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Author Topic: Following advice  (Read 2836 times)
james_west
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« on: May 31, 2001, 10:17:00 AM »

My posting rate has dropped dramatically in the past week or so; the reason for this is that I did decide to stop talking about it and start doing it.

The first part of the advice I've picked up here that I implemented was an attempt to make sure everyone had reasonably congruent goals and expectations. I've hosted two big gatherings this month, the first mostly a get-to-know-ya, the second having substantial discussion of what everyone wanted.

The most universal clearly expressed desire was a desire to play the same character for a long time, and to use a setting that allowed for games in different genres to be reasonably accomodated. We settled on a game set in the 1920s with some underlying supernatural stuff (ala Kult). I'd voted to set it in Germany in the 20's, because it also allowed for interesting political situations (kampfengruppe gegen den faschismus and all that), but most of the players were sufficiently unfamiliar with the setting that they preferred New Orleans. Interesting things you can do there, too.

Everyone was also very much in favor of rules-light systems, and we agreed that we'd rotate who ran the game, so long as they didn't trash the setting too much, and everyone could use whatever system they were interested in. The characters were primarily to be described, and then adapted to each system, rather than be primarily in one system and adapted to the others.

The first thing I've noticed as a result of this is a heck of a lot more enthusiastic participation on the part of the players than I'm used to: the newsgroup to handle it has been going through twenty messages a day, from everyone involved, and people whom you had to pull fingernails from in order to get -anything- in the past have been producing several-thousand-word backgrounds, with strong characterization and all sorts of hooks.

I'm running one session first, next Saturday, and will immediately afterwards rotate to another fellow who's got a 4-6 part scenario worked up. For my scenario, I've lifted a relationship map (ala Sorceror's Soul) from another Van Gulik book (The Emperor's Pearl) but moved to a drastically different setting and incorporating elements from character backgrounds. I'm planning on using an adaptation of  Hero Wars for the rules, but with the addition of a clear metagame mechanic (which I've called Plot Coupons) to allow cut scenes, flashbacks, etc. (I'm going to explain that these may be used in a somewhat Gamist fashion, i.e., to attempt to establish as true something that the player wants to be true in the scene he's cutting from.)

So, so far, so good: designing a campaign by committee seems to have engaged the players interest to a MUCH larger extent than methods used before. I'll have to see how all the other mechanisms we've talked about here work out when I try them in play.

Thanks for all the advice, everyone - I'll let y'all know how it works out.

                                     - James
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 31, 2001, 10:54:00 AM »

James,

Yay!! Congratulations on the whole thing.

Here are some other unsolicited advice-thoughts ... tailor or ignore, to taste.
- Keep the scope of individual runs fairly short.
- Make sure each and every scene (a) introduces conflict, (b) develops or redefines conflict, or (c) resolves conflict.
- Divulge information from NPCs, rather than hoarding it. Encourage players to know and understand tons more than their characters do.

OK, didn't mean to be patronizing. These are some sharp corners some GMs I know tend to cut themselves on.

Go for it, and let us know how it's going.

[SIDE NOTE: TO JAMES ONLY
Plot coupons:
"I'm going to explain that these may be used in a somewhat Gamist fashion, i.e., to attempt to establish as true something that the player wants to be true in the scene he's cutting from."

I can't see for the life of me why that's Gamist, necessarily. Sounds Narrativist to me, if it's all about contributing "story meat." We can follow this up by private e-mail if you'd like.]

Best,
Ron
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james_west
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« Reply #2 on: June 02, 2001, 11:48:00 PM »

OK, I've run my scenario ...
it wasn't a disaster, anyway.

My problem for most of the past several years has
been getting -enough- people to show up for a game
(for a couple of years I only ran or played things
online, even). So when I go recruiting, I go whole
hog, with the expectation that almost everyone will
flake.

So, um, I was too successful. I had eight players show up (plus me),which is about twice as many as I'm generally comfortable running. They're pretty much all really solid people, too - the sort of people I'd -want- to have around, and most of them seem like they're very reliable. This is a very strange problem, for me; I'm not used to having -way-too-many- good players. I dropped back to using the OTE system pretty much straight, to simplify matters.

So I went with it; six hour game, starting at six pm and running until midnight. I used my relationship map, the players naturally fell into small groups interacting with it from different angles, while I switched back and forth between groups (there was a group of three, two groups of two, and a character who sort of acted as liason).  I made sure that they didn't just have the 'recalcitrant witness' problem (in every scene that any PC was in, substantial new information was uncovered) The characters all talked to each-other as well, so there wasn't just a 'player knows it but character doesn't' problem; pretty much, every character knew what the players knew, most of the time, or with only a slight delay.

And they were just friggin' baffled, even with mounds of evidence, and more anywhere they looked; the clues didn't seem to fit together to them. The ending was a little unsatisfying; they figured out from the evidence at hand that one of the characters just had to be the main villain, but the way they handled it, they never did figure out what his motivation was (in Sorceror terms, where the crime against humanity was) or really figure out the relationship map, and there didn't seem to be a graceful way for me to have it all given up, either. Pretty much, almost all the way to the end they had the victims and the perpetrators reversed ...

What worked:
(1) Over the Edge just can't be beat for an easy-to-understand, rules-light system. For running a game with a huge group of people who'd thought about their characters, but not actually generated them, this was a nice solution.

(2) The relationship map made it very easy for -me- to keep everyone's motivations straight, and provide an almost totally internally consistent set of responses from NPCs. Part of the problem, though, is almost everyone had a reason to feel guilty about -something-, and the players tended to interpret that as, "Aha ! This must be a villain, since he/she's acting guilty."

(3) The characters were very clearly distinguishable, for the most part.

What didn't work:
(1) I should have set up a white board, so players could write down significant facts they uncovered. I think they just had a heck of a time keeping track of who had had what done to them, when and where.

(2) The darn thing was far too complicated to try to run in one session (and the players -knew- it had to be done in one session, because someone else was already scheduled to take over next time.) It meant that the players couldn't just take their time.

(3) I think maybe there were just too darn many players. It meant that most people didn't get much 'screen time', although I did try to balance it, and people tended to feel that they didn't have the luxury to take their time with a scene.

(4) The large number of players caused me to back off on my early ideas about encouraging authorial/directorial stance on their part.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: June 03, 2001, 02:53:00 PM »

Little steps, right? It sounds like the specific elements that you wanted to introduce worked out well, or at least did not themselves fail due to any inherent problems.

I also think that the actual number of players, the alloted time for play, and other social/real people elements of role-playing need a big conceptual house-cleaning. Making and sticking by those decisions as the FIRST task of role-playing preparation seems like a good idea.

Best,
Ron
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Supplanter
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« Reply #4 on: June 03, 2001, 03:47:00 PM »

An argument for thinking first in terms of Dude Mode, eh! :wink:

Best,


Jim
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Unqualified Offerings - Looking Sideways at Your World
20' x 20' Room - Because Roleplaying Games Are Interesting
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: June 04, 2001, 08:04:00 AM »

Jim,

I always do. It's the first task of functional role-playing.

In Sorcerer, Chapter 4 has a whole section to concentrate on the social dynamic and assumptions of the actual role-playing people. This thread crosses over with the "Time" thread in the 201 forum, so I'll also mention that the "Customizing" section encourages some thought about the time-context of play, using media like TV episodes, full-length movies, and novels as a basis for comparison.

It might be interesting to clarify for ourselves just what assumptions we (individually) carry about these things, and whether those assumptions have been a source of trouble.

Best,
Ron
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james_west
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« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2001, 09:24:00 PM »

Here's a brief description of the actual scenario, as it was run:
---
The characters, who had no prior connection, attend a seance at a run-down mansion in the swamps outside New Orleans. While they wait for it to begin, they breathe narcotic incense, and drink tea brewed with strange herbs.

After the seance starts, they are mentally transported to ancient Egypt, where they find themselves to be the Nomarch Imhotep, his wife, family, and servants, charged with using the ruins of the Hyksos capital at Tanis to build a new capital at Pi-Ramses.

Beneath the civilized exterior, they find a web of violence building, as local landlords struggle to enrich themselves with building contracts, family secrets bubble to the surface, and the long-suppressed cult of a bloodthirsty fertility goddess seems to be not so dead as previously thought.

While the meaning of events is unclear (and never divined), Imhotep's court is able to find a clear villain in a middle-class contractor named Sobek, who even as he falls into their hands declares that while they may have thwarted him in the noumenal world, in New Orleans the advantage lies with him.

When the characters awake, they find the seer gone, and a cryptic note in the center of the table.
---
This last was a set-up that the next GM (who wasn't present) had requested. If most of the way this was structured seems stilted, it's related to the fact that the players didn't want to have to have a prior connection between their characters, and I've decided to experiment with the idea of believing the players when they say they want something ...

Also, I've gotten feedback from the players at this point, and they apparently liked it a lot more than I did. Several people said that if the rest of the campaign goes half as well as that did, it'd still be one of the best they'd participated in.

                         - James
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: June 06, 2001, 06:44:00 AM »

Hi James,

One truism about creative effort is that the primary author tends to be disappointed with the result, at least relative to "the vision."

[Of course, much of this website concerns how the GM is NOT necessarily the "primary," but we can agree that he or she is very often "central." The "vision" thing certainly applies.]

So judging from your success in the the main goals (using a relationship map, e.g.), and from the reaction of the players, it seems that you've done pretty damn well.

It'll be interesting to compare your GM decisions with those of the next guy.

Best,
Ron
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