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Author Topic: [Avalanche] - Should prewritten scenarios be about the PCs ?  (Read 6117 times)
StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #15 on: March 03, 2006, 12:45:34 PM »

Food for thought, regarding both Dogs and Roach: One thing that both of these games do that is very telling is to make the scale of the gamespace match the scale of the characters' actions. I have a feeling that maintaining this arrangement is very important to facilitating engaging play via structure.


Concerning the players & characters: I may have been miconstrued the terms of the discussion here.

I'm pretty much convinced that all play has to be about the players - other than the game books, they're the only source for material & ideas at the table, and nothing goes without their say-so.

Assuming that the game has player-characters, as is usual, then the gameplay (story) has to focus on those characters. Following that, any constructed Event has to generate play that is about our chosen protagonists.

However, while maintaining this relationship, there might very well be a difference between creating an Event so that it is *about* the Protagonists and an Event that *involves* them.

That might truly be splitting hairs - but from what i can tell of the scripted events/situations in Roach, they are not about the player's characters, but provide happenings, things, and characters that the PCs can involve themselves in. (The reward system, cards, & competition then drives this involvement.)

Now, events that the players aren't going to (have to) use in the game at hand? Probably, not so useful.   
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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« Reply #16 on: March 03, 2006, 01:00:39 PM »

BTW David, there is no "clearly" when talking about Techniques in relation to CAs. Immersion is a technique, Actor Stance is a technique. But they do not define Sim.

Fair enough. But it'd be weird SIM play that required all players to have preknowledge of all Situations and Challenges. Unless, I suppose, the characters that are to be simulated are godlike....

While I'm at it, Sébastien's whole product is a collection of Techniques.

How do you figure THAT? All he proposes to sell is a database-driven tool to map out creative content in terms of Settings, Situations, and (some) Challenges and "personalities." True, each element (i.e. record) of that database might come with some fields that specify how to apply, say, d20 or Palladium or Hero Systems to the element. A user might toggle on those fields (i.e. optional) or might ignore them to use his or her own System.

Technique has nothing to do with it at all--it's content, not method of using said content. And I quote:
Quote
Taken in their entirety for a given instance of role-playing, Techniques comprise System.

And as has been (exhaustively!) established... Sebastien ain't in the System business.
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StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #17 on: March 03, 2006, 01:54:51 PM »

Fair enough. But it'd be weird SIM play that required all players to have preknowledge of all Situations and Challenges. Unless, I suppose, the characters that are to be simulated are godlike....

This is the way i used to play, but now it feels wierd - cannot we trust people to spell out the divide between what you know as a player, and what your character knows?
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
Christoph Boeckle
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« Reply #18 on: March 04, 2006, 05:46:11 AM »

Sébastien, are there any topics you wanted to discuss more?

We're kind of going all sorts of directions here, maybe you should give us some focus or just call the thread closed if you're done.

There's just this thing that seems to be a corner stone of your design philosophy and which really doesn't work for me, which you pretty clearly state here:
Quote
But this is about actual play, not the design of the scenario.
To me, design of any aspect of a game should have in mind what Actual Play is about (this does not mean that one must prepare a railroading device). This especially includes the PCs.
If you prepare events which at least fall in the domains of some of the PCs' interests (see what has been said about the Roach and DitV
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Christoph
pells
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« Reply #19 on: March 04, 2006, 08:09:22 AM »

Quote
We're kind of going all sorts of directions here, maybe you should give us some focus or just call the thread closed if you're done.
I propose we focuss a little bit for the purpose of this thread. And by the way, thanks David, I think you really understand what I'm trying to acheive.

Despite some divergences, I believe we can all agree on some things.
All actual play should be about the players, their characters. Obviously, one can always argue that, for some groups, some types of players, this is not always the case. I have to admit that you can use my product as a way to railroad or do illusionists tricks. I can't do much about that. But it has more to do with techniques used, which is not the concern of my project, as given what I'm doing, you can use the techniques you want. If a DM wants to railroad it and the group still enjoy it, well then, good for them. But my concerns are about the other players.
Artanis, I think we can both agree that the typical chapters based scenario, concerning the PCs, doesn't fit our need. You don't use them, neither do I. Instead of using them, I too, would prefer to just define a couple of characters, write a couple of lines about the plot and play based on that.

The LARP analogy
I guess I talked a little bit about that in previous posts, but I'd like to comment more. I used to play a lot of LARP and I've also written some scenarios for them. Writting for LARP is very different that for TT rpgs. You cannot railroad the story, as players do have a great influence. You cannot go into details, but will have to build them during play. Also, you have to write down a multiplots adventure, since all the participants (i.e. players) will not do the same things. And, the different plots are simultanous and must, somehow, overlaps each other. One thing I learn from LARP is that you need to have a very different sets of adventure to propose, as some players will want to fight, others will want to take part in an exciting plot and there are those are looking to gain power, seeking missions to discover magical items. There are also those who follow, as other would lead.
Given that, you still have to know where you go. You can't just have a setting, or so I think. You need stakes. And each and every players will have to come up with their own stories, taking sides as they see fit it. And of course, they might influence the course of events. But the writing of LARP scenario is not about the PCs, if you do that, it can't work. It is about what happens around them, the stakes that are there, at hand, in which they can take part.

Quote
Now, events that the players aren't going to (have to) use in the game at hand? Probably, not so useful.
Suppose you go to a LARP game that lasts for a day with a couple of friends (so let's say this is the group of PCs). Let's say that at the beginning of the day you choose to get involved in a given plot, but by, let's say noon, you encounter other groups (let's say there are sort of NPCs to you) on a different plot. Let's say you choose to go for that plot and abandon the previous one (not getting involved in it anymore). What you have done so far is directly related to you. But once you jump into another plot, it now matters to you what constitues the past. Because this plot is running and has ran so far without you. I guess you can see the difference between being there at the beginning of a plot and jumping in the course of it. And in LARP, there is no trigger awaiting you.

Quote
But you need to know the PCs for that to be possible and this you do not and want not.
When you desing adventure for LARP, you don't design it for specific players. Same thing for the examples about dogs.

David, since GLASS is about LARP, I'd be very interested in your insight about this. I had LARP in mind when I did my design and I think it would fit perfectly. One of the idea is, somehow, to reproduce what happens in a LARP (on going multi plots) into a TT rpg.

About dimension
Quote
Food for thought, regarding both Dogs and Roach: One thing that both of these games do that is very telling is to make the scale of the gamespace match the scale of the characters' actions. I have a feeling that maintaining this arrangement is very important to facilitating engaging play via structure.
I think the example of dogs is very good, since the examples related in this thread are not about the players. But, there are two things about dimensions. First, scale of space. Second, the scale of time. Those examples seem to be able to be played in around a session of play. The first part of Avalanche is meant for around thirty hours. I believe that if you wish to increase the scale of time and space, while not talking about the players, you'll need a structure to support the story.
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StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #20 on: March 04, 2006, 12:23:12 PM »

Quote
I had LARP in mind when I did my design and I think it would fit perfectly. One of the idea is, somehow, to reproduce what happens in a LARP (on going multi plots) into a TT rpg.

I've only been in one real LARP, but from what i can tell they are very different games, having their own particular type of social dynamic. I was only concerned with small-group tabletop games in my previous posts.

The difference here is exactly what has been concerning me: Simply that a tabletop group will have to "pick and choose" a few events from the "multi-plots" product you present - they don't have time to cover them all.
Why might that be a problem? It is only my thought that a structured series of events that they *must* go through will enhance the story that the players create.
But, at the core, both that kind of "chain of events" and the larger "web of events" approaches would be functional.

Quote
I think the example of dogs is very good, since the examples related in this thread are not about the players. But, there are two things about dimensions. First, scale of space. Second, the scale of time. Those examples seem to be able to be played in around a session of play. The first part of Avalanche is meant for around thirty hours. I believe that if you wish to increase the scale of time and space, while not talking about the players, you'll need a structure to support the story.

I was just meaning to talk about the scale of action within the imagined space - very few people want to play a character who is completely "off camera". If i'm playing a game based on The Lord of the Rings, then i want my character to be a member of the Fellowship. This is just "All actual play should be about the players, their characters." as you said!

You do have to consider the scale of time you wish the player group to take on your game, yes, but i imagine the core of the "event mapping" design applies to most normal play scales - Roach's six events are meant to be played in 3 or 4 hours, but i can equally imagine enjoying a game that intends you to take 3-5 hours to resolve each event.
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
pells
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« Reply #21 on: March 05, 2006, 02:11:35 AM »

Quote
I was just meaning to talk about the scale of action within the imagined space - very few people want to play a character who is completely "off camera". If i'm playing a game based on The Lord of the Rings, then i want my character to be a member of the Fellowship. This is just "All actual play should be about the players, their characters." as you said!
Sempiternity, to focuss on our problem, let's take this example of LOTR. You wanna play member of the followship ? Then I have two choices :
1. I present it thru chapter based, assuming your characters are the member of the followship. Then, it would look that way :
- chapter 1 : the followship meets, describing the meeting in details
- chapter 2 : the followship is on his way
- chapter 3 : the followship meets the elfs
This is all about the PCs !!! They have a predefined role, a predefined path. You know they'll go thru each chapter. You'll know, in advance, while preparing the game, what they will go thru. There is, more or less, one course of actions.

2. I present it thru modular writing, events based, without the details. You can either substitute the member of the followship (thu, coming back to smething a little bit like in 1.) or add your PCs to the followship. I would also present everything else that is happening in the world (let's say while they move, they meet).
Here, there is no predefined path, no predefined hole. What if your PCs choose to split from the folowship ? In 1 it would be difficult to manage, not in 2.

Do you see the difference ? My main point is : if the prewritten scenario is all about the PCs, then the actual play is more about the scenario (the pregiven path) than it is about the PCs.

Quote
You do have to consider the scale of time you wish the player group to take on your game, yes, but i imagine the core of the "event mapping" design applies to most normal play scales - Roach's six events are meant to be played in 3 or 4 hours, but i can equally imagine enjoying a game that intends you to take 3-5 hours to resolve each event.
Let's come back to our dogs example. In my opinion, there are no far away from the storyboard. That said, they stand in what, four pages long ? Suppose they would stand in forty. Then it could not be presented that way, or so I think. The first part of Avalanche, the essence and 90 days calendar stands in 400 pages (300 words/page). I need a specific design to support it if I want others to be able to use it !!!
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Nogusielkt
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« Reply #22 on: March 05, 2006, 11:59:35 AM »

I second Stefan's question to Nogusielkt. I didn't mean to say that play has to be about the players, but I think it's got to be about the player characters. Or maybe some players enjoy watching the big things happen outside their character's influence. But that's a bit like listening to your grandpa's story and getting to choose the princess' name.

Sorry for not responding for a while...

I agree that play doesn't have to be about the players.  However, what I meant was that I don't like play that is tailored to the player characters (ie: a decision that has great meaning to the character, because someone made it specifically FOR that character).  Just because I've written a character that is struggling with the decision of whether or not it is okay for us to take bribes from politicians to further their cause doesn't mean I want to get involved with that type of situation.  I also don't want play to be specifically tailored to our group.  I want play to be mostly about the group, however.  It just shouldn't feel like it was created for our group and no other.  Any indication like that, hopefully, is just a random coincidence.

2. I present it thru modular writing, events based, without the details. You can either substitute the member of the followship (thu, coming back to smething a little bit like in 1.) or add your PCs to the followship. I would also present everything else that is happening in the world (let's say while they move, they meet).
It seems that I have heard of this style of writing before.  It was probably from a book, so I'll see if I still have it and if I can find it.  It's similar to how I plan on doing things, since it works best with the style of my game.
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StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #23 on: March 05, 2006, 02:14:56 PM »

Sébastien:

You're not trying to cover every likely action the players might decide to have their characters take, are you?

What is wrong with defining the events so that the player-characters must become involved in them?

As an example, if we had "The Fellowship Splits Up" as a defined event in our game, then we know that the group of characters that had been working together (as defined by an earlier event) is going to divide at this point in the story, but we don't know why. Do they split up because they have work to do in too many places at once? Because some of the members turned traitor? Are they divided due to differing obligations? Do they have a simple falling out? This is for us to decide as we play the game.

The problem i see, is that *if* the PCs may choose to ignore the events then they escape from the structure of the game, invalidating all of your scripting work - It is like the Dogs deciding not to go into the town, or the Roached deciding to skip out on the Christmas Ball.


Quote
I need a specific design to support it if I want others to be able to use it !!!

I agree! Every game has its own style & focus of play - I would imagine an event-package written for d20 Fantasy would necessarily be quite a bit different than one written for Burning Wheel.
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
Selene Tan
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« Reply #24 on: March 05, 2006, 02:20:44 PM »

I've just realized that I'm confused about what you mean by "about the PCs" or "not about the PCs". I'm going to throw out some example scenarios (imagine them in a GM book or whatever), and I'd like to know which ones you consider to be "about the PCs". Also, which are closest to what you want?

1) Referencing specific PC abilities/characteristics in order to advance a plot

Quote
Text to read out: "You enter the room and find a spellbook on an altar with purple runes, blah de blah."

Notes: Any magic user can make an Intelligence check (easy) to figure out that the runes are for a protection spell of some sort. Any priest can make an Intelligence check (hard) to recognize the altar as belonging to the God of Un-Undeath.


2) Referencing specific PC abilities/characteristics, but only for tactical considerations

Quote
The monster in this room is a Doubly-Dire Bunny. It prefers to attack magic users first, then non-magic-users. Initially, it will attack the closest magic user. Failing that, it will attack the closest enemy. The Doubly-Dire Bunny does not let go until its prey is dead.

If the Doubly-Dire Bunny is killed by magic, it will explode. Otherwise, it will implode. One of them is messier and will require cleanup. Either way, its death will reveal a treasure of 2 Bunny-Eared Hats (headgear, +20 magic resistance).


3) Not referencing the PCs at all

Quote
Room 17

Encounters:
* 50% chance 2x Giant Furby
* 25% chance 7x Reciprocating Ocelot
* 25% chance Dragon of Dragon-ness

Treasure:
* 42 ruby pieces (only available after defeating encounter)

Exits:
* north: connects to room 8
* east: connects to room 16


4) Referencing the ability of PCs to intervene/interrupt; unsaid: if the PCs don't intervene, things will not be interesting, or will become prohibitively difficult. Also: participation in the scenario is required to advance the plot.

Quote
The Goblins of War are warring with the Goblins of Peace (it's kind of one-sided). The Goblins of Peace are losing but are desperately trying to protect their home territory, which holds a large number of artifacts. (Note: these artifacts are necessary to progress the story!)

If the PCs do nothing, the Goblins of War will eliminate the Goblins of Peace in 2 months' time, thus taking all the artifacts for themselves.


5) Referencing the ability of PCs to intervene/interrupt; things will be interesting regardless of intervention. Also: participation in the scenario is not required to advance the game.

Quote
The Goblins of War are warring with the Goblins of Peace (it's kind of one-sided). The Goblins of Peace are losing but are desperately trying to protect their home territory, which holds a large number of artifacts. These artifacts may be useful, but are not necessary to continue the game.

Many of these artifacts cannot be used by goblins of either type, so they will be willing to make deals with outsiders about them. The Goblins of Peace tend to prefer bargains with material goods, although in their current situation they would appreciate some help with the Goblins of War. They respect magic. The Goblins of War respect martial prowess

In two months' time, barring interventions, the Goblins of War will overrun the Goblins of Peace, taking the latter as slaves. The goblins will also take the artifacts, changing what the PCs must do if they want the artifacts.


6) Referencing the ability of PCs to intervene/interrupt; the scenario does not progress until the PCs enter the scene. It is assumed that PCs will participate in the scenario.

Quote
Dogs in the Vineyard towns


Those are all the permutations I can think of right now. I've probably missed some. I'm fairly sure you object to #1, which is the kind of thing you find in a lot of modules. #2 and #3 basically have no plot/story, and are not what you're trying to do. But are they "about" the PCs? #4 is also fairly typical of modules, and I think you object to it as well. #5 and #6, I think, are more what you want.

Are my interpretations correct?
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pells
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« Reply #25 on: March 06, 2006, 12:47:57 AM »

Selene this is very interesting. I'll comment in two phases : first directly to your examples, and next how I would do things, based on your example. For me the about PCs/not about PCs can be used in any example, as it is not related directly to the content of the plot. Note that this is my interpretation only.

Your examples
1) is about the PCs. But it could be not about them.
Quote
Character X, finally finds the object of his quest, enters the room and find a spellbook on an altar with purple runes, blah de blah. He avoids the rune of proctection and knows what the altar is about.
What would interest me here is who finds the book and for what purpose. If the PCs find it before the NPC, the lattest will surely try to get it from the PCs.
Important : the note you mentionned would be hidden behind this event and could be toggle, thus revealing the mechanics for the given system (there could be more than one implemented).

2) is not what I'm trying to do. I can't say if this abut the PCs or not. And then again, this is mechanic related, thus hidden behind.

3) is exactly what I'm trying to do, except your example is a dungeon, which is not related to what I'm doing. I'll come back to that after.

4) is about the PCs. In what I'm doing, the plot is without the influence of the PCs, so never mentionned.

5) is still about the PCs, but looks a bit like something I do. Just change changing what the PCs must do if they want the artifacts by protagonists X come in possession of the artefact after an exchange with the goblins. The problem with 5) is that you assume the PCs will try to have the artefact. For me, this is a pregiven path.

6) the problem with the examples you provided is that they are single plot. So, they need the PCs. But, from what I read of them, there is no pregiven path in them, as nothing is assumed about the PCs' actions.

What I would do
Let's revisit your example of goblins at war. I'll just add one little thing. Let's say there is human realm nearby where some protagonists, X, wants a particular artifact for a specific purpose. I won't detail this plot, but assume things are described for this realm as the goblins go to war. We can also imagine that X encourages the goblin of war as to have the artefact. The important thing is that at some point, the two plots overlap. Another important thing is that, in what I'm doing, an artefact is not found for the sake of it, but for a purpose, thu there are important to continue the pregiven plot.
I'll take your example 5.
Quote
The Goblins of War are warring with the Goblins of Peace (it's kind of one-sided). The Goblins of Peace are losing but are desperately trying to protect their home territory, which holds a large number of artifacts.

Many of these artifacts cannot be used by goblins of either type, so they will be willing to make deals with outsiders about them. The Goblins of Peace tend to prefer bargains with material goods, although in their current situation they would appreciate some help with the Goblins of War. They respect magic. The Goblins of War respect martial prowess

In two months' time, barring interventions, the Goblins of War  overrun the Goblins of Peace, taking the latter as slaves. The goblins  also take the artifacts and exchange a powerful one to protagonists X.
Then it would continue with what X does with the artefact. As you can see, this is not about the PCs. Now, let's talk about them. What can they do ? Obviously, there is no pregiven path for them. You can guess they have a lot of choices.
- take part in the war beside either groups of goblins.
- prevent this war, discovering the importance of the artefact, ally to the goblins, take the artefact for themselves and use it against X
- prevent the war, convince the goblins to give them the artefact and fight with them against the humans
- they might be mandated by X to retrieve the artefact while the war is going on, or at the end of it. They might double cross X and keep the artefact for themselves or they might not see the importance of the artefact and give it to X
- they might not take pat in this plot, confronting later on X, now in possession of the artefact, without a clue where it comes from
- take your guess

The idea is, since this is not about the PCs, they will have to build their own story. They lead what is happening, but the DM knows where he is going. I think this could be done for any kind of story. I didn't take the time to split this story into events, but this would help in finding exactly what the PCs have changed.

Sempiternity

Quote
You're not trying to cover every likely action the players might decide to have their characters take, are you?
What I do is not about the PCs. I want to map out what the NPCs do : their motivations, how they do things if the PCs don't interfere.
Quote
What is wrong with defining the events so that the player-characters must become involved in them?
Pregiven path, railroad. I have a problem with must, I prefer might. And I don't want to provide a pregiven how the PCs will get involved.
Quote
Every game has its own style & focus of play - I would imagine an event-package written for d20 Fantasy would necessarily be quite a bit different than one written for Burning Wheel.
The content would be different, but I think the same design can be used.
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contracycle
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« Reply #26 on: March 06, 2006, 01:01:51 AM »

What I believe Pells means by "about the characters" is when plot necessarily controls or directs character actions.  I think Shadowrun would be a good example of these; seeing as there is no other organising principle available, the only discussion there is is of what the characters do.  Characters are sent to place X so that at a later point place X can be referred to.  Often, plots require specific character types.

I think that Pells model would see one of these Shadowrun games as one possible plot among several.  A set of events very similar to a shadowrun game might occur in actual play, but it will not be Pells that has determined this selection nor the actual experience of the characters.
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David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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« Reply #27 on: March 06, 2006, 07:36:36 AM »

Quote
David, since GLASS is about LARP, I'd be very interested in your insight about this. I had LARP in mind when I did my design and I think it would fit perfectly. One of the idea is, somehow, to reproduce what happens in a LARP (on going multi plots) into a TT rpg.

My insight--such as it is--is basically that your method is exactly how one must write content for (most) LARPs. That's why I am paying attention to your process, method, and eventual releases. Your online tool would be a nice addition to The GLASS House, in time... Smiley

Keep in mind, however, that a LARP can have a very PC-centric plot and, thus, be set up with linear events that "await" a PC to trigger them. Some GMs like to do it this way, to make sure their players have fun and, thus, keep coming and paying. It is also a way to launch large events (like field battles) without wasting GM time and set up and effort (i.e. if no PCs show up for the "PC-less trigger" of the event). Also, most convention LARPs have to be PC-centric and generate plots that intentionally intertangle the PCs' "backstories" into the convention's storyline... and into each other, usually (to help "break the ice," so to speak). Further, many LARP types (e.g. MET) place characters in fairly influential and significant position in the game world and, as such, must have PC-centric plot lines. When the PCs are the most powerful entities in the game world, they become a very real part of Setting and Situation and must be accounted for.

On the other hand, of course, there are LARPs which have virtually NO plot: scenario play paintball games, for example. Or, the "plot" is little more than a single Situation provided as mutually incompatible motivations for the opposing sides. Example: "Defenders, you are in a battle with the Attackers and want to control the fort until 'reinforcements arrive' (end of game on Sunday); Attackers, you want to take the fort before that 'reinforcement' makes it impossible; there are supply and ammo depots all around the battlefield; GO!"

In my case (not to hijack your thread), for the initial release of GLASS, I will not include ANY Situation and only the most generic of Settings (maybe: jury still out; see my sig). I will, however, speak to the notions of plot creation, in a GM section, so that neophytes don't flounder into the most common mistakes; for example, having several players as ECs in a specific place to jump some PCs... while the PCs wander off on a tangent and never go near the site of the abortive ambush.

Later, I will release "supplements" that include a LOT of Setting elements and will include some broad-brush, basic Situations (to help GMs get general plot ideas). Eventually, The GLASS House will maintain online directories of PCs, Settings-by-genre, and "canonical" Situations in each Setting, to allow for players to move from game to game and to provide a consistent game world (a la SCA's "fiefdoms"). And there's a good chance one of your Settings could appeal enough to The GLASS Cutters--the first GLASS GMs to run games with more than, say, 100 players--that we get in touch with you to license/buy it. Gimme about a year, though.... Wink

So nail down your last doubts and concerns and get that site published! Smiley
David
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StefanDirkLahr
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« Reply #28 on: March 06, 2006, 11:22:05 AM »

Sébastien:

Quote
As you can see, this is not about the PCs. Now, let's talk about them. What can they do ? Obviously, there is no pregiven path for them. You can guess they have a lot of choices.
- take part in the war beside either groups of goblins.
- prevent this war, discovering the importance of the artefact, ally to the goblins, take the artefact for themselves and use it against X
- prevent the war, convince the goblins to give them the artefact and fight with them against the humans
- they might be mandated by X to retrieve the artefact while the war is going on, or at the end of it. They might double cross X and keep the artefact for themselves or they might not see the importance of the artefact and give it to X
- they might not take pat in this plot, confronting later on X, now in possession of the artefact, without a clue where it comes from
- take your guess

This is the sort of thing i'm concerned about, regarding my "take every action into account" statement. How do the events that you have scripted further on in the web take into account all of these various ways the players could resolve the Event?

Naturally, you have to be somewhat vauge in describing future events, but what do we do when we have the PCs destroy the artifact, conquer both goblin tribes, and kick the crap out of Mr. X?

It isn't the nature of the event, as much as the necessary structure of the chain/web of events that concerns me.

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The idea is, since this is not about the PCs, they will have to build their own story. They lead what is happening, but the DM knows where he is going. I think this could be done for any kind of story.

Yep, this is exactly what you want happening in any game!
Even if using "kicker & bang" play, this occurs as the GM draws the PCs into the Bangs, using the Flags the players have defined for their characters. When using a "defined open-ended event", such as a Dogs' town, it essentially works the other way around - the Event is a sort of Flag the GM erects to pull the players into creating a Bang.

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And I don't want to provide a pregiven how the PCs will get involved.

Definately!

The problem with choosing "might" over "must" is that the players end up skipping the events and not using the structure framework.
(This is the "wasted GM effort" thing, but in the case of a purchased module it is really more of a user experience issue - you want people to use as much of your product as possible and enjoy doing so.)

If the players know that they must become involved in an event, but also know that they decide how their characters become involved and how they resolve the situation, is that still "railroading"? 
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Stefan Dirk Lahr, dreaming the impossible dream
David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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Posts: 246


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« Reply #29 on: March 06, 2006, 12:12:59 PM »

Semp's got a pretty good point, here:
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This is the sort of thing i'm concerned about, regarding my "take every action into account" statement. How do the events that you have scripted further on in the web take into account all of these various ways the players could resolve the Event?

I think I can help resolve this by pointing out a bit of bias (perceived on my part). A "web of events" can only be "broken" (i.e. the product is rendered useless) in these general cases (and others that I am sure I don't imagine in time to finish this post):

1) The PCs are significant in the world.
Level 1 PCs aren't gonna be destroying the artifact or killing the king of both armies (or both entire armies!) or running the world in a way that dictates other high-level events. However, Seb speaks often of "if the players do nothing" when he talks of his calendaring of events in a given product; perhaps he sees a way to structure content that doesn't disintegrate with PC actions, even though the PCs can effect the world at that level? Further, the deeper the Setting details, the easier it should be for GMs to extrapolate logical results of circumvented events. Hmmm... and this IS a computer-based product: maybe the database could use a "drop-down" method whereby, if a user informs it that an event key influence doesn't exist in their particular group's implementation of the product, then it drops-down to the next logical triggering entity or key influence and time frame for the same event content. The story stays the same, there's just new players and a new stage for it that suits the revised world picture.

2) The web of events is, in fact, a web and, in fact, has events!
For instance, a "pure Setting" product could have TONS of material and details and even high-level history and "future history" of events. But events on the order of "Country A will eventually attack Country B, if B doesn't return control of Location X" are not so granular that (a) they MUST be played and (b) if short-circuited, the product is a "waste" of money." I wrote that event in about ten seconds: I could write a world of such events--hundreds of thousands of years, even--in a few days of pondering and logical extrapolations. Only PC action on the order of "we nuke Country B to glass" would hamstring all possible use of all remaining "events". And not if the other events are somehow "isolated" from each other. (Example: Country B was, eventually, going to be the first country to settle the moon. It's not too hard to make the moon colonists from the "runner up" country--maybe Country C was next to settle--when B ceases to exist. Thus, the material as writ is still useful for THAT country, with some tweaking.)

3) The Situations depend upon identifiable entities.
Similar to the Setting-heavy product example I give above, I can also imagine very interesting and useful Situational events that do not require a specific personality or race or whatever (entity) to initiate or maintain the schedule of events.

For example, suppose a story line has several key events like this: "someone discovers a new nanotech and it escapes into general population; in three weeks, it mutates into an aggressive virus; in three months, all humanity will die." That "someone" could be any entity that could logically invent a new nanite (and the database could randomly suggest one, or list them in order of highest probability, or list them alphabetically, or leave it tot he GM to pick one from the Setting). The details of the nanites way of killing are "flavor" and are irrelevant to the Situation--or not: they could be in the database and, again, prioritized or whatever so as to provide a clue to players about who is to blame (i.e. each possible key responsible entity would have a one-to-one relationship with each possible logical killing method; choose the killer or the method, and the other comes along logically).

4) Gotta be more...?

You know... frankly, when you get right down to it, there's not a single Situational product on the market that survives the PCs destroying or eliminating key influences in the story. GMs have used methods like the above time and time again, to deal with "plot breakers". Good module design, usually, makes it neigh impossible to break any "plot" it has--get to the Ultimate Evil and kill it before its Evil Plan is hatched, and The Penultimate Evil hatches the same plan!

Having given it a post's though, I think this criticism of the fragility of a web of events is ultimately irrelevant, because it is trivially true of all such products. It is good, however, to think of ways to mitigate Situational incoherence due to key influence elimination, when designing content for these products (or for any game product that sells Situation).

HTH;
David
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