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Author Topic: The Orchestra Metaphor  (Read 3608 times)
jburneko
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« on: June 13, 2001, 12:46:00 PM »

I don't know if this belongs down in the Sorcerer Forum or up in the G/N/S Forum so I thought I would comprimise and post it here.

Ron has often talked about the band metaphor and how he envisions the GM as the bass player.  I have often thought that this does not sound like how I play but Ron's alternative depiction is the GM as the owner of a big MOOG Synthesiser and the players the owners of penny whistles.  And this is NOT how I see my games either.  So I thought about it.  I thought about it.  And I thought about it some more and then I realized that my group is not a band; we're an orchestra.

The players are the musicians.  The GM is the conductor.  And a preplaned adventure?  The sheet music.  That is what has really irked me about Ron's band metaphor particularly when he talks about the guy who buys an instrument and learns how to play the chords but then doesn't know what to do.  That's what sheet music is for.  I hate to say this but Ron's metaphor seems really insulting to the very talented piano players and flute players and violin players who only ever play from sheet music.  Are they less talented than the free-style jazz artist?  (By the way I HATE free-style jazz.  It is an unorganized cocophonous din with no rhyme or reason as far as I'm concerned.)

There's a reason that music collectors go out of their way to find a specific recording of Vivaldi's Four Seasons.  Sure the melody's the same every time but the Conductor and the soloists have a HUGE impact on the feeling, style, nature and effect of the piece.

You can take a Call of Cthulhu adventure and hand it to three GMs and each one is going to choose to emphasize and demphasize certain parts.  Each one is going to pace the adventure a little differently.  Just like a Conductor chooses to emphasize and demphasize certain parts of a symphony and controls the tempo, the crecendos and decrecendos.

You can take that same Call of Cthulhu adventure and run it with three different groups of players.  Those players will make different decisions.  Each individual player will bring something unique to the piece.  Just as the musician in the orchestra brings her own passions and flavors to the melodies of Vivaldi so does the player bring their own passions and flavors to the plot of a Cthulhu adventure.

Now the only difference between a GM who uses published adventures and the GM who writes their own is the same difference between a Conductor who works with Vivaldi and the Conductor who works with an original composion of his own.

Yeah, I'm not the bass player of jam-session.  I'm the Conductor of a well tuned ochestra.

Jesse
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: June 13, 2001, 12:54:00 PM »

Crazy Simulationist.

Oh, wait, that's me too.  :wink:
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Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #2 on: June 13, 2001, 12:57:00 PM »

Of course, it's just a metaphor...trying to squeeze every aspect of reality into it is like...

(well, you can probably guess what I'm gonna say)

The bass player is the conductor as far as I'm concerned.  And you can play in a jazz/rock/swing/country band and read sheet music...

So it sounds like your objection to the metaphor has less to do with its validity and more to do with your perception as free-form improv as a "cacaphonous din."

Me?  I'm the metal guy.

MEEEEETTTTAAAAALLLL!!!!

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: June 13, 2001, 01:02:00 PM »

Jesse,

I'm with you on this one. I fully endorse your orchestra metaphor, and have never denied that it was possible.

My only ... LITTLE ... quibble is that role-playing orchestras show a distressing tendency to transform, ever so slowly, into the Moog + pennywhistles over time. If you have hit that perfect combo of approach and people such that this doesn't happen, then more power to you.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #4 on: June 13, 2001, 01:32:00 PM »

Quote

My only ... LITTLE ... quibble is that role-playing orchestras show a distressing tendency to transform, ever so slowly, into the Moog + pennywhistles over time.


I think you're absolutely right.  Although I feel in my personal experience I went the other way.  I started out with the MOOG Synthesiser and evolved into the orchestra.  I have some pretty headstrong players who want their free-will and the right to play their parts their way and that's what the orchestra is all about.

Jesse
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ConfigSys.boy
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« Reply #5 on: June 14, 2001, 05:27:00 AM »

Fascinating that you should mention this metaphor.  I've always envisioned true narrative style colaboration to be sort of like a Jazz ensemble.  In fact theres an article to that effect over at my community's little home on the web at http://www.tribesroleplayers.com" target="_blank">TribesRoleplayers.com.

Anyone interested in reading the entire piece feel free to drop by and http://www.tsayadin.com/cgi-bin/viewnews.cgi?category=3&id=971565730" target="_blank">take a look at it.
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"The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the [young reader], and he cannot know what is being done to him."
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: June 15, 2001, 08:03:00 AM »

Jesse,

Now I'm confused by your position. On the one hand, you are describing an orchestra situation with specific contrast to a blues/rock band, with special reference to sheet music.

That means - it MUST mean - that individual contributions or variations for orchestra members are limited in a particular way. The "story" in the most general sense (what happens in the game) is not going to be altered except in terms of personal style - interpretation of one's established part, if you will.

[Please do not misunderstand, anyone. I am not saying that my "band" mode is free from constraint, which would be stupid. Nor am I saying that any orchestra will produce exactly the same result from a given piece of sheet music. I'm making a valid point to Jesse and do NOT want to get sidetracked by these or other invalid, pseudo-points.]

The "orchestra" metaphor relies on everyone's commitment to the sheet music. Individual interpretation is fine, but it is only nuance. Take a solid, traditional run of Call of Cthulhu, for instance. In one play session, someone plays Prof. McGillicuddy, who says "Jeepers" and forgets his hat; in another, someone plays Mrs. Annette Bollingswether, widow librarian, who sniffs prissily and says "Heavens" a lot. But in each case, you have "the library PC" whose job is to look stuff up at crucial moments during play. Failure to do so would be very irritating to the other players; you'd be falling down on your job as (say) clarinetist.

[Do not interpret the above paragraph as contemptuous. This is how that particular game is played. That is factual. This is also a very fine, well-established mode of role-playing.]

So here's what confuses me:
"I have some pretty headstrong players who want their free-will and the right to play their parts their way and that's what the orchestra is all about."

This looks to me like having your cake and eating it too. How in the world can the players doing as they please be "what the orchestra is all about"? If by "doing as you please" you mean the difference between Prof. McGillicuddy and Mrs. Bollingswether, then fine - that works. But it is flatly impossible to extend this "as they please" to the level of contribution in which the players are co-authors.

In the orchestra, the following are possible:
1) for the GM, practice Illusionism - the scenario mode of branched adventure, using social cues and good prep to ensure that everything turns out, or at least sets up, "the right way"
2) for the players, limit contributions to the "personal interpretation" level - and to accept the GM's cues and presented material to define the scope and subject of play, scene by scene, run by run.

These solutions are, as far as I can tell, very widespread and may represent "role-playing" in its entirety to many, many people in the hobby.

But if you go into the modes of play in which the story is ABOUT the protagonists, and RELIES on the players taking much Author responsibility, in which there are chords and a shared notion of the the song, but no sheet music ... then you aren't in an orchestra.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: June 15, 2001, 08:05:00 AM »

Hey Config.sys,

I believe that the Chaosium folks were the first to analogize role-playing to free-form jazz, in one of the later versions of RuneQuest.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #8 on: June 15, 2001, 08:46:00 AM »

Quote

So here's what confuses me:
"I have some pretty headstrong players who want their free-will and the right to play their parts their way and that's what the orchestra is all about."


What I mean is Free-Will FOR THEIR CHARACTER.  The best example of this is in my current D&D Game.  I have a friend who plays Paladins perfectly.  He refuses to Lie, Cheat or Steal from ANYONE, including Villains.  Now, my campaign includes some encounters that basically require theft.  He won't do it.  Even better if he finds out what the OTHER players are up to he will try to stop them, going almost as far as to out and out attack them.

That's fine.  I won't stop him.  All I care about is that the players get the item in question.  I might plan the adventure as a break-and-enter-steal-the-object adventure and if the players can circumnavigate that that's fine.

They can't do this by adding elements to the world.  In other words in my current D&D game they don't have any Directorial Power. Authorial Power is limited.  I do let them talk out of character and plan as group and consider the rules and so forth but all actual INPUT into the game world must come from ACTOR stance.

The only understanding that the players and I have is that there IS an overaching plot and there will be BIG huge arrows pointing that say 'Go This Way.'  But I've done a lot of work in giving them good reasons for their characters to follow those arrows.

What I'm saying is that yes, I have preplanned encounters.  And a lot of the those encounters have preplanned outcomes.  But HOW the players get from encounter to outcome is all up to them.

I recently bought Call of Cthulhu and have been reading the scenarios.  I think they are AWESOME.  They have some of the best pacing for horror scenarios I have ever seen!  I was getting scared just reading them and knowing what the hell is going on.

And if *I* were running the game and the players decided to march on in to the haunted house without doing any reseach I'd let them.  And if they chose to fight a monster despite all the clues that said you should do a ritual, I'd let them.

The point is I let the CHARACTERS do whatever the hell they want.  In my planning I've learned to second guess the players behavior and plan accordingly.  I don't plan a D&D game that relies on theft without at least an eye towards my paladin doing something else.

In my orchestra the sheet music tells you about locations.  The sheet music tells you about the contents of those locations.  The sheet music tells you about pacing and direction.  The sheet music tells you what clues mean and where they should lead to.

In my current D&D symphony the Sheet Music says:
The players will travel from their hometown to the city of Conria
The players will retrieve 5 artifacts that will bring about the return of 'the council'
The players will defeat 'the council' when they realized they've been tricked by an evil ruler.

Those are pretty broad strokes and I have WAY MORE detail than that planned but it gives you the idea.

So if letting my Paladin choose honesty over lying is the same nuance as "Jeepers" vs. "Heavens" then yes, that's what I'm talking about.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #9 on: June 15, 2001, 09:13:00 AM »

Hey Jesse,

Yeah, I think that the "Jeepers/Heavens" and the lying/honesty are in the same realm, insofar as they are both still "nuances" within the larger framework of the GM's take on what Must Happen.

That might sound a little odd, as if I were trivializing the decisions and character-play of your group. I'm not doing that. It's clear from your description that such decisions are NUANCES, not AUTHORING. Orchestra for sure.

I'm not surprised that you're pleased by the C of C scenarios; these and Pendragon's are the very best of the "orchestral" model of role-playing. (Close second: some of the Champions modules from the late 80s)

This mode is so damn tricky though! I was fuckin' expert at it - played Champions with a "writing a comic" mentality for years and years, using exactly the philosophy you describe. I am convinced that it only works if you have a group that creatively subordinates itself to the GM. This is not derogatory - that "if" is a real possibility, and the "subordinates" is a statement of fact, not a value judgment. You'll get great orchestral music that way ... but as I said, it teeters perilously close to the Moog + pennywhistles, and in my experience, the GM may often be happily thinking he is conducting the orchestra while the players get more and more dissatisfied with their whistles ...

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #10 on: June 15, 2001, 10:41:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-06-15 13:13, Ron Edwards wrote:

That might sound a little odd, as if I were trivializing the decisions and character-play of your group. I'm not doing that. It's clear from your description that such decisions are NUANCES, not AUTHORING. Orchestra for sure.


Uh, Oh, Ron you've triggered PHILOSOPHY MODE, brace yourself.  I don't think you're necessarily trivializing our mode of play but I think in some sense you're trivializing the power we hold over our own lives.  Think about.

Many times you've said things like, 'I blelieve without co-authoring and directorial power given to the players then the story can't be about those characters.'  But think about it.  In reality we're all constrained to actor stance.  Is the story of my life not about me?

I am still the hero of my own story.  I'm in a very wonderful relationship at the moment.  From my perspective my girlfriend is an NPC.  The very fact that I met her was controled by the GM of this universe whether that be some spiritual entity or just the random physical nature of the universe.  The fact that I chose to flirt with her instead of NOT flirt with her had a profound impact on the story of my life.  I didn't place her in my story using directorial power.  I didn't dictate her response to my flirting through authorial power.  The GM did, whatever that may be.  But the point is, my decision effected the course of my story.

I am, by nature, constrained to an actor stance and yet the story is still about me.

Where I think you and I COMPLETELY agree is that players MUST feel as though they have an impact on the game.  The MOOG-pennywhistle comes into play when NO MATTER what the players do nothing changes, AT ALL.  The less impact they have the bigger the MOOG and the smaller the pennywhistle.
But with a skilled enough GM the players can have TREMENDOUS impact on the story from actor-stance alone.  It just requires a GM to think through the consequences of player actions.

Again, I come to my current D&D Campaign.  A while back the players were captured by pirates.  I had intended the pirates to subdue the players, take their weapons and armor and lock them up in the base for use as slaves.  Unfortunately for me the players did some clever tactical moves and one unlucky die roll later all the pirate were locked up safely in the brig.  The players forced the first mate to sail the ship on to Conria.  The players circumnavigated the entire adventure.  Not a problem.  As I said I'm prepared for this kind of thing.

But it gets even better.  You see the pirates have something the players are going to need later.  They've turned the pirates over the authorities.  When they find out that the Captain knows a certain VITAL piece of information it will just happen to correspond with the same day as the pirates' execution so the players will have to rescue the very pirates they turned over to the authorities in order to succeed in the their endeavors.

So you see the players' actor-stance decisions have a PROFOUND impact on the course of the story events.  I consider the players past actions and I project the consequences forward and change some of the story elements accordingly.  The OVERALL effect is the same because unlike real life (unless you're determinist) I have a unified vision BUT the players STILL have an impact on the game world and events because their decisions have logical consequences and it's the GMs responsibility to take those into account.

What I'm talking about here is that paragraph at the end of every Call of Cthulhu adventure that everyone seems to ignore.  The one that says things like: 'The players may have to explain to their bosses why they've been missing work for a week.' and such.

I absolutely agree that players MUST have an impact on the events in a game or the game isn't about them but I think there is MORE power in ACTOR stance than you give it credit for.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #11 on: June 15, 2001, 10:54:00 AM »

Hi Jesse,

Well, as long as we're in philosophy mode, I'll suggest that we have very different notions about life and stories.

I do not consider lives to be stories.

OK, philosophy mode is over. I'm not interested in debating such things further on the internet, so we can carry on about this through private e-mail, or by phone.

Back to reality (i.e. role-playing), I think we've clarified one another's positions pretty well. Looking over the thread, I'm satisfied.

Best,
Ron
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ConfigSys.boy
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« Reply #12 on: June 15, 2001, 10:57:00 PM »

Ron:

'Never said it was an original idea, was just commenting on it as a common train of thought.  And yes, I'd seen the Chaosium take on Roleplaying as Jazz before I'd codified any written commentary on it but after the idea had dawned on me to begin with.  I still think its a metaphor worth further development//refinement and can be used effectively to introduce folks to the narrative style of third generation roleplaying who might otherwise be put off by or confused over the free form and less rigidly structured world of collaborative storying in opposition to their traditional RP experiences.

Thanks!

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"The authors themselves, I suspect, hardly know what they are doing to the [young reader], and he cannot know what is being done to him."
 -C. S. Lewis
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