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Author Topic: [Mage: The Awakening] Here goes nothing...  (Read 8286 times)
Reithan
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« Reply #15 on: October 13, 2006, 07:26:25 PM »

Sorry, it wasn't really your point that weas conufsing, but your language. I just read through it a couple times and ended up sitting there going "Huh?", but it's clear now.

Well, I suppose the way it worked out, yes it was like losing to persue an incorrect lead. But I'm not sure I like the implications of that. I suppose then that I should either be ready to 'morph' the mysteries to fit whatever the players want...but then they're not really mysteries anymore...if the players can just go "well, this is what's happening" and I go, "sure, that's what's happening"...well, they haven't really figured anything out, therefore there's really no "mystery" mechanic. I suppose a better thing to do would be to find some way to 'reward' players for TRYING to solve the mystery, even if they don't figure it out...food for thought, anyway.

Yeah, it was me grading. Like I said, that was a setup to lead the characters into the system. A little slow, cliche`d start for them to see how things worked, and the entire storyline's about the mage society 'grading' the players' characters. They put them in what they THOUGHT was going to be a quiet little 'nothing' of an area, just to see how they worked out as new members of their society. I figured a literal grading of their characters' performance might drive that home. But, in the end, yes I had to come up with those evaluations myself.

Again, though, I'm not sure I like the implication of "players evaluating how good each other are at gaming". I really didn't mean it or present it like that. I think I can have an NPC say to a player's character "you didn't do _X_ very well." without passing judgment on their performance as a player. Simply because your character fails a die roll or two doesn't make you an inferior player... I don't think it came off like that during the game, and if it did, I think I would regret it.

Umm... as for the voice mystery and the suicide/blood spatter mysteries, a simulated AP...lemme try that:

After seing the suicide, presenting it to the group and having Dark spattered with blood in the park, they could have utilized a bit of actual investigatory skills (which sever of them had) to go back and investigate the scene of the suicide. There they could have used magical and mundane means to figure out what may have happened. What they DID do that was pretty good is analyze the blood spatter itself, analyze where it may have been coming from, and pull up records as to who the suicidee was. It was his blood and he was basically a "John Doe", a nobody. No one of any real importance. No history of mental defect or anything remarkable really.

Where they departed from this though, is they assumed since they blood was connected he must be some sort of ghost or spirit or evil sorceror out to get them and started prying into every aspect of the guy's life. And the more they pried the less meaningful information surfaced. I went so far as to call the victim a "meaningless nobody" at one point, simply trying to drive the point home that they were looking in the wrong direction...

In my mind it's the equivalent of, in a D&D campaign of a kobold throwing a rock at the party from concealment. Rather than trying to figure out where the rock came from and investigate/solve the problem, the party picks up the rock, casts identify on it 5 times, bring it to a local geological expert for analysis and eventually has it set on a chain as a pendant for the party's cleric to symbolize the mystery present in the world about them.

As to the voice thing, well, they had been told both in game, and in the printed setting guide for the game, that there was "occult-related" architecture built into the base central to the town that was associated with "creepy echoes" and later in game they were told that the architect of the "occult-related architecture" was rumored to be a member of a doomsday cult. So, I thought when present with "demonic echo voices" while in an area adjacent to the base in question, 1+1+1=3...but that didn't happen. This, though, wasn't really a loss, it was a failure to play at all. To steal your metaphor: They didn't miss the basket, they picked up the ball, looked at the basket, and then left to go home without ever attempting a shot.
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Ice Cream Emperor
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« Reply #16 on: October 13, 2006, 09:48:19 PM »

Quote
Rondel tells them both to cool it. He explains that he's already gotten Uther's report and "grades" the GotV members of the group, declining to judge the others as it's "not his place". He gives B+ for efficiency, but tells him he needs to work on his teamwork. Sword gets a B- for being too blatant when the group tried to steal a van to use for the mission. Dark gets a flat B for being covert and working well as a team player, but generally taking the 'long way around' and not being very efficient.

Just to elaborate (or merely repeat, as backup) Callan's point about the 'grading': when I first read that part, it seemed completely possible to me that what was going on was that you, as a GM, were rating the other players based on how good a job they did at playing through your story. That when Rondel tells Sword that he is being too blatant, that means that you as a GM thought the actions the character took were too blatant as well. As a player in that situation I would have a lot of trouble pretending that it was merely an in-character evaluation, and had no relevance to what you as a GM thought of me as a player.

However, it is possible that I am understanding this situation completely wrong. It is possible that you were actually using this scene as a tool to express the NPC's personal, in-game preferences for how things should go -- and that these are unrelated to what you, as a GM, think is the "best" way to accomplish the mission. For example, if the NPC had some personal reason to hate guns, and docked a PC several 'marks' because he shot at someone, that would express something about the NPC. There are other possibilities as well, of course.

Based on your description, the "grades" seem like a very strong way for you, as the GM, to reinforce the kind of play you want to see. The problem as I see it is that based on your preferences, you are reinforcing play along a very different axis than the ones you are interested in. For example, none of your stated goals include "efficiency" -- so when you rate someone down for being inefficient, it doesn't help get you any more horror or mystery in the game. In fact, this sort of grading could have a very detrimental effect on your game's focus, if players understand it the same way me (and I think Callan) did -- because it will actively mislead them into thinking that the point of this game is to get better "grades" for their characters. While this may incidentally increase the amount of inter-party strife, it sounds like that's the one element you're not having trouble with so far.

Now, this is not the case if we're just misreading how that scene went down, and what the other players took away from it. For example, you mention that he graded only certain PCs for political reasons -- and the idea that players will have to compromise their personal style for an authority figure is also an important political element in the game. But that's only the case if it's very clear to players that you, the GM, don't share this NPCs opinions at all -- that you could care less of players are efficient or blatant or anything at all.

So I guess the question I would ask is: do you care if players/characters are efficient or blatant or not? Is it important to you how well the characters do at the missions, and do you think that the players should make this one of their primary goals? Some of the statements you've made -- for example, about how characters and players wasted lots of time on a "wrong" avenue of exploration re: the suicide -- suggest that this is the case.

If it's not the case, can you see how your players might be misunderstanding the situation, based on the "marks" and the "you have the wrong approach, you get nothing" investigations?

(some cross-posting going on, but I'm still hoping the additional perspective might help. Reithan, if you feel like you've already addressed this, feel free to ignore it.)
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Ricky Donato
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« Reply #17 on: October 13, 2006, 09:52:56 PM »

Hi, Reithan,

I agree with Daniel. I would like to help you, but you are contradicting yourself. You say:

Again, though, I'm not sure I like the implication of "players evaluating how good each other are at gaming". I really didn't mean it or present it like that.

You then turn around and say the exact opposite:

What they DID do that was pretty good is analyze the blood spatter itself, analyze where it may have been coming from, and pull up records as to who the suicidee was. It was his blood and he was basically a "John Doe", a nobody. No one of any real importance. No history of mental defect or anything remarkable really.

Where they departed from this though, is they assumed since they blood was connected he must be some sort of ghost or spirit or evil sorceror out to get them and started prying into every aspect of the guy's life. And the more they pried the less meaningful information surfaced. I went so far as to call the victim a "meaningless nobody" at one point, simply trying to drive the point home that they were looking in the wrong direction...

Emphasis added. Every statement I bolded above is an example of your judgment of the players' skill. "Here they did well, there they did poorly." You made that judgment clear to the players, through such cues as language (calling him a "meaningless nobody") and in-game events ("the more they pried the less meaningful information surfaced"). This is the crux of your problem, Reithan.

Your instinct on reading my post may be that I am attacking you. If you feel that way, I ask for a favor; don't reply immediately. Step away from the computer for an hour or two, then come back and re-read what I posted.

Looking forward to your reply.
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Ricky Donato

My first game in development, now writing first draft: Machiavelli
Callan S.
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« Reply #18 on: October 13, 2006, 09:56:11 PM »

Sorry, it wasn't really your point that weas conufsing, but your language. I just read through it a couple times and ended up sitting there going "Huh?", but it's clear now.
Yup, I tend to string together to many references in one sentence. I sometimes come across posts I wrote six months ago and think 'What the hell was I saying?'. Then I reread it and it clicks into place. Sorry, I really think the broad range of references are important to get across in one or two sentences.

Quote
Well, I suppose the way it worked out, yes it was like losing to persue an incorrect lead. But I'm not sure I like the implications of that. I suppose then that I should either be ready to 'morph' the mysteries to fit whatever the players want...but then they're not really mysteries anymore...if the players can just go "well, this is what's happening" and I go, "sure, that's what's happening"...well, they haven't really figured anything out, therefore there's really no "mystery" mechanic. I suppose a better thing to do would be to find some way to 'reward' players for TRYING to solve the mystery, even if they don't figure it out...food for thought, anyway.
Nope, I don't think you should have to be ready to 'morph' the mysteries to fit player perceptions. And yes I agree that if you did, it wouldn't be a mystery. You want something different from the 'morph' GM and I dig that...I think I want something similar to you.

And you beat me to it: Rewards for TRYING to solve the mystery would be great. A quick suggestion of my own is some small rewards (XP or something sweet) if they put five minutes of real life time in, then something for every ten minutes after that. A sort of entree reward, followed by rewards for putting a bit more serious work in. And really advertise that it's there - don't let them forget it!!

Quote
Again, though, I'm not sure I like the implication of "players evaluating how good each other are at gaming". I really didn't mean it or present it like that. I think I can have an NPC say to a player's character "you didn't do _X_ very well." without passing judgment on their performance as a player. Simply because your character fails a die roll or two doesn't make you an inferior player... I don't think it came off like that during the game, and if it did, I think I would regret it.
I think you've got a gamer missconception. Think of the last school class you did - if you were learning to touch type or play guitar, would you expect yourself to be wonderful straight away? Would you be inferior for not being great straight away? Of course not! Would a teacher be calling you inferior when they score your progress? Of course not! It's just the way you learn skills.

It IS possible to be really horrible to others when evaluating how good each other are at something. But frankly you can do a game of peer evaluation in a very nice, supportive way, and show the fucking door to anyone who tries to be a dick head. :)

Quote
So, I thought when present with "demonic echo voices" while in an area adjacent to the base in question, 1+1+1=3...but that didn't happen. This, though, wasn't really a loss, it was a failure to play at all. To steal your metaphor: They didn't miss the basket, they picked up the ball, looked at the basket, and then left to go home without ever attempting a shot.
Thanks for the sim AP. I think your use of the basket ball analogy is good. Here's an angle for you: Do you think they knew they were supposed to play? Or were they looking at the rubber orb in their hand, and the metal ring up there and thinking 'Eh, what does either of these things mean?' and then wandered off?

It might seem crazy to ask. What you do with a basketball and ring seems so obvious. But to some gamers - well, they go and make it into a stupid pendant that symbolises the mystery of the world, like your example below. Or they just ignore it entirely, like nothing was there!

Already you've come up with the rewards for trying, which is great. It might also take some explicit instruction about what they should be attempting. How confusing have I been so far? Am I on target? If so, we can talk about those instructions.

Quote
In my mind it's the equivalent of, in a D&D campaign of a kobold throwing a rock at the party from concealment. Rather than trying to figure out where the rock came from and investigate/solve the problem, the party picks up the rock, casts identify on it 5 times, bring it to a local geological expert for analysis and eventually has it set on a chain as a pendant for the party's cleric to symbolize the mystery present in the world about them.
That's funny cause it's true! :) I've thought stuff like that when reading some actual play accounts - some of the stuff people do is just so bullshit non practical!
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Reithan
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« Reply #19 on: October 14, 2006, 05:17:45 PM »

However, it is possible that I am understanding this situation completely wrong. It is possible that you were actually using this scene as a tool to express the NPC's personal, in-game preferences for how things should go -- and that these are unrelated to what you, as a GM, think is the "best" way to accomplish the mission. For example, if the NPC had some personal reason to hate guns, and docked a PC several 'marks' because he shot at someone, that would express something about the NPC. There are other possibilities as well, of course.

...

Now, this is not the case if we're just misreading how that scene went down, and what the other players took away from it. For example, you mention that he graded only certain PCs for political reasons -- and the idea that players will have to compromise their personal style for an authority figure is also an important political element in the game. But that's only the case if it's very clear to players that you, the GM, don't share this NPCs opinions at all -- that you could care less of players are efficient or blatant or anything at all.

So I guess the question I would ask is: do you care if players/characters are efficient or blatant or not? Is it important to you how well the characters do at the missions, and do you think that the players should make this one of their primary goals? Some of the statements you've made -- for example, about how characters and players wasted lots of time on a "wrong" avenue of exploration re: the suicide -- suggest that this is the case.

If it's not the case, can you see how your players might be misunderstanding the situation, based on the "marks" and the "you have the wrong approach, you get nothing" investigations?

Ok, hadn't really thought about it from that angle. Yes, I was meaning from a character's perspective. Not from mine. From my perspective they advanced the plot, had a lot of fun and investigated some things (even things that NPCs told them not to). So, from my GM's perspective, it was a complete success. However, the NPC was a master mage from a "The Guardians of the Veil". A Secret Police/Espionage society. They didn't do a great job of concealing their actions, their teamwork was a bit lacking and they didn't make the best use of their time/effort. Those would be things the NPC cared about, but not me, too much.

Thinking back, I'm not sure HOW the players took it. I hadn't thought that they'd take it as a "GM to Players" evaluation, rather than a "NPC to PC" evaluation.

The only instance of ME getting annoyed about 'inneficiency' was them continually failing to solve any mystery I present. But it's not so much that I'm annoyed that they're innefficient, it's rather that it annoys me because it annoys THEM. I'd rather them get into an enigma, gets some progess, figure something out and have some fun with it. Instead, they fumble around, generally get confused and annoyed and don't end up having any fun with those bits of plot.                             

Callan S.:

Yeah, I think upon readin the replies here, either at, or BEFORE our next game I thin kI'll sit down with everyone and re-work the default XP table to better support the goals we went into the game with.

As for wether or not they knew what to do with the echos, well I suppose, I can't really be sure without directly asking them...though, the background for it was in the guide, elements of it had been mentioned, and then it was presented in person...I suppose that, rather than something to be 'figured out' or 'solved' they may have simply just identified it as an element of the setting and went "oh that's cool...moving on..." Though, with this situation, I'd rather not directly ask them about that one...as it somewhat tips my hadn as to the intention of that element a bit too much, maybe.

Ricky Donato:

Points taken. And I'm not giving them back. So, neener neener.

Seriously though, I see what you're talking about, and I think the previous sections of this post address the issues...if not, please elaborate more.
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Selene Tan
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« Reply #20 on: October 14, 2006, 07:11:22 PM »

I suppose that, rather than something to be 'figured out' or 'solved' they may have simply just identified it as an element of the setting and went "oh that's cool...moving on..."

It's also possible that the players figured that investigating the echoes would go the same way as the investigation of the spirit of the guy on the bus--nowhere. The "meh" response may have meant "Let's not waste time on red herrings again. It was boring and frustrating enough last time."
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Callan S.
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« Reply #21 on: October 14, 2006, 10:19:26 PM »

Quote
Yeah, I think upon readin the replies here, either at, or BEFORE our next game I thin kI'll sit down with everyone and re-work the default XP table to better support the goals we went into the game with.

As for wether or not they knew what to do with the echos, well I suppose, I can't really be sure without directly asking them...though, the background for it was in the guide, elements of it had been mentioned, and then it was presented in person...I suppose that, rather than something to be 'figured out' or 'solved' they may have simply just identified it as an element of the setting and went "oh that's cool...moving on..."
Cool on the restructure. Also remember your own genuine excitement reinforces mechanical rewards :).

And I think that's a strong observation, from what I've seen I agree and I'd be on the look out for that next time. I think you've really gotten onto something to take to your next game. I can't add any more myself, but looking forward to your next thread! :)
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Paul T
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« Reply #22 on: October 15, 2006, 09:14:32 AM »

Reithan,

I don't know how much this will help you, but I've run into (and seen other people run into) problems with mystery-type scenarios much like the one you describe: if the players aren't on the "right" path, and don't immediately understand that they need to throw the ball into the hoop, play stalls and (potentially) becomes boring and frustrating for everyone. In my opinion, the GM's involvement in such a situation tends to drop in quality.

Also, If your game is set up so that the goal for the players is to figure out that they need to throw the ball into the hoop, that's a challenge you're putting to them. If gameplay suffers when they pursue a less "correct" path or avenue of investigation, you've got a situation where the quality of play (for everyone) is dependent on how well the players make those decisions (as judged by you). Are they (the players) smart enough to figure out the mystery? I hope you can see how this part of the game, at least, is bound to pull into Gamist territory...

I don't want to derail this thread or jump the gun, so I'll just add a link to a thread where I discussed a related topic:

Silent railroading and the intersection of scenario prep & player authorship

You only really need to read the first half of the opening post--most of the discussion that follows is not relevant to your game.

All the best,


Paul
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Marco
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« Reply #23 on: October 15, 2006, 11:22:12 AM »

Here's a few suggestions based on your feedback: I think I've had similar experiences in terms of presenting content XYZ and getting Player-Response "A" (which was not what I was looking for).

1. From what you have said, I think it is probable that the players are looking for cues from you as to what the interesting bits of the game are. That is not to say I think they are looking for you to do all the story-telling or control their characters or any nonsense like that--but rather, they are looking to engage with your situation and some avenues of "engagement" are clearer than others.

You present a mission very well. The mission is assigned. It's cool. They engage (go do it).

You present mysteries, I'm going to guess, less well. The blood-splatter and the guy stepping in front of the bus are "clues"--but what do they mean? How do I as a player follow up? Etc.

Same for politics: maybe the players are not clear on what their characters want? Or maybe what actions to take to get what they want?

2. Suggestion: more transparency. By 'transparency,' I mean, more plain, clear, explanation about what the situation is. Instead of simply presenting the clue of the rain of blood, you could even go so far as to narrate a 'sense they get' which gives some clearer indication about what is going on (i.e. "The blood does not feel hostile--there's no sense of threat about it--more like ... a sense of presence ... someone asking for your help."). This will give them a better idea of how to interact with the situation.

The same thing works very well for political situations: an NPC can, for example, give them a list of potential patrons. Each has an advantage and drawback and something that might make them like the PC. This can be done very quickly, but once the situation is established, the PCs know exactly how to manipulate it.

NOTE: I'm not advocating that any of this 'transparency' or information or options indicate the "only" way to interact with the situation--simply that more 'hidden knowledge' (what the GM knows) is shared up front rather than having to be uncovered. If you list three potential patrons, try to ensure that they're all at least reasonably viable as a choice. If a PC comes up with a cool way to influence one that you didn't think of--or decides they don't need patrons entirely, you'd respect that, of course--but my suggestion is to "set the stage" more clearly and aggressively than you are doing.

3. One trick for that, which I have used, is OOC information like a very quick, very clear, narration like a movie-cut that shows the PCs what is happening when they are not there. I don't usually do this to impart information that is *explosive* (which would lead to a temptation to make dramatic in-character actions for no in-game reason) but rather *expository* which simply gives them information that a character might "know on a hunch" or through "intuition" (such as that the blood drops don't indicate that the person is 'hunting them.')

Another trick for political situations is the Dramatic Persons document--give the players a printed sheet with the names of important people and the one-line descriptions of who they are and what they (generally) want. This sheet may be read to assume that the PCs have more data (due to 'really being in the world and talking to people off scene, between games, etc.) than the players would have (or it can just be OOC knowledge). Either way, the sheet provides a *clear* reference about the political structure of the world and a set of "buttons to push" (I can see that if I go talk to character-X, I'll get some information about situation-Y so when that becomes relevant, I know what to do).

-Marco
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