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Author Topic: Can you really explore a theme in a game designed for this?  (Read 7368 times)
pete_darby
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« Reply #15 on: April 04, 2005, 03:41:45 AM »

Just to join the choir here: it's all in the bangs.

A while back, we had this thread, amongst I'm sure many others, about specifically a Sorcerer character who had "pre-answered" the premise.

What you get is tragedy: if the GM is throwing out "What about when this happens, what then?", and yes, it's engineered for maximum pain if the player sticks to their guns, then you've got proper, lit crit 101 conflict (which usually has nothing to do with folks fighting, no matter what Marvel comics say).

Sure, some folks won't like it, some will complain that you're screwing or punishing the character: the character is there to be screwed and punished for their "choices" in Nar games, because that's drama.

What I would do when faced with a player who decides they've got "the answer" to the premise of a nar game early on in a game is to giggle like a maniac: you've just given me all the toys I need: let's really address this premise then.

Quitting sorcery is only boring if it's easy... just like using sorcery. Just like dispensing justice in DitV, or following / deposing the master in MLwM, or adressing character issues in PtA.
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Pete Darby
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #16 on: April 04, 2005, 10:55:31 AM »

Quote from: pete_darby
Quitting sorcery is only boring if it's easy... just like using sorcery.
Ya. In play it's usually somewhat akin to quitting the Maffia. When you're doing it right. :-)

Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #17 on: April 04, 2005, 11:49:50 AM »

Hi,

As a perfect example, a Sorcerer character I never got to play was a mafia tough guy, whose family always had done the toughest jobs and been the best bodyguards to the Don's family... It just happens that no one outside the sorcerer family knew that demons and all kinds of jacked up magic was the reason they were such badasses.

You gotta stay loyal, or your family dies.  You gotta keep it secret, or you're against the Church and the Don and your family dies.  And you're damning yourself with each job...

I thought it was a perfect sorcerer concept.

Chris
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Eve
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 43


« Reply #18 on: April 05, 2005, 02:21:20 PM »

Thanks guys,

Sorcerer indeed offers enough possibilities to quit on sorcery in an interesting way. I knew my example wasn't too good. My mind got clogged up a little with a certain game & character.

With all other (player and known) sorcerers hating her to death, Mira wouldn't live long without some powerful deamons. Every meeting they ended up trying to kill her and vice versa. (and still she died, because those deamons were loosers compared to the Big Dragon)

So this example was bad.. even so it shows choices are restricted. As you showed me, also by the playgroup and their use of the system.

I still think the system restricts too. I now found a different way of stating this: many systems to explore a theme are narrativist, as it is a narrativist activity pur sang. So probably the system supports a nar aganda. As is in your head (why else play such a game). So you want an interesting story. So the system thrives you towards it. So can you really explore the full "theme space"? No.
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Your strength is but an accident, arising from the weakness of others - Joseph Conrad, Heart of darkness
Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #19 on: April 05, 2005, 02:46:41 PM »

Exploring theme is what Nar is all about. Nar is not about 'story' - whatever that may be - it is about thematic story.

So I'm still not sure what you're getting at. But I would like to find out.

(By the way, I think I could tell you what went wrong in the scene you're refering to. It might have more to do with the feeble skills of your GM - for the benefit of others, that would be me - than with Sorcerer itself.)
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Eve
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 43


« Reply #20 on: April 05, 2005, 02:57:00 PM »

Hi Victor,

I agree that Nar is about thematic story. It's about interesting thematic story, at least if played well.

The kind of subtle point I'm trying to make, is that you are driven by things beside the theme in exploring this theme. I thinkt the search for an interesting story being an important factor. Exagerating it: you do not explore the theme, you're simply driven by the thirst for an great story.
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Your strength is but an accident, arising from the weakness of others - Joseph Conrad, Heart of darkness
Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #21 on: April 05, 2005, 03:09:00 PM »

What is it that makes a story great? Is this in some way in opposition to the exploration of theme? If so, in what way? Is the exploration of theme, if done well, not in itself a powerful ingredient to make a 'great story'?

I apologise for all the questions, but I'm still trying to understand your point.
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Eve
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 43


« Reply #22 on: April 05, 2005, 03:22:28 PM »

Picture yourself playing. Doesn't really matter what, just something you like.  So you are at an important thematic crossroad. What kind of choice would you make? What options would you even consider?

No, I don't think you'd just sit down.
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Your strength is but an accident, arising from the weakness of others - Joseph Conrad, Heart of darkness
Alan
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« Reply #23 on: April 05, 2005, 06:25:05 PM »

Quote from: Eva Deinum

I still think the system restricts too. I now found a different way of stating this: many systems to explore a theme are narrativist, as it is a narrativist activity pur sang. So probably the system supports a nar aganda. As is in your head (why else play such a game). So you want an interesting story. So the system thrives you towards it. So can you really explore the full "theme space"? No.


I've seen a lot of games that are designed to support narrativist play, but I have never seen one that drives players _toward_ a single theme.  The usual technique is two-fold: 1) reward the act of addressing premise, which is a lure rather than a drive; and 2) a resolution system that forces players to make a choice that has irreversible consequences to the events of play.

Now that last _is_ a drive, but it is not a drive toward a specific theme.  Instead, it is a drive toward making choices.  The single most important element of a narrativist design is letting the player choose how they respond (and giving them real choices, not just the illusion of choice).  How they choose defines theme.  

A good narrativist-supporting system drives the players to make the choices of how to paint a picure.  Most good narrativist designs specify a particular kind of "painting" to be created, but must allow great latitude in how that painting is created and what the final appearance is.  It's as if we were playing a game that created paintings of women - the final result may be Mona Lisa or Beata Beatrix, or any of a billion other possiblities.  The final painting is the theme that emerged from play.  

If anything drives the _theme_ that emerges, it is the players, because it is their choices that create it.
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- Alan

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Victor Gijsbers
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 390


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« Reply #24 on: April 06, 2005, 12:19:36 AM »

Quote from: Eva Deinum
Picture yourself playing. Doesn't really matter what, just something you like.  So you are at an important thematic crossroad. What kind of choice would you make? What options would you even consider?

No, I don't think you'd just sit down.

I'm not sure if the sitting down is to be understood literally as a game-action, or metaphorically as sitting down on the thematic crossroad, so I'll follow these two interpretations consecutively.

1. Of course you will not metaphorically sit down at the thematic corssroad, not if you have a Nar agenda, because that would be to stop playing Nar. Refusing to make a thematic choice when one is presented is like saying: "I don't want theme. I want something else." Saying that you don't want theme cannot possible be a way to explore the 'full thematic space'.

2. You may sit down, literally, if that is 'interesting', but it probably will not be in most situations. However, it surely is interesting if it is a meaningful thematic choice! And if it's not, sitting down cannot possibly be a way to explore the 'full theme space'. It seems to me you are suggesting that some themes can only be generated by a boring story, but I can't see that at all. Even thematic stories about boredom can be fun. ("De Avonden", by Gerard Reve, for instance.)
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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Posts: 10459


« Reply #25 on: April 06, 2005, 05:53:44 AM »

Victor is correct. Nar play is making decisions based on premise, the results of which are theme. For example, a player has their character facing the question, "Do I summon a demon to protect me, or do I allow myself to die because it's the lesser evil?" When the player answers that they don't summon the demon, they create, at that moment, a theme that says, "Sticking to one's principles is even more important than survival."

Now, that's all per the definition of narrativism. Is this how you're using the term theme? Or do you mean something else?

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #26 on: April 06, 2005, 06:45:34 AM »

A theme is just an answer to a charged question.  And the question doesn't have to be (and quite often is best not to be) stated up front.

Consider a game where your character has a friend...PC...NPC...whatever.  You have ties to that friend...mechanically reinforced...just roleplayed...whatever.  Through thick and thin you stand up for that friend.  You go into danger to save them.  You sacrifice your professional reputation for them even when they're being foolish.  You even have a showdown with your boss on their behalf.  Then they screw up and have to go into hiding from some powerful people.  Those powerful people use your spouse whom you love (mechanically reinforced...just roleplayed...whatever) as leverage to get you to lead them to your friend.  You do.  

Bam...What's the premise here?  How about "what would sacrifice do for a friend?"  What's the answer?  The answer is whatever you as a player chose.  In the above example the answer was "life, reputation, professional career...but not love, I won't sacrifice love for my friend".

Same scenario different player running that character making different decision.  They make different choices...come up with a different answer...a different theme.  Maybe their answer "Sure, I'll risk my life for a friend, but if he makes me out to be a fool I'll kill him myself before losing face with my boss"

Same game, same mechanics, same premise....different theme.  Narrativism doesn't lead you down a path towards a predesired answer...(some would call that Dramatism)...in a Nar game your choices as a player are what matters...the only thing (together with the other players) that matters.
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Eve
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #27 on: April 06, 2005, 05:24:50 PM »

Valamir
Quote
Same game, same mechanics, same premise....different theme. Narrativism doesn't lead you down a path towards a predesired answer...(some would call that Dramatism)...in a Nar game your choices as a player are what matters...the only thing (together with the other players) that matters.


There is not one predestined answer. However, you do not "have" full freedom. Nar is about conflicts. To make the story interesting, you should not be afraid of them - up to the most painfull, heartbreaking, soul tearing conflicts. Escaping through a backdoor isn't that interesting. And so many things (eg game system and the nar-players themselves) take you towards a part of "story-space" where conflicts are the most intense and interesting.

While exploring a theme or answering a major question, one tends to skip certain solutions, simply because they are kind of boring. Or perhaps worse: because other options promise a more intense story.

Victor
Quote
It seems to me you are suggesting that some themes can only be generated by a boring story, but I can't see that at all. Even thematic stories about boredom can be fun. ("De Avonden", by Gerard Reve, for instance.)


Not the full theme, but certain choices concerning this theme can be boring (or less interesting than other options). I think the want for an exillarating  story thus thrives you towards the more dramatic choices.

A story about boredom can be fun indeed, though I wouldn't name "De Avonden" in this context. Reading it, I just thought it were pretty boring. Which of course is something completely different.
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Your strength is but an accident, arising from the weakness of others - Joseph Conrad, Heart of darkness
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #28 on: April 07, 2005, 06:29:37 AM »

The decision to go with something more exciting because other options are boring to you does not mean that you didn't have the freedom to have done the boring thing. It means you did, and chose not to do so. Probably because you didn't want to be bored. The systems involved do not, actually, promote non-boring solutions. They simply give you the chance to make decisions. The fact that people select the non-boring choices is because they have the freedom to do so.

In point of fact, I have seen some really boring people make some really boring choices when given the chance to do so by games with strong narrativism support.

Now, you can claim that the premise of Sorcerer is such that all results are more interesting than in other games. But if true, that's because of the premise. The premise of Sorcerer, broadly stated, is "What would you do for power?" So, yes, Sorcerer is not good for coming up with themes that are not answers to that question. So if you're saying that you don't have the support to play absolutely any theme, you're correct.

This is somewhat akin to noting that eating vegetables won't give you that "I just ate a steak" feeling. We have different games precisely because they support certain premises better than others.

Mike
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Alan
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« Reply #29 on: April 07, 2005, 08:03:36 AM »

I'll also point out that a narrativist system usually offers choices between several potentially exciting possibilities - often the only limitation is the player's imagination.   The system allows the player to select one they find _most_ exciting.

- Alan
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- Alan

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