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Author Topic: Mystery-- Essay  (Read 5337 times)
Domhnall
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Posts: 97


« Reply #30 on: April 07, 2004, 02:35:28 PM »

Well, it looks like I've got a lot of reading to do.  Please keep in mind that I have never heard of a RPG that allows players to alter their world outside of choices that their Characters could make.  I'll read thru the Forge posts to learn more about this gaming style.  

I'll just add as a defense of "creativity" that there seems to be a perspective of "stiffling" the players if they cannot do the same thing that the GM does.  We don't believe that's the case at all.  The creativity of the players is just different than the GM.  The GM sets the stage for the world, and the players get to act within that world.  The joy we experience (as players) comes from our finitude--we cannot alter reality outside of the choices that the character can make.  But, the choices we can make--all the decisions which alter the cause-and-effect chain-- give true creative power to the players.  And (in our perspective) things would be ruined if players could alter things that our characters could not.

Valamir
As to the miniature/pawn thing-- I just meant that in table-top games, there is nothing/little hidden, and that's the way those games are set up to be.  I don't necessarily think that people in the "full-disclosure" paradigm de facto are not role playing their characters.

As to "trust"-- It's not like that.  I (as GM) am not keeping the absolute truth from the players because I distrust them to play wrong.  As we see it, the GM is ruining their fun if he tells them things their characters wouldn't know.  Like in John's example, I had to fool the hell out of John to make John's perspective match his characters.  This was fun for John, and it would have been far less fun if we used Full-disclosure.  

As to your thief example--  This is sounding preferential.  I still see the choice being between the 2 options:  Either the player doesn't know, or the player has to act like he doesn't know.  I trust my players completely to not use information that they shouldn't have--and it does happen that they know these things (it's impossible to keep it all from them).  But, we see it as diminishing fun to force the players to act like their ignorant.  

As to the "big yawn"-- well, remember that like reading a novel, the players do not want to know what happens in the next pages/chapters.  The players desire to Discover these things, and to exert their influence in the world as finite beings.  And, I should add that I really do work to have legitamite Cause-and-Effect in my world.  When the players do something, they start a change in the world (it's magnitude being relative to the situation).  

And, you're right, I just posted this essay from my system and didn't give any other intro.  

OK-- I hope I addressed the main points.  Looks like I've gotta educate myself as to this other style.
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--Daniel
John Kim
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« Reply #31 on: April 07, 2004, 04:41:48 PM »

Hi, Daniel.  

I think you should definitely try out a more storytelling-style game where the players have traditionally-GM-only functions at some point.  However, if you're enjoying your current play then I wouldn't be in a rush -- and ultimately I think it's a matter of taste.  The forums here are for indie game design -- which means that many (if not most) people here don't like mainstream commercial RPGs and are seeking an alternative.  

I'd say the most easily available among the popular choices around here is "The Pool", by James V. West.  You can find it and numerous variants at http://www.randomordercreations.com/thepool.html   There are also many commercial systems, like Trollbabe, Universalis, and Inspectres.  

Quote from: Domhnall
Well, it looks like I've got a lot of reading to do.  Please keep in mind that I have never heard of a RPG that allows players to alter their world outside of choices that their Characters could make.  I'll read thru the Forge posts to learn more about this gaming style.  

I'll just add as a defense of "creativity" that there seems to be a perspective of "stiffling" the players if they cannot do the same thing that the GM does.  We don't believe that's the case at all.  The creativity of the players is just different than the GM.

I completely agree with you about this.  There are a number of people who really want "directorial" (i.e. traditional GM) powers, but those aren't necessary for creativity and even control of story.  By controlling what my PC attempts, I can control what the story is about.  i.e. If my PC firmly decides to leave town, then the story becomes about that.  The GM can throw obstacles in her path, but that doesn't define the story -- the story is now still about her struggle to leave, which is very different than her pursuing some goal within town.  

Out-of-Character knowledge can be something of a two-edged sword.  In my experience, things like Cut Scenes or other OOC information are often used to set up expectations for what the PCs are supposed to do.  For example, information is handed out about some thief.  The expectation is then set up that I (the player) am supposed to arrange my PC to go after that thief.  If I instead ignore that information and pursue some other goal, I often find that I have broken an unstated agreement.  Really, my options for action are just as open with or without the information.  Take the example from Jack's post:
Quote from: Jack Aidley
 Contrast this with the same situation when I know I've been pick pocketed and know my character doesn't:

Me: I reach into my pocket, and realise my purse has gone. "What?" I say "but it was here a minute ago?" I start looking around on the floor.
GM: The shopkeeper gives you a sympathetic look "You been to the Trollsong tavern?"
Me: "Yes? But how did you know?"
GM: "There's a fair few pickpockets been operating out of there lately"
Me: "Bastards! Come on lads we going thief-hunting"  

Note that if you just change this so that the GM says "Your purse is gone" instead of the player, this becomes an example of Daniel's Mystery paradigm rather than the other.  The information doesn't really empower the player so much as point him in a given direction.  By giving information about the thief, the GM is pointing in that direction -- because it is useless unless the player actively pursues the thief.
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- John
M. J. Young
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« Reply #32 on: April 07, 2004, 10:16:16 PM »

Ralph has repeatedly made two important points; Dom has repeatedly recognized the first of these, and missed the second.

The second point could perhaps be more clearly presented: why does this kind of play matter to the specific game you're trying to create?

Let me provide a perhaps elaborate illustration.

Multiverser blurs the line between player and character knowledge right from the start: you begin by creating a character who is a game version of yourself[1]. From there, you and the character diverge, but this isn't a tremendous problem ordinarily, because probably you'll note that there are some things you didn't know when you started play, so your character wouldn't know them--and anything your character does learn, you obviously know that he knows.

This overcomes a lot of problems that your paradigm can't possibly handle, like that players know that flammable materials ignited in enclosed solid vessels explode. In Multiverser, if you suddenly realize that you're in a story from a book you once read, that's great--you are permitted to use your knowledge of the book to change the story (as someone is doing right now to Prisoner of Zenda in our forum game).

But whether I tell a player details of a world about which his character is unaware is based not on whether I think the character would know, but on whether I think informing the player will enhance play; and that being the case, the reverse is also true--if not telling him will enhance play, I won't tell him.

All this leads to this example. There is an appendix in the back of the rule book about handling insanity. A lot of games handle insanity by telling the player that his character is insane and should act like it (which few people really do effectively); some create mechanics to control whether a character can act in a rational or sane manner when brought into specific situation. Multiverser recommends treating insanity entirely by character perceptions: describe to the player what his character perceives as happening around him. If he's paranoid, talk about people watching him but turning away when he looks at them. If he's terrified of rabbits, describe them as dangerous fanged creatures. If he's got a mental block against something, never describe the object, and whenever anyone talks about it use nonsense words for any word that would give the player a clue as to what they are saying. The core object at this point is to get the player to play the character the way insane people really are: they act in a manner that would be perfectly rational were the world the way they perceive it to be. Thus, in this specific situation, the fact that the referee has absolute control over the character's perceptions and through that the player's information, enhances this kind of play.

On the other hand, in one of our worlds we recommend that if the player character does not go on a particular mission, that the referee play out the mission with the non-player characters in plain sight of the player, so that he knows exactly what happened and why--it is in one sense the pivotal event of the adventure in which he is a key figure, and for it not to be played merely because the player character isn't there would be a bit silly.

The point is, you are trying to get at a very specific thing here, for which you perceive limited player knowledge as a valuable technique to achieve it. (I'm suspicious that this is a simulationist preference, but there are aspects of what has been said that suggest front-loaded narrativism; as someone, probably Ralph, has already observed, there are also points at which you seem to be rejecting gamism, but this may be opposition to more extreme gamism, and a preference for gamist play in which the limits are strongly based on character knowledge.)

I'd get to the articles, if I were you. Ron's System Does Matter, GNS and Other Matters of Role Playing Theory, and the gamism, simulationism, and narrativism pieces are important; his discussion of fantasy heartbreakers might also be of some value, although you seem to be rejecting a lot of the fantasy heartbreaker paradigm. I might also suggest my own Applied Theory, which has helped some people get past the confusion between creative agenda and techniques.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young
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Domhnall
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Posts: 97


« Reply #33 on: April 08, 2004, 12:13:28 AM »

Hiya MJ,

Well, I thought that to properly address his second point, that I should enter my "Realistic Fantasy" essay.  It seems that this thread will end up far too wide in scope if I enter that here, or even begin to defend our playing paradigm in this thread.  So, I will start that new thread soon.  

I'm also having to read a lot of past threads, and learn the lingo used here.
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--Daniel
clehrich
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« Reply #34 on: April 08, 2004, 06:24:29 AM »

Daniel,

One way to look at the distinction involved here is to think about suspense films.  Hitchcock had a neat way of explaining the difference between surprise and suspense:

Suppose you have a scene (in a film) where some guys are sitting around a table, talking.  A bomb goes off under the table.  BANG!  This is surprise.

Suppose you have the same scene, but the camera moves to show the audience that there is a bomb under the table, counting down to explode soon.  Now we go back to the guys talking.  Will they discover it in time?  Will they leave just in time?  This is suspense.

Now the thing is that both can be effective.  You can set up suspense differently to lead to surprise.  For example, you can have a mad bomber on the loose, and show that he's been in the building.  Now a bunch of guys go and sit at the table, and the movie music is intense and dark.  We now have a new question: is there a bomb here, or elsewhere?  This is still suspense.

Let's go one step farther.  Suppose it's the start of the movie, and we don't know about the mad bomber.  The guys are sitting around the table, and the music starts getting all suspenseful.  The camera drifts around, picking up all sorts of things -- maybe clues, maybe red herrings.  We now have a new question: what's about to happen?

When the bomb actually goes off, especially in the latter case, we are surprised.  But there was suspense anyway, because we knew something was afoot.  And now we know that from now on in the film, we should be wary, because there may be a bomb.  And so forth.

So I think if you want to build suspense without OOC information, the thing you have to do is to ensure that the characters know something is afoot.  They go into the crowded bar, and the GM keeps pointing out that folks are jostling each other, that it's dimly lit, and so on, but he also points out that a lot of folks are very heavily armed, and there's this creepy guy in the corner with a hood, and so on.  We know something is going on, and we're very wary, but we don't know yet that it's a master thief.

Once we've had our pockets picked, which we discover by surprise -- but should discover very soon after it has happened so as not to lose the suspense of the moment -- we will react differently when we enter another crowded bar.  Now we're really checking for pickpockets, but the thing is that now we want to encounter one, because we want to catch him.  Now you have a focus for the adventure, in the sense that the PC's want to catch the thief and get their stuff back, and you have built it up in terms of suspense rather than simple surprise.

Surprises without context are simply surprises, the device of the very cheap horror film: the rubber monster on a spring.  BOING!  AHHH!  But if we know that there's something bad going on, we react very strongly when the girl in the nightie goes down into the basement with a single candle to check the fusebox.  Ever seen a horror film in a theater in an inner-city black community?  John Kim and I saw Pet Semetary this way.  You get, constantly, "Don't go down there, bitch!  What are you, stupid?" and so on.  That's suspense worn right out on the sleeve.

Anyway, I don't know if this helps.
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Chris Lehrich
Sean
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« Reply #35 on: April 08, 2004, 07:37:01 AM »

This is a truly great thread, from beginning to end.

I just wanted to throw in a kind of 'me too', or 'maybe me too', with respect to Domhnall's GMing style. One of the more successful games I ever ran, during college, used 'blind stats' and strict enforcement of actor stance. What I essentially did was to not give the players anything except their characters and descriptions of the world.

It went swimmingly well, but for one reason: I constantly talked to the players, out of game, about what they wanted, what they liked about their characters, and paid a lot of attention to what they enjoyed in play.

So what we had was a heavy-actor-stance game where everyone was heavily invested and I handled all the narrative-generating elements they wanted through (a) depriving them of information about the game system and (b) putting a huge amount of effort into constantly reinventing the world and storylines between every session so that what we were doing in play would respond to their stated needs out of game.

In other words, it was heavy-actor-stance, heavy-immersion, yet I would argue Narrativist roleplaying - but it required superhuman amounts of my time, and everyone pretending not to look at the man behind the curtain, facilitated by my depriving the players of all the resources they needed to look behind the curtain.

I think this is somewhat different from what Domhnall does but also (judging from his player's post) that it has certain things in common with it. It's a way to play and if you have lots of time it can be rewarding, with or without the blind stats, a way to get the joys of immersion side by side with some (not all) of the joys of narrativism.

But the question that the Forge has put to me about this style is: why go through all the trouble, and force the person GMing to essentially sacrifice a huge amount of his time - and the GM had better be a pretty damn good intuitive psychologist (I am) or it won't work no matter how much time he puts in - to give the players what they want without letting them know how much their desires as real people are really driving the situation? Why not do what a lot of the games around here do, with everyone driving the story together, instead?

Del and I have started trying this method more recently in the adventures he's run for Calithena, and man, if that extra shot of input I had to the story didn't fire my creative imagination as a player to the nth level.

Again, I think you can get pretty satisfying play which is both Narrativist and heavy-immersion/heavy-actor-stance, but the amount of GM work in and out of game to accomplish it, not to mention the clever use of illusionism, is pretty damn daunting and tiresome, especially if you, say, have a job you care about and other interests and relationships and all that.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #36 on: April 08, 2004, 08:01:18 AM »

Hello,

Another point which is being missed by most people posting to this thread is this:

Domhnall, you are not obliged to defend your preferred method of play here. No one is attacking it, and it is by no means any sort of inferior or secondary form.

When Ralph (Valamir) says he doesn't enjoy it or finds it insulting, he is not talking about you or anyone who does enjoy it. He's presenting that outlook for you to think about, that's all. I seriously suggest that everyone participating in this thread work hard to remove the (understandable) tendency to perceive such statements as "you shouldn't do it" recommendations. Ralph made no such recommendation.

What matters is this:

1. Does the essay accurately portray the sort of role-playing you hope to encourage in your game? I suspect the answer is "yes."

2. What rules-features of the game also encourage this sort of role-playing? Domhnall, I'm sure you appreciate that if the introductory essay says X and if the game rules instead encourage Y, that your game book will be diminished in its effectiveness. So answering this question is a big deal.

We can discuss #1 and #2 without any further brouhaha about other sorts of role-playing - and bluntly, people, I think it does a disservice to Domhnall in this thread to keep the brouhaha going. Let the man read the essays and mull.

Best,
Ron
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timfire
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« Reply #37 on: April 08, 2004, 08:15:35 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
Ever seen a horror film in a theater in an inner-city black community?

[laughing] That's so true! I use to live in downtown Detroit, and that's exactly what happened everytime I went ot the movies.

(Sorry for that drift...)
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Mourglin
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« Reply #38 on: April 08, 2004, 10:25:30 AM »

Quote from: clehrich
Daniel,

So I think if you want to build suspense without OOC information, the thing you have to do is to ensure that the characters know something is afoot.  They go into the crowded bar, and the GM keeps pointing out that folks are jostling each other, that it's dimly lit, and so on, but he also points out that a lot of folks are very heavily armed, and there's this creepy guy in the corner with a hood, and so on.  We know something is going on, and we're very wary, but we don't know yet that it's a master thief.


clehrich:
If such a description were given to me as a player, I would interpret that as a telegraphed move.  It would be blantantly obvious that the thief is the creepy guy, or at least that would be the general stereotype easily picked out in that setting.  This would be divulging to much.  Why assume the players noticed whats going on in the corner?  I would make a roll behind the screen and consult their perceptive skills/stats or what have you and determine then if they by chance noticed the out of the ordinary guy in the corner w/hood.  No doubt I'd describe the room but I just can't give them freebies unless they are asking "I want to scan the room since this place looks a bit seedy".

Added:

Ron makes a good point which I didn't read prior to posting this reply to clehrich.  We all have our prefered way to play and like it for various reasons.  I have contributed to detraction from the point of matching essay with game which I believe was the purpose of the thread.  

Mourlgin
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clehrich
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« Reply #39 on: April 08, 2004, 10:36:36 AM »

Mourlgin,

You miss my point slightly.  I wasn't thinking that the creepy guy in the corner was the thief at all.  What's telegraphed here is that there's something important to pay attention to.  But a really good sneak thief is the guy you don't notice, that fat guy next to you who's clearly mostly interested in the conversation he's having, and keeps waving that beer stein around and making big gestures to distract your attention to the wrong hand.  If you go and grab the creepy guy when you've been robbed, aren't you going to be annoyed when he denies everything?  And that's going to lead to arguments, and maybe fights.  And that happy fat guy is, like any sane person, going to duck out when the scene in the bar goes bad.  He just wants a nice drink with his pals, doesn't he?  Pity he has your purse in his pocket, of course....
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Chris Lehrich
Domhnall
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« Reply #40 on: April 08, 2004, 01:40:24 PM »

clehrich

Re: surprise VS suspense.  I think I see what youíre saying.  But, I would argue that the Players are not the audience, but the guys sitting around the table.  So, the more appropriate analogy here is that thereís a bomb under the table, all the guys sitting around the table know that thereís a bomb there, but are pretending they donít know itís there.  Now, thereís neither surprise nor suspense.  Thereís just seeing if certain factors let them stop pretending that they donít know, so they can get out of there.  


Sean

You are correct, this takes a lot more time than a ďquickieĒ game.  And, it also requires a lot of time talking to players (usually emails) that make sure that the players and GM are on the same page in regards to the charactersí minds.  But, all this time makes the game extremely rich for usómaking all that work worthwhile.


Ron

Another Illinoisian (that a word?)

No, I didnít feel attacked at all.  I expect argumentation when I come to a web board, and donít mind at all.  I do have a lot of catching up to do to learn the categories you guys use, though.
I need to learn more before I post my next Realism essay (which will more fully justify my paradigm) since the categories used here may conflict with my previous categories.
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--Daniel
clehrich
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« Reply #41 on: April 08, 2004, 02:02:52 PM »

Quote from: Domhnall
Re: surprise VS suspense.  I think I see what youíre saying.  But, I would argue that the Players are not the audience, but the guys sitting around the table.  So, the more appropriate analogy here is that thereís a bomb under the table, all the guys sitting around the table know that thereís a bomb there, but are pretending they donít know itís there.  Now, thereís neither surprise nor suspense.  Thereís just seeing if certain factors let them stop pretending that they donít know, so they can get out of there.
I don't agree.  In RPG's, the characters are the characters, but their players are the only audience there is.  And the desired effects happen upon players, not characters, who are after all only fictional constructs.  So if the players know there is a bomb, the question is whether they will have their characters leave the room in time.  The suspense generated in that case depends on whether the structure of the game -- in terms of everything from movement rates to dramatic consistency -- allows the characters to notice the bomb and leave or else leave quite accidentally.  The players are constrained by a web of system; given that web, can they get out?

I think the usual concern is that the players will bend everything in the constructed universe to bail out of the situation.  But if it's dramatically effective, why should they?  They just need to see that it's a better scene if they delay, and slowly come to some sort of realization, and then they'll want to come to a discovery of the bomb and then flee or disarm it.
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Chris Lehrich
Domhnall
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« Reply #42 on: April 08, 2004, 02:05:05 PM »

Well, this comes down to a fundamental difference in playing philosophy.  Sorry to keep deferring my big answer, but I don't wanna put that out there before I read more of the old posts here.
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--Daniel
Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #43 on: April 08, 2004, 02:46:38 PM »

I'm seeing a very important principle of a lot of discussions here at the Forge in the suspence/surprise discussion - particularly where Daniel writes "I would argue that the Players are not the audience, but the guys sitting around the table."

The thing is, the players are NOT the guys sitting around the table - they can't be.  The guys sitting around the table are imaginary characters.  And the players can't HELP but be the audience - they are observing play as it happens.  You can't stop them from doing so.  You can control it to some degree, with some of the techniques Daniel mentions, but that alters the details of players-as-audience, not the fact that they ARE audience (in addition to whatever else they may be in the groups' play style).

Now, acting in SOME way, and/or at SOME time, AS IF the imagined characters were real is kinda fundamental to roleplaying ("Exploration," in the model discussed in Ron's articles).  A wide variety of preferences about what ways and how much of the time we do that is to be expected.  Fun can be had in many variations of those preferences.  GNS talks about (among other things) the implications of how certain agendas impact those prefernces.

But at NO time is it true that we actually "are" the imagined characters.

I stress this not because I think it undermines or invalidates Daniel's play style in any way - I think this issue is mostly independent of play style/preference, GNS, or any of that.  Bluntly, it's not neccessary for the players to "be" the imagined characters to get the result Daniel points to - if it were, the result would not be possible, as the supposed starting state is not possible.  And the result is clearly possible, and desireable, and enjoyed by many (including me, in particular preferred variations).

I think this point is quite important to discussions here at the Forge, and is NOT about other play styles - it's about ALL play styles, INCLUDING the one Daniel's essay describes.  So - this post.  Hope it's useful - to Daniel in understanding stuff here, and to others in . . . whatever way they find it useful.

Gordon
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John Kim
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« Reply #44 on: April 08, 2004, 04:32:06 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
 And the desired effects happen upon players, not characters, who are after all only fictional constructs.  So if the players know there is a bomb, the question is whether they will have their characters leave the room in time.  The suspense generated in that case depends on whether the structure of the game -- in terms of everything from movement rates to dramatic consistency -- allows the characters to notice the bomb and leave or else leave quite accidentally.  The players are constrained by a web of system; given that web, can they get out?  

I think the usual concern is that the players will bend everything in the constructed universe to bail out of the situation.  But if it's dramatically effective, why should they?  They just need to see that it's a better scene if they delay, and slowly come to some sort of realization, and then they'll want to come to a discovery of the bomb and then flee or disarm it.

Hmm.  I think both analogies (players-as-PCs and players-as-audience) are partly true and partly false.  Given that the players are controlling the PCs, I think it is almost assured that OOC dramatic tension won't work the way that it does in film.  In film, the bomb under the table works precisely because the audience is powerless to change it.  They are drawn to yell at the screen for the characters to realize their mistake and run, but they know it does no good.  

But in an RPG, the players control the characters.  So this sort of OOC tension has a very different dynamic than in the movie audience.  Off the top of my head, it hasn't seemed terribly effective to me when I've seen it used in RPGs.  I can role-play my way through it, but it hasn't really done anything for me.  The first example that springs to mind for me is my PC mind-controlledly walking into a trap.  It felt like a motion to get over with.  Anyone else have reflections on their experience of this?  

Remember that not all suspense is OOC suspense.  There is also in-character suspense, where both the audience and the protagonist are tensely awaiting the outcome of something.
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