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Author Topic: [NWOD][VtR] New Game - New Possibilities - New Questions!  (Read 3777 times)
Reithan
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« on: September 10, 2008, 07:57:50 AM »

I'm back from my long absence from the Forge (miss me?). I'd not had much chances to post much here, due to job shuffling, and storm evacuations and other 'outside the screen' nonsense. But, I've ended my long-standing Mage: the Awakening game (mentioned in a few other threads from earlier this year and last year) and my players have requested I run another game!

On the plus side, I guess I'm doing something right enough to be asked for en encore. Smiley

On the other hand, the new game promises to be another, new challenge, and as much as I love a good challenge, I figured popping by the good ole Forge to get some advice and bounce some ideas off 'the masters' would be a good thing.

The Players
If you remember any of my posts about my Mage game, it ran for a good long time (about 2 years) with a couple hiatuses, a couple character changes, some issues, but overall, a good deal of fun.

By the end though, the game'd gotten a bit long in the tooth, and the paticipants (myself included) just weren't 'feeling it' anymore. So, we decided to take it out back and put it out of it's misery with a quick non-system, all RP, wrap-up with the only 2 players left involved.

Immediately, though, the 2 remaining players were blasting me with ideas for "the next game I HAD to run." As I enjoy playing these games, and also enjoy GM'ing, I didn't see this as necessary a bad idea and agreed.

I contacted the player who'd dropped out previously. This was the player mentioned in a previous thread who'd lost a duel against another player. His 'new character' never actually managed to make it into game, through weeks and weeks of re-writes of the character, various excuses and just generally blowing us off. His eventual answer at that time was a mish-mash of a few points, though I'm not sure any of them were totally true:
  • He didn't like the system (or any system, mentioned since) and prefers to ONLY play ADnD or game that are analogous to it
  • He didn't like how the game ran, prefering game which play more like ADnD
  • He didn't get along with another player in the group (though she left, and he didn't return, either
  • He didn't have time, due to RL concerns.
and probably a few others I'm forgetting. In any case, he was no longer part of the gaming group. Contacting him again, he a couple of the same concerns, stating that he didn't know if he'd have time, and that the system "wasn't his thing". Cool with me. I don't have some compulsive need to include everyone I know if my games. Tongue

One of the two remaining players is bringing in (maybe) his fiance` who he recently moved in with into the game (maybe). She's expressed some interest in the game's setting and premise. My wife, also has expressed the same interest, as they're both fans of the genre, so she'll probably be playing as well, though I've had hot/cold issues with my wife's gaming habits in the past. She tends to start off strong, lose interest in her character, complain a lot and eventually (usually within 2-3 game sessions) decide to either quit, or abandon her character, usually placing the blame for the situation on someone else. (though never the same person).

The other 2 player's that'd be involved in the previous game also won't be playing, having quit the previous game due to RL concerns. The first, my brother, basically disappeared from my social radar around the end of his senior year, after having some success with his band, and continues to ellude me now that he's in college. The other, a mutual friend of ours, joined the Marine corps and, after graduating boot camp, he played off and on for a while, but lately his schedule's been so rough we haven't even heard from him in a couple months.

The New Game
The new game suggested by the players was a toss-up between 2 other games in the "New World of Darkness" line, by White Wolf: Changeling: the Lost and Vampire: the Requiem. The tie-breaker ended up being that my wife and Brandon's fiance` were big fans of the vampire genre and wanted to play if we ran that. So, we decided on that.

The setting for the game was also a 2-choice decision. Brandon'd been lately playing Assassin's Creed and thought a game set during the Crusades would be awesome fun. This was versus the game's default setting of 'modern', which wasn't discussed much. I brought up that I didn't have a huge background of knowledge about the Crusades period and wanted some help doing a bit of research and organizing if I was to be expected to run a Chronicle based on the time period. This was agreed on, and further we chose to have the game set in Acre spanning 1185-1187, the period leading up to the fall of Jerusalem to Saladin at the end of 1187.

The Characters
Brandon and Charles, the other of the 2 players remaining from the previous game, immediately set out about helping with the research and putting together ideas for their characters. The research cycled back and forth from being worked on, to taking a back seat to their own creative processes. Not a big deal to me, as long as everything gets done in a timely fashion.

Charles, in the previous game, over the span of 2 characters, had chosen to play female characters as a matter of style, because that's, as he put it, "just how (he) roleplay(s)." He didn't make a farce of it and was a very good contributor to the game, so no one had any real issues with it. However, my wife put forth some concerns over it, stating that she didn't care for people playing characters of the opposite sex, as it "never comes out quite right." I discussed it with Charles and it turned out to be a deal-breaker for him, as he felt he shouldn't have to change his gaming habits for someone else. My wife conceded the point, though, so everything's fine there, for now.

Charles' current character idea is to play a character from the Circle of the Crone with a bit of status in that order and a fair amount of political savvy, with just enough combat ability to get things done physically if needs be.

Brandon's character is going to be a bodyguard/vassal to Charles' priestess character and a ex-soldier or knight. His character is going to be a completely combat oriented Kaihbit(sp?) vampire, also of the same order.

Stephanie, my wife, and Jenn, Brandon's fiance`, haven't voiced any character ideas yet.

The Game
The game I'm planning is going to be an operatic style game, a melodrama, if you prefer that term. I'm planning on having a huge interplay between all the factions and big historical figures, with some of my own NPCs thrown in the flesh out the vampire fiction portions and to provide the more immediate and local portions of the drama.

The exact details of the dramatic plot and NPCs, I haven't figured out yet, as I'm trying to get all the historical pieces in place first, which I'm getting a decent amount of help from Brandon and Charles with.

I plan on having this game, unlike the last, have a 'planned' storyline and a predetermined end-point, as the players expressed some frustration last time with the previous game being TOO open-ended and dragging on too long, getting much too wooly and convoluted by the end.

That being said, I am still NOT planning on having this turn into any sort of railroad, and want to leave the plot as completely mutable by the player characters. The end, though fixed in terms of time and determined in terms of a general framing, I, also, want to be very influenced by what the characters have done in the game up to that point and the actual outcome of the ending to be influence by the actions, both up to that point as during that point. The ending will probably be something concerning the final siege and battle of the fall of Jerusalem, or possibly even turn into an alternate-history version where the players' actions have averted that fall.

This has been discussed, in general terms, with the current players and everyone seems on-board with this, so far.

Discussion Points
I don't have a lot of background running games where the plot has endpoints laid out, as my previously run games (there've been only about a dozen, actually) have mostly been run as a sort of cause-and-effect reactive string based on whatever the characters do after the initial setup and lead-in. So, any tips here would be very helpful.

Also, I'm wondering if anyone could give me some explaination of, or tips on constructing a 'relationship map', as I've seen this term kicked around a lot, but not every gotten a good feel for using it. How do you really construct one of these, what information should be included and are there any good tools or techniques for writing/drawing the map and keeping it updated?

Lastly, I'd been going through a bunch of RPG stuff, both here and on other forums & sites, and I ran across the term "kicker" in conjunction with the game Sorcerer. It was explained as a "bang provided by the character's background" or something like that. Something to be used by the GM when setting up the initial story and something could be evolved or gone back to multiple time to keep driving things along, while still keeping some story control in the players' hands. I thought that was a very intriguing tool/idea and was looking for more information on this. Or is this something unique to Sorcerer that I'll need to buy the book for more information on?

Also, just any insights into the game, the players or myself here that anyone has, or thinks they have, at this point, are more than welcomed. Thanks in advance for any replies, and in closing, it's good to be back at The Forge. Smiley

edited by me to fix formatting - RE
« Last Edit: September 10, 2008, 01:11:04 PM by Ron Edwards » Logged

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Reithan
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« Reply #1 on: September 10, 2008, 07:59:32 AM »

Sorry for the strikethrough. I was annotating an 's' in the quote as proper, but I forgot that an 's' in brackets was the beginning of a strikethrough. Sad

I hope it doesn't make the post too hard to read.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: September 10, 2008, 01:11:27 PM »

Fixed it! Welcome back!

Best, Ron
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #3 on: September 11, 2008, 07:07:44 PM »

quote]I plan on having this game, unlike the last, Quote
I don't have a lot of background running games where the plot has endpoints laid out, as my previously run games (there've been only about a dozen, actually) have mostly been run as a sort of cause-and-effect reactive string based on whatever the characters do after the initial setup and lead-in. So, any tips here would be very helpful.Using Kickers and Bangs, The hell is a Kicker?, and  Prescribing the Kicker (this one omits the key point that the Kicker is written by the player, by definition)
Relatively new: Prep for first-time Hellblazer-ish Sorcerer<not<School me on relationship maps.  Also, for reference, Quote
Reithan
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« Reply #4 on: September 11, 2008, 07:37:35 PM »

I'm going through all these links, trying to read everything provided, here. It's all great stuff. I'll have a response up sometime tonight. But, just to let you know, the link to the relationship map example at the bottom is a broken (404) link.
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Reithan
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« Reply #5 on: September 11, 2008, 10:15:57 PM »

Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: September 12, 2008, 12:45:24 AM »

Here's another excellent, very recent thread with good relationship map comments: [Sorcerer] The Brotherhood. Also, here's a better way to get to the diagram: Sorcerer errata page, and go down to the bottom for the Enchanted Pool document.

As you might imagine, I'll have to take some time to compose a reply to your post, so please bear with me.

Best, Ron
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #7 on: September 12, 2008, 12:55:56 AM »

url=http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=26542.0]thread[/url] on prepping for a game of The Pool of interest. I think your approach to prep while you research and let the one benefit from the other is the best way to go. It might be helpful to have one strong plot element or leitmotif already in mind before you start researching. Keep us posted on what you come up with!

- Franthread on prepping for a game of The Pool of interest. I think your approach to prep while you research and let the one benefit from the other is the best way to go. It might be helpful to have one strong plot element or leitmotif already in mind before you start researching. Keep us posted on what you come up with!

- Frank
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Reithan
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« Reply #8 on: September 12, 2008, 08:34:11 PM »

Hi again.

Thanks for the link to the Pool prep thread, Frank. That one is very helpful. As to the Crusade, I'm finding there's so much awesome political strife, larger-than-life personalities, factions of MYTHIC proportions and general back-door politicking, backstabbing and thuggery going on during this time period is hard NOT to get 'into-it'.

The problem I AM finding, is with all the historical stuff going on, I'm almost at a loss for what else I can add to it without it getting totally overwhelming. Then add in the fiction that Mages were very prominent during this time period, so I need to have their political structure though out, so that means a Heirarch, several councilors, provosts for each and a handful of heralds and sentinels. Then, for good measure, you'd probably want to toss on a couple non-gov. figures there from various local cabals and orders just to make it seem more like a real faction and less like a disembodied government....

...and then I have to do the same for the vampires, as that's the players' community. Price, primogen (plural), harpies, priscus, whips, hound, sheriff, seneschal, keeper of elysium and at least one herald. Not to mention the obligatory smattering of non-gov. NPCs.

And we haven't even touched actually mortal community NPCs yet. I'm sure I should have a couple merchants, maybe some religious figures, a few crime-related figures, and who knows what else...

Then figuring out how to fit all these guys into the scene and get some sort of intrigue going here for the players to grab onto once the game starts...OI VEY!!

Color me overwhelmed. At least I can basically write-off the Changelings and Werewolves from planning, as the werewolves have no real set governing structure and will likely be off doing things that won't affect the players, and the Changelings mainly cluster around entraces to the hedge, which I can just say that there are none nearby...

On an upside, I'd like to share with you all a neat little bit of freeware I found for making RMaps that's AWESOME.
http://cmap.ihmc.us/
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Eero Tuovinen
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« Reply #9 on: September 13, 2008, 12:20:10 AM »

Heh, I always find these history games such that trying to run the real history AND the imaginary secret history on top of it is actually highly-redundant. Either one or the other, not both. Real history has quite more than enough "happening" to satisfy plot needs, and adding more stuff to that just leaves one wondering how come the secret history doesn't end up overwhelming the real stuff which you presumably want to preserve. So what I like to do is to make the secret history subservient to the real stuff: instead of having the king controlled by a secret cabal of vampires who then has its own politics, have the king control a secret cabal of vampires that fulfills his politics. But that's just my experience.

As for the conflicting notion of prepared plot vs. player-driven plot, no contradiction needs to exist if you'll think of your plot preparation not as "prepared plot", but as "prepared backstory"! Backstory is all that stuff that happened to bring about the moment when the game starts, and that also includes the likely outcomes of it. Knowing all that in a solid way is a good GM habit simply because then you'll have material to work with. But it's very important to separate your knowledge of and authority over backstory from the actual events during play. Those are a wholly different thing, and if you want to have player-directed plot outcomes, then you as the GM need to desist from having any strong opinions or plans about where the story should or would go.

Different sorts of charts and maps, including relationship or story maps, are useful for knowing the backstory, but it's still just backstory, not plot preparation. Think in terms of putting the characters into interesting situations, not in terms of plot flow - the GMing materials in WW games teach the GM to think of his preparations as story preparations where he prepares forward in time from the first scene to the last, but doing that means that you're basicly working against yourself and other players: the more you prepare, the less play there is. That's why the smart move is to focus on going back in your preparation and focusing on what happened before the session's events.

To summarize the difference between story and backstory: you need to know who this NPC is and what he wants, but you don't need to know what he will do in his first scene. You need to make sure that these two NPCs have conflicting interests (to make drama), but you don't need to plan where, when and how the conflict comes to a head. You need to know how and why and when this NPC cares of what the player character does, but you don't need to know whether the player character will ever do that sort of thing. In a word, you need to have a handle on what is there in the world so you can initiate interesting situations as needed in play, and resolve NPC reactions appropriately when players do interesting things.

When you get story and backstory straightened, the rest of it is pretty simple: you just create a potentially significant situation, crew it with colorful NPCs with conflicting agendas (tying the PCs in at this stage is optional), and make sure that the NPCs have means and motivation to influence the PCs to get involved and aligned on some sides of the conflict. Then just have the characters react aggressively to whatever the PCs do. That's how story is made without preplotting it, in a nutshell.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #10 on: September 14, 2008, 03:42:20 AM »

i]somewhere, doing something, but I would not have that affect the player characters at least for the first five sessions or so. And whether the mages turn up after that is something you totally do not have to plan now<<without the PCs. And then you hook the PCs into the plot. This is totally crucial. You need a very good plot hook that is plausible and draws the PCs into the plot. So the plot affects<not<not be part of your plot. A more ambitios way would be to offer a deal to the players that these historical facts will somehow be an outcome of play, and then work together to make it happen. From what you have written about your group in this thread, I would rather suggest the first alternative (no offence meant).

- Fransomewhere[/i], doing something, but I would not have that affect the player characters at least for the first five sessions or so. And whether the mages turn up after that is something you totally do not have to plan now<<without the PCs. And then you hook the PCs into the plot. This is totally crucial. You need a very good plot hook that is plausible and draws the PCs into the plot. So the plot affects<not<not be part of your plot. A more ambitios way would be to offer a deal to the players that these historical facts will somehow be an outcome of play, and then work together to make it happen. From what you have written about your group in this thread, I would rather suggest the first alternative (no offence meant).

- Frank
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« Reply #11 on: October 01, 2008, 07:10:42 AM »

Hi Reithan,

I apologize for the lateness of the reply. Not only did some life-things hit, but I became very distracted by Markus' thread about traits and some associated discussions.

I've given some serious thought to your questions, though, and to what I understand of your situation. There are social aspects to your play-group that may not work out, but you seem to be aware of them despite a little textual waffling, and all I can say is that we'll see what happens. I'll concentrate instead on the practical side.

The screwdown

This isn't an official jargon term, but I've been using it in my head for about a year now. It refers to techniques everyone uses at the table after a given scenario has generated enough events and information for characters (PC and NPC) to start acting extremely assertively - but particularly in the absence of a planned ending, or even of a planned sequence of scenes and events. Play literally begins only with components of potential conflicts. It's become a strong component of playing with a Narrativist agenda, far more so than anyone anticipated back when we discussed GNS daily.

The thing is, I think this is more what you want, and it's also what I can give numerous examples for. However, clearly it's not what everyone else in your group wants, and quite likely they do not believe it can happen. So it's not what I recommend for you. I'll soon be posting in another thread, "Sand Box" Adventures, in which those techniques have specifically been requested and where I will provide concrete advice.

Participationism

This is technically a subset of Simulationist play, or more accurately, it's a way to generate and enjoy stories while maintaining a Simulationist agenda. For it to work, you must stay flexible as a GM and stay away from railroading. This is tricky because you do, in fact, often have to make decisions for the player-characters very much as if you were the player, and you are indeed imposing a well-set prepared concept of where the story "goes." It's fairly subtle, using techniques like these:

1) Start new scenes with the characters in them, such that they must have decided to be there in the "unknown space" between this scene and the last.

2) Provide solid information from NPCs as if the player-characters' presence alone were enough to get that information. Even an NPC who is totally isolated and wants to be totally left alone is either impressed, moved, or cowed enough by the player-character to give up what he or she knows. Don't make conflicts out of such scenes. It's your job to keep such NPCs interesting and emotionally moving to the players during these scenes.

3) Use failed conflicts as a primary opportunity - the characters do not get what they want, but they get something else useful and interesting. It's your job here to make sure you don't simply fall back on cliches, as in losing a fight, but somehow grabbing an item that reveals where the NPC is going next.

Again, all of these are ways to "play the characters" in tandem with the players who allegedly "own" these characters. In Participationist play, this is a given, and in many ways it relies on open trust, not deception. They have to accept that their characters are being team-played, and to appreciate your commitment to the characters' status as protagonists. I think in your case, that they will, as long as you repay this trust and don't marginalize their characters or make the "plot-moves-along" events lame.

The key jargon term is Force, which is best understood as "use the Force, Luke," in this case. What I'm saying is that you are giving them very strong cues and even 'helping' the characters act on those cues, and the other people in the game are accepting your cues as valid. Force is anathema to the kind of play that uses the Screwdown, but its positive use is the essence of Participationist play.

Part of that positive use is that you have to acknowledge that sometimes, your cues are not convincing or exciting, and to accept that as part of what happens. You can re-group and go a different way, perhaps taking time to let the characters do only what the players want at the moment, but never, never arm-lock the players into accepting a cue they don't like.

Here's another jargon term: the Black Curtain, as in the famous scene in The Wizard of Oz. You really are a little man behind a curtain, in this prepped-plot-heavy kind of play. If you all know it's there and use it as a fruitful part of the fiction as it's created, that's Participationism. However, if you all try to pretend it's not there, and especially if as GM you keep insisting/pleading that it's not there and you're not behind it, then that's Illusionism. It rarely works for long despite frantic efforts by thousands of groups over the past three decades, and it's often characterized by players resisting their cues or rolling their eyes as they know they have to take them (up the ass) and like them.

Here's a useful thread from a couple of years ago: Is this Forcing?

As I see it, the key to big-picture success in Participationist play is for you to engage in an ongoing, session by session two-step of neither lagging nor arm-locking. By not lagging (holding back information, letting everyone mill around too long, not letting anything happen until they all hit Button X), things continue to happen. By not arm-locking, your use of Force stays in the Obi-Wan territory and out of the negative sense of arm-lock territory.

Finally (no pun intended), your job to recognize when it's time to hit the climactic moments. Perhaps one arrives before you planned it, perhaps due to an insight or very assertive move on a player's part. In that case, just do it and never mind your elaborate two-session long plan for how they were supposed to get there. Or perhaps they're pretty stuck, in which case you need to provide more Force (the good kind). Either way, never, never run lame-ass waiting around and maundering in anticipation of how good it's going to be later, which only you "know." This is a skill, because like the techniques I described above, it also relies on maintaining in-fiction logic. If every storyline is characterized by crappy no-clues and wandering about and fruitless fights, capped by a perfect clue on a silver platter and a classic fight scene, then it will all suck. Even if you move things along with Force, the climactic stuff must arise from what's been actually played, not from stuff you simply make up on your own.

I do not particularly enjoy Participationist play either as GM or player, on an absolutely personal-preference basis, and therefore I'm not the best person to give examples. It is a thoroughly functional form of play, however. Frank is skilled at it and I hope he will provide tons of good advice and examples.

Best, Ron
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #12 on: October 02, 2008, 10:11:06 AM »

Quote
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Marshall Burns
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« Reply #13 on: October 02, 2008, 03:00:10 PM »

Hi Reithan,

I've got a thing to throw out there regarding using history in your prep.  I've got this game-in-development called Witch Trails:  the Invisible History of the American West that's about a secret, government funded militia (the Hex Rangers), armed with guns and folk magic, that fights heathen spirits, sorcerers, devils, abominations, and fearsome critters (that's a technical term) in the American wilds from about 1802 to 1908.  I make a big deal about the "invisible history" idea, ramming it into my players' heads that this is not an "alternate history" in which the magic and demons and stuff were real.  The idea is that this stuff really was real, and all the recorded history is true, but there was a part that they didn't tell us, that almost nobody even knew about even then, and that's where the magic and demons were.  Therefore, any historical events that are relevant to a given session are set in stone; Jackson will win the Battle of New Orleans, the South will lose the Civil War, Sitting Bull will be murdered in his own home by federal agents, and so on.

When I'm prepping a scenario for this game, and I can't think of anything from whole cloth, I grab a book on US history, pick an interesting event, and think, "Okay, how were the demons and the Hex Rangers involved in this?"  Sometimes it's tangential, sometimes it's pretty tightly related (Sitting Bull was a sorcerer, and his death was caused by the Hex Rangers, directly or indirectly).

What I'm saying is, I wouldn't try to take all the history, then add in vampires and mages that were unrelated to that history; I'd grab an event from the Crusades and say, "Okay, how were vampires involved in this event?"

(Oddly enough, Witch Trails is GMed by exactly the sort of techniques that Ron describes as Participationism.  I had no idea there was a word for it.)

-Marshall
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