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Author Topic: Establishing social contract from invite onwards  (Read 6918 times)
mindwanders
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« on: October 04, 2004, 02:11:10 AM »

After my last attempt at a campaign had some social contract issues, I started looking at possible ways to establish the social contract with people as early as possible. The idea I came up with was to put as much of the social contract into the pitch that i give to players to get them interested.

It's an Ars Magica game that is intended to focus on character and setting exploration as purely as possible. So I needed to get this accross right from the begining, before we even look at character generation.

Below is what I'm thinking of sending to my players, but what I want from this thread is:

1) Has anyone tried this before? Did it work? Any tips?

2) What else should I put in or take out from what I have already written?

Quote


Hi Folks,

I'm looking to start an ars magica game soon and I'm looking for players. If you've received this then I reckon it might be something you might enjoy playing or you have already expressed interest.

Basic Concept

You can get a basic overview of ars magica here:

http://redcap.org/FAQ/FAQ1a.html

And the especially keen amongst you can download the rule book from here:

http://www.atlas-games.com/arsmagica/free/index.html

Where and When

I'll be running the game every second Saturday afternoon, but I want to run the first 4 weeks in a row to get us up to speed quickly if possible. The intention is to run 2-8pm so that people can run off to the pub in the evening. I Don't know where I'll be running the game yet, but I'm hoping to run at Hugh's flat off easter road if he'll let me.

Time Keeping

I am notoriously late for everything, so we will pretty much aspire to starting as soon as I arrive. I will be trying to keep the lateness under control, but I can make no promises. If I'm going to be late I'll phone someone and let them know, I expect you all to do the same.

If you are there after 2pm, but before me, then you aren't late. If you aren't there when I arrive and you haven't phoned then we'll start without you on the assumption that you aren't going to make it.

Drinking

Drinking is not banned. In fact it's positively encouraged. Just don't overdo it.

Style of Game

I'll be running this game troupe style, which means that you will have more than one character that you can play depending on what is appropriate for the session I'm running that day. I'm hoping to achieve the semi LARP style that I managed with my FS game, with people sitting and talking to each other IC without needing me there to act as a go between.  The intention is to keep it very much focused on your characters, their desires and the relationships between them.

I'm looking for you to be quite proactive for this game. There will be no standard adventures, and unless one of your characters states that they are wanting to go off and do something specific, then most of the sessions will be based at some social event around the covenant. I'll feed in rumors and news about things that are happening in the region, but it is totally up to you whether you want to follow any of them up. I will also be happy to work in plot lines that you are wanting the chance to get involved in, as long as you keep them reasonably local.

Setting

I'll be setting the game in Orkney in either the 12th or 13th century. This puts you in the very outskirts of the Scottish tribunal, which coincidentally is considered to be in the arse end of no-where by the mages who live in other tribunals. This means that you will be well away from the major politics of the order and in the sort of area where a lot of people play fast and loose with the Hermetic Code. Most of the magi in the area are hedge wizards who live alone rather than in Covenants like respectable magi, as such you probably won't see much of them.

There are another three covenants in the area and you are welcome to visit, trade or make war with them if you wish. Two of them will start of neutral and the third has sponsored the creation of your new covenant, so you are already in debt to them.

There are also a lot of supernatural threats in the area that will poke back if you start poking around. I'll be keeping the flavor very Orkadian for the local magical creatures, so you can expect Trow, Finmen and Sea Serpents to be lurking about.

There is no "Big Plot" planned at the moment. Although all the NPC's have their own agenda's and there's lots of fun to be had if you decide to pick sides.

Of course, staying neutral might be tricky.

Scope

Ars Magica is designed to play very slowly IC. After the initial few sessions, each adventure or major social session will have around a year or so of game time time between them, so the characters will age and advance very quickly compared to what some of you are used to.

This is not designed to be a massive epic of magical power, it's supposed to be a casual meander through wizardly life. As such I'm not expecting the characters to have a massive impact on the order as a whole, however I'm happy for you to become influential amongst Scottish magi.

Rules

I've got a campaign management tool for ars magica, so I'll be using that to handle the rules heavy admin that needs to be done between adventures. I'll be handling the XP system very strictly because it's one of the core aspects of the system, I'll also be running Magic by the book. However I will probably handle combat and normal skill roles quite fast and loose.

For those of you with knowledge of the system, I'll be using the 4th Ed with a few selected rules from the Grimoire and Houses of Hermes. I will not be using any of the rules for non-hermetic magi or mystery cults because they just make the whole thing too damn complicated.

Character Creation

Each player will have character slots for 1 Magus, 1 Companion (a powerful non-magician) and as many Grogs (minor characters with a very limited skill base) as they think they can handle. You will not be expected to generate all your characters at the beginning of the game, instead we will introduce the characters as it becomes appropriate.

We will start with one Magus character who is trying to recruit people for a new Covenant. Each character during the initial round of character creation must be linked to that character in some way. After we have sorted out the initial relationships and maybe run a short roleplaying session or two based around them, we will start introducing additional characters who must be linked in some way to the initial set. We'll continue adding characters in this way until everyone feels they have enough to play with.

The emphasis will be on creating well rounded characters with definite goals and problems to overcome. I'll be spending a lot of time with the players to make sure that the characters fit well into the setting and will suggest relationships with NPC's that could make things more interesting.

Historical Accuracy

I'll try and get the background and history to be reasonably historically accurate and I expect you to do the same for your characters background. However I'm not expecting anyone to do massive amounts of research, just try and keep the anachronisms down to a minimum. After the game starts "history" goes out the window and I expect free reign to do what I want with the "future" of the game world. I will also not hold you as players to any set down "future". Life is what you make it and anything is possible after the game starts.

Player Input

You will have a much higher level of input into this game than normal. I'll happily rewrite sections of the setting so that people can get the sort of background they are looking for.

Once the game is up and running I am more than happy for other people to run the occasional adventure or even take responsibility for sections of the setting if you wish. However there is no expectation that anyone else runs anything and another GM only gets to run something if it's OK by all the players.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 04, 2004, 05:29:53 AM »

Hello,

I have not, in the past twenty years, role-played without some kind of document of this kind on the table. At the very least, and rarely, we have a pre-game discussion or series of discussions that serve the same purpose. I'm talking about hundreds of players and many different groups.

In Sorcerer, it's literally part of the instructions for play to set up such a document. This is taken from my lessons learned from so much Champions experience, as well as from some observations of mine that the 4th edition Champions "campaign sheets" were not functional for my preferences and goals.

How people play without such things is completely beyond me. If the pattern from this forum is representative in any way, it's pretty clear that they generally cannot.

As far as critiquing the content is concerned, I think you'd do well to present some of the in-setting material that you're looking forward to using, and also to call for comments or statements of interest on the parts of players.

Best,
Ron
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mindwanders
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« Reply #2 on: October 04, 2004, 07:14:38 AM »

Quote
I have not, in the past twenty years, role-played without some kind of document of this kind on the table. At the very least, and rarely, we have a pre-game discussion or series of discussions that serve the same purpose. I'm talking about hundreds of players and many different groups.

In Sorcerer, it's literally part of the instructions for play to set up such a document. This is taken from my lessons learned from so much Champions experience, as well as from some observations of mine that the 4th edition Champions "campaign sheets" were not functional for my preferences and goals.

How people play without such things is completely beyond me. If the pattern from this forum is representative in any way, it's pretty clear that they generally cannot.


I must admit that I have used very basic documents llike this before. However, they have been more to get accross and idea of the setting and the types of characters I'd prefer.

I've only recently been introduced to the Forge and the whole idea of the social contract is the one that has blown me away the most and where I realise most of my problems have arrisen from in the past. This is a pretty obvious solution to the problem, so I'm not surprised that you and probably most of the other regulars are already using them.

Quote
As far as critiquing the content is concerned, I think you'd do well to present some of the in-setting material that you're looking forward to using, and also to call for comments or statements of interest on the parts of players.


That sounds like a good couple of ideas. I'll add them in.
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mindwanders
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« Reply #3 on: October 04, 2004, 07:16:44 AM »

I don't supose you might be willing to post up a couple of examples that you have used for your games?

I'm sure it'd be helpful to a lot of people who are new to the forge.
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clehrich
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« Reply #4 on: October 04, 2004, 07:51:24 AM »

Not including the stuff like when, where, and can we drink, Jere's wiki for our Age of Paranoia game provides a lot of this sort of material.  The section of the wiki that's relevant can be found at this link, with the sections on Campaign, Design Parameters, and A Word to the Players.  After that it flows directly into the system rules or mechanics.

This has worked quite well.  Recently we had a difference of opinion about one player's writeup developments, and we discussed it largely on the basis of these sections, and came to an amicable agreement.
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Chris Lehrich
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« Reply #5 on: October 04, 2004, 11:49:11 AM »

This looks pretty good. I'm curious Ron, how have you got players to really read and discuss the social contract stuff? In my last campaign I did try and lay out some social contract ground rules, but never got any feedback from the players. I guess one thing I didn't do is talk about them.

Frank
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Frank Filz
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« Reply #6 on: October 04, 2004, 12:44:55 PM »

Quote from: clehrich
Not including the stuff like when, where, and can we drink


Drinking is of course encoruaged, especially if you bring the wine, preferably good wine. No wine in boxes.
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jdagna
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« Reply #7 on: October 04, 2004, 08:59:41 PM »

I've never written down the social contract aspects of gaming, but I do generally think it would be helpful.  You can always try to talk these things over (and I do have some verbal policies that have helped), but writing things down is always better.

I do have one suggestion: follow/enforce the rules.  I've played in so many games where the group didn't follow what they said they wanted or did.  

For example, one GM described a campaign as "investigative" but the format was that each session provided one clue, but only after we killed the bad guys.  

Another GM modified the dice mechanic specifically to encourage player narration about the effects of rolls, with complications and such supposedly resulting from marginal rolls... but he never gave anyone a chance to describe anything (and generally vetoed anything we inserted if we spoke up).  

In one group, we discussed our late starts and made a rule to always start on time regardless of who was there... and went from starting 1.5 hours late to 2 hours late the very next week.

While writing all this down might have helped, I think the key is that someone has to step up to be "the bad guy" and enforce the rules.  That doesn't have to be the GM, and it should be specified by the contract.
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Justin Dagna
President, Technicraft Design.  Creator, Pax Draconis
http://www.paxdraconis.com
aganauton
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« Reply #8 on: October 18, 2004, 04:57:20 AM »

Gordon,

I wholeheartedly agree with Ron.

It's better to spell out to all those involved what you expect and in turn what is expected off you before any game commences.  And I think this goes beyond just the game proper.  I liked your reference to allowing drinking because this may be important to your group.

In past experience I belonged to a group of players where our social contract  (new term for me, but in restrospect, that's exactly what it was) wasn't necessarily written but the 'rules' where explained up front to any new players.  All in all, it worked very well.

Some aspects of the contract were just common courtesy ie. If you can't make the session for some reason, please call me and let me know as soon as possible at ....  Other rules just (maybe) related to our group.  Our group was fairly large (up to 12 people available to play), with several different games everybody liked to play and with the majority of people willing and able to referee a game.

When it was time to switch games (to give the current ref a break), people who had ideas for the next game would literally stand up and 'pitch' their idea of the next game to the group, which led to a generalized discussion on what the next game was going to be, who was running it, who was playing, etc, etc.  It led to some rather enjoyable experiences (2 refs, 2 groups, same game and setting, ref's working together, player groups working against one another).  This 'pitch to the masses' worked in a similiar fashion to your posted game description.

Because of this background I have a few suggestions, bearing in mind, that I'm not familiar with the system you're using (and thus maybe the suggestions don't apply).

       * How player absence will be dealt with
       * How character death will be dealt with
       * Conflict resolution between players (it does come up sometimes)
       * Acceptable subject matter / language
       * Expected number of sessions
       * A little more definition to which rules are being used (this is a personal opinion, but "fast and loose" is open to quite a bit of interpretation and nothing destroys a game faster then open arguement between player and ref over a 'rule')
       * Breaks (I notice that you're playing across a dinner/supper)

Something else I would like to bring up is a 'warm-up period', for lack of a better term.  All of our time frames went something like: Meet at 7:00, play commences 7:30.  This happened quite by accident, but worked so well we included as an aspect of our social contract.  That half hour acted as a buffer for people that were running late; let people who didn't see one another except at the gaming session get caught up with the local 'gossip', instead of during the game; afforded players some one-on-one time with the ref if needed; allowed the ref to get some informal feedback on the game, by just listening to the general conversation and allowed alot of problems to be worked out before they really became a problem.  Players weren't considered late if they showed up at 7:30 because that was when the game actually started.  Most times people showed up at 7:00 not because they had to, but because they wanted to and games actually started early.

If I've made my former group seem overly heavy-handed or snobbish then that's my fault in trying to describe our social contract. In practice, concensus was reached quickly and with few instances of hurt feelings.  I can't even remember an arguement of any sort ever breaking out.  Disagreements, yes,  debates, oh yeah, game ideas being killed, yes, but never full fledged arguements.  By design and by accident we arrived at a social contract that worked for all of us, but we were able to do this because of our number one rule:  Maintain communication between the people playing the game.

Hope this helps,

Ag

PS.  Congrats Ron and Clifton, very well organized and mediated forum and I'm looking forward to visiting many more times.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: October 18, 2004, 07:10:08 AM »

Hello,

Ag, welcome!!

I thought I'd toss in a quick clarifier about a few things, especially Social Contract.

A document or one-sheet like we're all talking about in this thread isn't itself the Social Contract. The SC will always be a matter of real-life interactions in space and time; and much of it will be non-verbal. I even suggest that much of it can't be verbalized by most or even all people.

What a one-sheet does is help focus everybody's imaginative attention in some way, and provides a nice confirmation that the (real) Social Contract exists. Its secondary role is also to provide some mechanics help, especially for stuff that needs to be understood in the first session.

This post isn't intended to correct anyone's thinking as presented so far, so much as to situate the topic of discussion relative to the ever-agonizing terminology. Public service announcement, I guess.

Best,
Ron
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