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Author Topic: Director Stance enters "The Comfort Zone"  (Read 2647 times)
Andrew Norris

Posts: 253

« on: April 18, 2004, 01:39:28 AM »

I've been running this D20 Modern campaign called "Comfort Zone" for five sessions now, and it's Saturday afternoon, and the game's starting in a while. I'm sitting there thinking how I really wish I was running Unknown Armies (and if you want to be honest, really I am, just in D20 since that was the magic word to get my friends to play.) I have this plot ready for the night that revolves around Daniel's character, and I'm not really happy about it, because I've been wanting to introduce them to player authorship and other Narrativist techniques. But a Voodoo gang from New Orleans is what I have prepped, so that's what I'm going with.

So it's fifteen minutes to game time, and it turns out Daniel can't make it.

This is why I'm glad I hang out on The Forge and daydream about making up Bangs for these players if we were, say, playing Sorcerer. So I gave it a try.

The Characters

Monona, a private investigator on the verge of Multiple Personality Disorder. Her identity's a secret even to herself, because her entire life up until three years ago was wiped and moved onto a videotape by one of the Andy Warhols. (Player: Josh.)

Brad, an FBI agent who's kind of addicted to a drug that allows him to astrally project. He's carrying a lot of baggage from a bad divorce, and kinda-sorta dating a former coworker that's been the team's Girl Friday.(Player: Jeremy.)

Cadence, a Dipsomancer (her alcoholism fuels her magical abilities). Cadence has been dead for several sessions, and is currently inhabiting the body of an attractive young store clerk, played by Uma Thurman. One of the things we did early on in the campaign was "cast" each PC as if it was a movie. (Player: Catherine. Catherine also took on Maggie's role much of the time.)

Anthony AKA "Mac", a new character brought in for Miami. He's a face man for an organized crime syndicate, whose new business venture involves training call girls to ritually replicate scenes from porn starring The Naked Goddess. He used to date her before she transubstantiated into the Collective Unconscious, by the way. Anyone Mac has sex with for the first time gets a Significant Charge in UA terms.(Player: Mike, who'd semi-retired his old character last session.)

Then there's Jared, the military man who just found out he's the reincarnation of his grandfather, who according to his memories was some kind of Doc Savage character in the '30s. (Player: Daniel, not present.)

At the end of the last session, the party had raided the dance club / porn studio headquarters of The Sect of the Naked Goddess, stopped an Andy Warhol (there may be more somewhere) from playing back a Shoggoth onto them, and made off with Monona's tape and a first-generation VHS copy of the Naked Goddess tape. As we rolled credits last session, they were driving through Miami at 2am. This session opens the next morning after each PC gets a short dream sequence.

The Bangs

Monona: "You're driving along in the 'Cuda with Andy Warhol in the trunk and the tape with your memories on it on the seat next to you."

Mac: "You have to report to your boss in the Family, and tell him if you negotiated to get a copy of that tape. You know if you tell him the truth you're a dead man, and if you lie and tell him it went smooth, he's going to want to double his cut."

Brad: "You wake up next to a girl who's choking to death, you have no idea where you are, and your friend Maggie is at the door."

Cadence: "You narrowly avoid choking on your own vomit, and come to to realize you're in bed with Brad." (I intertwined these two right from the start because they clash every time they interact, and the players grin like mad as they launch IC insults at each other.)

Jared's Bang takes him off-camera for the rest of the day, of course.

I had one Bang per player, I threw them out gradually, and watched as the character's plots to deal with their Bang threw them into a huge, messy tangle. And they all addressed the Premise I'd mentioned for the night, which we called "Rabbit Hole" --

When nothing turns out to be what you thought it was, how do you cope?

Holy Cow, this is almost going to be a Narrativist game.

The Players Tie Their Own Gordian Knot

For what I thought would be a short post I've gone on for far too long. What was great was that not only did players start authoring stuff to weasel out of the messes they were in (so we had plenty of things like a player saying "I phone my Aunt Pat who has a house up the road, she's out of town for a month" and bam, Aunt Pat exists), but they started creating complications for the other characters, too. They wrote the session themselves.

One of my favorite examples of this from the night was that as we're establishing the scene with two PCs who hate each other in bed together naked, Mike (who has no character in the scene) chimes in, offers me a Plot Point, and after I give him the OK interjects that the scene is taking place in a luxury hotel, they have no recollection of how they got there, and there's clothes strewn all over the room amidst the empty liquor bottles and leftover room service. That detail practically wrote the rest of the scene, and gave us a scene where Brad stands in a busy hotel hallway half-dressed while he explains to Maggie that, no, really, he was conducting an undercover sting operation.

Along the same lines, we kept our practice of handing out supporting NPCs to players who had no characters in the scene, and so Catherine graciously agreed to play Maggie. As we cut between Brad placating the girl that's in love with him and bitching out the woman he just slept with, Catherine plays both female characters as foils against each other, and has Cadence further provoke things and Maggie break down in a truly convincing rendition of a woman who thinks "no, really I can change him".

Then there was the last scene, in which the players fought inside Andy's head (or his little corner of the Collective Unconscious, anyway, which looks like that movie he made of the Empire State Building). After some particularly odd happenings, the players collaborated to create the mental image they were traveling through. Their ideas caused me to throw out a bunch of prepared material for the future and tailor things to their personal vision of the Collective Unconscious.

There was more, but I'm running out of steam for this post.

If anyone is interested in the thread, I'd be happy to post explanations about these Bangs and how the players used Author and Director stance in responses to their own Bangs and those of the other players. Heck, I've even got excerpts from play if people would like me to type them up.
Emily Care

Posts: 1126

« Reply #1 on: April 19, 2004, 09:39:53 AM »

Go Andrew!

Thanks for sharing that session with us.  Points to you for putting those two pcs in the same bang, and for the player dynamic you picked up on.

I love the bit about Catherine playing Maggie and Cadence against one another. It refutes the idea that its always dull/confusing to have to play two characters in one scene, and the common assumption that a player would have a hard time creating opposition for their own character.  Though playing each of them off of Jeremy's character was what made it click.

Were your players interested in doing more of this?

Emily Care

Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

Black & Green Games
Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #2 on: April 19, 2004, 09:48:10 AM »


What I'm curious about is whether you think these techniques (in same or less-intense form) will be acceptable to Daniel, and to your own perceptions of how you're "supposed" to prep for his character's presence.

Andrew Norris

Posts: 253

« Reply #3 on: April 19, 2004, 11:51:43 AM »

Emily, Ron,

I'm glad for the questions, because I've been hashing this out in my head since the game finished. (I think I was still doing it, out loud, last night in bed, and the soothing sound of me talking about "shared creative agendas" worked better than Sominex on my poor girlfriend.)

Let me set the stage briefly by describing the nature of the group on a social level.

Catherine's the lynchpin, in that I met every one of my current players through her.  Her typical role in any game I've played with her is "Stirring the Pot". She's not particularly interested in the plot of traditional RPGs, and plays to good-naturedly cause trouble.  I knew this going in and so I had no concern about her "derailing" things. She's Sim / Exploration of Character all the way, basically.

Mike, Jeremy, and Josh all have their own focus, but mainly they're interested in Sim / Exploration of Character as well, although they started off fairly heavy Exploration of Setting until I realized that continually throwing the characters into crisis after crisis wasn't giving them time to really develop.

Daniel's the person I know least well of the group, and my initial take was that he was Gamist through and through. His character was your canonical military specialist whose only personality hook was "consistently competent". That did make him stand out from the other characters in contrast, but for the first few sessions, but I could see that his eyes were only really lighting up when combat started.

I'd talked to the players as early as session three (we're on six now) about introducing elements of player authorship, but their take was mostly "No, it's okay, go ahead and do your thing and we'll develop our characters in response to it." Illusionism was practically expected. That's why I continued to prepare actual content as opposed to R-Maps and Kickers. I knew that as long as I gave Catherine some chances to act crazy as a loon and cause chaos, and Daniel the opportunity to get involved in a reasonably complex firefight, I could keep everyone satisfied for most of a session.

I also started Drifting towards Narr, at least in my own head, a few sessions back when I realized that every major character decision the players were making was about whether Transgression was worth Resolution. Players started cashing in bank accounts, relationships, personal taboos, whatever it took to solve the mystery in front of them. For instance, our FBI agent got hooked on the drug he used to Project, and hid his habit from the rest of the party. (He also rather coldly encouraged Maggie's attentions towards him, because she had much better research skills than he.) Even Daniel got in on the act, as the next time he showed me a list of items he wanted to procure I set up a scene with a corrupt supply officer and let him decide if he wanted to turn him in or blackmail him for gear. (He went for the gear.)

In the last session, I finally found a hook for Daniel outside of combat (I decided the reason his character was unnaturally calm and competent all the time was because he was in fact partially inhuman), and managed to get him pursuing clues as to his heritage. The drive to give Daniel something character-wise to respond to was what led me to prepare canned content for him in the last game.

Sorry for the lengthy build-up. Let me take a shot at those questions.

Were your players interested in doing more of this?

Most definately. I was amazed at the level of excitement all around the room during and after the session. (Players were standing up to high-five each other after a particularly witty monologue or introduced complication.)

I'm following up with them to formalize this level of involvement within the rules, not to restrict their creativity, but because I'd like them to experience a system-based benefit for their hard work. As an example, late in the session Brad left his body and engaged in a running battle with a manifestation of one of Media's minions. His ectoplasmic self displays his emotions, and so him being a seething little ball of rage he looked absolutely monstrous -- spikes all over his body, hands twisted into claws, etc. Cadence pissing him off all session was what gave him the "juice" to win that battle. I'd like that kind of give-and-take to be more than just GM fiat.

What I'm curious about is whether you think these techniques (in same or less-intense form) will be acceptable to Daniel, and to your own perceptions of how you're "supposed" to prep for his character's presence.

I'm still thinking that one over. I've had a little bit of a nagging worry in the back of my head that this session went so well because I wasn't  trying to keep things more like a "traditional" role-playing session in his absence. (The end of session conflict mentioned above was the only time I even rolled dice, and in retrospect I think the scene was unnecessary.) I do have some concern that he may be uncomfortable with this style of play, and so I'm planning to turn the plot I prepared for him but change it into more of a GM-prepared Kicker for his character.

I do think that Daniel's had a bit of a bunker mentality. (He's the least fucked-up character, and being quietly competent, he often passes on the Faustian bargains the other characters jump at.) I think he's been waiting for a "plot hook" that's directly targeted at him. He's been excited about interacting with things that tie into his backstory, and has sort of faded into the background in other scenes. So I feel like running a session in which we introduce a context for him, throw a big old Kicker in his face, and then watch him respond in the face of the other characters' scheming. My gut tells me that even if he doesn't jump into it with the same gusto the other players have, he'll be entertained, and it won't step on the other players' toes.

But then sometimes I swing the other way, and wonder if his character is so calm precisely because his response to the Premise is "I try to not change, not adapt, but keep on with my life the best I can when things go strange." And if that's what he's doing, then I might take him off track by shaking things up for him.

I guess the issue you've got me mulling over is whether it's healthy to have differing CAs in a single game. I'd just ask Daniel, but then again I tried to have this talk with everyone a month ago, and it only clicked for the players in actual play.
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