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Author Topic: [Dust Devils] How to narrate outside of conflict?  (Read 5326 times)
Falkayn
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« on: August 02, 2006, 08:15:21 PM »

OK, from reading Matt's replies to various threads on this board I've got a fair idea as to how to handle conflicts, but I'm a little stuck wondering how we handle things between conflicts?

Background: I'm introducing this as the first Nar game my d20-addicted friends have ever seen ...

Part of me thinks that this is solved by having the Dealer narrate things - but part of me wonders if the narrator from the last conflict keeps narrating until someone disagrees with what he/she says, at which point a new conflict arises ...and what happens before the first conflict?

If I have 5 players who want to do 5 different things (chasin' pretties, drinkin' themselves stoopid, rustlin' cattle, buildin' the railroad and huntin' indjins) how do I narrate between them all? What if none of them wants to conflict with the others? (I'm worried they may at first miss the point that this is what the game is all about)

I guess that I want to get them all started interacting with each other as much as possible - I may use the Hanged Man setup for this purpose.

Any good advice?
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Hans
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« Reply #1 on: August 03, 2006, 05:14:54 AM »

If I have 5 players who want to do 5 different things (chasin' pretties, drinkin' themselves stoopid, rustlin' cattle, buildin' the railroad and huntin' indjins) how do I narrate between them all? What if none of them wants to conflict with the others? (I'm worried they may at first miss the point that this is what the game is all about)

In my experience (three sessions as dealer so far) this has been the single biggest issue.  And there are a lot of techniques that can be used to help out with it (look for posts by Eero, he is full of them).  A good scenario set up helps a lot; making sure that there are lots of NPC's on collision courses with each other that the players can hitch their wagons to. 

But I think there is only one ultimate answer...the players have to WANT to tell a story together.  If you force it on them, then frankly you aren't really playing Dust Devils to its fullest.  So far, I have found that when the players all start with the idea that sometime in the next 4 hours a story is going to happen, it does.  So I would be up front with your players.  Tell them:
    Look, this is not D20, guys; you are responsible for the caliber of the fiction as much as I am.  Pay attention to what other people are saying, and get invovled with each other, either as allies or enemies.  If you think what you are doing is the coolest thing, look for ways to get other people involved in it.  But also be willing to see that what someone ELSE is doing is the coolest thing, and jump on their train.[/look]

Quote
Part of me thinks that this is solved by having the Dealer narrate things - but part of me wonders if the narrator from the last conflict keeps narrating until someone disagrees with what he/she says, at which point a new conflict arises ...and what happens before the first conflict?

Between conflicts, I find I, as the dealer, run things in a fairly straightforward way, similar to the way that I have ran other games.  But there are some exceptions. 
* I ask the players a lot more questions.  Since there aren't any task resolutions in Dust Devils, a lot of times things you would have submitted to a roll in D20 or some other game really don't have any mechanic.  I just ask.  Once, one of my players had had his character show some romantic interest in an NPC.  As his character was coming down some stairs, I asked "So, do you want your character to hear this NPC crying in the kitchen, or would your rather he didn't?"  Turns out, he wasn't interested, the romantic thing was just a sideline and he didn't want to spend any time on it.  Things like breaking down doors, picking locks, schoozing ladies of the evening, etc. are best handled just by asking the player whether their character to succeed or not.  This may seem like a no brainer at first ("of course they succeed!") but you are bound to have a couple of people who will suddenly click, and say "wait a second, you know, I think it would be really cool to FAIL this time!"
* I let the players narrate their own actions a lot, especially when there is little chance there will be a conflict of reality with the other players.  In one case, a player narrated himself charging into the Hidalgo's hacienda, shooting up the place, jumping his horse over things, dropping the Hidalgo's guards like crazy.  There was no conflict; I wanted him to shoot his way into the hacienda to get face to face with the Hidalgo, he wanted the same thing.  He might as well have the fun of narrating it, its his character.  I actually ENCOURAGE you, if you have players who are used to D20, to try to arrange at least one barroom brawl early on that does NOT involve a conflict, and just say "ok, go ahead, who do you beat up, and how?  Nope, no dice, no cards, just tell me what happens."  This will really get them into the spirit of Dust Devils.

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I guess that I want to get them all started interacting with each other as much as possible - I may use the Hanged Man setup for this purpose.

I'd also be happy to send you my info on Galilee, Texas, which is the scenario I have used and will be using at GenCon.  I hope to get it out on a Wiki someday.  Its been a hit so far the three times I have used it. 

My advice: pre-gens are good, but even if you have people make up their own characters, make them fit into one of the slots one of the pre-gens filled if you can.  That way, the character already has some built in relationships with other characters that can drive the action.

Also; have a space for the out-of-town gambler.  Every game I have ran so far, someone plays the out-of-town gambler.
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Matt Snyder
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« Reply #2 on: August 03, 2006, 06:53:40 AM »

Falkyn (Hi! What's your name?)

Listen to Hans. He's offering very useful, very sound advice.

In between conflicts, the Dealer is indeed in charge. In this sense, Dust Devils is quite traditional. It's during conflicts that narration becomes a bit more non-traditional.

That said, Hans has some great ideas for how a Dealer should act, encouraging other players to contribute, and so on. Really, the only rule is this: The Dealer has final say in what happens outside of conflicts.

Other than than, he should be listening to player ideas, considering their suggestions and wants. Again, Hans has some great advice there.

Hans: Let's see that scenario when you're able! I'd like to read it, and even run it for demos. My GenCon trip is in jeopardy right now because of a new job. I should know more today after I meet my new boss (was supposed to do this Tuesday, but it got delayed).
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Matt Snyder
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #3 on: August 03, 2006, 08:39:42 AM »

If I have 5 players who want to do 5 different things (chasin' pretties, drinkin' themselves stoopid, rustlin' cattle, buildin' the railroad and huntin' indjins) how do I narrate between them all? What if none of them wants to conflict with the others? (I'm worried they may at first miss the point that this is what the game is all about)

I guess that I want to get them all started interacting with each other as much as possible - I may use the Hanged Man setup for this purpose.

Any good advice?

Listen to Hans, he's got it nailed. Ultimately a game like Dust Devils will stand or fall based on the willingness of the group to take responsibility for their creation. If the players don't care, it ultimately does not matter what the Dealer does or doesn't do.

That being said, some things you might want to consider:
- Think aloud: the traditional GM prides himself on his ability to keep up the illusion of infallibility. Demolish that by doing anything you do in an obvious, social manner. "Well, I wonder what I should do next? What's your Devil, Hans? Wow, let's have a scene based on that!" and so on. Make it clear that you're following rules just like everybody at the table, and that the main motivation and constraint in your play is your wish to make an exciting, meaningful story. Hopefully this will make the other players respond in a social manner as well, instead of isolating themselves inside their characters.
- Accept incoherency: let go of the idea of "one game, one story". DD will give you a coherent story only when and if all the players commit to doing any such thing. Play can, however, be fun regardless of that! Forget about having one party, forget about having one storyline. Concentrate instead on making interaction meaningful within singular scenes for individual characters. Address each player's character concerns one at a time. After you have the interaction on the scene-level down, you can start worrying about making crosses and weaves and all that jazz (mentioned in the rules, too; remember the snakeoil-salesman?).
- Communicate: when a scene goes down and the player decides to do something roleplayer-stupid, ask plaintively for an explanation. I'm not talking about tactically unsound choices, by the way, those are fine and within player rights. I'm talking about when your creative contributions are not talking to each other. It is NOT OK to just accept that other people do weird shit you don't understand, whether you're the Dealer or just another player. The point of the excercise is to try to talk to one another, and if a player routinely lives in some separate story of his own nobody else can see, that's disruptive. As the Dealer you have to understand the creative zest of what the players are doing, otherwise you can't answer appropriately. I bring this up because I see it a lot with D20 players for some reason.

Pre-conflict narration in practice: I suggest you frame the first scene of the game for the player with Devil at 3 (if you have one), and concentrate on laying down the facts about why the Devil is relevant to the scenario. Alternatively, leave that player for the last, and instead go through the other players, giving each a scene with an info-dumb about the scenario. Ideally, after one set of short scenes you will have outlined the relevant facts of the scenario to such a degree that the players can make meaningful actions on the information provided.

So that's how you start the narrations. Later on, a good rule of thumb is that the after-conflict narrations end before a new set of conflicts is committed to. In my games it's always been obvious how long the conflict narration lasts, I guess that's why the game has no special rules about it. The narrator simply stops at some point. When the conflict is narrated, you as the Dealer decide to either continue the scene, or frame a new one. In both cases the principle is the same: take whatever aftereffects or side-effects the last conflict had, and craft a situation around those. If nothing particular jumps at you, craft a situation for the Devil 3. If nobody has that, throw out your next bang.

How to handle disagreements in narration between conflicts: Matt says that the Dealer is in charge, but the book has it a bit differently; while the Dealer usually describes events and especially frames scenes, all players have an equal input possibility into the narration outside conflict. The book seems to discuss an example of a player who conjures up a bar just by narrating it into the story. Now, the trick here is that if any player is uncomfortable with something that's narrated outside conflict, that's grounds for conflict. In other words, pre-conflict narration is a matter of consensus, because if somebody disagrees, he can take it into a conflict.

Now, an advanced tip: even if you disagree with some small bit of narration, you don't necessarily want to go into conflict! DD conflicts are deadly, and sometimes it's just not worth it. Even if your character ends up beaten in that bar-fight and thrown into the gutter, that's still a better result than taking five points of damage and getting thrown into the gutter would be. The former case is "just" narration, the latter has a mechanical sting as well.
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Hans
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« Reply #4 on: August 03, 2006, 09:13:45 AM »

Listen to Hans, he's got it nailed.

Only because I have been listening to you, sensei.

Quote
- Think aloud: the traditional GM prides himself on his ability to keep up the illusion of infallibility. Demolish that by doing anything you do in an obvious, social manner.

This is really good advice.  As a further example, sometimes I have opened up to the table to judge whether an NPC or PC's Devil will apply to a particular roll.  "Ok, this guy has "Must be respected" as his Devil, what do you think?  Help him or hurt him?"

Quote
I bring this up because I see it a lot with D20 players for some reason.

A related thing to expect is some silly wildness.  My experience with people who have only played D20 and other traditional games with very focused goals (kill stuff, take treasure, for example), in both Dust Devils and in other games like Capes, Donjon, etc., is that once they get a sense of the incredible freedom and power that comes with narration rights they tend to take it all the way into Crazyville.  If they make the stakes "humiliate Bob", expect Bob to have his pants around is ankles, wearing clown makeup, and conceivably emasculation may be involved.  If they make the stakes "make Alice fall in love with my character", expect Alice to not only fall in love, but hop in the sack, give all her money to the PC, and take a bullet for him.  Also, expect people to have little sense of what, exterior to the actual stakes of the conflict, is fair game and what isn't when they have narration rights.  If I had as stakes "take Bob's money" can I take his pants as well?  How about shoving him into a pile of manure in the process?  This is something that is frankly only learned by experience (both on the stakes setting and narration ends).  Don't try to make anyone take anything back; respect the power of narration rights.  Much better to just live with it, and teach by example.  This calms down after a while, once people realize just because they CAN do something, it doesn't mean they SHOULD.
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Falkayn
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« Reply #5 on: August 03, 2006, 01:24:42 PM »

Falkyn (Hi! What's your name?)

Listen to Hans. He's offering very useful, very sound advice.

In between conflicts, the Dealer is indeed in charge. In this sense, Dust Devils is quite traditional. It's during conflicts that narration becomes a bit more non-traditional.
Matt,

Sorry, got the sig working now, it's Angus. Cheesy

Thanks for the help - I've done a lot more reading of posts since my first post, especially's Eero's stuff, and this advice makes a lot of sense too.

I've even put out an email to my group giving them a heads-up about DD.
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Falkayn
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« Reply #6 on: August 03, 2006, 01:31:17 PM »

Listen to Hans, he's got it nailed. Ultimately a game like Dust Devils will stand or fall based on the willingness of the group to take responsibility for their creation. If the players don't care, it ultimately does not matter what the Dealer does or doesn't do.
OK, I get it ... listen to Hans ...

That being said, some things you might want to consider:
- Think aloud: ...
- Accept incoherency: ...
- Communicate: ...

The point of the excercise is to try to talk to one another, and if a player routinely lives in some separate story of his own nobody else can see, that's disruptive. As the Dealer you have to understand the creative zest of what the players are doing, otherwise you can't answer appropriately. I bring this up because I see it a lot with D20 players for some reason.
I like those three, the bit about d20 guys going off on their own little story is I think an artifact of regularly playing in a game where many GMs simply do NOT narrate the story very well, but just read out the 'facts' ... in a scenario like that, many players keep their own little internal narration going to keep things interesting. Hopefully I can avoid too much of this, although I can think of one or two of my players that might be exactly like this.

Pre-conflict narration in practice: I suggest you frame the first scene of the game for the player with Devil at 3 (if you have one), and concentrate on laying down the facts about why the Devil is relevant to the scenario.
I like it! Basically treat the Devil as a kicker in its own right. After all if the guy has placed a 3 in it, then it should be affecting his lilfe right now. Cool.
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Falkayn
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« Reply #7 on: August 03, 2006, 01:40:21 PM »

A related thing to expect is some silly wildness.  My experience with people who have only played D20 and other traditional games with very focused goals (kill stuff, take treasure, for example), in both Dust Devils and in other games like Capes, Donjon, etc., is that once they get a sense of the incredible freedom and power that comes with narration rights they tend to take it all the way into Crazyville.  If they make the stakes "humiliate Bob", expect Bob to have his pants around is ankles, wearing clown makeup, and conceivably emasculation may be involved.  If they make the stakes "make Alice fall in love with my character", expect Alice to not only fall in love, but hop in the sack, give all her money to the PC, and take a bullet for him.  Also, expect people to have little sense of what, exterior to the actual stakes of the conflict, is fair game and what isn't when they have narration rights.  If I had as stakes "take Bob's money" can I take his pants as well?  How about shoving him into a pile of manure in the process?  This is something that is frankly only learned by experience (both on the stakes setting and narration ends).  Don't try to make anyone take anything back; respect the power of narration rights.  Much better to just live with it, and teach by example.  This calms down after a while, once people realize just because they CAN do something, it doesn't mean they SHOULD.
My guys are mostly mid-30s, and most have GMed a lot themselves, so I'm hoping that won't happen. If I say we're going for an Unforgiven, Tombstone, Wyatt Earp style of western, and not Maverick or Bonanza or Zorro (or <shudder> Shanghai Knights, or Wild Wild West), then hopefully that will also help. Maybe doing the other sort would be fun too ...
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