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Author Topic: Star Wars d20: Is this Sim vs. Gamism?  (Read 17737 times)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: August 25, 2005, 04:50:16 AM »

Hey guys,

I'm glad you're all here, and there's a big chance for this thread to yield some helpful points. Based on literally thousands of posts, though, I have a cautionary point to add right now.

It is: never mind what the characters should or shouldn't have been thinking. Let's not spend any time at all about what they did or didn't know, did or didn't do, or anything like that. Instead, the key is here:

Steve wrote,

Quote
At the moment our group doesn’t have a mechanism for calling time-out. Therefore I “couldn’t” talk to the other players and sound them out about how they were feeling … or to the GM, to see whether he was getting frustrated with our lack of progress.

Whoa Nelly. Am I reading this correctly? Is either the group, or you Steve personally, under the impression that during play, people cannot talk to one another as people? That if Duke Borgo is ducking and dodging your lightsaber attacks, then you, Steve, cannot turn to someone and say, "Dude, I'm lost. Who was he again?" Or even, "Rad, this is like Yojimbo," or really, anything at all?

Especially since Seraph wrote something quite different:

Quote
I would have had NO problems with players saying "What is going on ? I can't see where we're going..." or "Given what we have found out - what would be a good next step?" - or possibly even "Fess up Moretto!! Freaking what are we supposed to do ???" - as you're right, the RP is SUPPOSED to be fun.

If you guys can't even get it together about which of these concepts of playing together is in action, then I dunno what to say. For instance, Seraph, your following text about what the players ought to expect from a story of a particular type is totally irrelevant now - without solid and social confirmation about what kind of story it is, during play itself, then you cannot reasonably expect a three-word pre-play summary to have exactly the impact/relevance you'd like throughout.the session.

Best,
Ron
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Rob Carriere
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« Reply #16 on: August 25, 2005, 05:23:14 AM »

The underlying problem: At the moment our group doesn’t have a mechanism for calling time-out. Therefore I “couldn’t” talk to the other players and sound them out about how they were feeling … or to the GM, to see whether he was getting frustrated with our lack of progress.
As a random data point: we basically use two OOC channels. The first, and widest, is that we always make sure we talk before and/or after the games. Having dinner together is one fun way to do that. The second channel is that if someone wants to make OOC contribution to the game (as opposed to, say, asking for the coke bottle OOC) they make a time-out gesture, like the American sports refs.

We try to avoid using the second channel for critique or course-change requests (mostly as a matter of taste), but it's wonderful for clarification ("I'm being really quiet right now because I'm on the edge of hysteria") or compliments ("Cool! You found the one argument that will work!")

Now that's just one example way of doing things, there's many, many ways out there. You guys will have to figure out what works for you. But you have to figure out something. A group without a functional OOC channel is a ship without a rudder.

Quote
I think that brings up a bunch of related stuff.  That criticising the game (even constructive criticism) implies criticism of the person running the game.
So say what you liked about the game, not what you disliked. That sounds stupid, but it really works. (And once everybody is used to the game being post-mortemed, the association criticism of game = criticism of me usually fades, so you can speak both about what you liked and what you disliked.)

Another important thing, especially in the beginning: tone and amount. I've found that people who are not used to critiqueing professionally overdo both. The inevitable result is that the other(s) feel attacked and that all possible benefit is lost. One very silly sounding rule of thumb that works for a lot of people is to not complain about more than one thing and mention at least three that were good. The end goal is to get to the point where you are having a natural conversation, not a trial (not even a trial ending in acquittal.)

As for when people are bored, watch their eyes, watch their focus. Even if people are playing very IC, you can still see their eyes light up when they're excited, you can still see how quickly they move their head to follow who is speaking. And with most people I've played with, when their character isn't in the scene, the entire body language reverts to being the player's. As the psych people will tell you, body language has five times the bandwidth of speech, and it is devoted entirely to answering the sort questions you are asking. If you pay attention to that, you will not have to ask who had fun when, you will know. (For a GM who is comfortable with improvising, this is the most wonderful tool you can imagine.)

SR
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #17 on: August 25, 2005, 06:12:44 AM »

A specific gesture to say "I'm going to speak out of character now, okay?" is a cool idea -- I've never tried that, though I understand it's common in LARPs -- although I suppose it could make going OOC too big a deal, as opposed to a brief aside of, "Hey, that was lame/confusing/cool!" The key thing is that everyone feels comfortable and able to communicate, of course.

And (as long as I'm channelling Ron Edwards), I'll offer a suggestion based on reading bunches of Actual Play: Players and GMs posting lots of detail on what happened in-game almost never helps. You'd think it would, but in practice, nope. Anyone who wasn't there (i.e. most Forge people), who doesn't know the given group and how they interact, won't have the context -- the "vibe" around the gaming table -- to interpret the details properly; worse, often the people who were there start feeling defensive about what feels like criticism in a public forum, which can lead to the dreaded spiral downwards into flameage. Detailed stuff about what happened in your game is probably best for face-to-face conversations where you can read each other's body language and not worry about everyone with a Web browser being able to overhear you; this forum really can only help you at a more general level.

Oh, and finally: I came on pretty strong (for me) a while back, but I want to emphasize, I'm not saying, "oh, it's the railroading GM's fault!" or "oh, it's the dumb players' fault!" or even "oh, your whole group is screwed up." Sitting here hundreds of miles away from the real-world interactions among the human beings, I'm not even qualified to judge.
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #18 on: August 25, 2005, 10:50:25 AM »

Quote from: Ron
Am I reading this correctly? Is either the group, or you Steve personally, under the impression that during play, people cannot talk to one another as people?

Ron, the situation’s less extreme. In our group OOC talk at the level of “Now who was Duke Borgo?” and “Pass the coke” happens all the time. *

What I’m talking about is critiquing the game while it’s in progress at a deeper level – especially stuff that we don’t like.

For example, last night Seraph & I had a really good long talk about this. We agreed that the issue here wasn’t how we were solving the puzzle (should we go forward or back; should we keep searching on this planet), but instead that everyone seemed to be operating under a different assumption. From this thread, we've seen:

Quote
Svend: "Well, the Jedi Master came here, so there must be something here that tells us where she went next."

Gino: "I HATE people who spoil a mystery of puzzle for me. You don't WANT my help !! You want to work it out yourselves !!!"

Me: "There has to be a ‘right’ solution to this puzzle."

Not sure what Jenni, Celeste or Wayne’s assumptions were (and I would like to know) – but when you unbundle them like this after the fact it’s pretty obvious how they led to the four-car pileup we experienced. That's the deeper level of OOC talk I'm wondering about.

I have two questions. First, does anyone else in the group feel it's important to talk about stuff like those assumptions or not having fun in the game while it's happening? Second, what's the best way to raise those issues?**

* I like this OOC talk, seems Gino does too.  Svend, Jenni, Celeste, Wayne, what do you think about it? I don’t believe we’ve ever Discussed it.

** And there have been some useful thoughts on that so far. Thanks!
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Steve

Gametime: a New Zealand blog about RPGs
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #19 on: August 25, 2005, 11:30:54 AM »

Hiya,

See, in our game group, "Uh, who was Duke Borgo again?" and "Waitaminute, you're not trying to present some sort of secret for us to figure out, are you?" are handled exactly the same - right there during play, intermixed with role-playing statements, as plain old dialogue.

I am a big foe of distinguishing between IC and OOC play. I hate the very idea of "channels." To me, IC is a minor technique that resides entirely within a big block of OOC. If the IC doesn't make sense in purely OOC terms, then it's not working.

Perhaps you guys might consider that way of looking at it? If so, then it will be OK to ask for any sort of clarifier, whether it's "what can we [the characters] see" or "what are your [a person's] expectations of us [the other people]."

Best,
Ron
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #20 on: August 25, 2005, 12:25:07 PM »

Quote from: Ron
If the IC doesn't make sense in purely OOC terms, then it's not working.

I'm nodding along to everything else in your post Ron, but that I don't get. Could you expand on what you mean?
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Steve

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: August 25, 2005, 12:38:43 PM »

Hiya,

What I mean is this.

I say something like "Alanna leaps forward and her steely sword rings loud in the night! Hackety-hack!" Seize my dice, look fierce.

I actually don't talk like that during play, but bear with me.

Now, don't imagine Alanna. Imagine me sitting with all my friends at the table. What are they doing?

a) Saying stuff as suggestions or edits of what I'm saying, further contributing to the SIS.

That would be more IC stuff along with mine and can be lumped with it.

b) Grinning, fingering their own dice, maybe utilizing rules to give me a bonus, or maybe other rules for their characters to take advantage of me due to this action, whatever.

c) Saying "hold on, I'll be right back" if they just hopped up, or starting a quick dialogue about how Alanna really just nailed her resemblance to a well-known actress, even saying a line from a movie that was a lot like mine in some way. Or maybe saying to me "Don't talk back!" to rhyme with "whackety-whack" in the fashion of the old R&B song.

Contrary to popular belief, both of these highly reinforce and validate the imaginary material. Or the better way to look at it is, my imaginative contribution prompted all of these supportive and fun interactions of whatever kind.

d) Saying, "Jesus, we were just talking with that guy," or "what, another fight?" Or perhaps taking that cue to say "There goes the next hour for the bimbo's fight scene, what's on TV?" Or even worse, "Don't interrupt! He goes on to tell you that the dragon lives in the Cave of Evil."

Which is, of course, all suxxorg.

See what I mean? People are forever making a big deal about (a-b) as opposed to (c-d), when the real odd man out is (d) alone.

When (a) and (b), in their entirety, are considered part of (c), then discussion about how the game is going during play is open, fun, relaxed, and easy.

It's a real reversal of all the bullshit text in all those games you've read. It means that we do not put the "out of game" stuff on one blackboard and the "in game" stuff on another. It means that imagined-stuff fun flows imaginatively and procedurally within a matrix of non-imagined, real-person, social, actual-talk fun.

Best,
Ron
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hix
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Steve Hickey


« Reply #22 on: August 25, 2005, 01:59:15 PM »

Thanks Ron.

I think it’s important to hear from the other players now. Dudes, has this thread triggered anything for you? What are your thoughts on this (a),(b),(c),(d) stuff? How important’s “staying in character” to you? Is this all just over-thinking the situation? It’d be cool to get an idea of where we all are.

(Oh, and the ideas about solving mysteries from the start of the thread have been split off into this thread.)

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Steve

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Seraph
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« Reply #23 on: August 25, 2005, 09:33:04 PM »

IC ... OOC ... it's all good.
Somethings HAVE to be done out of character - though I do admitt that our group can hover in that (c) group more than I would like sometimes. Not that I really have a problem with that - but it can sometimes detract from the mood. But ... having said THAT, I think that we're pretty good at knowing when mood and atmosphere is important - and responding accordingly. When Jenni was having that medetation 'moment' for example - I can't remember anyone else saying a WORD ( which was good - cos it was supposed to be spooky and all ). Likewise - the great majority of the Sabriel - Old Kingdom game ran like that too ( which was also the vibe I was looking for ).
And then - the InSpectres games have been a (c) riot - and I think that's the mood the game ( well, OUR game anyway ) is supposed to generate. And it's good then.

Meh. OOC stuff doesn't bother me all that much I guess - only when it has an adverse effect on the atmosphere of the game.

Thanks for your thought Ron. It's good to get an outside perspective. Just wanna say though :
Quote
you cannot reasonably expect a three-word pre-play summary to have exactly the impact/relevance you'd like throughout.the session.

It was a a little bit more than just three words ! :)
I had outlined what the mystery was ( Jedi had disappeared - couldn't be found - important to find her ) I had thought pretty clearly. But you are right - I maybe needed to just ... I don't know ... keep reminding them or something.

Quote
Going back in person to the most densly-populated planet in the setting, where our powerful employer's main base is situated, when they're calling us and saying that what we're doing is important...

Svend man ! Did I explain that the war against the YV had pretty much screwed the rebublic ? Corusant was occupied by the YV ? New Rebublic forces spread thinly about the galaxy ? Perhaps just over a hundred Jedi Knights left, equally spread all over the place ?
I think I had ... :))

Still - the point is taken. I should have reminded you at that point. I don't think I was having very coherent thought patterns then though. I think the "internal wailing" was happening then.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #24 on: August 26, 2005, 04:59:17 AM »

Hiya,

Seraph, I think you're missing my point a little. I'm saying there is no "IC."  It's all OOC, with IC being a sort of detail or specialized presentation. Does this make any sense at all?

Looking over your post, I still see a lot of protesting, a lot of defensiveness, and a very strong commitment to the internal logic of the imagined space:

Quote
Did I explain that the war against the YV had pretty much screwed the rebublic ? Corusant was occupied by the YV ? New Rebublic forces spread thinly about the galaxy ? Perhaps just over a hundred Jedi Knights left, equally spread all over the place ?
I think I had ... :))

I can tell you what I'd hear if you said that, prior to a game session. "Blah blah Star Wars blah Wars blah blah Jedi
blah." Seriously. That's exactly what I'd hear. It conveys literally nothing at all about what sort of game you'd like to play, what sort of activities might be most fun, and what kind of character or actions I ought to consider.

All of the following is provided for a source of contrast, not as a direct recommendation. You wrote,

Quote
I had outlined what the mystery was ( Jedi had disappeared - couldn't be found - important to find her ) I had thought pretty clearly. But you are right - I maybe needed to just ... I don't know ... keep reminding them or something.

I have a different proposal. Why not ... let go? You play the NPCs and the opportunities and so on as usual, but remember that big ol' story and the clues and the stuff they're supposed to find out? Let it go.

Look instead at the players, and how they've written their characters as opportunities for you. Instead of hooking them into your story, get yourself hooked into theirs. Instead of anticipating what a great story you'll tell them, provide tons of adversity and opportunities, anticipating what a great story will be produced.

All of this is only food for thought, not a direct recommendation, despite its phrasing ("proposal," etc). Let's not discuss it further here.

Best,
Ron
« Last Edit: August 26, 2005, 05:00:54 AM by Ron Edwards » Logged
Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #25 on: August 26, 2005, 05:30:31 AM »

Did I explain that the war against the YV had pretty much screwed the rebublic ? Corusant was occupied by the YV ? New Rebublic forces spread thinly about the galaxy ? Perhaps just over a hundred Jedi Knights left, equally spread all over the place ?
I think I had ... :))

I'd like to clarify Ron's point here: what he's about is that long experience suggests that you actually can't very well communicate player goals and methods through setting exposition. This is a pretty big empirical fact at this point, considering how massive amounts of failures we all have behind us in this regard. And no wonder, just think on what you're trying to achieve:
You say: Did I explain that the war against the YV had pretty much screwed the rebublic ? Corusant was occupied by the YV ? New Rebublic forces spread thinly about the galaxy ? Perhaps just over a hundred Jedi Knights left, equally spread all over the place ?
What players have to know: You're the heroes of the story, and nobody else's doing a whit. I've decided that we'll be doing a cool chase scene with flying cars at Coruscant next.
What actually happens: Players evaluate your statements according to in-game logic. They will think that surely there's other competent folks in Coruscant, despite the overall situation. It's not so black-and-white. Perhaps they feel that there's some chance of their other leads being correct, and want to ensure that somebody covers them, too. In a word, they play their characters freely according to their own interpretation.

The point is, what happened here? You talk IC, but try to communicate simple, straightforward story direction through exposing setting. Players take on the difficult task of deducing their route from your IC exposition, and come to some decision. Pretty often that decision is not what would seem logical for the GM, because deducing story direction from IC material is friggin' harder than GMs believe. The players don't have your brain, so they emphasize different things when interpreting your puzzle. That's why art in general has a strongly subjective component, which is one of the joys of it.

So that's why Ron gives no weight at all for IC exposition as a technique of story control. It doesn't work. Rather, he (I believe; at least I do) thinks that any important direction will be human-to-human, and any IC stuff will be explicitly subjective story material, to be interpreted freely. Because that what it is, objectively. So when you lay down setting precepts like the above quote, you're talking mood and general style, not some facts that have to be used to solve a puzzle. Or if they are facts that are necessary to solving a puzzle, you will write them down and give them a title: These Are Things You Need To Solve a Puzzle. That way nobody gets confused.

Of course, there's two things to do: one is to make sure players get the story control suggestions (you could have formalized rules for clues, so players can know what they should ignore and what not, for example; or you could just tell them OOC what they're supposed to do next), the other is to genuinely prepare to play in such a way that any interpretation made by the players is valid. So they don't have to guess right when solving the interpret-the-GM puzzle.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: August 26, 2005, 06:07:05 AM »

Hello,

Actually, let's ignore that final couple of sentences at the end of your post, Eero. It will be most helpful to remain with the traditional (and very useful, very fun) approach that the back-story and the basic "what's happening" is part of GM prep.

The InSpectres approach of "make up the mystery as you solve it" isn't really what this group is after, for this game, as far as I can tell.

But for the majority of your post - yes and yes.

Seraph, I hope you're not experiencing this thread as a dogpile on you. In fact, I'm a little appalled at the players' passivity in general, especially for InSpectres veterans. Check out my comments to Steve above, regarding why or how they felt so incapable of asking you a straightforward and relevant question.

Best,
Ron
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Larry L.
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aka Miskatonic


« Reply #27 on: August 26, 2005, 06:10:10 AM »

See what I mean? People are forever making a big deal about (a-b) as opposed to (c-d), when the real odd man out is (d) alone.

When (a) and (b), in their entirety, are considered part of (c), then discussion about how the game is going during play is open, fun, relaxed, and easy.

It's a real reversal of all the bullshit text in all those games you've read. It means that we do not put the "out of game" stuff on one blackboard and the "in game" stuff on another. It means that imagined-stuff fun flows imaginatively and procedurally within a matrix of non-imagined, real-person, social, actual-talk fun.

Wow... That's a seriously excellent post, Ron. I mean, it's stuff you've been harping on for years, but I don't think this particular point has been so elegantly summarized before.

And this is a thing that has totally impacted my gaming enjoyment. This should be required reading in the future.
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #28 on: August 26, 2005, 08:44:07 AM »

I don't mean this to become a dialogue with Ron, but I think this stuff can be useful for the group we're discussing...

Actually, let's ignore that final couple of sentences at the end of your post, Eero. It will be most helpful to remain with the traditional (and very useful, very fun) approach that the back-story and the basic "what's happening" is part of GM prep.

The InSpectres approach of "make up the mystery as you solve it" isn't really what this group is after, for this game, as far as I can tell.

I agree. What InSpectres does and what Ron refers to can be called "No Myth" game preparation. In that kind of game you essentially assume that nothing that's not yet been spoken aloud at the table is set in stone. Then you can just change the back-story and scenario around to fit the player actions, thus ensuring protagonism. You go to Tatooine, that means that the mystery will be solved at Tatooine.

But, I agree with Ron: that's clearly not what this group is after, nor it should be. I was thinking a little different solution at the end of my last post, the solution used by all the games originating from Sorcerer influences: GM does preparation still, but he prepares such material as to ensure that player protagonism is preserved regardless of "wrong" or "right" choices made by the players. This is what I meant by "genuinely prepare to play in such a way that any interpretation made by the players is valid. So they don't have to guess right when solving the interpret-the-GM puzzle."

How do you prepare like that? Well, it depends greatly on the game. But one major issue is that the GM shouldn't prepare a scenario that doesn't exert pressure on the player characters. Traditional adventure design assumes that the characters will be gunning for villains, and the villains react. Like the orc in the 20'x20' room, the villain (and the rest of the world) waits for the heroes to appear. This kind of preparation tends to be pretty deprotagonizing, because if the players decide to do something that takes them off the tracks, there is no dramatically appropriate way fort the GM to push the game anymore. The GM is a train engine, but when the game's out of tracks, the only thing he can do is clumsy Force-techniques to make it go back. No fun.

On the other hand, doing the other kind of game preparation is a different deal altogether: you situate the player characters in such a way that there is many separate methods for the GM to apply pressure, regardless of player choices. So if the characters decide to go to Tatooine, you have some NPCs or other forces that react in interesting ways to this decision. The NPCs are all interested in what the player characters do, and will want to interact with them in different ways.

To take this towards detective literature for a little bit: in most detective literature the detective doesn't actually do that much problem solving. Instead, he just stumbles around and sends the other characters in the story rolling all over the place. Then one of them snaps and sends his tough friends to beat the detective up in some alley. See? It doesn't really matter what the detective does, the situation is rigged in such a way that he'll be swept in the action regardless. The same is true of a Star Wars story: no matter if Luke & Ben had decided to go somewhere else instead of Mos Eisley, their connection with Darth Vader and the jedi legacy would have caused drama to appear anyway.

So, concretely: if your scenario is prepared to block players, they might well get stuck. Blocking means in it's simplest form: NPCs want to avoid the PCs instead of approaching. Allowing things, on the other hand, means: fun play is not dependent on the choices made by the players. If you avoid blocking players and work on allowing them things, you're preparing the game in a way that ensures that any choices made by the players are valid in the sense of leading to fun play.

So, in this particular situation: when the PCs don't find the jedi master, what then? Wouldn't it be exciting if some nefarious plot got underway and raised the stakes? And the PCs perhaps find some means to stopping it when searching for the jedi master and failing? This way it doesn't matter whether the characters find the jedi master or not, the game will be exciting regardless. Or, perhaps the jedi master has a motivation to find the PCs as well. Or the bad guys have. Anything to ensure that the characters are sucked into the story, instead of repelled out of it.

And remember: I'm not saying that anybody needs to start playing this way. I'm just showing an example of another way to prepare games. There's many possible methods and ways to share the different tasks that go to game preparation. Many of them don't suffer from puzzles that stump the game progress.

--
Let me clarify that I'm not saying anything special or new here. This is all stolen from Sorcerer. So no need for newbies to send me adoring PMs ;)
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #29 on: August 26, 2005, 10:15:26 AM »

Seraph,

You say OOC is fine. But what you're saying is that it's fine for the players to use. Not for you. Because, as you say earlier, if you use OOC, that's suggesting a move to somebody playing solitaire. So you have this situation where it's OK for the players to "cheat" and ask for help, but you feel it's not OK for you to help them out.

This is gamism support. Wether or not any gamism is occuring is something else entirely. But from what you say, you see helping the PCs out as taking away their opportunity to Step On Up and figure out parts of the scenario themselves.

This is a pretty standard form of play. But it's also pretty broken. Bryan Bankhead wrote a whole essay on why Call of Cthulhu is messed in it's scenarios because they're created this way. The problem is that it's extrememly unsatisfiying to get to a point where you don't know where to go next, because if you don't get help, the game stalls right there. Then there's this uncomfortable moment where the GM fudges something to move things forward (or, more hardcore, you "lose" the scenario).

Anyhow, it's not surprising that players don't know what to say at these points, because if the GM isn't "cheating," well they don't want to "cheat" either. You see what I'm saying? By not participating in the OOC yourself, and thus letting players know that it's OK to do, you create an unintentional barrier to them doing it, too.

I make this mistake all the time in online play. That is, having to run to keep up with the IC stuff, I often neglect the OOC stuff. And even the most OOC oriented players still somehow get moved over to playing more IC. I had one player who said to me, "you're not giving my character a chance to solve her problems." My response was, "Well, you give your character the chance to solve her problems by asking for scenes in which she can do so." The player moved to doing that. But it was my fault that she thought she couldn't do that, as I was projecting a very IC-only sort of vibe by not participating in the OOC banter. It took far too long to find out about a problem that should never have happened in the first place.

It's very easy to fall into the "just describe what's happening" mode of GM play. But it really hurts certain parts of play.

If you want to really create gamism around solving the mystery, do something like this. Tell the players that they get some EXP or other reward, if they figure out what a clue means, or a penalty if they take too long trying. But they can, at any time, forgo the EXP reward, and simply ask for the solution to that part. This incentivizes them to not drag, and they know that if they don't have the solution, they can simply give up and ask for it, so that you can move on to the next solution.

Having a player structure like this is an explicit way to make such play functional. Sans that, or OOC discussion that performs the same function, the "gamism mystery that must reach the end" is broken.

The other option is to go for functional simulationism, and simply tell the players what's going on. In that mode, nobody is playing solitaire, or any other "game." They're building a model, and not giving them the instructions that show how the inside of the model is supposed to look to support it's exterior is setting them up for failure to make a good model. That is, if you all decide to go this way, there's no "cheating" becuase there is no "game." Just collaborative storytelling (to tell the GM's story).

Mike
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