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[Vampire] Hartwurst and Vanilla

Started by Frank T, January 13, 2006, 05:10:54 PM

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Frank T

We've been fumbling with a lot of GNS lately on GroFaFo. One of the issues that arose was about points of contact, the significance of "mere" exploration, and creative agenda. There is this style of play we call "Hartwurst", which basically means you have to "roleplay it out", the GM doesn't do a lot of pacing, and often, you have to roll for a lot of tasks no matter how irrelevant they are.

Now this is clearly situated at techniques level. However, it has been claimed that the "Hartwurst" technique, if applied functionally, is almost by default Simulationist. I tend to disagree. Here's some actual play example for discussion.

I played in a Dark Ages Vampire group, many years ago. The group had it's different phases, and I won't deny there was some solid celebrating of source material going on at times, and that there was esteem for performance at risk at other times. The group played for over a year, every sunday, sometimes twelve hours in a run. So we had our shifts.

My character was Raymond, theologist, philosopher, medicus, mechanic, visionary. He chose the road of heaven, which mechanically means that faithlessness makes the beast stronger and the man weaker. From the start, Raymond had an issue with his faith contradicting his vision.

Another player by the name of Michael played a troubadour type character, who started of as a pretty generic "bon vivant" type.

After some pretty "mission"-style adventures, the characters settled down in Constantinople because the GM had bought the scenario. There was a large tapestry of "official" NPCs and a lot of "secret" back story, and we spent quite some time exploring that. But gradually, Michael's character and mine developed issues. Mine became about power and decadence. Raymond had become a respected member of undead society, and was joining others in going to the bathhouse, feasting and whoring. He was sacrificing his purity for comfort, and his honesty for power.

Tommy, Michael's character, was also becoming a respected member of undead society. He had a ghoul and was running a tavern for vampires. People were generally mistaking him for more clever and more powerful than he was, because the other two player characters were helping him out. Problem was, Tommy was not up to the responsibility he now had for others, and he didn't really care much. Raymond was lecturing Tommy very harshly while denying his own weakness. Tommy also had the road of heaven and was looking to Raymond for spiritual guidance.

These issues were established in play very slowly and not in a very determined way. They were explicit, no mistaking, but at the same time, we were also "acting everything out", as in: "What else do you do this evening?" – "Um, dunno, I think I'll check out the Golden Anchor. Anyone there I know?" There was a lot of acting and IC dialogue, certainly not all of it addressing the aforementioned issues, but then again, a lot of it did address the issues. They were not changed much, not at first. They were established and illustrated, time after time. Only gradually did they get worse.

At about the same time, the GM ceased to give us "missions". Play became player-driven, with our third player weaving his intrigues (he wasn't into issues that much), and Michael and me working on our characters' relationships and personality. Raymond created a childe, Aisha. Tommy had a lover, Julia. Raymond failed Aisha and Tommy failed Julia. Aisha turned to Tommy for consolation, Julia turned to Raymond.

Raymond took his obsession with power to the verge and then turned away from it, leaving the city for many years. Tommy handed all his responsibilities to Olivier (the third player character) and took Olivier's blood, creating a blood bond in which Tommy was the "thrall". All of this, however, happened across many sessions of play, with unrelated scenes in between.

There was stuff like: "Aisha is gone." – "I go look for her." – "Where?" – "The library." – "Okay, it takes you half an hour to get there, what do you others do in the meantime?" There was: "Your're down to 2 blood points." – "Olivier offers you his blood." – "That'll be the second time, upon the third, you'll be blood bound." – "I drink it." There were scenes of discussing politics and philosophy with some random NPC, or acting out in great detail a vampire party that ended in an orgy. There were also fights, involving a lot of rolls and rules, and intrigues, involving a lot of plotting, in between.

However, most intrigues became thematic to me because they involved deceit, and most fights involved murder, so Raymond always had to justify his cause by lying to himself. I'm not sure about how aware the rest of the group was to the meaning these things had to me. It certainly became explicit at some points in IC dialogue.

There was a powerful scene, which marked the end of our "Constantinople" time. One of the most important NPCs, the most potent one as well, was about to give away his unlife to some other NPC because he was so tired of it. These NPCs all had their own issues, which we had had to find out the hard way, but at that point, we more or less knew them. The GM was fully expecting Tommy to stand by and witness, or to try and stop that NPC. Had a grand narration up the sleeve for sure. But Michael would not have it. "You were the one we were looking up to", Tommy accused the NPC. "I trusted you! You have betrayed me", Tommy said to the NPC, and walked away.

Well, there's some thematic stuff in there, isn't it? But the "mere" exploration was fun, too. I liked to have the characters just throw a party in the Anchor and worry about where they'd get all the blood they'd need. I liked to plot a nifty intrigue and follow through with it, step by step, to see if it worked. But what I liked most, and what I never sacrificed to anything else, was the meaning of my character, his struggle, his conflict. And I'm sure Michael felt much the same. (Not so sure about the GM and the other player. But let's suppose here, for the sake of discussion, that they felt that way, too.)

These sundays are well remembered for the great friendship and many, many social dynamics going on between the four of us at the time. But it is also well remembered for the great fictional content we created. We had our occasional clashes, but most of the time, gaming was a blast, and it was very deep, too.

Now, that was the game. Comments of all sort are welcome, but I'd really be grateful for Ron or someone else who really knows the theory to give me some GNS analysis on this.

- Frank

Josh Roby

Is Hartwurst just the absence of intentional scene-framing and not 'skipping time'?  I wrote up a big thing about roleplaying it out instead of using the dice, but that doesn't seem to be what you're talking about.  It seems you're referring to going from point A to point Z by hitting all the letters in between, even if those letters don't sound very interesting initially.

I suppose you could frame this as being born out of a Simulationist impulse -- denying that time is skipped, denying that any part of the experience is unimportant -- but saying that this technique leads to Simulationist play is probably off base.  No technique leads to an Agenda; techniques are selected according to an Agenda.  You could also decide to do this for Gamist reasons -- making sure that you play out every step through the jungle because you have to prove that you earned your passage through it.  I can't think of a reason to do it in pursuit of addressing premise, since every scene is an opportunity to address premise, and you're going to be playing for six hours anyway, whether those six hours stretch over two days or three years of game time.

Let me ask you, Frank: did choosing to do this increase your ability to address premise?  Or could you have addressed premise just as well or better if you skipped ahead to the parts you thought were juicy?
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Ron Edwards


All right, let me start with the ideas/theory, and then move on to history & practice.

All else being equal, just thinking in terms of concepts and principles - yes, if the group values the SIS so much that they don't want to "miss" anything, thus plays out any and every possible detail along the way ... then these techniques, on the average, suit Simulationist priorities. In other words, show me 20 groups who do this, and I won't be surprised to discover, once we look closer, that Sim stuff seems to be the overriding agenda in many of them.


Exploration, or SIS, is only raw material. There is another potential reason why a group would spend so much time, and in this particular way, on preserving the linear temporal integrity of their SIS.

Look again at those emphasized terms: linear temporal integrity. That's where the effort is going, so the next question is, why? I'll tell you.

Because some groups want their conflicts to arise from play itself, and nowhere else. If you wrote, "Hates father," on the character sheet, for these groups, that is cheating. They want the hatred to emerge from events in play. They want the actual in-game time and events to provide the pacing for the whole thing: the potential for the hatred, the emergence of the hatred, the expression of the hatred, and the eventual inclusion of the hatred as a source of conflict.

So how do you do this? Well, according to them anyway, you play the "real life" of everyone involved, day by day, hour by hour, roll by roll, in order to establish the "matrix" of in-game events and identities. You roll tasks because that's what the dice are for, to reinforce that matrix/SIS. You are not rolling dice to resolve a god damn thing - you are rolling dice because the effort strengthens the imaginative "stuff."

So is this Sim? This is a dangerous question. Here are the possibilities. Now we're talking history and practice.

1. All the SIS effort, especially since it is unconstructed (i.e. not anticipated or railroaded), is preparatory to eventual address of Premise or Step On Up. When? We don't know, and we don't plan it. When it happens. Whenever. If it does, repeatedly and reliably (however slowly), then what you're looking at is very gradual, very emergent Gamism or Narrativism. Maybe.

2. A belief in the above which is never or rarely fulfilled. You see why this deserves a whole number of its own? Because in practice, despite the belief, the actual practice of play ultimately turns out to be Sim. It's not what any of the participants will call it, but it's what's really happening. Because tomorrow never comes. This is, unfortunately, what tends to be the reality.

3. Plain old Sim, based on enjoyment of the characters "being," with the emphasis on perfecting their portrayal and seeing where the GM manages, ever so subtly and ever so eventually, to make the fight scenes plausibly fit into whatever long-term story he's got going.

Frank, does that help? That's the quick version of the way current Big Model thinking deals with your questions.


Ron Edwards

Whoops, one more thing. (My wife's parents bugged me and messed up the post. Married men everywhere are nodding in sympathy.)

4. It is also possible that the group, bluntly, isn't really doing much of anything, and that this is effectively Zilchplay. Some of them may be hoping for #1-3 above, or believe that one of them is happening. But no reward system really kicks in. No particular form of play ever materializes. The GM flails, not knowing whether to lead or to react, so he calls for rolls whenever it seems as if doing do won't "ruin" anything. The players rely on Drama resolution (saying so) in order to establish things, and since combat would entail rolls, they avoid combat at all costs. The group members congratulate one another just a little too often on what a great group they have, because they don't merely "fight all the time." But what they do instead isn't ever articulated, congratulated, or even clear.

What is happening with such a group is a bit depressing. They want to socialize, and they like cool pop-culture stuff like vampires because they're edgy, or were ten years ago, anyway. Role-playing, to them, is the way that seems most available for such socializing. But how to role-play? Why? Doing what? These aren't clear to them at all, but as long as they keep getting together, and as along as they keep "doing it," then their real needs are being (vaguely) met.

Using Big Model thinking, such a group isn't on the radar. They would be missing the Social Contract component called "let's play this game," even though if you asked them, they'd say, "Yes, we're playing Vampire." But they're not - they're not playing anything.


Frank T

Thank you, Joshua and Ron, that was exactly the kind of posts I had been hoping for. That shows me that I had the theory right, basically, though I may have been pursuing points of little practical relevance.

Regarding that Vampire game, much of it surely was just Simulationism by habit. Today, the same game wouldn't work for me. You know that story about the silver cord and all. But back then, it was the only way to do it we knew, and despite our messed-up techniques, I think we got at least close to drifting the game toward a shared Narrativist creative agenda. (Later it fell apart again.)