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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 139 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: GM as Facilitator, looking for signposts in the unknown  (Read 2095 times)
Web_Weaver
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« on: October 20, 2006, 05:21:53 AM »

This post falls between Actual Play and First Thoughts. I place it here because primarily I am involved in adaptation of rules, and a radically altered game is likely to emerge. Also, because I am looking for a direction of research and advice on design.

I have been playing and running HQ/HW for a few years, and I am reaching a point where I am inclined to abandon a huge chunk of the rules as written, in favour of a more facilitative style. This issue has crept up gradually over the years, but I find myself running my game in a style not fully supported by the text, and wandering into territory that feels unmapped by previous players. I am happy to plow into the wilderness, but I can't help thinking that other games or gamers must be able to at least provide a direction.

This is partly from my move towards conflict resolution (as will be seen below), but there is a more subtle underlying change. Let me provide an example of what I have found myself doing using a classic bar room fight:

Narrator: Out of the blue the guy you are chatting to swings at you shouting "liar!".
Player: I attempt to avoid a fight by diving to one side with my Twitchy Reflexes.

Old Style

Narrator: OK his skill is 16 and your resistance is your Reflexes skill of 18 lets roll.

New Style

Narrator: OK your Reflexes skill is 18, and his resistance is based on his unpredictable nature and an apparent offence at your words, lets say the resistance to your avoiding getting hurt or embroiled in a fight is 16.

The deliberate change was in concentrating on motivation and resolution of the core conflict; offended guy wanting a fight V nimble guy wanting to stay out of trouble;  and this in itself will dramatically change the narration once the dice hit the table, and is intended in HQ.

But, what I had not noticed fully until recently, was my move away from an active participation on behalf of the NPC towards a reactive one based purely on resisting the PC actions and the player goal. Regardless of who does what first or who is reacting on the surface.

This has seeped in from the text of HeroQuest Simple Contests, which imply that the narrator supplies the resistance. I became conscious of this during discussin in the HQ forums here at the Forge, but I had been doing it for a while, and it introduces an internal conflict in the way HQ is designed.

In other sections of the game (Extended Contests, examples of play, NPC stats, Creatures) this reactive stance is not apparent, and most people that run HQ will probably just play the NPC as a character and select an appropriate skill for the player to resist. Of course mechanically it does not matter either way for Simple Contests, but for Extended Contests and the general feel of HQ it would be a departure.

I am now dabbling with Extended Contests that also have no active participant, which involves a deliberate adaptation of the rules to achieve.

My dilemma is, if I am adapting the rules this far away from their context, surely I am rewriting the game. And, if this is so, are there any games out there that successfully use this purely reactive, player facilitation role, where only the players actively select skills, and the GMs job is purely to provide resistance. If so examples of how they support this style would be appreciated.
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timfire
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« Reply #1 on: October 20, 2006, 06:18:43 AM »

Jamie, you've come to the right place!

I'm not terribly familar with HQ, but what you describe doesn't sound that far of a departure of the rules. I have a question: In your example, are you making up that 16 "resistence" out of thin air, or was the narrator picking 16 because it was written (either literally or metaphorically) on the NPC-sheet?

The style of GM'ing you describe is a fairly common one here at the Forge. It's certainly a style that can span games. Maybe it's my lack of knowledge of HQ, but I don't understand why it would require you to change the rules to implement it.

My game, The Mountain Witch, uses this GM style as a fundamental aspect of play. I advise that the GM start the scene by "laying out the scene" generally-speaking and pointing out potential conflicts and obstacles. Then, the GM waits for the players to say what they want to do. Then the GM decides some appropriate reactive response on the part of the NPCs to the PC action.

I know the game Inspectres (among a number of Jared Sorenson's games) has some sort of system where the GM never rolls, players always roll against their skill or something. I'm not very familar with that game, but it might be the type of thing you're looking for mechanically.

Is this helpful? I'm not sure if I'm understanding what you're looking for.
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
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« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2006, 05:35:23 AM »

Hi Tim,

As detailed above, it is not a departure, but I am a fan of extended contests as a tool for dramatic emphasis, and this system is not currently built around the style I have come to adopt.

Extended contests, tend to encourage a "my turn, your turn" approach, which I would like to ditch, but I would like to maintain the other positives of the tool,
which I detail in Extended Contests - Mining HQs Narrativist core.

I am keen on mapping system to drama which I feel HQ Extended contests have a great potential to do, but as written, this core element seems to be obscured by a more mathematical and turn based approach. I am looking for a direction that allows the mapping, with a more neutral stance for the Narrator, and less player v narrator emphasis. I can and do de-emphasise the elements that don't suit, but I am left with a system twisted into shape rather than one perfectly designed for the task.
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Web_Weaver
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2006, 05:38:21 AM »

Oh, and to answer your first question, I pick resistance based on dramatic emphasis.
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TroyLovesRPG
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Posts: 150


« Reply #4 on: October 29, 2006, 07:45:11 AM »

Hello Jamie,

After reading this thread a few times, it makes me evaluate the way I handle NPCs. Sometimes I put more time into creating them with an actual personality and some motivations. Most of the time they are just obstacles or resources for the PCs. With that in mind, the NPCs often are two-dimensional and are inert until the PCs activate them with their presence, an action or verbalization. It is frustrating because I want the interaction (conflict, conversation and collaboration) to be more objective instead of a reaction that is "out of the blue".

I'm not familiar with HQ and Tim's question "are you making up that 16 resistance out of thin air" is important for many games. How are the challenges quantified, and will they always be numerical?

I wonder if it is time to create a drama matrix for the situation or for each NPC that are modified by the PC's actions and statements. I'm looking at the different tones and emotions that an encounter will confer, probably on a sliding scale. When the situation reaches a certain point then particular reactions could occur. Part of this scale approach requires that the players receive some type of feedback from the GM. For an NPC who is talking with the PCs to suddenly lunge may seem bizarre, especially when the PC has no clue to what was said that caused the reaction. The scale would be subjective and correspondingly objective. After a while the players would learn which situations are beneficial and which ones can turn nasty.

The scale is based on the different interactions between PCs and NPCs. After recalling different RPG sessions, I've narrowed the situations to these basic components. I wanted to keep it simple just for this post.
Tone: confidence, loyalty, safety
Value: information, resources, life
Actions: exchange, give, take

The tones of the situation could start at 0 or some value determined by the nature of the relationship between the PCs and NPCs. If they are strangers to each other then confidence, loyalty and safety could be all at -3. The -3 values are cumulative mods to the PCs skill check. As the PCs interact with the NPCs the tones can change based on appropriate actions. Buying the NPC a drink in the bar may increase loyalty to -1. Using proper etiquette may increase confidence to 0. As the tone increases, the PCs chances for beneficial reactions increase and the opposite is true. When any tone reaches -5 or the sum of the tones reach -12, then an instant threatening reaction will occur. If one tone reaches +5 or the sum of the tones reach +12 then an automatic beneficial reaction occurs. At any given time the PCs have a level of interaction with the NPCs and that modifies their skill checks. Further role-playing can change this level depending on the NPC's priorities.
+12 and greater: NPC immediately gives something of value to the PCs
+9 to +11: NPC gives something of value if the PCs make a proper response (honest request, heartfelt compliment, etc.)
+6 to +8: NPC will exchange something of value with the PCs at an advantage (what a bargain!)
+5 to -5: NPC will exchange something of equal value
-6 to -8: NPC will exchange something of value with the PCs at a disadvantage (sucker!)
-9 to -11: NPC takes something of value if the PCs make an improper response (offensive remark, sarcasm, etc.)
-12 and lower: NPC immediately takes something of value from the PCs (physical harm, theft, spying, trap)

This method could work in any RPG as long as the values are appropriate to the system. Change the descriptions of the tones, values and actions to suit the mood of the game.

Troy
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Web_Weaver
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« Reply #5 on: October 29, 2006, 01:25:18 PM »

Hi Troy,

I think you may be suggesting a solution to a related problem, but I am not sure how much mileage is possible from quantifying drama. I have found in my limited experience of applying resistances based on drama, that as long as players understand what your reasoning is then they are happy to negotiate on exact quantities.

Your instinct to objectify the situation may be helpful if you are designing a game where you are attempting to model dramatic situation, and in fact bears some similarity to certain artificial intelligence techniques where once thresholds are reached a different behaviour mode is established. But, I am not looking for an objective solution.

The problem is, it is difficult to describe what I am looking for. HQ Extended contests do a good job of modelling the changes in fortune of a dramatic contest. They do so by using the transfer or reduction of AP for each participant which indicate by comparison which party has the current advantage. To effect the flow heavily one must risk more, but theres a problem with the rules as detailed in most examples, the bid process can become the focus of the contest, which detracts from the dramatic conflict that was established in the first place.

The main solution to this has been for the narrator to quantify the bids, based on the risk of the suggested action, thus making sure that any mechanical application of the system matches the dramatic situation at hand.

This is not difficult, and works fine, but I have shifted my style away from describing NPC actions, towards narration of the story, and application of resistance purely based on player actions. Extended contests are turn based, and each action, including NPC action, is resisted by the other party. This is incompatible with my current style, and more importantly, means that my style of play is shifted back towards a contrary style at the moments of greatest dramatic emphasis.

I am seeking a way of handling a dramatic struggle between two or more parties that is compatible with HQ simple contest outcomes, that possibly maintains the AP shifting mechanic, but replaces the "my turn, your turn" approach with a more simple iteration of player actions v dramatic resistance, to match my Simple Contest style.

I have experimented with just asking for player actions without a change of mechanics, but that requires the AP bid to reflect both parties actions in the round, it seemed a little to arbitrary, and slowed down an otherwise smooth system. To use a poker analogy, it requires a equalisation of the pot, as you need to establish that the bid is a fair reflection of the opposed actions instead of just stating an action and selecting an opposing one, it encourages too much debate without a mechanical aid to control it.

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TroyLovesRPG
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Posts: 150


« Reply #6 on: October 29, 2006, 06:58:30 PM »

Hello Jamie,

Since I'm not familiar with HQ, I read a few reviews to get the gist of it. Its still alien to me, but that's ok. The bidding process could be made more dramatic by hiding the bids, or writing them behind your hand on a notepad then showing them at the same time. Maybe that hidden drama could help.

You mentioned poker, I thought of cards, then the Torg drama deck. Maybe you could create a custom deck of cards that reflects the dramatic style you are looking for. Instead of just bidding some points, players could buy cards with those points or each side draws one card. The cards could be equally valuable to the points, sometimes less or sometimes more. Players must use the card during that contest. The card could further describe a unique resolution for critical successes and failures during that contest.

Troy
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