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[TSOY] With Players New and Old

Started by Jason Morningstar, May 11, 2007, 12:43:06 PM

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Jason Morningstar

Remi was recently asked by some of the improvisers in his performing company to show them what roleplaying is all about.  He ended up running PTA for a few of them, which was a success that I hope he'll share the details of here or elsewhere.  A few of them asked for more, and I was tasked with running The Shadow of Yesterday for them.

So I had a fun quandry – I'd be running TSOY for between two and four new roleplayers, as well as Remi and finally Clinton, the guy who wrote the game.  So there'd be a broad range of experience at the table.  I knew that Clinton and Remi would back my play and support the new guys, so I set out to show off the game, show off roleplaying in general, and just have a great time. 

They had requested fantasy, so I chose to go with a familiar set of tropes – I made up six pre-gens that were all literary figures associated with Robin Hood.  Remi played Tuck (Key of the Hypocrite), Clinton played Midge, the Miller's Son (Key of Vengeance), M. played Marion (Key of Fraternity:  Guy of Gisborne), and J. played Will Scarlet (Key of Unrequited Love: Marion).  I wrote down some notes around the general theme of rescuing Robin Hood from the evil Guy of Gisborne, and we were off to the races (the characters and notes are here).  I really had no idea how it would turn out, but I have absolute confidence in the system and my friends to provide a good time.

M. and J. had played (and really enjoyed) PTA, and they were very comfortable with jumping in to set stakes and narrate consequences.  It was really refreshing to see their excitement when I piled on the adversity.  J. chose to play Will as a dumb but skilled man of action, and he really got into the Key of Unrequited Love, with M's enthusiastic support.  I really noticed their backgrounds in improvisation coming out – there was a lot of agreement, for one thing, and both were free with the narration, adding details and situational bits without hesitation.  M. dispensed with the "genre appropriate" Marion – the second conflict of the game was an extended one, in which she attempted to behead the wicked Prioress of Kirklees!  Marion's Key of Conscience be damned, sayeth M. 

I also watched M. and J. observing Clinton and Remi closely, as the two of them interacted, playing larger-than-life characters for all they were worth.  Both commented later that having "experienced gamers" to play with was valuable (the PTA game had been Remi as Producer and a bunch of improvisers). 

For his part (I hope he'll chime in) Clinton graciously held his tongue when I mangled his rules, but was a helpful resource when I called on him for support.  It's a little stressful to play your own game, at least for me, but he went bananas as the twelve-year-old avenging angel of the Saxons, and it was great to have him as a player.  And Remi as Friar Tuck was just hilarious. 

This was a really entertaining evening and it was a genuine pleasure to game with people so enthusiastic and excited to be at the table and learn something new.  Both M. and J. have been invited back for more! 

Ron Edwards

Hey Jason,

I have a bit of an agenda in replying, which I need to disclose - I am one of the few who thinks the various skills/socializing of improv and those of role-playing are not necessarily compatible. By "not necesssarily," I mean that literally - perhaps they can be compatible at times, but they don't have to be and might often be at odds.

So with that on the table, I'd like to learn more about the rules which got mangled. This is also in the interest of helping people reading this to understand the game's incredible rules, which I am not confident actually get employed by many groups, based on the actual play posts I read.

Best, Ron

Jason Morningstar

I think the biggest thing, which I talked to Clinton about afterward, was that I had non-canonical definitions for parallel and perpendicular in Bringing Down the Pain.  My weekly group, which has been playing TSOY for over a year, has sort of drifted that unintentionally, and I brought our dialect to the table.  In retrospect it didn't have much of an impact in play (I think it resulted in me, as GM, exerting a little more influence in arranging conflicts than would otherwise be the case), and I gather that in itself was instructive to Clinton regarding his current design project. 

I doubt we're in much disagreement about improvisational techniques applied to gaming - we certainly cherry pick the ones that are most fruitful.  I hope Clinton and Remi will weigh in with their perspectives.

Clinton R. Nixon


Jason's got it right - that was the only rule that got mangled, and it was actually a really interesting permutation, and only took place once. Otherwise, the rules were as written, and I found they were even more easily employed than normal: the two new players got into the use of gift dice, not associating them with their character, instantly.

In terms of what improv brought, and what improv didn't bring: it brought intense scene framing by every player. Once the two new people got excited, they would start new scenes with their character, checking in quickly with the GM along the way. I worried it would bring an avoidance of conflict, but it didn't: these were two people who asked to play a RPG, so they knew it wouldn't be the same as playing at improv.
Clinton R. Nixon
CRN Games

Remi Treuer

Hey Ron,
Both M. and J. come from 'sister hobbies', they're both sf/fantasy geeks (J. goes to DragonCon regularly), and I got the feeling that they were leaning on those experiences as much as, or more than, improv.

They went into Bringing Down the Pain, with Will (J.) trying to protect Marian (M.) from recklessly engaging the troops downstairs, and the very act of doing so seemed to cement that when the Pain was Brought it meant the conflict was important to their character. They often took consequences when it was fun (did either of them got into BDtP again? I feel like we had two more, mine and another), and revelled in their victories.

Further, they got into the individuality of their characters. Jason had us all make supporting roles for Will to steer us through rapids, and it felt very natural to work in a group in that way. There was never any shying away from dice to 'play it out'.

My favorite moment was when we came out of the dungeon, Robin Hood on John Little's shoulders. Jason said, "The Sheriff notices you, and he calls on his guards to attack you!" M., eyes wide, said, "You can't! We're dancing!" There was no expectation that this would simply be accepted, though. We went to the dice, knowing full-well that the outcome could not be in our favor. (it ended up in our favor)

In short, they jumped into roleplaying, conflict resolution, and the responsibility of being a player.

As for improv and roleplaying not necessarily being compatible, is there argument about this? Like any set of skills, improv techniques are useful in certain situations, and not so much in others. We've had some tetchy experiences with uncontrolled 'tag-outs' of characters at the table (automatically coming in as a supporting NPC in another person's scene), and I try to wait until there is a voiced need for a character before coming in as an NPC. I'd even go so far as to say that the weakest game in our Twilight:2000 series was the one where we went to improv instead of the system. The only thing from improv that I use in every single game I play is improv listening, but that's essentially an outgrowth of my desire for focus at the table. Am I reading this right, or is your objection even deeper than mine? Is this the right place to discuss this?