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Author Topic: What is Step on Up for?  (Read 3928 times)
Simon C
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Posts: 495


« Reply #15 on: March 29, 2010, 10:52:06 AM »

Motipha,

Not quite.  Whether a roleplaying game must have a shared imagined space to be considered such is not my focus.  What I'm saying is that, where a roleplaying game does have a shared imagined space, theme and premise and such are a useful way of understanding what motivates a lot of that play. That contradicts GNS (but not the rest of the Big Model) because I assert that the difference between games is one of degree, not category.  Really though, that contradiction is less interesting than what can be gained by looking at games in this way.

David,

I pretty much agree.  But! Why is acting out moments winning after nearly losing in-character fun? What makes that meaningful? I think there's some theme sneaking in there.  As much theme as a boardgame? Maybe.  But I think it's possible not all boardgames are devoid of theme.  They have colour, and that's gotta be for some reason, right?

I think the theory in the past has tended to start with the premise "we're playing a roleplaying game, and roleplaying games have these features, now, why are we playing this game?" I think what I'm doing is taking a step back, and saying "given a group of people who are looking for this experience, why are they playing a roleplaying game? What makes a roleplaying game the perfect vehicle for experiencing that?

Roger,

That's a good example of what's been described as Step on Up play.  I think that last post also neatly demonstrates the point I was making.  To Step on Up to the challenge, you don't need a shared imagined space.  My questions for you are the same as those I asked Jasper.  I'll ask a few more.

Would it bother you if the game's setting changed radically between sessions? Why?
If the GM made your character do something that you didn't want them to, because it led to a neat challenge, is that ok?
What do you think the GM's motivation is in this kind of play? Is it the same as the other players?
Are there "good guys" and "bad guys" in your game (i.e. people it's ok to kill, and people it's not)? How do you know which is which? Would it bother you if this changed session-to-session?
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Roger
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« Reply #16 on: March 29, 2010, 12:03:41 PM »

Some interesting questions here; I'll try to address them as best I can. 

Would it bother you if the game's setting changed radically between sessions? Why?

I think so, yeah.  After a while there's a sense of... home field advantage, almost.  A competence that builds up around the setting.  I find it analogous to "If you were a golfer on the PGA tour, would it bother you if tour events never revisited a course that had already had an event?"  Sure it would; there's tactical value in knowing where the bunkers and trees are -- and that's much the same feeling I find myself with when considering the RPG case.

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If the GM made your character do something that you didn't want them to, because it led to a neat challenge, is that ok?

Ehhh... it would depend.  At first blush, it strikes me as just weak play, like our skills are too awesome for the DM to handle on a level playing field, so we need to offer up a bit of a handicap to make things interesting.  If the challenge was neat enough, it might be permissible or even encouraged, but it'd need to be something pretty special.

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What do you think the GM's motivation is in this kind of play? Is it the same as the other players?

I think it's virtually identical -- they're all the classic Step On Up motivations.  Display of competency and bravado. 

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Are there "good guys" and "bad guys" in your game (i.e. people it's ok to kill, and people it's not)?

Sort of... I think it tends to boil down to people it's interesting (that is, challenging) to kill, and people who are not.  Goblins and orcs: interesting.  Orphans: not interesting, because you can just mow them down.  Kings and gods: not interesting, because they'll just mow you down (potentially by proxy.)

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How do you know which is which? Would it bother you if this changed session-to-session?Quote
What are the characters' personalities for?

I think it might be easier to approach that from this direction:  Where do the characters' personalities come from?  They arise from the tactical decisions they make in combat.  The wizard in the back casting spells, hoarding his Daily abilities, has a different personality from the rogue who is always surrounded in melee combat and getting pounded on -- by virtue of exactly those decisions.  The players care about those character personalities because it has an impact on coordinating the team to maximum efficiency.

If you meant things like "Likes long walks on the beach and the colour blue" then, yeah, that sort of thing has no function.

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What is a "comic foil" for?

Contrast, which is every foil's purpose.  The comic foil is (almost) synonymous with incompetence and ineptitude, which of course provides a contrast to the mightiness of the player characters.  Sometimes it's good to be reminded just how intensely awesome we all are compared to the plebes.

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What is the game's setting for?

It can provide the foundation for Situation, like usual, but often the situations can hang in a sea of abeyance provided by a default generic genre-ish sense of time and space.  In broad strokes it defines the limits of Situation, but extraordinary Situations are not necessarily problematic.  Maybe you hike past the orcs and ogres and find a crashed spaceship.  That could be okay.

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What is the game's colour for? (i.e. why are you playing fantasy warriors, rather than just pieces on a board?)

It... definitely does something; I don't think I understand the intricacies of exactly how it does its thing.  Maybe it's the same reason sports teams have mascots, or WWE wrestlers have (extensive) backstories.

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What is the point of organising challenges into a string of encounters, rather than as isolated events?

It seems to make sense to have an arc in challenges.  I think it might be why they have the Superbowl and the playoffs before them, instead of just ending the season, counting up the points, and naming a winner.

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What is the SIS for?

It's for situational awareness.  Are there more goblins coming down the hall, or are these ones all that we'll be facing?  Do we need to worry about werewolves tonight?  Should we camp here, or keep on marching?

The old military saying is "time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted", and that's all about gathering the information to make these sorts of decisions competently, and the only place for that information to flow from is the SIS.  Sometimes a DM will flat-out refuse to divulge this sort of information as a matter of policy, and that will drive a Step On Up player right around the bend.  More common, however, is this sort of exchange:

"So, DM, hey, is the moon up this evening?"

"What?  The moon?  Maybe... it might be.  What are you getting at?"

"Do we hear the howling of wolves off in the distance?"

"Oh, ha, yeah -- the MOON!  Let me tell you about the moon.  The moon is full and bright, my friends."

(On the other hand, sometimes we get players who flat-out refuse to tell anyone what they're trying to get at, which tends to leave a lingering sense of dissatisfaction in the air.)

(On the other other hand, when the players and DM are really keyed into each other, these exchanges can verge on the telepathic, which is an incredibly neat feeling of collaboration.)


Hopefully my opinions on these things help us close in on our subject.
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 495


« Reply #17 on: March 29, 2010, 01:43:47 PM »

Cool.  Roger, thanks for answering those questions.  Your answers make sense to me, and they sound like a coherant style of play.  It's not a style of play that I personally am very familiar with, but I think I've played close to that.

I have two more questions:

First, would it be fair to characterise your responses as generally indicating that the shared imagined space, the things like setting, colour, characters, and so on, as well as in some ways contributing to the challenge (situational awareness, displaying mastery of setting information etc.) also in some way contribute towards making the victories more satisfying? Like, it's pretty fun to win at an abstact boardgame, but when you're winning at killing orcs to save orphans, that is somehow more fun?

Second, how much does your play vary about your answers to these questions? Can you imagine a style of play where you're a little more invested in the fiction of play, and a little less invested in challenge? Have you played that way? Does it vary between players? Do you see those things as competing agendas (non-jargon sense)? What I'm trying to get at is whether it'd be fair to call this type of play one end of a continuum, with "no investment in challenge" at the other end.
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Roger
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« Reply #18 on: March 29, 2010, 03:29:19 PM »

First, would it be fair to characterise your responses as generally indicating that the shared imagined space, the things like setting, colour, characters, and so on, as well as in some ways contributing to the challenge (situational awareness, displaying mastery of setting information etc.) also in some way contribute towards making the victories more satisfying? Like, it's pretty fun to win at an abstact boardgame, but when you're winning at killing orcs to save orphans, that is somehow more fun?

That's a really interesting question.  It's one of those things that, in retrospect, I obviously should have given some thought to at some point, but somehow never quite got around to it.  So, after some thought, I think this has been my experiences:

1.  For largely-traditional reasons, everyone -- the DM, the players, everyone -- thinks that of course an adventure has to start off with "holy crap all those orcs are going to kill all those orphans" and of course it has to end with "yay we saved the orphans from the orcs."

2.  Everyone actually playing doesn't care at all about that when it actually comes up.  The DM will (literally) say "Okay, boxed text, blah blah blah, orphans threatened by orcs, you're hired to kill orcs, they're over in yonder woods."  And the players will almost unanimously entirely ignore him, being busy tweaking out their attack bonuses, chatting about how epic their last game was, or whatnot.  Exactly the same thing happens at the end, except all the players are busy packing up to take off, and the DM is even more perfunctory about it.

Because of #1, sometimes new DMs are not quite up to speed on this, and get irate about it, and maybe try to demand that everyone should pay attention because This Is Very Important.  I haven't seen that phase last very long.  Maybe DMs who keep the faith go on to different games or different groups or something, or maybe they all just come around.

3.  For some reason, and I can't believe I've never noticed before, no one thinks there's something a little messed up about that.  Everyone just knows that's the way things are done.  Occasionally there's one keener who might make note that it was Mayor Helga of Bottledown that hired us to slay the orcs, but there's absolutely no reward at any level for that behaviour, unless it's purely internal to that person.

Now that I take a closer look at it in the cold light of day, it's sorta clear why it needs to be that way.  If Bob the Fighter pipes up, hey guys, some nice orcs totally saved my life when I was 12 and I've vowed never to hurt any of them, well dang.  Now everything is screwed up.  Now you've got big-I Incoherence followed by nightmarish drama.  So nothing good comes out of caring about that sort of thing, except maybe discovering this isn't the game for you after all.

So just to be clear, I'm talking about prepackaged, out-of-the-box character motivation here.  It's very common for the characters (and players) to, through the course of play, develop a real hate-on for a particular monster or villain, and derive intense satisfaction from delivering their terrible vengeance upon him.  But that all develops in the course of play; I think it might be literally impossible to successfully get that motivation into the players by reading some boxed text.

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Second, how much does your play vary about your answers to these questions? Can you imagine a style of play where you're a little more invested in the fiction of play, and a little less invested in challenge?

There's... there's a lot that could be going on here, and I think it'd be easy for me to speak misleadingly, so I'll try to be as clear as I can.

On one hand, you have something like Agenda Frequency, which is something like: how often the players are operating within a Step On Up agenda.  It's way too easy to decide, yeah, those guys are into Stepping On Up and their game is four hours of that.  In my experience there's a lot more fluidity going on that is easy to miss.  Pretty much every D&D player I know enjoys describing what happens when he totally crits some monster, and enjoy hearing that same description from others, but it's not a behaviour that strictly fits into Step On Up.

So, in terms of Agenda Frequency, I've certainly seen lots of variation in the moment-to-moment time spent in Step On Up.

On the other hand, you have something like Agenda Intensity, which, when cranked up high enough, brings us to the Hard Core version as described in Ron's original essay back in the day.  He describes that as having no Exploration left at all, which I think matches up conceptually with your ideas about having no SIS at all.

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Have you played that way? Does it vary between players? Do you see those things as competing agendas (non-jargon sense)? What I'm trying to get at is whether it'd be fair to call this type of play one end of a continuum, with "no investment in challenge" at the other end.

So having said all that, I'll try to describe how I've played and what I've seen.

Moderate Step On Up frequency, subordinate Right to Dream frequency, moderate Step On Up intensity:  This is how I'd describe my 'baseline' and where I tend to naturally find myself, all other things being equal, and I think the play I've described in this thread falls in here.

Moderate Right to Dream frequency, subordinate Step On Up frequency, lowish Step On Up intensity:  This is where I'd put my various experiences with "neat settings" in the general sense -- things like Shadowrun, various Star Trek games, Twilight:2000.  It's been common in my experience that, as the novelty of the setting fades, and the sense of competency increases, the intensity of Step On Up increases and it can take over.  I'm not sure this is inevitable per se, but it sure seems common.

All Step On Up all the time, Hard Core intensity:  I rarely see this in "rpg" form except for the occasional con game that's set up like "30th level wizards in a gladiator match, only one can win!" but I see it lots in something else I enjoy (or used to) -- Magic: the Gathering. 


In terms of variations between players... I've got some actual-play anecdotes to write about that, but I'll need to write that post (shortly) after this one.
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 495


« Reply #19 on: March 29, 2010, 04:01:14 PM »

Roger,

Those are some interesting insights. Your characterisation strikes me as pretty accurate to a particular style of play.  Your point about how pre-packaged motivations aren't generally accepted (i.e. you don't start play with a character who actually kinda likes orcs, and conversely you're not particularly motivated by whatever pretext you have for killing orcs), but during play you will actually care about things that aren't strictly Challenge-related (you get a hate-on for a particular NPC).  Does that sound right?

I like your description of "agenda frequency" and "agenda intensity", because that fits with my understanding of play as well.  Some parts of play are more meaningful than others, and not all parts of play are meaningful for the same reasons. But I suspect that it's not entirely consistent with how GNS is imagined in the Big Model.  That's why I don't think it's a useful way of describing play.

I'd be interested to read an Actual Play post about your gaming.

I have one more question for you (and anyone else reading):

Imagine that you sit down to start a new game, and the GM says to you "Hey, let's play a game about a team of brothers who fight together.  You can all make up a brother, and the game will be about tracking down your father, who's gone missing.  You've got clues as to his wherabouts, but that'll lead you through some of the most dangerous places in the world. You'll meet other family members along the way who might be allies or enemies."

Is this:

a) Cool
b) Crappy
c) Irrelevant

Can you explain why you chose your answer?
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Caldis
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Posts: 359


« Reply #20 on: March 30, 2010, 05:57:37 AM »


The problem with Agenda Frequency and Intensity is that CA doesnt look at the minute to minute play, it doesnt care how intense the Agenda is in any particular moment it's an understanding of what the group is gathered to do.  So yeah you can have intense moments caused by overcoming obstacles in a game that dont signal a Step on Up CA. 

As to your last question I think it's hard to say with the material given so I'd mostly say it's irrelevant.   Sounds sort of like Supernatural so maybe it could be a good game but it also has a bit of that lame railroaded plot feel to it.  Hard to  tell much based on that description.
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Roger
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« Reply #21 on: March 30, 2010, 07:54:12 AM »

Yeah, I'm pretty sure I owe you (and everyone else) a half-decent Actual Play writeup by now, instead of these little tiny contextless scenes; I'll spin up an AP thread when I have the chance.

Imagine that you sit down to start a new game, and the GM says to you "Hey, let's play a game about a team of brothers who fight together.  You can all make up a brother, and the game will be about tracking down your father, who's gone missing.  You've got clues as to his wherabouts, but that'll lead you through some of the most dangerous places in the world. You'll meet other family members along the way who might be allies or enemies."

It's... hrm.  It's one of those red flags, I think, that tips off the astute guy who wants Step On Up all the time that this isn't starting well.

What it reminds me of is those subversive and/or clueless people who pick their fantasy football leagues based on how pretty the uniforms are, or the length of the players' names.  That might not be as illustrative an example as I hoped.

So what's that pitch about, really?  It's almost all about Character, with some Colour-of-Character.  That's not usually where someone who is selling you a Step On Up experience is going to start.  It's like if someone starts telling you that you need to go see this awesome movie because the cinematography will blow you away -- some people will be swayed a lot by that, and others hardly at all.

There's a very similar case with a very different result that I want run past you:

"Hey, let's play a game about a team of ninjas who fight together.  You can all make up a ninja, and the game will be about tracking down your master, who's gone missing."

That perks up my Step On Up instincts in a much different way.  That pitch is really a lot more about Situation and Colour-of-Situation than it is about Character, at least to me.  I think that's obvious, but maybe it isn't, so let me know if I need to go on more about that.

So the brothers-pitch doesn't really whet those appetites, but that doesn't mean it's necessarily a complete failure.  Does it look tempting for Story Now or Right to Dream play?  I'm finding myself thinking that it kinda doesn't, for reasons which are probably off-topic for this thread.  But it does look like an interesting line of inquiry -- how pitches are related to the agendas.

In the final analysis: irrelevant, but its irrelevance is also worrisome, in the way that an irrelevant movie trailer doesn't inspire confidence about the final product.  If that makes some sense.
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David Berg
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Posts: 612


« Reply #22 on: March 30, 2010, 08:10:52 AM »

Simon,

Good point that boardgames have color too.  Conflict and human concerns and themes aren't completely out of the picture, but I think they play a different role in boardgame play than in most roleplay.

In a typical (for me) RPG, the in-fiction events will (1) immediately make human sense in themselves, and then (2) resonate outward to impact my real self with an impression that I might describe as "thematic".  Example: my character executes a prisoner.  I then go, "Whoa, not sure how I feel about that.  Executing Prisoners is fraught."

In a typical game of Monopoly, the game actions will (1) be purely mechanical in themselves, and then (2) acquire human sense with reference to the game's color.  Example: I trade in some paper for some green plastic near-cubes, and put them on my board square.  Then I say, "Big investment in a new hotel!  You land there, you'll owe me big-time, sucker!"

Maybe this is the same distinction between "engaging theme" and "phatic theme" that you made in the Right to Dream thread.  But it seems at least possible to me that Monopoly is effectively "color that never becomes theme", adn that this might be characteristic of some Step On Up roleplay too.

Ps,
-David

P.S. Not related to this post, but related to other parts of this thread:  For an earlier take on where boardgaming meets rolelaying, see my old thread on the Swashbuckler boardgame.
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Simon C
Member

Posts: 495


« Reply #23 on: March 31, 2010, 09:46:41 PM »

Sorry I let this thread slip for a bit.  Real life.

Roger,

Am I right in thinking that it's a red flag because it signals that there might be content that conflicts with what you enjoy most about the game? Like, you never want there to be a question of whether you should kill somebody, just whether you can kill them, right? The ninja formulation avoids that because there's no connection to family, right?

Imagine that the pitch came from someone who you trust "gets it" about what you want.  The family thing would just be about adding intensity to the challenge, like, you're not just working as a team, you're working as a family.  Is that less alarming? More alarming? Less relevant?

If the brothers thing is totally irrelevant, I'm thinking that I'm at least partly wrong in thinking that theme is relevant to all play.  Not sure though.

David,

Yeah, I basically agree.
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Frank Tarcikowski
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« Reply #24 on: April 02, 2010, 01:04:14 AM »

quote] My experience is that as people get more invested in challenge, their willingness to accept unreliable currency is less.  and losing<want<gets<What kind of adventures, what kind of foes, whatand losing<want<gets<What kind of adventures, what kind of foes, what
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Roger
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« Reply #25 on: April 05, 2010, 10:51:52 AM »

Am I right in thinking that it's a red flag because it signals that there might be content that conflicts with what you enjoy most about the game? Like, you never want there to be a question of whether you should kill somebody, just whether you can kill them, right? The ninja formulation avoids that because there's no connection to family, right?

It's not really an issue of conflicting content, per se -- more an issue of a lack of information about the things I care about.  Specifically, I don't get a good feel for the Situations out of a pitch like that.

Quote
Imagine that the pitch came from someone who you trust "gets it" about what you want.  The family thing would just be about adding intensity to the challenge, like, you're not just working as a team, you're working as a family.  Is that less alarming? More alarming? Less relevant?

It does sort of come down to a trust issue; if I had a pre-existing level of trust there, sure, I might go along with it.  Something like a traditional mafioso game would sound like fun, and those sorts of Situations hardly make sense without a heavy layer of family.

There's just rarely any good reason to be knowingly coy about it, in my experience, is all.
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