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Author Topic: Is this Forcing?  (Read 7171 times)
ptevis
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« on: February 16, 2005, 12:54:01 PM »

Last night was the end of my group's Nobilis game, and while it ended the way I wanted, I'm not entirely sure if I'm happy with how it got there.

When we started the game several months ago, we decided to organize it around the theme of Vengeance. As a GM, I tried to add little revenge motifs to the game, but the action centered around the characters' plans to avenge the deaths of their Familia. I tried to be very hands-off in letting the players dig themselves into holes on their own, but when it came time to wrap things up, I came up with an idea that I thought would provide a nice thematic capper for the game. I made it happen last night, and I'm trying to figure out if I Forced it or not.

Here's what happened: The PCs had been on the trail of Coriander Hasp, the Excrucian who had killed their Familia. They knew he was up to something, and they were determined to stop it and to kill him. They also suspected that Lord Ananda was somehow involved, as they'd been turning up evidence of his influence in everything they'd encountered. Ananda's position was ambiguous, as some of the things he'd done seemed to help them, while others seemed designed to hurt them. The PCs were certain he was involved because various prophecies pointed to the imminent dawning of a new Age, somthing Ananda is tied to. The important piece of the story revolved around an Abhorrant Weapon called Vengence that had been used to kill an angel but had gone missing.

What Ananda really wanted was for the characters to seek vengeance against him and slay him with the Abhorrant Weapon, as he could only be killed someone who wielded it with the fires of revenge in their hearts. This would prevent the new Age from coming to pass (in which Creation would be destroyed) and fulfill his oath of vengeance against the PCs (as they would be hunted down and tortured for his murder, as well as having their names cursed forever). I need to find a way to make this happen.

During the final session, the PCs were involved in a fight with Coriander Hasp, who had just recovered the Abhorrant Weapon. Ananda showed up and made some cryptic statements about how Coriander was merely a pawn. One of the PCs asked if Ananda was willing to betray Creation to bring about the new Age (because they all believe he was trying to hasten the new Age and his own Glory). Ananda didn't answer. Here's where I think I may have Forced things. The NPC fighting Coriander Hasp cut off his hand, causing the Abhorrant Weapon to fall at the feet of the PC I had determined was most likely to use it against Ananda. After she killed the Excrucian with it, she did. Everything went according to plan, Creation was saved, and PCs died horribly because of their need for revenge.

Force or not?

Thanks,

--Paul
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Paul Tevis
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: February 16, 2005, 01:09:24 PM »

Hiya,

I'd say "yes." I think so (which will always be provisional; I wasn't there) because of these specific phrases you used:

Quote
I came up with an idea that I thought would provide a nice thematic capper for the game


plus

Quote
I need to find a way to make this happen.


(in which "this" refers to a series of decisions/events on the parts of the player-characters)

plus

Quote
causing the Abhorrant Weapon to fall at the feet of the PC I had determined was most likely to use it against Ananda. After she killed the Excrucian with it, she did.


I'm also interested in pointing out all the specific techniques involved.

1. Pure-Drama resolution of a very important event (where the Weapon fell) of an ostensibly system-derived event (the hand-slicing)

2. Keen observation of players to find the one who would be most likely to do as desired

3. Not having Ananda answer, in any fashion, the player-character who asked him what he was up to, which (in many play contexts) means the players pretty much have to shift into kick-ass mode or not have much to do

Now! I desperately hope everyone is going to stick with me in agreeing that Force, as a term or play-phenomenon, is not like the Scarlet Letter A. You do not have to wander off into the night as the rest of us shake our fists and usher our children indoors.

A lot of groups rely on a single person to do this sort of thing, and in turn they more-or-less decide not to be critical or even to welcome the various Black Curtain techniques that get utilized toward it. It's illusionist play, Force is in evidence (I mean to us now, not to the group at the time), and everyone's fine with that.

[Frequent error: thinking consensual Illusionism must be Participationism. It's not. Participationism just leaves the curtain open.]

If that's the case, then all is well, you used Force in a skilled fashion, and everyone's cool!

... is everyone cool with it? Do you think that your players like this sort of "here's my Theme, oh look, you authored it, how about that" approach to play?

Best,
Ron
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ptevis
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« Reply #2 on: February 16, 2005, 03:06:32 PM »

Quote
Not having Ananda answer, in any fashion, the player-character who asked him what he was up to, which (in many play contexts) means the players pretty much have to shift into kick-ass mode or not have much to do


That's a technique I hadn't considered. The in-game reason he didn't answer was that he couldn't explain his plan to the PCs or their fiery vengeance wouldn't have powered the Weapon to kill him. You're right, though: if he doesn't do anything, then either the players need to act or nothing happens.

Quote
I desperately hope everyone is going to stick with me in agreeing that Force, as a term or play-phenomenon, is not like the Scarlet Letter A.


Looking back on what I wrote, I clearly conflated the use of Force with Illusionism. It's the latter I was trying to avoid.

On the other hand, I'm not sure that Forced a character decision at all. It was entirely the player's choice to kill Ananda and accept the consequences, and (I think) I was ready to deal with Ananda not dying.

--Paul
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Paul Tevis
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: February 16, 2005, 03:43:04 PM »

Yeah, I agree with Paul. It doesn't seem like force (as I understand it)...but it does seem like egging the player on to do something that Paul wanted to happen. That's not direct control as I know it, but instead setting up a bunch of reward structures (I reward you to get angry at this guy...now here's a really nasty sword) so as to control the flow of a players actions.
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Marco
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« Reply #4 on: February 17, 2005, 09:20:09 AM »

I'm gonna say "No. Can't be."

1. Ron's tell-tales are, IMO, on target (which is the problem with interpertations of what people say--it can mean a buncha different things).

2. Force (to my understanding) means taking someone's power over their character from them. It's explicit. Giving the Ring to Frodo and saying "either YOU toss it into Mt. Doom or Sauron" marches isn't Force (at least that's the take someone else had in a long PM conversation).

Frodo can say "Hey, okay. I barter it to Sauron for a place in the new dark order." Just having a lot of pressure and high-stakes in the game ain't enough. You gotta actually cross the line of taking control.

3. Players get to be predictable. Just because someone has strong (and well known) feelings on something (say a Premise question) doesn't make their play not-narrativist. Being predictable or 'conventional' isn't the determinant factor--it's just answering.

(I'm not saying this play was Narrativist--I don't know--but I do know that a player with a strong opinion isn't Simulationst by definition)

4. The rules-hijack Ron mentions (controling where the sword fell) is a good point--but since it's external to the character I think it's gotta be "not Force."

If a player exits a bank after a robbery and the GM says "you see a fast car with the keys in it across the street" is that Force? No. I don't think so. The player can say "too convinent. I run for a car stopped in traffic, brandishing my gun."

Not force.

5. GM's get to have preferences just like everyone else. They also get to "encourage" those preferences. If we say "that's Force" then there's "Force" in every game because a human who wants to see something they have a hand in go "their way" will exhibit bias no matter what controls are taken (this is why double-blind testing is so important).

So: no. The GM did not actually use Force.

However: if the PC had NOT used the sword then the GM might've gone further (based on the same text Ron called out) and that, IMO, might well be.

Finally: if the PC's were subjected to consequences they could not anticipate (I'm not clear if that was the case) then while it isn't Force by defintion (since the GM always gets to assign consequences in a traditonal style game for complex events like this) it could very well be dysfunctional.

It isn't Force to frame me to my front door. It isn't Force to kill my character with a bomb inside the door when asked "Do you go answer your phone you hear ringing in your kitchen" and I say "Yes."

But is an ambush.

(Now, I get the sense the players were all okay with the turn of events and this was not the case--but if someone said "you get the wand" and I said "I wave it." and the GM said "Ha! Ha! You all DIE!" that'd be pretty lame ... but not Force).

-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: February 17, 2005, 10:30:05 AM »

Uh, no, guys.

Force does not have to be explicit. Let me break it down.

Participationism
Force is utilized. It is explicit. No one minds.

Illusionism
Force is utilized. It is not explicit (the "Black Curtain" is up).

a) No one minds, and in fact make fairly sure never to look at the Black Curtain, let alone behind it.

b) Someone would definitely mind (might even call it railroading), and hence there's an ongoing tension about the Black Curtain.

Unnamed category
Force is utilized. It either was implicit, but suddenly becomes explicit for some reason, or it wasn't previously used, but now it is. Most people find this jarring and some call it railroading.

I really don't think there's any difficulty with any of these terms. People are bringing in "directness" and "explicit" as confounding terms.

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #6 on: February 17, 2005, 10:52:02 AM »

By "explicit" I meant "explicitly making a decision for someone's character" not "obvious."

As I see it the player still had choices--she could've surprised the GM and not done it. I don't see how it can be considered Force when the GM presents a "golden opportunity" and a player takes it.

Edited to add: If the GM had decided that *anything* the character did would result in the preferred ending then, yeah, I agree: Force. I didn't get that though. It seems to me that things might've got there but didn't go far enough to qualify: The decision making power was never removed from the player (the temptation and opportunity was just set to "11").


-Marco
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: February 17, 2005, 11:07:26 AM »

Hello,

There's almost always a choice, with the exception of the GM or someone else literally leaning over the table and socially forcing the person to conform, if they don't behave. Slightly subtler forms of coercion of this type include ignoring the person in later exchanges, or killing the character later.

But I'm not talking about all that. If Force relied only on such things, such that if the player balked, we'd really see abusive and rather ugly power get exerted, then it'd be a much more minor phenomenon in the hobby.

Sure the player could have done otherwise. Sure Grover was "prepared" for that eventuality, although I'm not entirely certain what that means in his case (doesn't really matter; I'm inferring the important part, that he would not have initiated one of the nasty things I talk about above).

But Grover had a Plan A. Grover put Plan A into effect because it went with Outcome A and Theme A. Plan A succeeded because the player is well-known to Grover.

I'll speak from the perspective of how I GM'd this way, all those years ago. Say the player had balked, for whatever reason - decided, say, that Ananda was not such a jerk and (who knows) come up with way around my entire planned Outcome A.

Let us say further that this end-run did not provide me with a really really cool, even better ending; it was kind of blah or for whatever reason I was still committed to Outcome A, or would at least prefer it.

My tactic would have been to stall it out, fast. Meaning, decided to kind of neutralize the whole conflict at hand, get Ananda out of there, and sort of smooth over the whole thing, in order to reserve the next attempt at Outcome A for the next session.

That's what I would have called "being prepared" for the player doing something else. And from my present perspective, it shows that I was indeed not willing for the players actually to "do theme" without my approval. Oh, I would have said, "Players can have their characters do anything they want." But by using techniques very much like my #1 tactic above, when they did so and I didn't approve it or even anticipate it, I'd stall it or nullify it in a way which eventually did come around to my planned outcomes and themes.

It's still Force if the player could have had their characters do something else ... if the "something else" can be rendered comparatively trivial, and the original goal preserved, or perhaps only transformed privately in the GM's head (to be fully realized later).

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: February 17, 2005, 11:27:48 AM »

Yeah, okay. I see what you mean.

Given the "inside track" (of what was in the GM's head) I can follow your conclusions about what might (likely) have happened.

If someone said "I don't want to do this Force thing and I did this thing with the sword ..." I would say "that's pretty leading at the very least so it's in the danger-zone.

However: there are a lof things that look just like this from a player-perspective where the GM is simply interested in turing the heat up. There are also situations that put a lot of pressure on a character without removing options (i.e. there are 3 fairly unpalatable options and one good one but the GM still isn't Forcing a choice and, in fact, will not nullify the player if he or she comes up with a 5th option that logically should work).

So I'm careful of saying X-is-Force when the nullficiation didn't actually happen in the game.

But, yeah, if your logic is on the money it was going in that direction.

-Marco
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« Reply #9 on: February 17, 2005, 11:53:05 AM »

And I'm good with your qualifiers too, Marco. So much of this depends on the actual social and creative interactions at the moment, and for those people, that we pretty much have to keep the ifs sitting on our shoulders.

Paul, I accidentally called you Grover for some reason. Sorry 'bout that. Has this exchange been interesting or helpful to you?

Best,
Ron
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #10 on: February 17, 2005, 12:09:24 PM »

Chiming in a little bit late; Seems you and Marco have pretty well hashed this out, Ron.

But for my own edification, and possibly Paul's, if he's still unclear:

If I understand correctly, the situation was not necessarily Force. It would NOT have been Force if the player with the sword were able to choose not to go with Plan A, and the GM just went with it, without using contingencies to put it back on track to his desired effect. It is only Force if the actions of the player do not ultimately effect the eventual outcome, but only affect the details that led to it.

Am I correct?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: February 17, 2005, 02:46:00 PM »

Hi Lance,

Close enough - the best way to look at it is from the point of view of the other person, the one who is "interfering" with the character.

If this person takes any actions (subtle/unsubtle, fiddly or iron-fisted) which puts the character and the character's actions under his control, without the consent of the person who "owns" the character, then it's Force.

One way to do it, the rudest and most obvious way, is to say, "No, you're not playing her right, he'd do this," and then carry on as if that settles it, and the character has indeed done "this."

I think many of us can recognize that behavior, sometimes ostensibly backed up through rules (e.g. Alignment) and sometimes not. Experiences of this kind may underly some folks' distaste for "behavioral mechanics," as they fear Force being exerted upon them.

Subtler ways usually involve opportunities, hints, and narrations of outcomes, all designed to nudge and tweak the events of play into a shape that the Forcer is most happy with.

(Participationism gets a little tricky, because it is defined more-or-less as pre-play consent, but we can still think of it as employing Force, I'd say.)

Best,
Ron
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Marco
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« Reply #12 on: February 17, 2005, 02:59:31 PM »

I agree with Ron.

When I ran a game I wrote up here I was faced with the characters ending the game in a way I didn't especially like if they convinced an NPC that he needed their help (the Mayor of a town that was sliding into another reality). In this case everything was on the table: the odds, the roll--the criteria for success. It was discussed prior to the roll and when the PC's rolled they knew instantly what had happened.

But--I could've altered things after the fact to make the Mayor's help a lot less useful ... or even "not the solution at all" (even though, in my head, it was--if they got what they needed from him they'd solve the problem).

I could've manipulated NPC's to come down on them and create a showdown more to my liking (maybe). Whatever.

Also: the game rules we were using would allow me to simply have the Mayor "say no." He was sort of a 'named NPC' and therefore not necessiarily succeptible to psychology rolls.

But I wasn't gonna do that. I'd let the game end with a short flare of drama (a giant, mutant rat attack in the desert) if they'd gotten the roll down.

So I know what it's like (the roll came up 1pt short and the PC's did something totally thrilling to me and unexpected) and I know something else: with a traditonal GM it's really, really hard to distinguish Force from cause and effect.

As a player, for any single given incident: maybe impossible. I think that you pretty much have to either have a clear case of the GM wresting control (as Ron said) or you have to know the GM's mind.

-Marco
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #13 on: February 17, 2005, 03:08:07 PM »

Hm. So, if more subtle and acceptable means of encouraging a certain outcome, without forcing an action or invalidating the impact of an action are still considered Force, I'm not sure how useful a term it can be. I mean.. Force can be bad or good depending on the level and specifics of the situation. In and of itself it is neither, despite the connotations of the word.. It's too ambiguous to be useful, isn't it?

If that's all it is, I'd be tempted to say "Yeah, it was Force. So?" Whenever the point comes up.

Or am I still missing something?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: February 17, 2005, 04:41:17 PM »

Quote from: Ron Edwards
That's what I would have called "being prepared" for the player doing something else. And from my present perspective, it shows that I was indeed not willing for the players actually to "do theme" without my approval. Oh, I would have said, "Players can have their characters do anything they want." But by using techniques very much like my #1 tactic above, when they did so and I didn't approve it or even anticipate it, I'd stall it or nullify it in a way which eventually did come around to my planned outcomes and themes.

Heya,

Ah, I see. But we haven't actually seen that in the play example, correct? Weve seen things which indicate that may come about, but not enough of an example to actually see force come about. I'm not arguing or anything, I'm just checking how you were analysing this, with just what was in the example, or using a parralel from your experience (outside of the example) to fill in blanks.
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