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Author Topic: Narrativist GMs: How do you have fun?  (Read 10716 times)
Jaif
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Posts: 327


« on: June 09, 2002, 07:52:02 PM »

For those who haven't had the pleasure <g> of reading some of my other threads, let's just say I often GM for a group of traditional gamers, who happen to have a strong boardgaming streak.  We like our politics, action, etc, and we're into the details. In that traditional setting, I understand where the GM derives fun: it's creating something, and watching that creation in action.  There's most certainly a control-side to it as well.

What I don't get is where a Narrativist GM has any fun.  From the sound of it, 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.

To put it bluntly, the N-GM is the group bitch.  "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!" It really feels to me that a Narratavist group is a bunch of spoiled children who want to throw their imagination around, but put absolutely no effort into it, while the N-GM does all the boring "effort" stuff but gets to use no imagination.

Ok, I've painted an extreme, but I wanted you to see where I'm coming from.  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?

-Jeff

P.S. I know this sounds contentious, and I guess I intended it that way in part.  However, I really can't fathom why anybody would GM a group of narrativists.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #1 on: June 09, 2002, 08:59:16 PM »

You're confusing Narrativism with Author/Director Stance. By Narrativist GM/Player, you're saying that the majority of their decisions will be made based on the story (rather than, say, strategy or simluation). By saying the GM is giving up control, it means giving the Players power beyond Actor Stance.

Ook. Jargon over.

Basically, you're describing a subset of gaming that I've never experienced or read about. A game can provide control for both GM and Players, and support Narrativist decisions during play. See InSpectres or (my own) Metal Opera where there are explicit rules that cause either the GM or the Player to take control. Both games facilitate Narrativist decisions, but the GM still has a job to do!

A Player can make decisions without any huge control over the narration and still make Narrativist decisions. For example (and these don't represent the ONLY decision available for a Player in the situation):

Quote from: In Play
GM: The golem rises from its shackles, snapping the chains and showering you with bits of metal and stone. It lumbers towards you, arms raised to strike you down.
Player: I sheath my sword and grab a torch from the wall.


Gamist reason: The Player knows that golems are highly susceptible to flame, and that he will get more reward by killing the golem than running.
Simulationist reason: The Player's Character is unafraid to die, and has heard from legends that golems fear fire.
Narrativist reason: A running theme throughout the scenario has been the ruinous nature of unchecked power. With fire fighting the golem, there is a great chance that fire, golem or both will get out of control.
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #2 on: June 09, 2002, 10:02:43 PM »

Jeff,

I think Zak speaks to your primary misconception, which is that narrativism is all about player empowerment.  It certainly can be, but so can gamism (and maybe even simulationism, although that hasn't been my experience).  They're two different things entirely.

Even so, I'll address your question as though you had asked "How does a GM have fun in a game with a high degree of player empowerment?"

Your question is sort of the inverse of how I always felt about playing games until I discovered and implemented Authorial/Directorial stance into them.  That is, I didn't often have fun unless I was GMing, feeling led around by the nose and generally insignificant both as a character within the game world, and as a player sitting a table supposedly engaging in some sort of recreational activity.  Were my experiences as a player the result of just having bad GMs?  I don't think so.  Other players had fun, even when I did not, and I've been to enough cons to know that the way my friends and I played games was pretty much the way most people played them.  Maybe you know what I'm talking about.

But this isn't a testimonial about how GNS made it possible for me to play games (although there is some truth in that statement).  It's an answer to your question.  That answer is that you react creatively to your players' decisions, sharing in the creation rather than imposing it.  It's stressful, because suddenly you're playing the game too, reacting to things other people are doing, just like you did when you were the player reacting to the GM's stuff in all those other games you used to play.  And so long as the distribution of power is still somewhat equal, the GM will have at least as much ability to influence and create as everyone else.

To reiterate Zak's point again, what we're talking about here is pervy narrativism at best.  Vanilla narrativism does not necessarily hold Author/Director stance as a priority of play, and in very, very mild doses (say, real subtle use of FitM), it will be largely indistinguishable from "traditional" styles of play.  This is my preferred type of game.

And just to be clear, although I largely rag on "traditional" roleplaying (i.e., that which does not encourage, either systematically or through GMing technique, player empowerment), I am not trying to marginalize it.  I just don't happen to find it very enjoyable.

- Scott
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Eric J.
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« Reply #3 on: June 09, 2002, 10:46:21 PM »

I don't think it's a reasonable question.  Why does anything make humans have fun?  Play was probably used by evolution to learn without risk.  Some people can have different goals.  There is just as much challange in fuffilling a premise as running through dungeons with only one person capable of disarming traps, and some one you can't trust (theif).
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Fabrice G.
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Posts: 206


« Reply #4 on: June 10, 2002, 12:13:59 AM »

Hi Jeff,

I think that the main point has already been adressed by Zak and Scott, but I'll throw my two cents in, anyway.


Quote
When you give up the control and power of creation ...


I think this misconception is why you don't get why or how it's fun. Because it's not about giving up, it's about sharing the control and power of creation. All the fun come from that. The willingness to co-create a story.

See, you still create. But the meaning of the whole act of creation change. Now all the players create, and they create in order to adress a premise (that's where the N-word enter the picture).


Hope it helps,

Fabrice.
[edited to fix typos]
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Jaif
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Posts: 327


« Reply #5 on: June 10, 2002, 05:38:38 AM »

First, thanks for the answers as is, especially:

Quote
You're confusing Narrativism with Author/Director Stance.

and

Even so, I'll address your question as though you had asked "How does a GM have fun in a game with a high degree of player empowerment?"

and others...


I did miss the distinction, so I've learned something.

Quote
...feeling led around by the nose and generally insignificant both as a character within the game world,..


Ok, but I don't believe traditional games enforce "insignificance".  I've typically run games from the following premise: there is a world, and it's largely on automatic.  As it exists, the bad guys are going to win unless the good guys do something about it.  The only changes to the world, once it's in motion, come from either a) the player's actions, or b) the actions of a few major NPCs, all the result of clearly defined motivations.

The point is that the players still only have control over their characters, but that control is complete and it affects the world in a meaningful way.  All w/o giving up any control as the GM.

Quote
Because it's not about giving up, it's about sharing the control and power of creation. All the fun come from that. The willingness to co-create a story.


I don't see this.  First, I see controlling elements of the story as a zero-sum situation.  There's a little play at the margins, where some good ideas can come in and add to the story w/o altering the basics, but in the end any sharing of control is diminishing that control, and that represents a fundamental loss of what the GM can do.  It still feels to me that the players have grabbed the few things the GM could do, and left the GM as a steward, nothing more.

Quote
Your question is sort of the inverse of how I always felt about playing games until I discovered and implemented Authorial/Directorial stance into them.


I fully understand that a player will feel benefit from the situation.  What I'm missing is where the GM benefits.

Let me try a different tack: the players have sole control over their characters, and only do as much work in general as they wish to.  The GM now has sole control over nothing, but is responsible for all the work that the players don't want to do.  This sounds like an unbalanced relationship to me, and no one here has yet shown me differently.

-Jeff
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #6 on: June 10, 2002, 05:46:41 AM »

Quote from: Jaif
Let me try a different tack: the players have sole control over their characters, and only do as much work in general as they wish to. The GM now has sole control over nothing, but is responsible for all the work that the players don't want to do. This sounds like an unbalanced relationship to me, and no one here has yet shown me differently.


I don't get it. If the Players control their characters, and the GM controls nothing, who's controlling the environment? The NPCs?

Again, you're describing a situation that I don't think exists. No one's shown you differently because there's no games (that I've seen) that explicitly ignore the fundamentals of gaming (i.e., somebody's got to be able to describe things outside of the PCs). Am I reading your statement wrong? Or do you have any examples of games that contain this dynamic?
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Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #7 on: June 10, 2002, 06:08:05 AM »

It's not simply a matter of control, it's sole control.  Let's summarize this:

Control

Players: Sole control over their characters, direct influence over everything else.

GM: Sole control over nothing, direct influence over everything but the PCs.

Responsibility

Players: Responsible only for their characters.

GM: Responsible for all matters outside the characters.

When one person has limited power but large amounts of responsibility, you have an unbalanced situation.  This really sounds like a relationship fated to end poorly, to me.  

However, from all appearances people are playing these games, which means that someone, somewhere is actually GMing those games.  I'm curious what those GMs are deriving from the games.

-Jeff
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Valamir
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« Reply #8 on: June 10, 2002, 06:34:37 AM »

Your summary is incorrect Jaif...I'd agree with you that this sort of play would be hugely dysfunctional.

Rather consider this:

Control

Player A:  primary control over character A, input into everything else including input on Player B's character.  What form the input takes is largely the Vanilla / Pervy distinction made above.

Player B:  primary control over character B, input into everything else including input on Player A's character, [Note the distinction between input and control is intentional]

GM:  Primary control over everything else, just as in any game, only now recieving input from players.  Again how radical this input is depends on the flavor of narrative you're talking about.


Responsibility:

Player A:  Responsible for proactively moving his character's kicker forward, and responding to GM Bangs in a way that maintains game focus on Premise.  

Player B:  Ditto

GM:  Responsible for proactively providing bangs suitable for the characters to display their protagonism and working with the players (again depending on flavor) to maintain focus on premise.



However I will say this.  If you are a control freak, and the biggest rush you get out of being game master is that you get to play god (and I'm not saying that's a bad thing)...than Narrative play (which requires less dictation and more collaboration) may not be for you.
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Zak Arntson
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« Reply #9 on: June 10, 2002, 06:39:14 AM »

Okay, there's the meat of it. Control & Responsibility. Thing is, in the games I've played (where Players go beyond Actor Stance) it turns into:

Control:
Players - Control over their PCs (though at times, the mechanics control that), sometimes control over environment/NPCs
GM - Control over environment/NPCs
Both - Offer suggestions & comments to each other during play to come to the most satisfying result.

Responsibility:
Players - Responsible for their PCs. During points of high Control, responsible for narrating within the limits of the social contract.
GM - Responsible for the environment/NPCs until a Player gets higher Control. Also responsible for narrating with the social Contract.

Social Contract:
This is key to Control/Responsibility. Before the game starts, everyone should agree on what are acceptable outcomes, so you don't have a clown ruin a serious group, or a brooding antagonist PC ruin a light-hearted game. Make sure you all talk about what's within reason for results.

Jaif,
This is why what your describing is a non-situation. A game that gives Players explicit control only gives it at certain times. It's limited. Even then, the narrating participant (GM or Player) gets a peanut gallery who can offer suggestions, advice and so on. And outcomes are debated if they don't follow the shared vision.

At least, this is how my gaming works out when we have explicit Player Control. Are you describing something else? If so, I haven't seen or heard of it and I'll bow out of this discussion.
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Fabrice G.
Member

Posts: 206


« Reply #10 on: June 10, 2002, 06:39:55 AM »

Hi Jeff,



Quote
GM: Sole control over nothing, direct influence over everything but the PCs.


How's that ? Can you explain further ? How is it a problem ?


Quote
Players: Responsible only for their characters.


Here I have to disagree. In the games you mention, the player is as much responsible as the gm for the "quality" of play. If The player used directorial power poorly, is that the gm responsability ? Nope. The player ruined the fun of everyone, gm's fault ? Nope again.
Increased authorial power comes with increased responsibility.

I think that you place too much a difference between gm and players. Like they're adversarial or something. In these games, the gm only has a different responsibility from the players, not more.


Fabrice.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #11 on: June 10, 2002, 06:40:57 AM »

Hey Jeff,

Quote from: Jaif
It's not simply a matter of control, it's sole control.  Let's summarize this:

Control
    Players: Sole control over their characters, direct influence over everything else.

    GM: Sole control over nothing, direct influence over everything but the PCs.[/list:u]
Responsibility
    Players: Responsible only for their characters.

    GM: Responsible for all matters outside the characters.[/list:u]When one person has limited power but large amounts of responsibility, you have an unbalanced situation.  This really sounds like a relationship fated to end poorly, to me.  

    However, from all appearances people are playing these games, which means that someone, somewhere is actually GMing those games.  I'm curious what those GMs are deriving from the games.

The problem here is that you're looking at it from an 'all-or-nothing' point of view.  I've had a lot of time thinking about issues related to this in working out the Proprietorship issues with Scattershot.

In a Gamemasterful sharing game, using Scattershot, player do have sole control over their characters, but don't practice "direct influence" over everything else, they practice direct influence over only those things they have introduced.  The things which become their proprietorship.

The same goes for the gamemaster; he has sole control over the things he introduces (frequently the major non-player characters) and "direct influence" over the same.  Now there are things considered 'community property' like simple aspects of setting and such, but when these are introduced the person introducing them makes it known that they have little emotional attachment to them allowing everyone "direct influence" over them (unless someone chooses to adopt the proprietorship later).

In a nutshell, proprietorship means that thing in question is yours, no one can exert "direct influence" over it without your explicit or tacit approval.  This means that everyone has "sole control" and 'directly influences' something; no one is 'left out.'

While it is true that the gamemaster is "responsible" to provide things players ask for, it doesn't usually work that way (and there's absolutely no reason the gamemaster can require players to create things too).  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.

One of the reasons this tends to be rare is that when they give something to the gamemaster, they can expect it to be used to generate 'complications.'  If the gamemaster is generating the complications, then the player is not 'in control' of that 'story-line.'  Since you are talking about the players being 'in control' of their own 'story-lines,' they would have to remain the proprietor for their 'stuff.'  Thus they don't 'pass things over' or 'force the gamemaster' to do things.

How does that sound?

Fang Langford
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #12 on: June 10, 2002, 06:59:53 AM »

Hi Jeff,

This may be an entirely indigestible wad of material to suggest that you read, but on the off-chance that you're interested ...

A while ago, I ran a mock game set-up for Sorcerer in order to help some folks who had exactly the same concerns that you're describing. It ended up being four threads.

To Tor, Jesse, and Paul
Art-Deco Melodrama
Art-Deco Melodrama, Part 2
Art-Deco Melodrama - the final chapter

Please understand that I am not suggesting that you play this way, or that anyone "should" play this way. I'm directing your attention to it because a lot of the same concerns were being voiced by Jesse and Tor.

Best,
Ron
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Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #13 on: June 10, 2002, 08:58:47 AM »

A few things:

Ron, thanks for the references.  I'm skimming now as time permits.

Fang, that was excellent.  In particular:
Quote
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.

Sorry I can't respond to everything in the thread, but thanks for the thoughts on the matter.



A little tangent to a small example that shows where some of this is leading:

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.

Again, good stuff all, thanks.

-Jeff
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contracycle
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Posts: 2807


« Reply #14 on: June 10, 2002, 09:00:08 AM »

Quote from: little nicky
Hi Jeff,
I think that you place too much a difference between gm and players. Like they're adversarial or something. In these games, the gm only has a different responsibility from the players, not more.


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

I think Jaif's description summed up my perspective pretty well too, better than I have yet been able to express it.  Different strokes 'n all.
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