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Author Topic: Odd Narrative Habits  (Read 19756 times)
Cliff H
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« on: December 31, 2010, 09:41:05 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Regardless, I find it exceedingly odd that the players are only willing to take narrative control to effectively pants their own characters. Has anyone else run into this? More specifically, have you found any technique that helps to break this reflex?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: January 01, 2011, 07:05:34 AM »

Welcome to the Forge, Cliff!

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

Anyone, help!

Best, Ron
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David Shockley
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« Reply #2 on: January 01, 2011, 08:27:25 AM »

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

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

Narration mechanics are a technique, that can support any agenda based on the context. In this game, they are supporting the Sim-comedy agenda. If you don't want to support it, I'd suggest removing or refocusing the mechanic. Honestly, what sort of failure narration would matter to the other players at the table? If the answer is none, then its not a useful rule.
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Cliff H
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« Reply #3 on: January 01, 2011, 09:33:47 AM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thanks very much for that tip. I'm off to do some reading.
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Dan Maruschak
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« Reply #4 on: January 01, 2011, 09:37:43 AM »

I've seen this a bit, too. Here's the hypothesis I've been working with: Narrating slapstick failure is usually very safe and easy. Since you failed in trying to do something the scope of fiction that you'll affect with the narration tends to be small. Since there's little chance that you'll affect the status quo with your narration, you don't feel the pressure of authorial responsibility that you would if you were going to "move the story forward" like you would when narrating a success. Further, since you already know the negative mechanical result of what happened (i.e. one failed roll) there's little "danger" in narrating something bad happening to your character because the bad thing has already happened. With few other pressures operating, the draw of getting a cheap laugh is pretty compelling, so you narrate slapstick to get a chuckle out of your friends. Also, the common case in RPGs if for PCs to be hypercompetent, and failure in the context of hypercompetent characters is something that easily lends itself to comedy.
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David Shockley
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« Reply #5 on: January 01, 2011, 04:04:00 PM »

The essays are pretty interesting material, but I think Frostfolk and GNS aggravation is a much better resource for understanding Creative Agenda. At least, this was the thread that clarified the topic for me.

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

If this is actually about CA, then this may be more relevant than you initially assumed. It sounds to me that you are dissatisfied with how your group plays. Which could very well be because your group doesn't have a strong/coherent CA operating when you play, or just that it has one that clashes with your personal preferences.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2011, 07:11:45 PM »

God this is interesting.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Best, Ron

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

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

*** Note that Matt included the villain's actions in his narration, including movement which was "free" in what is otherwise a very strictured system regarding movement. In other words, to him and to us, the poor roll and opportunity for colorful narration overrode the movement rules as well as any assumption or assertion that the "players play their characters and the GM plays everyone and everything else." Not that we noticed it at the time.
« Last Edit: January 01, 2011, 07:16:26 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: January 01, 2011, 07:59:27 PM »

Hi Cliff,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Couple of possibilities to mull over with the rest, there :)
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Cliff H
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« Reply #8 on: January 01, 2011, 10:53:45 PM »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you everyone for the replies so far. This has turned into a much larger and deeper discussion than I would have ever guessed this one question would generate or, indeed, warrant. But it continues to be fascinating and illuminates my games and group than expected.
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NN
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« Reply #9 on: January 03, 2011, 07:52:32 AM »

Are you absolutely sure the players like the setting? Slapstick seems to be an opposite to Lovecraftian.

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Cliff H
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« Reply #10 on: January 03, 2011, 08:56:30 AM »

Are you absolutely sure the players like the setting? Slapstick seems to be an opposite to Lovecraftian.

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

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

It's odd. When I think about it, the group is perfectly capable of recognizing when things are taking that turn for the horrid. I deliberately change my language to use some of Lovecraft's phraseology when it happens. With that cue, they often respond "in atmosphere" the whole way through. Once a die roll comes up crap though, it trumps everything. It's as if consistency isn't as important to them, which is entirely possible. Of everyone, I'm clearly the one most concerned with seeing the game as an exercise in character exploration heavy with whatever mood happens to be appropriate. The more I think about it, The rest seem content to keep it at arms length, engage it certainly, and sometimes have moments of brilliant play, but still ultimately look at it as a vehicle for fun. If fun means confronting a slithering horror from beyond the stars, awesome. But if there's additional fun to be had by shitting yourself when confronted by such a thing, well, fun's fun. That's a guess, mind you, but it does seem to reconcile the eagerness people have to gather juxtaposed with their reluctance to take it truly seriously.
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aleric
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Posts: 6


« Reply #11 on: January 03, 2011, 09:13:52 AM »

Quote
One of the players asks to make a perception check to see what it is, and blows his roll. Instead of peering at whatever it was that the villain was looking at, he decides to stare directly into the sun for as long as he can without blinking.

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

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

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- Eric
Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: January 03, 2011, 03:06:31 PM »

Quote
Once a die roll comes up crap though, it trumps everything. It's as if consistency isn't as important to them, which is entirely possible.

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

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

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

Now there's a painful choice to either take, or avoid because it's too painful. But it's there. It's not just rolling about stuff that happens whether someone makes a choice or not. Anyway, it'd be easy enough to try just the once, atleast.
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Cliff H
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Posts: 49


« Reply #13 on: January 04, 2011, 10:30:54 AM »

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

It really doesn't.

Absolutely, inarguably correct.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Posts: 49


« Reply #14 on: January 06, 2011, 12:31:48 PM »

I wanted to drop a quick thank you to everyone for the advice and especially for pointing me toward certain theories and the resources that explain them. Having gone over creative agenda more, I'm pretty well convinced, looking through these very green shades of mine, that the lack of one is really at the root of everything here. And I point to an episode that happened just before we began play a couple months ago as the definitive proof.

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

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

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