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question about bass playing

Started by jackson_tegu, May 09, 2007, 11:24:58 PM

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hey Ron,
this is kind of a weenie question.
so, from M. J. Young's article here
i've got an idea about a referee "playing bass"; setting a groundwork for the players to "riff" over, and responding to them, the character-players provide the melody, the referee provides the rhythm and mood and so on;

is there a place in this (very useful) metaphor for drummers? are they system? are they an established theme or the setting that the game takes place in?
i guess i'm just asking, "what do you think of drummers?"

sure of ourselves, aren't we?


I'm not Ron but your question reminded me of this thread here:


Ron Edwards

That's the one! I was just searching for that thread when the search engine seized up on me. Thanks Jesse!

I'd like to emphasize that this whole band/bass analogy is based on the idea that the melody is the plot, as determined on the spot by the actions and announcements of the players interacting with the adversity of the situations for their characters.

I think a number of people have mis-read the analogy as the players merely adding frosting and acting-bits onto the GM's masterful plot-presentation, which is not at all what I'm talking about, not one little bit.

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

So, Jackson, does that help, or make sense?

Not to put too fine a point on it, both Jesse and I expended some time and sweat to help with your question. I think I'd like to see some acknowledgment, and besides, I'm genuinely curious about your thoughts and play-experiences which are relevant to the issue.

Best, Ron


ah, that's a lovely metaphor extension, and it answers my question nicely.
thanks, both of you: no slight was intended; all of my self designated "forum time" was eaten yesterday by a terrible thread on another forum which grew by a page every time i finished reading one. of course, it was mostly bickering.
ron, in your own words, "slow down". ;)

and re-reading my question, i see that i didn't word it as well as i would've liked to - i'm not interested in gathering a captive audience for my short stories, i want to play and interact with my friends, blah blah "facilitate"; what i mean to say is, "yeah, i thoretically get it about not dictating a plot to innocent (in the sense that they beleive that their fates are self-realized, and they are incorrect) adventure-seekers, but let's see how well i fare at the table."

to which end, and after reading something about a "go play" movement, i rode down and pinned up a note at my local game store looking to start a second game. my first sorcerer game! so, i'll be back here intermittantly asking for assistance, mayhap- and any periods of no-reply are (please) to be taken only as that i am wracked with other obligations.

...and i have experienced the "deadly" effect about gathering people together to play and then talking theory at them instead of playing. we eventually got to playing, but the mood was much deflated. (this as comment to a subject raised in the other thread, which passed through my thoughts but need not be replied to.)

sure of ourselves, aren't we?

Peter Nordstrand

I assume you have seen this on Jonas Ferry's blog? Jonas Ferry is actually the name of the nerw and improved (ie married) Jonas Karlsson.


Any sufficiently advanced incompetence is indistinguishable from malice.
     —Grey's Law

Ron Edwards

I had not seen that! Many thanks, Peter.

Best, Ron


I wanted to check something out here, Ron.

I think the 'bass playing' GM-style is from one point of view broader than narrativism; it can serve gamist or simulationist ends too.

(possibly) Gamist example: players get substantial creative input into how to manipulate setting elements, equipment, terrain, etc. for the sake of strategy. As opposed to 'sequence of bouts' play where you're restricted to showing your mastery of your character-token in directly dealing with adversaries.

Simulationist example: open-ended exploratory play, where you can 'go anywhere and do anything' together, where players are granted significant authority to focus the lens of play on particular contents they choose, or perhaps (an extension that will be undesirable to some but interesting to others) even invent contents for group exploration based on a shared aesthetic and group trust. As opposed to 'watching TV' style play, Dragonlance-style railroading, etc.

That is, isn't it a question of the window players are given to direct or influence the stuff that play's about? And the GM as a weaver of their visions as much as or more than a vision-creator in his own right?

Thanks for any light you can shed.

Ron Edwards

Hi Sean,

I think your question exposes a widespread misunderstanding about the bass-playing analogy. It arises in part from getting too excited over the setting-creation rules in Sorcerer & Sword, and confusing those with decisions and prep procedures for the game (overall). It's the same as the widespread confusion about the term "no myth" and dates from around the same time-period, in discussions here.

The misunderstanding rests on a concern over who gets to add back-story and immediate setting features to the shared imagined space. For some reason, any number of people seem to think I'm saying, "Bass-playing! It means players can add stuff too! It means the GM doesn't dictate the back-story! It means freeeeedom for the players! They can add the butler! They can add the evil villain!" And so on. None of that is true. I am not talking about who gets to say what is happening right there, immediately, in the course of play. We are not talking about authority over content of the SIS.

Instead, bass-playing has to do with two things, each of which represents a choice (or range of choices) of its own.

1. The central person, GM in the case of Sorcerer, inflicts no closure upon any given conflict in the fiction. Recognizing when a conflict is closed is a great art and skill, but it is not the same as having authority over the closure itself. That is system-driven only.

A related point concerns player input into the character's approach to the situation, which is 100% wide open in Sorcerer. The GM does not play melody. He does not write or sing lyrics. He does not carry a tune - he holds down and belts out riffs, which is simply not the same thing. All this is to say, the GM should never anticipate or dictate or expect a given direction or degree of caring or commitment toward an NPC, among PCs, or toward a situation in general. The characters do what the players want, period.

2. This same person takes responsibility for driving the SIS with further conflicts, and this itself is quite an artistic responsibility, for two reasons.

i) Knowing when such aggressive driving is not necessary. If any given player-character is launched on a course of action rife with conflicts and potential closures, then the GM must recognize this as "conflict! in action! now!" and should not step in with his Bang, or at the least, it needs to be entered into the player-driven course of action rather than replacing it.

I use a dice technique when I think my decisions about this, as GM, would be too arbitrary. In our Sorcerer game last year (not described at the Forge), often two or more NPCs would be pursuing a given player-character, who was himself running for or after something. I simply had them all roll against one another to see who got where first. That was often my basis for scene-framing.

ii) Knowing when it's necessary. If all the player-characters are relatively inactive and have arrived at situations of rest and reflection, that's not a bad time to enter into that rest & reflection as well ... or conversely, it's also a fine time to Bang the dogshit out of any one or all's current situations. Knowing the difference is a matter of pure enjoyment - what do I want? Which is also to say, given all the demons and other NPCs that I am playing, I simply look over them and, by golly, play them.

I hope people can see that there are four distinct things I just described, not two.

Does that help, or make sense?

Best, Ron

Ron Edwards

Whoops, speaking of closure, I forgot to close with an answer to your question.

I can address the topic of bass-playing as applied to the range of Creative Agenda only after I'm convinced that the misunderstanding I've described isn't muddying the waters. So check me on that, and then (I think) I can continue with a straightforward GNS-focused answer.

Best, Ron


Hi Ron! As always, thanks for your responses.

The first part of your post I'm fine with - that confusion isn't there for me now. (Though I did once think they went together somehow, and that did cause me to miss out on some fun one of the times I ran Sorcerer. Even then I don't think I personally would have called the player setting input stuff bass-playing though, but I do know what you're talking about and agree that that confusion is 'out there' in some sense.)

The rest of your post makes sense to me, once I parse the phrasing carefully. I'm seeing a lot of techniques there that I recognize myself as having used in the past outside a narrativist agenda, though, which was the basis for my original query. There are differences...for example, with respect to point 2, the reasons that you'd throw in a new conflict (or not) within a focused gamist or simulationist CA are different from the reasons you'd do this in a focused narrativist agenda. But I still think there's a sense in which there's a more universalizable 'style' of DMing here. I'm making connections to things I did, but also to old-school 'sandbox' or 'hex-crawl' (Judges Guild) style-play, which was usually Gam or Sim or incoherent, but which similarly emphasized player proactivity of a certain kind.

I feel like the techniques have some similarity, and I'm looking for some clarity on that. Thanks.

Ron Edwards

OK, on to the answer then.

It's easy: techniques are not, and can never be, agenda-specific.

Combinations of techniques (looking across the whole range of System) are very often agenda-specific, but single techniques, no.

Therefore combining some or all of what I've described above with other aspects of the system (reward, character creation, any and all aspects of resolution, narration, whatever) in ways which serve other agendas must be possible.

To me, that's a no-brainer. It's a technique, and techniques can't themselves "be" or define agendas. Identifying single techniques with agendas has been a bugaboo of the internet dialogue about this stuff for years and I guess we have to keep knockin' it down whenever it shows up.

Best, Ron


If I had had to guess, that's what I thought you would have said, but I still needed to hear you say it.

Thanks again. :-)

M. J. Young

Quote from: Calithena a.k.a. Sean on June 21, 2007, 04:51:21 PMI think the 'bass playing' GM-style is from one point of view broader than narrativism; it can serve gamist or simulationist ends too.
I know I'm echoing Ron, but as someone who runs gamist, narrativist, and simulationist play regularly, I'm going to say, yes, and then some.

Most (not always all) of my refereeing in Multiverser is bass playing: I set up the situation, have an idea of who all the NPCs are and what, if any, events are likely to happen, but I leave it to the players to decide what they are going to do with that, and I let them drive the story while I simply work the scenery and give them something with which they can work.

Given Multiverser's flexibility and independent multiple staging, this not only supports any individual agendum, it gives the players the power to direct the agendum themselves. Thus I never have to decide whether to run a gamist, narrativist, or simulationist game. I just have to toss out a situation and see what the player does with it, and then as the player explores situation through his character I respond to what interests him. Bang, an agendum is created by what the player chooses, not by what I dictate.

So bass playing has a lot of potential in connection with any agendum.

I hope that helps.

--M. J. Young