The Forge Archives

General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: JB on April 06, 2010, 03:08:34 PM



Title: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 06, 2010, 03:08:34 PM
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?PHPSESSID=of734dlu4p338e246v3ajn2qb4apksc7&topic=29547.msg275043#msg275043 (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?PHPSESSID=of734dlu4p338e246v3ajn2qb4apksc7&topic=29547.msg275043#msg275043)


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 06, 2010, 03:18:09 PM
[Bah. Sorry about the empty starter post. Something odd happened there and with editing off I can't fix it. Actual intended text below.]

So, I was particularly struck by Ron's observations about 'mission based stories'  in the Legendary Lives thread. 

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.phpPHPSESSID=of734dlu4p338e246v3ajn2qb4apksc7&topic=29547.msg275043#msg275043:  (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.phpPHPSESSID=of734dlu4p338e246v3ajn2qb4apksc7&topic=29547.msg275043#msg275043:)

From those points one can draw a fairly accurate description of the games I've been playing in over the last year or so.

This isn't to say these aren't fun games; they are.  Within the frame of mission based scenarios, things are generally well handled: there's usually a decent amount of communication between players and the GM regarding the 'motivation & setup' for the mission so the characters do actually have a reason to go do whatever, and the 'whatever' they have to do is generally entertaining. 

However, as Ron infers, this type of play isn't particularly conducive to generating the kind of play that produces the kind of 'character driven stories through assertive player participation'. 

After reading Ron's post, it occurs to me that at least part of the problem is that although people may want this kind of play, we don't, as a group, really know how to get it. 

One of the biggest obstacles I'm seeing is a lack of awareness of any other options for scenario structure beyond the 'group mission' thing, to the point that scenario=mission.  Prepping a game means coming up with a mission and working out how to get the PCs involved, and polling players as Ron described.

So, to Ron in particular but everyone in general, any advice and/or techniques for moving away from the 'mission based story'?

Jim

(Another obstacle to character driven play has to do with some 'floundering' in regards to Players knowing how to create characters with 'potential' for character driven stories and GMs knowing what to do with them if they do.  I feel that's somewhat tangental right now, but I'm not opposed to addressing that as well, either here or in another thread.)


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 06, 2010, 05:29:04 PM
Me, me, pick me! This is definitely my topic. I even wrote a game, Zombie Cinema, to address this point.

To be more useful, I think that the party and mission are a big obstacle to dramatic play, just like you said. As a practical point one of the first things to do here is to get rid of the party - once you don't have a party you'll find that even if you still have missions, they tend to be rather more cross-purposes with each other, and therefore not real missions. So get rid of the party and assume that all characters have independent concerns and their own scenes, that'll get you 70% there.

Of course the big issue with not having a party is that players will have to sit around watching as others play. This is the big methodological shift in play, not because the GM has to do something difficult, but because it requires the players to adjust their attitudes to play. All players will have to learn how to be audience to each other and how to appreciate the scenes of play in which their own characters are not present. It also means that the entire group will have to learn to be economic about time - you can't forget yourself and waste an hour going through a dialogue with the shopkeeper when you have scene allotments to consider and other players sitting on their thumbs.

A big conclusion I've made about the practical transition to dramatic, character-driven play is that you need to accept that not every player in the group is going to be able to perform the skills required equally. In party-based play this isn't so flagrant, as the more passive players will get dragged along by the crowd, but in character-based play you'll find that some players just have dull characters with no interesting motivations except perhaps a general sort of destructive confrontationalism towards other player characters. There are different strategies in how to handle this; my latest favourite, one I explored in the World of Near, is to allow players to play sidekicks to the actual protagonists. That is, instead of trying to get everybody to make characters fit to the protagonistical requirements of a given game, you might consider allowing a player to make a less important character who doesn't have to participate in anything, really. This way the player gets to do their thing while the rest of the group engages in the character-driven play. Just like when they're part of a party, except the party is just smaller when it's just him and his protagonist. (Note that you can't do this in all games; TSoY allows this due to the game's traditional flexibility in set-up, while something like Sorcerer won't really be equipped to give a sidekick player a meaningful interface into the game.)

Zombie Cinema, as I mentioned, is my school of hard knocks for teaching well-intending but clueless people how to play dramatic characters. Just hit it until your character stops getting consistently eaten by zombies. Another approach that I worked on around the late '90s (and which I really should revive, now that I think about it) is to set up your campaign around a single protagonist character which you'll give to your most dependably drama-driven player to play. You still have a party, but that party is not directed by missions - it's directed by its leader who in turn has big, dramatic goals. Like Robin Hood. The trick here is that presumably other players might find it unequal that this one guy is the only one who gets an important character; for this reason you need to have flexible opportunity in the game for other characters to develop into co-protagonists as well, perhaps breaking out of the party to go their own, independent way. This sort of thing is perfectly feasible in TSoY or Solar System due to how the game already supports both sidekick characters and protagonists.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: contracycle on April 07, 2010, 03:16:24 AM
Just a caveat: it's quite possible to play without a mission-based structure without going as far as 'character driven stories through assertive player participation'.  It is not a binary condition.  It's perfectly possible to have character driven play that is not oriented around anything to do with story as such.


Title: Missions in Larger Frameworks
Post by: epweissengruber on April 07, 2010, 08:45:09 AM
Houses of the Blooded has Dungeon Crawls!

In managing your Ven's domain, you pick season actions.  One of these can be to explore a ruin.  So you and your eldritch pals leap into a dungeon and despoil it. 

It's fun and can help your Ven get sorcerous goodies.

And it's all resolved in a few rolls.

So, having a game where characters go on missions is perfectly fun.  But the large-scale arc of the game is not about missions; missions are undertaken to aid/set/affect long term goals.



Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Judd on April 07, 2010, 09:14:02 PM
I played in an Unknown Armies game where we were all members of The New Inquisition, T.N.I., sent on missions for the company for the first half of the campaign.

Naturally, the missions went horrifically awry but we brought the files to a close.  I seem to recall that many of our most horrific adventures were set in New Jersey, all of the taking place in the northeastern part of the U.S.

For the second half of the campaign, the GM said that he was getting sick of the mission-based campaign and how would we like to try a more sandbox game approach?  Mind you, this is seven years ago, before folks championed sandbox gaming as some kind of avatar of the old school.  He was talking about Grand Theft Auto and other video games when he brought the term to us.

He suggested that we would be starting a new branch of T.N.I. in Miami, bringing the various occult dukes and players together and uniting them under the T.N.I. banner, or at least setting ourselves up as a dominant force on the occult underground scene.

It was good fun, with a huge gang war starting over a big misunderstanding.  The GM got a travel guide to Miami and we played out of that quite a bit, along with that news article about the Blue Lady, written about the mythology of Miami's population of homeless children.

It was good stuff and because it was talked about explicitly, a nice transition that we all enjoyed.

There is something nice about learning how the system works, the logic of the world's magic and so on through mission-based play and then being let loose on the world in order to build something for ourselves.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Callan S. on April 07, 2010, 09:30:59 PM
However, as Ron infers, this type of play isn't particularly conducive to generating the kind of play that produces the kind of 'character driven stories through assertive player participation'.
I did a bit of a search in that thread and I'm not sure anyone mentions 'character driven stories through assertive player participation'. Perhaps it's not being refered to at all?

I'm not sure anyone actually has to be assertive - it can be quite the character choice to not be assertive. One old scenario I heard was that there are two boats, one is on fire. Your character is on the safe one.

Now even if the character does nothing, it's kind of a statement about what he'd do as the other ship burns.

Now maybe the player himself isn't actually deliberately trying to make this statement and is sort of bewildered as to what to do. But it still qualifies as a character standing there, letting this just happen. Unless you don't want to see that, of course.

Although on the other hand players can try to get into time murk, where they try and break down every little action so as to slow any progress in fictional time so as to do stuff without the other ship furthing in its burning/the conflict progressing at all to its conclusion. I don't know if that's relevant to this thread, but I thought I'd mention it in case.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on April 07, 2010, 11:56:50 PM
Hi JB,

I’ve had my own experience with changing a “mission=story” approach to a “player driven story” approach (two quite different experiences actually). I am however a little hesitant to throw that at you because my groups aren’t yours and there is a whole variety of mission-based play styles, varying from heavily railroaded “dramatic” scenarios where the mission works as a plot hook, tailor-made scenarios requested by the players, trivial missions where the meat is elsewhere, to very challenging missions where a lot of effort by the players is required to even complete them successfully.

Therefore, could you explain a bit about your “mission=story” games? What are these games like? What game system do you guys play? How do you know the other players? Are you the only GM / enthusiastic role-player? How do you typically prep your missions, and how do you run them when you guys play? Do the characters have personal stuff going on, and how much time and effort goes into that, as opposed to the missions? That kind of things.

-   Frank


Title: Some responses & clarifications
Post by: JB on April 08, 2010, 12:01:29 PM
Thanks to everyone who's posted so far.  (I wouldn't normally do a post by post response, but since everyone who's posted so far has contributed something helpful, I'm inclined to recognize you individually.)

Euro: Thanks. I'll have to look into Zombie Cinema.  You also address one of my concerns - in a given group of players, there are going to be differing levels of investment, both about gaming in general and the specific game in question.  You're spot on about the 'dull characters with no interesting motivations except perhaps a general sort of destructive confrontationalism towards other player characters' (and/or NPCs). This is part of what I mean by 'floundering', and it becomes a problem when someone's trying to 'be the protagonist' without really possessing the requisite skills to do so. So for me, the question is, "Since this guy DOES apparently want to play the part, how do I facilitate him acquiring the skills to actually do it in a way that's rewarding to him and the group?"  Passive players are less of a problem, at least in our groups, as the more active players will make an effort to involve them.  It's kindof a distribution of the GM job of 'engage the players', I guess. Only issue there is when someone's not up to speed about that occurring.

Contracycle: True.  I didn't mean to imply some kind of either/or dichotomy between the two styles of play.  As I said, we're largely ignorant about what lies outside 'mission based play'.  As of right now however, I'm not trying to explore that whole territory so much as trying to plot a path from Point A to Point B.   I am curious about what the game you describe ('character driven play that is not oriented around anything to do with story as such') would actually look like however.

epweissengruber:  Also true.  Again, let me say our mission based games are fun, but we're trying to get a different flavor of fun and the mission framework by itself isn't proving to be a good vehicle to achieve that.  I think there's also maybe the issue of where the impetus to have a mission originates.  In Houses of the Blooded, it sounds like it's coming from the Player: "I want sorcerous goodies! I can use them to further my long term goals! I'm gonna explore a ruin!"  Contrast that to the GM saying, "Ok, so you learn that you need some specific sorcerous goodies in order to continue on your quest.  There's a ruin in need of exploring up north that is rumored to contain said goodies…"  (This doesn't have to suck, BTW.  If the players are invested in seeing their characters continue their quest and are interested in exploring the ruin it can be fun. But again, it's a specific kind of fun.)

Judd:  I may have to try what you describe, as that sound applicable to some of our games.  Also, what you say about learning how the system works and the logic of the world (I'm paraphrasing a bit) is REALLY important here, I think.  We're mostly playing 'mainstream' games, and I'm inclined to look for different ways to play those games rather than different games to play, partly because people 'understand the dice mechanic' or 'know who the Mayor of Awesometown is' or whatever.  We've tried more indie style games but the results haven't been especially satisfying or paradigm altering,  and I think that's in large part due to people thrashing around trying to get a grip on the setting or the mechanics - while they're thrashing, the tendency is to fall back on established behavior patterns in play, which can interfere with grokking how to play that particular game or experiencing what actually makes playing it a different experience from other games.

Callan:  The phrase, 'character driven stories through assertive player participation' isn't directly quoted from Ron's thread.  I coined the phrase based on some of Ron's statements and my own understanding of fiction, narrative and so forth, in order to specifically describe a mode of play we're trying to achieve. The quotes were purely for emphasis; in hindsight, maybe italics would have been a better choice, but I didn't feel the phrase needed that much emphasis. Sorry for the confusion.

Regarding the 'assertive player participation' part, take that as in contrast to 'acquiescent, thespian, and not particularly assertive regarding what his or her character actually wants and does'. In the burning boat analogy, that player maybe doesn't decide what his character does at all, he just looks to the GM for direction and emotes on cue. (GM: Paralyzed with fear, you watch in horror as the other boat goes up in flames, yadda yadda yadda…  Player: "The horror, the horror! Maybe I'd do something… if I weren't SO AFRAID!!!)  I'll try to cover this better in the AP description to follow.

Frank: You're dead on asking for more 'AP' in your AP and I'd like to hear about your experiences.  Further description of our games to follow shortly.

Cheers,

Jim


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Callan S. on April 08, 2010, 05:37:58 PM
Hi again Jim,
Quote
In the burning boat analogy, that player maybe doesn't decide what his character does at all, he just looks to the GM for direction and emotes on cue.
Well that's what I was kind of getting at - I might be wrong, but I think Ron has talked about people who look to their own cue on what to do and don't look to a GM. When Ron talks about a transition from mission play that doesn't mean he somehow converted acquiescent thespians (as you put it) into people who play their character as they see fit with full author integrity. He just doesn't play with acquiescent thespians to begin with. Or so I gather - double checking with him would be best.

Do you play with people who will only ever look to you/the GM on what to do? I guess the further AP will help out.

Though I will say that I think gaming culture, as a direct result of not having any real procedure to either have fun with or real procedure to critically identify as 'not for us' and to move on from, typically blames players for any proactiveness they do 'Don't stab that NPC...don't stab that other player! No, don't split from the party! No don't talk like that to the big important NPC *glares and implications of being a bad roleplayer* (I know stabbing sounds like crude play, but if it's what the character would do, then it's character driven, despite being crude. And we love Conan, anyway!). So people start thinking being passive and looking for GM cues is good roleplaying. Can they ever crack out of that, even if they want to? I dunno - maybe there's a slim, horrible chance that no, they can never crack out of it? They've had their will broken?


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 08, 2010, 07:38:52 PM
Callan, as I hope I indicated, you make some good points.  Since the AP reports are taking longer than anticipated, I'll try to address this in the meantime.

There are two clauses in the phrase, 'character driven story through assertive player participation' and I think you're focusing too much on the latter one as the source of our problem, whereas we're actually wrestling with the former. I chose to use the full phrase in an attempt to be clearer, but it's having an opposite effect by distracting folks.

It's possible to have 'character driven story' without the players being the ones driving, for example.  I personally find such games agonizing, but it's a commonly held belief that such people exist who play games this way and enjoy it.

Conversely, just because you have active players doesn't mean you have 'character driven story', especially if the game setup doesn't allow or especially encourage them to engage in the game in a way to create that, and that's more where we're at.

I'm currently of the mind that mission based scenarios are part of the barrier to getting character driven story from our play more frequently and consistently.  I see a parallel with written fiction and film here; different texts will give the two foci different names but we can call them 'character driven stories' and 'situation driven stories'.  All stories have characters and situations, but most give more primacy to one or the other.  There are certain stories that change completely if you alter one or more characters.  There are other stories where the situation the characters are in has more bearing on the plot than the nature of the characters themselves.  (For whatever reason, the majority of the film and fiction that has inspired/influenced RPGs over the years falls in the latter category as well.)  When you set up a situation driven story, in order to shift the emphasis to a character driven story, one must, to again misquote/paraphrase, 'abandon or subvert the goings on'.  It's true in fiction and it's true at the game table.  My guess is that it's easier to just set up for a character driven story to begin with, but we don't grok how to do that yet, nor do we have a reliable means to consistently 'abandon or subvert the goings on'...

Hope this helps.  The APs are coming, and should clarify further as well.

J


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Eero Tuovinen on April 09, 2010, 02:50:47 AM
Looking at your goal, JB, I notice that the practical answer to your question might simply be to get a new game. If I understand it, your problem is mostly the lack of a framework that'd show your group the way to a drama-oriented procedure of play. That's what games are for, so you'll just need to pick up a clear game text that gets explicit about how to set up a non-traditional campaign.

There are many games that are pretty clear about how to accomplish the goal, but I'd say that Trollbabe is probably one of the clearest. It's worthwhile in many ways even if your group hates women, for the structural advice alone. Depends on how set your group is on a specific genre and style of play - there might be some game that's just right for you, and clearly written.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 09, 2010, 03:09:38 PM
So I started writing APs of some games we're playing and have played in the past year or so.  These reports ended up being excessively long and filled with too much information that's irrelevant to anyone but me, so at this point I'm not going to post them per se.   I'm providing an overview of our games for the benefit of Frank and anyone else who's interested.
 
I am glad I wrote the APs though, as in doing so some things became apparent to me that may help us improve our games.  Basically, I'm starting see where some of our procedures of play are hindering us in this regard, and how they might be changed to better allow and encourage this kind of play.  I see the following two things as being necessary to make the transition.

1) Better procedures for communicating about the game. We need some method of distinguishing between elements in the character's background that the player wants to be part of the present as well, and stuff they want to stay in the background.  As the GM, if left to guess about this stuff I'll probably just let it all lie rather than risk upsetting someone if I guess incorrectly, and I imagine the other GMs feel the same way. For example, in games with 'disadvantages', say '+5 pts, Dependent NPC', the rules may exhort the GM to threaten said NPC regularly or whatever, but in actual practice, there's this tendency to largely disregard those kinds of things on the character sheet because of bad past experiences. 

So we need a way for players to say, "I so put this on the character sheet BECAUSE I'm ok with it coming into play.  In fact, I want it to come into play!" or, "I want this stuff to remain in the background.  (I think of the intro to Everybody Loves Raymond, where he tells us that he has two kids, and then states that "This show isn't about them." - and he's dead right.  The character needs to have the kids, as they inform who he is and so play into his interactions with everyone else, but we hardly ever see the kids or learn very much about them. There's a 'relationship' there, but it's not one that's explored much, because that's not what the show is about.) 

Right now I'm thinking maybe some kind of 'player requested scene' procedure may work, as well as some actual session time dedicated to talking about the game rather than this occurring haphazardly before, after, and in between sessions.

2) Adjust our attitudes about 'non group actions and scenes',  and the 'party mentality' in general, just like Eero says.  In our group it's considered bad form to put the other players in the position of sitting around watching while one person plays.  I understand where the attitude comes from and have espoused it myself, but it's a hinderance rather than helping in this situation.  Again, just communicating and putting this out in the open may help.

Finally, Eero: I got Trollbabe a while back, so I'm rereading it now.  Thanks once again.

J


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 09, 2010, 03:15:21 PM
Frank, here's the basic 'group bio'.

Our group is fairly large, say about 10 or so people that I know well and play with often,but includes more people I know less well and have played with occasionally; friends of friends and so forth.  With a group this large, obviously not everyone plays in every game - who's playing in a given game is going to depend on schedules, personal interest in the specific game and so on.  As a plus, we have a lot of games: I play in two right now, and if I just count other games that people from those games are also playing in there are about 10 games running right now, although it's unusual for any one person to be playing in more than two or three of them.  Individual games tend to still be pretty large;  one of the games I'm playing in has seven people, the other has nine.  Again, because of the size of the groups, it's not uncommon that someone can't attend; unless that person is GMing or an overwhelming majority of players are absent, it's not generally cause to cancel a game.  Groups still ascribe to the 'long running campaign' ideal; most games will run for at least a couple months, and games running for a year or so aren't uncommon.  Game sessions tend to be weekly, and last about 4 hours per session.

What are these games like? The GM basically gives the party an objective to try and achieve. The option to refuse the mission and do something else is there in some games but everyone's also aware that it's more likely to be fun if we play along than if we monkeywrench what the GMs prepped, so if the mission doesn't appeal to someone the general tendency is for a player to just say so rather than trying to 'fix' the game IC.    The difficulty and complexity of the mission depends on who's running, and to an extent, who's playing; some people run harder games or want harder challenges than others. We've had 'tailor-made scenarios requested by the players, trivial missions where the meat is elsewhere, very challenging missions where a lot of effort by the players is required to even complete them successfully' and so on.  The 'heavily railroaded “dramatic” scenarios where the mission works as a plot hook' aren't popular, but they still show up from time to time. 

What game system do you guys* play? There are a bunch (again, ~10 games going right now), but they're mostly mainstream/traditional design games. Quite a few people favor 'setting heavy' games like Fantasy Flight's Warhammer40K stuff, Shadowrun, and the like.  We've tried DitV and Burning Wheel, but so far those games have delivered more frustrating "Are we doing this right?" moments than anything else.

How do you know the other players? I met them thru gaming. Most of the people I'm currently playing with I would now count as friends, and we do other stuff together besides play RPGs.

Are you the only GM / enthusiastic role-player?  No and no.  There are some people who GM a lot, some who GM occasionally like myself (I'm not GMing anything right now), and some people who 'just play'. I don't know anyone who 'only GMs' though.  Individual enthusiasm may fluctuate by the day and the game of course, but everyone involved is pretty devoted to the hobby; I think if anyone would rather be doing something else, then they actually would be.

How do you typically prep your missions, and how do you run them when you guys play?  I don't really enjoy running long games consisting of missions so I don't do it super often.  When I do, my prep usually involves coming up with a location, some NPCs, and some objective for the PCs to shoot for. I'll try to come up with an obvious, plausible rationale for the PCs to 'go there and do that' to give the players an excuse to become involved, and think up and stat out some potential challenges/opponents.  Running the game means presenting the players with the opportunity to 'do something' and then giving them free rein within the 'bounds of the game' to accomplish it while presenting them with obstacles to doing so. How they want to approach overcoming those obstacles is again up to them.

Do the characters have personal stuff going on, and how much time and effort goes into that, as opposed to the missions?  No personal stuff going on.  Some people put a fair amount of time into giving characters 'potential' for personal stuff to be going on; I know I do, and from what I've seen other players do as well.  But there's a disconnect in terms of getting this stuff 'off the character sheet' and into the game. That disconnect is a BIG part of what we're struggling with, I think.

* It is mostly guys, but there are usually a couple gals playing in a given game as well.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: contracycle on April 10, 2010, 12:25:55 AM
Hmm, I'm still not greatly enlightened about what it is you want exactly, not least because analogy to stuff that goes on in novels and the like has to be pased qwuite differently in RPG, IMO.  There are several ways I could read what you wrote and each requires an assumption on my part about what you meant.

There are some things to remark on though.  There was quite a lot of diuscussion about representation of characters on sheets a while back; probably, if it's not meant to come up in play, it shouldn't be on the sheet at all.  That is, it would be quite reasonable to have a character who had off-screen dependents.  This would come up in narration and IC speaking, but does not exist mechanically.  It's likely that the shift you need to make is from seeing the character sheet as a whole description of the character, to instead seeing it as an interface with the game itself.  So, stuff only goes on the sheet if it is to be used, not merely for the sake of completism.

For mission structures, one effect I have encountered is that if the general structure of play is to travel to some far away place to do some thing, this effectively always makes the characters strangers in their local surroundings.  They're just passing through, they are not invested or interested in stuff that may impnge upon those surroundings, except inasmuch as it affects them.  And this means, they tend not to initiate actions based on the locale, buecuase it has neither permanence nor relevance.  It is just detail on the way to the important stuff, and the important stuff always comes from the GM.  It might help to instead do some work on a base of operations for the characters, and to integrate them into the broader setting that way; they may then be more likely to develop autonomous interests in the locality, and thus likely to initiate actions etc.  Don't just treat it as a safe haven, treat it as a venue for action.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Jasper Flick on April 10, 2010, 01:27:25 AM
Quote
For mission structures, one effect I have encountered is that if the general structure of play is to travel to some far away place to do some thing, this effectively always makes the characters strangers in their local surroundings.

Dogs in the Vineyard is basically mission-based (town-based). But you're not anonymous stangers! You are divine agents, and recognized as such. And third house on the left? There lives your cousin Jack. As a Dog, you're a stranger to none.

Dogs towns are very different from stuff like Shadowrun missions, but the structure is similar enough that mission-based gamers aren't completely bewildered. At least, that's my experience.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Frank Tarcikowski on April 10, 2010, 02:57:00 AM
Hi Jim,

Thanks for the info, that puts things in good perspective. I don’t know if my own experience is very helpful to you, because the group constellations were quite different. The one time it worked well, it was because the characters had already got a lot of personal stuff going on, in which the players were invested, and then the GM simply took away the missions and started building on the personal stuff instead.

It’s good you have a bunch of enthusiastic players with many of them also sometimes GM’ing. That means they are generally able to, and interested in, authoring their own “stories” (in the broadest sense) through the medium of role-playing. One question though: Do you usually switch GMs in a running campaign? So that different GMs will be running games for the same bunch of characters? I suggest that such an approach would not be optimal for player-authored, story-oriented role-playing. You would want to have a consistent development / build-up of the story, so I would recommend setting up a new game entirely, with new characters, where the same players and the same GM will be playing until the story is finished (which need not take forever, maybe aim at 5-10 sessions to start with). Probably three to four players would be a good number.

The characters should be created in the presence of the other players, maybe with specific restraints in mind to gear them towards a premise of the (mini-)campaign. They should not be a typical adventurer party, and they should not be travelling around looking for adventure. Instead, they should be staying in one place (e.g. a city) where they are doing whatever they are doing. You might work together to link them in some way, give them personal relationships. You should encourage the players to put in conflicts with NPCs or even PCs, and maybe some issues for their characters. Maybe you as GM will want to add some external conflict as catalyst (the city is under siege, there is a gang war going on, the ruler just died and a new one has not been appointed yet, etc.)

Quote
So we need a way for players to say, "I so put this on the character sheet BECAUSE I'm ok with it coming into play.  In fact, I want it to come into play!"

Just talking about it is already very helpful. If you are looking for a mechanical way to implement these kinds of “Flags”, maybe take a look at The Shadow of Yesterday / the Solar System. The “Keys” are superb at this and are usually easy to patch into your trad game of choice. Another approach would be to tell the players that everything on the character sheet will come into play, so they better consider this. The Keys are great because they reward players for this stuff coming into play.

Quote
In our group it's considered bad form to put the other players in the position of sitting around watching while one person plays. 

I once read an article by Wolfgang Kramer, renowned German board game designer, in which he explains how players must not wait too long for their turn, but an important factor of how long you can let them wait is whether they have a chance to participate while it’s not their turn. So on the one hand you should not let solo scenes drag on too long, or maybe try to run parallel solo scenes, cutting back and forth. There is a technique called “Flashpoints” (I think) where you let different scenes climax at the same time, cutting back and forth quickly, and even would play (say) a fight at the same time, going through each round by order of initiative (or whatever you have) even though it’s really two different fights.

On the other hand, you should encourage players to engage in scenes where their characters are not present. This may be limited to listening and commenting here and there, but you could also (for instance) hand an NPC to one of the other players. Some games also explicitly use mechanics that let other players participate, the simplest being “Bennies” of some sort that you may spend on rolls other than your own, and/or may award to other players (popular example: “Fan Mail” in Primetime Adventure).

Plus, with three players, everybody gets much more screen time than with six players.

Hope any of this helps. Good luck!

-   Frank


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Aelwyn on April 10, 2010, 05:46:53 AM
One of the things I like about Spirit of the Century is that character creation explicitly ties the characters together and is used for developing NPCs, especially antagonists. So instead of the players being dragged into a complete world created by the GM, the GM has to create the world based on the types of adventures and enemies the players pick.

Here's how it works: Characters are the stars of pulp novels. During character creation, the player whose character is Sally Strife decides her one of her background novels is Sally Strife and the Cult of the Withered Hand, co-starring the Man from Outside Time (another PC). Boom. That's how Sally and the Man from Outside Time know each other, and the GM now has a group of NPCs to throw at the characters--the high priest of the Cult of the Withered Hand and his minions. The player gets to create the nemesis--the GM fleshes out the nemesis and plays it in the game.

The GM can still run the characters through a preplanned mission, but at some point, the Cult should show up as a red herring or an ally of the bad guys--or maybe a group that surprisingly rescues the heroes for even more nefarious purposes!

This system requires a lot more flexibility from the GM, and I don't think it would work with a complex, traditional RPG where you need to have NPC sheets ready before a campaign.

Now if we could figure out a way to base adventures on character abilities...


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Paul T on April 10, 2010, 07:53:42 AM
Along the lines of the last couple of posts, one really effective technique for the GM to get away from "mission-based play", as you're describing, is to consciously limit his or her concept of preparation. You or another GM in your group can try this very easily without having to change anything else in the game. Here's how:

Once you have a concept/premise for the game (e.g. pirates fighting a fanatic religious cult off the coast of Sri Lanka), have everyone create characters. Ideally, do so in a way that tells you a lot about the actual characters and what/who they care about--those are much more important than things like equipment and ability scores. The usual "character history" can be a good source of this stuff. (It can be great for the GM and the other players to ask each other leading questions to deepen this information, e.g. "Your father abandoned your character as a child? How does she feel about that now?")

Once that is done, the GM collects all the character information and prepares for the actual game. This is where the "conscious limit" comes in: the GM makes it a rule for herself NOT to put anything into the adventure or scenario that she did not take directly off one of the character sheets. The raw dough the players have given you in terms of character concepts is all you have to work with. The harder you make this rule for yourself, the more effective it will be.

That's just a simple experiment you can start with, but I think you'll find it revealing.





Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: contracycle on April 10, 2010, 10:29:57 AM
Dogs in the Vineyard is basically mission-based (town-based). But you're not anonymous stangers! You are divine agents, and recognized as such. And third house on the left? There lives your cousin Jack. As a Dog, you're a stranger to none.[/uote]

I don't buy it.  Neither authority the PC carries in the game, nor any made-up-for-the-moment personal connections to the place, qualify at all for providing a sense of ownership and involvement.  Dogs are still there to Dog things, not settle-down things.  Play is not going to recur in the same place, and I don't see that the players will consider it any differentl; no matter how allegedly familiar it is supposed to be to the characters, it's still new to the players.  I don't really see that this is particularly different to a Shadowrun mission, nor is there any reason in general that it should be.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 14, 2010, 10:04:19 PM
Just a short note to say I haven't dropped this thread entirely, but I've had too much other stuff going on to make any kind of considered replies.  Some good advice here, some of which I plan to implement in our games if possible, and some of which we're already doing, which makes me feel like we're on the right track.

Thanks to everyone who's contributed so far,

JB


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 18, 2010, 09:59:03 AM
So the main thing I’m getting here is “To get more character driven play, the GM has to stop ‘bringing the plot to the players’ and let the players bring the plot to the GM.”  This approach is, of course, dependent of the players to bring enough to the table for a game. 

It is possible, however, that players may be ‘willing but unable’ in this regard, ie, lacking the skills and/or structures to construct characters that facilitate this approach. 

I think this may be part of our problem in getting away from mission based play.  I’ve attempted to run games using a similar approach to what Paul T describes, but have had problems making those games ‘pop’ because the players didn’t provide their bits to make that work, and so we fell back on the ‘mission’ thing.

Let me stress that I don’t feel like the players aren’t providing these bits because they don’t want to, but because they can’t identify these bits consistently enough to provide them.  Also let me say that this doesn’t apply only to the games I’ve GMed; I see this happening in games I’m playing in as well. 

So how does one approach learning to craft characters for this type of game, or teaching others how to do so? 

(I personally think studying narrative construction in general is helpful, but some people may question the validity of applying this sort of thing to RPGs specifically, and in any case, reading Egri or what have you is going to be too much like homework for some people, so I’m looking for something that's a little more concise and can be implemented more quickly.)


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 18, 2010, 10:15:29 AM
Related to the above, I think it’s important to draw a distinction between creating characters and statting characters, or between ‘elements of the character’ and ‘mechanical representation of those elements’.  The division isn’t so clear cut in most games chargen procedures, often involving working back and forth between the two, and either can serve as the antecedent to the other as well.  (For a very simple example, take ‘built like a brick shithouse’ and ‘high Strength and Body stats’.  Which of these comes first in the chargen process depends on the game, and to an extent, the player.  Also note that ‘built like a brick shithouse’ likely requires ‘high Strength and Body stats’, but ‘high Strength and Body stats’ could be described in a variety of ways.)

From some of the statements made earlier in this thread, I’m coming to see that there are two different approaches to statting characters; One school of thought attempts to comprehensively model every element of the character with some kind of mechanical representation, the other emphasizes certain elements by giving them mechanical weight.  I'm also seeing these approaches as the ends of a scale rather than wholly separate and discrete practices, with individual players gravitating towards a given point in the spectrum 'by default'.

(There’s likely some kind of correlation to creative agendas here as well, but I’d leave exploration of that idea for another time and thread.) 

Also realize that some games make no provision for mechanically representing certain elements, but don’t necessarily prohibit or deny the elements themselves.  (eg, There are no ‘Contacts’ in D&D; that doesn’t mean the players can never establish PC/NPC relationships that they can tap for favors, etc...)

Recognizing that there are two approaches to statting character elements goes a long way towards understanding why taking a ‘use everything on the sheet’ sometimes causes more problems than it solves. For the player who’s taken a completist approach, ‘I’m gonna use everything on the sheet’ is usually (and often justifiably) taken as a GM screw-over; For the GM attempting to do so, these are the characters with ‘lots of detail, but no focus’.

On the other side of the fence, there’s the attitude of ‘if it’s not on your character sheet, it doesn’t exist.’  So in the case of our hypothetical ‘guy with the kids (but this story isn’t about the kids)’, if the player doesn’t take ‘NPC Dependents/5’, does the character even have kids? 

Finally, most of the methods I’m familiar with for ‘fleshing out a character’ generate a lot more of these kind of background character details than will ever be shared with ‘the audience’.  RPGs confuse the issue though, both with the ‘collaborative authorship’ thing and the players (GM included) acting as both author and audience simultaneously.

Whether this is helpful to anyone else I can’t say, but for me it goes a long way towards explaining some of the problems I’ve seen in games in this regard.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Judd on April 18, 2010, 12:23:26 PM
So the main thing I’m getting here is “To get more character driven play, the GM has to stop ‘bringing the plot to the players’ and let the players bring the plot to the GM.”  This approach is, of course, dependent of the players to bring enough to the table for a game. 

I think this is a really dangerous misconception about player-driven play, or perhaps I mean more character-driven play.  The idea that because the action is centered, not so much on the mission, but on the character's NPC's, goals and such, means that the GM can be lazy with prep and/or scene-framing is entirely untrue.

What it means is that the scenes are primarily about what the player has said is important about the character and the mission is secondary.  For an indicator of what is important we look at:

  • The descriptors and back of the sheet for Sorcerer
    Beliefs, Instincts, Traits, Relationships, Affiliations and Reputations for Burning Wheel
    Aspects for Spirit of the Century

Using these items to drive the campaign does not mean the GM can stop bringing-the-mission to the player but it does mean that if there is a mission, it should be crafted in such a way to intersect and weave in the above player-authored elements, to challenge them and address them.

I think Dogs is a really interesting example because it is entirely mission-based but how the mission is resolved is up to the players through their judgment.  The mission becomes personal, certainly and after a half a dozen to a dozen towns, the characters will be changed through engaging the system and gaining fall-out.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 18, 2010, 10:57:02 PM
Judd, no offense, but I think you've missed what I was getting at. 

All that stuff you mention - the back of the Sorcerer character sheet, BW's BITs, SotCs Aspects?  That's what we're depending on the players to bring to the table for the game.  When I say the players have to bring enough of it, what's 'enough' is sufficient quality and/or quantity of the indicators of what's important to the player that the GM can "[use] these items to drive the campaign."

If you don't have sufficient quality and/or quantity of the indicators, it's damned hard to use those items to drive the campaign. 

In that scenario, you can either:
A) Opt for a play style that's not so dependent on player indicators.
B) Figure out ways to improve the quality and/or quantity of player indicators.

What I've been calling 'mission based play' is one way of doing A).  We're trying to accomplish B). 


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Judd on April 19, 2010, 12:35:00 AM
Hey JB,

I would imagine that character-driven play can happen in a group as large as you are talking about.  I've GMed games like that back in college, games with really good friends playing for long sessions back in the day when gaming for 12 hours on a Saturday was no big thang.  Nowadays, I just couldn't game like that and honestly, wouldn't want to.  We were drifting the shit out of Ars Magica and the character indicators came from one-on-one interviews between me and the players, talking about their character histories, etc.  It was pretty tedious.

Regarding the quality of the indicators, if the game demands some kind of indicator, you spend a session sitting around and making shit up.  Mind you, it is a difficult process and requires us to tell our friends that something isn't quite right and help them re-write it until it is right.  It means critiquing one another and supporting one another get those indicators set up for solid play.

Quantity of player indicators,  I would imagine that has to do with the system one is using.  As mentioned above, I've done it, bent Ars Magica to our will, made it do all kinds of stuff it just wasn't made to do because we were enamored with the Verb/Noun magic system and were hopped up on Robert Jordan and youth.  But it took a severe amount of energy.  It was swimming upstream rather than, with games made for this kind of character-driven play, swimming with the current.

Judd



Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 20, 2010, 12:40:33 PM
Judd,

Yeah, I don’t personally see the size of the group as a deal breaker for character driven play.  I’m not even sure that it necessitates altering one’s approach to that, at least not to any greater extent than it does any other aspect of play.

What you say about the difficult process of making up indicators is dead on.  Part of the challenge is creating an environment where people feel comfortable doing what you describe, and establishing procedures that encourage productive results from the exercise.

As far as whether the game demands indicators or not, it looks to me like they’re a requirement for the kind of character-driven play being described, regardless of whether they’re explicitly demanded by the game text or not. 

Regarding ‘quantity’ of indicators, you’re absolutely right - it’s going to vary from game to game.  I mostly included ‘quantity’ to cover the extremes of ‘too few indicators’, ie, none; and ‘too many indicators’, ie, a lengthy list of things with no indication as to which, if any, have greater priority.  I was mostly thinking of informal means of implementing indicators, like character backgrounds or interviewing players, but it can apply to formalized indicators too; as an example, in Burning Wheel, there are rules about how many Beliefs one must and can have.  You can’t ‘play a few sessions and then write beliefs’, nor can you ‘write a dozen or so and then see which ones work after a couple games’, although I’ve seen people suggest such things. 

That said, issues with quantity of indicators are a lot easier to address than issues with quality, so let’s focus on that.

About drift and ‘games made for this kind of character-driven play’, I’m in general agreement with you, but I think sometimes drifting may be worth the work involved.   I once equated it to modifying a car to go faster - if you want a fast car, does it make sense to start with a compact commuter? Someone pointed out that although you might not end up with a very fast car by doing so, you’d probably gain a much, much better understanding of what actually makes for a fast car than if you just bought a performance model.

To get the kind of play we want, the group’s having to learn some new techniques, and ‘unlearn’ some old habits.  Just getting to the point where we can communicate what we want articulately is a challenge.  For example, I’m the only one familiar, or even inclined to become familiar, with the terminology and theories in use here at the Forge; regardless of the validity or lack thereof of those theories, etc... it means that where you and I can go more or less right to discussing ‘indicators’ and the like, for my group to do so first requires establishing a whole bunch of contextual structure.

As an example, we’ve had some problems with people authoring indicators that are irrelevant or contrary to what the Player actually wants, basically because of a lack of a term like ‘indicator’ and a general confusion about what one is.

For what it's worth, I feel like we're making progress on the matter, both here on the forums and at the game table, so thanks.

JB


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Judd on April 20, 2010, 02:16:43 PM
Good luck, JB.

Two things:

...nor can you ‘write a dozen or so and then see which ones work after a couple games’, although I’ve seen people suggest such things. 

Ya can't write a dozen or so but you could write 3 and change them as needed.  Dropping a belief that is not being used and changing beliefs as play continues is absolutely a part of play.

When I talk about swimming against the stream when I was playing Ars Magica back in the day, I wasn't meaning only me as a GM.  I also meant the effort by everyone at the table to get to the kind of play we enjoyed with a system that was not helping us get there.

I'm really curious about how you and your group set up play.  Using indicators can often mean a real change to the way campaigns are set up at the table.  I'd love more AP in this here AP thread.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 21, 2010, 03:17:15 PM
Yeah, we're arguing to the choir here.  I know you can change Beliefs once play begins, and if Beliefs DON'T change over time, you're probably 'doing it wrong'.  You still have to winnow it down to the 'top three' though.  (Hell, there's nothing saying you can't drive your character to do stuff that doesn't tie into their Beliefs, you just won't get any Artha for it, so it's a 'sub-optimal move' to make.) 

As far as our set up procedures go, they're currently not conducive to this type of play.  We recognize this and are trying to retool, but it's requiring that we examine those procedures and do some 'thinking outside the box'.

(Note that 'our box' is not the Forge's box. The Forge's box is bigger than ours, so a lot of what's 'revolutionary left field' stuff for some of our group is old hat here.  That's not to say we're opposed to trying 'revolutionary left field' stuff, just that there's a fair amount of inertia arising from habit to be overcome.)

That said, here's a description of the most common setup procedure:

Step 1) The group comes to a consensus on what game to play, ie, what 'system' or game text are we going to use?

Step 2) Whoever's going to be GMing starts doing 'prep' for the game.  This is done more or less alone, in between game sessions.  Usually the GM will want to get some idea of the characters to be played before they have a go at running a session, but not always.  'Some idea of the characters' tends to be along the lines of'class/race' designations for games with such devices, or 'basic concept in a nutshell' for those without them, eg, "Crane Bushi", "Psyker", "Ork Gun Adept", etc…

Step 2A) Players make characters, more or less concurrently with the GM's prepping.  This is usually also done alone and in between game sessions.  Sometimes the group will 'take a session to make characters' but, there's still very little interaction between players during chargen. I've compared it to a group of people taking the SAT - "No talking, keep your eyes on your own work."  Like the GM, a player may sometimes, but not always, ask about the characters others intend to play, usually to avoid ending up with characters that are too similar.

Step 3) Get together and play. 

One of the things that I see is that the group as a whole likes to have a lot of time to make characters - a week or two to put something together is pretty common, and if we devote a session to chargen, people will probably just have rough concepts and some primary stats to support that concept on paper at the end of four hours, and will 'finish up the character' on their own before the next game.

There's no standard for backgrounds and descriptions or the like - some people will write this kind of stuff out and share it with the GM, some will write this stuff out for their own reference, and some don't put anything on paper beyond the stuff that has mechanical representation.  However, it's fairly obvious during play that people are giving this stuff a fair amount of consideration whether they document it or not - depending on the game players may interject such details into the SIS thru play, although because of the structure of our games, these details end up being more like character trivia than something that influences the course of the game.

JB


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: Judd on April 23, 2010, 03:20:53 PM
JB, I am going to quote the portions of your description that I think could very well be getting in the way of character-driven stories.

Step 2) Whoever's going to be GMing starts doing 'prep' for the game.  This is done more or less alone, in between game sessions.  Usually the GM will want to get some idea of the characters to be played before they have a go at running a session, but not always.  'Some idea of the characters' tends to be along the lines of'class/race' designations for games with such devices, or 'basic concept in a nutshell' for those without them, eg, "Crane Bushi", "Psyker", "Ork Gun Adept", etc…

Step 2A) Players make characters, more or less concurrently with the GM's prepping.  This is usually also done alone and in between game sessions.  Sometimes the group will 'take a session to make characters' but, there's still very little interaction between players during chargen. I've compared it to a group of people taking the SAT - "No talking, keep your eyes on your own work."  Like the GM, a player may sometimes, but not always, ask about the characters others intend to play, usually to avoid ending up with characters that are too similar.

The characters are not linked and more importantly, the GM's prep is not linked to the characters the players created.

There are quiet, SAT-like, moments in chargen for a character driven game but other times it is like a dinner party with loud, excited people talking about something that interests them.  Ideas are tossed back and forth, some are gold, others are left mouldering on the side of the road and when we are done, we know just how the game will start next week with no idea where it might end.

Without linked characters and GM prep that takes the characters the players have created in mind, the mission becomes the game's structure because otherwise, there is often nothing keeping them all together, very often nothing concrete for them to do.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: contracycle on April 24, 2010, 04:25:49 AM
I strongly endorse Judd's point here.  Linking characters doesn't necessarily make a huge difference to the mission structure as such, but it does alter the way characters and players approach the mission, and thepertinence of individual character identities.

When characters are unrelated, the mission has to be built in a way that provides motivation for all of them; this means it must also be impersonal.  Furthermore, there is a constant undertone of dispute over "my character isn't interested in doing X or Y" that has to be constantly negotiated.  All of which results in one of two outcomes: either the players are fractious and difficult, or they ignore their character identities for the sake of party unity.

I introduced a rule to a group that played in much the way you describe, and it completely transformed this situation.  Characters didn't have to be created in full with the others, but the basic concepts had to be discussed with others, and each character had to have one non-reciprocal link to another character.  This creates a network of interdepency among the characters and thus players and gives them, as well as the GM, an explicit framework in which to interact with each other.

So, your Crane bushi as character A might say, I am the "brother of character B", but character B cannot then have a link back to A; this player must construct a link to character C, like "the Daidoji is my personal bodyguard".  Once a network like this is established, the motivation problem for missions becomes much simpler - all you have to do is tug on one character, and all the others are affected.  In addition, all the "my character wouldn't do that" stuff vanishes, because now each character is equipped with a Reason for doing stuff about which they may well have misgivings, but which they are none the less obliged to do by ties of loyalty, dependency, familial relation, etc.  Motivation and involvement thus cease to be abstract concerns and become things negotiated between players through the playing of characters.  Which itself has the function of making characters more "alive" and realised in the SIS.

It also makes the characters more of a unit, not in the sense they all have shared motives, but in the sense that they are all mutually affecting.  And that in turn opens up space for players to initiate things that are primarily of concern only to their own characters, but which nevertheless involve and have implications for the others.  that both reduces the amount of stuff that is of exclusive interest to only one at a time, and allows for a natural interest and involvement by the others, while also preserving an interest among the players in something that is executed as a one character scene.


Title: Re: Making the transition from mission based play?
Post by: JB on April 26, 2010, 07:34:01 PM
Thanks people.  If nothing else, this thread's reminded me about what worked in certain games in the past.  If anyone has further techniques or devices to share in regards to establishing more 'links' between characters, prepping games for such characters, encouraging more player interaction and communication during chargen, or any thoughts on how to convert a game that was conceived with a lack of attention to such (eg, our current games), please post away.

JB