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Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on June 25, 2001, 04:42:00 PM
Here's a question for you that occured to me.  How many of you have played in games where all the players aren't acting as the typical 'party?'  That is all the players are part of the same story and are interacting in the same area and with the same set of NPCs and all dealing with the same problem but they aren't necessarily working together enmass like your typical adventuring 'party'?

So many RPGs assume that you will be working together as a group.  In a lot of horror games you're all agents of the same organization sent on an assignment.  In Fantasy Adventure games you're all part of an adventuring party off on some grand quest.

This occured to me after reading some of Ron's examples where the PLAYERS learn information and then work out how their CHARACTERS come by that information.  Well, in my group generally anytime the PLAYERS and the CHARACTERS are on different pages so to speak my players will go, 'Okay we all get together and share our revelations.' and move on from that point.

Hmmmm... Maybe this is really two seperate issues, not playing as a party and dealing with OOC revelations.  But in any event has anyone dealt with a non-party based RPG and had it work out well?

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: joshua neff on June 25, 2001, 04:54:00 PM
as i wrote up the "player's guide" for my mage narrative, i put it to my players like this: the pcs can be like star trek or babylon 5.
in star trek, the characters may have different motivations & opinions, but they're all pretty much together on the goals. it's a group thing.
in b5, the characters all have different goals. somtimes these goals match up, & sometimes they conflict. the challenge, i decided, is to separate player & character goals: in b5, g'kar & londo regularly try to hose each other, which is problematic for an rpg group, so while your character may want to do another pc in, it falls to the player to ensure that the character fails, for whatever reason (change of heart, inopportune moment, an offers/he can't refuse, etc).
my group decided the b5 set up would be damn interesting, but the star trek model is easier. we opted for the trek model (this time--i'd still like to try the other sometime).
but you bring up a good point, jesse. i've been thinking a lot about "the adventuring party" lately.


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on June 25, 2001, 05:02:00 PM
Quote

On 2001-06-25 20:54, joshua neff wrote:
g'kar & londo regularly try to hose each other, which is problematic for an rpg group

And for this very reason I've always thought of Londo and G'kar not as PCs but Major NPCs.  They are plot movers but their interactions are too complex and important to be actual PCs.

Sheridan, Dillenne, Ivonava, and Garibaldi are all PCs.  Except for that brief period where Garibaldi goes insane and starts working against them at which point I assumed that he had lost all his 'Sanity Points' ala Call of Cthulhu and was opperating as an NPC.

Babylon 5 as RPG is a VERY interesting conceptual puzzle.  If you could think of a way to have ALL those characters be PCs and have it all work out, I'd be very impressed.  Which is of course why I started this thread.

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on June 25, 2001, 07:56:00 PM
Hi Jesse,

I'm sure you've predicted my response accurately. As if my comments in Sorcerer regarding groups of characters acting like "many-legged invertebrates" didn't tip you off, eh?

Anyway. I consider characters acting in groups to be a fine thing, but it strikes me as a logistic exception rather than the default. I've been playing that way for years now, and the usual fears about losing the attention of players whose PCs aren't involved, or about anything else, have not been borne out.

In my current long-running Hero Wars game, the characters are often together, often separated, often in separate mixed-bag combinations of fellow PCs and NPCs, or whatever. It doesn't seem to bother anyone.

There are some linked elements that make it possible for me. If the group were a "tactical squad," for instance, then obviously functioning as a group would be called for. Or if we practiced strict "character = player" in terms of perceptions, then we might have the business about sending people out of the room when their characters aren't involved. Or if fighting and bringing down a single bad guy or group of bad guys were the whole point (as in my Champions days), then everyone would necessarily be banded together at the climax.

As I practice a very different mode of information and interaction among the players and myself, and because the climactic moments of play tend to be personal to a given character, the logistic necessity of keeping the characters together becomes a very low priority.

Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on June 25, 2001, 11:44:00 PM
Hello Ron,

You know, I still can't imagine what your games are like.  I'm just going to have to hop on a plane and fly out to Chicago and force my way into your game.

Quote

On 2001-06-25 23:56, Ron Edwards wrote:
There are some linked elements that make it possible for me.


So if it isn't a common quest (ala mission style) or a common villain (ala Champions) then what ARE the linked elements.  I mean clearly there must be SOME commonality that gives the story cohesion so that you don't end up having the opposite of the 'many legged invertibrate' which would be the paralell totally unrelated story that may share a universe and a rule system but little else.

What basically prevents it from simply being you running four seperate games simultaneously?

All this information is great and I'm very intregued I just have a feeling I'll never get my players to go for any of this.  They're very much 'method roleplayers.'  Thou shall not knowest more than thy character knowest.  And all that.  I have one guy who every time I open my mouth to tell him something and he suddenly realizes he's 'alone' he will get up and close himself in my bathroom and refuse to hear what I have to say unless I come in and tell him in private.

Sigh.

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Mytholder on June 26, 2001, 01:24:00 AM
I've run a lot of games like this. It's almost unusual for me to have a game where there's a recognisable "party". Hell, Nobilis pretty much demands that the PCs work together, and I still had vast amounts of backstabbing and interparty intrigue.

Jesse said:
Quote

Maybe this is really two seperate issues, not playing as a party and dealing with OOC revelations.

Very true. The two issues are only tangentially related.

Although I've run several games without a "party" (or without a central common goal/organisation/concept for the PCs to keep them together), I've started trying to run games where the party concept works. It makes GMing and equal "screen time" a lot easier in simple plots (not necessarily simple stories - but any game which has a lot of intrigue/mystery demands multiple "information vectors", so you've got to split the characters up to have multiple characters find stuff out at the same time. A mystery where a gang of people wander around from a->b->c->d is dull and a bit silly.)

Oh...and for my next trick, B5 as an rpg game.

The regular PCs are Sheridan, Ivanova,Garibaldi, Delenn etc. Delenn has a fairly good idea of what's going on, the other PCs don't. Most game sessions are sorta episodic - a problem is posed (raiders, a plague, a murder plot, a troublesome diplomat), and the PCs have to sort it out (with starfuries, medical research, investigation, diplomacy etc.)

There are at least two other PCs (Londo and G'kar...and possibly Bester and a few other recurring people...maybe even Morden or Kosh). These PCs don't show up for most sessions if they don't want to. They're playing a PBeM or something with the GM. They've got their own plots related to rebuilding the Centauri Republic or seeking dead planets on the rim of known space or finding frozen telepaths or asking people what they want. Every fourth or fifth session of the game, there's a council meeting on board B5 (possibly run as a LARP) where all the PCs meet and argue.

How's that?



Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on June 26, 2001, 09:07:00 AM
Quote

On 2001-06-26 05:24, Mytholder wrote:
There are at least two other PCs (Londo and G'kar...and possibly Bester and a few other recurring people...maybe even Morden or Kosh). These PCs don't show up for most sessions if they don't want to. They're playing a PBeM or something with the GM. They've got their own plots related to rebuilding the Centauri Republic or seeking dead planets on the rim of known space or finding frozen telepaths or asking people what they want.


To be perfectly honest I've never watched all of Babylon 5 start to finish.  My girlfriend is the B5 nut and I watched it just enough to keep up with the story and have my girlfriend fill me in on the details that I'd missed.

But in any event Londo was by far my favorite character.  A lot of it had to do with his spiffy Nepolionic wardrobe but most of it had to do with the fact that I couldn't figure out if he was supposed to be a villain or not.

Londo seemed to always follow this pattern: Make a lot of self-centered greedy bad decisions, watch horrible outcome of those decisions, feel regret, do something heroic to atone, repeat.  And in the end his charcter has the most tragic fate of all.  I remember thinking that Londo must be an NPC because NO PLAYER (in my experience and after talking to all of you it's obvious that it's only my experience) would ever act like that.

All MY players would go out of their way to avoid making the bad decisions in the first place.  None of my players would ever make a deal with a shadowy fellow who only refered to his employers as 'my associates.'  My players would demand to know who his associates were.  They would demand to know his associates goals and motivations.  They wouldn't leap into a situation blindly no matter HOW good it looked for them.  Players are problem SOLVERS, not problem makers.  PCs don't make morally abiguous decisions.  They make the RIGHT decisions.  And they don't make ANY decision until they have all the facts to ensure that they make the RIGHT decision.

Sigh.

I wish I knew how to ween my players away from this mentality.  Things would be so much more interesting if they could stop seeing characters as idealized versions of themselves.  Or even the few who don't see them as idealized versions of themselves but rather as infalible heroic role-models who can do no wrong.

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: joshua neff on June 26, 2001, 09:52:00 AM
londo & g'kar were my favorites as well (actually, my true favorite was kosh--love the outfit & love the cryptic utterings), because the both went such huge transformations. g'kar went from "the bad guy", meddling in dark matters, trying to hose the centauri, & in the end he's the most noble & patient character of all, becoming a (literal) cult figure. londo goes from the drunken comic relief to the faust figure, making a deal with the devil & becoming "the bad guy". jesse's analysis of "the londo cycle" seems spot on to me.
& i'd love to have either one as my player character. i love the faust story, & i'd love to have a character of mine sell his soul & become "the bad guy", finally coming to a tragic end.
similarly, i'd love to have a character who's heading down the dark path but redeems himself & becomes noble & wise.
when i'm playing a character (rather than gming), i like to put that character through hell. i try to put the character into as much trouble as possible. i have them make bad decisions (because, as g'kar said, "it seems like a good idea at the time"). i have them do stupid things. & i love it.
& i expect no less from my players, & i let them know i want characters who will take daring risks & get into lots of trouble. safe characters are boring & of no use to me.


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on June 26, 2001, 02:02:00 PM
Quote

On 2001-06-26 13:07, jburneko wrote:
 . . . PCs don't make morally abiguous decisions.  They make the RIGHT decisions.  And they don't make ANY decision until they have all the facts to ensure that they make the RIGHT decision.

Sigh.

I wish I knew how to ween my players away from this mentality.  Things would be so much more interesting if they could stop seeing characters as idealized versions of themselves.  Or even the few who don't see them as idealized versions of themselves but rather as infalible heroic role-models who can do no wrong.

Jesse


I have a theory that one reason players won't put their characters into those sorts of situations is because they have no way to get them out.  E.g., Londo-the-PC would never  make the deal because Londo's player has no power to "move on" to the redemption stage when he's tired/done with the Faustian victim stage.  No matter how much you trust the GM,  there're control issues here.

So my entirely theoretical advice on getting PC's to make . . . "interesting" decisions is to give the player some form of Directorial power.  This could be informal - player tells GM "time to give Londo a way out now" - or systematic (Londo's player: "I spend a destiny point and a Vorlon shows up to help me out from under the Shadows' influence), or whatever.

Gordon C. Landis


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Paul Czege on June 26, 2001, 07:20:00 PM
Hey Gordon,

I have a theory that one reason players won't put their characters into those sorts of situations is because they have no way to get them out. E.g., Londo-the-PC would never make the deal because Londo's player has no power to "move on" to the redemption stage when he's tired/done with the Faustian victim stage.

Something I realized recently about Sorcerer is that no matter what the character's Humanity score is, no matter how low it has become, the player is never proscribed from taking certain actions with that character. The player can decide at any moment, for no reason other than his own sense of the dramatic and interest in the narrative, to have a low Humanity character perform a morally redeeming act. Humanity is not a control mechanic that limits or determines character actions. There are no such control mechanics in Sorcerer.

Paul





Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on June 26, 2001, 09:56:00 PM
Quote

Humanity is not a control mechanic that limits or determines character actions. There are no such control mechanics in Sorcerer.


Which is why I'm very skeptical about playing the game with MY particular group.  My players really don't ever have their character change or evolve or even react realistically to a given situation.

In horror games they if they fail a 'fear check' they glady accept whatever game mechanic penalty that incures but then proceed to still act 'rationally'.  Never do my players act scared or paniced.

My player's charcters are always 100% rational about a situation.  They never get caught up in a moment or become emotional.  They never make snap decisions or take psychological, sociological, or emotional risks. They do take physical risks.  Death they can handle.  But god forbid that their characters should evolve, make a mistake or show weakness.

With all this it becomes too easy to treat Humanity like hit points. 'What do you mean I should be acting different?  My humanity hasn't reached zero yet.'

Sorry, I'm a bit bitter sometimes.

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on June 26, 2001, 10:26:00 PM
I'm looking forward to buying that slick new Sorceror book - finally I'll understand some of the cryptic utterings you crazy Sorceror folk use.  And if I get "& Sword", or some other "not close to the modern world" Sorceror mini-supplement, I might even play the bloody thing.  RPGs in a world not so different from our own = not much interest in this corner.  Playing a character who's sold his/her soul (or something) for power (or something) also doesn't IMMEDIATELY call to me, but as I see what others have done with the basic idea and how there are many directions other than the stereotypical Faustian Bargain available . . . I'm more open, and determined to check out the mechanics even if I never do play it.

In any case, the thing I'm speculating about re: reluctance to place PC's in a "pickle", as it were, depends not only on the system not OBSTRUCTING a "redemption", it also requires the system (or a social convention) to support having the PLAYER create/encourage the very OPPORTUNITY for redemption.  The fact that low Humanity doesn't prevent you from taking a noble action is insufficient if the GM/group convention can keep a substantive opportunity for that nobility from ever arising.

I've known many a GM who, if a player put their character's head into a noose, would NEVER be happy until that PC was strung up and dangling.  Not neccessarily out of malice, either - for some, it's just "how things are done".  I suspect this is a very common environment/perception, and thus the reluctance of player's to put a PC into psychological harm's way is perhaps no surprise.

Gordon C. Landis


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: joshua neff on June 27, 2001, 04:27:00 AM
jesse--

wow. i wish i knew what to tell you. i could tell you stories of people i played with in college who would do this sort of thing, even while the rest of the group was throwing its characters into all kinds of trouble. i can't stand this. (nor do i like my characters to be punished for doing stuff like that, even when it contradicts what the gm had set up for the session.)
here's what i put as part of the character creation guidelines for my current mage narrative ("sampled" heavily from christopher kubasik's "interactive toolkit"):

"Decide what your characterís main Goal is. This is very important! Basically, this is your chance to say what you want the story to be about. The basic premise is this: ordinary people discover and step into a world of magic, mystery, wonder, terror, conspiracy, and weirdness. Keeping that in mind, what do you want to drive the story? Hereís another thing to keep in mind: Characters Should Be Problem Magnets! You need to allow your character to get into trouble in the pursuit of his or her Goal. Remember, this Goal matters so much it defines the character; without it, your character would no longer be himself or herself. Because this Goal is so vital your character can indulge in all sorts of ridiculous, extraordinary, and even dangerous behavior in pursuit of this goal. Iím not looking for the characters who want what is safe and steady, who can rationalize their Goals out of existence because it might mean trouble. I want characters who throw themselves with wild abandon into their desires, dreams, and passions!"

obviously, the first thing i would do is to talk to me players & communicate to them that not only do i want them to put their characters into uncomfortable positions, i will reward those characters who do get into such situations & punish those that don't. then, i'd follow through on that, giving more rewards (like experience points & more "screen" time) & punishments (less experience points & "screen" time). or, i'd admit that what my players want & enjoy is different from what i want & enjoy & i'd probably start looking for a new group.
but that's me, & i'm not recommending that to you. i simply don't have time to play with a group who will play it safe.


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 07:35:00 AM
Hi Jesse,

I apologize for not following up on this earlier.

"So if it isn't a common quest (ala mission style) or a common villain (ala Champions) then what ARE the linked elements. I mean clearly there must be SOME commonality that gives the story cohesion so that you don't end up having the opposite of the 'many legged invertibrate' which would be the paralell totally unrelated story that may share a universe and a rule system but little else."

"What basically prevents it from simply being you running four seperate games simultaneously?"

This is a very good question, and the answer is: Premise and Situation.

Premise - the players care about what each of the characters (not just their own) are doing in regard to the issue at hand.

If Premise is very strong and overt from the git-go, then throwing otherwise-unrelated PCs together works nicely, because the players are very invested already in the general ethical, moral, or social issue at hand. The players are now responsible, mainly, for coming up with the characters caring about one another and the situation, and forging relationships with one another. This is how Dav ran his Obsidian game and our recent run of All Flesh Must Be Eaten. It's how I ran Swashbuckler, Orbit, and Unknown Armies.

The downside, obviously, is expected such "bonding" behavior in the absence of Premise, which is the classic meet-in-the-bar, instant-best-buddies nonsense.

SITUATION
OK, we know that the characters are operating in SOME shared-interest way, and dealing with different corners or aspects of a larger problem.

If Situation is pretty structured, then Premise may be developed more slowly and (maybe) deeply. In my Demon Cops game (a version of Sorcerer), they were automatically members of the same police department. That didn't make them a tactical squad that had to run everywhere all together, but it did give them a common professional interest in what was going on. In my Hero Wars game, they are all dealing with a common and over-riding cultural clash, and the players took it upon themselves to belong to the same clan (I didn't dictate this). In Orkworld, the PCs necessarily belong to the same Household.

The downside here is the danger of railroading, in terms of having the PCs so locked-down in their relationships that they are capable only of proceeding in one way.

So to answer your question in full, I pump up Premise really hard to begin with, no matter what, and vary the extent of starting-Situation ties depending on the setting or player preferences. I also try to present enough nuances to the Situation to permit a wide variety of approaches, and leave it up to the players to decide how they're going to divvy up their efforts, stay in touch, or otherwise work out their in-contact and out-of-contact adventurings. But since unity IS demanded due to Premise and Situation, the glue that makes it "all one story" is there.

Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on July 02, 2001, 08:45:00 AM
Quote

Premise - the players care about what each of the characters (not just their own) are doing in regard to the issue at hand.

If Premise is very strong and overt from the git-go, then throwing otherwise-unrelated PCs together works nicely, because the players are very invested already in the general ethical, moral, or social issue at hand


Okay, Situation, I think I have a handle on.  I think I need to understand your definition of Premise.  If someone were to ask me what the Premise of one of my games was I think my answer would be very different from your answer.  So, let me work through some examples.

This is how I would answer the question, What is the Premise to your game, for some of my upcoming and previous ideas:

D&D

"Two rivaling island powers race against each other to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will restore life to an undead council of wizards."

Castle Falkenstein:

"Power obsessed mad-man seeks to predict the future by inventing the quantum difference engine.  What he doesn't know is that his machine will ultimately destory the world in which he lives."

7th Sea:

"Revenge driven Eisen Noble seeks to return an ancient long thought to be dead sorcerous lineage to power."

Chill:

"Failing artist purchases a Basilisk from a mysterious curio shop and uses it to produce 'life-like statues' to earn fame and forture."

Now these are all things I CAN'T tell the players because they esencially, 'Give Away The Ending.'  So, I don't think this is what you mean by Premise.  But honestly, I can't put a Premise as I think you mean it to any of these scenarios.

Now the one exception to this might be the Castle Falkenstein adventure.  The mad-man believes that the world is a giant simulation running on a large 'Calculating Engine.'  As a result he believes that the entities that live in it don't have free will.  What he wants to acomplish with his quantum difference engine is rise above the predictable calculations of the machine in which he is contained and there by GAIN free-will.  So in some sense I could tell the players that the game will deal with issues of free-will vs. determinism and the metaphysics of the real world.

But like I said, I generally think in terms of plots and plans and not relationships or moral issues.  So, tell me more about this Premise thing.

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Mytholder on July 02, 2001, 09:00:00 AM
Jesse -
you're missing the essential concept of Premise. It's not "what's the plot of the game", it's "what the plot means to the characters", or "why the characters are involved in the plot."

Hmm. Coming up with Premises for each of your examples:
D&D
"Two rivaling island powers race against each other to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will restore life to an undead council of wizards."

Ok...the Premise would be that the characters are agents of one of the island powers. I'm seeing something of magical secret service here, James Bond with a Walther Wand of Magic Missiles. While the plot is all about the undead wizards, the PCs are involved because it's their job to stop threats to their nation.

Castle Falkenstein:
"Power obsessed mad-man seeks to predict the future by inventing the quantum difference engine. What he doesn't know is that his machine will ultimately destory the world in which he lives."

Hmm. Trickier. I'd have the Premise be something along the lines of "characters are captured by madman and used as test subjects", with the added intent of exploring the nature of fate vs free will and levels of reality - blurring the borders between player and characters. After all, the madman is right...his world is just a big illusion and he doesn't have free will, he's an NPC. (*Waves vaguely at the Plot of Self-Referential Awareness in OtE*).

7th Sea:
"Revenge driven Eisen Noble seeks to return an ancient long thought to be dead sorcerous lineage to power."
Hmm. Premise could be something dull like "players are servants of some country threatened by Noble's intentions, and are sent to stop him". I think I'd have the premise be that all the characters are descendants of the sorcerous lineage, and the Noble's actions reawaken the powers of their blood. They have to deal with the chaos the Noble creates and decide what to do with their new magics...

Chill:
"Failing artist purchases a Basilisk from a mysterious curio shop and uses it to produce 'life-like statues' to earn fame and forture."
Premise: "What happened to Aunt Hetty, and why does that statue look like her, or something?"

That said...Premise shouldn't be tied into a single plot. It's not a plot hook...it's the thing the plot hook catches onto. It's why the PCs get involved in adventures in general. It's the one sentence that sums up why you're bothering to run the game.
 


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 09:10:00 AM
Hi Jesse,

As the GNS 101 states, there's "premise" for RPGs in general, which means any issue or concern of interest to the players (this is general to the point of vague, except that it's indubitably the case that SOMETHING of the sort must exist). Then there's Premise as specified for Narrativism, which bulks up to Numero Uno Priority for this mode of play.

Okay, that said, I generated my notions about Premise (sensu stricto Narrativist) from the book The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, which is a classic of stage and screen writing technique. It means (in combination): the passions experienced by the main characters, and the resulting empathy and emotional commitment generated in the audience. Egri is careful to point out that Premise has to get established very, very soon in a story, and that Theme (the "point") constitutes an "answer" or "meaningful outcome" of any kind to the Premise.

Translating to role-playing, we get the main characters being the PLAYER characters - this is important, because if King Arthur is an NPC, then it's still the player-character's passion that matters, not the whole Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur passion-thing.

The other RPG twist is that the players are not only the (partial) author of what's going on, but also the audience! That means they have to be "stirred" by the Premise, AS WELL AS passing judgment on it as an author via playing the PCs.

My big problem with some RPGs that purport to be "story-oriented" is that they present huge wads of Situation and never address Premise.

I'll cut to an example now. In our Orkworld game, after an initial bit of adventure to flex us a little, the ork characters came into contact with a low-tech human tribe. In the rules, the humans are presented as pretty-much Roman tech, but these guys (my creation) were living very much as orks, perhaps a trifle less nomadically but still at the tribal, hunter, scratch-farmer level.

To the PC orks, OK, fine, the world is big and here's another odd thing in it. But to the players, all sorts of interesting things come up - can humans and orks get along, on a level playing field? Which culture deals better with moral outrages (murder), the maternal and reproductively-ignorant orks, or the traditional-family unit humans? How does "morality" work, anyway, for beings who practice cannibalism and promiscuous sex?

Given the moral outrage of a murder and the interesting quirks of orkish culture, the players are interested. They're engaged as AUDIENCE, and now they have to take the responsibility to pass judgment on these matters as AUTHORS. The outcome of all of us working together yields a climactic resolution, which itself, given attention to Premise throughout, yields a point, or THEME.

In RPG design, if Premise is present at all, it's highly embedded in character creation or setting. I consider either to be fully workable.

Also, there are really very few Premises - perhaps less than ten. I put parent-child conflict, family conflict in general, mate-choice conflict (with several sub-aspects), loyalties-conflict, and deception-conflict at the top of the list, myself. Of course, they can be flipped (e.g. parent as protagonist vs. child as protagonist), combined, re-structured, de-constructed, or whatever.

However, there are thousands, or millions, of Situations. To use movies as an example, I look at Aliens, Losing Isaiah, and Santa Sangre as very different Situations that all address maternal-child relationships as their shared Premise. And of course, these movies, as they have different outcomes, have different Themes ABOUT their shared Premise. We care, as people, about what "a mother" means as a concept, and we all live with the uneasy awareness that the concept can be divided, violated, or drawn upon for strength. These stories allow us to examine that uneasiness. (And yes, the MORE a story does this, the MORE ENTERTAINING it is. "Simple" stories, "just entertaining" stories, rely totally on Premise.)

Hope that helps. I hope I've also clarified the problem of "giving the game away," in that making Premise explicit does NOT give anything away, or force a certain ending.

Best,
Ron

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-02 13:14 ]


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on July 02, 2001, 09:17:00 AM
Quote

On 2001-07-02 13:00, Mytholder wrote:
you're missing the essential concept of Premise. It's not "what's the plot of the game", it's "what the plot means to the characters", or "why the characters are involved in the plot."


Hmmm... In that case I guess the premise to every single one of my examples is 'Ordinary People swept up into Extraordinary Circumstances.'  This is largely because I like my stories to snowball.  The players get involved with a seemingly inocuous and harmless task or series of tasks and end up saving the world.

So by your definition my actual premises are:

"Two rivaling island powers race against each other to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will restore life to an undead council of wizards."

Would-Be Adventures are plagued by dreams of a far off land in trouble.

Castle Falkenstein:
"Power obsessed mad-man seeks to predict the future by inventing the quantum difference engine. What he doesn't know is that his machine will ultimately destory the world in which he lives."

I don't know what the 'Role' of the players are going to be yet but the idea is that are somehow going to become involved in the disappearance of Lady Ada Lovelace.

7th Sea:
"Revenge driven Eisen Noble seeks to return an ancient long thought to be dead sorcerous lineage to power."

This one is 'Old friend asks the players to discover the identity of mysterious and elusive woman.'

Chill:
"Failing artist purchases a Basilisk from a mysterious curio shop and uses it to produce 'life-like statues' to earn fame and forture."

This one was simply, 'SAVE agents are sent in to investigate a series of disappearances in a small but thriving artist community.'

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 10:11:00 AM
Hi Jesse,

I'm not sure whether your latest post was written after or during my latest post, but it's clear to me that you are not at all used to thinking in terms of Premise. All of your re-statements are still Situations.

I also think this issue is THE key to many of your struggles with the concept of Narrativism and its practical applications.

More examples may help.

Pulp Fiction
Situation: three henchmen/hirelings of a crime boss must decide how loyal they will be to him
Premise: loyalty to an "evil man" will sooner or later come into conflict with love (Vincent), pride (Butch), and simple survival (Jules)
Resolution: Vincent dies, Butch triumphs, Jules moves from being like Vincent to being like Butch
Theme: do not sacrifice any of the above for the sake of loyalty to an unjust man; it's not worth it

Do you see that the same Premise might be examined by dozens of settings, character combinations, and nuances?

The Mighty Ducks 2
Situation: a coach must put aside his ego to convince his team that they must regard former "enemies" as allies
Premise: team loyalty arises from both uplifting things (common goals) and from distasteful things (demonizing opponents, self-aggrandizement)
Resolution: he succeeds, they succeed, they win the pennant
Theme: define your team based on common goals

Remember the Titans
Oh, look! Change the situation to the first integrated team sports in the deep South, and you have the Mighty Ducks again!! Same premise, same theme.

Aliens
Situation: woman rescues and defends her surrogate child from very big monster (also a mother)
Premise: motherhood = strength

Compare it to Losing Isaiah
Situation: birth-mother and adoptive-mother contest custody of a toddler
Premise: motherhood = strength, but it is composed of two separate variables

It's hard to imagine two situations that differ more than these two movies, but I consider them to be very, very similar in terms of Premise.

Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Valamir on July 02, 2001, 10:33:00 AM
Quote

So to answer your question in full, I pump up Premise really hard to begin with, no matter what, Best,
Ron


Ok, some good examples of Premise and how to identify it later on in this thread.  How about touching on this point a bit more. What sort of things do you do to "pump up Premise really hard".  I assume, you must have some techniques that you've developed that seem to work pretty well at establishing your games as being premise driven rather than plot driven...


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 10:43:00 AM
Fair question, Ralph.

You know how I'm always talking about getting everyone together for making PCs and chattin' about the upcoming game? That's a good place to introduce the issues of Premise, perhaps with examples of the kinds of problems I think would be good to cope with (usually not the specific one I might have in mind, but stuff LIKE it).

Making PCs themselves - I learned this the hard way many years ago. Take TIME to check out the sheets and the notes. However, whereas back in the Champions days I was concerned with point-balancing, now, my advice is to look at all the Metagame stuff (see the Currency discussion in 201) and see whether the PCs' parameters of play line up well with the intended Premise.

Early in running the game: present the PCs with a Situation which presents Premise. Do this "small" at first, if you want - e.g. say the Big Story Problem is going to be a complex spy situation with lots of misinformation. So therefore a "little" scenario which introduces the atmosphere of uncertainty, but is on its own pretty easy to deal with, is a good idea. Or, if you'd like, bomb straight into the biggie.

But either way, make sure that the ELEMENTS of the Premise are present. If there's a parent-child conflict, make sure that everyone knows that A is B's son, so that when the crime is committed, everyone gasps. (Or conversely, as I did recently in a Sorcerer game, make the CRIME easy to figure out, so that when A and B were later revealed as sisters, THAT'S where the impact came in.)

For instance, in the Orkworld game, although the first run had nothing to do with the eventual Big Story, I did have the essential elements of ork morality (especially those that differ from humans') get well-established in the players' minds. That way they were "primed" for the Big Story which kicked off in Run #2.

Hope any or all of this makes some sense,
Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on July 02, 2001, 11:10:00 AM
Quote

I'm not sure whether your latest post was written after or during my latest post, but it's clear to me that you are not at all used to thinking in terms of Premise. All of your re-statements are still Situations.

I also think this issue is THE key to many of your struggles with the concept of Narrativism and its practical applications.


Given what you just said I would completely agree with this statement.  Up until five minutes ago if you had asked me: What would change about the movie Aliens if, Ripley were a man, the child replaced by an old school chum and the creature was some god-like being from another dimension and the other aliens were simply this god's version of warlike angels.

I would have replied, 'Um... The Cast?'  I LOVE ALIENS.  It's one of my favorite films.  I NEVER ONCE saw it as a conflict between two mother figures.  This is mostly because I never saw Ripley as a surrogate mother to the child.  I simply saw it is one generic human being trying to save the life of another generic human being.  You could have replaced those two with ANY two human beings and the film would have remained unchanged in my eyes.

This is probably why I have trouble seeing a need to tie players to premise.  To me, Ripley and the child (I can't remember her name) are PCs.  But they could be any two players.  A scientist and a mercenary.  A librarian and a simpleton.  A man and a woman.  Two men.  It would make no difference to me.  It's two people saving each other's life.  Nothing in the nature of the story would change.

Now we come to my second problem with Premise.  I see what you mean how the Premise can be upfront and yet the events still be a surprise.  And the one problem I have with this explains to me why I'm having so much trouble enjoying books and films as of late.  I see the Premise as THE POINT.  

Take for example either From motherhood derives strength or Loyalty to an unjust man will eventually conflict with personal goals.  The purpose of a story is show you or to TEACH you that this is the case.  Once you know this, there is no reason to continue.  As of late, I find myself going, 'Oh God another From Motherhood Derives Strength Story, yes, yes, I know that already, show me something new.' and I walk out of the theater.

Similarly, if I go to my players and say, okay this game is going to be dealing with the kinds of strength that are derived from motherhood, I've just given the point away.  There's now no real point in continuing.  The Essence and purpose of the game are out in the open.

Now if we break the either of these in two.  'The players are mothers.' or 'The players are all employees of an unjust man.'  And game events REVEAL (preferably to the players) that the mothers derive strength and that the employees of the unjust man come into conflict with the player's personal goals, then something has been learned.  The game has been worth playing.

This to me is the power of interactive entertainment.  It's all well to and good to READ or WATCH a morality tale but it becomes all too easy to say, well that was the case with THOSE characters.  Interactivity says, no look, even if YOU were an employee of an unjust man it would come into conflict with YOUR goals.  It makes the lesson much more personal.

I shall have to reflect on this.

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 11:31:00 AM
OK, Jesse, so far so good.

Now put your points about the REVELATION in the context of my reply to Ralph, above. Do you see that you could, as GM, save most of the "Premise-realization" for the first run or so?

Also, you might be underestimating the ability of players to develop and add insight to a Premise. Many players are burning with a frustrated desire to do more than simply react to a Situation. They are often rather good at saying, "Strength of motherhood? Cool! Let me deconstruct that with my next character, like a sorceress whose demon is the fetus in her body." Then you and they can create a story unlike any other in terms of Theme.

It might help to consider that a Premise is only a QUESTION, or a cognitive-disturbance perhaps. It is the outcome of the story and the attendant Theme that provide the (or "an") ANSWER. Does it seem that strange to establish Situation and Premise fairly quickly during play, or even to some extent before play, and then to spend the vast majority of play on Resolution and Theme?

Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: jburneko on July 02, 2001, 03:07:00 PM
Okay, Ron, so what you're saying is that you do Fractal Story Planning.  For those of you who don't know, a Fractal is (loosely) a mathematically generated image where each part of the WHOLE is comprised of copies of the whole.

So the idea is that your whole story has a premise but then each element of that story as that premise contained in it somwhere.

Example: My Castle Falkenstein adventure.  Let's assume that the Premise is: Hasty implementation of technology leads to disasterious consequences.

Now this story is structured in terms of a Villain's Master Plan.  For easy story distillment the Plan has been broken down into several steps these steps can be summarized as:

A Kidnapping
A Robbery
A Murder
An Infiltration.

Each of these I was planning on having be a single session scenario leading up to the grand finale.  What you're saying is that I should find a way to infuse each of these steps of the masterplan with an element of the Premise.  For example the Murder might be made easier for the villain through the use of a technology that was distributed through the masses without proper safety considerations.

Is this what you're getting at?

Jesse


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Cameron on July 02, 2001, 05:51:00 PM
I'm usually pretty good about establishing Premise during character creation, so that characters have something to motivate "group" actions from the very beginning. For my 7th Sea game, however, I not only had to deal with new characters, but new players as well. My solution was to say "make any character you want, then think of a reason they might be in prison (merited or not)."

All the characters were cell mates and each of them had something that would aid in escape, but none of them could do it all. They had to work together to escape. The effect was unification through common trauma. Once they had escaped, they had already formed bonds of friendship (at least sort of) and wanted to stick together.



Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 02, 2001, 07:29:00 PM
Jesse,

I think you're getting a handle on the issue, but I want to point out that your statement of Premise still looks like a Theme to me - it makes a value judgment, rather than presents a knotty problem.

How about: "Technology develops, no one can turn back the clock. But who controls it? And if anyone does, is that even worse?"

And then make sure that some angle of these questions, perhaps even contradictory or troubling angles, are at the root of the Situation(s) faced by the characters.

Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: Ron Edwards on July 03, 2001, 05:41:00 AM
Jesse,

Looking over your post, I realized that I needed to say this as well. My story planning is SOMEWHAT fractal. However, that "whole" is certainly prepped and solid in terms of back-story. Although the events and developments and to some extent direction of play are created by us as a group, the foundation is me, the GM, being the bass player.

I wanted to say this because sometimes people get the wrong idea that my mode of play is a sophisticated form of winging it (making the back-story up as I go along), and that is definitely not the case.

Also, there is no need for every last little scene and statement to reflect the Premise. Just as music has rests and diversions and other pacing devices, so do stories.

Best,
Ron


Title: Going Against The Party Mentality
Post by: John Wick on July 05, 2001, 12:56:00 PM
One of the best games I ever ran (a dozen or so sessions over the summer) was a Vampire game. The players were isolated from each other (not all of them vamps) and didn't know each other. Through the course of the game, a single event (the murder of the Brujah regent) brought them together in ways they never thought possible.

It was an amazing game for a lot of reasons, but that's the one you asked about. :wink:

Take care,
John