular group and shitting on them in a more categorical sense.  If contracycle and I prefer cruch-heavy, limited-authority Sim, that's possibly just a matter of us having different tastes than you, not us being stuck behind history and assumptions.

I'm looking forward to seeing how your players take to declaring conflicts.  It'll change the way they relate to the SIS, and I'm curious to see whether they jump in with glee or go "Wait a minute, this is weird."

Or am I misunderstanding?  Did you play your last session with the players already declaring conflicts?  If so, I'd love to see a description of one such conflict in detail, from first statement of impending declaration all the way to resolution, complete with the entire player and GM communication.  That'd help me give useful feedback.  Actually... are you looking for any in particular?  I've lost track; apologies...

-David


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on February 06, 2008, 07:11:25 AM
Always looking for feedback, and I appreciate the time and attention all of you have shared.

David and Contracylce: I'm pretty sure we're all in agreement about those points. I'm talking about my group, my play experience; if I seemed to shit on a whole section of the hobby, mia culpa.

I'm concerned that we haven't really hit that "aha!" moment you described David, where the players really get it and have that gut reaction. So far it's more like "Okaaaaaaay ... not sure where this is going but I'll roll with it."

Part of the problem is the lack of written rules. I passed out a draft of my re-write at the end of last night's game, so that should help. Another reason is I have avoided any serious rules discussion in order to focus on getting the fiction rolling again after several months away from the game. (Paul was out on paternity leave so we played a different game.) You don't want to come back after a break like that and spend a large chunk of time talking about rule changes. It's also hard to explain things to non-Forge folks. I've been lurking around here and reading for over a year and I barely have a solid grasp of the basics. How do you explain that, without jargon, to someone who has the same mental knots I did a year ago? I figure you don't. You show them.

Here's a semi-successful conflict from the opening scene last week. Situation: Dead and wounded are lying all over the battlefield. George/Ephriam is atop the nearby hill with the other healers etc. (Ephriam is a mage specializing in healing and bone magic.)

GM: (Describe the battle scene) As you commanded your bone golems are combing the battle field, they're coming back now carrying the first wounded.

Ephriam: OK, I set up a triage and start healing.

GM: Let's make that a conflict. Give me a Heal check, then describe what you do.

E: (A little confused) well, like I just said ...

GM: Make the roll first, tailor what you do to match the roll, OK?

E: Success. So I get the wounded into a neat line and start a triage. (Stops.)

GM: (rolls for the opposition/difficulty - failure, George wins the conflict) Great, soon you have things organized. At first the other healers avoid you, but soon it's clear you know what you're doing, and without saying a word they start helping you. You give them the aid and comfort you can under the circumstances ...

E: No! No time for comfort. You! over here ... put pressure on this. Next!

GM: Excellent!

Note that I'm still fighting old habits here, there's no need for me to describe how Ephriam does things, that's George's job, and he jumped in and did it well. I was glad he took advantage of the situation to highlight certain aspects of his character, such as his terrible bedside manner.

That conflict went on a bit further, I wasn't happy with how quickly the technique played out so I fumbled around for a way to stretch it and make it more dramatic. It was a mixed success.

Obviously, things will really take off when a player declares a conflict that surprises me. I think we might be pretty close.

Situation from the end of last night: Mark/Tusk is still armed and armored, theoretically under John/Vendal's supervision until Andy/Kenlei passes judgment on him. Tusk is guarding the 20 surviving Regents in the hospital. The clerics have healed their own first, so the Regents are stable but still wounded. He just talked to Lady Amalthea (the potential slave girl) who is resigned to live but has little hope that her people will survive for much longer. Tusk told her it wouldn't be so bad once they got to the fringes of the Empire so they could start over.

GM: The Chamberlain comes back and decrees, "The 20 surviving Regent prisoners will be given as slaves to the families of the seven Lords Blackbane and his men murdered. Kenlei, as a reward for your service take the one you personally bested in combat. (Amalthea)

Tusk: (to Amalthea) "Stretch out your neck!" I stand up and draw my greatsword.

Wow! Way to take a stand! He'd rather behead her here and now than let her be a slave.

As luck would have it, Andy is out next week so we decided to play a one-nighter of Dogs in the Vineyard. We will also be reviewing rules and hopefully finishing the re-write.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on February 06, 2008, 11:02:08 AM
Ephriam: OK, I set up a triage and start healing.

GM: Let's make that a conflict. Give me a Heal check, then describe what you do.

E: (A little confused) well, like I just said ...

GM: Make the roll first, tailor what you do to match the roll, OK?

E: Success. So I get the wounded into a neat line and start a triage.

Okay, so there are some procedural things here that you'll probably iron out with practice (such as setting specific stakes for a conflict -- "I get the wounded into a line" or "I don't" -- before rolling).  But what interests me most is how this will or won't accomplish "PC centered story << Plot Authority << Let players declare conflicts".

It seems to me that the important event in your example was George coming up with something he cared about for Ephriam to do.  Your contribution to this "PC centered story" was providing a fertile situation for a healer character to "do his thing".  The conflict resolution system's contribution was nil (which is still better than "detrimental").

Of course, the conflict was declared by you the GM, but that only makes sense given the logic you're operating under:
1) GM presents gameworld
2) player forms an intention
3) GM arbitrates (based on X*) how intention is resolved: Yes or No or Roll

If you really want to let players declare conflicts, you'd have to give them power over saying whether something is possible, impossible, or automatic.  "My guy does this", "my guy can't do this", or "it fits X* criteria, so I'd like to roll!"

Think about the ramifications of doing things that way.  I'd be curious to see which of them you're comfortable with, and which you aren't.

Whether or not you keep the GM as the arbiter of Yes or No or Roll (which I don't see as inherently problematic), I think a huge question continues to be:

How are you going to ensure that your players get opportunities to do things they care about?  Is there some way for them to communicate this to you?  If so, do you have any tools to facilitate turning that feedback into game situations?  I know you've talked some about this already, but it strikes me that if every game was nothing but moments like Ephriam healing the sick, y'all'd be very happy.

-David

*  I believe your play history has identified X as "what makes causal sense within the gameworld."  You use the resolution mechanics when your sense of internal logic tells you "this character may ot may not be able to accomplish that."  Is that correct? 

I just want to point out that there are other options, such as, "how important it is to the player," "whether another player (could include GM or not) is opposed," "whether someone (everyone?) deems it a crucial Story Moment," etc.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: contracycle on February 06, 2008, 01:53:27 PM

Tusk: (to Amalthea) "Stretch out your neck!" I stand up and draw my greatsword.

Wow! Way to take a stand! He'd rather behead her here and now than let her be a slave.

A stand?  Yeah, as long as it's SOMEONE ELSE's LIFE.

Arbeit macht frei and all that.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on February 07, 2008, 06:56:07 AM

Contracycle:

It's a little more complex than that. First, he really wants this girl to live and help the remaining Regents build a new life somewhere else, so killing her is taking a strong stand. His life is already in question for attacking the Chamberlain; this action drastically reduces any chance of him getting out of this in one piece. He'll be a fugitive or dead. Also, the girl is going to willingly stretch her neck, her original hope was to die honorably and this is as close to that as she's liable to see.


Okay, so there are some procedural things here that you'll probably iron out with practice (such as setting specific stakes for a conflict -- "I get the wounded into a line" or "I don't" -- before rolling).  But what interests me most is how this will or won't accomplish "PC centered story << Plot Authority << Let players declare conflicts".

It seems to me that the important event in your example was George coming up with something he cared about for Ephriam to do.  Your contribution to this "PC centered story" was providing a fertile situation for a healer character to "do his thing".  The conflict resolution system's contribution was nil (which is still better than "detrimental").


That's a good summation, but it seems to me the system's contribution was ...

a) provided a framework to add specific chunks of narration to the fiction (guided and informed play)
b) provided actual resolution to the rather poorly defined stakes without resort to GM fiat. The dice spoke, we accepted the results into the SIS.
c) *should have* added to the dramatic tension of the scene. I think I have some tweaks to better accomplish that.


Of course, the conflict was declared by you the GM, but that only makes sense given the logic you're operating under:
1) GM presents gameworld
2) player forms an intention
3) GM arbitrates (based on X*) how intention is resolved: Yes or No or Roll

If you really want to let players declare conflicts, you'd have to give them power over saying whether something is possible, impossible, or automatic.  "My guy does this", "my guy can't do this", or "it fits X* criteria, so I'd like to roll!"

Think about the ramifications of doing things that way.  I'd be curious to see which of them you're comfortable with, and which you aren't.


Let me rework your list a bit ...

1) The GM has full Content and Situational Authority (presents the world)
2) The player has broad Narration Authority over his PC (declares ACTIONS directly into the SIS, unless #3)
3) Players and the GM can declare Conflicts, putting any proposed stakes into the "Roll" category. This is subject only to the Content and Situational Authority of the GM.

So basically I'm running under Vincent's "Say Yes or Roll" rule. The only time it's acceptable for the GM to say "no" is if the declared action conflicts with Content or Situation. Even then the GM and player should work to make the declared action fit if possible.

WRT Plot Authority, the player can call for an immediate answer to any question, any stakes, and the GM is beholden to make it fit with Content and Situation if the players win the stakes. The wiff factor should be very low, I'm aiming for a technique that lets you win almost all the time if you're willing to see it through, but the cost of victory goes up, up, up as the conflict goes on.


Whether or not you keep the GM as the arbiter of Yes or No or Roll (which I don't see as inherently problematic), I think a huge question continues to be:

How are you going to ensure that your players get opportunities to do things they care about?  Is there some way for them to communicate this to you?  If so, do you have any tools to facilitate turning that feedback into game situations?  I know you've talked some about this already, but it strikes me that if every game was nothing but moments like Ephriam healing the sick, y'all'd be very happy.


Emphatically not. The last 2 sessions were light on conflict resolution but not on conflict. Most of it was social and among the PCs discussing the situation and "how do we deal with this mess?" Those social interactions were great fun and are almost exactly what we're looking for. My only gripe is the players don't quite grasp yet that they can turn a social conflict over to the conflict resolution rules and still have excellent in-character exchanges with NPCs and with each other. That's going to take some practice and maybe a few system changes.

My take on the Ephriam conflict was that it was some good character stuff, but it wasn't a grippy conflict at all. The stakes were pretty limp and the mechanics were only half-baked.


*  I believe your play history has identified X as "what makes causal sense within the gameworld."  You use the resolution mechanics when your sense of internal logic tells you "this character may ot may not be able to accomplish that."  Is that correct? 

I just want to point out that there are other options, such as, "how important it is to the player," "whether another player (could include GM or not) is opposed," "whether someone (everyone?) deems it a crucial Story Moment," etc.

Historically, you  are correct. I'm trying to get to the last "X", is it a crucial story moment? In fact, I think I have a sliding scale which will let the GM (and to a lesser extent the players) make any conflict quick and easy or long and costly depending on the perceived dramatic needs of the story.

Sorry if this seems confusing. We have to test these ideas and changes in the middle of an active campaign,  so getting it right may take a while. So far I'm encouraged that the major changes have been either good or indifferent, no major screwups.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on February 07, 2008, 01:42:23 PM
I see that my mention of Ephriam healing the sick distracted from my point.  I wasn't trying to talk about the conflict at all; what I meant was his idea to heal the sick.  So let's forget that example, and I'll ask again:

How are you going to ensure that your players get opportunities (i.e., the PCs wind up in Situations) to do things they care about?  Is there some way for them to communicate this to you (the GM, who has Authority over the Setting part of Situations)?  Once they communicate this to you, is there any specific way you plan to use their requests to create your Settings & Situations?


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on February 08, 2008, 07:58:34 AM
Well let's break it down. At the highest level it's a simple as ...

1) Find out what the player cares about, which for this game is almost the same as what the PC wants.
2) Give it to them!

So I actively solicit input from my players and work it into the game. I also try to find out how they view the PC, what makes him unique and such so I can hit them with situations that challenge or illuminate that aspect of the PC. (Much like Ephriam and the healing.) Basically, communicate, is all.

If and how that gets worked in depends entirely on what it is and how well it fits into the Setting. We changed Mark's idea for Tusk a little before it was ready to play. So I don't have any structured, specific method for doing any of this.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Caldis on February 08, 2008, 05:58:43 PM

John,

I think you pretty clearly laid it out in your point #1.  No resorting to social negotiation with the gm to get things to happen in the game.  I agree it's poison and whether you're playing sim, nar or gam it's a poor way to handle the whole RP experience.  I think any game that has one person act as guardian of all content in the game and the only person responsible for bringing content into the game is inherently weaker than a more collaborative version.

I'm not saying that you have to change the way you play and use funky new mechanics that force your players to list off conflicts before the game starts, or that they have to break out of the SIS to talk about where they want the game to move next.  What is necessary is for the gm and players to both be bringing content into the game.  If the GM is the gatekeeper he has to be freely letting the players input into the game and then using that to create reactions in the game.






Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: anansi on February 21, 2008, 06:01:05 PM
Ok, so I know this conversation pretty much stopped at the beginning of the month, but I've been reading it as reference for prepping my own game, and its been a huge help for me. I'm in a very similar situation, with a simulation game and system, and trying to mod all the ideas of the game into a more indie narrative style.

My experience in the past with indie games has been awesome! Particularly Burning Wheel, which is pretty popular. But... taking the ideas from those narrative games and meshing them together with a simulationist game takes some finesse.

A good way my group has found? Take the part from Burning Wheel that is the most helpful with making plot that players care about - Beliefs and Instincts - and make all your players make them for their characters. This creates player driven conflicts automatically. I think if you were to look at this game, and how it functions, it would help alot of the issues you seem to be having with your own game. Heh, no I don't work for BW, I just think they're hot stuff.

Thanks for posting all these great thoughts, though, John. You've really helped me think about conflict in my game. I have the same loving respect for Dogs in the Vinyard that you do as well, and I keep wanting to insert those ideas... which I think are totally cool. Dave, your little writeup on prep work was really helpful too, I'm using alot of it now in my session creation. If you want to follow my developing game, go to http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?p=8391803. We've only had one session so far, and one of my players dug it so much she posted it on RPGnet. Which caused much blushing on my part. There's not much technical gaming jargon in the writeup since the player wrote it, but its a colorful summary and maybe you'd dig that.

Kira


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on February 26, 2008, 06:59:00 AM
Thanks Kira, and thanks to everyone who took time to post. I wish I could post a happy "everything's rocking!" update, but we're not so lucky.

Long story short, this thread and the last 2 months of gaming helped me come to an important self-realization: I really, REALLY want to play Nar. I gave my current game a long hard look and decided that even with a more fun, functional system I just wouldn't enjoy the same old Sim. That's not fair to my players, so it's either jump into full-fledged Nar (in the same or a new game) or break up the group. Unfortunately, this brought us right into CA clash and I finally found out where my players really stand. Some of them had been playing along with "all this new stuff" but they really weren't having fun.

1) Here's what CA clash looks like from someone who doesn't use Big Model terms: "I don't know what this is, but it's NOT ROLE-PLAYING."

2) Understanding the Big Model helped me diffuse the situation so it never got ugly. You like chocolate, I want vanilla, no right or wrong here, just different goals.

3) Drifting would have been fine, and frankly the game would be rockin' if the group could agree on a Nar CA. I suspect the same "Nar" techniques I wanted to use to enhance Sim would sabotage the Sim CA, at least that's the feedback I got from some of my Sim players. I need to talk to them about it and figure out what in particular rankled. The main culprit might have been FiTM of all things, which would be very specific to these players. I'm sure lots of Sim folks enjoy FiTM.

4) We have serious logistical challenges ahead too. Our host is moving another 30 minutes away from me and I already drive an hour to this game, so we'd need a new meeting place. That's proving to be difficult. Real Life.


My group hashing this out tonight so I'll have another post soon with the final fallout.

Good luck with your group Kira! I'm glad you're all on the same CA page, looks like you have hella good fun ahead.




Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Silmenume on March 01, 2008, 05:32:19 PM
Hi John!

Name's Jay.  Nice to meet you.  Read all 90 pages or so of your struggles.  I am amazed with the clarity with which you have approached this whole process.  Congratulations on finding the CA that really resonates with you.  Your level of gaming enjoyment is going to improve and be consistently better.  Having said all that; I have some questions for you...

...it seems to me that you were looking to spice up a “Sim” game that had gone rather stale for you and  were looking to resolve that issue by increasing/mandating greater player input on all levels but most especially during play proper.  It also seemed to me, though you did not say it, that you were looking for more from you gaming time than just pointing the players/characters in a direction and having them kill X for person/reason Y.  Especially after many years of play together.  Fifteen, was it?  So you went looking for processes that would allow you and your players(!) to bring in really juicy conflicts – which you indeed found in the mechanics of certain Narrativist supporting games.  You found some really good techniques like metagame discussions – heck just talking to your players about what they are looking for in their gaming experience!  ... but it never really gelled for your group.

Part of the problem was, as was mentioned, that hybrids just don't work.  Different CA's want to come at a given conflict from incompatible directions.  Plus players with different CA's  are going to find interesting conflicts/situations where another doesn't and just wants to push on until they find an interesting conflict/situation.

May I make some observations about Sim that maybe you haven't considered that may give you some insight into your players' interests.  I do understand that you have found and come to terms with your inner Narrativist – yay!

First mechanics that “control” or “drive” play are anathema to Sim.  These types of mechanics are essential to functional Narrativist supporting games, but actually conflict/cock up the Sim game process.  Sim play does not, I repeat, does not spring forth from the mechanics but rather from the source material first.  This means do not look to mechanics to make a Sim game interesting or fun, because they can't and won't.  At best they don't get in the way too much, at worst they make the game virtually unplayable.  Theoretically, instead of the players reading and becoming effective with the mechanics ala Narrativist games i.e., MLwM or DitV, the players should read or watch the source material before sitting at the table.  Everything else flows or ought to flow from the source material and further down the line the SIS material created through play.

Regarding your desire to have at least on big juicy moment for each player per game I don't know if that stems from some Narrativist type of interest or that you are just plain looking for “more” from your Sim game sessions.  For my purposes I am going to argue from the latter position simply because I believe that your game never really got to a functional expression of the Sim CA.

The first tip off was the extreme concern over mechanics.  In Sim “mechanics” should mostly be a product of play not a director of play.  There is this deeply entrenched idea about Sim that is as pernicious to the agenda as “the story” was regarding Narrativism and that is mechanics matter so much that they are central to the game play.  The truth couldn't be farther from that assertion.  Sim is sloppy, imprecise with slapdash ad hoc solutions that slowly become part of the game itself if they are useful and are basically consistent with the established “world.”  Yes, there are constraints in Sim but they reside in the fictional material not in the mechanics. 

Second was your preoccupation with “the plot.”  Another notion, and this is one you seemed to wrestle with mightily was with “plot.”  Sim does not work well with anything rigid and unyielding.  Everything is open and subject to negotiation at one point or another.  Sim functions at the “edges” of the known – and that can be truly anything - up to and including the players.  In Sim everything expands, that which was unknown becomes known, through the resolution of conflicts.  Because there are “persons” and conflicts involved the resolution has a passing resemblance to a story but is no real story.  Take living breathing cultures add NPC's with their own agendas which are at cross purposes throw in the player characters with all their baggage make it a closed system for that night turn up the pressure cooker and see what yields.  It's usually pretty interesting!

The third sign was the general lack of consideration regarding the social fabric from which the PC's sprung and to a somewhat lesser extent the world at large including the major NPC's.  Yes, you had  some very good motivations for the major NPC power players in the world, but I would bet neither you nor your players could describe the cultural customs, beliefs, norms and mores from which they came.  IOW the social fabric from which the PC's grew up in.  I'm not talking about the backgrounds of each individual PC but their actual culture and it's belief systems.  Many of our own problems stem from culture clash and believe me it is a very rich vein to mine.  You commented that you were having problems getting the players to be proactive in the game part of the problem I strongly believe is that the players are not interacting with or investing in their characters precisely because they lack the social cultural details that make the characters rich entities one can empathize with and build upon.

While you finally understand what it is you are looking for from play, maybe the above will better help you understand what your Sim oriented players are looking for from play.

Best of luck!



Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on March 02, 2008, 10:25:03 AM
Wow! Jay ... thank you for your interest and your cogent reply.

My group's play consistently tried (and miserably failed) to support all 3 CA's without recognising them as such. Because we're good friends it seldom got to the level of full-blown CA conflict; I think each of us gave up on individual CA's somewhere along the way. We figured, "heck, what I want would be great fun, but it just isn't possible" or "we almost got it that time! Let's try it just one more time ..." but without the Big Model our chances or realizing any CA were almost nil. So I agree we've never seen the Sim CA firing on all cylinders. We've come close to a CA every now and then, but never for a full reward cycle.

I can see pretty clearly now how my desire for Nar guided this last campaign especially. Unfortunately, when I started I didn't have the tools to actually get there. I've been trying to run "the GM's story" for decades and it has never really worked, so my motivation to run or play in a successful Nar game is very high.

But I also have a strong Sim impulse. I put bathrooms in my dungeons for Pete's sake! I do enjoy deep-diving into the history and culture of the world and letting that drive play. We had that in this game too, but it wasn't The Priority of play. All of the characters were tied into the fabric of the world and of their culture, they just weren't tied to each other or the "GM plot".

Someday I will have scratched my Nar itch and I'll want to go back to do some Sim; when I do I hope there is a system (or I'll write one) which focuses and drives Sim play as well as DitV drives and focuses Nar play. I disagree that "mechanics that 'control' or 'drive' play are anathema to Sim", or rather I don't see why that must be so. The designer needs to be very careful answering the question "what are you simulating?" and hammer that answer home. It's OK to have 170 pages simulating medieval combat if that's what your game is about but to use such a system for any other purpose would be madness. I freely claim ignorance here, maybe you're right but I see it as more of a "here's why we mostly ignore the rules, historically" than "this is a necessary feature of Sim." It seems to me many designers are looking at Sim now, so maybe 2008-2009 will see some amazing new Sim designs. Surely there's lots of new ground to break.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: Silmenume on March 03, 2008, 04:52:59 AM
 Hi John!

It's me again.

So are you gonna run a dyed in the wool Narrativist support game for your current group or are you going to step out just so that you can get a real solid taste of what its all about?  I ask because if you are going to run a purposefully designed Nar game for your current players it might be a great opportunity to plumb your players interests.  Who is reacting how to what situations?  How do they regard the mechanics with regards to the play “experience.”  Help?  Hinder?  Why...  (just a little market research – through a partially silvered mirror that is >:o)  )

Gosh!  I just went through your whole post, albeit quickly, but I could not find the section where you made a quick assessment of your players' CA interests - if it was even in this particular thread.  Doh!  I'm not sure how much back reading you've done but if you haven't you should know that interviewing you players about their CA interests doesn't work.  You have to watch your players in action.  It's the small fleeting things that give the signals that you need to look for.  If I recall these indicators are called “tells.”  Another important idea, and I think it has already been brought up in this thread, you can't “sneak up” on a CA.  You just have to make a clean break of it and move on to a well designed functional game system designed for a particular CA.  Watch for tells.  IF your players agree then run a rock solid “Nar” game for a few sessions and then switch to and run a solidly “Gam” game (In the Gamism article Ron included such games as Tunnels&Trolls, Kobolds Ate My Baby and Ninja Burger as representative) for a few sessions.  Watch your players.  Note who is reacting to what.  This process should help with diagnosing the “true” CA's of your players.  It is possible for players to enjoy multiple CA's, but from what I have read this is only likely to happen once said player understands what CA's are all about and makes a conscious effort to play in these different modes of play.  Finally, there are no known functional hybrids.

Now about what I have both spent much time thinking about and playing – Sim.

For starters Sim is most certainly not “about details,” ad nauseam.  While it is amusing to note that you had the care to “put bathrooms in [your] dungeons,” that level of attention to detail is not particular to Sim.  Sim is a CA and as such is process oriented, just like Gam and Nar.; its something that all the players at the table are doing.

Having all the social structures in your game is “good,” but I am baffled about the statement that they weren't the “Priority of play.”  Social structures and such are the fabric of the fictional world in which the player characters do their thing.  They are neither the priority or not the priority of play, they are just a necessary element of play.  You need a chess board to play chess; its not “about” the chess board but it does have a vital role in the game. 

All this blather being said, I am curious as to what the Priority of your play was.

See, (pulls out, a hopefully non offensive, soap box) I find the ideas of a “GM plot” as well as the ubiquitous “adventuring group” to be as toxic to Sim as predetermined story is to Nar and as GM fudging is to Gamism.  Ultimately the “GM plot” means deprotagonizing the players because, at the end of the day, the “world” is going to end up at a certain predetermined situation irrespective of player input.  The most powerful and pernicious tool in the GM shed to accomplish this is the “adventuring group.”  The rationale that a group of individuals, and frequently a group that is composed of some diametrically opposed individuals, not only does but must stick together for so long for no rational reason is ludicrous; yet such a structure is presumed to be vital to a long running a campaign.  (...or a short one for that matter.)

Because in both cases the players are deprotagonized and what is worse is that they aren't consciously aware of it, yet their play is affected as they eventually stop inputting.  They sit back and let the GM do all the thinking for them – as is necessary if one has a plot to follow AND the players have to stick together.

There are other ways to handle this that allow for real player input.  Whether or not these particular techniques are vital to Sim or are just a subset of a greater set of tools I don't know.

First get rid of the “plot” and “motivate” you major (and even minor) NPC's instead.  Think in terms of desires, not end points.  This allows events to change without the GM sitting there facing a situation where he MUST deprotagonize his players because he just doesn't know what else to do.  THE PLOT MUST BE PROTECTED AT ALL COSTS!  :)  So rather than getting into a rigid plot paradigm start to scheme and machinate instead!  Put events into play but let the players have an effect, if they do something that would have an effect, and think how the NPC would react.  Rather than forcing your players, be flexible with your NPC's.  This is where they will shine anyway.  Just as how players deal with conflict illuminates their characters so too how the NPC's react to the players illuminates them as well.

Get rid of the fixed adventuring group!  Let the players motivate their characters and let them act on those motivations (this includes giving them the freedom to respond to conflicts anyway their see fit for their characters to react).  So your saying, “how in the world do you run such a game?”  The solution is simple, the execution less so.  Aggressive framing at the beginning of the night, have the player generate a folio of characters, over time preferably.  You don't have to worry if someone gets killed, he's still in the world with other his characters.  The main (NPC) players are still in the world doing their things.  Making sure everyone is at or near the same level is no longer an issue.  The players get to play and taste all sorts of things now.  Hero one night, coward the next.  Idealist one session a cynic on another.  Don't think class – think personality.

.....

There's more that I want to say, but I'm kinda blanking out at the moment.  However, I leave you with a gift!  ;o)  Here is a link (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=14190.msg151201#msg151201) to a post I made about 3(!) years ago with a whole bunch of links in it that you might find relevant.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: John Adams on March 03, 2008, 08:46:06 AM
That's a long post Jay, but I think this will answer most of it: over the last year and a half I worked in 2 sessions of Capes and a roll-up session of Dogs with the initiations. There was a strong visceral response from some of my players and they weren't shy about telling me. Not fun for them. OK then, moving on.

So I'm going to put together a new game of Dogs, network with some new players and hopefully get in on a variety of Nar games. Maybe then I'll think about some Sim.


Title: Re: Drifting toward a better Sim
Post by: David Berg on March 03, 2008, 10:08:45 PM
Hi John,
In case you ever decide to throw a different Nar wrinkle at your old play group, I just wanted to mention that the first Nar game (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=25628.0) that "clicked" for me was PTA.  I could customize it to taste, whereas Dogs is very much a certain thing, and isn't my personal cup of tea.