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Author Topic: [Universalis] As played by: Unsuspecting D&D players  (Read 19658 times)
Big J Money
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Posts: 24


« on: May 04, 2008, 08:03:12 PM »

This was the first narr game I have ever hosted.  Actually, it's the first narr game I've ever played.  I swallowed the rules in a day, called up my gaming buds, and we agreed to play.  In the past, we've mostly played D&D 3+ and, as far as I know, nobody else in the group has ever played narr.  One guy is a big fan of roleplaying in text MUDs and MMO's (if he's lucky to find a good group of people).

Before the Storm
Before the session, I didn't tell anyone much about the game.  If I gave a short explanation, it was limited to statements such as, "It's a game where we make the world in the initial stages of play." or "There are no character sheets"  or "I don't have to have a campaign prepared; we can just play."  None of my explanations went into the game's goal of cooperatively telling a story.  I wasn't sure how to convince them that that could be considered an RPG.  I'd rather just jump into the game and see what happens.  When playing D20 and not killing things, these guys tend to migrate into lengthy sit-com like narrations, so I was curious about where it would go.

Getting Into the Swing
I feel like explaining the rules took a lot of the impetus out of the early part of the game, although I'm sure my inexperience with Narr meant I was not presenting things as effectively as I could have.  I was, in fact, explaining rules for the entire ~4 hours that we played.  The players were particularly iquisitive about them; when I explained a rule it was not uncommon for one of them to immediately pose a question about how that rule would function in case X, Y or Z.  They seemed to be very focused on precisely "what they could do" with a given rule.  Being mostly D&D players, this made sense to me.  They wanted to know what they would be empowered to accomplish during play.  In fact, it wasn't until an hour into the game when one of them asked, "Wait, so what do we do in this game?"  I wonder how many people would gasp at this.  To see how it worked out, keep reading.

Building the World
I stayed away from Rules Gimmicks, since neither they nor I yet had the experience to use them effectively.  Tenets were: All life silicon based, except humans -+- Worlds within space are flat islands called "Oases"-+- Space is atmospheric and breathable to humans -+- Humans forced to live in hanging cities underneath the Oases -+- An Oasis may be connected to another by a sentient space train -+- Humans survive as cannibals -+- Humans divided into three castes: Noble /  Worker / Food. 

Observations: 
  • Lack of silly tenets I expected them to write.  This was alarming and encouraging to me, because I have always wondered if this group were capable of telling anything othat than a slapstick story in an RPG.
  • Connectedness of story elements.  I wasn't sure how developed this would be, but everyone sort of "automatically" went with someone else's idea and developed it further.  The entire process was very cooperative and iterative.
  • A drought of story provoking Tenets... especially on my part.  I think this might have been when the shell-shock set in (see below). 

Building the world took between 45 minutes and an hour.  Too long, in my opinion, and I blame the length of time spent explaining rules.  I want to say I read the chapter faster than it took us to do this!  I didn't realize it at the time but, by my style of explaining the rules and ensuring they were adhered to, I was setting myself up to be the referee of the evening's game.  (By my social posture mainly, I think.  A habit from being GM with these guys before; evident here since I was the only guy with rules knowledge.)

Getting Our Game On
Framing the first scene took a very long time.  An aside: I reccommend that the host of the game, or whomever has read the rules and understands them, take the reigns and frame the first scene.  An example can go a long way.  The first scene turned out to be a flashback (?) in that we all knew what the player was trying to do, story-wise, and so after muuuuch explaining of how framing a scene works mechanically, we ended up not doing anything within it anyway.  One player spent some coins to add a few details to the flashback, but when he was done we ended it and I took the next scene.  Framing the first scene took nearly thirty minutes (although it turned out extremely simple) and playing it took about ten.  Winning bid for the second scene wasn't hard because I turned out to be the only person to bid any coins.  Here, I realized I had shell-shock.  I wasn't particularly nervous, and I believe I was sharp, clear  and confident explaining the rules (referring to the book only twice in the whole evening to grab a detail I had forgotten) of play, but not a single damn story idea would come to me.  In this, my first scene, I puked out whatever was in my head as quickly as I could because things were already dragging, and I did not want things to stagnate with everyone still in the stage of "I want to play, but I'm not quite sure what to do."  I framed a scene with a slave driver of one of the silicon races (the "snowflakes") chasing a young man through an alley.  I had him pull out a canister of liquid fuel (?) to douse a bridge after crossing it (?!?) with his enemy in pursuit.  Someone took the story from there (thank God), ignoring anything to do with the bridge or canister and moving in a new direction.  I have no idea how common ignoring previous story ideas are for new players (or even experienced ones) but I didn't care too much because I was glad for the relief.  I had no idea what I was going to narrate next.

About my shell-shock: a block set itself into my mind early on and lasted the entire game.  I was able to spew out random insignificant Components and Events just fine, as well as react in predictable and logical ways toward story Facts presented by other players, but I found myself unable to start a thread with the potential to create excitement or inspiration for engaging story.  I don't feel like anyone else in the group did, and I felt like I dropped the ball by not being the one to pioneer this.  One of the reasons I was attracted to Universalis (or really any narr game I could have chosen) was the potential to tell a dynamic story that has some emotinal impact and/or the potential to delight the other players in the telling.

Will This Guy Join In?
As play continued, Bob was not becoming involved.  He left the room for phone calls, came back and interrupted us to ask what was happening, and continued to pass whenver it was his turn.  This didn't upset me yet, as I had been wondering most of all how he would react to this game.  This was the same guy who asked, "Wait, so what do we do in this game?"  It was understandable that he was used to having an external source of for goals/direction available to play with.  However, at one point one of the rules (I don't remember which) clicked with him and he immediately jumped into the role of the "antagonist controller" to see what he could make of it.  After killing off a character that was shaping up to become in important hero in the story (nobody fought this, as it was Factually feasible), he was still unsuccessful at retaining a group of slaves that his controlled characters badly desired and -- I'm not sure how -- this mellowed out his desire to take the role of beefing up the "bad guys" to make them "win".  Ultimately, he bid to frame the next scene, and set it up to be a scene that could (potentially) tell a little bit of the story of the relationship between the humans and the "snowflakes".  The framing of this third scene became a cliff-hanger, as it marked the end of the evening for us.  Immediately after we stopped playing, he was telling everyone that we need to play again and that we should write a novel about our game!  I was impressed and I cannot figure out what happened.  Maybe he intuitively caught on to the capabilities of a narr game, eventually puzzling it out from hours of explaining its rules?  Maybe he realized killing other characters was pointless, or a waste of good coins that could be used to further an interesting story?  None of these seem valid.  Regardless, in these last ten minutes of the evening he became suddenly excited about the setting we had jointly created way back in the tenets phase!  It was like he had just gotten started playing.

Stances Are Real...
One memorable moment of gameplay was when Lex, the player consistently showing the most initiative, started a quick dialog during a complication resolution with a character I was controlling.   This was the first dialog for us, and I had (probably my only spark of creativity for the night) some spontaneous lines that I used to develop both our character's history, relationship and personalities.  Interestingly, Lex was solidly playing this character from an Actor stance.  A few lines of dialog were unimportant to his character Johnny, who was working with limited time, as it was urgent for someone to secure the corral barge's cockpit.  Both he and his character ignored the content of my dialog, effectively making it color for the scene!  Not realizing this, he also ended the dialog before I was done to continue acting out Johnny's actions for the complication resolution (which I could not interrupt to continue dialog).

Johnny (Lex): "Go take out the pilot.  I'll untie the people."
Junie (me): "What?  Why do I always take out the pilot?  Can't you do it this time?"
Johnny: "Look, we may have killed the guards, but we don't have much time.  I need you to get that pilot, now."
Junie: "WE took out the guards??  I fired the shots that killed all four!  You still haven't killed a single snowflake on a mission, yet!"
Johnny: "Look, we don't have time to argue.  I'll go do it.  You stay here."

Through Junie's dialog I was trying to establish some facts about the two characters, but it was ignored.  I didn't want to grind things to a halt for the sake of explaining mechanically what I was hoping would come across naturally, so we moved on.

Conclusion
  • We played 1 quick scene with minimal events or characters, a 2nd full scene, and framed the 3rd in 4 hours.
  • After the game, players spent some time discussing where the story could go next.  I didn't know to encourage or discourage this, although my understanding is that the game thrives on synthesis.  I don't really care as long as they have fun, but I'm curious if this is common.
  • I spent most of the night correcting people's interpretations/utilizations of the rules.  This would be disheartening if not for the fact that most of these guys come from a solid D&D background, and when you tell them "RPG", they are conditioned to look through that lens.  It's possible they spent as much time unlearning to understand the rules as they did learning.
  • Everyone seemed to have fun and wants to continue the story
  • The story is almost 100% plot focused, and the group (except me) seems to be okay with that.  Of course, the way to have my say in this would be to utilize my privilege to add other narrative elements to it.  Shell-shock prevented me from doing this last session, and I'm afraid it might do it again next time.  It may truly be the only way I can ever get over that will be to play this game with more experienced players some time.
  • Nobody seems to (unless intuitively and I haven't noticed) have yet caught on to the significance of creating complications to gain more coins.  Again, shell-shock made it hard for me to come up with anything myself, even though I was aware that I could have done it.

Miscellany
If I had to guess where the shell-shock came from, I would say part of it came from trying play the game for the first time while simultaneously explaining the rules.  ("So and so does this.  Okay, let me explain what I just did.")  I don't believe I am a quick thinker or experienced in improv in the first place, so adding the burden of referee-like responsibility probably made me feel especially stifled.  I am hoping that the next time we play the other players will assist in the task of ensuring rules are followed and begin to learn the game's lingo.  If one or more of them were to purchase the game, I imagine it could help immensely.  There are several rules I could ask questions about myself, and I will probably have to head to the game's forum to do so.

I feel like I left out a lot, so I'm sure there are questions out there that could prod me into revealing more details on a particular thing that happened (or didn't) on game night.

-- John
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Arturo G.
Member

Posts: 333


« Reply #1 on: May 05, 2008, 03:56:45 AM »

Hi, there! It is a nice report.

I would say that your feelings and situations along the session are quite similar to some of mine.
I think that teaching how Universalis work along play, introducing the rules when they are needed the first time simplifies the first session a lot and makes it go faster.

Bob's reactions sounds natural. There is a point were players get involved in something that is happening on the fiction. Then, they realize what they want to do, and they begin to invest on it.
And someone should be taken the antagonist role from time to time.
Perhaps it was not happening previously because they are used to follow the GM, but I'm sure they will not need much help any more. Well, from time to time you surely find yourself not so much interested on the exact things that are going on. But sooner or later, there is always that moment, when you feel that something really interest you, and you start to positioning yourself spending coins.

The thing that most interests me, is your reaction. That moment of "I'm in charge and I have no idea". I have previously had exactly the same feeling, not only in this game. I would say it is a bad use of our minds, too used to be the one introducing the starting elements of our preconceived story keys.
In a game like Universalis, your friends are your safety net. If you don't have ideas, let the others lead the game for a while. In your case it was a bad moment, as they were not yet investing at the start, still waiting to know what was going on within the game.
I would say the key is to build during the first scenes consistent characters that are somehow having potential conflicts with other characters. Introduce the characters, create situations. Then everything begins to play smoothly.

Your first scene (the flashback) perhaps was not needed. Did you add something valuable to the fiction? How do you feel about it?

About the dialog, if you really want to push something if a specific way, pay coins to introduce the appropriate facts. Don't be afraid to start a kind of player-to-player conflict if it is needed. The challenge-rule is there to let you know who is the one who is more concerned about what is interesting.
But if you are not so much concerned, other people seem to be interesting in a complete different thing, and they really want to go there, let them ignore what you were saying and follow them. I always try to follow the people that are really excited about whatever is going-on (until I am that one, and I start to lead, leaving the coins clink into the bowl to back my words).
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Valamir
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« Reply #2 on: May 07, 2008, 03:46:24 PM »

This is really cool.  I have stuff to say, but may not find time for a couple of days...But I will get back to this.

Thanks for playing.
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David Artman
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« Reply #3 on: May 08, 2008, 06:51:58 AM »

I'm curious about your first scene framing. Did you start the first scene because (a) everyone was out of Coins from the Tenets phase, or (b) everybody ran out of ideas for the Tenets phase.

I ask because the rules emphasize that one should NOT begin to setup actual plot lines or events in the Tenets phase, and it says that when you feel that "tension" to start framing, you know you're "done" with the Tenets phase. So if you never got to that point of tension--folks straining to start playing with this sandbox you've all envisioned--then I could see how you'd be floundering a bit on the first scene. (Not to mention learning the next big chunk of mechanics at that moment as well.)
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Big J Money
Member

Posts: 24


« Reply #4 on: May 09, 2008, 06:59:20 AM »

I'm curious about your first scene framing. Did you start the first scene because (a) everyone was out of Coins from the Tenets phase, or (b) everybody ran out of ideas for the Tenets phase.

I decided to begin the first scene when 1) We had already spent 45 minutes on it and, 2) Players seemed content that what we had was a "complete" setting.  I am not certain either of these are a good motivation, but they seemed natural.  One player tried to create an actual event with Tenets, but looking back, I'd say this was not enough.  Also, it turned out to be the isolated flashback scene.

Your first scene (the flashback) perhaps was not needed. Did you add something valuable to the fiction? How do you feel about it?

We chose who would frame the first scene by rolling dice, since the book offers no rule for this.  The player who won the roll created this scene.  Actually, this had some precedent because he had tried to create it earlier as a Tenet (a binary star pair going supernova) and I told him events were not valid Tenets.  The flashback did add something valuable to the narrative, and in fact inspired us (much later on) to think of ideas.  However, I agree that it did not make a great first scene for the game, and at the time left us feeling like, "Uh -- ok, so now let's have a real scene."  I wasn't going to tell this player his scene was invalid since the rules do not "outlaw" flashbacks as initial scenes, although I questioned how we could consider it a flashback since we didn't yet know what time the game would be set in (context)!  In the end, since he told us explicitly he wanted it to be a flashback, we took it in spirit and framed the next scene many years later.

I forgot to mention in the OP that the only previous experience with Player Authorship or group has had is the card game "Once Upon A Time".

-- John
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David Artman
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« Reply #5 on: May 09, 2008, 08:08:58 AM »

I decided to begin the first scene when 1) We had already spent 45 minutes on it and, 2) Players seemed content that what we had was a "complete" setting.  I am not certain either of these are a good motivation, but they seemed natural.
Yeah, I'd guess that was your first problem: no one was "grabbed" by what you'd setup so far, and so you pushed. 45 minutes isn't actually a lot of setup time, I feel, unless you're spitting Tenets fast and furious, with no Challenges. And if you've gotten to, say, an hour and no one is jumping to frame a scene, then you probably are better off scrapping the setting and trying a new tack. YMMV.

Quote
We chose who would frame the first scene by rolling dice, since the book offers no rule for this.
I don't have my book, but IIRC, the first scene framing rights go to whomever bids the most Coins, and those winning Coins must go to establishing Facts in the scene. And random "go first, you" resolution is also likely to blame for a slow start--no one was really champing at the bit to start, and so you forced someone to do so with a die roll. Just let it evolve at its own pace, I'd say. It's not a race; and a good Uni game should run far more than one session/four hours (or whatever time limit was driving you to rush setup).

Just my 2--it's a game of rule making, too; and you can go wherever you want with it, with Gimmicks. But I'd stick to some of the rules as written, to learn it, so that you see how it's economy drives the narrative flow and rights.
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Big J Money
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« Reply #6 on: May 14, 2008, 08:46:54 AM »

Let me issue a correction here.  I mistakenly said I had them roll for framing the first scene.  It was kicking off the Tenets phase that we rolled dice for.  When it came to framing the first scene, we bid for it, as normal.  Sorry for the confusion.

-- John
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Valamir
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« Reply #7 on: May 14, 2008, 11:09:54 AM »

      Before the Storm
      Before the session, I didn't tell anyone much about the game.  If I gave a short explanation, it was limited to statements such as, "It's a game where we make the world in the initial stages of play." or "There are no character sheets"  or "I don't have to have a campaign prepared; we can just play."  None of my explanations went into the game's goal of cooperatively telling a story.  I wasn't sure how to convince them that that could be considered an RPG.  I'd rather just jump into the game and see what happens.  When playing D20 and not killing things, these guys tend to migrate into lengthy sit-com like narrations, so I was curious about where it would go.

      I think that's effective.  The game doesn't really care whether any players think its an RPG or not...I have my own soap box on that topic, but its not pertinent to actual play.  I've had several reports from groups who've used Universalis to augment their D&D campaigns.  They populate Uni with the key NPCs and movers and shakers of their campaign world, play through a few scenes and then port the outcome (who's doing what, who's betraying whom, who's army got routed at the battle of whatever) back to the campaign.  The sessions almost become "cut scenes" for the campaign illustrating what's going on beyond the view of the characters.

      Quote
      Getting Into the Swing
      I feel like explaining the rules took a lot of the impetus out of the early part of the game, although I'm sure my inexperience with Narr meant I was not presenting things as effectively as I could have.  I was, in fact, explaining rules for the entire ~4 hours that we played.  The players were particularly iquisitive about them; when I explained a rule it was not uncommon for one of them to immediately pose a question about how that rule would function in case X, Y or Z.  They seemed to be very focused on precisely "what they could do" with a given rule.  Being mostly D&D players, this made sense to me.  They wanted to know what they would be empowered to accomplish during play.  In fact, it wasn't until an hour into the game when one of them asked, "Wait, so what do we do in this game?"  I wonder how many people would gasp at this.  To see how it worked out, keep reading.

      Was the approach outlined in the first chapter helpful here?  In teaching the game for the first time, I typically keep the rules VERY basic until we've gone around the table one.  For instance  "Say a thing.  Pay 1 Coin for each thing you say that you want written down so its not ignored" is about all the rules you need to get you through most of the first players first turn.  At some point they'll realize (or you can point out) that they may want to stop talking before they run out of Coins, and let the next player take a turn at saying things.  You can use the pause between turns to demonstrate how components are organized and such.

      Then, almost always the next player will start saying things that involve components the first player created...its then you can introduce the concept of Control, and paying a Coin to Take Control.  The next thing people typically do will have a component they created or took control of do something to a component from the first player that they didn't take control of.  Then you introduce Complications and dice.  Those rules are typically all you need for the entire first scene, or at least the first time around the table (and maybe the rule for Importance, if you have players doing violence right out of the gate).

      I save almost everything else...including Interrupts, Gimmicks, Master and Sub Components, until much later.

      Of course that's hard to do with curious players who want to know, but I find it lets the game really take off sooner than doing long rules dumps.

      Quote
      • Lack of silly tenets I expected them to write.  This was alarming and encouraging to me, because I have always wondered if this group were capable of telling anything othat than a slapstick story in an RPG.
      • Connectedness of story elements.  I wasn't sure how developed this would be, but everyone sort of "automatically" went with someone else's idea and developed it further.  The entire process was very cooperative and iterative.
      • A drought of story provoking Tenets... especially on my part.  I think this might have been when the shell-shock set in (see below).  

      Building the world took between 45 minutes and an hour.  Too long, in my opinion, and I blame the length of time spent explaining rules.  I want to say I read the chapter faster than it took us to do this!  

      That's impressive.  I've found people default to silly more often then not...(or campy at least), so your group is to be congratulated for skipping that phase.

      Did you use the "opening scene of a movie" analogy when you kicked off the Tenet phase?  For people who enjoy movies, I've found that to be an effective way of getting them to think about what they're doing with Tenets with the perspective of supporting some future action.  For instance the powerful first scene of Star Wars III requires only Tenets like "There are space ships", "Faster than light travel", "an evil empire rules the galaxy", and "there are rebels fighting the empire".  From there its totally possible to jump right into play leaving the first scene framer to invent Vader and the princess and the space ship chase...and likely subsequent players to insert the "plans to the battle station" and Obi-wan as their only hope.  When a player can think of some action taking place based on the tenets thus far, that's usually a good time to cut it off and go.

      On the other hand, there's nothing wrong with taking an extended Tenet phase, and my advice to others who wound up with crazy scattered play has been to spend more time on Tenets to provide additional parameters for players to stay within.  So it can work either way.

      Quote
      I didn't realize it at the time but, by my style of explaining the rules and ensuring they were adhered to, I was setting myself up to be the referee of the evening's game.  (By my social posture mainly, I think.  A habit from being GM with these guys before; evident here since I was the only guy with rules knowledge.)

      Getting Our Game On
      Framing the first scene took a very long time.  An aside: I reccommend that the host of the game, or whomever has read the rules and understands them, take the reigns and frame the first scene.  An example can go a long way.  

      Actually, my advice to allow another player to frame the first scene is geared precisely towards breaking that sense of the rules teacher being the referee.  I think this is especially important with players mostly familiar with the traditional GM / player divide...even more so if the person teaching the rules is often the GM of the group.  If you, as perceived-GM/referee, frame the first scene, then you are setting the direction of the story.  It becomes very very easy for everyone to fall into the habit then of viewing it as your story which can make the other players take more of a passive / reactive role to what you do.

      By letting someone else frame the first scene...coming up with anything they want...it becomes very clear that you don't have a story up your sleeve and then its much more likely you'll have the entire group engaged in wanting ownership over the direction the story is to take.

      Your first scene probably could have been made smoother by skipping the rules dump and just starting with the bare bones of spending coins to say stuff.  What I'll often do is to just tell the scene framer to "start talking" and I'll take a handful of their Coins and start tossing them into the bank as they go.  After a couple of paragraphs, we'll pause, I'll write down what they said and I paid for, then hand the Coins to them and let them continue.


      Quote
      The first scene turned out to be a flashback (?) in that we all knew what the player was trying to do, story-wise, and so after muuuuch explaining of how framing a scene works mechanically, we ended up not doing anything within it anyway.

      Yeah, I can see how things started bogging right off the bat.  Technically, since the first scene framer starts the clock, they could have set the scene "10 years ago" without needing a Flashback.  The clock would have just started ticking at "10 years ago".  But honestly, something like that for a first play I would have been inclined to treat it as color and just move on, saving the actual "Flashback" rules for later.


      Quote
      I framed a scene with a slave driver of one of the silicon races (the "snowflakes") chasing a young man through an alley.  I had him pull out a canister of liquid fuel (?) to douse a bridge after crossing it (?!?) with his enemy in pursuit.  Someone took the story from there (thank God), ignoring anything to do with the bridge or canister and moving in a new direction.  I have no idea how common ignoring previous story ideas are for new players (or even experienced ones) but I didn't care too much because I was glad for the relief.  I had no idea what I was going to narrate next.

      It can be totally fine either way.  Lots of chrome gets thrown out in movies that never get revisited.  On the other hand, in the future, should you WANT the bridge or liquid fuel (or whatever) to be important and have other players pay attention to them you'd spend a few Coins to build them as Components.  The bridge would just be a regular Component...the Liquid Fuel (or space fighter, or light saber, or whatever) can be a "Master Component" (a great opportunity to introduce those rules when players are more experienced).  That way, I, as a fellow player, will be motivated to  have a fight happen on that Bridge.  I'll introduce it and then claim the dice for it for my side of the Complication.  Likewise, I'll create other characters equipped with "liquid fuel", so that I can draw dice from that as well...essentially leveraging the Coins you spent to my benefit.  By putting Coins into stuff like that, you're basically providing economic incentive for other players to use it rather than ignore it.

      But, of course, not every cool bit mentioned needs to be given this treatment.  After all we only saw Luke's crazy utility belt grappling hook thingy once...and the existance of monsters living in trash compactors never became a running theme in the story.

      Quote
      About my shell-shock: a block set itself into my mind early on and lasted the entire game.  I was able to spew out random insignificant Components and Events just fine, as well as react in predictable and logical ways toward story Facts presented by other players, but I found myself unable to start a thread with the potential to create excitement or inspiration for engaging story.  I don't feel like anyone else in the group did, and I felt like I dropped the ball by not being the one to pioneer this.  One of the reasons I was attracted to Universalis (or really any narr game I could have chosen) was the potential to tell a dynamic story that has some emotinal impact and/or the potential to delight the other players in the telling.

      Not an uncommon phenomenon at all.  One of the pitfalls of these "story-games" is that people forget that the tricks you know from basic roleplaying work just fine.  Here's what I do in Universalis.  Since I don't have a PC of my own, I look around and see what characters have been created.  Then I simply grab one and ask "What does this guy want?".  Then I spend a Coin to make that a Trait (say "overthrow the guild master").  Then I think "How is this guy going to get that?"...and I may make that a Trait as well (like "frame him for financial corruption").  I might also make what I DON'T want to happen a Trait to prevent other players from going there (like "Morally opposed to assassination").  Then I think "what does this guy need to accomplish this" and that might spawn more Traits and other Components...ideally I can grab Components that already exist because those don't cost me anything.  

      After such an exercise I'll find that I essentially just custom built a backstory for this guy...a hook...same as I would for any NPC I was GMing...and then its just a matter of winding him up and watching him go.  The nice thing is, when some other player grabs that character and puts their own spin on things.

      So just because Universalis turns every character into an "NPC" and lets any player who wants to grab them and run them...don't forget all the tricks you already know about how to set goals and motivations for NPCs from when you play other games.  The only difference is that where in those games you might write a paragraph or two describing it, in Universalis you want to break out the key phrases from those paragraphs and make them Traits (or other Components).

      Quote
      Will This Guy Join In?
       However, at one point one of the rules (I don't remember which) clicked with him and he immediately jumped into the role of the "antagonist controller" to see what he could make of it.  After killing off a character that was shaping up to become in important hero in the story (nobody fought this, as it was Factually feasible), he was still unsuccessful at retaining a group of slaves that his controlled characters badly desired and -- I'm not sure how -- this mellowed out his desire to take the role of beefing up the "bad guys" to make them "win".  Ultimately, he bid to frame the next scene, and set it up to be a scene that could (potentially) tell a little bit of the story of the relationship between the humans and the "snowflakes".  The framing of this third scene became a cliff-hanger, as it marked the end of the evening for us.  Immediately after we stopped playing, he was telling everyone that we need to play again and that we should write a novel about our game!  I was impressed and I cannot figure out what happened.

      I'd love to hear more on this, especially if he'd like to pop in and talk about it.

      Its not at all unusual for play to proceed a little aimlessly at first as everyone introduces their own sub plots, and characters and things going on and there's no central GM vision keeping things focused.  But then, at some point something clicks for one of the players and it becomes immediately obvious to them "what has to happen"...something that ties things together, justifies the whys and wherefors...whatever.  At that point you have that player taking the initiative to frame scenes, win Complications, and actively use their Coins to "lobby" for direction and ending they want.  Other players then either 1) go along for a fun ride providing antagonism where needed, 2) work on the various subplots they're interested in while trying to wrap them into what's going on, 3) fight for a different ending (the hero dies instead of riding off into the sunset), or 4) initiate their own story direction which, if it captures enough interest may turn out to be the "main thread" of the story, or drop off into a sub plot itself.

      Quote
      Johnny (Lex): "Go take out the pilot.  I'll untie the people."
      Junie (me): "What?  Why do I always take out the pilot?  Can't you do it this time?"
      Johnny: "Look, we may have killed the guards, but we don't have much time.  I need you to get that pilot, now."
      Junie: "WE took out the guards??  I fired the shots that killed all four!  You still haven't killed a single snowflake on a mission, yet!"
      Johnny: "Look, we don't have time to argue.  I'll go do it.  You stay here."

      Through Junie's dialog I was trying to establish some facts about the two characters, but it was ignored.  I didn't want to grind things to a halt for the sake of explaining mechanically what I was hoping would come across naturally, so we moved on.

      Here I'm going to have to confess a little rustiness with the rules...I didn't get around to looking this one up yet.  I *THINK* you could just spend the Coins while you were speaking during the dialog to add Traits like "Johnny hasn't killed yet" to Johnny and "I'm tired of doing Johnny's dirty work" for June.

      I can't remember now if that's in the basic rules or is a Gimmick I normally play with...

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      Conclusion
      After the game, players spent some time discussing where the story could go next.  I didn't know to encourage or discourage this, although my understanding is that the game thrives on synthesis.  I don't really care as long as they have fun, but I'm curious if this is common.

      There's absolutely no harm in debriefing.  I would discourage coming to too much consensus, because then when you play again players won't have differing views and the Complication mechanic really thrives when players have differing visions.  But there's no harm and alot of potential good to come from "Hey let's see more of the rivalry between Johnny and June"...or "You know, I'm really interested in seeing what it will take for Johnny to actually pull the trigger the first time".

      Quote
      • The story is almost 100% plot focused, and the group (except me) seems to be okay with that.  Of course, the way to have my say in this would be to utilize my privilege to add other narrative elements to it.  Shell-shock prevented me from doing this last session, and I'm afraid it might do it again next time.  
      • Nobody seems to (unless intuitively and I haven't noticed) have yet caught on to the significance of creating complications to gain more coins.  Again, shell-shock made it hard for me to come up with anything myself, even though I was aware that I could have done it.

      This is typical for new groups in my experience.  People who aren't used to just being able to "make things happen" often grab onto that and run with it...thing is it gets expensive REALLY fast.  That's when I normally start noticing players evolving to be more character-centric than plot centric.  Once you create a network of Traits attached to characters that provide dice for Complications and you aim those characters at each other, you have easy sources of Conflict that generate free Coins for using the Traits already provided by existing characters.  THEN you'll have the fuel (Coins) to keep making things happen...but you'll typically be doing that within the parameters of the Traits you've been using.

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      Miscellany
      If I had to guess where the shell-shock came from, I would say part of it came from trying play the game for the first time while simultaneously explaining the rules.  ("So and so does this.  Okay, let me explain what I just did.")  I don't believe I am a quick thinker or experienced in improv in the first place, so adding the burden of referee-like responsibility probably made me feel especially stifled.  I am hoping that the next time we play the other players will assist in the task of ensuring rules are followed and begin to learn the game's lingo.  If one or more of them were to purchase the game, I imagine it could help immensely.  There are several rules I could ask questions about myself, and I will probably have to head to the game's forum to do so.

      I hope to hear more about your last game, I'm especially interested in whether my NPC advice helped any.
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      David Artman
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      « Reply #8 on: May 15, 2008, 06:22:45 AM »

      Quote
      For instance the powerful first scene of Star Wars III requires only Tenets like "There are space ships", "Faster than light travel", "an evil empire rules the galaxy", and "there are rebels fighting the empire".  From there its totally possible to jump right into play leaving the first scene framer to invent Vader and the princess and the space ship chase...and likely subsequent players to insert the "plans to the battle station" and Obi-wan as their only hope.
      [geek]I believe you mean Shtar Wars Epishode IV, A New Hope, shir.[/geek]
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      Big J Money
      Member

      Posts: 24


      « Reply #9 on: May 27, 2008, 06:51:44 AM »

      Thanks for all the great replies.  I'm going to put one last post in about this session when I have time.  It looks like our next game will be a new one, since we don't want to continue this story without one of the key players (who would be very sad).  This is not written in stone, however.
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      Big J Money
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      « Reply #10 on: June 04, 2008, 06:39:44 PM »

      Quote
      Getting Into the Swing
      I feel like explaining the rules took a lot of the impetus out of the early part of the game.

      Was the approach outlined in the first chapter helpful here? 

      In teaching the game for the first time, I typically keep the rules VERY basic until we've gone around the table one.  For instance  "Say a thing.  Pay 1 Coin for each thing you say that you want written down so its not ignored".  Of course that's hard to do with curious players who want to know, but I find it lets the game really take off sooner than doing long rules dumps.

      Their curiosity plus my tendency to over-explain combined to produce my problem here.  I'll simply have to develop a new habit of mentally pausing to ask myself if answering a particular question is prudent at the moment.  I'm not used to saying "no" to inquiring minds.  Concerning Chapter 1, I didn't read it as an approach for me to explain the game to others, although I appreciated it as an overview to the rest of the book.  Maybe I should follow its example.

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      Did you use the "opening scene of a movie" analogy when you kicked off the Tenet phase?  For people who enjoy movies, I've found that to be an effective way of getting them to think about what they're doing with Tenets with the perspective of supporting some future action.

      One skill I know I am weak in is effective analogy.  I don't remember if this specific one is in the manual or not, but this brings up a good point.  When I planned to run this game, I fully intended to read excerpts of examples and analogies from the book because I felt they had been very effective in helping me understand the game.  This never happened because it was already taking me long enough to explain the rules (my way) and the last thing I was about to do was begin dry readings from the book.  In future games, I will prepare a few specific analogies from the book and opt to use them before any kind of detailed rule explanations on my part.  In fact, it couldn't hurt to use a measured amount of this in the next game with these same players.

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      I reccommend that the host of the game, or whomever has read the rules and understands them, take the [reins] and frame the first scene.  An example can go a long way. 

      Actually, my advice to allow another player to frame the first scene is geared precisely towards breaking that sense of the rules teacher being the referee.  I think this is especially important with players mostly familiar with the traditional GM / player divide.

      Good point.  In our game, there was only 1 player who had any clue what a first scene could possibly be.  My uncertainty to ask a new player to take the first scene is based upon my experience with these guys.  It appears to me now that the Tenets phase could have gone a little differently (more examples of the kinds of things you can do besides simply creating factoids for the Setting/Universe the game takes place in).  We spent 45 minutes on it, which seemed long to me, but it doesn't seem like we achieved what we could have in those 45 minutes.  Next time I run the game, I'd at least like to see two players and myself with possible yarns to start spinning before declaring Tenets over.

      Any advice/suggestions on the kinds of Story elements one can imagine besides mere Setting facts?  Hm, I guess there are relationships and motivations for starters (at least on a grand scale).  I think it's hard for me to think in these terms because these aren't the kinds of things I'm used to thinking of at the table when playing an RPG.

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      Quote
      The first scene turned out to be a flashback

      [Something] like that for a first play I would have been inclined to treat it as color and just move on, saving the actual "Flashback" rules for later.

      At first I was inclined to disagree since the player's idea was obviously a bona-fide flashback, but I can see what you're getting at.  Getting the rules exactly right isn't as important as playing the game.  The purpose of the flashback rule is to empower players to use flashbacks even though the story has already started rolling.  I didn't appreciate this until right now.  (As you can see, I come from a long line of game rules lawyers....)

      Quote
      Here's what I do in Universalis.  Since I don't have a PC of my own, I look around and see what characters have been created.  Then I simply grab one and ask "What does this guy want?".  Then I spend a Coin to make that a Trait (say "overthrow the guild master").  Then I think "How is this guy going to get that?"...and I may make that a Trait as well (like "frame him for financial corruption").

      Thanks.  This is another thing I completely forgot about in my state of shell-shock.  As silly as this may sound to some people, what I forgot was that it's possible to add traits to people that aren't items, abilities, or attributes!  I won't forget this next time.

      Quote
      So just because Universalis turns every character into an "NPC" and lets any player who wants to grab them and run them...don't forget all the tricks you already know about how to set goals and motivations for NPCs from when you play other games.  The only difference is that where in those games you might write a paragraph or two describing it, in Universalis you want to break out the key phrases from those paragraphs and make them Traits (or other Components).

      Well, the other significant difference is that the kind of gamemastering style I am used to is predetermining most things that will be in the game before I get to the table.  If the players don't follow it, then I will create what they need as we go, but I tend to just figure out ways to take pieces of things I had already created and just recycle or modify them.  Coming up with fresh stuff on the fly will take some practice in my part.  One of the helpful things about Universalis is that it's equal play for all involved.  So... I don't feel so guilty about the idea of "practicing" on others if they are practicing on me at the same time!

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      Quote
      Will This Guy Join In?
       However, at one point one of the rules (I don't remember which) clicked with him and he immediately jumped into the role of the "antagonist controller" to see what he could make of it.  [...]

      I'd love to hear more on this, especially if he'd like to pop in and talk about it.

      I'll try to get him to come in and explain for both of our benefits ;-)  I don't know if it came across in my point but, in hindsight, I think he was looking for the "game" in Universalis.  He currently had more coins than anyone because he had yet to contribute to the story.  The idea to try and kill Johnny crossed his mind.  Once it became his goal: kill Johnny, our goal: save Johnny, I think he found his game in inventing components to assist his goal.  As far as I know, neither side 1had any beloved story at stake, but the game was definitely on.  I wish I could say it's more than a mystery to me why he was suddenly inspired to play after this challenge played out, but he could probably answer that.

      Quote
      Here I'm going to have to confess a little rustiness with the rules...  I *THINK* you could just spend the Coins while you were speaking during the dialog to add Traits

      Aha, I misremembered what I read.  I was under the impression that dialog could produce multiple facts for the price of one coin, but it appears that is not the case without a custom Gimmick. 

      By the by, there is something in the nature of dialog I am now curious about in this game: subtelty.  I understand that in shared story games such as these, accurate story telling requires openness and honesty.  However, sometimes frankness can tread on literary treats.  If I am trying to portray a character in a certain light, slowly through dialog exchanges, all of my technique is lost the moment I plop a coin down and say "by the way, this means X, Y, Z."  I guess there really isn't any way around that, and in my example above it mattered not, because the other player didn't catch on anyway, hehe.

      Here are some game-specific questions I had: 

      1) What's a way to handle temporary Component states, without too much writing?  In our game, there was a lot of tranquilizing going on.

      2) Similarly, what's a good way to handle events without too much writing?  Obviously, in a story, lots of actions and speech takes place.  These facts are important, but it seems impossible to write them all down.  In our game, the recording technique we used was "each player write down what he/she brings into the game" and we used business cards.  Is it common for groups to literally record the entire game experience, events dialogue and all?

      3) What about when non-complicated Complications arise?  For example, Player A is in control of Mirage and Player B is control of Firestarter.  Player A wishes to have Mirage give something to Firestarter.  Player B couldn't care less about this development.  Since the Character Components are controlled by different players, this is considered a Complication, but.... why roll dice?

      4) Rules Gimmick Idea?:  A Component can 'spawn' a Master Component containing all its current traits for a coin.  The original Component loses all its traits but becomes the appropriate Sub Component type for free.  (This is meant to be similar to the way in which Possession Traits can become Components with the Ownership Trait via one coin's expenditure.)

      Thanks again,

      -- John M.
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      Valamir
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      « Reply #11 on: June 05, 2008, 02:49:56 PM »

      Their curiosity plus my tendency to over-explain combined to produce my problem here.  I'll simply have to develop a new habit of mentally pausing to ask myself if answering a particular question is prudent at the moment.  I'm not used to saying "no" to inquiring minds.  Concerning Chapter 1, I didn't read it as an approach for me to explain the game to others, although I appreciated it as an overview to the rest of the book.  Maybe I should follow its example.

      Give it another read and see if you find it effective.  That's actually pretty close to the actual script I use when running con games.

      Quote
      Good point.  In our game, there was only 1 player who had any clue what a first scene could possibly be.  My uncertainty to ask a new player to take the first scene is based upon my experience with these guys.  It appears to me now that the Tenets phase could have gone a little differently (more examples of the kinds of things you can do besides simply creating factoids for the Setting/Universe the game takes place in).  We spent 45 minutes on it, which seemed long to me, but it doesn't seem like we achieved what we could have in those 45 minutes.  Next time I run the game, I'd at least like to see two players and myself with possible yarns to start spinning before declaring Tenets over.

      Any advice/suggestions on the kinds of Story elements one can imagine besides mere Setting facts?  Hm, I guess there are relationships and motivations for starters (at least on a grand scale).  I think it's hard for me to think in these terms because these aren't the kinds of things I'm used to thinking of at the table when playing an RPG.

      It can be just about anything...just no action...no verbs.  If you find yourself having characters do things, then you're playing before you play and you need to cut to a scene.  There's a lot of variety possible.  You could set up a whole web of related characters just by adding traits like "Is John's brother", "Has a crush on Casey" and such to characters right in Tenet phase...or wait until actual play to do that.

      Quote
      By the by, there is something in the nature of dialog I am now curious about in this game: subtelty.  I understand that in shared story games such as these, accurate story telling requires openness and honesty.  However, sometimes frankness can tread on literary treats.  If I am trying to portray a character in a certain light, slowly through dialog exchanges, all of my technique is lost the moment I plop a coin down and say "by the way, this means X, Y, Z."  I guess there really isn't any way around that, and in my example above it mattered not, because the other player didn't catch on anyway, hehe.

      Don't underestimate the usefulness of color.  When push comes to shove, color has no mechanical effect...but as a tool to plant seeds in other players' imaginations its priceless.  One technique I love to do is drop some color and let someone else find it compelling and choose to spend the coins to make it Fact.  Its risky, but it lets you be a bit more subtle.  Plus, if no one has created a Fact to contradict it, you can spend that Coin to make your subtle thing into a fact anytime you want..."Remember a while back when John said 'X'...yeah...here's the Coin for what he really meant"

      Quote
      Here are some game-specific questions I had: 

      1) What's a way to handle temporary Component states, without too much writing?  In our game, there was a lot of tranquilizing going on.

      Effects like Tranquilized are most easily handled as a Trait.  You'd just put "Tranquilized" on the character card and then later someone can buy that off when they are no longer.  For short term "quickie" Traits, I often will just remember them, you pay your coin, declare John has been Tranquilized, someone later pays the Coin to wake him up...skip the write it down part.  If its a regular thing, and you have more than one effect and remembering what's what is too cumbersome, I'd get some of those really small post-it notes and write the states on them...then just stick them to the character, remove them, stick them again, etc. as appropriate.

      Quote
      2) Similarly, what's a good way to handle events without too much writing?  Obviously, in a story, lots of actions and speech takes place.  These facts are important, but it seems impossible to write them all down.  In our game, the recording technique we used was "each player write down what he/she brings into the game" and we used business cards.  Is it common for groups to literally record the entire game experience, events dialogue and all?

      When I play I typically have 1 person as the recorder, and I use a plain old spiral bound notebook.  Some folks have gotten really creative with color coded index cards and such, but quick scribbles in the note book works for me.  I'll typically use 1 page just for scenes and I'll use a couple of lines to record the event highlights.  Something like:

      "Scene 3:  John, Carey, at the Docks.  J gives C the package.  Unknown Assassin takes a shot at J but damages the package instead.  Mysterious Black Caddy drives slowly past"

      Then on other pages I'll stat out the Assassin and the Caddy and add the "damaged" Trait to the "Package" Component which is now owned by Carey.


      Quote
      3) What about when non-complicated Complications arise?  For example, Player A is in control of Mirage and Player B is control of Firestarter.  Player A wishes to have Mirage give something to Firestarter.  Player B couldn't care less about this development.  Since the Character Components are controlled by different players, this is considered a Complication, but.... why roll dice?

      I think there's a Gimmick for this in the book...called "Friendly Control" or something like that, that would just allow A to temporarily take Control of Firestarter and add a Trait without triggering a Complication.  I'll look it up and get you the page number if you can't find it.

      Quote
      4) Rules Gimmick Idea?:  A Component can 'spawn' a Master Component containing all its current traits for a coin.  The original Component loses all its traits but becomes the appropriate Sub Component type for free.  (This is meant to be similar to the way in which Possession Traits can become Components with the Ownership Trait via one coin's expenditure.)

      Sounds perfect.  I think I've always wound up doing that anyway using (abusing) my unofficial power as the Recorder to unilaterally reorganize how I recorded the Components as players were speaking.  Making it an actual gimmick would be more formally appropriate for the rules lawyer in you ;-)
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      Big J Money
      Member

      Posts: 24


      « Reply #12 on: June 21, 2008, 08:21:24 AM »

      Session 2: Notable moments and after Session discussion

      We got together and contined the story, where it left off: 
      Inside a space train with Fizz, (one of the Chryslaris, or "snowflakes") a middle caste male, and an upper caste female.  Fizz is in the front, and the male and female are in the back.  From the back, there is a scream coming from the female.

      Bob framed this scene.  I believe he had a potential story goal, but he passed it off to see where we would take it.  I'm not sure what I think about that.  None of us had particular inspiration for this scene (since it wasn't ours).  I forced myself to think of an idea on my turn and I decided the scream was because the train (remember, they are sentient) was hungry and decided to strap the woman down and suck out her plasma.  The man took this opportunity to rob her and get away.  I narrated that Fizz couldn't hear any of this -- an obvious mistake in hindsight: blocking potential narration lines.  When it came back to Bob, he seemed slightly perplexed (I believe that I didn't do what, to him, was the obvious continutation of the story) and, not seeing any way to continue what he originally planned, he had the middle caste guy jump out of the scene.  We ended the scene.  It was a flop, and we all knew it, but we were okay with just forgetting it and moving on.  Nobody was upset.

      My thoughts on this scene are: why did he frame a scene and then let go of it?  He had 2 coins to get the action moving, but he didn't.  I'm inclined to think he felt that the game would be more fun if the players are generous and give each other a chance, rather than trying to be in control "too much".  I wonder if stressing active narration (maybe even cutthroat) is a good idea.  I feel if he would have gotten the ball rolling, we would have had ideas.

      For the next scene, we went to an Ignatian ("magma-men") starbase.  Junie and Ray, among the other cow caste humans, had been rescued by their Ignatian allies and taken here for the next step.  Again, a scene was framed with little directional motion; however, this scene was related to previous events and characters in a way we could come up with ideas.  General Basalt began to explain to Junie and Ray (members of the Resistance) that it would be possible to reverse the cataclysm, restoring life to its organic form, but it required the killing of many of the few humans in the galaxy to accomplish -- until now.  New information showed that the space trains' use of human plasma featured unique chemical processes that might be able to unlock the secret.  If the Ignatians and the resistance could only capture one of those trains...  We needed coins badly.  5 coins had not been enough for us per scene, we were just too detailed about background elements.  Dan knew we needed complications, and he had control of Ray, and I had control of Basalt, so he narrated, "General Basalt and Ray walk toward the Lab."

      My thoughts here are confused.  I had explained to the others that the definition of a complication was when one player wanted to do things that involved a component he controlled and a component someone else controlled.  In that sense of the definition, Dan's narration was a complication.  However, Dan was presenting no narrative conflict for us to resolve.  The other three of us could not figure out any reason to turn this bit of narration into a dice roll.  We tried to explain the concept of story conflict to him, but all he could focus on was the definition I had previously given of a complication.  We basically vetoed the narration, but were left scratching our heads as to why this was even an issue in the first place.  What do you do when someone narrates a non-conflictual event with a component that is not under their control?  Does the owner of the component invent a conflict on the spot for free?  "Basalt says, 'No, we need to go to the armory instead.'"?  My conclusion was that Dan just needed to be more creative if he wanted some coins.  This is not to say he could have been, given the scene, just that 'that's how the game works'.

      When Bob's turn came, he turned Junie into a spy, and she immediately found a place to send the previous conversation out as a transmission.  Okay, cool development.  Starbase personnel noticed the transmission and alerted General Basalt.  Junie volunteered to go "check it out" [complication arose...] ... and he agreed, since they were old friends.  On the way, she destroyed the data and tossed her transmitter out a space vent.  When she got to communications, they narrowed down the location to where all the characters were gathered.  She went back, planted a dummy transmitter on Ray (explained below) and framed him.  Basalt shot him dead on site, gaining the trait "Intolerance for spies"

      A couple thoughts here, but I'm saving one for the end.  In the complication between Basalt and Junie where Junie convinced him to let her "check out" the source of the transmission, I lost.  In losing, I narrated that she tossed her transmitter out a space vent and gave her the trait: "No transmitter."  I explained very clearly that this meant that she lost her only transmitter and had no way to send or receive future transmissions.  Later, when Bob brought her back down to frame Ray, he said "She takes another transmitter and plants it on Ray".  I and another player pointed to her "No transmitter" trait and said she could not do that.  Bob argued that meant that she simply "lost one that she had before" and that she could conceivably have had more than one.  This was directly contrary to the fact I stated, so he proposed that she have a "fake transmitter" on her for the purposes of planting on others.  In the end, I agreed over the technicality, but I was bothered by the insistence to manipulate the rules in order to narrate this event.  I realized then, that anyone with any skill in finely manipulating the rules could do this during any narration.  It all boiled down to other players calling farse and challenging.  The only problem I had with this was the fact that Bob is perfectly willing to play this way.  I can't figure out if he understands that this undermines the fun of the game for the rest of us, or not.  We'll have to talk about it.

      I also narrated that the transmission, even though it went to its intended source, was intercepted by the listening post of a new, third race of gaseous beings.  The event was, "Information Intercepted."  Later, Bob narrated that the information was encrypted.  I got upset because my intent was for the fact to mean that the information was now in the hands of the new race.  I challenged based on the intended meaning of my fact.  Another player called me out and said that the strict interpretation of my fact did not preclude the chance of the information being encrypted.  I knew he was right.  That's the way the game works, and even though I was initially upset that my intention for the fact I narrated was different, you can't really rule based on intended meaning.  All of a sudden I felt really good that the players were getting the hang of the game enough to correct me!

      The final bit of story for the evening was the framing of a scene at the communications station Junie's message was transmitted to.  Lexton created the scene, making each one of our players (except Dan, already a character) actual characters in the scene.  Robert, Me, and Lexton were all operatives of a yet-unaffiliated group receiving the message from their spy, Junie.  The first event was me saying, "Sir, incoming transmission!""  We ended after the framing of this scene.

      Lex told me later that this was an attempt to create characters Bob would not kill.  What tact!  When he created these characters, he wanted to create a social contract (would have been our first) that would provide for us not treating those characters as unimportant.  He had a general idea that he didn't want us to take them too lightly, but we never could nail down something that wouldn't be too vaguely interpreted to be ruled upon.  The closest we came was a Rules Gimmick that said those characters would cost double coins to eliminate, but we decided against it.

      Well, those are the events that stand out from the Session.  Again, we only got through two scenes; one good one and one flop.  I've come to understand this is the way this group plays Universalis and it doesn't bother me.  We don't need to race through 4 scenes a night to have fun.  One good scene is one good scene.  We also learned alot about ourselves and Universalis in general in this Session.  I will try to explain as briefly as possible.

      Bob likes to win.
      He has potential to tell an interesting story, but he seems blocked by the fact that his main goal in playing this game is to pick a side and win all story conflicts that come their way.  Eliminating potential adversaries that become important is part of this.  This wouldn't be a problem if Bob seemed to have story goals for these conflicts, but we have yet to see them.  Since he left right after the game, the rest of us got a chance to talk, and the other two guys are really frustrated by this.  I'm not upset because I think I've identified it as him just looking for the "right way" to play the game.  I could use some tips on how to present the actual goal of the game to him, and give him pointers on telling an interesting story using conflicts -- a story that won't boil down to never-ending conflicts (with little narration) between "his" faction and "ours".

      My proposed solution to the two guys was possibly to narrate on "Bob's side" for a little bit and see what happens.  Does he encourage our narration and add to it, giving us the chance to build up some components?  Does he take on a different side for a while and provide conflict from a new angle?
      Our setting sucks
      This is partly a joke, but there is some truth to it.  I am all but sure that we charged out of the gate too soon.  When building the Setting, we were too focused on backdrop details, and we never even considered Setting elements that encourage ideas for events-in-motion.  We never drew relationships (even between organizations), we never created prominent characters, and we never created motivations for any of the living components we made.  We just said a lot of stuff about the universe that sounded interesting to us.  I am convinced that this problem is what has been plaguing me, making it hard for me to create story goals for myself.  Combine this with the fact that any important characters we make get killed by Bob, and we are having a very hard time creating threads.
      We can do better
      We've had fun with this game so far, but we've realized some of the things that have made the game difficult to play, and we feel like our next game can be better.  It's likely that we aren't going to continue this one, but we'll have a talk with Bob first and see how it goes.  I want to make sure all four of us are on the same page before we make important decisions.  We certainly can't just play again without getting together and talking anyway.  My only concern is how we approach Bob and make sure we don't fault him for trying to figure out how to have fun playing the game.  I am encouraged because when we are at the table, we are able to take things in stride and laugh at things we don't necessarily agree with.  When there is an argument that we have to resolve, we have always been able to come up with a solution.
      5 coins, not enough
      For us, 5 coins just isn't enough.  We might go to 10 in our next game.  I think if I had previously played this game with a group that played games with 5 coin scenes, I would be able to do it.  For us, we enter almost every new scene with exactly 5.  I am sure this is likely because our game got off to a limp start, and we'll do better next time.  Still, I'm ready to go to 10 coins to inject narration if it's needed.  I guess the whole point of the coin mechanic isn't to limit the total amount of narration possible as it is to provide a fair but competitive economy of narration between the players.  Yeah, that sounds about right.
      More talk than action
      I refer to myself as much as the behavior of our games.  In our games, we do end up talking about what we are doing, or how we are doing it more than actual narration and story telling.  This applies to me when it comes to Universalis, as well.  It's not so hard for me to write an AP post, or to tell the other players what not to do and why it's causing hindrances to the story telling.  It's much, much harder for me to simply drive the game in an active direction, teaching others what to do through example.  I should have entitled this thread "Unsuspecting D&D players -- especially me!"  because I am certain this is due to the fact I've picked up the idea of more narration/story focused gaming by reading articles rather than participating with people who do it regularly!

      -- John M
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      Valamir
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      « Reply #13 on: June 21, 2008, 10:25:13 AM »

      Session 2: Notable moments and after Session discussion

      My thoughts on this scene are: why did he frame a scene and then let go of it?  He had 2 coins to get the action moving, but he didn't.  I'm inclined to think he felt that the game would be more fun if the players are generous and give each other a chance, rather than trying to be in control "too much".  I wonder if stressing active narration (maybe even cutthroat) is a good idea.  I feel if he would have gotten the ball rolling, we would have had ideas.

      Don't worry about this too much.  It can happen.  Think of it as a scene that was fillmed but was left on the cutting room floor.  Someone might watch the "deleted scenes" on the dvd and say "yeah, I see why they cut that, it didn't add anything".  That sort of stuff happens all the time with professionals...its going to happen periodically with us hobbiests too.

      That said I have a question.  Bob framed the scene.  So he controls the Train and the female.  In order for you to have the train act against the female...you would have had to formally Take Control of the train.  If you then didn't take control of the female...your action against the female would have put you in Complication with Bob.  You then would have gone around the table claiming traits...which at this point there wouldn't have been many.  BUT...and here's the secret power of Complications.  You are completely right in that not having a goal to drive at leads to narrative flailing...Complications provide those goals on a micro scale for you...that then feed into the bigger scale.  You control the Train...the Trains goal is to eat this woman's plasma.  Bob has the female.  His goal is that she doesn't want to be eaten.  From these small seeds, bigger things grow.  As you start to build your dice pools you'll probably find that the Train doesn't have many Traits that apply to "sucking plasma" and as an unnamed female she probably doesn't have many traits to stop it.   So you'll both start adding Traits to get more dice.  Other players will grab other characters...maybe someone claims the unnamed man, gives him a name and some Traits.  Maybe Bob brings in Fizz (or someone else if Bob doesn't) all's they have to do is spend a Coin to say "Fizz hears the commotion" and that part is settled.  If nobody claimed Fizz (unlikely, but possible) you could use the Coins you won in the conflict to declare that Fizz didn't hear anything.

      Its hard for me to tell from what you wrote, but I suspect that the scene flopped because the above wasn't what happened.  Correct me if I'm wrong...but I'm going to guess that you either Took Control of both the Train AND the female, so you could eat her without Complication...Or...you forgot that you couldn't have the Train do that without taking control of it (unless using the friendly takeover gimmick).  If the first, you just found the key reason not to do that.  Never take control of both sides unless you really have a clear vision of what "must" happen (for your version of the story) and are willing to spend the Coins to make sure it does.  If you don't have a clear vision...let the Complication process help develop one.  And if you are using the friendly takeover gimmick...you just discovered the danger of having it defuse possible fun conflicts.

      If you'd played this out as a Complication (again, I'm guessing from the description that you didn't) you likely would have wound up with 1 or 2 new characters (who even if they died, could have future story impact) and really developed the nature of the Train into something that would have fed well into the capture the Train plot.

      Quote
      My thoughts here are confused.  I had explained to the others that the definition of a complication was when one player wanted to do things that involved a component he controlled and a component someone else controlled.  In that sense of the definition, Dan's narration was a complication.  However, Dan was presenting no narrative conflict for us to resolve.  The other three of us could not figure out any reason to turn this bit of narration into a dice roll.  We tried to explain the concept of story conflict to him, but all he could focus on was the definition I had previously given of a complication.  We basically vetoed the narration, but were left scratching our heads as to why this was even an issue in the first place.  What do you do when someone narrates a non-conflictual event with a component that is not under their control?  Does the owner of the component invent a conflict on the spot for free?  "Basalt says, 'No, we need to go to the armory instead.'"?  My conclusion was that Dan just needed to be more creative if he wanted some coins.  This is not to say he could have been, given the scene, just that 'that's how the game works'.

      Ahhh...here's an important detail.  You've got the definition of the Complication slightly off.  A Complication occurs when a character one player controls wants to do something TO a character someone else controls.  Not just with.  What did Ray DO to Basalt that forced him to go to the lab?  From the sounds of it, nothing...so here's how it should have played out.

      1) Dialog.  Ray says "let's go to the lab", you have Basalt say "no, I don't think so...I'm going to the armory"...and then you two roleplay it out until Dan does something else.
      2) Dan takes over Basalt and THEN he can narrate them going to the lab together, and can narrate Ray doing something to Basalt that he know you wouldn't like...then you can take Basalt back and be his advocate in the Complication.
      3) Dan can simply take Ray to the lab, suggest that it would make for an interesting confrontation if Basalt also wound up there, pass his turn, on your turn you take Basalt to the lab (all with sufficient in fiction justification) and then the bad mojo between the characters can result in a Complication.

      But Dan simply saying Basalt goes to the lab...when you control Basalt...is not a legal narration.  He can do things TO Basalt (triggering a Complication), but he can't make Basalt do anything unless he takes Control of him.



      Quote
      A couple thoughts here, but I'm saving one for the end.  In the complication between Basalt and Junie where Junie convinced him to let her "check out" the source of the transmission, I lost.  In losing, I narrated that she tossed her transmitter out a space vent and gave her the trait: "No transmitter."  I explained very clearly that this meant that she lost her only transmitter and had no way to send or receive future transmissions.  Later, when Bob brought her back down to frame Ray, he said "She takes another transmitter and plants it on Ray".  I and another player pointed to her "No transmitter" trait and said she could not do that.  Bob argued that meant that she simply "lost one that she had before" and that she could conceivably have had more than one.  This was directly contrary to the fact I stated, so he proposed that she have a "fake transmitter" on her for the purposes of planting on others.  In the end, I agreed over the technicality, but I was bothered by the insistence to manipulate the rules in order to narrate this event.  I realized then, that anyone with any skill in finely manipulating the rules could do this during any narration.  It all boiled down to other players calling farse and challenging.  The only problem I had with this was the fact that Bob is perfectly willing to play this way.  I can't figure out if he understands that this undermines the fun of the game for the rest of us, or not.  We'll have to talk about it.

      Ok, so here's how this should work in play.  You gave Junie the Trait "No Transmitter".  What that Trait literally means is that she has no transmitter, right now.  Any other player at any time, can pay a Coint to cross that Trait off and be free of its restrictions.  If you don't like the narration that went along with that, you can challenge (more on that in a sec).  If what you completely said was "this was her only transmitter and she had no way to send or receive future transmissions" my question is:  did you spend a Coin on that...or just on her losing her current transmitter.  If not, then it was just color, and color is subject to being summarily over ridden.  If it was really important to you that she has no other way of getting a transmitter then I would suggest as a fact for a Coin "And there is no way for her to get another one".  That's the important distinction between facts and color.  You don't want to waste coins paying for color...but you definitely want to spend them on things that you intend the other players to abide by...otherwise they can igore the color freely.

      So on to Challenges.  Even if you DIDN'T spend the coin to make it fact that there was no other way for Junie to get another transmitter, if you just didn't like the way Bob did it, you can still challenge.  It sounds like you then entered negotiation...Bob offered a twist on his original narration...you accepted that twist...so that's how it happened.  If I'm reading that right, that's not a technicality or a manipulation...that's exactly how the rules are meant to work.  But here's the key catch...its sounds like you weren't really satisfied with that explanation.  If so...then you shouldn't have agreed to it.  You should have taken it to bidding.  Planted a Coin in front of you and said..."no, we established she doesn't have a transmitter".  You mentioned another player who had also pointed out the transmitter thing.  If they agreed with you they could have also put a Coin in front of them.  Bob, seeing two Coins on the table arrayed against him...likely would have conceded and changed the narration to something the two of you found more palatable. 

      IF you had spent a Coin on the fact that there was no other way for Junie to get a Transmitter, then both of your Coins would have been doubled, and Bob would have been facing 4 Coins.

      So it sounds like you played it right, but perhaps you didn't stick up for your vision as much as you wanted to.



      Quote
      I also narrated that the transmission, even though it went to its intended source, was intercepted by the listening post of a new, third race of gaseous beings.  The event was, "Information Intercepted."  Later, Bob narrated that the information was encrypted.  I got upset because my intent was for the fact to mean that the information was now in the hands of the new race.  I challenged based on the intended meaning of my fact.  Another player called me out and said that the strict interpretation of my fact did not preclude the chance of the information being encrypted.  I knew he was right.  That's the way the game works, and even though I was initially upset that my intention for the fact I narrated was different, you can't really rule based on intended meaning.  All of a sudden I felt really good that the players were getting the hang of the game enough to correct me!

      Perfect.  And also a group dial.  Some groups would have been perfectly fine with a looser intent based interpretation and supported your version.  Others are much more "letter of the law" about it.  It works fine either way, and the challenge mechanic serves as the mechanism for setting precedent about how your group will handle it.
      Quote
      The final bit of story for the evening was the framing of a scene at the communications station Junie's message was transmitted to.  Lexton created the scene, making each one of our players (except Dan, already a character) actual characters in the scene.  Robert, Me, and Lexton were all operatives of a yet-unaffiliated group receiving the message from their spy, Junie.  The first event was me saying, "Sir, incoming transmission!""  We ended after the framing of this scene.

      Lex told me later that this was an attempt to create characters Bob would not kill.  What tact!  When he created these characters, he wanted to create a social contract (would have been our first) that would provide for us not treating those characters as unimportant.  He had a general idea that he didn't want us to take them too lightly, but we never could nail down something that wouldn't be too vaguely interpreted to be ruled upon.  The closest we came was a Rules Gimmick that said those characters would cost double coins to eliminate, but we decided against it.

      Fascinating!  Am I reading this right that Lex actually created you as the players as characters in the game?...relying on Bob not wanting to narrate killing his real world friends to keep the characters alive?  That's a first, I've never seen that, ever...amazing.

      A possible Rules Gimmick would be "only the player can kill the character named after them, if another player narrates it, the named player can immediately narrate a narrow escape" or something like that.

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      Valamir
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      « Reply #14 on: June 21, 2008, 10:45:39 AM »

      Well, those are the events that stand out from the Session.  Again, we only got through two scenes; one good one and one flop.  I've come to understand this is the way this group plays Universalis and it doesn't bother me.  We don't need to race through 4 scenes a night to have fun.  One good scene is one good scene.  We also learned alot about ourselves and Universalis in general in this Session.  I will try to explain as briefly as possible.

      Bob likes to win.
      He has potential to tell an interesting story, but he seems blocked by the fact that his main goal in playing this game is to pick a side and win all story conflicts that come their way.  Eliminating potential adversaries that become important is part of this.  This wouldn't be a problem if Bob seemed to have story goals for these conflicts, but we have yet to see them.  Since he left right after the game, the rest of us got a chance to talk, and the other two guys are really frustrated by this.  I'm not upset because I think I've identified it as him just looking for the "right way" to play the game.  I could use some tips on how to present the actual goal of the game to him, and give him pointers on telling an interesting story using conflicts -- a story that won't boil down to never-ending conflicts (with little narration) between "his" faction and "ours".

      At its heart, the goal of the game is not to accumulate Coins.  He with the most Coins doesn't win.  Nor is it to win Complications.  Rolling the most successes doesn't mean anything in the context of the game other than being the player who gets special narration privileges and (usually) more Coins to do it with.  The "winner" of Universalis (so to speak) is the player who impressed their friends the most with their creative contributions.  Those moments of "whoa...I totally didn't expect that...that's...perfect".  Most players don't actually SAY that...but they definitely communicate it with their posture and expressions and eagerness to engage the new direction.  That's really the reward system of the game.  If you spend a bunch of coins to control the story...and you use that power...and the story you come up with is lame...then you didn't really win anything.  Now that's not to say that the only reward is in being super creative guy...or coming up with the wildest contributions or the most extreme twists.  Rather its in knowing that the other players appreciated your contributions.  You have a character that does something.  My taking that and running with it is me appreciated what you set up.  You taking my contribution and adding to it is you appeciated me.  Occassionally they'll be moments of "stunned silence" but playing with the intention of forcing those usually winds up lame.  Better to just let them happen...because when they do, then everyone had a piece in contributing to them.

      Mechanically, however, what Bob's doing shouldn't break anything.  Frivilous killing of characters that you think are important can be met with a Challenge.  Having all the other players united to say clearly and with their Coins that don't appreciate that action sends a pretty clear signal.  It doesn't sound like Bob's behavior is such that you'd want to Fine him.  But sometimes that's all it takes.  One of the frustrated players saying "No, I call for a fine, not another killing for no good reason" and having all the other players vote thumbs up...and Bob lose Coins...might be a wake-up call.  Also from a "play to win" perspective, the knowledge that the other players can unite to drain all of Bob's Coins if he does things everyone dislikes should motivate him to start doing things that enough other people DO like that the Fines won't work...which, regardless of his motivations, if he's delivering things people like enough to not Fine him or Challenge him over...everyone wins.



      Also try these techniques.  Definitely jump into Complications Bob starts and try to snag key characters with lots of Traits so you're getting bonus Coins with little cost.  You can use your narration to mitigate some things and also make sure you have enough Coins to fuel challenges.

      Also, make effective use of Facts that can be used to back your challenges.  Adding the Trait "Tired of Killing" to Bob's preferred attacker might be an effective move for a time.

      But ultimately it sounds to me that you just have to find your groove as a group.  I'm certainly not seeing anything that sounds like badwrongfun.

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