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Is this Forcing?

Started by ptevis, February 16, 2005, 03:54:01 PM

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Hi Paul,

I think this thread is digging a hole deeper into misunderstanding rather than getting us really out of it.  Instead of trying to analyze the imagined events in play, and the interactions of your group when most of us contributing to this thread were not physically present to witness, how about we step back and look at Force and let you apply your own observations?

1.  Input vs. Force

Let's say you have a game and a core mechanic is to choose 1 of any of the 26 letters in the English language.  That's input.  Force is when the GM says, "You can choose any of the 26 letters as long as they're A or B."  That's Force.  Mechanically, most games rule that the players have complete authority and input over their characters range of options and actions- Force is stepping in and limiting those.  This is neither good nor bad, but it works well with some styles of play, and poorly with others.  Period.

2.  Force in its various forms

a)  Social Cues

"You're going to attack the Super Death Lord? Are you sure?  REALLY SURE?  Oooookaaaayyy..."  Rolls eyes, frowns, shakes head, etc.  
Even children and dogs can read social cues.  Approval/Disapproval is a part of gaming- but using it as a means to influence decisions(before they are finalized, instead of afterwards) is a form of Force.

b) The loaded question

"Would you rather give me two 5 dollar bills, or a 10 dollar bill?"  Notice that the question doesn't leave any other options available- it assumes that A or B are the only options.  Paul- this is what is being pointed to with your binary question.  I'll talk more about this further down...

c) Destined to fail/succeed

Player is trying to get his or her character to sneak into the castle.  The GM has already decided that the character will fail at this.  So, the GM makes the player keep making rolls until failure results.  Luke Crane points out this problem in Burning Wheel's "Let it Ride" rules.  Likewise, you could also keep loading a player with chances to succeed until they succeed.  Beyond that, you could also load the odds to be so impossibly difficult/easy as to guarantee a certain outcome.

d) GM fiat

This becomes force when things normally determined through the use of the mechanics is overridden by GM decision.  This also comes in the form of the GM retroactively giving extra abilities, powers, etc. to NPCs in order to save their skins...  "Oh, Super Necro Lord switched himself with a body double just before the fight!"  Fudging dice also applies here.

e) Raw Railroading

"This is what you do"  Pretty clear sign of Force in effect.

So, check this out- Force can range from comparatively subtle("Are you sure?" raised eyebrow) to raw railroading.  This is where folks start getting confused- input is in accordance with the group's understanding of what everyone's range of input is supposed to be.  Force is going beyond that level of input.  This can be conducive to play, and, many people will argue that you can't possibly play any game without fudging the rules- a sign that Force is one way of dealing with a system that doesn't do what they want.  People can clearly see Force when it hurts, but they turn a blind eye when it helps.

Ok- that's Force.

Now on to your game specifically, Paul.  If your goal was to provide Narrativist play, with a Premise to be answered, then you cannot reduce a Premise question to a yes/no response.  Addressing Premise is always like writing an answer to an essay question- never a multiple choice.

QuoteI'd like to think that this is merely the last in series of asked questions, that throughout the course of play we continued to up the ante while asking, "Is revenge worth this?"

Now, consider the difference between the simple yes/no, and answers like, "No, not if it costs me the rest of what I was trying to protect", "Not if it makes me just like the enemy", "Yes, if I have nothing else to live for", "Yes, if it assures it will never happen again", etc.  Even these are simplified answers.  Consider all the various exceptions and conditional statements that come up with the question, "Is it ok to kill?" - For food?  For self defense?  What if someone else is going to shoot you unless you kill someone else? Etc.  All that stuff during play is Addressing Premise.

But the point is- what happens in play is the answer that the entire group creates by taking various sides and input to that question.  If you've decided the two possible outcomes, sessions in advance- then you've already decided to cut out all the other possible answers the group could have created.  That's Force.  Period.

Everyone has stated that Force in and of itself is neither good nor bad- depending on what the group is trying to do.  For Nar play- it is bad.  For Sim play, its functional, and perhaps even necessary to prevent it from sliding to other kinds of play.  For you, the question is, "What do we(the group) want to be doing, and is Force for us?"*

Does that clarify anything?


*In my head, I hear it like a tv ad, "Ask your GM if Force is right for you..."  :P

Callan S.

Heya Ron,

QuotePaul, addressing Premise means really addressing it during play - and reserving the "question asking" for a climactic battle decision in the final part of the final session of the game isn't enough. And furthermore, not letting the players know they're engaged in such a question, until after it's over, is not enough.

QuoteSo what is the deal with the binary decision, then? I think you may have missed my point, that it's not the binary quality in and of itself that connotes Force, but rather the major effort you were prepared to put forth to see one side of the decision get implemented.
Oh, when you put it that way I can see the force now. I sort of just saw it as simulationist play...and didn't see any issue with the various rewards in place. But I'm probably in one of those 'Shit, I'm playing vanilla narrativism' mental modes, so I didn't see the play for what it was. I couldn't see it as a prob for sim (or gamism). But looking again at the definition now I see its about thematic control. Ah, my bad!
Philosopher Gamer


Quote1. Input vs. Force
2. Force in its various forms

Right. This is perfectly clear.

QuoteBut the point is- what happens in play is the answer that the entire group creates by taking various sides and input to that question. If you've decided the two possible outcomes, sessions in advance- then you've already decided to cut out all the other possible answers the group could have created. That's Force. Period.

Then I guess my question is, how could I have recast the situation in question so as not to use Force?

QuoteDoes that clarify anything?

Quite a bit, actually. Sorry for not explaining more, but I'm at a convention and already sleep deprived.

Paul Tevis
Have Games, Will Travel @
A Fistful of Games @


Hi Paul,

QuoteThen I guess my question is, how could I have recast the situation in question so as not to use Force?

Here's a key difference between Sim and Nar play- Sim can ride on GM Force alone, while Nar requires everyone gets input and works as a group to address that question.  No single person can force-feed the premise to the group without their buy in and still get Narrativist play.  Nar play works with either putting the premise on the table up front(Dust Devil's devil mechanics) and/or the GM facilitating("following") the player's input towards premise in play.

So- in the first case, if everyone at the table is going with, "What is revenge worth?", then they all design characters around that concept, and work their characters to hit that note in whatever way they see fit.  The second part is a major feature of Nar play- sometimes it turns out the premise people thought would be interesting is actually weak compared to another issue, and the group focuses on that.

As a GM, your role then becomes to follow the players' leads and press buttons around what premises their characters are working with.  Some games like Dust Devils or TROS lays out what buttons the players want and you work with them.  Trollbabe or Inspectres hand the buttons straight to the players and the GM's role becomes to go with it.

So- the best you could have done is set up a situation that revolved around revenge, and let the players go to work.  For the most direct fashion- get buy in from the players at the beginning- "Hey, how would you guys all like to play characters with a vengence kick for this character/group of characters?"  They say yes, then let them go.  Or you could build a conflict and R-map with revenge at the center and get the PCs tied in via that- but there's no guarantee that they'll care at all about revenge- perhaps love, or forgiveness or some other thematic premise will seem better to them.

As you can see, this is 180 degrees opposite of the typical Illusionist/Sim advice that the GM is responsible for introducing and creating theme in play with the players utilizing their characters to "help".  Instead, the players make theme through their characters and the GM is the helper/facilitator.


edit- PS- There is also a way to make it "almost certain" to hit particular premises by highly loading a situation and dropping in pregenerated characters into play.  Ron's demon baby scenario in Sex & Sorcery comes to mind.  But even then, its possible for players to drive things into entirely different premises than what may have been pre-loaded :)

Callan S.

Or you could make it clearly just sim, through explicit SC on the matter. I'm sure that's possible even as that NPC does stuff that seems nar, you can just explore it in a sim sense. Well, I assume you can do that. Anyone think I'm wrong?
Philosopher Gamer


Quote from: ptevis
QuoteBut the point is- what happens in play is the answer that the entire group creates by taking various sides and input to that question. If you've decided the two possible outcomes, sessions in advance- then you've already decided to cut out all the other possible answers the group could have created. That's Force. Period.

Then I guess my question is, how could I have recast the situation in question so as not to use Force?

Sounds like the way to do this would be to make sure the players have all the information that you have.  You need to let them know what they have their hands on when you provide them with nifty tools like the sword of evil and the Lord of coming-destruction.  The dramatic-reveal-at-the-end style of gaming is not, I think, compatible with players sharing in the creation of premise.

Ron Edwards

Hi everyone,

We're getting just a bit far afield and into more general topics, which, if people want to pursue them generally, might go into their own threads. I'll make two little points which unfortunately continue this trend, but I'll try to relate them to Paul and the Nobilis game.

Chris (Bankuei), that's all dead-on, although stated a little extremely. In most Sorcerer games, for instance, all the Color is right up-front, but the specific Premise tends to evolve through initial play. In my games, anyway, there's often a dreamy or otherwise "non-adventure" feel to the first session or two, and then a rather terrifying shift into frenetic exchanges.

The In Utero scenario is obviously tremendously different for con purposes, and it showcases only one or two features of Narrativist play.

Paul, I think this is relevant to your Nobilis game because the game is so rich in color and tone. (Whether it's "brilliant" or "evocative" or even "well-written" I leave to the individual reader.) In thinking about playing it, or discussing it with others, we would take a Sorcerer approach - really push all the atmosphere and color during character creation, and during play then everyone would look for fault points in the characters and most especially their little circle of connections. What would happen, who would oppose them, who would live or die, what Kosmik Hassle might be involved, would all evolve out of our group effort in putting pressure on the fault points.

Madeline, I hope it makes sense that therefore the GM can indeed have back-story and many "unknown things" ready to bring into play, in such a game. The players do not need to take on the full background knowledge in order for this mode of play to reach its potential. In some games, especially some of the really wonky ones here, they do - Capes and Universalis being the best examples. In others, most especially Dust Devils, Trollbabe, and Dogs in the Vineyard, they don't.

What's different, though - and here you're absolutely spot on - is how the various real people in play relate to knowledge about this back-story. Yes, you are correct that a GM in this kind of play is hampering everyone's enjoyment (including his or her own) by hoarding information and reserving it for a pre-designated session well ahead of time. They also hamper the fun when they stuff it down the players' throats in ways which are intended to prompt pre-expected actions - "You have a dream in which your cousin, bleeding from the eyes, begs you to come to Connecticut ..."

Instead, the information is there, the NPCs and objects in the game-world have it, and whatever they find out, they find out. If you want to know more about that, we should probably take it to another thread.

So the GM isn't a barrier to the information, nor is he or she leaving breadcrumbs in a specific trail. NPCs constantly give up information because they want the PCs to do stuff. The GM literally has no more notion about "where the story is going" than the players do, and ultimately it's the players who make value judgments that set up climactic situations.

Paul, I think this point is relevant to your Nobilis game, because I don't want to give you the impression that running NPCs with hard-core motives and hard-core manipulative agendas is somehow wrong or unworkable, for Premise-heavy play. I run such NPCs all the time, especially in our current Nine Worlds game.

It's when the NPCs' hard-core motives and manipulative agendas become one and the same with the GM's motives and agendas that things get sticky. That's what I was driving at when I talked about Ananda being the real protagonist in your game.