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What the heck is a bang???

Started by ghoyle1, May 19, 2005, 04:11:18 AM

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Sorry to be so out of it, but I'm just not sure what a "bang" is.

Guy (Hoyle)
Guy (Hoyle)
I used to think, "Mind-control satellites? No way!" But now I can't remember how we lived without 'em.

Nick Brooke

Quote from: ghoyle1Sorry to be so out of it, but I'm just not sure what a "bang" is.

Guy (Hoyle)
Hi, Guy: it's Forgespeak, originally from the Sorcerer rules. The Glossary says this:


   The Technique of introducing events into the game which make a thematically-significant or at least evocative choice necessary for a player. The term is taken from the rules of Sorcerer. See also Kicker.

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Ah, I see. Thanks for elucidating me!
Guy (Hoyle)
I used to think, "Mind-control satellites? No way!" But now I can't remember how we lived without 'em.

Mike Holmes

Sorry to be using the term so prolifically in the forum when it's not really specific to to HQ. Basically, however, it's part of an overall strategy of preparation for play. Instead of preparing locations (the old dungeon style), or scenes (what HQ presents, for instance), you prepare events that might happen that have the "Bang" qualities. Then you just allow the players to go where they like, and put the bangs in as neccessary to keep play moving forward. The theory is that this allows the player more control over the course of the story - saying no to a scene doesn't void the GM's prep.

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That sounds like a great idea! I'll have to read up on it some more. I have a terrible time plotting out adventures in advance, and am always looking for some alternate way of creating an adventure.
Guy (Hoyle)
I used to think, "Mind-control satellites? No way!" But now I can't remember how we lived without 'em.


If you care to take a look over at, I started a thread called You Kick, We Bang, in which we came up with kickers and bangs for each other, just to get the concepts down pat.

Hope that helps.

GB Steve

A bang is similar to a plot hook but, as the name suggests, should have immediate impact. A hook can be more passive, you can pass it up by ignoring it, but with a bang, the player should have to make a choice.

Mike Holmes

Yeah, Steve points out what I feel are the two main criteria to shoot for when putting together a bang. In addition to bringing conflict to a head, you as GM putting it together shouldn't be able to predict the player's response. If you can say, "Well, he'll probably just do X" then it's not a bang. In effect, when the bang is played, it's really only effective if the player feels that they have a real choice to make, which will take the story in one direction out of more than one possible acceptable choice. Typically bangs are constructed as dilemmas because this is often easist, but the more possible ways that the player can take the character at the time of the bang, the more likely it is to be successful.

I'm going to enumerate the basics of the entire method here, just to have them in one place.

In some ways I think of bangs as the "plot" equivalent of dungeon intersections from earlier gamism play. That is, they are points at which the player is having a real impact on the outcome of play. Not the same sort of impact, but an impact which, nonetheless, advances the player's agenda (not just the characters).

There are a lot of easy techniques for coming up with bangs, some quite formulaic. For example, to come up with a dilemma bang, simply find two things that the character values at aproximately equal levels, and then make him choose between the two. For example, if the character is in love, but also power hungry, allow him to gain rank in some organization that the NPC who he's in love with despises. The choice is simple then, choose power and alienating your love, or love over power.

The nice things about dilemmas is that (to steal from HQ), there's always another way. Players will always come up with a solution that you didn't expect. Try to ensure that there is no way to choose "I want both"; if the player can do that, then it becomes gamism quickly to try to figure out how to get both as a challenge. But to use the example, if the player decides to join the organization secretly, and not tell his love, then that makes a pretty interesting statement about the character and their ethics.

In the end, that's what's entertaining about bangs. The character is "revealed" by the bang. We (and even the character) learn new things about the character and his value system.

What's interesting when it's working is that players will set up and resolve bangs for themselves and each other. In addition to what you throw at them as GM. Without even being told how to do it, they pick up on what's going on, and play just goes that way. Meaning that you don't have to prepare a whole lot of bangs. We usually suggest starting with about three Bangs per character.

To bring this all on topic for Hero Quest, it's easy to make bangs for HQ, because if you want to know what the character values and where to find his "issues" (things that are already in conflict for the character) you really have to go no further than the character sheet. Look closely at the characters relationships, and personality traits (though you can find values in every ability that the character has). Bangs, simply put, bring up conflict about these values. Which the player then resolves. A typical place to find these conflicts in a world like Glorantha is to look for the conflicts embedded in the setting. Is the game set in a village of Lunar dominated Orlanthi (to use the very typical situation that Ron often points to)? Then look to put the character's religion and cultural keword elements at odds with each other. One relationship NPC is hardcore Orlanthi and will not give it up. Another is a Lunar convert. They both need the PCs help - which does he help? That sort of thing.

What happens then is that you'll note players spending more HP on those things that they want to be put further into conflict. Spending HP on abilities can be considered the player pointing to the ability and saying "this one!" in this style of play.

Now, all this said, you need to have ways to bring these bangs into being. Events have to occur to make the conflict come to a head - it's amazing otherwise what lengths players will go to sometimes to avoid this (though some players are adept at "self-banging" if you will). So what causes bangs? Well, it's possible to do it with environmental things. A mudslide threatens to sweep away two valued possessions - which do you save first?

But usually this doesn't lead to much of anything like a plot, since such phenomena can't repeat reasonably or have much empathy associated with them as villains and such. No, what works best is to use a bunch of NPCs as tools to cause the action of bangs in an ongoing fashion. Now if you just have a village of separate NPCs each interacting with PCs, that's better than just using environmental effects, but you have the problem that events tend to fly apart from each other, and PCs often are left not interacting. And, again, little plot continuity. The characters are revealed, but in a somewhat haphazard way.

What Ron's method suggests is to use what's called a Relationship Map. Actually any group of associated NPCs who are embroiled in some conflict themselves will work out fine. But, basically, instead of an "adventure" you prepare a situation full of NPCs, which develops in ways that produces the bangs in question.

Now, what you have to watch for in these cases is that the tendency for GMs is to make the characters of the map they come up with central to the story. It becomes their issues that take center stage. Part of this tendency is because GM's making up maps either steal their structures from literature or plays or such, and/or they create the structure in a form like this. Which, actually, in and of itself isn't bad - I suggest using such techniques myself and do so myself (I get a lot of NPC Maps from Operas, actually). What happens, however, is that the GM starts thinking in terms of displaying the issues and conflicts of these characters.

Which also is not, in and of itself bad. But what the GM may lose sight of is that these NPCs are simply tools that are supposed to be creating bangs to make the PCs central to the story. For every NPC conflict, have two or more player issues come up. Think of the story being created as "PC X meets these NPCs and finds out Y about himself in the process."

Or, rather, "PCs X, Y, and Z meet these NPCs, and these three find out things about themselves." There's your "adventure" right there.

How do you use an NPC to cause a bang? How do you get the PCs as we say, "on the map"? Well, again it's not just some random group of NPCs, hopefully. Hopefully the NPCs have some strong agendas and the situation that's set up by their context (and their context with the PCs should they start out on the map), is already primed for conflict. Again, if you're using a map from some actual story, then you probably can see where the points of conflict exist. The next thing to do, however, is to make the NPCs need the PCs to accomplish their agendas. So the NPCs approach the PCs, ask them to do things, or offer them things, etc, and the issues that these situations bring up are bangs.

Again, going back to the example, one NPC is the love interest who has thrown herself at the PC. Another NPC comes up and asks the PC to join the organization, and you have the bang. With the map, however, it may turn out that the NPC asking the PC to join is the love interest NPCs estranged parent. See how this causes things to interrelate back more? futue bangs will work off of the NPC relationship (for example, if the character joins, perhaps the parent NPC asks the character to try to work on reuniting him with the other NPC).

Quite often in HQ you can enumerate these NPC linkages mechanically with relationship abilities. Which can help you determine which way NPCs go in certain circumstances, or make for interesting resistances to die rolls for conflicts regarding such things.

Anyhow, again, in pushing the NPC agendas to create bangs, one can tend to overdo it. Basically the GM starts playing the NPCs as PCs. A little of this is tolerable, but beware not to over do it. Again, keep thinking of how to make the PCs the focus - keep throwing legitimate bangs at them.

If you do use the method where you take the structure of the NPC Map from an existing source, be careful to take it at a point in that story where the conflicts have not been resolved. Obviously you won't take a Shakespearean tragedy at the point where 80% of the characters are dead. But also don't take live characters at the end of a story where they've all kissed and made up.

Chris Chinn has a good method for building such maps from the ground up. He starts with a basic situation that's conflict charged, and creates what NPCs are needed to flesh that out, spiraling the characters off of the central conflict. These are less prone, I think, to the NPCs becoming central to the story for several reasons. They do take slightly more work, however.

When preparing a map from which you're going to be making bangs, be aware of this as you do it. Don't focus only on why the character is germane to the situation at hand, but also on how they're going to "grab" the PC and put him "on the map" and creating bangs. The NPCs should even be altered on the fly to give them whatever motives it takes in order to bring the bangs out that are needed at the moment. In other words, think of the bangs first, and then modify the NPCs to make them capable of producing them.

This means that, whenever possible, create the Map after you see the PCs. Without that, what you have to do is create very generally "grabby" NPCs that can engage a wide variety of the sorts of characters who are likely to be presented. Which works less well than creating the map to fit the PCs issues from the start. Not every character has to be so tailor made, and some can be designed with only one of the PCs in mind, etc. But it's just important to keep this all in mind.

You wouldn't create a dungeon that had all traps for a party with no thief, right? Similarly you want to create a NPC Map that fits the characters that are presented.

Again, HQ makes this easy. Simply check the character sheet, look at the goals for the characters, and make the NPC Map such that the NPCs will give the characters a chance to address some issues, and to possibly reach some goals, and you're all set.

What's cool about this is that after doing a couple of hours of initial preparation (which becomes less and less the more you do this), coming up with the map and a few starting bangs, the prep between sessions is quite simple. You often just have to replace the used up bangs or jot down any that present themselves on reflecting on previous play. We're talking 30 minutes at most and often as little as ten minutes of jotting down a few ideas. Just have copies of the character sheets on hand.

Not all bangs will "go off." It's far from a perfect method, and some bangs "fizzle." Basically it'll turn out that the player just isn't interested in the issue at hand. They may have presented a value on the character sheet that is there perfunctorily. A Homeland relationship with family may not actually interest a particular player, and merely be there because chargen requires it. The system helps make these things valuable by putting mechanical emphasis on them, but you never know until you know what the player likes.

So that's key with deciding on what bangs to present. Watch what does catch the player's interest. The first session or two of HQ can seem slow using these methods because the players are themselves just finding out what issues they like to see brought up with their characters. And you're getting this info second hand, then. But by the third session, I find, you'll have a reasonable idea of what the player likes.

Keep this in mind preparing the initial bangs. They can be thought of, in some ways, as tests of what the player likes. Once you've hit on something that excites the player, then keep future replacement bangs designed to hit those or similar topics.

I think that covers the most of it. Does that give a pretty clear vision of how to play with these methods? Questions are welcome. And any thoughts for how this pertains to HQ would be good to keep it on topic.

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Wow, that was quite an in-depth explanation, Mike. I learned a couple of things. Thanks!

Eric Provost

I too leaned quite a bit.  My thanks also.


Mike Holmes

Probably time I put that all down in one place instead of spread all to hellandgone. :-)

In any case, everything I ever needed to know about RPGs I learned from the Art Deco Melodrama threads in the Sorcerer forum. And stuff like that. Basically, credit where credit is due. Prior to a couple years ago I didn't play at all like this.

And, hey, that means if a schmuck GM like me can learn all of this, you can too!

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Albert of Feh

Bang-based play: The Internal Combustion Engine of Narrativism(tm)!

The Art Deco Melodrama threads are useful, but they're also really really long. It's nice to have all this laid out in a fairly complete, concise manner. If nothing else, it's easier to say to friends "Here, go read this 5-minutes' worth of text" than "Here, go read these three or four threads, each of which will probably take you at least ten minutes." I remember not having time to read it all in one sitting.

Even for an interested, thoughtful person, this stuff can be really hard. I've been reading Forge stuff off and on for about a year now, read Sorcerer over six months ago, and have been thinking about thinks in idle moments since then, and it was only a few days ago that I had the epiphany of "Oh, so that's what Kickers are really all about!"

Mike Holmes

A couple more notes.

First, the definition of what a bang is from the glossary should suffice. But I like to point out two criteria for good bangs as I see them:
1) They can't be ignored - whatever the decision it creates some meaning.
2) It's not obvious which way the player will have the character go when they encounter it.

Kickers can be an effective part of creating this style of play, but aren't absolutely neccessary. People have said, erroneously in my opinion, that Kikers are just a bang that the player selects. There's actually an important difference. Yes the player selects kickers, but what they're selecting is more than just a bang. Most bangs are resolved in the same scene as they're broght up. The results of the outcome may lead to new conflicts, but the bang itself has done it's job and is over.

Kickers, on the other hand, allow the player longer term control. They are not meant to be brought up in a way where they are resolved in the first scene of play - they could be, but that's not the intent. No, Kickers give the player a lot more long term control, beause what they represent are a long-term conflict that is to be resolved. Long-term here meaning more than just one or two scenes. A Kicker sets the stage for what that character's play is going to be about for a substantial number of scenes, often a whole "story arc."

So it should be obvious that when starting with kickers that the Narrator needs to have them on hand prior to doing any further preparation. It would be unsuitable, for instance, to have a map of NPCs in a town, and then have the player come up with a kicker that forced the character to leave town. With Kickers, the Narrator needs to, in fact, make up the NPC Maps and whatever else using the Kikers themselves as a road map, or, maybe a more apt metaphor, as a blueprint. With Kickers, often you're just filling in some blanks.

Kickers are great for getting you more quickly past the initial "getting used to the character" stages (though even with them you'll still have some of this). But if you're willing to muddle through this stage anyhow, they're not absolutely neccessary. Use to taste.

For example, as an alternative, what I use for HQ play is what I refer to as the Soap Opera structure. Instead of having one big starting issue for each character with the intent of resolving them all at approximately the same time in play, I have the characters encounter the map, and allow issues to arise more organically. Then each sub-plot (there is no overall plot, in this form, only sub-plots), begins whenever it's discovered, and resolves when it resolves. Characters are usually involved in at least two or three (if not many more) sub-plots in some way during play. In some cases they may be minor players in that plot, and in others they may be central to the plot in question. But when they resolve is more or less random. So sub-plots in this format overlap each other and interweave with each other in all sorts of combinations.

I use Soap Opera play for games that I intend to last indefinitely (much as Soaps last indefinitely). Kickers can provide a much more intense and limited-length experience.

Layered on my Soap Opera style I am currently using what I think of as a linked mini-series style. That is, unlike Soaps, I do allow certain maps to "play out" instead of trying to keep them evergreen. I do think that you can keep a particular NPC map somewhat evergreen, but that, like actual Soap Operas, eventually you run into the phenomenon where it's just one comatose character too many for suspension of disbelief - basically you start repeating bangs for the same set of characters. So what I find is a bit better is for each character to have several sub-plots play out over a background that drives towards players coming up with a "finish" for their character's remaining plots all at about the same time.

This is like your typical "Civil War" mini-series. That is, the events of the "metaplot" go on in the background providing sources of opposition for the players, but not becoming what the story is "about" (that, instead, being how the characters are responding to the events around them). Basically you can use these events to bring all of the open sub-plots to a close when there seem to getting hard to find more to start, or when the plots getting resolved start seeming pretty "final" in some way. Basically when you feel that you're "running out" of Bangs.

Then what I do is to allow for players to change up characters, or continue to play the same characters in, as Ron would put it, sequals to the first set of plots. Using these techniques, what I've gotten is indefinite long-term play that allows narrativism.

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