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Author Topic: Can GNS modes be identified outside of GNS conflict?  (Read 7201 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #30 on: July 21, 2005, 07:00:09 AM »

Hi,

If I'm not mistaken, what you're asking for is a comparison of non-Force Sim play with Narrativist play that doesn't have many overt mechanics differences from most existing RPGs.

Is that right?

If so, I think I can do that. The Call of Cthulhu example isn't a good one, though, because my experiences as a GM (and GMs with whom I've played) in this game involve a lot of Force. Same goes for Unknown Armies and a couple of other games I delved into for Sim-fun purposes (Pocket Universe, Fvlminata, a few others).

The Force appeared mainly in terms of interpretations of dice rolls which provided opportunities when I felt like providing opportunities (or rather, knew I'd be bored unless they appeared). Stuff like, "Hey, that's a good roll, so in addition to hurting him, you slash open his briefcase and the documents fall out!" Obviously, these aren't interpretations of dice rolls at all, but simple and straightforward Do This instructions to the other people at the table.

So, non-Force Sim play examples are probably going to have to come from others. I do know, from observation and very long-ago play experiences, that such play tends to be very involved with resolution and depiction. The folks really want to be comfortable with their pre-play interpretation of (for example) whether that many laser-cannon bolts will cut through that bulkhead in time or not ... or, conversely, whether Bill can bust out his Centauri accent and attitude in time

Ah! I just remembered some examples, after all! The Centauri jogged my memory.

Our game of the Babylon Project in 1995; it might be considered my lesson in how badly a couple years of Magic had marred my role-playing skills, but also how well a couple of years of Magic had taught me that role-playing rules were largely bogus, and become more so by the month.

I was playing the Centauri pirate, Zev Cesare. For the first few sessions, it's fair to say that no Force was exerted on me or my fellow players. Result? A hell of a lot of good reinforcement of the primary source material (obviously, the show, second season; we were playing "underbelly" on the Babylon Station, given our knowledge of later season or so). That reinforcement took the shape of very fun character depiction (accents, etc), some runnin' around trying to find stuff on the station, and a few brawls based on inter-race prejudice, simple politics, or misunderstandings.

In other words, not much of any story resulted except for tracking the story we already knew existed (the show's) and using that as a group-celebrated constraint. Did we "do" Babylon Five to our satisfaction during this phase? Sure. But we were also itchy that no story of our own was occurring - at least, the GM and his co-GM/assistant were.

Now, the second half of our game (about six or seven more sessions) were characterized by a mix of aggressive scene framing (not itself Force, usually) and basic Force, usually toward a couple of other players who were looking for cues of the sort I describe above. Not outright "you do this" statements on the part of the GM, but "opportunities" which were essentially "do this" offers that were not intended to be refused. As the players were tacitly complicit in taking such offers, we were off to the races and "a story" occurred - helmed throughout, of course, by the GM.

This is a good example because we can compare the no-Force and Force phases of play, and also because I did have a hell of a lot of fun, most of the time. Most of my fun came from a strong Explorative focus - because I was expressing my fandom for the show via a character whose like was not seen on but was fully consistent with the show. For those of you familiar with it, I'm sure you can see that a flamboyant Centauri pirate is a way fun notion.

Another good example would be my long-running character in a Champions game (3rd edition, then 4th edition) beginning in the late 1980s. This was Nocturne, a very Goth spectral character, in a fairly generic supergroup called Northwatch. The GM and I became very good friends; in fact, he was Ran Hardin, the fellow I mentioned above.

The group aesthetic was similar to what I described for the BP game - if we could "do" our characters and take the proffered opportunities, all was well. Ran was very, very good at riffing off what we demonstrated would interest us, creating the cycle of response-satisfaction that many people consider the acme of role-playing expertise.

Without me involved, I think this group would never have changed an iota. But as time passed, I realized that the satisfaction was not actually occurring for me - it kept feeling like we were about to get going on something decisive/thematic, but we never did. I decided to take a much more active hand and pushed Premise-y stuff in relatively subtle ways during play itself, becoming kind of a co-GM in a participatory way. I tried my best not to be a source of irritation, but I'll definitely cop to having been a bully toward a couple other players.

Now for the Narrativist examples ... well, that's easy. I play like that all the time. Sorcerer, bluntly, doesn't look very different from its contemporary games until you see the reward cycle in action and until you recognize that rapid-pace conflict resolution occurs without Force. I'll give you the links for my necromancy game in a minute.

But a less charged/gimme example would be my long-running Champions game of the same period as the one I mentioned, which did not include Ran or any of the other people in his group. (Note the possessive pronouns; these games were played during a period in which if you GMed a game, it was "yours.") In this game, the rules were sliced down and interpreted in ways which Drifted play toward very solid Narrativist goals, for all of us involved. In our arrogance, of course, we called it the "right way" to play the game.

Sessions were composed of extremely direct references and consequences of previous play and what I did not realize at the time were Bangs. Players tended to provide Bangs of their own for one another as well. The best evidence of Narrativst play was found in how Experience Points were spent: mainly in altering in the framework of disadvantages for characters, which if you're familiar with the game, you'll recall can be used (if you squint at them in a Narrativist way) as a veritable Campaign Framework much like a relationship map or setting/back-story. I tended to utilize this backdrop, looking across everyone's disadvantages while prepping, to provide situations which were extremely open-ended for player-character decisions. It also helped that I have always loved villains and wanted their fates to be extremely subject to heroes' judgments of them.

We also used a five-session structure for rising action and climaxes, which at least for a while promoted thematic input ... although over several years it degenerated later into simple railroading on my part. At that point, I literally felt betrayed when someone would not display interest in hooks I provided, as I thought they were falling down on the job - when in actuality, I was railroading them.

I'm not sure whether I'm providing the details which would address your question. Helping, not?

Best,
Ron

got'em! My current Sorcerer game - modern necromancy and The necromancy game continued.
« Last Edit: July 21, 2005, 07:02:20 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
ewilen
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« Reply #31 on: July 21, 2005, 01:45:31 PM »

Yes, helping very much indeed. You've given me some good stuff to ponder, not only in terms of theory, but also (in conjunction with recent poking around on blogs and old threads) in terms of practical GMing ideas independent of theory.

That's not to say I won't have more questions about exactly how the examples limn the border between Nar and Sim--or that I wouldn't still appreciate any comments touching on my AP threads in relation to this topic. Or anything that anyone else might have to add on this topic. So I'd prefer not to close this thread just yet.
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
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« Reply #32 on: July 22, 2005, 10:10:56 PM »

(After reviewing Ron's last post.)

If I'm not mistaken, what you're asking for is a comparison of non-Force Sim play with Narrativist play that doesn't have many overt mechanics differences from most existing RPGs.

Yes, that's right, except that I was having far greater trouble understanding what the former looks like than the latter. But now that I look at your post, I'm still having trouble. You begin by saying that CoC isn't a good example because you used a lot of Force in the form of leading clues. Then you describe a Babylon 5 game but, alas, my total experience with the show is less than half an episode. So the references fly by me completely. You write:
Quote
I was playing the Centauri pirate, Zev Cesare. For the first few sessions, it's fair to say that no Force was exerted on me or my fellow players. Result? A hell of a lot of good reinforcement of the primary source material (obviously, the show, second season; we were playing "underbelly" on the Babylon Station, given our knowledge of later season or so). That reinforcement took the shape of very fun character depiction (accents, etc), some runnin' around trying to find stuff on the station, and a few brawls based on inter-race prejudice, simple politics, or misunderstandings.

In other words, not much of any story resulted except for tracking the story we already knew existed (the show's) and using that as a group-celebrated constraint. Did we "do" Babylon Five to our satisfaction during this phase? Sure. But we were also itchy that no story of our own was occurring - at least, the GM and his co-GM/assistant were.

Actually, the references aren't the main problem--it's that the description is in pretty abstract terms. (But I'll do my best in a second.). The second half of the BP game does have Force--Participationism, I think--with the GM providing "opportunities" that were really "instructions". You also describe Ran's Champions game as requiring that the players take the proffered opportunities--i.e., it was Forced; later you engaged in some co-GMing or stealth Narrativism.

So all I'm left with is the "underbelly" portion of the BP campaign. And what I think I'm seeing is that Sim is divided between the "directed" variety--where the characters are basically given a mission to carry out, with signposts along the way if necessary--and an "undirected" variety that's fairly amorphous, where in the absence of GM direction the player-characters take no real initiative. The "directed" Sim sounds like a lot of what happened in the Runequest campaign, and many of the sessions in the Hassan and Warnachar campaigns (parts I didn't describe in detail--regardless of whether they'd qualify as fully-realized CA by your criteria); at some moments it's possible that one of the other players was "directing" in a stealth-Nar fashion, but the rest weren't. The "undirected" variety of Sim sounds like it could be related to the examples I gave in my second AP thread--essentially, imaginative play (primarily expression of character) which doesn't "alter the state" of the game in any significant way.

Am I in the ballpark? Am I right in saying that "directed Sim" might alter the state of the game, but has no real player-input, while "undirected Sim" involves the players exploring (imagining either actively or passively) any of the five exploratory elements but not really having anything significant happen as an intended result of the players' actions? If significant initiative on the part of player-characters becomes a feature of play, we have Narrativism?
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
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« Reply #33 on: July 22, 2005, 11:30:07 PM »

Our game of the Babylon Project in 1995; it might be considered my lesson in how badly a couple years of Magic had marred my role-playing skills, but also how well a couple of years of Magic had taught me that role-playing rules were largely bogus, and become more so by the month.

I was playing the Centauri pirate, Zev Cesare. For the first few sessions, it's fair to say that no Force was exerted on me or my fellow players. Result? A hell of a lot of good reinforcement of the primary source material (obviously, the show, second season; we were playing "underbelly" on the Babylon Station, given our knowledge of later season or so). That reinforcement took the shape of very fun character depiction (accents, etc), some runnin' around trying to find stuff on the station, and a few brawls based on inter-race prejudice, simple politics, or misunderstandings.

In other words, not much of any story resulted except for tracking the story we already knew existed (the show's) and using that as a group-celebrated constraint. Did we "do" Babylon Five to our satisfaction during this phase? Sure. But we were also itchy that no story of our own was occurring - at least, the GM and his co-GM/assistant were.

OK, I second Elliot's call to elaborate more on this. I'd like to hear more about what this game and your Champions game was like, because I can't quite tell from this description.  It sounds like it was low-key, with different casual conversations rather than life-or-death situations and high drama.  But past that, I can't quite tell.  Who were the characters?  Can you describe a typical session? 
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- John
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #34 on: July 23, 2005, 06:40:38 AM »

Hello,

Elliott, you're completely in the ballpark and making perfect sense. I'm a little irked with something, though - your protest that I'm not fulfilling your assignment. Yes, the second half of the BP game was not what you're looking for. I realize that, and said so, and provided it as necessary contrast.

Due to popular request, a typical early session in the Babylon Project game ...

The characters included my pirate, a young telepath (the most thankless character choice in the system), and one other I can't recall well, but was probably a trader/gambler of some kind. The setting is a space station which fulfills a dipolomatic role among all these different spacegoing races/cultures. However, for us, the show itself was also setting, in the underbelly sense. The GM had chosen a sequence of episodes we were all familiar with, and the events of our game were to occur on the station during those episodes. Our shared constraint was not to futz with the canonical events, and our overall goal was to have a kind of "second show" that a B5 fan would appreciate greatly. We didn't know which episodes they were exactly, starting out, although we knew the season, and as expected and appreciated by all of us, we sussed out which episodes we were in pretty quickly.

Now for the session. There were three things going on in the show during these episodes, one of which was only known to people who were watching the current episodes. A war was brewing between two of the races, a prophecy of some kind was coming to fruition, and very nasty uber-alien, Lovecraftian beings were manipulating things behind the scenes (that would only become clear to viewers during the third season).

Well. The episode I recall best from this period concerned things for all of our characters: the telepath was being chased around the station (unregistered TPs were illegal), and the other two were enmeshed in a big fight in a bar area, during which some gangsters tried to kill my character under cover of the brawl. We got to shoot up a bunch of gangsters. At one point, the telepath glimpsed a terrifying and horrible Lovecraftian alien being deep in the bowels of the station, and it spoke to her in some sort of mind-shattering way. The setting closed with the pirate and the trader/gambler character getting individually interrogated lightly by the security chief of the station (an important character on the show).

The system has a few interesting features; the one I liked the most was the resolution of arms fire, with "misses" possibly still hurting the person, just not where you aimed. Fights were fun in this game. On the other hand, the basic resolution system was a 2d6 TN system dressed up in unnecessary handling-time manipulations to seem like it was "new" (a common thing at this point).

The experience of play had exactly the features you describe, Elliott: not much direction or "do this" from the GM, but also not much in the way of characters actually driving at things they wanted or cared about. We all steered our characters around and had them say things. It was, in fact, action-packed, and we all got to deliver combat or escape tactics, as well as interact with some colorful individuals. But a lot of our actions were "feelers," just doing stuff to see what beeped or hit "the story," such as when my character called his aunt because I simply couldn't imagine anything else for him to do that would discover anything. The beep turned out to be a buzz when this accidentally precipitated a political incident. So our actual activity as people, players, was very much in the realm of "do stuff, find out if it's a beep or a buzz."

Touchstones for the show included tension between the two brawling alien races, a brief glimpse of the terrifying alien, and the security chief. We all took these aspects seriously, such that the fact that we brought them off with no violation of our primary, show-based enjoyment of them was sufficient reward for play.

And yes, the key issue from a larger perspective is that this payoff is insufficient, for me. It palls; two episodes of recognizing that this "don't violate the show, do colorful stuff" process is possible is plenty. The GM felt the same way and went into a more Force-heavy approach (the only approach that to him would yield "story"), and the whole thing took on the sameness of many such games. Yes, things "held together" and our characters "came together and teamed up," and the story ended with the telepath becoming immensely strong and going off to become something important, elsewhere. However, the story only became a story insofar as A led to B; it was a tapestry, but not much else. I can't even recall what we teamed up against.

If we had, on the other hand, gone into a mode in which all of us were issues-oriented, and focused on developing otehr angles onto the thematic content of the show which mattered to us (and in fact, the show was extremely strong by the 4th season), then I think we would have been astonished. Such a mode might be muted and slow and subtle, or it might have been a slam-bang conflict-conflict approach - doesn't matter. But no such modality occurred.

So, overall, I'm not sure what question remains, Elliott. Is this description sufficient? You state that you're not really getting what I'm saying, but everything you're saying is fully on-target, so I'm not sure where to go from here.

Best,
Ron
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ewilen
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« Reply #35 on: July 23, 2005, 07:27:45 AM »

Hi Ron,

I may have been a little frustrated because I wasn't getting enough detail to confirm what I thought I was understanding from you. So I just wanted to point out where I needed more "meat" in the examples. No irking intended.

Your last post is indeed helpful. For one thing it makes clear that Narrativism requires group commitment, not just acceptance. That is, if the GM provides space for "significant action" on the part of the player-characters, but the players don't take advantage of it, then you don't have Narrativism. Or conversely a game can drift into Narrativism if the players start directing their characters into "significant action" and the GM sees he's got a good thing going and lets it happen.

I might have more questions later. In particular I'm thinking about my terms "alter the state of the game" and "significant action", but that might be fodder for another thread. Some more detail on your Champions game, as John suggested would also be illuminating. I mean, I'm 90% or more of the way there, and I would hope that any reader of this thread would be, too, but more detail would be like shining a floodlight on the issue. Such as concrete (not necessarily lengthy) examples for these:

1. "Sessions were composed of extremely direct references and consequences of previous play and what I did not realize at the time were Bangs. Players tended to provide Bangs of their own for one another as well."

2. "The best evidence of Narrativst play was found in how Experience Points were spent: mainly in altering in the framework of disadvantages for characters, which if you're familiar with the game, you'll recall can be used (if you squint at them in a Narrativist way) as a veritable Campaign Framework much like a relationship map or setting/back-story. I tended to utilize this backdrop, looking across everyone's disadvantages while prepping, to provide situations which were extremely open-ended for player-character decisions." (I should mention that my familiarity with Hero system is limited to owning but barely reading the original Fantasy Hero. I think what you're talking about may be roughly similar to aggressive use of GURPS disadvantages and the way they're bought off, though I gather that Hero is/was more flexible.)

--Elliot
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #36 on: July 23, 2005, 07:41:52 AM »

Well, patience. I move slowly in these discussions, and I'm reluctant to discuss the Hero System in detail because it prompts very powerful kneejerk reactions among its veterans (and they don't like my reasons for why it does so). 90% of the way is value added, so I'm happy.

At present, looking back at the original questions posed, I think they've been answered; the answer to the thread title is simply, "yes."

Time for new threads, I think. And as we are demonstrating here, probably best in Actual Play.

Best,
Ron
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ewilen
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« Reply #37 on: July 23, 2005, 11:34:04 PM »

That's fine with me. Let's close this one, and if John or anyone else wants to start a new thread specifically on how a group can engage in "Vanilla Nar", I'll look for it.

I appreciate the time you've taken to answer my questions, Ron. Thanks.
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Elliot Wilen, Berkeley, CA
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