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Archive => GNS Model Discussion => Topic started by: lumpley on December 30, 2002, 02:39:17 PM



Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: lumpley on December 30, 2002, 02:39:17 PM
I just finished the Art of Dramatic Writing and Egri says: you get a story when you take a strong, driven, dynamic character at a turning point, add balanced opposition, and turn everybody loose.  Because nobody can give up or back out, the conflict will necessarily escalate into a crisis, explode, and then resolve.  Since you've aimed your character at your Premise, you get a thematic statement, and since you've balanced the opposition, you get steadily rising conflict without an anticlimax.  He says that conflict and situation arise naturally and necessarily out of the right character under the pressure of the right opposition.

My actual play experiences are in line with this.  Meg and Em and I, for instance, started out with some thematically charged character-intensive sim, and we played that way for a long time.  But when we finally introduced the right opposition -- Em's character's abusive former master, and Meg's character's intended apprentice's grandmother's ghost -- we got an exciting, very fast rush of escalating conflict, crashing into a resolution between Em's character and her master, which then sparked another rush of escalation between Meg's character and the ghost and another crashing resolution.  It was hot.

But see, that means that a Narrativist game needn't depend on its resolution mechanics.  All the resolution mechanics have to do (at minimum) is foster consensus among the players, so the game happens.  It's the game's characters, including opposition, who make it happen -- and thus, potentially, the game's character creation system can do all the work.

(The resolution mechanics can too, of course.  They just needn't.)

Now no doubt I'm just behind the times, but it's come as an eye-opener to me.  Anybody who's been following my game designs has seen a lot of handwaving at create-your-character time.  When I've even bothered, I've pretty much stabbed in the dark.

So say I wanted to make a game with bare-bones resolution mechanics but really kick-ass character creation.  Any thoughts on how to get strong characters out of character creation alone?  Any reasons not to do it this way?

-Vincent


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Drew Stevens on December 30, 2002, 03:54:08 PM
A question on your use of 'strength'.

Do you mean a strong character, as in a character that is personally powerful and capable of enforcing their will should they chose to do so?  

Or do you mean a character that is fully fleshed out, highly detailed and has an extensive history to draw on?

If the former, sure- it's only by convention that starting characters are 'weak'.  Strengtgth and weakness are purely relative to the DM's challenges and the way the world is presented.

If the later... well, I'm not so sure.  I'm really not sure if there's a character creation method that will consistantly yield highly detail characters.  I tend to only get them out of bursts of inspiration...

Or do you mean something else?


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on December 30, 2002, 04:34:48 PM
It sounds to me like part of character creation needs to include these conflicts you had mentioned. Possibly several conflicts so that one after another can be resolved in turn to keep the character fresh. Or maybe just one and once the conflict is resolved, the character can be retired for a new one or a new conflict can arise. Something like Central Casting might work. There can be some nice goodies in a central casting sheet, but also a whole lot of crap.


Title: Strength & portability
Post by: J B Bell on December 30, 2002, 07:35:12 PM
I tend to agree that char. creation is a good bit of supporting Narrativist-enabling goals.  The reason games like Sorcerer work so well, though, is they take away any incentive to do anything else.  Lots of people have borrowed the Relationship Map to good effect and I think I'll always use it from now on.  That said, it is quite possible for a game's design in resolution, experience, etc. to sabotage N goals severely.  You can do N stuff on a social-contract level exclusively (hell, it's how the majority of my play has worked, playing GURPS and FUDGE), but it is of course a little more delicate then.

As to "strength," Egri means, I think, strength in the context of the premise.  So we're not necessarily talking about a person you or I might think of as "powerful"--one example Egri gives is of a man so potent in his denial and stubborn passivity that he is carried to ruin by his negative passion rather than lifting a finger to rescue himself and his family.  The strength is strength to encounter the conflict that the premise demands without backing down.

--JB


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Ron Edwards on December 30, 2002, 08:29:57 PM
Hello,

What a beautiful set of posts. I almost hate to spoil their unity by adding to the thread at all.

Ah well. Vincent, since I agree with you entirely, I suggest taking a new look at some of the principles of character creation in my essay, specifically Currency (Effectiveness, Resource, Metagame), and then consider Reward Systems that change the character over time (i.e. almost all of them). Strong stuff, eh?

I also think we're onto a new Forge dialogue trajectory. Take all the points made so far in this thread to (a) the excellent "characters as thematic bundles" issue laid out in Jon's thread about Items, (b) Eric's freeform game idea in Indie Design, and (c) Gordon's thread criticizing the phrase "in character." It all works together, for me.

Best,
Ron


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Emily Care on December 31, 2002, 07:27:41 AM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
I also think we're onto a new Forge dialogue trajectory. Take all the points made so far in this thread to (a) the excellent "characters as thematic bundles" issue laid out in Jon's thread about Items, (b) Eric's freeform game idea in Indie Design, and (c) Gordon's thread criticizing the phrase "in character." It all works together, for me.


I love it when a plan comes together. ; ) System matters, but why does it matter? What are we trying to do with system, and aren't there other ways we can get there? Yes!

Quote from: Drew Stevens
Do you mean a strong character, as in a character that is personally powerful and capable of enforcing their will should they chose to do so?


I have not read Egri, but I take it to mean that the character is "strong" in terms of motivation, and ability to have effect in the world around them, or be in a position to affect change that leads to cascading plot.  That's why you so often see characters with supranatural abilities: they are having effect on the story/world in the most straightforward manner.  This is another explanation for why magic is so popular in rpg settings. IMO.

--Emily Care


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: lumpley on December 31, 2002, 07:37:43 AM
Jon's thread about Items (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4668)
Eric's freeform game idea in Indie Design (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4694)
Gordon's thread criticizing the phrase "in character" (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=4649)

I'm digesting.  Meanwhile, Drew, yes, as JB says, a strong character is one who won't back out of the conflict.  It's not personal power or detailed background, though both might contribute if they're aimed right, like.

An example: Em's character Soraya was always, sooner or later, going to stand up to her abusive master.  How it'd go, nobody knew: would he stomp her down? would she kick his ass? would they work it out and come to a mutual respect? dunno.  The important thing is that it wasn't in her to back away.

That's how balanced opposition works: Soraya acts, but Severin undermines her, so she defies him, so he threatens her, so she attacks him, so he counterattacks, up and up into crisis and resolution.  If it had been in either of them to shrug and walk away, there'd've been no story.

-Vincent

And boy, if Ron hesitates to mess up a thread by posting, do I dare?  Guess so...


Title: Re: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Paganini on January 01, 2003, 04:18:10 PM
OK, post all finished! :)

Quote from: lumpley

So say I wanted to make a game with bare-bones resolution mechanics but really kick-ass character creation.  Any thoughts on how to get strong characters out of character creation alone?  Any reasons not to do it this way?


This is a very interesting topic to me because it has a big impact on my preferred style of play, even though my PSoP isn't Narrativism.

I don't know if you saw my post a while ago where I was goggling over the discovery that I'm not really a Narrativist - :) - so let me explain where I'm coming from.

At the core, I'm pretty much a Simulationist with a preference for Exploration of Situation, Character, and / or Color. I desire causality in characters. I don't care for Author stance of the "my character wouldn't  really do this, but it addresses the premise" variety. I'm not interested in group inspection of a particular global premise, or in creating a literary story. (That's not to say that I don't enjoy Narrativist games - I do. I'm versatile. It's just that Narrativism isn't my *ideal* mode of play.)

What I enjoy is experiencing drama as it is produced. Poorly realized characters do not produce good drama. As you've noted, drama arises from strong opposition.

Your post has brought my attention to a fascinating possibility:

If thematicaly strong characters are created before the game begins, causal game-play will produce dramatic results.

Meta-game prioritization of a particular premise is not necessary. Simulationist play will produce drama as long as character creation is approached with a quasi-Narrativist mindset. There's no need for a single overiding game premise, though. Each character might be uniquely charged with different oppositions, giving rise to a whole slew of conflicts and situations.

This idea is astounding me with its coolness. If there's not a game out there that does this already, I want to make one. Vincent, are you with me? :)

In a mechanical sense, I think such a system would need to quantify characters in terms of their opponents! An r-map or story-map could be very important here. Anyone think that this idea is good enough to warrant it's own thread?


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: lumpley on January 02, 2003, 09:16:04 AM
(Em!  We crossposted up there, and I didn't even read yours until just now.  How funny.)

Just a bit more about strong characters.

A character has to be strong in Premise terms to be a strong character.  That is, if the game's about ambition, the characters have to be ambitious to be strong.  They might be at any "power level," from puppies-level losers to Sorcerer sorcerers to Amberites, whatever.  Ambition's the only strength that really matters.

The character's opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line too, not necessarily balanced in power level.  I'm trying to think of a good example ... okay, say that Clark Kent is actually ambitious.  He's trying to impress Lois, but without revealing himself as Superman.  Their newspaper editor guy can be the balanced opposition -- he's just a normal person with no superpowers, but if he can effectively block Superman's ambition, he's perfect.

Make sense?

So Pag,
Quote from: Paganini
Meta-game prioritization of a particular premise is not necessary. Simulationist play will produce drama as long as character creation is approached with a quasi-Narrativist mindset. There's no need for a single overiding game premise, though. Each character might be uniquely charged with different oppositions, giving rise to a whole slew of conflicts and situations.

My prediction is, if this game you're describing works, it'll be because it's based on a covert underlying Premise.  That's because, to make rising, dramatic conflict, opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line.  The premise is there even if none of the players ever notices or acknowledges it.  Whatever the mechanics are that create the balanced opposition, those mechanics will determine and describe the Premise.  

And as such, it'll be a squarely Narrativist game, for all its sim resolution.  (The Pawn-heavy Narrativism you don't like is just one kind of Narrativism, of course, like Pawn-heavy Gamism or the ever-popular Pawn-heavy connect-the-metaplot-dots Simulationism.)

Other than that, heck yeah.

-Vincent

P.S.  It's like a new toy!  Isn't it cool how just that teeny Superman example implies a whole story?  I don't know how it turns out -- what does Superman's ambition lead to?  Success?  Disappointment?  Ruin?  Moral compromise?  Happy love?  Who knows!  But there's the promise of rising conflict and climax and resolution, in only just that arrangement of characters.  Woo!


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 02, 2003, 09:25:07 AM
Hi there,

Yup, Vincent's got it - Nathan, if playing a character as that character has thematic impact - and if your choices as a participant in the game give you the leeway to make that clear - then you're playing Narrativist.

I'm not sure where you get the idea that one plays a character doing "what he or she wouldn't do" in order to be in Author stance. I'd call that lousy role-playing regardless of the GNS category. (Remember, "Character" is a universal element.)

So yeah, playing Narrativist can be reeeeeal easy. Just make up a neat character, have that character be "about something," and play with other people who appreciate seeing that something come to life, one way or another, through play. The only requirement is that the details of the "come to life" part aren't known ahead of time.

Best,
Ron


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: bluegargantua on January 02, 2003, 07:12:15 PM
Quote from: lumpley

A character has to be strong in Premise terms to be a strong character.  That is, if the game's about ambition, the characters have to be ambitious to be strong.  They might be at any "power level," from puppies-level losers to Sorcerer sorcerers to Amberites, whatever.  Ambition's the only strength that really matters.

The character's opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line too, not necessarily balanced in power level.  I'm trying to think of a good example ... okay, say that Clark Kent is actually ambitious.  He's trying to impress Lois, but without revealing himself as Superman.  Their newspaper editor guy can be the balanced opposition -- he's just a normal person with no superpowers, but if he can effectively block Superman's ambition, he's perfect.


Is he effective opposition?  I mean, we're assuming that Superman is holding up to his traditional good guy motif.  If his ambition is to impress Lois Lane, there's not much that Chief Perry can do to thwart him.  The best he can do is re-assign Clark to a different beat and not team him up with Lois.  But Superman has plenty of ways to get around that -- super-speed if nothing else.  There've been dozens of comic book issues where Clark has to maintain the illusion that he's not Superman and invariably he finds a way to do it.  Heck, under the old continuity, he's got the Superman Robot who could pretty much do his job all day while Clark puts the moves on.

I suppose there doesn't necessarily have to be a direct power balance between protagonist and antagonist, but it can't be too lopsided either.  The antagoist needs to have some sort of power over whatever it is that's being used as the goal.  I guess that's why Lex Luthor is a better antagonist here, he's got a long history and he has the ability to seriously respond to Superman's actions.

I guess there's one other point to bring up here.  The idea that detailed characters in opposition creates great stories is fine but generally, such characters have a great deal of backstory.  And in most RPGs, it's the slow build-up of encounters with the antagonist over time is what creates that deep backstory and leads to the ultimate confrontation where a flurry of activity resolves the issue.  Just cutting striaght to the final showdown is exciting, but how do you get a character you really care about?  It seems to me that these sorts of events don't really happen without a lot of play time and build up.

Amber was nice in that regard because it set up antagonistic relationships right from the get go.  But I wonder how what other techniques could build up a deeply felt antagonistic relationship.  Also, is it locked into a fight to the finish, or might there be other resolutions that could be explored?

later
Tom


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 03, 2003, 07:32:54 AM
Hi Tom,

You're making a lot of good points. I agree with you about the degree of antagonism necessary for a good story.

However, "antagonism" deserves a lot of dissection. If we're going by Egri (just for sake of discussion at the moment), then the protagonist's passions are always the touchpoint for considering anything else in the story.

Those passions can wax and wane in intensity, as well as change. Now, Egri doesn't talk much about that, because he's writing mainly about theater, in which the "evolution" of the passions has, by the middle of the first act at the latest (and sometimes even before the curtain rises), hit the most important crisis point it possibly can. Therefore an antagonist, or more accurately, anything (a person or not) that brings the protagonist's passions to the boiling point, is pretty clear-cut in this medium. I think that applies to comics for the most part as well, especially those for which "long-running" mainly means "repetitive" (seeing the same play over and over).

But if we're talking about novels, some cinema, and some RPG situations, then the changing, developing passions are part of the story, not merely its lead-in. In that case, antagonism varies greatly - an early antagonist can become an ally, a necessary mentor can become the main antagonist late in the story; and concurrently, the protagonist's passion to do X can transform into a passion for Y.

To address your concern for role-playing specifically, two things should be considered:

1) "Pregnant" relationships, rather than fixed ones ("he's my Enemy"), either established pre-play or during play. The demons in Sorcerer are my best shot at such a thing.

2) The scale and scope of the Premise at hand (and remember, this is not necessarily pre-set) is what matters, as I wrote about in Sorcerer & Sword and tried to integrate into the system itself in Trollbabe.

Best,
Ron


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Steve Dustin on January 03, 2003, 09:20:42 AM
What a great thread.

Some thoughts I've been chewing that maybe chewable by those here, or maybe too obvious for  discussion --

What's it mean to be effective opposition to someone? I think there's a couple of things that go into this.

First, opposition is effective when set-up against a character's weak points. Using the Superman example, the newspaper editor is actually effective opposition -- the weak points that he exploits on Superman is that 1) Superman can't use his superpowers, 2) being a paladin-like good guy, he can't, in good conscience, due anything underhanded to the guy, and 3) the guy is his boss. You're gonna get a story out of this. I think the Kicker in Sorceror is a good example -- you can't resolve it immediately, and must have more then one course. To be effective, it's set-up in a weak area of the character, otherwise it would be instantly solvable.

Unfortunately, I've never really seen a game that used built-in character flaws very well. In practice, disadvantages in GURPS for example, always ended up with nonsensical characters and encouraged the worst in min-max behavior.

Second, the opposition has to re-inforce the Premise. While the newspaper editor is good opposition, is he good "Superman" opposition? While a Superman reader may handle one issue about the newspaper editor, would they follow the series if ever episode revolved around this human drama? The Premise of Superman *demands* that to make this effective Superman opposition, the newspaper editor must be either in league with crime, or a situation happen (like Lex Luthor kidnapping Lois) that sets-up Superman to either compete on Superman-like terms or turn the whole thing on its head, and have the editor help Superman rescue Lois.

So, if you made "opposition-creation" a important part of chargen, I think it needs to answer two questions: what weak points of the character are being exploited here? How can I make this situation re-inforce what got everyone interested in playing in the first place, the Premise? I think it's the second question that GURPS and HERO fall down on.

Take care,
Steve Dustin


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Paganini on January 03, 2003, 07:53:23 PM
Quote from: lumpley

My prediction is, if this game you're describing works, it'll be because it's based on a covert underlying Premise.  That's because, to make rising, dramatic conflict, opposition has to be balanced across the Premise line.  The premise is there even if none of the players ever notices or acknowledges it.  Whatever the mechanics are that create the balanced opposition, those mechanics will determine and describe the Premise.  


I think I've explained myself poorly. I'm sitting here thinking "well, duh, of course there's premise, that was the whole point!" There's premise everywhere. Every single character can address a buttload of (completely different, even) premises by having different decisions and oppositions. The idea is that the participants don't have to prioritize addressing a premise while they're playing. The pregame act of setting up oppositions and decisions creates causes, the effects of which will necessarily be discovered during play. The players only need to make Narrativist decisions during character creation, where it's totally acceptable, even to the most hardcore of causalists. It's big! It's cool! It's awesome!

You probably knewn all about it already and took it for granted. :)

Quote

P.S.  It's like a new toy!  Isn't it cool how just that teeny Superman example implies a whole story?  I don't know how it turns out -- what does Superman's ambition lead to?  Success?  Disappointment?  Ruin?  Moral compromise?  Happy love?  Who knows!  But there's the promise of rising conflict and climax and resolution, in only just that arrangement of characters.  Woo!


Yes! It's awesome! It makes me want to write again, actually.

Note to Ron about Author Stance:

To me, in this case, it's all about whether or not your character behaves "correctly" (I.e., the way he really would). Actor stance is all about doing something in the interests of something else (that is, not what your character would do) and then retro-justifying it, or not. Whether you retro-justify (actual Author Stance)  or not (Pawn Stance) doesn't really matter to me, since the fact exists that it *needs* justifying.

Now I realize that this only holds up to a certain extent, since by playing the character you are actually defining what your character would really do (big DiP principle). OTOH, in interests of causality characters need to remain consistent with pre-established information.


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Alan on January 03, 2003, 08:52:15 PM
Quote from: Paganini

The idea is that the participants don't have to prioritize addressing a premise while they're playing. The pregame act of setting up oppositions and decisions creates causes, the effects of which will necessarily be discovered during play. The players only need to make Narrativist decisions during character creation, where it's totally acceptable, even to the most hardcore of causalists.


I see a couple underlying assumption, which I think are misunderstandings of Ron's description of Narrativism.

First, as Ron's describes it, all GNS decisions are specifically made in play.  When an event happens in the game, the player has a choice of methods to address it.  Each time he chooses to address a narrativist theme, he's making a narrativist decision.  So one can't have narrativist play without narrativist decisions during play.

The realization that character creation can set up narrativist premise remains important, but such design will actually increase the incidence of narrativist decisions during play not eliminate them.  From the player's point of view they will grow naturally from his character design.

Second, I percieve another assumption: that narrativist decisions always require some decisions counter to what the character would do.  Is this true?  Or is your insight above that one can design a character so narrativist decisions are also in-line with the character concept?

*Author Stance*

If I understand correctly, you're saying that Author stance requires some element of going against "what the character would do."  

Keep in mind that in both Author and Actor stance, the _player_ is actually the brain making the decision.  The funning thing is that both the Actor-stance player and the Author-stance player have to make up details retroactively to explain their decision.  When asked why, the Actor-stance player says "Lhug saved the child because that's what he would do.  See, in my character background, it says he was rescued as a child."  The Author-stance says "Lhug saved the child because it let me explore the theme of innocent and protector.  I guess Lhug was once protected from raiders when he was a kid."  The only difference I see between Actor and Author stance is the motive of the _player_ - ie what reason he gives for his choice.  In both cases, it is only "what the character would do" because the player decided it was.  In both cases, consistency leads to a greater sense of verisimilitude.

Perhaps that is what you're looking to avoid: loss of verisimilitude.  Narrativist decisions, while they can be consistent with a character concept, need not be.


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Paganini on January 04, 2003, 06:36:03 AM
Quote from: Alan

I see a couple underlying assumption, which I think are misunderstandings of Ron's description of Narrativism.

First, as Ron's describes it, all GNS decisions are specifically made in play.


Just one interjection here... IIRC, Ron has said before that he considers the pregame to be actual play under certain conditions, even though most people make a separation between preparation and play (as I've been doing). I would argue that premise-creating decisions that take place during pregame are Narrativist decisions. During play, narrativist decisions look like "how can I address the premise?" Before play, narrativist decisions look like "how can I create a good premise to address?"

(Of course, this is all theory and conjecture on my part. Ron has never said this. It makes sense to me, though, and seems consistent in the conetext of other GNS discussions.)

So, keep this in mind as you continue reading below. The idea that I'm presenting is that a certain kind of narrativist character creation (one that produces thematicaly strong characters who have difficult decisions to make and are strongly opposed) will remove the need for active prioritization of premise during play - that play with such characters will *have* to be premise addressing, assuming that it is consistent with what is established before the game.

Like Vincent said... you make thematicaly strong characters, point them at a premise, and let them go.

Quote

When an event happens in the game, the player has a choice of methods to address it.  Each time he chooses to address a narrativist theme, he's making a narrativist decision.  So one can't have narrativist play without narrativist decisions during play.

The realization that character creation can set up narrativist premise remains important, but such design will actually increase the incidence of narrativist decisions during play not eliminate them.  From the player's point of view they will grow naturally from his character design.

Second, I percieve another assumption: that narrativist decisions always require some decisions counter to what the character would do.  Is this true?  


No, I know that decisions that are consistent with a character concept can be narrativist. It has to do with intent.

Think of it this way:

1 - A player can make a narrativist decision that happens to be in keeping with his character concept, and therefores need no retro-justification.

2 - A player can also make a consistent decision that happens to address a premise and produce dramatic results.

The players motives are different in the two cases, but the result is the same: a causal decision that addresses a premise. The game I'm thinking about would encourage decisions of the second type. This game would not be specificaly narrativist. Decisions in the game might appear to be narrativist, because they address premise. But that would be a side effect of character creation, not a priority of the players.

Please note that I'm thinking about a specific style of play geared for a specific type of player (me!). I'm not saying that this is what narrativism is, or that this is what smulationism is. I'm saying that this is a really cool niche that I think would perfectly suit my gaming desires, and I hope others as well.

I don't particularly want to have to think about premise and story while I play. In this game, all I want to think about is playing my character consistently. But I also want to be wowed by the drama that is produced from such play. Vincent's post opened up a great possibility for how to achieve this specific style of play.

Quote
Or is your insight above that one can design a character so narrativist decisions are also in-line with the character concept?


(Sorry for the single line chopping, I felt like these needed separate replies.)

Almost. You've got the inverse of what I was thinking. "Narrativist decision" implies that the players are actively, consciously seeking to address a premise. What I'm imagining is more like this: during play, participants make decisions that prioritize character consistency, but because of what happened during character creation, those decisions also address a premise!

It's like a booster shot. You inject the game with premise during character creation by setting up characters who are strongly opposed and have difficult decisions to make. During play the participants never need to think "how can I address the premise?" or "what would be best for the story?" Once character creation is over with, all they have to do is ask "what would my character do?"

Quote

*Author Stance*

If I understand correctly, you're saying that Author stance requires some element of going against "what the character would do."  


Not that it *requires* it particularly. Say rather that it *allows* it, with or without retro justification. If a design goal is to promote consistency, then author stance would be something for the mechanics to discourage, rather than encourage. In the play style I'm thinking of, you'd specificaly *not* need author stance.

Quote

Keep in mind that in both Author and Actor stance, the _player_ is actually the brain making the decision.  The funning thing is that both the Actor-stance player and the Author-stance player have to make up details retroactively to explain their decision.  When asked why, the Actor-stance player says "Lhug saved the child because that's what he would do.  See, in my character background, it says he was rescued as a child."  The Author-stance says "Lhug saved the child because it let me explore the theme of innocent and protector.  I guess Lhug was once protected from raiders when he was a kid."  The only difference I see between Actor and Author stance is the motive of the _player_ - ie what reason he gives for his choice.  In both cases, it is only "what the character would do" because the player decided it was.  In both cases, consistency leads to a greater sense of verisimilitude.


Interesting. This is not quite how I view the dichotomy between the two stances. I don't think of it so much as *why* a player makes a decision, but *how* he makes a decision. A train of thought, rather than a reto-justification.

Actor stance involves examining the existing information about a character and making a decision that fits in with it.
Author stance involves examining some meta-game concern (like Premise) and making a decision that will best serve that concern. It really doesn't matter if that decision is consistent with existing character information. If it is, fine. If not, find some justification for it (or don't, in Pawn Stance).

Quote

Perhaps that is what you're looking to avoid: loss of verisimilitude.  Narrativist decisions, while they can be consistent with a character concept, need not be.


Exactly right. That's why causality and consistency are important.


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 04, 2003, 09:17:56 AM
Hi Nathan,

Seems to me you're just talking about Narrativist play. Your perception of Narrativist play as requiring (as you call it) conscious attention to Premise is too narrow. I don't care whether it's "conscious" or not for definitional purposes.

Let's say you set up this Premise-heavy character prior to play. Then you play him or her without any internally-verbalized "correction factors" at work; voila, we look at what you do during play, and you and we get all excited about "that guy" doing "that stuff" now that "the crunch has come."

I got a horrible secret for you: that's Narrativist play. It's not a side-kinda Narrativist play, that's the animal itself right there. No one ever said anything about constant, ongoing, "oooh, gotta address the Premise" reminders to oneself (or to anyone else) during play. We're talking about doing so. Which is all you are doing.

People never frigging understand what I mean by "decision." Never mind any assumptions of consciousness, or out-of-character, or "breaking" play so you can "decide" things. Fuck all that. I'm only talking about whether, in play, we get pumped about that Premise regarding that character, especially without verbalizing it at any point.

That's narrative (technically speaking). That's why it's Narrativism.

Best,
Ron


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 04, 2003, 01:06:43 PM
Hi All,

A note in reply to Tom's post about backstory.

Some stories load a lot of backstory.  Dramatic Narrative often doesn't.  For a lot of complex reasons I find the closest model for RPGs is Dramatic Narrative.  For this reason, I think there are lessons to be learned about this.

In the original Aliens script, there's a scene where Burke, having tracked down the fate of Ripley's daughter who was on earth while she was floating through space for 57 years, tells her what happened to her child.  She died of cancer some years earlier.

This, apparently sets up the link with Newt later in the movie.  (And this is what got Weaver, apparently, to sign to the sequel.)

But the scene isn't in the movie.  Why?  In my view because it explains too much.  It removes the mystery and discovery of what will happen between Newt and Ripley.  ("Ah, I see, a new daughter for Ripley.")

Instead, we get Ripley forging a relationship with a young girl.  She starts the movie in isolation refusing to get involved with the plight of the colonists, and then ends up fighting like hell to save the last colonist.  That's all we need.  We don't know jack about her, and don't need to.

The current assumption of backstory I believe (and no, I don't have a doctoral thesis on this, but I'm just riffing off my own reading and instincts), is a beast born of the 20th centuries mythology of childhood pscyhology.  We were once ruled by daemons, then passions, now the first three years of life with our parents.  This too shall pass.

I'm much more interested in what I *do* now, and dramatic narrative is much more interested in what characters are doing right now.  Backstory is where the character is at the start of the story.  You can add more... But you might be well be mucking up your screenplay -- or RPG session.

A novel can handle big gobs of backstory -- because of length and interior character life.  But dramatic narrative is about behavior.  That's who the character is.  And as we sit around a table revealing our characters by what they say and do, we're in the same boat.

This goes back up to "ramping up" to story thread a while back.  The story begins, in some sense, the moment the story begins.  After that we put greater and greater squeeze on the character so we see more and more of the character -- maybe it's backstory, maybe it's not.  But mostly its reaction to the current events and the desperate efforts to succeed at all costs.  The job of the dramatist (and, I suggest, PC players), is to reveal not who the character was, but who the character is now.

Take care,
Christopher


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Paganini on January 04, 2003, 03:17:18 PM
Ron:  

This is drifting a bit from the character creation discussion, which I want to stick with, but, you're right, I didn't understand what you mean by "decision." I got the definite impression from the GNS essay that narrativism requires that players prioritize (implying a action taken by conscious choice) addressing a premise. So, by decision you just mean "what happens during play" rather than "here's what I'm gonna do?" Maybe answering in a separate thread would be good... or is there an old thread where this was already hashed out?

Back to the topic... However the idea fits into the GNS boxes, I still want to make a system that works like this. We've got some definite requirements for output:

Characters created by the system are faced by one or more difficult decisions and balanced oppositions. Characters must be thematicaly strong - they won't walk away from the situation. Either way, they'll see it through to the bitter end.

In order for this to drive the game, I think there needs to be some way to tie these into the resolution mechanic that determines who narrates, and what the limits on the narration are.

I'm also noticing that if players are going to create opposition for their own characters they will need to be able to create NPCs. Opposition might not always take the form of other characters, but I'm betting it would most of the time.

A while back I remember someone proposing that the entire resolution mechanic be based on a giant R-Map; something along those lines might be useful here. Anyone remember who that was, and the name of the thread?


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: M. J. Young on January 04, 2003, 09:58:08 PM
Paganini, I am far from an expert on stance, but it seems to me that your distinction is not the one I would have made
Quote from: when you

Actor stance involves examining the existing information about a character and making a decision that fits in with it.
Author stance involves examining some meta-game concern (like Premise) and making a decision that will best serve that concern. It really doesn't matter if that decision is consistent with existing character information. If it is, fine. If not, find some justification for it (or don't, in Pawn Stance).

I don't see author stance as necessarily involving metagame concerns; it only necessarily involves non-character perpsective.

Today in my forum game one of the players decided to take advantage of the fact that the story on which his current scenario is based is published, and read it. He now knows the solution to the problem; his character doesn't actually know it, but has been in the room where the clues have been made available. The player has decided that the character will go confront the NPC who is responsible for the problem he needs to fix, because the solution lies there.

Now, he could have looked at the papers on the desk, read the last journal entry that was prominently displayed, and understood the problem; then his character, acting entirely on character knowledge, could go confront the man and try to solve the problem. That would be actor stance. Instead, he told me that having read the story he wants to resolve the situation rapidly and go explore other parts of the world, so he's going to have his character confront the guy and resolve the problem as directly as he can. That's author stance: the character is doing exactly the same thing, but in this case because the player knows something the character doesn't know.

It could be as simple as choosing to go left instead of right because the player knows what is in one or the other direction. In that case, it might be that the character would flip a coin, or go right because "we always go right" or because "we went left last time", and so actor stance would take you to a somewhat random outcome where author stance, recognizing that it doesn't matter to the character which way he goes, would have him go in the direction that seems best to the player.

I know someone is going to say that there is no difference between the thoughts of the character and those of the player; I understand what that means, and I think it blurs a significant distinction. As mentioned on the Game Theory forum, I am quite capable of taking psych tests as one of my characters and getting a different result from when I take them as myself. Yes, all the thoughts are coming from me; but in constructing a character, I have created someone whose thoughts and choices may be different from my own, and committed myself to thinking like that person for the duration of play. It is here that actor and author stance start to have greater meaning; but they always mean whether or not out-of-character knowledge is part of the decision process.

--M. J. Young


Title: Backstory...
Post by: bluegargantua on January 04, 2003, 11:22:22 PM
Quote from: Christopher Kubasik

Some stories load a lot of backstory.  Dramatic Narrative often doesn't.  For a lot of complex reasons I find the closest model for RPGs is Dramatic Narrative.  For this reason, I think there are lessons to be learned about this.


I think that the original concepts under discussion won't slot so neatly into dramatic narrative (although there may be very dramatic moments within it).

Quote

In the original Aliens script, there's a scene where Burke, having tracked down the fate of Ripley's daughter who was on earth while she was floating through space for 57 years, tells her what happened to her child.  She died of cancer some years earlier.

This, apparently sets up the link with Newt later in the movie.  (And this is what got Weaver, apparently, to sign to the sequel.)

But the scene isn't in the movie.  Why?  In my view because it explains too much.  It removes the mystery and discovery of what will happen between Newt and Ripley.  ("Ah, I see, a new daughter for Ripley.")

Instead, we get Ripley forging a relationship with a young girl.  She starts the movie in isolation refusing to get involved with the plight of the colonists, and then ends up fighting like hell to save the last colonist.  That's all we need.  We don't know jack about her, and don't need to.


And this is all great.  But I think that the story ideas which Vincent was originally laying out had a longer lead-time.  Yeah, I could be wrong, but my impression was one where characters and their antagonists had very deep ties to one another.

In Aliens, the antagonist(s) are the xenomorphs.  They're a very basic form of antagonist -- they don't have a lot of personal ties to Ripley, they just want to ram their ovipositors down her throat and infect her.  There isn't some deep problem to be resolved between the two of them, it's just a straightforward clash of the species.  In this instance, the xenomorphs are little more than a force of nature -- they're like a metor strike or hurricane or tornado.  So it's great dramatic narrative, but not quite the deep, intertwined relationship that I envision from Vincent's original posts.

Quote

The current assumption of backstory I believe (and no, I don't have a doctoral thesis on this, but I'm just riffing off my own reading and instincts), is a beast born of the 20th centuries mythology of childhood pscyhology.  We were once ruled by daemons, then passions, now the first three years of life with our parents.  This too shall pass.


I think backstory gets used a bit more than that.  The various Dumas novels have a great deal of backstory going into the whole deal.  Heck, Ulysses has backstory from The Illiad which has more than a few mythic backstories behind it.  I suppose this may be seen more as sequals to the mythic stories, but the truth is, all that stuff sets up what happens later.  Icelandic sagas are dense with backstory.  The family feuds build up and up and up over time.

Quote

I'm much more interested in what I *do* now, and dramatic narrative is much more interested in what characters are doing right now.  Backstory is where the character is at the start of the story.  You can add more... But you might be well be mucking up your screenplay -- or RPG session.

A novel can handle big gobs of backstory -- because of length and interior character life.  But dramatic narrative is about behavior.  That's who the character is.  And as we sit around a table revealing our characters by what they say and do, we're in the same boat.


"The past is prelude"

What you do now is a fuction of what you've done (and what's been done to you) in the past.  The longer and more convoluted that past has been, the more powerful and climactic the final battle will be.  And this can happen in RPGs no matter how closely they hew to dramatic narrative.  If there's an opponent who you regularly confront, your current behavior will be strongly influenced by the behavior and decisions you made in the past (and your opponent's behavior/decisions).  If it's the right kind of antagonist, then each encounter will become more dramatic than the last.  Each encounter may play out in a dramatic narrative format, but you are slowly and steadily building a deeper backstory each time you go another round with your foe.

I think that what's under discussion here is a method of character creation whereby a great deal of this backstory gets set up from the outset.  So you go into the situation saying "Yeah, me and the Emperor Skarlak have had a lot of battles over the years, but this time it's for all the marbles!".  Actually, that's probably too simplistic for the whole thing.  Perhaps a better example would be "He thinks those photos can still ruin my political career, but he's not blackmailing another red cent out of me!".

later
Tom


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Jack Spencer Jr on January 05, 2003, 05:48:51 AM
Doggonit. This is a fairly interesting thread but I really have nothing to add to it because I have a different way of thinking on the subject. That is, I believe that whatever you find interesting or cool in the game should, if at all possible, come about during play. This includes things like backstory in my mind. Would I have like Star Wars as much as a child if I knew Vader was Luke's father in A New Hope? Would that reveal have carried that same punch? I think that the backstory can be revealed through play as much as any other element and it can still work. How many movies or books hinged on the backstory being revealed slowly over the course of the story? This just is not for every game, I suppose.


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Ron Edwards on January 05, 2003, 07:06:04 AM
Hello,

I'm afraid this thread has exploded in too many directions for it to continue.

1) Back-story relative to Premise

2) Premise-heavy character creation

3) Aliens and the role/nature of the antagonist

4) Narrativist play and the overall meaning of the word "decision"

I'm pretty satisfied that the original topic was well covered. I ask that any of the above discussions or anything else that's been spawned be taken to their own individual threads.

Best,
Ron


Title: Egri & the "Lumpley Principle"
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 05, 2003, 09:43:07 AM
Ah, Ron, you beat me to it.

I was going to come on and suggest I gather up my backstory concerns for another thread.  I'll pull something together soon.

Take care,
Christopher