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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #15 on: July 19, 2001, 12:14:00 PM »

Contracycle,

Hi there, and thanks for joining in.

I'm afraid I don't know anything about web-based discussions on these matters beyond what I've introduced at the Gaming Outpost and here at the Forge. I can direct you to Lajos Egri's excellent book, The Art of Dramatic Writing, which is the basis for most of my discussions of the matter. It was published in 1946 and is still in print as a major reference for script-writing. Applying his ideas to role-playing is my contribution.

You wrote,

"One might say the premise of the thread pretty much described my own sorrows.  And incidentally, I also feel that it is due to my simulationist bent."

Through no fault of your own, this prompted a big emotional reaction from me. (Minor rant follows.)

I will be the first to say that if someone likes and enjoys a certain mode of play, then more power to them. However, I want to call attention to the use of "sorrows" above, as well as others' stated dissatisfaction with their role-playing experiences. Clearly many folks are SKILLED at a particular mode of play, but NOT HAPPY with it.

As the leader (apparently) of what might be called a militant-Narrativist interest in role-playing, I've been called a lot of things: elitist ... theorist ... "cult of Ron" ... and so on. I am taking this opportunity to point out that this thread, and others like it stretching back to the first incarnation of GO, have demonstrably helped a lot of people ENJOY THIS HOBBY more than they did before. I have not ever said that anyone "should" play in a Narrativist way. I do think a lot of people want to, or might want to, and have never believed it possible, until now.

That's worth a little self-recognition, I think.

Contracycle also wrote,
"I ... would like to ask people when they feel they would address the premise in a design process. Would you think about the premise before the development of NPC's and locations, for example, and if so how would you address generating a new story with a new premise in an existing context? Furthermore, does anyone fell that in character design, players are introducing premises to the story (indeed, introducing a whole story I have occasionally thought) and how one mediates that relationship between their story and yours?"

This is an excellent question, and it was the central issue in my mind when I started writing Sorcerer (ages before I ever heard of GDS or anything like it). I suggest we take it to game design, though.

Best,
Ron
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contracycle
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« Reply #16 on: July 19, 2001, 01:17:00 PM »

OK, so lets call that the baptism by fire :smile: and let me take the opportunity to set out my flags a little more clearly.  What I mean is that I recognise the frustration of seeing the opportunity of these approaches, but finding they my habitual approach to RPG so far does not accomodate it.  I'm familiar with the GNS model and I didn't mean to stamp on the gig red button.  I just recognise the experience of needing to develop a new set of mental tools to deal with the things I want to do - to some extent this harks back to the actor-immersive relationship in another thread, except for the GM. Cheers
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #17 on: July 19, 2001, 01:29:00 PM »

Whoops! That rant wasn't directed at YOU - not at all! My apologies if it seemed like it.

No, your points were well-taken and much-appreciated.

Best,
Ron
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James V. West
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« Reply #18 on: July 20, 2001, 12:47:00 PM »

Amazing discussion!

I can fully understand and fully identify with this concept.

I belive that, for me, the Premise of a game is something the other players don't need to know. In fact, I'd prefer to never utter it. I know what it is, and so when I design the NPCs and whatnot, I'm doing so with this idea in mind. OR the idea shows itself AS I develop NPCs and situations. That latter part is even more intriguing to me..the idea of emergence. I think its one of rp's most powerful forces.

I think that much of what we're talking about here is stuff that goes on behind the scenes wether we plan it or not. But having a language to describe it, and the ability to recognize it, will help make our games that much better.

What I'm wondering about now is how this applies to games in which the GMing duties switch between players. The one I'm working on has this feature. The GM seat should be expected to switch several times for a typical-length session. What I'm thinking is that each player as they take over the seat will have their own idea of Premise, their own NPC's that they are favoring, etc.. So when they step down, the next GM will either:

 a)avoid developing any of those ideas due to not knowing the other player's intentions (this assumes that that segment of the game was left somewhat "hanging" which would make play very episodic).

b) take a guess at some of those ideas and proceed with them (I have certain metagame rules for dealing with this, like calling someone on an action or a direction)

Until I discovered these forums, I was working in the dark on these ideas. Some of my previous game experience led into this territory of "shared-world" gaming, but I was grasping at concepts for which I had little language and little understanding. These discussions really help. Thanks to all of you for being so damn cool. :wink:

James Vernon West
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« Reply #19 on: July 20, 2001, 01:19:00 PM »

Quote
But here's the problem, I don't know how to get away from this. I don't know how to build an NPC without passing judgement on that NPC and wanting to show that judgement to the players.


After this quote came what I read as an appeal for advice on doing otherwise, so if I may:

I love my NPCs, even the ones that are, on one level or another, rat bastards. My strength and my flaw is that when it comes to NPCs, I am as much of a DIP as I am with PCs. (DIP=Develop-in-Play.) On the plus side, this almost works as a kind of intragame reward system: when a player puts energy into interacting with an NPC, that NPC gets more interesting, which means the interaction is more enjoyable for the player. The crowning achievement of this approach so far in Amberway II was Ham, gay apple farmer of Arden, who started out as little more than a mental picture of the old bearded guy on the wagon in the Gasoline Alley cartoon strip, and ended up being a living example of the tensions inherent in one of the campaign's main themes, the enduring town mouse versus country mouse conflict that may be the engine of most politics through most of world history. (Check out the first chapter of Gilgamesh again.) Ham has nothing to do with the plot, but his psyche was located right on the fault line of the urban/rural divide in my Amber, so the newcomer NPC who spent time with him was that much more prepared do deal with the social engines Martin and Gerard had harnessed to their personal conflict.

My biggest failure is Queen Vialle. Because hardly any PC has wanted to have anything to do with her (because people are judgmental and when you appear to have had a major hand in your husband's death they get all standoffish on you), she has had little spotlight time. Consequently, a central figure of the campaign is not fully realized.

Thoughts on where good characters come from:

1) Take a gamist approach with yourself: set character depth as a challenge before you, and a non-judgmental presentation of the characters.

2) Maybe the key question: Where is the character's dignity located? What is not laughable, absurd or contemptible about her?

3) Whoever it was said character is revealed through habitual, purposive and gratuitous actions. Give your major NPCs chances to do all three.

4) Some of Mary Kuhner's descriptions of her GMing style in the Google archives that John Morrow posted in another thread show a GM making in-game events (plots) out of NPC desires rather than making NPCs to support planned events. They are worth checking out.

Premise and theme: I have one small confusion. Ron, at one point you describe premise as the question and theme as the premise answered. But the premise example you give

Quote
Whereas the premise is, "A high-status person is willing to sacrifice the well-being of the low-status ones for his own advantage."


is in the form of a declaration. From all my litcrit consumption I'm used to thinking of theme as "not necessarily answered," as in "a theme of The Great Gatsby is the line between sophistication and corruption." I think of Amberway II as having themes - Justice versus Comity is the main one, with Town Mouse versus Country Mouse in support. But it occurs to me that you would call those premises, correct?

Best,


Jim
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jburneko
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« Reply #20 on: July 20, 2001, 02:11:00 PM »

I had a bit of a "Eureka!" type breakthrough moment this morning regarding Premise.  I thought I'd share.

I was having yet another argument (it's a very friendly argument) with my d20 fanatic friend this morning.  He was going on about how the d20 system makes everything level.  Suspense is mainted through the random die roll, etc, etc.  He says that when everything is focused on 'story' there's a chance that someone gets left out.  He points to our 7th Sea characters.

We both play in the same 7th Sea game under the same GM with the same group.  We both play characters who are lecherous in nature.  But he points out that whenever HE'S lecherous he's treated like a juvenile munchkin and when I'M lecherous I'm treated like somekind of misunderstood tragic figure.

So I endeavored to explain why my lechery is compelling as character and his lechery is juevenile and I was suddenly blindsided by understanding.  HIS lechery is a character quirk.  It's merely an anoying facent of his characterization.  It has no meaning or purpose.  *MY* lechery stems from THEME being built on a PREMISE!

7th Sea has a Premise built into it: Western Concepts Of Heroic Honor.  My 7th Sea Character has this as his Theme: Misguided Redeption Can Not Replace Lost Honor.  My 7th Sea Character, Alonzo Del Torres, is a Castillian Noble who lost the love of his Vodacce wife Antonia.  His whole motivation is to redeam for that failure.  As a result he sees his wife in every woman he meets.  The closer the resemblance to his wife the more he feels compeled to be with them and be 'responsible' for them.  He seduces women in an effort to gain back that affection that was so important to him.  He has blind rage for Vodacce men who do not appreciate the passion that lives in the women of their country.

And this is my authorial control.  Alonzo seeks to find redemption for a lost love.  I, Alonzo's author, portray Alonzo as a misguided man putting his efforts in the wrong place.  And instead of regaining his honor, as Alonzo wishes to do, he's trapped in downward spiral of lechery that will ultimately be his undoing.  He thinks he can simulate redemption through others when I know he's just failing to address the real problem.

I'm still waiting for my d20 fanatic to reply.  I'm greatly interested in his response.

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #21 on: July 25, 2001, 05:32:00 AM »

Hi Jim,

I just realized that I never got around to responding to you.

You wrote:
"Premise and theme: I have one small confusion. Ron, at one point you describe premise as the question and theme as the premise answered. But the premise example you give

"'Whereas the premise is, "A high-status person is willing to sacrifice the well-being of the low-status ones for his own advantage.'

"is in the form of a declaration."

You're right. I should have extended it clearly into the following question: "You have a vested interest in the status quo. Whose side will you take?" Or even better, "given the side you take, what positive consequences emerge, if any?"

And of course different games, groups, and people will vary a lot in terms of how black-and-white the problem is. Depending on the complexity of the scenario, the above Premise might be extremely binary or it might have lots and lots of wiggle room or compromise potential.

"From all my litcrit consumption I'm used to thinking of theme as 'not necessarily answered,' as in 'a theme of The Great Gatsby is the line between sophistication and corruption.'"

As Jack has pointed out above (and I have earlier, on GO), RPGs creates a shared process out of what in literature is a single-author process. So stating Premise (in RP terms) is probably just fine as "theme" in literary terms.

Another point, which I think is very important, is that a Theme (answer, in RP terms) does not have to be irrefutable. It may be that "the answer" simply establishes the original question as a really awful conundrum, by dissecting it out a little rather than resolving it with a fight scene or other decisive "this is the answer" event.

"I think of Amberway II as having themes - Justice versus Comity is the main one, with Town Mouse versus Country Mouse in support. But it occurs to me that you would call those premises, correct?"

Well, before or during the first stages of play, sure. Of course I have no doubt that you and your players are turning them into Themes from the git-go.

Best,
Ron



[ This Message was edited by: Ron Edwards on 2001-07-25 19:22 ]
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jburneko
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« Reply #22 on: July 31, 2001, 08:43:00 AM »

So, I've been thinking about Premise some more and I'm discovering that it's REALLY hard to design a game around a premise.  That's because I think in plot events.  And as I design games I discover that when I'm thinking in terms of plot I end up with a big mish-mash of cool and interesting scenes but when I think in terms of premise I suddenly find myself pruning away A LOT of those scenes and plot elements because they just don't fit with the given premise.

So anyway, I was wondering how broad can a premise be?  For example if I said my game had a Premise of: Unification.  Would that be sufficient?  Let's assume that the players are familiar enough with the setting to understand how Unification is relevant to it.

Or should the Premise be more specific like: The Dangers of Unification?  Or more specific still?

Just Wondering.

Jesse
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joshua neff
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« Reply #23 on: July 31, 2001, 09:08:00 AM »

Jesse--

I know what you mean (I think). To me, it has to do with control. In my earlier days of GMing, I would think of all these great scenes--"Oh, the PCs can face off against the main villain in a huge lab, with the villains fiendish device in the background, on the verge of beginning it's hellish operation". & then I'd railroad the players into getting from one cool scene to another. When the scenes were particularly good, nobody seemed to mind. But since I'm not, by nature, a linear thinker, the (rail)road from one scene to another was often fairly convoluted & required leaps of logic--& therefore, horrible railroading on my part. When theplayers failed to figure out my train of thought & couldn't get to the next scene, we'd all get frustrated.

So, strongly narrativist, premise-centered gaming requires the GM to give up a lot fo that control. Forget about cool scenes. Forget about the planned nail-biting finale as the PCs confront the villain in his or her lair. Instead, find a strong premise (if your not sure what's a good premise & what isn't, & I'm pretty much in that boat, go for the obvious ones--Love, Violence, Power, Corruption, Betrayal, Family Bonds) & let your players work with you to create cool scenes. Let them decide where & when they'll confront the villain (& even who the villain is).

As for how broad a premise can be--the premise for the Sorcerer narrative I want to run (& it'll almost certainly be the next major thing I run--I'm sick of White Wolf) is Love. That's it. (The concept of the narrative is based on Buffy the Vampire Slayer, & it occured to me just how significant love is in the show, so that's what will drive my Sorcerer game.) I could make it more specific if I wanted to ("The Things We Do For Love" or "What Is Love Exactly?"), but I kind of like leaving it more general, as it lets the players fill stuff in through play (& I get to see what they really think regarding Love).
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #24 on: July 31, 2001, 12:52:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-07-16 14:35, Blake Hutchins wrote:

Interestingly, all but one of the characters chose wounds derived from child abuse. As we've gone forward with the game a central theme of "Tainted Innocence" has emerged. It's powerful and resonates very well with the premise, the characters' backstories, and the players themselves. I'm considering whether to incorporate it directly into the premise. The emotional charge has colored the entire game.


Blake,

You need to play Little Fears with these people, and soon. Tainted Innocence is the premise of Little Fears...

Mike Holmes
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #25 on: July 31, 2001, 01:11:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-07-19 12:57, Ron Edwards wrote:
We are dealing - ta da! - with the concept of player-characters as protagonists in the story.

Many role-playing games present the following two concepts:
1) The GM is the story-teller, or the narrator, or the creator of the story, or the author of the adventure (or any other similar thing)
2) The players determine the actions of the protagonists.

Can anyone else see that these two things are utterly contradictory? They cannot both be true, not now, not in the future, never before, and not ever.

If the player-characters are protagonists, then their actions CREATE the story in its final form (i.e., resolved, thematic).

If the GM is the story-creator (or channel for the story-creator, as with metaplots), then the player-characters, by definition, CANNOT be the protagonists.


Hey Ron,

Couldn't wait to see you at the Con, had to take a cheap shot at you before you got here. :smile:

I feel as though the above quote is not exactly correct. That is, I feel that the PCs in my Simulationist games do have a level of Protagonism. Despite the fact that I may come up with the outline of the plot, the players do make decisions for their characters, and the characters do win or lose, succeed or fail, struggle and fall. And at the end of the day, they certainly seem like protagonists to me.

If you mean to imply that Character Protgonism is something other than what I'm implying, then I apollogize. But I can't see how a meaningful definition would omit those elements that I've referred to. I can see that from a player standpoint, that having more control of the situation may lead to a *heightened* sense of Protagonism, but Gamism and Simulationism do not eliminate it.

And, no, this is not just another indicator that I'm a closet Narrativist. I refer even to the most Gamist of games that I've played even as a young'un. When the dragon was slain and the players whooped it up, and then later bragged about their characters this was a degenerate form of Protagonism as well.

Argue, if you will, that Narrativism increases Protagonism, but don't claim that the other two deny it.

Mike Holmes
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #26 on: July 31, 2001, 01:57:00 PM »

No one said anything about G or S, Mike. I was talking about the juxtaposition of the two phrases, which may be found in the majority of RPG rulebooks. You have missed my point if you think I'm reserving it for Narrativism. My point - which is that the two phrases are contradictory - applies universally.

I do not consider you a closet Narrativist if you are arriving at a successful version of GM/player relations that results in protagonism. I do consider that you are not abiding by the two phrases. Whether you are doing so in favor of Simulationist goals/experiences is not an issue.

At GenCon, sir.

Best,
Ron
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Valamir
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« Reply #27 on: August 01, 2001, 05:20:00 AM »

I'm having a real hard time with this Premise thing.  Every time I think I have a handle on it, it slips away.

1) I am unable to discern the difference between what you are calling Premise and what I always learned as Theme.  How are they different? How do they relate?  Where is the demarcation line between them.

2) I've tried to do some research on my own on this but I've come up with zero sources, none of my literature guides or composition manuals use Premise in this way.  I can find umpteen million essays on Theme and Situation but none on Premise. In fact, the only thing I've managed to discover is that I can't find anyone else who uses Premise like this.  The only 2 uses for Premise I've found are the legal use of building and property and the logical use of being an assertion.

3) The use of Premise as described here seems directly at odds with the usual definition of Premise.  Premise in a logical arguement is a declarative assertion.  A statement that is being put forth as a fact upon which the rest of the arguement will be built.  Yet above Premise is described as a question with emotional weight...where does that definition come from?

Help.  This is no longer making much sense to me.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #28 on: August 01, 2001, 05:32:00 AM »

If you want a reference, it's Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing, published many decades ago.

As Jim points out above, "theme" is a damn broad term. I think that people use it too loosely, for all kinds of things like "author intent," "motif," "premise," and "point," all of which seem very different to me.

Jack refers to the crucial element of role-playing, which is that the entire experience may be thought of as writing/creating - and simultaneously, audience appreciation. No other medium is like this except perhaps for some kinds of music (which is why that metaphor is often used).

This nearly-unique quality is not going to be reflected in any literary or critical place, because role-playing is totally off the radar screen of such analysis. Hell, movies are still considered low-grade, comics are the lowest of the low, and role-playing is not perceived at all. So any specific modes or qualities of "theme" in this medium are not going to be pinpointed anywhere in the critical canon.

Egri's book was the first one I found that separated the author's writing process from the audience's reaction in terms of meaning. Therefore it lent itself beautifully to role-playing, splitting the basic idea of theme into Premise (pre- and during-play considerations, in the form of an issue/question/passion) and Theme (after-play consideration, in the form of an answer or at least emotionally-resonant outcome).

Best,
Ron
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #29 on: August 01, 2001, 08:35:00 AM »

Referring to my example earlier in this thread, I've rephrased the premise of my current Mage chronicle as: "Are there certain kinds of injuries that require great sacrifice or suffering to heal?" What that means and has meant is that I've structured the game's background and focus to pose this question to the players. The players have -- on their own -- created an answer to that question: "Tainted innocence." Before we started play, I had little to no idea of what the theme would be. A number of answers to the premise were possible, but it was up to the players to chart the course.

Does that make better sense?

Best,

Blake
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