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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Misery Bubblegum] GM Abilities  (Read 3622 times)
TonyLB
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« on: April 26, 2006, 08:37:10 AM »

Okay, I've got a general concept that I'm quite happy with, and then the details ... yuck.  Need better details.

General concept:  A character sheet is not a character.  Abilities are not what the character can do in the "real fictional world" (talk about yer oxymorons!)  Rather, the abilities are pre-agreed levers that the player can use to effect the narrative.  Everyone agree?  Good.

Why doesn't the GM get any of those?  No fair!  I want to give the GM the same types of levers.  You could call that "representing the world as a character" if that makes you more comfortable.  It is neither more nor less accurate than talking about abilities on a character sheet relating to the fictional character.

Here's one reason why I really like the concept:  it gives the GM an explicit way to say "This is the sub-section of the genre that we're going to be headed for," and (if other players have the ability to impact her scores) for people to "debate" that by way of the rules.  If you've got an 8 in Plot Twist and only a 1 in Realism then you're talking about a very different game than if those scores are reversed, yes?

I think this is key for a game like Misery Bubblegum, because while there are patterns to teen romance and shoujo manga and such as a whole there are also distinctive fingerprints to each individual series.  Fushigi Yuugi and Twelve Kingdoms are both about a girl finding her place in a fantasy world, and exploring it as part of her mission, but they're completely different in how they approach that.  Fushigi Yuugi is all about personal relationships and their consequences, whereas Twelve Kingdoms is all about society and how the individual both guides and is guided by its evolution.  Players are going to want to generate such fingerprints for their own play.

I don't, actually, want to do anything terribly fancy with how these things are represented.  At the moment I think the classic "Ability + Skill" combination, which lets you combine any "ability" with any "skill" as a way of creating a wide variety of creativity-inducing combinations is just fine.  It's got the weight of tradition behind it, and also it works.  Two great tastes that go great together.

And that's where I cease to be happy.  Because here are my stupid, inadequate lists:

Quote
The GM tries to cause this to happen...

Adversity sub-group: Consequences, Circumstance, Restraints, Opposition

Story-flow sub-group: Plot Twist, Mystery, Misunderstanding, Linger

Quote
... by invoking this kind of story element

Connection sub-group: Relationships, Allies, Enemies, Organizations

Setting sub-group: Past, Society, Resources, Realism

While I have individual issues with certain things, I am absolutely certain that I don't yet have the right Aristotelean division in terms of what should go in one quote-box and what should go in the other.  Things like "Opposition + Enemies" is less intriguing a combination than "Opposition + Society" ... and I think it's because Enemies and Opposition aren't really working at right angles to each other ... they're both partaking of the same concept, so when you line them up it's like ... boring.

Also, right now this is oh-so-generic.  It's not singing "Shoujo Anime" to me.  It's singing "Tony got a concept, and he doesn't know how to apply it yet."  Not a great thing, but hopefully I can knock it into shape through the tried and true method of trying lots of things and keeping the ones I like.

On individual issues:  Linger is the one thing I'm quite sure I need, specifically for Shoujo Anime ... it's when you've just had a point painfully driven home to a character, and then rather than letting them do anything else you force them to keep obsessing on that point.  Rather than letting the story move on, you deliberately linger on the situation as it is.  Lots of short little cut-scenes use this ... they don't advance the situation, but they invest the characters more fully in it.

The Connection sub-group stinks.  It just stinks.  This is the wrong way to divide out the ways that you deal with NPCs.  I don't know what the right way is.

The Setting sub-group is ... wierd.  It doesn't seem like those are all the same sorts of elements.  Some of them are, like, exposition and some of them are arguing for a point, and I'm not really sure which is which.

I need just a world of help here.  I'm doing stuff, but I'm doing the wrong stuff.  If you look at this and say "Man, Tony's not doing the obvious thing here ... I guess he must have his reasons," guess again.  If you think there's an obvious solution that I've missed you are almost certainly right!  Tell it to me!  Please!
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #1 on: April 26, 2006, 09:01:05 AM »

Perhaps divide like so:

Narrative Structure Stuff
Plot Twist, Linger, Foregone Conclusion, Consequences

Fictional Elements
Friends, Parents, Authority Figure/Teacher, Hometown, Past, Love, Rival, Tradition, Money

Remember that in most Attribute + Skill systems, there's a lot more skills than attributes, and the skills list is usually semi-open while the attribute list is short and closed.  Perhaps the Narrative Structure Attributes can be nailed down, and the Fictional Element Skills can be just suggestions and individual GMs can create their own as needed (so "Pervasive Magic of Friendship" can be created when appropriate and not exist when it's irrelevant)?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: April 26, 2006, 10:35:11 AM »

Do you think there's a justification for having just a few abilities and lots of skills?  Or is it just ... y'know ... habit?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: April 26, 2006, 10:56:57 AM »

To my mind, the Attribute/Skill distinction (or Attribute/Ability, or Statistic/Trait) has always been that Attributes are common to all and Skills aren't.  So here, Attributes are things common to all stories (the narrative structure) -- whether or not some elements are more prominent than others, they're all there -- and Skills are things that may or may not be in an individual story (the fictional elements).

Quick test of concept.  Do these look like different stories:

Structure
Realism 2
Foregone Conclusion 4
Consequence 8
Plot Twist 7
Linger 6

Fiction
Friends 7
Parents 2
Monsters 7
High School 6
Club Scene 4
Angst 7

and

Structure
Realism 7
Foregone Conclusion 6
Consequence 4
Plot Twist 3
Linger 5

Fiction
Friends 8
Money 6
Hangout 5
School Newspaper 3
Social Functions 5

Do they immediately look different, provide those "fingerprints"?  For reference, they're rough sketches of Buffy and 90210.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #4 on: April 26, 2006, 11:18:22 AM »

I recognized Buffy immediately, straight off the fingerprint.  Unfortunately I never really tracked 90210, so for the second one I guessed wrong and said "Veronica Mars."  I shoulda known, given that it had "Social Functions 5" and no "Parents" skill at all, but ... ah well.  The fingerprints are pretty close.

That's a hell of a proof of concept.  I mean ... damn.

I'm not sure that I buy "Angst" and "Friends" as things that the GM does.  If it were a single-author thing, yeah.  But the interaction of these with player choices makes it a bit wierd.

Though ... thinking about it, I could even see them as GM things.  It's the GM saying "This thing here?  It's about friendship," which the players could reasonably either agree with or disagree with.  Was that how you were imagining it?

p.s. This is really fun!  We could give the GM a structured narrative voice that is neither silent (as in player-driven games) nor overpowering (as in GM-fiat games).  The whole notion makes me want to GM again.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #5 on: April 26, 2006, 11:22:22 AM »

I only dimly remember 90210 being watched in the background when I was still at home, so that writeup may be totally off-base.  Maybe it's more The OC which I watched for the humor factor for a couple episodes.

I was imagining "Friends" as applying to specific NPCs, although I don't think a "Friendship" would be a bad stat, either.

Now are you thinking about giving the GM an advancement mechanic applied to those, as well, or was that a totally separate idea?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: April 26, 2006, 11:37:03 AM »

I think it would be ... a little wonky to have NPC friends handled by a GM stat, but friendship between PCs handled entirely otherly.  I mean, yeah, high school has cliquishness, but I'm not sure I'm ready to institutionalize it to the point where you can't do otherwise.  I'll have to think about it.

I'm definitely thinking about GM advancement in concert with this:  Specifically, both the GM and the players will get resources which advance the GM's skills.  So if the players want more Plot Twists then they boost the GMs Plot Twist attribute.  The GM doesn't have to use it, of course, but what gamer in their right mind isn't going to minimax their performance?  The mere thought is heresy!
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: April 26, 2006, 12:27:01 PM »

I think it would be ... a little wonky to have NPC friends handled by a GM stat, but friendship between PCs handled entirely otherly.  I mean, yeah, high school has cliquishness, but I'm not sure I'm ready to institutionalize it to the point where you can't do otherwise.

What what?  Dude, main characters relate to each other in completely different ways than main characters relate to secondary characters.  Witness Andrew in the last Buffy season, and his transition from secondary to main character.  Or Cordelia in the first couple seasons.  Or on West Wing, the difference between Josh and Donna and Toby and Ginger.  Donna's a main character; Ginger is not.  The dynamic is totally different.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #8 on: April 26, 2006, 01:25:50 PM »

Yeah, but "Main character" and "Player character" ain't always the same thing.  It's a common enough conflation in RPGs, but it doesn't really hold water once you stop thinking of the GM as the selfless servant of the PC protagonists, and give her a creative agenda of her own.

I'm not saying, mind you, that GM characters and PCs shouldn't interact by different rules ... merely that I don't see the evidence for it yet.  I don't want to make the GM into a second-class citizen when it comes to presenting interpersonal stories.  If their powers are going to be different I want to make sure that they're differently powerful.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #9 on: April 26, 2006, 01:34:31 PM »

Ah, fair enough.  I'm still not unconvinced of the PC = Main Character equation.  I'm patiently waiting to be proven wrong. :)
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: April 26, 2006, 01:53:14 PM »

Yeah, I'm not 100% on it either, but I have a hunch.

I think, honestly, that giving the GM more power to respond on an interpersonal level is mostly a move that benefits the other players indirectly, rather than the GM directly.  I don't know quite how to put that intuition into words though.

Basically, sticking with our examples, if Willow's player decides that Tara should be a main character, I don't see why she should have to go out and recruit another living, breathing person as a pre-requisite to making that happen.  She should be able to empower the GM (to lesser or greater extent) to use Tara as a tool for effecting story in the same way that she uses Willow.  Anyway, that's my intuition.  I'm examining it.  I'm not wholly convinced yet either.

More on topic, however, I'm going to ponder hard on your distinction between "Structure" and "Elements."  There's ... there's grey area there.  Not unworkably grey area, but I have to think about it.

Like, "Angst" is a story element, because it's someone angsting.  They actually do it, right there, in the scene.  But "Foregone Conclusion," "Consequences" and "Linger" are all structural ... and they're not exactly unrelated to "Angst."  They help create the angst, I think.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #11 on: April 26, 2006, 02:24:44 PM »

Yeah, they help create Angst, but I don't think their relationship is that different from, say, Strength and Climbing or Intelligence and Science, you know?
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TonyLB
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« Reply #12 on: April 27, 2006, 05:57:05 AM »

Yeah, I do.  I think I get that.  But ... urgh. 

Okay, this is not meant as a contradiction of the things you're saying, first off.  It's more about me trying to say some things in addition that I don't feel we've yet discussed.  'cuz I think pretty much everything you've said is solid.

You can give the GM narrative levers that make him more powerful when he makes the game about certain things ("School Newspaper: 5" for instance) and that's going to make the game about those things, period.  And if your goal is to make sure that you have a school newspaper, that's cool.

Another option, however, is to give somewhat more general levers that make certain patterns powerful, and see what the GM and players do with them together.  A GM with "Cliques 5" interacting with players who are carrying "Dogged pursuit of truth 4" and "Literary pretensions 6" could very well create a school newspaper together.  Or they could create a detective agency.  Or a drama club.  But let's suppose that they make a school newspaper.  The game-experience of creating and participating in that school newspaper as a narrative element is going to be very different from the case above, right?
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Ben Lehman
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« Reply #13 on: April 27, 2006, 06:30:18 AM »

Can I just say that I'm enjoying this thread very much?

Yes?  Good.  Because I am.

yrs--
--Ben
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #14 on: April 27, 2006, 10:12:14 AM »

Sure -- but a GM with Newspapers 5 doesn't mean that the players are the newspaper staff, yeah?  It can be that they're being targetted by the newspaper staff who wants to defame them before the Winter Formal.  What determines if the players are the newspaper staff is whether or not they take Dogged Pursuit of the Truth or whatever.

Matrix time!

GM has Newspapers, PC has Dogged Pursuit -- Newspapers are important to the game, and the PC is on the staff.
GM has Newspapers, PC doesn't -- Newspapers are important to the game, but the PC is not on the staff and the newspaper is probably adversarial
GM doesn't have Newspapers, PC has Dogged Pursuit -- You're playing Veronica Mars.
GM doesn't have Newspapers, PC doesn't have Dogged Pursuit -- You're playing, I dunno, Gummi Bears.

..GM has NewspapersGM does not have Newspapers.
.PC has Dogged PursuitGame is about Newspaper, PC is on StaffGame is about something else, PC happens to be on staff.
.PC does not have Dogged PursuitGame is about Newspaper, but PC is not on Staff -- Newspaper could be adversarialGame isn't about Newspaper, PC isn't about being on the Newspaper..
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