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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Paul T on August 07, 2006, 12:37:05 PM



Title: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 07, 2006, 12:37:05 PM
Hello!

I've had a bit of realization recently. I've started GMing a game with a mix of experienced roleplayers and newbies. I'm applying some Forge techniques, and generally with great success, so that aspect of play has been really promising. But a few problems cropped up (you can read about the first two sessions here (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20713.0), if anyone is interested). Discussing it with the players has led me to thinking about the following two things:


The First Thing

This is probably old hat for all you regulars. If you feel that way, feel free to skip down to the Second Thing.

Railroading is usually discussed as an issue of forcing others to follow your own agenda, misusing your authority to push the other players into your idea of what they should be doing, and so on. What isn't discussed as much is how it affects the way you play the game even when you aren't actively making efforts to railroad.

My thesis, essentially, is that the desire to see a predetermined outcome in the future makes a player withdraw from making meaningful contributions to the game.

In my "Princes & Prophecies" game, we had two particularly awkward incidents. In one incident, I felt that a player didn't contribute to a particular scene as much as he had the opportunity to do. I gave him free reign to basically jump in whenever he wanted, in whatever way he wanted, and make a cool scene happen. However, when he did jump in, it was to say "I run away into the woods", and I felt like he didn't really engage with the scene at all, leaving the rest of us hanging. I've discussed it with the player since then and discovered that he's really looking forward to a particular climactic scene. I'm thinking that play up until that moment might seem like sitting in a waiting room. (I've since gently pointed out to him that the scene he's hoping for is hardly guaranteed to happen. He saw my point right away, so I think this won't be a problem again.)

In the second incident, the players were investigating an NPC who they thought might have been involved in a conspiracy. I had determined when I wrote up the scenario that this particular NPC wasn't involved in the conspiracy, and was eager to get to the next part--possibly a cool scene I had been hoping would happen since the beginning of the game. It turned into a real power struggle, where one player really wanted the NPC to be involved, and started authoring elements to suggest that he was, and I was resisting. This also ties in to the second Thing (below).

Thinking about this has led me to think that when we look ahead to a cool event or thing we want to see, and expect to see, we disengage from playing in the moment. In the scene with the NPC, I'm sure I wasn't really participating in the sense of pushing the game towards some cool play.

I think that 90% of the problems I've had as a GM in the past are due to this--when I'm looking forward to some scene or some revelation or plot twist, everything becomes boring until we get there, so I am not really interacting with the players--I'm just trying to shut everything down so we can get to the next bit. The players feel lost, everyone gets bored and/or frustrated.

In games where the players have the power to contribute as authors, they can do this as well. Although in games with distributed authority no one can fully railroad the game, anyone can still withdraw from play by hoping to see their vision come out on top of anyone else's.

Does that sound reasonable? Am I missing anything major, or operating under some false assumptions?


The Second Thing

This stems from the first thing, as well as some posts I made in a couple of other threads recently. I expressed myself very poorly there, so I'm going to try again here. Rather than keep trying to derail other people's threads, I'm starting my own.

The Second Thing is a question: How do you adjust your scenario prep for the level of player authorship that is possible in the game?

In an old-school RPG, the GM has total authority. This also means that the GM must prepare everything about the game (or improvise it in play). There is little or no chance of players stepping on back-story, even though they can still totally screw up anything the GM has got planned for the game itself.

However, once you start playing in a system with a level of player authorship, you have to deal with the impact of player authorship on your scenario prep. How do you adjust your preparation to the level of player authorship in your game?

I don't think we need to talk here about player authoring messing up scenes you have planned or "plot" structure. The Forge concensus seems to be that such things are bad, unless expressly agreed upon beforehand. I am also of this opinion (as I said in the First Thing). However, most games with a GM still are based on some kind of back-story or Situation. Ron Edwards, in particular, has often said that games like the Pool are not "off-the-cuff" improvised ventures, but need to be prepped for play. In his words, a "lovingly prepped back-story" is an important, wonderful thing. So, how do you make that work when the players have the power to author material and could potentially conflict with something the GM has determined before play?

Example: In my game, the players are exploring a distant village (kind of like in DitV) and coming across a situation they must decide how to react to or deal with. However, as happened in the scene I mentioned, a player was trying to author content that directly contradicted my back-story (that NPC could not have been involved in the events the player was trying to suggest). This is an example of how these two things intersect in a negative way. I've since worked something out, but I'm worried about more such situations coming up.

Possible solutions include:

* The "No Myth" approach, if I understand it correctly--anything not yet introduced in play is not part of the picture, period. The GM's back-story is merely a collection of material he or she would like to introduce to play. If the players' contributions make that material impossible to include, the preparation is wasted. (An example of this is "Bangs" prepared by a GM before play. Some may be ignored, others may never get "thrown in" at all.)
* Social contract: The players agree not to improvise content in certain areas of play. (This sounds a little problematic to me, being kind of hard to define.)
* All backstory is known before play begins. There are no "GM secrets".

Any others?

---

So, how do you balance back-story prep with player contributions?

Looking forward to your suggestions, or any experiences you've had which relate to these two issues.

Sincerely,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: TonyLB on August 07, 2006, 12:50:57 PM
So, how do you make that work when the players have the power to author material and could potentially conflict with something the GM has determined before play?

Story prep in such a situation is not like laying out choreography for your actors.  That sort of hierarchy of authority just isn't there, as you've rightly discovered.

Instead, it's more like persuading or seducing your fellow players into willingly investing in the directions that you want for the game.

How do you get a group of fully-empowered players to (for instance) have their characters slowly, painstakingly travel to Mount Doom and get rid of the One Ring?  You make it sound really, really cool.  You sell it as a vehicle for the type of game-creation that they want to do.

If you put this preparation into the game and the players just immediately veer away from it ("Hey, or we could journey to the Western Isles and ask the departed elves to use their collective magic to destroy the ring," "But doing that would give Sauron access to the last safe haven!" "It's a risk we have to take."  "Coooool") then your prepared stuff just wasn't engaging enough to draw them in.  No harm, no foul ... they've created something they like better.  If they didn't have something better then they'd be trudging off toward Mount Doom right about now.

Am I making any sense here?  I'm speaking from the perspective of just having finished many hours of prep-work for Capes, so I may be a little far out in left-field, mentally.


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 07, 2006, 01:32:35 PM
Tony,

That makes total sense.

But, just to be totally clear:

I'm not at all talking about "where the story will go". I'm talking about what has been determined about the past. For instance, if I, as Tolkien, have decided that the Ring corrupts everyone who uses it, and figured out the history of Middle-Earth based on that, what do I do if one of the players wins some kind of roll and narrates that Gollum was actually a monster who has earned some human qualities by having the Ring? (That sounds kind of cool, actually...)

What if one of the players decides that there are actually five rings made by Sauron? Or that the Ring wasn't made by Sauron at all but by Bilbo...

I'm just talking about the back-story--the events that took place before play even begins.

Best,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: jburneko on August 07, 2006, 01:51:46 PM
Hey Paul,

I think you might be confounding player authorship, with Director Stance (if you're familiar with that).  That's not the case.  In my Dogs in the Vineyard game and in my Sorcerer game, I as the GM have 100% total control what has come before and what NPCs want and are up to.  Nothing my players say or do will change that.  However, my players have co-authorship because I don't have any pre-prep resolution in mind for any pre-play situations or in-play conflicts.  The judgements they make and the actions they take on those judgements are 100% theirs and outcomes of conflicts *within the fiction* (not between players) are ceeded to the dice.

This is in fact my prefered way to play and in fact the way Sorcerer and Dogs in the Vineyard are written.

Now, if you WANT to ceed backstory and NPC behavior control over to the players that's a whole matter entirely.  I'm just saying that you don't have to if you want to bring player authorship issues into play.  So, can you clearify what your preference is?

Jesse


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 07, 2006, 01:55:15 PM
Gahhhh .... OK, I don't know if I'm going to be helpful to you or not, Paul. Some people have told me I'm a terrible bastard when talking about this stuff.

I'm going to say "you" based on your previous posts and my inferences from them. If "you" doesn't apply actually to you, in one of my sentences, just imagine a guy who's not you, but to whom the sentence does apply, OK?

You can consider the idea that narrational authority works best when its parameters are set in stone. Compare these three narrations (not real games, just made-up mechanics, but the points are extracted from my own play-experiences).

1. GM says, "Roll!" Player says, "I got a 20! Double damage" [rattle rattle, count + multiply] "82 points! I cut his fuckin' head off!" GM says, "Yeah!"

Sounds pretty standard, right? Well, hold on. You'll notice that the GM didn't narrate. The player did. The player totally narrated and the GM totally accepted it. So the first thing I need to get across to you is that this happens often. It's normal; people do it and don't even think about it, or notice that they cede narrational rights to one another all the time without any awful repercussions.

You're about to type, "yeah but." I know. This was the easy example with a minor, simple point. Just hold yer water and keep readin'.

2. GM says, "Roll!" Player says, "I got a 20! I get to narrate!" (launches into long and involved monologue about how this opponent is really his long-lost mother, to the consternation of the GM who'd been playing the NPC all along as someone totally different, say, Barnabas the stablehand) The GM is now forced to junk 80% of his prep and re-write the whole scenario in the next microsecond as the player looks at him expectantly.

That's the fear, right? It's a common one. You should have seen Jesse Burneko, a frequent poster in the Adept Press forum, express this fear in the most dedicated, nightmare-beyond-nightmare terms, a few years ago. (Hah! And Jesse just posted as I was typing! How's that for satisfying? pats own back)

I'm saying, this isn't what most people are talking about, when we talk about non-railroady Narrativist play. This is kind of a consensual-storytelling, make-it-up-as-we-go, round-robin type thing. Frankly, it's pretty boring in most circumstances and tends to create wandering, meaningless pseudo-narratives.

(All right, it can be done with some effort and very strong parameters with designated unknowns. I'm not saying it's impossible to play this way. But it's not what I'm talking about and what you've been expressing interest in, in all those previous threads.)

3. GM says, "Roll!" [rattle rattle] GM says, "I got a 4!" Player says, "I got a 20! I win, and that lets me narrate! Ummm ... OK, he knocks the sword out of my hand, but I get inside and grab him and flip him! His mask comes off!" GM says, "And guess what ... it's Barnabas, the stablekeeper!" Player: "No kidding? Holy shit!"

This one is the one I want you to pay attention to.

a) In this case, the player knows that he has no authority over back-story or prep (i.e. who that is, wearing the mask), but has decided it's time to find out. He could just as well have decided to kill the guy and say he tumbled into the chasm, still wearing his mask, and his PC would thus never find out who it was. But the player also knows he cannot invent who is wearing the mask - his authority extends to finding out the GM's prep, not inventing it retroactively.

b) The GM knows that the player has this limited/circumscribed power, and he also knows that he (the GM) must cede narrational authority for this significant outcome (the guy rolled a 20, after all) without knowing which way that would go. But he also knows that Barnabas is the guy in the mask, and that he will be called upon, as GM, to play accordingly no matter what is narrated. For example, if the player states the guy is dead, then hey - Barnabas is dead, identity known or not.

Does that help at all? I'm pretty sure you are used to putting narrational authority (how it happens, what happens), plot authority (now is the time for a revelation!), and situational authority (who's there, what's going on) together into one basket. I'm trying to help you tease them apart a little.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: JMendes on August 07, 2006, 02:49:48 PM
Ahey, :)

Paul, you're getting some good answers on your Second Thing, which is way cool, but I wanted to add support for your First Thing.

the desire to see a predetermined outcome in the future makes a player withdraw from making meaningful contributions to the game. [...] when we look ahead to a cool event or thing we want to see, and expect to see, we disengage from playing in the moment.

You ask if you're operating under false assumptions, and I want to tell you right off the bat that you're not. It may not be a universal phenomenon, but what you're talking about is definitely real.

Check out this account of mine of when it happened to me (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=19840.0).

Cheers,
J.


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Marco on August 07, 2006, 03:52:35 PM
There's some very well made points in this thread.

In anything approximating a traditional game (which is what we are talking about here) there is going to be a certain amount of "vision" provided on the part of the GM--that's still there and it's a huge advantage of having a traditional GM.

As has been stated, I think very clearly, the play (for most even semi-traditional games, which DitV and Sorcerer, I think, fall into) is going to be well informed by that vision.

Here's some stuff I have seen work fruitfully towards "that scene you want."

1. The GM talks meta-game. I was told (by the guy who runs my Sorcerer game) at one point during the adventure that "X was going to happen no matter what." I mean, it was entirely clear that X was going to happen--and I *got* that it was essentially some in-play framing for the set-up of the whole adventure. But having the GM *say it* (and thereby set up the "next scene") would have been pure gold if I'd really disliked having it happen (it was my character being set up and humiliated before the court--and if I wasn't on the same page with my GM, I might've really objected to that).

So talking about what hand you are taking (or at least making it real clear maybe without being explicit) can help.

2. The same group plays with a player who is not always on the same page as the rest of us. She has tended to disengage from plot-hooks in the past (including during a Trollbabe game) and, when I ran a game for her--and she (a) didn't provide me with a requested player-generated plot-hook and then (b) avoided mine, I felt (I think) like you did when the guy ran off into the woods.

In this case, while (again) we were not allowing players to narrate situational-backstory (and really, as with what Ron says, I'm not sure how well that'd work for most of the games I play), I had two learning experiences.

.- Get player buy-in. I'd stated that I wanted something that engaged the PCs. I got it from two of the three and ran the game. If I'd had a talk with her about engaging with *my* plot-hook (sight unseen) since she didn't provide her own, that might've averted my sudden sense of disorientation when my scene with her collapsed.

.- In the *next* game I ran for her, when she avoided a scene, she did something really cool: she proposed *another* scene! We stopped for a minute and she was like "Do I have to do X?" and I said "No. You don't--seriously." And she said "Okay. I don't. But I'll go to a party instead."

It took a bit of fancy footwork to, really fast, come up with a party-themed encounter--but it was actually a very good move. It kept her character consistent, meant I wasn't imposing my scene on her, and wasn't just totally passive on her part.

I think it might be fair to, out of game, have the conversation you had with the guy right there. After all, Players may not have the same level of directoral power of the back-story as a GM in most games--but they're still responsible for their share of pacing and proactive activity. If a Player disengages with the GM, I think it's fair to ask the player to contribute something and try to work with them.

-Marco


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 07, 2006, 04:19:02 PM
Great post, Marco.

Let's see, it brings up something else too, which is a pretty common formalized version of what Marco is describing.

GM: "All right, you guys see the lamps of Apple Town up ahead. You've arrived."

Player: "I spend a Story Token. My uncle lives here! We go to his cottage."

In games with such mechanics (or, in fact, games without such mechanics but in which such suggestions are welcome as suggestions), the GM pretty much has to be ready for some footwork, once in a while. If his prep, for instance, includes the assumption that no one in this town knows any of the PCs, well, he might have to think a bit.

But on the other hand, and presuming that the group is fully aware of these mechanics or these suggestions, it's really not as prep-destroying as you might think. The GM might have been wondering how the hell to get these guys into the conflicts of the town, and the uncle will be a much better entry into an informational scene than the random encounter with a talkative pickpocket the GM had been planning. Or maybe he can make the big villain of the scenario into the uncle! Perfectly fine and more fun to GM, frankly.

So with a little mental preparation and agility, and bearing in mind that, contrary to popular belief, people don't tend to spend such tokens (or whatever) except to make things better, even this level of "interference" doesn't introduce chaos and awfulness into the experience of play.

The only GM who needs fear such things is the one who wants every scene to go as planned, for every PC decision to go as anticipated or as directed at the time, for pre-written lines to be spoken, and for the whole session to turn out just as scripted.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 07, 2006, 11:32:10 PM
(This is a little sketchy as I'm writing late at night. If it doesn't make sense, please ask me to clarify, and I'll
rewrite it tomorrow when I'm more awake. I've tried to separate responses to various people or topics, as well.)


Jesse,

I think you might be confounding player authorship, with Director Stance (if you're familiar with that).

Yes. I meant director stance. I just wasn't sure if it was quite the right term, so I used "authorship". But "director stance" IS what I'm talking about. Thanks. Player authorship has a different meaning, as you quite succinctly pointed out.

Quote
Now, if you WANT to ceed backstory and NPC behavior control over to the players that's a whole matter entirely.  I'm just saying that you don't have to if you want to bring player authorship issues into play.  So, can you clearify what your preference is?

I guess I've got some incoherence going on in my own head. I took an old scenario I'd written up long ago (basically just back-story and Situation with no provisions for what the characters will do in reaction to it) and am now trying to run it in an "experimental" mode. So far, "experimental" has meant that I'm pretty much going with anything the players throw in. This is the first time that I've bumped up against a problem because of that. (This is pretty informal, system-wise; I just listen to what the players are saying and nudge them to frame their own scenes. But mechanics-wise, I also have the "spend a Story Token" thing that Ron mentions.)

99% of the player contributions have been great, so I'm totally on board with the idea that they're not something to be afraid of. Particulary, spending a limited resource to add to the game means that it isn't going to be done frivolously, so generally speaking only cool stuff will be added this way.

So, I guess I just need to decide where to draw the line. I can't have both director stance stuff going on AND expect keep my back-story intact.

Or am I missing something?

---

Ron and Marco,

Your comments make a lot of sense, and I'm going to digest them a little more before I respond in more depth and miss some vital part of what you said.

However, I have a very simple question for Ron:

When you play the Pool (I'm thinking particularly of your "Jasmine and the Pool" game) with a solid back-story in mind, how do you (or how would you) react to some unexpected narration that clashes with your back-story? Your account makes it sound like there was no incongruity between playing the Pool and using a predetermined back-story.

(I'm also thinking of games that allow players to state goals, or set the stakes of their actions. For example, in an interrogation scene, a player might be able to say, "I want to roll to find out what his connection to the mafia is," and if he is successful, then the victim of the interrogation is involved in the mafia, period. Those two examples are really the same thing in slightly different packaging, as far as I'm concerned.)

This is more or less what I'm trying to get at with this discussion.

---

Secondly (for Ron again), your 3.a) is my "solution" number two (overt agreement before the game), correct?

Your 3.b) is the sort of play I'm looking for. If your 3.a) is my "solution" number two, is that what you're suggesting should be used here?

2. GM says, "Roll!" Player says, "I got a 20! I get to narrate!" (launches into long and involved monologue about how this opponent is really his long-lost mother, to the consternation of the GM who'd been playing the NPC all along as someone totally different, say, Barnabas the stablehand) The GM is now forced to junk 80% of his prep and re-write the whole scenario in the next microsecond as the player looks at him expectantly.

That's the fear, right? It's a common one.

I actually went into the game having gotten over my fear of this happening. When it actually caused the problem you mention here in the second session, I was kind of caught off-guard, having heard a whole lot of "don't worry, it works out really well" talk here on the Forge. (Of course, it has worked really well most of the time, at least so far.)

So now I'm thinking that it (players introducing material) is not a bad thing--but I can't see how it can coexist with a prepared back-story.

---

On to the theory:

Does that help at all? I'm pretty sure you are used to putting narrational authority (how it happens, what happens), plot authority (now is the time for a revelation!), and situational authority (who's there, what's going on) together into one basket. I'm trying to help you tease them apart a little.

I can see this, altough it's a little hazy. Two questions:

1. Is it even possible to separate them in any meaningful way in play? Isn't there tons of overlap between those three types of authority?

2. Although I see what you're saying (given my reservations in the previous sentence), I'm not sure what you're getting at by getting me to look at it. If there's more coming, great, I follow you, let's carry on. If not, I'm not sure why you're trying to get me to understand those distinctions or how it deals with my question.

---

Joao,

Thanks for the heads up! Your account was also interesting for me to read.

---

A great big thanks to everyone. The wheels in my head are a-turnin'.

Sincerely,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 07, 2006, 11:42:38 PM
Marco,

I'm not sure I quite follow you here:

.- Get player buy-in. I'd stated that I wanted something that engaged the PCs. I got it from two of the three and ran the game. If I'd had a talk with her about engaging with *my* plot-hook (sight unseen) since she didn't provide her own, that might've averted my sudden sense of disorientation when my scene with her collapsed.

First of all, "I'd stated that I wanted something that engaged the PCs": you mean you said this to the players at the beginning of the game... right? I'm not entirely sure if that's what you mean. (And, if so, by "get player buy-in" you're talking about getting the players to introduce or select some element that engages them, correct?)

Also, what kind of "talk" about "engaging with *my* plot-hook (sight unseen)" do you wish you had had?

I'm just having some trouble understanding that paragraph, but it seems to me that it's an important one. :)

Quote
I think it might be fair to, out of game, have the conversation you had with the guy right there. After all, Players may not have the same level of directoral power of the back-story as a GM in most games--but they're still responsible for their share of pacing and proactive activity. If a Player disengages with the GM, I think it's fair to ask the player to contribute something and try to work with them.

Yeah! I've been planning to do things this way from now on (and I will when we meet again). The point about having the conversation right then and there is taken.

Thanks,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 03:25:11 AM
Hi Paul,

Again, I'm phrasing this post harshly due to my own personality flaws. I am aware that in some cases, you've provided examples which show you don't always accord with my "you" as utilized below. When "you" doesn't apply, please apply it to some guy who is not you. I know I said this before, but it really matters in this post.

PART ONE: FUNDAMENTAL CONCEPT

As it turns out, it's easiest to respond by taking your last point first. I'll expand those authorities I talked about into a list, with a key addition and with the order changed for greater clarity:

Content authority - over what we're calling back-story, e.g. whether Sam is a KGB mole, or which NPC is boinking whom

Plot authority - over crux-points in the knowledge base at the table - now is the time for a revelation! - typically, revealing content, although notice it can apply to player-characters' material as well as GM material - and look out, because within this authority lies the remarkable pitfall of wanting (for instances) revelations and reactions to apply precisely to players as they do to characters

Situational authority - over who's there, what's going on - scene framing would be the most relevant and obvious technique-example, or phrases like "That's when I show up!" from a player

Narrational authority - how it happens, what happens - I'm suggesting here that this is best understood as a feature of resolution (including the entirety of IIEE), and not to mistake it for describing what the castle looks like, for instance; I also suggest it's far more shared in application than most role-players realize

You wrote,

Quote
1. Is it even possible to separate them in any meaningful way in play? Isn't there tons of overlap between those three types of authority?

2. Although I see what you're saying (given my reservations in the previous sentence), I'm not sure what you're getting at by getting me to look at it. If there's more coming, great, I follow you, let's carry on. If not, I'm not sure why you're trying to get me to understand those distinctions or how it deals with my question.

Well, there you go. This is the crux of your entire presence at the Forge, the origin of every question you've asked so far, and why you've gravitated toward particular threads or points of mine over the last few weeks. I'm getting you to look at this because it's the knot in your mind, and despite my general suspicion toward psychology as a discipline, they get one thing dead-on right - no one sees his or her own tangled-up knots.

To answer your #1: It's not a question of whether separating them in a meaningful way is possible. You have it totally reversed, like someone who thinks water flows downhill so that all water can eventually mix in the ocean. I'm suggesting that you look at it from the total opposite viewpoint - that these four things are separate, they will always be separate, and just because you always put them in the same fruit bowl (and say "There is one fruit!" and also, "I am Fruit Guy in play!!") doesn't blend them as units.

As bluntly as possible: no. There is no overlap between those four types of authority. They are four distinct phenomena.

Do they have causal relationships among one another? Of course. The easiest version is top-down reductionist: because content is consulted, a plot authority decision is made, and then a situational authority decision/presentation must be made, and finally narrational authority must be exercised. I assume that for you, this is the most easy and familiar construction, and you're used to conducting them (or at least constructing them, idealistically speaking) as a single causal sequence in this order, with one person in charge - it's a "thing," perhaps the thing you call GMing.

As a side note, other causal relationships exist, putting the authorities into a different order (to preserve the top-to-bottom causation, for clarity). For example, you can reverse them entirely, and remarkably it is very easy, although it's harder to catch oneself doing it because memory typically rewrites the act into the more familiar sequence I described above. We'll have to work on this idea later, because, for instance, Kickers and Bangs in Sorcerer rearrange the sequence far more drastically, putting situational authority at the top/starting position. Please don't get distracted by this paragraph. It's intended to be a distant signpost to future discussion.

The real point, not the side-point, is that any one of these authorities can be shared across the individuals playing without violating the other authorities.

You're stuck on that. You're used to the idea that GM = Fruit Guy for the One Fruit, and it seems to you as if handing out the single fruit around the table will result in a monkey-mess of nasty thrown fruit pieces. All of the other questions you asked are simply manifestations of this basic mental knot. I think the Jasmine game is a good example to have brought up, because it shows how that doesn't have to happen ... and no, it's not merely because everyone "played nice" and "wasn't a dick." It's about rules.

PART TWO: MY POOL GAME, AND HOW WE ORGANIZED THE FRUITS

Quote
When you play the Pool (I'm thinking particularly of your "Jasmine and the Pool" game) with a solid back-story in mind, how do you (or how would you) react to some unexpected narration that clashes with your back-story? Your account makes it sound like there was no incongruity between playing the Pool and using a predetermined back-story.

I think you get this paragraph already, so consider it setup for the next one. There weren't any such moments in the Jasmine game, partly because I was working with a relationship map, not with a plot in mind. I had a bunch of NPCs. Whatever happened, I'd play them, which is to say, I'd decide what they did and said. You should see that I simply gave up the reins of "how the story will go" (plot authority) entirely. I'm pretty sure that you're reluctant to give up those reins despite experience, in your play-history, that lets you know that they don't work very well.

OK, that was the easy paragraph, and I know it didn't answer your question. Here's the basis for my answer: I'm also pretty sure that you think that giving up those reins also means giving up situational authority and content authority, and that's what I want to concentrate on now.

For instance, in the Jasmine game, I scene-framed like a mother-fucker. That's the middle level: situational authority. That's my job as GM in playing The Pool. By the rules, players can narrate outcomes to conflict rolls, but they can't start new scenes. But I totally gave up authority over the "top" level, plot authority. I let that become an emergent property of the other two levels: again, me with full authority over situation (scene framing), and the players and I sharing authority over narrational authority, which provided me with cues, in the sense of no-nonsense instructions, regarding later scene framing.

And similarly, like situational authority, content authority was left entirely to my seat at the table. There was no way for a player's narration to clash with the back-story. All of the player narrations concerned plot authority, like the guy's mask coming off in my hypothetical example above, or in the case of the Jasmine game, the one suitor becoming a popular rather than sinister guy through his actions.

This is key. Functional role-playing requires that everyone knows who has what authority in all four kinds, and whether it switches around from person to person for any one (or more) of the kinds, and if it does, when and how. But if someone thinks narrational authority is the same as (for instance) content authority, and someone else thinks content authority is concentrated in one person's hands, well, you're in for some serious techniques-clash disagreements.

Right now, RPG design is undergoing teething pains in terms of how to teach and apply these ideas. We are seeing, practically with every new game if you focus on the Forge and Forge-ish scene, "design battles" between the older assumptions (including functional ones) and the new ideas, but also between the potential difficulties inherent in the new ideas, regarding these four types of authority in particular.

PART THREE: YOU CAN KEEP THE CONTENT AUTHORITY IF YOU WANT

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(I'm also thinking of games that allow players to state goals, or set the stakes of their actions. For example, in an interrogation scene, a player might be able to say, "I want to roll to find out what his connection to the mafia is," and if he is successful, then the victim of the interrogation is involved in the mafia, period. Those two examples are really the same thing in slightly different packaging, as far as I'm concerned.)

That's a Trollbabe technique that is specifically permitted by the rules, which is to say, the GM is bound by the rules of the game to add elements into the back-story, continually, based on the conflicts that the players bring into it. If the players don't want to do any such thing, they frame no such conflicts in this manner, and if they do, well, the GM's job is to cope. Trollbabe scenarios are very simple in prep because they are built to balloon in complexity during play itself, if desired.

But note - that is a technique of a specific game, and not even a required one within it. It does not exist in The Pool's rules, and in fact, is defined out of them given the rules that are there. (Many people think The Pool is some kind of free-form, make-it-up, la-la kind of fairy role-playing. It's totally not. I claim it's as rules-heavy as Phoenix Command.)

So, as it's a technique, you can say, "That's not a technique for me. I want that solid back-story which I can play from, without worrying that Sam suddenly becomes a KGB mole at the drop of a die." And I really want to emphasize that. You can say that, and you can pick, and even design games that preserve that point. No one will call you a bad role-player or sneer "traditional" at you ... or if they do, here at the Forge, tattle on them to me, and I'll kick their asses. A lot of people get jazzed by the possibilities of Trollbabe-like conflict-framing, and in their enthusiasm, they get snotty toward techniques-combinations that don't allow it.

I'd also like to address your dialogue with Jesse, as part of this section. Bluntly, you are beautifully demonstrating the "there is only one fruit" fallacy. "If I let them contribute, they'll change my back-story!!" And I'm saying, no, the only way that other people at the table can change your back-story is if the System you-all employ at the table says they can do so. Is, or is not, content authority to be shared at this table, in this game, and according to these particular rules for organizing the sharing? It either can be or it can't be. If it can't, then your back-story is safe, even if the System you-all employ shares (for instance) narrational or even situational authority.

Also, I suggest avoiding bringing Stance into the discussion any further. I realize why Jesse did so, but you are so knotted up about the core issue that you're seeing Director Stance as being "the GM" in your one-fruit construction, and that leads you to wild imaginings of what could or would happen at the table if you were to share the one-fruit "thing" freely around it. And that's not necessary, given my current point. I urge you to read the paragraph just above this one over and over and over.

PART FOUR: YOUR PRINCES & PROPHECIES

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In one incident, I felt that a player didn't contribute to a particular scene as much as he had the opportunity to do. I gave him free reign to basically jump in whenever he wanted, in whatever way he wanted, and make a cool scene happen. However, when he did jump in, it was to say "I run away into the woods", and I felt like he didn't really engage with the scene at all, leaving the rest of us hanging. I've discussed it with the player since then and discovered that he's really looking forward to a particular climactic scene. I'm thinking that play up until that moment might seem like sitting in a waiting room. (I've since gently pointed out to him that the scene he's hoping for is hardly guaranteed to happen. He saw my point right away, so I think this won't be a problem again.)

You gave him narrational authority ("describe how you're involved") and he took situational authority ("am I or am I not involved"). That's all there is to that story, right there.

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In the second incident, the players were investigating an NPC who they thought might have been involved in a conspiracy. I had determined when I wrote up the scenario that this particular NPC wasn't involved in the conspiracy, and was eager to get to the next part--possibly a cool scene I had been hoping would happen since the beginning of the game. It turned into a real power struggle, where one player really wanted the NPC to be involved, and started authoring elements to suggest that he was, and I was resisting.

And again, you gave them narrational authority, if I'm reading you correctly, and they took content authority. Your desired play included you keeping content authority, which is a perfectly reasonable and functional expectation ... but if they didn't share that expectation or understanding, then you're fucked and will have No Fun (tm).

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Thinking about this has led me to think that when we look ahead to a cool event or thing we want to see, and expect to see, we disengage from playing in the moment. In the scene with the NPC, I'm sure I wasn't really participating in the sense of pushing the game towards some cool play.

I think that 90% of the problems I've had as a GM in the past are due to this--when I'm looking forward to some scene or some revelation or plot twist, everything becomes boring until we get there, so I am not really interacting with the players--I'm just trying to shut everything down so we can get to the next bit. The players feel lost, everyone gets bored and/or frustrated.

In games where the players have the power to contribute as authors, they can do this as well. Although in games with distributed authority no one can fully railroad the game, anyone can still withdraw from play by hoping to see their vision come out on top of anyone else's.

Well, let's look at this again. Actually, I think it has nothing at all to do with distributed authority, but rather with the group members' shared trust that situational authority is going to get exerted for maximal enjoyment among everyone. If, for example, we are playing a game in which I, alone, have full situational authority, and if everyone is confident that I will use that authority to get to stuff they want (for example, taking suggestions), then all is well. Or if we are playing a game in which we do "next person to the left frames each scene," and if that confidence is just as shared, around the table, that each of us will get to the stuff that others want (again, suggestions are accepted), then all is well.

It's not the distributed or not-distributed aspect of situational authority you're concerned with, it's your trust at the table, as a group, that your situations in the SIS are worth anyone's time. Bluntly, you guys ought to work on that.

Which is, by the way, the only thing in this discussion that concerns Creative Agenda. When the CA is shared and powerfully-held by the group, it forms the foundation for the trust I'm talking about. Picture the Big Model. Now link Social Contract directly to Situation with a skewer, and then punch "deeper" down into Techniques for handling Situation (i.e. distributed or not distributed). Does that skewer exist? If so, its standards (what is or is not good, for us, here and now) are the CA. This is another advanced discussion, and we should save it for later. But it's key.

Whew! This post took fucking hours to write, hours which I don't really have to spare. I'm leaving for GenCon tomorrow and must spend today preparing, so be aware that I won't be able to follow up on this thread with as much energy for at least a week.

Best, Ron
edited to fix quote format


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Marco on August 08, 2006, 03:42:41 AM
Hi Paul,

The characters were members of a secret organization that defends western civilization from a shadowy "enemy." They had been trained since they were very young (their Social Security Numbers being a numerological code that let the agency find recruits from birth) and their memories were *mostly* wiped. They were absolute bad-ass assassins--but there was a lot about the structure of the covert war they were in that they didn't know.

They also led crushingly mundane lives most of the time.

I instructed them to come to the table with an on-going problem that was coming up for them in their normal lives. It should be something they as Players found "engaging" (interesting? fun? etc.).

1. One player made a suburban house-wife (with a license to kill and a speciality with escrima knives). The local high school was cancelling her daughter's soccer team and reducing her son's science-team in order to promote its football team. Her husband, being an alumnus, greatly supported this move ... but she was furious.

This was the kind of problem you could not solve with combat skills.

2. One player made a school teacher from "across the tracks" who tended to protect his students from gang violence. This was the kind of problem you could solve by being a bullet-dodging combat machine. He didn't have a *specific* problem--but it wasn't hard to come up with one (a student came to him for help).

3. The player in question made an interesting character who was an unscrouplous realestate salesman who would sell houses to people beyond their means and then sell them again and again when the family was forclosed on.

But there was no conflict. The character was plenty okay with doing this. It was unethical but not illegal. It wasn't especially interesting to me to have some wronged family be upset about this.

But I had some ideas: I opened the scene with a family (family man, young daughter, concerned wife) looking at the house. Would she torpedo this (sympatheic) family? Yep. No conflicts there.

But there was another guy looking at the house as well--one who could see right through the character. He approached the character after and explained that he was a con artist who had a mark ... and the con needed a real estate guy--without morals.

And the player was like "no way"--and walked out on him.

Which left me without much to do with the player except run a very brief scene where the character read about the death of the con artist and learned that other stuff going on in the game had connected to that plot-thread (but there was no real RP'ing action).

What I'd Like To Have Said
"We got scenes commin' up that are  not related to your sleeper-cell kill-team stuff, you gotta either rationalize engaging with what *I* come up with, come up with something else good *yourself*, or be okay with really short scenes ... and really short scenes aren't so good for me--I consider that a failure of the game, pretty much (if not a catastrophic one)."

Alternatively (but not as good)
"We can't start this session until everyone has a conflict. So we may not be gaming this week."

Or Even
"Since you didn't give me a conflict, here's what'll happen: this guy will make you an offer to do something shady dealing with real estate--and you'll take it. How's that? Even if it seems like a bad idea in some dimensions or you don't trust the dude? Because you are greedy!"

Note
I will note that in the second game I'm running for the group, the characters all had something go catastrophically wrong in their lives and I told them, in the pre-game write-up that they would be offered a solution ... and they would take it. I didn't say what it would be (it was an offer to come to a self-help seminar--which used dangerous techniques grounded in a hidden alternate reality ... ) and I pointed out that skeptical characters would rightly see this as unlikely to work. It was okay to be cynical--but they had to take the offer.

We had some difficulty nailing down "what went wrong" (a character's first draft had them on the run from mobsters--something that wouldn't work real well given the much slower starting pace of the game)--but I *did* get buy-in and there was zero concern on my part that when I made the offer it'd be accepted (even the the characters were less than enthasiastic about it).

Izzat clearer?

-Marco


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Demiurge on August 08, 2006, 06:26:46 AM
Hi everyone,

In case anyone is wondering, I know Paul and am the "disenchanted gamer" in the Prince & Prophecies game (and the player of Loryn, the bastard that ran off into the woods). :)

This is my first post on this message board. Thanks for setting it up, there's some really neat discussion going on here. Mind you, I can't follow a lot of it because I lack the knowledge of the jargon. For instance, what an "SIS" is. It would help if, like in academic papers, you always spell out the acronym or abbreviation the first time it's used.

First: thanks Ron for the excellent and well-thought-out post. I think you've really pegged the nail on the head here, and what's more in a way that neither Paul nor I even considered.


Content authority - over what we're calling back-story, e.g. whether Sam is a KGB mole, or which NPC is boinking whom

Plot authority - over crux-points in the knowledge base at the table - now is the time for a revelation! - typically, revealing content, although notice it can apply to player-characters' material as well as GM material - and look out, because within this authority lies the remarkable pitfall of wanting (for instances) revelations and reactions to apply precisely to players as they do to characters

Situational authority - over who's there, what's going on - scene framing would be the most relevant and obvious technique-example, or phrases like "That's when I show up!" from a player

Narrational authority - how it happens, what happens - I'm suggesting here that this is best understood as a feature of resolution (including the entirety of IIEE), and not to mistake it for describing what the castle looks like, for instance; I also suggest it's far more shared in application than most role-players realize

I was first introduced to the idea that the players could be involved in developing the story by a little game called Theatrix. In this game, they have two mechanics for allowing players to author their own material:

  • Prop Improvisation: players can improvise any item or aspect of the scenery, so long as it doesn't contradict previously known facts, and doesn't affect a Dramatic Element (as defined by Game Master (GM)).
  • Statements: by spending a Plot Point, allow the players to make a statement of fact about the world, back story, etc.

I fell in love with Prop Improv. (I'm marrying it on Tuesday--don't tell my fiance) and now include it in all of my games. It gives Content authority to the players, but in a way that's very easy to understand and apply. The Prop Improv. can't contradict anything the GM has planned, period. But if it's something he didn't think of, then it lets players be clever and have more fun.

However, I could never fit in Statements to my games, and I think it's in large part because of this set of 4 distinctions Ron has mentioned, and which I never considered as four separate priviliges. I would give all 4 to my players when they made their Statements, and they would proceed to Fuck Everything Up. Now that I understand this 4 privilege issue, I think I could now allow players a lot more authoring capability in my games by giving them only certain privileges. Plus, there's also the critical issue of setting the Conflict vs. setting the Task which I now understand much better, and which is superb for cutting out hours of frustration and wasted time.

Back to the issue at hand with Paul and the game we're playing:

Paul, correct me if I'm wrong, but I think that what you want from this game is to give the players only Narrational Authority. i.e. to decide what happens and how. In other words, you want an open-ended story without a pre-defined ending. That's great! That's certainly what I want.

However, I think you want to keep the Content Authority for those aspects that you've already decided. I'd suggest allowing the players to make up stuff you hadn't considered (e.g. Prop Improv), but not let them mess up your story. Hence, in light of this new revelation from Ron, I'd change my stance on the Blacksmith Incident and say that you should have just said something like: "Roll the dice, if you succeed you find out how the blacksmith is involved, if you fail then you insult him." On a successful roll, you say "The blacksmith is not involved, now how do you learn that the blacksmith is not involved?"  You see the difference? It's genius!!!  The spy's player now gets to narrate to her heart's content without fucking up your back story!! Plus, she's setting the Conflict by saying she wants to discover the Blacksmith's secret.

My understanding is that you don't want us to have Situational Authority. This is fine. As GM I rarely give players this right myself (although I never really thought about it this way). I like throwing the Player Characters (PCs) to the wolves and watching how they get out of it. Hence, in future if you tell me to narrate the scene and I say "Loryn runs away into the woods" you say, "No! He's involved in the scene. How's he involved? What does he do?" That'll force my hand! I freely admit that I was "thinking of a future scene" (The First Thing, in your list of difficulties in your first post) when I had Loryn run away, which was my mistake. However, if I were to make this mistake again in the future, you could force me back to the here and now in this way. :)


One last question for the Forge at large:  can someone give an example of Plot Authority? For instance, of a case where the GM asks the player to provide Plot authoring, vs. the GM doing this himself?


Thanks!!!! Great discussion!  This is honestly the most excited I've been about roleplaying for several years. I can finally see the tools I need to make the games I play fun.

--Jonathan


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Frank T on August 08, 2006, 07:08:44 AM
Great thread!

I can think up examples of all kinds of different splits of authority, except for one player having narrative authority and another player having plot authority in the same scene. Ron, could you give an example of a scene with that kind of split, please?

- Frank


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Dav on August 08, 2006, 07:15:22 AM
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In my "Princes & Prophecies" game, we had two particularly awkward incidents. In one incident, I felt that a player didn't contribute to a particular scene as much as he had the opportunity to do. I gave him free reign to basically jump in whenever he wanted, in whatever way he wanted, and make a cool scene happen. However, when he did jump in, it was to say "I run away into the woods", and I felt like he didn't really engage with the scene at all, leaving the rest of us hanging. I've discussed it with the player since then and discovered that he's really looking forward to a particular climactic scene. I'm thinking that play up until that moment might seem like sitting in a waiting room. (I've since gently pointed out to him that the scene he's hoping for is hardly guaranteed to happen. He saw my point right away, so I think this won't be a problem again.)

This paragraph is really where I stopped reading your post for minor interest and diversion and starting reading it for a purpose.  

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I've since gently pointed out to him that the scene he's hoping for is hardly guaranteed to happen.

This is where my brain skipped a beat.

All right, here is the Thing... you, kind sir, are the GM for this lil troupe.  Being a GM comes with certain responsibilities: making certain the other players have fun, facilitating their expectations of plot flow, effing with their chi when they get with the hubris, basically, your job is to become the embodiment and distributor of poetic justice and retribution.  Now, I know a lot of people prep their games and map things out, but I always feel that robs the game of the point.  I mean, if, as GM, you want to run your characters through some rat maze of your own design, that's just peachy keen and all... I guess.  Actually, you know what, let me take that back, it is, in fact, not all right, and not okay... I'm going to go ahead and say that it is absolutely damaging to the overall creative agenda pursued by an interesting roleplaying game.

That said, and yes, I realize that there is this floating discussion of Bigness and such rollicking about this thread, but, to me, this is eminently more important than the rest of it... where was I?  Oh yes, that said, your player specifically said that he and his character wanted to participate and even possibly direct Scene X!  Your Job, as GM, is to make that happen.  Bring that about.  This is your kit and what you do, this is the shite you signed-on for.  By your player's interest, and expressed, verbal desire, oh you'd better shit-hell easy bet that, barring nuclear holocaust, complete extinction of whatever the hell game you guys are playing, that scene should become not only a nigh-on garaunteed bit of your game, but it should now be a Fulcrum of your game.  Sure, make the player or character work to bring the Scene X about, make his ability to sculpt the scene dependent on his perfomance through the rest of the game ("kudos, you'll be able to pull NPC 1, 2, and 3 into the scene due to your building contacts, roleplaying, and plot-driving"), but let me assure you, your Job as a GM is to now preserve and protect the happenings of that Scene X as surely as the player.

You two should be conspiring to work at this, not mentioning it and separating.  To be honest, his lack of colorful descriptions and narration is MUCH less important than this.  Perhaps, and this isn't a dig at you, but perhaps the player has not felt enough draw toward the story or particular scenes to get jazzed-up about (yeah, I know John is on the boards here, too, so you two can work that out on your own time and such).  

I realize I have a whole mess and passels of general ideas on how to run and create a game for your players and their characters, but, in my defense, I run the best damn games you ever did see (often due to players that "get it", but also because, well, I know how to hook 'em, and I know how to get my players to conspire WITH me, rather than AGAINST me, tres` important).

Anyway, just some thoughts.

Dav  


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 08, 2006, 07:24:20 AM
Hi Frank,

Arrrrrghhh!

Narrational, not narrative.

Narrational = which actual person talks and what they say; in this case, specifically pertaining to in-game resolution

Narrative = pertaining to what fictional conflicts occur, how they finally are resolved (again, in fictional terms, not procedurally), and the emergent themes

I'm not frustrated at you, Frank, but at the native speakers who persist in tying themselves in knots over this extremely simple difference in two words which share linguistic roots but are about two incredibly different things. Nineteen times out of twenty, when someone blathers about Narrativist games or Narrativist play, they are only talking about narrational techniques and thus spread confusion and blight across the land.

OK, I'm done. But everyone who screws this up, consider yourself smacked by a thrown hamster. I have a big bag of'em.

One person has narrational authority? Another has plot authority? Easy as pie.

Bob: "You cut his head clean off!" (narrational authority)

Bill: "The lady Samantha comes running up - 'You bastard,' she cries. 'Guards! Arrest him!'"

In this case, the narrational authority is extremely limited, because that's all the guy has. People are so accustomed to the types of authority being lumped together that they often think narrational authority must at least one, if not all, of the other kinds. It doesn't have to.

I suspect that you were thinking that narrational authority had to include some plot authority, and in a lot of games that's the case. The Pool allows it, intermittently, for example. But in this case, if you say that Bill has the latter, then, well, he does, and Bob doesn't.

Although I'd really rather see further questions about this be taken to Actual Play threads of their own. I can see about fifteen objections to my little example flaring up already based on 'what if - then" constructions ...

Best, Ron

P.S. It's probably time for the rest of us to give Paul a chance to respond.


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Frank T on August 08, 2006, 08:34:22 AM
Yeah, a little inter-lingual confusion here. Thanks for clarifying. That makes sense.

- Frank


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 08, 2006, 11:48:40 AM
Wow. This discussion is getting really intense. Thank you all for participating!

Ron, thank you, especially, for that extremely thorough and lengthy post. Just for the record, I don't feel offended or attacked by anything you have said--quite the contrary, and I'm glad you've taken the time to do so.

This discussion has been fascinating and fruitful for me so far. I hope GenCon won't prevent it from continuing, even if it has to continue at a glacial pace.

A lot of things have been brought up, so I will try to answer the ones I feel I can answer at this point, and leave the ones that I'll need to go home and think about for a while.

Here we go:

----

Marco,

That clears up what you said beyond any reasonable expectations. Thanks! I will definitely be taking your advice in the future.

---

Dav,


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I've since gently pointed out to him that the scene he's hoping for is hardly guaranteed to happen.

This is where my brain skipped a beat.

All right, here is the Thing... [...] your player specifically said that he and his character wanted to participate and even possibly direct Scene X!  Your Job, as GM, is to make that happen.

You two should be conspiring to work at this, not mentioning it and separating. 

You make a very good point, and one worth thinking about. However, in this case, the scene he has in mind includes all the other player characters as well, and at a certain time and geographical location. We do not yet know whether those players want their characters to go in that direction in play.

So, my position is that I will try to make his cool idea happen in play, but not over the desires of the other players--they could prevent this scene from taking place if they don't want it. Hence my statement that it was not guaranteed to happen--I couldn't guarantee it without stepping on the other players' toes.

I'm curious to hear whether you think your advice still applies or not, given that caveat.

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To be honest, his lack of colorful descriptions and narration is MUCH less important than this. 

Before someone else jumps on this, I haven't mentioned "lack of colorful descriptions" anywhere (at least, I hope I haven't). I have zero concern about the players' ability to contribute in terms of description (what Ron is calling "Narrational authority"). If they want to, I'd love to hear it, but I'm just as happy if they don't.

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I realize I have a whole mess and passels of general ideas on how to run and create a game for your players and their characters, but, in my defense, I run the best damn games you ever did see (often due to players that "get it", but also because, well, I know how to hook 'em, and I know how to get my players to conspire WITH me, rather than AGAINST me, tres` important).

If you're suggesting that you're holding back some other advice, please jump right in--I'd love to hear it.

---

Jon,

Thanks for jumping in! It's good to have someone from the game to contribute and either support me or hold me accountable by pointing out when I'm misrepresenting things.

I'm really really surprised by the assumptions that you (and some of the other posters in this thread) have made about my desires for which type of authority I'm looking for from the players in this game. (Ron's breakdown makes a lot of sense to me, as well as his explanation of how they are entirely separate fruits.) This suggests that it is my fault, so I will try to come out into the open with this, now that Ron has given us some vocabulary to use in discussing these distinctions.

Having thought about it a little, what I'm looking for is (in this game):

   * As GM, I want to retain Content authority and Narrational authority. (However, it's only important to me as it relates to backstory--if a player wants to describe minor details, I don't mind them doing so in either of those areas. But I guess I would like to able to "veto" anything that conflicts with past events or other important elements of play.)

   * I want the players, on the other hand, to take grasp of Situational authority. I've been assuming that there will be some hesitation on this point, so I'm willing to provide scen framing and the like when the players aren't jumping in and doing it, but I would be happy to defer to the players completely in this arena. Hence my prompting in game, along the lines of, "You want a chance to confront Mr X? Ok, how do you see this happening?" (and then I'm happy to go with whatever the player gives me).

   * I'm not sure about Plot authority. I think I'm still seeing it kind of as an emergent property of Situational authority, but I will trust Ron that they are separate. Since I see them as related at this point, I'm pretty sure I DO want the players to have Plot authority (once play has begun--the game started with me supplying a good chunk of Plot information) as well, since I'm really looking to give them Situational authority.

I see both of these categories as sort of hierarchical. My view on this is as follows:

   * The players hold the bulk of Situational and Plot authority. I, as GM, can fill in Situational and Plot stuff when the players feel uninspired, but will defer to them when they DO have something they want.
   * In the same way, I, as GM, have Content and Narrational authority, but the players can fill those in when I'm uninspired ("Does the blacksmith have a hammer on the wall?" "Uh, sure,"), but will defer to me in those arenas.

Jon, since this is so different from what you were saying, is this totally coming out of left field for you?

I know I didn't articulate any of this very distinctly at the start, very much in part because I wasn't sure which way things would go when the game began. But I've been trying to push in that direction since play began, given the success of the first session (which I felt operated as I described above).

Is there a communication gap going on? As I said in the write-up, what I have told (and demonstrated, at least in the first session) to the players so far is that I frame scenes as much as possible only in response to what they want, and give them authority to determine the particular situation at hand. From the actual play report:

From there, play progressed very smoothly. I decided that I would try to get each player to frame their own scenes, and was surprised by how easy and natural it felt. It was something I'd read about before, and it always sounded very scary and artificial on paper. However, it turned out to be very similar to what I had been doing as a GM for years--I would turn to each player and it would go something like:

--"What would you like your character to do now?"
--"I want to confront the Captain of the Guard about [...]"
--"How do see that happening?"
--"Well, maybe I'm walking by his tent and find him eating breakfast..."
--"Perfect! Let's go!"

Of course it hasn't been super-clear, since this approach has only been developing in play for me. It's a new thing, and I didn't have it in mind before we started playing. So, of course it wasn't clearly outlined at the beginning.

Another example might be the first scene of the game:

I told the players there was a dinner at the King's table. Any player who wanted to be part of the scene could do so. One of them (the serving woman) said she would there. I said, "Ok, why?" She responded that she was receiving orders for an espionage mission from the Guard Captain. So, after the dinner, I had him pull her aside and give her one. (This is her exercising Plot authority, correct?)

Does that all make sense, or is what I'm doing completely different from what I'm saying I'd like to do?

---

Ron,

That's a really meaty post. I will reread a few times before it all sinks in, I'm sure.

However, I'm still missing something about Jasmine and the Pool. Here are the relevant bits:

OK, that was the easy paragraph, and I know it didn't answer your question. Here's the basis for my answer: I'm also pretty sure that you think that giving up those reins also means giving up situational authority and content authority, and that's what I want to concentrate on now.
[...]
And similarly, like situational authority, content authority was left entirely to my seat at the table. There was no way for a player's narration to clash with the back-story. All of the player narrations concerned plot authority, like the guy's mask coming off in my hypothetical example above, or in the case of the Jasmine game, the one suitor becoming a popular rather than sinister guy through his actions.
[...]
But it is a technique of a specific game, and not even a required one within it. It does not exist in The Pool's rules, and in fact, is defined out of them given the rules that are there. (Many people think The Pool is some kind of free-form, make-it-up, la-la kind of fairy role-playing. It's totally not. I claim it's as rules-heavy as Phoenix Command.)

I'm really not seeing how the Pool's rules allow the GM to retain content authority. (Just for the record, I'm totally with you on the Pool being a strict ruleset.) Here's the relevant bit, again:

Quote
Giving an MOV is like taking control of the game for a few moments. You can describe your character’s actions, the actions of those around him, and the outcome of those actions. You can even focus on less direct elements of the conflict such as what’s happening in the next room or who’s entering the scene.

So, for instance, in your "unmasked villain" example, if a player rolls to unmask him, why can't that player then state that as the mask comes off the villain turns out to be the chef, or something similar? When investigating a murder scene, why, by the rules, can't he state that he finds the footprints of some character who, by the back-story, could not have been there?

You're probably tearing your hair out by this point. But I don't understand this part, and I seem to be stuck on it. I appreciate everyone's patience, and promise to be patient myself.

(Or do you just mean that you had a talk with the players about it, either before the game, or before each roll--something like, "OK, if you win, you'll unmask him, and I'll tell you who it is"? I can't really see how what you wrote can be read that way--as far as I can tell you're talking about the game text.)

---

Thank you all once again,


Paul



Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 08, 2006, 11:57:01 AM
Follow-up:

1. In the future, I will make a separate post to answer each person's questions. That should be clearer and easier to read, and I think is the "standard" here on the Forge.

2. Rereading this conversation (including my own contributions), it seems to me that we, as group, are operating on slightly different interpretations of Ron's four categories. For instance, I think some people see "the Vikings will attack at noon!" as Plot, some as Content (they left their homeland two months earlier), and some as Situation (in this scene, the Vikings come in to complicate things). Ron, am I correct in saying that you would consider that statement as touching on all three?

Cheers,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 08, 2006, 12:13:57 PM
Ron,

I can also see that my questions about the Pool are exactly what you specifically requested people not to post. My apologies. I would still love to hear your answer, whether here or by PM, but will try not to post anything like that again.

Thanks,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Darren Hill on August 09, 2006, 11:41:45 AM
Paul mentioned that some people may be operating from different definitions of the authorities. I'm also a bit vague on where the boundaries of some of them lie. Here are a couple of questions about what authority would be needed for certain things.

Let's say two characters, Corrin and Andvari, man and wife, have made enemies. You'd need Situational Authority to say, "while they are sleeping, an assassin slips into their room and tries to kill them." Right?
What authority would you need to choose which enemy was attacking? Would Situational A. be enough, or would you also need Plot A.?
Also, could you say that a character who had previously been an ally was attacking? Would you need Content Authority for that, or would Plot A be enough?
What authority would you need to declare the reason for the attack?

Let's say they defeat and capture their assassin. What authority would you need to be able to say, "this former champion of an evil god is so impressed by our honour that he changes his ways and becomes a good guy" ? Is the changing motivations of characters during play covered by Plot or Content authority?


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: JMendes on August 09, 2006, 12:44:49 PM
Ahey, :)

Darren, I can't claim to be an authority on the issue (no pun intended), but as an exercise in understanding, I'd like to try my hand at these. Ron, I hope that's OK, and please, do correct me if I'm wrong.

You'd need Situational Authority to say, "while they are sleeping, an assassin slips into their room and tries to kill them." Right?
Looks that way to me.

What authority would you need to choose which enemy was attacking? Would Situational A. be enough, or would you also need Plot A.?
I'm thinking, if you already know what the possible enemies are, then yeah, Situational. If you want to create an enemy, however, you probably need to go all the way to Content. You only need Plot to control the moment at which the identity of the assassin becomes apparent to the marks.

Also, could you say that a character who had previously been an ally was attacking? Would you need Content Authority for that, or would Plot A be enough?
If you're talking about a specific former ally, I'd say Content, but if you just say any character who has heretofore been an ally, I'd say Situational, as in "a former ally slips into their room and tries to kill them". Again, Plot seems to apply only to when or whether the characters perceive the goings on.

What authority would you need to declare the reason for the attack?
I'd say Content.

Let's say they defeat and capture their assassin. What authority would you need to be able to say, "this former champion of an evil god is so impressed by our honour that he changes his ways and becomes a good guy" ? Is the changing motivations of characters during play covered by Plot or Content authority?
Depending on the specifics, I'd say you could even get away with Narrational on this one.

Hope I hit the mark on at least a few of these.

Cheers,
J.


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 09, 2006, 03:29:09 PM
Hmmm...

Darren and Joao--I may be wrong, but I think that this type of "what-if" conversation is what Ron was trying to avoid in this thread.

In the meantime, I think I'm beginning to understand my problem a little better. In short form:

   * The category of narrational authority has absolutely nothing to do with whether the information (it's hard not to use the word "content" here) is decided before play (like back-story) or during play (as is typical of most "narrational" input in RPGs).

Am I closer to being on the right track now?

Cheers,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Darren Hill on August 09, 2006, 03:53:06 PM
If that's the case (avoiding what-if's), I'm sorry. But those examples weren't What If's, they were real examples from my current campaign, in which fate points (a form of authority distribution) were used to create situations. I generalised them a bit because of questions raised by the incidents and this thread.


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 10, 2006, 03:30:09 AM
Hi Paul,

Almost right! Just about almost there ... the only tweak is that your sentence is correct in the abstract, or definitional sense, but in practice, a specific role-playing group has to know, as a group, when and how information (especially what I'm calling content authority) comes into the SIS.

In other words, in group A, narrational authority might include content authority, but in group B, it does not. So in one of these groups, one cannot say 'Oh gee, narrational authority might or might not carry content, I guess" - it'll be fixed-in-place, or, as you discovered, difficulties ensue.

Making such standards explicit for a given game design is pretty historically rare, except for one or two constructions of authority. Design which tailors authority-distribution (between and within levels) is comparatively recent.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Web_Weaver on August 12, 2006, 04:54:12 AM
Hi Paul,

I think you need to reread your stated views with a clearer definition of authority.

I see both of these categories as sort of hierarchical. My view on this is as follows:

   * The players hold the bulk of Situational and Plot authority. I, as GM, can fill in Situational and Plot stuff when the players feel uninspired, but will defer to them when they DO have something they want.
   * In the same way, I, as GM, have Content and Narrational authority, but the players can fill those in when I'm uninspired ("Does the blacksmith have a hammer on the wall?" "Uh, sure,"), but will defer to me in those arenas.

For instance, It seems to me you want to have Situational Authority, after all its who decides in the end that counts, and you did have problems with the "I run to the woods" situation which implies you want to have the final say. Sure it may be your aim for players to suggest situations, but this isn't the same thing.

I would be interested to see you list the 4 authorities based on who has the final say. And in light of that which areas are up for discussion.


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 12, 2006, 09:42:01 AM
Hello, everyone.

I recently ran the third session of the game, which went much more smoothly. Everyone had more fun than in the first or second session, including myself. A few things are beginning to make sense to me, but some others are still unclear.

My main stumbling block is still the idea of the "separation" of the four authorities. Although I can see how one might conceive of them as entirely different areas, it seems to me that in play a lot of statements will belong to more than one category. For instance: a particular character X has a history of being famous for having the most perfectly-shaped hands in the kingdom (content, right?), and player Y is ignorant of that fact. Player Y knows that he has Narrational authority in a scene involving character X, but not Content authority. If Player Y then describes something about character X's "dirty, scarred hands clutching the sceptre", he has unwittingly stumbled across some Content "stuff", hasn't he?

In other words, I cannot see how the rules of (say) the Pool allow the GM to retain Content authority. I can see how one might have a discussion about this before the game, agreeing to play this way, but I don't see how the rules can enforce that. Is that what Ron meant--a social-level agreement before or during play? I can totally see how that might be the case, but Ron's particular choice of words keeps suggesting to me that he's talking about something else (see the quotes earlier in this thread). If he did mean social agreement, whoever had Content authority in the example (above paragraph) would have to tell player Y to change that part of his narration. But this sounds like it could be unpleasant in practice.

(What extant games have neat or innovative ways of defining this territory? Are there any examples we can discuss here?)

Anyhow, on to the game:

Play was much more like the first session of Princes & Prophecies, where I exercised very little Plot or Situational authority, except in reaction to the players.

Here are my thoughts, revised:

I am still sure that I want the "final say" on matters of Content, and on Narrational stuff as well (in other words, I can always decide whether or not I want a player to narrate a moment in play or introduce some back-story information, even though I could choose to grant it often if I wanted to).

Situational authority is still something I want players to be exercising during most of the game, but I've realized that I'm not entirely certain I don't want "final say" in terms of veto power. My ideal "image" of play is that all the players (including myself) will be using Situational authority equally (like, for instance, each framing a scene in turn). I think I'll need to try it both ways ("I have final say even though players exercise Situational authority" vs. "Situational authority is widely distributed") to really know whether I would prefer having "final say" in terms of veto power or not.

Plot authority, frankly, I find rather confusing, so I'm not sure what to say here. I know that in the last session of the  game I exercised fairly little of it and I enjoyed play more than in the second session, where I'd exercised a lot of it.


Jamie,

I think you're right on with your comments--it's what I've been thinking about myself, and I hope the above answers your question.

Hi Paul,

I think you need to reread your stated views with a clearer definition of authority.

[...]

For instance, It seems to me you want to have Situational Authority, after all its who decides in the end that counts, and you did have problems with the "I run to the woods" situation which implies you want to have the final say. Sure it may be your aim for players to suggest situations, but this isn't the same thing.

I very explicitly did not want to have Situational authority in that situation. That is why I did nothing to change things afterward. Nor did I require a roll for the character to escape or anything like that--I wanted him to have final say, so I gave it to him. What that situation was, in my mind, was a social-level mismatch of expectations. In that scene, the player had made a failed roll while eavesdropping on a conversation, to which I responded, "OK, at some point in this scene your character makes some sort of mistake and will get noticed by someone. You tell me when and how." The player (Jon) grinned mischievously, and I got the impression that he was excited by the prospect, that he had some cool idea of how that might come about.

My expectation was that when he would jump in, something exciting and interesting would happen. I had no problem with what happened at the table in terms of authority or System. I wouldn't have done anything differently were I to run the scene again, nor do I wish I had vetoed his statement or taken charge in any way. My disappointment was as an audience member--I had (possibly?) misread his body language so as to be anticipating some cool event, and after all the anticipation I felt let down. This was exacerbated by the fact that I was beginning to feel the weight of responsibility of the whole "plot"--the players were no longer pulling it along with me. When he didn't give me much to go on, I felt like I was in the "hot seat" again. In the future, as I said before, if that happens again, I'll try to sit back and ask the players what happens next.

Does this shed any further light on either the situation? For this thread overall, does it shed any further light on the source of my confusion?

Side Note - Reward Systems

This third session of play really taught me a lesson about reward systems, I think. I feel like I have a more practical understanding of their use, which I felt by their absence in my game.

When I sat back, only reacting to the players and soliciting more from them by asking questions ("You come into town? Ok, who's with you?"), play went very well. Whenever I got a "cool idea" I wanted to contribute and jump in with some scene framing or NPC initiative, however, the players tended to quiet down and sit expectantly--if I made two or three such contributions in a row (as I did in the second session), the players pretty much stopped altogether, waiting on me to continue.

As a result I am thinking of introducing a mechanic that rewards players to frame their own scenes and conflicts--my desired aim is that even when I am contributing Plot or Authority stuff, the players will have incentive not to back off but jump in and try to make their own contributions, kind of "pushing against me" instead of sitting back and letting me have full say. Any suggestions? Am I on the right track with this?

This is the first time I've seen concretely, in actual play, how reward systems can be used to form play. Like many gamers, I've been operating for years and years with no reward system (or equal rewards for each player, which comes down to the same thing). This experience has been very interesting to me!

All the best and continued thanks to you all for your advice,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Web_Weaver on August 15, 2006, 08:09:49 AM
Hi Paul,

Reading your last post this bit seems odd:

Plot authority, frankly, I find rather confusing, so I'm not sure what to say here. I know that in the last session of the  game I exercised fairly little of it and I enjoyed play more than in the second session, where I'd exercised a lot of it.

Maybe this is where your problem has its roots, are you hoping that plot will be emergent from play or do you have some mechanism for driving plot? For example, are your NPCs actively provoking action and/or dilemma?


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 15, 2006, 09:21:32 AM
Hi there,

Jamie, I'd like to paraphrase your question a little, because as written it might be read as a dichotomy where there is none.

Here's the real dichotomy, as I see it.

1. Plot may emerge from play through the resolution of situations. In such cases, "plot authority" may be thought of as a fully shared entity - as a thing, distinct from the other kinds of authority, but as a process, in this kind of play, arising from them rather than being inserted as a "thing" from the get-go.

Please note that planning, especially in terms of what I call Bangs, may be part of this. The distinction between and local definitions of "GM" and "player" may be thought of as roles within this process, just as cooks and headwaiters have different but equallly authoritative roles in an overall restaurant process.

2. Plot may be exerted upon the play-space, as a planned phenomenon - not only "this is where I'll introduce Big Billy," but rather planned outcomes and revelations and twists as well - "this is where Big Billy will make sure that Player-Character Bob will discover the clue, or grieve for his sister," or whatever. Certain kinds of play rely on this kind of plot approach, in which plot authority takes on a far more centralized role.

Don't be confused, either, by prep vs. improvisation. If this kind of plot authority is centralized and solid in the fashion I'm describing, then a skilled user can either utitlize pre-play prep or during-play improvisation to exercise it. If the group works well with this kind of play, then it typically becomes what Mike Holmes calls Participation play.

#1 and #2 each encompass vast ranges of other variables, and I fully expect discussion of this topic to flail wildly as people confound those variables with what I'm talking about. For one thing, extraordinary degress of "in character" intensity can be found in both.

Paul, does that make sense? I do think Jamie's onto something with the point about your own ease/difficulty with this issue. I also think it might be time for this thread to close, as processing the issues is already improving your enjoyment of play, and for you to continue to process them through play itself rather than further terminological or theoretical chit-chat here.

Let me know whether you want to keep going with the thread, or just provide some closing thoughts if you'd like.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 15, 2006, 01:11:54 PM
Thanks, everyone.

First of all, this discussion has been fantastic, and I've got lots to think about. My game has already improved from the advice given here. There are a few things I need to sort through in terms wrapping my brain around some of these concepts, but that I can do on my own time.

However, there a couple of loose ends I'd like to wrap up, if that's OK. I still need some advice on my game.


Getting It

First of all, since no one has taken to shouting "No!", I will assume that my stated preferences for this game make sense, and assume that I am therefore interpreting the four authorities correctly. Please let me know if that isn't the case.

For instance: Plot authority. In light of the couple of most recent posts, I am willing to say that Plot authority is in the players' hands in this game. Ron's explanation of how Plot authority can determine the need for other statements, or "causal relationships" between the four types of authority, as he put it, ties this up neatly. Plot authority is essentially consulted by the players to determine how to exercise Situational authority.

Example: Player X wants to know who the Masked Stranger is (i.e. he wants to exercise Plot authority). He narrates a Situation where the Stranger's identity will be revealed (probably they'll be a roll or something for whether the Stranger can avoid being revealed). The GM, exercising Content authority, reveals his identity.

Am I getting this right?


Seeking Help

Finally, what I would really like from this thread is advice on how best to explain this to my players and how to deal with any problems that arise in play due to cases of "mistaken Authority". While the third session went really well, I still don't have anything solid in place to avoid a problem like we had in the second session (the scene with the blacksmith).

I'm looking for good ways to reach an understanding with the players and deal with violations (unintentional violations, i.e. not social conflicts) of said understanding.

From the original post:

Possible solutions include:

* The "No Myth" approach, if I understand it correctly--anything not yet introduced in play is not part of the picture, period. The GM's back-story is merely a collection of material he or she would like to introduce to play. If the players' contributions make that material impossible to include, the preparation is wasted. (An example of this is "Bangs" prepared by a GM before play. Some may be ignored, others may never get "thrown in" at all.)
* Social contract: The players agree not to improvise content in certain areas of play. (This sounds a little problematic to me, being kind of hard to define.)
* All backstory is known before play begins. There are no "GM secrets".

Any others?

The second "solution" is what I assume we've been talking about, absent a system that outlines it more clearly. (As Ron said, some of the newer games are tackling this head-on.) Are there some other options?

The system-facilitated solutions are things that allow the players to bid resources or roll somehow otherwise resolve who gets final say. This has limitations--if some authority should NEVER be shared, this approach doesn't really help you, right?


Talking It Over, or Organizing the Fruits in My Game
 
My concern is that I don't want to use any of this theoretical language at the table. Plain English should be sufficient, right? Most of this stuff is simple enough to explain ("Ask player X to find out who the Masked Stranger is, as it has been pre-determined"). However, as this thread has demonstrated, there are two tough points:

1) Not everyone understands right away what exactly these four mean, where one ends and where another begins, and so on. (Couldn't this, alone, lead to misunderstandings at the table?)

2) Actual statements made at the table will often require several types of authority at once.
(This is what I meant when I said:)

Quote

Is it even possible to separate them in any meaningful way in play? Isn't there tons of overlap between those three types of authority?

How can a player remember to limit their narration so as to avoid a conflict of authority over something that hasn't even been revealed yet when it can get tied in with something else that the player does have full authority to narrate? I mean, if a certain monster marks its path with daisies, and the players don't know it, they could use narrational authority to describe a trail daisies going into the local inn, couldn't they, thinking they were merely contributing colour? What does the GM do then?

Given 1) and 2), I'm seeing a lot of potential for miscommunication. Any suggestions? How can I make this clear to my players, and continue to make it clear in play?

Maybe an example is necessary, and this is why I keep coming back to the Pool:


Organizing the Fruits in the Pool

I still do not understand how the Pool allows you to retain content authority. This is a very important point for me, I feel, for getting a fully operational grasp on this whole situation, because it still mystifies me.

Is it:

a) The system allows it, so if the GM wants to run his game that way, he can. (i.e. the players cannot change this even if they try)

b) The Pool cannot be played any other way; it's a design feature.

or

c) The GM (Ron, in "Jasmine") explains to the players before play begins that their MoVs do not include Content authority. (The Pool merely makes this type of play possible.)

If c), what did you say, Ron?

In game, how did, or would, you deal with any violations of the limits agreed upon?


Conclusion

In short, these expectations (i.e. the distribution of the four authorities) have to be shared and understood by everyone at the table, or, like Ron said, you will have No Fun. I am unsure how to make that happen, given that many, if not most, narrated statements could easily encompass several "authorities", and not everyone seems to be able to wrap their head around those distinctions immediately.

All the best,


Paul


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Ron Edwards on August 15, 2006, 04:29:23 PM
Hi Paul,

Your summary of Plot Authority = 100% correct. Awesome.

Telling your players - hey, up to you. Some people really dislike analytical or principle-based statements regarding stuff they do. If it's not about how it feels when they do it, then they don't wanna know. Based on your third session, I suggest simply continuing to play and exercise your own understanding and skills.

If you simply must present any specific thing to them from this conversation, I suggest pointing out that content authority lies with you, and that they can rely on you to provide it when desired. So (a) they can describe stuff and (b) they can cue you to provide some content, or that they'd like a conflict in order to get some. This is a pretty useful and jargon-free way to present it, I think.

To put it as simply as possible, stick with "prep content" or "back story," and distinguish it from "description," and then play it from there. You'll probably find that that's a relief to them, because some people's freeze-up with narrational mechanics lies with their misconception that they are supposed to be adding content.

Regarding The Pool and the Jasmine game, I'll tell you my viewpoint based on many discussions with James, although not based on the text one way or the other.

a) I do not think The Pool was written to provide players with content authority. This should be left to the GM and prep. The Pool is not a mere improv freeform activity in which we trade around "telling a story."

b) It obviously provides narrational authority, per use of Monologues of Victory. Each Monologue carries a strong optional possibility, to generate one-scene plot authority. I have noted many times that players vary greatly in their desire to exercise this option; many are stunned by the narrational authority alone and do not need to be pushed for more. Many stick with narrational authority and choose their instances to "upgrade" it to plot authority very carefully.

Example (winning roll to charm someone): "He smiles and takes my arm, and we whirl off together into the dance." (narrational)

Example (same situation, same roll): [same as above, plus] "He falls in love with me." (narrational + plot)

c) Situation authority is fuzzy, and in my view, is probably best left to the GM.

Regarding the Jasmine game, I didn't provide much instruction, but rather clarifications during play itself as people squinted or looked puzzled when they thought about using the Monologues. The opportunity to explain was easy to isolate, because a successful roll presents the mechanical choice of taking a die or narrating, so a built-in pause exists.

The fellow playing the successful suitor was the most experienced with The Pool, so he simply kept adding dice to his pool, to the maximum (from memory ... nine dice, I think), and then only used the Monologue when he really wanted to, i.e., winning Jasmine's heart.

Best, Ron


Title: Re: Silent Railroading and the Intersection of Scenario Prep & Player Authorship
Post by: Paul T on August 15, 2006, 06:16:22 PM
Okay, fantastic.

That does it for me. I will be happy to answer any further questions, or comments by anyone else who posted something here, but otherwise I'm done.

Many thanks to Ron in particular, as well as everyone else who participated.

All the best,


Paul