The Forge Archives

Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: teucer on June 01, 2004, 06:02:59 PM



Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: teucer on June 01, 2004, 06:02:59 PM
So I've been lurking on the Forge for a long time. I lurk because I like what comes out of the discussions here, but I have trouble getting involved in those discussions myself. I'm in over my head.

Anyway, I'm having trouble understanding Bangs. What I get about them seems really good, though, so if anyone can give me a jargon-light explanation of how to use them in my games, I would appreciate it.

Thanks!


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Trevis Martin on June 02, 2004, 01:12:13 AM
Here's from the provisional glossary

Quote
The Technique of introducing events into the game which make a thematically-significant or at least evocative choice necessary for a player.


I find that the best explaination of them is from Sorcerer and Sword where ron notes that bangs are...

Quote
a means for moving from Decision to Decision on the part of the players. ... A real Bang gives the player options and requires his or her decision about how to handle it, which in turn reveals and develops the player-character as a hero.


The tricky part about them really is inventing situations that require this decision and not having a particular decision in mind, because if you as the GM are attached to one decision then it can be confusing (or aggravating) when a player chooses something else.  

How to illustrate this concretely?  The kicker of one player in our current sorcerer game is a decent illustration (kickers are after all just bangs made up by the players to begin play.)  She is an Inquisitor in training and her master that she had an affair with was recently killed.  Inquisitors are taken from they're families at a young age and they are prohibited from having families of their own so they are not vulnerable to manipulation.  Well anyway she's just discovered that she is pregnant by her former master. (I pushed it a little more by having the doctor who notified her also say that he had set up an abortion proceedure for her.)

You see?  No right answers there.  Just an event that requires a series of decisions.  On the one hand there is the loyalty to her order, and on the other there is the characters desire for family and to keep something of her lover.  The decisions she makes will be revealing no matter what she chooses.

I had another situation from an earlier sorcerer game where a player had discovered that either 1.) Her father who she thought was dead was alive and inhabited by a parasite demon that kept him alive or 2.) There was a  demon that was impersonating her father.  She didn't know which.  Her master was of the opinion that it was a demon impersonating her father and that he should be destroyed, and was, in fact, going to destroy him. This forced her to decide whether she was going to a.) let her master potentially kill her long lost father.  b.) allow her father to continue to exist with a controlling entitiy inside him that he cannot get rid of without dying. c.) Attempt to bind that entity so she could control it and keep him alive.  or  d.) help him escape.

There were some other options there too of course.  I'm just naming a few.  But the point is no matter what she chose (and which option was 'best' was not objectivly discernable) she was going to reveal something about who her character was.

Some bangs can be more urgent than others but all should present a problem that present a serious choice for the character(s) in question, without any expectation or requirement of what the answer should be.  Just attacking a group with some monsters isn't a bang because the option is obvious. Defend, run away or die.  There is a best choice clearly evident.  Same with just providing a clue.  It might provide information but it isn't a bang unless it reveals information that requires the players to make a significant decision about their actions.

I suggest taking a look at Doyce Testerman's threads in Actual Play as he's developed a technique of highlighting specifically what he thought the bangs were in his sessions.  Look at what choices they present to his players.  Especially take a look at the discussions in the threads for Sessions 2 and 3 about which ones were actually bangs and which were not necessarily bangs.

Here's the links.
[Sorcerer] First Date: Characters (session to follow) (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10428&highlight=)
[Sorcerer] First Date: The Session (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10429&highlight=)
[Sorcerer] Second Session: The Things on the Doorstep (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10737&highlight=)
[Sorcerer] Third Session: Sex, Lies, and Videotape (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10952&highlight=)
 [Sorcerer] Session Four: Lexigrams (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=11151&highlight=)
[Sorcerer] Session Five (Bibliophage): Complex Conflict (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=11323&highlight=)

About the second session is when he starts highlighting the Bangs.  The idea is bradly applicable too I'm just mentioning a lot of Sorcerer stuff because that's what I have available at the moment.

Hope that helps.

Trevis


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Doctor Xero on June 03, 2004, 07:26:12 PM
I've run games in which player-characters encounter NPCs who may or may not become (as a result of later player-character actions) valuable allies, traitorous faux allies, or nobodies, with no obvious right or wrong answer to the players nor to the game master.  Since players know up front that I genuinely have no idea how this NPC will react to the players' characters' actions -- I will simply run the NPC as believably as I can within the strictures of the campaign genre -- these encounters do not center on a trick about whether or not to trust the NPCs.  Instead, they involve unscripted NPC reactions to players' decisions.  Would that be a type of bang?

Doctor Xero


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: TonyLB on June 04, 2004, 06:24:16 AM
I've been thinking about, and trying to use, Bangs.  And the more I do so, the more convinced I am that the GM cannot unilaterally create a Bang.  The GM can create events and situations, but what makes them a Bang is how the player responds to them.

As Trevis quoted:  "The Technique of introducing events into the game which make a thematically-significant or at least evocative choice necessary for a player."

But you can't make a choice necessary for the player.  At best you can make it entertaining and hope that they'll choose to make it, rather than to address the situation as a Gamist puzzle whose solution must satisfy everyone without costing anything.

So I think that Bangs may be tightly linked to a functioning Social Contract wherein players express a desire to define their character, the good and the bad, and to enjoy and pursue them both.  Without that commitment to engage in the choices, I don't think you can really present a Bang.

But I'm very unsure about this.  I keep thinking that somebody might have a technique that lets you present narrativist Bangs to a gamist group.


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 04, 2004, 06:36:15 AM
Hello,

Quick aside for Doctor Xero: actually, that technique is called Intuitive Continuity and it may or may not be combined with Bang-driven play.

I've played with Intuitive-Continuity GMs who used our interests and actions, as players, to decide "what's going on" - but who then did not provide Bangs. The events that were significant (via player-interest becomes GM-emphasis) acted as doors to the secrets and scenes that he, the GM, decided were to become important.

The benefit of this technique, for this GM and our group, was that it didn't waste time as we had to guess what he wanted us to inquire about, and then inquire.

Bangs, on the other hand, may be utilized in Intuitive-Continuity play, but may also be utilized even if the GM has a very solid back-story and stable of NPCs and so forth. What he or she cannot have, however, is a firm idea of the outcomes of actions and scenes. Using Bangs, by definition, throws the outcomes of actions and scenes straight into the actual play itself.

Best,
Ron


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Valamir on June 04, 2004, 06:37:45 AM
Quote
But you can't make a choice necessary for the player. At best you can make it entertaining and hope that they'll choose to make it, rather than to address the situation as a Gamist puzzle whose solution must satisfy everyone without costing anything.


I don't agree with that Tony.  All you need to do to make a choice necessary is to make "do nothing" have a result as equally compelling as any of the other "do something" possibilities.

Just like the old Rush song "If you choose not to decide, you still have made a choice"

A Bang is nothing more complicated than a situation in which no matter what the player chooses to have their character do, it says something about the nature of the character.


You have a character who's a priest of an altruistic diety.  You have a relationship map that highlights various enemies of the priests family.

Bang:  A house is burning and one of the most villainous members of the rival family is trapped inside...what do you do?

The priest chooses to: go and get help, run inside to effect a rescue, pray for a miracle, or walk up and make sure the door is barricaded extra well...even simply walking away says something about the character and most importantly each choice opens a wealth of potential following issues.

There simply is no way for the character to avoid being touched by consequences.  The player's only option is to chose which consequences to take. That's a Bang.


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: TonyLB on June 04, 2004, 06:49:56 AM
I hear what you're saying, Ralph, but don't you want more than just to have the characters touched by consequences?  

My intuition is that you also want the players to recognize (and perhaps celebrate) that these consequences are a result of their choice, and that that is hard (perhaps impossible) to force.

What do you think?


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Valamir on June 04, 2004, 06:57:53 AM
Quote
My intuition is that you also want the players to recognize (and perhaps celebrate) that these consequences are a result of their choice, and that that is hard (perhaps impossible) to force.

What do you think?


I'm not sure...I'm having a hard time envisioning what you mean.  That recognition seems pretty much automatic to me.

Do you have an example?


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: TonyLB on June 04, 2004, 07:11:30 AM
I've seen lots of remarkably creative ways that players will game these choices, rather than addressing them.  Sometimes out of character, sometimes in.

Say you present the player with the choice in your example.

They grumble out of character, saying "Man, I'd like to leave him, but I don't want to screw up your game.  It really ticks me off when you railroad us like this.  I sure would like to have a chance to actually effect the game world."

Then they rescue the villain, but have no emotional investment whatsoever in the scene.  When the villain does bad stuff later, they feel no sense of responsibility or involvement, because they view it as an action that was forced upon them.

Does that make sense?


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Zak Arntson on June 04, 2004, 08:35:56 AM
Quote from: TonyLB
They grumble out of character, saying "Man, I'd like to leave him, but I don't want to screw up your game.  It really ticks me off when you railroad us like this.  I sure would like to have a chance to actually effect the game world."


That's a disconnect at the gaming table on a social level. The game belongs to the group, not the GM. And any player who feels like it's the GM's game, and not the group's game ... well ... it's an issue that goes beyond bangs.

In this instance, you could grumble right back to the player, "It's not going to screw up my game. I've presented a situation for your character to react to. If you save him, or let him burn, you're affecting the game world. In fact, _how_ you perform either action affects the game world. So, what would you like to do?" That's the essence of a bang, and something the group needs to understand.


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Andrew Norris on June 04, 2004, 08:38:43 AM
Tony,

I think that if you want to use Bangs to support or enhance a certain style of play, you have to make sure all the players are on board and comfortable with that style of play.

I personally think Bangs come into their own in a style of play where there is no pre-planned plot, and all the decisions players make really do matter.

In that kind of a game, you just reply to them "If you want to leave him, then leave him. Anything you choose to do is valid."

I have seen people unintentionally try to get out of feeling like they made a real choice, though, if that makes any sense. (In the example in question, some of my players might say "Great, he burns. He deserved it." and walk off.)

That kind of "I'm a heartless bad-ass" response can still lead to interesting situations, though. In the game I'm currently running, one of the PCs is essentially a body-hopping possessor ghost. Her Bang for the last session was that an old enemy showed up, with her body (repaired, alive, in decent health) in tow. The enemy walked into an ambush, sure that she'd be willing to negotiate (since he had her body hostage).

Her response? She killed him and her old body both. Classic "Heartless bad-ass" moment, but the actions that followed (she stopped treating her possessed bodies with any care at all, hopping from one to the next as soon as they were injured or worn out) showed that she had made the decision she wanted to make, that she wouldn't let someone else have a hold over her even if it meant the permanent loss of her "real" body, but it still fucked her up.

I guess my point is that it really is all about the attitude with which Bangs are approached by the players. If they're not on board, they may very well game the choice as you said. If they are on board, even a choice that makes people say "What the hell?" is going to lead to interesting play.


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: TonyLB on June 04, 2004, 10:05:29 AM
I agree wholeheartedly.  That's pretty much what I was originally saying... that the GM cannot unilaterally make a Bang, it has to be a cooperative venture in which the GM offers a choice and the player embraces it.


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Bankuei on June 04, 2004, 10:19:32 AM
Hi folks,

Right, a key point of Bangs is that all choices are ok.  There are no "right" choices.  Instead of seeing it as a choice "tree" like you'd get in a lot of prepared adventures, see it as a blank canvas, and the player is painting who their character is by making those decisions.

The usual difficulty that folks have in utilizing Bangs is that many game texts and GM's advice columns advise railroading, either directly or through a series of approval/disapproval clues at the table.  For many groups, both the players and the GM cannot even conceive of play without there being a reward/punishment effect to every action.

This isn't to say there isn't in-game consequences, but often those in-game consequences are used to mask "at the table" punishments and rewards to drive the players into certain choices.  

Players who have been conditioned to this start looking for, imagining, or projecting those "clues" when presented with Bangs.  Sometimes they get really confused or angry, because they're not able to process what's happening at the table.  That's also assuming the GM isn't falling into the habit of "loading" each decision presented.

Bangs are pretty easy, as long as you aren't trying to play with the stick and carrot.  Playing a bit of Inspectres or the Pool is a great way to knock the habits out and train you for using Bangs.

Chris


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Doctor Xero on June 05, 2004, 01:34:28 PM
Quote from: Zak Arntson
In this instance, you could grumble right back to the player, "It's not going to screw up my game. I've presented a situation for your character to react to. If you save him, or let him burn, you're affecting the game world. In fact, _how_ you perform either action affects the game world. So, what would you like to do?" That's the essence of a bang, and something the group needs to understand.

That's why I will sometimes reassure my players that I honestly am quite comfortable with game-mastering whatever decision they make in such circumstances.

There have been a few times during which, in order to keep the spirit of play necessitated by both our Social Contract and campaign genre, we have had to require a specific response.  That's why it's so important that players know ahead of time the ambience and feel of the game -- so that they can build characters who will naturally and in-character play within the genre.  However, when we can not avoid those situations, we try to reward the player somehow for being a good sport.

On those occasions when I have had to have player-characters kidnapped (for example, all the players really want to play out a jail break), I simply start the game in jail and, depending upon the group, allow them to narrate how they were defeated enough to end up in jail or run their capture as a flashback -- true, they know they will lose, but they also know they are immune from injury or death since it's a flashback, so instead of fighting to win (since they can't), they fight to exult in swashbuckling and derring do in complete freedom from harm.  They love it!

Doctor Xero


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Roy on June 05, 2004, 10:12:20 PM
Quote from: Doctor Xero
There have been a few times during which, in order to keep the spirit of play necessitated by both our Social Contract and campaign genre, we have had to require a specific response.


Can you give us an example of that?  I'd appreciate a little clarification.

Roy


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Doctor Xero on June 07, 2004, 04:20:48 PM
Quote from: Roy
Quote from: Doctor Xero
There have been a few times during which, in order to keep the spirit of play necessitated by both our Social Contract and campaign genre, we have had to require a specific response.


Can you give us an example of that?  I'd appreciate a little clarification.

Roy

Oh, for an easy example, if the players and game master have decided to play a classic superhero game, then if The Batman finds The Joker hanging from a cliffside and losing his grip, no player can give in to the momentary temptation just to let The Joker fall and thereby end his murder sprees.  From an A-D-&-D perspective it would be more practical to let him die, and The Batman's player might really feel like letting off steam by stomping on The Joker's fingers to encourage him to fall, but it's not something The Batman would do in the classic superhero comic books, and it violates the feel of that particular genre.  If the campaign is a continuity heavy campaign (as most of ours are), once a superhero has spilled blood for pragmatic or coldblooded reasons, it changes the campaign mood and ambience permanently.  So the player playing The Batman is required to respond with trying to save The Joker in such cases.

To put it another way, the gaming group loses the fun of playing out an X-Files campaign if the player playing the Scully type of character quickly believes the Mulder type of characters about the supernatural instead of doubting them repeatedly for numerous seasons.  However, having the Scully type of character remain skeptical restricts player choice to do whatever he or she wants to, so sometimes the player playing the Scully sort of character is required to respond with disbelief even when the player might momentarily feel like doing otherwise.  One way to handle this, of course, is simply to build Scully types of characters with psychological flaws about obsessive skepticism or weird unluck which prevents them from witnessing the supernatural events, but sometimes this doesn't happen.

To be honest, I've played with such excellent roleplayers overall that this is seldom if ever a problem, but occasionally it seems unfair to the player, so we try to reward him/her for accepting a restriction which arises from genre considerations but may violate real world practicality.

Perhaps I ought mention that, in some of my gaming groups, the Social Contract has specified that the game master is responsible for maintaining the campaign mood and ambience and genre feel for the campaign even when players momentarily forget about it (and to recognize when it's a good idea to utterly ignore genre and ambience status quo as well!).

Does that clarify or confuse?

Doctor Xero


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Valamir on June 07, 2004, 04:25:09 PM
Quote
Oh, for an easy example, if the players and game master have decided to play a classic superhero game, then if The Batman finds The Joker hanging from a cliffside and losing his grip, no player can give in to the momentary temptation just to let The Joker fall and thereby end his murder sprees. From an A-D-&-D perspective it would be more practical to let him die, and The Batman's player might really feel like letting off steam by stomping on The Joker's fingers to encourage him to fall, but it's not something The Batman would do in the classic superhero comic books, and it violates the feel of that particular genre. If the campaign is a continuity heavy campaign (as most of ours are), once a superhero has spilled blood for pragmatic or coldblooded reasons, it changes the campaign mood and ambience permanently. So the player playing The Batman is required to respond with trying to save The Joker in such cases.


How do you as GM judge whether this is a "genre violation" that must be curtailed vs. potentially one of the most compelling moments of the campaign precisely because its a violation of the sort that will come back to haunt the hero in dramatic fashion in the future.


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Doctor Xero on June 07, 2004, 05:03:05 PM
Quote from: Valamir
How do you as GM judge whether this is a "genre violation" that must be curtailed vs. potentially one of the most compelling moments of the campaign precisely because its a violation of the sort that will come back to haunt the hero in dramatic fashion in the future?

Well, in those gaming groups which prefer game-mastered campaigns to game-master-less campaigns, this is one of the talents which separates good game masters from poor game masters.  Do I know the people who are my players?  Can I sense what they want?

Fortunately, having to judge such things really come up very, very seldom.  The player usually knows what he or she needs the player-character to do and has the character do it, even when it momentarily annoys that player.  After all, the player had agreed from the start to be in a campaign in which a certain fidelity to genre is part of the Gaming Social Contract.  So I reward the player for being a good sport.

When I have to assess such things, I take into account such things as what I've heard that player tell me about his or her goals for the player-character, how elastic or inelastic the players want the genre fidelity to be, how radical the repercussions would be for everyone in the campaign, the feel of the group at that moment, whether the player seems to be responding in game or simply having a really bad day that will encourage all the players to beg me to remove the decision from continuity, etc. -- in effect, whether the violation would improve the campaign or utterly ruin it for everyone.

I really dislike curtailing anything, but I really hate to see six players have their campaign utterly ruined for them because one player went wild and the game master failed to curtail him.

I've seen campaigns which were intended to be light-hearted destroyed because one player decided to be bloody and gorey and the other players found that his or her actions ruined any interest they had in that campaign because, that particular time, their interest was in exploring a specific genre or ambience.  (Simulationist, maybe?)

On the other hand, I've seen campaigns with the exact same players in which the campaign's stated direction embraced that sort of violation of continuity as an opportunity for greater roleplaying and drama.  The same players would have found that one player a new challenge rather than a blight on the game because, for this particular campaign, their interests involve exploring the consequences of life in that world.  (Narrativist, maybe?)

I've run both games with inelastic genre strictures and games with extremely elastic genre strictures in which the question of genre violation would be a non sequitur, and I always work to ensure all the players and the game master(s) have agreed about which type a given campaign will be before players decide whether to participate in that particular campaign or not.  Usually, in most of my gaming groups, we've had campaigns of both types running during our gaming seasons.

Doctor Xero


Title: Clueless about Bangs
Post by: Roy on June 07, 2004, 08:55:16 PM
Thanks for expanding on that, Doctor Xero.  

That's one of those sticky issues that can be a game-breaker if it hasn't been addressed in the social contract.

Roy