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Author Topic: [OTE] A Paper Trail to Nowhere  (Read 4898 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: July 19, 2006, 10:18:21 AM »

As mentioned in this thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20465.0 I hit a snag in my Over the Edge game when one player, Travis, didn't show, and it caused another player, Joe, to basically bow out of the session. Joe's character's ONLY plan at this point was to meet with Eddie for breakfast, and explore the city together. I thought, OK, I don't wanna penalize Joe for Travis' absence, so I told him Delcus (Joe's PC) waited around for breakfast but Eddie (Travis' PC) never showed. I figured we could free up Delcus to do other things, and if Travis DID show up, we'd narrate in some cool and interesting reason Ed missed breakfast. Joe's response was basically an elaborate "I do nothing." He said Delcus would wait til noon, then go look for Eddie. He then said, " I check at his hotel room." I told him Eddie's not there, and the staff say he left around breakfast time and hasn't been back. Joe said, "I go to my hotel room to organize paperwork, and do that for the rest of the day."

I was floored. I asked him, "I thought you were going to look for Eddie," and he responded that checking his hotel room WAS looking for Eddie. I tried to say something about giving him an avenue of playing in travis's absence and being involved in cool stuff like everyone else, pointing out that there was other stuff that his character is supposed to be about besides "meet Eddie for breakfast." Joe said flatly that the character's whole plan for right now was meeting Eddie and that was that.

I didn't know how to respond to that. I was basically trying to give a player, who showed up presumably wanting to play, as much chance as he could to, well, play, and he was telling me in effect, "nah, I'm not going to play." Or more specifically, "I'm not going to play except withing the rigidly fined parameters that I've set for myself, which right now means Travis being here." The people in the group I've talked to about this (Matt and Colleen) seem to think this is a bullshit interpretation, as they did the last time I had this kind of problem with Joe: as a player in HIS game, I designed a character (being told to just design "whatever I want") with a driving goal, he (not telling anyone beforehand what the game was about) had set up the framework of a powerful organization recuiting "chosen ones" to fight against the end of the world. When they tried to recruit my guyk, I had him ask the leader about getting help with HIS goal, and the leader said flatly "no, this end of the world thing is more important." Not, we'll see what we can do but realize our mission takes priority, or anything, just "no." Which *I* interpreted as Joe saying "Your character's goal is not going to be a part of my story." Matt and Colleen, however, and I'd be willing to bet a good portion of our players, don't see it that way, and it seems to boil down to whether one can take input that a player gives VIA HIS CHARACTER as a statement of story-input intent  by that player. I do, they don't.

So here I have Joe doing nothing for the whole game session. He didn't seem irritated at not getting to play or anything, though Joe is hard to read. He seemed content (as Colleen confirmed for me, being closer to him than anyone) to sit and watch, and banter with those near him. But my issue goes beyond whether HE's having fun, though that's my starting point. 'Cause I, as a roleplayer, and five times more as a GM, am "putting myself out there," am taking the mental effort and emotional risk to contribute to the group's shared-story and shared-fun. And to try to extend myself to someone in the group, and have him go, 'nah.' is debilitating to me. I've run this campaign for years, and had a really hard time getting feedback from a lot of players on whether they like the game, like the way I run it, have fun in general, etc. I've flat-out asked people to tell me if they enjoy it and gotten nothing. So a lot of this big push in changing GMing technique is an attempt to do everything i can to ensure everyone, including me, has fun, hopefully instil the idea that EVERYONE contributes to EVERYONE'S fun, not just acts to please themselves. I don't think I can stand to play with anyone anymore who's lackluster in their commitment and enthusiasm for the game. I think our group has a traditional mindset of "we come to roleplay, so of COURSE we play whatever somebody happens to be running." The personal standard for being involved in a game seems to be "well, I don't hate it." And I can't take that.

Last session I had only 3 players, and two of them at least were super-excited to play MY GAME, not just whatever happened to be running. And we all four of us had fun. Maybe it's just too daunting to try to get 9-10 people in a room for this kind of activity, and ensure they ALL have fun. Then again, I can think of an analogous situation: I'm a part of a spontaneous collective songwriting group--we have a motley collection of instruments, we brainstrom song titles, then go around the room with each person "directing" a song, picking a title and saying, like, "it's a sorrowful folk song, you sing, you drum, and you play banjo." We always have at least 7-8 people there. And NO one there "doesn't REALLY wanna be, but whatever," and NOBODY steals the show and tries to just have their OWN fun. It's awesome. And it can be done.

A final note: Delcus' Flaw is Obsessive-compulsive disorder; Joe envisions him as a more badass version of Monk, without the germ-phobia. I had honestly forgotten about the flaw; this is like Joe's second OTE session, and we hadn't played in a while. And so far the flaw had just been a bit of color; obsessively organizing the items on a restaurant table and such. Matt mentioned it when I was complaining about Joe's play; I can now see more precisely why Joe felt that his character MUST sequester and do paperwork for the session, but I still don't personally buy that OCD="must wait ALL DAY if someone misses a breakfast date." Delcus has his own BIG THING to pursue that has nothing to do with Eddie; and besides, he's an ex-cop investigator; the least he could do is go look for his buddy.

And if the flaw DOES lead (at least in Joe's conception of it) to regular "I do nothing" traps, then I feel it needs to go. Either re-envisioned or replaced. Any flaw, nay, any trait at all, that leads away from exciting things happening instead of toward them, is a liability for everyone playing the game, starting with Joe himself. I understand that this is one isolated incident, and may not indicate a pattern (this is Matt and Colleen's main rebuttal to me), but I see it as a very bad sign: a player hiding behind "that's what my character would do" to justify derailing what's going on. No, scratch that--to prevent anything from going on. "Sorry, but my character really would try to kill everyone right now," is at least something, a real input to which others can respond to. "Sorry, but my character really would sit alone in his hotel room" is just a dead end. And it says to ME, as GM, that the player giving the input doesn't give a shit whether we play my game or not.

In answer to the question doubtless on everyone's lips, I DO plan to talk to Joe about all this. I went to Matt and Colleen first because he knows me best and she knows Joe best. And I'd like help from the Forge on any ideas regarding conveying all this non-threateningly and productively. And pointing out if my thinking is off base. Thanks.

Peace,
-Joel
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Paul T
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« Reply #1 on: July 20, 2006, 11:16:52 AM »

Joel,

I know that some players get so used to the GM force-feeding them story that they feel their character's actions have no impact on that anyway. Such a player sees his goal in play as portraying his character as accurately as possible, knowing that the story will come and seek him out and swallow him no matter what he does.
 
Is it possible that this is the case? If so, Joe would be expecting that sitting in his room (i.e. portraying his character faithfully) would lead to gangsters jumping through the window, or him finding a cryptic note with a vital clue on his desk, or something similar.

On the other hand, how likely do you think it is that Joe is _actually_ happy with the outcome (sitting at the table and observing, until his character gets pulled back into the game)? This is an honest question I'm putting to you since you actually know Joe and I do not.

(For what it's worth, I DO think that either way he could probably end up having a lot more fun if he groks the way you run your game and actually contributes.)

All the best,


Paul
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #2 on: July 20, 2006, 01:48:03 PM »

Hi, Paul,


Is it possible that this is the case? If so, Joe would be expecting that sitting in his room (i.e. portraying his character faithfully) would lead to gangsters jumping through the window, or him finding a cryptic note with a vital clue on his desk, or something similar.

I honestly can't say that he was expecting this, but it sure was on my mind, because I desperately wanted to avoid this sort of bullying contrivance. But I must say I was sorely tempted--just so SOMEthing could happen, even if I was foisting it on the character and player.

On the other hand, how likely do you think it is that Joe is _actually_ happy with the outcome (sitting at the table and observing, until his character gets pulled back into the game)? This is an honest question I'm putting to you since you actually know Joe and I do not.

Well, it was hard to tell, because Joe's so closed off, but I talked to Colleen, who knows him well, and she assures me that he was perfectly happy to hang out and watch, and shoot the breeze. During this session it occurred to me that he just MIGHT be making the statement that he doesn't want to run the scene without Travis' character. But as I alluded above, our group has an underlying skepticism of the notion that having a character do something indicates the player saying "Hey, I want this in the story." Definitely a lot of Oiija board mentality. No, I think it was a pure case of "that's what my character WOULD do," though Lord knows how anyone can be so sure that a fictional character (or even themselves) WOULD do in a given situation; even "most likely to" is far cry from "absolutely would." And if "most likely" is extremely boring, then do something unusual already! But I'm preaching to the choir, I know. getting back to the point, Joe WAS, as best as can be determined, perfectly content with the outcome. I can't say that would be true of all our players (we used to have a guy who "did nothing" ALL the TIME, then complained that he was left out of the exciting stuff), but Joe is pretty laidback.

Of course, as I said there's another, selfish component to this: even if Joe is satisfied, I'm not. But the next step in that is talking to Joe about how his play makes me feel, which is what I'm hoping this thread will help with.

Joe wasn't the only one who didn't take easily to the shift in playing style; as I said over in the parent thread: http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=20465.0 (skip to the heading, You're Protagonized; Good Luck With That if you don't wanna read the whole thing), Colleen was rather thrown for a loop by my attempt to solicit more collaborative play. I was saying, "no, really, what do you want to happen?" and I might as well have been speaking Moonenite. And y'know  what? It just occurred to me right now that Joe may also be confused, not merely disinclined. . .he may not know what it is I'm asking of him. That's something to consider in determining how to address this with him.

Peace,
-Joel
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: July 20, 2006, 11:32:12 PM »

I was floored. I asked him, "I thought you were going to look for Eddie," and he responded that checking his hotel room WAS looking for Eddie. I tried to say something about giving him an avenue of playing in travis's absence and being involved in cool stuff like everyone else, pointing out that there was other stuff that his character is supposed to be about besides "meet Eddie for breakfast." Joe said flatly that the character's whole plan for right now was meeting Eddie and that was that.
Okay, rearranging your characters activities for a better story is actually a skill. A skill this player doesn't have. And before we rush him with bayonettes, it isn't a skill you should automatically have. One doesn't try and plan out chess for a more exciting game.

Quote
Then again, I can think of an analogous situation: I'm a part of a spontaneous collective songwriting group--we have a motley collection of instruments, we brainstrom song titles, then go around the room with each person "directing" a song, picking a title and saying, like, "it's a sorrowful folk song, you sing, you drum, and you play banjo." We always have at least 7-8 people there. And NO one there "doesn't REALLY wanna be, but whatever," and NOBODY steals the show and tries to just have their OWN fun. It's awesome. And it can be done.
Your really part of a music group like that? Cool, I admire that! :)

Okay, back to skills: Songs have beginings, middles and ends. They have recurring notes. They can include repetitions of small bits of other songs. They include a repetitive beat (which is repetitive and yet not only is it not boring, but vital). They contain alot of little structures you can learn and then put together improvisationally.

What does reality contain - or in this case, a imagined reality contain in terms of structure? Nothing. There is no culturally inherant structure in it like we see in music. Almost anyone can drum a simple beat. But can anyone as easily help structure a story? No, it's a skill that you need to learn, if you want to do it.

Your analogy works the other way too: If I entered your music group with my inability to play any instrument, would you throw me a saxaphone? If you did, you might find me sitting quitely at the side, happy to just listen to what's going on, just like this player.

Am I far off base?
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #4 on: July 21, 2006, 01:30:01 PM »

Okay, rearranging your characters activities for a better story is actually a skill. A skill this player doesn't have. And before we rush him with bayonettes, it isn't a skill you should automatically have. One doesn't try and plan out chess for a more exciting game.

This is a good insight, Callan. It helps to put Joe's actions in perspective; if his lack of response has more to do with ability than intent, then it's unfair of me to treat it as if it's the latter. The question then becomes, is it a skill he's willing to try to develop?

See, I still think that it's a valid skill to at least encourage if not require, to try if not to master. 'Cause we're not playing chess. Chess' description is something like "maneuver pieces on a board strategically to outwit your opponent and checkmate his king." As long as you're doing that, you're playing chess. Roleplaying is more nebulous, Big Model notwithstanding. But as a description of what you're supposed do around the table, especially in Over the Edge which has few mechanical factors, I think "arrange your character's activities to produce a story" is pretty fair. So "REarranging for a BETTER story" is a perfectly legitimate goal when play is rough or falls flat. And it's not like Joe did it "wrong." He arranged his character's activities, and a story was produced, of merit subject to personal judgment. But there's room for criticism; if a chess player beats his opponent, but does so inefficiently, it's a legitimite critique to point out how he could have played better, and checkmated 10 moves earlier.

Your really part of a music group like that? Cool, I admire that! :)

Thanks, Callan. It's an exhilarating and empowering expreience, and it's teaching me a lot about spontaneous creativity in all areas of life.

Now, I had originally mentioned the songwriting group merely to point out an example of group shared activity where everyone was engaged and functionally committed to each other's fun. But you've opened it up to a whole larger avenue of discussion, which is cool.

Okay, back to skills: Songs have beginings, middles and ends. They have recurring notes. They can include repetitions of small bits of other songs. They include a repetitive beat (which is repetitive and yet not only is it not boring, but vital). They contain alot of little structures you can learn and then put together improvisationally.

What does reality contain - or in this case, a imagined reality contain in terms of structure? Nothing. There is no culturally inherant structure in it like we see in music. Almost anyone can drum a simple beat. But can anyone as easily help structure a story? No, it's a skill that you need to learn, if you want to do it.

I think the question is not "what structure does an imagined reality have?" but "what structure does THIS roleplaying game with THESE players have, for producing the imagined reality?" Which would break down into the ruleset and the group's agreed-on, explicitly or not, standards for play.

As far as the ruleset goes, OTE is pretty minimal: Characters are defined by 4 or 5 broad strokes, assigned a couple of resources like Hit Points, and sent out into the world, with some rules for how to apply said traits and resources to resolving actions deemed "chancy," meaning there is a reasonable chance that they could fail. There's not really any framework for constructing a story. Not even in, say, the GMing advice, which is mostly about covertly dealing with players who abuse the system. There is a bit about being proactive and curious, which is expanded on in the player's guid supplement as I recall. So that there is your "fit characters" clause. . .your characters should be danger-worthy and curious. At least curious enough, I would submit, to find something else to do at SOME point in the day when they're stood up for a breakfast date.

I do admit that there is very little structure there, so it's understandable that someone without a lot of story-crafting skill (or inclination) wouldn't recieve much help. it's back to that whole problem of expecting story to "just emerge" when a bunch of people get together and imagine stuff. But I would still think there's a baseline. . .for instance that characters DOING STUFF is better than characters doing nothing. Especially when the GM is obviously going out of his way to make sure your character has a chance to do stuff even when your partner-player didn't show.

It has occurred to me, however, that I didn't actually do everything i could to allow Joe input, or more to the point, work with the input he DID give me. I did everything that came to mind at the time, certainly, and hindsight is 20/20, but I really should've done something to help his input ("I do paperwork") contribute to the game, balnd though I may have found it. I was silently screaming at my mind, "whatever you do, DON'T send ninjas through his skylight", to keep myself from railroading him to action (Hmm, can one railroad toward "something, anything at all"? I'd have to say yes.), so loudly that I didn't even consider that I could offer non-railroading input,  that bears fruit from his stated input. He wants paperwork? OK, that's his sovreign right. Now what if the paperwork itself has an interesting result? Like when putting his case notes in order, they fall into place in a Usual-suspects sort of way to cast an entirely new light on his data and bring him closer to the truth. Or he comes across a half-forgotten clipping that seems to implicate Eddie, or Eddie's father, in the killings. Even if nothing spurs him to immediate action (and I'd want to be careful of input that seems to suggest I'm PUSHING him toward action, specific or general), he still had his character DO something, and something happened because of it. Something cool, which advances elements of the story he's flagged as interesting for his character. Oh, I'm liking this. No "You have done the 'wrong' thing and must now be punished through game events and/or peer sanction to modify your behavior." No "well, what you did last time was really dumb and boring, but we'll pick it up again this week, and(sigh) try not to suck this time, OK?"  Just "That's what you want for your character? OK, that's cool, now let's see what we can do to make that choice as interesting as possible, OK?"

(And fortunately it's not too late; last time we left Delcus frozen in paperwork-land, so I can pick it up next session no problem. I will, though, lose the charge of instant payoff, which helps cement the correlation in the player's mind--"You choose this? OK, here's your reward in in-game feedback, right now." Oh, well.)

Y'know, I suffered the same paralysis with Colleen, as detailed in the parent thread. I was like, "what do you want?" And she was, like, "I dunno, you pick something," and I was like, "durrr?" I'm thinking maybe I should have grouped hers AND Joe's account together in this split, since they seem to be about the same thing, GMing-wise.

Your analogy works the other way too: If I entered your music group with my inability to play any instrument, would you throw me a saxaphone? If you did, you might find me sitting quitely at the side, happy to just listen to what's going on, just like this player.

Let me just state for the record that I'm no instrumentalist, either. I mostly contribute lead or background vocals, plus tamborine or drumbeats. I do occasionally play an instrument, by my choosing or because someone handed it to me, but my input is limited; for instance when handed the Banjo I only played one string. We seem to have an understanding in the group--though it's never been laid out explicitly--regarding what input to expect from different people. We know that when we hand the banjo to certain people, we'll get stellar results. And whe know who's a good guitarist, and that one guy can totally rock the piano. So when someone points at him and tell him "dude, Piano" we're expecting a totally different result than when they send ME to a keyboard and I play it with two fingers.

I think this feeds directly into what you're saying. Let me see if I can lay out the big picture and you can tell me if it hits the essence of your point:

Everyone in a group of, say, roleplayers, has different skills related to the activity. And while every area of skill is open to all participants (just like it's OK for your 3-point shooter to drive to the basket when he needs to), expectations should be tailored to the individual. Someone may be a gifted character actor, someone else is skilled in tactics and strategy (Joe certainly is that), and still another is gifted in driving actions toward a story--conflict, rising action, and all that. Everyone should be encouraged to engage in all these and other elements to the best of their ability, but there's nothing wrong with someone who is relatively unskilled in one area to let others pick up that slack.

I wholeheartedly acknowledge the latter, but without losing sight of the former: that is, it's dysfunctional to drop out of a weak area entirely, so that the one tactics-guy is doing all the strategizing, or the one drama-guy is doing all the story-directing. That leads to the lonely-GM syndrome (which I've had, believe me) or its player-equivalent, if the guy on the spot is not a GM. But in the case of Story-driving, it's usually the GM who ends up shouldering that load, deserted by the players who are all drooling over their level-up Feats or drawing up battle plans.

Did I sum things up pretty well, or am I missing something?

Peace,
-Joel
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Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: July 22, 2006, 04:16:28 AM »

Hi Joel,

Yup, that covers what I was gunning to say. :)

Quote
So "REarranging for a BETTER story" is a perfectly legitimate goal when play is rough or falls flat. And it's not like Joe did it "wrong." He arranged his character's activities, and a story was produced, of merit subject to personal judgment. But there's room for criticism; if a chess player beats his opponent, but does so inefficiently, it's a legitimite critique to point out how he could have played better, and checkmated 10 moves earlier.
But I'll leave you with this: Does the chess player listen to your critique because he's really concerned about how you think chess should be played? Or does he do so because he's looking for ways of avoiding losing and gaining a win?

I think winning and losing/reward and punishment have priority over criticism. They have priority over alot of things, including just sitting around and doing nothing when your breakfast date doesn't show up. I think you want certain things out of a game session and I think they should be given a 'win' status. Figure out a list of them, instead of trying to poke him along with critique - a win status. Then see how that win status gets priority over just sitting around doing nuffin. Other than that, that's a wrap for me. :)
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« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2006, 03:14:03 AM »

Joe's response was basically an elaborate "I do nothing." He said Delcus would wait til noon, then go look for Eddie. He then said, " I check at his hotel room." I told him Eddie's not there, and the staff say he left around breakfast time and hasn't been back. Joe said, "I go to my hotel room to organize paperwork, and do that for the rest of the day."

I believe the whole problem rests in the above quote, but I have to read between the lines, so feel free to correct me.

You are trying to restructure your game style into one of:
GM presents an interesting character situation / dilemma, then the Player engages with the choice and drives in one direction based upon the player's concept of fun.

But, you didn't come up with the first part of this deal, so the player dropped back into "my character would do this now" mode. Your instinct to then drop in Ninjas through the ceiling was not a bad instinct, it is choice provoking: Run or Fight. It may not be the best scene in this instance but your instinct was "how do i make him have fun".

My suggestion is, that you try to avoid the open "what are you doing now?" questions and situations. Cut straight to a dilemma:

"Your contact doesn't show, but you think you are being watched [Wait, Run, Confont, etc.].

If you wanted the player to do something specific based on your response "I thought you were going to look for Eddie" then you have the authority to just cut to that action:

"While checking Eddie's normal haunts you find yourself in ..."

Railroading is when you force the situation in an inevitable direction through lack of choice. Scene Framing is cutting to the action in order to further the games agenda (in your case dilemmas and choices).  The player and indeed you, may be uncomfortable with forcing the character into a situation, but as long as the player understands your motives then you can build trust. The only way to do this is by demonstration in my experience.

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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #7 on: July 28, 2006, 12:23:28 AM »

Wow, a hectic week. Sorry I'm so long responding, guys.

I think winning and losing/reward and punishment have priority over criticism. They have priority over alot of things, including just sitting around and doing nothing when your breakfast date doesn't show up. I think you want certain things out of a game session and I think they should be given a 'win' status. Figure out a list of them, instead of trying to poke him along with critique - a win status. Then see how that win status gets priority over just sitting around doing nuffin. Other than that, that's a wrap for me. :)

This is interesting to bring up. I think OTE has a kind of flaccid reward system, in that the resources you're awarded, Experience Dice, are A) awarded for vague reasons along the lines of WOD experience, which ends up being "give everyone about the same to be fair," B) sorta discouraged by the rules from being used at all. the latter involves text on each of the two uses--bonus to a roll, and adding/improving traits--which essentially says, respectively, "well sure, you can theoretically use a die to improve uour odds, but you need a DAMN (IC) good reason or it'll be disallowed," and "yeah, you can spend X dice to raise traits, but remember the game-world time required in practice and study to improve a skill like that, and can you really afford to bother?"

Actually, I have some thoughts on changing the mechanical reward system for OTE, and I think I'll start a new thread when I have time, to discuss that.

Now, if you're thinking about more immediate and informal reward in the form of what he wants to do through the game world paying off, in the game world, I think that's exactly what I want to do, and I'm continuing to zero in on how.

But, you didn't come up with the first part of this deal, so the player dropped back into "my character would do this now" mode. Your instinct to then drop in Ninjas through the ceiling was not a bad instinct, it is choice provoking: Run or Fight. It may not be the best scene in this instance but your instinct was "how do i make him have fun".

My suggestion is, that you try to avoid the open "what are you doing now?" questions and situations. Cut straight to a dilemma:

"Your contact doesn't show, but you think you are being watched [Wait, Run, Confont, etc.].

This is good advice. I actually think that I did drop the ball on exactly this front with several other instances that night, with other players, which I covered in the parent thread ("Cats Herded"). Basically handed them a blank sheet of paper and said here, you can do anything, then wondered why they were paralyzed.

However, I'm not so sure that's the case here. I did hand him something, "Eddie doesn't show." And he said "I'm going to look for him." We then had a communication difficulty inwhich I thought "look for Eddie" meant "Look for Eddie," and he meant "Check Eddie's hotel, then quit." That was where we got on the paperwork track. Now, I DO agree that I needed to introduce dynamic elements into the situation; my problem with doing so was that when Joe made the statment, through Delcus, that he was doing nothing, it felt like a block on future attempts to get him to do something; like if I try it'd just be badgering/cajoling. I'm beginning to see, through good examples, how to do this with more skill and confidence. But at the time I just froze. I held out my hand and he didn't take it; what now?





Anyway, I have an update: Last weekend we played again, and I jumped right in with Joe, having him roll his investigative skill while doing paperwork. He rolled decent but not great, so I had him discover in the course of sifting papers a clipping that implicates Eddie's father in a 30-year-old incident. (All the incidents in Del's papers are killings worldwide by a mysterious person over decades. This is in fact Colleen's character Ai'li, knownst to Joe and unbeknownst to Delcus.) This wasn't anything to spur action, but it WAS a direct payoff on Joe's input--instead of treating the input as "wrong," I instead said basically, "you wanna do paperwork? OK, HERE'S what's interesting about paperwork." Also, it gives him something pretty juicy to lay on Travis when he sees 'im.

Interestingly, when we kicked off it was actually Joe who wanted to scene frame past the paperwork when we reconvened, and straight into looking for Eddie in earnest after night is falling. I had to ask him to back up while I gave him a result for his research. A pleasant surprise.

In fact, Joe was pretty proactive all night. He followed a trail of Eddie being chased by mysterious guys (didn't find Eddie yet, simply because Travis couldn't make it), and got placed smack dab in the middle of this big nasty human-sacrifice mystic deal that other PCs are trying to stop. And Joe was actively engaged, not put off by my "railroading,." So, cool. I may have misintereted Joe's actions before, or maybe he just changed his mind about doing nothing, or maybe he was just taking his time getting to the "Iook for Eddie" bit. (One thing I haven't managed to do is talk to Joe directly.) Whatever the case, things went well.

Peace,
-Joel
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #8 on: August 01, 2006, 12:54:44 PM »

OK, did I read right that you play with 9-10 people?

This is your number one problem, if so. With that many people, everyone understands that they're only going to get 10% of the spotlight time, and that making the game go means not grabbing the spotlight for long, meaning you make quick decisions and move on. You play with 4 players, and it all works fine, right? Play with just 4 players.

Second, OTE is a "Get out of the way" game system, yes. It doesn't promote much at all. So use something else, or be prepared to find a new source of gumption in play.

Third, the system isn't providing incentive, the players are informed by the D&D group size that they're not enabled to move things forward, and then on top of these two, you're refusing to move the story ahead yourself. I mean, OK, you want the players to take control of play, fine. The thing is that this desire does not absolve you as GM of the need to provide things for them to react to. Your response to the player was to ask, "What do you do next?" That's the best technique I know of to engender sim play. And then you're surprised when you get it?

I think that you either haven't ever seen it (though we play in a game together, so...) or you're afraid to do it - but you have to address your players with metagame questions. Yes, they don't know you're asking what they want as players, because you're asking what their characters would do, it looks like to me.

Do you ever say, "OK, here we have a scene in which your breakfast date isn't going to show up, because his player isn't here. I don't want to play the NPC in question, so let's leave him out. So what kind of scene would be interesting here?"

But, heck, you don't even have to do that. This is on Al Amarja, correct? What you say instead is, "As you stand there waiting for him to show, suddenly a black van pulls up and several individuals with Uzi's emerge from it wearing trenchcoats. They look around and spot your character, point at him and start to close in."

Ah, but that would be "bullying"? Nope, that's your job as GM. Is it "railroading"? Nope, how does the situation I've described take away options from the player. What real interesting options did he have? Going back to check the hotel? Make something up out of the blue? That's your job. Your job is to give the player some situation that gives him some decision to make, something to react to. It's only railroading if you're taking away options that you had seemed to give previously, or which the player seemed to be interested in. If they're not interested in play, then they have nothing to lose. Throw a situation at them, something that makes them act, but doesn't tell them how to act.

So here's my recommendations in bullets;
 - Play with fewer players.
 - Get a new system.
 - Learn to speak metagame.
 - Throw situation at them in big heaping gobs.

Mike
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #9 on: August 01, 2006, 11:35:38 PM »

Hi, Mike. Glad you joined the discussion. I agree that about all the things you mentioned are problematic issues and it's just these issues that I'm trying to resolve. Before we start, though, I wanted to point out that this thread is a split from a parent thread, which you may or may not nave noticed. I mention it because I responded to your comments I ran across a lot of seeming misunderstanding that implies you haven't seen the thread. It's very long, and I understand if you don;t have time to read it, but just be aware that it exists. Of particular note, read "You're protagonized, good luck with that" for my biggest GMing failing/communication difficulty of the session (besides maybe this one), and "Don't Cry over Spilled Beans" for the most fun and charged scenes of the session.

Your comments, coming late in the game, are making me rethink some issues I thought I had figured out as well as presenting some new issues to think about. So, I'll try to break it down:

OK, did I read right that you play with 9-10 people?

This is your number one problem, if so. With that many people, everyone understands that they're only going to get 10% of the spotlight time, and that making the game go means not grabbing the spotlight for long, meaning you make quick decisions and move on. You play with 4 players, and it all works fine, right? Play with just 4 players.

Yeah, I've been waiting for someone to freak out about that. I'm surprised it didn't create more stir. First, yes, I agree it's a problem, and a huge one. But it's not one that I can deal with in one fell swoop. These people have mostly all been playing in the group for years, and are in varying degrees friends. So while I do want to cut down on the number of players I think it's going to be a gradual process. I tried just saying (on a COUPLE of occasions) "Anyone who doesn't really enjoy my game, plese, on't play." But everyone's stayed. I really think everyone has a mindset of "roleplaying's what we do, so of course we play in everyone's even if we're not jazzed about it." Even Mark who told me he DIDN'T want to resume my game when he rejoined my group, jumped back in on the basis of "I'm here, aren't I?" (Though he DID engage and play enthusiastically, see parent thread.) So my next step is laying out how I'd LIKE to play (which I've gotten a good start on) and seeing how everyone likes it, and using that to trim the group down to those players who really DIG it. There may be a problem as before  with basically everyone at least SAYING they enjoy it. But that's also the point at which I'd feel comfortable making selection choices on MY end. At this point I feel that MY style of GMing has been really incoherent and ineffective, so how can I look at others and say their PLAYING isn't making the cut, without me fisrt getting my act together?

One other thing, we had a killer session last time with everyone involved and engaged and digging what was going down, and actually managed to get through a fair amount of play. We all had a talk a few weeks ago about politeness and paying attention and keeping distractions/kibbitzing to a minimum, and it seems to have worked surprisingly well. So the huge-player-group thing is still an issue, but not as bad as could be.

Second, OTE is a "Get out of the way" game system, yes. It doesn't promote much at all. So use something else, or be prepared to find a new source of gumption in play.

One thing I'm kicking around is retooling the reward system OTE has got, which is experience dice, so that they'll more actively promote, well, SOMEthing. But that's a new thread, which I'll start soon.

I'd like to see you elaborate more on "find a new source of gumption in play." Can you parse that out a bit? Are you talking about different mechanical reward than OTE's got? Or just about finding nonmechanical motivational factors in play, IE engaging Situation, that will grab people's interest? How does this relate to my efforts regarding flag framing and creating Bangs, either in theory or as they've played out for me in practice?

Third, the system isn't providing incentive, the players are informed by the D&D group size that they're not enabled to move things forward, and then on top of these two, you're refusing to move the story ahead yourself. I mean, OK, you want the players to take control of play, fine. The thing is that this desire does not absolve you as GM of the need to provide things for them to react to. Your response to the player was to ask, "What do you do next?" That's the best technique I know of to engender sim play. And then you're surprised when you get it?

OK, this is the reall meaty stuff. There's a lot to unpack here, some is a fair description of my GMing, some not so much. Not that you could necessarily tell from what I've recounted. Anyway, from the top: I don't think I'm "refusing to move the story forward." One thing that I've confsesed to my group is that I've been guilty of "stalling" on issues that was unsure how I wanted to resolve, like the true nature of the mystical stone that Adam's character's got. So I'm working on reversing that trend; I'm throwing "gobs of situation" regarding these things at the respective players, and they're eating it up. I simply had this issue with Joe for various reasons, choekd, and totally blew it on my end of things. But it's an isolated incident. One I want to understand so I can handle it better next time, but still nothing like a determined approach to running the game.

Just a clarification, I'm not talking so much about players taking control, as sharing control. Again, maybe you're not seeing the big picture, but I don't think this one incident is indicitave of what I'm doing with the game as a whole. Not sure if this distinction is worth elaborating on, but there it is.

Now, on "providing things to react to". . .I think I'm doing that. Or at least trying. I kicked off with "OK, Eddie doesn't show, what do you do about that?" He said "I look for him." At that point, I thought we were going somewhere. I was figuring on his search for Eddie taking him out into the street and. . .adventure! At that point, guys with Uzis, anything, would be fine. But what threw me was the "I check his hotel room, then I'm done looking." Yes, I should have thrown something cool at him at that point. As I said I froze. Now I know not to do that next time. Also, there was a further misunderstanding; I had been thinking both PCs were staying in the same hotel, but it turned out Ed's was across town. So plenty of opportunity to get Delcus in trouble I've I'd thought of it. Also, if you look at what I'm doing with other players, I'm throwing all kinds of stuff at them. Just having a problem with this one situation with this one player.

I think that you either haven't ever seen it (though we play in a game together, so...) or you're afraid to do it - but you have to address your players with metagame questions. Yes, they don't know you're asking what they want as players, because you're asking what their characters would do, it looks like to me.

Do you ever say, "OK, here we have a scene in which your breakfast date isn't going to show up, because his player isn't here. I don't want to play the NPC in question, so let's leave him out. So what kind of scene would be interesting here?"

I am trying to address metagame in a gentle way so as to not freak people out. I'm probably still pretty halting and clumsy about it. SO I think there's an unintentional mix of "what do YOU want" and "what would your CHARACTER do" that i need to watch for. Also, we have a group that uses "you" and "I" interchangeably for character and player, so I think sometimes I mean the player and it sounds to everyone like character.

I have done a bit of "what kind of scene would you like here?" with mixed results. I did it with Colleen in the parent thread and it royally confused her, though largely because I didn;t give her enough input, and left her hanging without a net. Hey, I did say it was my biggest GM failing. . .

Ah, but that would be "bullying"? Nope, that's your job as GM. Is it "railroading"? Nope, how does the situation I've described take away options from the player. What real interesting options did he have? Going back to check the hotel? Make something up out of the blue? That's your job. Your job is to give the player some situation that gives him some decision to make, something to react to. It's only railroading if you're taking away options that you had seemed to give previously, or which the player seemed to be interested in. If they're not interested in play, then they have nothing to lose. Throw a situation at them, something that makes them act, but doesn't tell them how to act.

Now, there are some ideas I'm not sure about in here. I tend to think railroading or bullying is a matter of degree or method of approach, rather than WHAT you throw at the players. I mean, by offering them ANYthing to react to, you're constraining them to a degree. If i walk into your home and point a gun at your kids, I'm not telling you "how to act," but I AM forcing you to respond in SOME way, or at least trying to. You could do nothing, whether to call my bluff or just let me shoot them, but my pointing the gun at all says very clearly, "if this is something you care about, you are now forced to dosomething to defend it."

That's a tremendous power. So it's all about HOW it is used. It's one thing to throw something at a guy who's just sitting there waiting for it, but when a guy seems to be deLIBerately trying to hunker down and avoid Situation at all, it's at the very least awkward to throw ninjas through the skylight or soemthing; there's a very real possibility of producing a cynical "OH, I guess the GM won't let me do what said I was doing" response. I've gotten that response in the past (not largely from this group, though) over, seemingly, throwing sitation at the PCs at ALL, so maybe I'm just gun-shy. Things certainly did work out with Joe in the next session. After paperwork he ventured to the hotel lobby's cafe, where I had the bartender from the bar down the street approach and tell him he'd seen Eddie fleeing from mysterious guys in turbans, and off Joe went to track him down, landing smack-dab in the middle of the other chars' situation.

So anyway. I agree with most of what you say, some of the problems are more easily solved than others, and I'm working to correct things as best I can. Hope the above all makes sense.

Peace,
-Joel
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #10 on: August 03, 2006, 12:04:03 PM »

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One other thing, we had a killer session last time with everyone involved and engaged and digging what was going down, and actually managed to get through a fair amount of play. We all had a talk a few weeks ago about politeness and paying attention and keeping distractions/kibbitzing to a minimum, and it seems to have worked surprisingly well. So the huge-player-group thing is still an issue, but not as bad as could be.
See, and I'm reading it thinking, gee, this is a symptom of the problem.

You want players to metagame - if I read you right, that's what you're after. If you tell them to be quite when it's not their turn, not to kibbitz, then you're informing them that they're not participating in those scenes in which they don't have a character, and, in turn, that the way to make decisions about their character is not what's entertaining to others (how could they know?), but "what the character would do." In fact, this is precisely the problem with your group size. If you're to get anything done, you have to take turns, when what you really want is for all four participants at the table to be talking all the time, especially when their character is not in the scene!

Did you note on Teusday night how I was trying to strike up more player banter and get to know some of the players in the IRC game? I have a confession...I haven't been reading the other players' scenes. I'm just not interested. Why? Because not only don't they involve my character, but I don't know the players, and don't get any feedback from them at all on what's going on in my scenes. I would expect, in fact, that y'all haven't been reading my play, either, and that we're all, essentially, playing three separate games.

Because the only way that we can get to the point where we're playing not just for "what my character would do," but instead for "what would the players find entertaining," is for us all to have some inkling of what's entertaining to the other players.

Here's the thing...your group has a method of play that's ingrained in the social situation (I may be wildly speculating here again, so correct me where I'm wrong). But it's habit for everyone to come over together at the same time and maybe even place every week or so? And then it's "play the game we've all agreed is going to be run"? Right? If you want to alter that, change the social situation. Pick a different night of the week, and have the game at your place instead of at Joebob's. Then announce this new game is additional to the weekly game, and that you're looking for it to be like X, and then ask who's interested in playing. Tell them you can only take 4 players max and that if more want to play than your quota, that you'll be doing a lottery to see who gets to play.

I honestly doubt you can "fix" the way things are going by sticking with the same ritual circle you're in now. Leave that game to what people expect it to be. Is it fair that you alone get the game you want at the sacrifice of this way of gaming that everyone seems to enjoy so much?

Note that you're the one being judgmental on how they play. I think it sounds like they're doing fine. You want something else...fine, I probably would too. But that's a far cry from indicting how they're playing. You need to play both ways.

I know, I know, not enough time; they only want to play once a week; they only want to play together. Test whether or not that's true, first. If it really is, then....get....another....group. Because this one simply has waaay too much intertia to get to play how you like.

Or just suck it up...it doesn't sound too bad to me.


As for retooling OTE...it's pretty light. By the time you get done with it, it'll be something unrecognizable. I really suggest a totally different system. Might be easier than coming up with a workable hack. OTOH, it strikes me that you could simply have players give each other bonus dice for things they like the other character doing. In any case, just drop the idea of character "advancement." Just doesn't fit OTE. Character development, yes. Advancement, no.

Usually a system suggestion pops into my head, but not so here. Actually in some ways, Fred Hicks' new game Don't Rest Your Head is almost right for it... Might be able to get some ideas from it anyhow.


Quote
a lot to unpack here, some is a fair description of my GMing, some not so much. Not that you could necessarily tell from what I've recounted.
Yep, I'm being deliberately provocative to get at the core problems...I think it's working so far... :-)

Actually, I sorta agree with what you did (face it, you could have had the guys with Uzi's in the characters room if you wanted, you didn't need him to go across town to make action plausible - especially on Al Amarja where the president's suite he's staying in comes with a teleporter in the shower). I mean, come on! This is the Raymond Chandler rule of detective fiction: If you don't know where the plot's going, have some guys come through the door with guns blazing, and then figure out later why.

Rather, I think that your assessment of what Joe was saying is correct and you were reacting to that: he was using his character to indicate to you that he wasn't interested in further investigation. Thing is, whathagonnadoaboudit? It would seem that, in this group, it's completely acceptable to turtle up if you're not interested (using My Guy stance to claim it's "what my guy would do"). And, heck, with 8 other people in play, the guy might just be attempting to be generous here when he can't see a way to move the situation on. Sans more kibbitzing, I can't see a way to engage a player under those sorts of circumstances.


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I am trying to address metagame in a gentle way so as to not freak people out.
They're all adults, right? They can take it. If it turns out they don't like it, then better to find out quickly. For this you get Mike's Standard Rant #6: You Can't Sneak Up On Mode

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Also, we have a group that uses "you" and "I" interchangeably for character and player, so I think sometimes I mean the player and it sounds to everyone like character.
That's the usual way it goes, and people even get confused when playing for a long time with "you" and "your character." So I try to be specific. "Let's forget about your character for a second, what would you, Collen my player, like to see?" Here's one that I use a lot, "What you know that your character doesn't know, is that there's a ferocious man-eating lion on the other side of door number three."

That's a potent tactic - actually force a separation of player and character knowledge, and then expect them to make a decision acting with that knowledge. No, of course not something implausible ("my character shoots the lion through the door.") But both plausible and entertaining like, "Given the baboon in the other room, I approach the door cautiously with my knife at the ready, prepared for anything except a lion."

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it's at the very least awkward to throw ninjas through the skylight or soemthing; there's a very real possibility of producing a cynical "OH, I guess the GM won't let me do what said I was doing" response.
Well, as you say, it all depends. But I said that, too, and it's precisely my point. If, in fact, you're throwing situation at somebody in order to get them to do something specific (like not turtle, for instance), then you're railroading them, sure. So don't do that. Throw situation at them in order to give them new choices.

Now, with Joe...again, it might be that turtling is allowed, in which case, yeah, you might get called for it. If turtling is allowed, in fact, it's probably Abused Player Syndrome, players used to the GM manipulating them into playing through a plot in a certain way. That's an issue I can't help you with, the only way to deal with it is to play the way I'm saying, and hope that the player can learn to trust you again.

But the key is to leave the player understanding that they do have a new set of choices. For instance, let's say for a moment that we're fine with the player turtling potentially, and want to leave that as an option for the player, not take it away. OK, fine:

"Dudes with Uzi's are questioning the concierge at your hotel. You note that they're waving around a picture of you, and that another of your friend is sticking out of his pocket. They don't see you yet. What are you going to do?"

The player may, if they really wish, walk away from this scene and turtle up. But it'd have to be a player who was really scared of engaging to actually do this. Given the situation above, the player has so many fun options that it's hard to imagine them not selecting one. Do they go get backup? Do they try to take these guys out alone, to make them answer questions? Does he hide and then question the concierge once they're gone? Does he try to get to his buddy's hotel room to see if they haven't visited him yet, in order to warn him?

Then, and here's the key...whatever he decides happens, that's what happens. No rolling for them to spot the character on the way out, for instance...that says to the player, "Ha ha, looked like a real choice, but now I get to roll dice until I pull the rug out from under your character. Turns out you have to fight!" No, if he goes to get backup, have that become a conflict or something, which, upon winning, means that they come back and clean up. No, no having the bad guys "get away" while he was off getting the backup. He gets the backup, they mop up the bad guys, and he gets his info. Very, very important, the player's choice leads to them getting the info.

This is a really tough thing with OTE; you've already admitted it. The desire to reveal the secrets of Al Amarja and your plot to the players one at a time. I should know, I fell into that trap, and, well, didn't go well at all. The people of Al Amarja have secrets, sure. Your job as GM is to get them as much information about it as you can, as fast as you can. Every NPC, rather than being hard to persuade to give info, turns out to need something from the PC. Oh, they might make the PC pay unless he can do a contest or something. But they do not hold out.

And lastly, keep this in mind...Al Amarja exists not to entertain the players with it's mysteries revealed, either. You're not rushing to give them this data just to reveal more. Al Amarja exists to highlight in broad strokes the issues that the characters have. Work off of the character's motives, and their secret. By the end of next session, see if you can reveal everybody's dark secret. Then see if you can resolve each of the character's stories by the end of the session after that.

No, really.

One thing the authors don't mention is that OTE is crap for long-term play. Not because there isn't enough background to continue to make things happen ad infinitum. But because what interests the player about their characters only takes a couple of sessions to play out. Oh, sure, you can make it take longer, but why? If you want to introduce your players to metagame playing, introduce them to the idea of planning to end their character's story. Say, "Hey, next session will be it for the game. Let's be sure to wrap up everyone's story, OK? That's my goal."

Yeah, I know, it'll shock them. See the rant. It's shock treatment for this group, or play-as-usual for the foreseeable future.

Mike
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2006, 05:43:53 PM »

Mike,

Ok, it's taken me awhile to work it all up, but here's a point-by-point response to your last post:

Quote
One other thing, we had a killer session last time with everyone involved and engaged and digging what was going down, and actually managed to get through a fair amount of play. We all had a talk a few weeks ago about politeness and paying attention and keeping distractions/kibbitzing to a minimum, and it seems to have worked surprisingly well. So the huge-player-group thing is still an issue, but not as bad as could be.
See, and I'm reading it thinking, gee, this is a symptom of the problem.

You want players to metagame - if I read you right, that's what you're after. If you tell them to be quite when it's not their turn, not to kibbitz, then you're informing them that they're not participating in those scenes in which they don't have a character, and, in turn, that the way to make decisions about their character is not what's entertaining to others (how could they know?), but "what the character would do." In fact, this is precisely the problem with your group size. If you're to get anything done, you have to take turns, when what you really want is for all four participants at the table to be talking all the time, especially when their character is not in the scene!

Well, I'm not sure I represented the situation well. . .it's not that we've put a kibosh on all kibbitzing, period, just asked for a cut down, and general respect; when someone is trying to address the group, narrate a scene or action, or whatever, listen to him, don't talk over him, treat others how you'd like to be treated. And that's what's happened the last couple of game nights. People are still goofing off and having fun, just. . .respectfully. And in a manner that says, "I'm interested and engaged in what's going on, even other people's input." Yes, the huge group thing is still a problem, and there's a tremendous amount of social gymnastics involved that wouldn't be needed with half the size. But we've got some basic respect issues hammered out.

Did you note on Teusday night how I was trying to strike up more player banter and get to know some of the players in the IRC game? I have a confession...I haven't been reading the other players' scenes. I'm just not interested. Why? Because not only don't they involve my character, but I don't know the players, and don't get any feedback from them at all on what's going on in my scenes. I would expect, in fact, that y'all haven't been reading my play, either, and that we're all, essentially, playing three separate games.

Because the only way that we can get to the point where we're playing not just for "what my character would do," but instead for "what would the players find entertaining," is for us all to have some inkling of what's entertaining to the other players.

Yeah, I noticed what you were doing, and I agree, we need to get to know each other more. I personally find it hard to do that in the chat format, though I've tried to enter into and initiate banter, small talk, etc. It doesnt help that we ARE separate in the game. You haven't exactly been subtle, either--"Fred, frame me to the city!" :) But I digress. Fact is I couldn't agree more, and this IS me trying to figure out more concretely what is entertaining to the other players. I can buy that I'm doing it clumslily and need to improve, but that IS my goal.

Here's the thing...your group has a method of play that's ingrained in the social situation (I may be wildly speculating here again, so correct me where I'm wrong). But it's habit for everyone to come over together at the same time and maybe even place every week or so? And then it's "play the game we've all agreed is going to be run"? Right? If you want to alter that, change the social situation. Pick a different night of the week, and have the game at your place instead of at Joebob's. Then announce this new game is additional to the weekly game, and that you're looking for it to be like X, and then ask who's interested in playing. Tell them you can only take 4 players max and that if more want to play than your quota, that you'll be doing a lottery to see who gets to play.

You know, this is exactly what i'm planning on doing when I start up my Heroquest game. Partly just because things ARE so crowded on Friday nights, and partly. . .because yeah, we need to break out of our cycle. Or at least I do. I hadn't thought of the lottery thing, but you're right that we will need SOME way to determine who gets to play if too many want to.

Leave that game to what people expect it to be. Is it fair that you alone get the game you want at the sacrifice of this way of gaming that everyone seems to enjoy so much?

That's certainly not what I want to do. I recognize the danger in being too demanding in that regard, but I'm trying more to present a way of playing and say, "how who finds that fun?" It's a question I'm asking implicitly, in just playing and seeing how it grapbs people, AND explicitly, by soliciting feedback.

Note that you're the one being judgmental on how they play. I think it sounds like they're doing fine. You want something else...fine, I probably would too. But that's a far cry from indicting how they're playing. You need to play both ways. . .Or just suck it up...it doesn't sound too bad to me.

I kind of feel like there are two ways to answer this topic. One is to say that there's a lot of behavior in the group, some just of the "unfun for me" variety, and some flat-out dysfunctional, which is aggravating, which is impossible to cover thoroughly here. The OTHER is to hasten to point out that I DO find some of the group's play fun, and enjoy a lot about some players' roleplay styles and creative contributions, so if I sound all doom 'n gloom that's not an accurate picture. And both answers are true. Also, the play you've seen me describe is play that is finally starting to cook, by my standards, even the problematic stuff, so that's another reason you may not be getting a full picture of what frustrates me in the group.

As for retooling OTE...it's pretty light. By the time you get done with it, it'll be something unrecognizable. I really suggest a totally different system. Might be easier than coming up with a workable hack. OTOH, it strikes me that you could simply have players give each other bonus dice for things they like the other character doing. In any case, just drop the idea of character "advancement." Just doesn't fit OTE. Character development, yes. Advancement, no.

Well, my retooling is merely focused on jazzing up the reward system. My efforts so far are detailed here.

I try to be specific. "Let's forget about your character for a second, what would you, Collen my player, like to see?" Here's one that I use a lot, "What you know that your character doesn't know, is that there's a ferocious man-eating lion on the other side of door number three."

That's a potent tactic - actually force a separation of player and character knowledge, and then expect them to make a decision acting with that knowledge. No, of course not something implausible ("my character shoots the lion through the door.") But both plausible and entertaining like, "Given the baboon in the other room, I approach the door cautiously with my knife at the ready, prepared for anything except a lion."

Damn, that's cool. I'll have to remember that both for GMing, and for future dialogue with the players about metagame. I think a grasp of that concept could realy take the edge off of the "only act on in-character knowledge" paranoia.

And, like so much in this discussion, it really goes back to trust issues. . .why is everyone so afraid of "out-of-character kowledge?" Well, because it HAS been abused before, and often. And OtE doesn't help with its "this is your secret, guard it jealously" type advice.

If turtling is allowed, in fact, it's probably Abused Player Syndrome, players used to the GM manipulating them into playing through a plot in a certain way. That's an issue I can't help you with, the only way to deal with it is to play the way I'm saying, and hope that the player can learn to trust you again.

Yes, as I said, trust issues. It'd be nice to think that I'm blameless in this, but I really can't say that's true. In my case I think it's been less railroading toward "playing through a plot in a certain way" (though I have been guilty of the old "no, you can't kill or capture my villain yet, he escapes, ha-HA!" tack), and more "Oh shit, I can't think of what should come next or what the payoff would be, I'll just stall and defer any real resolution" So constant lack of payoff for the players, of course. In fact, when I announced my desire to reform play to the group, I fessed up to this stalling and promised to be more generous and actually make with the resolution of personal issues/storylines. Which I think i've been doing pretty well with so far, in that "have-to-juggle-between-nine-players" sort of way. I will say that while I've played with him over the years, I've never actually GMed for Joe before, so I can't claim responsibility for his specific scarring. As for the group as a whole, I'd say I can infer from gaming behavior some scattered bits of scarring that I probably bear some part in, but its not pervasive throughout the group. I've gotten feedback from at least one person who found joe's turtling as perplexing and story-killing as I, though as I mentioned at the beginning, there were two pollees who defended it.

But the key is to leave the player understanding that they do have a new set of choices. For instance, let's say for a moment that we're fine with the player turtling potentially, and want to leave that as an option for the player, not take it away. OK, fine. . .

The player may, if they really wish, walk away from this scene and turtle up. But it'd have to be a player who was really scared of engaging to actually do this. Given the situation above, the player has so many fun options that it's hard to imagine them not selecting one. . .

Then, and here's the key...whatever he decides happens, that's what happens.

This is a great idea. In elegant way to prevent any feeling of bullying, and ensuring that any fun option the player chooses is truly his own. And you're damn right that building and keeping trust will depend on my giving players the payoff for their decisions.

This is a really tough thing with OTE; you've already admitted it. The desire to reveal the secrets of Al Amarja and your plot to the players one at a time. I should know, I fell into that trap, and, well, didn't go well at all. The people of Al Amarja have secrets, sure. Your job as GM is to get them as much information about it as you can, as fast as you can. Every NPC, rather than being hard to persuade to give info, turns out to need something from the PC. Oh, they might make the PC pay unless he can do a contest or something. But they do not hold out.

yeah, the slow build philosophy of OtE is a killer, alright. I'm starting tolearn that it works much better to give things out in big chunks. If only I could go back in time and run this campaign completely differently. . .

And lastly, keep this in mind...Al Amarja exists not to entertain the players with it's mysteries revealed, either. You're not rushing to give them this data just to reveal more. Al Amarja exists to highlight in broad strokes the issues that the characters have. Work off of the character's motives, and their secret. By the end of next session, see if you can reveal everybody's dark secret. Then see if you can resolve each of the character's stories by the end of the session after that.

No, really.

One thing the authors don't mention is that OTE is crap for long-term play. Not because there isn't enough background to continue to make things happen ad infinitum. But because what interests the player about their characters only takes a couple of sessions to play out. Oh, sure, you can make it take longer, but why? If you want to introduce your players to metagame playing, introduce them to the idea of planning to end their character's story. Say, "Hey, next session will be it for the game. Let's be sure to wrap up everyone's story, OK? That's my goal."

Yeah, I know, it'll shock them. See the rant. It's shock treatment for this group, or play-as-usual for the foreseeable future.

OK, this is of course, the big bombshell, and I'd like to focus in on it. First, when you said, "OTE is crap for long-term play," a lightning bolt struck my brain. Yes, YES, damn right, I said. I'd never really seen it before. But it fits in with all my observations about both the game text and my game personally, and explains a lot about why things are unsatisfying. And everyone in my group who I've mentioned this too has been, like, yeah, absolutely right. One person actually suggested that it would be cool to play a "long-term campaign, short-term characters" kind of game with rotating PCs, the PCs whose major issues are resolved (non-lethally, one presumes) becoming important NPCs for later, and the like. Which I find terribly exciting and wish I'd thought of it 7 years ago. If I ever decide to revisit OtE, I think that's the way to go.

Anyway, that said, I have reservations withyour suggestion. At least the specific timetable. I right with you on "getting to the point," with characters' personal conflicts and story arcs, but I think "2 sessions" would simply be too abrupt for some PCs' arcs. Certainly some PCs, esp. most of the older ones, could rwap up quite nicely quite soon. But some of the newer ones, it'd be like, "you step off the plane, you meet some friends, you find your father, you resolve your relationship with him, you're home in a week." I think with 9 people especially, it's going to feel forced to put them all on so specific a timeframe.

Also, I'll add that I have a hard time thinking, mainly because of the terrible slowdown caused by the bloated group, of a single night of gaming as a "session." When figuring things like "exp. dice refresh every session," I tend to look more for a 'stopping point," like the end of the characters' "day" or the resolution of a particularly involved scene. We've recently arrived at a rotation system betwen myself and Colleen, the other main GM, running my game 4 weeks, then one of hers 4 weeks, etc. I think I'd be willing to project an end for the series within 2 or 3 rotations, which is a lot of real-world time. . .but ione of the reasons I'm not just quitting the game outright is that i feel we've got a lot of great potential built up and I want to do that potential justicebefore putting the game to bed.

I was talking about all this with the group at one point Friday night (not the specific "we're ending in X sessions, plan for that" announcment you reccommended, just general discussion of the idea of wrapping upstories quickly), and some people seemed pretty cool with it. On the other hand, there were a couple of worried reactions, most notably from Colleen. She said that if I was going to end the game within 2-3 rotations, that was fine, but she would NOT want her character's story to be resolved that quickly, it'd feel to abrupt and neat and tidy to her, and she'd rather resolve perhaps some of the immediate issues and leave the others. She even said she'd rather see her character abruptly killed off than see her storyresolved in that timeframe.

I'd say part of the problem is that, as I told her, Ai'li's never really been an Over the Edge character; rather she's the protagonist for this huge sprawling novel (series of novels, actually) that Coleen's had in her head for years, and when she imported her to Al Amarja all those years ago, she came saddled with a huge load of situation--backstory, supporting characters, intricate organizations, ties to real-world geopolitics, etc. I bear no ill will for Ai'li being as she is; if I could go back in time I'd have a very different character creation talk with Colleen and make Ai'li more manageable, but the fact is, I allowed everything and I'm stuck with it. one of the things I'm stuck with is that Ai'li has loads of connections to the regular OtE cast of characters and organizations, PLUS this huge labyrinth of personal backstory that I find difficult to manage. And given my aforementioned stalling tactics. . .Ai'li is a "founding" character in the campaign, but has way more stuff to resolve than anyone else.

And whatever the causes, I think it just goes to show that pacing for the resolution of PCs' stories is more individual. So yes, absolutely, be generous with the info, hammer on issues, waste no time, but I'd feel uncomfortable saying "OK, everybody resolve by this date." Does that make sense?

I have one more week in my "rotation," in which I hope to resolve a huge brouhaha that's been running for 2 of the rotation's three sessions (case in point regarding our group's pacing). I think I'll run through the next rotation, and see if I feel any differently about this issue then. At the very least, I should have a better idea of thew question of "when to end?" even if the answer isn't "right away."

Peace,
Joel
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #12 on: August 08, 2006, 08:02:59 AM »

I think you're on the right track. The "next session" idea was for shock value to an extent - though to be clear, one-session games work fine in many cases (I run fully satisfying demos of HQ in 3 hours or less at times). The point is that the only reason why people are worried is expectations. Put another way, if you start to really converge on their character's issues, and do it well (leaving it open for how they'll resolve it), then I think they'll see the light at the end of the tunnel, too.

It's more important to be thinking about ending the game than about when. Don't let it drag on forever, however, do put some pressure to get things resolved.

Mike
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dunlaing
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Posts: 308

My name is Bill


« Reply #13 on: August 08, 2006, 11:02:14 AM »

Sometimes when I show up for gaming, I'm not that into it. Maybe I had a hard day at work, maybe I'm just lacking energy, whatever. Those days, I don't put as much of myself into the game and if I had stuff planned with just one other player and he didn't show up, I'd be happy to sit back and just hang out with my friends. As long as that's not most times, I don't think it's a problem.

Other times, I get really hung up on something I'm planning to have happen. For example, I was really looking forward to the opening scene of a recent Dogs in the Vineyard game being Nate's Dog exhuming the rest of the group's Dogs. When Nate wasn't able to make it the next week, I was actually glad that the session ended up being cancelled, because I didn't want to get past that scene. I wanted to have that scene. If I were in that sort of mode, I would definitely resist having the story move past the scene, and then resent it enough not to want to invest any effort into what happens next.

I don't know if either of those things might have been a factor here, but they are possibilities to think about.
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