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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Cliff H on December 31, 2010, 09:41:05 PM



Title: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on December 31, 2010, 09:41:05 PM
I've got a group of players that all got into the hobby in the 80s, meaning that they all cut their teeth originally on some flavor of D&D, and much of our formative gaming experience was with games that relied heavily on early D&D mechanical design. Since that time we've had plenty of opportunities to broaden our horizons, and have played plenty of other games that have little to do with D&D in either story or resolution mechanics. As my own taste in game design becomes more refined over time, I, as the group's sole regular GM, have tried pushing the group toward a more collective narrative play style. The reasons for that involve plenty of game theory of the sort I've read here, but they're not relevant to this discussion, so I'll save them for another thread. My players have taken to this hesitantly, since they feel games are my stories and they are there to enjoy them, not write them. Again, a topic for another post.

So what's this post about? It's about what they do when they do take narrative control. For some reason, the one time they feel 100% comfortable describing the outcome of a situation resolved in part by rolling dice (or whatever other resolution mechanic the game in question uses) is in describing failure. And in this, it's the same every single time, regardless of what game we're playing or what they're character is like.

And it is universally dignity-stripping, ridiculous failure. Even when there's a fumble mechanic in the game (something I usually avoid), when my players fail, but don't in fact fumble, they feel the need to not only fail, but suck.

Fail a spot check? "I'm drooling on my shoes while trying to count my toes."

Fail a stealth roll? "I get my foot caught in a bucket and bang it against the wall while singing the stealthy song."

I've got lots of these, but I think you get the idea.

I've actually used my station as GM to overwrite this a few times, saying "No, you're just didn't notice anything," and have even outright said that failure need not reduce the character to a bad sidekick, but for some reason my players feel the need to utterly debase their characters. It's as if the only way they're comfortable truly captaining their own destiny is when making their characters into punchlines. Anything else is too dire. They won't narrate their actions in combat; they certainly don't embellish their successful rolls in this way.

And I should mention I have never run a campaign in which this kind of slapstick fits. The plots of my games tend to be serious, and I'm not at all shy about having bad things happen to PCs and NPCs alike to push buttons. Thus, introducing this kind of detail isn't for the sake of further flavoring the game. By all their other actions, no one wants to play a laughing stock, but they seem compelled to force the issue whenever their dice come up short.

While I have a pretty consistent group of people I game with, the games I run usually only have a sampling of the total group; tastes have rarefied and in some cases calcified to the point where I can't find a single game that all agree to play. So, depending on what it is I'm running, I'll have a different group composition. Everyone brings his own style, often radically different, but in this, it's absolutely consistent.

Now, I do have this half-baked idea that this might come from our one root commonality in gaming: early D&D, in which character viability was something you grew into rather than started with. I'd long since moved on from D&D by the time I met my current group, and indeed played Red Box (and Blue Box, and even Green once) with many different people. This kind of narrative control over failure seemed to be something that came out a lot in those games, specifically the early levels where failure was so much more prevalent. Maybe it's something we all learned early and they've been unable to let go of, or maybe I'm just seeing something that's not there.

Regardless, I find it exceedingly odd that the players are only willing to take narrative control to effectively pants their own characters. Has anyone else run into this? More specifically, have you found any technique that helps to break this reflex?


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 01, 2011, 07:05:34 AM
Welcome to the Forge, Cliff!

I confess you have baffled me. Not in the sense of making no sense - you described it perfectly, and I've seen the same thing in lesser, less group-specific form. But baffled in the sense of understanding it, at least not without a long think.

Anyone, help!

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: David Shockley on January 01, 2011, 08:27:25 AM
Obviously I don't know your group, or the groups Ron referred to, so I could be way off base. But this strikes me as a pretty straightforward example of Creative Agenda in action. I'm not sure how versed in the CA concept you are, but the idea that CA is what you intend to do, or that CA is what a specific person prefers to do, are both common misconceptions. CA is how you use the medium of play to enjoy the game _together_. It doesn't matter how invested in Lothar the badass barbarian, and his epic struggle to avenge his fallen village a player is, its not a part of CA until its enthusiastically shared and reinforced by the group. If everyones eyes glaze over when you talk about Lothar (perhaps not out of fundamental disinterest, but because we all know it really doesn't make a damn bit of difference), but they all grin or laugh when you have him trip over his feet and fall into a hole when you roll a 2 on your spot check... Then thats what you are going to do.

In the essays Ron talks about how Sim is easily supplanted by the more basic human activities of competition (gamism) and story telling (narrativism), but Sim-comedy seems to be just as basic and powerful.

Narration mechanics are a technique, that can support any agenda based on the context. In this game, they are supporting the Sim-comedy agenda. If you don't want to support it, I'd suggest removing or refocusing the mechanic. Honestly, what sort of failure narration would matter to the other players at the table? If the answer is none, then its not a useful rule.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 01, 2011, 09:33:47 AM
Thanks for pointing me toward the Creative Agenda article, David. It's a term I've seen bandied about in the forum, but not something about which I've specifically read. I've got two weeks before my next session, so I'll have plenty of time to absorb the material, and maybe instead of a game next time we gather, we'll set a mutually agreed upon creative agenda instead (our games are on weeknights, and only last a couple of hours because of that).

As to the other point you reference, I'll admit that I'm still getting used to what games other than Gamist games are really like. I'm familiar withe the way games break down in the G/N/S model, but I myself never owned or read anything other than the standard sem-mixed but gamist-heavy design that many of the big titles tend to be. It's only in the past year that I've gotten a taste for what real narrative games are like, where the fortune mechanic is used not to determine the outcome, but who gets to determine the outcome.

However, as to how narrative tools are used in my own game, they're not specific to failure. In fact, there's no mechanic about narrating failure at all, but there is in regards to narrating success. I'm currently running a 7th Sea campaign that has some Cthulhian Mythos elements added (by request). For the most part it's by the book in terms of rules. However, I replaced the standard raise mechanic with the one John Wick introduced with Houses of the Blooded (I got tired of people forgetting to raise but still insisting on rolling out every last 10 and spending 3 minutes tallying up results as high as 60-somthing when a 15 would do).

If you're not familiar with it, in a nutshell you have a basic target number and a pool of dice. Roll your dice and add them up. If you beat the TN, you succeed marginally. You want to do better? You raise. To raise, you remove one die from your pool before rolling. You can raise as much as you like, removing as many dice as you like. For each die that you remove, you either increase the quality of your success by one degree, or, as in the case of many non-combat rolls, you get to add one detail to the circumstances of your success.

As you can see, this system gives much greater narrative control to those rolls that succeed, not fail. So it's not like I've introduced a new mechanic to the game that specifically encourages the players to make utter goofs of themselves. If anything, it allows them to be badass in the specific manner most pleasing to them, provided they play to their strengths and take the risk of raising.

This idea of a creative agenda however, that resonates. We did not sit down and mutually agree what the game would be like together, not explicitly anyway. We did agree to the system and the inclusion of Lovecraftian elements, which I thought did an excellent job of summing up what it would be like but this could be a prime example of the danger of assumptions.

Thanks very much for that tip. I'm off to do some reading.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Dan Maruschak on January 01, 2011, 09:37:43 AM
I've seen this a bit, too. Here's the hypothesis I've been working with: Narrating slapstick failure is usually very safe and easy. Since you failed in trying to do something the scope of fiction that you'll affect with the narration tends to be small. Since there's little chance that you'll affect the status quo with your narration, you don't feel the pressure of authorial responsibility that you would if you were going to "move the story forward" like you would when narrating a success. Further, since you already know the negative mechanical result of what happened (i.e. one failed roll) there's little "danger" in narrating something bad happening to your character because the bad thing has already happened. With few other pressures operating, the draw of getting a cheap laugh is pretty compelling, so you narrate slapstick to get a chuckle out of your friends. Also, the common case in RPGs if for PCs to be hypercompetent, and failure in the context of hypercompetent characters is something that easily lends itself to comedy.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: David Shockley on January 01, 2011, 04:04:00 PM
The essays are pretty interesting material, but I think Frostfolk and GNS aggravation (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=20679.0) is a much better resource for understanding Creative Agenda. At least, this was the thread that clarified the topic for me.

As my own taste in game design becomes more refined over time, I, as the group's sole regular GM, have tried pushing the group toward a more collective narrative play style. The reasons for that involve plenty of game theory of the sort I've read here, but they're not relevant to this discussion, so I'll save them for another thread.

If this is actually about CA, then this may be more relevant than you initially assumed. It sounds to me that you are dissatisfied with how your group plays. Which could very well be because your group doesn't have a strong/coherent CA operating when you play, or just that it has one that clashes with your personal preferences.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 01, 2011, 07:11:45 PM
God this is interesting.

OK, here are some disconnected notions and observations. First, one thing that always struck me in 1980s play in particular was how savagely various GMs narrated failed actions. It was supposed to be part of the fun.

One of the most influential moments of my gaming history came in ... um ... 1986, I think; we were playing Rolemaster,* and the GM's fiancee had been convinced, against much reluctance, to be in "his story," cast as the heroine. And so in our first big all-together-now fight scene in some muddy fantasy-city street, she goes ahead and rolls regarding her character doing some kind of acrobatic tumble across the fighting, and fails. Now, this was Rolemaster, the king system for exquisitely maiming and humiliating your character, but I don't recall that an egregious failure-upon-fumble-upon-critical combo occurred this time. I do recall that the GM described how her character stumbled, prat-fell (prat-falled?), hit the mud face-first, and skidded in a glorious spectacle of fuck-you-stupid. He described it in detail. With pleasure, including how ridiculous her character looked when she stood up with mud all over her. With fun, as if this were the kind of thing we all should be living for. I clearly saw hatred of this game, of role-playing, and of the rest of us collectively appear on the player's face, in that order, and without the successive layers obscuring the earlier ones.

Yet just a couple of years later, we** were playing Champions, with me GMing, and the villain Raptor was confronting the heroes, and this was the session in which Chris, a new player, had brought his new character into the game, the intriguing Insecto. During the fight, the speedy and agile hero Runaround tried to leap across the river of cockroaches surrounding Raptor, as I recall to attack. Matt, the player, rolled an 18 on 3d6, the worst roll in Champions. The system has no fumble mechanic, but we often used 3's and 18's as cues for extra-colorful narration. Also, we narrated more-or-less ad-lib, i.e., whoever spoke first and/or best saw his or her words cemented into the fiction. Matt looked at the three 6's, groaned and laughed at the same time, and said, "I trip so bad that it looks like I lie down onto the cockroaches, and Raptor walks across my body to the other side." We all cried out in joy and accepted that narration.***

Why was one so fucking horrid (for everyone, except the oblivious boyfriend/GM) and the other so perfectly fun? There are a lot of factors. For one thing, in the Champions game, we were accustomed to seeing Runaround routinely succeed in classic comics-speedster and Jackie-Chan like moves, so the failure brought out a certain human element to the character. Whereas in the Rolemaster game, this was literally the first roll made by that player; it was at that moment the sole context and by default, the characterizing introduction, for the character.

For another, it tied into Insecto's successful entry into the story and game as a whole, pointing out that the newcomer had done something rather tactically sound whereas the veteran screwed it up. Whereas in the Rolemaster game, again, it lacked all context except for the idea that this character is simply a goofus. I mean, her action didn't relate to the other characters' actions particularly.

For yet another, as I'm sure many of us here are familiar with, there does occur a strange association between the number you roll on polyhedra and your personal qualities as a ... I dunno, as a person, as a player. I have myself chortled, "You suck" to fellow players upon their rolling poorly. Yet, and I don't know if my experience matches others', this association seems restricted to classic gaming fantasy and doesn't crop up as much, or as severely, or even at all, in other genres. It didn't show up in our Champions play at all. Now, we as a group did not respond like that when Ann (the Rolemaster player) rolled poorly at that moment. But maybe the GM was operating from that school of thought/play (Social Contract, actually), and it makes sense in terms of socio-gaming history - you couldn't get more old-school original D&D(s) than him.

I'm holding off on the Creative Agenda talk, mainly because I'd like to know more about the group and the game before going there. But so far nothing has been said about it that I disagree with; in fact, David's summary post about CA was wonderful to read.

Best, Ron

* My character's name was Asrovir d'Ursini, a black-clad, outlawed nobleman with a rapier, specializing in darkness and pain magic. Can you stand it?

** Editing this in: "we" in the Champions group included some overlap with the Rolemaster group, including the GM (who was a player), me (the Champs GM), and Matt, who had un-enjoyed the Rolemaster game as much as I had. But not the fiancee, no indeed. The two groups were so different in Social Contract and general aesthetics that the Rolemaster-GM guy might as well have been a different person.

*** Note that Matt included the villain's actions in his narration, including movement which was "free" in what is otherwise a very strictured system regarding movement. In other words, to him and to us, the poor roll and opportunity for colorful narration overrode the movement rules as well as any assumption or assertion that the "players play their characters and the GM plays everyone and everything else." Not that we noticed it at the time.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Callan S. on January 01, 2011, 07:59:27 PM
Hi Cliff,

Quote
"I get my foot caught in a bucket and bang it against the wall while singing the stealthy song."
*actual lol*
It could be alot of things, so I'll suggest just one possibility to consider, which may not apply. But it sounds like something I or my group might do at times.

Basically the thing is, it does not undercut the challenge or adversity of the scene. Indeed it'd probably add to it.

Narrating yourself into winning suuuuuucks. Yeah, you rolled to hit and passed, but adding on extra good stuff to the pass? Suuuucks.

That or if you can't narrate extra good stuff onto a pass, what's the point of narrating at all? What, narrate about how good your characters hair looks? Bah!

But fails - fails, you can A: Be funny, B: Not undercut adversity C: Add to the scene through narration, which is fun to do, without screwing up on A or B.

What's worse for you is that you kind of don't seem to want this - ironically this gives the ideal stage for this stuff. Why my group doesn't do this all the time? Because the GM would leap upon the details like a hungry raptor and D: Take over the narration (bah) and E: use the details to screw you way more than you said (much like D; bah!). While you, because you don't really want these pratfall narrations, don't do A or B - and so in leaving them untouched, actually empower the players in completing D and E.

Basically if it is this, it is fun to pursue. I get a sort of cringe feeling from when you say 'I've moved on from D&D', because it sounds like your working in terms of what is superior, rather than what you find fun (I'll totally grant one could cease to find D&D fun, but that's different from 'moving on' from it).

Quote
"I trip so bad that it looks like I lie down onto the cockroaches, and Raptor walks across my body to the other side."
*actual lol*

I disagree with Ron that it was fictional context or social contract (as an applied thing/tool) or whatever non player/person thing that makes that differ from the sucky version. I'd say it was simply that the player was in charge of hosing himself (if I'm reading right, Matt is playing Runaround). It's like how you can dis your relatives, but other people can't. Exact same principle here - you can trash your own character/your own artistic extension, and it works fine. It's not enabled by fictional context or whatever. It's just a people thing (you can build rules around it, but it's a nuance of human psychology). Or so I'd hypothesize.

Couple of possibilities to mull over with the rest, there :)


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 01, 2011, 10:53:45 PM
OK, here are some disconnected notions and observations. First, one thing that always struck me in 1980s play in particular was how savagely various GMs narrated failed actions. It was supposed to be part of the fun.

Now that takes me back. I remember once when we were giving D&D 3.0 a try and one of my friends at the time requested a magic item that granted wishes. I said I'd work it in, but that I wasn't going to play the "old game" in which I'd try to delve into the minutia of a stated wish with the specific intention of screwing over the person making the wish. The player's reaction? He booed me at the table. The fact that he wanted to be messed with, probably severely, was never anything I understood. I'd have indulged him though, had a change of employers not necessitated he move beyond reasonable commute distance from the rest of us.

Quote
I do recall that the GM described how her character stumbled, prat-fell (prat-falled?), hit the mud face-first, and skidded in a glorious spectacle of fuck-you-stupid. He described it in detail. With pleasure, including how ridiculous her character looked when she stood up with mud all over her. With fun, as if this were the kind of thing we all should be living for. I clearly saw hatred of this game, of role-playing, and of the rest of us collectively appear on the player's face, in that order, and without the successive layers obscuring the earlier ones.

Now this takes me back a little further, and to something directly tied to the issue I described in my original post. Many, though not all, of the people I game with now were people I gamed with in college. As such, we have a lot of collective gaming history. In that morass of experience is an almost universally shared, long running Shadowrun campaign. It ran for years, sort of. The GM was running Shadowrun for about 3 of our 4 years together, but the roster of characters routinely changed, since he ran a meat grinder worthy of the Tomb of Horrors. And it wasn't just tough opposition and his insane luck with dice. This game was famous for the random dicking you'd get. Like the time someone said he was taking a quick walk outside to get some air after an in character argument.

The GM rolled randomly to see if he ran into a street gang. He did.

The GM then rolled randomly (on what chart, I have no idea) to see what kind of armament the gang was packing. Huh, weird. Seems they have mortars with white phosphorous shells with higher skills and more chrome than our entire veteran group put together.

More than that, though, were the narrated failures. All our failures were the embarrassing, dignity-robbing sort, but instead of we players describing them, they were handed to us by the GM, much like the Rolemaster story Ron cites. In fact, "the stealthy song" is an artifact from those days, which players have appropriated and continue to use themselves to this day.

I hated that. Given that even showing up to a meet to get the mission that was the Shadowrun adventure involved putting your life on the line, the added indignity of being made a fool right before you died was something that really rubbed me raw. Still, it was the biggest game in town, and the GM was my roommate, so I hung in there for much longer than my sense of fun did. I eventually left though.

Now, my own players have a sense of paranoia about them, and I've heard many a comment about "how Cliff's going to use this to fuck us," but I draw a clear line in my own head on this. What they refer to as fucking, I call consequence. I like my players to feel that their actions can mean something, so I make sure what they do has repercussions, good and bad. This does come back to haunt them sometimes. Other times, they have happy happenstance because of a prior decision. But I never, ever, randomly fuck them because of a whiffed roll. I remember how effectively that turned an entire game to crap for me (I imagine I often wore the look of the aforementioned muddy fiancée), and would never dream of doing it to someone else. So, yeah, I'm all about bringing pain to a PC, especially if it puts them in a position that might force the player to make a decision that reveals more about the character, but I'd never want to visit abject humiliation on them because of a random element.

And besides, they seem perfectly happy doing this to themselves.

As to the ribbing for bad die rolls, I've seen it. I've received plenty of it too, since my own dice hate me like they all own a dog and I've systematically kicked them all. However, I can't remember this kind of thing cropping up much lately. There's plenty of yelling "you suck!" at the dice themselves. That just happened last week, in fact. A lot. But the players seem to be pretty sympathetic and even helpful in that regard, offering reminders about whatever mechanics might help boost the results, give re-rolls, etc. When that fails, they even swap dice around in the hopes that luck might change hands. That's near-unique behavior. Most other groups I've been in don't want you even breathing on their dice.

Quote
I'm holding off on the Creative Agenda talk, mainly because I'd like to know more about the group and the game before going there. But so far nothing has been said about it that I disagree with; in fact, David's summary post about CA was wonderful to read.

I'm going to have to swallow some pride here and say that I require more time to read and digest all of the associated info I dug up when I began to look into this. I started with the article on Narrativist play, but that left me feeling like to get the whole picture I needed to read the articles on Simulationist and Gamist play as well, and then David dropped a link providing an example of social contract analysis (which is wonderfully illuminating, as I understand things primarily through example). I think it might be a Creative Agenda issue, given that I see a lot of the symptoms in my group that Ron attributes to groups with an incoherent CA, but I want to get a tighter grasp on the material before I make any deductions there.

That or if you can't narrate extra good stuff onto a pass, what's the point of narrating at all? What, narrate about how good your characters hair looks? Bah!

My turn for an actual lol, and I mean that seriously. One of my players has a thing about hair. Every single one of his characters has fabulous hair, and he's forever asking for bonuses to any social roll because "hey, the hair's just that good." If ever there's an appearance edge in the game, he's got it, and it's explained by his hair. Every time, without fail.

Quote
What's worse for you is that you kind of don't seem to want this - ironically this gives the ideal stage for this stuff.

You're quite right. I don't. At least not all the time. It really depends on what we're playing. For some games it's fine. But other times it's a mood breaker. Even if the scene's not weighty or laced with horror or any of that, there are times when that kind of failure just seems to break the tone of the emerging narrative.

I said above that I work best with examples. I'll give you two quick ones from the last session we had. The game is a lightly modified 7th Sea with some Cthulhu material added in (I wrote some sanity rules that dovetailed with the existing engine). The party often begins by going on what appears to be an Indiana Jones-style archeological adventure, but discovers something sinister about the artifact in question along the way and wild adventure gives way to lurking horror as they close in on their find. It was something I pitched to the group, but that we all sat down and worked out together before
anyone made characters.

EXAMPLE #1
So, last session saw them all kinds of chewed up after a big fight. A major NPC villain, one they justly fear, is about to arrive on the scene, and they decide to split up. One man heads back to his ship to warn the crew, the other two hide where they are so they can see what the villain wants in this area. The villain shows up, and does indeed pay particular attention to something. One of the players asks to make a perception check to see what it is, and blows his roll. Instead of peering at whatever it was that the villain was looking at, he decides to stare directly into the sun for as long as he can without blinking.

Now this was after a session in which the party began to unravel the true scope of the supernatural evil they've encountered a few other places. It also bears mentioning that this villain is something of a big deal in this game. Every time they see his ship, even if it's just in port, they immediately make sure to find everyone in the party and let them know Reis is in port, so maybe they should stay on the ship and let the NPCs get provisions. In my mind, this should have been a tense moment. There was the artifact gone wrong sitting in a clearing, and the nemesis that overmatches them by ridiculous amounts (for now) is so close to one of them that they can hear him breathe. This is not the time for slapstick.

EXAMPLE #2
Fast forward just a little bit. Pirate villain Reis has discovered the PCs and some quick talking on their part gets them a reprieve. He has the remaining villagers drag the massive artifact into the sea, since he seems more interested in destroying it than taking it, and then proceeds to feed those same villagers, women and children mostly, to the sea monsters that follow his ship.

Upon returning to their own ship, the party tried to convince one of their crew not to publish the results of the expedition in an academic paper (the point of the whole expedition), since that was part of the deal they struck with Reis. One of the players rolls to persuade and fails. He asks if the man is married, and if she's hot. No? How about his mother? Is she hot. It wasn't a threat; he was trolling for women, and his tone made it obvious.

Had this happened earlier in the adventure, when things were still bright and the proceedings were still more like Indiana Jones and less like Curse of the Black Freighter, this would be fine. But to have this kind of failure happen right after seeing the wholesale slaughter of a large number of people feels absolutely incongruous to me. More curious still, this same player who made this gaffe was willing to sacrifice his life to save the villagers if he could figure out a way to do it. The rest of the party had to talk him out of making a last stand against the pirate crew, so it's not like he wasn't taking it seriously at the time.

I think of it like this: what if one of the sailors who found R'yleh in Call of Cthulhu split his pants as he climbed off the ship? That little detail doesn't need to change any of the events that occur in the rest of the scene, but it certainly pulls away from the intent of the story as a whole to have some guy flashing his briefs through a slit in his seat.

Quote
Why my group doesn't do this all the time? Because the GM would leap upon the details like a hungry raptor and D: Take over the narration (bah) and E: use the details to screw you way more than you said (much like D; bah!). While you, because you don't really want these pratfall narrations, don't do A or B - and so in leaving them untouched, actually empower the players in completing D and E.

That's an interesting idea, and one I hadn't considered since I was so caught up in trying to preserve the mood. Normally I don't like really putting the screws to characters in random situations like this, but if they're handing it to me.... Certainly worth a trial run in the lab.

Quote
I get a sort of cringe feeling from when you say 'I've moved on from D&D', because it sounds like your working in terms of what is superior, rather than what you find fun (I'll totally grant one could cease to find D&D fun, but that's different from 'moving on' from it).

Poor choice of verbiage on my part. I certainly meant no qualitative judgement in that. It's true, my tastes have turned away from D&D, in all its editions, but that's because I'm not fond of tactical combat on battlemats, and I burned out on build discussions. But I acknowledge that this sort of thing really hits the spot for some. Hell, back in the 3.5 days I was a regular contributor to Dragon, and I still like the implied stories behind a well designed prestige class or paragon path. But the things I really look for in a game, like hard choices and character growth through pain, tend to get overshadowed by games that emphasize combat and that give hundreds of fiddly bits designed for that arena. So, no, the game doesn't suck, but it's not my thing anymore.

Thank you everyone for the replies so far. This has turned into a much larger and deeper discussion than I would have ever guessed this one question would generate or, indeed, warrant. But it continues to be fascinating and illuminates my games and group than expected.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: NN on January 03, 2011, 07:52:32 AM
Are you absolutely sure the players like the setting? Slapstick seems to be an opposite to Lovecraftian.



Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 03, 2011, 08:56:30 AM
Are you absolutely sure the players like the setting? Slapstick seems to be an opposite to Lovecraftian.

Totally true, and my mail reason for not wanting to see it in the game. It's not that I object to goofiness out of hand, but it seems wholly inappropriate in this case. However, the players absolutely love Lovecraft, and have been begging me to include something mythos in a campaign for the better part of a year. Prior to this we were playing Shadowrun, and one of the players kept sending me private email about how well the Great Old Ones could serve as the returning horrors of Shadowrun, and hey since I love the post-apocalyptic genre so much I might as well wreck it all with their return. Come on. Please?

Additionally, the verve with which this same player has launched himself at any text that seems heretical, all in an attempt to pump his Mythos lore in the game, and has wholly embraced the madness mechanic I wrote to deal with the side effects of such study, says that he's quite into it.

It's odd. When I think about it, the group is perfectly capable of recognizing when things are taking that turn for the horrid. I deliberately change my language to use some of Lovecraft's phraseology when it happens. With that cue, they often respond "in atmosphere" the whole way through. Once a die roll comes up crap though, it trumps everything. It's as if consistency isn't as important to them, which is entirely possible. Of everyone, I'm clearly the one most concerned with seeing the game as an exercise in character exploration heavy with whatever mood happens to be appropriate. The more I think about it, The rest seem content to keep it at arms length, engage it certainly, and sometimes have moments of brilliant play, but still ultimately look at it as a vehicle for fun. If fun means confronting a slithering horror from beyond the stars, awesome. But if there's additional fun to be had by shitting yourself when confronted by such a thing, well, fun's fun. That's a guess, mind you, but it does seem to reconcile the eagerness people have to gather juxtaposed with their reluctance to take it truly seriously.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: aleric on January 03, 2011, 09:13:52 AM
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One of the players asks to make a perception check to see what it is, and blows his roll. Instead of peering at whatever it was that the villain was looking at, he decides to stare directly into the sun for as long as he can without blinking.

Perhaps the problem is in setting how tightly bound the player's statement is with the characters 'reality'. Players have a need to blow off steam, make exaggerated statements..., but instead of letting this cause a gap in the game you could join in the laughter (or at least wait for it to settle) and push back gently  - ask the player something like: So that's what your character feels like what happened - does it make sense for them literally?

The goal is to expose the characters interior world as a buffer between player statement and game narrative - so that players can free associate while avoiding sliding into either the gutter of stupid deadly (GM: OK, your character is permanently blind now), or the gutter of silliness.



Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Callan S. on January 03, 2011, 03:06:31 PM
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Once a die roll comes up crap though, it trumps everything. It's as if consistency isn't as important to them, which is entirely possible.

I think it might be worth considering that your perception roll and it's attendent looking at the sun without blinking - it doesn't have anything much to do with "hard choices and character growth through pain".

It really doesn't. The perception roll doesn't involve any hard choice or character growth. It's just this rolling to see how events occur, regardless of character choices. It's almost the anti-choice! In a way your actually breaking the mood to begin with, then they are following your lead. Well, mood might not be the word for it, but what your there for.

Here's an idea to add hard choices, to a degree, to the roll. Add something painful they can do if they fail the roll, to pass it. Like BEFORE you roll, you say that if they fail, they could go climb a wall nearby for a better vantage, but it has shards of glass embedded at it's top to keep people out (I've seen that done in RL), and they will cut up their hands in getting the info. Remember, say it before rolling, because it's part of the rolling process.

Now there's a painful choice to either take, or avoid because it's too painful. But it's there. It's not just rolling about stuff that happens whether someone makes a choice or not. Anyway, it'd be easy enough to try just the once, atleast.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 04, 2011, 10:30:54 AM
I think it might be worth considering that your perception roll and it's attendent looking at the sun without blinking - it doesn't have anything much to do with "hard choices and character growth through pain".

It really doesn't.

Absolutely, inarguably correct.

Allow me a very brief sidebar here. I used to think I had a pretty wide exposure to RPGs. Of all my gamer friends I certainly had played a wider variety than the rest, sometimes by a wide margin. But then I found this place, and started scanning the Actual Play threads and discovered that not only had I not played the bulk of the games discussed, I hadn't even heard of most of them.

The reason I bring this up is that while I do prefer to run games in which the characters have to make hard choices, the idea that the game mechanics have anything to do with said choices is quite new to me. I discovered The Forge by reading Sorcerer, which is absolutely nothing like any game I've played previously. I've been involved in games that have mechanics that might tweak behavior: arcana in 7th Sea, honor in L5R, even something more crude like fear checks in Ravenloft. But these games have, by and large, still provide a basic resolution engine and leave matters of personal drama to the realm of role playing.

So, while I'm trying to work matters of personal conflict into the game, the die rolls themselves have not, historically, been part of that process. As I read up on some of the games discussed here, I begin to wonder if maybe I'm just trying to make a game do something it's not meant to do, which is perhaps part of the problem. The only way to know is to grab up one or more of these titles and give them a shot. Sorcerer, Riddle of Steel, Dust Devils, and Dogs in the Vineyard sound like especially good candidates for this, though if anyone has any other suggestions, I certainly welcome them.

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The perception roll doesn't involve any hard choice or character growth. It's just this rolling to see how events occur, regardless of character choices. It's almost the anti-choice! In a way your actually breaking the mood to begin with, then they are following your lead. Well, mood might not be the word for it, but what your there for.

Also quite true. This is another case of old habits and mindsets. I'm actually moving away from calling for die rolls for lots of things, especially search/spot checks. Not only does not rolling save us some time, but as you note, rolling to see if something occurs (and in this case, seeing if I hand them plot information) comes off as an impediment. If they blow the roll, they don't get the information I want them to have, so I need to contrive some alternate way of them getting their hands on it. Kind of shitty from my side of the screen, but I've found that:

1) My players like to roll dice
2) They feel like I'm cheating by just handing things over to them when a more traditional game would have them roll

Mind you, I'm a part of that too. My habits accumulated over decades have left me calling for certain kinds of rolls just because I've learned I should. So yeah, there's lots of times dice clatter on the table to determine small events that have no emotional weight. That spot check is a perfect example.

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Here's an idea to add hard choices, to a degree, to the roll. Add something painful they can do if they fail the roll, to pass it. Like BEFORE you roll, you say that if they fail, they could go climb a wall nearby for a better vantage, but it has shards of glass embedded at it's top to keep people out (I've seen that done in RL), and they will cut up their hands in getting the info. Remember, say it before rolling, because it's part of the rolling process.

Now there's a painful choice to either take, or avoid because it's too painful. But it's there. It's not just rolling about stuff that happens whether someone makes a choice or not. Anyway, it'd be easy enough to try just the once, atleast.

I like this idea. I like it a lot. As a general mechanic it seems absolutely fascinating to me and rife with a ton of potential. I don't think tying it to wounding will work with my particular group, since members seem to either not care about taking damage or do everything possible to avoid it, and 7th Sea's damage mechanics are intentionally quite forgiving. However, I have noticed there are things they're less willing to endure. For example, the second failed roll I cited was actually a tense moment, since they were faced with the possibility of having to kill someone they'd come to like quite a bit in order to fulfill a bargain they made with someone they most certainly did not. They dealt with the devil, and if they couldn't get their friend to shut up, they were going to have to kill him. That actually made them quite uncomfortable (until the one player started asking if the man's mother was "bangable").

Now, how to work some sort of accepted pain into that situation (since failing would put them in a personally painful situation) eludes me at the moment, but perhaps abstracting it into something as simple as a complication point, which gives me license to make something go wrong in the character's life, might be a way to go. This way, I don't need to figure it out right then and there if nothing comes to me, but it's still something that they know is coming. Accept a complication point, and you get a boost to the roll. Maybe even you automatically succeed, but fate's going to even the scales eventually.

Thanks very much for this. I'm going to try introducing that into the next session and see how it goes. Giving the players something mechanical to ponder in the context of a failed roll might redirect their attention from the gags to the consequence, and the choice presented to them. The more I think about it, the better this sounds. I'm really excited about the possibilities. Thank you again.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 06, 2011, 12:31:48 PM
I wanted to drop a quick thank you to everyone for the advice and especially for pointing me toward certain theories and the resources that explain them. Having gone over creative agenda more, I'm pretty well convinced, looking through these very green shades of mine, that the lack of one is really at the root of everything here. And I point to an episode that happened just before we began play a couple months ago as the definitive proof.

People were arriving, pulling out characters, assembling dice, and spending xp from last session. While doing so, we usually chat until everyone's ready. I remarked that there were countless times when I tried to run something like Lord of the Rings but wound up with Royal Highness instead. There were nods and agreement all around.

That seems like a textbook example of a lack of uniform creative agenda, if I'm understanding things right.

I've got a small group of guys that are going to get together regularly outside of this campaign to help me playtest a game I've been developing. There's a good chance I'll talk more about that in the Development forum sometime, but I mention it here because even though it's a playtest we're still going to try playing a campaign, just with the rules open to more scrutiny and adjustment. However, this time, by my insistence, before anyone even thinks about who they're playing, I've asked we begin by agreeing on what we're playing, i.e. state and set a creative agenda. I expect some pushback on it, but I really think it'll help our play immensely. Thanks for bringing it to my attention.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Trevis Martin on January 06, 2011, 06:20:47 PM
I have a suggestion from experience.  Don't have a big theory talk.  What I would do is something like The Same Page Tool (http://bankuei.wordpress.com/2010/03/27/the-same-page-tool/) that Chris Chinn has on his blog.



Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: David Shockley on January 08, 2011, 03:55:46 PM

However, the players absolutely love Lovecraft, and have been begging me to include something mythos in a campaign for the better part of a year.

....

Additionally, the verve with which this same player has launched himself at any text that seems heretical, all in an attempt to pump his Mythos lore in the game, and has wholly embraced the madness mechanic I wrote to deal with the side effects of such study, says that he's quite into it.

It's odd. When I think about it, the group is perfectly capable of recognizing when things are taking that turn for the horrid. I deliberately change my language to use some of Lovecraft's phraseology when it happens. With that cue, they often respond "in atmosphere" the whole way through.

The above sounds like it might be a CA, even if its not fully functioning.

When the enthusiastic player is launching himself at this stuff, do the other players respond positively? Do any of the other players initiate this sort of content themselves (Including via character creation/advancement options)?


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Callan S. on January 08, 2011, 05:07:59 PM
Quote
People were arriving, pulling out characters, assembling dice, and spending xp from last session. While doing so, we usually chat until everyone's ready. I remarked that there were countless times when I tried to run something like Lord of the Rings but wound up with Royal Highness instead. There were nods and agreement all around.
I don't know what royal highness is. But really this doesn't sound like a creative agenda issue at all. You could shoot for narrativist lord of the rings but end up with a bunch of clowning around, perhaps at a princess bride level and...it'd still be narrativist. You might be holding onto the idea that perfect (until it's almost tangible) genre emulation is critical to CA. Well, in a simulationist CA it's pretty critical. Otherwise, it's not vital or indicative of CA issues.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 08, 2011, 06:59:21 PM
When the enthusiastic player is launching himself at this stuff, do the other players respond positively? Do any of the other players initiate this sort of content themselves (Including via character creation/advancement options)?

There are three other players in the game. One never heard of Lovecraft before this campaign, which shocks me not only because I've known him for over a decade and never heard this, but most basically because I didn't think you could be a gamer and not know who Cthulhu is. Isn't that knowledge requisite for your membership card into the gaming community? Obviously, he can only react to what he sees in game, and there's only been a light touch of mythos stuff so far because we've only played a few times. He clearly understands that somethings not right when these things crop up, and not right in the big sense, but he doesn't share the otherwise collective titter that comes up when things that should not be are spotted in the shadows. He's asked to be kept in the dark about it, though, and wants to only learn through his character. He feels it makes for a more genuine experience, and everyone at the table has been very good about respecting his wishes.

As for the remaining two, they don't jump on the available knowledge, instead acknowledging the danger and doing everything they can to stay alive and safe. This amounts to burning books, slaying beasts, and running away when necessary. They studiously avoid corrupting contact with the material, in a way rejecting it, but doing so because they believe that's the smart/sensible thing to do, not because they hate the material. While they've not said so, I know them well enough to know what they're doing. When they see themselves in a horror movie, they take the most pragmatic action without thought to genre, staying well away from those things that get your typical cast member killed. They see it as playing smart more than anything else.

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I don't know what royal highness is.

Fantasy comedy coming out in April. Compared to Princess Bride, it looks sillier and more low-brow. It also looks quite funny, and when I showed the trailer to my group, they all looked at one of my players and asked if he was paid a consulting fee, since the comedic lead was pretty much a carbon copy of his character.

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But really this doesn't sound like a creative agenda issue at all. You could shoot for narrativist lord of the rings but end up with a bunch of clowning around, perhaps at a princess bride level and...it'd still be narrativist.

I apologize, but this leaves me thoroughly confused, so please bear with me. I thought creative agenda was more than agreeing on a game, regardless of its GNS approach. My understanding was that it established communally held boundaries of behavior and tone so that everyone was playing not only the same game (as in title) using the same approach (as in GNS), but that they were viewing it through the same tonal lens.

I had a conversation with a different group about this just today as part of setting up a playtest campaign. I did in fact use a buffed up version of the Same Page Tool (thanks to Chris Chinn for creating it and to Trevis for pointing me to it), but I started off the discussion with a general, non-theory explanation of its purpose. As we'd all played Shadowrun relatively recently, I pointed to that game, and said we could all agree to play that. We could take it and use any system out there, since porting SR to other mechanical systems is a thing of mine (I like the setting, but have never found an engine that works for me). Even so, with all that agreement, Mark could make Mr. White from Reservoir Dogs, John could make Jules from Pulp Fiction, and Gary would come in with the character Lou Diamond Phillips played in The Big Hit. All are perfectly valid ways of interpreting the setting, but they can't all exist in the same game. We need to pick one version and all of us make characters and play according to that specific tone.

That said, your point above leaves me confused, Callan. It sounds like CA has much more to do with the GNS model than my interpretation lead me to believe. What am I missing here?

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You might be holding onto the idea that perfect (until it's almost tangible) genre emulation is critical to CA. Well, in a simulationist CA it's pretty critical. Otherwise, it's not vital or indicative of CA issues.

But consistency of tone is important to CA, is it not? As in, it's fine to have clowning around as long as everyone has the same expectations as to what level of ridiculousness is appropriate to what we're trying to do. A difference in expectation among players would suggest a lack of commonly held creative agenda, yes? Or am I still missing something?


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Callan S. on January 08, 2011, 09:04:56 PM
Hi Cliff,

Taking this from the glossary, which is in the articles (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/articles/) section.
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Creative Agenda (CA)

    The aesthetic priorities and any matters of imaginative interest regarding role-playing. Three distinct Creative Agendas are currently recognized: Step On Up (Gamist), The Right to Dream (Simulationist), and Story Now (Narrativist). This definition replaces all uses of "Premise" in GNS and other matters of role-playing theory aside from the specific Creative Agenda of Narrativist play. Creative Agenda is expressed using all Components of Exploration, but most especially System.

As I'd put it, for narrativism (and gamism), what you enjoy doesn't come directly from tone. Narrativism is like eating a meal off a table - if someone suddenly switches your mahogony table for a plastic one, yet your meal is still sitting there...it doesn't really matter. You are there for the meal - the table is simply a means to an end. However, if your admiring tables (sim?), it matters a great deal to switch them around.

Eg
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All are perfectly valid ways of interpreting the setting, but they can't all exist in the same game. We need to pick one version and all of us make characters and play according to that specific tone.
To me, your showing a sim inclination, because it's not that you'd like one version, or enjoy one version - you need it.

Presumably you need it otherwise the whole thing is a steaming mess, right? A trainwreck? Nothing left? Or without coherant tone, there's nothing to start with - just emptyness unless it's coherant?

Except if your playing for nar enjoyment, you toss in say a choice between an easy job robbing a little old lady or a hard job robbing some nasty stock broker and suddenly all these utterly tone broken characters are arguing with each other over which to do (if not both). And that arguements fun...but how can it be fun, eh? Surely tone is all there is and it's wrecked? Well in sim, yeah, tone is all there is. But in nar, there's that argument fun, still fit, fat and functional. That argument fun sits on top of the tone. Sure it's nice to have coherant tone, but it's not needed. Unless your playing sim.

Have you ever had a bit in a game session where the characters argue about what job to pull, based not (just) on fiscal profit, but their own (the characters) senses of right and wrong? That, except the whole session is about stuff like that.

That's my estimate - get second opinions and different evaluations from other people as well.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: contracycle on January 09, 2011, 02:35:16 AM
Cliff, you say in post 10 that the players recognise and respond to mythos elements and situations that are particularly evocative of the setting etc, and in post 18 that your two old hands are highly defensive players, goiong to lengths to protect themselves from risk.

So these are your hardened adventurers; they know what the game is, what they are supposed to do, and how to follow your lead when you give it.  The one thing that doesn't appear here is the desire to assert control over the narrative in any proactive sense.  So I'm not sure that outcome narration is suitable for this group, or if it is, it will need to come in some other, more radically distcint form.  Playing a game familiar enough that it allows them to fall back on their veteran habits will reliably prompt them to do so, I think.  Inasmuch as you are attempting to demonstrate a new way to play, you need to make a much sharper break with the past, I think.

I suspect that what is happening is that as defensive players, that surivivalist element is important to them.  And so to fail, to really fail in a serious and meaningful way, would be a threat to their competence and effectiveness.  And the solution to that is take the failure and draw its sting, to make it comedic rather than harmful or bitter, so exaggerated it cannot be taken seriously.  That way they can even gain applause (laughter) from what would otherwise be a threatening outcome, and their self perception as effective and competent is preserved.

Short of radical shifts in system as suggested above, I'd be inclined to just deny them failure narrations.  You've got a system which allows them narration outcomes on success, it would be perfectly consistent to claim that failure puts the outcome in your hands.  As long as this is done with justice and mercy, and not the vindictiveness Ron described, it's perfectly viable, and will allow you to keep the tone in check.  But it is moving in the opposite direction to your aspiration to change the style of play overall.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Tim C Koppang on January 10, 2011, 09:34:19 AM
The thing I find interesting about this whole conundrum is that it happens only during a failure. The players don't seem to be interested in adding much detail at all to their successes. So the question is: why embellish a failure, especially in such a self-debasing fashion?

If you’re playing 7th Sea, then I assume you’re using task resolution. The players tell you what they are doing, they roll, and then either succeed or fail at the one particular task they were trying to accomplish. From the players’ perspective, especially if they have no experience narrating the results of their own rolls, the narration may seem obvious to them. Why add additional, even superfluous, detail? This happened to me the first time I tried to encourage players to narrate their results. There was a bunch of floundering until someone added a few things like, “After I hit him, he falls down the stairs… I guess.” No one knew what to do because they were so used to the traditional GM/Player division. Under that traditional division, the only way a player exerts control is through narrating character actions. It’s the GM’s job to decide outcomes.

So what I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re players simply haven’t gotten used to the idea of narrating outcomes for themselves. This may resolve itself with practice. Or you may need to change to a very different system (per contracycle’s suggestion).

As for the exaggerated failures, it may be that the players don’t know what to narrate, but sure has hell don’t want to make their failure appear to be an example of actual incompetence. Comedy is the obvious out (again, per contracycle’s suggestion).

The other alternative is that the players are looking specifically for a bit of comic relief. I’m thinking about this:

Quote
They dealt with the devil, and if they couldn't get their friend to shut up, they were going to have to kill him. That actually made them quite uncomfortable (until the one player started asking if the man's mother was "bangable").

If you’re really throwing a lot of uncomfortable situations and choices at them, they may want a break just to blow off some emotional steam.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Callan S. on January 10, 2011, 02:41:55 PM
If you’re really throwing a lot of uncomfortable situations and choices at them, they may want a break just to blow off some emotional steam.
I think that's could be applicable, because unlike a TV show the roleplayer doesn't get a break in a pressurised. I remember a commentary of burn notice where the lead kept cracking up at a line Bruce Cambell delivered (mind you, it's Bruce Cambell), because it was such a tense scene. Comedy relief has been around in serious shows for hundreds of years atleast. They could just be providing their own comedy relief. As a GM, sometimes your unaware of how much pressure a scene develops for a player, until you become a player.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 11, 2011, 07:46:42 AM
A whole lot of great stuff came in, I see. I find myself left in the position of agreeing with many of the details posted, but at the same time feeling like there's an element of mutual exclusivity to much of it. At the moment I'm thinking I'm missing the forest for the trees. But let's start looking at those fine specimens of wood and leaf.

Except if your playing for nar enjoyment, you toss in say a choice between an easy job robbing a little old lady or a hard job robbing some nasty stock broker and suddenly all these utterly tone broken characters are arguing with each other over which to do (if not both). And that arguements fun...but how can it be fun, eh? Surely tone is all there is and it's wrecked? Well in sim, yeah, tone is all there is. But in nar, there's that argument fun, still fit, fat and functional. That argument fun sits on top of the tone. Sure it's nice to have coherant tone, but it's not needed. Unless your playing sim.

Actually, that situation sounds like it would be wonderfully evocative in terms of character exploration, and that's the primary reason I like those situations. The dilemma I mentioned in which the characters almost had to kill a friend because of an agreement with an enemy was another good situation like that. Do they uphold their bargain, or do they break it for the bonds of friendship, even though it'll probably cost them their lives? And when the group first encountered texts hinting at the Cthulhian things out in the world, I sat back and effectively stopped running the game for a half hour as they debated in character what the proper course of action should be (burn vs. study vs. kick it up the chain of command). It was so great I gave lots of extra xp that session.

However, most times that's not the kind of discussion we wind up with. To again return to that example of trying to get their friend to clam up about a discovery, the group was in the man's ship quarters, with a massacre of a village still visible as a red stain in the shore waters. They are able to communicate with each other in public via secret code, so I let them carry on conversations in front of NPCs freely. There were two conversations going on in this case: what the characters were saying to each other, and what they were saying to their friend.

PC 1: Look, Egil, I know this is a big deal for you, but you can't tell anyone about this.

EGIL: Not tell? Are you mad? The whole purpose of this expedition was to recover evidence that the golden man of Kalak Ur'Nagath was real. If we didn't recover the artifact itself, we need to at least publish an article in the journals detailing our discoveries.

PC 2: (in private) If we can't keep him quiet, we're going to have to kill him. Reis will butcher everyone who reads that article. He said so.

PC 1: (in private) I got this. Don't worry. *rolls dice, fails* (to Egil): So, Egil, my man, let me ask you. Are you married?

EGIL: Mar- what?

PC 1: More importantly, is she hot?

EGIL: No, I'm not. I hope to one day-

PC 1: Too bad. What about your mother. She hot?

EGIL: I -

PC 1: Sister? Cousin? Neice? Seriously, I'm not that picky. Even if they're a little heavy, I don't mind the weight.

And so on.

It's not the inclusion of mirth. I like laughing at the table, even if I myself am not good at introducing funny characters (they're never popular, regardless of the game or circumstance). But this didn't seem to be the appropriate time. I'll totally bite on the sim theory though. I've never cared much about historical accuracy in settings or needed to know the intricacies of how everything worked, but I'm enough of a literary snob to want tone and genre to be a certain way, certainly.

If you’re playing 7th Sea, then I assume you’re using task resolution. The players tell you what they are doing, they roll, and then either succeed or fail at the one particular task they were trying to accomplish. From the players’ perspective, especially if they have no experience narrating the results of their own rolls, the narration may seem obvious to them.

You have it exactly. As it turns out, I didn't discover games that used anything but task resolution until after I started this campaign. So not only have the players not encountered anything else before, but the concept is still relatively new to me as well. While I try to suggest the narrative options they have available, the game table is a self-reinforcing structure in terms of behavior sometimes. They as players are conditioned to look to dice for resolution after all this time, just as I am conditioned to ask them to roll in those situations. It's very easy to fall into old habits, especially when surrounded by the people with whom you've engaged said habits for a long time.

Quote
So what I’m saying is that it sounds like you’re players simply haven’t gotten used to the idea of narrating outcomes for themselves. This may resolve itself with practice. Or you may need to change to a very different system (per contracycle’s suggestion).

My entry for the Ronnies used a narrative resolution mechanic. Dice didn't tell you what happened, but who got to say what happened. I tried it out with a couple of these guys, and again, I think you're right. When dropped into a game where the dice required more narration because they didn't provide resolution, the self-effacement disappeared and they took much more tonally-appropriate control of situations from an author's standpoint. In that case they weren't in the position to narrate failures (well, they were, but the idea of winning a die roll and choosing to fail wasn't something that occurred to them), since failure was more that I got narrative control over them, so we didn't see the same sort of "I drool on myself" responses.

So these are your hardened adventurers; they know what the game is, what they are supposed to do, and how to follow your lead when you give it.  The one thing that doesn't appear here is the desire to assert control over the narrative in any proactive sense.  So I'm not sure that outcome narration is suitable for this group, or if it is, it will need to come in some other, more radically distcint form.  Playing a game familiar enough that it allows them to fall back on their veteran habits will reliably prompt them to do so, I think.  Inasmuch as you are attempting to demonstrate a new way to play, you need to make a much sharper break with the past, I think.

With that observation, and a number of recommendations that came to me both on this thread and privately, I'm looking to shift to a game that uses a radically different resolution methodology to see how that flies with everyone. It might not be to taste, but there's only one way to find out, and better we try it in a game designed to be played that way.

Quote
I suspect that what is happening is that as defensive players, that surivivalist element is important to them.  And so to fail, to really fail in a serious and meaningful way, would be a threat to their competence and effectiveness.  And the solution to that is take the failure and draw its sting, to make it comedic rather than harmful or bitter, so exaggerated it cannot be taken seriously.  That way they can even gain applause (laughter) from what would otherwise be a threatening outcome, and their self perception as effective and competent is preserved.

Harkening way back to the post where Ron noted that old school D&D was all about screwing the PCs, and where survival itself was something of an accomplishment, it does seem that sort of mentality is ingrained in their approach to things. And I say that not only because they look to safeguard their characters, but because at the beginning of the campaign I introduced an idea that John Wick mentioned he used in his campaigns, which was Grave Danger. The rule was that your character couldn't die. He could be beat up, maimed, lose an eye, lose his possessions, close NPC ties, and suffer in all sorts of ways, but Wick wouldn't kill him. Until he said the character was in Grave Danger. At that point the safety came off and mortality entered the game for that scene. I thought it sounded appropriate for 7th Sea, so I said I'd run with that idea.

One of the players asked I remove it. He wanted to know that I'd be looking to kill his character at all times, not just when I said the magic words. He told me without that, things lacked excitement. But then in response to that, these characters keep clear of danger. They'll get into all kinds of fights, because fights in 7th Sea aren't typically dangerous, and frankly these guys like to beat up the bad guys, but whenever there's something that might be dangerous, the preferred method is to burn it, preferably from a distance.

So, now that you mention it, old thinking may very well permeate this culture deeper than I realized. A clean break into something radically different may be just what's called for.

Thanks again for all the feedback. Your input routinely gives material for use and trial.


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Callan S. on January 11, 2011, 02:11:26 PM
Still thinking...

After the whole pick up line thing, what happened in terms of keeping him quiet or not? Or did you already describe that and I'm recalling badly? I think you said they didn't need to kill him in the end. But what changed the NPC's mind to not publishing the article?

I'm thinking one issue is that the dice roll, which seemed initiated by the player, was a bit 'premature ejaculation'. Ie, no one at the table talked about how dire the ramifications would be on a failed roll, or whether there would no ramifications at all in the short term (ie, rolls, fails "Please don't publish!" "Sorry, I'm going to! Goodbye my friends! Catch you at the party next week! :)" leaving plenty of time for other plans...). Just suddenly he rolls out of nowhere and nobodies internalised what significant context a fail will have (if any).

I mean, imagine if he rolled to persuade, fails, then just grunts 'Oh, failed it'. Seems a bit non climactic. So perhaps he's trying to make it somehow climactic on his own. Mainly because he rushed to dice and everyone else was left behind?

Perhaps if it becomes an informal rule that if a player picks up dice like that, he has to turn to the group first and go 'So...how bad is it if I fail' and actually wait a bit to get some feedback and back and forth on the matter? I'm not saying determine it in fine detail, just an overall sense of bad result?


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: Cliff H on January 12, 2011, 06:02:10 AM
After the whole pick up line thing, what happened in terms of keeping him quiet or not? Or did you already describe that and I'm recalling badly? I think you said they didn't need to kill him in the end. But what changed the NPC's mind to not publishing the article?

The PCs brought up how they met this NPC. Upon first meeting he begged a favor, which turned out to be substantial. So they said he owed them, and he conceded. That part of the conversation, by the way, didn't require a single die roll.

Quote
I'm thinking one issue is that the dice roll, which seemed initiated by the player, was a bit 'premature ejaculation'.

Quite right. The players are familiar enough with the rules that they often feel comfortable enough matching stat + skill and rolling right after they make some declaration of action. The only time they ask is when they're not sure what to roll. I have said sometimes that a roll is not required, but in general the reflex is to declare an action and reach for dice.

Quote
Perhaps if it becomes an informal rule that if a player picks up dice like that, he has to turn to the group first and go 'So...how bad is it if I fail' and actually wait a bit to get some feedback and back and forth on the matter? I'm not saying determine it in fine detail, just an overall sense of bad result?

Assuming the snow allows everyone to get together (we're in eastern PA, and currently snowed in), tonight is game night. That sounds like something small I can add in right away.

(edited to fix quote format - RE)


Title: Re: Odd Narrative Habits
Post by: stefoid on January 18, 2011, 10:07:19 PM
Obviously I don't know your group, or the groups Ron referred to, so I could be way off base. But this strikes me as a pretty straightforward example of Creative Agenda in action. I'm not sure how versed in the CA concept you are, but the idea that CA is what you intend to do, or that CA is what a specific person prefers to do, are both common misconceptions. CA is how you use the medium of play to enjoy the game _together_. It doesn't matter how invested in Lothar the badass barbarian, and his epic struggle to avenge his fallen village a player is, its not a part of CA until its enthusiastically shared and reinforced by the group. If everyones eyes glaze over when you talk about Lothar (perhaps not out of fundamental disinterest, but because we all know it really doesn't make a damn bit of difference), but they all grin or laugh when you have him trip over his feet and fall into a hole when you roll a 2 on your spot check... Then thats what you are going to do.

In the essays Ron talks about how Sim is easily supplanted by the more basic human activities of competition (gamism) and story telling (narrativism), but Sim-comedy seems to be just as basic and powerful.

Narration mechanics are a technique, that can support any agenda based on the context. In this game, they are supporting the Sim-comedy agenda. If you don't want to support it, I'd suggest removing or refocusing the mechanic. Honestly, what sort of failure narration would matter to the other players at the table? If the answer is none, then its not a useful rule.

dude, you nuked that nail!