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[Vampire: the Requiem] Attempt at using 'Forge techniques'!

Started by Belinda K., May 10, 2006, 10:17:02 AM

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Belinda K.

I've been running a Vampire game recently, about a crap vampiric band in Chicago, where I've been trying out some new GMing things, mainly attempting a character driven game as opposed to the 'follow my cool plot' style of thing that I'd being doing before. I wanted to try a 'sandbox' game where I didn't really script events, but only poked at the characters through the medium of NPCs. I think I'm half doing that, and half event scripting.

I feel I've got a good, functional group – everyone was tightly in character, and doing stuff to hustle their character's agendas in the game. I thought I'd see how last session went in terms of 'Forge theory'. You can see a direct summary of the game over here http://home.exetel.com.au/storage/lotusvine/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=70&Itemid=55:

(Reverse) Relationship Mapping – This was session #5. In previous sessions, I'd been chucking stuff out there, with various NPCs and random background elements that seemed cool at the time. But things were getting a bit incoherent, so I sat down and wrote a background linked all of the NPCs together in a DIY relationship map. Who knew whom, what links they had in the past, various followers and flunkies. New NPCs appeared, created to make links and to fill conceptual vacuums. What's more, these NPCs had history, and therefore a sense of gravity to work with.

My main problem mostly with this game has been making cool NPCs – I can easily introduce hammy caricatures, but they lack a sense of weight, other than for comic relief. A friend was telling me that all of his NPCs had detailed backgrounds, which lead to their agendas and personalities, but when I tried this in a vacuum, I couldn't get the NPC to click. But now with my handy reverse relationship map, I had everything tangled together in a web - the background lead to the NPC's improved motivations which lead to their improved characterisations on my behalf. I can see this map becoming awfully convoluted as I glue stuff onto it and improvise new things, but it worked for this session. (And it's more like a Block o' Prose than a map at this stage...)

I had mess of plot elements involving vampire hunters, a South American crime cartel, a kidnapping in Vienna's past. When I had developed the vampire hunter, Eduardo Torres, in isolation of the relationship map, my rough background for him had him learning about the existence of vampires in prison and traveling across the US as a lone hunter. He didn't survive contact with the players, and got gunned down before he could gush out his life story. But when I did the map, I worked out that Eduardo's father, Fabian, had started the crime cartel in order to get money to hunt vampires, and Vienna's kidnapping was a way that the crime had corrupted Fabian's ideals. And when Fabian showed up in Session #5 I knew what he wanted to say to the PCs and what his plans were.

Kickers – Hey, these work. Dave joined the game as the wigger record procedure 'Just-in Time'. I told him to come up with a 'kicker' after explaining what it was, and he came up with a good one – that his character worked for a rival record label that owed one of the existing band members money. This gave him an 'in' with the PCs, a cool moment of PC vs PC conflict, and a thing that drove the first half of the game of session #5 from the moment his PC showed up.

Flags – I got everyone to tell me their 'flags' - elements they wanted to occur in the game.  Basically, rather than just introducing a plot or plot elements I find cool and then forcing the PCs to adhere to that, I'll target stuff that the PCs have identified as 'flags' or set up situations that allows them to use their abilities/powers on their character sheets. So Belle is the band's singer – when she gets into a relationship, her boyfriends vanish a few days later. And she took her name from the Keats poem "La Belle Damme Sans Merci" or however it's spelt. So I had a Mysterious NPC show up again and whisper a few lines of the poem to Jesus, and when Belle heard it, her player's eyes opened really wide. Something weird was going on. And then her current boyfriend went missing.

(I still have to work out what's going on with this; it looks like I do a 'flag hits' for dramatic effect,  and then tie it down later.)
Scene Framing: This idea has been pretty straight forward for me – introduce a scene, let the players do stuff in it, and then cut to the next. Between scenes I was letting characters to do 'downtime' bits in a quick narrative mode – letting Vienna investigate the alley AGAIN! where her boyfriend went missing in session #3, Just-in doing stuff to promote the band, and Belle shipping her annoying protegee off to the next round of Americal Idol. The scenes I used in session #5 were: X-Box Tournament -> -Pool Hall -> Holly's Party -> Fabian's Debut

Bangs/Dramatic Events – While I like the idea conceptually, I find them hard to pull off – and I appear to be relying more on Key Scenes/Scene Framing than this. For example, I would 'frame' the scenes, and then just improv Dramatic Events at the scenes in order to make things interesting. Sometimes the Dramatic Events were rather strange – when a few lines of 'La Belle Damme Sans Merci' was quoted to Belle – were generated by me trying to ping her background elements.

I introduced another vampire at the Holly's Party scene when things were going slow, and this got the other players (they haven't been introduced to vampire society just yet and have being trying to keep a low profile) to quickly leave before news of their existence was carried to the vampire Prince. Just-in's mentor, the vampire Scratch, offered to protect the PCs if they blood-bound themselves to him, but only Just-in and Vienna took him up on that. Jesus, alone, ran around Chicago, sensing other vampires around, possibly following him. He locked himself in his apartment, and drew his gun. There was a knocking on the door  and a voice said 'Open up in the name of the Prince!' and I cut the game there, as it was a good 'cliff hanger ending'. Which just leaves me to work out who said that and why, so I'll scratch my head for a bit and then come up with something and then squish it into the relationship map.

The Dramatic Events! are just that, events, and I don't pre-suppose their outcome – I see what the players do with them, and then work with that. I don't think that they're Bangs as such – giving the player a choice between a rock and a hard place. Rather, it's more like chucking a stone into the pond of the game and seeing how the players swim against the waves.
So I'm going – Scene -> Dramatic Event! (pinging either a background element, flag or just something to stir up the game) -> Players React -> Fallout -> Squish Fallout into 'Reverse Relationship Map' -> Downtime (if required) -> Next Scene with the band together.

It's not the totally player-driven sandbox game as I was aiming for, but it's not a 'follow the plot' adventure either, as the players doing stuff or whatever Dramatic Events churn out generates material which is later revised to be part of the ongoing backstory.  I still felt that there were some 'flat bits' in the game, where the players were wandering around a scene aimlessly as it tapered out, prior to me dropping a Dramatic Event! on them. Sometimes this worked, as in the X-Box Contest scene, where Just-In lost out in the first round and then arranged things so his best friend (who would have one) didn't win either, in order to ping his Envy vice and get some Willpower points back (a game rule that motivate players to push the narrative). By contrast, the Holly's Party scene felt a bit flat prior to the other vampire showing up, as the PCs were drifting and interacting with muzos but I didn't feel that things were going anywhere and I was running out of puff and/or purpose for maintaining the scene. But I didn't want to cut because I didn't quite know what was going to happen just afterwards, so I needed to throw the Dramatic Event in order to determine what the players would do next and to see what the next scene would be.

Anyway, while I feel this is working, I still think it's not quite yet 'one of those games that runs themselves', an ideal I'm going for. It's hard to explain – it doesn't feel as smooth as it could be, and I'm wondering what I can do to make my ad hoc dramatic events more natural, more, er, smoother.

Ron Edwards

Hi Belinda!

I'm thinking ... that you are already using Bangs. A lot of Bangs are established through scene framing and nothing else; others emerge simply because you have an NPC say "X," which turns out to be the door to a crucial decision on a player's part that you could not have anticipated. Perhaps you have an overly-specific image in your mind of what a Bang is, because as far as I can tell, your statement

QuoteThe Dramatic Events! are just that, events, and I don't pre-suppose their outcome – I see what the players do with them, and then work with that.

is, indeed, a Bang.

The "rock and a hard place" concept is a good one, but you might consider it was invented to help people who were having a specific kind of problem with Bangs, one which you don't appear to have at all. So I bet that effect is indeed happening at your table, it's just not something you have to bring your attention to, for it to happen. Or your approach helps bring it about without further processing on your part, because the players are doing their jobs.

It sounds like a great game. One question: what sort of reward mechanics are being used, if any? Are you giving out points, are people changing things on their sheets, etc? Oh, and how many sessions have been played?

Best, Ron

Storn

Suggestions for NPC creation.

I've always felt that my NPCs were pretty good in my game.  A couple of my players really agreed, really liking my style of NPCs.  But one of my players (the quiet guy who rarely complains and loves combat monsters, but is an awesome roleplayer too) eventually let it slip that he thought my NPCs where "flat".

Since then I've been paying even more attention to NPCs.

1.  I like my NPCs to ask questions (something I gleaned iin being in therapy during a nasty divorce) of the players.  This is one of the easiest ways to engage players, starting a conversation.  The question asked, reflects on the NPC.  "How do you feel about X" is really one of the easiest, interogation probing question ever.  And can lead to surprising stuff.  Even antagonists can sneer and boast and ask "how do you FEEL about me kicking your puny punk band's ass?" 

2.  I give what I call "cues" to NPCs.  In real life, we garner all kinds of info in a face to face talk.  You often can tell when someone is tired, nervous, lying, happy...whatever... despite the dialogue being nothing about that state.  Sometimes I hook a Stake die roll (make your High Society, and I'll tell you if the Princess emotions behind her mask, fail, and she walks away in order to engage someone else in conversation)... other times I will tell a player, "yeah, that statement was so totally out of left field, almost unbelievable... but the body language, the ernest look in your eyes... you're pretty sure that he is telling the truth as he sees it." 

I have even said to players, 'NPC x sez: blah, blah... but you can read him like a book.  He is lying."  This is the say "yes or roll the dice" approach to my NPCs.  Especially with character concepts that include streetwise or social acumen characters.  I often play smart, but naive country bumbkins (a role that is quite natural to me, as I am one, naive that is... smart, not so much)... I wouldn't tell a naive country bumbkin who assumes everyone is honest, that the streetwise NPC is lying... that might come down to a die roll... or not at all.

But by filtering these "mood cues" of the NPCs through player interactions, you get to speak volumes about the NPCs.

3.  Let the Players do it.  The aforementioned Player that said my NPCs were flat?  Recently, I was in a situation GMing where I had to create an NPC ally on the spot, someone tied to the Player's backstory.  I blanked.  Then I turned to the Player and said, "hey, he is in your backstory, I trust you, YOU TELL me what the NPC is like."  That worked phenominally well... as how could the Player create an NPC that is "flat" to himself.

4.  I use pictures.  Lots of them.  I swipe art from all over the internet.  I use lots of my own.  You can create such a personae with a visual... the clothes, the equipment, the pose, the expression.... all of these take 2 secs for a player to absorb.  Gives them "hooks" to engage with... "nice tie!"   I often write NPCs around visuals I've found.  I have two NPC visual "morgues" One sci-fi/Modern (Vampire falls into this catagory), one Fantasy.  Whenever I see a visual that I think might have a use, a photo, an illo, I right click it.  I have hundreds that I haven't used (yet).

This is just one part of your OP post, and I dunno if that helps.  But that is what I got in terms of NPC checklist.

Tommi Brander

Quote from: Storn
1.  I like my NPCs to ask questions (something I gleaned iin being in therapy during a nasty divorce) of the players.  This is one of the easiest ways to engage players, starting a conversation.  The question asked, reflects on the NPC.  "How do you feel about X" is really one of the easiest, interogation probing question ever.  And can lead to surprising stuff.  Even antagonists can sneer and boast and ask "how do you FEEL about me kicking your puny punk band's ass?"
Consider this very much snatched.

joshua neff

Belinda,

I've wrestled with the World of Darkness games a lot in the past. It sounds like what you're doing is very similar to what I did when I had the most successful and enjoyable run. I ran a Mage: the Sorcerers Crusade game set in Renaissance Venice. I did things similarly to you, although at the time, a lot of the terms (like Flags) weren't in use 'round these parts.

Basically, I had a bunch of NPCs loosely sketched out (I'm not a fan of developing characters too much before play, and I like stereotypes and broad characterization), giving them all strong personalities and strong desires. Most of the NPCs were based on the players and their characters: one PC had a morally-uptight knight, so I had NPCs who appeared to be morally-uptight knights (which some really were, and others were really not at all); another player had an alchemist whose mentor had mysteriously disappeared, so I had NPCs who claimed to have known his mentor and used that relationship to try to manipulate the PC; another player always made Mage characters who wanted the various factions to find common ground and work together, so I made a bunch of NPCs who were very much opposed to that and let him go to work trying to change their minds. I threw in stuff I personally found interesting (bits relating to the Templars, the Holy Grail, the Philosopher's Stone, the oracular head of John the Baptist), but kept it all about the PCs and the relationships between the NPCs. I threw interesting bits of information at them, dropped plot twists in their laps, paid attention to what the players found interesting and what they didn't, and never forced them to choose one thing over another. (Although the players persisted in calling me the "Storyteller," saying I was telling a great story to them. "But I'm not!" I protested. "You guys are telling the story. I'm just facilitating it.")

Does that sound at all like what you're doing?

I will say that in my experience, the World of Darkness games work best with vanilla Story Now. That is, if you try to force "great story," it works about as well as "the GM has a great story to tell, and the players follow along as actors." But if you stick to Colorful & Passionate NPCs and Dramatic Events, with the players deciding how to move and what to do, it can work quite well. And it sounds like that's what you're doing.

Don't worry too much about "some of it fell flat." That happens in the best of games. The real question is "was it 20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of dragging play or was it 20 minutes of falling flat in 4 hours of rockin' fun?"
--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes

Belinda K.

Quote from: Ron Edwards on May 10, 2006, 01:08:36 PM
It sounds like a great game. One question: what sort of reward mechanics are being used, if any? Are you giving out points, are people changing things on their sheets, etc? Oh, and how many sessions have been played?

Best, Ron

Hi Ron! Thanks for the clarification on 'bangs'. With regard to your question, the PCs generally get a flat rate of ad hoc XP each session ("Tonight you all get.... 3!")

The other inbuilt player-reward mechanic is the new World of Darkness's virtue/vice system. Players select a virtue and a vice from a list (roughly based on the 'seven deadly sins' and the 'seven virtues' or whatever) and refresh their willpower points during play when they ping a virtue or a vice in game.You get more for pinging a virtue as they're harder to trigger. I decided not to let them get their willpower points back by sleeping as per the book, as that's a bit boring. In last session, Vienna kept clinging stubbornly to the idea that her boyfriend might be alive somewhere, after all, despite overwhelping evidence, and because she clung doggedly to the idea and refused to let go, she pinged her 'Temperance' virtue and got all of her willpower points back. It's not that the PCs spend willpower points all that often, but they like doing pings. Maybe I should ofter an XP reward or something as well? Hmm.

Players buy new powers and things for their characters from the relevant books (with XP) and update their sheets, and I often hand out free merits if they make new contacts in the game or just decide to give them cool free stuff for whatever reasons. We've played for about 5-6 sessions, and we've already got past the previous campaign's sessions, which flopped for all the wrong reasons.

Quote from: Storn on May 10, 2006, 02:35:49 PM
Suggestions for NPC creation.

I've always felt that my NPCs were pretty good in my game.  A couple of my players really agreed, really liking my style of NPCs.  But one of my players (the quiet guy who rarely complains and loves combat monsters, but is an awesome roleplayer too) eventually let it slip that he thought my NPCs where "flat".

Thanks for the NPC advice Storm - in effort to beef up my NPCs, I've tried making 'trading cards' for each NPC with a picture on it, and sometimes refer to body language. I even get the players to temp NPCs in sessions. But asking the PCs questions? Woah.  After all, PCs are usually more interested in themselves than others, and it's a great way to dig at their character's psyche and get them interested in someone who's showing an interest in them. Thanks for that!

Quote from: Storn on May 10, 2006, 02:35:49 PM"How do you FEEL about me kicking your puny punk band's ass?"

I'm so using that line!   

Quote from: joshua neff on May 10, 2006, 03:15:16 PM
Most of the NPCs were based on the players and their characters.... Does that sound at all like what you're doing?

Pretty much, although I seem to generate NPCs on an ad hoc basis - I haven't really made any NPCs who deliberately riff off the PC's archetypes - now there's another great idea!

Quote from: joshua neff on May 10, 2006, 03:15:16 PM
I will say that in my experience, the World of Darkness games work best with vanilla Story Now. That is, if you try to force "great story," it works about as well as "the GM has a great story to tell, and the players follow along as actors." But if you stick to Colorful & Passionate NPCs and Dramatic Events, with the players deciding how to move and what to do, it can work quite well. And it sounds like that's what you're doing.

Don't worry too much about "some of it fell flat." That happens in the best of games. The real question is "was it 20 minutes of fun in 4 hours of dragging play or was it 20 minutes of falling flat in 4 hours of rockin' fun?"

Pretty much more of the former than the latter - the flat bits were quiet bits amongst all of the PC's self indulged hijinks. I think your assessment - Story Now + Cool NPCs + Bangs/Dramatic Events without a grand, ambitious narrative scope are a pretty good way of keeping a World of Darkness game burbling. The other two campaigns with this group either a) just petered out due to lack of focus or b) I couldn't get anyone to figure out my intricate, Cthulhu-esque plot, and the players seemed more interested in their own personal soap opera than any outside storyline. Hence the rationale for the current campaign.

JonasB

Quote from: Belinda K. on May 11, 2006, 11:10:44 AMIt's not that the PCs spend willpower points all that often, but they like doing pings. Maybe I should ofter an XP reward or something as well? Hmm.

Do you use the optional flaw mechanic? In my opinion it works really good and prevents the traditional problem of "buy and ignore" flaws.
Jonas Barkå

Unrealities of Mine

Nathan P.

QuoteHi Ron! Thanks for the clarification on 'bangs'. With regard to your question, the PCs generally get a flat rate of ad hoc XP each session ("Tonight you all get.... 3!")

Yeh, I do that too with WW games. For my Aberrant game, I give 5 for a normal session, 3 for a short and 7 for a long. Consistent, equal XP award = equal ability to actually buy up stats = steady & consistent character progression! How often do your players actually spend their XP on stuff? We agreed that you can spend XP either at the end or the beginning of a session, and at least one person buys up something each session.
Nathan P.
--
Find Annalise
---
My Games | ndp design
Also | carry. a game about war.
I think Design Matters

Belinda K.

Quote from: JonasB on May 11, 2006, 02:24:55 PM
Do you use the optional flaw mechanic? In my opinion it works really good and prevents the traditional problem of "buy and ignore" flaws.

No - I like the idea, and offered it to the players, but no one took me up on it. And I was a bit hesitant at the time (What, the players rorting the system to get more XP? No way!) which may have contributed to their lack of enthusiasm. I think I'd be okay with it now.

Quote from: Nathan P. on May 11, 2006, 07:16:24 PM
Yeh, I do that too with WW games. For my Aberrant game, I give 5 for a normal session, 3 for a short and 7 for a long. Consistent, equal XP award = equal ability to actually buy up stats = steady & consistent character progression! How often do your players actually spend their XP on stuff? We agreed that you can spend XP either at the end or the beginning of a session, and at least one person buys up something each session.

Generally, they save up and then get their powers between sessions, or before the game starts. I don't usually roleplay out the power-up sequences, but they have to show a vague attempt at learning the skill or whatever before they buy it.