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Author Topic: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?  (Read 7367 times)
Eve
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« on: April 01, 2005, 07:39:53 AM »

I have played several games designed around a certain thematic question. At first sight is seems those games are perfect to explore that theme. I more and more doubt so.

Why? Of course we want some kind of an intresting game. Mechanics are designed for this too. This eliminates much choice.

Just an example:

Say I play sorcerer. At a certain moment I decide it's not worth it. I quit summoning demons, I go for my humanity. Pretty soon I'll and up with a looser, a weenie for a character. He can no longer do all those cool things fellow sorcerers can.
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MisterPoppet
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Posts: 44


« Reply #1 on: April 01, 2005, 07:47:41 AM »

But then you must ask yourself, why are you playing a game about sorcerers if you don't want to be one?

Themes are created so that people want to explore them. And though completely going in the opposite direction of that is technically allowed, it would defeat the purpose.

-Bryan-
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Trevis Martin
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Posts: 499


« Reply #2 on: April 01, 2005, 08:02:05 AM »

I need to point out that because a character gives up summoning demons doesn't end his sorcery.  The character can't get rid of the knowledge of sorcerery.  They can still command other demons, and they still know what to look for when looking for demons or other sorcerers.

Many S&Sword games have main characters which do not summon or bind demons at all, but are simply forced to interact with them and the people who control them.

What happens when a character has knowledge of sorcery that he could use for good, when he knows that others need that help?

Sure, he might not enjoy the "kewl powerz" of a demon, but he does have some power even without one.  I think a sorcerer who gives it up still has humanity, and thus thematic,  potential inside the game.

best

Trevis
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TonyLB
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« Reply #3 on: April 01, 2005, 08:12:00 AM »

Like Trevis, I'm not seeing your axiom that "Humanity = Loser."  Folks with low humanity can Summon lots of demons.  Folks with high humanty can Banish lots of demons.  Keeping your current demons doesn't seem to enter into it (directly) one way or the other.

If you think summoning is cooler than banishing... well, that's fine.  I do too.  It's meant to be tempting.  But let's examine the story of a demon-hunter who goes around banishing the evil.  He constantly wrestles with the Needs and Desires of the demons he needs in order to do his good work.  He constantly wrestles with the temptation to do dark and terrible things... surely they'd be justified in pursuit of this noble calling!

If you think he's a weenie loser... well, okay.  But that's a contribution that comes from you, not from the game system.  The game system has absolutely everything you need in order to make that character utterly cool.

Given that, I'm not sure how to address your larger point.  It relies upon an understanding of this class of games that I don't share.
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Bob the Fighter
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« Reply #4 on: April 01, 2005, 08:33:01 AM »

Hi Eva,

I've been playing Vampire:the Masquerade lately, and what some folks have said about Sorcerer really brings some thoughts to mind.

Granted, on a system-oriented level, particularly with what I'd consider a Gamist approach, refusing to use one's kewl powerz could be like playing
Monopoly and going non-profit after your first big payoff. It just doesn't jive with the terms of winning and losing that Monopoly gives us to work with.

That being said, I think that a character who is emotionally relevant to others (i.e. they don't just ignore the weenie) would have a strong impact on the way a game's theme plays out. Granted, I'm talking about characters who go against the grain of the theme, not against the grain of the game's Exploration.

For example, if D&D's theme is battle with monsters, then a character who chooses not to fight could cut against the theme. A character who chooses not to interact with the monster-killers in some way might be a problem, though. One character who's trying to pull the Exploration in a totally different direction from where other characters want it to go is probably indicative of a fundamental confusion about the group's play goals.

But just because a character doesn't actively use her kewl powerz doesn't mean that she's harming the game. And besides that, Trevis is definitely onto something: in many games, you can't just throw away your powers. Thus you're choosing to *act* like a weenie, but you can't always choose to really become one.

V:tM is a great example (I'm not familiar with Sorcerer): a vampire who will not kill or harm humans for food is a vampire who needs to a) find alternate sustenance and b) work harder than others to control neglected hunger pangs. Granted, it might be frustrating to some players who don't really want that dramatic contrast, but in many cases it could add a lot to the game.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: April 01, 2005, 08:46:50 AM »

Hello,

Since Vampire and Sorcerer are such different games, I'm going to constrain my comments to the latter.

But I can't provide any comments until I understand better. Eva, what I'm not understanding in your post is what you mean by "loser." Can you give a concrete example from actual play?

Best,
Ron
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Andrew Norris
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Posts: 253


« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2005, 09:27:00 AM »

Here's my play experience with the experience you describe in Sorcerer.

Character uses sorcery less and less. GM throws out Bangs that put them in the situation of "So you're not going to use sorcery, even now? How about now?" They have to keep drawing the line. So they won't use their knowledge to further their own goals. What about to protect themselves from serious harm? Or their friends? Or their family?

If the player has their character go all the way, to the extreme of "No, I won't do it, even if it would save my daughter's life", they've certainly addressed Premise, no matter how the situation plays out. Maybe they freeze up, because they just can't handle the responsibility. Maybe they take drastic non-sorcerous measures (which might themselves cause Humanity checks). Maybe they just walk away.

That sounds like some pretty engaging play, all without the "cool powers". Of course, it would only happen that way if the player wanted to go down that path. If you're worried about a player turtling up, and refusing to do anything at all (sorcerous or no), I think that's a separate issue.

I'd also offer the example of my current Sorcerer game, where in the first two sessions we've only had three commands given to demons. The players know their characters have these big guns, and they're intentionally exercising restraint.
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Bankuei
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« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2005, 10:00:00 AM »

Hi eva,

Welcome to the Forge!

Quote
Why? Of course we want some kind of an intresting game. Mechanics are designed for this too. This eliminates much choice.


I think we're dealing with two issues.  Perhaps the specific can help point to the larger one.  

With regards to Sorcerer, first, the primary focus of the game is Humanity checks, not necessarily the sorcery.  If you go for Humanity, then you are making some serious statements anytime you're presented with a choice and choose not to take the Humanity losing option and instead going for Humanity gaining options.  It's a lot of work.  

But, your character is far from "loser" because first, with a high Humanity, it becomes very easy to banish other demons(hey, and that nets you a humanity gain while you're at it...) and second, after you wrap up your kicker, you get to roll against your Humanity to up your stats... after a few cycles, you're character is going to be sporting stats in the 6-7 range across the board- that's a pretty strong and dangerous character.

Now, pointing to the larger issue, the only thing that this mechanic "restrains" is that play is going to be about Humanity checks.  In fact, any kind of focused Narrativist supporting game, is going to have some way of keeping play focused on producing some kind of theme.  Does this mean you have to buy-in as a group that all of you are going to commit to hitting theme during play?

Yes indeed, but under the same logic one could complain, "Well, the rules are MAKING me show up(in person/online) in order to play... how limited!"

Not committing to hitting theme is like playing a dungeon crawl in D&D and walking away from the dungeon before even going inside.  It is like playiing Vampire and jumping into the sunlight in the first 5 minutes of play.  It is like playing chess and refusing to move your pieces.  In other words, it is missing the point of that sort of game.

So, if the problem is, "Narrativist mechanics support Narrativist play, and I -HAVE- to follow the mechanics in order to get Narrativist play on a regular basis"...

I'm not seeing the problem- at all.  

Perhaps you're confusing sorcery as being the theme-maker, when its Humanity this whole time?

Chris
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2005, 10:32:48 AM »

I never knew this about Sorceror.

You mean the game can be just as much about redemption as it is about corruption?

Gah.

And I've been dismissing this game for so long...
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timfire
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« Reply #9 on: April 01, 2005, 10:48:47 AM »

As others have implied, there's always 'two sides' so to speak in regard to any theme. Not choosing an option that the system seems to push is a perfectly valid choice on the part of a player. In DitV, for example, it would be perfectly acceptable to refuse to escalate conflicts, even if it meant constantly losing. That choice makes a statement, which is what it's all about.
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Andrew Norris
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Posts: 253


« Reply #10 on: April 01, 2005, 11:13:35 AM »

I'll push the point further: I don't think you could address Premise if there was no choice in the answer (e.g. you had to spiral down to zero Humanity, and you only got to choose how cool you looked while doing it, or you had to take every conflict in Dogs to the point of gunplay).

That sort of play might be reminiscent to some heavy-handed moral "choices" seen at the climax of Illusionist play scenarios, where the whole damn session turns out to have been about the GM answering the premise himself. You can probably think of any number of prewritten modules for various games that use that approach. (If I sound critical of that approach, it's only because I've done it myself.)
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: April 01, 2005, 12:32:48 PM »

Quote from: Vaxalon
I never knew this about Sorceror.

You mean the game can be just as much about redemption as it is about corruption?



Of course...what else COULD it be?

Its just like the Meat Loaf song "I would do anything for love...but I won't do that..."

The "do anythings" get you Humanity Checks and spiral you down towards 0 humanity (which may or may not represent what would commonly be defined as corruption).  The "won't do thats" avoid Humanity Checks and potentially earn you gains (which may or may not represent what would commonly defined as redemption).
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #12 on: April 01, 2005, 03:05:55 PM »

Actually, a standard ending that I've seen more than once for a Sorcerer game is that the Sorcerer "quits" being a sorcerer effectively. Yah, he knows how to do it, still, but he gets rid of all his demons, and dissociates himself from any other sorcerers.

I had one character that I'd "turned around" from the brink intending to see if he could make it all the way back to normalcy. He ended up in the looney bin trying.  

Mike
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Vaxalon
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Posts: 1619


« Reply #13 on: April 01, 2005, 04:04:43 PM »

Dammit, guys, you gotta market these games better.  I had NO idea.  Sheesh.
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Victor Gijsbers
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« Reply #14 on: April 02, 2005, 11:38:25 AM »

Hi Eva - a surprise to see you here.

If I understand it correctly, you are saying that the part of the system that makes for interesting play is somehow opposed to that part of the system that makes for thematic exploration.

But interesting play is thematic exploration, no? At least, it is for you and for me. So how could this situations ever arise? Losing your cool superpowers in Sorcerer is bad only if you think those superpowers are the main reason to play the game, but its no problem if you are in it for the thematic exploration. For then the continuing choice not to summon demons becomes very interesting, especially as Bang after Bang hits you that puts strain on this decision.
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