Author Topic: setting and scene framing  (Read 5182 times)

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #15 on: December 30, 2013, 11:31:43 AM »
My answers to "how is this different from your previous experiences of role playing" were provided as a way to show that I'm ready to give up on The Team and Everyone Here.  If I've provided enough information to do this step satisfactorily, then that is great news.  I'm always concerned with meeting the other players halfway, and if what I've provided is in your experience enough for a good player to riff off, great.  I'll let that be my standard and henceforth judge players accordingly.  I suppose the discussion of finding and evaluating players would be a good topic for another thread, if there isn't one already.

Before we get to the next step, would you say that character beliefs are a detriment to a situation rich setting such as we are discussing?








Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #16 on: December 30, 2013, 12:23:14 PM »
Hi Jared,

It depends on the game, because character beliefs are a system/mechanics issue. What that term means in Burning Empires is radically different from what it means in GURPS. So we should wait to discuss that too.

For now, let's go to my #3 in the essay - especially the part that says "this is where the action is." Never mind the player-characters at the moment, and consider what individuals and groups excite you right now. Given the situation in the city at this moment, what individuals or groups strike you as being closest to the boiling point, the most likely to be proactive right now?

Then we go on to #4, which is very similar and doesn't really have to be distinct. In this case, consider the characters and most importantly, the "cloud" of NPCs which each player-character necessarily includes. There is no such thing as "the wandering adventurer" or "loner" in this kind of play. The character I briefly described above easily brings six or seven NPC concepts necessarily into play simply by existing, which I'm sure you'll see at a glance. And that's without deliberately provocative NPCs mixed in there, like his pregnant sister or whatever. Never mind those - I mean simply those NPCs who are have to be involved by this guy's very presence. Let's say it's character creation time, or perhaps the next time we get together, and I say, "Hey GM, give me an idea of the people this guy has to deal with all the time," and you take the lead in helping get this little cloud or stable together.

Then multiply that by every other player. Let's say four players - that's easily 20 NPCs, right there. If some of them are obviously the same people across the player-characters, then sure, make them the same. No need to force that or drive toward it; you will be astonished at how obviously and easily such characters in the same or same-ish locations will tap into the existing power-tensions in different ways.

Look over it all ... now, which powerful groups or individuals just got a burr stuck up their asses simply because this group of PCs and their associated NPCs exist?

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #17 on: December 30, 2013, 02:52:56 PM »
What kind of illegal activities is your character involved in?  What kind of wheeling and dealing does he do?

Right now there's a thriving black market because the Seanchan army requisitions everything it needs, plus something like an underground railroad for aes sedai and Channelers of all stripes who are trying to get out of the city.  I suppose there is also prostitution and gambling, though I don't think these are actually illegal, so much as sketchy.  I suppose the Seanchan might try imposing new tariffs on them however.

So, how does your character fit into all of this?  Is he a kingpin who decides who decides which sub factions get control of which part of the trade or is he a look-out on the docks, or somewhere in between?

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #18 on: December 30, 2013, 03:10:08 PM »
OK ... so, the character is a recently-developed Channeller, male, but as conceived at this instant doesn't give a shit about other Channellers or issues pertaining to them. Which is to say, doesn't run his life or business with that issue at stake. So, the whole underground railroad thing is not his priority. (Again, we are talking about the character as conceived, or rather, his view of himself, at the outset of play - I am not talking about creative-contract issues regarding future play.) What I mean is that his crime, business, whatever, is standard stuff: prostitution that flies under the tariffs, a hell of a lot of black market management for ordinary goods. He's high enough in the pecking order that people talk about "his" business, but low enough that he has to come along and deliver the threats or make the immediate policy decisions - not like he has a whole hierarchy of lieutenants or anything. Also, I don't see this as an immensely organized mafia anyway, so there are probably a lot of people like him and not so many Big Boss, tentacles in everything types. He likes making as much money as possible and enjoying as many of the perks as possible, but not about "expanding territory" or "honoring the family" or any such thing. I don't want to slide into Godfather tropes.

Some associated NPC ideas include his toughest bad-ass associate, his "accountant" or rather the person who he puts his money with mostly, the almost-retired madam (a friend) whose business he's indirectly taken over, a couple of slatternly but perhaps interesting women who romance him, and a similar minor-crime-organizer in another part of the Rahad with whom he regularly does business with, but sort of has to keep an eye on him too.

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #19 on: December 30, 2013, 03:27:02 PM »
Can your character Travel, aka open Gateways to other cities?  That would make a significant difference in how he operates his business.

May I also suggest a river boat captain he does business with who brings news from beyond the borders of town, some ocean going Sea Folk who specialize in trinkets from distant shores, and an underpaid Seanchan official whom he regularly bribes and also gets a little information about Seanchan activities?

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #20 on: December 30, 2013, 03:54:52 PM »
Let's see... How can I Wheel of Timeify your npcs....

Perhaps your toughest badass associate is a former Hunter of the Horn, who wandered into town a few years ago and has been working for you ever since she saved your skin in one particularly trying bar fight.  She's actually a sword master, and her sword scabbard carries the mark of the heron as a warning to anyone who might think she's easy pickings.  Also capable of drinking just about anyone under the table, and happy to demonstrate.

Perhaps your semi retired Madam friend is actually far, far older than you realize, and is a member of the Kin, and ran away from the White Tower about 200 years ago.  She changes professions every 40 years or so to conceal her age, and her most recent venture, the brothel, doubles as a way to be on the lookout for young girls who may have recently run away from or were kicked out of the White Tower.  Perhaps this is why she is only in semi retirement, because she manages the part of the business that identities White Tower runaways.

Perhaps your accountant is an Ogier - a race known for their trustworthiness and impartiality - and keeps his counting house in the swanky part of town.  Because Ogier are so highly esteemed and trusted, the Seanchan are especially hands off with him - all the more better for parking illegal money.  Just beware visiting on festivals days - once he gets talking he doesn't stop.

Perhaps your business partner has a great connection for Saldean ice peppers, and you've never quite figured out his source.  He also seems to be the first person with news from the borderlands.  Perhaps he is from Malkieri, a Borderland country in the far north that was swallowed up by the Dark Ones Blight.  You're convinced that there's more than meets the eye with this one, but as long as the ice peppers keep flowing, what is a man to do?


Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #21 on: December 30, 2013, 04:02:20 PM »
Hey, you're the GM. Yes, yes, and yes, sure - as you see fit. As a GM who does this a lot, I think you may be loading the NPC stable with a hell of a lot of muscle, maybe not enough with ordinary people, but that's up to you. And the point here is to develop awareness of the task, not to quibble over personal style.

Do consider that we're hypothesizing three other player-characters, each situated in the local politics and economy in an equally interesting way, each surrounded by a comparably interesting stable of associated NPCs.

I don't think the character can Travel - or at least not yet.

So - to follow up on the point of doing all these NPCs, and quoting myself:

Quote
... which powerful groups or individuals just got a burr stuck up their asses simply because this group of PCs and their associated NPCs exist?

Best, Ron

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #22 on: January 01, 2014, 01:47:18 PM »
Proactive Groups:

The Seanchan and al'Thor's forces are preparing for war against each each other.  Expect the Seanchan to tighten security coming in and out of town, increase the numbers of troops garrisoned in the city, impress/draft more soldiers and sailors, and purchase/requisition vast amounts of supplies.  Expect the Ashaman to send agents into the city and try to make inroads with the locals, trying to gather information on Seanchan forces and war plans.  Such information could be gleaned simply from war material orders, counting ships in the harbor, and stories about impressment, etc.  Expect Ashaman agents and their spies to be pulling out all the stops, calling in all their favors, and being much more bold in trying to gather information at this time.

Groups that feel threatened by you simply for existing:

The Red Ajah will try to capture you and Still you (remove your ability to channel) if they discover you are a male channeler, and Aes Sedai are everywhere, even with the Seanchan in control.

The Seanchan will kill a male channeler on sight if they are aware of one's existence.  (The consider all male channelers to to servants of the Dark Lord.)  The Seanchan might have a special group for this but I forget.

The military arm of the Seanchan is going to redouble its efforts to disrupt the black market that is preventing supplies from reaching armies in the field, and is perfectly happy to hang criminals who are caught with illegal goods.  Of course, the Seanchan is too large a faction for the left hand to always knows what the right hand is doing.

Rival black market profiteers may choose to eliminate you if they can't do business with you. 

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #23 on: January 01, 2014, 05:37:54 PM »
Additionally, the Seanchan would be eager to collar any members of the Kin should their channeling abilities be discovered, so your friend/mentor/business partner is in a dicey situation there.  Also, your bodyguard/badass business associate is exactly the type of person that the Seanchan are interested in drafting if they could find some minor infraction excusable only through conscription.

Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #24 on: January 02, 2014, 10:27:58 AM »
H'mmmm.  I was all ready to move on to prepping the first session, but my antennae are tingling a little bit. I think I have to put a stop to something you're doing which I hadn't anticipated.

Basically, dial back the excellence and significance of all those NPCs we're talking about. You have practically created the cast of the Serenity surrounding my character, full of this-and-that sparkly excitement. I can already see Gina Torres playing the warrior woman. Instead, think normal. They should be normal. These are characters my character dominates or at the very least relates to as a respected equal; they are less powerful than he is, they are reliably useful to him.

I'm saying this and contradicting my earlier post because I am wary that you're jumping ahead again. I really like what you wrote about the different groups, but - perhaps - now instead of looking at my character, you're looking at your NPC team of protagonists which just blossomed in your head. I could be wrong! But for purposes of this discussion, I don't want to take the chance, as it will scuttle the whole point if I'm right.

Maybe ... imagine that there are three other player-characters much like mine. When you look across the four of "us," each has several NPCs associated with him or her - but none of those NPCs is as vivid or full of setting-specific action as the PCs themselves. The NPCs are satellites; they fit in the setting's social blocs rather than stressing them as my PC does.

(It is possible for a player to make up a gung-ho, motivated, loyal, and completely on-message player-character, relative to one of the power groups. That is OK. Bear with me until we get to prepping play.)

Thoughts on this? If it seems OK without much stress (even if my fears are ungrounded), then we can move into prepping play, which is what I really want to do.

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #25 on: January 02, 2014, 09:15:21 PM »
I see your point.  Time to downgrade these characters a little bit:

Your semi-retired madam friend lives in the finest building on her street, which is to say a dilapidated three-story pile of nearly rubble.  She shares it with 9 cats, and drools when she talks.  Her breath, on a good day, is indistinguishable from the local fish market; it may be why she retired.  You're still trying to forget the... seminal business transactions through which you... secured control of her... operation.

Your bodyguard/badass associate is someone you've known for ten years, and she is highly reliable:  reliably fat, reliably drunk, and reliably violent.  Overall, a good person to have on your side as long as you keep the decision making to yourself.  Although handy with a sword, her preferred weapon is a rolling pin.  Her sideline is baking, but don't eat her bread if you want a meal, she cuts her black market flour with sawdust to increase her profits.

Your accountant is a thin, almost emaciated man who has barely left his house since his wife took off with he Luca's Traveling Circus, taking their baby daughter with her.  All he has to look forward to now are his books, his papers, and his bottle.  His still sets everyone's places at dinner, and wistfully hopes to see his family again.

Your business associate doesn't talk much about his past, or his future, or at all, since the Seanchan cut out his tongue.  Overall, however, has a good business sense with a keen eye for making a deal.


Ron Edwards

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #26 on: January 02, 2014, 10:05:53 PM »
Excellent! I like it all. Now I'll quote your groups summary.

Quote
The Red Ajah will try to capture you and Still you (remove your ability to channel) if they discover you are a male channeler, and Aes Sedai are everywhere, even with the Seanchan in control.

The Seanchan will kill a male channeler on sight if they are aware of one's existence.  (The consider all male channelers to to servants of the Dark Lord.)  The Seanchan might have a special group for this but I forget.

The military arm of the Seanchan is going to redouble its efforts to disrupt the black market that is preventing supplies from reaching armies in the field, and is perfectly happy to hang criminals who are caught with illegal goods.  Of course, the Seanchan is too large a faction for the left hand to always knows what the right hand is doing.

Rival black market profiteers may choose to eliminate you if they can't do business with you.

And at long last, it's GM-style prep time! Considering (i) it'd be silly for all these potential threats to dump on my guy at once, and (ii) you have other player-characters to think about too, then the thing is to choose one and only one that you'd like to pose the biggest problem and/or opportunity for my character as a major feature of play, going right into it.

If I can suggest a thing or two about that, I'd say that rivals aren't this guy's problem because he's good business and has been doing this for a long time. And unless you really really feel differently, "These guys found you! They want to kill you!" is kind of boring and just puts us into a chase-and-fight scene, no real conflict, so maybe the Seanchan aren't really the thing of the moment either.

Once you've chosen the group, then consider some interesting NPC or two who might be the one most concerned. You could make up someone totally by-the-book if you want ("Male channeler? Still him now!"), but also, remember that not every person in these groups is true-blue and stereotyped. The hard part is not to think in terms of play and story - don't imagine scenes, dialogue, outcomes, anything about play at all - instead, just consider the most vivid person in the group you've chosen that you can make up and would very much like to play. (I wonder if you did the thing where you imagined someone who threatens one of my character's friends, and then my character would be forced to ... and then ... yeah, that's what I'm saying not to do.)

You mentioned your concern about GMing multiple player-characters who "have nothing to do with one another," and it's hard to address that without other characters in the mix. So! Perhaps one of the good people reading this so far would be so kind as to make up a character too, to the exact depth and descriptive detail that I used for mine. (No 800 word backstories, please.)

Best, Ron

Ooh! Editing this in - let's not forget this guy either:

Quote
an underpaid Seanchan official whom he regularly bribes and also gets a little information about Seanchan activities
« Last Edit: January 02, 2014, 10:08:47 PM by Ron Edwards »

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #27 on: January 02, 2014, 10:28:45 PM »
Step right up, good people of the forums, there are cat people to impress!

glandis

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #28 on: January 03, 2014, 12:18:10 PM »
So - two things grab me as interesting, the conspiring nobles and the Hunters of the Horn. My guy'd be a 2nd/3rd son-of-nobility type, who would like to become a Hunter but doesn't (at least, yet) have the actual dedication to make it happen. His family is involved in the plotting, but he isn't considered responsible enough to be included. He's got some real physical/fighting talent, but again, that lack of discipline holds him back a bit.

How's that for a start? I'm in about the same position as Ron as regards the setting/books, although I have a friend who's a real fan and thus may know more than I think I do as a result.

Jared Burrell

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Re: setting and scene framing
« Reply #29 on: January 03, 2014, 04:57:01 PM »
Well, as a point of clarification, all you need to do to "become" a Hunter of the Horn is puff your chest out and start telling everybody that you're a Hunter of the Horn.  Even in the books it's basically a pretense for young wannabe adventurer types to go wandering off and raise hell whatever they go.  Sure, you could have made the trip 500 miles to the East, to Illian, where a bunch of roughnecks and wannabes took a formal oath in the public square before wandering off in every direction to cause trouble for every local ruler in the Westlands.  Sure, why not?  Or perhaps your character just likes the sound of calling himself a Hunter and has never left home.  Equally likely.  Being a Hunter of the Horn is more of an excuse to raise a toast than anything else.  Then again, it's very romantic and an easy way for a young noble to sound to the young ladies that he's really got his shit together.  It puts a little more polish on the bar fights you would have gotten yourself into anyway.  So, lack of discipline or almost a requirement to being a Hunter.

The tougher questions are why is your character in town, where is his family from, and what are they involved with?  How does your character spend his time?  What minor responsibilities has been been grudgingly tasked with?

Also, the "real" setting doesn't matter so much as working through this process, if I understand correctly.