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Author Topic: Horror and players that balk  (Read 6724 times)
MatrixGamer
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« on: November 09, 2005, 02:12:14 PM »

A while back I ran a Cthulhu like horror game in which the players were on a river boat which ran aground on a small island. There were two players. They were with an NPC friend who had just suffered a great loss - girlfriend died by drownding I think. The fellow was at great risk of harming himself. Before the boat ran aground (a predetermined event meant to isolate the players) I started showing them odd events. Reality was worped by the grief stricken friend's mind. They realized that they could not trust their senses. It was effective at making the players freighten.

Once the boat ran aground the firend jumped off onto the island in pursuit of an image of his dead girlfriend.

What I had planned was for the players to run after him to stop him from killing himself. Unfortunately they really were scared by the opening scenes of the game and balked. They did not follow him.

As I see it the premise was "Do we protect a firend at the risk of losing ourselves?" I'm certain other premises could be pulled from this set up. I assumed they would follow him. Had they done so I would have led them through a series of terrifying situations but in the end I would have allowed them to save him. The goal was for them to overcome their fear. As it was they didn't.

I was very annoyed. But I didn't know what to do. I did not have the idea that the game could shift to the consequences of their failure to act.

This game was run in 1990 so I'd never heard of GNS theory (which didn't exist then anyway) now though I see that I wanted the players to make a tough decision and trust that they would come through. When they didn't the game collapsed. This is an instance where Narrativism ideas would have saved the game and made for a kick ass session. I was annoyed - they had really whimped out. Just think of the implications from that choice!

In an earlier successful game I trapped two players in a cave slowly filling with water. The evil ghost spoke to them. "I only need one. Give me one." The players had to decide who it would be or they would both die. As it was they both died but it made for a great half hour of play (which told the other players how nasty this ghost was.)

I think these are two examples of narrativist play (or near narrativist play).

As I recall them I remember that I dropped this line of gaming because it was emotionally draining. It was very hard to set up and as I reported here - easy to short circuit. I moved to Engle Matrix Games because it was so much easier to run. The players picked their own poison. The emotional intensity is not there but that is not a problem since I want games to be light and relaxing more than gripping anymore.

So my questions:

1. Am I right that these were narrativist play (or near misses)?
2. How do Nar games now deal with the problem I encountered with balking players?
3. How do you handle emotionally draining games? I abandoned the field because I deal with this kind of stuff every day at work (social worker).

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #1 on: November 09, 2005, 02:52:24 PM »

1) Um, maybe it was Narrativist.  I've gotten pretty tired at trying to discern if something fits the label or not, especially since I don't find the label terribly descriptive anymore.

2) As for your balking players, I suspect they were missing both of the two things that they needed in order to make that jump: (a) a reward system that would offer them an incentive to do so, and b) a safe arena in which to make dangerous decisions.  Your prior narration where you took away their confidence in their own senses probably eroded this, as well -- the NPC took off after an illusion; how were the players to know if he himself was an illusion and going over the rail would be a "stupid move"?  But it all boils down to that sense of "stupid move".  I presume the game would be over if the players made enough "stupid moves" (they'd die, or they'd lose their sanity, and the game would end), so in order to preserve the "fun" of the game, they needed to make as few stupid moves as possible.  Breaking that assumption is tough with seasoned gamers; we're the lot of us conditioned to think in terms of survival-performance. It takes some bold mechanics or very explicit talk to make it clear that any new game does not measure success in terms of "making the right (safest) decisions."

3) Have you read the threads about ritual and gaming?  If you have not, I think most of the answer lies there.  You were most likely opening up the can and playing with its contents, but had no portion of the experience where you put the pieces back and closed things up.  You also may have had no ritual barriers between "real" time-and-space and "game" time-and-space.  Basically, you were traumatizing your players (and yourself) without context that allowed you to walk away from it -- you sustained the same emotional impact (or perhaps a trifle less) as if you were deciding which of your real-life friends had to die to let the other live.
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Eric J-D
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« Reply #2 on: November 09, 2005, 04:03:15 PM »

Chris,

I'll start with your first question and see if I can get around to the others.

Quote
1. Am I right that these were narrativist play (or near misses)?

From what you have described, this doesn't sound like narrativist play at all.  Look at what you say about the situation you presented the players with:

Quote
What I had planned was for the players to run after him to stop him from killing himself. Unfortunately they really were scared by the opening scenes of the game and balked. They did not follow him.

As I see it the premise was "Do we protect a firend at the risk of losing ourselves?" I'm certain other premises could be pulled from this set up. I assumed they would follow him. Had they done so I would have led them through a series of terrifying situations but in the end I would have allowed them to save him. The goal was for them to overcome their fear. As it was they didn't.

I was very annoyed. But I didn't know what to do. I did not have the idea that the game could shift to the consequences of their failure to act.

and a little later

Quote
now though I see that I wanted the players to make a tough decision and trust that they would come through. When they didn't the game collapsed. This is an instance where Narrativism ideas would have saved the game and made for a kick ass session. I was annoyed - they had really whimped out. Just think of the implications from that choice!

From these two quotes it seems clear that your annoyance resulted from the fact that the players made a choice that did not follow your plans or expectations for their characters.  That sounds a lot like a frustration over the players exercising their power and refusing to follow the expected path you had laid down for them.  In addition, you claim that you saw the premise as "do we protect a friend at the risk of losing ourselves?"  I would argue two things: first, this is at most a small "p" premise since it seems more like a description of the choice presented by the NPCs actions rather than a Premise that ran throughout the whole of the game itself; and second (and more importantly) that a premise is not something that the GM determines and then delivers to the players; it is something that all the game's participants have a stake in and are in some kind of agreement about.

So, from where I sit this doesn't sound like a narrativist near miss at all.  It sounds rather like your frustration as a GM that the players did not take your obvious bait and pursue the path you had laid down in expectation that they would take that bait (i.e. it sounds a lot closer to frustrated desire to railroad). Narrativist play really requires a very different dynamic among the members of the group.  It requires the GM to present the players with situations that are laden with Premise-addressing potential and richness, for the situations to present the players with a number of possible responses, but (and this is crucial) for the GM to have no particular investment in ANY of the responses that the players choose.  Read that last part again.  The GM must not be committed to the players responding in one way over another.  He or she must be open to any of the players choices and to be prepared to respond to them, but he or she must never require that any particular choice be made.  If the GM requires that the players make a particular choice for the sake of the story, then he or she is not playing in a narrativist fashion but rather in a highly scripted one (one in which the GM has already determined where the story is headed).

In terms of your example, it sounds like you had already decided for the players that they should answer the question "do we protect a friend at the risk of losing ourselves" in the affirmative since you were frustrated that they did not follow the friend.  Following the friend would have answered the question affirmatively, and that's what you wanted (and expected) the players to do.  When they chose otherwise, you became frustrated.  That's not narrativist play, that's writing your own short story and expecting the players to make their characters act in ways you had already decided.

I hope this doesn't come across as harsh or hectoring.  We've probably all been in your situation at some point in our lives, but it is important that you see that the play you desired was not in any way like narrativist play.  Sure you wanted a good story to emerge, maybe even one in which people engaged the issue of how far one would go for the sake of a friend, but narrativism requires that the GM be open to the players making decisons for their characters and open too to the possibility that the players might answer the question quite differently from the way the GM may have secretly desired.  When the GM desires a particular story to emerge in play (having already scripted this story in advance and now desiring that the players conform to this story since it is obviously eminently better than the one the players would generate if let to their own decisions) some very dysfunctional play is likely to result.  Players are likely to resent the GM's resentlment that they did not have their characters respond in the appropriate ways, and usually this only results in the players getting more and more entrenched in a "let's frustrate the GM mode" and the GM getting bitter.  It's ugly.

I hope this helps some.

Eric

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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #3 on: November 10, 2005, 05:33:52 AM »

Thanks for the replies. I know I was not thinking in narrativist terms at that time. I clearly had a script in mind when I set the game up. It was a one shot adventure so it didn't lead to prolong dysfunctional play - thank God - only a very short session.

I muse that had I been open to following the consequences of their choices that play could have been more narrativist. That would have required me to abandon my script, which I do now pretty easily but back then would have been very hard on me. I was very early in the Matrix Game project and hadn't realized how much easier it is to run a game when you aren't committed to any one course of action.

I agree that the opening rounds of play stripped the players of certainty. They said as much. They were frightened about getting off the boat - very Heart of Darkness like. I ran this series of games in the seven or eight years after my father committed suicide and the horror illicited in them was very close to the bone. They were "fun" for those who like terror, and cathartic/theraputic for the rest of us (one of my brothers was one of the players). Part of the goal of the game was to get to a real emotion. I used description and a few enviromental props to do this. The gripping human conflict was not one of these - it was more a matter of putting players in between the cliff and the abyss and having them walk the narrow path out. I have to say that these games were almost all successful and well liked by the players - In Call of Cthulhu terms we all took some sanity checks and failed a few. They were straight lines though and I see that that is not narrativist.

Like I said, not long after that I abandond this line of gaming. I personally had gotten the catharsis I needed and didn't want to dwell in that place.

Interestingly my move into less emotionally intense games seem to come a lot closer to narrativist play because I give players a starting set up with many possible stories and allow them to go off in the direction they want to. Each game has a suggestion of what actions probably need to be present (like find clues if its a murder mystery!) but the players decide and the referee uses the rules to facilitate the exploration they pick. The referee can use "trouble arguments" and "conflict arguments" and "tying up lose end arguments" to add intensity to the game - much like a director in a movie - but largely the game is up to the players.

I had imagined that narrativist play would focus on emotional intensity - like my game illicited. I'm intrigued that it doesn't always.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #4 on: November 10, 2005, 09:41:19 AM »

Nah, narrativism does not equal emotional intensity.  If anything narrativism equals all participants being able to "say" what they want through the medium of the game.  I put the "say" in scare-quotes because what is said is in terms of thematic content, not things like "Green is pretty."  Because participants are enabled to say what they believe, it can lead to emotional intensity, especially in games that prompt other participants to challenge and qualify those statements.

But hell, gamism probably leads to more emotional intensity than narrativism.
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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #5 on: November 10, 2005, 09:54:12 AM »

This thread is on the GNS forum so I'll ask about this part of gaming - emotional intensity.

How does it play into various creative agendas?

For instance: Playing a competitive game can bring up all kinds of emotions, anger, shame, embarrassment, fear. Depending on the game, the emotional rush of play is what players are there for.

Narrativist games can get intense when people disagree over beliefs - as Joshua describes. This makes them sort of competitive games. They beg the question "Who will win?"

What about emotion and the simulationist agenda?

I like some emotion in games. The thrill of competition. The concentration of min maxing. The uncertainty of plotting a course of action in an open system (like a Matrix Game). I just don't want it to get too intense. My manhood is not on the line, nor any other major stake - it's just light entertainment.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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komradebob
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« Reply #6 on: November 10, 2005, 11:23:40 AM »

What about emotion and the simulationist agenda?

I suspect that emotion in sim play has relation to an emotion evoked by the referenced source material that the indiviual participants are attempting to recapture and share with the other participants.

Now rightly, a person may say that this phenomenon occurs in Narr and Gam also, but I think that this aspect is more pronounced in Sim. Perhaps this is the "Exploration squared" that is used to describe sim sometimes?

With Sim, though, the source material ( and the emotion the players associate with that source material) always is an important part of the event of play. I suspect that source material plays a much less important part in Narr or Gam play.

This could go far to explaining why some Sim play seems to have as many internal CA clashes, as it does with cross CA clashes: Different participants are associating different emotions ( the part they are attempting to celebrate as a group) with the same source material!
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Robert Earley-Clark

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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: November 10, 2005, 02:21:18 PM »

What about emotion and the simulationist agenda?

Fitting in, and having your interpretation of the source material or inspiration accepted by the others at the table.
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timfire
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« Reply #8 on: November 10, 2005, 03:35:16 PM »

Emotions are a red herring. You can't map emotions to any CA directly. Even if certain emotional states are more likely with a given CA (that would be interesting discussion...), none of them are unique to a given CA.

Chris, I know you have conceded that this probably wasn't Nar, but realize that its extremely difficult to analyze such things our the 'net. First, to properly discuss CA, one needs to consider an entire "Instance of Play"---in other words, you must look at the session or campaign wholistically. You can find thematic *moments* in both Gam and Sim, just as you can tactical moments in Nar, or celebratory/emulational (or whatever) moments in all three CAs. Discussing single scenes will tell us nothing of a groups CA.

Second, discussing a game's transcript---the imaginary events of play---by itself (*) won't tell us much of the group's CA either. To discuss CA, we need to discuss the behaviors of the real world players. What types of events did the playes react to, and how? What made them cheer? When did they get real quiet and sit up straight? When did they lean in listen more attentively. Also valuable, when did the players stop paying attention, or what turned them off? These are the types of things we need to know to discuss CA. Looking out for this stuff is really obvious once you start paying attention to it, but gaming culture in general teaches us to ignore it.

(*) Knowing the transcipt is helpful as a supplement to the discusssing the player's behaviors, but isn't much by itself.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
komradebob
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« Reply #9 on: November 10, 2005, 07:32:50 PM »

Chris:
At a very basic level, it sounds like you were running into an issue of mechanics not supporting the style of play you desired. Given the timeframe you are discussing, I'm not surprised by this. There were many attempts to pound square pegs into round holes for a very long time in rpgs. If I'm not mistaken, your own EMGs were an attempt to deal with similar issues in wargames initially.

I would also guess that your players, given their reactions, were probably used to some more trad, perhaps even dungeoncrawl, style games. CoC type games, from my experiences, can be very hard for dungeon-crawlers to understand, since the style flies fairly hard in the face of normal 'crawl behavior. Depending on the system, it might also not support the very style of play you were attempting to bring about.

One impression that I've gotten from discussions of Narr supporting game designs is that there is a big emphasis on the idea that the outcome of any course of action must be interesting to the player whose character is taking that action. To that end, some designs seem to emphasize that the player has some imput into likely outcomes, good or bad for the character.

That idea is a bit different from the culture of gameplay in the time period you are discussing. At that point, there was a cultural emphasis on the GM deciding results ( with more or less reference to rules and scenario needs). GMs were commonly expected to withhold information, rather than discuss possible outcomes. Throw in the fact that many game designs, even those ostensibly moving towards a more Sim emphasis, still had huge vestigal Gam supporting subsystems, and there is a ready made situation for player paralysis.

At a guess, I would tend to say this is more likely a clash between Sim (horror) and Gamist rules support than anything else. When discussing game sessions, it is sometimes easy to forget that the "game design technology/game culture" present at a given time has a huge impact on the ability to reach a CA agreement.
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Robert Earley-Clark

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M. J. Young
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« Reply #10 on: November 10, 2005, 08:27:01 PM »

With the caveat that it's very difficult to analyze creative agendum based on so little information, I'm going to put a different spin on things.

I think that you, as referee, were aiming for narrativist play; but you were trying to do it with more of a trailblazing technique. It is not impossible to address premise through a trailblazing technique, but in general it tends to devolve into dysfunction. That is, you wanted them to make a statement about a premise, but you believed that they should make the statement that you planned for them to make. That would work, but only if 1) they understood that they were making a statement about an issue, instead of trying to beat the situation, and 2) they wanted to make the statement you expected.

It is often said that illusionism is inimical to narrativist play, because the players cannot address their agendum when the referee has taken away the force of every agendum-relevant choice they could make. I always counter that this is true of all agenda, that illusionism is about taking away the force of every agendum-relevant choice the players can make and thus prevents the genuine expression of agendum. Trailblazing also restricts player choice, and to that degree stifles the ability to pursue agendum.

More fundamentally, however, a group agendum must be shared. The fact that you were trying to initiate narrativist play only means that this was the agendum you hoped the group would adopt. The fact that they stayed in the ship and allowed their companion to charge onto the haunted island without backup suggested that they were locked into some sort of gamist (the best chance we have of winning this is to stay right here and see what happens next) or simulationist (the characters would not leave the ship, given what they already know) agendum. What I think you had, then, was dysfunction in which no shared agendum was ever reached, the various participants each expecting something different from the game.

As stated, I could be way off; but game agendum does not occur until the participants have something of the same idea about what they are doing in that regard.

I will note that I disagree with much of the current thinking about narrativism, particularly expressed in posts in this thread. Front-loaded narrativism is not at all uncommon, and that appears to be where you were headed. (This is the idea that the referee is going to begin the game by introducing a situation in which a premise is strongly latent in the starting point, with the result that players playing completely in character will almost certainly have to address it.) There is no requirement in any agendum as to how much the players are empowered to make agendum-related decisions, only that in every agendum they must have some power to do so or they are not actually playing the game. Narrativism thrives with greater credibility given to the players, but it also works in games that from a mechanical perspective seem extremely simulationist/traditional (credibility heavily focused in the referee, task resolution, character knowledge limits, ordinary character control limits). There is no inherent reason you could not have a narrativist trailblazing game; it's just more difficult to do it that way.

I hope this helps.

--M. J. Young
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komradebob
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« Reply #11 on: November 10, 2005, 08:44:55 PM »

MJ:
I'm a bit confused by some of your post. Don't a number of Narr supportive designs have front-loaded premise? I was under the impression that Sorceror in particular had front-loaded premise, and sort of thought that Burniing Wheel did, too.

I would contrast those games with Universalis or PTA, which seem to support a more open Narr style in which participants may discover premise during play.

Mind you, my undrstanding of current thinking on the CAs and support in design is at best limited, so I may be wildly off track.
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Robert Earley-Clark

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Eric J-D
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« Reply #12 on: November 11, 2005, 11:24:51 AM »

M.J. wrote:

Quote
I think that you, as referee, were aiming for narrativist play; but you were trying to do it with more of a trailblazing technique. It is not impossible to address premise through a trailblazing technique, but in general it tends to devolve into dysfunction. That is, you wanted them to make a statement about a premise, but you believed that they should make the statement that you planned for them to make. That would work, but only if 1) they understood that they were making a statement about an issue, instead of trying to beat the situation, and 2) they wanted to make the statement you expected.

[snip]

The fact that you were trying to initiate narrativist play only means that this was the agendum you hoped the group would adopt. The fact that they stayed in the ship and allowed their companion to charge onto the haunted island without backup suggested that they were locked into some sort of gamist (the best chance we have of winning this is to stay right here and see what happens next) or simulationist (the characters would not leave the ship, given what they already know) agendum. What I think you had, then, was dysfunction in which no shared agendum was ever reached, the various participants each expecting something different from the game.

[snip]

I will note that I disagree with much of the current thinking about narrativism, particularly expressed in posts in this thread. Front-loaded narrativism is not at all uncommon, and that appears to be where you were headed. (This is the idea that the referee is going to begin the game by introducing a situation in which a premise is strongly latent in the starting point, with the result that players playing completely in character will almost certainly have to address it.)

I wanted to quote M.J. at length because I think that he raises some very important points and since I expect that my post is probably one of the posts he has in mind when he says that he disagrees with "much of the current thinking about narrativism."  It might come as some surprise then that I agree with much of what M.J. has to say, albeit with certain caveats.

To take the last point first (i.e. that front-loaded narrativism is not uncommon), I would agree that this is (on some level) correct.  In response to komradebob's recent question to M.J., I would agree that Sorcerer, at least on one level, has a front-loaded Premise.  This Premise appears on the back of the book in the question "What will you do to get what you want?"  Now, having said that, I think it is absoutely crucial to recognize that this Premise, while integral to Sorcerer play, is so general (in the best sense of that word) and customizable as to be substantially different from what Chris presented as the premise of his CoC game and what M.J. then proceeds to discuss in the body of his post.  The differences, as I see them, are these:

1.  Sorcerer's Premise "What will you do to get what you want" is rather hardwired to the game's conceit (i.e the fact that the players' characters are sorcerers, cosmic outlaws who violate natural laws for their own purposes and desires).  CoC has no such hardwired Premise.  Nothing is really premised by the fact that the players are expected to play professors, journalists, psychologists, archaeologists, or what have you.  It is expected that each of these character types will get swept up in investigating the Mystery and confronting the Horror, but no ethical question is presupposed by the choice of character type.  This is a significant difference from Sorcerer where the default character type itself presents the player with an ethical question (i.e. Premise in the way Ron uses that term and in the way we are talking about it here).

2.  The premise that Chris describes in his initial post ("do we protect a friend at the risk of losing ourselves?") is, as I said in my first response, a rather small "p' premise if it is in fact a premise at all.  I say this for several reasons.  First, I have doubts that this premise was understood (even by Chris) as casting a long shadow over the entire game.  From where I stand, Premise is something that hovers over more than just a single Bang, which is what I would describe this particular event of play as (i.e. the situation of the friend running off to pursue the ghost of his deceased lover).  Premise such as the one built into Sorcerer extends over the whole of play in a way that makes it possible for multiple Bangs to potentially address this Premise in a variety of ways.  Second, the way that Chris phrases the premise of his CoC game reveals a potential problem that M.J. goes on to address, namely the problem that either the players accept this premise and play accordingly (in which case they pursue the friend and put themselves at risk in order to address the premise--but here only in the affirmative) or address it negatively and refuse to put their characters at risk (in which case they actually are likely to fall back into Gamist style strategizing).  Where M.J. and I perhaps differ, is that I see a potential problem in the way the premise is being framed and understood by Chris---in that it seems to require the players either to affirm the premise and subscribe to the GM's narrativist desire [in which case pursuit of the friend is really the only available course of action] or reject it and fall back into a self-protective form of Gamist strategizing and thereby address the premise only negatively---rather than a problem of incompatability between the GM's narrativist CA and the players' Gamist one.  I see the incompatability as present in the framing of the premise itself.  Finally, I think that this premise is too starkly binary in the way it is being presented.  It seems to require only either an affirmative or a negative form of address.  In addition, and for the reasons explained above, it leads too easily to the players either submitting to the GM's narrativist desire and affirm the premise (in the form of taking action) or rejecting it and engaging in Gamist strategizing and self-protective behavior.  Perhaps a better, more open-ended framing of the premise would work better, something like "How far are you willing to go for a friend?"  This would seem to allow for a greater range of response from the players and would give them greater purchase in the creation of the story.

3.  The Premise in Sorcerer  ("What will you do to get what you want?") is customizable through the play-specific definition of Humanity, and the game itself is very clear that this customization ought to occur as a result of group discussion.  Obviously there is nothing like this in CoC since no one was really savvy about issues of CA, player-authored play and so forth back in 1981 and, for various reasons, CoC has seen fit over the years not to address these issues in subsequent editions of the game.  So there is the very important fact to consider that CoC does not readily facilitate player-authored stories.  This needs to be taken into account when trying to think about the possibilities for narrativist-style play in a game that is heavily Simulationist by design.  I have already discussed in another thread  (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17228.15) some of the reasons why I think CoC runs into problems when narrativism is an agenda for one or more of the participants, so I won't elaborate on that here.  It is sufficient to say only that I think CoC rests very heavily on a traditional understanding and apportionment of player and GM power.  As such, I predict that attempts at narrativist play in CoC will experience signifcant "rub."

This brings me around to my finally point [stage direction: pauses in order to register the collective sigh of relief]. M.J. notes that narrativism can work with trailblazing techniques and within games that mechanically are "simulationist/traditional."  I'll have to take his word for it because I have not experienced such play.  The difficulty that I see for games where credibility is heavily focused on the referee and where there are significant limits placed on player/character control is that (and M.J. says as much) they are very likely to tend towards dysfunction as players come to recognize that narrativist play in this mode increasingly requires sublimation of whatever narrativist impulses they might have that diverge from those of the referee and, consequently, a progressive narrowing of what constitutes narrativist addressing of the premise.  Whether it is the result of my own skepticism about the possibilty for such play to produce genuinely rewarding narrativism for all the participants or simply my own lack of experience of such play, I admit that I am more inclined to believe that such play is more likely to lead to real problems.

I hope that this clarifies my own position a bit better and perhaps sheds some further light on the relevant issues.

Cheers,

Eric

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MatrixGamer
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« Reply #13 on: November 11, 2005, 12:36:02 PM »

What about emotion and the simulationist agenda?

Fitting in, and having your interpretation of the source material or inspiration accepted by the others at the table.

I've certainly enjoyed games where this has happened. In Engle Matrix Games terribly unlucky players conceivably can fail EVERY argument roll and yet still have a hand in the game by effecting the other player's thinking about what should happen next.

Emotions are a red herring. You can't map emotions to any CA directly.

I see that many different emotions pop up no matter what the CA but if the game writer is trying to illicit a particular type of emotion, then I can see certain CA's doing this better than others. For pure exhileration of competition - a gamist agenda works. I'm not certain of other examples but if someone wanted to pursue the topic it might yeild results.

MJ YOUNG

I did have a clear idea of what I wanted the players to do. I isolated then from the rest of the world so they would do it and was frustrated when they didn't accept the quest. You are right on the money about us not being on the same page creative agenda wise. I wanted them to walk my dangerous path - feel the real fear of the journey, and gain the catharsis of coming through it by acting with integrity. It was a psycho drama (but I didn't realize it at the time). My players felt the fear and in a simulationist way didn't get off the boat. It was dysfunctional and when I think back on it. That same kind of problem popped up from time to time. When the players went along for the ride it was fine, when they balked it didn't work.

By the way - I used story telling techniques to create the horror in the session. I've been involved with folk tale telling for many years. In the 80's I was part of the group that put on the Corn Island Story Telling Festival in Louisville Kentucky. Those techniques - speaking slowly, leaving details out so they suggest more than is really there, the slow introduction of danger - work great. In this case they worked too well.

ERIC

I personally always thought that the investigators in Call of Cthulhu were out to save the world (even at the cost of their own lives) but that is really me imposing my thoughts onto the game. I brought that notion into the game described above and it didn't work.

As to that play session - and all the games of that series - they were part of a very specific psychological state. No way in hell would I ever what to go back to it. It had more to do with living on the edge of the emotional abyss for real, than any game related creative agenda. The experience though did propell my role playing in two very different directions.

1. When I would run a traditional role play game I began viewing it as a maze with no real choices in it. No mater which way the players turned I knew what they would encounter next. This works for one shot games which is largely what I've run for the last 15 years. I may do this once a year so it hasn't hit a wall yet. As a way to run a regular game though it would fall apart fast!

2. The Engle Matrix Game project went the exact opposite direction. The rules allow players to do anything. As referee I take no oppinion on what they do. It's their game to do with it what they want. I write scenarios that suggest many ideas which they are free to ignore. I've run hybrid Matrix Game/Call of Cthulhu and had them work great.

The Matrix Game approach has lead to a lot more game play and has generated a lot more product. I've never written (to publish) a role play game.

Thank you for your insights on premise. In its way premise with a capital P is as heavy a load as my "get off the boat" ploy but is more global. I would use CoC to look at small quesitons - like "Is it moral to kill a werewolf when they are not transformed?" and the like.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
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