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Author Topic: Narrativist GMs: How do you have fun?  (Read 11111 times)
Jake Norwood
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« Reply #15 on: June 10, 2002, 09:02:58 AM »

Hey Jeff-

I think that I get what you're saying, oddly. I don't know if I have an answer, but my impression is that, in some ways, you're on to something.

As I posted in Actual Play we played InSpectres the other night. It was a blast, but not really the kind of thing that I get my real "gaming fix" out of. It was a diversion, not serious gaming. Now, I'm not saying that it couldn't be...

As GM, though, I felt lost. I'm sure that a lot of practice will help, but I did feel that I had essentially no power, not even over small elements of the story, as a Confessional or high player roll could at any time send things a radically different way. The chaos made it fun, yes, and it was kinda neat to play 110% improv GM, but in the end
Quote
I
felt railroaded, as no decision I made mattered for longer than a few moments.

I can see the fun in being a player in such a campaign (you certainly don't need a tremedously skilled GM--just one that's willing to fill in the gaps...the InSpectres manual even says that you practically don't need a GM to play the game--so, naturally, I chaffed at me "unneededness" as GM. I think a lot of us GM to feel important. I think that's why many of us game at all), but by the same note I think that it removes a lot of intensity from play...is it creative and exciting (especially for the players)? Yes. Is it truly intense, however...no. Part of intensity is having things just on the edge of out of control in a situation that matters. More traditional play has an easier time facillitating that than heavy Director-stance play (ala InSpectres). I like being a player in both types, but I prefer GMing more old-school.

I think a solution might be to use less directorial power for your players, but still use some. TROS does that some with the SAs (so I'm told...*grin*), and other games do it in other ways. Sorcer also seems to have a pretty balance approach to it.

So am I onto what you're saying, or way off?

Jake
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Valamir
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« Reply #16 on: June 10, 2002, 09:11:47 AM »

Quote from: Jaif
But no, the players for whatever reason became very attached to thing.  "Who owns it? What kind of people frequent the place? Is it in a town, or just a few buildings, or what? Are any of the serving waitresses do-able?"  The place suddenly became a fair amount of detail work that frankly annoyed me a bit, mostly because people weren't really doing anything there. Now though, I think I can see how to handle this better in the future.  Basically, let them make up those, and just tell them when they've hit some limit.


Yeah, in a lot of ways, sharing power can make the GM's job EASIER.  It also means that the GM isn't the only one with a vested interest in helping maintain continuity, and isn't the only one players expect to keep it all straight for them.

As for Jakes comments above, there are certainly ways to incorporate the concepts of Narrative play without using the more radical notions of giving players so much free reign.
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greyorm
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« Reply #17 on: June 10, 2002, 09:51:23 AM »

Quote
a good N-GM runs the world around the players (not just characters), often simply running their storylines as opposed to any of his own creation. It's a reactive role, where the players dictate the course of events, and the GM modifies the situation to correspond to the player's wishes.

I believe your idea is inherently flawed in that it assumes a GM will not have fun unless they maintain control -- ie: ownership -- of something (ie: the world or the NPCs).  In other words, it assumes enjoyment is obtained from control and can only be obtained from control.

Yes, one who desires (near) complete control and ownership of an item will not find a situation where they share their power or ownership over that item with someone else to be enjoyable.
If you are scratching your head, therein lies the problem: "How can you have fun unless X?"  Your assumption that X is necessary to have fun, when it is not.

For example, you have no control over a movie, a novel or a television show, yet they are enjoyable, they are entertaining.  Of course gaming and media are two different things, so to make an example of myself: I personally don't care because it isn't my world.

I, as GM, am there to facillitate play, to encourage the players to explore their characters and build intersting stories.  If I'm told, "I want a situation with a maiden to rescue.  Make me one, bitch!" then I do it, and I get my kicks from watching what happens.  That is, I get to watch the story unfold.  That's FUN.  Such play is a great deal like co-writing a novel.

Quote
"I want some treachery...go make me a treachery plot, bitch!" or "My character's growing tired of the princess...find me a maiden to come between us, bitch!"

Making and running characters for a treachery plot wouldn't be fun?
Creating and running a maiden interfering with someone's love life wouldn't be fun?

But you seem pointed at the extreme example of the GM just doing all the work and have no control. This, of course, confuses me: how can the GM do the work and have no control?

And if it could happen, why would the group even need a GM?
What sort of work would the GM even be doing?
If the players have complete control, there's nothing left for the GM to do, so the situation simply couldn't occur...he couldn't have all the responsibility and none of the fun.

The players state, "I want to explore the Doomed Caverns and let's explore the theme of betrayal and redemption!"  So the GM creates the Doomed Caverns and its environments, describing them as the players encounter them.

If the players also have control over the environment of the caverns and the situations within, well, once again, of what use is the GM?  He doesn't have to describe or create the environment anymore, since the players are doing so, thus he doesn't have more work or responsibility.  Your proposed situation is thus an impossibility.

In fact, your examples sound like traditional gaming to me: players say, "Let's slay a dragon!" so the characters go out and find a dragon, one which the GM has created to fulfill that desire.

Therein seems the crux of the issue, I believe: You state the GM has his fun by running the characters through his creation, his plot, and seem to indicae that the players can not have any input beyond that of their own character's actions in the world.

To turn that question around, "Where's the fun for the players?  They have to follow a more-or-less set script and can't deviate, except at pre-plotted junctures!"
You don't get any input into the world at all, except what you can manage with your character, and even then the GM is still guiding things so that what he wants to happen, happens.  How do these players have any fun?

Well, I'm being slightly facetious, but you see my point.

In games where players have more situational control than traditional, plotted games, the GM still describes the world, and controls the NPCs to an extent -- the players just help co-write the story, it isn't just the GM and improvisational acting.  Keep in mind that this is cooperative, not adversarial, gaming, where the players and GM are one unit, not two.  They, together, are creating a story.

To continue, you state:
Quote
When you give up the control and power of creation, what's left for a N-GM but menial labor, and what fun is that?

Think about it this way: isn't this like asking an actor, "Well, all you get to do is follow a script, what fun is that?"
Yet traditional gaming, where the GM controls everything, maintains exactly this style of gaming, minus the script for the players: the GM, like the director or script-writer, is God, his plot is law, and the players only get to act out the parts they've taken within the context of that plot.

Yes, they have more freedom than an actor, but they are still acting within the world-context of the GM.

Quote
no effort into it, while the N-GM does all the boring "effort" stuff but gets to use no imagination.

Two assumptions here are flawed: that such players put no effort into their imaginations, and that the GM does not get to use her imagination.

Playing a character and developing interesting situations for them to get into requires imagination.  So both player and GM use their imagination.
However, see my above question about how a GM could put in all the effort and not have any control or use his imagination -- it is simply impossible for such a situation to exist, because even if the GM is following directions from the players, he is using his imagination.
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Jake Norwood
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« Reply #18 on: June 10, 2002, 10:02:58 AM »

I think that there is a little (but only a little) of "director stance good, traditional GMing bad" going on in here. There are a few flaws in this, though.

First, greyorm says:
Quote
For example, you have no control over a movie, a novel or a television show, yet they are enjoyable, they are entertaining. Of course gaming and media are two different things, so to make an example of myself: I personally don't care because it isn't my world.


Showing that the GM can have fun if he's not in control. Then he states that the players can't have fun if they aren't in conrol.

I am not flaming or trying to start anything, but pointing out that there is a double standard being globally applied here, based on a set of assumptions that have come to characterize the Forge's Indie gaming scene.

I think Contracycle hit it on the head to some degree with his "different strokes" statement. Directorial play isn't for everyone. In my case it isn't for me most of the time, although I do like to use a bit of it in play (not as much as the "extreme" case that is being discussed here). I loved playing InSpectres, which I think I let get over-directorial looking back, but it wasn't as much fun or as rewarding as a well-done traditional game. Easier to do? Absolutely. It was a breeze. Did I get off on it in the long-term-keep-me-up-at-night-thinking-about-the-upcoming-game sense? Not at all.

I'm gonna stick my neck out a little here, but I think that unless you're dealing with a special kind of group--one that is comprised of all exceptions--it will be easier to run a good directorial game, but harder to run an excellent one. More traditional play, while in many ways more challenging, also offers larger rewards (but at, perhaps, a smaller percentage of the time).

Jake
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #19 on: June 10, 2002, 10:09:01 AM »

Jeff,

I don't get your assumption that "reacting to player stories" is (a) boring, and/or (b) somehow less of an imaginative effort.  As GM, you must still add interesting twists, synthesize player story efforts with your own ideas and fit them into the game world (which may be your own creation if you aren't using a pre-generated environment), play NPC's, describe most outcomes, facilitate the players getting center stage, etc., etc.  In short, you still do most, if not all, of what you were doing, and I'd argue that in shared control games, you have to be even more on your imaginative toes.

Going a bit further, I dispute the underlying proposition that narrativist-oriented GM's are more reactive than GM's in any other style of play.  Others have pointed out the flaws in this line of reasoning, so I'll just add my voice to theirs.  If there's anything I would focus on deconstructing, it's the linkage of:

GM control = GM proactive = more serious creative GM challenge = more satisfying for GM

The contrast, of course is:

Shared control = GM reactive = less serious creative GM challenge = less satisfying for GM

For some people, this relationship may hold true, and it may do so in your case, but it's not necessarily true.

I suggest you might try running a session of The Pool with your group just to see how it feels.  It will very likely not be your cup of tea, but it's easy entry and a very good look at how shared control can work.

Best,

Blake
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #20 on: June 10, 2002, 10:33:42 AM »

Quote from: Jaif
Fang, that was excellent.  In particular:

Quote from: Le Joueur
This means that everyone has "sole control" and 'directly influences' something; no one is 'left out.'

and

If a player wants a 'new girl,' they make her up and are her proprietor; if they want the gamemaster to be her proprietor, they have to ask. None of this, "You do it," stuff.


This really help clears some things up.

In the past, I ran a stock Amber game. At one point, I needed a convient meeting point for the characters, and came up with an Inn in an old-west flavored shadow.  The Inn, for whatever reason, had a picture of a Unicorn on it, and that's what attracted everyone in the first place. In my head, I was done.  A meeting point, now lets move on.

But no, the players for whatever reason became very attached to thing.  "Who owns it? What kind of people frequent the place? Is it in a town, or just a few buildings, or what? Are any of the serving waitresses do-able?"  The place suddenly became a fair amount of detail work that frankly annoyed me a bit, mostly because people weren't really doing anything there. Now though, I think I can see how to handle this better in the future.  Basically, let them make up those, and just tell them when they've hit some limit.

That limit, I think, should not be a 'hard limit,' as in 'they only get to make this much stuff up.  That would fly in the face of the sharing being suggested.  The limit should be 'hey I didn't agree to handle that.'  Make sure that all the player generated detail doesn't harbor a secret, 'the gamemaster has to run this stuff,' mandate.  As long as the 'connections' created by its existence lead either 'back to it' or to something belonging to a player, everything can just keep on growing.  Standard proprietary stuff, you can't be compelled to be the proprietor for anything.  (Conversely, becareful what you create; you'll be the proprietor.)

Oh, and before I forget; all the Scattershot stuff above (which is meant only as an example of 'how it can be done') is not only for Narrativist play but potentially most any circumstances (just exceptionally Gamemasterful sharing ).  Scattershot gets pretty Narrativist when you pull up the Techniques specifically for Gamemasterful sharing with a Self-Conscious, Auteur approach.  Just wanted to make that clear; things can be a little complicated when describing a game founded on the principles of Transition.

Fang Langford

p. s. Oh yeah, Thanks!
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greyorm
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« Reply #21 on: June 10, 2002, 10:38:21 AM »

Jake, let me defend myself here quick by noting that my comments about traditional games not being fun were not meant as my serious stance on the issue -- they were meant to look at the situation in question in reverse.

That the reversed situation is blatantly absurd to both of us (ie: the statement that players can't have fun in traditional games) should tell you why I found the supposition that lack of GM control equated a lack of fun similarly absurd for the same reasons.

Further, you'll note within the post, directly after the statements about the lack of traditional player fun, I stated I was being facetious.  This, I would have hoped, would have been a dead giveaway as to my intentions with my statements, but I apologize for the confusion nonetheless.

So no, there is no double-standard going on here, not from me at any rate, nor any assumptions (certainly none that have "come to characterize the Indie gaming scene").

I hope that clarifies the nature my post for you (?)
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #22 on: June 10, 2002, 10:39:57 AM »

Quote from: contracycle
I would fear that they become decreasingly distinct as control is shared - both are attempting/obliged to make descriptions about the environment.


Yes, in the end you get play like Vincent's game, or Scattershot GMful, or play of Universalis in which all participants have the same responsibilities. It's a perfectly viable power division, I assure you. OTOH, I can understand if it's not for everyone.

Jeff, to invoke the band metaphor, you like Symphony (with a director and musicians who play their parts), and there are others who like Improv Jazz (with a bass player keeping the rhythm, and the other players riffing every which way). Trying to explain why someone likes one over the other is likely to be futile, they just do. Really they are very similar. I can only suggest trying it to see why. If it's too distasteful, then you may never understand. That's OK, too, we only ask that you believe us when we say we like Jazz.

Oh, and about the GM-bitch thing. Try replacing the term Narrativist with Simulationist, and reversing the terms GM and players. This will give you an idea of what it sounds like to those on the recieving end. I am amongst the most staunch supporters of Simulationism on this forum. I've had to defend Simulationism from exactly the same sort of attack before. I do not support Narrativism over Simulationism, I support both (and Gamism as well).

Mike
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Bankuei
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« Reply #23 on: June 10, 2002, 10:57:01 AM »

Whoa, wild thread here. :P

I'll speak from the view point of someone who's gotten to enjoy both levels of directorial power.  As a GM, I love coming up with crazy ass plots and characters and "traumatizing" my players.  I also love it when the players do the unexpected, so that the game becomes unpredictable.  

My first serious experience with it was playtesting Forgotten Fist, where I simply stated that players always narrate.  Trying it out made a big difference, and I realized what a control freak I was as a GM.  What effectively happens when directorial power goes to the players is that the GM now only needs to focus on his/her "characters"(and yes, I include the environment as a character).  It no longer was my story, it was our story.

After that, I got real stuck on directorial power being shared.  Then Clinton introduced me to scene framing for the first time, and that, I believe is the most awesome GM's Tool ever made(and much thanks to Paul for bringing up on the Forge).  With that, I'm open to either sort of game, although I'm really in favor of letting players come up with the details and extras no matter how vanilla the game.

Chris
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Jaif
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« Reply #24 on: June 10, 2002, 11:08:39 AM »

Fang,

The limit I was talking about is when they tread on someone else's property.  If my big addition to the Amber campaign is a horde of unstoppable dragons invading all of shadow (etc, use your imagination), then I'd stop the players from designing in the traveller who tells them how to build an "anti-dragon ray gun".

greyform,
Quote
I believe your idea is inherently flawed in that it assumes a GM will not have fun unless they maintain control -- ie: ownership -- of something (ie: the world or the NPCs).

We fundamentally disagree.  I believe issue of control are vital in social settings.  When we're talking about group storytelling, I think the main point is having parts of the story that's "yours".  For the players, it's the characters, but for the GM, it's not as obvious.
Quote
For example, you have no control over a movie, a novel or a television show, yet they are enjoyable, they are entertaining.

I don't do any work either.  I just watch or read.  Fundamentally different situation.
Quote
To turn that question around, "Where's the fun for the players? They have to follow a more-or-less set script and can't deviate, except at pre-plotted junctures!"
You don't get any input into the world at all, except what you can manage with your character, and even then the GM is still guiding things so that what he wants to happen, happens. How do these players have any fun?

Well, I'm being slightly facetious, but you see my point.

In that situation, I agree.  If the script dictates the player's actions, then the control is lost in another sense.  As a GM, as a rule, I only script "what would happen if the PCs didn't exist".  If the characters take action to interfere, of course the situation changes.  Furthermore, I'm likely to tailor the situations so the PCs have a measurable chance to affect them, and give clear warning signs about areas truly beyond their control (e.g. everybody knows Cap's shield is unbreakable; it shouldn't be a surprise.)

It's a balance, to be sure, but I don't think it's anything people who read this board are unfamiliar with, so I won't explore further.

Jake,

Yes, we are in tune.  However, Fang & Ron have shown me some light; there's no reason that a GM can't share a little control and still have clearly defined limits, like you said.

-Jeff
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #25 on: June 10, 2002, 11:14:59 AM »

Quote from: Blake Hutchins
If there's anything I would focus on deconstructing, it's the linkage of:
    GM control = GM proactive = more serious creative GM challenge = more satisfying for GM[/list:u]The contrast, of course is:
      Shared control = GM reactive = less serious creative GM challenge = less satisfying for GM[/list:u]For some people, this relationship may hold true, and it may do so in your case, but it's not necessarily true.

      I'm a little worried about the implied assumptions here (pretty much the fact that there are only two chains).  I mean, when I run, it's pretty much "shared control = GM proactive" and I have a blast (I count less singular responsibility to things like continuity, genre, and tension escalation highly.)  And one of my favorite gamemasters practiced full-on "GM control = GM reactive," I might say his was the posterchild for Exploration of Setting Simulationism.

      Then there's the "reactive = less serious...challenge"/"proactive = more serious...challenge" linkage, because in my experience its been the opposite (not to say that these aren't possible, simply that they don't seem the intuitively the whole of the picture).  I'm not even going to point out how the "creative challenge = satisfying" relationship doesn't add up; I don't even see any connection between how serious a challenge is and how satisfying it turns out to be.

      Unless that was what you were saying....

      whoops

      Fang Langford
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      Ron Edwards
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      « Reply #26 on: June 10, 2002, 11:17:33 AM »

      Hi Fang,

      I think that Blake was indeed presenting those two sets of associations specifically to say that they are not, actually, the only two sets of options out there.

      I also think that perhaps it's time to review my old metaphor of "the GM as bass player," but I can't bring myself to dig up the old threads.

      Jesse Burneko!! Is that essay of yours available somewhere? I seem to remember you providing a link to it at some point. Seems to me that it's just what Jeff wanted to see, and coming from you in particular, it might carry more weight.

      Best,
      Ron
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      Le Joueur
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      « Reply #27 on: June 10, 2002, 11:31:32 AM »

      Hey Jeff,

      I realize this is a bit of a side issue, but...

      Quote from: Jaif
      The limit I was talking about is when they tread on someone else's property.  If my big addition to the Amber campaign is a horde of unstoppable dragons invading all of shadow (etc, use your imagination), then I'd stop the players from designing in the traveller who tells them how to build an "anti-dragon ray gun".

      Actually, I anticipated that for Scattershot too. Using the Sine Qua Non Technique, if you designate those dragons as unstoppable, then by definition (and agreement) no one will create a deus ex machina that can stop them.  You see a Sine Qua Non, in its final stages, is negotiated with the group because of situations like this.

      It's the old 'unstoppable force' vs. 'immovable object' thing.  You can't have both in the same universe because the definition of one eliminates the possibility of the other.

      Fang Langford
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      jburneko
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      « Reply #28 on: June 10, 2002, 11:33:20 AM »

      Quote from: Ron Edwards

      Jesse Burneko!! Is that essay of yours available somewhere? I seem to remember you providing a link to it at some point. Seems to me that it's just what Jeff wanted to see, and coming from you in particular, it might carry more weight.


      Well, the first draft of my essay is still available here:

      http://www.geocities.com/devil_bunnys/mindset.html

      I'd like to point out that it IS still the first draft.  Currently, I'm working on my third draft.

      Hope it's useful none the less.

      Jesse
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      Jake Norwood
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      « Reply #29 on: June 10, 2002, 12:12:22 PM »

      greyorm-

      I see what you're saying, and yes, it's clearer now. Sorry if I came off a bit strong. I'm still trying to get used to forum-speech and what not.

      Jeff-

      Glad to see that I read you right. Again, let me say that I actually love the idea of directorial stance (I'm tinkering with a game design ala George Lucas right now, when I'm at work and not working on the Riddle). I think that it is inherently a bit silly, though, especially if not properly hemmed. I think that, with the right controls (be it game rules or social contract) that certain-sized doses of "pure" directorial stance could be an amazing in-game tool. As it stands now, my tried-and-true functional take on Director stance is really more along the lines of pre-play (e.g. Kickers, Spiritual Attributes, etc.) and pretty minor in-game player suggestion.

      What I agree on is that too much directorial stance = a lonely, useless GM. I, like many GMs, love to craft and mold my world around my players. They are the protagonists, but I love the sense of wonder that RPGs invoke as you get to wander around in someone else's imaginary world--a world that you get to interact with! Too much directorial stance keeps that from being a possibility, and removes a great deal of the basic orderliness that makes "serious" games possible. I think that's where a lot of the Lots of Direct. Stance = Silliness and Chaos issue comes in.

      Jake
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