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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: masqueradeball on February 12, 2008, 09:42:46 PM

Title: the marriage of Improvisation and SIM
Post by: masqueradeball on February 12, 2008, 09:42:46 PM
Howdy folks. I've been thinking about the topic of improvisation versus pre-planning in running and participating in role-playing because of a rather truncated attempt to bring up the subject in another post (player directed exploration of a GM created world). So I thought I'd come over here to Actual Play to see if I could get any thoughts on improvisational SIM play.

Here's my example of actual play. This is a live action Vampire game that ran for two years quite some time ago. We played monthly or by weekly depending on peoples schedules, and besides some behind the scenes player drama (between a couple whose characters were rivals for power in the game) the game was a highlight of everyone whose player's lives, in a way, it actually defines a big chunk of my youth. So what?

Well, we played stably, with no continuity gaps and no player contribution of the in game content doing nothing but exploring characters and setting (the package in this case was are idea of Vampire's inter-clan Camarilla politics) successfully for to years and I don't think I ever as much wrote down the NPC's names, their statistics were recorded as they came up in play and remained consistent once introduced.
I'd say this was all pure SIM, all pure improv and a lot of fun. I'd also say that the player had quite a lot of indirect influence on in game content (through the fact that player interest would often reveal plot and that plots were created around the characters and also because everyone spent a lot of time outside the game discussing its content and how they felt about and where they'd like to see it go).

So, with this very brief summary (a lot of the games history was very convoluted in that ancient magical vampire conspiracies kind of way) I was looking for any feedback, especially about other peoples experience with improvisational play and its relationship to various forms of SIM and its potential impact on game world causality and the sustainability of disbelief.

If you'd like to check David's threads and first thoughts that would be cool to, I had some ideas there that I'd like to explore in safer waters.

Also, more details available on demand.

Title: Re: the marriage of Improvisation and SIM
Post by: Anders Larsen on February 14, 2008, 05:46:19 PM

I am not quite sure what you want out of this thread, but I can give you a summary of my experiences with improvisation and Sim.

I do not do it so much any more, but I have run a lot of games where I improvised more or less everything (between sessions I was thinking about stuff that could happen in the game, but I did't wrote anything down). I began on this because I was never able to predict what the players would do in the game. Again and again I ended up with not using any of my careful prepared material, so I just stopped trying to plan anything.

In these game I treated everything dynamic which was not yet described in game, and I created stuff as I needed it. I was quite open about this; I did not try to pretend that I had planed for everything beforehand. For example, in games where I had drawn a map of the world, most of the map was blank. Every time the characters went into on of these blank areas I took the map and drew whatever I felt was need there, and then continued the game. It was basically like this I treated everything in the game.

What we where playing was Sim. This is much more a result of the players preferences then anything I did; and I think this is really the point. I always tried to push for hardcore conflicts where the characters was facing some tough choices, so if they had wanted a more Nar oriented game that was probably what would had happened, but because the players was more interested in exploring the situation - and the mysteries I sat up - the result was Sim play.

Of cause the question is: Was this style of play enjoyable for the Sim oriented players. This is a bit hard for me to answer, but it seemed to be the most Sim oriented players who was most positive about the games I was running. The player who was most positive is actually the one who has the strongest focus on immerging into the character and the game world - to the degree that he do not want to take any decision outside his character, because it will brake the illusion.

Today, when i run games, I do some preparation, but I still, to some degree, depend on my ability to improvise (the split is about 50/50). The reason I began doing this, was that I sometimes felt like I was cheating the players. Because everything was dynamic I could just change things until I got what I wanted, regardless of what the players was doing. If I thought they found the bad-guy to early, I could just say: "But you see, this person is not the real bad-guy - he is just a poppet - the real bad-guy is that hard to get person over there." Even though I did not want to cheat the players, these kind of thing did happen again and again. So I felt that it is best to decide on some concrete facts beforehand which cannot be changed.

I also began to learn techniques which enabled me to make preparations in a very short time. And I also learned to prepare stuff in a way that do not depend on that the characters do certain things. So it is not so attractive for me to improvise everything anymore.

 - Anders

Title: Re: the marriage of Improvisation and SIM
Post by: masqueradeball on February 14, 2008, 11:44:16 PM
Thanks for the reply.

To clarify, what I want out of this thread is to use actual play example to explore SIM games that rely on techniques that I think most people feel are divorced from that CA. I know not many (if any) people on the Forge will say, this technique means this CA or vice versa but that doesn't change the fact that the traditional heavy-hitters for SIM play examples (things like GURPS) are very preparation heavy and almost require that prep be done in order for the mechanics to work effectively.

The thing is, I'm 95% positive that my play and expectation of play is SIM and that most everyone I've ever played with was SIM as well. We all enjoy some of the modes of play more associated with the other CA's, but only to support are SIM experiences. Nevertheless, I think my play style is greatly divorced from a large/the largest(?) of SIM play which I see as prep-heavy (sometimes GM-centri) play that abhors mechanics that control or direct the flow of the story.

Like your example with them meeting the main baddy before he was meant to come out. Why not have a mechanic that makes sure such decisions are fair? What if when they came across the guy you intended to be the big bad you looked down at your scrap paper and said "Sorry guys, you haven't gone through enough challenges to get to the final challenge, the game says you need to beat at least 10 challenges first, so this isn't the guy or this isn't your time."

I think some/most (?) people would see those kinds of mechanics and balk at the suggestion that they could support SIM play, but I completely disagree because of my personal experiences and tastes. I like games that effectively create story-flow controls either mechanically or through a lot of guidelines for play that are then run on the fly in order to create opportunities for the players to explore. I know what I do isn't NAR because thematic issues and story content are always second to the act of exploration, and I know its not GAM because we discourage table level (real world social) support of "step on up."

Title: Re: the marriage of Improvisation and SIM
Post by: Marshall Burns on February 18, 2008, 03:38:33 AM

My playtesting accounts of Super Action Now!, which I had planned as Gamist but am now convinced creates Sim play, might be of interest to you; that game is 100% improvisation, and also uses player competition (more accurately, acting as if you were competing) as a technique to Explore Situation (player competition, of course, being something that would be considered pretty damned divorced from Sim play).

But it's probably not the sort of thing you're looking for.  I just thought I'd throw it out there.