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Archive => RPG Theory => Topic started by: Eve on April 01, 2005, 07:39:53 AM



Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Eve on April 01, 2005, 07:39:53 AM
I have played several games designed around a certain thematic question. At first sight is seems those games are perfect to explore that theme. I more and more doubt so.

Why? Of course we want some kind of an intresting game. Mechanics are designed for this too. This eliminates much choice.

Just an example:

Say I play sorcerer. At a certain moment I decide it's not worth it. I quit summoning demons, I go for my humanity. Pretty soon I'll and up with a looser, a weenie for a character. He can no longer do all those cool things fellow sorcerers can.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: MisterPoppet on April 01, 2005, 07:47:41 AM
But then you must ask yourself, why are you playing a game about sorcerers if you don't want to be one?

Themes are created so that people want to explore them. And though completely going in the opposite direction of that is technically allowed, it would defeat the purpose.

-Bryan-


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Trevis Martin on April 01, 2005, 08:02:05 AM
I need to point out that because a character gives up summoning demons doesn't end his sorcery.  The character can't get rid of the knowledge of sorcerery.  They can still command other demons, and they still know what to look for when looking for demons or other sorcerers.

Many S&Sword games have main characters which do not summon or bind demons at all, but are simply forced to interact with them and the people who control them.

What happens when a character has knowledge of sorcery that he could use for good, when he knows that others need that help?

Sure, he might not enjoy the "kewl powerz" of a demon, but he does have some power even without one.  I think a sorcerer who gives it up still has humanity, and thus thematic,  potential inside the game.

best

Trevis


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: TonyLB on April 01, 2005, 08:12:00 AM
Like Trevis, I'm not seeing your axiom that "Humanity = Loser."  Folks with low humanity can Summon lots of demons.  Folks with high humanty can Banish lots of demons.  Keeping your current demons doesn't seem to enter into it (directly) one way or the other.

If you think summoning is cooler than banishing... well, that's fine.  I do too.  It's meant to be tempting.  But let's examine the story of a demon-hunter who goes around banishing the evil.  He constantly wrestles with the Needs and Desires of the demons he needs in order to do his good work.  He constantly wrestles with the temptation to do dark and terrible things... surely they'd be justified in pursuit of this noble calling!

If you think he's a weenie loser... well, okay.  But that's a contribution that comes from you, not from the game system.  The game system has absolutely everything you need in order to make that character utterly cool.

Given that, I'm not sure how to address your larger point.  It relies upon an understanding of this class of games that I don't share.


Title: And what ABOUT weenies
Post by: Bob the Fighter on April 01, 2005, 08:33:01 AM
Hi Eva,

I've been playing Vampire:the Masquerade lately, and what some folks have said about Sorcerer really brings some thoughts to mind.

Granted, on a system-oriented level, particularly with what I'd consider a Gamist approach, refusing to use one's kewl powerz could be like playing
Monopoly and going non-profit after your first big payoff. It just doesn't jive with the terms of winning and losing that Monopoly gives us to work with.

That being said, I think that a character who is emotionally relevant to others (i.e. they don't just ignore the weenie) would have a strong impact on the way a game's theme plays out. Granted, I'm talking about characters who go against the grain of the theme, not against the grain of the game's Exploration.

For example, if D&D's theme is battle with monsters, then a character who chooses not to fight could cut against the theme. A character who chooses not to interact with the monster-killers in some way might be a problem, though. One character who's trying to pull the Exploration in a totally different direction from where other characters want it to go is probably indicative of a fundamental confusion about the group's play goals.

But just because a character doesn't actively use her kewl powerz doesn't mean that she's harming the game. And besides that, Trevis is definitely onto something: in many games, you can't just throw away your powers. Thus you're choosing to *act* like a weenie, but you can't always choose to really become one.

V:tM is a great example (I'm not familiar with Sorcerer): a vampire who will not kill or harm humans for food is a vampire who needs to a) find alternate sustenance and b) work harder than others to control neglected hunger pangs. Granted, it might be frustrating to some players who don't really want that dramatic contrast, but in many cases it could add a lot to the game.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Ron Edwards on April 01, 2005, 08:46:50 AM
Hello,

Since Vampire and Sorcerer are such different games, I'm going to constrain my comments to the latter.

But I can't provide any comments until I understand better. Eva, what I'm not understanding in your post is what you mean by "loser." Can you give a concrete example from actual play?

Best,
Ron


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Andrew Norris on April 01, 2005, 09:27:00 AM
Here's my play experience with the experience you describe in Sorcerer.

Character uses sorcery less and less. GM throws out Bangs that put them in the situation of "So you're not going to use sorcery, even now? How about now?" They have to keep drawing the line. So they won't use their knowledge to further their own goals. What about to protect themselves from serious harm? Or their friends? Or their family?

If the player has their character go all the way, to the extreme of "No, I won't do it, even if it would save my daughter's life", they've certainly addressed Premise, no matter how the situation plays out. Maybe they freeze up, because they just can't handle the responsibility. Maybe they take drastic non-sorcerous measures (which might themselves cause Humanity checks). Maybe they just walk away.

That sounds like some pretty engaging play, all without the "cool powers". Of course, it would only happen that way if the player wanted to go down that path. If you're worried about a player turtling up, and refusing to do anything at all (sorcerous or no), I think that's a separate issue.

I'd also offer the example of my current Sorcerer game, where in the first two sessions we've only had three commands given to demons. The players know their characters have these big guns, and they're intentionally exercising restraint.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Bankuei on April 01, 2005, 10:00:00 AM
Hi eva,

Welcome to the Forge!

Quote
Why? Of course we want some kind of an intresting game. Mechanics are designed for this too. This eliminates much choice.


I think we're dealing with two issues.  Perhaps the specific can help point to the larger one.  

With regards to Sorcerer, first, the primary focus of the game is Humanity checks, not necessarily the sorcery.  If you go for Humanity, then you are making some serious statements anytime you're presented with a choice and choose not to take the Humanity losing option and instead going for Humanity gaining options.  It's a lot of work.  

But, your character is far from "loser" because first, with a high Humanity, it becomes very easy to banish other demons(hey, and that nets you a humanity gain while you're at it...) and second, after you wrap up your kicker, you get to roll against your Humanity to up your stats... after a few cycles, you're character is going to be sporting stats in the 6-7 range across the board- that's a pretty strong and dangerous character.

Now, pointing to the larger issue, the only thing that this mechanic "restrains" is that play is going to be about Humanity checks.  In fact, any kind of focused Narrativist supporting game, is going to have some way of keeping play focused on producing some kind of theme.  Does this mean you have to buy-in as a group that all of you are going to commit to hitting theme during play?

Yes indeed, but under the same logic one could complain, "Well, the rules are MAKING me show up(in person/online) in order to play... how limited!"

Not committing to hitting theme is like playing a dungeon crawl in D&D and walking away from the dungeon before even going inside.  It is like playiing Vampire and jumping into the sunlight in the first 5 minutes of play.  It is like playing chess and refusing to move your pieces.  In other words, it is missing the point of that sort of game.

So, if the problem is, "Narrativist mechanics support Narrativist play, and I -HAVE- to follow the mechanics in order to get Narrativist play on a regular basis"...

I'm not seeing the problem- at all.  

Perhaps you're confusing sorcery as being the theme-maker, when its Humanity this whole time?

Chris


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Vaxalon on April 01, 2005, 10:32:48 AM
I never knew this about Sorceror.

You mean the game can be just as much about redemption as it is about corruption?

Gah.

And I've been dismissing this game for so long...


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: timfire on April 01, 2005, 10:48:47 AM
As others have implied, there's always 'two sides' so to speak in regard to any theme. Not choosing an option that the system seems to push is a perfectly valid choice on the part of a player. In DitV, for example, it would be perfectly acceptable to refuse to escalate conflicts, even if it meant constantly losing. That choice makes a statement, which is what it's all about.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Andrew Norris on April 01, 2005, 11:13:35 AM
I'll push the point further: I don't think you could address Premise if there was no choice in the answer (e.g. you had to spiral down to zero Humanity, and you only got to choose how cool you looked while doing it, or you had to take every conflict in Dogs to the point of gunplay).

That sort of play might be reminiscent to some heavy-handed moral "choices" seen at the climax of Illusionist play scenarios, where the whole damn session turns out to have been about the GM answering the premise himself. You can probably think of any number of prewritten modules for various games that use that approach. (If I sound critical of that approach, it's only because I've done it myself.)


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Valamir on April 01, 2005, 12:32:48 PM
Quote from: Vaxalon
I never knew this about Sorceror.

You mean the game can be just as much about redemption as it is about corruption?



Of course...what else COULD it be?

Its just like the Meat Loaf song "I would do anything for love...but I won't do that..."

The "do anythings" get you Humanity Checks and spiral you down towards 0 humanity (which may or may not represent what would commonly be defined as corruption).  The "won't do thats" avoid Humanity Checks and potentially earn you gains (which may or may not represent what would commonly defined as redemption).


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 01, 2005, 03:05:55 PM
Actually, a standard ending that I've seen more than once for a Sorcerer game is that the Sorcerer "quits" being a sorcerer effectively. Yah, he knows how to do it, still, but he gets rid of all his demons, and dissociates himself from any other sorcerers.

I had one character that I'd "turned around" from the brink intending to see if he could make it all the way back to normalcy. He ended up in the looney bin trying.  

Mike


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Vaxalon on April 01, 2005, 04:04:43 PM
Dammit, guys, you gotta market these games better.  I had NO idea.  Sheesh.


Title: Re: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for th
Post by: Victor Gijsbers on April 02, 2005, 11:38:25 AM
Hi Eva - a surprise to see you here.

If I understand it correctly, you are saying that the part of the system that makes for interesting play is somehow opposed to that part of the system that makes for thematic exploration.

But interesting play is thematic exploration, no? At least, it is for you and for me. So how could this situations ever arise? Losing your cool superpowers in Sorcerer is bad only if you think those superpowers are the main reason to play the game, but its no problem if you are in it for the thematic exploration. For then the continuing choice not to summon demons becomes very interesting, especially as Bang after Bang hits you that puts strain on this decision.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: pete_darby on April 04, 2005, 03:41:45 AM
Just to join the choir here: it's all in the bangs.

A while back, we had this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=10979), amongst I'm sure many others, about specifically a Sorcerer character who had "pre-answered" the premise.

What you get is tragedy: if the GM is throwing out "What about when this happens, what then?", and yes, it's engineered for maximum pain if the player sticks to their guns, then you've got proper, lit crit 101 conflict (which usually has nothing to do with folks fighting, no matter what Marvel comics say).

Sure, some folks won't like it, some will complain that you're screwing or punishing the character: the character is there to be screwed and punished for their "choices" in Nar games, because that's drama.

What I would do when faced with a player who decides they've got "the answer" to the premise of a nar game early on in a game is to giggle like a maniac: you've just given me all the toys I need: let's really address this premise then.

Quitting sorcery is only boring if it's easy... just like using sorcery. Just like dispensing justice in DitV, or following / deposing the master in MLwM, or adressing character issues in PtA.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 04, 2005, 10:55:31 AM
Quote from: pete_darby
Quitting sorcery is only boring if it's easy... just like using sorcery.
Ya. In play it's usually somewhat akin to quitting the Maffia. When you're doing it right. :-)

Mike


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Bankuei on April 04, 2005, 11:49:50 AM
Hi,

As a perfect example, a Sorcerer character I never got to play was a mafia tough guy, whose family always had done the toughest jobs and been the best bodyguards to the Don's family... It just happens that no one outside the sorcerer family knew that demons and all kinds of jacked up magic was the reason they were such badasses.

You gotta stay loyal, or your family dies.  You gotta keep it secret, or you're against the Church and the Don and your family dies.  And you're damning yourself with each job...

I thought it was a perfect sorcerer concept.

Chris


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Eve on April 05, 2005, 02:21:20 PM
Thanks guys,

Sorcerer indeed offers enough possibilities to quit on sorcery in an interesting way. I knew my example wasn't too good. My mind got clogged up a little with a certain game & character.

With all other (player and known) sorcerers hating her to death, Mira wouldn't live long without some powerful deamons. Every meeting they ended up trying to kill her and vice versa. (and still she died, because those deamons were loosers compared to the Big Dragon)

So this example was bad.. even so it shows choices are restricted. As you showed me, also by the playgroup and their use of the system.

I still think the system restricts too. I now found a different way of stating this: many systems to explore a theme are narrativist, as it is a narrativist activity pur sang. So probably the system supports a nar aganda. As is in your head (why else play such a game). So you want an interesting story. So the system thrives you towards it. So can you really explore the full "theme space"? No.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Victor Gijsbers on April 05, 2005, 02:46:41 PM
Exploring theme is what Nar is all about. Nar is not about 'story' - whatever that may be - it is about thematic story.

So I'm still not sure what you're getting at. But I would like to find out.

(By the way, I think I could tell you what went wrong in the scene you're refering to. It might have more to do with the feeble skills of your GM - for the benefit of others, that would be me - than with Sorcerer itself.)


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Eve on April 05, 2005, 02:57:00 PM
Hi Victor,

I agree that Nar is about thematic story. It's about interesting thematic story, at least if played well.

The kind of subtle point I'm trying to make, is that you are driven by things beside the theme in exploring this theme. I thinkt the search for an interesting story being an important factor. Exagerating it: you do not explore the theme, you're simply driven by the thirst for an great story.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Victor Gijsbers on April 05, 2005, 03:09:00 PM
What is it that makes a story great? Is this in some way in opposition to the exploration of theme? If so, in what way? Is the exploration of theme, if done well, not in itself a powerful ingredient to make a 'great story'?

I apologise for all the questions, but I'm still trying to understand your point.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Eve on April 05, 2005, 03:22:28 PM
Picture yourself playing. Doesn't really matter what, just something you like.  So you are at an important thematic crossroad. What kind of choice would you make? What options would you even consider?

No, I don't think you'd just sit down.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Alan on April 05, 2005, 06:25:05 PM
Quote from: Eva Deinum

I still think the system restricts too. I now found a different way of stating this: many systems to explore a theme are narrativist, as it is a narrativist activity pur sang. So probably the system supports a nar aganda. As is in your head (why else play such a game). So you want an interesting story. So the system thrives you towards it. So can you really explore the full "theme space"? No.


I've seen a lot of games that are designed to support narrativist play, but I have never seen one that drives players _toward_ a single theme.  The usual technique is two-fold: 1) reward the act of addressing premise, which is a lure rather than a drive; and 2) a resolution system that forces players to make a choice that has irreversible consequences to the events of play.

Now that last _is_ a drive, but it is not a drive toward a specific theme.  Instead, it is a drive toward making choices.  The single most important element of a narrativist design is letting the player choose how they respond (and giving them real choices, not just the illusion of choice).  How they choose defines theme.  

A good narrativist-supporting system drives the players to make the choices of how to paint a picure.  Most good narrativist designs specify a particular kind of "painting" to be created, but must allow great latitude in how that painting is created and what the final appearance is.  It's as if we were playing a game that created paintings of women - the final result may be Mona Lisa or Beata Beatrix, or any of a billion other possiblities.  The final painting is the theme that emerged from play.  

If anything drives the _theme_ that emerges, it is the players, because it is their choices that create it.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Victor Gijsbers on April 06, 2005, 12:19:36 AM
Quote from: Eva Deinum
Picture yourself playing. Doesn't really matter what, just something you like.  So you are at an important thematic crossroad. What kind of choice would you make? What options would you even consider?

No, I don't think you'd just sit down.

I'm not sure if the sitting down is to be understood literally as a game-action, or metaphorically as sitting down on the thematic crossroad, so I'll follow these two interpretations consecutively.

1. Of course you will not metaphorically sit down at the thematic corssroad, not if you have a Nar agenda, because that would be to stop playing Nar. Refusing to make a thematic choice when one is presented is like saying: "I don't want theme. I want something else." Saying that you don't want theme cannot possible be a way to explore the 'full thematic space'.

2. You may sit down, literally, if that is 'interesting', but it probably will not be in most situations. However, it surely is interesting if it is a meaningful thematic choice! And if it's not, sitting down cannot possibly be a way to explore the 'full theme space'. It seems to me you are suggesting that some themes can only be generated by a boring story, but I can't see that at all. Even thematic stories about boredom can be fun. ("De Avonden", by Gerard Reve, for instance.)


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 06, 2005, 05:53:44 AM
Victor is correct. Nar play is making decisions based on premise, the results of which are theme. For example, a player has their character facing the question, "Do I summon a demon to protect me, or do I allow myself to die because it's the lesser evil?" When the player answers that they don't summon the demon, they create, at that moment, a theme that says, "Sticking to one's principles is even more important than survival."

Now, that's all per the definition of narrativism. Is this how you're using the term theme? Or do you mean something else?

Mike


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Valamir on April 06, 2005, 06:45:34 AM
A theme is just an answer to a charged question.  And the question doesn't have to be (and quite often is best not to be) stated up front.

Consider a game where your character has a friend...PC...NPC...whatever.  You have ties to that friend...mechanically reinforced...just roleplayed...whatever.  Through thick and thin you stand up for that friend.  You go into danger to save them.  You sacrifice your professional reputation for them even when they're being foolish.  You even have a showdown with your boss on their behalf.  Then they screw up and have to go into hiding from some powerful people.  Those powerful people use your spouse whom you love (mechanically reinforced...just roleplayed...whatever) as leverage to get you to lead them to your friend.  You do.  

Bam...What's the premise here?  How about "what would sacrifice do for a friend?"  What's the answer?  The answer is whatever you as a player chose.  In the above example the answer was "life, reputation, professional career...but not love, I won't sacrifice love for my friend".

Same scenario different player running that character making different decision.  They make different choices...come up with a different answer...a different theme.  Maybe their answer "Sure, I'll risk my life for a friend, but if he makes me out to be a fool I'll kill him myself before losing face with my boss"

Same game, same mechanics, same premise....different theme.  Narrativism doesn't lead you down a path towards a predesired answer...(some would call that Dramatism)...in a Nar game your choices as a player are what matters...the only thing (together with the other players) that matters.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Eve on April 06, 2005, 05:24:50 PM
Valamir
Quote
Same game, same mechanics, same premise....different theme. Narrativism doesn't lead you down a path towards a predesired answer...(some would call that Dramatism)...in a Nar game your choices as a player are what matters...the only thing (together with the other players) that matters.


There is not one predestined answer. However, you do not "have" full freedom. Nar is about conflicts. To make the story interesting, you should not be afraid of them - up to the most painfull, heartbreaking, soul tearing conflicts. Escaping through a backdoor isn't that interesting. And so many things (eg game system and the nar-players themselves) take you towards a part of "story-space" where conflicts are the most intense and interesting.

While exploring a theme or answering a major question, one tends to skip certain solutions, simply because they are kind of boring. Or perhaps worse: because other options promise a more intense story.

Victor
Quote
It seems to me you are suggesting that some themes can only be generated by a boring story, but I can't see that at all. Even thematic stories about boredom can be fun. ("De Avonden", by Gerard Reve, for instance.)


Not the full theme, but certain choices concerning this theme can be boring (or less interesting than other options). I think the want for an exillarating  story thus thrives you towards the more dramatic choices.

A story about boredom can be fun indeed, though I wouldn't name "De Avonden" in this context. Reading it, I just thought it were pretty boring. Which of course is something completely different.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Mike Holmes on April 07, 2005, 06:29:37 AM
The decision to go with something more exciting because other options are boring to you does not mean that you didn't have the freedom to have done the boring thing. It means you did, and chose not to do so. Probably because you didn't want to be bored. The systems involved do not, actually, promote non-boring solutions. They simply give you the chance to make decisions. The fact that people select the non-boring choices is because they have the freedom to do so.

In point of fact, I have seen some really boring people make some really boring choices when given the chance to do so by games with strong narrativism support.

Now, you can claim that the premise of Sorcerer is such that all results are more interesting than in other games. But if true, that's because of the premise. The premise of Sorcerer, broadly stated, is "What would you do for power?" So, yes, Sorcerer is not good for coming up with themes that are not answers to that question. So if you're saying that you don't have the support to play absolutely any theme, you're correct.

This is somewhat akin to noting that eating vegetables won't give you that "I just ate a steak" feeling. We have different games precisely because they support certain premises better than others.

Mike


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Alan on April 07, 2005, 08:03:36 AM
I'll also point out that a narrativist system usually offers choices between several potentially exciting possibilities - often the only limitation is the player's imagination.   The system allows the player to select one they find _most_ exciting.

- Alan


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Eve on April 09, 2005, 06:29:59 AM
Precisely Alan. I think fomulates my point in a nice way:

What _do_ you explore: the whole theme, or the ways to the most exciting story?


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: pete_darby on April 11, 2005, 04:00:03 AM
Explore a whole theme? you mean as in adress the premise totally, in all possible ways, so there's nothing more to say on it?

You'd have to be crazy. I mean, some folkd have tried in novels or films, but they were crazy. Admirable, but crazy.

Give me an interesting issue, I'll give you an interesting story. Give it ot me again, I'll give you another one.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: Vaxalon on April 11, 2005, 04:15:01 AM
When it comes right down to it, we have to recognize that in spite of all of our aspirations in this forum, when it comes right down to it, the reason we play these games is because they're FUN.

The reason we're HERE, in the Forge, is to make our games MORE fun.  By "our games" I mean both the games we run, and the games we write.  

It's not like Literature (big-L literature) where not only entertainment is going on, but also the perpetuation of culture, education, faith... Roleplaying may someday take on these aspects, but I don't think it will be for a while yet.


Title: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?
Post by: pete_darby on April 11, 2005, 04:52:44 AM
[Edit: taking response to a new thread]