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Author Topic: Narrativism and Bobby G  (Read 4254 times)
Daredevil
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« on: December 25, 2001, 06:01:00 PM »

I was reading the old thread about Ron's concept of the Bobby G scenario. That thread got me thinking about narrativism in general. I'll admit I have a shaky understanding of the exact specifics of narrativist play, being (I think) a firm simulationist (in that the experience of the character being played is foremost, whether as a player or in providing that experience as a GM). However, I'm one of those annoying simulationists that will not admit to being any less story-oriented than narrativists. :smile:

In that thread, Ron says that characters and plot are not two separate things. I agree, as a plot couldn't exist without characters (except as an idea without form). Character decisions make the plot.

What I'm not buying is that a Bobby G scenario necessarily equals no plot. I'll eagerly agree that the Bobby G scenario is an all too used, boring device.

Nevertheless, the decisions in the game are still made by the characters (or players). Yes, they're mostly reactive, but even that's not a given.

I'll offer a crude, easy example and suggest we form the discussion around it. Let's say the PCs are vigilante crime fighters and the game about their crime fighting exploits. The following is a Bobby G construct, as pre-planned by the GM before play:

A new mafia don is moving to the area, wanting to take over the city. He wants all such vigilantes eliminated to make his job a bit easier. He tries to assassinate the players, which is the kicker for the game. So, the GM introdues Bobby G, a local pimp whose operation has been threatened by the mafia don. Bobby G knows about the don and his plans and provided the PCs give him incentive (maybe a promise of assistance or some other means of persuasion), he's willing to give the PCs leads to the don's operation and location.

So, now begins the game itself.

The assassins attack the PCs. Let's assume they survive, or at least a few do. After that combat scene, the players and characters are left hanging.

They can, however, do anything. They may even decide not to pursue this plotline at all, whether that decision comes from being immersed in their characters and living their decision, or because the player's think they have a better idea.

The characters and players, by doing something, either ignoring or responding to this, create plot.

Even though many of the clues lead them to Bobby G, they can through RP manage to ignore them. Or choose to ignore them. Their actions again create the specifics of the plot. Indeed, they need not be specifics, they can take it to a whole different direction.

Let's assume they do find Bobby G. The ball is once again in their hands. Being vigilantes, they might just as well kill him and eliminate their best chance at finding the don. Or, they may follow his lead and end the adventure as the GM had planned.

What I'm saying is that simulationism nor pre-planning by the GM need not be railroading. Sure, some GMs may apply pressure (bordering on railroading) to get the players to follow his line of thinking. This could mean that if the players for example decide to ignore the assassination all together, the GM has the don attempt a few more to prod them in the "right" direction.

So, I'm wondering about what constitutes railroading in the above example? What makes it not narrativism? How would the above situation become narrativism? And what makes it not simulationism, if it is narrativism?

I may be stirring up discussions which have been done before in some manner, but I'd be interested in the answers. I've skimmed the old threads and even with that background I'm unclear on these questions. So, I hope the veteran debaters among you will find the patience for this discussion.

Good holidays, people.

- Joachim Buchert
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2001, 08:15:00 PM »

Quote
Daredevil wrote:

I was reading the old thread about Ron's concept of the Bobby G scenario.

I read that thread quite avidly, but never had anything to add.  No matter what I read, I kept coming back to the same question.

Isn't the whole Bobby G thing actually a scene-framing problem?

Railroading techniques (and illusionim) are used to bring the players to a predefined point.  Correct any misunderstanding, but if you just framed right to Bobby G, wouldn't you lose the whole 'worrying about railroading' thing?

Quote
I'll offer a crude, easy example and suggest we form the discussion around it. Let's say the PCs are vigilante crime fighters and the game about their crime fighting exploits.

I would very much like to hear this discussion.  The Bobby G opening for vigilantes is one of the most common opening stories of the comic book superhero genre (perhaps even a little 'four-color').

My partner pointed out that one of the reasons why non-traditional, supposed anti-heroes like DC Comics' Lobo and Marvel's Wolverine were so popular was because they do not usually 'sit on their behinds' waiting for the next plot device (is that not what Bobby G is anyway?).  They go forth, the 'protagonize,' their stories are conflicts resulting from their own actions rather than waiting for the 'plot to come and get them' (arguably what a gaming group conditioned to expect Bobby G does).

So I guess the question is, is Bobby G both served and corrected by framing right to his appearance?  I am especially interested in comic book adaptations to this equation because of one of the things we am currently working on.

Fang Langford

p. s. I am especially fond of the play on words to bring up Marvel characters in a thread started by Daredevil.
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Marco
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« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2001, 08:41:00 PM »

What I got from the thread is this:

Bobby G. is railroading because it is *defined* as railroading.

If your scenario *doesn't* *force* the players to follow a plot line it might *seem* like Bobby G., but it's not.

-Marco
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Daredevil
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« Reply #3 on: December 25, 2001, 08:43:00 PM »

"Railroading techniques (and illusionim) are used to bring the players to a predefined point. Correct any misunderstanding, but if you just framed right to Bobby G, wouldn't you lose the whole 'worrying about railroading' thing?"

That's a very nice way to look at it.

Tho', wouldn't framing right to Bobby G be railroading in itself?

I am currently basically of the opinion that a Bobby G scenario is usually a result of bad GMing, employing railroading. I'm having difficulty thinking any experienced role-players (I'm using those two terms carefully here) out there play such railroaded games that they couldn't "walk out of a Bobby G scenario", meaning that they would be tied by the GM's pre-planning (in Bobby G fashion) to follow a set, linear road towards the conclusion.

Player decisions lead the game out of GM expectations. Isn't that what roleplaying is about (on one part) and what every GM soon comes to expect? "No plan survives contact with the enemy", as they say. :smile:
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2001, 11:25:00 PM »

Hey guys,

I'm not sure I have much to add to this discussion, except to say that framing directly to Bobby G. is not railroading, at least not as commonly discussed on this site (which is, I think, what Fang was getting at).

Scene framing is one of those important concepts that is fairly difficult to describe succinctly.  There are alot of threads around here that touch on the subject, and a few that discuss it in depth.  I'd look for those to see what it's all about.

Basically, railroading is about getting the characters from wherever they start (Point A) to some pre-destined location (Point B).  Often, Point A is left up to the players ("Okay, where are your characters at?"), or it happens to be wherever they left off last.  For the railroading GM, Point A is less important than Point B; he has something planned, and his plans hinge on them getting to Point B.  Point A is often an afterthought, and is often irrelevant except as a starting point.

Good scene framing takes almost exactly the opposite approach.  The savvy GM using clever scene framing will establish Point A as something engaging, or "grabby" as Ron and Paul like to call it.  It's a circumstance that they can't help but to act upon - the players are compelled to do something.  The important thing here is that what they do is not foreshadowed or dictated to them; the GM has created this scene, and that's quite a lot of power.  From that point on, it's hands off when it comes to the players and their characters.  Yeah, the GM might have some ideas about where things might go from there, but Point B has to be left up to the players.

And when the players have gotten to their Point B, the GM cuts from the scene and frames a new one, building upon what the players have done (who, in fact, were building upon what the GM had presented them with).  

I hope that makes sense.  It does to me.

And one final thing.  Framing to Bobby G. does not make him any less contrived or unsatisfying.  Okay, maybe it does a little.  But even so, he still seems kind of lame, and remains simply a tool for further railroading.


Take care,
Scott


[ This Message was edited by: hardcoremoose on 2001-12-26 02:41 ]
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Ryan Ary
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« Reply #5 on: December 26, 2001, 02:16:00 AM »

It seems to me the problem is that Bobby G is just an element used to establish the setting of the plotline (as defined by the actions of the GM and Players/characters). The problem is that the GM is asking the player to seek a full explaination (fully establish) of the setting. It seems to me that a better introduction to the setting would be:

1) Bobby G has learned about the hit and goes to warn the characters because of his own problem with the boss.

2) In the midst of explaining whats going on the hit occurs, bobby G is intentionally wounded (that is the GM forces damage on the NPC) and survives just long enough to finish telling te player the who of the setting and maybe the why but nothing else.

3)Have an environment available but leave it to the player to seek out the boss.

4) Through in twists that the players MUST encounter in trying to get at the boss (i.e. they can't get to the boss without experiencing/becoming aware of twist A). For example, the boss is not the BOSS. Rather, someone the players encountered to get access to the boss that seems harmless, is the true BOSS.

In this way, the players are only railroaded with respect to the fact that they can't get all the information they need from Bobby G in the begining scene (i.e. no amount of healing will save him, he doesn't know where the boss is even if they can keep him alive, etc. The rest they can do for themselves except that if they try to walk away from the story, their characters are persistantly attacked by more consistantly more effective forces. After all the boss wants them dead right?      
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: December 26, 2001, 06:20:00 AM »

Re: Framing

I think a another way of discussing 'framing to Bobby G.' is "starting the game at the bobby g scene." Sure, 'framing' can be expanded to be "not-exactly-*starting* the game there" but the concept is, I think so similar as to not be important (the players may get to do some roleplaying in a framing scene but it's still *essentially* where the game starts).


Quote

And one final thing.  Framing to Bobby G. does not make him any less contrived or unsatisfying.  Okay, maybe it does a little.  But even so, he still seems kind of lame, and remains simply a tool for further railroading.


Why don't we use Hannibal Lector in Silence of the Lambs instead of Bobby G. I mean, if Bobby G. is lame, contrived, and unsatisfying then so is Silence--or isn't that *exactly* the same plot? (Lector has to be questioned to get to Buffalo Bill, the real killer). I think if Thomas Harris ran me through Silence as a campaign I'd be thrilled. I wouldn't consider having no other solid leads (they didn't in the book), having to match wits with the psychopath to get information out of him (dismissed, perhaps as merely coloring the story), and haivng to "play through *his* game" (with pre-defined scenes like the one with the head in the jar) to be lame, contrived, or unsatisfying. I would consider the implicitly linear event sequence to be organic to the plot.

If (and I think it is) Bobby G. must be defined as frustrating or poorly run before it can be attacked, that makes it, as you all know, a Straw Man.

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: December 26, 2001, 07:07:00 AM »

Hi everyone,

I agree with Fang about the framing issue.

What makes my description of the Bobby G material "railroading" is that the GM is allegedly giving the players a decision, but that decision may only go one way. Terry (Doc Midnite) has referred to it as the Panama Canel model of GMing; you set up a bunch of stuff over in the Pacific Ocean, but start the characters scattered 'round the Atlantic, and then exert phenomenal effort to get them through the Panama Canal and make them think it's their own idea.

I agree with Fang - if Bobby G is to be a fixed portion of the scenario, then he should be a startup for a scene, not a goal/quest/realization of his own. To go to an extreme application, I have even found, in some games or styles of play, that the players will invent him if they really want him.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2001, 07:28:00 AM »

If I may, the whole Bobby G thing is a bit of a Straw Man as Marco puts it. Not that the movie analogy holds water, as novels and movies are just railroads from beginning to end, anyhow, and we just accept that (how could they be anything else). They are not RPGs. Rather I think the whole argument can be distilled into the following syllogism.

A: Ron (and most Narrativists) don't like to be Railroaded.

A: There are scenarios which Ron labels Bobby G scenarios that have certain characteristics amongst which are that they are common and that they involve a particular sort of railroading (being forced to some encounter, specifically).

C: Therefore, Ron (and Narrativists like him) doesn't like the very common Bobby G scenario.

Which is pretty hard to argue with, as it is an entirely opinion based argument. I believe that Ron posted it simply because he'd just played the Bobby G scenario for the hundredth time, and wanted to point out that it did not fall under the definition of what makes a good Narrativist game. Not all that interesting a point, but there it is.


I don't think Ron meant to imply that there are no players that can enjoy such a scenario, or that all scenarios that have encounters are Bobby G scenarios, either. The question of whether or not it is "plot" are moot, really. If it is plot it is not the sort of plot that thrills Narrativists (or fits their definition well, either). Whatever.

So, DD, your description is not a Bobby G scenario. Similar, but missing the key railoading ingredient. OTOH, it is not necessarily a satisfying Narrativist scenario either. The question is whether or not the plot can really advance while Bobby G remains undiscovered. If so, if Bobby G is really and entirely unnecessary (just a potential encounter), then it is probably cool with the Narrativists. If the stuff they do when they wander off and fail to find Bobby is rather insignificant, however, and they must eventually find Bobby for the scenario to proceed, then that will not satisfy the Narrativists. The key is allowing the players decisions to be the primary determinant of the plot. In a "real" Bobby G scanario the players have no choice, they must play the subgame of finding Bobby G.

As far as your particular leanings, DD, I'm right there with you. I think that the Simulationist elements are important in RPGs and am unwilling to abandon them. But I like the game to tell stories as well. Where does this leave us? Well, I have to admit that the Narrativist methods make for slightly better stories on average. Not that you don't get any stories out of Simulationism, just relatively degenerate ones. But that's the price you pay for keeping your Simulationist elements. A price that I'm personally willing to pay.

BTW, If you'd like to debate that last point, we should start a new thread.

Mike
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Daredevil
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« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2001, 07:38:00 AM »

Okay, so now I understand it's only a Bobby G scenario if the GM actively forces the players to go through Bobby G. So, in the setting's list of characters, there could be a "Bobby G"-like character, but that wouldn't be the same unless the GM has previously established and subsequently railroaded the players to him.

Now, personally, I think that's just railroading and bad GMing in the sense that it's bad scenario design. No matter what your GNS goal, you'd be left thinking "now that was a boring, railroaded session".

A gamist might enjoy it, but I think even a gamist hates to be railroaded. It's limiting their game options.

A simulationist would be hard pressed to accept that his character has no "realistic" chance to affect his destiny.

There's still something about narrativism I don't understand. I can't seem to find a proper place for it, but that kinda breaks down my understanding of the other two as well. As above, both gamist and simulationists care about story and in their own sense they create the story, if only by being reactive. But if they're allowed to be reactive in a broad spectrum (on an infinite scale), ie. with no railroading, then they're partaking of creating the story. The GM is just offering story hooks.

What then is the practical difference between narrativism and it's cousins?

Is it in the making of statements of intention? That's the only thing I can see that's really different, because that's how internal player states manifest (otherwise you'd have no idea how a player is playing the game). A simulationist makes statements out of his immersive state, based on what he thinks the character thinks. A narrativist makes statements thinking what makes a better story (and is said to be making out-of-character statements by simulationists). A gamist makes statements based on efficiency (and is called a munchkin in simulationist and narrativist games).

But that's just the difference between ROLEplaying (games) and STORYtelling (games), at least in my current paradigm. Whilst a gamist game is something like a glorified GW's Heroquest (ie. a board game).

[ This Message was edited by: Daredevil on 2001-12-26 10:43 ]

[ This Message was edited by: Daredevil on 2001-12-26 10:44 ]
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Ryan Ary
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« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2001, 07:52:00 AM »

The problem with the Narrativist position (I think) is that taken to the extreme it simply makes the GM a pitch hitter for characters none of the players run. In theory, the attempted assassination of the characters descibed at the begining of this thread could be labeled railroading (if a player were inclined to do so). Having the game in a city , on earth or making the players play human characters could be called railroading.

I agree that in far to many Simulationist games the players take a backseat in the progress of the plotline. However, in my view the fault more often lies with the player rather than the GM. All to often player expect to be spoon fed the plot rather than trying to take control of it or pursue goal beyond resolving the next conundrum. I would, however, agree that location based games (like DnD) add to this becasu they require a good deal of preparation on the part of the GM and players often feel obligated to crawl the dungeon the GM has ready rather than pursuing personal goals.

Maybe I'm wrong or extending the arguement further than it should go but I think its just a matter of finding the right balance for a particular group.

Ryan

 
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Marco
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« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2001, 08:08:00 AM »

Hi Mike,

Quote

Not that the movie analogy holds water, as novels and movies are just railroads from beginning to end, anyhow, and we just accept that (how could they be anything else). They are not RPGs.


Are you suggesting that one can't relate the plot of a movie or book to the plot-framework of an RPG scenario? Considering it's done on The Forge all the time?

Quote

Die Hard is not a Bobby G scenario. Neither is Aliens. Neither is Dangerous Liaisons, nor The Maltese Falcon, nor even Mortal Kombat, nor even the average soap opera. I suggest that NO story that really interests us is a Bobby G scenario;
--Ron


Analyzing Ron's argument on his terms (above) suggests it's fair game.

And I think it's fair to state that (judging from the above as well) that he addressed, specifically, players who are story-oriented in that they 'can't (shouldn't?) be really interested by it.' That's a good deal more perscriptive than a simple "I don't like railroading post."

(that, and I got the strong implication that he was out to slaughter a sacred cow--or at least educate lots of gamers--with his Bobby G. post)

-Marco
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2001, 08:42:00 AM »

Marco,

On the point of Ron's use of the analogy, you got me there. I think that Ron was also wrong to try and relate them, thusly. He wanted to further make his point, and I don't think he has. I only see his railroading argument as having any real weight.

But, hey, that's just me.  :smile:

Mike
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