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Author Topic: My First Soreceror Session  (Read 9954 times)
hardcoremoose
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« on: July 09, 2001, 11:09:00 PM »

Well, my first Sorceror session is history, and I guess I have mixed feelings about it.

I thought it started out interestingly enough.  As the curtain came up on the story, I explained to the players that all four of them were at a funeral.  A very large funeral - a thousand or more mourners, and national news media coverage.  I didn't tell them who the funeral was for, nor did I tell them why they were there.  Instead, I initiated a sequence of flashbacks and asked the players to retroactively explain how their characters got to the funeral.  I started out at the moment of crisis in their Kickers, tied each Kicker to some NPCs (all of whom had direct connections to the Relationship Map I was using), and sat back to watch it happen.  I thought the structure was clever, but it may have been too much.

Of the four, one of them bit my hook full force, and ran with it.  One - who happened to be the newbie rper in the group - I handed a MacGuffin, thinking I was doing her a favor.  Another, because of the vagaries of his Kicker, never really got hooked, but he was trying and we have since rectified that problem in a fairly ingenius and unforseen way.  The fourth seemed to do everything he could to avoid my hooks (which were pretty easy to avoid, since I was trying not to railroad any of the players into predetermined paths).

You can probably tell what happened - A couple of the players got very little attention, while I worked with the other two to reach equitable solutions to their goals, as well as to my own.  Not unsurprisingly, the two who got the most attention were the two with Kickers that presented the most immediate concern.  We played for three hours - and we never reached the funeral (although the next session will start out there, so at least we got close).

It's not like we did nothing for three hours; a great deal of information was discovered.  The Relationship Map was at work and doing it's job; the players have already uncovered a twisted network of sex and death, and in doing so, have raised even more questions about what it might lead to.  But at times the game just seemed to lack energy and forward momentum.  

Some obvious solutions present themselves.  One player suggested better scene framing, and I have to agree with him on that.  An action setpiece or two might have spiced things up  as well (I did manage to squeeze in one fight scene though, and discovered that I really like the combat system).  An overall better awareness of time and my time constraints wouldn't hurt either.

Lots of good things were achieved, though.  The plotline was advanced; I think the players enjoyed each of the other players' narratives; I now have a better understanding of relationship maps; and we all have a better understanding of the Sorceror rules.  There may be a hidden benefit as well - perhaps after seeing how their characters fit into the relationship map as individuals, they'll be less likely to feel a need to form a "party", although with this group I doubt that would be a problem.  

Oh well, we'll see how next week's session goes.  :smile:    
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Dav
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« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2001, 05:58:00 AM »

One of the neat things I noticed Ron doing during our Sorcerer game was that he would "shift the focus" between sessions.  By this I mean that whereas one person would be the definite "spotlight" character for the run, with others as strong supporting cast, for one game... another would get the same treatment the next game.

Doing this not only shifted the perspective of the game, but also the mood and style of play, as the player of the spotlighted personality would tend to put their own spin upon happenstances.  Now, mind you, I don't know if all of this was intentional on Ron's part, or if it just happened to blend smoothly into this nice segmenting, but either way, it was neat and (to my experiences) original.

If you think that the two "lesser" characters of the first run felt slighted or left out, why not focus upon their Kickers at the beginning of next run?  Put them in situations where they *must* move the story along, but where they move it to is entirely their own choosing.  Mysterious cars following one of the characters home is always a nice way to motivate them.  As well as minor vandalization to their homes and property, and mysterious "prank" phone calls.  If they have uncovred a sexy and dark underbelly, what if one of the people the characters meet is a helpless waif who is not only innocent and beautiful, but was also dragged or tricked into this dark society and now needs help to escape it (mentally, not physically).  

Anyway, just some ideas.  I know you weren't asking for suggestions, but unwarranted opinions are something I excel at.

Dav
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jburneko
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« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2001, 09:21:00 AM »

Quote

On 2001-07-10 03:09, hardcoremoose wrote:
Some obvious solutions present themselves.  One player suggested better scene framing, and I have to agree with him on that.  An action setpiece or two might have spiced things up  as well (I did manage to squeeze in one fight scene though, and discovered that I really like the combat system).  An overall better awareness of time and my time constraints wouldn't hurt either.


Quick question: What exactly IS Scene Framing?  I've read about it in Story Engine and other places and quite frankly I don't see how the concept differs from any other moment of transition in an RPG.  Maybe I just naturally frame scenes and so don't realize that other GMs do not or perhaps there's something more subtle going on that I'm over looking.  

Jesse
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Gordon C. Landis
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« Reply #3 on: July 10, 2001, 11:26:00 PM »

>Quick question: What exactly IS Scene Framing?

Well, I'm no expert - I got in one 45 min Story Engine "scene test" with a couple of the more dedicated members of my main game group, and that's it so far.  But what became clear even there is that in Story Engine (and perhaps similar Narrativist-styled play with other systems), Scene Framing is FAR more than just transition - it literally "frames" what is possible to do "now" in the game.  Stripped of their normal "I'm gonna try this/roll for it/fair-or-succede" pattern by the scene-based resolution of Story Engine, the players asked a bunch of questions about the "framing" of the scene - how much can I do at once?  can we leave the current location?  how far back can I do a flaskback? etc. etc.

So for me, I'm thinking of Scene Framing as the means by which the GM sets the boundries for the next segment of play.  A good job of Scene Framing should have room for the players to add significant material, but clearly define some limits.  It should hook the players' interest and give them access to make use of their characters' "abilities" to add interest, significance and color to the developing scene - ideally, ALL players should feel involved.  In short - it's tricky, at least for me.

Hope that helps,

Gordon C. Landis
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #4 on: July 11, 2001, 09:53:00 AM »

Hey Jesse,

Quick question: What exactly IS Scene Framing?

I'm coming to believe that of everything required of a Narrativist GM, skillful scene framing is the key ability. And I know it's a complex topic, so maybe some examples might help.

In the "Theatrix in Action" thread I described a rather boring investigative sequence from the second game session. It featured one of the players using streetwise to question a series of winos and prostitutes on the street and in sleazy bars. It wasn't the least bit dramatic, and although it ultimately resulted in the player gaining some information, it took too long, and wasn't really any fun for him, for the GM, or for the other players sitting through it. The GM did some quirky voices for the winos, but quirky voices do not a Narrativist game make.

Clay Dowling asked how that sequence could have been handled more effectively. And I wrote:

...the solution is to frame the scene for the drama. Frame directly to the streetwise character sitting with some seedy, heretofore unknown NPC in a smoky hashish house, talking to some drug dealer's henchie. The henchie can say something like, "Leon, why did you bring this fool here...how many times do I have to tell you not to bring people who aren't our friends around. Take him and go. Mr. Samson won't talk to him." And then play from there. Use the game's resolution mechanic to see if the character is successful at streetwise. If so, he has a conversation with Samson and gets what he's after. If not, he fights the goons.

You could just as easily frame a scene where the character is tied to a chair with blood running down his face. The key is advancing the story, not having a tedious investigative sequence. Frame right to the drama.


And this is not railroading. In your "Serial vs. Unified Campaign" thread I described the lack of response my friend received to an email asking the players what they wanted "to do" in the next session of the Theatrix scenario. He was hoping for replies that would help him prep, things like what NPC's they wanted to talk to. But players truly inclined toward Narrativism don't think about that stuff. They go into the game knowing their character's protagonism is presumed, that the character is their tool for making a thematic statement about the game's Premise. The events of the game aren't a series of challenges to the character's protagonism, where it can possibly be lost, they are the stuff of a story's protagonist's personal thematic statement. So a player inclined toward Narrativism doesn't actually know the NPC's he wants to talk to outside the context of what he thinks will be a satisfying story; he's not going to identify NPC's to interact with based on how cool they are or because they occupy the crux of a mysterious situation. Those are the kinds of decisions a character might make if he was thinking, but the character isn't thinking, the player is. And the player's going to make decisions about interacting with NPC's based on the theme he's working up.

But I'm off track now and haven't made my "not railroading" point.

In Scott's Sorcerer game on Monday night there was a sequence where the player whose Kicker was that he'd just discovered a fifteen year old TV starlet dead of drug overdose in his living room, after a night of drugs and drinking, set about carefully concealing her body without inspecting for evidence. Scott and I talked about it afterwards. He was anticipating that the player would discover physical evidence that the girl had committed suicide, and it would be a link for his character to the relationship map when he realized that she'd been into something she couldn't handle and the previous evening she had asked for his help.

The problem with this is that it's railroading. A GM can't predicate player choice like that. I remember a few times when I was prepping Everway, I'd run things by Ron and maybe I'd say, "When the characters do [something]" or "Hopefully they talk to him first [or whatever]." And Ron would stop me every time. That's railroading. And this is where scene framing comes in. If it must happen, then the GM uses his power to frame right to the moment and give the player Authorial power within that scene. And then the player is working up his theme. The point at which you predicate a character's draw into the relationship map on him finding physical evidence is the point at which you start railroading his actions. Essentially, railroading is the point at which the player loses his ability to create his own thematic take on the game's premise. If the GM craftily orchestrates the character's actions, he's disempowered the player. It's forced protagonism for the character along a theme the GM has determined. If he allows the player to not take actions, but continues to run the game as if that's a failure on the part of the player, then he's de-protagonized the character. If it must happen, then you frame to it. If not, then the relationship map re-wraps to grab at the player differently...which preserves the player's authorial power and his protagonism. The important things are the things the player does.

In this particular scene, I think Scott should be happy with the way he resolved it. He improvised a possessor demon in the NPC the player chose to ask for help with concealing the body, and a subsequent scuffle and an interrogation of the beaten demon initiated by the player got the story moving. But he could have handled it any number of ways. He could have framed forward a few days to the police interrogating the character after arrest, perhaps passing evidence across the table as they question him. Or he could have trusted the instinct he had during the game session, and flashed back to the previous night's interaction with the dead starlet. In either case, the player is free to use the scenes offered by the GM to work up his character's personal story. No railroading at all.

Lately I'm really thinking scene framing is the fundamental skill of the Narrativist GM.

Paul

[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-11-01 16:01 ]
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Clay
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« Reply #5 on: July 12, 2001, 10:53:00 AM »

Quote

Lately I'm really thinking scene framing is the fundamental skill of the Narrativist GM.


Amen Brother.  I'm just learning how to do it, and it is extremely rough.  I wonder if some kind of primer on this subject shouldn't be posted up somewhere.  Once upon a time RPGnet and Pyramid Online used to have good GMing articles.  It would seem that since John Wick got this silly notion of "Author Ownership" and dropped his Pyramid column, the availability of this type of material has disappeared.  The nearest is Roleplayingtips.com, and these almost seem more like "Neat Tricks" features.

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Clay Dowling
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joshua neff
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« Reply #6 on: July 12, 2001, 10:58:00 AM »

Quote
I'm just learning how to do it, and it is extremely rough. I wonder if some kind of primer on this subject shouldn't be posted up somewhere.


& amen to that, too! I also feel like I'm just getting a handle on scene framing & pacing & not railroading (even a tiny bit). It's bloody difficult for me, what with also juggling all the other GM duties. *sigh*
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--josh

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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #7 on: July 13, 2001, 06:36:00 AM »

Dav wrote,

"one person would be the definite "spotlight" character for the run, with others as strong supporting cast, for one game... another would get the same treatment the next game.

"Doing this not only shifted the perspective of the game, but also the mood and style of play, as the player of the spotlighted personality would tend to put their own spin upon happenstances. Now, mind you, I don't know if all of this was intentional on Ron's part, or if it just happened to blend smoothly into this nice segmenting, but either way, it was neat and (to my experiences) original."

I do this so instinctively now that I can't imagine GMing any other way. Sometimes it's for a whole session, like Dav describes, but other times it's mixed and matched across scenes within a session. It's the result of years and years of trying to play Champions for Narrativist goals, and being forced to economize on organizational time because resolution was so time-consuming.

Sorcerer, like 3rd-edition Champions and 1st-edition Cyberpunk, derives all of its action from the depth of the character. The setting in all of these games is severely sketchy, consisting mainly of atmosphere and values rather than designated NPCs, events, and places. The starting characters in all of these games are walking textbooks of neuroses, relationships, gross amounts of power, and potential for heroism.

Thus history management, NPC management, and management of "leaked" information about history & NPCs, are not the main tasks of the GM. The main task is to develop the actions and problems of the player-characters. This means two things:

- for lack of a better word, "camera-pointing" in a way that generates action (in any sense of the word)
- managing that "camera" so that all the player-characters are active, in exactly the way you'd expect in a great movie with several important lead characters

Sorcerer, as a game, cannot tolerate the "hang out and see what happens, call me when there's a fight" type of player. It's built that way. Therefore the GM's role is to "arrange" the input to the PCs, which may or may not be separately, such that all of them are barrelling into PLAYER-initiated activity.

Best,
Ron
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joshua neff
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« Reply #8 on: July 13, 2001, 07:56:00 AM »

Ron told me to post this exchange we just had.

I wrote to Ron:
 
Okay, but you've also said (elsewhere) that you do have tons of backstory. Or am I getting "backstory" & "history & NPCs" confused. What do you prep before you even start the first session? & how much? What do you prep before each session? & how much? & during the session, what balls are you juggling? (For example, when I GM, I feel like I'm juggling: game mechanics; NPCs--motivations, backstories, who knows who, who knows what, personality traits; general backstory--that is, what's going on in the gameworld; pacing & scene framing; symbolism & imagery.)

Sorry, another deluge of questions.

To which Ron responded:

I knew this response was going to come up about that post.

By saying that the history-info management is not the MAIN task of the GM, I am not saying that it is NOT INVOLVED. Of course it's involved; that's what relationship maps are all about.

But I'm talking about the GM's TASKS DURING PLAY - what he needs to spend energy and attention on. The whole point of a good relationship-map prep is to REDUCE the energy needed to establish information and back-story and so on, during play. (And you know as well as I do that in the older style of GMing, that takes A FUCKLOAD of time and energy; in fact, all of it, because you have to railroad the PCs into the specific interactions necessary to provide the information.)

So given that you're the GM with all this reduced time & energy in terms of information, what must you spend it on? The camera-management, protagonist-attention things.

& now back to Josh:

Okay, so this seems kind of duh! to me now. Of course that seems right.
Personally, I'm in lots-of-questions flux state right now, because I'm GMing & trying to be the best GM I can be. My group has been talking about a lot of this stuff--our expectations, our wants, our goals--& where things are working & where they aren't. A lot of our problems (& they're not huge problems--everybody is enjoying themselves) is that I've been failing to remind them just how much power they have, so they keep asking me for permission ("Do I know anyone at the police station?") instead of taking the ball & running with it. & while I'm getting a better handle on scene framing & pacing (Paul's post was a colossal help towards that), i still feel like I'm not anywhere near as smooth with it as I want to be. I'm still falling back on old railroading habits, which I really want to break. Band metaphor time: I want to play Charlie Parker, but I'm still working on my scales.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
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