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Author Topic: [Misery Bubblegum] Some traditions are FUN!  (Read 1734 times)
TonyLB
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« on: March 02, 2006, 03:26:45 PM »

Hey!  A Misery Bubblegum playtest where we actually got to finish a story-line and get through the evening with the rules pretty much working-as-roleplaying (if not working to the extent that I'd like them.  It's a milestone!

Anyway, Eric, Shawn and Sydney were kind enough to shlep out, consume some Dim Sum (serious food is rapidly becoming my sine qua non of hosting RP events) and run through a Misery Bubblegum scenario.  I was very surprised by what happened, and what I took away.

Basically, the current rules have two modes of having things happen.  First, there is a mode very reminiscent of classic GM-fiat games.  You tell the GM what your player tries, and the GM decides in a completely arbitrary manner whether it succeeds or not.  Independently, there is another role (the Storyteller) that decides in a completely arbitrary manner whether unpleasant complications result.  You can win without complications, lose with complications, win with complications, lose without ... yeah.  There's a matrix of possibility.  And, yes, there's more options for other players to engage with that action than I'm telling you, but they effect things more in the potential than in the actuality:  the fact that, if the GM refuses to accept something that's clearly reasonable, other players can spend their resources to just flat override him is a powerful social tool.

But what it comes down to, most of the time, in practice is that in this mode you say "I try to scramble to my feet and get my willow-sword up before Reggie stabs me" and the GM scratches his chin and then says "Okay, you manage to block his blow," and then the Storyteller chuckles and says "But you're off balance, so your sword goes spinning across the clearing." 

And here's what surprised me (though perhaps it shouldn't):  That was fun with a capital fun. 

The game impact of any individual action was pretty minor, and very clear, and so you could just pile up action after action after action, and yeah it eventually pushed you in a direction of (say) making yourself vulnerable to another person or (conversely) having other people make themselves vulnerable to you.  But that's the same way that a twentieth level D&D fighter against an army of goblins will eventually run so low on hit points that they're actually in danger.  It doesn't happen because one puny goblin gets a lucky shot.  So you can hack and slash, and if a goblin gets a lucky shot, so what?  You'll make it up somewhere down the line.  You don't agonize, you just move on.

Like I said, I'd forgotten how really, really fun that can be.

By comparison, the other mode was like stake-setting in PTA on steroids.  We'd (metaphorically) put the characters and the fiction down and let them gather dust while, for up to twenty minutes, we worked together to get Big Stakes balanced and arranged just so, so that one moment of critical decision in the fiction would impact the entire course of the game from then until the end of time.

And that's fun too.  But ... I dunno.  I start to see what people mean when they say "I don't like picking up the dice, it breaks the flow of the game for me."  I didn't want to engage with the stake-setting mechanics, because I had to be so careful with them.  It was a big deal, and I had to do the right thing.  Whereas, when I was working with the lighter, incremental mechanics I could just do stuff, and if it was the wrong thing, well the next chance to do the right thing would be along in ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... now!

I saw this really clearly because we were concentrating on testing the rules.  And so, basically, we tested the quick and dirty rules quickly, and then a lot of time passed on the stakes rules.  But the stakes rules use resources that are created by the quick and dirty rules.  So about halfway through the game I said "Y'know, we ought to spend some more time actually doing things that aren't vitally important.  That way we can all get some more dice, and the stakes system might sing a little better."  And then, when we started doing that, I (at least) felt much more engaged.  I started making up some NPCs (one of the jobs of my role) and doing little stuff that led to big stuff, and just generally feeling much more free to contribute.  I saw Shawn figuring out how to frame actions so that he was likely to get "Win with big complication" (a very high-resource outcome).  I saw Sydney warming up on the very many ways that he could choose actions that complicated other people's lives.  And I saw Eric working his way through the process of figuring out when he did want complications and when he didn't, when he did want success and when he didn't, and what it takes to influence other people into giving him what he wants.  In short, I think I saw a lot more engagement with the system and each other.

I ... don't quite know what my question is.  I think it's "How do I get the best of both worlds?"  Because I'm pretty sure (not 100%, but pretty sure) that the empowerment to do Big Stuff and the ability to make a decision quickly and move on to the next ... these are things that don't occur naturally together in the same way that ice cream does not occur naturally inside a mouth-searingly hot cake, but I'm thinking that maybe a baked alaska is possible, with the right effort.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: March 02, 2006, 06:29:02 PM »

Are the GM and storyteller roles done by two seperate people? I couldn't work that out.

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But that's the same way that a twentieth level D&D fighter against an army of goblins will eventually run so low on hit points that they're actually in danger.  It doesn't happen because one puny goblin gets a lucky shot.  So you can hack and slash, and if a goblin gets a lucky shot, so what?  You'll make it up somewhere down the line.  You don't agonize, you just move on.

Like I said, I'd forgotten how really, really fun that can be.
Do you mean something like "GM fiat is fun in small dollops"?

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Whereas, when I was working with the lighter, incremental mechanics I could just do stuff, and if it was the wrong thing, well the next chance to do the right thing would be along in ... 3 ... 2 ... 1 ... now!
You know, I find it's easier to casually talk at work than in an informal, casual setting (sitting around in someones loungeroom). I find that I have to work to carry the conversation in a loungeroom or go through dead, empty pauses. While at work, if a subject just doesn't carry...well, turn back to the work at hand and that's perfectly fine. And that doesn't force me to think up something interesting, instead it allows something interesting to just form of it's own accord, if it's going to. And if it doesn't work, bang, back to work! What a great win-win situation!

I'm also reminded of narrativist play accounts where people will play out every bit of causality and say they like the organising of parties and other game world trivialities. Similar principle?

Just asking these questions to see if I have a mutual understanding or not.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: March 02, 2006, 08:42:05 PM »

Are the GM and storyteller roles done by two seperate people? I couldn't work that out.

Yes.  The Storyteller is a role (assigned to one person) that adds specific story structure elements, and dispenses misfortune and player-empowerment-dice.  The GM is a role that cycles from player to player, adjudicates success/failure and dispenses GM-empowerment dice to others.  So the GM-bowl (a bowl of such dice) goes to someone who has a lot of GM-dice, and they give out GM dice to other people (while spending their own) until they're all out ... then pass the bowl.

Do you mean something like "GM fiat is fun in small dollops"?

Uh ... no, I don't think so.  I think I mean something like "Interacting with the GM in a quick and easy back and forth is fun, so long as I know that (when push comes to shove) that quick and easy back and forth isn't going to marginalize any of the things I want to have more empowerment about."  I don't yet have theories about whether the dollops should be small, great, or either.

I'm also reminded of narrativist play accounts where people will play out every bit of causality and say they like the organising of parties and other game world trivialities. Similar principle?

I don't know.  I don't think that I'd have been all that thrilled about sitting there and planning.  I liked doing stuff ... sort of the story-wide equivalent of the DitV pattern of Raise and See.  I do something that the GM-of-the-moment can't ignore, he responds to it and then he does something that I can't ignore.  Rapid, low-stakes give and take, y'know?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: March 03, 2006, 02:59:29 PM »

Do you mean something like "GM fiat is fun in small dollops"?

Uh ... no, I don't think so.  I think I mean something like "Interacting with the GM in a quick and easy back and forth is fun, so long as I know that (when push comes to shove) that quick and easy back and forth isn't going to marginalize any of the things I want to have more empowerment about."  I don't yet have theories about whether the dollops should be small, great, or either.
I think were talking about the same thing. Imagine a game gives you 300 points. Now imagine GM fiat determines if you lose 100 points. That's a big dollop, relative to system currency. Now imagine GM fiat controlling whether you lose 1 point, that's a small dollop. Tooling around with small dollops of GM fiat is fun, because while it stings you, it's not damaging you significantly in terms of game currency. And IMO, GM fiat is still a pretty fun way to interact with the SIS...so a low currency sting is a good trade off for SIS interaction.

If I'm not on track, ah well, I gave it a shot! :)

Quote
I'm also reminded of narrativist play accounts where people will play out every bit of causality and say they like the organising of parties and other game world trivialities. Similar principle?

I don't know.  I don't think that I'd have been all that thrilled about sitting there and planning.  I liked doing stuff ... sort of the story-wide equivalent of the DitV pattern of Raise and See.  I do something that the GM-of-the-moment can't ignore, he responds to it and then he does something that I can't ignore.  Rapid, low-stakes give and take, y'know?
I think so. But I think some people find organising parties an exciting low stake ("I'll be sooooo embaressed if I screw up this planing"), so that's what I was dabbing at.
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