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Author Topic: [Lacuna Part 1] Player Investment  (Read 2939 times)
Russell Collins
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« on: January 05, 2006, 08:53:51 AM »

I ran a Lacuna game Tues. night for 3 of my regulars. 2 of them had played it with me before so they were already comfortable with the wierdness and wiles of my dream detective work. An interesting thing happened toward the end though. The new guy, when facing up the Big Bad "Hostile Personality" started to play the scene for laughs. It was odd because moments before he was tieing up a shopkeeper he knocked unconcious to sneak past and suddenly, vaudeville!

Andy isn't really know for his bursts of mirth. In fact, he's usually as creepy as I am when playing, but I have a theory about why he started to goof-off when things got nasty, and I think I'll run with it because it raises an interesting point. (For me at least.)

I think a great deal of it was his lack of investment in the character. Lacuna agents are made up quickly with a few die rolls, no protracted lifepathing or skill sets to choose from. Could this fast and easy approach lead to the player not caring about their character? The other players who were resuming roles from the previous week were definitely more concerned about the possible outcome of making jokes at an "HP".

So, as a design consideration, is this necessarily an issue? Should we assume a player will be less attached to a character they quickly slap together, with almost minimal decision making involved? Or am I just blowing smoke?
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My homeworld was incinerated by orbital bombardment and all I got was this lousy parasite.

Russell Collins
Composer, sound designer, gamer, dumpling enthusiast.
Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #1 on: January 05, 2006, 09:38:44 AM »

I think it's a valid assumption that will prove true in many, maybe most cases. Not all certainly, but perhaps most.

In a previous Lacuna thread, Luke Crane had the chance to play a game with Jared himself, and I believe I remember that being one of his balking points;

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=17800.0

Quote from: abzu
Which brings me to my next point. During character creation, we players got nearly no input into our characters. The one point Jared allowed was to increase one stat and subsequently decrease another. Allowing me this input allowed me to invest in the game and to have a sense of self in the game. With the options before me, I decided I wanted to play a predator -- a creature of Instinct -- an homme dur. Instinct to Proficient, Talent to Deficient.


and

Quote
After play, Jared professed he was pissed at me due to the way I played the character -- because I had a particular concept and image of self and used it to shape The City. He then proposed removing the ability for the players to choose to modify their stats. I was shocked. I would have had no investment in my character whatsoever.

I don't propose to say that this is a problem native only to Lacuna. I had the same sort of response in an initial ReCoil playtest chargen in indie-netgaming when I made it clear that the PC barely had a past, and that it was mostly irrelevant. The player was so flabbergasted that he never finished his character. He felt that he couldn't sufficiently identify with and invest in the character without a detailed background existing at least in his own mind. It was and is a point I sympathize with, as I tend to get most excited about characters who have cool backstories. Those backstories never have to see the light of play, but having them there to help shape my decisions in game, and to highlight the importance of some of those decisions is a big kick for me.

So is it a design consideration? It certainly should be kept in mind, even if your ultimate decision is to design the game with very shallow character creation. You should be aware as a designer that your decision to do this may make the game as written non-playable to certain people. At which point it becomes a player decision to either drift the character creation to accommodate the details-oriented player, or to simply not play that game with that player. This decision will be facilitated if the text makes it clear that it's intended to be played out that way.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
nilsderondeau
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Posts: 21


« Reply #2 on: January 05, 2006, 11:16:50 AM »

Quote from: abzu
Which brings me to my next point. During character creation, we players got nearly no input into our characters. The one point Jared allowed was to increase one stat and subsequently decrease another. Allowing me this input allowed me to invest in the game and to have a sense of self in the game. With the options before me, I decided I wanted to play a predator -- a creature of Instinct -- an homme dur. Instinct to Proficient, Talent to Deficient.


and

Quote
After play, Jared professed he was pissed at me due to the way I played the character -- because I had a particular concept and image of self and used it to shape The City. He then proposed removing the ability for the players to choose to modify their stats. I was shocked. I would have had no investment in my character whatsoever.

I don't propose to say that this is a problem native only to Lacuna. I had the same sort of response in an initial ReCoil playtest chargen in indie-netgaming when I made it clear that the PC barely had a past, and that it was mostly irrelevant. The player was so flabbergasted that he never finished his character. He felt that he couldn't sufficiently identify with and invest in the character without a detailed background existing at least in his own mind. It was and is a point I sympathize with, as I tend to get most excited about characters who have cool backstories.

It forces these concerns into play. Which is interesting. LACUNA pretty much dispenses with the game-within-a-game of character creation. I like it because I generally don't care about cool backstories. The system forces (and rewards) a radical improvisation. The second quote overstates a bit "I would have had no investment in my character whatsoever." Whatever else the GM might have imposed, the character lives in a place where the system gives him a great deal of power, so long as he invokes verbs. The LACUNA GM may challenge a statement, any statement. But then again players can make any statement. It's a scary trade and one that my players in The Hollow Men http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?t=234056 have yet to really explore.
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Russell Collins
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« Reply #3 on: January 05, 2006, 12:40:02 PM »

I think what might further muddy the water is that in Lacuna, your character can begin play 50+ years old. In other RPGs your new character is generally a fresh faced youngster, so the fact that he is not well defined in a specific way may be attributed to the fact that he's new on the scene. In Lacuna we're dealing with persons who've moved on to a second career with the Nasrudin Institute, so if the player can't quickly decide what happened with the first 30 odd years of his life, he may feel a disconnection.

It probably wasn't helping matters that I insisted all stats start at basic to modified by mentor, and Andy got the mentor that penalizes stats. Knights of the Dinner Table had a great tirade about unloved characters with low stats. I'll need to find that issue.
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My homeworld was incinerated by orbital bombardment and all I got was this lousy parasite.

Russell Collins
Composer, sound designer, gamer, dumpling enthusiast.
Tancred
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Posts: 53


« Reply #4 on: January 05, 2006, 02:08:53 PM »

I'm currently playing in nilsderondeau's game and initially experienced a similar feeling (although I am enjoying the game). The quotes Wolfen posted leave me thinking I may have the wrong expectations about the game, however.

As a player I don't know much about the game's intentions and objects. Much of the players' section consists of character creation guidelines which (seem to) involve little or no meaningful choices. Then we begin the game, sent to find a hostile personality in a surreal world full of things we, as players, don't understand, with characters we don't understand. At the game's beginning I'm thinking things like 'why is my character hunting this HP? Why does my character care about catching it? Has my character been here before? What happened last time my character was in this world?' Now I'm not sure as a player what the answers are and I don't know if my character knows them - so I get a weird disconnection where I feel like I should be stalling, since I don't know if my character should be played as an amnesiac with no recollection of past trips to the City, or I should just makes this stuff up, or whether the GM will clue me in, or whatever. So in play I find myself stalling. I wait for the GM to do stuff then react. I think the other players do to, this is why, as nilsderondeau mentions, we haven't made much use of our characters' abilities to shape events and things in the city.

Now all this is fine, provided at some point I get a clue as to what's going on. Either the GM gives me some info on my character, or twists to the mission objective, or I start inventing this stuff myself and shaping my character in a certain direction. I'm already beginning to do this by seizing on the character's quirk and looking for meaning in that - despite the explicit mention in Lacuna that the quirk isn't about depth of character.  Eventually I'm expecting to start unravelling the mystery of who my character is and what she wants. But if the game's designer is getting pissed at players coming up with a character concept and using it to influence things, it sounds like this isn't an intended part of the game.

So I'm left wondering what the point is. Ultimately, if I don't find out (whether through invention or revelation) why my character thinks hunting down HPs is a good idea, why will I as a player ever think it's a good idea? Why will I care about what happens in the game?

I am enjoying the game I'm playing, but principally because I am interested in assembling/piecing together my character's personality, motivations and background in play. If this isn't what I'm supposed to be doing, if this is all ultimately going to add up to nothing... it seems like I'm playing a completely different game to the one I think I am and I think I'd feel cheated a little, like I'd been toyed with by the GM. I'd have wished someone had told me earlier on.

Maybe this is why gain's player rebelled into farce in the final showdown scene?
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Lance D. Allen
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« Reply #5 on: January 05, 2006, 02:38:55 PM »

I'll admit to an ulterior motive: This game fascinates me, but Luke's comments puzzle me. I want to play this game, but I don't know that I understand what it's about either. By referencing that older thread, I'm hoping to provoke conversation on what this means to different players and playgroups, and hopefully to draw in commentary from the creator, and others who have played this game before and done so successfully, so that I might have some idea as to where to stand.

On the other hand, that may be entirely opposite to the objectives of the game; I think that, at least in part, the disconnect, the feeling of unreality, is entirely purposeful.
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~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls
dyjoots
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Posts: 91


« Reply #6 on: January 08, 2006, 07:33:13 AM »

In Lacuna we're dealing with persons who've moved on to a second career with the Nasrudin Institute, so if the player can't quickly decide what happened with the first 30 odd years of his life, he may feel a disconnection.

On an only kind of related topic, I think that the "missing 30 years" phenomenon may be intentional.  Everything I've found in the game, the "secrets" if you will, line up perfectly fine with this.
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-- Chris Rogers
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #7 on: January 09, 2006, 08:32:53 AM »

Lacuna, 2nd attempt. Or: PLEASE GOD JUST SET FIRE TO MY SCROTUM WHILE YOU'RE AT IT.

This is why I don't do playtests or revisions. Christ. But I finally completed the latest and last version of "2nd attempt" (and will NOT be playtesting it...too much heartache). To wit:

You can't roll up a bad character anymore.

There is player choice in the fact that you pick your attribute ratings and a "talent."

Quirks are gone.

There are 8 Mentors now. One new guy. Some of the Mentors' profiles have been updated to reflect changes in their lives or situations.

The Challenge mechanic is gone. It was an experiment that (although interesting) didn't go anywhere in this game. I may re-visit it later on in some new form.

The Company's internal structure and departments are explained in more detail

There's "secret stuff" for Control and high-ranking Agents (yes, you can be promoted to Deep Blue-level clearance now!)

Techniques! These are basically cool powers Mentors teach the Agents.

Just roll a 10 or higher! Being in the Target Heart Rate enables you to roll as many dice as you want in order to succeed.

Originally I included more info on Blue City. That's all gone now (well, most of it). The Mystery continues!

Also:

Quote
I'll admit to an ulterior motive: This game fascinates me, but Luke's comments puzzle me. I want to play this game, but I don't know that I understand what it's about either. By referencing that older thread, I'm hoping to provoke conversation on what this means to different players and playgroups, and hopefully to draw in commentary from the creator, and others who have played this game before and done so successfully, so that I might have some idea as to where to stand. 

That's the idea.

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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
jrs
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« Reply #8 on: January 09, 2006, 10:05:04 AM »

Quirks are gone.

Awww--this makes me sad.

Julie
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #9 on: January 09, 2006, 11:10:16 AM »

Quirks didn't serve a mechanical purpose...there's something new that *does* something in the game but I'm not at liberty to talk about it.

Yet.
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jared a. sorensen / www.memento-mori.com
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #10 on: January 09, 2006, 08:38:52 PM »

Hey Russell,

Andy isn't really know for his bursts of mirth. In fact, he's usually as creepy as I am when playing, but I have a theory about why he started to goof-off when things got nasty....I think a great deal of it was his lack of investment in the character.

I'm going to propose an alternate theory. He'd spent the game fleshing out and defining his character to his satisfaction, developing a meaningful creative investment in the character, maybe more of a creative investment than in previous roleplaying games, and then in the climactic hostilities he figured he had a choice: he could play with confidence, let his chips ride, and hope the climax did justice to all the protagonism he'd built into his character, and maybe have the best roleplaying experience of his life, or, he could assume the climax would undercut the character, or author the character out from under his own creativity, pull up his chips, and avoid the heartbreak. I think he did the latter. Vaudeville was his way of proving to anyone who might have thought otherwise that the character was never important to him.

What do you think?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
MatrixGamer
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« Reply #11 on: January 10, 2006, 07:03:53 AM »

In Lacuna we're dealing with persons who've moved on to a second career with the Nasrudin Institute

Pardon my way off topicness but if characters work for the "Nasrudin Institute" then broad humor would really make sense. The Mullah Nasrudin is the great joke folk character of Islam. When my wife and I do puppet shows for the local Mosque we always do Nasrudin tales.

Back on topic. Very interesting. I had not thought about lack of player investment in my games. Engle Matrix Games, as I'm marketing them now, provide a cast of ready made characters. The only CharGen is which character you pick. It is very board game like in that way. It does make playing the game easy because you pick and start playing but I see how that could hurt player commitment.

Hummm... something to think about.

Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
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Chris Engle
Hamster Press = Engle Matrix Games
http://HamsterPress.net
Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #12 on: January 10, 2006, 07:34:51 AM »

The formula for investment is not "Does the player get to make interesting choices in chargen?" It is, "Does the player get to contribute meaningfully to the narrative produced by play?" So you can offer interesting choices in chargen, or not, and still facilitate investment. (Though if you do offer choices, gameplay can't then undercut or irrelevantize them.) Many gamers do prefer games that offer interesting choices in chargen as part of their meaningful contribution to the narrative produced by play, but including interesting choices in chargen isn't designing for player investment, it's desiging to appeal to gamers who prefer them.

Paul
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And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: January 10, 2006, 07:58:23 AM »

Hello,

I support Paul's line of inquiry.

I do not think there is any 1:1 correlation between pre-play concrete investment in character creation (numbers, back-story, etc) and during-play creative investment in actually playing. In fact, I've consistently observed that too much pre-play work tends to kill actual play, and that surprisingly sketchy and undefined starting characters are often very powerfully and quickly developed during play. Lacuna favors the latter.

When someone slips into funny vaudeville play, it is usually because they are not comfortable with what is happening. This can be an all-bad thing, because what was happening was boring or stupid, or it can be an indicator of a good thing that this particular person is not currently ready to get into. Again, I do not think this has anything to do with how detailed the character was just before play began. A person might seize that detail as an excuse for his behavior.

You might also consider that he didn't receive enough indicators from you that something interesting could happen, period. If all you were going to do was be vague, then his efforts weren't being reciprocated. One skill required by Lacuna, I think, is a consistent and provocative GM presence. The role of the Lacuna GM is not merely to madden and frustrate players, but to put pressure on the characters by providing opportunities to do something (whatever!). Traditional GMing skills with "secretive mysterious" contexts for play focus on blocking. The Lacuna GM, by contrast, should open up weird windows and unplanned routes of attack.

I wasn't there, so you'll have to reflect on what you were actually doing in response to player-character actions. Were you blocking or were you opening?

Best,
Ron

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Russell Collins
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« Reply #14 on: January 11, 2006, 07:07:33 AM »

Unfortunately, I felt I was leading the players around by the nose for most of the session. I would describe a scene or situation they could involve themselves in, and I was either met with requests for ideas about what they could do or just a tacit head nod and move on. It may just be the foreign feeling they have with the system, being so new to it. They weren't eager to suggest a course of action and passively agreed to me turning some scenarios into a slide-show.

Obviously, that's not their fault but with limited play time I had to keep things moving. If no one jumped at the bait to have a conversation with a balloon selling clown or try to investigate why the zoo animals were invisible to them I just went to "okay, you continue on the path looking for your target P."

I seem to be turning this around to being my bad GMing fault for not having enough prepared bangs! to slip them. I've had enough self deprecation with my work this past week however, so fuck that noise. Maybe I wasn't as involved in their characters because they created them so quickly and I didn't get to learn what would interest them in the game? There, now it's Jared's fault again and he can sell me Lacuna 2 to make it up.

Another unfortunate was that Andy had a bad night with the dice too, so several of his attempts to make a real impact resulted in failed rolls. It did lead to interesting story (I thought) when he had to subdue the shopkeeper instead of just distract him, and I thought the aplomb with which he applied himself to that task was a good sign. Perhaps I read him wrong.
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My homeworld was incinerated by orbital bombardment and all I got was this lousy parasite.

Russell Collins
Composer, sound designer, gamer, dumpling enthusiast.
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