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Author Topic: This fifth business.  (Read 2108 times)
Jack Spencer Jr
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« on: July 22, 2001, 09:46:00 PM »

OK, after reading Kubasik's Interactive Toolkit, I've noted something.

He refers to a narrativist (as it were) GM as Fifth Business after an old theatre term, etc etc...

Here's my point.  The roll of fifth business does not seem to really require one person to take it on.  Fifth business has greatly diminished responsibilities compared to the typical GM. Anyone who is sitting at the table who isn't presently involved can take on the side character rolls or object to a current player's action or whatever fifth business is supposed to do. (The more I say fifth business the less I like it, but I digress)

After all the players are supposed to prepare, to a certain extent, the story they will play, based on their character's goals, premise, etc.  Fifth business  mere provides obsticles for the players (if they haven't done so already) and plays any supporting roles necessary.  The fifth business doesn't need to prepare the game. The players must all do this.  It falls to fifth business to improvise more than prepare.

SOAP doesn't use a GM/fifth business/whatever.
Baron Munchausen doesn't have a GM either.

There are probably quite a few other such games that likewise do not have a GM.

However, IIUC, Sorcerer has a GM.  Elfs has a GM.  Most games still have a GM.

OK.  So what am I missing here? What is it about the role of GM that makes it continue to be necessary to have one person take on that role in a game rather than a shared responsibility amoung the players that sort of floats of the proceedings.  Not to mention give players who's characters are not in the scene something to do besides watch.

I've been trying to puzzle this out and can't seem to figure it out.  But then, I really haven't been able to play a narrativist game session so I obviously don't know what's going on.

What's going on?

[ This Message was edited by: pblock on 2001-07-23 01:49 ]
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Mytholder
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« Reply #1 on: July 23, 2001, 12:58:00 AM »

I suspect that BM can get away without having a GM because there's never direct conflict or interaction between player characters. Part of the GM's role is to arbitrate disputes and ensure that everyone is "on the same page", so to speak, that everyone has the same mental picture of what's going on.

I suspect SOAP can do the same because (a) all the players are familiar with the rules and tropes of the genre and(b) it's a broad enough genre to handle lots of conflicts and, um, dissonances* without the story falling apart.

*: I'm using 'dissonance' to describe a situation where two players have different ideas about "what's going on" in a game. For example, the GM mentions there's a small door in the room. If one player thinks the GM means a slightly lower door, say about 5' tall, and the other gets the mental picture of a tiny pixie-sized door a few inches tall, that's a potential dissonance. It only becomes a problem if the misinterpretation starts affecting the characters (if the second player is being chased, for example, and doesn't try the door because he thinks it's too small to escape though...)
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joshua neff
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« Reply #2 on: July 23, 2001, 06:10:00 AM »

I like the whole "fifth business" idea (& I like the term--it calls to mind Robertson Davies, who I've never read, but has cool titles for his books, like The Manticore & The Lyre of Orpheus--but I digress).

As for the role of the GM in a Narrativist game, a la "fifth business"--I've been thinking of Ron's band metaphor, with the GM as bass player. It's the bassist's position to keep the rhythm, to keep the rest of the group focused & in the groove. The bassist keeps the rhythm, so that the guitarist, the saxophonist, the keyboardist (that is, the players) can solo.

So, in a Narrativist game, the GM is there to faciliate story-creation. It's the GMs position to keep the rhythm, through pacing & scene-framing, so that the players can solo, through their characters' protagonism.

Plus, just because the main conflicts & issues are generated by the PCs, doesn't mean there's nothing for the GM/fifth business to do, story-wise--there's backstory, NPC creation, relationship maps (if that's the way your doing it). Plus, scene-framing.

That being said, I see nothing wrong with switching off who's the GM ("Tonight, I play the Fifth Business!" she declared dramatically). There's nothing set in stone that says the GM has to be one person & one person only.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Le Joueur
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« Reply #3 on: July 23, 2001, 10:09:00 AM »

quote]pblock wrote:
OK, after reading Kubasik's Interactive Toolkit, I've noted something.

He refers to a narrativist (as it were) GM as Fifth Business after an old theatre term, etc....

Here's my point.  The role of fifth business does not seem to really require one person to take it on.Quote
Fifth business has greatly diminished responsibilities compared to the typical GM. Anyone who is sitting at the table who isn't presently involved can take on the side character rolls or object to a current player's action or whatever fifth business is supposed to do.Quote
After all the players are supposed to prepare, to a certain extent, the story they will play, based on their character's goals, premise, etc.  Fifth business merely provides obstacles for the players (if they haven't done so already) and plays any supporting roles necessary.  The fifth business doesn't need to prepare the game. The players must all do this.  It falls to fifth business to improvise more than prepare.

Which sounds like his take on avoiding railroading.

Quote
SOAP doesn't use a GM/fifth business/whatever.
Baron Munchausen doesn't have a GM either.

There are probably quite a few other such games that likewise do not have a GM.Quote
However, IIUC, Sorcerer has a GM.  Elfs has a GM.  Most games still have a GM.

OK.  So what am I missing here?got<
Quote
What is it about the role of GM that makes it continue to be necessary to have one person take on that role in a game rather than a shared responsibility among the players that sort of floats of the proceedings?Quote
What's going on?

After wondering the same thing for some time, I came to a rather unusual (I think) conclusion.  Foremost, I suggest that gamemasters are primarily the players of non-player characters (and operators of their<other than this, but what they do with it.  Any of the models of gaming can talk about the goals of what the gamemaster does (and to a lesser degree how to do them), but I think that ultimately it becomes a matter of consistency.  Consistency to genre, to mechanics, to literary style, to fun, to stance, to whatever, I see it is about a compelling game that brings the participant back, and that spells some kind of consistency to me.

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-07-23 14:14 ]Quote
pblock wrote:
OK, after reading Kubasik's Interactive Toolkit, I've noted something.

He refers to a narrativist (as it were) GM as Fifth Business after an old theatre term, etc....

Here's my point.  The role of fifth business does not seem to really require one person to take it o
Quote
Fifth business has greatly diminished responsibilities compared to the typical GM. Anyone who is sitting at the table who isn't presently involved can take on the side character rolls or object to a current player's action or whatever fifth business is supposed to do.Quote
After all the players are supposed to prepare, to a certain extent, the story they will play, based on their character's goals, premise, etc.  Fifth business merely provides obstacles for the players (if they haven't done so already) and plays any supporting roles necessary.  The fifth business doesn't need to prepare the game. The players must all do this.  It falls to fifth business to improvise more than prepare.

Which sounds like his take on avoiding railroading.

Quote
SOAP doesn't use a GM/fifth business/whatever.
Baron Munchausen doesn't have a GM either.

There are probably quite a few other such games that likewise do not have a GM.Quote
However, IIUC, Sorcerer has a GM.  Elfs has a GM.  Most games still have a GM.

OK.  So what am I missing here?got<
Quote
What is it about the role of GM that makes it continue to be necessary to have one person take on that role in a game rather than a shared responsibility among the players that sort of floats of the proceedings?Quote
What's going on?

After wondering the same thing for some time, I came to a rather unusual (I think) conclusion.  Foremost, I suggest that gamemasters are primarily the players of non-player characters (and operators of their<other than this, but what they do with it.  Any of the models of gaming can talk about the goals of what the gamemaster does (and to a lesser degree how to do them), but I think that ultimately it becomes a matter of consistency.  Consistency to genre, to mechanics, to literary style, to fun, to stance, to whatever, I see it is about a compelling game that brings the participant back, and that spells some kind of consistency to me.

Fang Langford

[ This Message was edited by: Le Joueur on 2001-07-23 14:14 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: July 23, 2001, 10:14:00 AM »

Since my name was pronounced, I shall pop into existence on this thread with my ears sticking out straight from my head.

(They don't, really.)

The role of GM in this mode play is as Josh paraphrased, but also - and this is important - to present scenes.

"At the warehouse ..." says the GM. The players have made it clear that they want to go to the warehouse. The GM mixes, matches, and figures out what's up at the warehouse. It could be something he's worked up months before playing, so this is a big creative payoff for him. It could be something he's improvised into existence a moment ago (which turns out to be BETTER than the notion he worked up months ago).

But it's the GM who says it's there. It's the GM who not only PLAYS the NPCs, but has full-time Director's Stance regarding them.

Yes, the players can point the camera, and even include stuff that wasn't previously designated ("realized") to be there. But it's the GM who arranged the location of the whole shoot, and continues to arrange this during play.

No, this isn't a power rant. I'm claiming that having a place for a buck to stop is a really good idea, when we're dealing with the larger scope of the story. It's especially good when you consider story structure ("climactic confrontation," which is NOT a throwaway fight scene) and the logistic shared-belief reality ("gotta ride like hell to stop Sue-Bob from getting hanged!").

This is why I keep claiming that attention to setting and even to location-details is not necessarily Simulationist. A Narrativist GM must still care and work with the physical and temporal reality within which the player-characters do their stuff. The ongoing question is, "Man, if they did THAT, then the best confrontation or information to deal with next would be THIS, HERE."

Such a GM thus is not railroading the players - in a way, they are railroading HIM. Yet he has a great deal of oingoing shot-location and timing-power with which to respond to their needs.

Best,
Ron
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #5 on: July 23, 2001, 02:20:00 PM »

Just wanted to make a couple of quick notes on this about what I said above.

Quote
Ron Edwards wrote:
The role of GM in this mode play is as Josh paraphrased, but also - and this is important - to present scenes.

"At the warehouse ..." says the GM. The players have made it clear that they want to go to the warehouse. The GM mixes, matches, and figures out what's up at the warehouse. It could be something he's worked up months before playing, so this is a big creative payoff for him. It could be something he's improvised into existence a moment ago (which turns out to be BETTER than the notion he worked up months ago).

As I over-generalized earlier, this is purely a result of the non-player characters (and sometimes, player characters).  The warehouse has to belong to someone<
Quote
But it's the GM who says it's there.

Not necessarily.  The players may have characters of resource, who own said warehouse and it could be the non-player characters who "want to go to the warehouse."  I think it is presumptuous to say that the gamemaster presents all the scenes.

For some time now, I have been experimenting with just the opposite.  When I gamemaster in a game I usually think of as "whatever television show my players are enamored with this week," since I do not watch a lot of television, I prompt them to present the setting for the scene.  Often the rest of the scene comes with it, and it becomes an exercise for me to take the genre convention and make it interesting.  But in essence, the players present the scenes.  I think to say otherwise subtracts from the potential directorial power of the players.

Quote
It's the GM who not only PLAYS the NPCs, but has full-time Director's Stance regarding them.necessarily has to have a director-only stance.  But, yes, by and large that is what its like.

Quote
Yes, the players can point the camera, and even include stuff that wasn't previously designated ("realized") to be there. But it's the GM who arranged the location of the whole shoot, and continues to arrange this during play.Quote
No, this isn't a power rant. I'm claiming that having a place for a buck to stop is a really good idea, when we're dealing with the larger scope of the story.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: July 24, 2001, 06:20:00 AM »

Fang,

We agree entirely. My post concerned only this issue: WHEN a GM does any creating or control, WHAT this consists of. When he does not, well, then your examples and concepts apply.

Good GMing of the sort we're talking about is of course a combination of the two.

I'd like to get this very clear because a lot of people mistakenly think Narrativism and non-railroaded play means "utterly improvised play," which is incorrect.

Best,
Ron
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Damocles
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« Reply #7 on: July 24, 2001, 12:28:00 PM »

I really, really think there should be another term for this. 'Sophisticated' seems to imply superiority.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #8 on: July 24, 2001, 02:04:00 PM »

Quote
Damocles wrote:
I really, really think there should be another term for this. 'Sophisticated' seems to imply superiority.


Me too.  But I cannot think of any...I had considered cosmopolitan, but then there is that magazine....

Pretty much all the synonyms are the same.

Fang Langford
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