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General Forge Forums => Actual Play => Topic started by: hyphz on January 31, 2003, 05:25:11 AM



Title: Re: The Conflict is Yours
Post by: hyphz on January 31, 2003, 05:25:11 AM
I'm not trying to disagree with advice here, just ask for some more clarification because it's relevant to some issues I've had as well.

Quote from: Le Joueur
You want to gamemaster something that comes out like A New Hope?  All you need is the character write-ups (one lives on a farm, another is a hermit, the third lives by his wits from payload to payload, and the last - a non-player character - has the plans), some vague idea where things will climax (the death star), and that's it.


Of course, you have something else too - the plot of "A New Hope", which seems to be standing in for your 'plan' in the examples below.  

How about describing how to do something that comes out like Star Wars but not like any of the movies?

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You set the stage by giving the plans to the robots and the robots to PC#1 to give to PC#2.  What do the players do?  PC#1 wants to go 'back to the farm,' not cool - think of something on the fly - blow up the farm!  


Many players will learn from this, "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed".  It doesn't matter that this wasn't your intention or that you don't have a hard control - the players may assume you do, and start falling into the dreaded "come on Mr. GM, plot-hammer me where you want me" mode that everyone dislikes.

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Next you need to put some punch into the 'what are the plans for;' Alderaan is gone when they get there.  Was this a part of some plan?  Is the gamemaster controlling the game.  Heck no, it was late and you realized that a bunch of sneaky stuff planetside would be boring.  You can blow up planets on the fly, you're the gamemaster.  Next, capture them by the 'big bad evil thingie.'  Don't even run it, just tell the 'now your captured and in the hold, think of something cool to keep yourselves out of the brig.'


Umm, isn't "You will have this bad stuff happen to you no matter what you do" the very epitome of bad railroading?  Regardless of whether you do it by omitting description or whatever...

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And so on.  None of it is a matter of planning but simply responding to player choices (which are actually inventions with things like the compactor) and continually turning up the tension level and the pacing.


So I wonder if you have any tips for dealing with the things I've seen happen with this:

-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

-  Unexpected detail.  "What story is the guy in the Cantina telling?"   The problem with this is that you can't avoid answering it, because not answering is an answer - and to the bunker players above, it's the answer "you have to follow my plan, because only the stuff in my plan has any detail in the world."

-  Coherence problems.  "What's down the corridor?  How long is it?  How many doors are there, where are they?  We go and look in on where they lead."  This isn't the problem.  The problem is when one of the players spots something that they think is stupid or inconsistent ("hey, they had the mess hall next to the barracks!  Guess they *forgot* the kitchen, right?  Haha.") and calls you on it.  And our old bunker friends learn "you have to follow my plan, because nothing apart from my plan has any internal consistency so meaningful actions and consequences can't exist outside it."

-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?


Title: Re: The Conflict is Yours
Post by: Le Joueur on January 31, 2003, 08:47:29 AM
Quote from: hyphz
I'm not trying to disagree with advice here, just ask for some more clarification because it's relevant to some issues I've had as well.

No problem, I'm more than glad to help out.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
You want to gamemaster something that comes out like A New Hope?  All you need is the character write-ups (one lives on a farm, another is a hermit, the third lives by his wits from payload to payload, and the last - a non-player character - has the plans), some vague idea where things will climax (the death star), and that's it.

Of course, you have something else too - the plot of "A New Hope", which seems to be standing in for your 'plan' in the examples below.  

How about describing how to do something that comes out like Star Wars but not like any of the movies?

Actually, that's a problem.  See, "something that comes out like Star Wars but not like any of the movies" would require an extensive and detailed presentation.  To be compelling, it has to not only demonstrate how the game was run, but also show a really well written result; I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to just 'run off' a dozen or two of them at the drop of a hat.  Moreover, if I was that good of a writer (I hope I will be someday), wouldn't it be wise for me to put such 'types of examples' to better use by putting them in Scattershot?  (The game we're developing.)

See, what we need in this discussion is first and foremost a common example that relates to the 'source of the problem.'  Stars Wars: A New Hope fits that bill quite well; it's been around for nearly three decades and most everybody has seen it.  Not only that, but...well, that's what the game is based on.  I couldn't think of a better example.  Except for one thing....

Ya gotta imagine that in the world where it is the result of a game, the movie doesn't exist.  The whole example rests upon the premise that the players who sit down and play what I describe know absolutely nothing of the what turns out to be the result of their play and the actual movie (in the real world).  In order to understand the advice, you have to pretend that there are no deathstars, nobody has heard of Jabba the Hutt, and the film has never been posited.  What that means is that these players experience an original game which has all the kick-ass features of the movie we know and love, but they come by it by accident and skill, not planning.

Ultimately, the example was supposed to show what kind of improvising is available to a gamemaster who doesn't 'control the game.'  Per the example, who saw the destruction of the farm coming?  I mean yeah, it makes sense when you look back on it and it fits the arch-classic 'heroic quest,' but as games go, it seems a little heavy handed and unplanned.  Same goes for the trash compactor; you can't tell me that design a battlestation's sewage system is worth the time.  It really does appear to be an improvisation on the players' parts.  Same goes for the possibility of an 'intrigue on Alderaan' plan, which is tossed for the sake of epic scope and high-tension pacing.

All of these are little 'classic examples' I couldn't provide without a novel length post, except I used familiar source material.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
You set the stage by giving the plans to the robots and the robots to PC#1 to give to PC#2.  What do the players do?  PC#1 wants to go 'back to the farm,' not cool - think of something on the fly - blow up the farm!  

Many players will learn from this, "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed".  It doesn't matter that this wasn't your intention or that you don't have a hard control - the players may assume you do, and start falling into the dreaded "come on Mr. GM, plot-hammer me where you want me" mode that everyone dislikes.

Then you're reading it differently then intended.  I was trying to illustrate a common problem gamemasters have, the player who 'does what the character would do' almost intentionally at the expense of the game.  What you provide is the common bad habit that grows up around the most traditional solution.  I'm trying to give an example of how it could be done differently.

When you "blow up the farm" in the example, you aren't 'hosing' the player for avoiding the plot because there isn't any.  (I said that at the start; remember to understand the example, you have to imagine that the movie doesn't exist for the exemplars.)  Look more closely at the Han Solo versus Greedo example.  There I specifically point out "to 'push things' not just forward, but in any direction."  The farm does the same thing; the example is specifically of a gamemaster who doesn't control, therefore there is no "plot" to "follow" (that's the "any direction" part).  Another important thing to note; the farm wasn't literally on PC#1's character write-up, it was only implied.  Its destruction does not rob the player of anything except an excuse to impede play; that's a crucial way of looking at things when you 'give up control of the game' as a gamemaster; feel free to totally destroy things that 'get in the way' (if they don't belong to anyone).

If you must think of it in terms of what I consider more 'bad writing' than 'traditional gamemastering' (running them through a plot because you 'know it's better'), then simply learn the 'get stuff out of the way of play' technique.  However, I highly advise against it; if you have players who "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed," then they also have some pretty bad habits they need to unlearn.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Next you need to put some punch into the 'what are the plans for;' Alderaan is gone when they get there.  Was this a part of some plan?  Is the gamemaster controlling the game.  Heck no, it was late and you realized that a bunch of sneaky stuff planetside would be boring.  You can blow up planets on the fly, you're the gamemaster.  Next, capture them by the 'big bad evil thingie.'  Don't even run it, just tell the 'now your captured and in the hold, think of something cool to keep yourselves out of the brig.'

Umm, isn't "You will have this bad stuff happen to you no matter what you do" the very epitome of bad railroading?  Regardless of whether you do it by omitting description or whatever...

How is "Alderaan is gone" bad stuff?  How is being "captured," bad stuff?  They aren't on Alderaan, they don't end up in the brig (well, not until later).  You are not limiting their choices, you are creating a more dynamic setting so those choices become more tense and more interesting.  You have to go into it without any doubt that the players will come out of it alive (or dead at their choosing).  You're setting the stage, not taking away the options.

It's like this; say the players in a different game decide they want to use a 'streetwise' roll to get some information.  Is it boring to go from dive to dive describing various meaningless encounters for an hour and a half before you drop the crumb of information in front of the players (especially if they miss it in all your 'smoke and mirrors')?  I think it is as equally boring to just turn to them as say, "You find out such and so."  I propose you jump to the 'good part' the way a movie does; but make it tense.  An example given somewhere months ago suggested you put the character tied up, in a chair with the local toughs asking him why he's been nosing around about the information.  Bad stuff you say?  Not if you go into it knowing that the player will get away with negligible (read that cosmetic only, per the rules) bumps and bruises.  Remember, the bad guys aren't out to get everyone, they just want people to think so.  After the character escapes the scene, you help them realize that 'the little interview' not only gave them the information they sought, but demonstrates that it is only part of a larger whole.

The real trick is to make it look like the characters are trapped (important: without saying how or why) and let them improvise a way out (since you haven't specified "how or why" just take any improvisation they offer); it gives the game that tense 'will we make it or not' feel without actually taking control away from the players.

Ya gotta have "bad stuff" or the game looks boring; better yet just have the false impression of bad stuff 'decorate' your 'dynamic setting.'  (A dynamic setting is a place where just about anything you can imagine happens but is made cool by 'the odds.')

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
And so on.  None of it is a matter of planning but simply responding to player choices (which are actually inventions with things like the compactor) and continually turning up the tension level and the pacing.

So I wonder if you have any tips for dealing with the things I've seen happen with this:

Sure, I'm always glad to help.  There are two tips I give for dealing with players who are 'too afraid to play.'  These kinds of players do all they can with the rules, their character designs, and whatever their characters can lay their hands on to 'protect' themselves.  (Hint: make sure they're always 'safe,' just don't tell them they are.)  These two tips are 'use liberal amounts of bait' and 'do the expected.'  Let me exemplify.

Quote from: hyphz
-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

"Cracking the bunker" is right out; your analysis is very good here.  Eventually, these kinds of 'bunker players' will figure out that it's more fun to 'come out and play,' but for now?  Bait.  Parade whatever seems appropriate to either the players, their characters, or the setting, around in front of them.  Make it valuable to the point of being irresistible and just out of reach.  Make it seem so close they can taste it, but seemingly just a tiny bit of work to get.  Don't pounce when they go for it, just keep stringing them along.  They'll come out; you can bet they will, just try it.  (And always leave the bunker there for them to go back to; after all, unlike "the farm," it belongs to them - and you can always bait them again until they leave it behind for good.)

Quote from: hyphz
-  Unexpected detail.  "What story is the guy in the Cantina telling?"   The problem with this is that you can't avoid answering it, because not answering is an answer - and to the bunker players above, it's the answer "you have to follow my plan, because only the stuff in my plan has any detail in the world."

Honesty might work; "Hey guys, I don't have anything planned here, you mind if we move it along?"  That always works when I'm too tired to improvise. Otherwise, we're using bait again.  Did you realize that the Greedo example is bait?  Or rather it throws the spotlight on the bait that PC#1 and PC#2 already offered?  (Sometimes you need to continue to 'parade' an offer until the players 'catch on.')  Likewise, having the stormtroopers show up wasn't just a motivation to move away from the Cantina, it also happens to be a reminder of bait.  Indirectly it says, "Hey, Luke, remember the fabulous babe hologram?  Wanna go save her?" and "Hey Ben, don't forget you want to save the world, right?"  And for gods' sake, unless you want it to turn into an 'on the run' campaign, think of every reason you can that the stormtroopers don't want a battle.  (Leave them with a warning, too much paperwork, or anything that characterizes them as lazy will work.)

Spare the rod; this is role-playing gaming.  If the players want to 'stick with the Cantina,' they're just 'bunkering down' again.  If you can't offer bait, remind them of the bait they're already after.

Quote from: hyphz
-  Coherence problems.  "What's down the corridor?  How long is it?  How many doors are there, where are they?  We go and look in on where they lead."  This isn't the problem.  The problem is when one of the players spots something that they think is stupid or inconsistent ("hey, they had the mess hall next to the barracks!  Guess they *forgot* the kitchen, right?  Haha.") and calls you on it.  And our old bunker friends learn "you have to follow my plan, because nothing apart from my plan has any internal consistency so meaningful actions and consequences can't exist outside it."

You're forgetting something that you are implying; 'all consistency is pretend.'  That's right, it is only as consistent as it seems.  You avoid a lot of these 'preparation flaws' by simply not preparing, by not describing things.  Take the Detention Level for example.  They get down there and have a fight.  No one even realizes there are hallways leading off the main room because you don't describe it.  I can't say how many times I've seem gamemasters screw this one up somehow thinking that if they don't totally describe it, people will have problems imagining it.

That ain't how it works people.  We've all seen the movie; about all the description you need sometimes is 'you're in an Imperial hanger bay' and leave the rest to their imaginations.  (They brought those along, didn't they?)  This is an important time that 'do the expected' comes in.  Play upon the imaginations of the players; remember, we're not planning ahead here.  Don't tell them what the room next to the barrack is, ask them.  That's how the garbage chute got created; one of the player must have gone, "Hey, I shoot out a hole in the garbage chute."  After you get over the initial 'the what?' knee-jerk reaction (I caution you to always bite your tongue and never, ever say 'no' to something), you go, "Okay, a horrible smell comes out."

There really isn't any reason to block a direction the players want to go, like I said, simply move 'the stuff you want' so that it is 'in their way.'  If the players seem to do something impractical or stupid ('quick down the cell bay for cover'), help them find a way out.  (Remember, it was Leia - the non-player character - who shot the garbage chute.  When you do 'help them out' make sure it looks like 'out of the frying pan and into the fire,' but isn't really.)

Quote from: hyphz
-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?

Ultimately, this is precisely why I advocate 'not controlling' the game.  No matter what you do, unless you are a savant gamemaster, your players are going to find out that you are just not that creative.  That's why I keep hammering on the 'your idea is better than the players ideas' myth.  Not feeling creative?  You do have a bunch of other human beings there with you just brimming with imagination; leave it to them.

In fact, I'd say 'do less prep on the game than they do on any one player.'  Lessee, you came up with a deathstar (you didn't detail it, it isn't the deathstar until they go there and everyone, you included, discover how cool it is), four non-player character sketches (Leia, the droids, and Chewbacca), and what else?  Yeah, the plans.  Nothing else.  Period.

Player #1 created the desert world, player #2 created the contacts based on his heroic history, player #3 created the starship and most of the tone for the adventure (his 'by the seat of his pants' lifestyle), you just run it from there.  Most of the movie is predicate upon 'getting them together.'  Furthermore, it comes out of using character details as the foundation for bait (the girl, the Republic, and money for loan sharks) and tying the bait to other characters.  You don't force them together, you tie 'meat around their necks to get the dog to play with them.'  (PC#1 has the droids with the plans, PC#2 can teach the force and pay, and PC#3 has the ship; bait, bait, and bait.)

If anything, what you did as the gamemaster was 'uncreate' things; you blew up the farm and Alderaan (which was just a name before that), you took out the intrigue you had expected planetside, you even got rid of the running battle at the detention area at the deathstar (well, you decided to use it later; get it?  You moved it in front of the players).  You spend more attention on pacing and tension and making sure things stay 'epic enough,' and get all your ideas from the players (that's another 'do the expected' bit).

Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).

What about abuse?  Don't give them the time for it.  If you give them something they like because it is so powerful, I expect they're not the only ones who think so.  Somebody else's gonna want it.  (Y'know what?  That makes it seem even more valuable to the players.)  And want it enough to reasonably crack a few bunkers too.  Not only that, but hey, 'isn't that illegal?'  (Yeah, just another organization who thinks it should have the thing.)  Or maybe it needs batteries (not when the player want to use it, only between scenes - batteries are bait, not 'the rod;' spoil the players).  I've had more fun gamemastering, giving the players the problems that reasonable go with getting everything they ever wanted, so much that I don't have to be hardly creative at all.  (Logical maybe, deductive, but not creative.)

Does that help make anything clearer?

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Valamir on January 31, 2003, 08:59:51 AM
Right, so you're going to cut and past this latest post into the "how to play" section of Scattershot right. Good.

Some day you'll have to come down out of the tundra and run some games for us.


Title: I'd Like That
Post by: Le Joueur on January 31, 2003, 10:34:53 AM
Sorry Ralph, only if you pay my way (wife and kids too).  Too many responsibilities to match your jet-setting lifestyle.

Glad you liked it.

Fang Langford

WWFD!  Hahahahahaha!


Title: Re: The Conflict is Yours
Post by: hyphz on January 31, 2003, 02:18:18 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur

No problem, I'm more than glad to help out.


Your help is very much appreciated and interesting.

Quote from: Le Joueur
Then you're reading it differently then intended.  I was trying to illustrate a common problem gamemasters have, the player who 'does what the character would do' almost intentionally at the expense of the game.  What you provide is the common bad habit that grows up around the most traditional solution.  I'm trying to give an example of how it could be done differently.

When you "blow up the farm" in the example, you aren't 'hosing' the player for avoiding the plot because there isn't any.  (I said that at the start; remember to understand the example, you have to imagine that the movie doesn't exist for the exemplars.)  


Yes, I agree absolutely.  There is no fixed plot.. but the players don't know that, and doing this certainly make it looks like there is.  I guess this is a matter of social contract, but the PC heading back to the farm in spite of the offered hook might be pushing that a little anyway (because as you imply, it feels like it's being done deliberately to impede the game).

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If you must think of it in terms of what I consider more 'bad writing' than 'traditional gamemastering' (running them through a plot because you 'know it's better'), then simply learn the 'get stuff out of the way of play' technique.  However, I highly advise against it; if you have players who "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed," then they also have some pretty bad habits they need to unlearn.


Well, that's kind of my point.  Many players I've seen do have this, and it would be really valuable to know what to do about it when it happens.  

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How is "Alderaan is gone" bad stuff?  How is being "captured," bad stuff?  They aren't on Alderaan, they don't end up in the brig (well, not until later).  


Being captured is bad stuff.  The PCs would oppose it, given the choice.  You imply that they should be denied the choice somehow.  Now, if you're playing in the kind of the game where the players will take it on trust that if this kind of 'off-screen' action occurs the result won't be too bad for their characters, then that's fine.. but a lot of players I know - and I mean really met, played with, run for, know - wouldn't consider that to not be railroading, just for it to be "good" railroading.

The reason why I'm thinking on this is that it's exactly the "let's get the PC's captured now because it would be cool" that leads to problems when the PCs decide to... (big groan, you guessed it) hack the guidance systems of the ships sent out to capture them.

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Quote from: hyphz
-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

"Cracking the bunker" is right out; your analysis is very good here.  Eventually, these kinds of 'bunker players' will figure out that it's more fun to 'come out and play,' but for now?  Bait.  Parade whatever seems appropriate to either the players, their characters, or the setting, around in front of them.  Make it valuable to the point of being irresistible and just out of reach.  Make it seem so close they can taste it, but seemingly just a tiny bit of work to get.  Don't pounce when they go for it, just keep stringing them along.  They'll come out; you can bet they will, just try it.


Mmmmm... I see what you mean.  It'd probably be best to let them get the bait, because otherwise they'll think it was just 'one of those things we'll never get'.  It's described very well in the Unknown Armies rulebook as the Static Picaresque: "you never really get what you want, because there's got to be another episode".  (And which is one of the reasons why I so appreciated the bit in Ron's essay on making campaigns consciously finite.)

Problem is - if they get the bait without too much work, you've effectively rewarded them for sitting around in the bunker... Grrm.  I guess at that stage OOC discussion has got to cut in.  But discussing that kind of stuff seems to be hard, for some reason.  (Could get into a waffly discussion about how railroading describes the philosophical nature of free will, but won't.  Well, not here, anyway.)

Quote from: hyphz
Honesty might work; "Hey guys, I don't have anything planned here, you mind if we move it along?"  That always works when I'm too tired to improvise. Otherwise, we're using bait again.  Did you realize that the Greedo example is bait?  Or rather it throws the spotlight on the bait that PC#1 and PC#2 already offered?  (Sometimes you need to continue to 'parade' an offer until the players 'catch on.')  Likewise, having the stormtroopers show up wasn't just a motivation to move away from the Cantina, it also happens to be a reminder of bait.  Indirectly it says, "Hey, Luke, remember the fabulous babe hologram?  Wanna go save her?" and "Hey Ben, don't forget you want to save the world, right?"  And for gods' sake, unless you want it to turn into an 'on the run' campaign, think of every reason you can that the stormtroopers don't want a battle.  (Leave them with a warning, too much paperwork, or anything that characterizes them as lazy will work.)

Spare the rod; this is role-playing gaming.  If the players want to 'stick with the Cantina,' they're just 'bunkering down' again.  If you can't offer bait, remind them of the bait they're already after.


Okay, fair enough...

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You're forgetting something that you are implying; 'all consistency is pretend.'  That's right, it is only as consistent as it seems.  You avoid a lot of these 'preparation flaws' by simply not preparing, by not describing things.  Take the Detention Level for example.  They get down there and have a fight.  No one even realizes there are hallways leading off the main room because you don't describe it.  I can't say how many times I've seem gamemasters screw this one up somehow thinking that if they don't totally describe it, people will have problems imagining it.


Oh, that's fine.  The problem comes when the players explicitly ask for that description.

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That ain't how it works people.  We've all seen the movie; about all the description you need sometimes is 'you're in an Imperial hanger bay' and leave the rest to their imaginations.  (They brought those along, didn't they?)  


How do you do this in the case where the game isn't based on a movie, or set in the modern day?  

Quote

Quote from: hyphz
-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?

Ultimately, this is precisely why I advocate 'not controlling' the game.  No matter what you do, unless you are a savant gamemaster, your players are going to find out that you are just not that creative.  That's why I keep hammering on the 'your idea is better than the players ideas' myth.  Not feeling creative?  You do have a bunch of other human beings there with you just brimming with imagination; leave it to them.


The problem is:  "Ok, we ask around if anyone's heard anything about the McGuffin."  The nightmare I'd have of responding: "Well, yes, there's a.. umm.. uhhhh... guy who.. umm..."

Quote

Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).


I agree with this a lot; a lot of what you're saying seems to tie in with Ron's "story now" comments in Sorceror, that there's no reason to go roaming around a bunch of dull "it isn't here" places before getting hold of the Big Thing.

I don't know - your comments are just ringing true for me because it sounds like something I need to get over as well.  My problem is that when I try to run something I have ideas and thoughts and plans but then get an endlessly nagging voice in my head which keeps repeating "Yes, but what if..?" or "Yes, but what THEN?" until I give up and the game never runs.  Which just makes me feel like I'm letting down the players and that I'm not cutting it as a GM - that bit about hanging up screens wasn't purely exaggeration, for a long while I strongly considered just giving up because nobody locally was running anything I liked and, although I had players interested in my running something, any attempt to do so (beyond a one-shot from a scenario book) seemed to be doomed to entropy.  Now I've heard from others before about running games the way you described but I'd never read an example of it as good as your original post, but it still feels like it's something that "expert GMs" do and I'm not one of them - I *know* that's nonsensical but it's still there.  Um, sorry, paragraph too long, too much personal neurotic ranting, I'll shut up and just say thanks very much again for what you've written.


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Matt Wilson on January 31, 2003, 02:42:55 PM
Hey Hyphz:

Sounds to me like your players are exercising any means for control that they can get. Have you thought about playing a game with them that has rules for narration rights, and that sort of thing? They might really like something like the I-System. Let them tell you the details, and why not? If they like Star Wars as much as you, they'll say the right things.


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: jdagna on January 31, 2003, 02:55:52 PM
hyphz,

Maybe I can offer some advice.  I pretty much agree with Fang, though I've used some slightly different approaches in my years of running games.

Re: movie plots and RPGs
I have never found movie plots to transfer well to RPGs.  I think a big part of is just a change in medium.  For example, Star Wars reads differently as a book than it did as a movie or comic, and the radio series was different from all of them.  What works in a movie medium doesn't work in a game medium (necessarily).

Furthermore, a movie gives the screenwriter a lot of control, especially in a case like Star Wars where Lucas also directed.  This means he can fine tune what happens to reinforce theme or irony.  If you share control with players (which you do, even in old-school games), then you lose that fine control.  What seems like a great scene full of depth and meaning turns into a confusing, disappointing muddle.

Re: PC Bunkers
Boy can I understand this one.  I've had so many players who would retreat to their bunker.  One spent enormous sums of money designing robots that he could send outside to gather information while he hid.  The only sure-fire solution I've found is to stop the game and say "OK, what do you want to have happen next?"  

Oftentimes, the player isn't really thinking through the implications of hiding.  He's fallen into a gamist mode in which he thinks the GM wins by killing him, thus he thinks he'll win if he survives.  Bunkers are great for surviving.  Asking him what he wants to have happen reminds him that it isn't about winning, but about playing.  And you'd be amazed how many players will answer with "Well, maybe the villain should raid my bunker and capture me" or something like that.  If you'd just done it as a GM, he'd be really pissed... when you allow him to give you permission first, everyone has a blast.

This strategy works for your example of going back to the farm.  Blowing it up is only if you feel like it adds to the story.  Otherwise, you're better off asking the player why he's going back and what he wants to happen as a result.  I do agree with you that blowing it up is more likely to cause problems than solve them.  

Re: Making up details
I once spent a long time reading Stephen King to figure out what people liked about his writing.  My conclusion is that King throws in lots of little, apparently random details.  It isn't just "a guy" its "a man in a nice suit, but with his tie loosened."  Now, what the guy wears is irrelevant to the story, but those two little details flesh him out - the players will probably feel like they know his personality before even speaking to him.  You should be able to make up these details off the top of your head, because they don't really mean anything.

What if your details don't add up? As in your example with the missing kitchen, the best option is to find a way to explain it, quick.  If you're not good at ad-libbing or can't think of anything, just apologize, explain that you didn't think about it, and ask them to just work with it.  If the missing kitchen is important to a PC plan, consider adding it.

You also asked about describing things like a hallway or docking bay.  I really think you can afford to be vague, even if its an unusual setting.  Most people process the world from the general to the specific.  When you walk into someone's house, you see "Oh, the kitchen is over there, and the dining room and living room are in front of me."  Only instants later do you process details like the chandelier, the flowers or the couch.  If players feel like they need those details, let them ask.  Otherwise, leave the description vague and give players room to improvise.  If they're in a kitchen and they say "I grab a knife" don't reply "You don't see any" or "Which drawer do you look in?"  Say "There are lots of drawers - it'll take about a minute to find it."

And, of course, there are systems (like Donjon) that share narration and encourage players to add their own details.  In those systems, let the players provide details using the game's mechanism.


Title: No Expert Advice Here
Post by: Le Joueur on January 31, 2003, 03:58:40 PM
Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Then you're reading it differently then intended.  I was trying to illustrate a common problem gamemasters have, the player who 'does what the character would do' almost intentionally at the expense of the game.  What you provide is the common bad habit that grows up around the most traditional solution.  I'm trying to give an example of how it could be done differently.

When you "blow up the farm" in the example, you aren't 'hosing' the player for avoiding the plot because there isn't any.  (I said that at the start; remember to understand the example, you have to imagine that the movie doesn't exist for the exemplars.)

Yes, I agree absolutely.  There is no fixed plot.. but the players don't know that,

Um...why?  When I gamemaster, I'm pretty up front about that.  "There isn't any kind of plot so feel free to take the game where it pleases you!"  "I dunno, what do you want to play tonight?"  These are the kinds of things I always start a game with new people with.  They know, right away, that the game is 'about' their characters; these characters are the movers and the shakers of 'the movie.'  I explain that if they don't act impulsively or if they try to second guess 'what should be done,' they're doing it wrong.

So, why don't "the players know that" there is no fixed plot?  Is it important for a gamemaster to keep so many secrets?  I don't think so, a few choice nuggets that are the focus of the conflict, probably, but why not tell them 'there's no plot to follow?'

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
If you must think of it in terms of what I consider more 'bad writing' than 'traditional gamemastering' (running them through a plot because you 'know it's better'), then simply learn the 'get stuff out of the way of play' technique.  However, I highly advise against it; if you have players who "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed," then they also have some pretty bad habits they need to unlearn.

Well, that's kind of my point.  Many players I've seen do have this, and it would be really valuable to know what to do about it when it happens.

Like I suggested, tell them there's no plot to follow.

Again and again and again.  Eventually they'll look up and say, "you know, I don't think you're using a plot," as if it occurred to them all by themselves; usually they want to make another character at this point.  One that they can 'do stuff' with rather than the one they made to shield themselves from 'the plot.'  I find, 'give them enough rope,' tends to speed this up some.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
How is "Alderaan is gone" bad stuff?  How is being "captured," bad stuff?  They aren't on Alderaan, they don't end up in the brig (well, not until later).

Being captured is bad stuff.  The PCs would oppose it, given the choice.  You imply that they should be denied the choice somehow.  Now, if you're playing in the kind of the game where the players will take it on trust that if this kind of 'off-screen' action occurs the result won't be too bad for their characters, then that's fine...but a lot of players I know - and I mean really met, played with, run for, know - wouldn't consider that to not be railroading, just for it to be "good" railroading.

The reason why I'm thinking on this is that it's exactly the "let's get the PC's captured now because it would be cool" that leads to problems when the PCs decide to... (big groan, you guessed it) hack the guidance systems of the ships sent out to capture them.

Then hit 'em where it counts.  If they're thinking 'I gotta do something to keep my character out of trouble,' they're thinking as players, not characters.  Just turn to them and say, "Okay, who wants to get captured so we can have a 'daring escape?'"  I mean it.  Literally ask them.  People who play 'deep in character' won't mind if you capture them, they know something will come up because you won't end the game suddenly like that (or they should); everybody else is already out of character, so ask the players if they'd like to try a 'daring escape,' and...just forget to mention that they have to be captured to escape.  (But remind them when they start groaning.)

Really, you're forgetting to share the game with them.  You want them captured?  Negotiate it with the players, make it seem like it'd be more fun; let them work out the rest.  Don't forget to tell them that there is no 'plot' to follow, so they can escape however they think of.

Really, start sharing this information.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Quote from: hyphz
-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

"Cracking the bunker" is right out; your analysis is very good here.  Eventually, these kinds of 'bunker players' will figure out that it's more fun to 'come out and play,' but for now?  Bait.  Parade whatever seems appropriate to either the players, their characters, or the setting, around in front of them.  Make it valuable to the point of being irresistible and just out of reach.  Make it seem so close they can taste it, but seemingly just a tiny bit of work to get.  Don't pounce when they go for it, just keep stringing them along.  They'll come out; you can bet they will, just try it.

Mmmmm... I see what you mean.  It'd probably be best to let them get the bait, because otherwise they'll think it was just 'one of those things we'll never get'.  It's described very well in the Unknown Armies rulebook as the Static Picaresque: "you never really get what you want, because there's got to be another episode".  (And which is one of the reasons why I so appreciated the bit in Ron's essay on making campaigns consciously finite.)

And remember, Star Wars would be a lousy movie if it didn't stop right after they blow the deathstar.  Endings are important in this form of game.

Quote from: hyphz
Problem is - if they get the bait without too much work, you've effectively rewarded them for sitting around in the bunker... Grrm.  I guess at that stage OOC discussion has got to cut in.  But discussing that kind of stuff seems to be hard, for some reason.  (Could get into a waffly discussion about how railroading describes the philosophical nature of free will, but won't.  Well, not here, anyway.)

What do you mean "for sitting around in the bunker?"  The most important thing is they have to leave to get the bait; make that rule numbah one for baiting.  Rule numbah two has to be play them along right until they get bored being 'outside chasing the bait' and just give it to them.

Think of it this way.  Han and Luke could have bunkered down for the night overlooking the Falcon.  Leia was the bait, "more money than you could imagine" sweetened it enough for Han.  They took to the bait and left the bunker; did they encounter problems?  Nope; the gamemaster practically gave the princess to them (once they were quite clear of their bunker).  Then it got interesting.

Hell yes a lot of trust is needed, but anyone can learn to trust; ya just gotta keep trying.  The nice thing about bait is it's like paying them for trusting you.  (We're not talking about carrot-and-stick here, you really do give it to them after they chase it a while.)

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
You're forgetting something that you are implying; 'all consistency is pretend.'  That's right, it is only as consistent as it seems.  You avoid a lot of these 'preparation flaws' by simply not preparing, by not describing things.  Take the Detention Level for example.  They get down there and have a fight.  No one even realizes there are hallways leading off the main room because you don't describe it.  I can't say how many times I've seem gamemasters screw this one up somehow thinking that if they don't totally describe it, people will have problems imagining it.

Oh, that's fine.  The problem comes when the players explicitly ask for that description.

I never have this problem.  See, you're talking about the dysfunctional, bunker-liver player here; he's looking for some edge he can use the next time you hose him.  He wants to stake down as much territory as possible to keep from getting surprised.

What do I do?  I turn to them when explicitly asked and go, "I dunno, what sounds reasonable?  You describe it."  I mean we're talking about shared imaginary space here.  I depend on two things when running, what people expect within the genre and their input.  "Do the expected;" have things in the background be so achingly archetypical that anybody and his mom could tell you what it looks like.  This gives you three important gifts; first, they feel more apart of the gaming experience, second, it's less work, and third, when you do something atypical, they know that's the 'interesting bit' they should go after.  (Not so much leading them around, but more like the bugle cry that pacing is going to pick up; 'go that way and things will speed up.'  Pacing isn't just a matter of doing what you think is right; you have to watch for the social cues that they want faster pacing - like when they look bored.  Remember; it's a shared game.)

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
That ain't how it works people.  We've all seen the movie; about all the description you need sometimes is 'you're in an Imperial hanger bay' and leave the rest to their imaginations.  (They brought those along, didn't they?)

How do you do this in the case where the game isn't based on a movie, or set in the modern day?

That's the real tough nut to crack.  I tend to shy away from any game that doesn't have a really clear 'world.'  A lack of archetypes to latch onto is the same problem as having no way to communicate.  If I ran a game set inside the human body where all the players were different types of cells (or maybe a cold capsule), I'd do something, anything, to make it more familiar (like turning it into a cop show).  When I'm called upon to run something with a 'fuzzy' world, I spend a good amount of time dickering over "What is it like? (Name three examples.)"  (By the way, unlike most gamemasters I've spoken to, more often than not, my players bring me a world and expect me to be able to run something in less than twelve hours; you learn that archetype is your friend that way, real quick.)

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Quote from: hyphz
-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?

Ultimately, this is precisely why I advocate 'not controlling' the game.  No matter what you do, unless you are a savant gamemaster, your players are going to find out that you are just not that creative.  That's why I keep hammering on the 'your idea is better than the players ideas' myth.  Not feeling creative?  You do have a bunch of other human beings there with you just brimming with imagination; leave it to them.

The problem is:  "Ok, we ask around if anyone's heard anything about the McGuffin."  The nightmare I'd have of responding: "Well, yes, there's a.. umm.. uhhhh... guy who.. umm..."

See, the kind of game we're talking about here is not a 'simulate the reality of the Star Wars universe;' it's Star Wars, it's clashing lightsabres, it's space dogfights, it's shootouts and moral quandaries, don't let the bunker-livers fool you into 'playing their game.'  Like I said, they're just looking for an edge to protect themselves with.

If they ask for information like you're some kind of dictionary, don't give it to them.  Close your eyes for a second and think about what 'powers that be' have been introduced (were talking real creativity-well-run-dry time here).  Just say that Jabba has the McGuffin and he's...um, having a yacht party tonight.  (It doesn't have to make sense, trust me.)  Let the players cook up some kind of outlandish 'slip a man in with Jabba's guards, send the droids as a gift in exchange for considering an offer to buy the McGuffin, and have someone go disguised as a bounty hunter' kind of plan.  However outlandish it sounds the better; just sit there and keep saying 'that might work' like you mean it.  They've already told you that Jabba has guards, you didn't know that.  Perhaps you've even forgotten that he pays bounty hunters to bring in deadbeat clients, all you said was there was going to be a party.  And when the Jedi shows up talking big, to rescue everyone (you can't give it to them too easily after all), what's a despotic, perverted worm going to have but his own mini-coliseum for gladiatorial combat.  So far, they've done all the work, you're just giving them what they implied; then you take them out for a yacht party, like you said.

Simply put, if you can't think of an answer...reuse something.  "Do the expected," if they go hunting for McGuffin info, use whatever archetypical scene you can think of, even if it doesn't fit the world; let their imaginations solve that fit (another good reason not to describe too much).

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).

I agree with this a lot; a lot of what you're saying seems to tie in with Ron's "story now" comments in Sorcerer, that there's no reason to go roaming around a bunch of dull "it isn't here" places before getting hold of the Big Thing.

I don't know - your comments are just ringing true for me because it sounds like something I need to get over as well.  My problem is that when I try to run something I have ideas and thoughts and plans but then get an endlessly nagging voice in my head which keeps repeating "Yes, but what if..?" or "Yes, but what THEN?" until I give up and the game never runs.  Which just makes me feel like I'm letting down the players and that I'm not cutting it as a GM - that bit about hanging up screens wasn't purely exaggeration, for a long while I strongly considered just giving up because nobody locally was running anything I liked and, although I had players interested in my running something, any attempt to do so (beyond a one-shot from a scenario book) seemed to be doomed to entropy.

"What then?s" are easy; "then the players do something."  Sharing is the real trick; I've long figured that the reason so many gamemasters are so over-controlling is not really because they think their ideas are so cool, but because they're scared.  More scared than the players...to trust.  That's what we're talking about now; trusting the players.  If you get a batch of those players who're just looking for a 'rollercoaster ride' where they get on and you do all the work (and you like that kinda stuff), tell them on those nights when you don't feel creative enough; tell them the truth.  If you can get a group together who are willing to share in creating the game, and everyone can learn to trust each other, you can get some really kicking games going.

But that comes down to a matter of trust (and there ain't any rules systems that include that - but I'm trying).

Quote from: hyphz
Now I've heard from others before about running games the way you described but I'd never read an example of it as good as your original post, but it still feels like it's something that "expert GMs" do and I'm not one of them - I *know* that's nonsensical but it's still there.  Um, sorry, paragraph too long, too much personal neurotic ranting, I'll shut up and just say thanks very much again for what you've written.

Hey, no problem.  You're right though; Star Wars: A New Hope is the work of an expert, and he ain't no gamemaster.  The reason what I'm describing works, as far as I can tell, is because the players become so engaged in sharing, that they aren't looking for problems.  Too much of what happens really feels like a group effort (especially when you keep telling them it is), that to look for flaws is to insult themselves.

So, you don't need to be an "expert gamemaster," all you need is help.  And hey, there are these guys yer gamin' with, their don't know it, but they're dying to pitch in.

Remember, 'getting there is half the fun.'

Fang Langford


Title: Re: No Expert Advice Here
Post by: hyphz on January 31, 2003, 05:06:33 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur

Um...why?  When I gamemaster, I'm pretty up front about that.  "There isn't any kind of plot so feel free to take the game where it pleases you!"  "I dunno, what do you want to play tonight?"  These are the kinds of things I always start a game with new people with.  They know, right away, that the game is 'about' their characters; these characters are the movers and the shakers of 'the movie.'  I explain that if they don't act impulsively or if they try to second guess 'what should be done,' they're doing it wrong.

So, why don't "the players know that" there is no fixed plot?  Is it important for a gamemaster to keep so many secrets?  I don't think so, a few choice nuggets that are the focus of the conflict, probably, but why not tell them 'there's no plot to follow?'


Because they resist that.  I've been trying to get them to try out a game of InSpectres or Donjon, but they seriously resist that because they feel that there's no real adventure unless there's something they can push against.  Not that I think they'd resist just having the ability to do stuff in the world; but they resist author/director stance like crazy.

Quote
Then hit 'em where it counts.  If they're thinking 'I gotta do something to keep my character out of trouble,' they're thinking as players, not characters.  Just turn to them and say, "Okay, who wants to get captured so we can have a 'daring escape?'"  I mean it.  Literally ask them.  People who play 'deep in character' won't mind if you capture them, they know something will come up because you won't end the game suddenly like that (or they should); everybody else is already out of character, so ask the players if they'd like to try a 'daring escape,' and...just forget to mention that they have to be captured to escape.  (But remind them when they start groaning.)


Well, I did do a similar thing to that once.  We were playing a game of Conspiracy X and several of the characters had maxed out for combat (including one who had gone all the way to Strength 5 Size 5, creating substantial laughter when we found that according to the Aegis book he could then be individually targeted by orbital satellites..)  But, most of the people they were interacting with were suspicious rather than hostile, and although I knew there was an ending fight in the adventure (it was a sample adventure to try the system out) we ran an awful long time without any combat.  

So, once when one of the PCs was going to interrogate some dodgy gang members I basically just admitted that they probably had the skills and appearance to intimidate these guys, but if they wanted a fight they could have one.  

They said no.  But their perception of it was not that I'd offered them a free choice either way, it was that I'd offered to 'fudge' the adventure.  One of them also said that he felt that the creepy atmosphere which was going up to that point was utterly destroyed by the knowledge that the OOC player had affected an NPCs actions.

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What do you mean "for sitting around in the bunker?"  The most important thing is they have to leave to get the bait; make that rule numbah one for baiting.  Rule numbah two has to be play them along right until they get bored being 'outside chasing the bait' and just give it to them.


But when they get it, they've effectively 'learned' that if they bunker down the bait will come to them.

Quote

I never have this problem.  See, you're talking about the dysfunctional, bunker-liver player here; he's looking for some edge he can use the next time you hose him.  He wants to stake down as much territory as possible to keep from getting surprised.


Partly that.  But partly also that they're quite used to playing systems where this sort of thing is explicit.  (I mean, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against crunchy systems, I just don't want to wind up using a hex map in Godlike just because I'd use one in Hero.)  

Quote

See, the kind of game we're talking about here is not a 'simulate the reality of the Star Wars universe;' it's Star Wars, it's clashing lightsabres, it's space dogfights, it's shootouts and moral quandaries, don't let the bunker-livers fool you into 'playing their game.'  Like I said, they're just looking for an edge to protect themselves with.


Well, we were originally talking about Star Wars with Eric but I was looking for general principles - I'm not running Star Wars and nor do I particularly want to.  The game I'm trying to run now is UA, which has been "got players, waiting to be run" since freakin' SEPTEMBER because I felt I could not complete an adequate adventure plan.  (And that wasn't helped by mentioning it in passing to a more experienced GM who gave me in one second and twenty words a plot idea better than any I'd had in that time.  Which, to be honest, made me feel like throwing my rulebook - no, screw it, my bookshelf - in the trash, and is why I asked the question I did about noncreative people earlier.  But in retrospect I realised I'd been too harsh on my own idea and his had just looked better because it hadn't be subjected to the "what then, what if, why" grinder.)

At least it has a consistent setting which the players will be familiar with - or rather, the bits they aren't familiar with are the bits they're not SUPPOSED to be familiar with.  

Come to think of it I *DID* have a Star Wars game fail completely to entropy over the course of last year, again due to permanent adventure stuckage, but that was partly because I wasn't personally very keen on running it either.  I think it's more like, while I'm talking about 'bunker players', I'm becoming a 'bunker GM' by trying to make sure that whatever happens in the game can resist every possible player objection, and the safest way to do that is simply not to run.

Quote

If they ask for information like you're some kind of dictionary, don't give it to them.


They don't ask for campaign information like you described.  I'm talking about questions like "How wide is the bridge and what's it made out of?"  

 
Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).

Quote
If you get a batch of those players who're just looking for a 'rollercoaster ride' where they get on and you do all the work (and you like that kinda stuff), tell them on those nights when you don't feel creative enough; tell them the truth.  If you can get a group together who are willing to share in creating the game, and everyone can learn to trust each other, you can get some really kicking games going.


Well, this is the thing - I don't know if they look for the rollercoaster ride or not.  I mean, for a long while they (sorry - WE) were playing rollercoaster D&D3E but then we quit it because we were bored.  So they might not like the rollercoaster style, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll get the idea of.. well, having to go do stuff.  

Thanks very much again for taking the time to write these long replies. ;)


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Valamir on January 31, 2003, 07:34:01 PM
Quote
They don't ask for campaign information like you described. I'm talking about questions like "How wide is the bridge and what's it made out of?"


Fang is so spot on when he answered this above.  One of the best things you could tell you players to break them out of the defensive "keep the GM from screwing me mode" is to simply ask them.

"How wide do you need it to be?"
"What would you like it to be made of?"

See cuz the player asked that question for a reason.  He's thinking...My super jump abilty allows me to horizontally leap 60 feet, I'd love to jump over the bridge and surprise the bad guys from the other side, but if I tell the GM what I'm thinking he'll make the bridge too long for it to work, so I'll make him tell me how long it is first and then he'll be stuck with it.  

or if only the bridge were made out of stone I could use my Stone to Mud spell and send all the baddies into the river.  But if I told the GM I was going to cast it, he'd just say the bridge was wooden or something, so I'll make him tell me what kind of bridge it is first.

In other words the whole issue of GMs not being creative enough can simply go away.  The players are plenty creative enough on their own to pick up any slack.  They already have in their heads a cool scene for resolving the conflict at the bridge...quite likely far cooler than any solution the GM had imagined.  The only thing the GM has to do is make sure the scene is staged such that the cool scene they thought of is possible.

But for that to work the GM has to let go of the vs. mentality to.  The GM can't be thinking "this is the 4th of 6 encounters, its supposed to be really hard.  I can't let the players beat it simply by casting a Stone to Mud spell, that's too easy."  After all who cares how hard it is if the solution was fun and full of fantastic imagery.  After all the GM can always through in more baddies on the other side of the bridge if he needs to crank the challenge level.

That's the whole key to what Fang is saying.  Let the players help you be creative.


Title: Re: No Expert Advice Here
Post by: Le Joueur on January 31, 2003, 09:31:03 PM
Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Um...why?  When I gamemaster, I'm pretty up front about that.  "There isn't any kind of plot so feel free to take the game where it pleases you!"  "I dunno, what do you want to play tonight?"  These are the kinds of things I always start a game with new people with.  They know, right away, that the game is 'about' their characters; these characters are the movers and the shakers of 'the movie.'  I explain that if they don't act impulsively or if they try to second guess 'what should be done,' they're doing it wrong.

So, why don't "the players know that" there is no fixed plot?  Is it important for a gamemaster to keep so many secrets?  I don't think so, a few choice nuggets that are the focus of the conflict, probably, but why not tell them 'there's no plot to follow?'

Because they resist that.  I've been trying to get them to try out a game of InSpectres or Donjon, but they seriously resist that because they feel that there's no real adventure unless there's something they can push against.  Not that I think they'd resist just having the ability to do stuff in the world; but they resist author/director stance like crazy.

Oh come on (I'm smiling; this is friendly cajolery), are you really trying to tell me that your players actually like a fixed plot?  Okay, all kidding aside, let's not be extremists here.  To be technical, I have yet to play with anyone who wanted full bore Author Stance or any kind of Director Stance; that isn't what I'm talking about.

Lessee, how about an example?  I run a lot of 'romance-based' solo games these days; my main player wants to 'romp around' in the world and get to fall madly passionately in love with one of the non-player characters.  Do I choose which one?  No, that would never work.  For a while I tried to describe these 'leading men,' these potential romantic partners, differently and yet attractively; you know what?  I stunk at it.  So we can up with a compromise, whenever I introduce a new non-player character, she does the description.  It's not Author Stance or Director Stance; it's...I dunno, Fill-in-the-Blank Stance.  It's like Ralph said about the bridge; do I really care about what they look like?  No.  (Well, that's only partly true; it's really important that they're all too cute.)  That's inviting the players to 'be creative' and 'be involved,' without the 'taking over' implied with InSpectres or Donjon.

And I'm all about "something they can push against."  That's actually what I meant.  See, I'm a deconstructionist; I spend a lot of time deconstructing how things work, especially gaming.  Here's what I figured out.  There are two basic types of "things they can push against."  The first is a strong opponent, the mastermind, dragon, or other super tough baddie.  They push; he pushes back.  Then there's the second; the enigma.  They don't know what it is or they don't know where to find it or they don't know who it is or whichever; you can use any question word (note: I used "or" not 'and,' while you can use more than one; one is often enough).

The problem with a lot of traditional, 'old fashioned' gamemastering is this competitive streak it had.  IF there could be an enigma, then all information had to horded by the gamemaster.  If it was a strong opponent, they also had to be hidden within an enigma; otherwise "it'd be too easy."  Too easy?  For what?  Too easy to 'beat the gamemaster' is what, but you never hear them say that.  Well guess what?  If you're sharing a game the only people being cheated are the players themselves.

So I deconstructed it.  If you have an enigma, you use basically two techniques; first is the decoy, second is 'tar feet.'  Too much of either is bad, but that goes back to pacing.  Decoys are great, toss a little information here or there and the players go for it.  Tar feet are anything that slows them down, but just a little; too much and it feels like you're blocking (which is competitive again).  Mix them up and have fun; sometimes I run a game where each enigma only leads to a bigger more ominous one.  I like this idea so much I coded it into Scattershot explicitly, we call them Mystiques and Intrigue (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2173).

Then you have the strong opponent.  For this you start with the opponent not aware of the competition (unless it's an equal opponent).  What this opponent does in regard to the players is indirect at best and a total miss at worst.  As the players get more 'in line' with what they want to do (and progress in the savvy to do it), the opponent comes to more directly conflict with them, until the source of conflict is resolved.  (This last part is key to 'non-controlling gamemastering;' it doesn't matter how the players deal with the opponent.  Heck, they could even turn him into an ally; it works for Dragon Ball Z again and again.)

Beyond that...nothing.  All else is filler; stuff you use to smooth out the pacing.  That's why it doesn't matter if the players create the detail.  Heck, we've been playing around with delegating not just the descriptions but 'keeping track' of these details and have created some nascent Mechanix around the concept of Proprietorship (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1339).  (Basically, if you put it into the game, it 'belongs' to you and only you get to say what becomes of it.)

So, you hold onto a few cards, these are your Mystiques and Intrigues (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=2173).  You dole out information about them by the scruple, everything else is 'on the table.'  Whenever you decide, you can say 'that is a part of the Mystique, so I get to say;' the rest of the time let the players rock on.  You'll find eventually the players get so they automatically respect that and 'work through channels' to get at your Mystiques.  It's mostly a matter of learning the 'art of seduction.'  Your Mystiques flirt with the players, but the players make themselves jump through hoops to get at them.

That's what "they can push against."  It's there, you just don't need all the shells to hide it.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Then hit 'em where it counts.  If they're thinking 'I gotta do something to keep my character out of trouble,' they're thinking as players, not characters.  Just turn to them and say, "Okay, who wants to get captured so we can have a 'daring escape?'"  I mean it.  Literally ask them.  People who play 'deep in character' won't mind if you capture them, they know something will come up because you won't end the game suddenly like that (or they should); everybody else is already out of character, so ask the players if they'd like to try a 'daring escape,' and...just forget to mention that they have to be captured to escape.  (But remind them when they start groaning.)

Well, I did do a similar thing to that once.  We were playing a game of Conspiracy X and several of the characters had maxed out for combat (including one who had gone all the way to Strength 5 Size 5, creating substantial laughter when we found that according to the Aegis book he could then be individually targeted by orbital satellites..)  But, most of the people they were interacting with were suspicious rather than hostile, and although I knew there was an ending fight in the adventure (it was a sample adventure to try the system out) we ran an awful long time without any combat.  

So, once when one of the PCs was going to interrogate some dodgy gang members I basically just admitted that they probably had the skills and appearance to intimidate these guys, but if they wanted a fight they could have one.  

They said no.  But their perception of it was not that I'd offered them a free choice either way, it was that I'd offered to 'fudge' the adventure.  One of them also said that he felt that the creepy atmosphere which was going up to that point was utterly destroyed by the knowledge that the OOC player had affected an NPCs actions.

That simply looks like you waited too long.  Waiting until the end of the scene to solicit the result does look like 'chickening out.'  Giving them the option to call a single scene is deferring what they expect out of you as the gamemaster, operating the opposition.  The point when to invite their input is just before you're going to do something 'they won't like,' like capturing them.  "Do you want to play a 'daring rescue'" is arguably different from 'you can do pretty much what you want with this guy.'  One sets the stage for adventure, the other shows that a scene should be up-paced, compressed, or even skipped.

I actually find myself asking my players (in part due to 'giving them enough rope'), "Do you really want to turn this game into one long chase scene?"  Often a point to cross the legal authorities or serious power structures.  Sometime they say, "no way," and rethink their action; sometimes they say, "Yeah, cool."  I take it either way, I'm not in control.

Quote from: hyphz
And that wasn't helped by mentioning it in passing to a more experienced GM who gave me in one second and twenty words a plot idea better than any I'd had in that time.

That's the time to steal!  Like none other, if you can't steal ideas, you've fallen for the mystique of 'originality.'  Well let me clue you; if yer willing to abstract, there ain't nothing new under the sun.  Just steal the idea, file off it's serial numbers and run.  I can't think of the last time I started with an inspiration 'out of the blue.'  More often than not, I simply steal whatever show or song I happen to like at the time the game starts.  By the time the players get done adding to it, it's nothing like I supposed.

Quote from: hyphz
I'm becoming a 'bunker GM' by trying to make sure that whatever happens in the game can resist every possible player objection,

Then sharing must be the answer; how could the players object to stuff they came up with?

Quote from: hyphz
Well, this is the thing - I don't know if they look for the rollercoaster ride or not.  I mean, for a long while they (sorry - WE) were playing rollercoaster D&D3E but then we quit it because we were bored.  So they might not like the rollercoaster style, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll get the idea of.. well, having to go do stuff.

Yeah, that's the inherent problem that a lot of 'rollercoaster seekers' fail to realize.  It just does the same thing all the time (a lot like a video tape).  If you want bigger and better thrills it eventually becomes this great quest for 'something fresh.'  Even that quest gets old too.

I've seen only a few break out of 'rollercoaster play' and get into 'doing stuff.'  That's one of the driving urges to keep working on Scattershot; I want it to explain how to 'do stuff.'

Quote from: hyphz
Thanks very much again for taking the time to write these long replies. ;)

You're welcome.  As Ralph pointed out, I get some of my best ideas and methods of explaining things for Scattershot by answering these kinds of posts.  (His 'cut this and paste it into Scattershot' comment.)  I owe you a debt for prompting this kind of writing.  Honestly, I'm a much better solve-the-problems-of-others guy than a write-a-manual-of-how-to-do-it guy.  So you've participated greatly in Scattershot; can I get the proper spelling of your name for the 'credits page?'

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Christopher Kubasik on January 31, 2003, 09:53:37 PM
Hi Fang,

You may be better at helping other folks with their problems than solving your own.... But who isn't like that?

I wanted to thank you for the work you've done on this post and Eric's Woe post.  I suspect they'll both be referred to many times in the future for GMs looking to expand their range of GMing styles.  The clarity and passion you've brought to bear on a still relatively unknown type of GMing is going to go a long way for many people who stop by the Forge.

Christopher


Title: Re: UA ideas
Post by: Ian Charvill on February 01, 2003, 05:44:38 AM
Quote from: hyphz
Well, we were originally talking about Star Wars with Eric but I was looking for general principles - I'm not running Star Wars and nor do I particularly want to.  The game I'm trying to run now is UA, which has been "got players, waiting to be run" since freakin' SEPTEMBER because I felt I could not complete an adequate adventure plan.  (And that wasn't helped by mentioning it in passing to a more experienced GM who gave me in one second and twenty words a plot idea better than any I'd had in that time.  Which, to be honest, made me feel like throwing my rulebook - no, screw it, my bookshelf - in the trash, and is why I asked the question I did about noncreative people earlier.  But in retrospect I realised I'd been too harsh on my own idea and his had just looked better because it hadn't be subjected to the "what then, what if, why" grinder.)


To hit on the UA blockage, if you don't mind getting into specifics, a quick question or two: what kind of characters have the players created?

When prepping, I find knowing who I'm prepping for (both in terms of the characters and the players) is a terrific boost.  Whether or not your players are used to Author Stance during play I'd bet large amounts of money that I don't have that they're very used to it during character creation.


Title: Re: No Expert Advice Here
Post by: hyphz on February 01, 2003, 09:41:47 AM
Quote from: Le Joueur

That's what "they can push against."  It's there, you just don't need all the shells to hide it.


This was a very interesting discussion - thank you very much for it.

Quote

That simply looks like you waited too long.  Waiting until the end of the scene to solicit the result does look like 'chickening out.'  Giving them the option to call a single scene is deferring what they expect out of you as the gamemaster, operating the opposition.  The point when to invite their input is just before you're going to do something 'they won't like,' like capturing them.  


I don't see the distinction here. I asked the question before the scene started, while their PCs were headed to the place where they were going to meet the guys.  The scene could not be skipped because they needed to play out interrogating the guys - the question was if they would actually have to smack them down before they'd talk or whether they'd just be intimidated without the PCs needing to fight.

How is asking "do you want to fight them for the info or not?" any different from saying "do you want to play a daring escape?"

Quote

Then sharing must be the answer; how could the players object to stuff they came up with?


Because they can and do object to being asked to come up with stuff in the first place.

Quote from: hyphz


I've seen only a few break out of 'rollercoaster play' and get into 'doing stuff.'  That's one of the driving urges to keep working on Scattershot; I want it to explain how to 'do stuff.'

Quote

You're welcome.  As Ralph pointed out, I get some of my best ideas and methods of explaining things for Scattershot by answering these kinds of posts.  (His 'cut this and paste it into Scattershot' comment.)  I owe you a debt for prompting this kind of writing.  Honestly, I'm a much better solve-the-problems-of-others guy than a write-a-manual-of-how-to-do-it guy.  So you've participated greatly in Scattershot; can I get the proper spelling of your name for the 'credits page?'


Geez, that's yet ANOTHER indie game to buy and marvel at the insight of ;)


Title: Re: UA ideas
Post by: hyphz on February 01, 2003, 09:47:23 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill

To hit on the UA blockage, if you don't mind getting into specifics, a quick question or two: what kind of characters have the players created?


I'll be blunt about it because they were:  the Punisher, Mr. T, the Equalizer, and "a hacker".

I actually had a think about it today and had quite a few ideas about where it might go (beyond the obvious).  But it took time and I don't think I'd have been able to do it on the fly, which is my ongoing worry.


Title: Re: UA ideas
Post by: Ian Charvill on February 01, 2003, 10:37:29 AM
Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Ian Charvill

To hit on the UA blockage, if you don't mind getting into specifics, a quick question or two: what kind of characters have the players created?


I'll be blunt about it because they were:  the Punisher, Mr. T, the Equalizer, and "a hacker".


Not sure who The Punisher is (Marvel comic character? sure I heard something about an adaptation recently); not sure how deep they are into the Underground; not sure whether they know each other but...

They have given you fairly clear types as far as typical role playing activities: the Punisher and Mr T will be looking for fight-type solutions to situations; the Equalizer can handle himself but IIRC the character was more about savvy, cool and a wide range of contacts; the hacker can, I guess, hack systems.

Quote from: hyphz
I actually had a think about it today and had quite a few ideas about where it might go (beyond the obvious).  But it took time and I don't think I'd have been able to do it on the fly, which is my ongoing worry.


If you think it'd help you I could write up how I'd prep a first session of play for those characters in UA, how much I'd leave open, how much closed and how I'd prep for the players doing unexpected things.

Just let me know: how long the session would be; if the characters know one another and if they know already about the Underground.

If the only problem you have at this point is just nervousness - as in 'I see what I need to do, but I'm afraid it'll all go wrong' - that's just normal.  I get nervous before every session I run - nervous so bad I don't want to turn up some times.  But do I turn up and it goes fine.  It may be in that case you just need to do it - trust yourself and see it in action.


Title: Re: No Expert Advice Here
Post by: Le Joueur on February 01, 2003, 03:44:58 PM
Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
That simply looks like you waited too long.  Waiting until the end of the scene to solicit the result does look like 'chickening out.'  Giving them the option to call a single scene is deferring what they expect out of you as the gamemaster, operating the opposition.  The point when to invite their input is just before you're going to do something 'they won't like,' like capturing them.  

I don't see the distinction here. I asked the question before the scene started, while their PCs were headed to the place where they were going to meet the guys.  The scene could not be skipped because they needed to play out interrogating the guys - the question was if they would actually have to smack them down before they'd talk or whether they'd just be intimidated without the PCs needing to fight.

How is asking "do you want to fight them for the info or not?" any different from saying "do you want to play a daring escape?"

Yeah, it's a hard one to parse out.  Lessee, "Do you want to play a daring escape?" gets asked long before they're even captured.  Kinda like, "What do you want this chapter to be about?"  Whereas "Do ya wanna fight for the info or not?" is asked at the beginning of the scene that would have the fight.  See, I try to 'feel out' what my players are 'up for' before I launch into a major section.  I would have asked them if they were 'up for' a 'daring escape' about the time PC#2 said, "That's no moon."  (Heck, if I were runnin' it, I wouldn't have thought that the 'evil fortress' was moon-sized until he made that crack, but I love to improvise.)  Matching the 'daring escape' question to a situation similar to what you described with the 'fight or not' request would be me asking if they wanted to play a 'daring escape' after dumping them in the trash compactor.  In effect the question becomes more 'do you wanna play it out' rather than the 'what kind of chapter would you like.'

Now if Kenobi had gone, "That's no moon" and I asked if they wanted a 'daring escape' and they said "no," I would've totally let them go - no tractor beam or anything - and mostly skipped ahead to the encountering 'a lead' on the princess.  It would've been almost the same as the cloud city sequence I suppose, with no deathstar fight at all!  The princess would've been in a prison somewhere else exotic, et cetera, et cetera.  'Couldn't really do that from the bottom of the trash compactor, could I?

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Then sharing must be the answer; how could the players object to stuff they came up with?

Because they can and do object to being asked to come up with stuff in the first place.

I thought the 'daring escape' question illustrated the difference.  Saying 'what do ya wanna play today?' is a little too open-ended, even for my players most times.  That's why I usually prompt them when I get an idea for a 'direction' for the game.  "How about a 'daring escape?'" is a question about the next chapter not the next scene.  Furthermore, you're asking a question vague enough not to spoil it, yet it calls for them to 'buy in' on an idea that normal 'bunker-livers' would fight tooth and nail - getting captured; the players will expect you to 'have a plan' to get them out (or at least the intention of them escaping).

It's hard to explain, but even though they know they'll escape, they don't know how, why, or from who; that's why it'll still be interesting.  (Nobody at the table expected the trash compactor, yet that scene is classic.)  I assume this is the dynamic behind players objecting to 'coming up with stuff;' when they, do where is the surprise, the interest, or the engagement?  In the Mystiques....  This is why 'shared play highlights them so highly.  You can share impromptu detail creation (you don't have to), you can coordinate the game's direction with them (like 'renegades on the run,' 'daring escape,' and so on), without making the game seem predestined or predictable.  You get better 'buy in' from the players (which means less 'bunkering down' because they trust where the game will 'go' without knowing 'how it will turn out').  That's how the 'shared game' thing works.  Nobody knows 'how it will turn out' because they share in putting the ingredients in; who knows what you'll concoct?

Is the 'direction of the game' question making more sense now?

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 01, 2003, 05:58:36 PM
As long as you're willing to explain all this, Fang, can I ask a question?  I think I've had one of the same problems hyphz has, and I also have no idea what to do about it.

Okay, so I'm going to run our SW game.  I want to do things the way you describe; sounds awesome.

I open it up, make clear before we start, at the start of the session, and periodically throughout the session, that the players basically need to write the world and the plot around them, and sometimes make meta-decisions (would we rather do a cool escape thing, or a chase scene, or go play alien-hunting?).  They say, "Oh yes, totally cool, no problem."

Then you start noticing that (1) they never do it without prompting --- a lot of prompting, and (2) they won't won't won't do it when it concerns a Plot Element (see below).  They do not believe you when you say you have no fixed plan or goal.  They are clearly very frustrated by having certain things handed to them openly, and while they like this kind of gaming as a general concept, they just are not comfortable doing it.

By Plot Element, I mean something for which they "just know" I "must" have a plan.  For example, when the gang gets to the station to do the Daring Rescue we've agreed will be fun, they "just know" I "must" know where she is.  But I don't --- I want them to decide where's a good place.  If they don't suggest anything clever, maybe I'll say, "Boodly wheep bleep bleep [R2 speaking] R2 says the Princess is in Detention Block A [C3P0]."  "So where is that?" they ask.  "I dunno, where would you like it to be?"  "No come on, that's stupid, where is it?"  And so on.  They just can't accept that an important Plot Element is going to be made up on the fly more or less according to what they do or say.

I think hyphz was describing this situation; god knows I've run into it.  The players go passive; not exactly into the defensive bunker, perhaps, but they just start trying to "wait you out."  They seem to think, "Well, he's not providing stuff, and he keeps asking us to do stuff, but we don't know which way the plot is supposed to go; if we wait him out, he's GOT to produce stuff because otherwise we'll all just stare at each other."

What do I do?


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Jason Lee on February 01, 2003, 07:07:41 PM
Quote from: clehrich
I think hyphz was describing this situation; god knows I've run into it.  The players go passive; not exactly into the defensive bunker, perhaps, but they just start trying to "wait you out."  They seem to think, "Well, he's not providing stuff, and he keeps asking us to do stuff, but we don't know which way the plot is supposed to go; if we wait him out, he's GOT to produce stuff because otherwise we'll all just stare at each other."

What do I do?


Make a flow chart.

1)  Start with one or more 'opening plot hooks'.
2)  Decide on one or more preferred or most likely 'outcomes' to the hooks.
3)  Begin organically placing most-likely-to-occure 'key events', or steps, in chains.  Optional outcomes of 'key events' may begin new chains.  Make sure your chains end at one or more of the 'outcomes' you set out with.

The 'key events' should be like signposts or landmarks for the GM, points for him to align himself with.  The players should not even notice the existence of these "sections".  The 'key events' are rough scene outlines, not details.  Though, if you are dead certain that a 'key event' will occur it is a good place to attach detail and/or props to.

As for the 'outcomes', unless you've gotten really good at predicting the actions of your players none of the 'outcomes' you put down will actually occur.  This is OK.

If you have a good feel of pacing versus session length you should be able to pick your number of sessions and start compressing the chains toward the 'outcomes' at the late-middle session.

You should end up with an root-like structure.  As you built the chart in little stages, asking yourself 'what if?' at every step, you should have a lot of the decisions the players might make accounted for.


On the surface this seems completely contrary to Fang's suggestion.  But I don't think it is (or, rather, has to be...it could be very illusionist also).  The key is not to lock yourself into the chart.  The chart is a framework to get past the bumps when neither GM nor player knows what to do.  It is not there to railroad the players with, even if it looks like a nice set of tracks.  The players may put new connecting lines on the chart you didn't think of, skip giant sections somehow, or create entirely new 'key events'.  If events don't occur as you predicted (and they most likely won't if the players actually participate in the development of the plot) you can still jump around the chart for ideas or a frame of reference for what happens next.

So, to put this in context:  Your players are helping creating plot, and then they suddenly stop and try to wait you out.  Maybe because they are afraid it is too important a decision for the lowly worms that they are, maybe they want a suprise, or maybe they just don't have any ideas.  Pick the closest point to where they currently are on the chart, draw a line to the nearest event, and feed it to them.  Resume play as normal once past the bump.

- Jason


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 01, 2003, 07:43:06 PM
Jason,

As a matter of clarification here, how come this flowchart system doesn't encourage the players to think traditionally?  I mean, doesn't this tell them, "Yup, we can wait him out, and then he'll go back to what we're used to, and we can be passive again."  I believe that it works, but I don't understand why.


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Jason Lee on February 01, 2003, 08:19:04 PM
Quote from: clehrich
As a matter of clarification here, how come this flowchart system doesn't encourage the players to think traditionally?  I mean, doesn't this tell them, "Yup, we can wait him out, and then he'll go back to what we're used to, and we can be passive again."  I believe that it works, but I don't understand why.


You're absolutely right, it won't help them change the way they play.  But, it should help you get past everyone sitting around staring at each other and back to playing.

The way I see it, if play is interrupted with frustration (from boredom or confusion in this case) you've created an 'un-entertaining mood'.  If you surgically remove the bumby spots before they get too frustrating you can concentrate on the fun part.  In this case the fun part being shared authorship of the plot.  The players can focus on authoring the things they feel comfortable with; think of it like training wheels.  As they play they may decide they like it, and want more control; they may also decide they don't like it, and want the rollercoaster back.  But, if you can atleast trim out the frustating parts you know the players will be making an actual preference decision as opposed to a knee-jerk decision based on the fact that it was frustrating.

A note:  The GM is one of the players creating the plot - he gets to contribute to.  Also, IMO the common definition of GM includes the responsibility to be creative when noone else wants to.

Another note: I personally don't think there is anything wrong with the rollercoaster.  It doesn't have to be bunker playing, it can be suspenseful and challenging.

- Jason


Title: A New Voice Heard From
Post by: Le Joueur on February 01, 2003, 08:47:29 PM
Quote from: clehrich
As long as you're willing to explain all this, Fang, can I ask a question?  I think I've had one of the same problems hyphz has, and I also have no idea what to do about it.

Always glad to help!  Fire away.

Quote from: clehrich
Okay, so I'm going to run our SW game.  I want to do things the way you describe; sounds awesome.

I open it up, make clear before we start, at the start of the session, and periodically throughout the session, that the players basically need to write the world and the plot around them, and sometimes make meta-decisions (would we rather do a cool escape thing, or a chase scene, or go play alien-hunting?).  They say, "Oh yes, totally cool, no problem."

Wrong approach.  A lot of people are really turned off by telling them that they're going to be having this much narrative control.  Aside from the fact that this isn't really what I'm advocating, the way you put it is really intimidating to 'player-only' players.  (These are people who love to play, but won't ever want to gamemaster.)

Yes, it's true they'll be 'writing the world,' but it won't look like that at the time.  Like I said, on the one hand you might lean on them to give you setting details, but most of the work they do 'writing the world' is unconscious; they don't know they're doing it.  Don't scare them telling them 'the have to.'

They definitely won't be 'writing the plot around them' at all; I know, that's kind of confusing isn't it?  Here the game goes along, running strictly by what the players do and yet I say they won't be 'writing the plot.'  That's because were not talking about Director Stance, what is happening is the natural 'protagonist effect.'  A protagonist, most simply, is the character the story 'follows' around; where they go, the story goes.  That means that the actions of the protagonist direct where the story goes, but that doesn't mean that the character 'steps behind the camera' and becomes either the director or the writer, far from it.  Neither does the player, don't force them to think they do.

The gamemaster, as I've laid out here, keeps the 'tension meter,' not the plot.  Like I was saying earlier, he puts his McGuffins in front of the characters, wherever they go; the same thing happens with the 'tension points.'  That means weird things like, say the player decides his player wants to take a break and get a drink; guess what, the tension level is so high a 'quiet drink' would be anticlimactic.  This is a page I take from Lajos Egri's The Art of Creative Writing, where he basically says, 'the tension level must never go down, ever.'  (Note: The Art of Creative Writing is not The Art of Dramatic Writing Ron frequently refers to.)

So, much to the player's surprise, you've simply got to attack the bar and you've got to do it with elements already 'in play.'  So follow: the character goes to the bar, the player feels justified (for whatever reason, it doesn't matter) that the character will do this, and you're the gamemaster, it's late in the story, so the bar gets attacked (by what or how is a matter of making it fit the point in the story - you could even have them 'attacked' by someone who discretely criticizes their moral code, slacking off so close to the ultimate confrontation - all that matters is it is a 'heavy' scene).  Who created the bar?  Technically, it springs from the player, even if the gamemaster details it.  Who attacked it?  Technically, the climax of the story required it; it was only the actions of the player that set the stage and the gamemaster who 'does the work.'

And I simply don't advocate telling them that they'll be 'making meta-decisions.'  How intimidating.  All I tell my players, all of it, is 'you guys are the show, it's all about you' and 'by the way, I might need to check in on where the story is going from time to time, because I'm not using a plot.'  Almost everything you get from them, they won't realize they're doing all the stuff you list.  I resort to 'anyone up for a daring escape' because I know they don't like 'bad stuff' happening to their characters; me asking both legitimizes it and prevents unpleasant shocks during the game.

Quote from: clehrich
Then you start noticing that (1) they never do it without prompting --- a lot of prompting, and (2) they won't won't won't do it when it concerns a Plot Element (see below).  They do not believe you when you say you have no fixed plan or goal.  They are clearly very frustrated by having certain things handed to them openly, and while they like this kind of gaming as a general concept, they just are not comfortable doing it.

1) Yeah, I know, until you get them past their 'old habits' it does take a lot of prompting.  Sorry, sometimes the 'good stuff' is a lot of work.

2) That's why you don't put it that way.  The 'daring escape' isn't portrayed as a plot element, it is given as 'what is gonna happen to you.'  You aren't asking them permission to put the deathstar 'in front of them,' they don't even know what's there (except that Alderaan isn't).  All you are asking is permission to put them in jeopardy for the sake of the game (and not even putting it like that).

Who cares if they believe you at first?  Run a few 'movies worth' of it and then reminisce about the curves they threw you.  Those are the important parts; if you don't find yourself scrambling to 'stay ahead of them' every once in awhile, I don't think you're doing it right.  After it's over, talk that up, compliment them for good playing and how much fun it was dealing with those curves.  Three or four 'movies worth' and they'll really get the message: they're in charge.

The "handed to them openly" thing is one of the trickier parts.  Technically, you are just handing it to them, on the other hand, 'it' is completely disguised.  You don't offer them the deathstar, you offer them something much more abstract and character focused, a 'daring escape.'

At first, sharing will be a lot of work for the gamemaster; 1) you have to teach yourself how to share and disguise the Mystiques, 2) you need to 'kid glove' the players out of their 'old habits,' 3) they need to learn to 'pick up the cues' from the game and not you anymore (a lot of feigned ignorance here).  As soon as the group gets into the swing of it, it becomes much less work than ever before (providing you're one of those 'gamemaster must control' gamemasters).

Quote from: clehrich
By Plot Element, I mean something for which they "just know" I "must" have a plan.  For example, when the gang gets to the station to do the Daring Rescue we've agreed will be fun, they "just know" I "must" know where she is.  But I don't --- I want them to decide where's a good place.  If they don't suggest anything clever, maybe I'll say, "Boodly wheep bleep bleep [R2 speaking] R2 says the Princess is in Detention Block A [C3P0]."  "So where is that?" they ask.  "I dunno, where would you like it to be?"  "No come on, that's stupid, where is it?"  And so on.  They just can't accept that an important Plot Element is going to be made up on the fly more or less according to what they do or say.

Whoops, you're falling for the 'the game is a real place' ideal.  It isn't.  It doesn't really exist, never has.  So when they ask, "So where is that?" you say, "Over there."  They say "Where?"  You say, "What makes sense for a battle station that's low on the 'human rights' thing?"  "By the atomic pile!" chimes one, "Near the sewer," comes another; "Sounds great," you say.

These kinds of questions are a matter of 'flirting,' of 'seduction;' you need to flatter them with your appreciation of their knowledge without letting them know you're actually pumping them for information.  Like I said, don't tell them the are 'writing the world,' look for what they imply that they expect.  Honestly in a place as large as a small moon, you'd think they'd have the galaxy's fastest elevators (would you want an elevator ride to take a week to get to the other side?).  That kind of rapid transit renders the whole concept of 'position' meaningless (as if the game world was any more 'real').  R2D2 knows where they are; have him print out a map.

To me, arriving at the "Detention block AA23" is the whole battle.  Heck, figuring out she's in detention might have been the sticking point for a gamemaster short on creativity.  If you're that far and they ask for more information (by that point) it's time to up the pace (knock on the door, whatever, just remind them to keep it moving and not get bogged down in tiny details).

If they can't accept that, don't tell them (it's just a manifestation of their 'old habits' again, anyway).  Only dwell on the 'flirting' when you're stuck, otherwise keep it moving.  Like I always say, "When all else fails, run an action scene."

Quote from: clehrich
I think hyphz was describing this situation; god knows I've run into it.  The players go passive; not exactly into the defensive bunker, perhaps, but they just start trying to "wait you out."  They seem to think, "Well, he's not providing stuff, and he keeps asking us to do stuff, but we don't know which way the plot is supposed to go; if we wait him out, he's GOT to produce stuff because otherwise we'll all just stare at each other."

Okay, let me make this clear; that's right out.  You never 'ask them to do stuff.'  At the most, you're going to be asking if you can do stuff to them.  One of the best parts of every game world I've ever even heard of is that they have 'dynamic settings.'  Something is 'in flux,' you just aren't surprised when Orcs attack a village out of the blue, when there's a streetlevel firefight to kill a decker, and et cetera.

Remember the 'Greedo example?'  "To 'push things' not just forward, but in any direction."  That's what you do when they "go passive."  I look at A New Hope and see the players going passive as soon as they take command of the hangar control office, not later; to me the action of the gamemaster is to swing in with some bait.  They already prompted you by having R2D2 jack in and check if they've been noticed; you take that as a route to offer the bait and suddenly the 'Princess McGuffin' manifests in the deathstar, no questions asked.  Heck, PC#1 practically hands you the bait for PC#3 ("More money than you can imagine..."); character hooks (look they're right there on the character sheets) are great aren't they?  If they're still passive, remind them that they can't make a 'daring escape' without being captured, where better than Detention Block AA23?  (You're flirting again here, playing upon their trust that you'll save their bacon if necessary, to get them moving.)

Quote from: clehrich
What do I do?

Can't hurt to try.  If you want to come back in Actual Play, I'll be more than happy to give you some real-play coaching between sessions.  (And if a long "and then they..." post isn't welcome there, it's more than welcome down in the Scattershot Forum; technically you'll be using Scattershot Techniques regardless of what rules you employ.)

I'm not entirely sure I've gotten my point across here; how about you tell me what I just said and we'll see if I got out what I am trying to say.  (That's a marriage counselor trick; tell them what they said and you finally communicate.)

Fang Langford


Title: Learning to Share
Post by: Le Joueur on February 01, 2003, 09:38:41 PM
Quote from: cruciel
On the surface this seems completely contrary to Fang's suggestion.  But I don't think it is (or, rather, has to be...it could be very illusionist also).  The key is not to lock yourself into the chart.  The chart is a framework to get past the bumps when neither GM nor player knows what to do.  It is not there to railroad the players with, even if it looks like a nice set of tracks.  The players may put new connecting lines on the chart you didn't think of, skip giant sections somehow, or create entirely new 'key events'.  If events don't occur as you predicted (and they most likely won't if the players actually participate in the development of the plot) you can still jump around the chart for ideas or a frame of reference for what happens next.

No, this is definitely not what I'm saying.  Using a flow chart is contrary to sharing unless you share it.  Resorting to this kind of crutch pretty much invalidates the most basic principles of 'sharing the game' or being a 'non-controlling gamemaster.'  I'd even argue that the presence of such will be very enticing towards back-sliding.  And if you're willing to forego complete sections, it seems like a lot of work just so you can throw it away.  Why not skip the 'control aid' and wing it?

Quote from: cruciel
So, to put this in context:  Your players are helping creating plot, and then they suddenly stop and try to wait you out.  Maybe because they are afraid it is too important a decision for the lowly worms that they are, maybe they want a surprise, or maybe they just don't have any ideas.  Pick the closest point to where they currently are on the chart, draw a line to the nearest event, and feed it to them.  Resume play as normal once past the bump.

Trust me, if they've been helping 'create the plot' as I've described, they've 'taken a left' and gone right off the chart, dragging them back will be the height of 'control.'

(I hate to do this:)  "You must learn to let go...."

Quote from: cruciel
Make a flow chart.

1)  Start with one or more 'opening plot hooks'.
2)  Decide on one or more preferred or most likely 'outcomes' to the hooks.
3)  Begin organically placing most-likely-to-occur 'key events', or steps, in chains.  Optional outcomes of 'key events' may begin new chains.  Make sure your chains end at one or more of the 'outcomes' you set out with.

The 'key events' should be like signposts or landmarks for the GM,

You should end up with a root-like structure.

Sorry, this is a recipe for control.  Think, predict, arrange = control, control, control.  I advocate a list of 'character hooks,' Hans' greed, Luke's lust, Kenobi's honor, not plot hooks.  You can happily add to this some 'neat turns' ("key events" to some) like 'rescue the princess' and 'destroy the evil fortress.'  It's when you start to look for 'preferred outcomes' or anything "most-likely-to-occur" that you start gearing up to 'take control.'  Things like 'blow up the farm' or 'Greedo drops by' have to be spontaneous or in response to player created stimuli otherwise attempting to 'not control' is pointless.  The root like structure ought to look a lot like a subway map because it's little different than railroading; it requires that you think in 'bound' terms like 'where am I on the map' and 'where does it need to go.'  That 'need' is the ultimate vanity, that you know better than they do, where the game 'ought to go.'

 
Quote from: cruciel
...It won't help them change the way they play.  But, it should help you get past everyone sitting around staring at each other and back to playing.

Maybe, but at the expense of having them take part.  Better to do the 'anything to get them moving trick,' no matter what direction they go.

Quote from: cruciel
A note: the GM is one of the players creating the plot - he gets to contribute to.  Also, IMO the common definition of GM includes the responsibility to be creative when no one else wants to.

This I agree with, across the board.  That's why the gamemaster puts in things like 'evil fortress' and 'rescue the princess,' these are their contribution.  I also agree with the creativity comment, but if you use the 'anything to get them moving' trick, you won't be forced to when you don't want to be.

See, a lot of the 'responsibility to be creative' isn't as Director Stance as everyone makes it sound.  Shooting Greedo was as creative as it would be stupid if there were any kind of reasonable legal authorities; it shows a lack of regard for rationalism.  Rationalism isn't the point in Star Wars, otherwise a lot of the 'players' would be much more careful about the consequences of their actions.

Quote from: cruciel
Another note: I personally don't think there is anything wrong with the rollercoaster.  It doesn't have to be bunker playing, it can be suspenseful and challenging.

Heck, I can't think of anything wrong with the rollercoaster either; that's how I run at every convention.  However, if either the gamemaster or the players aren't really thrilled by it; if there is a discontinuity in desire to play that way, there is a problem.  It isn't with rollercoasterism, but with somebody not wanting to play that way.

This is a thread exploring how to play a 'shared game' style of gamemastering.  I'd really like to see someone do a thread on rollercoaster gamemastering, I know I need to brush up on it.  Heck, there's absolutely nothing wrong with 'flow charting' either, that's a valid and valuable style of gamemastering; it isn't sharing though.  That's what I'm describing; I don't mean to imply any negativity about these other forms, merely that they are incompatible with 'shared gaming.'

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Jason Lee on February 01, 2003, 11:58:18 PM
Quote from: Le Joueur
No, this is definitely not what I'm saying.  Using a flow chart is contrary to sharing unless you share it.  Resorting to this kind of crutch pretty much invalidates the most basic principles of 'sharing the game' or being a 'non-controlling gamemaster.'  I'd even argue that the presence of such will be very enticing towards back-sliding.  And if you're willing to forego complete sections, it seems like a lot of work just so you can throw it away.  Why not skip the 'control aid' and wing it?

[snip]

This is a thread exploring how to play a 'shared game' style of gamemastering.  I'd really like to see someone do a thread on rollercoaster gamemastering, I know I need to brush up on it.  Heck, there's absolutely nothing wrong with 'flow charting' either, that's a valid and valuable style of gamemastering; it isn't sharing though.  That's what I'm describing; I don't mean to imply any negativity about these other forms, merely that they are incompatible with 'shared gaming.'


First last:  

I do think control/prep tools like a flowchart (it just happens to be my personal fav) are optimal for rollercoasterism (or other pre-plan play styles).  I would also concede that I may even be confusing the topic a little by suggesting it; it is off-center from what you've been saying.

However, I do not agree that it is in opposition to shared control (plot building) of a game.

You called is a crutch, and that is exactly what it is.  You are putting a lot of burden in a 'shared game' on improvisation.  Most gamers I know freeze under request for improvisational GMing.  Improvisation is a difficult skill, I think less gifted people will need a crutch to help them improvise.  For this kind of game you would not be dragging the players back onto the chart when they dare defy your carefully laid plans.  You would use the chart as inspiration, creativity you put in a bottle for when everyone else is fresh out.  A little control can be safety net, if you haven't gotten around to letting go as you put it...

It could very well be a list of cool Star Wars-like things that could happen, or 'neat turns'.  I just prefer a flowchart because the organic nature of its construction makes it more likely to be of use to you, without force.  It is also handy because it is multi-purpose; in case the whole 'shared control' thing derails on you mid-game and you need to switch to rollercoasterism.

As far as the 'anything to get them moving trick', I agree.  I may be beating a dead horse now, but I was just saying use the chart to figure out what to use for your 'anything to get them moving trick' if you can't think of anything.

On the issue of 'control aids' enticing back-sliding, you may very well be correct.

Your last couple post did an excellent job of making your position clear.  The seperation from all Director/Author stance issues in particular is a clarifier that really needed to be stated outright.  It is also has some good methods for helping yourself improvise, like the 'flirting' comments.

- Jason


Title: Re: UA ideas
Post by: hyphz on February 02, 2003, 06:35:08 AM
Quote from: Ian Charvill

Not sure who The Punisher is (Marvel comic character? sure I heard something about an adaptation recently); not sure how deep they are into the Underground; not sure whether they know each other but...


The Punisher is indeed a Marvel character - basically a vigilante who's "schtick" is being harsh and violent - but direct and effective as a result.  


Quote

If you think it'd help you I could write up how I'd prep a first session of play for those characters in UA, how much I'd leave open, how much closed and how I'd prep for the players doing unexpected things.


That would be cool.  I don't know if the characters know each other or not, they haven't decided yet.  They will not know about the Underground at the start.

(I couldn't get Trigger Events out of them for love nor money.. well, one of them, the Punisher player, said that 'His wife and children had been killed by criminals' which is at least a motivation to act, if nothing to do with the occult.  Nobody else could think of one that was sensible.  ("Once I was kicking a guy's teeth in and after about five minutes I realized that he was really hard and there was an unknown army around.")

(One beef I have here with the gamebook, is that I showed them the examples.  Problem is, they are written by professional writers who know the setting.  All they did was intimidate the players.)


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Ron Edwards on February 02, 2003, 06:38:06 AM
Hello,

Chimin' in ...

Jason, it sounds to me as if you have some assumptions about GMing and the GM's notes. Your posts say, to my reading anyway, that the process is either referencing a flow chart, which to me includes arrows and "go here, then there, or here" kind of planned directions, or it's improvisation. You also suggest that the chart is very useful while GMing in the way that Fang is talking about.

All of the above is my reading of what you've presented. If I'm wrong, let me know.

I suggest that you consider a list of stuff, some of which is rock-solid for the setting and back-story, without the little "go here next" arrows at all. Sorcerer's texts include almost nothing but this sort of thing.

- The main book introduces Bangs (which in the GM notes are possible things that could be tossed to the players; we've taken to calling his notes the "bandolier").

- The scene transition and story-structure information in Sorcerer & Sword is about utilizing Bangs without forcing outcomes upon the players, and also about setting up play such that the protagonists are really the center of attention.

- The relationship-map method in The Sorcerer's Soul is about setting up complex emotional back-story without turning the session into a hunt for clues. Clue-hunts are essentially dungeons with doors and traps and stuff; a good back-story, by contrast, is a social matrix with infinite outcomes and possible relationships to form and be acted upon.

What I'm getting at is that none of these methods are either flow-chart or improvisation. They are "stuff" which may include extreme fixed-setting material or even planned events, but not a planned or even potential flow of this-to-that.

You are kind of hinting at this approach when you say, use the flow-chart for "stuff" when you need it, but I suggest removing the little arrows that make it a flow-chart in the first place. You don't lose the neat stuff (back-story, NPCs, etc), but you don't need all the "go here or go there" either.

Best,
Ron


Title: Don't Go with the Flow
Post by: Le Joueur on February 02, 2003, 08:04:03 AM
Quote from: cruciel
[About Flow-charting...] You called is a crutch, and that is exactly what it is.  You are putting a lot of burden in a 'shared game' on improvisation.  Most gamers I know freeze under request for improvisational GMing.

That's exactly why I suggest sharing!  If you 'get stuck' at a time to improvise, 'get help.'  Really, it's not so hard as it sounds.

Quote from: cruciel
Improvisation is a difficult skill; I think less gifted people will need a crutch to help them improvise.

Who said anything about 'going without crutches?'  I'm not communicating here; I already suggested character hooks and 'neat turns' (or twists) in a list.  How is that not a valuable tool, a crutch if you will, for improvisation?

Quote from: cruciel
For this kind of game you would not be dragging the players back onto the chart when they dare defy your carefully laid plans.  You would use the chart as inspiration, creativity you put in a bottle for when everyone else is fresh out.  A little control can be safety net, if you haven't gotten around to letting go as you put it...

It could very well be a list of cool Star Wars-like things that could happen, or 'neat turns'.  I just prefer a flowchart because the organic nature of its construction makes it more likely to be of use to you, without force.

Then get rid of the "flow" in your chart, the "and then this" part, because that's where it stops being improvisation and starts being control.  (For that matter, throw out the "chart" part too, because a chart implies positional relationships, almost as much 'flow' as before; the only chart that might be handy is one that implies relationships rather than order.)  There is nothing 'organic' about putting events in a predetermined order.  An 'organic' list of hooks and turns would be almost deliberately out-of-order; this I suggested.

Quote from: cruciel
It is also handy because it is multi-purpose; in case the whole 'shared control' thing derails on you mid-game and you need to switch to rollercoasterism.

That's fine; you can run a game any way you want.  Until I've completed the description of 'shared control' gaming, tossing in 'use this to Transition to rollercoasterism' won't do anything but obscure the understanding of 'shared control' gaming.  There's absolutely nothing wrong with Transition, I invented the term after all.  You can't Transition from a form until you can do it; I think a thread about Transition would be excellent, just not here.  I'm trying to keep this thread on track to explain what is apparently a really tricky gaming technique.

Quote from: cruciel
As far as the 'anything to get them moving trick', I agree.  I may be beating a dead horse now, but I was just saying use the chart to figure out what to use for your 'anything to get them moving trick' if you can't think of anything.

On the issue of 'control aids' enticing back-sliding, you may very well be correct.

That's why I'm saying a flow chart as opposed to an 'unordered list' isn't appropriate here.  These will contain most of the same information (and therefore the same value for improvisation), but absent the 'flow' it loses the 'enticement.'

Quote from: cruciel
Your last couple posts did an excellent job of making your position clear.  The separation from all Director/Author stance issues in particular is a clarifier that really needed to be stated outright.  [They are] also has some good methods for helping yourself improvise, like the 'flirting' comments.

Thanks.  I've been polishing this description for some time now, and the "'flirting' comments" only occurred to me back when I framed the Mystiques stuff (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2173).  I know I've covered a lot so far, but I think we're just over halfway (mostly a gut feeling), so I think it's really important to keep the thread tightly focused.  (An important note, there's no 'social contract' implied that suggests that only 'experienced posters' ought to start a new thread; you only learn by doing.  Feel free to do so.)

Fang Langford

p. s. What Ron said.  (Exactly, my man, exactly.)


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 02, 2003, 09:53:51 AM
Fang,

I'm not going to say that I hope you're someday soon going to cobble all this together into an article.  I'm going to say that you will do so.  Yah yah, job wife kids, blah blah, excuses excuses.  :)  Seriously, I've never heard anything so coherent and helpful about GMing in my life.  Thank you!

Alright, now before you go getting a swollen head, I want to ask more questions.  <squats in lotus position before the feet of the master>

1. Every now and then, in anything but a freeform one-shot, you're going to want something predetermined.  I realize that the basic point of shared GMing is, if I understand you right, precisely that you don't do this, but every now and then there's a reason to.  One example would be when the story in an extended campaign has just turned temporarily into a mystery: who whacked this dude?  You don't have a precise answer to that, you don't have a complete story of how it happened for them to go dungeon-crawl-hunt-for-clues on, but there is something you have decided on about this.

Alternatively to continue the SW example, suppose I thought of the Death Star as a way-cool idea, and had an NPC mention it pretty early on so everyone would know about it.  Now I really don't want to railroad more than I absolutely have to; the one thing I need (for whatever reason) is for them to go to the Death Star.  I don't care why, I don't care whether they blow it up, I don't have a map of it, nothing.  I just need them to go there.

Again, if I hear you right, you would say that such railroading is very very dangerous, because it encourages GM-control backsliding, and encourages player passivity.  What you have here is a major point that is invented by the GM and not the players, which is in itself problematic.  So do you have any advice for sharing the game with them when there is one thing you just have to get to?

2. I think I get your point about sharing vs. Director Stance.  You don't need to be open with the players about what you're doing as such, you just need to share with them and flirt when they won't share back.  Is that more or less right?  And can you explain flirting a bit more?

3. Can shared gaming go well with Director Stance?  I think your point is that it's not about stance, and that telling the players, "You will write the plot now" is intimidating and counter-productive.  But does this approach work well when the players do jump out and direct?  Is it best if it's done like the Confessional in InSpectres, where Director Stance is done in-character, or does that matter?

4. Does shared gaming help with immersion?  Not that immersion (I mean players being "in character all the time") is necessarily the goal, but does this promote that style of play?


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 02, 2003, 10:32:06 AM
Fang,

While I hope you'll remark on those questions above, it looks to me like I should read more or less everything on the Scattershot forum, then ask questions.  So I have a question: where do I start?  It looks to me like the Gaming Model thing should perhaps be first, but what then?  Since Scattershot is an emerging game, not a done deal that can be referred back to, a road-map would really help me a lot.

Thanks!


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Bob McNamee on February 02, 2003, 11:17:36 AM
Regarding the Death Star...
If it were me and I really wanted to have a Death Star (while not being sure exactly what it was)

I'd do a Cut Scene very early on...
something like...
Leia in Vader's custody arrives to be questioned by Tarkin the commander of the DeathStar...

or , even better

the Vader choking scene in the meeting room concerning the missing plans, Technology and the Force...

Do these very early... like perhaps before Luke even loses R2...

As GM I still don't know what a Deathstar is...or where it is... just that its a terrible weapon


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Jason Lee on February 02, 2003, 05:58:09 PM
Quote from: Ron Edwards
Jason, it sounds to me as if you have some assumptions about GMing and the GM's notes. Your posts say, to my reading anyway, that the process is either referencing a flow chart, which to me includes arrows and "go here, then there, or here" kind of planned directions, or it's improvisation. You also suggest that the chart is very useful while GMing in the way that Fang is talking about.

All of the above is my reading of what you've presented. If I'm wrong, let me know.


Quote from: Le Joueur
Who said anything about 'going without crutches?' I'm not communicating here; I already suggested character hooks and 'neat turns' (or twists) in a list. How is that not a valuable tool, a crutch if you will, for improvisation?


Ron, my assumptions about it having to be one way or the other was my interpretation of Fang's response to me.  I don't believe such a dichotomy need exist, but I got the impression he did and I was trying to refute it.  Judging by his response, and his agreement with yours, I'd say that was not what was meant.

Quote from: Le Joueur
Then get rid of the "flow" in your chart, the "and then this" part, because that's where it stops being improvisation and starts being control. (For that matter, throw out the "chart" part too, because a chart implies positional relationships, almost as much 'flow' as before; the only chart that might be handy is one that implies relationships rather than order.) There is nothing 'organic' about putting events in a predetermined order. An 'organic' list of hooks and turns would be almost deliberately out-of-order; this I suggested.


It was a short post, and I don't think I conveyed the structure for the chart very well.  I think you hit the heart of the dispute with your comments about 'organic'.  I see two valid approaches to such a chart (atleast two that we are discussing), but there is a big difference between the two of them:

(1) A chart of events and turns that might happen pieced together in a logical chain.  Basically, mapping out your plot, but leaving some options open.  The chart is structured on scenes, or events that might happen.  For the approach we are discussing in this thread I fully agree it would be better as a list of ideas, without the chart.

(2)  A chart starting with a single event (or hook) that grows outward based on 'what if the players do this? or this? or this?' questions, leading to 'then this might happen'(s).  The chart is structured around these AND|OR|NOR gates (Find bad guy, Kill?: Yes|No| Ignore|Befriend).  Basically, it's about trying to account for all the variables of player actions before the game starts; planning ahead for the curve balls; letting the game go where it whilst, but with you as GM doing your best to predict the future (albeit with a little logical 'where it whilst-linkage' so you can cut down your calculations).  In reality you cannot account for all the variables, but you can try to trim the suprises.  If you don't freeze under improv pressure, you probably don't need such a chart.


I'm suggesting (2), and I think you are seeing (1).  I had to get that out, and I've got a lot more to say on the issue.  However, I'll pick the subject (and likely the dispute ;) ) back up at a later date in a more appropriate thread because....

Quote from: Le Joueur
That's fine; you can run a game any way you want. Until I've completed the description of 'shared control' gaming, tossing in 'use this to Transition to rollercoasterism' won't do anything but obscure the understanding of 'shared control' gaming. There's absolutely nothing wrong with Transition, I invented the term after all. You can't Transition from a form until you can do it; I think a thread about Transition would be excellent, just not here. I'm trying to keep this thread on track to explain what is apparently a really tricky gaming technique.


Whamo!

You're dead on.  I was offering up a solution to the 'what if I can't?' and 'what if they won't?' questions.  But, in doing so I went and introduced methods for Transition, or even more complicated: methods for GMing different styles simultaneously to appeal to the needs of different players.

So you're right, I'm gonna drop it.  I'm very interested in seeing where this thread goes, and I don't want to see it lose focus either.

- Jason


Title: Sidetrack is Now Closed
Post by: Le Joueur on February 02, 2003, 09:01:19 PM
Quote from: cruciel
Quote from: Le Joueur
Until I've completed the description of 'shared control' gaming, tossing in 'use this to Transition....'  ...I think a thread about Transition would be excellent, just not here. I'm trying to keep this thread on track to explain what is apparently a really tricky gaming technique.

You're dead on.  I was offering up a solution to the 'what if I can't?' and 'what if they won't?' questions.  But, in doing so I went and introduced methods for Transition, or even more complicated...So you're right, I'm gonna drop it.  I'm very interested in seeing where this thread goes, and I don't want to see it lose focus either.

'For now,' I hope; you've got some good ideas going there and I don't want to sound like I'm shutting you down in any way.  I anxiously look forward to threads about Transition from you (and maybe you might research some of what I've done with it so far).

Quote from: cruciel
I think you hit the heart of the dispute with your comments about 'organic'.  I see two valid approaches to such a chart (at least two that we are discussing), but there is a big difference between the two of them:[list=1]
  • A chart of events and turns that might happen pieced together in a logical chain...but leaving some options open.
  • A chart starting with a single event (or hook) that grows outward based on 'what if the players do this? or this? or this?' ...Trying to account for all the variables of player actions...doing your best to predict the future[/list:o]I'm suggesting (2), and I think you are seeing (1).[/i]
Actually, no, I was thinking of #2.  Predictions quickly become 'gates' to herd players to; it is still based on the vanity that you, the gamemaster, even can predict player input.  That's what I'm talking about is giving players tons more input (whether they know it or not).  If you try to predict it, heck if you actually do predict it, then the players aren't really having an input because you are interacting with your predictions rather than their actions.  Even if you simply use the chart of predictions as suggestions, you'll be likening potentially unplanned actions to predicted actions, filtering play into the responses to the predictions rather than actual responses.  (Not that it matters in this thread; I hope to take this up later.)

Fang Langford


Title: Sounds Good So Far
Post by: Le Joueur on February 02, 2003, 09:13:13 PM
Quote from: clehrich
I'm not going to say that I hope you're someday soon going to cobble all this together into an article.  I'm going to say that you will do so.  Yah yah, job wife kids, blah blah, excuses excuses.

<dialogue voice="drone" class="xombi-like">Yesss, massster....</dialogue>

Quote from: clehrich
1. Every now and then, in anything but a freeform one-shot, you're going to want something predetermined.  I realize that the basic point of shared GMing is, if I understand you right, precisely that you don't do this, but every now and then there's a reason to.

I need to stop you for a second, actually you have predetermined things all the time.  These are the McGuffins I've been talking about moving 'in front of' the direction play is taking.  Bob's point brings this home quite well:

Quote from: Bob McNamee
Regarding the Deathstar...
If it were me and I really wanted to have a Deathstar (while not being sure exactly what it was), I'd do a Cut Scene very early on...
    Leia in Vader's custody arrives to be questioned by Tarkin the commander of the DeathStar...[/list:u]or even better,
    The Vader choking scene in the meeting room concerning the missing plans, Technology and the Force...[/list:u]As GM I still don't know what a Deathstar is...or where it is...just that it's a terrible weapon.

Bingo!  Notice, even though it reveals a juicy bit coming up, it neither tells what we have to do about it or where it actually is; I mean, it's the deathstar, even if it isn't anything else, it's mobile!

This is a thing, not a consequence.  Defining a "sequence" ahead of time (and that's a major and specific sequence, to be differentiated from a 'reaction'), denies the players their input as well as a chance to obviate that sequence.

'Reactions' are a different animal completely.  The 'reaction' a thing might have can be highly predictable; Jabba hates welchers, the empire hates rebels, the police hate crime, these all lead to fairly predictable 'reactions,' but not predetermined sequences of events.  You don't know that Jabba will keep Han frozen (his predicted reaction didn't include getting a frozen welcher); you don't know that the empire will send the deathstar to Yavin (but since little else is detailed about the empire at that point and it's time for the climax, you could hardly do anything else - the unknown was that 'the rebel base' would even be created - until you had them escape without blowing up the deathstar).

Back to our regularly scheduled question:

Quote from: clehrich
One example would be when the story in an extended campaign has just turned temporarily into a mystery: who whacked this dude?  You don't have a precise answer to that, you don't have a complete story of how it happened for them to go dungeon-crawl-hunt-for-clues on, but there is something you have decided on about this.

Actually, the 'surprise murderer' has got to be the #1 hardest game to improvise.  I'm not saying you don't know who did the killing, I'm saying you don't plan how they find out.  You don't know enough about the crime scene (this is not Sherlock Holmes we're talking) to give them all the clues.  They investigate; you give them clues commensurate with the pacing of the story.  If they're getting it early, you toss out a few red herrings; if they're missing it quite late, you make up some really obvious clues.  The point is, you know 'whodunnit' the whole time, just not how this will come to light.

Quote from: clehrich
Alternatively to continue the SW example, suppose I thought of the Death Star as a way-cool idea, and had an NPC mention it pretty early on so everyone would know about it.  Now I really don't want to railroad more than I absolutely have to; the one thing I need (for whatever reason) is for them to go to the Death Star.  I don't care why, I don't care whether they blow it up, I don't have a map of it, nothing.  I just need them to go there.

See Bob's example above.  You're so close I'm pulling out my hair here; go ahead talk up the deathstar from the very beginning, both in and out of the game, it doesn't predetermine how they get there.  It's the same as 'do you want to play a daring escape' (which by the way, you didn't mention was 'from the deathstar'), if they say 'no' the deathstar is quietly tucked into your pocket until later.  See, you can mention it, you can even build it, you just don't let them know where it is, because you don't know either.

The players go here, the players go there, the players are going to get everywhere eventually.  (Liberally apply 'force' when necessary to keep them moving; direction is irrelevant.)  Until it 'feels' appropriate, you keep sliding the deathstar into the 'near future.'  Let's say they don't want a 'daring escape;' okay, the deathstar isn't there, you harass them a little and toss out clues to what the deathstar is capable of and see where they want to go.  (I know, I know, 'we don't know where to go next' is what they'll say; turn to Han's player and say, "You've got connections, where would be the best type of place to put down?")  The point is, you want the deathstar, be patient, the time to 'spring it' will come, just be ready.

Quote from: clehrich
Again, if I hear you right, you would say that such railroading is very, very dangerous, because it encourages GM-control backsliding, and encourages player passivity.  What you have here is a major point that is invented by the GM and not the players, which is in itself problematic.  So do you have any advice for sharing the game with them when there is one thing you just have to get to?

It's not railroading any more than putting a McDonalds in every town you go to forces you to eat fast food.  It'll probably happen, sooner or later, you're just ready for it.  My advice?

Be Patient.  Let them come to you.  If you have to 'hide' the plans (the bait for PC#2 or any other bait you have in play) on the deathstar; just make sure in that case that you treat their plot to 'sneak in' as completely foolproof.  Rest assured they won't need any help messing it up (let them pick the times to make 'stealth rolls' and such, 'let' them screw it up).

Or not.  So they go to the deathstar, steal the 'hidden plans' and escape unnoticed.  If you've made it scary enough, they'll respect the deathstar for what you want it to be; success!  Next let them figure out how to deal with it.  (That's the point right?)  Secret rebel base?  Sure, give me a minute.  Dogfighting to get to the Achilles Heel works great as a 'thing,' a major point, to 'hang on to for later.'

Quote from: clehrich
2. I think I get your point about sharing vs. Director Stance.  You don't need to be open with the players about what you're doing as such, you just need to share with them and flirt when they won't share back.  Is that more or less right?  And can you explain flirting a bit more?

Sounds like you've pretty much got it.  If I could explain flirting, I probably wouldn't have married the second girl I dated (okay, I was really lucky and am really happy).  I'm not sure where to start.

They've got something you want, action.  You 'hold all the cards,' or so it seems.  Tease and please, show them a little shoulder, but don't take off your shirt.  Bait and switch, watch for the social cues; don't turn into a tease (one who flirts and never delivers).  Come through on the bait the second before the chase becomes boring.  (No matter how cool the bait is, they'll either want something else in a nanosecond, or it'll be 'more trouble than it was worth' to own.)  A negligee is sexier than nudity and don't forget to turn off the lights at the right time.

I've always felt 'the seduction' was a very powerful analogy for gamemastering like this, but have been insecure about talking frankly about it (in front of the kids).

Quote from: clehrich
3. Can shared gaming go well with Director Stance?  I think your point is that it's not about stance, and that telling the players, "You will write the plot now" is intimidating and counter-productive.  But does this approach work well when the players do jump out and direct?  Is it best if it's done like the Confessional in InSpectres, where Director Stance is done in-character, or does that matter?

Oh, absolutely.  Heck, you could 'share gaming' for a bunch of games and then 'come out of the closet' and describe, in detail, how they've 'been doing it' all along and then show them Director Stance (or just Author Stance).  In Scattershot, we have differing amounts of Sharing, Self-Sovereign, Referential, and Gamemasterful; each isn't a 'level to hold to,' but a maximum allowed.  I haven't seen any problem using differing amounts of explicit sharing with 'shared gaming.'  In fact, I can only imagine that Director Stance might only make it easier; one caution though, don't go with a 'mixed group' (some players comfortable with Director Stance and some not), it'll lead to hard feelings.

Quote from: clehrich
4. Does shared gaming help with immersion?  Not that immersion (I mean players being "in character all the time") is necessarily the goal, but does this promote that style of play?

Well, if you mean, 'does it work for people who don't care to do any deliberate meta-game stuff,' then yes, definitely.  Those are the guys I perfected it on.  The better I got at flirting, the more they liked it (and the less prep I needed).  Like flirting, you've got to get good at reading their cues, both in and out of gaming.  Listen to what they liked (without prompting them to tell you, players can be so abashed).  Repeat that kind of stuff.  Talk up examples of what they like.  (Heck, that's why I used Star Wars in the first place.  It's a common, 'wouldja like it like Star Wars' question.)  If you get good enough at flirting and are sensitive to what they would say was their favorite parts of their characters (you can focus on these things safely), they won't even know that you're letting them 'do all the driving.'

And about the "<squats in lotus position before the feet of the master>."

Cut it out, yer making me blush.  Really, this is how I've been gamemastering and prescribing gamemastering for almost a decade.  I'm surprised that this time everyone loves it.

Quote from: clehrich
While I hope you'll remark on those questions above, it looks to me like I should read more or less everything on the Scattershot forum, then ask questions.  So I have a question: where do I start?  It looks to me like the Gaming Model thing should perhaps be first, but what then?  Since Scattershot is an emerging game, not a done deal that can be referred back to, a road-map would really help me a lot.

Hmm.  I'm not really that far.  I suppose you'd best brief yourself on Just the Mechanix (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=1339), nothing too in depth, just catch the proprietorship and reward stuff.  Next head down to The Scattershot Gaming Model (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=1662) to get the basics.  Then start working your way through the "Emergent Techniques;" I'd like to be able to lay them out in the order that I created them, but I don't have that in front of my (our server keeps bombing, I'm writing this mostly off line).  You probably don't need to dwell on all of the Emergent Techniques at once, but the Sine Qua Non (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2009), Genre Expectations (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2043), and especially the Genre Expectations and Experience Dice (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=3572) ones are crucial.  Then go back over the Ambitious Approach (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=2142) article because that brings the Approaches into best focus.  Now go back over Just the Mechanix (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=1339) in depth, ask a few questions about how to play, then you'll be ready to pick your....

Yeah, I know I don't have any Genre Expectations done yet.  Did I mention our production schedule is 'as fast as grass grows?'  I wish creating a Genre Expectation was simple so you could just covert whatever you like, but it turns out to be one of the hardest concepts to explain how to do.

At least I'm finally getting up to speed on my 'how to gamemaster' sections.  (Thanks everyone!  This has been amazingly stimulating to the creative process.  Did I mention this happens to be my writing style?  Explain it a coupla dozen times then edit all that together?)

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 02, 2003, 09:26:20 PM
Fang,

The only thing that bothers me here is that it sounds so damn easy.  I've got these couple-inch-thick 3-ring binders for some of my games.  Sigh.

Thanks a lot.  I'm working on my Scattershot reading list now.  See you in the forum.


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: hyphz on February 03, 2003, 05:34:12 AM
Hi Fang,

So, I'm getting the ideas here, liking them, and I'm gradually coming up with a bandolier (I *love* that metaphor) for my UA game.  And I just want to clarify the sort of things that can be done here.  (If you want to know the stuff I have so far I'll post it, but I don't think it's relevant to the general discussion, especially since Star Wars is being used as the yardstick example.)  I know you can have characters and things on it, but can you EVER have scenes on the bandolier at all or does that lead to railroading?  Moreover, how deeply can you define the characters on the bandolier so that their interactions don't become completely predictable and create predefined scenes?  What is the distinction between a scene and a 'bang'?

Secondly, what kinds of 'little stuff' can you put in?  What I mean by 'little stuff' is that the players suddenly go quiet and frozen and you don't exactly want to toss in one of the big items (because a) it'll make the plot look disjointed and b) you'll run out of big items too fast), but you need to stir things up.  The obvious thought I have here is PC action consequences, because you can't run out of them (even doing nothing might have consequences for the PCs) and they create coherentness rather than disjointedness; but as you don't know the PCs actions in advance, consequences have to be generated on the fly rather than pre-prepared.  So, is there anything you can pre-prepare and slip into the bandolier for this sort of situation?


Title: Re: Sounds Good So Far
Post by: Valamir on February 03, 2003, 06:11:23 AM
Quote from: Le Joueur
Really, this is how I've been gamemastering and prescribing gamemastering for almost a decade.  I'm surprised that this time everyone loves it.


That's probably because this time you did it without the latin ;-)


Title: Re: UA ideas
Post by: GreatWolf on February 03, 2003, 08:01:42 AM
Quote from: hyphz
But it took time and I don't think I'd have been able to do it on the fly, which is my ongoing worry.


Just a thought about this.  Don't be afraid to be stumped.  My first UA campaign was great.  In fact, I'd have to say that it's in my top three best RPG campaigns ever.  I'm also fairly experienced at improvising and making it all up.  I can fake it with the best of them, and rarely will my players ever know that I was totally lost.

But.....

At one point during this UA game, my players took a hard right turn away from my concept of where the game was going.  (They did so literally as well.  They turned off the interstate and headed out into the wastes of South Dakota to find a place to live.)  This was NOT what they were "supposed" to be doing.  They were "supposed" to be going to Seattle.  But, as they rightly pointed out, given the information that they had learned, they had zero reason to go to Seattle.  I wasn't going to force them to keep going "my" way.  I had to improvise.  What was I going to do?

I'll tell you what I did.  I stared at them blankly and said, "Uh, guys.  I'm totally stumped.  Let's end the game now and I'll get back to you next week."  (Thankfully we were wrapping up the session at that point anyways.)  My players didn't mind.  In fact, they respected my desire to provide quality GMing for them without blatant railroading against their desires, and they were willing to give me the time to gather my thoughts.  So I took the next week to figure things out, and I was able to return and pick up the game without another hitch.  That hard right turn led to some great roleplaying moments (ask me about Nina sometime) and an excellent climactic ending to the campaign.

So don't be afraid to say, "Duh" and gather your thoughts.  Maybe it will only take a few minutes.  Maybe you'll need to think about it longer.  Just be honest and upfront with your players.  We all have creative lapses, and I think that your players would rather wait for you to gather yourself then be artificially railroaded down a path that they do not wish to take.

Seth Ben-Ezra
Great Wolf


Title: 'Dangling from My Bandolier'
Post by: Le Joueur on February 03, 2003, 09:29:36 AM
Quote from: clehrich
The only thing that bothers me here is that it sounds so damn easy.

Then I am doing it right.

See, all this began as a series of deconstructionist debates oh so long ago.  I eventually settled on 'shared gaming' as the central most 'style' to all styles of gaming.  (One thing you do deconstructing from examples is to find the least modified version to compare everything else to.)  If I can turn this discussion into a decent article, I will be able to use it as 'unmasked gaming' and create templates to reveal all common 'styles' known and traditional to gaming.  (The major driving force behind the 'shared gaming model' has been trying to comprehend how 'gamemasterless live-action role-playing games' compare to regular tabletop.

One thing that confirms this theory is that it is so simple.  (Simplicity is a hallmark of 'unmodified anything.')

Quote from: hyphz
So, I'm getting the ideas here, liking them, and I'm gradually coming up with a bandolier (I *love* that metaphor) for my UA game.  And I just want to clarify the sort of things that can be done here.  (If you want to know the stuff I have so far I'll post it, but I don't think it's relevant to the general discussion, especially since Star Wars is being used as the yardstick example.)  I know you can have characters and things on it, but can you EVER have scenes on the bandolier at all or does that lead to railroading?  Moreover, how deeply can you define the characters on the bandolier so that their interactions don't become completely predictable and create predefined scenes?  What is the distinction between a scene and a 'bang'?

Scenes?  Certainly, but you have to be careful.  Such a scene cannot depend on circumstances 'going a certain way;' think of them as 'orphan scenes.'  In the example, the scene where PC#2 teaches PC#1 something about using the Force; that's an 'orphan scene.'  It coulda happened back when the lightsabre first changed hands, it coulda been a drop-in at any time during on Tatooine, it coulda even been above the hanger at the deathstar before the rescue, you might even note that it has to come before the climax, just not why or when.  It just rides along on your bandolier waiting for the appropriate opportunity.  Choosing it for the 'long drive to Alderaan' is just good pacing (what else can you do other than say 'you're there?').

What you need to avoid is 'this comes right after...' types of scenes.  They make you force their occurrence, and while they work great in other loose 'gamemaster controlled' games, they aren't appropriate here.  Lessee, the 'Greedo scene' is one, so is 'teaching the Force,' the 'goodbye to Dak' scene was too (even though it got cut from the film; it is important because 1) it mighta been good by on Tatooine or goodbye at the rebel base, location didn't matter, and 2) it is just as easily dropped if 'enough' gets going, sacrifice-ability is plus), these scene happen 'in the middle, somewhere.'  Even better are scene fragments and 'establishing/reinforcing' bits; things like the 'walking carpet' comment.

Actually, when dangling off the bandolier, predictable characters are best.  You know who they are, you know what they want, you know 'how far they'll stoop;' what you don't know it where they are, why they're there, why they came up, or what they lead to.  You aren't defining they're interactions or relationships if they're on the bandolier, you only want to know what they're good for.  You might have had a pawn broker/used speeder salesman that doesn't get used, you might have a spy looking for droids they don't encounter, even a 'lazy stormtrooper,' these things are handy to cut down on the 'last minute improvisation' if you find that's a problem.  One of the strengths of the WEG Stars Wars book I saw at Gen Con some years ago was the list of archetypes; I know they were for character generation, but gosh if they didn't make fine bandolier characters.  What you avoid is 'why this character must come up' and 'how they meet this one;' these strangle the natural flow.

Occasionally, you have a major character that you want to come up.  That's when the flirting takes place.  Likewise, the more major the more they should be able to show up by proxy.  Jabba the Hutt is one example, he shows up by proxy in A New Hope (the 'Greedo scene' - you know, his name always stuck with me as an example of uncreative improvisation; he's there to remind us of Han's greed right?) because he's crucial to PC#3's motivation; his appearance is still pretty much scrapped because the game didn't go that way.  Turns out you wound up using stormtroopers all over the place to keep things moving.  (Which way?  Any way.)  Other than that, major characters can turn into McGuffins; you keep moving them in front of the players.  Darth Vader is the prime example here.  Except the cut scene where they threaten Leia (remember it still doesn't establish that the deathstar is necessarily at Alderaan, it coulda already been on its way to Dantooine [sp] if the players opted not to have a 'daring rescue'), nothing says he's on the deathstar until you decide to kill off PC#2 (Bob's gonna be gone anyway and he wants a new character; might as well make this count).  Likewise, I'd say he only appears in the dogfight, because it was turning out that it was going to be the ultimate climax (you want all the 'players' present for that); he coulda just as easily been off pursuing other 'empire business' (save that guy for later).

To be honest, I haven't been able to purchase Mr. Edwards' fine works so I can't really make the call on 'Bangs.'  I leave it to anyone who knows to compare with the above, if they so desire.  I'm inclined to believe (and I'm just guessing here) the items on your bandolier are primarily the ingredients you use to make or solve a Bang.  (Pick a place, a character, and some bait; mix well.)  I thought Bang-theory was mostly about scene framing or how to handle the drives of the characters; I'm not sure that applies or restricts sharing principles.  I think you can have both.

Quote from: hyphz
Secondly, what kinds of 'little stuff' can you put in?  What I mean by 'little stuff' is that the players suddenly go quiet and frozen and you don't exactly want to toss in one of the big items [because, 1) it'll make the plot look disjointed, and 2) you'll run out of big items too fast], but you need to stir things up.  The obvious thought I have here is PC action consequences, because you can't run out of them (even doing nothing might have consequences for the PCs) and they create coherentness rather than disjointedness; but as you don't know the PCs actions in advance, consequences have to be generated on the fly rather than pre-prepared.  So, is there anything you can pre-prepare and slip into the bandolier for this sort of situation?

Well, like I said, you can't preplan or expect consequences.  Those are, in essence, the entire flow of play.  The players act; you serve up the consequences.  This is one of the places where Mystique theory gets a work out.  The Mystique, 'what the plans for,' drives the game by attracting all sorts of consequences to the players, but you don't tell them why, just how.  Say I was planning some 'sneaking about on Alderaan;' I'd be keeping an ear open to whom they revealed they 'had the plans' to so I could serve up the consequences of 'word getting out' especially how valuable they'd be to groups other than the empire.  Since Alderaan is history, I forget about that.  The point is I keep my eye on things pertinent to the Mystique (why everyone wants these plans).  Other consequences the players themselves are perfectly right to be able to predict; 'We shoot our way out of Mos Eisley,' 'Don't plan on going back there, kid.'

Other than that, I'd say there are two groups of "little stuff" that can be used.  The first I don't know if you'd actually put on your bandolier (unless you were feeling exceptionally uncreative); these are genre and setting specific "little stuff."  Since the Empire is a totalitarian police state, you can pretty much expect the 'stormtrooper shakedown' everywhere you go.  This isn't relevant to the ongoing game, but makes for excellent tension suppliers.  (Remember the 'these aren't the droids you're looking for' scene?  Pure tension intensifier, "little stuff" that doesn't even need to be planned, but shouldn't be forgotten.)  When I write a Genre Expectation, I'm always trying to abstract these for Background elements; they are great for reinforcing 'the feel' of the game.

I basically call these kinds of "little stuff" the product of a Dynamic Background.  (Did I mention that yet?)  Most games come with a published Dynamic Background, it means there's 'a lot of stuff going on' some of it dangerous (sometime to life and limb, sometimes not).  Whatever the game offers by way of avenues for personal advancement (inside the game, not levels and such) makes the game dynamic; if 'you can make a killing' at something, it's dynamic.  If these are 'times of trouble,' it's dynamic.  The "little stuff" that reminds you of this 'dynamic quality' is exactly what I'm talking about here.

The other kind of "little stuff" is things that give 'shine' to the player characters.  I usually lift them off the character sheets long before play (I like to load up my bandolier too).  PC#3 is greedy, PC#2 is the soul of honor, PC#1 is a great pilot, these are some of the core elements of what make these characters who they are.  For Scattershot, I quantified this 'centrality' in the Sine Qua Non Persona Development Technique.  Using a Sine Qua Non, I can harvest this stuff real quick for later.  Then, whenever thing get 'stuck' (like you offered), if I can't serve up trouble, then I toss in one of these.  Pace them out well and the characters each have 'their time to shine' semi-equally.  Specific applications are perfectly welcome on the bandolier so long as the don't start with a 'after such-and-so, this happens' or a 'immediately before those events happen, this does.'  These have to be 'orphans' too.

Jeez, this is really going on at length.  I'm getting a bit lost myself; could someone make a list of the kinds of things you can put on a 'bandolier?'  I haven't got such a list in my notes, but it's obvious I'll need one.  Maybe it'll shake some of the other parts loose so we can cover some more bases.

I want to thank all of you for this invaluable opportunity to 'shake the cobwebs out' in terms of what I've planned for Scattershot's 'how to gamemaster' section.  You've made an immeasurable contribution to me putting it in 'regular terms' instead of gamer-speak.  Thanks!

Fang Langford


Title: Duh, is Right
Post by: Le Joueur on February 03, 2003, 09:35:03 AM
Quote from: GreatWolf
So don't be afraid to say, "Duh" and gather your thoughts.  Maybe it will only take a few minutes.  Maybe you'll need to think about it longer.  Just be honest and upfront with your players.  We all have creative lapses, and I think that your players would rather wait for you to gather yourself then be artificially railroaded down a path that they do not wish to take.

I just want to take a moment to reinforce Seth's words.  Part of the heart of 'shared gamemastering' is being honest.  When you're dealing so closely with trust issues going both ways, there's no reason to try and support the traditional 'the gamemaster knows all' mystique.  It just isn't productive.  If they catch you flat-footed, tell them so - make it a compliment if you can - and then figure out what it'll take to get things going again.  A second, a break, time between sessions; you're only human, take what you need.  I guarantee they'll only respect you more for it.

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 03, 2003, 10:10:51 AM
Just a totally different concrete example here, which I hope you'll all "deconstruct."  (Not quite sure what you mean by that here, but that's a subject for private messages.)

Years ago, I was in a game run by Ken Hite (I mention the name because a lot of you know of him).  It was a Pulp-type campaign, entitled "The Insidious Doctor Fang and His Zeppelin of Doom."  There were about a zillion players (ten or eleven, I think), every one a fairly classic pulp type.

Now Ken is not exactly Mr. Share.  He railroads heavily, but we all pretty much accept this, because the stuff that happens along the way is lots of fun, and because we know that if we can gob-smack him really effectively, there will be intense social fun happening.

So one fine day the PCs find themselves trapped in a sub-hold of the sunken Titanic.  This turns out to be a Dr. Fang deathtrap, like so many others.  The hatches seal behind us, there are no working knobs on the inside, and water begins very slowly rising in the hold.  Dr. Fang's voice comes through a hidden speaker, essentially saying, "Ha ha ha, now you all die, and my plans for world domination will succeed!"  Oh, what will the intrepid PCs do?  Cliffhanger, end of session.

Next session, we come up with some way out.  First important point here: Ken had no idea how we would get out.  He expected us to use our "cool PC special pulp schticks" to get out.  So the old assistant to Nicolai Tesla comes up with a way to use his belt buckle and a dangling light to create an arc-welder and cut through the hatch.  Sounds cool, so it works.

So now we get into the escape sub, overpowering Fang's mooks, and are ready to go anywhere we like.  Ken has made VERY CLEAR that we're supposed to go to Murmansk.  But we've been discussing this amongst ourselves, and we think Murmansk sounds like a giant death-trap.  So we tell Ken, "We're not going to Murmansk."  "What do you MEAN you're not going to Murmansk?" says Ken, peeved.  "Nope, we're going to Casablanca.  There we can hook up with the international arms dealers, and get at Fang that way.  Besides, Ken, you can do your Sidney Greenstreet impression."  Ken wambles for a bit, then says, "Okay."

So point two: Ken lets us do whatever the hell we want, even though it means discarding the vast majority of what he's got planned for Murmansk.  At the same time, we've just established a short-term social contract: if he lets us go to Casablanca, we can't just wander around the streets looking for something to happen.  We have to hook into the plot immediately, working to do so, and we've even told him we're going to go to the Blue Parrot (where the Fat Man will be waiting).  So Ken doesn't have to improvise everything; he's got a scene, a setting, and a cool NPC waiting for him, created by us.

Setting aside Ken's usual railroading practices, does this fit into the Sharing concept?


Title: Now that You've Fallen into My Trap!
Post by: Le Joueur on February 03, 2003, 10:55:12 AM
Quote from: clehrich
"The Insidious Doctor Fang and His Zeppelin of Doom."

...Setting aside Ken's usual railroading practices, does this fit into the Sharing concept?

Take from the point of 'already in the deathtrap,' I'd pretty much have to say yes.  

"Sounds cool, so it works," is what it's all about.  Although this implies a heavy, 'if the gamemaster doesn't like it' that isn't as much sharing as I'd like - heaven knows this is so entrenched in tradition, it's a hard one to shake.  However, if the gamemaster secretly watches everyone else's reaction and takes the majority choice (without telling anyone) it carries perfectly well.  This has always been one of the biggest sticking points when gaming with strangers; what one person thinks is cool can quickly be something that really wrecks 'suspension of disbelief' for another.  ("Hey, there's just no way....")

One of the major components of Scattershot has been 'outing' this social reaction into Technique (or rules as most people call them).  I go into great detail about who is the Proprietor of what and the whole resolution system is supposed to be built mostly on the idea that the recipient of an action determines the results (as limited by the capability of the actor), even when they are one and the same.  Everyone is supposed to 'feel comfortable' with the likelihood of this kind of pulp action in the game (Genre Expectations should display this), so a player won't feel insecure about if it will work (is it cool enough for the group) and the recipient cannot disallow the action on a successful roll (although technically, a 'failed' roll means the actor is the recipient).

Also, if we're setting aside "Ken's usual...practices," that'd better include having planned Mumansk and 'discarding it.'  With 'non-control gamemastering' there shouldn't be anything to 'discard.'  You might skip things on your 'bandolier,' but you won't be 'discarding them' precisely.  (This is mostly a semantic observation, you get the idea obviously.)

Another part that needs to be 'set aside' is the wambling.  If he's sharing, there is no moment of 'do I allow this?'  It has to be strictly 'what do I do with this?'  The gamemaster is no longer the 'gatekeeper' of what does or does not happen in 'shared gaming;' he has to 'roll with it' just as much as the players do.

A lot of 'shared gaming' implies that same "short-term social contract" over the whole length of the game.  The bulk of 'unlearning old habits' come from recognizing this style around the whole group.  The first thing is usually easy and comes as a result of using bait enough times; the players hook into their own plots as a result of pursuing the bait.  Bait is a tricky idea to use because it literally has to predispose nothing.  'You've got the plans everyone wants,' 'there's a lot of money in it for you,' and so on, these cause activity, but don't tell you what to do with anything (where to take the plans or how to spend the money).  Give someone the artifact of the realm and see what they do with it; 'give them enough rope.'  The 'trouble' they find isn't organized into a plot, it's just plain harassment; their reaction is the plot.

Outside of these concerns, yeah, this sounds like a resounding example of 'shared gaming.'  It even demonstrates how 'shared gaming' is what people tend to 'fall back on' when things don't go the way they plan.  (Further confirmation that I may be onto something as 'root gaming.')

Fang Langford

p. s. I'm dubious about the synchronicity of the heavy's name....


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 03, 2003, 11:25:40 AM
Got it.  The reservations and qualifications are precisely the ones I intended, so we're clearly on the same page.

Just one thing:
Quote
I'm dubious about the synchronicity of the heavy's name....

Eh?  Lost me there.


Title: Check It Out
Post by: Le Joueur on February 03, 2003, 12:23:53 PM
Quote from: clehrich
Just one thing:
Quote
I'm dubious about the synchronicity of the heavy's name....

Eh?  Lost me there.


I'm not a doctor, but I am insidious...

Fang Langford


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Valamir on February 03, 2003, 12:32:31 PM
Yeah, but now that we know you have a Zeppelin at your disposal you have no excuse not to come game with us :-)


Title: Re: UA Trigger Events
Post by: Ian Charvill on February 03, 2003, 03:15:50 PM
Quote from: hyphz
(I couldn't get Trigger Events out of them for love nor money.. well, one of them, the Punisher player, said that 'His wife and children had been killed by criminals' which is at least a motivation to act, if nothing to do with the occult.  Nobody else could think of one that was sensible.  ("Once I was kicking a guy's teeth in and after about five minutes I realized that he was really hard and there was an unknown army around.")

(One beef I have here with the gamebook, is that I showed them the examples.  Problem is, they are written by professional writers who know the setting.  All they did was intimidate the players.)


It'd probably help to lower the bar a great deal, rather than showing them the examples in the book.  Start by paraphrasing the ones in the book - a paragraph or so each, then add a few others keeping them simple.  I don't know...

"Once I was kicking this guy's teeth in - he just took it.  When I was done, he just thanked me, got up and walked off.  The thing is - I saw him in the street the next day, not a scratch on him, not a bruise.  He just nodded to me like nothing happened."

or

"First semester at college, I turned on the TV to watch the Simpsons and all I got was fuzz.  Then all of a sudden, really clearly, I saw my father's face and he just said "Goodbye".  Then the show just came on as normal.  Ten minutes later my mum phoned to say there'd been an accident."

Just simple weird stuff.


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 04, 2003, 07:16:00 AM
Hmmm.

I have some grave reservations here.

Fang, you seem to be positing your solutions as a cure-all. Now, I agree with you that players can often be cajoled with the right techniques into accepting this sort of play. And where that's true, it's good to do so. And I think that you may feel, and possibly correctly, that the descriptions that have been given to you of intractable players are overstated.

But there is also the possiblity that these players really are looking for something that your methodology won't give them. In a way that's similar to how players can often tell when illusionism is being used, they can also tell when it's not. And some players demand illusionism (or, rarely, even open  GM control). Its the only style of play that they want to see from the GM. As such, trying to force such players to accept this style of play is simply going to backfire.

So, not to be a wet blanket on all this enthusiasm for what I consider to be powerful methodology for play, but I'd just like to state for the record that it's just possible that these methods may not be suitable for the GMs who you are counseling. Also, despite the power of these methods and ease of use, I hope everyone realizes that they are not as foolproof as Fang makes them sound. These techniques will not make your lawn greener, and give you a better sex life.

Now, if you think, Fang, that you've actually found the "One True Way" to play RPGs, that you are our messiah, please come out and say so. Then we can debate it in the open. But until then, let's all remember that these methods are just one very good set of rules to play by, and they may not be applicable to all situations.

Further, Fang, it seems to me that the reason that you've never been able to explain this so well before is that you only seemed to come up with it a couple of months ago. Perhaps you were playing this way for the previous decade, but on those threads that dealt with the whole "universe in flux" idea, at the very least you were discovering the terminology to describe the method of play you describe. So it's no suprise that you needed a little practice before being able to get the idea across effectively. And I agree, the cessation of the use of other languages helps, too.

Hey, Ralph, you know, if Mohammed will not come to the mountain...

Mike


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Valamir on February 04, 2003, 07:29:42 AM
Well I don't know about a cure all, but they are definitely a pretty powerful way of introducing a greater shared gaming experience without scaring the begeezus out of em talking about metagame and director stance.  

I see them as an effective trust builder to gradually break players out of a paradigm that may be inhibiting their ability to enjoy the game.  I say may because there are likely some for whom their current style of play IS the way they enjoy; but I tend to think that for many more it is simply the way they've learned to be.


Title: Time for a Reality Check - Thanks Mike
Post by: Le Joueur on February 04, 2003, 09:22:55 AM
Hey Mike,

Thanks a lot for encapsulating the disclaimer; I've been feeling a little leery about the 'love in' quality this has all been taking.  (I'm going to use brief quotes to separate this response into sections; I believe your post stands by itself and responding point-by-point would be, well...pointless.)

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Fang, you seem to be positing your solutions as a cure-all.

Nope.  Over in About time for another Woe... (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=49740#49740), I posted a solution (not the solution) to the problem then at hand using Star Wars: A New Hope as the 'common example.'  It really struck a chord so Ron broke out the subthread so I could better explain what this 'shared gaming' was.  (I think it needs a better name because it really doesn't include everything that could be counted on as 'shared gaming.')  If anything, it was Ralph who felt this was the 'end all solution' for the problem presented in that other thread, not me.

Here in this thread, I've been trying to keep up with a fast stream of, 'but how do you do this' requests.  That means I'm strictly dealing with only one style of gamemastering, certainly not all of them, nor a way to cure all situations.  I'm detailing a singular example of how the problem in the other thread could be dealt with.

These "descriptions...of intractable players" were specifically given as examples to be resolved under the singular style offered.  The caveat you've provided is an important one; this will not work for every player.  I'd hope that no one was coming away with the 'end all, be all' idea or that just anyone can be forced to do this.

Quote from: Mike Holmes
...What I consider to be powerful methodology for play

I appreciate the compliment.  I hope you can help me clarify (as I had tried earlier) that this is a fairly narrow style that hasn't been detailed well to date.  That is why I suggested that adding in flowcharts didn't fit the narrow style presented.  Not that these other styles were in any way limited, just different.  In order to create a clear understanding of this one, I need to keep the thread's focus narrow; it is likewise as important to note that this is 'just one way.'  Knowing about 'other ways' has potential for individuals to make the best choice of what will work for them, right?

And I'm not 'counseling gamemasters' per se; I've only been answering a stream of 'what if I...' questions.  That's why I'm glad you brought this up.  You've clearly pointed out that this single style isn't everything or for everybody.  I appreciate the grounding as I was failing to make for that point myself.

I hope I haven't give the impression that this style is easy, just that it can be simple.  They certainly don't solve every situation, but I'd hope they provide a powerful, though non-traditional, way that gamemasters may improve their creativity (by 'getting help via sharing').

I certainly don't want anyone to think that this is "The One True Way" to game.  What I was looking for when I found it was the most fundamental ways of gaming.  To be honest, I believe when I finally do reduce all gaming to it's 'most fundamental form,' what will be left in common won't be functional.  I think there are some critical fundamental differences in how each of us plays.  However, this version of 'shared gaming' is farther down this road than I've seen before.  (In other words, I see a lot of other, more recognized, styles 'built on top of it.')

Once I reach some perspective on what 'the most fundamental form' is, I hope to see perhaps a cluster of closely related 'fundamental forms' and see how they essentially differ.  After that, I think I can identify some of the things people add to get the styles of gaming they use.  That'll go miles towards my goal of making Scattershot the very first Transitional game.  I'm pretty sure however, from what I've been able to gather so far, that a truly fully-Transitional game is actually impossible, I just haven't been able to prove it.  This is because of those 'fundamental differences' I was talking about.  And I'm hoping that the 'Approach Method' is the best way I can find that out (because the GNS doesn't seem to be working for me there).

Quote from: Mike Holmes
...On those threads that dealt with the whole "universe in flux" idea...you were discovering the terminology to describe [this] method of play...

Bingo.  I knew somebody would have the answer.  That was exactly the sort of thing I needed to hear; I wasn't seeing the 'path' I took well enough.  (Now, I just need to go back and see what I learned there.)  Thanks Mike!

Fang Langford

p. s. I expected to hear from you sooner Mike; is everything okay over there?


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 04, 2003, 09:34:53 AM
Perhaps this will contribute to this discussion.

Ten Ways to Ask a Player Where The Story Should Go Without Asking the Player Where The Story Should Go

1.

GM: It's a small public shrine of [player's god here]. Modest, but tastefully appointed.
PLAYER: I perform the devotions and offer a sacrifice of [whatever].
GM: Fine. What do you pray for?

2.

PLAYER: I hack my way into (some computer system somewhere).
GM: Make your roll (etc.)... You've gained access to the main database. There are millions of files here.
PLAYER: Like what?
GM: You don't know. It would take you years just to read the file names, and they're not very informative.
PLAYER: I look at a file at random.
GM: It's a video message from Centurion Cenarius from the Epithet Front in 7G223, reporting a shortage of jute in the Armitage Back Worlds.
(Continue in this vein until...)
PLAYER: Can I just do a search?
GM: Of course. What keywords do you search for?

3.

GM: The sorting hat says, "Hmmm, an extremely unusual case. A restless inquisitive nature, the capacity for true friendship, a streak of heroism, and a dash of ruthlessness. You have qualities of all the four Houses. What house do YOU think you belong in?"

4.

GM: It's a [something] with the power to cast a Fateful Wish spell.
PLAYER: Did you say a Wish spell?
GM: It's no mere Wish spell. Its a more subtle and ancient magic, and in a way much more powerful. The effect is to make your wish come true over the course of [choose: hours, days, weeks, months, years] by manipulating the workings of fate itself.
PLAYER: And I can wish for anything at all?
GM: Yes, but the strands of fate can only be rewoven so far and so quickly. If your wish is too ambitious to happen in [time period] it might not come true. So, what do you wish for?

5.

GM: The medium gazes into her crystal ball with intense concentration, and says, "I'm seeing something, it's very vague, but it's looming there in your future. There are strong feelings there, a strong desire, do you sense it?… an R... perhaps an R... Ri or maybe Re..."
PLAYER: Revenge?
GM: "Yes, that's it, I see something with blood, a lot of pain, makes it hard to see clearly. There's a beautiful woman... beautiful, but older... was beautiful when she was young... no, wait, now there's a man with her, a man with shaded eyes..."
PLAYER: The man who killed my father?
GM: "Yes! And he's waiting, where is that place... he's near water, in place with many tall... figures, shapes of some kind..."
PLAYER: Like a city?
GM: "A city, is that what it is? Yes, it's clearing now... a city, a place you've never been to. It has many bridges, and secrets, and walls of stone."
PLAYER: Venice?
GM: "That's it, I see it. The man who killed your father will be in Venice, and Revenge will be in the air."

6.

GM: You decipher the ancient prophecy. It reads:

Seek the secret section.
Seek the certain friend.
Seek the dark connection.
Seek the bitter end.

Follow the roiling waters.
Follow the sacred runes.
Follow the mountain's daughters.
Follow the waning moons.

You'll find your heart's desire.
You'll find the world in pain.
You'll find the secret fire.
You'll find those who remain.

7.

GM: You make a final perimeter check and then hit the sack.
PLAYER: Does anything happen before morning?
GM: For some reason you have a restless night. You finally drop off about 2AM, and you have intense dreams. But the only one you remember is the last one before you wake up.
PLAYER: Which is...?
GM: You tell me. What dream did your character have?

8.

GM: You may ask the ORACLE up to ten questions. Answers must be yes or no. Past, present, or future: the ORACLE is never wrong.
PLAYER: Will you answer 'no' to this question?
GM: The ORACLE says, "Very funny. You have nine questions left."
[For all answerable questions whose answer is not already known to the players, the GM chooses the answer at random. Not merely at whim; an actual randomizing device should be used.]

9.

PLAYER: I look in the mirror.
GM: As soon as your gaze meets your reflections, you realize that this mirror was crafted to reflect the gazer’s greatest fear. What do you see?

10.

All right, I have to include one old-school tried-and-true stand-by.

GM (points to map of world, partly filled in, partly blank): Where do you go next?

Some Comments and Warnings

Number 3 is more or less equivalent to the choice of a clan or an alignment during char gen. But this way you can do it in play instead. It should be easy to modify appropriately for whatever set of personality-groups your game system or world contains.

Number 5 is getting right at the heart of the matter; in a way, all the other examples here are easier (but less powerful) variations of this one. Note that the GM is saying nothing of substance; all the meaningful information is coming from the player (though the player might think it all came from the GM and might even, ironically, think he's being railroaded into going to Venice to avenge his father). It's called cold reading. It takes some practice and won't work if e.g. the player just sits there and says nothing. (It's more likely to work with the whole group present, but some individual members might end up not having any input.)

Number 6 is the basic all-purpose Rorschach Prophecy, suitable for any epic quest fantasy and guaranteed non-railroady. Of course, it has to be clear that it applies specifically to the player-characters (perhaps the tablet it's written on also has a likeness of them). It takes about five minutes tops to write one of these. But the application can be a bit tricky; you're depending on the players speculating about what it could mean, either in or out of character. Also, I wouldn't recommend using it more than once for a game group.

Number 7 is probably too challenging for many players without some advance preparation. But advance warning and preparation are OK. Players might wonder why you're asking, but their characters' dreams isn't something most would normally expect the GM to tell them. So it's not at all like asking them where they want the story to go. Except it is.

Number 8 works the best early in a plot arc where there's a lot still unknown and it can help establish a general direction. Used later, players will tend to use it to try to solve problems or mysteries already in play. However, this is a good self-test for a GM: if your situation can't stand ten random yes-know answers thrown into it, then you're over-planning. (You can always decide an answer non-randomly if you absolutely must.)

Also, it might appear in number 8 that the direction is being decided by the randomizer rather than the players. But that’s not really the case. The players are choosing the questions, which have orders of magnitude more information in them than the yes-no answers. For instance, characters who have been searching over many adventures for the all-important Tchsk’ll’ra might ask, "Will we ever find the Tchsk’ll’ra?" If the answer is yes, that just confirms what players probably already expect. But oh my god, what if the answer is No? Does the whole story arc come crashing down in flames? Well, think about it. Why did the player ask the question? Could it be that the search for the Tchsk’ll’ra has gone on long enough and they’re ready for the story to take some new direction?

Number 9 focuses on the issue of adverse developments. One drawback to some of these examples is that players might concentrate on their positive goals and might not bring up setbacks that they would actually want (or at least expect) to encounter. By eliciting fears (or doubts, regrets, or sorrows) you gain information about that side of it. Examples 5, 6, 7, and 8 all allow for this as well to some extent, but largely leave it up to the player. Example 7 can be focused on the negative and made nearly equivalent to 9 by changing the description from "dream" to "nightmare."

Remember, the main purpose of this is to get you, the GM, some useful information. Use it wisely. If the "greatest fear" the player describes immediately jumps out of the mirror and attacks them, they’ll never be honest with you again.

Number 10 can be as powerful as the other nine, if it's set up right. Places on the map have to already be associated with not only different plot options but different types of plot options. The world can't be too detailed and it can't be too big. You need one intrigue-riddled trading city, not twelve of them. One frontier, one wartime capital, one haunted ruin, one mad powerful dude's stronghold. Think closer to Never-Never Land than to Middle Earth or Garweeze Wurld.

Back to Star Wars

These examples are best for wide-open situations when deciding where the story should go next on a larger scale. For more constrained situations on a generally smaller scale, it's sufficient to make sure there's an opportunity to pursue any of a wide but finite set of goals – a multiple-choice version of Fang’s bait concept. For example, the protagonists' approach to just about any hostile Star Wars encounter is one of four options: fight, sneak, bluff, or run. If you're prepared to continue the story in an interesting direction whichever approach is chosen, and whether it succeeds or fails, then you don't need to railroad. Unexpected actions like hacking enemy ships can be allowed to result in successful fight, bluff, sneak, or run actions by themselves, or they can be resolved so as to lead back to (all of, not just one of) the options.

For instance, the hacker might discover maintenance logs indicating certain weapon systems are down for repair (making fighting a more attractive option), and recent receipt of orders to be prepared for surprise inspections (offering a possible avenue of bluff), and navigation charts showing a nearby dark-matter swarm (a place to run and try to lose pursuit), and the presence of top secret data of highest priority in the system that can only be accessed from a terminal aboard one of the ships (making trying to sneak aboard or allowing themselves to be captured more attractive options).

Of course, if players come up with these options in some other way, thinking on their own to impersonate an Imperial surprise-inspection team or scanning for nearby astronomical anomalies that might aid an escape, that should work just as well. But if they aren’t coming up with such ideas on their own, a skill like hacking is perfect for helping them out. As long as it’s giving them a wide range of ideas to choose from and work out how to put into effect, rather than just one take-it-or-leave-it viable option.

- Walt


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 04, 2003, 10:36:49 AM
Wow, Walt, once again you come through big. That's cool stuff. I think you just added one more element to Fang's list of things that are prepared for this stye of play, the Hidden Question. Alternate with macguffins, and play should write itself.

Call this sort of questioning the John Edwards approach. See the South Park episode about it?
:-)

Mike


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: contracycle on February 05, 2003, 02:05:10 AM
I'm less optimistic; a number of these constitute RPG cliche, to an extent, just like the potential SO slated to die at the end of the episode in TV series.


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Mike Holmes on February 05, 2003, 09:54:56 AM
I'm a true believer in the cliche. Often it serves one well in that in a medium where one can easily get lost without referents, cliches serve to ground play.

Further they are only examples of a technique that have been presented deviod of context. Of course before using these, one should tailor them to the game, and make them more original if they like.

Mike


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: Walt Freitag on February 05, 2003, 04:19:24 PM
Um, yeah. I fabricated the situations to show the questions being used in easy-to-understand familiar contexts. The questions themselves (and more important, the general technique underlying the questions) -- the text in italics, in those examples that have it -- are more generally applicable.

I've also described them in their baldest form, for GMs who (as per the topic of the thread) might not be familiar with the general idea of creating continuity contingent on what the players want to happen, part of which is finding out what the players want to happen without engaging in overtly metagame conversation about it (which, as several posts have mentioned, can frighten or confuse players not expecting it by prior social contract). With a bit more experience and the right mix of players, everything a player says can give clues about where the player wants the story to go next, and such explicit questioning is not needed. But these examples should work even in less fortunate circumstances.

Yes, Mike, I did see the South Park episode. :-)

- Walt


Title: Railroading, Star Wars, and more [split from Woes]
Post by: clehrich on February 06, 2003, 10:33:27 PM
I'd just like to support the idea of "cold reading" here.  Admittedly, I like to run occult games, where it's directly relevant, but the practice of cold reading is something I keep thinking I ought to study up and work on.  For those of you who don't know, cold reading doesn't just apply to divination (card-reading, crystal balls, etc.), but to "mentalist" magic in general.  

I saw this guy on TV once, being interviewed and demonstrating his stuff, who was really quite terrifying.  [He had a widow's peak and cultivated a vaguely Satanic air, worked small crowds --- anyone know who I mean?] He was explaining the way the system worked, just totally openly --- not claiming "I have mental powers."  And he would read the show's host.  The thing is, he was watching everything --- every move, every flick of the eyes, and also listening to everything the person said.  And as a result, he could more or less "read" the person cold.  By the end of the interview, he was rambling on about what the guy had for breakfast yesterday and his relationships with his mother.

Not that I think we all need to try to do this, to this degree, but suppose you were OK at it, as a GM.  The players don't really know what they want --- but they do, deep down.  The social contract prevents them, they think, from expressing what they want.  So you read it off them --- words, moves, actions, everything --- and you give them what they want.  If you were very, very good at it, you'd get a rep for always having the best games ever, because the players wouldn't have to tell you what they want: even as their expectations shifted, you'd know what they really wanted.  Most importantly, you'd always know when to give them the "bait" they've been chasing, because you'd always know when they were willing to chase more or were just about to get bored with it.

Just a rant, really, but an idea for "giving them what they want" derived from Walt's wonderful post.  Dag!