Started by Ron Edwards, November 03, 2011, 11:15:37 AM
QuoteThe underbelly tactic was inspired by one of my friends' description of an early Star Wars RPG adventure scenario, in which, at the end, the player-characters delivered a crucial recording to a little 'droid who goes "queep" and rolls off to begin the Star Wars movie. This adventure spawned a whole bunch of imitators through dozens of games which I call "Stepin Fetchit" scenarios, ie, the player-characters are couriers for the real heroes and villains, but with a little discussion, we came up with a different application.The idea we hit was to choose a good ten episodes of Babylon Five (we left which ones up to the GM, although we all agreed on the season first). We all made up characters who were present on the scene, i.e., employed or visiting the station. So we were there in the story, and we were at the center of the action, although we made sure to make up PCs who had no direct personal tie to any of the canonical protagonists.Tom, the GM, came up with a set of conflicts that related to the later story (with which we were all familiar). As these played out, he "ran" the canonical events simultaneously with "our" events, with all of us committed to the idea of avoiding contradictions, and equally responsible for it. Sometimes, whenever it seemed reasonable and consistent to Tom, our story caused or influenced elements of the canonical story; other times and more often, we'd hear about or see the effects of the canonical story, basically as changing setting.The story of interest to us was that of our characters, which had conflicts and issues of its own, but as time went by, what we generated was a personal "take" or "complete version" (to put it egotistically) of the canonical story. Basically, we puffed ourselves up to being Strazcinski's collaborators, in our own minds - which if you think about it, was exactly why we were playing in that setting in the first place.I like the "underbelly" idea. I think it preserves the respect for and interest in the canonical story, while still providing protagonism for the player-characters. The only constraint, and it must be a shared constraint, is to strive for consistency with the canonical story. Given shared commitment to this, even that becomes an interesting and fun creative task.
QuoteOur game of the Babylon Project in 1995 [this must be wrong because the game was released in 1997 – RE]; it might be considered my lesson in how badly a couple years of Magic had marred my role-playing skills, but also how well a couple of years of Magic had taught me that role-playing rules were largely bogus, and become more so by the month.I was playing the Centauri pirate, Zev Cesare. For the first few sessions, it's fair to say that no Force was exerted on me or my fellow players. Result? A hell of a lot of good reinforcement of the primary source material (obviously, the show, second season; we were playing "underbelly" on the Babylon Station, given our knowledge of later season or so). That reinforcement took the shape of very fun character depiction (accents, etc), some runnin' around trying to find stuff on the station, and a few brawls based on inter-race prejudice, simple politics, or misunderstandings.In other words, not much of any story resulted except for tracking the story we already knew existed (the show's) and using that as a group-celebrated constraint. Did we "do" Babylon Five to our satisfaction during this phase? Sure. But we were also itchy that no story of our own was occurring - at least, the GM and his co-GM/assistant were.Now, the second half of our game (about six or seven more sessions) were characterized by a mix of aggressive scene framing (not itself Force, usually) and basic Force, usually toward a couple of other players who were looking for cues of the sort I describe above. Not outright "you do this" statements on the part of the GM, but "opportunities" which were essentially "do this" offers that were not intended to be refused. As the players were tacitly complicit in taking such offers, we were off to the races and "a story" occurred - helmed throughout, of course, by the GM.This is a good example because we can compare the no-Force and Force phases of play, and also because I did have a hell of a lot of fun, most of the time. Most of my fun came from a strong Explorative focus - because I was expressing my fandom for the show via a character whose like was not seen on but was fully consistent with the show. For those of you familiar with it, I'm sure you can see that a flamboyant Centauri pirate is a way fun notion.
QuoteDue to popular request, a typical early session in the Babylon Project game ...The characters included my pirate, a young telepath (the most thankless character choice in the system), and one other I can't recall well, but was probably a trader/gambler of some kind. [I remember now, he was - RE] The setting is a space station which fulfills a dipolomatic role among all these different spacegoing races/cultures. However, for us, the show itself was also setting, in the underbelly sense. The GM had chosen a sequence of episodes we were all familiar with, and the events of our game were to occur on the station during those episodes. Our shared constraint was not to futz with the canonical events, and our overall goal was to have a kind of "second show" that a B5 fan would appreciate greatly. We didn't know which episodes they were exactly, starting out, although we knew the season, and as expected and appreciated by all of us, we sussed out which episodes we were in pretty quickly.Now for the session. There were three things going on in the show during these episodes, one of which was only known to people who were watching the current episodes. A war was brewing between two of the races, a prophecy of some kind was coming to fruition, and very nasty uber-alien, Lovecraftian beings were manipulating things behind the scenes (that would only become clear to viewers during the third season). [editing this in: that description isn't quite right; when composing the original post, I didn't remember the exact sequence. I'll clarify the precise show components and how they related to the episodes/seasons timing if anyone's interested. – RE]Well. The episode I recall best from this period concerned things for all of our characters: the telepath was being chased around the station (unregistered TPs were illegal), and the other two were enmeshed in a big fight in a bar area, during which some gangsters tried to kill my character under cover of the brawl. We got to shoot up a bunch of gangsters. At one point, the telepath glimpsed a terrifying and horrible Lovecraftian alien being deep in the bowels of the station, and it spoke to her in some sort of mind-shattering way. The setting closed with the pirate and the trader/gambler character getting individually interrogated lightly by the security chief of the station (an important character on the show).The system has a few interesting features; the one I liked the most was the resolution of arms fire, with "misses" possibly still hurting the person, just not where you aimed. Fights were fun in this game. On the other hand, the basic resolution system was a 2d6 TN system dressed up in unnecessary handling-time manipulations to seem like it was "new" (a common thing at this point).The experience of play had exactly the features you describe, Elliott: not much direction or "do this" from the GM, but also not much in the way of characters actually driving at things they wanted or cared about. We all steered our characters around and had them say things. It was, in fact, action-packed, and we all got to deliver combat or escape tactics, as well as interact with some colorful individuals. But a lot of our actions were "feelers," just doing stuff to see what beeped or hit "the story," such as when my character called his aunt because I simply couldn't imagine anything else for him to do that would discover anything. The beep turned out to be a buzz when this accidentally precipitated a political incident. So our actual activity as people, players, was very much in the realm of "do stuff, find out if it's a beep or a buzz."Touchstones for the show included tension between the two brawling alien races, a brief glimpse of the terrifying alien, and the security chief. We all took these aspects seriously, such that the fact that we brought them off with no violation of our primary, show-based enjoyment of them was sufficient reward for play.And yes, the key issue from a larger perspective is that this payoff is insufficient, for me. It palls; two episodes of recognizing that this "don't violate the show, do colorful stuff" process is possible is plenty. The GM felt the same way and went into a more Force-heavy approach (the only approach that to him would yield "story"), and the whole thing took on the sameness of many such games. Yes, things "held together" and our characters "came together and teamed up," and the story ended with the telepath becoming immensely strong and going off to become something important, elsewhere. However, the story only became a story insofar as A led to B; it was a tapestry, but not much else. I can't even recall what we teamed up against.If we had, on the other hand, gone into a mode in which all of us were issues-oriented, and focused on developing other angles onto the thematic content of the show which mattered to us (and in fact, the show was extremely strong by the 4th season), then I think we would have been astonished. Such a mode might be muted and slow and subtle, or it might have been a slam-bang conflict-conflict approach - doesn't matter. But no such modality occurred.
Quote from: Ron Edwards on November 15, 2011, 02:18:48 PMIt also happens that I'm re-watching Babylon 5 at this very time, seeing it again for the first time since it aired in the mid-1990s, and I'm all geeked about it. So any questions about this game we played, or about any aspects of that show as it might relate to role-playing, are especially welcome.
QuoteOr, rather, if we're being Narrativist, an endeavor to achieve that level of transofmration, with it's specific identity to be determined by play. That sounds fucking great.
QuoteMake Your Own Part All heroes are extraordinary and destined for some fame in the world of Glorantha. This is guaranteed, since they are individually guided by a higher power: you, the player. Your heroes will have the chance to be involved in the great events of the Hero Wars, such as [several colorful examples - RE]. Such events are not only for the super-powerful; they require the participation of your hero at whatever level of power he has achieved.
QuoteDrama Drama in Glorantha often comes from the conflict between what is and what ought to be. Living up to expectations of cult behavior, for instance, is meant to be difficult and limiting. After all, religious requirements are not human ideals. [Wow! Talk about an Egri Premise! - RE] The intensity of the plot comes from the hero trying to fulfil these expectations while living with the everyday temptations and complications of life: a cow is missing, some of your clan died in a raid, your children are ominously ill, or neighbors are poaching the hunting lands. Add to this the imperative of the Hero Wars, where some things will happen no matter what the heroes do, and the heroes have to make difficult choices about what to do and who [sic] to aid.
QuoteI do wonder about the impact of a shift in types of situations on characters, though. Staying relevant in a new context would be a challenge all its own (maybe one not worth it? just make a new character?), unless the changing setting and changing characters were inter-related in just the right way.
Quote... if I were to have to choose between setting-centric (i.e. setting-breaking) and character-centric (i.e. character-breaking) given the use of the underbelly technique, the latter is the only viable option.
Quoteall of the attention paid to creating a specific look and feel for that game character creation itself, with all of its 'aesthetic commitment,' with the follow-up 'new, more detailed handouts' about setting, which incorporates lots of player input and the chargen.pre-planned revelations down the road, with their exact timing to be determined by the game.
QuoteLoads of the same prep methods can be used in one or the other, without tipping off whether or not you're in either Story Now or Story Before mode.
QuoteFive or six years ago, I sketched a diagram of the games produced by the independent, Forge-centered design community up to that point.I have not made it available on the internet until now because I know it will be read badly by a lot of people. It's based only on certain variables that interested me, and yet I'm sure people will read it as being about every imaginable aspect of every game, toward the end of producing some kind of definitive taxonomy, which it is not. Also, the arrows don't necessarily mean direct inspiration or experience with the earlier games, and I'm sure some author or another will say "But I never played game X!" as an intended refutation of their game being at the end of an arrow from game X.But Moreno has asked for it, and it seems to me that the Italian GCG discussion community is pretty rational, so you can find it here (direct PDF link). Please be careful to read the notes as well. If someone wants to translate it into Italian, please feel free. I ask that you do not post all over the blogs and other discussion pages with links to it. I don't want this to be some huge secret, but I'd like the discussion to be centered here. I also have an ulterior motive for talking about it at GCG in particular, as I'll make clear in a moment.The rest of my points assume that you've looked at the document. I can't over-emphasize that the branches that I've drawn are very limited and do not create separatist categories for game design. Lots of design variables "jump" around the branches: e.g. Dust Devils narration-rules are Pool-inspired and then hop back into the Primetime Adventures narration rules; Polaris demonics and much other content are Sorcerer-inspired. My Life with Master's fictional content is definitely not typical of the right-hand branch, but its turn structure and endgame are very strong components of that side (stemming from Soap and Extreme Vengeance), both of which feature heavily in games branching from it as well. It might be considered its own full branch growing from both sides of the games under the dotted line (drawing on Sorcerer for its left-hand side), but the games derived from it do belong on the right, I think. That point leads into a related one: that as a strictly historical document, it's not intended to become a categorization tool for further work; nothing dictates that the historical associations need to be preserved.As I see it, the diagram's value lies in capturing at least some of the relationships and diversity among the independent games of the Forge's most productive era, right at the moment when a surge of newcomers arrived and perceived the games more-or-less as a unit. Until that point, people did not really think in terms of "Forge games," and the games in the diagram reflect that: some of them were made entirely outside of the Forge, then revised upon contact with it (e.g. The Riddle of Steel, The Burning Wheel, Orbit). Others were designed privately after much contact with Forge discussion (The Pool, My Life with Master, Trollbabe, Polaris) and still others were designed through intensive discussion at the Forge itself (Dust Devils, Legends of Alyria, Universalis). The Iron Game Chef was not yet generating literally dozens upon dozens of designs in a short period. Perhaps most significantly, the discussion community had not yet become the primary marketing community yet, as it quickly did in 2006-2007.I did revise the diagram in 2009 or so, adding games to see what had happened to the categories, but I have apparently lost that file. As I remember, the left-hand side saw a lot of additions to existing boxes and the right-hand side developed a more sophisticated and interesting set of branches, but more importantly, so many games had appeared by then which drew upon the available techniques across the whole diagram (in my case, Spione), that there wasn't much point in trying to preserve the structure after the 2006 mark.As Moreno mentioned and as my first post to GCG expresses, I think the Italian indie/new-wave discussion community would benefit from more familiarity with many of the games, especially in this historical context.Specifically, the games that I think would matter most include Orkworld, The Riddle of Steel, Hero Wars (or probably later version, HeroQuest), as well as the literally criminal omissions of Matt Snyder's games, Dust Devils and Nine Worlds. I regret that Violence Future isn't available, to my knowledge. Certainly The Pool (for which I hope my recent essay is helpful essay), Universalis obviously, and perhaps Fastlane.Now for why I am saying any of this. What exactly do I perceive as possibly missing for the Italian community represented in this forum? As many of you know, I am not famous for tact. So I will say it in the way that I think it. My question is, are Italian role-players wimps, or in cruder English terms, pussies? My answer is, "Maybe, yes!" - but let me clarify. I certainly do not think this is due to personal inclination or to a limitation in creative ambition or ability. I think it's a matter of understanding the available tools at a visceral, emotional level. I will try to explain.When we were developing the games just over the dotted lines in the diagrams, we did not think in terms of perfect, pure, or packaged items which would provide a neat and well-molded product of play. We were thinking in terms of personal rebellion and making a given system that could be pushed as far as it could in the service of a given emotional need during play. In fact, pushed past the fictional applications of which we, the designers, were currently capable ourselves.Therefore a game was like a door, or as I like to say, a set of musical instruments. If I designed X, just how far could it be employed? If I invent the electric guitar, that's not because I am Jimi Hendrix. Jimi Hendrix is another person, who showed what the electric guitar could do. The goal was to design in ways that might be discovered and developed into such explosive and inspiring experiences through others' play. I see that as very different from many of the so-called story games of today, in which the goal of play is to experience the designer's vision, as carefully packaged and explained for the user. I see them as Rock-and-Roll Hero toys - the music is already written and indeed, already performed.Specifically, the Italian community did not experience and develop the thematic savagery at the root of the left-hand branch, distilled into pure form in Sorcerer. By thematic savagery, I mean being willing to discover that your character is or isn't a good or successful character, and for that to have its own meaning. Effectively, to discover through play whether your intended or initially-conceived Batman is actually the Joker, or whether your very heroic and wonderful protagonist has instead, through play, become the dead or destroyed counter-example to the theme which emerged. It is clear to me that this desire and ability does exist among Italian players. That's why my compliments to the players at my Sorcerer game at INC were not empty. I was convinced that they were, in fact, able to play this game, even if they had only barely seen a little bit of what it could do at that session. I had seen that they were willing to find out. But I am not at all convinced that people in this community collectively realize that this kind of "breakout" play is even possible, or that games like Sorcerer (or Dogs in the Vineyard) exist primarily for this purpose.On the right-hand branch, this community did not experience and develop the freewheeling openness of Universalis and The Pool. If the creative freedom of Primetime Adventures seems outstandingly broad to you, for instance, then it's valuable to learn that it is actually a reduction and specification of the vastly wilder and wider freedom of those two games. After playing Universalis and The Pool a lot, playing Primetime Adventures allows channelling and shaping that same energetic freedom in productive ways - but if the first thing you encounter is Primetime Adventures, those forces may not have been "released" among you and your group, resulting in a much more imitative version of play, tamely reproducing the content of television shows instead of literally creating a new kind of television via playing the game. It's also valuable to realize that The Pool is not a game which permits the wild and free creation of back-story among every member of the play-group, whereas Universalis is, and I think it's essential to understand what creative freedom can produce within each game's very different constraints for this issueSo ... is it possible for someone who perceives 3:16 as a "story game" to access its potential for raw and vicious political satire? Is it possible to GM The Rustbelt without realizing that your role is to brutalize and destroy the player-characters, because their very survival is solely the players' responsibility? Is it possible to play Dogs in the Vineyard without realizing that its "mission" context is effectively a lie, and that these characters may turn out to be the very worst people in the story? I think it's possible for the occasional individual person or group to come upon these insights by chance or happy accident in terms of specific personalities.I apologize for any insulting or patronizing content of this post. As I say, I've presented it as it appears in my mind, and not as a public-relations project. I want to stress that I have in fact seen enormous potential among many of the groups and sessions that I've seen at INC '10 and '11, for exactly the things I'm talking about. My goal here is to show how that potential might find available tools, and I hope that you will find the diagram at least interesting.
QuoteSince my diagram is NOT based on direct influences from each designer's point of view, but instead based on particular variables which interested me personally, I want to present this as well: Jonathan Walton's tree of RPG influences using networking software, which IS based on designers' accounts of what influenced them.http://www-958.ibm.com/software/data/cognos/manyeyes/datasets/indie-roleplaying-game-design-influe-3/versions/5Use the "relationship" option to visualize the diagram, then you can play with it by moving "around in" the diagram. I think it's very illuminating as well.