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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: Gordon C. Landis on September 06, 2002, 01:40:52 PM

Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 06, 2002, 01:40:52 PM
Hey, I started this post yesterday - more P-thing posts have occurred, and I'm still not sure if this belongs in an existing thread, or on it's own.  On its' own seems safer, and it's Actual Play, so . . .

Let me describe what looks to me like another candidate "participationist" session I was in a couple weeks back - the GM for our DD3e Dark Sun Grand Heroic Fantasy Campaign (yes, I have much fun and some problems playing in it) was sick, so we needed something else.  After some discussion, we all agreed this wacky idea from one guy (now called "the GM") sounded fun - "you all appear in a Victorian-esque manor house with no memories of who you are.  Be ready for ANYTHING."  No system - there were maybe 5-6 single d6 rolls (high "good", low "bad") in the session, where the GM was looking for a bit of randomness about "how much/how quickly/in what way does X happen".  I was ready for something a little "out there", and so (somewhat to my surprise) was everyone else.

Let me go ahead and let y'all in on what this session was about - we were all ghosts, killed in the house either by tragic accident, murder or an odd blending of the two.  In classic ghost fashion, we were stuck here by our unwillingness to accept our deaths.  We needed to accept/believe that we were dead and move on to the afterlife.  The entire session (oh, 4 hours or so) was us as players figuring things out about our characters, and our characters figuring things out about themselves, each other, and the situation.  At the point where the players (though perhaps not the characters)became pretty clear about everyone being ghosts, there was a VERY noticeable shift in play - more Authorial, perhaps?  Looking for a way to bring the story to a satisfying conclusion?  But anyway . . .

How'd it play out?  Well, let me go into some, but not all detail here (apologies if I drift into irrelevancies - it's hard to know what might be helpful/interesting and what isn't).  Task #1 was to pick characters.  There were 4 (male) players, and the GM offered "mid-late teens girl", "30's man", "late 20's-30 man", and "mid-late 20's woman."  The two players who very often run female characters in other games picked the women, the other guy wanted the older man, so I ended up with the younger man.

Then - the game starts.  We get a description of the entry hall we appear in (door here, a stopped-clock there, etc.), how we appear to each other, and there's a 5th guy (male NPC, age 40+) with us.  A bit of roleplay "Who are you?  Who am I?", and a fairly lengthy discussion about how we're dressed.  The GM had some very particular ideas about what he wanted to communicate by our clothing, but hadn't had time to prep the details - and some of the players were quite knowledgeable about various "period" clothing styles.  So there was a good deal of OOC talk about "Are you going for a flapper-thing or more a society woman?  If he was going outdoors he would have spats" and etc.  Long story short, we-the-players were able to figure out that the girl was dressed in a very prim and proper upper class ~1890's style, the woman was a bit scandalously dressed for the 1920's but still pretty elegant, I was quite fancily decked out in a 1920's top hat and tails, and the older guy had a well-worn suit and fedora - and a revolver, recently fired, no shells left (think early 40's movie style private detective).  The NPC was not quite as well dressed as I, but similar, though more like the detective's era.

We try to go out the front door, open windows, and etc. - we can't.  There doesn't seem to be anything outside - just a vague mist.  And the door won't open, doesn't even respond to being beaten on.  We have the characters try and remember things - "do you know who's president now?" - and now the characters get the somewhat-vague sense that they're from different eras.

A dog appears down one of the hallways, looking a bit frightened of us.  The girl (I think this was one of the rolls) gets it to let her pet it, but it shies away from the rest of us.  Eventually, it wanders off.

So do we.  The woman and I wear rings that seem a fairly close match - maybe we're married?  We pair off and head upstairs.  The other 2 PCs and the NPC check out one of the downstairs rooms - it has a fireplace, so they start a fire.  Suddenly the GM steps in, speaking to the girls player "You feel like your clothes have caught on fire.  You're burning, rolling, trying to put the fire out, but there are flames everywhere.  The heat is intense - it begins to scorch your lungs and . . . you're back in the room, screaming and slapping at your perfectly normal clothing."

The scream brings my upstairs explorations to an early close (we'd barely made it to the top if the stairs), and we go running back to join the others.  The girl describes her experience, the characters act puzzled and disturbed, and the players begin to think they might know what's up.  Still a lot of uncertainty, though.  The GM also says the girl seems to remember this house - it's familiar.  She thinks it might be her house - or at least she has a room here.  But she's not sure where . . .   The detective starts looking for weapons, and finds some old dueling swords and pistols on the wall - taking down one of the pistols, he has a flash - "You feel an explosion of pain in your chest, and look down to see blood pumping out of an open wound.  You attempt to stop the flow by clutching at your chest with your left hand, but you're weak, so weak . . . Your eyesight begins to fade and everything is dark when - you find yourself back in the room, with (my character) holding you."  I instinctively had moved to help him, and start to take his pulse.  Seems like I'm a doctor, or at least have some medical training . . . but "Doctor" sounds right.

We decide we need to continue to search the house (the players are basically certain about this "we're all dead" thing now).  I head back upstairs with my maybe-wife, and the others poke around more downstairs.  They find a library that includes a desk with some business records for  the owner of the house (Jerome something, as I recall), and a number of disturbing book titles - no, no Necronomicon, but latin stuff like Maleus Malefactorus.  The GM informs them the girl is beginning to think "her" room is upstairs.

Speaking of upstairs . . . we discover a large room - a ballroom, with dance floor and a large french-doored balcony overlooking the - outside!  A patio area, a bit of lawn, and a medium-sized lake.  We begin to move towards the doors, but the other player has my maybe-wife ask "Shall we dance?  If we're actually married, maybe it will feel familiar."  So we dance our way over to the doors, it does feel familiar, but as we get a better look at the lake, the room spins, and we're underwater, struggling to find the surface.  But we can't tell where it is!  The water seems to tug at our clothes, pulling us down.  The need to breathe is intense - we can't hold our breath any longer.  We have . . . to . . . breath . . .

And the others come into the ballroom to discover us in a heap on the floor.  This is when the players are CERTAIN that we're all dead.  The detective is about to start grilling the NPC about his experiences since we appeared, but the little girl says "I know where my room is!" and we all follow after her.  Once she goes into that room, she says "wait, this isn't right", and we all see a room full of packing crates.  We start unpacking them, and find various toys and etc. wrapped in newspaper.  After some poking around, the newspapers reveal a story about how a doctor and his wife were killed in a tragic boating accident at a party held by the new owner of the Dunmore Estate, Jerome somebody.  The girl says "Dunmore, that's me", and sure enough, there's a reference to the tragic fire that killed the last heir to the Dunmore fortune, and that the estate is now up for sale.

The Dunmore girl also remembers that the house has some secret passages in them, and the detective finds one.  His player turns to the NPC and says "what do you think, downstairs?" (He - and the rest of us - have "figured out" as the most recent death, his body might be around somewhere.  We've also picked up that Jerome something is quite possibly mob-connected, deranged and faux(?)-satanic).  The NPC gives a slight nod, and down behind the wine cellar we find - the detective's (police, not private, as it turns out) body.  And his partner's.  And a few other bodies, too.  He remembers his investigation, how he became convinced Jerome was crooked, that he tried to get the doctor's wife away from the doctor all those years ago and killed them both, and how he and his partner had already told the boss so that even though they got killed, Jerome was domed.  

Turning towards the NPC, "You're not like us, are you?" says the detective.  "What, are you here to guide us on?"  "You have to accept." says the NPC.  "Are you ready?"  A bit of roleplay where I (who, upon learning I'm a doctor, started getting a bit scientific and analytical with everything) protest that this is all so fantastic - why did we *happen* to find those newspaper articles? - but finally agree that, if we're dead, we should move on.  Especially since my wife says she's desperately afraid that if she stays, she'll experience the drowning again, "and that's a horror I don't wish upon anyone" (it was a well-described scene, probably better than my writing indicates).  So we agree.  All of us (as players) very conscious that this is almost certainly where the GM was heading all along, and just looking for interesting/satisfying ways to get us there.

First, per the NPC/Angel's instructions, we have to set things back to how they were, best as we can - pistols/swords back on the wall, repack the boxes, etc.  But the detective slips a note in amongst the records in the desk, saying "Jerome Case Solved -  Dtvs' Blake and Ramsey."  The girl tries to leave one of her old dolls out on top crates, but our NPC notices and packs it away.  And I ask if we can depart from the ballroom, and pause for a dance with my wife on the way.  The detective turns to our NPC and says "Can you help them out?", and the rich tones of a full orchestra fill the ballroom.  As we dance, a glowing tunnel appear at the french doors, and one by one the others step through.  With a wink, I retrieve my top hat, my wife tosses her scarf into it, and I toss it into a corner as we step through as well.

The GM describes the front door opening, the dog barking, and a young couple with children walking in.  "Look, look - poor doggy, he looks so skinny.  Can we keep him?"

End of session.

Not the kind of thing I'd enjoy as a steady diet, but it was a nice change of pace and I really enjoyed some of the little bits along the way (not all of which are included here).  At the start of the session, scrounging for some hint or clue to base your roleplaying on (and creating/building on that) was quite interesting and fun.  Towards the end, it became about adding bits to the story so that it was more than just what the GM said - so that "you" left a flavor and an imprint on it as well.  I confess, I loved the dance and the hat toss at the end - I probably stole it from somewhere, but damned if I know where.

So, was this "participationism?"  The GM certainly had a pre-set story - you're ghosts, you eventually realize it, you move on.  There were no real choices.  I mean, not moving on - remaining a ghost - never seemed like an option, though I explored the "doesn't accept it" angle for a little bit.  If the GM had made the choice less clear - linking the NPC to Jerome, making us wonder if he was (e.g.) trying to get us to sacrifice our spirits for a satanic ritual of Jerome's devising . . . would that have TOTALLY changed the nature of the choice?  And thus the nature of the session?

I think I'll wait until/unless others chime in to say more .


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Knight on September 08, 2002, 02:40:06 PM
Personally, I'm surpised that nobody did assume that the NPC was Jerome. It was certainly the thing that sprung to my mind.

Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 09, 2002, 10:27:28 AM
I think that a lot of mystery play is Participationism. It's definitely "Open-ended" while you do the legwork, and run down what it's all about. But what will characterize the session as one or the other, in total, is whether the GM is willing to have you fail to figure out what the secre is.

To whit, I had a GM who ran CoC in a totaly "Open" manner. That is, we were controlled to the location, but after that, it may as well have been a traditional dungeon crawl. For example, one time after eight hours of play, we had failed to discover the mystery in this one house. The GM had played everything straight up, had us make all of our rolls with no fudging, etc. In the end we just didn't have enough info, and we "lost" the adventure, as it were. We failed to acomplish the mission, or even determine what the problem was. After it was over he told us what was up.

What usually happens in Cthulhu play that I've seen (outside of this guy's) is a bit more Illusionism. That is, when the players get stuck, they somehow find something they need to get going again. Or they just fail to fail at finding stuff ever. Or any of a number of other Illusionist strategies designed to ensure that the entire plot will get played out. Interestingly the combat usually plays out more "Open" than Illusionist, leading to lots of premature PC death. Odd but true.

Anyhow, what it really requires is a bit more Participationist play. That is, the GM should lead a little more strongly, and the players should follow. In any case, given the situation of your game, Gordon, yes, this was Participationist as well in that there were no choices at any point that the players could make that would alter the course of the game. Only how quickly or slowly one could get from one point to the next. This is especially true in the fact that your characters were limited physically in everything they could do practically.

OTOH, that was not the point of this excercise. I think that the mystery, like the mission format are the most common, and possibly the most interesting form of the Participationist games. In that there are Gamist/Narrativist elements of being the one to do the work neccesary to get from point A to point B. The details become the point of play, and not making decisions that will affect the plot.


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 09, 2002, 01:29:55 PM

I think because there was absolutely NOTHING menacing about the NPC throughout the session, we never seriously considered him as a Jerome-candidate.  If he had turned out to be Jerome it would have been a huge surprise to all the players - but looking back on it, I can see where it might have worked well to have him be a bit more questionable.

So yeah, a story where the NPC is Jerome (or something) does hold together well, it was just obvious to all present that the story we were in wasn't that one.


Yeah, it's an interesting style of play where all that matters is the MANNER in which you get from A to B.  Your Cthulu example is similar, but allows for the possibility of NOT reaching B.  Then folks can add the possibility of C happening instead of B.  And . . .

At some point, we stop thinking of this as "participationism", and it becomes something else.  I guess I find it interesting that what is so clear in an obviously "out there" play style can become so muddy once you back off that extreme.  In fact, I can see someone arguing that if the "manner" issue is considered in the right light, an absolute "start at A and go to B" format can theoretically support full-out G, N and S play.  Does that mean "participationism" is a tool/style entirely outside of GNS and can be used to achieve any goal?  Bobby G would seem to say "you can't do this in a Narrativist game," but once all the players were (rightly, as it turned out) on the same page about the mystery aspect of the story, we had an hour or more of what felt pretty much like Narrativist play . . .


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 10, 2002, 07:18:45 AM
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
Bobby G would seem to say "you can't do this in a Narrativist game," but once all the players were (rightly, as it turned out) on the same page about the mystery aspect of the story, we had an hour or more of what felt pretty much like Narrativist play . . .

That wasn't Bobby G, and you can do Bobby G in a narrativist fashion. In your game, the thing that was more Narrativist did happen. That is, the GM framed right to the aaction with the player's consent. The problematic Bobby G scenario is one in which the players are allowed to make whatever decsions they like, but only the one path leads anywhere.

OTOH, your game was sim "all roads lead to Rome". There was only one possible conclusion, and the Theme, as it were, is set.

But what you were doing sounds very much like Char Sim. As Ron points out, as soon as a player has given his character a moral question to answer, injecting his own Narrativist Premise, as it were, then the play has drifted to Narrativist. So, for all I know it was Narrativist. The question to ask in defining the play is, did you or the other players ask yourselves such a question? Or was the whole thing just about the discovery in the end? If the latter, then you have a fairly Participationist game where you were simly taking your cues from the GM (as provided in the form of environment).

Make sense?


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 10, 2002, 09:44:04 AM

Oh, it all makes sense - I'd pretty easily peg the whole thing (especially before we decided we knew what was going on) as Sim/Situation, with the players adding some Sim/Character because that's just the kinda players we are.  And yeah, I think it's that character focus that made for Narrativist drift towards the end - once we had the mystery pegged, it wasn't just "you're going to move on now" (the Rome already established by the GM), but "why is it that you move on?"  I set up a little conflict between accepting moving on and a scientific/analytical distrust, and resolved it by leveraging love for my wife into getting me "across."  The detective's player went the more classic "unfinished business" route, added some back story about how he had never got a break in the PD and cracking this case meant a lot to him.  So leaving the note was his answer to the vague, mostly player-created Premise "why?"  The guy playing my wife (boy, don't these RP conversations sound odd sometimes?) had built up a whole feminist vibe and worked that into a "of course we'll move on to the next great adventure" moment that actually helped sway the other characters.  The girl . . . she'd developed a rather father-figure relationship with our NPC, had lost her father early in life (per the GM), and was seeing the moving on as rejoining her mother (per the player).

So yeah, I guess you're right - thanks for helping me think it through.  Player injection and exploration of a premise towards the end lead to Nar drift of a very strictly plotted Sim session.  What's interesting to me about all this is that we just kinda did it - there was no careful thought to it all, but once the players knew the mystery was "up", we just moved into a different play style.  I mean, I may be adding a little bit more "depth" to the decision via retroactive analysis, but I've spoken with the players and they all had this same sense of a shift in themselves and others as we moved into the resolution phase of the session.

Hmm . . . now I have personal landmark for just *exactly* what Drift feels like.  Unless someone wants to tell me that it was really Transition.


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 10, 2002, 10:56:38 AM
Not Transition. No rules helped cause the shift. It was a change of situation that caused the shift to Narrativism. Definitely became Narrativist as soon as the "Why move on" queston gets asked, and the players are allowed to answer. This wouldn't even really constitute Drift. There were no rules, or very few. They probably weren't supporting any mode. Thus nothing to drift from. This is simple shifting. In this case players adjusting to their new situation with a change of mode from Sim to Nar.

Everyone forgets that primarily play consists of shifting back and forth between modes. This happens to a greater or lesser extent for all players. Few play in one mode at all times. Drift is adjusting rules such that a shift is more likely to occur. Transition describes such shift that occurs as the result of rules written in such a manner as to facilitate such a change (which is theoretical only, as the only game that is thought to have this design is Scattershot).


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 10, 2002, 05:19:45 PM
As soon as I hit "submit", I realized that Drift and Transition were terms about systems, and since this was essentially systemless play . . .

Mike nailed it, of course, so all I can say is he's right.


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: contracycle on September 10, 2002, 11:31:13 PM
Quote from: Gordon C. Landis
So yeah, I guess you're right - thanks for helping me think it through.  Player injection and exploration of a premise towards the end lead to Nar drift of a very strictly plotted Sim session.

I don't understand how this can be narratavism - I don't see any alteration of the plot or direction carried out by the players, I do not see the players determining the outcome of the story, only interpreting it.  The introduction of a premise for an individual character is not IMO the same as premise for a story, because it is not shared by the other participants; its relevant only to the personal interpretation not to anyone elses interprpetaiton; I think this is borne out in the fragment, individual resolutions and the apparant tdesire to "leave a mark" by so interpreting the story.

The above seems to suggest that as soon as a moral conflict is introduced, play axiomatically drifts toward Narratavism - but how can that be.  Morality <> Premise; and plenty of Gamist or Sim desires can be fed by an in-game moral issue, and moral issues can still feed Actor play within Sim.  I don't see what actual behavikours at the table in this case constitute Narratavism.

Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 11, 2002, 06:26:49 AM
Narrativism is players addressing a Narrativist Premise. The NP that suddenly appeared, from what I get from Gordon, is the "How do you pass on?" question. To the extent that players answered it by addressing the issue thematically the play was Narrativist. To the extent that they did not really address it, or the answer was pre-determined, it is Sim. The game did not become Narraticist just because the premise showed up.

This is the problem I'm having lately. From Gordon's original post there is nothing in there about such Narrativist choices being made. Then, later he posts about how the players did get to address the issue. I'm just guessing looking at what was presented as to how the decisions were likely made. But I can't really know. In fact, other than Gordon's own decisions, even he who was there cannot really know for certain.

All I'm saying is that if the decisionss that were being made were made in the mode that seems most likely to me from Gordon's description, that IMO those particular choices were probably Narrativist.

A "Game" or "session" ahould never be looked at as a whole so as to say that it was G or N or S or whatever. You can only look at the "instances of play" and determine what they were. When I say that the session was Participationist, I am using shorthand to indicate that the descisions made were predominantly Participationist. Which even if there was that late Narrativist moment, I still stand by. Or rather, if the decisions in play were made in the way that I think that they probably were made, then the play was predominantly Participationist. Again I can only guess.

I suppose that one should always go through the rigamarole of making that longer statement, in assigning a description to a session of play. But just like the shorthand of calling a player a Gamist means only that he is a player who due to a preference for certain styles of play tends to make Gamist decisions, I would think that we can decide to understand that calling a session Participationist or whatever mode, means that it would seem that the predominance off decisions were made using that decision making mode.

Does that clarify?


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Mike Holmes on September 11, 2002, 06:32:49 AM
In addition, by definition, since players create themes by addressing Narrativist Premises, theor responses will all be different. Moreover, each player can address a diferent Premise. As long as the Premise is appropriately Narrativist, and the player is answering it freely, then that is Narrativist play. Nowhere that I've seen does Narrativism claim that all players must address the same Premise. Only that they all address some Narrativist Premise.

Most Narrativism comes from players just picking such a premise for themselves, and addressing it. This is what most Drift looks like, and a lot of Vanilla Narrativist play encompasses.


Title: Actual Participationism candidate
Post by: Gordon C. Landis on September 11, 2002, 11:17:19 AM
Two things caused me to post this session - the Participationist issues, and that obvious shift in behavior and "what the game was for" once everyone was quite certain they knew what was going on.  I think the Nar/GNS issues come up because of the latter.  Focusing there for the moment, yes, I think those were Narrativist decisions.  NOTE:  I/we may be a little bit out in the weeds here - I'm not sure how much GNS can/is meant to apply to mostly-systemless play.  But with that caveat -  

Some Narrativist decisions doesn't mean that the session as a whole was a Narrativisticly satisfing experience.  But, thinking about it in retrospect, it worked much better as Nar than I would have expected.  To use a poetry analogy, this was a villanelle - your creative input is very seriously constrained by a set of (in our case, mostly unspoken) rules, but it exists none the less.  Depending on the participants' mood, preferences and the like, this could flat out frustrate, "deprotagonize", and lead to failed Nar play.  But it doesn't *have* to.

Similarly, the "clearly stated and shared by the group capital-P Premise for the whole story" is a GREAT technique for supporting Nar play, but (I guess, thinking this through as I type) it's not a requirement.  It's just good practice.  In its' absence, we could have each come up with divergent and incompatible ideas about how to add Premise in the endgame, and that could have disrupted even the minor Nar "weight" we managed to create.  But we were lucky (or familiar enough with each other as roleplayers to have developed some instincts), that didn't happen, and a neat little Nar bit was created.

Everyone wanted to "leave a mark" and since we were on the same page about the importance of that and how it would fit in the "story", it worked Narratively.  Mostly - I don't want to overstate here.  The player of the young girl, e.g., seemed a bit less engaged and more willing to just let "what would my character do?" thinking guide his play.  Of course, he was "deprotoganized" by a low roll when trying to "sneakily" leave one of her doll's out - which the GM compensated for (I think) with the bit regarding the dog . . .

Well, I don't want to RIDICULOUSLY over-think this little session, but I really can't explain the endgame as anything other than Narrativist.  We weren't just cleaning up the details of a pre-scripted resolution.  I agree, the mere fact that moral issues arise doesn't lead to Nar - but when that issue is brought in by Authored play (not just Author stance), there's a good chance Nar decisions are in the air.

Maybe.  I'm thinking this through as I type.