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Author Topic: [Amber] The Trap of Self-Sufficiency  (Read 7362 times)
TonyLB
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« on: September 07, 2004, 06:44:09 AM »

The ongoing, possibly-doomed, experiment in Amber Narrativism continues!

When last we joined our persistent playing group, they had finally sidestepped the tangled ways in which the game mechanic itself undercuts narrativism.  This week they face the question of how the setting and background of the game itself pull desperately toward a Simulationist agenda!

------

I've been fascinated by the lovely Kickers that people wrote for themselves in my game, Past Perfect.  I've got a guy who has amnesia, one who is violently estranged from his family, one who needs the aid of her monarch to keep her family from the verge of collapse.  Good, good stuff.

To my frustration, however, the way I've tried to profit from these Kickers doesn't seem to be working real well.

I gave the amnesia guy a choice between running and hiding, or staying close enough (by whatever method) to the organization that had him captured that he could learn something of his past.

I had the family guy's brother show up on his doorstep with troubles that (naturally) the player's character had indirectly caused.  So the brother is bitter, but simultaneously needs help.

I spiked the kicker of the girl who needs royal help, by making it clear that there would never be a normal path for her to gain an audience.  Then I gave her an opportunity to get access to the royal family, but at the cost of becoming a vampire (though, actually, that was her idea in the first place, not mine).

Amnesia guy ran.  Family guy gave his brother some help, but refused to be drawn into conversation.  Girl-needing-help refused the transformation, then asked me as GM to force it upon her.

I'm not really sure what's going on here, but I think it may have to do with the idea (from the very influential rulebook, not from my backstory, where I've explicitly disavowed it) that Amber characters are supposed to be self-sufficient... that, in short, if you are offered a situation where you feel that you need to do something you don't want to, in order to achieve your goal, then you aren't playing an Amber character, because an Amber character would never be in that situation.

That's my theory, anyway... I'm interested in hearing other thoughts.  It may well be that I'm using Kickers in entirely the wrong way.
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Brennan Taylor
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« Reply #1 on: September 07, 2004, 07:07:44 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
I'm not really sure what's going on here, but I think it may have to do with the idea (from the very influential rulebook, not from my backstory, where I've explicitly disavowed it) that Amber characters are supposed to be self-sufficient... that, in short, if you are offered a situation where you feel that you need to do something you don't want to, in order to achieve your goal, then you aren't playing an Amber character, because an Amber character would never be in that situation.


I don't think that's the case. When I ran Amber, that was the entire theme running through the game. Characters were constantly faced with choices between bad and worse. That is basically what makes a game dramatic, at least in my mind (if choices are always clear, it gets boring), especially in a game like Amber where family politics are such a huge factor.

Really, your problem here doesn't seem to be one with the game itself, but rather your players' reaction to the kickers.
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Vaxalon
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« Reply #2 on: September 07, 2004, 11:57:04 AM »

I agree with inthisstyle.  You gave them choices, they made choices.  I really fail to see how this is a failing of the book.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: September 07, 2004, 02:11:47 PM »

My sense, though it's obviously a little hard to know for sure, is that people felt they couldn't follow up on their Kickers, because they were restrained by the type of characters they were supposed to play.

On the other hand, it could very well be that I am offering them the wrong sorts of choices (or, rather, that I'm not offering them choices at all, I'm offering them opportunities to "opt-in" to their own Kickers, and that they're naturally rejecting those opportunities because their characters wouldn't want them).
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Blankshield
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« Reply #4 on: September 07, 2004, 02:33:05 PM »

Hmm.  It seems to me, from this armchair, that the problem is that your players are either identifying too strongly with their characters, or (put another way) are failing to step out of actor stance.  The third example really seems crystal clear from what you wrote so far: (forgive the summation)

Player suggests story path (become vampire to get audience)
Player refuses story path
Player explicitly asks for story path to be forced on her.

This seems to me very much like the player is either refusing or is competely unfamiliar with the concept of making decisions for her character not as her character.

I'm not really sure how to cure this, or in fact, if it is something that needs curing.  But it does sound very much to me like your players don't know how to say "yes!" if their characters would say "no!"

James
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Grover
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« Reply #5 on: September 07, 2004, 04:35:18 PM »

I got exactly the opposite sense of that.  It seems to me that the third player has a clear sense of what she wants for her character, and specifically, she wants her character to become a vampire, without choosing to become a vampire.  Maybe I'm missing something, but this makes sense to me.  
 
  I can see a character conception where the character would never voluntarily join the ranks of the undead, but the player wants to explore what happens when that character becomes undead.  When confronted with an in-game opportunity to become undead, the character would have to refuse, even though the player wants it.  
 
  To take a different example, if my goal is to have a Punisher-style character who wreaks vengeance on criminals everywhere because of the brutal murder of his family, I can't just have the character hire the Mafia to brutally murder his family.  But in most games, the only formal way I have to affect game play is through my characters actions, so if I want to get my characters family brutally murdered, I have to ask the GM to arrange it.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: September 07, 2004, 04:51:35 PM »

And I, who actually witnessed the exchange in question, honestly don't know which of the two situations was present.

I figured that it would be interesting either way (given that it was clear she was going to be a vampire will-she or no).  She can do it voluntarily, and buy into the concept that it is in some way "her fault", and use that for the character.  Or she can have it imposed upon her, and bring that sense of victimization forward.

I don't know if the player saw both choices as possible, though.  Certainly when I mentioned the possibility of the choice going either way all I got was the internet equivalent of a blank stare and a rapid change of subject.

I am leaning toward Blankshield's sense that the players see characterization as a strait-jacket rather than a tool, but I honestly don't know.  What do people think of the way I used the Kickers?  In writing them up it seemed woefully Force-ful.
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Marco
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« Reply #7 on: September 08, 2004, 07:21:57 AM »

I think that saying that "characterization is a straight jacket" is missing the point. There are things I might discuss in the meta-game that I would fight against, in character, during the game.

To me, to my goals of playing, those are two different things--I derive much of my enjoyment of play from Actor Stance and therefore if I want to arrange something contrary to the character my preferred method is to work that out in the meta-game.

(Note: I would do this pretty much solely for set up--sort of to play through some framing--not for resolution)

My suggestion would be to ask "what's your character gonna think about that" and "So, I, as the GM, should be ... erm ... 'pretty persuasive'?"

I'm thinking mostly about the Vampire thing. For the family one, you might ask the player something about what they see the actual conflict as being there--but: not everyone is "on" all the time. If I'm asked for a good central kicker-style-conflict I may take a few hours to come up with one I'm really into. If there's pressure to start playing then, well, I might come up with something I'm iffy on.

So I think that how the kickers are introduced relative to time-to-start is important too.

-Marco
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: September 08, 2004, 07:47:48 AM »

Marco, you derive pleasure from Actor stance.  You use it as a tool.

Some people hate dealing with that kind of thinking, but do it anyway because they think it's a requirement of roleplaying.  They are bound by characterization as if by a strait-jacket.

Have I missed your point again?
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Marco
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« Reply #9 on: September 08, 2004, 07:52:30 AM »

Quote from: TonyLB
Marco, you derive pleasure from Actor stance.  You use it as a tool.

Some people hate dealing with that kind of thinking, but do it anyway because they think it's a requirement of roleplaying.  They are bound by characterization as if by a strait-jacket.

Have I missed your point again?


If you happen to know your players hate playing from Actor stance then I missed it (and thus I missed your point :) ).

It sounds to me like the vampire girl wants to fight against something in-character but lose as a played-through set up for a conflict she's interested in handling in an open-ended way in character.

Basically I didn't see the element of Actor-hate in your write-up but could be I blew my reading-comp roll.

-Marco
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: September 08, 2004, 08:09:09 AM »

The evidence is sketchy either way.  As I've said, I don't know what's going on.

I think I understand your point.  They might all be doing what you say.  But (in my purely personal opinion) I don't think so.

I think that in the group as a whole, at least some of them are likely sticking with "my guy" defensiveness against their own plot ideas because they haven't internalized their other options.

It is, of course, a matter upon which rational people could reasonably disagree.

If I'd known that I'd be seeing so much strict Actor play, I would have required a whole heck of a lot more attention be paid to the construction of character backgrounds and personality.  If the players aren't going to create new drives and then retrofit the motivation into their character then they obviously need a higher level of drive and conflict built into the character in the first place.  Yet another learning experience, darn it....
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: September 08, 2004, 08:21:20 AM »

Hiya,

I'm lookin' over the Kickers, and here's what I see: no Force. It'd be Force if you actually had in mind exactly what the characters would do in response, and if you took steps to tell (I use "tell" very loosely here) the players what to do, specifically.

Kickers are tremendously useful as Narrativist tools - but no Technique can make play accord with a particular Creative Agenda. Especially in internet-based play, in which interpersonal support and appreciation of CA are cut to a minimum, the whole Big Model is thrown into maybes which, in face-to-face play, are near-necessities.

Tony, I'm thinking that your expectations of the players aren't very well-suited for internet-based play of any kind ... after all, in this case, why would they care what value the Kickers had for them as players? Heres' the worst-case scenario (from your POV), I think. They want to read their screens and enjoy what they see there. Their effort is confined to providing whatever it is they need to provide in order to read more cool stuff.

I'm not saying this is actually what's going on, but given the medium, how can you expect more? Powerful as Kickers are, they (and all Techniques) are insufficient to overcome or modify a Social Contract which simply doesn't contain "let's play" in a way which produces/needs Creative Agenda.

Best,
Ron
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Lisa Padol
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« Reply #12 on: September 15, 2004, 08:55:12 PM »

Hm. I'm not sure if this helps, but here are a couple of thoughts.

It's true that too many people say, "I really want X result. But, that requires Y. And, if I play my character correctly, she would do everything in her power to avoid Y and/or X."

One can deal with this a number of ways.

My partner Josh advocates paying attention. This was originally part of his advice to help me enjoy larps more, but it applies to other types of rpgs. If you pay attention, you can generally find an In Character reason to do what you want.

You can change the character. This is sometimes the correct answer.

You can say, up front, "Help me get to point X. I'm not sure how to do it with my PC." This kind of clear communication often solves a plethora of difficulties. Fr'ex, in Naomi Rivkis' Altclair campaign (system OTE, setting a college campus where lots of magic kinda happens -- think Urban Fantasy, de Lint, Buffy, Hand's Waking the Moon, Dean's Tam Lin), I said, "Okay, I'd like Justin [my PC] to negotiate with Oberon and the faerie court to keep their desire to steal his creativity from being burning him. But he tends to be cautious, and with good reason." Naomi said, "Yes, I'd like that too." So, player and GM conspired against the PC.

It is okay to have a PC who is reluctant to get involved. But the player must work with the GM against the PC. So long as GM and player trust each other, and player does not over-identify with the PC, this can be loads of fun. (Ron, am I proving your point about role-playing vs acting here?)

Here's an example of players conspiring against their PCs. In Beth Bartley's Hub game (system OTE, setting James H. Schmidt's Hub stories, sf), Marius, my PC is a powerful empath. Stephen Tihor's PC, Ell, is a Screamer -- that is, if someone uses psy on her and she's not wearing her thought shield, the poor psychic gets trapped in a very nasty feedback loop. Stephen and I knew all about each other's PCs, but neither PC knew that the other was psychic.

Both were working to thwart an attempt to kidnap Ell's niece. Marius was with one group of people, Ell with another. Stephen decided that Ell would drop her sheild, in case there were enemy psis. As soon as I heard that, I decided that Marius would use his empathy to pinpoint everyone in his group and Ell's group, and to try to identify all hostiles.

Beth: The trick is to time this so that Marius doesn't get caught when Ell drops her sheilds, so --

Lisa: But Marius has no idea that Ell's a screamer.

Beth: You mean --

Stephen: And Ell has no idea that Marius is an empath.

Whereupon Beth had to take a 30 second break because she was laughing too hard.

Now, I'm not sure if this example helps, as this had nothing to do with long term goals, or even short term Acting opportunities. Stephen and I both decided that Marius getting caught by Ell's screamer power was the sort of thing appropriate to the story. It was a genre cliche that simply had to be used.

It's what the players wanted. The PCs' desires be damned!

-Lisa
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: September 15, 2004, 09:13:19 PM »

Hi Lisa,

Yeah, you're right on it - I think I should make clear that acting can be part of this process too, but more as a timed add-on than a base requirement.

Anyway, overall, your post is an awesome testament to a bit of Forge jargon called Author Stance.

Best,
Ron
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jdagna
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« Reply #14 on: September 15, 2004, 09:57:23 PM »

Is it possible that the real problem is that the kickers lack real kick?

Here's what I'm seeing: all of these characters have rational reasons to refuse to do what's in their kickers.  Perhaps they were expecting you as GM to up the ante a little bit more?

For example: the would-be vampire girl... She needs the help of the monarch to prevent the collapse of her family.  She rejected the way to get that help... so where is the collapse?  Now, I'm not sure what kind of collapse you mean, but if I were the GM and a player rejected an idea that they'd proposed, I'd do two things: first, I'd make sure the player still wanted it (in this case, she volunteered that information) and second, I'd up the ante (in this case, perhaps her refusal is followed by a message that said "Father blew up and beat mother severely last night... we're not sure if she's going to survive without a physician and we can't afford one!")

For a suitable conflict with the other family guy, I'd have the brother show up with the cops.  "You wronged me, and I'm pressing charges."  Now the player has a more compelling choice: go to jail (or worse) or convince the brother to drop the charges (which means reconciling that relationship at least a little bit).

Now, as a GM, I enjoy upping the ante to help players find the breaking point for the their characters, so I'll happily start with something light that they can reject and then keep ratcheting up the pressure until they break.  And... if players never do what they say they want to (such as becoming a vampire to save the family), I have no compunction about forcibly retiring the character ("Well, the monarch still won't see you, your family has destroyed itself.  We've done what we can with this character, time to roll up a new one.") though I usually warn players about this before I do anything irreversible.
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Justin Dagna
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