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Author Topic: Part III: Being the Difference Between Players & Gamemasters  (Read 7684 times)
Le Joueur
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« on: December 27, 2001, 02:10:00 PM »

December 30th, 2001 -

At the behest of my friends here on the Forge, I will present Scattershot at the point I have it.  Even though this is a work-in-progress, I am not trying to present a diary of the progress.  Expect the lead component of this thread to undergo changes as Scattershot does.  This edition was originally put together on Thursday, December 27th, 2001.  This series of articles will detail strictly the mechanics of Scattershot, articles relating to the techniques of 'how to play' will have to wait until I have more of them centralized and organized.  The third major component of the game, the setting and genre material is will be addressed once I get a new batch of playtesters.

In this installment, I am going to discuss how Scattershot initially treats the difference between gamemasters and players.  This is not because the differences are important to stress, but in the light of how much overlap there can be, the difference exposes some of the latitude that the game mechanic must address.  One of the primary concerns of Scattershot is to treat gamemaster and player alike, because their roles will blur more and more as people get beyond this traditional model.

Once again this latitude allows people who play Scattershot to 'find their own level,' either by trial and error or by informed choice (hopefully the technique section of Scattershot can help there).  Ultimately this is about finding a balance between the extremes.  Here are some of the more important extremes as demostrated by the differences between how Scattershot affords players and gamemasters in the 'thumbnail of gaming' chapter.

Character Creation:

    In keeping with the 'emotional attachment' that is a result of a more detailed character creation system (as described in both
the first regular installment of the [SCATTERSHOT:] articles and this article), players create characters for themselves.[/list:u]
    Gamemasters, on the other hand, mostly create characters
for everyone's collective enjoyment.[/list:u]Play:

    Because it makes little sense to have a game that is not
for the players (being the bulk of the participants) and in keeping with the sharing principal I explained earlier, players must obviously drive play forward.  While events in the game should not wait for player character action, the game should obligate the player characters to some kind of action.  (Who wants to play inertia?)[/list:u]
    In the antipode, gamemasters must therefore do what they can to facilitate play.  This is one of the main reasons they traditionally create characters, for the facilitation of play.[/list:u]'Flow of Play' issues, like pacing, scale, and scope:

    Players
can affect these.[/list:u]
    Gamemasters
must according to tradition.[/list:u]Using the mechanics during play:

    Players can invoke them whenever they feel a need for them.[/list:u]
    Gamemasters are then expected to arbitrate.  Because of the impartiality issues I described
earlier, it is important for gamemasters to only arbitrate in a fashion that is 'fair' but also open under these mechanics.  For this reason Scattershot is designed (counter to the traditional model) to allow anyone to arbitrate, not just the gamemaster.[/list:u]I guess on some level this describes mechanics as the tool of the player which is then the responsibility of the gamemaster.  In most traditional instances I know, in the application of the mechanics, the gamemaster mostly only responds to these (and is the only respondant); this is an unfortunate balance (that we feel needs to be changed).  Scattershot's mechanics are meant to be a tool for everyone and should allow anyone to arbitrate, because of the overlap in all roles.  However, ultimately, when an irreconcilable inter-participant conflict exists within the playing group, only then does Scattershot have the gamemaster be the final arbiter.

Next up, where and when are mechanics used or needed.

Fang Langford
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: December 27, 2001, 02:26:00 PM »

Hey,

It's a tough issue, Fang, not the least because it seems as if everyone carries a load of unspoken assumptions about GM/player responsibilities and privileges, and very few are willing to air those assumptions, except in dysfunctional ways.

My writing of Sorcerer ('89 in the barest beginning stages; '94-96 in the nuts & bolts stages, '96-98 for the playtesting stages) shows horrible scar tissue and baseball-type stitches about this issue. There are still patches of prose that I didn't catch prior to book-printing, in which the term "GM" should really be replaced with "the group," or "GM decides" should really be replaced with "the player decides." I assumed up until the mid-late 90s that a GM was also the guiding ideologue of the group, and now I think differently.

Since Scattershot has Transition as a design goal (I like that term so much that I'm gonna keep it!), do you see GM and player roles/responsibilities as a labile feature of the game? Or do you think there's a way to set those things up in a stable way that still permits a variety of Transitional outcomes?

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #2 on: December 27, 2001, 03:26:00 PM »

Quote
Because it makes little sense to have a game that is not for the players (being the bulk of the participants) and in keeping with the sharing principal I explained earlier, players must obviously drive play forward. While events in the game should not wait for player character action, the game should obligate the player characters to some kind of action. (Who wants to play inertia?)


Amen, brother!

Quote
In the antipode, gamemasters must therefore do what they can to facilitate play.


Thank you thank you thank you for using the word "facilitate". As Ron has heard me rant many a time, I also think the GM's primary role is that of facilitator. (For example, in narrativist play, the GM is not the "storyteller". S/he is the facilitator of the players being "storytellers".) (Side note: I think this extends to other areas as well. I think a teacher's role is to facilitate students educating themselves, a librarian's role is to facilitate patrons finding information, an artist's role is to facilitate everybody creating art, ad nauseum.)

I think the whole "what the hell is a GM" question is a topic worthy of a lot of thought. Do all RPGs have to have a GM? What about everybody being a GM? What does a GM do, anyway? These are all good questions.

You've got some good stuff here so far, Fang.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Le Joueur
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« Reply #3 on: December 27, 2001, 09:45:00 PM »

Quote
Ron Edwards wrote:

It's a tough issue, Fang, not the least because it seems as if everyone carries a load of unspoken assumptions about GM/player responsibilities and privileges, and very few are willing to air those assumptions, except in dysfunctional ways.

That's why I thought it needed to be spelled out concretely.  Another of Scattershot's design objectives was that, while being organized for beginners to grasp, it had to also have a thing or two to tell experienced gamers.  I thought one of the best things I could do was to at least provide explicit roles for gamemasters and players up front, with some discussion on how these both overlap and can have their responsibilities shifted to the other party.  This provides grist for the experienced gamer mill to grind out some new understandings for themselves.  (The trick will be to not 'talk under' or 'talk over' anyone's heads, simultaneously.)

Quote
...or "GM decides" should really be replaced with "the player decides." I assumed up until the mid-late 90s that a GM was also the guiding ideologue of the group, and now I think differently.

Agreed.  I also think that ultimate decisions should be held to a group decision because of the aforementioned 'sharing principal.'  I put the gamemaster up as final authority because, 1 is an odd number (which avoids deadlocks), and a single person often acts faster than a committee when it comes to tough decisions (preserving 'flow of play' as I mentioned over in the earlier article).

Quote
Since Scattershot has Transition as a design goal (I like that term so much that I'm gonna keep it!), do you see GM and player roles/responsibilities as a labile feature of the game? Or do you think there's a way to set those things up in a stable way that still permits a variety of Transitional outcomes?

I believe I have already mentioned that one of Scattershot's design specifications is that it is meant to be 'familiar' to experienced gamers (though I cannot find the reference).  This means we must use terms like hit points, gamemaster, and so on.  In our case that also means we give the terms 'gamemaster' and 'player' and the descriptions above as a starting point.  I would have gone into the details of the techniques that allow Transition away from traditional models for these 'roles at the table,' but I only posted this as underpinning for upcoming installments (as I said, these show the extremes that can be had).

And yes, I do think there is a "stable way" to set these up.  If you remember back to when I posted Scattershot's chapter layout, you can see that the basic premise of what players and gamemasters are is layed out quite early.  When the text comes back to these issues, a reader will be expected to have a handle on how these work in the traditional sense.  Based on that, in terms of describing the techniques, we can work from there (but only if we are very careful how we depict these roles in the first place).

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-12-28 00:47 ]
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #4 on: December 27, 2001, 10:41:00 PM »

Quote
joshua neff wrote:

Quote
Fang wrote:

Gamemasters must therefore do what they can to facilitate play.

Thank you for using the word "facilitate". I also think the GM's primary role is that of facilitator. [Snip.]

I think the whole "what the hell is a GM" question is a topic worthy of a lot of thought. Do all RPGs have to have a GM? What about everybody being a GM? What does a GM do, anyway? These are all good questions.

Role-playing games, in my opinion, certainly do not need gamemasters.  In fact, I tend to think of gamemasterless play as an unreachable ideal.  On a practical level, there are a number of things a gamemaster is most ideally suited to handling (at least when no one else is interested).  Aside from the relative ease their role makes for them to portray the hundreds of extras that populate a game, I think I rather clearly designated the remainder of their traditional duties back in this article about Scattershot's live-action techniques.

Simply listed, they were: referee of player disputes, the game's originator (or at least the codifier), facilitator of play (keeping up the 'flow of play,' steering relevance, and et cetera), facilities arrangement (though this is most often delegated, if the gamemaster, in all these other roles, does not make it, the game doesn't happen), and finally handling 'membership' (surprise characters can be very disruptive, running against facilitation).

There is one role 'hidden' within being the 'facilitator of play;' that is being the 'head' of the game.  In large corporations (and in the US government for that matter), at some point there is a sole individual who is charged with orchestrating the actions of the unit whole (most often outwardly).  This serves how the group survives as its own entity.

Now I am not talking about a dictatorship here; rare is the company where the CEO makes changes that take the whole by surprise, but even though advised and 'checked and balanced' there is nothing that beats the efficacy and quick reactions (when needed) of a single individual.

The number one, main reason I gave this topic its own article is because I have to agree that it does require a good deal of discussion, and I for one, did not want the totality of Scattershot's mechanics to hide this potential for discussion.

Quote
You've got some good stuff here so far, Fang.

Thank you, I appreciate the input.  The number two reason I segregated this topic was that I am not convinced that I have the whole of it yet.  I look forward to what becomes of each of the component articles in the [SCATTERSHOT:] series.

Fang Langford
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joshua neff
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« Reply #5 on: December 28, 2001, 07:04:00 AM »

Fang--

While my gaming preferences remain solidly in the "one GM for a group of players" realm, I'm entirely unconvinced that there needs to be one GM to guide them all (*ahem*). I think GM-less play (which is really "everyone-is-a-GM" play) is a completely feasible option, & one which shouldn't be discounted. I sometimes think the idea that "there needs to be a GM" is a basic mistrust in decision-making-by-consensus, a holdover from playing in dysfunctional gaming groups. Lord knows,I've been in enough gaming groups in which somebody had to exert some sort of authority. But I've also been in groups in which consensus was the rule, not the exception.

I would love to see more RPGs which promoted & facilitated something other than the "one GM" concept. (& despite my own preferences, I'd love to play more "everyone's a GM" games.)
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
mahoux
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« Reply #6 on: December 28, 2001, 09:43:00 AM »

Josh-
I am currently writing a turn-based RPG where there is no GM, but the "non-active" players play all the NPCs and help drive the action, basically a reverse RPG.

Stuff that's all in the works and should get finished in '02.

But that's neither here nor there to the thread.  My own idea is that everyone needs to work together to drive the story, or else just have the GM read to you all from the Chronicles of Narnia or something.
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lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: December 28, 2001, 10:53:00 AM »

At the risk of contributing to thread-hijack, the Ars Magica game I play is fully co-GMed.  Such a thing is entirely possible and, let me tell you, big big fun.  

At the risk of using hot language, it's mechanic-less too. (By which I mean for mechanics we use the 'mechanics' that drive any shared creative process: discussion, debate, as much clarity as possible, willingness to compromise, and just generally all caring about the game.)

If you ask me, both mechanics and having a GM are for when the normal, day-to-day consensus that makes roleplaying happen breaks down -- and if you're willing to commit to consensus, you don't need them.  But boyo that's me being pedantic.  I'm really enjoying your posts, Fang.  Looks like a great game so far.

-lumpley Vincent
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Laurel
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« Reply #8 on: December 28, 2001, 01:31:00 PM »

First of all, thank you for posting the first Scattershot installment.  It tackled a really tricky issue.  

One of the problems, I think, in defining what GM-Player roles should be is because GMs and Players can all have such different game styles and personalities that whatever system of governance you establish, its not going to be what works for ~everyone~.  What you have done in defining the differences between player "can" and GM "must" to fufill flow of play, for example, certainly helps pinpoint what you, as the developer, consider "ideal" Scattershot GM and player styles and might encourage participants to steer towards meeting your personal ideal.

Laurel  
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #9 on: December 28, 2001, 04:25:00 PM »

Quote
joshua neff wrote:

While my gaming preferences remain solidly in the "one GM for a group of players" realm, I'm entirely unconvinced that there needs to be one GM to guide them all (*ahem*).

Same here.  The reasons I created these breakdowns was to have a starting point towards explaining how to do things differently.

Quote
I think GM-less play (which is really "everyone-is-a-GM" play) is a completely feasible option, & one which shouldn't be discounted.

I don't mean to discount it, but considering how important I think the emotional attachment to a game through their characters is for the players, I find it an extremely sophisticated form of play to switch between 'player' and 'gamemaster' as frequently as a "gamemaster-filled" game requires.  Scattershot is meant to be formally for beginners so I have very little room to address this kind of play in the core products.

On the other hand, if you read through the link I gave above, you can see that I have gone to great lengths to create techniques that allows a live-action Scattershot game to be essentially 'gamemaster-free' game.

Quote
I sometimes think the idea that "there needs to be a GM" is a basic mistrust in decision-making-by-consensus, a holdover from playing in dysfunctional gaming groups. Lord knows, I've been in enough gaming groups in which somebody had to exert some sort of authority. But I've also been in groups in which consensus was the rule, not the exception.

Actually, the 'sharing' of any game (or game-world) underscores the actually high level of consensus that already exists in gaming.  I never meant to depreciate the value of decision-by-consensus, but I felt that in some cases it can be more important to have a speedy decision (like can be had by a single gamemaster) than one subject to debate as can be sometimes necessary with consensus.

Scattershot's playing techniques describe a general use of consensus throughout, but has the group place its consensual 'power' in the gamemaster for those times when time is more important than discussion (just like a representative democracy).

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-12-28 20:08 ]
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #10 on: December 28, 2001, 04:28:00 PM »

Quote
Mahoux wrote:

I am currently writing a turn-based RPG...
[Snip.]
Stuff that's all in the works and should get finished in '02.

Wow!?!  Next week!  I wish I was that fast.

Fang Langford
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joshua neff
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« Reply #11 on: December 28, 2001, 04:38:00 PM »

Quote
Scattershot is meant to be formally for beginners so I have very little room to address this kind of play in the core products.


Oh, I understand. I just felt the need, as I often do, to start looking at alternatives. I think you're right to put forth the (for lack of a better word) traditional way of playing.
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--josh

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Le Joueur
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« Reply #12 on: December 28, 2001, 04:44:00 PM »

Quote
lumpley wrote:

At the risk of using hot language, it's mechanic-less too.

This matches what I described in [SCATTERSHOT:] Whence go the Mechanics as General play.  (If you want to go back and look at it.)

Quote
If you ask me, both mechanics and having a GM are for when the normal, day-to-day consensus that makes role-playing happen, breaks down -- and if you're willing to commit to consensus, you don't need them.

Exactly the point I am making.  But beginners cannot be expected to be sophisticated enough to play this way on the first go.  Since Scattershot is for beginners as well as experienced players, I need to set down a 'starting point' to describe these sorts of things.

Quote
I'm really enjoying your posts, Fang.  Looks like a great game so far.

Thank you very much, I cannot say how well I appreciate the compliments (words fail).  I hope to hear more of what you think as the remainder is posted.

Fang Langford
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joshua neff
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« Reply #13 on: December 28, 2001, 04:57:00 PM »

You know, something's been niggling at me, & I think I just nailed what it is.

Fang, you've referred to "GM-less"/"everyone's-a-GM" play as "sophisticated", & that Scattershot, as primarily for beginners, shouldn't expect people to be able to easily achieve this level of play.

Here's the thing. I don't think it's sophisticated. Not any more than "traditional" RPG play.

When I was in grade school, my friends & I played Superheroes everyday on the playground. We spun long, elaborate narratives over the course of the school year. Villains died & returned, heroes were faced with conflict, & dumb fart jokes were made. There was no GM, all decisions were made essentially by consensus. I don't think what we were doing was any more sophisticated than playing D&D with one GM making decisions (in the style of, as you said, a representative democracy).

I guess I feel like you're not giving beginners enough credit. Especially considering they haven't had the dysfunctional RPG experiences a lot of us old timers have had. I think beginners could quite possibly handle a myriad of RPG styles easily. Which is not to say that the way you're going about Scattershot is wrong by any stretch of the imagination. You've obviously put a LOT of thought into this, & so far it looks really good.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Le Joueur
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« Reply #14 on: December 28, 2001, 05:05:00 PM »

Quote
Laurel wrote:

First of all, thank you for posting the first Scattershot installment.  It tackled a really tricky issue.

One that I have felt for some time has needed to be 'outed.'  I am not comfortable saying that I 'have it,' but I think I have at least conceived of a good 'starting point.'

Quote
One of the problems, I think, in defining what GM-Player roles should be is because GMs and Players can all have such different game styles and personalities that whatever system of governance you establish, its not going to be what works for ~everyone~.  What you have done in defining the differences between player "can" and GM "must" to fufill flow of play, for example, certainly helps pinpoint what you, as the developer, consider "ideal" Scattershot GM and player styles and might encourage participants to steer towards meeting your personal ideal.

Actually no.  What I described was not that close to my ideal.  As I have stated elsewhere, we chose to have Scattershot be accessible to as much of the audience of experienced gamers as possible.  In keeping with that, I created the above descriptions of what I consider the functional traditional set-up.

My actual perspective is that 'flow of play' is more important than what are the specific duties or rights of either players or gamemasters.  I established the above relationships only as a starting point.  (Actually, I listed the above traditional relationships so as to show some of the extremes that the features I delved into could reach.)

In the techniques given in Scattershot, we deal with these roles (and variations on them) in much more detail.  Since, in this series of articles, I am only dealing with the mechanical portion of Scattershot, I only brought these up only to suggest some of the different types of emotional investments that can be had (at least traditionally) and how they relate the actual issues I was discussing.

Thank you for your insightful commentary.  It goes a long way towards suggesting the totality of the realms of player-gamemaster relationships.  (Which I hope to comment on some day when I delve into the techniques of Scattershot, right now I have my hands full detailing the mechanics though.)

Fang Langford
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