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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Ross on May 17, 2011, 10:27:08 AM

Title: Learning to rolepaly - actor stance and engaging the system
Post by: Ross on May 17, 2011, 10:27:08 AM

Quick background - beyond a few highly abortive attempts when I was ten or so I have no real rpg playing experience (I may have an embarassingly large collection of rpg books in my parent's attic but that is another topic) but, having had my interest re-sparked recently and having been lurking around here and story-games, I plucked up the courage to go along to the London Indie RPG group this past weekend.

I have since been thinking about how it went, what I have learned about how to roleplay and what I might do better next time.

The session in which I played involved an aristocratic court with various suitors vying for the affections of a noble lady, played with what I understand was a variant of the FATE system. I had a good time but experienced a few frustrating moments regarding how to engage the mechanincs in social situations, which as you might imagine, occured quite frequently in this scenario.

I found this particularly occured when playing in actor stance (hopefully I'm not commiting termilogical violence here), that is when in in-character conversation with one of the GM's NPC's. For example I started a conversation with the butler attempting to get him to reveal his revolutionary sympathies but having been rebuffed, "Of course I am loyal to the prince", this fizzled out. I should point out that the revolutionary sympathies weren't in question, they were a stated fact on the NPC character card which all the players could see. I probably could have said "I want to force him to admit it" and grabbed dice, in a way that wasn't problematic earlier for "I drag her into a side room and strangle her", but at this point I didn't and / or couldn't.

Upon reflection I have two thoughts about why, as a player I wasn't able to make this work in a satisfactory way. Possibly it was just due to a lack of clarity about the scope and application of the resolution system, particularly a lack of other social conflicts being initiated by the other players and thus giving me an example to follow. However I also wonder if, particularly as a beginning player in need of reassurance that I was getting it right, I found it difficult to engage the mechanics following negative responses from the GM. That is I may have been subconciously interpreting the in-character rebutals as out-of-character GM signals that this wasn't an appropriate approach within the context of the game. This strikes me as a problem if in-character dialogue is desired alongside a social conflict based story.

In retrospect I think some of the other players had similar or related frustrations given how other scenes played out and it proably isn't a surprise that the lady was "won" by the swachbuckling duelist who suceeded in his roll to carry her off in his arms swinging from arope below his airship, thus resuing her from a loveless marriage within a corrupt court with a simple and concrete action.

Obviously the main takeaway from this is next time remember to say 'I want to roll to..." and to have a clearer process for engaging the mechanics but I would be interested to know if other players have had similar experiences moving from in-character dialogue to mechanical conflict.


Title: Re: Learning to rolepaly - actor stance and engaging the system
Post by: Chris_Chinn on May 17, 2011, 12:33:37 PM
That is I may have been subconciously interpreting the in-character rebutals as out-of-character GM signals that this wasn't an appropriate approach within the context of the game. This strikes me as a problem if in-character dialogue is desired alongside a social conflict based story.

A lot of these games do well when there's a clear means of the player finding out what the character intends, especially when it contradicts their words.   Some games have stuff like the GM just say, "You know he's lying to you", and others make it a mechanical roll to figure things out.

Some FATE games also let the players establish facts by spending points, which is also adds another layer to things, "Yes, he's loyal, but someone is blackmailing him..." etc.

Maybe you should talk to the GM and get some ideas about where the disconnect was happening?

(Secondarily, it's also tough in that situation to "Who wins the lady?" if there's no clear idea of what conflict resolution metric matters.  Someone may have spent 8 scenes talking her up, or making romantic gestures, and the swashbuckler spends 1 scene stealing her away... is that really a good way to base this kind of thing? etc.)


Title: Re: Learning to rolepaly - actor stance and engaging the system
Post by: Roger on May 17, 2011, 02:48:24 PM
I don't want to be the terminology Nazi here, but I have a feeling it might get in the way of the rest of the conversation, so I'll try to clear things up.  Here's the definition of Actor Stance (which, as far as I know, has not been superseded):

"In Actor stance, a person determines a character's decisions and actions using only knowledge and perceptions that the character would have."

Note that it's unrelated to anything like speaking in-character or that sort of thing.

To carry on in the terminology vein, this sort of problem seems to be related to IIEE -- that is, "Intent, Initiation, Execution, and Effect".  It may be particularly tricky with chatty social combat because, depending on the system, it may not be clear to anyone just where a given piece of in-character dialogue falls in there.  And that's assuming the GM isn't applying Force via IIEE-manipulation.

In terms of how various Systems deal with "in-character dialogue is desired alongside a social conflict based story", I can think of some main approaches:

1.  All in-character, all the time.  Example: Puppetland.  This can get a little strange; it's probably easiest to just read the Puppetland rules to get an idea of how this works.

2.  All OOC IIEE occurs before the IC scene begins at all.  Example: drifted Primetime Adventures, occasionally shows up in mostly-OOC play spontaneously.  It's this sort of situation:  "I'm going to Intimidate the barkeep.  I rolled... a 23.  "Now listen here, you greasy punk, you're going to tell me everything you know about the king's guard..."

3.  Mostly IC, with a drop into OOC largely for Initiation, then back over to IC.  "Why yes, occasionally the king's guard visits my pub, but I really shouldn't discuss such matters with outsiders..."  "You're going to tell us, or I'll slit your throat!  Can I roll Intimidate for that?"  "Sure."  "23."  "Oh please kind sir, there's no need to threaten me with violence..."

I've seen all of these operate pretty functionally; I've also seen lots of mixing of the second two types within the same game (and, indeed, the same scene.)

To the extent I've seen problems, they've normally been the sort of thing where as a GM I find myself asking a player, "What are you trying to accomplish here?"  Which makes it a short-lived problem easily-resolved.


Title: Re: Learning to rolepaly - actor stance and engaging the system
Post by: Dan Maruschak on May 17, 2011, 07:27:38 PM
In games that have freeform play that switches to a conflict system when you realize there's a conflict between characters (whether single-roll or elaborate subsystem), I've always found the "let's start a conflict" step to be the hardest with social conflicts. Since you can be "just talking in character" on either side of the boundary it's harder to detect the boundary. (By contrast, if the rules only allow you to stab someone to death inside the conflict system then it's pretty obvious that you need to start a conflict as soon as you say that you're trying to stab someone to death.) Detecting the start of a conflict is also related to identifying what the conflict is about is about, and it's sometimes difficult to telegraph what you want from another character through pure dialog. If I deliver a sarcastic and dismissive remark to an NPC it may not be obvious that I'm actually trying to humiliate him enough to get him to leave the room -- maybe it seems to the GM that I'm trying get him riled up instead so he has the NPC hurl a sarcastic remark right back at me, not realizing I wanted to trigger the mechanics rather than banter with him in-character. People frequently overestimate how well they're communicating since they have access to all the information inside their own heads (such as why they're saying what they're saying) but other people have to rely completely on what is actually said, which can sometimes be ambiguous. I'm not sure I have any reliable suggestions, but one thing to do is to work to make conflicts obvious and explicit -- ask for things the NPC will say "No" to, for example. Or ask the GM "does he seem like he's lying?" if an NPC isn't giving you the answer you think is false. When character desires are in stark contrast it's easier to notice that going to the conflict system is appropriate.

Title: Re: Learning to rolepaly - actor stance and engaging the system
Post by: Ross on June 08, 2011, 07:39:35 AM

Sorry I didn't get back here sooner. Thanks all for the advice and terminology correction, I'm sure all will prove useful in future although I hope I didn't give the impression it was time for a serious talk with the GM. Really I am just learning and the issue I raised was not a major problem.

Really I was pointing wildly and saying "is this a thing" in the direction of how in-character dialogue and interaction with NPC's is structured, formally or informally, and how this might impact on the fiction created, use or not of the resolution systems etc. Maybe it doesn't have much impact at all beyond the first few baby steps but equally it looks like something which might get taken rather for granted and yet be structred quite differently from one culture of play to the next. Roger provided some interesting examples of different approaches, might there be interestingly different results from using one over the other?

Has there been much previous discussion along these lines?