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Author Topic: hooking the players  (Read 4011 times)
joshua neff
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« on: June 08, 2001, 09:18:00 AM »

NOT selling them for money (i just had an image of jared in a fur coat w/ a cane), but keeping them from getting bored during the first session...

i posed this to ron, particularly in regards to highly narrativist games, mostly because i'll be starting up a narrative in a week or two & it's been some months since i last ran anything, & i've only recently really been thinking hard about narrativist applications to rpgs...we've been private messaging each other about this & ron suggested we take it out to the public, so--

ron? take it away...
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
John Wick
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« Reply #1 on: June 08, 2001, 10:51:00 AM »

Let's assume the players want to play the game you're running.

That's your first hook.

Look at their character sheets. A player's character sheet is a gold mine of story opportunities. Especially Disadvantages (if your game uses them).

Hunteds. This player wants to play Richard Kimball ("The Fugitive").

Dependant Non-Player Characters. This player wants to be Peter Parker (taking care of old Aunt May, making sure she doesn't get in trouble).

Berserk/Frenzy/etc. This player wants to be Wolverine, a dangerous character with a dark edge that he loses control over some times.

Bad Luck. The S&M invite. "Please hurt me, Mr. GM! I want to be hurt! I really do!"

Also, look at their Traits/Characteristics/etc. Characters with high social traits want a talking game. Characters with high physical traits want a fighting game. Sort out how many of your players want to fight and how many want to talk. Then,look at their disads and figure out a story with the adequate amount of both.

One last note. Make sure your players are ready to face the consequences of their Disads and then hit them hard. Harder than they expect. Just make sure you leave 'em enough Hit Points to get back up again.

And for that first session, to really get them wet for next week, start _en medias res_, in the middle of things.

A fire fight.
A delicate negotiation.
Escaping a burning building.

Don't worry about how they got there. Don't worry about any of the details. Every GM worth his salt knows that you need to give playes a few sessions to figure out their characters. Well, let them do it while they're _doing things_. You don't get to know a character until you actually have him use his Skills, Traits and other goodies. Start off the game _using those goodies_ and let them learn why Hemmingway called courage "grace under pressure." Fill the first episode with movement and never let up. Then, at the end, leave them with a cliff-hanger. End your first session early. Don't play for hours and hours, just play for 2. Leave them wanting more.

That'll get 'em back to your place next Saturday. 'least, that's how I do it, and it works for me.

Take care,

John

[ This Message was edited by: John Wick on 2001-06-08 14:56 ]
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Carpe Deum,
John
joshua neff
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« Reply #2 on: June 08, 2001, 11:50:00 AM »

okay, ron asked me to post this, so here's what ron said to me (which i found to be great advice):

"At this point in my GM experience, my call is this: the first session is too late. Everyone needs to be on the same page, fired up about what's going to happen, BEFORE play begins.
But as for that first session, here goes - check out Paul's comment in the Soap thread. It is entirely new to him to think that the content of an RPG run must be fundamentally interesting to the PLAYERS. To me, that's a given. Who gives a fuck whether your character Sebastian "would" be interested in the old temple on the hill? Who gives a fuck whether Bartholomew's religion "would" imply that he wants to rescue the little girl's soul?
No, those aren't interesting. What matters are what the players Sam and Bob find interesting. Incest is interesting. Fratricide is interesting. Fraud is interesting. Corrupt power structures with a few sincere and good members are interesting. Exploitation (slavery) is interesting. Love triangles are interesting.
Expose one or more of these in a given situation to the characters, NOT as an established part of the setting. Treat it as a necessary revelation about half an hour into the session. Then the players will be interested.
To go all backwards, what to do during that first half hour? Well, introduce anything and everything necessary to get that revelation made. Most especially, introduce some neat NPCs, at least one very sympathetic and at least one very unsympathetic, who, once the revelation is made,are obviously involved.
Message to players? (1) Relevant and intriguing stuff is happening. (2) You'll get to deal with these neat NPCs in dealing with the stuff.
They'll be hooked instantly, or, more accurately, they'll be CONFIRMED in their initial enthusiasm. Basically, you will have titillated them prior to the game, and during the first game, given'em a solid french kiss. Take the metaphor from there"

the thing that really got me was: i've never thought about it in terms of grab-the-players, i've always seen it as grab-the-characters...probably because of the oft stressed "players must be in character at all times" crap...so, thinking this way is entirely new to me, too--but a very helpful way to look at it...

another thing that's come up in our conversation is the idea of "hooks"--way too often, a player hook is seen as background stuff (like in feng shui, where a pc's melodramatic hook serves as a background motivator, but not as something that immediately propels the pc into action)...
to put this back to wick, i think 7th sea does a good job of having pc "hooks" (backgrounds & such) that do propel the characters into story--but i don't think the rulebook goes far enough in promoting that (tho it still does it better than most rpgs)...when my group was prepping for our (sadly aborted) 7th sea game, i basically figured out the entire overarching plot setup based on the backgrounds & skills of the pcs--the characters wrote the story themselves, basically...& our group loved doing it that way...
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Mytholder
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« Reply #3 on: June 08, 2001, 04:35:00 PM »

The single most important thing -more than GMing ability, more than system, more than plot - is making sure the players WANT to play the game. If you don't have enthusiasm and energy at the table, the game *will* die.

I'm a huge Blue Planet fan. I know the setting backwards - but I'm only just now getting around to running it. My normal playgroup - the guys who I've run everything from Nobilis to D&D for - aren't interested in hard sci-fi. Rather than force a game on them, I've found another three players who want to play hard sci-fi. This second group will work better for BP, even though I don't know them quite as well as my usual crowd.
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Pyske
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« Reply #4 on: June 23, 2001, 03:39:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-06-08 14:51, John Wick wrote:
And for that first session, to really get them wet for next week, start _en medias res_, in the middle of things.

A fire fight.
A delicate negotiation.
Escaping a burning building.


You're a genius John.  I know this isn't what you meant, now I just have to try this.  I just have to open a game with a group of PCs trying to perform a delicate negotiation to allow them to escape a burning building in the middle of a raging firefight.  And I do mean the middle.

Let's see.  It's the villain's penthouse suite, and the captured PCs are handcuffed to something, which provides cover... they need to convince the uninvolved civilian who is cowering behind cover of her own to grab the key off the nearby table and bring / throw it to them.  In the meantime, the villain's goons are in the middle of a major firefight with the goons of the boss's rival across the room.  They are semi-safe because they have full cover, but someone just tossed a molotov cocktail, and now the fire alarm is starting to ring... and then things turn really ugly.

What do you do?

Oh, this might just be fun.  *evil GM grin*

 . . . . . . . -- Eric
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(Real Name: Eric H)
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: June 25, 2001, 06:33:00 AM »

Eric,

I think you're illustrating a real conceptual problem. The issue is engaging the PLAYERS, not providing a problem or crisis for the CHARACTERS. Again and again, discussions of this topic slide from the former into the latter.

"In media res" construction, which you are describing, is an excellent method for getting the characters into crisis - after all, there they are. It works well for groups who for years have spent hours "getting into position" for the fight/crisis scene. It's a good adrenalin-pump.

However, ultimately, it is still a means of giving characters something to do, rather than emotionally engaging players in an issue. Contrast it (or any other character-driven hook) with the following:

- characters A, B, and C are involved in some interaction with NPC-1 and his spooky mom, NPC-2
- character A discovers a body without a head (easily dated to when the person was killed)
- character B discovers the head
- character C discovers that NPC-1 is really the son of his own brother, who disappeared at the relevant date

Now here's the point: characters A, B, and C have discovered these things in isolation from one another. They do not have the ability to make the connection. However, the PLAYERS have been in the same room together. THEY make the connection, and can now exert their role-playing effort such that the characters do (or don't) get it.

In this construction, the frisson ("ooh! aah!") does occur - but first for the players, and later for the characters.

My point: Josh is talking specifically about engaging the players' emotions as the primary job of the GM, as opposed to engineering crises in which the characters must react. I am a big fan of the latter (I call these crises "Bangs" in the Sorcerer rules), but I agree with Josh that attention to the former is the road to success as a GM.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #6 on: June 25, 2001, 09:15:00 AM »

This thread is very interesting to me because I've never really thought of hooking the players and hooking the characters as different things.  I've always assumed that you needed to do both.

If you hook the characters but not the players well then there is no game because no one is going to want to play.

If you hook the players but not the characters then your players stare at you and say, 'That's really cool but.. um... what's my motivation?'

I find the EASIEST emotion to hook in the players is simple curiosity.  They want to know what's going on.  They want to see the next part of the story.  They want to solve the mystery.

In my current D&D game I started out with a cliche but effective opening.  I gave all the players a handout.  On the handout was a very strange and sureal dream that I said their character had been having for about a month.

This dream hooked both the players AND the characters.  It hooked the characters by giving them a sense of impending destiny.  It hooked the players by piquing their curiosity.  They wanted to know where I was going with the symbolism in the dream.

The second factor I find among my group is that they all like to be heroes.  They like to live out the movies so to speak.  So anything that's EXCITING for the characters will also be exciting to the players.

So really I can't imagine a good hook that didn't do both.  Has anyone had success in hooking just the players and NOT the characters?  Or ever had a hook that supposedly appealed to the character but not the players?  I've certainly never experienced this.

Jesse
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joshua neff
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« Reply #7 on: June 25, 2001, 09:34:00 AM »

jesse--

to a certain extent, i can't see hooking the players & not hooking the characters, unless you're playing with some serious method roleplayers. otherwise, if a player seemed hooked in but was having the character ignore the hook, i'd take the player aside & explain that if the player's hooked, the character should be as well.
i actually have seen players ignore huge, honking situations in faovr of having their characters do really mundane, routine stuff. either the players weren't hooked, or they were falling into the "i can only act on what my character knows or would be motivated to do". pretty much, i expect my players to understand that they are their characters' motivation, & i expect the characters to act on the players' excitement.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: July 06, 2001, 07:04:00 AM »

Hi Jesse,

"I've never really thought of hooking the players and hooking the characters as different things. I've always assumed that you needed to do both."

My argument is that they are different things, and that the one is often over-favored, and the other is forgotten or even not perceived.

"If you hook the characters but not the players well then there is no game because no one is going to want to play."

In practice, people do play like this. A lot. Nearly all RPGs and published scenarios assume, if not enforce, this mode of play. My experience suggests that it is possible, but dysfunctional - that is, not very fun.

"If you hook the players but not the characters then your players stare at you and say, 'That's really cool but.. um... what's my motivation?'"

With respect, this never happens. It cannot happen. You only get the "what's my motivation" question from unhooked players. Think of this phrase as a warning bell; the player is saying, "I'm not hooked."

By definition, players swinging their PCs into proactive action = hooked players. If you interest/hook the players, they WILL get their characters involved.

I suggest that relying on basic curiosity, or an assumed level of commitment to a character, are not functional options. One does not hook a player by offering more and more reasons why the CHARACTER should be interested.

Many GMs try to solve this problem without verbalizing it, by establishing player-character identification. The problem is that it often goes the wrong way - if the player is uninterested, then the character BECOMES uninterested, and once that happens, damn, it's practically impossible to reverse it.

I think Orkworld is a good example of a game that solves this problem by putting the players into author mode, as a group, from the very beginning. One cannot "just be my ork." Your PC must belong to a household, and that household has a defined relationship to an important mechanic, Trouble, which was defined by the players, not the GM. In other words, making up an Orkworld PC uses mechanics that prompt the "get interested" mode in the PLAYER.

Sorcerer character creation tries to do the same thing with its "Kicker" rules. In retrospect, I really wish I had made the Kicker into an actual mechanic ...

Best,
Ron
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Mytholder
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« Reply #9 on: July 06, 2001, 07:28:00 AM »

Hmm. I think you do have to hook both, and that it is possible to hook the player but not the character. It probably only happens with deep immersion-style play, though. I know several times in the current Cthulhu game, I've tried to avoid interesting-looking plot hooks because my character had no interest in them. (And because the GM didn't do anything to hook the character, I had to drop OOC to move the PC into the situation, which diminished my enjoyment of the game for a while.)

Group hooks - like the covenant in Ars Magica or the Household in Orkworld, or any sort of mission-based campaign ala Delta Green or a crimefighting team - are godsends, and should be considered for any game...
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #10 on: July 06, 2001, 11:48:00 AM »

Ron is probably talking here about how to do Narrativism well, rather than how to do roleplaying "in general" (hah!) right, but  . . .

Quote

On 2001-06-25 10:33, Ron Edwards wrote:
Now here's the point: characters A, B, and C have discovered these things in isolation from one another. They do not have the ability to make the connection. However, the PLAYERS have been in the same room together. THEY make the connection, and can now exert their role-playing effort such that the characters do (or don't) get it.


As I understand it, the rgfa simulationists would HATE this.      Having players know things characters don't - EXPECTING players to know things and CONSPIRE to have their characters "coincidentally" do things that are "good" (in whatever terms - story, winning/success, drama, whatever) based on that info just ruins the whole experience for them.

I'm a bit uncomfortable with it myself - it runs the risk of  making everything seem too contrived.  Of course, the alternative is often to have everything turn out boring - and if you look at it close enough, you can argue that you "contrived" to produce that result too.

Anyway, depending on the kind of game you're running and the kind of goals you and the your players have, there may be reasons why hooking the players-not-the-characters is BAD.

Personally, I want to try it for a good hundred hours of play time and then decide.  As a player, I'm only managing to sneak a very little (20 mins a game?) of this technique into my, oh, 3 times a month game sessions, so I figure I'll be ready to decide sometime in 2012 . . . :wink:

Gordon C. Landis
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