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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 86 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Going Against The Party Mentality  (Read 6888 times)
Mytholder
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« Reply #15 on: July 02, 2001, 09:00:00 AM »

Jesse -
you're missing the essential concept of Premise. It's not "what's the plot of the game", it's "what the plot means to the characters", or "why the characters are involved in the plot."

Hmm. Coming up with Premises for each of your examples:
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."

Ok...the Premise would be that the characters are agents of one of the island powers. I'm seeing something of magical secret service here, James Bond with a Walther Wand of Magic Missiles. While the plot is all about the undead wizards, the PCs are involved because it's their job to stop threats to their nation.

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."

Hmm. Trickier. I'd have the Premise be something along the lines of "characters are captured by madman and used as test subjects", with the added intent of exploring the nature of fate vs free will and levels of reality - blurring the borders between player and characters. After all, the madman is right...his world is just a big illusion and he doesn't have free will, he's an NPC. (*Waves vaguely at the Plot of Self-Referential Awareness in OtE*).

7th Sea:
"Revenge driven Eisen Noble seeks to return an ancient long thought to be dead sorcerous lineage to power."
Hmm. Premise could be something dull like "players are servants of some country threatened by Noble's intentions, and are sent to stop him". I think I'd have the premise be that all the characters are descendants of the sorcerous lineage, and the Noble's actions reawaken the powers of their blood. They have to deal with the chaos the Noble creates and decide what to do with their new magics...

Chill:
"Failing artist purchases a Basilisk from a mysterious curio shop and uses it to produce 'life-like statues' to earn fame and forture."
Premise: "What happened to Aunt Hetty, and why does that statue look like her, or something?"

That said...Premise shouldn't be tied into a single plot. It's not a plot hook...it's the thing the plot hook catches onto. It's why the PCs get involved in adventures in general. It's the one sentence that sums up why you're bothering to run the game.
 
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #16 on: July 02, 2001, 09:10:00 AM »

Hi Jesse,

As the GNS 101 states, there's "premise" for RPGs in general, which means any issue or concern of interest to the players (this is general to the point of vague, except that it's indubitably the case that SOMETHING of the sort must exist). Then there's Premise as specified for Narrativism, which bulks up to Numero Uno Priority for this mode of play.

Okay, that said, I generated my notions about Premise (sensu stricto Narrativist) from the book The Art of Dramatic Writing by Lajos Egri, which is a classic of stage and screen writing technique. It means (in combination): the passions experienced by the main characters, and the resulting empathy and emotional commitment generated in the audience. Egri is careful to point out that Premise has to get established very, very soon in a story, and that Theme (the "point") constitutes an "answer" or "meaningful outcome" of any kind to the Premise.

Translating to role-playing, we get the main characters being the PLAYER characters - this is important, because if King Arthur is an NPC, then it's still the player-character's passion that matters, not the whole Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur passion-thing.

The other RPG twist is that the players are not only the (partial) author of what's going on, but also the audience! That means they have to be "stirred" by the Premise, AS WELL AS passing judgment on it as an author via playing the PCs.

My big problem with some RPGs that purport to be "story-oriented" is that they present huge wads of Situation and never address Premise.

I'll cut to an example now. In our Orkworld game, after an initial bit of adventure to flex us a little, the ork characters came into contact with a low-tech human tribe. In the rules, the humans are presented as pretty-much Roman tech, but these guys (my creation) were living very much as orks, perhaps a trifle less nomadically but still at the tribal, hunter, scratch-farmer level.

To the PC orks, OK, fine, the world is big and here's another odd thing in it. But to the players, all sorts of interesting things come up - can humans and orks get along, on a level playing field? Which culture deals better with moral outrages (murder), the maternal and reproductively-ignorant orks, or the traditional-family unit humans? How does "morality" work, anyway, for beings who practice cannibalism and promiscuous sex?

Given the moral outrage of a murder and the interesting quirks of orkish culture, the players are interested. They're engaged as AUDIENCE, and now they have to take the responsibility to pass judgment on these matters as AUTHORS. The outcome of all of us working together yields a climactic resolution, which itself, given attention to Premise throughout, yields a point, or THEME.

In RPG design, if Premise is present at all, it's highly embedded in character creation or setting. I consider either to be fully workable.

Also, there are really very few Premises - perhaps less than ten. I put parent-child conflict, family conflict in general, mate-choice conflict (with several sub-aspects), loyalties-conflict, and deception-conflict at the top of the list, myself. Of course, they can be flipped (e.g. parent as protagonist vs. child as protagonist), combined, re-structured, de-constructed, or whatever.

However, there are thousands, or millions, of Situations. To use movies as an example, I look at Aliens, Losing Isaiah, and Santa Sangre as very different Situations that all address maternal-child relationships as their shared Premise. And of course, these movies, as they have different outcomes, have different Themes ABOUT their shared Premise. We care, as people, about what "a mother" means as a concept, and we all live with the uneasy awareness that the concept can be divided, violated, or drawn upon for strength. These stories allow us to examine that uneasiness. (And yes, the MORE a story does this, the MORE ENTERTAINING it is. "Simple" stories, "just entertaining" stories, rely totally on Premise.)

Hope that helps. I hope I've also clarified the problem of "giving the game away," in that making Premise explicit does NOT give anything away, or force a certain ending.

Best,
Ron

[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-02 13:14 ]
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jburneko
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« Reply #17 on: July 02, 2001, 09:17:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-07-02 13:00, Mytholder wrote:
you're missing the essential concept of Premise. It's not "what's the plot of the game", it's "what the plot means to the characters", or "why the characters are involved in the plot."


Hmmm... In that case I guess the premise to every single one of my examples is 'Ordinary People swept up into Extraordinary Circumstances.'  This is largely because I like my stories to snowball.  The players get involved with a seemingly inocuous and harmless task or series of tasks and end up saving the world.

So by your definition my actual premises are:

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

Would-Be Adventures are plagued by dreams of a far off land in trouble.

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."

I don't know what the 'Role' of the players are going to be yet but the idea is that are somehow going to become involved in the disappearance of Lady Ada Lovelace.

7th Sea:
"Revenge driven Eisen Noble seeks to return an ancient long thought to be dead sorcerous lineage to power."

This one is 'Old friend asks the players to discover the identity of mysterious and elusive woman.'

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

This one was simply, 'SAVE agents are sent in to investigate a series of disappearances in a small but thriving artist community.'

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #18 on: July 02, 2001, 10:11:00 AM »

Hi Jesse,

I'm not sure whether your latest post was written after or during my latest post, but it's clear to me that you are not at all used to thinking in terms of Premise. All of your re-statements are still Situations.

I also think this issue is THE key to many of your struggles with the concept of Narrativism and its practical applications.

More examples may help.

Pulp Fiction
Situation: three henchmen/hirelings of a crime boss must decide how loyal they will be to him
Premise: loyalty to an "evil man" will sooner or later come into conflict with love (Vincent), pride (Butch), and simple survival (Jules)
Resolution: Vincent dies, Butch triumphs, Jules moves from being like Vincent to being like Butch
Theme: do not sacrifice any of the above for the sake of loyalty to an unjust man; it's not worth it

Do you see that the same Premise might be examined by dozens of settings, character combinations, and nuances?

The Mighty Ducks 2
Situation: a coach must put aside his ego to convince his team that they must regard former "enemies" as allies
Premise: team loyalty arises from both uplifting things (common goals) and from distasteful things (demonizing opponents, self-aggrandizement)
Resolution: he succeeds, they succeed, they win the pennant
Theme: define your team based on common goals

Remember the Titans
Oh, look! Change the situation to the first integrated team sports in the deep South, and you have the Mighty Ducks again!! Same premise, same theme.

Aliens
Situation: woman rescues and defends her surrogate child from very big monster (also a mother)
Premise: motherhood = strength

Compare it to Losing Isaiah
Situation: birth-mother and adoptive-mother contest custody of a toddler
Premise: motherhood = strength, but it is composed of two separate variables

It's hard to imagine two situations that differ more than these two movies, but I consider them to be very, very similar in terms of Premise.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #19 on: July 02, 2001, 10:33:00 AM »

Quote

So to answer your question in full, I pump up Premise really hard to begin with, no matter what, Best,
Ron


Ok, some good examples of Premise and how to identify it later on in this thread.  How about touching on this point a bit more. What sort of things do you do to "pump up Premise really hard".  I assume, you must have some techniques that you've developed that seem to work pretty well at establishing your games as being premise driven rather than plot driven...
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #20 on: July 02, 2001, 10:43:00 AM »

Fair question, Ralph.

You know how I'm always talking about getting everyone together for making PCs and chattin' about the upcoming game? That's a good place to introduce the issues of Premise, perhaps with examples of the kinds of problems I think would be good to cope with (usually not the specific one I might have in mind, but stuff LIKE it).

Making PCs themselves - I learned this the hard way many years ago. Take TIME to check out the sheets and the notes. However, whereas back in the Champions days I was concerned with point-balancing, now, my advice is to look at all the Metagame stuff (see the Currency discussion in 201) and see whether the PCs' parameters of play line up well with the intended Premise.

Early in running the game: present the PCs with a Situation which presents Premise. Do this "small" at first, if you want - e.g. say the Big Story Problem is going to be a complex spy situation with lots of misinformation. So therefore a "little" scenario which introduces the atmosphere of uncertainty, but is on its own pretty easy to deal with, is a good idea. Or, if you'd like, bomb straight into the biggie.

But either way, make sure that the ELEMENTS of the Premise are present. If there's a parent-child conflict, make sure that everyone knows that A is B's son, so that when the crime is committed, everyone gasps. (Or conversely, as I did recently in a Sorcerer game, make the CRIME easy to figure out, so that when A and B were later revealed as sisters, THAT'S where the impact came in.)

For instance, in the Orkworld game, although the first run had nothing to do with the eventual Big Story, I did have the essential elements of ork morality (especially those that differ from humans') get well-established in the players' minds. That way they were "primed" for the Big Story which kicked off in Run #2.

Hope any or all of this makes some sense,
Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #21 on: July 02, 2001, 11:10:00 AM »

Quote

I'm not sure whether your latest post was written after or during my latest post, but it's clear to me that you are not at all used to thinking in terms of Premise. All of your re-statements are still Situations.

I also think this issue is THE key to many of your struggles with the concept of Narrativism and its practical applications.


Given what you just said I would completely agree with this statement.  Up until five minutes ago if you had asked me: What would change about the movie Aliens if, Ripley were a man, the child replaced by an old school chum and the creature was some god-like being from another dimension and the other aliens were simply this god's version of warlike angels.

I would have replied, 'Um... The Cast?'  I LOVE ALIENS.  It's one of my favorite films.  I NEVER ONCE saw it as a conflict between two mother figures.  This is mostly because I never saw Ripley as a surrogate mother to the child.  I simply saw it is one generic human being trying to save the life of another generic human being.  You could have replaced those two with ANY two human beings and the film would have remained unchanged in my eyes.

This is probably why I have trouble seeing a need to tie players to premise.  To me, Ripley and the child (I can't remember her name) are PCs.  But they could be any two players.  A scientist and a mercenary.  A librarian and a simpleton.  A man and a woman.  Two men.  It would make no difference to me.  It's two people saving each other's life.  Nothing in the nature of the story would change.

Now we come to my second problem with Premise.  I see what you mean how the Premise can be upfront and yet the events still be a surprise.  And the one problem I have with this explains to me why I'm having so much trouble enjoying books and films as of late.  I see the Premise as THE POINT.  

Take for example either From motherhood derives strength or Loyalty to an unjust man will eventually conflict with personal goals.  The purpose of a story is show you or to TEACH you that this is the case.  Once you know this, there is no reason to continue.  As of late, I find myself going, 'Oh God another From Motherhood Derives Strength Story, yes, yes, I know that already, show me something new.' and I walk out of the theater.

Similarly, if I go to my players and say, okay this game is going to be dealing with the kinds of strength that are derived from motherhood, I've just given the point away.  There's now no real point in continuing.  The Essence and purpose of the game are out in the open.

Now if we break the either of these in two.  'The players are mothers.' or 'The players are all employees of an unjust man.'  And game events REVEAL (preferably to the players) that the mothers derive strength and that the employees of the unjust man come into conflict with the player's personal goals, then something has been learned.  The game has been worth playing.

This to me is the power of interactive entertainment.  It's all well to and good to READ or WATCH a morality tale but it becomes all too easy to say, well that was the case with THOSE characters.  Interactivity says, no look, even if YOU were an employee of an unjust man it would come into conflict with YOUR goals.  It makes the lesson much more personal.

I shall have to reflect on this.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #22 on: July 02, 2001, 11:31:00 AM »

OK, Jesse, so far so good.

Now put your points about the REVELATION in the context of my reply to Ralph, above. Do you see that you could, as GM, save most of the "Premise-realization" for the first run or so?

Also, you might be underestimating the ability of players to develop and add insight to a Premise. Many players are burning with a frustrated desire to do more than simply react to a Situation. They are often rather good at saying, "Strength of motherhood? Cool! Let me deconstruct that with my next character, like a sorceress whose demon is the fetus in her body." Then you and they can create a story unlike any other in terms of Theme.

It might help to consider that a Premise is only a QUESTION, or a cognitive-disturbance perhaps. It is the outcome of the story and the attendant Theme that provide the (or "an") ANSWER. Does it seem that strange to establish Situation and Premise fairly quickly during play, or even to some extent before play, and then to spend the vast majority of play on Resolution and Theme?

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #23 on: July 02, 2001, 03:07:00 PM »

Okay, Ron, so what you're saying is that you do Fractal Story Planning.  For those of you who don't know, a Fractal is (loosely) a mathematically generated image where each part of the WHOLE is comprised of copies of the whole.

So the idea is that your whole story has a premise but then each element of that story as that premise contained in it somwhere.

Example: My Castle Falkenstein adventure.  Let's assume that the Premise is: Hasty implementation of technology leads to disasterious consequences.

Now this story is structured in terms of a Villain's Master Plan.  For easy story distillment the Plan has been broken down into several steps these steps can be summarized as:

A Kidnapping
A Robbery
A Murder
An Infiltration.

Each of these I was planning on having be a single session scenario leading up to the grand finale.  What you're saying is that I should find a way to infuse each of these steps of the masterplan with an element of the Premise.  For example the Murder might be made easier for the villain through the use of a technology that was distributed through the masses without proper safety considerations.

Is this what you're getting at?

Jesse
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Cameron
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« Reply #24 on: July 02, 2001, 05:51:00 PM »

I'm usually pretty good about establishing Premise during character creation, so that characters have something to motivate "group" actions from the very beginning. For my 7th Sea game, however, I not only had to deal with new characters, but new players as well. My solution was to say "make any character you want, then think of a reason they might be in prison (merited or not)."

All the characters were cell mates and each of them had something that would aid in escape, but none of them could do it all. They had to work together to escape. The effect was unification through common trauma. Once they had escaped, they had already formed bonds of friendship (at least sort of) and wanted to stick together.

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #25 on: July 02, 2001, 07:29:00 PM »

Jesse,

I think you're getting a handle on the issue, but I want to point out that your statement of Premise still looks like a Theme to me - it makes a value judgment, rather than presents a knotty problem.

How about: "Technology develops, no one can turn back the clock. But who controls it? And if anyone does, is that even worse?"

And then make sure that some angle of these questions, perhaps even contradictory or troubling angles, are at the root of the Situation(s) faced by the characters.

Best,
Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: July 03, 2001, 05:41:00 AM »

Jesse,

Looking over your post, I realized that I needed to say this as well. My story planning is SOMEWHAT fractal. However, that "whole" is certainly prepped and solid in terms of back-story. Although the events and developments and to some extent direction of play are created by us as a group, the foundation is me, the GM, being the bass player.

I wanted to say this because sometimes people get the wrong idea that my mode of play is a sophisticated form of winging it (making the back-story up as I go along), and that is definitely not the case.

Also, there is no need for every last little scene and statement to reflect the Premise. Just as music has rests and diversions and other pacing devices, so do stories.

Best,
Ron
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John Wick
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« Reply #27 on: July 05, 2001, 12:56:00 PM »

One of the best games I ever ran (a dozen or so sessions over the summer) was a Vampire game. The players were isolated from each other (not all of them vamps) and didn't know each other. Through the course of the game, a single event (the murder of the Brujah regent) brought them together in ways they never thought possible.

It was an amazing game for a lot of reasons, but that's the one you asked about. :wink:

Take care,
John
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Carpe Deum,
John
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