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Author Topic: The Azeel Campaign  (Read 5753 times)
Lee Short
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« on: August 31, 2004, 06:55:31 PM »

In http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=12460&start=30">this thread, Ron said

Quote

M.J., when your "decentralized Simulationist" play does acquire theme through the decisions of the people involved, then it's Narrativist play.


I've got an example of play that I suspect meets this criterion; I'd like to see if you agree.  I'll use some of Marco's formatting; I think it was useful.  

GM's Preferences, Responsibilities and Expectations

No Preference for Story
I as GM didn't care if the transcript of play be a decent story.   Indeed, the first half of the game would have made a very slow story -- the second half would have made a much better one.  

GM Payoff: The payoff for me as a GM is in a shared sense of world-building, in devising an interesting world & situation for the PCs to adventure in, and in doing a good job of portraying NPCs and resolving events.  Cameraderie with the players is also significant.  

Responsibilities

1.  True to the world.  "What Lee thinks is cool" must not be allowed to override internal causality.  Nothing must.  Everything introduced into the game must follow from what is previously known.  If nothing at all is known that relates to the item in question, then what is introduced to the game must be consonant with the spirit of the setting.  

2. Prepared background. I had to have as good an idea as I could about what was going on and drive from that map rather than just inventing things constantly.

3. Attentive to pacing.  If what is going on right now is not interesting enough to warrant play time, it should be abstracted out or just skipped entirely.  At the same time, the resolution of abstracted events must not be biased in any way by the abstracting.  

4. Guidance with PC background.  Provide the players with guidance as to what sort of PCs will work in the game.  


GMing Techniques

1. Framing -- GM framing of scenes was largely limited to bandits, pickpockets, a few public spectacles (fight in the marketplace, etc.).  Player framing of scenes came about when the characters would get together to discuss things.  The most common sort of scene framing was joint.  Joint in the sense that the players, would, through the actions of their characters, suggest a scene -- and the GM would either assent to that framing or deny it:

   GM:  So what do you do next?
   Player:  I want to go to the market and buy another man-months' trail rations where we bought them this morning, if I can negotiate a better price.  
   GM:  The merchant isn't willing to give you a better price.  You can buy more for the same price if you want.  

In this case the GM has denied the request for framing (it's also possible that the above was not at all a request for framing, depending on context and nonverbal cues).  

   Player:  OK, while I'm at the market, I want to look for mercenaries for hire.  
   GM:  You find a small troop of skirmishers.  They look scruffy but well-disciplined.  Their captain is munching an apple.  You can walk up and talk to him if you'd like.  

In this case, the GM has clearly assented to the player's request for framing.  There are other, more explicit, ways of joint framing.  But that's how I did it at the time.  

2. Timing/Dramatic Technique.  Since there is no thought given to transcript-as-story, events are timed according to the GMs best estimates of when they would really happen.  As GM, I would sometimes verbally gloss events to improve dramatic presentation, but the events themselves would not change.  As evidence of that, I note that I cannot recall a single dramatic occurence in the game in which GM adjudication was significant -- they were all player-motivated, and I can recall many of those.  By player-motivated, I mean either player-to-player actions, or player actions where the outcome was obvious.  

3. Hooks.  As GM, I presented the characters with a number of 'hooks' -- some of which were actual 'plot hooks', some of which went nowhere.  I handled 'false hooks' by seeing if the players take them, then quickly abstracting the resolution.  If the players spend too much time debating whether or not to take the hook, I would break in and tell them to abstract the conversation.  These hooks were almost universally rejected, with the PCs showing a very strong preference for staying on task.  I was surprised at how strong this preference was.    

The Game Itself

The setting was fantasy, in a world dominated by a crumbling empire called Bothia (many parallels to Rome, circa 300-400 AD).  I was GM, there were 3 players.  The PCs started the game as young members of a Bothian noble house, all nephews of the current house head.  The 3 were cousins, each of a different father.  They were given a mission by the head of household, to travel to a far-off city and perform a sensitive but easy mission (it was an academic/diplomatic mission).  This would require a year or more of travel, most of it outside the operational borders of the Empire.  

When we met to generate character concepts, I gave them that information as the campaign concept.  I told them I wanted them to have characters that would not actively dislike any of the other PCs.  I told them that, as part of their particular subculture, they each would have been required to take some degree of magical training.  I probably gave them other restrictions (no one can be the eldest son, they all should be in good standing with the family and want to be, etc).  I game them no guidance as to the characters' philosophies and emotional issues, nor did they discuss these in great depth.  

All 3 players elected to play mages, each of a different school of magic.  This meant that they would need hired muscle to fend off bandits.  

During the first part of the game, it was very much like MJ Young's "travelogue play":  the players & their characters passing through new parts of the world, poking around to see what it is like.  Their mission required that they buy supplies at the market, hire mercenaries, avoid pickpockets & bandits, etc.  

As for the game's content, it focussed on exploration of Situation, Setting, and Character (in about that order).  
  Situation -- 3 young men proving themselves by making their way through foreign lands; 3 young inexperienced men running a mission by committee
  Setting -- The parts of the world they were passing through
  Character -- The passage of naive spoiled young men to more experienced, worldly men; the interactions of the 3 cousins who had to work together

About halfway through the game (after about a dozen sessions), the focus of Exploration changed.  After the characters arrived at their destination and completed their mission, they took stock of their resources.  Due to a variety of reasons, they had spent too much money on the outward half of the trip.  They did not have sufficient money to hire mercenaries to protect them for the duration of the return trip.  Two of them began to turn to the darker side of their magical training to get them home safely.  The game very much took on Theme -- the conflicting values of human decency, the need for survival, the drive to succeed, loyalty to family.  Exploration of Character definitely came to the forefront.  

The hows and whys of the game changed not at all: framing was still done the same way, hooks were dealt with in the same manner, neither GM nor players changed how they made their decisions, internal cause was still King.  

I moved out of state before the PCs could finish their 'quest' and return home.  Overall, we played roughly every other week for just about exactly a year.  

I want to note that I think the basic recipe here is a solid one for a long-term Virtuality game:  a small group of PCs who are strongly committed to a long-term goal.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 31, 2004, 07:08:07 PM »

Neat - it's the kind of thing which raises the question of when do we bring in all this GNS talk?

I like to say that an instance of play is at least a session long. What I really mean in saying that is that GNS is best understood in social units. What is a social time unit? It depends on the group.

It also depends on the rewards involved, which as we've seen can be awfully subtle in some cases.

I think the only thing I'd need to know is, did the thematic content and sense of "this is my character's conflict" constitute, itself, a payoff for the people involved? Or

I recognize that you as GM were committed to avoid forcing or pushing the thematic stuff - correct me if I'm reading too much in, this is a paraphrase of your careful presentation. No one can answer this but you: was this commitment on your part facilitating the players in their eventual thematic "command" of the game content?

The alternative would be a kind of Ouija-board situation, in which (in this case) the group got lucky. But it sounds kind of more functional than that. I'd be really interested in knowing more about the range of games you and these folks have played - is this a common procedure? Or better, have you played in this fashion before and had it all kind of meander and fizzle ... and if so, was that considered less fun by one or more people?

Best,
Ron
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Lee Short
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« Reply #2 on: August 31, 2004, 08:19:15 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
I think the only thing I'd need to know is, did the thematic content and sense of "this is my character's conflict" constitute, itself, a payoff for the people involved? Or

I think that they largely considered it a payoff in the sense of "hey, that was cool."  But there was also a game where I killed the whole party for essentially no reason other than a single bad judgement call and they said "hey, that was cool! Let's go have pizza, and come back and make new characters!!"  So the answer is that they liked it, and I think that they liked the theme that was generated - but they also clearly liked other games with no theme.  
Quote

I recognize that you as GM were committed to avoid forcing or pushing the thematic stuff - correct me if I'm reading too much in, this is a paraphrase of your careful presentation. No one can answer this but you: was this commitment on your part facilitating the players in their eventual thematic "command" of the game content?

Do you mean "was I giving them player freedom for the purpose of allowing them to create theme?"  If so, the answer is no -- I didn't care what they did with it, as long as they did something (at the same time, I tried to arrange the scenario so that they had to do something).  One of my players, describing my style to a new player, said "Lee drops you in the middle of his world and says 'Do something, dammit!' "  I should note that I don't tend to take this approach until I'm familiar with my players and think it will work for them.  My present game is very far from this approach.  
Quote

The alternative would be a kind of Ouija-board situation, in which (in this case) the group got lucky. But it sounds kind of more functional than that. I'd be really interested in knowing more about the range of games you and these folks have played - is this a common procedure? Or better, have you played in this fashion before and had it all kind of meander and fizzle ... and if so, was that considered less fun by one or more people?

Well, there were a couple of shorter games with these same players that worked well with the same basic mechanism.  I don't recall them ever generating anything I would characterize as theme, but I don't remember them all that well -- other than the game in which I killed them all.  The longer games before that involved some of these same players, and some others, and were much more (intentionally) gamist.  

I have had a couple of games like this fizzle.  Usually due to a combination of (1) insufficiently well-thought-out and clear instructions to the players on what kinds of characters were acceptable, and (2) failure of the players to generate characters within the parameters specified.  

I have also had one other game that was very much a success.  Once again, I had experience gaming with most of the players.  The beginning scenario was in many ways a minor variation on The Azeel Campaign, but it took a hugely different course.  We eventually called the game "Much Ado About Nothing", and I would say that nothing vaguely resembling theme was generated.  In fact, for many gamers' tastes, this is the "nothing happens" game that I've seen referred to.  But most of us had a great time.  Perhaps I'll detail that in another post, when I get the time.
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Marco
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« Reply #3 on: September 01, 2004, 07:30:18 AM »

It's good to see this post--I like the format, it's interesting to read and it does a reasonable job of laying out what's going on in the GM's head.

I'd also note that this is a somewhat stronger commitment to Virtuality than I sometimes have although I identify with it greatly. In longer term games that I have run, I have gravitated more towards this mode.

Also: there is a difference here between proactive and reactive characters that distinguishes the play-writeups I have done here. Usually for very short games, I find the situation works best when it's a contained crisis of some sort.

For longer games I would want to see proactive characters as well (which would contribute to the virtuality aspect too since I'd have to respond outside of initial situation a good deal more).

But on the whole, Lee, I like this write-up :)
-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: September 01, 2004, 07:51:49 AM »

Hello,

I'm seeing it now, I think. Lee, tell me what you think of this.

What we have here is a fairly Ouija-board situation, but not as emotionally isolated and foully arcane as what I describe in the Narrativism essay. (check me on that, I'm not actually there in the group)

Whatever comes up as a CA is going to be acceptable, mainly on an individual basis, mainly accepted in a kind of muted fashion by everyone else for a while, and permitted to rise up, resolve or not, die off or not, as things permit.

No one of them (or combo of internal terms, doesn't matter) actually serves as the "hold it together" arrow that CA plays in most cases. Instead, it's more like temporary scaffolding, allowed to get started, then hold or not hold as things seem to need it, and built in another place later.

Walt Freitag's "zilchplay" comes to mind, actually.

So although that particular instance was Narrativist or grading that way, it's more like what I talk about in the GNS and other matters essay, that momentary or mild interest that seems oriented toward a given CA doesn't automatically mean that CA with all phasers locked & loaded.

And yeah, I think the difference between Marco's example and this one is pretty distinct. The more I try to place myself in your game-space, Marco, the more it seems as if I would be very comfy, and perhaps be one of the players who really spoons up the problematic side of whatever material comes along (or is in my character concept). Whereas in Lee's game, I'd probably strangle someone after the third or fourth session.

Not that I'm the Narrativist yardstick! Merely a handy example.

Best,
Ron
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Lee Short
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« Reply #5 on: September 02, 2004, 01:00:47 PM »

Another, related question:   Suppose that the players had, during the course of creating their characters, built in certain moral conflicts that were likely to surface during play.  Assume that they made no effort to direct play towards those conflicts once play has started.  Does this make the game Nar?  Does it matter if they built in those conflicts unintentionally?   How about if they built in a whole series of moral conflicts, just to make sure that some of them came up in play?  Or if we unintentionally loaded the Situation and Characters so that the characters' moral conflicts would be engaged?  

I like the analysis so far.  I certainly agree that there's a notable difference between this example and Marco's.  I think I largely agree with the Ouija-board comparison.  I think you could characterize my way of playing by stating that I don't often care what the game is about and as long as it's interesting to me.  

I think that is one of the reasons that I have trouble relating to the game design philosophy that is common here at the Forge:  when I start running a game, I don't really know what it's going to be about.  Sometimes I have an idea of where I'd like it to go, but I don't really care if it gets there, as long as it keeps me interested. For example, Mike Holmes' dictum about combat system setting or influencing the focus for the game.   I think it is indeed a good idea for a game that's about political maneuvering not to have combat rules.  But what about a game that may be about political maneuvering, but then again, it may be about guerrilla warfare or about ...?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 02, 2004, 01:21:39 PM »

Hi Lee,

Glad to hear that we're making sense to one another! I hope Walt weighs in, 'cause I think he'd really like to see real-live zilchplay, having theorized about it and all.

Anyway, I'm gonna pull apart the questions a little because they're dense. Let me know if that does any violence to the actual ideas you want to discuss.

Quote
Suppose that the players had, during the course of creating their characters, built in certain moral conflicts that were likely to surface during play. Assume that they made no effort to direct play towards those conflicts once play has started. Does this make the game Nar?


I'm going to focus on your phrase no effort. "Effort," to me, means anything. Speaking and thinking are effort, no matter how spontaneous or "it just happened" they feel like. So "no effort" means that the whole "likeliness" vanishes, because it can't happen unless effort is involved.

If instead by "no effort" you only mean that no one bothers to articulate this likelihood to themselves or to anyone else, and that Premise does appear during play, and the people are observably playing in a fashion which addresses it ... then yeah, that's Narrativist. This is different from my above paragraph because in this case they do it, and in the previous  case they don't.

Quote
Does it matter if they built in those conflicts unintentionally? How about if they built in a whole series of moral conflicts, just to make sure that some of them came up in play? Or if we unintentionally loaded the Situation and Characters so that the characters' moral conflicts would be engaged?


All of the above, I hope it's clear, are all bog-standard Narrativist. The whole "intentional/unintentional" thing is a red herring. What matters is whether the real humans' real minds are occupied in a Narrativist fashion or endeavor, while in action. It doesn't matter what those minds said or say to themselves or to one another about it.

In fact, a hell of a lot of what I just quoted from your post (the last chunk) resembles how we played Champions for years. Our goal was to set up as many of the Disadvantages into interactive "dramatic cruxes" as possible, without a strong idea of when or how they would really connect during play itself, and without a strong idea of what the hero or heroes would do about it at that time. We just went in with lots of spunky expectation to see it happen - which as I now see it, also involved a commitment to make it happen when the opportunity arose.

And no, we didn't articulate any of this to one another except for fumbling attempts to analogize to various comics titles (under certain creators and at certain points  in time) when we discussed play.

Best,
Ron
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Lee Short
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« Reply #7 on: September 03, 2004, 08:28:00 AM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards

Anyway, I'm gonna pull apart the questions a little because they're dense. Let me know if that does any violence to the actual ideas you want to discuss.

That was fine.  But I think I need to get a little more down-and-dirty to really get to the bottom of this.   I think I understand anyway, but I just wanted to clarify, as I think we've read some text a bit differently.  
Quote

Quote
Suppose that the players had, during the course of creating their characters, built in certain moral conflicts that were likely to surface during play. Assume that they made no effort to direct play towards those conflicts once play has started. Does this make the game Nar?


I'm going to focus on your phrase no effort.

Poor word choice on my part. 'Intention' would have been better.  

Here's a couple of examples:  

Example A -- The players do not mutually discuss their characters' ethics and motivations at character generation time.  But, to make well-rounded characters, each of them gives their characters ethics and motivations, with no thought about how these might interact with the other PCs.  These motivations and ethics end up clashing during play.  

Example B -- Much the same, except that the players, when choosing their PCs' ethics and motivations, give some thought to selecting these so that some conflicts are likely to come up during play -- all without having discussed this with the other players.  

Your Champions example sounds more like B, but I'm guessing that you'd consider A to be Narrativist as well, so long as Premise ends up being addressed.  Example A is more what I was intending in my original question.
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Lee Short
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« Reply #8 on: September 03, 2004, 10:24:19 AM »

A quick addition, as I realized that reward is not worked into that last post at all.  First of all, is it necessary that the players enjoy the process of addressing premise?  Second, is it important that they enjoy addressing premise because they like to address premise, or will it suffice that in the process of doing fun things like meeting a challenge they happen to address premise along the way -- but since they had fun and premise was addressed, it's Narrativism?

And, FWIW, these are  addressed to Ron-as-theorist not Ron-as-guru.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: September 03, 2004, 03:05:22 PM »

Hiya,

"Ron as guru" doesn't exist, fortunately. If you see him, shoot him.

Yeah, both A and B are Narrativist, if in A, the "clashes" end up being the focus of attention or enjoyment, and if we are really talking about values and real-world problematic stuff. Also, the clashes might be with features introduced by the GM instead of with each other, makes no difference.

The next part is so abstract as to get out of the realm of reasonable discussion ... if we stick with it, we really ought to return to issues of actual play. Which in this case probably means another thread. But before doing so ...

Quote
First of all, is it necessary that the players enjoy the process of addressing premise?


Necessary to what? To being Narrativist? I'll go with that interpretation for my answer.

Most of my GNS discussion assumes that we are already talking about having fun. So in all of this thread so far, I've been sticking with that as a starting point.

"Not having fun" would be a whole new topic. Certainly it can arise from a bezillion things. I suggest that it often arises from CA-clashes which end up disrupting the Social Contract until "let's play" becomes itself problematic. And also that most Techniques-debates have CA-clashes at their heart ("you're not using that rule right" and so on).

Quote
Second, is it important that they enjoy addressing premise because they like to address premise, or will it suffice that in the process of doing fun things like meeting a challenge they happen to address premise along the way -- but since they had fun and premise was addressed, it's Narrativism?


Ah. There's an important quote in my "GNS and other matters" essay which people always miss:

Quote
... in the course of Narrativist or Simulationist play, moments or aspects of competition that contribute to the main goal are not Gamism. In the course of Gamist or Simulationist play, moments of thematic commentary that contribute to the main goal are not Narrativism. In the course of Narrativist or Gamist play, moments of attention to plausibility that contribute to the main goal are not Simulationism.


So it's quite likely that your second example could easily be something like what I'm describing here. Premise-Addressing isn't like a drop of blood in otherwise pristine water, ultimately staining all of it pink. You can have "stuff like it" in little ways without having to brand Narrativist on your forehead.

Gordon Landis likes to call this "little g, little s, little n."

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #10 on: September 03, 2004, 04:18:09 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
"Ron as guru" doesn't exist, fortunately. If you see him, shoot him.


"If you meet Ron Edwards on the road, kill Ron Edwards"?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 03, 2004, 04:23:41 PM »

Hey! Not me, Mr. Quick-Draw. The guru, the guru (wheresoe'er you imagine him, as long as it's not where I, the real person, am standing).

Gotta stave off the li'l zen hotheads out there.

Best,
Ron
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #12 on: September 04, 2004, 07:12:57 AM »

Oh. Okay.

[Pop-Zen hit squad stands down with much sheepish sheathing of swords]

We now return you to your actual thread topic....
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Lee Short
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« Reply #13 on: September 04, 2004, 08:19:54 AM »

Yep, that pretty well answers my questions.  Thanks.
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