Forum changes: Editing of posts has been turned off until further notice.

Main Menu

Emergent Techniques: Who's in Charge

Started by Le Joueur, July 22, 2002, 10:21:46 PM

Previous topic - Next topic

Le Joueur

So far, most of Scattershot's Emergent Techniques have been about handling what happens between the players and their games or within those games.  It's past time to discuss what happens between the players outside of the game.  Now, I'm not going to go into deep psychological analysis of personality dynamics and politics and relationship theories, but there are a few things that specifically relate to how one games that I can talk about.

Before we go much farther, I have to stress that this is entirely about what happens beyond the narrative.  Characters in a game might have a leader, but that is not to be confused with what we'll be talking about here.  There is one caveat; many times the roles and niches adopted within the game directly reflect or impact how the players 'work together.'  I'm not really going to talk about the overlaps and dissonance here, except to say that when it causes a problem, it's best to separate in-game roles from those held out-of-game.

Who's in Charge?

Whenever you play, at any given point, there is usually someone 'moving things along.'  Whether the Speaker is describing acts of daring-do, the gamemaster is 'cutting to the chase,' or a character is furnishing a brilliant plan, someone is 'up to' something.  If you sit back and watch, you'll notice that for brief periods it will be consistently a single person.  Even though they aren't the Speaker (where the action is really occurring), 'where the game goes' is pretty much at their discretion.

In Scattershot, we call this person the Leader.  Not only does the Leader give the game some direction, they also might nudge it onto a specific course.  If the Speaker's swashbuckling is a part of 'the plan,' if the gamemaster is 'getting to the good stuff' for someone's 'next big scene,' and if a protagonist is acting out 'the master plan,' they are all supporting the Leader.  It's more complicated than 'who is doing stuff,' but more like 'whose idea was this anyhow?'  One thing most often overlooked is a certain amount of 'ownership' of this practice.  If you're 'calling the shots,' you'd better not alienate the other players.  There is a secondary responsibility for the Leader to keep things engaging enough for each person playing and not simply 'hijacking' play.

This role traditionally went to the gamemaster, but considering the long-term deleterious effect this can have on player initiative, engagement, or even momentum, I don't think that it's healthy in strict reserve.  When initiative runs counter to 'following the leader,' if play goes somewhere you're not interested in, and when the plan bogs down in details not really connected to play, the gamemaster-as-leader has 'dropped the ball.'  I've always felt that having to maintain the logistics of the game (as traditional gamemasters do), added to the responsibilities of being 'a good Leader,' are very much an unbalanced form of sharing that we feel is vital to consistently good gaming.

There's no special reason why a player (even outside of their role in the narrative) couldn't assume the mantel of Leadership; it's their actions that move the significant portions of the narrative forward, after all.  When a player calls for a scene, it serves their goals and they become the Leader, even if their persona never enters into that scene.  When a persona 'needs something' from the narrative, often their player will become the de facto Leader of the events surround that occurrence.  Usually when someone suggests something 'really cool' that could happen in the game, it is problematic for the gamemaster to help it happen; far better to have them provide the Leadership needed to bring it to fruition.

Leadership can change hands as often as 'who the speaker is' does, but not usually.  During Mechanical play, each player rigidly takes turns being speaker; anyone who forfeits to a defensive action only gains enough 'speakership' as to 'join in conversation.'  Once the forfeit has played out 'who the speaker is' returns to the player whose turn it is.  And when that turn is over, 'who the speaker is' passes to the next player.  On top of this, the Leader is usually 'the guy who got us into this.'  It only makes sense that a Leader could go, "Well, it pretty much goes without saying that we win this battle," and then the group will just 'tidy up' the details of the scene and move on; it doesn't always have to be the gamemaster (unless 'he started it').

What the Leader doesn't do is control what happens (at least not like a micro-manager would). They may give it a direction 'to consider' though.  Think of the narrative 'space' as a bubble; without a Leader it just sits there.  What a Leader does it apply pressure to one side, even from the inside (using their persona).  Co-leaders are fine, but then a third-party moderator will probably be needed if conflict occurs between them.  You see a Leader isn't the person making things happen, their the person who 'gets the job done.'  Sometimes a little pressure is needed, but mostly it's about exercising a little effort to help a portion of the narrative 'achieve a goal.'  Keeping track of the Leader is one way to keep play from 'getting lost.'

One of the toughest parts of being the gamemaster for any game is the fact that when Leadership comes into question, the gamemaster must 'take over.'  Whether they assume Leadership for the situation, call for the designation of a new Leader, or simply invoke conflict-resolution, it becomes their responsibility if absolutely no one else does.  That's part of being the 'ultimate facilitator' for the game.  With a title like 'gamemaster,' you would expect that at the least.  Mind you, I think that rational adults can always see such a solution in these situations whether player or otherwise, but sometimes the emotional engagement¹ of play can rob one of their reason.  So this is one of those times where it becomes necessary to say, when it comes to Leadership, "anyone can, if not, gamemaster must."  Be careful not to allow this to become the most common situation however; that can lead to nasty conflict of interest issues regarding 'where play is going' (as mentioned above).

Now just because 'anyone can do it,' doesn't mean that everyone has to.  Far from it, in most social groups there will be 'natural Leaders.'  The point of this technique is to make sure that nobody 'hogs the game.'  How you determine who should lead, how often, and how balanced it should be, really depends on how your group relates as people.  No amount of role-playing game advice can really tell you how to play once you get to the table; all that can be said is that you should stay away from the 'dictatorial model' so commonly practiced in the earliest of role-playing games.

One thing also important to mention is that, while this Technique sounds terribly deliberate, the actual practice should almost never is.  Once you get used to sharing Leadership, it will become almost second nature to let it switch around constantly and frequently.  The 'Who's in Charge' Technique just spells out what to call all these practices, giving you a critical language to 'figure out what went wrong' when something does.  Self-selection is an important factor in practice, so there won't be times where people keep declaring, "Okay, I'm the Leader for this next part."

I also want to take a moment and mention some of the most common Leadership types I've seen in role-playing games.

    An active
Leader can be like a commander or a director.  They know what they want and they call the shots.[/list:u]Passive
    A passive
Leader is one who often puts the priorities of others in the forefront.  A 'what do you want to do know' Leader is one example, but so is one where they put another player's persona's characterization into the spotlight.[/list:u]'Hooded'
    The 'hooded'
Leader is one who follows things as they naturally progress 'jumping in' only when necessary to 'keep it going' or to secretly 'avoid pitfalls.'  Some whole schools of gamemastering suggest that a gamemaster should always lead in either passive or 'hooded' fashion; too much 'hooded' Leadership almost always leads to the sense of disempowerment amongst the other players and should be avoided.[/list:u]Organizer
    If logistics are your problem, than an organizer
Leader is probably your solution.  They keep all the details in check and often focus play on the most crucial of the 'irons in the fire.'  When taking advantage of an organizer Leader often, it can help to keep the Genre Expectations of Sequence in mind or pacing is likely to suffer (an interest will be lost when none of the 'irons' is all that 'hot').[/list:u]
Sometimes a Moderating Influence

Whenever you get people together, doing something that has rules (or Mechanix or Techniques or guidelines or whatever), sooner or later they're going to disagree about them.  Basically, there are four ways to work this out.
[list=1][*]They quit playing with hard feelings; probably not the healthiest solution.

[*]They figure it out on their own.  (You know, you don't need a system to do everything.)

[*]If there's a 'system' to satisfy it, invoke and use it.  A lot of games have in-game task resolution (and sometimes conflict resolution) systems, but what can be needed here is an out-of-game player conflict resolution system.

    I'll go into Scattershot's Technique for
player conflict resolution in a different Emergent Technique later on when it's ready.  To be too brief; contenders bid Experience Dice against each other, the winner gets their way, the loser gets those Experience Dice.[/list:u]
While this can be used to satisfy mechanical interpretation questions, we don't recommend it.  If you're having strictly a 'nuts and bolts' Mechanix problem, we suggest you...

[*]Call the referee.  When it really only comes down to a Mechanix question, you can designate a 'rules monkey' who can be looked to as the final arbiter of how to interpret the Mechanix.[/list:o]
I know the tradition is to have the gamemaster do this, but in certain circumstances this causes problems.  Even a gamemaster can become emotionally¹ attached to something and leaving them as the sole arbiter of the Mechanix invites them to make bad decisions during situations of conflict of interest.

In gaming, objectivity is only an illusion; it's actually about fairness.  Fairness is often mistaken for equal 'spotlight time;' it isn't.  Fairness in gaming is about the rights of equal opportunity to access the game.  You can't expect the gamemaster to be 'the sole objective party.'  A gamemaster's interest in their own game creates a conflict of interest; technically you can't be objective when you hold any of the cards.  The sensation of 'being railroaded' comes from the revelation of this conflict of interest, no matter how the situation is settled.

All of this is why we suggest that, for each game, at least two people (or a minimum of 20% of participants, whichever is greater) be designated Moderators.  Only one is designated the 'final authority' that the group should feel has the best grasp on the Mechanix (or Techniques) and is most reliably objective (and just in case the Moderators disagree) and the rest are for those situations when anyone feels that the primary Moderator is either unavailable or may have a conflict of interest (meaning something in their proprietorship clearly benefits by one of the possible rulings).  More Moderators can easily be had, in fact the ideal situation is that all members of the group are prepared to serve as Moderator.  (That way conflicting parties can settle on a Moderator of choice as arbiter.)

Some will cry that in cases of mechanical controversy things should be decided not objectively but in favor of their Approach to gaming.  If you go that route, then the Mechanix become something that cannot be depended upon (and pretty much useless in my opinion).  It may take a little getting used to, but in Scattershot the Mechanix are meant to be used as written without invoking the aged 'golden rule of gaming;' "if a rule gets in your way, ignore it."  Once the whole group gets used to letting the rules be final arbiter, different methods may become the practice of choice to support their Approach.  The design goal of Scattershot was to mechanically support every Approach.  It's only a matter of getting used to doing things a little differently; nothing is actually 'taken away' by letting the Mechanix (and the Moderator) have ultimate authority (after all, they cover so little).

Naturally there will be times when it becomes apparent that a Leader or a Moderator is of less skill or different 'vision' than the group chooses.  Face it; sometimes you just happen to have a bad referee.  Now with Moderators you can always appeal to the 'final authority,' but with Leaders it doesn't work that way.  (And what do you do when you question the 'final authority?)

There are basically two ways to handle this using Scattershot (more social contract based ways are preferable, but if you must bend to rules...), either you reach a quorum to make the change (see below) or you invoke the player conflict resolution Technique (to be explained separately later).  Such a 'coup de tat' can actually be healthy for a group provided that it is done openly and with good intention.  Many games slow shift both their focus and direction over time and how the group handles it should shift too.  Restrictions on Leadership and Moderation will only suppress these natural shifts in Approach and practice causing play to grow 'stale.'

Getting by with a Little Help from My Friends

One of the most frequently unmentioned roles 'played' in gaming is that of Supporter.  Certainly the gamemaster is meant to be the major facilitator and frequently the biggest Supporter of play, but here's a secret; everyone does it.

When one person is Leading a scene and having a grand time of it with everyone engaged (though not necessarily active), most of the rest of the group are Supporting them.  Being a good Supporter is a lot like being a good sport.  You don't do things to disrupt what others are doing, you pay attention, you're polite, you know: 'the whole bit'.  Good gamesmanship begins with knowing how to be a good Supporter.

Just like there are active and passive forms of Leadership, there are also the same for Support.  'Pitching in,' is probably the most familiar, but so is knowing 'when to stop' (switching back to the role of Supporter).  When you see a need you 'jump in' and fill it, whether it's as a bit character or relevant atmospheric description, filling in the 'gaps' is prime area of Support.  An active Supporter is a facilitator in fine degree; they actively seek out 'rough spots' and do what they can to 'smooth them over.'  Likewise, a good Supporter knows when it's time to become the Leader.

When playing in an exceptionally Gamemasterful sharing game, being a Supporter becomes almost identical to the gamemaster's role of 'facilitator of play.'  In fact, when thus practiced, the gamemaster becomes 'just a Supporter' too.  Ultimately (and especially when playing more with Self-Sovereign sharing), if no one else is actively being a Supporter, like Leadership, "anyone can, if not, gamemaster must."

What's Wrong with You?

A lot of play sessions break down when people get into Analysis without a goal.  I know it sounds a little strange, but if you're going to engage in group-level Analysis, make sure you have a clear Lead Analyst with a stated goal.  Otherwise the Analysis will likely meander about, touching off 'tender feelings' all around, never really amounting to anything.

Certainly anyone can raise an issue and yet be unable to articulate a goal; that would be the time for a Leader who 'pursue' the problem.  I find that 'the interview' is good for ferreting out 'what ails ya.'  Once that's found, it becomes the goal and the Analysis can result in effective Improvement.  Now, I'm not saying that 'shooting the breeze' (Analyzing for its own sake) is a bad thing; go ahead, socialize, gaming is a social gathering.  The problem is when aimless Analysis becomes the point of a session; that's bad.

Anything Worth Doing, is Worth Doing Well

Now what do you suppose one does with the results of effective Analysis?  They become the Improver to their gaming.  Not every addition to a game is necessarily Improvement, but when there's a need, don't be afraid to make a few changes.  (Heck, that's almost the whole point with Transition, but I'll get to that much later in another Emergent Technique.)

Not every Improvement is like pulling out an engine and replacing it.  Many are small and, at times, nothing more than a shift in how things are interpreted.  The way the group uses the Mechanix, what the current Critical Juncture Threshold is, which way to 'lean' the Transition; these are all relatively minor-seeming changes.  If too many of them pass without your notice you might find yourself playing a completely different game than you thought.

This is why Scattershot requires a quorum before any Improvements that a group wants, are made.  (A quorum is "a gathering of members of an organization large enough to transact business;" you'll probably want to decide how many that is with everyone present early on in a game.)  This way few are 'left behind' and no one feels that unilateral decisions are made affecting their game (everyone shares ownership after all) in their absence.  It's also important to achieve a quorum openly and probably during Analysis for the same reason.

The Secret's in the Mix

The real trick is bringing these all together.  There are lots of problems having a group play together on something they share, and these five roles are meant to equip people with the terminology to discuss what they want, need, or have problems with.  If you spend too much time thinking about or applying this Technique, it's likely you may have larger problems, outside the scope of Scattershot, with your gaming group.  Our advice: talk it out with them.

Inside Scattershot, problems most often occur when more than one person wants to be Leader, going in different directions, at the same time.  This is why sometimes you want to stop and explicitly decide who the Leader is.  More often than not, Leadership won't even be an issue, but when things go roughly we suggest that first you determine who is the Leader and before looking at "what's up."

Another problem occurs when everyone tries to be a Supporter or Analyst at the same time.  This tends to cause play to go nowhere at all.  When everyone is a cheerleader or everyone is a pundit, nobody's playing the game.  Purposeless Analysis is often useless.  The same is true when everyone wants to Support but no one thinks to Lead.  So if you think you are caught up in a situation where the Analysis is meandering or the Supporters are achieving nothing, simply state you want to know "what's the point?" or "who's the Leader?"  If know one answers, it's time to take a break and find a new Leader or goal.

And let's not forget Improvements, certainly having a Leader to chart the course through them is important, but a quorum is needed to avoid 'losing anyone.'  The same is true for Analysis and Moderation, if you don't have a quorum on who's doing it or how it's being done, it usually leads to trouble.

Ultimately though, we hope you never use any of this.  Why?  These are included primarily to help you clarify your thinking when problems occur.  We don't wish anyone problems, but we will keep coming up with ways you can identify and address them (we hope).

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!