Author Topic: setting and scene framing  (Read 5632 times)

Jared Burrell

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setting and scene framing
« on: December 13, 2013, 01:47:14 PM »
Hi!  First post.  I'm still learning The Big Model so I apologize if I'm treading old ground, but I'm here to learn, and want to apply it to my situation.

I've been working on a game on my off and on and have a decent system for creating characters and running combat.  That's all well and good, and the last campaign I ran I had an "oh shit!" moment when I realized that for all the work I did on a setting and a possible story and a sense of characters' motivations, I didn't really know how to move the game along.  And I've been running games for years, but... it had been a long break before this session, and I was rusty, and that impression that "wow, after all of that I still don't know where to start" was strong.

The other issue with that game was a lack of color in just about everything, the spell descriptions, the setting, the characters... it was all too gray for me.

So, this time around, I think I'll leave the combat mechanics and spell mechanics alone, and focus and having a vivid setting and some way to move from scene to scene in a meaningful, engaging, fulfilling way, whatever that really means.

I spent most of my day last Sunday doing research on world building.  I wanted to see what other people recommended.  There's nothing worse than the players not having a clear idea what kinds of things to expect in the world, how people would react to certain behaviors... a general sense of what it's like TO BE THERE. 

And the odd thing is that if you Google world building, or maybe not so odd, most of the advice people recommend has to do with cartography, if as having a map gives players a sense at all what the world feels like.  There was some good material out there, particularly on writers' sites, and that got me thinking.  I could write and write about my stupid little world all day, but would it mean anything once everyone is at the table actually playing the game?  The way I see it, there's three types or targets of world building: (1)  world building so that the author has a better sense of what the world is (2) world building so that a person reading about the world can imagine it when they're reading about it (3) world building so that the people at the table can more easily imagine a similar thing and be on the same page in that shared imaginary space.

So, for world building, for me, that's the real question.  With the aim of everyone at the table having a vivid image in their minds of the game world, what aspects of the world do I focus on, and what aspects am I safe to ignore?  What's the goal of this?  Player's expectations of consequences to actions?  A sense of wonder?  People patting me on the back for creating a rich and wonderful set of PDF's that no one actually reads?  How do I communicate this information to the players?  Talking?   Text?  Maps?  Illustrations?  Bribes?  When do I introduce the setting the players?  Before they create characters?  After?  How about during and as a function of the character building process itself?  How would I do that?

And it seems to me that the word "evocative" might be helpful.  It seems to me, just on a hunch, that I shouldn't have to descriptive every particle in the game world for people to have a sense what it looks like, what it feels like.  For instance, I've never read any of the Dresden Files books, but I picked up a copy of the Dresden Files RPG.  I read the first paragraph and already knew what the world is like:  exactly like ours, except magic is real, but sort of different, and us mortals are sort of bumbling along while some seriously odd shit is happening right under our noses.

And then there's scene framing.  Who cares if everyone at the table has the most wonderful shared vision of my imaginary world if no one knows what to do with it?  How can I make the process of scene framing deepen the players' feeling of the world?

This isn't a theoretical question.  In my last campaign I had all these great ideas about factions and what it's like to be a Mage who practices openly versus in secret, but the only way I knew how to get the game rolling sort of lead to a completely different tone for the adventure, and we ended up chasing down a mutant-spawning, mustache-twirling villain.  It was fun, but I wasn't able to get the players to engage the setting and choose their own goals and methods.  (Or maybe I'm a terrible Narrator.)  Plus there were a lot of stupid scenes, particularly regarding traveling, that had to be included for the sake of.... shit... is this an example of Simulationist By Habit?  Hmm, I bet it is.

There has to be a structure for that somewhere out there, but I don't know it.  A way to connect setting and situation and character so that they all enrich one another.  A way to build forward momentum to the shared narrative.

So I'm looking for advice here on games to check out and games to play, because it must be obvious that I live in a gaming bubble.  I'm also curious which questions I've asked have been answered on these forums, and which are still up in the air.  I'd like to know where it's my thinking that's leading my session to come up short.

I hope this is an interesting question and that you get a sense of what I’m looking for.  It’s hard to ask because, I’m not sure I’ll know what I’m looking for until I find it.  It’s just a sense of a beautiful game flowing with active participation from all of the players, tumbling forward like a great book, with no one really knowing what’s going to happen next, but somehow creating a coherent, exciting, and interesting story. 
Is this even possible?

I remember it feeling it in my earlier role playing experiences.  There was a sense of fun and adventure and possibility.  Maybe it was because I was a kid.  I don’t know.  We told stories, and it was fun.

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #1 on: December 13, 2013, 02:33:35 PM »
Hi, and welcome! First stop: have you seen my essay Setting and emergent stories? I think it's relevant and might help.

It so happens I'm also working up an essay critiquing the term "sandbox" which is sure to win me many friends and accolades, possibly groupies. Given your questions and points, it should be helpful too, or so I hope.

You may have figured this out already, but as I see it, no role-playing ever takes place in a setting, and the characters don't move around in one. Instead, all we ever see or experience in role-playing, is Situation. To make Situation work, you have to conceive of a setting for it to be in, but even the minimum works beautifully for that: one micron thick, or even abstractly, a couple of key concepts we associate with or pretend is "all about," above the scale of our Situation.

And that's all it has to be, if we are talking about minimal necessity. As I wrote in Sorcerer & Sword, the great sword-and-sorcery pulp fantasy authors actually were not setting-oriented world-builders, but each more or less inadvertently constructed one with the bricks of story by story invention - they needed cool places for their characters to be in, so story by story, you get a list of cool places and a vague sense of their orientation toward one another. Typically fans make the map, not the author (or if they do it's really crude like Howard's Hyborian Age), and typically the author writes a "setting summary" passage like the ones I quote in that supplement long after the stories have already become a saga. Another point is that few of these saga were written as such from the start, but rather get reassembled into one after the author finds that he or she likes writing about this character.

Is it possible to be more setting-first? Yes - but never never to the point of being more that a facilitator of Situation. Maybe a much more powerful and qualitatively different facilitator than my micron-thick description above, but only a facilitator. The essay I linked to is about how that's done. Let me know what you think of it.

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #2 on: December 15, 2013, 06:10:17 PM »
Hi Ron!  Thanks for responding to quickly.  I had a family event yesterday so here I am today getting back to you.

As it turns out I read "Setting And Emergent Stories" last week while I was at work, but I needed to reread it before responding since my work environment wasn't ideal for absorbing new information.

Thank you for clarifying the fact that the Situation is what all we ever experience at the table.  And it seems to me that, perhaps, moving from situation to situation is the essence of role playing, and setting, character, location, and system all have a role to play in that process.

For now, I’m going to imagine Setting as the deck in a game of cards, and Situation as the table that game is played on.  Setting represents everything that could possibly be on the table, and situation represents everything that actually is.

Generally, the procedures you describe in Part 2 section 2 sound great, but it’s all very abstract and up in the air.  Even with the example you gave from DeGenesis it’s hard to imagine doing it in another game.  It’s hard to know if the conflicts imbedded in how characters relate to the setting are actually going to be enough to get the game to tumble forward.

At a certain point it just seems that there’s no substitute for playing with people who are brimming with imagination, and being such a person yourself.

I suppose I could test my basic setting description by organizing sessions simply built around choosing a location and constructing character identities.  If I find that players are inspired then I’ll know my material is working.  Otherwise, I’ll know my material is not working.

Now, if the characters are made and their various connections to the setting are fleshed out, and players are having a hard time coming up with kickers, then I’ll know that my mechanics for connecting characters to setting aren’t working.

And if the characters have an easy time coming up with great kickers, but I’m having a hard time coming up with the first scene, I’ll know there is something not quite working with my scene framing mechanics.

And if I pull off the first scene but we have a hard time framing subsequent scenes, then I’ll know my rules-driven consequences for how resolved conflicts set up subsequent scenes are not working.

And while I’m looking for solutions to problems, would you say I could turn to HeroQuest/RuneQuest (particularly the Haunted Ruins supplement), Everway, and Trollbabe as games with mechanics that I could model for my own game on?

And regarding mechanics, let me ask:  does the ability to inspire the players and capture the imagination have to do with this?  Does some of it have to do with getting the players to consider specific questions, getting them to focus their imaginations on specific things?

And my last question has to do with theme.  Your definition:  “Theme:  the point, message, or key emotional conclusion perceived by an audience member about a fictional series of events.  The presence of a theme is the defining feature of Story as opposed to transcript.”

So is basically theme whatever makes a setting interesting and unique and with a vivid emotional flavor?













Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #3 on: December 20, 2013, 09:56:59 AM »
Hi! My apologies for delaying so long in getting to this. D&D discussions are a sucking vortex.

First, "moving from situation to situation" – absolutely yes. Add to it quanta or phases of change in a character, and you have the operative dynamics of play all laid out for you. All game mechanics are subroutines of these two phenomena.

Second, let's go ahead and try my DeGenesis method with any appropriate game of your choice. Pick one! We'll do it right here; I'll ask various questions and you'll answer.

Now I'm going to pull out a couple of your phrases and make some points about the underlying problem I think I see.

 
Quote
It’s hard to know if the conflicts imbedded in how characters relate to the setting are actually going to be enough to get the game to tumble forward.

…   If I find that players are inspired then I’ll know my material is working.  Otherwise, I’ll know my material is not working.

… does the ability to inspire the players and capture the imagination have to do with this?  Does some of it have to do with getting the players to consider specific questions, getting them to focus their imaginations on specific things?

But take a look at the text I bolded – do you see the problem? It is that you may be trapped in the transitive model of play-enjoyment: that the GM is full of enthusiasm and appreciation for the material, and he or she is faced with a group of cooperative, but basically infantile players. They need to be inspired. They need to be motivated. They need to be engaged (as targets of a transitive verb). They need a den daddy and creative leader. They …

… I'm getting disgusted, basically. How about turning this around? How about, from the get-go, assuming that the players are more motivated, more inspired, and more engaged than you are? How about even the idea that, in practice, they may know better what the potential of this setting material is?

Most of the points you made in the text I pulled those phrases from is fine in concept, but it's way too oriented toward "not working" and generally more about damage control than about doing anything. You seem to be seeing the non-inspired, non-engaged player as the default – why?

Quote
So is basically theme whatever makes a setting interesting and unique and with a vivid emotional flavor?

Nope. That's Color. Theme is an emergent feature which will and must be present insofar as fictional, character-relevant conflicts are brought to emotionally satisfying conclusions. You don't need to make it happen or "put in" a theme. In fact, the more you try, the more you interfere with its production.

Doing this one out of order:

Quote
And while I’m looking for solutions to problems, would you say I could turn to HeroQuest/RuneQuest (particularly the Haunted Ruins supplement), Everway, and Trollbabe as games with mechanics that I could model for my own game on?

You won't find relevant mechanics in the RuneQuest material. HeroQuest, sure, but it's not brought forward too well in the text, at least not in the version of the game I have. Maybe in the later ones. Everway, only in a mash-up way, and possibly misleadingly – the game is written too much from the perspective I criticized above, that players are basically thespians being moved about by a GM. Trollbabe, yes, but "setting" in Trollbabe is a micron-thick thing, which becomes built primarily through play in exactly the same way as Sorcerer & Sword (and Apocalypse World). It's not the kind of setting-punch you were asking about or discussed in my essay.

Furthermore, again, I think your search for mechanics is too much about a tool to "fix" players who "don't get it." We need to get away from that.

Tell me: what textual RPG setting really turns you on?

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #4 on: December 20, 2013, 07:43:27 PM »
You're right.  I'm imagining the wrong players.  I'm usually pretty self-aware, but not on this one.  Even though I said "At a certain point it just seems that there’s no substitute for playing with people who are brimming with imagination, and being such a person yourself" I didn't realize how much my assumption that I'd be dealing with only unimaginative players had permeated my thinking about game design.

Well done.  For the reminder of the thought experiment I'll imagine great players. 

Re: theme.  I was mistaken that Theme was supposed to be part in parcel in the setting, rather than emergent.  From my experience with music... I'll see my least favorite thing is when an artist is trying to hit you over the head with his or her meaning, rather than simply holding a mirror for you to look at, and letting you find meaning for yourself.

I love the Wheel of Time.  Is this a good example?

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #5 on: December 20, 2013, 11:24:15 PM »
I curse the fact that "theme" has more than one important meaning, one of which is its use in music, pretty much synonymous with "motif," and one of which is associated with narrative media and is routinely butchered by Mrs. McGillicuddy in primary education and hordes of graduate TAs in college Lit 101 courses. (No offense to anyone reading who has been such a TA. I forgive you, mostly.)

So, World of Time, using the D20 game, right? Sure. In 100 words or less, can you describe why the setting qualifies? Don't sell me on it, or try to convince me of anything. I believe you, so consider me a sympathetic listener. Furthermore, let's take it as given that as a setting, it's consistent, complete, fleshed-out, internally justified, and all that other 'whatever' the world-builders seem to care about. I'm interested in how it's an exciting setting.




Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #6 on: December 23, 2013, 09:07:54 AM »
I only know the settings from the novels, not the game, and assuming I know what you mean by "qualifies", here goes:

The Innkeeper’s a Darkfriend, or an informer for the Children of the Light, or both.  Those rats are spies too.  And you're lucky while traveling down the road if you don't get impressed into the Seachan Army, or ambushed by Shiel scouts. 

If you're a male channeler, you're screwed, because the taint is going to drive your insane if the Red Aes Sedai don't get you first.

If you’re a wolf-kin, Slayer will kill you.  If you’re an Ogier everyone will try to use you.

And Trollocs, and grey man, and Myddraal.

And if you see Forsaken, just run.

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #7 on: December 23, 2013, 02:55:17 PM »
Hi Jared,

"Fudge"  (if you've seen A Christmas Story), I was hoping for a bona fide RPG setting ... oh well, let's not back-track and let's pretend we both have the D20 game in front of us. What really matters on your side of the screen is that you have a geographical and cultural context for the stuff you wrote about.

So ... here I am, reading your summary, and I say, "Cool! I want to play a guy dealing with this stuff." Because what I see is the notion that every designated side in the setting's conflicts carries costs which I might not want to bear, and that danger looms everywhere. So there's too much badness around to go it alone, and yet "belonging" to a group is a whole world of problems.

Assuming that when I make that statement, you say, "Yeah, you got it!", the next step is for you to designate a spot on the map where our first scenes will occur. Tell me where (use a link to an image if you can), tell me about what sort of people live there and who else would conceivably be there - races, professionals, named groups, and similar. When I say "conceivably" though, I do not mean "could" at the very stretchiest limits of possibility, but rather very reliably and likely to be there.

What I'm looking for is a distinctive and preferably significantly limited subset of all the character diversity the whole setting has to offer.

Also, in that spot, what sort of threatening circumstances are evident, if any? I don't mean to the knowledgeable reader with a big setting overview, but from the point of view of the characters who are there.

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2013, 02:15:40 PM »
Maps:  http://wot.wikia.com/wiki/Ebou_Dar?file=Edoudarmap.png

http://wot.wikia.com/wiki/Ebou_Dar?file=Ebou_Dar_Altara.png

I'll be quoting from the Wheel of Time wiki here and there.

"Ebou Dar is the capital city of Altara, located on the southern coast, straddling the River Eldar. The city is built around a large bay, with the river dividing it in two. One side contains the palaces, homes, and shops of the upper and middle classes, the other, known as the Rahad, is home of the lower classes in the Ebou Dar society."

"The streets in the Rahad are often narrow alleys, with buildings standing as high as five or six stories above the ground. The streets are filled with the refuse of the inhabitants. The Rahad is no doubt a very dangerous place. Not only are duels very frequent, some adversaries do not even bother with the formalities and simply stab their victims in the back."

Recently the Seachan (not to be confused with 4chan) have conquered the city, almost without a fight.  They are using the city as a base of operations to push into the interior and to the east.  The local nobles have officially sworn fealty to the Seanchan, and begun handing over Aes Sedai to be made into Damane (slave channelers.)  Some nobles are secretly plotting against the Seanchan, but are far to weak to move openly.

The Kin "is a group of female channelers who help runaways from the White Tower."  Although not very strong in use of the One Power they are very long lived, nominally allied to the ideals of the White Tower, and adept at conducting their affairs secretly.  "The thirteen oldest members in Ebou Dar comprise the Knitting Circle and are the ruling body of the Kin."

Aes Sedai:  Despite the Seanchan occupation there are still Aes Sedai in Ebou Dar.  They must, however, keep their identities secret or risk being enslaved.  Aes Sedai are very interested in restoring some kind of relationship with The Kin.

Darkfriends: The high Lady Suroth, in charge of Seanchan forces in Ebou Dar, is in fact a Darkfriend, taking order from the Forsaken  Semirhage.  Many well-placed Seanchan nobles and military figures are also themselves Seanchan.

Hunters of the Horn:  Wherever there is danger or intrigue, there will be Hunters of the Horn stirring up trouble.  Although nominally committed to founding the lost Horn of Valerie (which ironically has already been found) their mostly committed to drinking and fighting in taverns.

Ashaman:  Rand al'thor's Ashaman can Travel anywhere they please.  With trouble brewing, they can be expected to be found in Ebou Dar on Rand's orders, or, for that matter, Mazrim Taim's orders, himself, a Darkfriend.

Riff raff:  The Rahad is swarming with lowlife of every conceivable variety:  brawlers, fighters, assassins, hit-men and petty hoods.  Crooks, thieves, robbers, drunks, drinkers, and booze hounds. 

Professions:  Merchants, sailors, dock workers, smugglers, Seanchan nobility, Ebou Dari nobility, solddiers, trademen, Aes Sedai, herbal healers, criminals of every stripe.

Long Term Threats:  Anyone who can channel risks being enslaved by the Seanchan.  The Seanchan are looking north towards Altara, hoping to extend their reach.  They are eagerly buying up all war material and foodstuffs, which, though good for trade, is empoverishing the lower classes, who are forced to enlist to feed their families.  The only thing in their way are the forces of Rand al'Thor, which can be summoned anywhere in the world via the making of Gateways.  Sometimes crossfires between Rand al'Thor and the Seanchan happen within the city walls.  Within the Seanchan hierarchy there is a constant vigilance against Darkfriends, but it appears the Dark Lord has successfully co-opted their leadership.  An entire war of intrigue is being waged as honest Seanchan attempt to root out the Dark Friends in their midst.  The lower classes so far are happy to see their former rulers deposed, but this peace may not last when the Seanchan begin impressing their populace into service.  The local merchants were initially displeased at the destruction of their shipping, but the Seanchan bring order to the entire West Coast, as well as many mouths to feed, so trade looks good as long as Ebou Dar remains free of the fighting, although the new taxes and tariffs can be suffocating.  Since the Seanchan outlawed Aes Sedai, there is now a thriving trade in smuggling channelers out of (and sometimes into) the city, as well as in immense black market was iron, cloth, lacquer and other implements are war.  As always, the Dark Lord seems able to send his spies and assassins anywhere he pleases.  Beware of gray men, Gholam, Draghkar lurking in the hidden dark areas of the the Rahad, or his palace chambers, for that matter.

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2013, 05:38:11 PM »
OK! I wanna play a riffraff person. Who ... um, can Channel, but is also socially pretty prominent in riffraff terms, a power player among the refuse-ridden, dagger-in-the-dark economy of the Rahad. So he is perfectly OK with the new rulership, as long as they don't enslave him - might even have the clout to make himself useful without being enslaved.

Can I do that? Does this sound like a fun person to play? What am I missing or not understanding - the character concept is currently open enough in my mind that I can tweak it any which way to fit better.

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2013, 06:16:22 PM »
It's critical to know if the character is male or female.  The male half of the Power has been tainted by the Dark One, but has recently been cleaned.  If your character has been channeling since before the cleansing of saidin, he may be partially insane in some way, and his madness may have taken on a life of it's own, or he may be feel.  If he began channeling since the cleansing, he's not that experienced, and might run the kill of himself when he channels.  Either way, the stigma against male channelers remains, and those who are not in the employ of Rand al'Thor are usually considered public enemy #1 - death on sight, that kind of thing.

Also, did he learn to channel on his own, or was he taught?  If he learned on his own his growth would be somewhat stunted and his use of the Power somewhat crude.  If he was taught, it was most likely at the Black Tower, where Rand al'Thor's Ashaman are trained.  Your character could possibly be a runaway Ashaman, or an Ashaman agent sent back to his native city.  If he was taught by anyone else, it was most likely a Forsaken, who work directly for the Dark Lord, and that would complicate your character's life a lot.  Of course, many of the Forsaken have been wiped out by al'Thor, so possibly your former master is no longer alive.

A character like this would be a lot of fun to play, since he'd be able to play just about every side against the other;  Light against Dark, Seanchan versus Westlanders, Aes Sedai versus Ashaman, high class versus low class.

The question is, what does your character stand for or believe in?  Is he willing to sell everything that's not tied down, or does he believe in something?

OK... what questions should I be asking you to help the character creation process?

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2013, 11:37:36 PM »
I like the idea that the Rahad isn't actually under anyone's true control. So if my guy is a real power-player in the underworld there, then even being a recent Channeler means he (male) isn't going to be easily nabbed by anyone who thinks they can. He might even keep the ability very secret and use it as little as possible. I don't see him as trained or as an agent of anyone. I mean, you say, "public enemy #1," but this is the Rahad - bring it on, asshole, these alleys are ours. Send your little "agents" in if you dare.

We need to process what I did just there. Your post acknowledges that I have found a "crux point" in the power structure of the city you've described, a situation/location which does not immediately lend itself to instant domination by any of the canonical power players. I've responded to that acknowledgment by turning up the challenge for those power players.

Quote
The question is, what does your character stand for or believe in?  Is he willing to sell everything that's not tied down, or does he believe in something?

Exactly. And it's crucial that character creation does not answer that question. If I did, then there'd be no point to playing the character.

The character is conceived from the conflicts of the setting. That's why this setting is more to us than merely a "skin" for exercising the various combat and magic subroutines of the system.

What do you think it would be like to be sitting with four or five other people, all of whom just did what I did with your brief summary of the immediate setting, in different ways?

Is this different from your previous experiences in role-playing, or similar?

Also, note that I worked with absolutely nothing except what you gave me. I didn't click on the links (yet). I haven't read the books (well, I read the first hundred pages of the first book, once). And yet, without knowing the setting, I'm honoring the setting as you see it, in how I built the character.

That's why setting-centric play is only infrequently done well. It has nothing to do with educating me about the scope and details of the whole setting. It has everything to do with outlining the crisis and power-tensions as they are manifested in a single spot. If we do that, then you can bet that I will in fact, later, click those links and become a student of the setting myself, session by session, without any need for you to be the mentor or contact point for it. And yet, it does have everything to do with liking what the setting has to offer us in terms of conditions at that single spot, and therefore is unique to that setting.

Let me know where you stand with these ideas. We'll talk about systemic effects and issues after that.

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #12 on: December 29, 2013, 10:35:50 AM »
I see what you did there.  But what if a player chooses the least conflict-prone character imaginable within the setting?  How can I make that exciting?  Is that what the question "Does this sound like a fun character to play" is for?  Or is this an example of me assuming the worst of players?

I feel encouraged that you were able to come up with an exciting character idea.  (Also, one that fits into the Wheel of Time world but that doesn't have a parallel character in the Wheel of Time.)

A "crux point" might be defined as place where the scales have so far not tipped decisively in one faction's favor, correct?  In this the only type of exciting setting situation to set up?  What other types of interesting setting situations can be set up?  How explicitly do I spell it out that such a place is interesting?  Do I write "THIS IS A CRUX POINT.  PLAY HERE!"

Ron:  "Exactly. And it's crucial that character creation does not answer that question. If I did, then there'd be no point to playing the character."  When you say this, does it imply that in a situation-rich setting character beliefs are in fact an inhibitor to enjoyable play?


If I had 4 or 5 players who came up with characters in this location, just as you did, I would feel overwhelmed but also excited.  There would be a lot of POTENTIAL for conflict-driven play, but I would have concerns.  There would have to be connections between players, a host of NPC's to flesh out, and therefore a need for systematic way to make sure I had all the NPC's required; I'd need a way to run scenes that didn't include all of the players without the excluded players getting bored; we'd need a social contract in place that firmly stated that it was perfectly OK to try to murder other players if they got in your way, but I'd also need other ways of heightening tension so that player-on-player conflict wasn't the only likely way that tension was expressed, if only to make it all the more interesting when player-on-player conflict did arise.  Lastly, I'd have no idea what the very first scene might be.

How is this different from my prior experiences of role-playing?

1.  Although characters were created to fit a setting, their sources of conflict did not always mirror the sources of conflict in the setting itself.  The sources of conflict might have been highly personal and unique to the individual.

2.  Even though every character may have had some sort of background story, it wasn't authored to serve as a source of potential conflict.  (Except my last game, but that was party-by-committee, see below.)

3.  Even though every character was ostensibly unique, there was usually some kind of reason why they were working on the same team.  This tended to seriously detract from the notion that each character was a unique individual capable of going his or her own way whenever it suited their purposes.  Thus, everyone always had to have a lame reason why they stayed with the group, often contradicting the personality suggested by the character's back story.  I eventually half-solved this problem by essentially creating the party as a overall character, created by the committee of players.  Everyone had input, and you had party sources of conflict by committee.  Ultimately the individuality of the characters was lost.

4.  There was always a lame reason why everyone would be in almost every scene together, again, detracting from a player's sense of control over their character, and the overall sense of believability/immersion/color, what-have-you.


Ron, can you define "crisis" and "power tensions" for me as I were 6 years old?

From what you wrote, it sounds almost as if 3 pages of overall setting information, 2 pages for factions, and 1 page for each location might be enough to get a game going, as long as everything was written to highlight potential sources of conflict.  Correct?

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #13 on: December 29, 2013, 11:49:07 PM »
Hi Jared! I hope you don't mind if I have some fun with you. Ordinarily I avoid slicing out bits of posts to respond to, but in this case I'm lapsing into temptation. Let me know what does or doesn't make sense.

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But what if a player chooses the least conflict-prone character imaginable within the setting?  How can I make that exciting?

What if a player sits there and says and does nothing? ?What if a player says and does so little that his brain flatlines and he dies, or he turns into a statue that will be hard to conceal or to epxlain? What if a player pours a bucket of poop on my head? What if a player undergoes a psychotic break and runs screaming naked down the street? What if a player turns into Chernabog and eats my house?

Jared, knock it off! You will not and cannot ever, ever make something exciting. Write that on tape and stick it on your mirror. You are in the same boat as everyone else at the table: to provide imagined material which does excite you, and to riff off what others provide that happens to excite you. I'm going to talk a bit more later in this post about this weird perceived need of yours to "excite the players."

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Is that what the question "Does this sound like a fun character to play" is for?  Or is this an example of me assuming the worst of players?

Both, as I hope to have just demonstrated. Nothing stops you, during character creation, from saying right into your friend's face, "That character is boring as fuck, start over." If he or she says, "Yeah! Good point, let me see ..." then great. If he or she sulks and mutters, then don't invite them to play after all. Seriously.

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If I had 4 or 5 players who came up with characters in this location, just as you did, I would feel overwhelmed but also excited.  (huge ton of bugaboos snipped) Lastly, I'd have no idea what the very first scene might be.

We aren't there yet. You're trying to do all the steps I outlined in the essay at once. Check out that diagram, and you'll see we're not even out of #2, on page 7. All these questions are merely piled-up fears about the later steps, especially all that guff about player-vs.player. Let's finish this one first, mainly by examining the bullet points under #2.

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3.  Even though every character was ostensibly unique, there was usually some kind of reason why they were working on the same team.  This tended to seriously detract from the notion that each character was a unique individual capable of going his or her own way whenever it suited their purposes.  Thus, everyone always had to have a lame reason why they stayed with the group, often contradicting the personality suggested by the character's back story.  I eventually half-solved this problem by essentially creating the party as a overall character, created by the committee of players.  Everyone had input, and you had party sources of conflict by committee.  Ultimately the individuality of the characters was lost.

4.  There was always a lame reason why everyone would be in almost every scene together, again, detracting from a player's sense of control over their character, and the overall sense of believability/immersion/color, what-have-you.

You're good with me interpreting this as all bad, right? I count at least four explicit value judgments which say, to me at least, that "must have a reason to be a team" has consistently produced a toxic outcome on every other aspect of the very idea of "playing my character." And the same goes for the feverish need to make sure that everyone is always right there in the imagined moment.

Would you try putting aside your fears of what happens if you don't do those things in favor of saying that you don't want any of the "lame" or "half" or "detract" that you described in the quoted text? If what happens when you don't enforce The Team and Everyone Here is "bad," then I say, "Really? As bad as what happens when you do?"

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Ron, can you define "crisis" and "power tensions" for me as I were 6 years old?

"Crisis" = in the setting, people are being hurt, killed, made miserable, and suffering in any way you think is bad. If you are playing a character in this setting, then this suffering is readily apparent to you - regardless of how the character is personally oriented towards it.

"Power tensions" = powerful individuals, cabals of such individuals, named groups of many allied individuals, and less-self-aware but deeply-felt groups (ethnicities e.g.) are all taking direct action to exert control, or more control, over the immediate situation. If cross-group alliances are involved, then they have weak points. If cross-group hostilities are involved, then they have unexpected opportunities for joint effort. Therefore a given group not only has a goal, it has a policy problem.

Your description of the setting met these criteria without breaking a sweat. Don't feel that you need to outline what I just said in point-by-point detail. If you write it the way you wrote it above, then the reader taps into these things without you trying harder.

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From what you wrote, it sounds almost as if 3 pages of overall setting information, 2 pages for factions, and 1 page for each location might be enough to get a game going, as long as everything was written to highlight potential sources of conflict.  Correct?

Yeah!

Best, Ron
edited to fix a quote format - RE
« Last Edit: December 30, 2013, 08:48:50 AM by Ron Edwards »

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #14 on: December 30, 2013, 08:53:50 AM »
A couple of minor clarifications:

When I talk about "#2," and its bullet points, I'm talking about my essay. That got a little confusing as your numbered points are included in what I quoted.

In your final question, you mention "one page per location," and I would alter that to mean "one page for the location," if we're talking about preparing an actual game with real people. It's most effective simply to nail that down for a game of this kind.

Overall, I'm treating this part of the conversation as less about your game design & text, and more about an imagined setup for real play, this Wheel of Time thing. I think the game design discussion needs to be held aside for a while.

Best, Ron