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Author Topic: Going Against The Party Mentality  (Read 6644 times)
jburneko
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« on: June 25, 2001, 04:42:00 PM »

Here's a question for you that occured to me.  How many of you have played in games where all the players aren't acting as the typical 'party?'  That is all the players are part of the same story and are interacting in the same area and with the same set of NPCs and all dealing with the same problem but they aren't necessarily working together enmass like your typical adventuring 'party'?

So many RPGs assume that you will be working together as a group.  In a lot of horror games you're all agents of the same organization sent on an assignment.  In Fantasy Adventure games you're all part of an adventuring party off on some grand quest.

This occured to me after reading some of Ron's examples where the PLAYERS learn information and then work out how their CHARACTERS come by that information.  Well, in my group generally anytime the PLAYERS and the CHARACTERS are on different pages so to speak my players will go, 'Okay we all get together and share our revelations.' and move on from that point.

Hmmmm... Maybe this is really two seperate issues, not playing as a party and dealing with OOC revelations.  But in any event has anyone dealt with a non-party based RPG and had it work out well?

Jesse
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joshua neff
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« Reply #1 on: June 25, 2001, 04:54:00 PM »

as i wrote up the "player's guide" for my mage narrative, i put it to my players like this: the pcs can be like star trek or babylon 5.
in star trek, the characters may have different motivations & opinions, but they're all pretty much together on the goals. it's a group thing.
in b5, the characters all have different goals. somtimes these goals match up, & sometimes they conflict. the challenge, i decided, is to separate player & character goals: in b5, g'kar & londo regularly try to hose each other, which is problematic for an rpg group, so while your character may want to do another pc in, it falls to the player to ensure that the character fails, for whatever reason (change of heart, inopportune moment, an offers/he can't refuse, etc).
my group decided the b5 set up would be damn interesting, but the star trek model is easier. we opted for the trek model (this time--i'd still like to try the other sometime).
but you bring up a good point, jesse. i've been thinking a lot about "the adventuring party" lately.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
jburneko
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« Reply #2 on: June 25, 2001, 05:02:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-06-25 20:54, joshua neff wrote:
g'kar & londo regularly try to hose each other, which is problematic for an rpg group

And for this very reason I've always thought of Londo and G'kar not as PCs but Major NPCs.  They are plot movers but their interactions are too complex and important to be actual PCs.

Sheridan, Dillenne, Ivonava, and Garibaldi are all PCs.  Except for that brief period where Garibaldi goes insane and starts working against them at which point I assumed that he had lost all his 'Sanity Points' ala Call of Cthulhu and was opperating as an NPC.

Babylon 5 as RPG is a VERY interesting conceptual puzzle.  If you could think of a way to have ALL those characters be PCs and have it all work out, I'd be very impressed.  Which is of course why I started this thread.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: June 25, 2001, 07:56:00 PM »

Hi Jesse,

I'm sure you've predicted my response accurately. As if my comments in Sorcerer regarding groups of characters acting like "many-legged invertebrates" didn't tip you off, eh?

Anyway. I consider characters acting in groups to be a fine thing, but it strikes me as a logistic exception rather than the default. I've been playing that way for years now, and the usual fears about losing the attention of players whose PCs aren't involved, or about anything else, have not been borne out.

In my current long-running Hero Wars game, the characters are often together, often separated, often in separate mixed-bag combinations of fellow PCs and NPCs, or whatever. It doesn't seem to bother anyone.

There are some linked elements that make it possible for me. If the group were a "tactical squad," for instance, then obviously functioning as a group would be called for. Or if we practiced strict "character = player" in terms of perceptions, then we might have the business about sending people out of the room when their characters aren't involved. Or if fighting and bringing down a single bad guy or group of bad guys were the whole point (as in my Champions days), then everyone would necessarily be banded together at the climax.

As I practice a very different mode of information and interaction among the players and myself, and because the climactic moments of play tend to be personal to a given character, the logistic necessity of keeping the characters together becomes a very low priority.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #4 on: June 25, 2001, 11:44:00 PM »

Hello Ron,

You know, I still can't imagine what your games are like.  I'm just going to have to hop on a plane and fly out to Chicago and force my way into your game.

Quote

On 2001-06-25 23:56, Ron Edwards wrote:
There are some linked elements that make it possible for me.


So if it isn't a common quest (ala mission style) or a common villain (ala Champions) then what ARE the linked elements.  I mean clearly there must be SOME commonality that gives the story cohesion so that you don't end up having the opposite of the 'many legged invertibrate' which would be the paralell totally unrelated story that may share a universe and a rule system but little else.

What basically prevents it from simply being you running four seperate games simultaneously?

All this information is great and I'm very intregued I just have a feeling I'll never get my players to go for any of this.  They're very much 'method roleplayers.'  Thou shall not knowest more than thy character knowest.  And all that.  I have one guy who every time I open my mouth to tell him something and he suddenly realizes he's 'alone' he will get up and close himself in my bathroom and refuse to hear what I have to say unless I come in and tell him in private.

Sigh.

Jesse
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Mytholder
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« Reply #5 on: June 26, 2001, 01:24:00 AM »

I've run a lot of games like this. It's almost unusual for me to have a game where there's a recognisable "party". Hell, Nobilis pretty much demands that the PCs work together, and I still had vast amounts of backstabbing and interparty intrigue.

Jesse said:
Quote

Maybe this is really two seperate issues, not playing as a party and dealing with OOC revelations.

Very true. The two issues are only tangentially related.

Although I've run several games without a "party" (or without a central common goal/organisation/concept for the PCs to keep them together), I've started trying to run games where the party concept works. It makes GMing and equal "screen time" a lot easier in simple plots (not necessarily simple stories - but any game which has a lot of intrigue/mystery demands multiple "information vectors", so you've got to split the characters up to have multiple characters find stuff out at the same time. A mystery where a gang of people wander around from a->b->c->d is dull and a bit silly.)

Oh...and for my next trick, B5 as an rpg game.

The regular PCs are Sheridan, Ivanova,Garibaldi, Delenn etc. Delenn has a fairly good idea of what's going on, the other PCs don't. Most game sessions are sorta episodic - a problem is posed (raiders, a plague, a murder plot, a troublesome diplomat), and the PCs have to sort it out (with starfuries, medical research, investigation, diplomacy etc.)

There are at least two other PCs (Londo and G'kar...and possibly Bester and a few other recurring people...maybe even Morden or Kosh). These PCs don't show up for most sessions if they don't want to. They're playing a PBeM or something with the GM. They've got their own plots related to rebuilding the Centauri Republic or seeking dead planets on the rim of known space or finding frozen telepaths or asking people what they want. Every fourth or fifth session of the game, there's a council meeting on board B5 (possibly run as a LARP) where all the PCs meet and argue.

How's that?

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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #6 on: June 26, 2001, 09:07:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-06-26 05:24, Mytholder wrote:
There are at least two other PCs (Londo and G'kar...and possibly Bester and a few other recurring people...maybe even Morden or Kosh). These PCs don't show up for most sessions if they don't want to. They're playing a PBeM or something with the GM. They've got their own plots related to rebuilding the Centauri Republic or seeking dead planets on the rim of known space or finding frozen telepaths or asking people what they want.


To be perfectly honest I've never watched all of Babylon 5 start to finish.  My girlfriend is the B5 nut and I watched it just enough to keep up with the story and have my girlfriend fill me in on the details that I'd missed.

But in any event Londo was by far my favorite character.  A lot of it had to do with his spiffy Nepolionic wardrobe but most of it had to do with the fact that I couldn't figure out if he was supposed to be a villain or not.

Londo seemed to always follow this pattern: Make a lot of self-centered greedy bad decisions, watch horrible outcome of those decisions, feel regret, do something heroic to atone, repeat.  And in the end his charcter has the most tragic fate of all.  I remember thinking that Londo must be an NPC because NO PLAYER (in my experience and after talking to all of you it's obvious that it's only my experience) would ever act like that.

All MY players would go out of their way to avoid making the bad decisions in the first place.  None of my players would ever make a deal with a shadowy fellow who only refered to his employers as 'my associates.'  My players would demand to know who his associates were.  They would demand to know his associates goals and motivations.  They wouldn't leap into a situation blindly no matter HOW good it looked for them.  Players are problem SOLVERS, not problem makers.  PCs don't make morally abiguous decisions.  They make the RIGHT decisions.  And they don't make ANY decision until they have all the facts to ensure that they make the RIGHT decision.

Sigh.

I wish I knew how to ween my players away from this mentality.  Things would be so much more interesting if they could stop seeing characters as idealized versions of themselves.  Or even the few who don't see them as idealized versions of themselves but rather as infalible heroic role-models who can do no wrong.

Jesse
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joshua neff
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« Reply #7 on: June 26, 2001, 09:52:00 AM »

londo & g'kar were my favorites as well (actually, my true favorite was kosh--love the outfit & love the cryptic utterings), because the both went such huge transformations. g'kar went from "the bad guy", meddling in dark matters, trying to hose the centauri, & in the end he's the most noble & patient character of all, becoming a (literal) cult figure. londo goes from the drunken comic relief to the faust figure, making a deal with the devil & becoming "the bad guy". jesse's analysis of "the londo cycle" seems spot on to me.
& i'd love to have either one as my player character. i love the faust story, & i'd love to have a character of mine sell his soul & become "the bad guy", finally coming to a tragic end.
similarly, i'd love to have a character who's heading down the dark path but redeems himself & becomes noble & wise.
when i'm playing a character (rather than gming), i like to put that character through hell. i try to put the character into as much trouble as possible. i have them make bad decisions (because, as g'kar said, "it seems like a good idea at the time"). i have them do stupid things. & i love it.
& i expect no less from my players, & i let them know i want characters who will take daring risks & get into lots of trouble. safe characters are boring & of no use to me.
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #8 on: June 26, 2001, 02:02:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-06-26 13:07, jburneko wrote:
 . . . PCs don't make morally abiguous decisions.  They make the RIGHT decisions.  And they don't make ANY decision until they have all the facts to ensure that they make the RIGHT decision.

Sigh.

I wish I knew how to ween my players away from this mentality.  Things would be so much more interesting if they could stop seeing characters as idealized versions of themselves.  Or even the few who don't see them as idealized versions of themselves but rather as infalible heroic role-models who can do no wrong.

Jesse


I have a theory that one reason players won't put their characters into those sorts of situations is because they have no way to get them out.  E.g., Londo-the-PC would never  make the deal because Londo's player has no power to "move on" to the redemption stage when he's tired/done with the Faustian victim stage.  No matter how much you trust the GM,  there're control issues here.

So my entirely theoretical advice on getting PC's to make . . . "interesting" decisions is to give the player some form of Directorial power.  This could be informal - player tells GM "time to give Londo a way out now" - or systematic (Londo's player: "I spend a destiny point and a Vorlon shows up to help me out from under the Shadows' influence), or whatever.

Gordon C. Landis
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #9 on: June 26, 2001, 07:20:00 PM »

Hey Gordon,

I have a theory that one reason players won't put their characters into those sorts of situations is because they have no way to get them out. E.g., Londo-the-PC would never make the deal because Londo's player has no power to "move on" to the redemption stage when he's tired/done with the Faustian victim stage.

Something I realized recently about Sorcerer is that no matter what the character's Humanity score is, no matter how low it has become, the player is never proscribed from taking certain actions with that character. The player can decide at any moment, for no reason other than his own sense of the dramatic and interest in the narrative, to have a low Humanity character perform a morally redeeming act. Humanity is not a control mechanic that limits or determines character actions. There are no such control mechanics in Sorcerer.

Paul



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jburneko
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« Reply #10 on: June 26, 2001, 09:56:00 PM »

Quote

Humanity is not a control mechanic that limits or determines character actions. There are no such control mechanics in Sorcerer.


Which is why I'm very skeptical about playing the game with MY particular group.  My players really don't ever have their character change or evolve or even react realistically to a given situation.

In horror games they if they fail a 'fear check' they glady accept whatever game mechanic penalty that incures but then proceed to still act 'rationally'.  Never do my players act scared or paniced.

My player's charcters are always 100% rational about a situation.  They never get caught up in a moment or become emotional.  They never make snap decisions or take psychological, sociological, or emotional risks. They do take physical risks.  Death they can handle.  But god forbid that their characters should evolve, make a mistake or show weakness.

With all this it becomes too easy to treat Humanity like hit points. 'What do you mean I should be acting different?  My humanity hasn't reached zero yet.'

Sorry, I'm a bit bitter sometimes.

Jesse
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #11 on: June 26, 2001, 10:26:00 PM »

I'm looking forward to buying that slick new Sorceror book - finally I'll understand some of the cryptic utterings you crazy Sorceror folk use.  And if I get "& Sword", or some other "not close to the modern world" Sorceror mini-supplement, I might even play the bloody thing.  RPGs in a world not so different from our own = not much interest in this corner.  Playing a character who's sold his/her soul (or something) for power (or something) also doesn't IMMEDIATELY call to me, but as I see what others have done with the basic idea and how there are many directions other than the stereotypical Faustian Bargain available . . . I'm more open, and determined to check out the mechanics even if I never do play it.

In any case, the thing I'm speculating about re: reluctance to place PC's in a "pickle", as it were, depends not only on the system not OBSTRUCTING a "redemption", it also requires the system (or a social convention) to support having the PLAYER create/encourage the very OPPORTUNITY for redemption.  The fact that low Humanity doesn't prevent you from taking a noble action is insufficient if the GM/group convention can keep a substantive opportunity for that nobility from ever arising.

I've known many a GM who, if a player put their character's head into a noose, would NEVER be happy until that PC was strung up and dangling.  Not neccessarily out of malice, either - for some, it's just "how things are done".  I suspect this is a very common environment/perception, and thus the reluctance of player's to put a PC into psychological harm's way is perhaps no surprise.

Gordon C. Landis
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joshua neff
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« Reply #12 on: June 27, 2001, 04:27:00 AM »

jesse--

wow. i wish i knew what to tell you. i could tell you stories of people i played with in college who would do this sort of thing, even while the rest of the group was throwing its characters into all kinds of trouble. i can't stand this. (nor do i like my characters to be punished for doing stuff like that, even when it contradicts what the gm had set up for the session.)
here's what i put as part of the character creation guidelines for my current mage<This is very important!<Characters Should Be Problem Magnets!<want them to put their characters into uncomfortable positions, i will reward those characters who do get into such situations & punish those that don't. then, i'd follow through on that, giving more rewards (like experience points & more "screen" time) & punishments (less experience points & "screen" time). or, i'd admit that what my players want & enjoy is different from what i want & enjoy & i'd probably start looking for a new group.
but that's me, & i'm not recommending that to you. i simply don't have time to play with a group who will play it safe.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: July 02, 2001, 07:35:00 AM »

Hi Jesse,

I apologize for not following up on this earlier.

"So if it isn't a common quest (ala mission style) or a common villain (ala Champions) then what ARE the linked elements. I mean clearly there must be SOME commonality that gives the story cohesion so that you don't end up having the opposite of the 'many legged invertibrate' which would be the paralell totally unrelated story that may share a universe and a rule system but little else."

"What basically prevents it from simply being you running four seperate games simultaneously?"

This is a very good question, and the answer is: Premise and Situation.

Premise - the players care about what each of the characters (not just their own) are doing in regard to the issue at hand.

If Premise is very strong and overt from the git-go, then throwing otherwise-unrelated PCs together works nicely, because the players are very invested already in the general ethical, moral, or social issue at hand. The players are now responsible, mainly, for coming up with the characters caring about one another and the situation, and forging relationships with one another. This is how Dav ran his Obsidian game and our recent run of All Flesh Must Be Eaten. It's how I ran Swashbuckler, Orbit, and Unknown Armies.

The downside, obviously, is expected such "bonding" behavior in the absence of Premise, which is the classic meet-in-the-bar, instant-best-buddies nonsense.

SITUATION
OK, we know that the characters are operating in SOME shared-interest way, and dealing with different corners or aspects of a larger problem.

If Situation is pretty structured, then Premise may be developed more slowly and (maybe) deeply. In my Demon Cops game (a version of Sorcerer), they were automatically members of the same police department. That didn't make them a tactical squad that had to run everywhere all together, but it did give them a common professional interest in what was going on. In my Hero Wars game, they are all dealing with a common and over-riding cultural clash, and the players took it upon themselves to belong to the same clan (I didn't dictate this). In Orkworld, the PCs necessarily belong to the same Household.

The downside here is the danger of railroading, in terms of having the PCs so locked-down in their relationships that they are capable only of proceeding in one way.

So to answer your question in full, I pump up Premise really hard to begin with, no matter what, and vary the extent of starting-Situation ties depending on the setting or player preferences. I also try to present enough nuances to the Situation to permit a wide variety of approaches, and leave it up to the players to decide how they're going to divvy up their efforts, stay in touch, or otherwise work out their in-contact and out-of-contact adventurings. But since unity IS demanded due to Premise and Situation, the glue that makes it "all one story" is there.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #14 on: July 02, 2001, 08:45:00 AM »

Quote

Premise - the players care about what each of the characters (not just their own) are doing in regard to the issue at hand.

If Premise is very strong and overt from the git-go, then throwing otherwise-unrelated PCs together works nicely, because the players are very invested already in the general ethical, moral, or social issue at hand


Okay, Situation, I think I have a handle on.  I think I need to understand your definition of Premise.  If someone were to ask me what the Premise of one of my games was I think my answer would be very different from your answer.  So, let me work through some examples.

This is how I would answer the question, What is the Premise to your game, for some of my upcoming and previous ideas:

D&D

"Two rivaling island powers race against each other to fulfil an ancient prophecy that will restore life to an undead council of wizards."

Castle Falkenstein:

"Power obsessed mad-man seeks to predict the future by inventing the quantum difference engine.  What he doesn't know is that his machine will ultimately destory the world in which he lives."

7th Sea:

"Revenge driven Eisen Noble seeks to return an ancient long thought to be dead sorcerous lineage to power."

Chill:

"Failing artist purchases a Basilisk from a mysterious curio shop and uses it to produce 'life-like statues' to earn fame and forture."

Now these are all things I CAN'T tell the players because they esencially, 'Give Away The Ending.'  So, I don't think this is what you mean by Premise.  But honestly, I can't put a Premise as I think you mean it to any of these scenarios.

Now the one exception to this might be the Castle Falkenstein adventure.  The mad-man believes that the world is a giant simulation running on a large 'Calculating Engine.'  As a result he believes that the entities that live in it don't have free will.  What he wants to acomplish with his quantum difference engine is rise above the predictable calculations of the machine in which he is contained and there by GAIN free-will.  So in some sense I could tell the players that the game will deal with issues of free-will vs. determinism and the metaphysics of the real world.

But like I said, I generally think in terms of plots and plans and not relationships or moral issues.  So, tell me more about this Premise thing.

Jesse
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