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Author Topic: Don't Step On My Gamism  (Read 6633 times)
Mark Causey
Member

Posts: 99


« on: March 28, 2005, 01:11:43 PM »

Not enough people showed up to our game last night (03/27). I got some different reactions from my normal games, we had a blast, and I wanted to share due to the sharpest, most direct gamist set of actions we've ever produced (I think). I would like to present it, and my theories on it, and see what kind of discussion this can introduce; I guess the core theory I'd like to discuss is when players lose investment in their character (i.e. it doesn't matter if they survive the night or not), they focus on testing their characters to the limit and take otherwise unthinkable risks.

Demographics: The four of us are all male, all over 25, have been playing on Sundays for 3 years now.

Focus had been set on three players and three characters. They've had an hour and a half to fully maximize the potential of squeaky new 12th level D&D characters. The rules had been set, and the atmosphere thus:

"Okay, guys, we don't have enough people to play our normal game tonight. You're gonna make 12th level characters to play through a Gygaxian dungeon I have here in my hands (issue 112 of Dungeon Magazine). This is a one-shot, and we may never play this again. By the way, you're already at the door to the dungeon."

By Gygaxian, they knew that I meant gear destroying traps, ridiculous or non-existant set ups for creatures, and the full intent of the DM to kill the players characters if they 'screw up' or 'don't know when to back down or run away'. After the incident in question, one of the players was even more eager to press on, his quote, "What? I've only died once so far!" Not a normal quote or ethic on regular nights.

They proceded into a large gallery, and faced what they knew to be an Iron Golem (the module's author had severely pumped up what he called 'the golem that Mordenkainen couldn't kill'). There were statues nearby that inexplicably had items to help them fight said golem. After realizing that they could be activated to give them helpful weapons, I activated the creature and attacked the nearest player, who happened to be a two weapon fighter wielding now two weapons of bane to the creature. He attacked with fervor, and gave his damage result, six attacks with only one hitting. To make a point, I grinned and subtracted on our erasable mat the total (having reduced it due to the defenses of the creature) from the total HP above it. This nod to his drop in the bucket did what it was supposed to do, raise the tension that they were in significant trouble. One player readied himself to escape when the creature attacked the dual weapon wielder. He got all five attacks in, and as I started to calculate the damage aloud, and before we could get to the special properties of the weapons, the character was dead. Pretty much the first encounter in a strange new setup with comparitively tons of player prep time possibly down the tube. In an instant, I'd used the thinly fabricated backstory to come up with a way of bringing him back to life and get them back to the gates, as it were. I began to narrate such an outcome. Then it happened.

"Wait, you skipped over my initiative," the third player calmly said.

"I ... what?" I asked incredulously.

With a grin, he picked up his dice. "It's my turn!"

I'd almost washed over the entire point of the dungeon, looking to maximize players' fun by bringing everybody back to the fight. I'd almost taken away everyone's chance to grab the spotlight.

And boy, did he step on up. An hour later, his superiorly maximized character had been whupping up on the creature, and, beknownst to all when he started, losing. They'd all known from second one what the outcome of the battle was going to be. And by Gygax, they were loving it. They didn't have to win, they just had to step up to the plate and give it a shot.

These weren't characters, they were ... experiments. "How would it work if I did this? Will this be effective? Would this be fun to play?" were the underlying, unstated, possibly not consciously thought about questions I think everyone was playing with.

When we did get to an actually surmountable fight, they focused on tactics. When they were exploring, they were focusing on how flippantly they could just be looters of an unknown treasure. But during that big fight, it was them against the biggest BS the game could throw against them, and I guess with the prompting I gave them, it had to be done.

I think I'm rambling now, I hope this provides some modicum of material to discuss. Comments?

My question to the group: If player three hadn't spoke up, or I'd overridden him in the name of 'group fun', wouldn't I have been out of line of our unwritten group expectations? Would I have violated the premise of gamism for gamism's sake?
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--Mark Causey
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: March 28, 2005, 06:19:25 PM »

Quote
My question to the group: If player three hadn't spoke up, or I'd overridden him in the name of 'group fun', wouldn't I have been out of line of our unwritten group expectations? Would I have violated the premise of gamism for gamism's sake?

Really it's something you should ask them. But from what I've read, I think you would have been out of line...it was good how that player GM'ed you, eh? Indeed, he told you then and there you were going to break a rule...though he only had in game language to say it "you skipped my initiative".

Quote
These weren't characters, they were ... experiments. "How would it work if I did this? Will this be effective? Would this be fun to play?" were the underlying, unstated, possibly not consciously thought about questions I think everyone was playing with.

I think you freed them from "It's all about character, that's all there is, we must only explore that" and indeed there actually was something else to explore (once something else other than just character was explicitly opened up for exploration).

Quote
To make a point, I grinned and subtracted on our erasable mat the total (having reduced it due to the defenses of the creature) from the total HP above it.

On a side note, I love this. It doesn't resort to using GM force techniques to raise tension (in an illusionist manner). It's just using the rules as presented, then adding showmanship. Bravo!
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Callan S.
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« Reply #2 on: March 29, 2005, 02:38:32 AM »

Actually, another thought on that character thing.

I think you shifted what was valued, and it opened up a great deal of material for exploration. What I mean is that if a character is deeply valued, your not going to risk its destruction. If the primary means of exploration is about risking your PC to destruction...well.

Right now I'm looking at that and thinking "What should the player focus on if their not going to explore all this dangerous stuff". The phrase "simulationist exploration of character/what my character would do" comes to mind. Well, that's what it'd lean toward, unless on the off chance it hits nar. Interesting implications. I intended to say next game I run that PC's can only die if the player decides they've dodged death too many times. I think I can see even more importance in saying this, now.
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Mark Causey
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Posts: 99


« Reply #3 on: March 29, 2005, 03:55:59 AM »

As a quick note, I think it was also implicit that there wouldn't be any permanent character death for the evening. They could do whatever they wanted to do and I'd find some way of getting them to the end of the evening for after that evening there'd be little to no more interaction (most likely no) with this scenario or characters.
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--Mark Causey
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hyphz
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Posts: 157


« Reply #4 on: March 29, 2005, 05:00:55 AM »

I think what you've hit on is basically the point of D&D: exploration of system.

The players and even the authors might deny that publically, but why else would almost all of the dungeon environment hazards be "solved" by players and rarely if ever expanded on in the extra books, while the supplements continue to add huge numbers of feats, spells, prestige classes.. all more system to experiment with?

If they get killed, who cares?  At that point, the game either has them raised a level lower, or depends on the social contract safety-net to bounce them right back with a new character (probably also a level lower).  

We are playing a D&D campaign that started from level 1.  Starting at level 1 there are very few choices to make.  Last night, 4 of the party got killed by an Owlbear.  Although rather annoyed, the players actually seemed quite stoked at the idea they'd get to make starting characters of higher level, because it'd give them more chance to do what they want: tweak the system.
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Mark Causey
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #5 on: March 29, 2005, 06:34:18 AM »

I think that's exactly what my group is currently involved in. Every attempt to focus on non-system issues (e.g. non-rules based character development, interpersonal relationships, 'reasons' for adventures) meets with little to no response, or a half-hearted attempt to do so. I want them to describe their spell effects, they want to have more dice to do their damage on spells with. I want to make them hate or despair at the acts of the villains, they want the villains to be just tough or wily enough to make them produce devious strategies to win. They don't need a good reason to want to defeat or kill a villain.

It's taken me quite a bit of reading here and exploration with my players to determine that they just want to 'explore the system', make cool characters and do cool things. My attempts at a story not devoted to those things are something they have sat through as the cost of doing such things. I've thought it my responsibility to provide a world with depth and versimillitude and wondrous items and places, but is not when it isn't what the group wants. It is my belief now that the more I allow them to simply have the trappings a setting to explore their cool characters and less of trying to force them to provide me their inner monologues or attempts at forcing moral decisions the better off this group is.

I guess this leads me to be frustrated, though, for I've discovered that I'm my worst problem in terms of being happy within our playing group.
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--Mark Causey
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Larry L.
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Posts: 616

aka Miskatonic


« Reply #6 on: March 29, 2005, 08:03:05 AM »

Well... TSR game texts, particularly AD&D 2e, did a lot to imply that gamism is an inferior mode of play and a "good" Dungeon Master puts hours of efforts into complete fleshed out viillains, ornate backgrounds, and script-driven plots. Everyone I know who's DMed 2e shares these dreams of somehow becoming the master of illusionist play. Of course, the players come to the table with varied expectations.

So there's this dysfunctional cycle created. The DM assumes he's gotta pull out all the stops to faciliate illusionist play. The players are unsatisfied because their expectations for the game are not being met, but don't know how to express this. (Hey, the "DM is always right." Criticizing the DM being an unspoken violation of social contract.) The DM responds to this frustration by trying harder at what he was doing before. Result: disinterested, apathetic players, and a DM who's frustrated that no one appreciates his hard work.

So I'm curious... are your players in the loop regarding Forge lingo? How did you suss out their preferences here?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: March 29, 2005, 04:15:43 PM »

Quote from: Aman the Rejected
I guess this leads me to be frustrated, though, for I've discovered that I'm my worst problem in terms of being happy within our playing group.


Can you spend some time as a player? I remember a actual play post by someone who went over to being a player and noted how they really did engage with the systems gamism (this was for exalted).

One thing our group does is that we have rotating GM's, and when you run a game, your inactive PC still gets some XP, equal to 10% of the share an active PC gets (this doesn't remove any XP from active PC's, the GM just gets this).

Now, if you design some conflicts where the players will miss out on bonus XP for that conflict unless they do extra well, you will have a stake in how that combat turns out. Ideally, this tension is where you'll get your satisfaction, instead of where you've been trying to get it.

Even the forge is kinda backward on gamist GM rewards at the mo, with "Oh no, the GM doesn't need any system defined stakes to be drawn to gamist play, he'll just enjoy it all without any system help. Besides, its impossible to reward the GM...they are so much different from a player!".

Where you were trying to get it doesn't mesh with the group...and I've been there. Your not alone in experiencing what you've posted. Keep in mind that what your looking for can be prompted by system rewards, rather than you having to continually say "C'mon guys!". Your probably too used to rules supporting gamism and think all rules will kill character exploration. Check out some of the actual play posts for capes, to see otherwise.
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Mark Causey
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #8 on: March 30, 2005, 06:37:39 AM »

Quote from: Miskatonic
So I'm curious... are your players in the loop regarding Forge lingo? How did you suss out their preferences here?


Actually, I've tried talking to them about it before, and I've gotten some pretty different responses. One was familiar with terminology and theory but considered it hogwash; another went to the site, read some of the articles, and stated, to my best memory, that it just confused the issue for him and that the gamer "doesn't know what they really wany anyway, so good luck"; another read the Steve Jackson printing of Robin's Laws and considered it sufficient, especially in the fact that he's the example of the thread and he knows how to bring to attention his gamist needs (most enlightened of the group, considering). Some others consider the game too much a hobby to put that much thought into it, "you think about D&D more than anyone I know" (read: you're trying too hard). One individual only responds when spoken to, in game and out of game and just shrugged when the subject was brought up. Finally, one other individual seemed interested in developing the experience as much as possible and was willing to listen to others thoughts and ideas on the matter but is either unwilling or intimidated to try and change our Social Contract for gaming.
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--Mark Causey
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Mark Causey
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Posts: 99


« Reply #9 on: March 30, 2005, 06:44:48 AM »

Quote from: Noon
Can you spend some time as a player? I remember a actual play post by someone who went over to being a player and noted how they really did engage with the systems gamism (this was for exalted).


I did try this, however, I am getting married soon and have reduced my gaming to once every other Sunday; this killed my game playing as a player chances for now. I had already gotten frustrated when I realized that I hadn't optimized my character enough to compete for the spotlight in that game.

Quote from: Noon
One thing our group does is that we have rotating GMs . . .


A heretofore unshatterable illusion exists that the GM must run his gamut (or is it gambit?) for a significant period of time. Wanting to switch out "too rapidly" leads to comments of "don't give up!"

Quote from: Noon
Now, if you design some conflicts where the players will miss out on bonus XP for that conflict unless they do extra well, you will have a stake in how that combat turns out. Ideally, this tension is where you'll get your satisfaction, instead of where you've been trying to get it.


Would you suggest announcing this before the conflict? Otherwise I think I'd be accused of Monte Hauling the XP. "Defeat this group of mooks in one round and I'll double the XP. Defeat this villain without player death and I'll give you his weapons." Something like that?

Quote from: Noon
Check out some of the actual play posts for capes, to see otherwise.


Will do.
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--Mark Causey
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: March 30, 2005, 06:49:50 PM »

Heya again,
Quote
I had already gotten frustrated when I realized that I hadn't optimized my character enough to compete for the spotlight in that game.

Can I just check something on that? Is that frustrated as in "Ah! I'm loosing the race!" frustration, or "Ah! I'm loosing the race and that'll mean I wont get something else I want out of this?" frustration?

Quote
Would you suggest announcing this before the conflict? Otherwise I think I'd be accused of Monte Hauling the XP. "Defeat this group of mooks in one round and I'll double the XP. Defeat this villain without player death and I'll give you his weapons." Something like that?

The main thing is you'd have a stake in it...I'd like to hand wave the details, since the important thing is a mechanical stake in what happens.

But you've asked for help. So yes, like a wrestling match announcers, declare the stakes before the conflict. And if they say your running a monty haul, just say "Fine, if you don't want the reward, just loose on the requirements for it. Hell, your probably going to loose it anyway!". Seriously, this is actually important. By needling them this way you show it is important to you (if it actually is important to you).

As to the scale of the reward, doubling may be over the top. Basically the requirements for the extra reward are what you would find interesting if they were to suceeed at that. I'm serious, it has to be what you would find interesting...something that'd make you go 'Cool, I didn't think they could pull that off". The actually reward for it, although I think it should be there and stated, doesn't need to be so great. Because guess what, the reward of you being impressed, is always worth more, no matter how many platinum pieces are given out (it's just that gold is a good mechanical feedback to supplement the social level).

Looking at what I've said now, I think I'm going to take this advice too. Next time I make a challenge, I'll add in and declare some situational requirement I'd be surprised by, and a reward for it.
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Mark Causey
Member

Posts: 99


« Reply #11 on: March 30, 2005, 07:22:26 PM »

Quote from: Noon
Can I just check something on that? Is that frustrated as in "Ah! I'm loosing the race!" frustration, or "Ah! I'm loosing the race and that'll mean I wont get something else I want out of this?" frustration?


There were two factors going on; one, the unstated by me was that despite having been quite vocal on the Gamist focus of the character (my best attempt to make it impossible to lose a 'saving throw'), I was hardly ever in the situation where it mattered and when it did matter, it was an anti-spotlight by the GM ("Everyone but Mark make a saving throw").

And I do believe that I have to agree with your second statement. I think I'd dipped into Sim-ism when creating the character. I'd joined mid-swing of the current ... arc, I guess you'd call it ... and I wanted to 'earn the respect of the party' so that I would have a 'good reason to remain with them'. I guess I was looking for plenty of situations to survive through and have the other party members 'feel lucky' to have me. What could have been a short scenario of the characters thanking me or fate that I'd been there to help, it was more of "Let's move on to the next challenge."

I hope I'm not being too inspecific; also, it is digressing from my original topic. I don't have much clout here on the boards and don't want to lose my posting privileges :) As such, if I ever do get to play again, with whatever Agenda is present, I'll try and post my successes or frustrations.

As to the rest of your comments about defining Stakes and making them truly and personally interesting, I'll definitely take that to heart. I think I'd implicitly done so with the Iron Golem when I wrote down its HP total on the mat. It was a slap to the face, a "Beat this!" cocky gesture that really worked.

Can Stake Declaration be done subtly, you think? Environmental factors come to mind "Defeat this before the lava rises too high and kills you all!"

I know you weren't trying to enter specifics, but this is a new technique from someone who's always thought that if everything wasn't predefined as having a logical growth from the 'story' that it wasn't good enough. Hours of prep with things like 'How does so and so react to all this? Which route are they going to take when we start up the next game?' led to frustration when not only hadn't they thought about it at all, some even forgetting, and just latching on to the first challenge that seemed appropriate from my rehash of the previous night(s) events.
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--Mark Causey
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: March 31, 2005, 06:23:45 PM »

I don't see any digression by you. Your own preferences are integral to how functional the groups play is, since your a member of that group.

Quote
There were two factors going on; one, the unstated by me was that despite having been quite vocal on the Gamist focus of the character (my best attempt to make it impossible to lose a 'saving throw'), I was hardly ever in the situation where it mattered and when it did matter, it was an anti-spotlight by the GM ("Everyone but Mark make a saving throw").


Mmmm, that's odd to me at first. Perhaps it's similar to someone saying they've practiced to shoot hoops really well and stating it so it's known to all. When it comes to testing time, there is no test in the moment to get excited about, because you've already let the cat out of the bag. I think that might be it, because when my friends go to roll and casually say "Well, this is pretty easy with +15 to my skill roll!" I go "Oooh!" and pump them for info. If they told me before play their skill roll bonus, until I knew it by heart, I'd never go "Oooh!"

So optimize in secret, perhaps hinting that your going to kick ass at something but not giving away what?

Quote
As to the rest of your comments about defining Stakes and making them truly and personally interesting, I'll definitely take that to heart. I think I'd implicitly done so with the Iron Golem when I wrote down its HP total on the mat. It was a slap to the face, a "Beat this!" cocky gesture that really worked.

Can Stake Declaration be done subtly, you think? Environmental factors come to mind "Defeat this before the lava rises too high and kills you all!"

I think your slipping back to simulationism "No no no, no meta game challenge here, just natural game world causality going on!". I think it has to be explicit. Note: I'm saying this to myself as well right now, as I have a similar inclination.

I really like how you recognise what you did with the Golems HP total and writing it down. I'm thinking that perhaps only if you feel the inclination to give a cocky about about a scene like this, should it be played out. Anything else that doesn't hits the bin. Live up to your own gamist desire here as well! Don't run any rooms/scenes that doesn't thrill you this way, just glibbly scene frame past them "Sooo, you go through a few rooms, wack some gobbo's. Now your at this door and you can smell owlbear/whatever nasty monster!"

Quote
I know you weren't trying to enter specifics, but this is a new technique from someone who's always thought that if everything wasn't predefined as having a logical growth from the 'story' that it wasn't good enough.

Check out this poor guy: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?t=1010

Here's a sample:
Quote
And it was HARD. I mean DAMN HARD. Go ahead and draw the map of a standard 3 story keep. You've probably got about 75 rooms on your hands. Now a certain percentage of those rooms will be empty. Probably about 10 to 15. The rest you actually have to fill with something. And it can't just be room after room after room of monsters because that will get old. You at least have to give some variety to encounters. I mean even if the whole place was filled with Kobalds, you've got to make each Kobald encounter unique some how. You have to vary the parameters of the challenge. Maybe the Kobalds are armed with special weapons. Maybe you have to fight the Kobalds in and around some traps. Maybe you have to get involved in a three way fight between yourselves, goblins and kobalds. And of course it can't be all fighting either. So you throw in some traps but, man, trap creation is a subtle art I tell you.


Only recently I twigged. The poor guy is using simulationist tools to design gamist challenge (and am I, and so are you). He's trying to make one room a gamist challenge, at a time...when he's only doing one room at a time because it's sim design to reveal things a bit of a time, so as to richly explore each bit of game world.

When he isolates all these rooms as discrete, seperate encounters, he makes it hell for himself to make each one exciting.

But what if we just make the entire house like one room? Ie, we throw down the entire map, exposed, and all the monsters, exposed (figure out a reason why the PC's know this, latter). The GM just has to work on making one 'room' exciting now, because he's not trying to gamist wow everyone with 75 of them. It is a big 'room' of course, since it's a whole floor, but so what? He's still just working on one room/scene.

Its sim sensiblity to spread out the exploration over a length of time by having lots of rooms, because exploration is the whole thing your going for.

For gamism, who gives a crap? Lay out all the challenge at once and now the players will go nuts trying to work out tactics for it all. Tactical exploration is actually stifled by the 'one room at a time' simulationist exploration. When you know all the rooms at once, you can make even more intricate tactical plans than just crappy old "we kick in the door and fight what's inside".

Quote from: You
I know you weren't trying to enter specifics, but this is a new technique from someone who's always thought that if everything wasn't predefined as having a logical growth from the 'story' that it wasn't good enough.

I just want to say I'm not any guru on this myself. I am only just recently discovering some exciting alternatives for gamist design. Recently I tried this exposed map idea (telling the PC's they saw this valley area from a nearby hill). Next time I'm going to show all the bad guys as well (well, I might hide some, for old times sake!).

But I've felt the same. I felt it wouldn't be good enough if there wasn't logical causality based growth from the story. The fact was, I enjoyed making these bits of world by myself and that's why I've pursued it so long. They felt so real because they were so logical.

Well, actually I found myself going off making them, because they ended up not being appreciated for what they were. Some past players would just romp over them, a hunger for gamist reward glinting in their eyes as they waited through my 'fluff' text. Bastards!

The funny thing is, I didn't start focusing on gamism myself because they did. Partly it was the forges positive portrayal of gamism, and partly I just realised I like it more (I think it's the real world reward of it that hits me). I'd stuck with sim because I thought I had to to roleplay, and because I did enjoy it a fair bit too.

Which leads me to ironically advise this: Try to only go over to the gamism that you like/love. If you don't love enough of gamism to make up a session (not even enough to game for a few minutes), best to stick with sim.

Again, I'm saying part of this to myself as well (the "go over to gamism bits that you love" part).
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Mark Causey
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Posts: 99


« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2005, 05:39:22 AM »

I agree. I'm the kind of guy that if I run a premade game (and I often do due to low amounts of prep time (school, impending wedding, etc.)), and I run into notes or text that I didn't read or had forgotten about, I'll read it out loud to my group. For instance, in the last game:

Quote from: GM
Huh. You're fight with this creature attracts six human warriors from a nearby room. Okay.


That, I remember, worked well. They were developing tactics while fighting the creature, and when it wasn't their turn they did all the 'sheet look-over' that they had to do normally when it was their turn. So the pacing was awesome.

Maybe through causality out the window, and don't allow breathing room. When they're finishing up a fight, predict they'll do downtime and ask others to start the watch order. While doing the watch order, begin probing or alluding to the next fight.

Scene framing, right? I think I need to look into that as well.

I do want to say that this: this was THE most successful game I've run in quite a while. Less players, predefined lack of causality, lack of attachment to characters, it really worked out.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2005, 03:04:18 AM »

I think scene framing is more like their doing their down time and then you just say "After wandering through countless rooms, being ultra stealthy, you hear heavy breathing ahead...it seems to be getting closer". Ie, a conflict is about to land in their lap, what do they do?

It's something I'm working on to. Good stuff to think about.

Quote from: Aman the Rejected
I do want to say that this: this was THE most successful game I've run in quite a while. Less players, predefined lack of causality, lack of attachment to characters, it really worked out.

Mmmm, I'm inclined to suggest that it was only succesful if you to found something exciting there that you would like to replicate, that also vibed others as well. You need to be in on this fun, otherwise it wasn't succesful in terms of the entire group.
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