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Author Topic: Bangs&Illusionism - in which Ron beats down Confusion  (Read 21771 times)
Josh Roby
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« on: October 02, 2006, 10:36:42 AM »

This is a spin-off of the story-games thread Explain to me how Bangs are not warmed-over Illusionism.  Ron asked for some Actual Play.

Dogs in the Vineyard
Jesse's character Sebastian is the sole surviving member of his team (it was a solo game), and we're about to start in on the last town on his route.  I frame the opening scene as him coming into the cultivated lands around the town, ask him if he's mounted, he says no, and describe him coming down the path with a farmhouse looming above him to the right.  Just as he's beneath it, the window shatters and a man comes crashing down to the ground.  It's Henry, a relationship from Jesse's sheet.  This is, I'm pretty certain, a bang; I used some pretty potent GM Force in determining where Jesse was and when.  If I hadn't done that, I couldn't have used the bang.

Full Light, Full Steam
Laura and Ben are playing Gwendolyn and Preston in a small escort ship.  They've flown down into an asteroid mining facility and rescued an MP that was stranded there.  He says that pirates took over the asteroid and there are many civilian miners and colonists within.  The PCs get him on board and fly back out the tunnel to open space.  When they get there, the battered pirate dreadnought, much larger than them, is looming above.  Do they run, fight, sneak, retreat, et cetera?  What about the colonists inside?  Is it more important to get the word out that there are active pirates or to immediately help the miners?  As the GM, I put up only token opposition getting in, and saved the dreadnought's return for when they would want to get out.  I threw a member of parliament high-up muckety-muck and some low-born miners at them to hit their thematic batteries (Preston's Ambitious and Gwendolyn's Cockney, IIRC) and make the decision difficult.  Is all of that not Force?

The Shadow of Yesterday
Judson's GMing (or SGing, whatever).  I'm playing a goblin with the Key of Glittering Gold.  He has me investigating a ruin and falling into a fabulous pit of treasure.  I find my way out only to find that it is, in fact, the treasure-stash of a crazy tribal emperor guy.  Said crazy emperor then hits my Key of Renown by asking my character to be his emissary to the civilized lands to the east.  Do I serve the guy and get respected for my exalted rank and place?  Do I sneak his glittering gold out from under his nose?  Do I do both?  Judson dumped me into the treasure pit in the opening scene and then used a number of gentle nudges to get the PCs to an interview with the crazy tribal emporer guy.  As a player, I had some big difficulties overcoming the place that he'd put me, because it wasn't where I had originally seen my character going at all.  The bang was a potent double-bind, and very effective, but couldn't have happened without Judson's positioning.  Was that not GM Force?

So, to recap the question, I don't have a problem with bangs at all and think they're spiffykeen.  What I am wondering at, however, if the GM needs to apply some measure of Force in order to get to the interesting bits of the bangs.  Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game?  Is bang-structure advocating short bursts of illusionism to get to the very non-predetermined decisions that the PCs make in the bangs?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: October 02, 2006, 11:43:49 AM »

Hi Joshua,

I'd like my discussion here to take into account my final two posts in the Story Games thread as well.

As a general answer, I suggest the 2001 thread Scene framing. If I recall correctly, Jesse and I took the rest of his questions to private email (that was part of about a year and a half of aggrieved emails from him that I like to call "the long dark night of Jesse Burneko"), but the basic answer satisfied his first question. See also Is this Forcing? although I caution you to focus on my posts, as some folks got themselves awfully tightly wrapped in that thread.

As you can see, the core concept of whether Force is involved (the first discussion pre-dated the term) is a matter of authority over characters in the context of a situation. Who gets situational authority? Well, characters are part of situations, so when it comes to transitions and confrontations, in many cases the player necessarily has authority as well as the GM. That's why this whole business of I-play-world, you-play-character ultimately breaks down. I mean, it would be nice if we had some telepathic way of having every situational feature introduced by the GM accord perfectly with every character-based feature expected by the player, but we don't. It has to come down to a shared and fully-consistent understanding among the people involved as to how this will be done.

So let's say we're playing a game, like Space Rat, in which it's frankly more fun for the GM to have buckets of situational authority. When we played, the players liked being aggressively popped into unexpected situations, in part because the reward system is so tightly integrated with the resolution system. So the more to resolve, the better. Is this, then, Force? Nope. The players and the GM are 100% in accord with such framing; they've said, "Do it unto me, GM-baby!" and I do ... but I still double-check as we go, just like in the shower example in the first thread I linked to. They know they can override such a framing-device if there's something they wanted the femme babe to do before such an event. And I know they can, and I agree to abide by that. Hence no Force.

Quote
Dogs in the Vineyard
Jesse's character Sebastian is the sole surviving member of his team (it was a solo game), and we're about to start in on the last town on his route. I frame the opening scene as him coming into the cultivated lands around the town, ask him if he's mounted, he says no, and describe him coming down the path with a farmhouse looming above him to the right. Just as he's beneath it, the window shatters and a man comes crashing down to the ground. It's Henry, a relationship from Jesse's sheet. This is, I'm pretty certain, a bang; I used some pretty potent GM Force in determining where Jesse was and when. If I hadn't done that, I couldn't have used the bang.

No Force. I see no Force. You framed a scene. It's like my shower example. There was no imaginable reason why he wouldn't be walking down that path and go by a house. You took no decision away from Jesse. He has already committed to the fact that his Dog has entered the town and is walking through, and he's looking at you with some interest in what might or might not happen. He is saying to you, "I'll keep walkin' until you place me where you'd like." I see full consensus and a fully functional awareness that "I play my character / you play the world" is a false construct.

Quote
Full Light, Full Steam
Laura and Ben are playing Gwendolyn and Preston in a small escort ship. They've flown down into an asteroid mining facility and rescued an MP that was stranded there. He says that pirates took over the asteroid and there are many civilian miners and colonists within. The PCs get him on board and fly back out the tunnel to open space. When they get there, the battered pirate dreadnought, much larger than them, is looming above. Do they run, fight, sneak, retreat, et cetera? What about the colonists inside? Is it more important to get the word out that there are active pirates or to immediately help the miners? As the GM, I put up only token opposition getting in, and saved the dreadnought's return for when they would want to get out. I threw a member of parliament high-up muckety-muck and some low-born miners at them to hit their thematic batteries (Preston's Ambitious and Gwendolyn's Cockney, IIRC) and make the decision difficult. Is all of that not Force?

None of that is Force. You seem to think that any contribution to the imagined situation from the GM is Force. I have no idea why you think that. I don't even know what to say in the face of such a perception. It's like someone holding up a puppy and saying "see? my sea urchin!" I can't even point you to the Glossary ... if you read that and still want to talk about sea urchins while proffering your puppy, I can only stare.

Maybe this will help. "The dragon wakes up! He attacks!" is not Force. Can you tell me why not, on the basis of my definition in the Glossary?

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The Shadow of Yesterday
Judson's GMing (or SGing, whatever). I'm playing a goblin with the Key of Glittering Gold. He has me investigating a ruin and falling into a fabulous pit of treasure. I find my way out only to find that it is, in fact, the treasure-stash of a crazy tribal emperor guy. Said crazy emperor then hits my Key of Renown by asking my character to be his emissary to the civilized lands to the east. Do I serve the guy and get respected for my exalted rank and place? Do I sneak his glittering gold out from under his nose? Do I do both? Judson dumped me into the treasure pit in the opening scene and then used a number of gentle nudges to get the PCs to an interview with the crazy tribal emporer guy. As a player, I had some big difficulties overcoming the place that he'd put me, because it wasn't where I had originally seen my character going at all. The bang was a potent double-bind, and very effective, but couldn't have happened without Judson's positioning. Was that not GM Force?

It's only Force if it broke the contract between you and the GM about what key decisions were to be made by your character. The content of those "gentle nudges" should be examined closely with one key variable in mind. It is: if getting you into that situation overrode any opportunity for you to make key decisions, such as what you might have liked to do at some point along the way (I dunno, curled up into a goblin ball and dribbled yourself, whatever), then Force was involved. If it didn't, and you were essentially in the same situation as the Dog walking through town (I'm in the pit? Cool. OK, this is the way out? Cool. Oooh! Scary guy!), then no Force was involved.

Notice this has nothing to do with the content of the Bang itself, when it arrived. The Bang rattled you. That's nifty, like my example about the homeless weirdo Sorcerer character in the parent thread. Good job on his part and I hope you rolled with it and had fun too. But you still had every authority over what your goblin would actually do, right? If so ... then no Force.

Quote
So, to recap the question, I don't have a problem with bangs at all and think they're spiffykeen. What I am wondering at, however, if the GM needs to apply some measure of Force in order to get to the interesting bits of the bangs.

Stop right there. You are describing the GM saying stuff about where the character is and what's going on as "Force." The term does not apply to such input ... rather, as I tried to explain at Story Games, such input has been known to be used covertly as means of controlling character actions ... but that doesn't mean it has to be used in that way. Force as a concept is an independent variable from how extensive or how transitional the GM input is.

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Is there some 'acceptable level' of GM Force in the bang-structured game? Is bang-structure advocating short bursts of illusionism to get to the very non-predetermined decisions that the PCs make in the bangs?

No and no. In scary red neon letters.

Best, Ron
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jlester
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« Reply #2 on: October 02, 2006, 12:06:16 PM »

Is the confusion then about what constitutes illusionism?   I had, in times past, recognized the following as illusionist play:

Me: So, do you follow her into the bar?
Player: Sure.

(And I think this is the sort of "gentle nudges" to which Josh is referring.)

Because my sense was that the player believed that was what was expected.  Despite assurances to the contrary, the incidence in most gaming circles where a player will say "Nope.  I do this other thing..." is incredibly low.  Now, I tend to read this as a force, and the play as illusionist (or at least participationist), since my impression is that ever player reads a threat (which I never intend) of the form "go along, or no fun for you!"  In discussion, I've also heard the idea floated that my players didn't want to "mess up what I had planned."  Even when I've made clear that I had nothing of significance planned that they could mess up.

Contrariwise, if you'd not consider that forcing, nor illusionism, then it strikes me that both behaviors must be so egregious that I've never personally encountered them outside the realm of second hand horror stories.

Now, maybe there's a third option.  But right now, I see two warm blooded animals, and I'm not sure which is a cat and which is a duck, if that's not stretching a metaphor too far.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: October 02, 2006, 12:18:21 PM »

Ron, before I wade into a longer response, let me clarify one quick point.  Are you using Force as "stuff the GM does that the players don't like?"  Is there any instance of Force that the players might agree with?
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 02, 2006, 12:30:44 PM »

Hi Judson,

That's a great focus-point for this discussion. I think I can break it down into four possibilities, without much if any spectrum bridging them.

1. The GM is offering that possibility and can live with a "no" in response, or even an "I attack her!" or whatever sort response might show up. Similarly, the player is fully on top of this possibility as well and in this case has decided that the character shall follow the girl. Maybe the player does this to see what the GM has in mind for later, maybe not. It doesn't matter. I'm emphasizing that both people are fully aware that any response is on the radar screen (except, perhaps, going ape-shit for no reason or turtling up and doing "nothing! nothing!" no matter what; arguably, both of these effectively refusing to play). This is Bang-driven play and no Force is present. Note that more transitional input by the GM, such as "next evening, you're at the bazaar" to start the scene, is subject to negotiation - it doesn't happen just because the GM says so.

2. The GM is doing what you describe - "go this way so we can play." The player, unfortunately, is like the player in #1 above and might take it upon himself to have the character kidnap the girl or something totally oriented to some other goal that might be, say, on the character sheet but has nothing to do with whatever the GM introduced the girl for in the first place. Now, maybe he wouldn't do something so extreme in this case, but sooner or later, his expectation that "I can do cool shit when I get the bug up my ass to do so," is going to come a-cropper against the GM's expectation that he'll go where he signals him to go through such beckonings. This is a disaster waiting to happen, because the GM is exerting Force and the player doesn't like it. Cries of "railroader!" and "powergamer!" are sure to arise. The GM may stave it off for a long time by smoke-and-mirrors techniques, but it never works as well as such GMs like to believe. Unfortunately, these are exactly the GMs who like to write published scenario splatbooks.

3. The GM is not doing what you describe, and although he's OK with the player following the girl, maybe even has a next step in mind, is also pretty open to however it might go down. He knows what the girl's like (presuming she's not furniture) and how she might respond to being ignored, for example - saving that for a later scene. (In other words, the girl is a Bang and ignoring the girl is a response to the Bang just as kissing her or following her might be.) But in this case, the player is cooperating because he thinks he's supposed to be obedient. There is no Force, but the player is trying to play with Participationist techniques. Sooner or later, this will yield problems too - the GM will get find the player cooperates even when the GM throws him the full plot authority to do stuff that matters. To this character, there are no Bangs, only cues. The GM will slowly become fatigued with providing both the adversity and the solution to it, as the player "acts it out."

4. The GM is doing what you describe and so is the player, in full relinquishment of authority for purposes of this kind. "Where do you need me?" "I need you here." "OK!" Put that dialogue into fully tacit application, and make damn sure that the player in #1-2 never shows up in that game, and all is well. It is, technically, Force, which is why I say Force is not always dysfunctional. This is Participationism. The GM is exerting what would be objectionable Force in any other context, and it's totally consensual - effectively, every PC is being team-played by the player and the GM together, with the latter actually having the final say and the former conceding that.

So to answer your question, I have to ask - which was it? And how do you know, based on the actual behavior of the real people at the time? Also, how did that relate to similar scenes and setups in play for those specific people, across sessions of this game or even into other games entirely?

Although you conclude in your post that Force was involved (and hence either #2 or #4 was going on, what you have described so far is not enough to say that.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: October 02, 2006, 12:47:18 PM »

With any luck at all, Joshua, you'll see from my reply to Judson that Force is not defined as "stuff players don't like." There are such things as consensual uses of Force.

A lot of discussions about Force focus on the negative, for two reasons. The first occurs when the person in question (like yourself) is asking about Bang-driven play. If that's posited as desirable for this person at this time, as stated by him or her, then Force must necessarily be posed as "the enemy." See Joel's current thread about Illusionism as the example.

The second reason is that, as briefly mentioned in my example #2 above, using Force is often accompanied by deception about it, what I call the Black Curtain. When such deception trivializes their presence as co-creators or their characters' role in the fiction or both, they figure it out relatively quickly and get pissed off. When this annoyance, which is pretty common, fuels the inquiry here, then Force (and Illusionism overall) is necessarily posed as "the enemy."

But let's say we're not talking about Bang-driven play at all. Not one little bit. Let's say the GM and I and the rest of the group are perfectly OK with the kind of play I'm describing in #4 above, in my reply to Judson. In that case, I'm happy with the highly-responsive, reactive mode I'm in ... it's kind of like playing in media res all the time, and I know if I follow my cues, I'll get to use stuff on my character sheet. In this case, Force is a functional, even necessary technique. The "melodramatic hook" rule in Feng Shui is built to do exactly this, for example. (I am convinced few people actually know what the melodramatic hook rule says. It is antithetical to Bangs.)

In such play, the Black Curtain is in place, but it's less of a deception than a simple agreement not to dwell on it. That's Participationism. The player's opportunities to strategize or to address Premise is severely curtailed in such play, which is why Gamist and Narrativist priorities tend to get frustrated in it. If those priorities are not present, then Participationism is apparently quite fun. If I'm not mistaken, Mike Holmes often advises GMs who cherish their use of Force (and hence do not want Bang-driven play, e.g.) to consider Participationism over their more-deceptive Illusionist habits. Of course, that's a CA-based argument in the sense of finding people to play with who share your aesthetic priorities.

Or to put it a little more clearly, you can't mix Bangs with Participation. Both are functional but are highly consequential in terms of all other aspects of the system - resolution, rewards, and more, such that CA is often directly involved.

Best, Ron
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jlester
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« Reply #6 on: October 02, 2006, 12:52:51 PM »

Honestly, in the campaign I'm specifically thinking of, it started as 1 & 3 (because of a mix of players) and slowly became 1 & 4, as I learned to direct the players that wanted to participate to support the players that wanted decisions.  (As opposed to merely becoming fatigued.) Eventually, I think a sort of viral behavior took over, as the #1 players started to influence the #4 players, resulting in a mass murder that continues to chill me.  But the eventual shift occurred after a couple of years of weekly play.

But with players I don't know well, I find that the passive players will also assure me that they understand what I'm trying to do.  So I almost feel like this is one of those logic problems, where you have to ask the one guard what the other one would say, and then open the other door.  Except I haven't solved it yet.  I don't know how to tell a participationist player from a merely agreeable one.  And I think that's the real trick: only mental telepathy can distinguish case #1 from case #3.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: October 02, 2006, 01:08:41 PM »

Hi there Judson,

I don't think it has to be that difficult. It's definitely not included in the usual lexicon of gamer culture and dialogue about play, so for most of us, me included, it's a new skill. It might be a matter of wrapping one's own head around the issues first, then learning what questions work to reveal outlooks. Sometimes I've been surprised at how strongly and specifically people will respond once I've asked about what they did and didn't enjoy in specific previous play-experiences in their pasts. Especially when those same people will shrug and say stuff like "Oh, I dunno, I just like playing my character" when you ask about the same things in general or abstract terms.

Also, for people who are so inclined, here are some historical threads of interest:

Illusionism and GNS (included to illustrate how confused we used to be about this - I can now see where this one went off the rails - Mike introduced the red-herring notion of intentionally addressing Premise which I didn't catch at the time)
Arrowflight and illusionist texts (a bit before things were clarified; Mike does right to point out that I'm really talking about Participationism when I say "Illusionism can be functional")
Illusionism: a new look and new approach (when I finally wrapped my head around what I was trying to say, and "force" gets its name)
Force (an exasperated summary by me)

Please pay attention to the dates; those are some oldies.

Best, Ron
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #8 on: October 02, 2006, 01:09:59 PM »

Oh, I'm well aware of how Force has been stigmatized.  In fact, that's a large portion of the itch I'm scratching.  Force isn't a bad thing; deception is, but Force notsomuch.  But Force and the Illusionism<->Participationism spectrum are often dressed up as the bad guys.  Which is why I'm not entirely surprised that there is such a profoundly negative reaction when I see Force coupled with Bangs.

So to take the AP again, in the Dogs example, it seems your criterion is based on what is reasonable for the character to be doing.  He's a Dog, it's the beginning of a session, he's heading into town.  I can agree with most of that; what about making the guy shoved out of the window his relationship?  This was the caravan leader who brought him out from Back East; how much of Jesse's reactions am I pre-writing by doing the narrative equivalent of a sucker-punch?

In Full Light, Full Steam, it's more elaborate.  There I took some player flags and twisted them together to create a conflict that was almost assured to rise to PC-vs-PC level.  I "went easy on them" getting in and then escalated the immediacy of the problem when they tried to get out, effectively 'trapping' them (which is a good bang, right?  They must respond with a thematic decision, no wimping out).  Their rival ship was also lurking about somewhere, no doubt ready to steal all the glory if they could.  Which was all great for creating a powerful scene -- I mean, it worked and was awesome -- but they didn't get their of their own doing, and they certainly were placed in a disadvantaged position through no fault of their own.  Even if they were okay with it (they were), all of the half-hour or so of play that led up to it didn't involve any significant decisions on their part.  I made those, until the situation was 'ripe' enough for player decisions to be interesting.  How was this not mixing Bangs and Participationism?

In the TSOY example, we had an agressive frame (you're investigating a ruin!  you fall down a chute!) and then some prodding by Judson much like he outlines above.  I don't get the impression that my character walking away would have 'worked' for the game; it's my impression that that would have necessitated some scrambling on his part (although Judson could correct me if I'm wrong).  But he'd baited the hook with big piles of gold, so it was not likely that I'd walk away.  How much of his reliance on my character pursuing his keys is surrepticious (and beneficial) Force?

To me, all three of these, and the latter two especially, fall somewhere between "Type One" and "Type Three" in the Scene Framing thread you linked to.
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jlester
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« Reply #9 on: October 02, 2006, 01:30:45 PM »

In the TSOY example, we had an agressive frame (you're investigating a ruin!  you fall down a chute!) and then some prodding by Judson much like he outlines above.  I don't get the impression that my character walking away would have 'worked' for the game; it's my impression that that would have necessitated some scrambling on his part (although Judson could correct me if I'm wrong).  But he'd baited the hook with big piles of gold, so it was not likely that I'd walk away.  How much of his reliance on my character pursuing his keys is surrepticious (and beneficial) Force?

Now, being fair, while the initial framing was pretty aggressive, I never said "you fall down a chute."  Although I guess, "you don't remember which entrance you came in from" is essentially the same idea.  Yeah, if you'd walked away, I would've scrambled.  But I would have, you know?  Although I assure you, it would have initiated a meta-game discussion along the lines of "I'm trying to hit the flags on your sheet, as well as what we discussed during character creation.  What's not engaging you, and how can we fix that?" 

And in any game where the GM has a lot of situational control, especially where the situation is strongly influenced by explicit character flags, how different is "I just walk away" from "I hide and do nothing?" in terms of being a rejection of play.
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greyorm
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« Reply #10 on: October 02, 2006, 01:34:24 PM »

Isn't the easy answer to the question about the distinction: Illusionism is control over the outcome of the situation, whereas Bangs are simply the introduction of a situation, come what may from it? Does that help, or am I just confusing the issue (or confused myself)?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #11 on: October 02, 2006, 01:42:25 PM »

Raven, that's where I lean.  I don't see Bangs and Illusionism as apples and oranges on the same level.  I see Bangs, a technique, like cogs and levers; I see Illusionism, a mode of play, like a way to operate a machine.  It seems to me that Bangs can be used in Illusionist play without much fuss.
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2006, 01:48:42 PM »

Then they aren't really Bangs.

They're just plain old Plot Hooks like GMs have been using for decades.  Sometimes stupendously amazing and some times duds.

The distinction is in HOW they're used.  Bangs are not simply the introduction of a situation.  Any old plothook can do that.  Bangs are introducing a situation to which the GM has no vested interest in the outcome and hense no motivation for, or expectation of using illusionist techniques to influence.

As soon as you introduce illusionism, you have no bang.  You have a plot hook.  They are 100% incompatable. 

Saying that a bang is a plot hook from which the illusionism has been purged might be a helpful way to think of it given the specific hangups you're expressing.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2006, 01:52:22 PM »

Hi there,

As long as we stick with actual play examples, this gets somewhere.

Joshua, I can't talk to you about "what if this? what if that?" I keep saying, given an actual instance of play, you can too tell if the GM overrode opportunity for player input which the player thought he had.

Now, my insistence that you can just tell may see a little raw. It may seem quite unreasonable right off the bat, as no one is a mind-reader. That's why I should have emphasized that a lot of material from a given game or ongoing relationship among the people, during play, is called for. In this TSOY case, Judson is stepping in to let us know what his perspective was, and who knows, maybe a #3 situation was in place where he didn't use Force and you cooperated with its non-existent presence. But without that fair and non-defensive dialogue from another person in the group, you (and I) are stuck with considering some of these situations in a broader, longer-term context than just the isolated scenes.

I'm going to tackle all this from a different angle entirely. Consider this dialogue, from a Hero Wars session:

[player-characters show up at a social gathering]
Me: [describes physical setting and (friendly) demeanor of NPCs]
Tod: [gets irked] But I'm not being nice at all! I'm saying right off ..."
Me: Hey, that was just Color, you can have your guy enter into the scene however you want.
Tod: Oh! OK, let me know when.

Was I using Force? No. Tod would have me for breakfast in any RPG situation if I tried, and you can see that outlook here. He was concerned that my scene-framing was grading into playing his character for him, assuming a particular behavior or actions upon entering the room. However, as long as he knew that my waxing eloquent about the scene could not replace the input that he had every intention of delivering, he was good with it. Notice as well that he did not automatically assume that I was overriding him and get angry about it. He simply checked in to see where I stood.

I'm getting the idea that such explicit checking-in, verbally, during play itself, has not been a big part of your role-playing experiences. Is that right?

Best, Ron
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #14 on: October 02, 2006, 02:40:37 PM »

As long as we stick with actual play examples, this gets somewhere.
Okay.  I wasn't aware I had strayed away from it.

Quote
Joshua, I can't talk to you about "what if this? what if that?" I keep saying, given an actual instance of play, you can too tell if the GM overrode opportunity for player input which the player thought he had.
Ron, perhaps you're mistaking what I'm getting at.  I'm not saying "the GM steps on all the player's toes, oh noes!"  I'm saying, in order to perform her job and to do it well, the GM has to participate in the game, and when the GM participates in the game, she fundamentally affects and limits the choices available to the players.  And this is a good thing.  It's collaboration, interaction, playing the game.  Because if the GM doesn't impact the game, if the GM doesn't impact the characters, if the GM doesn't impact the decisions that the players make, what the hell is the GM there for?

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I'm going to tackle all this from a different angle entirely. Consider this dialogue, from a Hero Wars session:

[player-characters show up at a social gathering]
Me: [describes physical setting and (friendly) demeanor of NPCs]
Tod: [gets irked] But I'm not being nice at all! I'm saying right off ..."
Me: Hey, that was just Color, you can have your guy enter into the scene however you want.
Tod: Oh! OK, let me know when.

Was I using Force? No. Tod would have me for breakfast in any RPG situation if I tried, and you can see that outlook here. He was concerned that my scene-framing was grading into playing his character for him, assuming a particular behavior or actions upon entering the room. However, as long as he knew that my waxing eloquent about the scene could not replace the input that he had every intention of delivering, he was good with it. Notice as well that he did not automatically assume that I was overriding him and get angry about it. He simply checked in to see where I stood.
See, I'd need more information from you before I could say much about your snippet of AP, here.  Were you intentionally setting the scene up so Tod could make a brash entrance?  Or were you personally interested in the NPCs being friendly, either so they would be favorably disposed to the characters, or to contrast with how you expected they'd be acting once the players were injected into the scene?  You made a decision to make the NPCs friendly to start with; what was the rationale behind that decision?

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I'm getting the idea that such explicit checking-in, verbally, during play itself, has not been a big part of your role-playing experiences. Is that right?
At some point I'll get you to read the "talk about the damn game" sections in FLFS.  I am very interested in talking about what's happening and facilitating more dialogue about what's happening.
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