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Author Topic: [Werewolf] complete the mission! realistically! (GNS ?)  (Read 9999 times)
David Berg
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« on: November 04, 2006, 06:25:56 PM »

Warning: I've included a lot of preamble to provide proper context.  If you want, skip it and scroll down to "the point" (in bold and caps below).  Then if you're interested, you can come back here for context.

PREAMBLE

A few friends and I are playing a drifted game based on White Wolf's Werewolf: the Apocalypse. 

Matt is the GM; Meg, John, Paul and I are the players. 

We've all played White Wolf games before, and I think my friends have all retained similar system impressions to mine: GM arbitration determines when you need to roll, what your difficulty number is, and how many successful rolls will get you what level of in-game success; the Effectiveness numbers you've paid for determine how many dice you roll.  Target and success #s are somewhat intuitive for us (usually diff. 6, 3 success rolls = complete success), and the issue of when we roll for something vs. when we rely on our speaking/acting/thinking ability is totally random, depending on the GM's plan and mood.

I don't know if I've ever looked at the rulebook beyond character creation; Meg hasn't, and John and Paul haven't in years.

So, the Premise of the game was communicated clearly by the GM.  "I want to run a game where you guys play 4 different kinds of shapeshifters, and come together to try to serve the good of all shapeshifters.  You'll go on missions to fight local threats, which will be threats to specific shapeshifters, to all shapeshifters, or just plain Evil Stuff.  Oh, and you all have very negative associations with Vampires."  All us players said, "Sure, sounds fun."  As we came up with our character concepts, we occasionally adjusted things to fit with our GM's plan.  The power worshipped by my character was kind of similar to a power Matt wanted to use as an enemy, so I had to tweak my concept a bit, but I didn't mind.

Mission 1 was to rescue a site that's holy to shapeshifters from some unknown bad thing.  We went in, found Set-worshipping vampires, killed them, were thanked by a spirit, and got a few Character Points (I got one extra for figuring out how to open a magic door).

Since then, Matt's offered us this name and that news item, etc., etc. as either potential missions, or sources of info that led to potential missions.  The player characters would argue about what to do next and then pick something.  It was hard to tell whether the decisions were based on what the players thought sounded most fun or what the player characters would logically find to be most relevant.  Personally, I wanted to uncover more of the metaplot we'd already embarked on, and I decided my character wanted to pursue an already-established source of danger to shapeshifters.

LAST SESSION

Our most recent session was a mission to destroy a cult who wanted to summon a demon that would destroy the world (or at least part of Brooklyn).  Matt decided that a few Werewolves would help us attack the cultists, and they'd meet with us at dusk.  I had a quick solo session in which my character figured out how to get into the cultists' lair.  At this point, my character's motives and mine were identical: Find the best way to defeat the badguys.  I decided that using Meg's character's resources, we should get some explosives, go early (before it got too close to the time for their ritual, or late enough for Vampires to rise), and collapse the badguys' underground lair on them.  Paul's character picked up some remote cameras to place in the lair, hopefully verifying that the explosion had successfully triggered a collapse.  John's character convinced the werewolves to meet earlier with us, so we could recruit them for this new plan.

We followed through on our plan.  Once the bombs were set, we entered the enemy lair.  Finding an altar and some sleeping vampires, we decided that decapitating them was a safer way to ruin their plan than hoping the bombs would bury them under rubble.  Once we set to it, a bunch of nightmare monsters materialized and nearly killed us all.  We barely achieved victory.

The nightmares afflicted us with growing levels of fear.  Matt handed out penalties to our die-rolls, and told us things like, "you're barely holding it together."  Paul nicely embellished this by describing his character's posture and expression ("like a desperate cornered animal protecting her cubs, but wounded and crazed"), and resorted to using his familiar claws rather than the much-more-combat-effective magic dagger he'd been given.  I realized that given my character's nightmare (being plugged into a life support machine for eternity) and views (death = good), the appropriate action once I was down to my final points of Willpower (the stat the monsters were damaging) was to commit suicide.  Fortunately for the sake of our continued play experience (I like my character, the others do too, and we might have lost the battle without him), I never got below 2 Willpower points.

After the session, Matt told me that he'd spent a lot of time creating the vampires.  His plan had been to have us fight them, not nightmare creatures.  He explained to me that when I offered the plan of going over early and bombing the place, "I realized, well, gee, there's no reason that WOULDN'T work..."  Of course, he'd still had plenty of "outs" -- Meg's character might have taken several hours to get in touch with a demolitions guy, the werewolves might have been busy doing something until dusk.  It's been established that we players don't mind when Matt "rigs" the game a little bit, and even a transparent and flimsy reason for, "no, you have to wait until night" would have been accepted.  Perhaps Matt wanted to reward me for coming up with a good strategy by letting me follow through on it -- I haven't asked.  The first words out of his mouth, though ("no reason that wouldn't work"), are telling, I think.

JOHN'S CHARACTER PORTRAYAL

Our cycle tends to run:
Everyone shows up, GM reminds us where we left off, our characters share info and discuss what to do next, we pick a mission, we complete the mission, play ends.

The "share and discuss" portion is sometimes a tedious process of arguing about what to do, although once that un-fun dynamic develops, the first person to assert a strong preference is generally acceded to so things keep moving.  Other times, though, the "share and discuss" is an enjoyable opportunity to communicate in-character and play our weird beliefs.  All four players have had their fun moments, discussing topics from technology to flight to cleanliness to entropy.

John's character is extreme.  He was born and raised as a lizard.  He's spent most of his life in the Amazon.  Most of his kin hate technology.  He thinks all shapeshifters are capable of getting along together to serve the Earth Mother's benevolent purpose.  He thinks forces of death and order are not without their positive sides, they're just out of balance.  He's played these views with great passion during discussions with my "death is good" nut and Meg's atheist tech geek.

When success is on the line, though, John's decisions are quite predictable -- whatever's most effective.  The results follow a pattern illustrated by this example:

During a time crunch, he once tried to convey a concept, in-character, by starting with, "You've seen the Matrix, right?"  Paul and I instantly gave him odd looks, and Matt yelled, "John!"
"What, Matt?"
"Has your character seen the Matrix?"
"Uh, well, he could have..."
"When?"
"Recently.  He's been trying to understand his new environment."
(Skeptical looks all around.)
"Would he understand it even if he did see it?"
"Oh... probably not.  Good point."

Sometimes this is followed by a second, more character-appropriate attempt.  When it's done well, everyone at the table smiles in approval, and John sometimes throws in something like, "Sorry about the Matrix, I hadn't though ti through."

On days where someone's mean about calling him on such a discrepancy, or John's not in a good mood, this can go less well.  "Matt, you know what I want to explain to the guy, can't we just say my character explains it?!"

THE POINT

I'm an aspiring RPG designer, and I've been trying to better my understanding of the Big Model, in hopes of helping me make the most fun game I can make, for an audience whose tastes mirror (or at least heavily overlap with) my own.

My understanding with respect to the Werewolf game is that we are engaged in play that is largely Gamist.  The system in place to support this is largely one of informal, verbal agreements about what game time will be spent doing.  Plus we all have a variety of neat powers and resources to strategize with, and a combat system that sometimes provides interesting choices in battle.

Our desires, however (at least mine, Matt's and Paul's), require more than challenges and performance.  Part of what we require from roleplaying is a certain quality of the Shared Imaginary Space, such that it remains plausible and somewhat vivid.  I've proposed to my fellow players that the reason we like RPGs better than video games is that our achievements in RPGs acquire a certain resonance by virtue of existing in an intensely imagined space.  The experience is much closer to "I was there, I did this thing" than one gets from succeeding at a board game.  My fellow players all responded, "Yeah, definitely."

Now, as a designer, I have plenty of ideas on purely Gamist system -- resources, combat options, action order, modeling of physics -- but very few on system to provide the attributes of the SIS that I like to conduct my Gaming in.

So, my point is that there should be such a system.  I would like to help make it, and I think most of the people I've played with would like to play it.  A game where you can both outwit the labyrinth of death-traps and feel like this imaginary experience mattered in a way that winning Monopoly doesn't.

AM I JUST TALKING ABOUT A GAM-SIM HYBRID DESIGN?

I dunno.  Maybe.  I can find Sim if I look for it:

Paul's decision to drop the dagger was Simulationist -- enhancing his enjoyment as an exploration of Character (this is what my character does when in the grip of terror!), and my and Matt's enjoyment as an exploration of Situation (this is what fighting monsters with terror powers does to someone!) or perhaps Setting (the servants of the Evil of this world are terrible indeed!).

My suicide thought was Simulationist in the same way.

John's apology for using character-inappropriate knowledge was a nod (sincere or not) to a Simulationist value, preserving others' right to dream uninterfered. 

Matt's comment about, "there's no reason that wouldn't work", is tantamount to a priority for exploration of Setting -- this world is a world that's consistent enough and models reality well enough to feel real.

Or, perhaps the important thing is not the fact that setting, character, and/or situation are being explored -- perhaps the important thing is not a separate Creative Agenda at all, but rather certain techniques to color the Gamist agenda. 

Personally, I'm a fan of a pretty extreme version of immersion, where no one talks out of character or departs Actor stance and the world is perfectly thought-out and sensible down through any level of investigation into how things work.  I'm not necessarily talking about taking it that far -- for now.  For now, I'm just interested in hearing what games, rules systems, informal systems, etc., have worked for others looking for the same resonance to their dungeon-crawling.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: November 04, 2006, 09:28:27 PM »

Hi David,

How much time do you spend each session either cheering someone for a victory or tensely waiting to see whether victory will be grasped (ie, it is the main thing on your mind)? It doesn't show in this account.
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David Berg
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Posts: 612


« Reply #2 on: November 04, 2006, 11:20:24 PM »

Callan,

Let me see...  Usually, individual feats of creative ingenuity are praised with:
1) out-of-character "Nice!" or "Good call!" comments
2) in-character "Yeah, that's an excellent idea!" comments
3) general spike in enthusiasm when following up on or responding to the feat of ingenuity
Sometimes all of the above, sometimes only very, very subtle versions of the above (looks, mostly) -- occasionally, none of the above, if other players are too preoccupied, but that's very rare.  Not a lot of time is spent congratulating individuals while the game is being played.  After the game's over, discussion tends to revolve around what to do next, speculations on metaplot, and non-gaming topics.  Every once in a while, though, extra kudos will be offered for something someone did (usually an inspiration or creative tactical solution).  Also, enjoyment of others' play will be expressed: "Man, that thing almost killed you!  Good thing you rolled awesome on your last swing!"

Group success in the mission tends to "end the game on a good note", with many, "Yay, we did it!" comments and the occasional, usually subtle "nice job, you!"  Again, this doesn't generally comprise a large amount of time -- maybe ten minutes after 4 hours of play.

As for tensely waiting to see whether victory will be grasped?  Well, "tensely" is most visible in combats with uncertain odds.  It's also often visible when creeping into new scary places. 

There's a more pervasive and general sense of, once we decide Enemy X must be stopped, waiting to see if we'll eventually wind up pulling it off.  "If we don't stop him, he'll do this thing, and it'll be horrible!"  But this usually isn't tense until combat is near or threatening, or until some specific deadline is about to be reached.

I feel like I've answered your literal question, but I hope I haven't missed your point.  Please let me know if I can clarify further.
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David Berg
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« Reply #3 on: November 05, 2006, 01:44:52 AM »

I should also mention that the game is generally fun for everyone.  Not amazingly, inspiringly, can't-wait-til-next-session fun, but everyone leaves happy.  The occasional indecision on mission selection or tiff with John's acting are about as bad as it gets.  (Note: We're all friends who enjoy hanging out and communicate fairly well -- it's at least possible that the positivity is more a result of that than of the way we're playing.)
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Frank T
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« Reply #4 on: November 05, 2006, 06:47:27 AM »

Hi David,

In this thread, Ron Edwards did a GNS analysis of a RIFTS game. You will find a lot of points clarified there, especially concerning the relationship between Gamist and Simulationist play. For more on Simulationist play, I also humbly recommend my own thread about a Vampire/Sabbat game, with some very insightful comments by Adam Dray.

- Frank
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: November 05, 2006, 06:46:56 PM »

Hi there David,

I'm posting to let you know that I'm working up an extensive reply, which might include a couple of questions.

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: November 06, 2006, 08:42:26 AM »

Hi David,

Opening points - I'm presenting these in a non-debate, non-negotiable fashion. They're stated mainly to let you know where I'm coming from, to clarify a couple of things that might otherwise be confusing later in the discussion, and to forestall confused/defiant posting from third parties.

#1. You're playing a system which is effectively of your own evolution and devising over the past years, and I'll be speaking of that system itself, only. Nothing I say will pertain to Werewolf as a text or as played by anyone else. (I think this is merely reinforcing your opening points in your post.)

#2. All of your mentions of Gamism or other Creative Agenda material are stated incorrectly, about stuff that isn't CA, and otherwise off-base. For example, a decision to drop a dagger cannot be classified by CA at all. We are going to have to start from the beginning and work our dialogue up to a certain point before even mentioning CA.

#3. None of your considerations of what characters want vs. what players want are relevant to any aspect of the Big Model except perhaps Ephemera, pertaining to character portrayal, and I suspect not even that much.

#4. I chose to support the term "shared imagined space" in a very specific phrasing. It is not important that it is imaginary (as opposed to being real), but rather imagined (an action on one's part). Since it's shared as well, that means everyone must be performing a specific, communicative set of imagining-actions. I'm clarifying this because you used the word "imaginary" and because it may become important later in our discussion.

For my own clarity of understanding

Matt is the GM; the rest of group is you, Meg, John, and Paul.

Overall, what's the age range? Is anyone in the group related to anyone else? And, uh, pardon the intrusion, but what is the romantic composition within the group? It is sorta important, actually.

Who's playing which character? About 10-15 words will suffice to describe a given character; I don't want complicated back-story but rather a few key words and abilities so I can keep them straight. So far, all I know is that John is playing a lizard who shape-shifts, you have some kind of death-nut, and Meg's character is atheistic and technological. If you could give me a short powers/visual grip on each character, as well as a name, that would help a lot.

Main questions - these are all intended to give me a better view of your play-experience (with this group & game) at a larger scale than you've been describing. Without this bird's-eye-view, we can't learn anything about CA in your game. Please remember that none of these questions constitute an attack on your group or the GM; none of them conceal an "ah-ha! so you're dysfunctional!" response to a given answer.

How many missions have been played? You described the first one and the most recent one ... any others in between, and how many? How many sessions per mission - one, varies from one up (to what), or always multiple (how many)?

Does the group ever fail a mission? If so, why, and what happened?

Has a mission ever not included a fairly extensive set-piece fight?

Has a given character been straight-up beaten in a fight? Has the group as a whole been flattened/defeated in a fight? In either case, did this occur in the climactic, make-or-break fight in a given mission?

Has a player-character died through direct misapplication of strategy or other "sports type" misplays? Has any player-character ever died unexpectedly? In either case, when and how?

What personal, real-person strategy and guts are involved during conflicts during play? When someone "gets in a good one," or when a session is deemed particularly good due to character actions, what did they do? Is it possible that personal strategy and guts are not as important as providing the color and verbal/symbolic responses during a fight?

You mentioned that John is highly focused on being "most effective," but the example you gave has nothing to do with effectiveness, just with a minor choice of phrasing. Can you give an example of John being maximally effective during play, such that I get a more general idea of what you mean?

How is character improvement handled, if any? You mentioned character points as reward for the first mission. Has this persisted, and am I correct in assuming every character gets 4-5 points per mission? How much have skills and attributes and powers increased since the start of play? When, how, and why? And if so, what attention is paid to it by the real people?

Provisional thoughts so far - I'd like you to apply these to other missions that you haven't yet described to see whether they fit.

My impression is that the strongest character-decisions in your group concern tactics - choosing when to utilize a particular power, choosing how to time a particular action or to deliver some key dialogue. In other words, operating at a fairly small scale (i.e. options during a fight, perhaps some deployment right before one). Is this impression correct?

Your discussion of the pre-confrontation dialogue leads me to think that the GM is strongly-committed to a given set-piece location for a given session, and that the players are generally OK with that. In this case, your alternative plan was adopted. I noticed, however, that technically, your plan was not treated as a full alternative. You still went in to stake them. You still had a set-piece fight scene in the same locale with the nightmares. There seemed to be no option at all that simply blowing them up without any round-by-round, classic combat with indvidual foes would be sufficient. There seems to be a general understanding that a given session or mission must involve a multiple-round fight with other individuals. Do you think this impression is correct?

You guys listen to one another a lot and apparently put some effort into encouraging and validating the crucial shared part of the SIS. The GM didn't scruff you guys into the fight he'd planned, when you offered a good approach he hadn't anticipated, even though as you say, it wouldn't have been a big deal if he had. John isn't marginalized for being off-beat or weird with his character, and in fact, the rest of you appreciate the benefits of his playing in this way; when you give him feedback, everyone treats this (I think accurately) as healthy human communication rather than pushiness or intrusion.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #7 on: November 06, 2006, 03:03:27 PM »

Frank-
Thanks for the links.  I'll give them a thorough read after I've responded to Ron's questions.
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David Berg
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« Reply #8 on: November 06, 2006, 07:39:36 PM »

Ron,

Re: your opening points: I have plenty of questions on these, but I'm sure we'll get to them.  Just wanted to let you know that I've read several of your CA-concerned articles multiple times, so your efforts here to help me "get it" are both necessary and appreciated.

The group:

Matt (the GM) - age 29.  He and Paul were close friends in high school, played V:tM together. The two are still fairly close.

Meg - age 28?  She and Matt recently moved to NYC and are living together for the first time.  They've been dating about 2 years.  Meg seems to be happy to have the game occurring in her apartment one weeknight a week, but her attention to the game itself wanes from time to time (much email checking occurs).  Character: Elantrine (were-raven).  Whiny, attractive geek with extensive useful connections, a near-omniscient sentient computer, and a scientific skepticism of magic.  Fights with razor feathers in awkward bird-human form.

Paul - age 28.  He has been an on-and-off friend (and martial arts instructor) of mine and John's for 5 years.  Character: Read (were-panther).  Has various panther-ish forms which can maul with teeth and claws.  In human form, good with guns.  Suave.  Aloof but friendly.  A few magical powers he doesn't explain.

John - age 29.  One of my best friends from college, though I see him rarely these days.  Character: Shimmer (were-dragon).  Flying slashing crushing lashing dragon combat form.  Tiny lizard animal form.  Has abilities to read and impart memories, thoughts, and feelings.  Naive optimist from the jungle.

David - age 28.  That's me.  Character: Robert (were-vulture).  Flesh rotting off exposed skull in man-vulture form.  Can detect the weaknesses in things and people, cause festering wounds with beak attacks, and draw the Black Spiral to bring chaos to small areas.  Practical, cynical, dour, kills people on life support. 


Main questions
Part One: those I think I can answer right now


Sessions & goals therein (w/ results):
1) Meet up and save the cairn (success - cairn saved)
2) Investigate the evil organization (Setites) we found in the cairn (inconclusive - "something creepy is going on")
3) Interrogate an imprisoned former Setite (mixed bag - succeeded in getting scraps of info, failed to prevent assassination, mostly lost a fight, incidentally became aware of scientific study of were-creatures)
4) Followed some colorful dead-ends.  (The foaming guy doesn't know anything, but man is he foaming!)  Then, investigated scientists who capture were-creatures (success - won a fight, found they're holding a werewolf in New Jersey)
5) Make friends with werewolves by rescuing a werewolf captured by scientists (mixed - succeeded in rescuing werewolf, failed to make the rescued werewolf befriend us)
6) Investigate meeting of Setites, interfere with them (success - killed some Setites, took another one prisoner)
7) Escape dangerous area, interrogate prisoner, convince werewolves to help us stop Setites (success - got away, got some small info, a few werewolves agreed to help)
8) Attack Setite lair (success - killed vampires, rescued prisoner, demolished lair)

Qualifiers on "success" notes:
Some of our successes have come with unfortunate consequences.  In #3, Robert (me) caused a riot and jailbreak at Ryker's Island.  In #8, we collapsed the Brooklyn museum.  Also, we've often achieved a smaller degree of success than we'd hoped -- small scraps of info tentatively pointing somewhere, rather than conclusive evidence of what's going on.

Climactic combats:
Session #2 included no combat.  Session #5 included a dramatic confrontation, but we mostly succeeded via clever negotiation on the part of Read (Paul).  Shimmer (John) accomplished still more via a dramatic fight.  Session #7 began with Shimmer fighting something, but included no other combat.  Sessions 1, 4, 6 and 8 all included set-piece combats.

Losing:
Mainly, our losses in combat have come at the expense of individuals during group battles.  (E.g., Robert getting his butt kicked by a Nightmare but then being saved by Shimmer.) 

The purest failure was probably when a wereboar killed our Setite informant in Session #3.  We fought to stop it, failed, got fairly beat up, and then it teleported away.  This occurred during the middle of the session.

The one player-character death occurred in Session #1.  Shimmer got hurt badly in the climactic fight.  He was then healed a little bit, and leaped back in.  He unwittingly wound up next to a particularly powerful opponent, who killed him.  So, it was a combination of high-risk strategy and bad luck.  Immediately after the fight, an NPC took Shimmer away to be resurrected.  Shimmer came back quite shaken, having been pulled away from some version of heaven.

Character improvement:
3-8 points per session is the norm.  John's had a lot of risky solo ventures (mostly fights) and has generally been rewarded with extra points.  Matt also stated an intent to have a "bonus point" each session go to someone who solves a certain puzzle, but I don't know if this has actually been happening. 

No one has spent these points in a way that's memorable to me personally.  I think Meg made her character a bit more durable, Paul might have bumped his firearm skill, John's acquired a cheap knowledge or two.

John and I are saving up points to spend on cool magical powers.  (I am slightly annoyed at the system Matt's preserved from Werewolf, in which cool magical powers must be bargained for from spirits, and spirits must be contacted in a certain way by a person of a certain Level, which is defined by some combo of three stats on the sheet that never get referenced.  Matt doesn't seem to love it either, but it's familiar and comfortable for him and he has no inclinations to design his own system.)  The powers I want are:
- some potent form of intimidation (because it violates my aesthetic for the character when NPCs try to blow him off or push him around)
- hiding the taint of the Wyrm (so werewolves don't think I'm evil as soon as they smell me)
- greater ability to hit with my beak attack (cuz being the least effective guy in combat gets old after a while)

When someone "gets in a good one," or when a session is deemed particularly good due to character actions, what did they do?

Usually, they had a great idea or good luck on a roll or both.

Great idea: "We're under one of the few main roads in town, right?  So there's likely a water main under here, right?  I'm going to use X power to find it, Y power to open it, and Z power to use it to blast the fire monster we're fighting."  That kind of contribution gets a GREAT reaction in my games.  (Of course, the impact is reduced if it doesn't work.  If the powers require rolls to succeed, and these are failed, then the celebration of the great idea is short-lived, cuz there's still a combat situation to worry about.)  If the great idea ends the combat in victory, that's the ultimate.  Likewise for a great idea that passes the party through security into the Forbidden Zone, gets us Cool Toys, makes the mafia think they owe us a favor, etc.

The best recent example is when Read convinced a scientist to swap us a werewolf prisoner (who we came to rescue) for 4 vampire corpses (and we hate vampires).

Great luck: "I'm down to my last point of life, its next attack will very likely kill me, I need a 9 on this d10 to hit.  9!  Hooray!"  The celebration afterwards is of the vicarious thrill and dramatic success -- "that was fun to be a part of" rather than "you did something well".  (As a GM, I often take pride in those moments -- it implies that I set the challenge level well.)

Your discussion of the pre-confrontation dialogue leads me to think that the GM is strongly-committed to a given set-piece location for a given session, and that the players are generally OK with that.

Once we've chosen our direction, yes, that direction will inevitably lead us to a pre-planned set-piece location.  And indeed, we're okay with that.

In this case, your alternative plan was adopted. I noticed, however, that technically, your plan was not treated as a full alternative.

It was pretty interesting the way that played out.  It was a little hard to be clear on whether the players wanted a fight per se, but we definitely wanted some close contact with whatever was down there.  If we'd approached and seen a fight we couldn't win, I bet we'd have happily run and set off the bombs.  If the odds looked about even?  I don't know.  The NPC werewolves with the party definitely had a "let's kill vampires!" urge, so I have a feeling a fight was inevitable.  But left solely to the players?  I kind of think we would have done whatever best served our goal of "stop Setites from summoning demons", and if that was to opt out of a fight then so be it.

There seems to be a general understanding that a given session or mission must involve a multiple-round fight with other individuals. Do you think this impression is correct?

"Must" might be a little strong, but it's at least pretty close.


Main questions
Part Two: those I probably need clarification on


My impression is that the strongest character-decisions in your group concern tactics - choosing when to utilize a particular power, choosing how to time a particular action or to deliver some key dialogue. In other words, operating at a fairly small scale (i.e. options during a fight, perhaps some deployment right before one). Is this impression correct?

Please define "strongest".  I suspect the answer is "yes", but I don't 100% understand the question.

What personal, real-person strategy and guts are involved during conflicts during play?

Please define "real-person strategy and guts".

I am guessing that "real-person strategy" means making decisions to best achieve in-game goals.  "We/Our characters want to get around this rock without being seen -- should we go at noon when the guard shift changes, at dusk when the light's low, or at night when it's dark except for certain light sources?"

"Guts" I generally think of as the willingness to employ a high-risk, high-reward strategy.  "We'll go at noon.  We should have a clear dash all the way to the reactor.  Of course, if not, we'll be sitting ducks for their shooters.  Let's do it!"

If our definitions match, are these examples sufficient to answer your question?

Is it possible that personal strategy and guts are not as important as providing the color and verbal/symbolic responses during a fight?

For me, someone like John contributes to the experience of the fight simply by caring -- shaking his dice too long, staring intently at his rolls, cursing when he rolls badly.  Sometimes this is accompanied by dramatic descriptions of his character's actions, sometimes it's just "I attack him" -- and although I prefer the former, the latter is not a problem.

Does that work?  You may need to define the intended scope of "provide color & verbal/symbolic responses" for me.

As for what's most important:
The element of personal strategy (especially having great ideas with water mains) is most directly applauded and well-remembered.  I am open to the possibility, though, that some color elements are just as vital to our enjoyment.

You mentioned that John is highly focused on being "most effective," but the example you gave has nothing to do with effectiveness, just with a minor choice of phrasing. Can you give an example of John being maximally effective during play, such that I get a more general idea of what you mean?

I am not sure how much this discussion will benefit from me describing John's roleplaying style.  If you'd like, I certainly can at length.

First, though, let me say that my purpose in providing the example I did was to discuss those specific circumstances, as I thought they would be revealing of a relevant interaction amongst player priorities.  Said circumstances being:

Goal #1: communicate vital info in-game under time pressure.  John came up with a tool to facilitate successful completion of that task: reference to a movie his character hadn't seen.

Gaol #2: play your character "accurately", i.e., have them perform actions that are consistent with their mental makeup (knowledge, history, disposition, beliefs).  Exactly why this is desirable (for me and my friends, anyway) is a major topic I wish to discuss, either in this thread or some other, future one.

Quandary: So, do you go ahead and use the tool you think will work, or do you pause and weigh, "Would my character know that?" 

To do the former is, in my eyes, to play with "effectiveness" as a priority over and above "realistic character portrayal" (and whatever purposes such portrayal serves).

We can withdraw this dynamic from the current discussion if you don't think my inferred interaction of priorities is present and/or relevant.  (My misunderstanding of CA is likely to blame.)

Ps,
-David
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Callan S.
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« Reply #9 on: November 07, 2006, 07:18:03 PM »

Hi David,

I once ran a play by post game (which are notorious for their lack of social feedback, really). The party was going to head through a quite ominous looking forest and one of the players started posting about her elf heritage and being on good terms with tree's and such like. As they went in, more ominous postings from me got more friend of the forrest postings from her.

Basically as GM I took that, but matched it against what I had in mind (elementals possessing tree bodies and being tied to nearby evil) and concluded that the trees would attack the friendly elf, despite how certain the player was of her character and the effect she'd have.

It kind of came out flat. I mean, when a sports team loses a game, it doesn't come out flat. Everyone goes 'Awww nooo!' or some expression of exasperation. In my game there was really no acknowledgement of the event.

With the setite informant or Shimmer death, what sort of responce was there then?
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David Berg
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« Reply #10 on: November 07, 2006, 11:43:23 PM »

Callan-

The death of the Setite informant occurred in fairly complicated physical and dramatic circumstances that would take forever for me to recount.  If I recall correctly, the reaction was:

John - mostly frustration.  Shimmer tried hard to protect the informant from the enemy's attacks, and then throw the informant to Robert and Elantrin, who would then escort him to safety.  The informant got gored by the assassin in midair, following a disagreement with the GM about who had what sort of reach in what direction.  The assassin then teleported away, and John was doubly frustrated that Robert and Elantrin didn't help try to kill it.

Me - mostly detachment.  Based on the drama with which Matt made the assassin's rolls (look at my BIG handful of dice!) and announced his successes -- and based as well on the default GM logic of "Well, you didn't specify enough so I'm gonna assume you're not exactly where you need to be; meanwhile, the assassin is exactly where he needs to be," for the duration of the fight -- I assumed Matt was killing this informant off for plot reasons.  I have no problem with my GMs taking away my characters' resources because it fits their metaplot, but I would have prefered it to be handled "impartially" by the system -- I don't like GM intent being QUITE that obvious, and I don't like biased arbitration of physical logistics.

Meg - mild disappointment.

As for the death of John's character, Shimmer, that was kind of a big deal.  His foolish bravery of re-entering the fight while wounded seemed "very him", and as soon as the fight was over, was recounted with a mix of mockery and admiration.  We consoled John with, "that made sense, he would have done that," while also adding a quick, "maybe it wasn't the brightest move, but..."

John sputtered a bit, complained briefly about his ill fortune of landing right next to an unseen powerful enemy, might have half-heartedly called Matt a dick. 

From the instant Shimmer died, Paul and I had a sense that our high-level, healing-themed NPC ally would resurrect him.  As soon as we implied this possibility to John, he relaxed.  After some post-battle, posthumous praise, Shimmer was indeed toted away by the NPC.

When Shimmer returned, alive, Robert (whose whole shtick is letting people die when it's thier time) looked at him as an abomination, and the NPC as some sick fuck -- that was loads of fun to roleplay.
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David Berg
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« Reply #11 on: November 07, 2006, 11:50:05 PM »

Addendum to my previous response to Ron:

Character improvement:
3-8 points per session is the norm.  John's had a lot of risky solo ventures (mostly fights) and has generally been rewarded with extra points.  Matt also stated an intent to have a "bonus point" each session go to someone who solves a certain puzzle, but I don't know if this has actually been happening. 

- After the sessions where we did not have a climactic battle or clearly accomplish a major mission, no character points were handed out.  I think this applies to sessions #2 and #7 but I'm not positive.

- I asked Matt if he wanted to reward John for doing more combat.  Matt said no, he wanted to reward him for "accomplishing things" and (I think he said this, not 100% sure) "moving the story forward".
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: November 08, 2006, 03:35:02 PM »

Hi David,

Many thanks for the character and personal summaries. It's going to make a big difference, although some of my thought-processes about it will probably stay untyped. Sometimes I don't even know which aspects of the ages and social interactions are informing my thoughts about the agendas and techniques, only that I have to know those things for the latter to make sense.

I think all discussion of John's play is a side issue and we shouldn't get into it at this point. What matters to me is actually the positive side of the interactions you've described, as I hope to make clear.

CLARIFICATIONS

By "strongest" character decisions, I mean the ones which have both significant in-game consequences, especially on later prep and scenarios, and generate lots of inter-personal attention and contribution around the table.

Your summary of strategy and guts matches mine pretty well, and what you've said about it will play a big role in a point I'll make later in this post.

SOCIAL CONTRACT

I know for a fact I despise it when people 10-15 years older than me make any comments about my socializing and standards for it. So I think I'll keep this to a very basic set of points and you let me know whether I'm at least 65% on track.

You guys have a pretty strong Social Contract which combines two, perhaps not-always-compatible things: a certain amount of former friendship as well as genuine friendship. Really committed opening-up to one another through any medium (direct conversation, creative stuff, whatever) isn't common, and a certain hierarchy of present and former roles (martial arts instructor, host in the apartment, who was whose friend) is present but not well-defined. The game serves as a way for at least some of you to remain connected, but for others it is merely another way in which existing, constant connections are expressed.

What matters for our purposes is that the crucial "let's play this game together" part is in fact present. That's key; it means we can actually discuss CA with a strong chance of getting somewhere. By contrast, see my dialogue with Mark (Buzz) in Hero System, M&M, and assessing incoherence (first part of the thread, not the Champs/character discussion later). The group he plays in doesn't consistently have that, so the shared play-experience is both desultory and CA-incoherent.

EXPLORATION

All right, [Setting + Characters = Situation], and in this case, we begin with the setting of a ton of shapeshifters, a ton of vampires, a whole lot of centuries-old scheming, and so on - perhaps it's distilled through use, but essentially, a World of Darkness kind of backdrop. Which, as I see it, has a lot more Marvel Comics in it than it has Anne Rice, let alone older authors. That's not a slam; in fact, it's important.

Why? Because such a setting means characters can be superheroes - powerz, extreme psychology, a strong need for teamwork, yet diverse world-views which lead to multiple possible approaches to a situation. With your characters defined in a powerz-oriented way (which is also a faction-y way), that means that the situation is basically that of a specialist team, in this case, a 'tac squad.

System concerns resolution with relatively low consequences per unit, unless it's really making use of a ton of other in-game features (presence of water mains, who belongs to which faction, what some guy told you and which may or may not be trusted, et cetera). Color is huge. Everything is colored; I might even go so far as to say in some circumstances, setting and character features exist in order to be colored.

This is all classic superhero role-playing, by the way. The author of Werewolf is often quoted (apocryphally or not, I dunno) as saying, "Furry supers" when describing the game, and I think your Drifted form of the game retains the feature. I am very strongly reminded of the Champions game I played a character in, 1988-89; I might chat about that one later, and talk about Werewolf's basic design relationship to 3rd-edition Champions and early Shadowrun, but not now.

TECHNIQUES

I'm mostly interested in the high-level Techniques at work, specifically the assignment and completion of missions, and how that generally relates to a bigger picture of what's going on. Clearly there are many factions, actions, charactes, and various influences all firing; that's part of the setting. And clearly there's a whole lotta tactical powerz-use during fights and monitoring of damage and stunning and so on, and that's cool too.

But in-between ... h'mm. That's interesting. What system-process was involved in whether the information gained is a "scrap" or a "true find," for instance ... well, all of that is actually GM-talk and can't be addressed very easily here. I'd like to, one day, though.

I'm keeping a sharp eye on the reward system in particular - it's certainly not character improvement, but instead oriented toward the larger place and effect of the player-characters on the setting, and the sense of "we're getting somewhere" - shall I say a fully shared appreciation of what the background/setting has to offer. That's kind of the Marvel-Universe thing right there, the idea that the immediate fighty stuff and the immediate high-character-concept stuff actually does tap into, as well as help create/realize, this larger tapestry of stuff.

I submit that the enjoyment of tactics during combat has more to do with how it contributes (a) to the coolness/nature of the characters and (b) to the overall Color and aesthetics of the immediate situation, than to (c) actual accomplishment of the "win." I mean, if it does work, then bonus, but the pageantry or spectacle of the action, particularly if it suits a given character's psychology, is really the payoff.

EPHEMERA

Character portrayal, lots of listening, lots of constructive helping. I've seen this feature a lot in one of my current groups, in which no one "just plays his character," in practice. An announced action or statement is treated mainly as provisional, subject to editing or commentary before it gets rubber-stamped. In fact, I've seen this in groups about which a member claims everyone plays their character separately, but that's not to the present point. My present point is that it's a very powerful, momentary feature of your group's play, and I think it's a strong partner of the round-the-table appreciation that shows up as the primary reward mechanism.

I'm also going to speculate that a certain illusion of risk is present (this has nothing to do with "illusionism") which operates at the Ephemeral level as a certain kind of emphasis. You mentioned, for instance, the enjoyment of needing a 9 or a 10 because "the next attack will likely kill me," and yay, getting a 9. As I see it, in a game with this many missions and fights so far, if that sort of thing happens at all frequently and if the "likely kill me" part is real, then we'd be seeing more dead characters by now. Combining that with your account of the were-boar who kicked your asses, killed an NPC, and then teleported away, I am going to suggest that full-on character death (what we used to call "dead-dead") is simply not in the cards for this game, or if it were, it'd be a much bigger deal and due to far more than just another combat outcome. The resurrection event bears me out on this one too, I think.

(I realize I wasn't there and may be inferring too much from the were-boar; if so, there's no need to outline the situation in gruesome detail to tell me so. If I'm wrong, OK; if you're committed to the appearance of risk and want to defend it, OK - we can both let it ride.)

CONCLUSION

All the way from top to bottom, I'm seeing a common goal: portrayal, appreciation of one another's portrayal, and interest in what each scenario reveals about a larger backdrop. So there's kind of a large-scale "stuff going on" interest, and within that, a sense of strengthening the big picture by paying attention to the

Notice that I'm calling it a goal, which I'm choosing carefully. All role-playing needs the chassis or foundation of plausibility, vividness, and interaction. But those aren't goals, they're the foundation, in many cases. When you make some aspect of the foundation a goal - the thing to do it for - then you have Simulationist play.

I'll lift this point of mine from a recent thread:

Quote
Imagine a little platform made of green-painted wood, standing a few inches high off the ground on its little legs. That's Exploration, the necessary imaginative communication for role-playing to occur at all. Perhaps it's a very pretty shade of green or particularly well-crafted in terms of pegs and glue. Doesn't matter. It's not the Creative Agenda.

Now imagine a secondary wooden structure built on top of it, reaching a whole foot off the ground at its tip. That's your game in action. Whatever shared goal or priority puts it there, or (in the analogy) whatever shape or material it is, that's your Creative Agenda. It's what you and the group do with the platform.

A Simulationist CA happens to be made of wood and happens to be painted green. That's why people are always mistaking Exploration for Simulationism, when it's not. It's still a secondary structure on top of the platform. It also so happens that Gamist and Narrativist CAs are always brutally, recognizably distinct from the platform that supports them - made of plastic or aluminum, and always painted a different color or not painted at all. That's why people are always forgetting that no matter what, those agendas need the platform too.

Andreas, I'm going through this kindergarten imagery because, in your post, I see a lot of rhapsodizing about "wonder moments" and all that. I anticipate that you are going to claim that's some kind of Simulationist presence in your group. Well, if you think that's Simulationist, lose that mistaken idea right now. That's foundational Exploration, the platform. Maybe your group's CA on top of it is "the same stuff," and hence Simulationist, and maybe it's not. We have to look at it to see.

That's the point from 2001, the essay "GNS and other matters of role-playing theory."

Now it's 2006 and I have the Big Model. CA exists as the goal or priority that ties together the features of the Big Model, during play. So the question about your game is (a) whether you guys had any goal or priority tying the Model of your play-experience together, and if so, (b) what was it? And no, you can't point at the platform. We're talking about the thing you all built on top of the platform, what you do with it.

So in your case, what I'm seeing is exactly the opposite of what I identified in Andreas' game description - his experience was a balls-to-the-wall form of Gamist play, and hence all the Exploration/SIS was a means to that end. Your group's appears to me to be the opposite - action-packed, yes, and very fighty, but the structure being built on your platform is basically more/higher/cooler stuff of the same material as the platform. (So is it "just more Exploration?" No. It's still a secondary structure, because it's dynamic and it's repeatedly rewarding in a way a mere platform, which just sits there, cannot be.)

As a side-note, I am not seeing a lick of Gamist priority in anything in the posts so far. Not one bit. A strong mission-emphasis, a strong combat-emphasis - neither of those are intrinsically Gamist. What makes something intrinsically Gamist is the strong possibility that an actual person playing can flatly lose, and when the only way to make that less likely is to exhibit personal strategy and guts. Not to portray them in one's character, but to demonstrate them yourelf, just as if you built that Magic deck beautifully, but got smacked by a bad draw and good play by the opponent, and then played defensively and well, pulling out a good game with a renewed chance to win.

I'm not seeing any of that in what you're talking about. Your examples of strategy-and-guts were quite minor in terms of high-priority reward and consequence. As far as I can tell, in your game, losing a fight, not getting some information, failing to hold onto a captive, are all means of getting deeper into the SIS, not judgment-heavy consequences of pressured decisions. I especially do not see any sort of social consequence and reinforcement of any Gamist priorities (values, goals, whatever) around the table.

Whew! Thoughts, questions, considerations, ideas?

Please bear in mind that I always enter into these threads with a close enough for government work mentality. I'm not claiming actually to be there or to read anyone's mind, or to know their minds better than they do. If I'm hitting in the 65%-70% zone, then that's a flat-out success, as I see it.

Best, Ron
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David Berg
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« Reply #13 on: November 08, 2006, 09:08:04 PM »

Ron,

Your first paragraph under "CONCLUSION" got cut off.  Can you fill in the gap?

I must say that at first reading, your impression of what the players' priorities are sounds off to me.  But that may just be a function of the way I view this game, within the context on my own personal play tastes (I am often much more excited about exploring the setting in other games than I am in this one). 

It seems to me that a key question is, "Why do the players care about succeeding in missions?"  Am I correct in guessing that groups with different Creative Agendas would likely answer this question differently?  (If they were being completely honest and self-aware, that is.)

I will mull further and hopefully generate a useful response (most likely a long slew of questions).  For the moment, let me just say that some of your points are 100% on the money (in my opinion), such as the one about Marvel Superhero tac squads.  That is exactly what's going on in my game.

Ps,
-David
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: November 09, 2006, 05:11:54 AM »

Hi David,

One thing really looks like it needs clarifying. We aren't talking about player motives. We are talking about whatever goal/priority/agenda is shared among all of you at the table, and mutually reinforced throughout the rises and falls of play.

That means that I am not trying to state (for instance) Meg's state of mind or her plans or motives about her character, or yours, or John's, or whoever's. I am looking for those things about play, of which character portrayal is only a small part, which are recognized by all of you as "why we're here." Not as a motive that brought you here, but rather as an activity that you do here. When I say "recognized," I do not mean articulated or even internally thought - I mean recognized as evidenced by responses, communication, and reinforcement among you.

Some of your phrasings throughout the thread were itching at me regarding this issue, the exchange with Callan sort-of went off in the wrong direction in just this way, and your reply just now turned the itch into a maybe-alarm.

Therefore, before we go on, can I get some confirmation on that exact point? If you have any questions about that, or want to see how it relates to the stuff I've written, or want to know how I've applied it in this case, now is the time.

Best, Ron
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