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Author Topic: Re: The Conflict is Yours  (Read 23527 times)
hyphz
Member

Posts: 157


« on: January 31, 2003, 05:25:11 AM »

I'm not trying to disagree with advice here, just ask for some more clarification because it's relevant to some issues I've had as well.

Quote from: Le Joueur
You want to gamemaster something that comes out like A New Hope?  All you need is the character write-ups (one lives on a farm, another is a hermit, the third lives by his wits from payload to payload, and the last - a non-player character - has the plans), some vague idea where things will climax (the death star), and that's it.


Of course, you have something else too - the plot of "A New Hope", which seems to be standing in for your 'plan' in the examples below.  

How about describing how to do something that comes out like Star Wars but not like any of the movies?

Quote
You set the stage by giving the plans to the robots and the robots to PC#1 to give to PC#2.  What do the players do?  PC#1 wants to go 'back to the farm,' not cool - think of something on the fly - blow up the farm!  


Many players will learn from this, "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed".  It doesn't matter that this wasn't your intention or that you don't have a hard control - the players may assume you do, and start falling into the dreaded "come on Mr. GM, plot-hammer me where you want me" mode that everyone dislikes.

Quote
Next you need to put some punch into the 'what are the plans for;' Alderaan is gone when they get there.  Was this a part of some plan?  Is the gamemaster controlling the game.  Heck no, it was late and you realized that a bunch of sneaky stuff planetside would be boring.  You can blow up planets on the fly, you're the gamemaster.  Next, capture them by the 'big bad evil thingie.'  Don't even run it, just tell the 'now your captured and in the hold, think of something cool to keep yourselves out of the brig.'


Umm, isn't "You will have this bad stuff happen to you no matter what you do" the very epitome of bad railroading?  Regardless of whether you do it by omitting description or whatever...

Quote

And so on.  None of it is a matter of planning but simply responding to player choices (which are actually inventions with things like the compactor) and continually turning up the tension level and the pacing.


So I wonder if you have any tips for dealing with the things I've seen happen with this:

-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

-  Unexpected detail.  "What story is the guy in the Cantina telling?"   The problem with this is that you can't avoid answering it, because not answering is an answer - and to the bunker players above, it's the answer "you have to follow my plan, because only the stuff in my plan has any detail in the world."

-  Coherence problems.  "What's down the corridor?  How long is it?  How many doors are there, where are they?  We go and look in on where they lead."  This isn't the problem.  The problem is when one of the players spots something that they think is stupid or inconsistent ("hey, they had the mess hall next to the barracks!  Guess they *forgot* the kitchen, right?  Haha.") and calls you on it.  And our old bunker friends learn "you have to follow my plan, because nothing apart from my plan has any internal consistency so meaningful actions and consequences can't exist outside it."

-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #1 on: January 31, 2003, 08:47:29 AM »

Quote from: hyphz
I'm not trying to disagree with advice here, just ask for some more clarification because it's relevant to some issues I've had as well.

No problem, I'm more than glad to help out.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
You want to gamemaster something that comes out like A New Hope?  All you need is the character write-ups (one lives on a farm, another is a hermit, the third lives by his wits from payload to payload, and the last - a non-player character - has the plans), some vague idea where things will climax (the death star), and that's it.

Of course, you have something else too - the plot of "A New Hope", which seems to be standing in for your 'plan' in the examples below.  

How about describing how to do something that comes out like Star Wars but not like any of the movies?

Actually, that's a problem.  See, "something that comes out like Star Wars but not like any of the movies" would require an extensive and detailed presentation.  To be compelling, it has to not only demonstrate how the game was run, but also show a really well written result; I don't know about you, but I don't have the time to just 'run off' a dozen or two of them at the drop of a hat.  Moreover, if I was that good of a writer (I hope I will be someday), wouldn't it be wise for me to put such 'types of examples' to better use by putting them in Scattershot?  (The game we're developing.)

See, what we need in this discussion is first and foremost a common example that relates to the 'source of the problem.'  Stars Wars: A New Hope fits that bill quite well; it's been around for nearly three decades and most everybody has seen it.  Not only that, but...well, that's what the game is based on.  I couldn't think of a better example.  Except for one thing....

Ya gotta imagine that in the world where it is the result of a game, the movie doesn't exist.  The whole example rests upon the premise that the players who sit down and play what I describe know absolutely nothing of the what turns out to be the result of their play and the actual movie (in the real world).  In order to understand the advice, you have to pretend that there are no deathstars, nobody has heard of Jabba the Hutt, and the film has never been posited.  What that means is that these players experience an original game which has all the kick-ass features of the movie we know and love, but they come by it by accident and skill, not planning.

Ultimately, the example was supposed to show what kind of improvising is available to a gamemaster who doesn't 'control the game.'  Per the example, who saw the destruction of the farm coming?  I mean yeah, it makes sense when you look back on it and it fits the arch-classic 'heroic quest,' but as games go, it seems a little heavy handed and unplanned.  Same goes for the trash compactor; you can't tell me that design a battlestation's sewage system is worth the time.  It really does appear to be an improvisation on the players' parts.  Same goes for the possibility of an 'intrigue on Alderaan' plan, which is tossed for the sake of epic scope and high-tension pacing.

All of these are little 'classic examples' I couldn't provide without a novel length post, except I used familiar source material.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
You set the stage by giving the plans to the robots and the robots to PC#1 to give to PC#2.  What do the players do?  PC#1 wants to go 'back to the farm,' not cool - think of something on the fly - blow up the farm!  

Many players will learn from this, "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed".  It doesn't matter that this wasn't your intention or that you don't have a hard control - the players may assume you do, and start falling into the dreaded "come on Mr. GM, plot-hammer me where you want me" mode that everyone dislikes.

Then you're reading it differently then intended.  I was trying to illustrate a common problem gamemasters have, the player who 'does what the character would do' almost intentionally at the expense of the game.  What you provide is the common bad habit that grows up around the most traditional solution.  I'm trying to give an example of how it could be done differently.

When you "blow up the farm" in the example, you aren't 'hosing' the player for avoiding the plot because there isn't any.  (I said that at the start; remember to understand the example, you have to imagine that the movie doesn't exist for the exemplars.)  Look more closely at the Han Solo versus Greedo example.  There I specifically point out "to 'push things' not just forward, but in any direction."  The farm does the same thing; the example is specifically of a gamemaster who doesn't control, therefore there is no "plot" to "follow" (that's the "any direction" part).  Another important thing to note; the farm wasn't literally on PC#1's character write-up, it was only implied.  Its destruction does not rob the player of anything except an excuse to impede play; that's a crucial way of looking at things when you 'give up control of the game' as a gamemaster; feel free to totally destroy things that 'get in the way' (if they don't belong to anyone).

If you must think of it in terms of what I consider more 'bad writing' than 'traditional gamemastering' (running them through a plot because you 'know it's better'), then simply learn the 'get stuff out of the way of play' technique.  However, I highly advise against it; if you have players who "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed," then they also have some pretty bad habits they need to unlearn.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Next you need to put some punch into the 'what are the plans for;' Alderaan is gone when they get there.  Was this a part of some plan?  Is the gamemaster controlling the game.  Heck no, it was late and you realized that a bunch of sneaky stuff planetside would be boring.  You can blow up planets on the fly, you're the gamemaster.  Next, capture them by the 'big bad evil thingie.'  Don't even run it, just tell the 'now your captured and in the hold, think of something cool to keep yourselves out of the brig.'

Umm, isn't "You will have this bad stuff happen to you no matter what you do" the very epitome of bad railroading?  Regardless of whether you do it by omitting description or whatever...

How is "Alderaan is gone" bad stuff?  How is being "captured," bad stuff?  They aren't on Alderaan, they don't end up in the brig (well, not until later).  You are not limiting their choices, you are creating a more dynamic setting so those choices become more tense and more interesting.  You have to go into it without any doubt that the players will come out of it alive (or dead at their choosing).  You're setting the stage, not taking away the options.

It's like this; say the players in a different game decide they want to use a 'streetwise' roll to get some information.  Is it boring to go from dive to dive describing various meaningless encounters for an hour and a half before you drop the crumb of information in front of the players (especially if they miss it in all your 'smoke and mirrors')?  I think it is as equally boring to just turn to them as say, "You find out such and so."  I propose you jump to the 'good part' the way a movie does; but make it tense.  An example given somewhere months ago suggested you put the character tied up, in a chair with the local toughs asking him why he's been nosing around about the information.  Bad stuff you say?  Not if you go into it knowing that the player will get away with negligible (read that cosmetic only, per the rules) bumps and bruises.  Remember, the bad guys aren't out to get everyone, they just want people to think so.  After the character escapes the scene, you help them realize that 'the little interview' not only gave them the information they sought, but demonstrates that it is only part of a larger whole.

The real trick is to make it look like the characters are trapped (important: without saying how or why) and let them improvise a way out (since you haven't specified "how or why" just take any improvisation they offer); it gives the game that tense 'will we make it or not' feel without actually taking control away from the players.

Ya gotta have "bad stuff" or the game looks boring; better yet just have the false impression of bad stuff 'decorate' your 'dynamic setting.'  (A dynamic setting is a place where just about anything you can imagine happens but is made cool by 'the odds.')

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
And so on.  None of it is a matter of planning but simply responding to player choices (which are actually inventions with things like the compactor) and continually turning up the tension level and the pacing.

So I wonder if you have any tips for dealing with the things I've seen happen with this:

Sure, I'm always glad to help.  There are two tips I give for dealing with players who are 'too afraid to play.'  These kinds of players do all they can with the rules, their character designs, and whatever their characters can lay their hands on to 'protect' themselves.  (Hint: make sure they're always 'safe,' just don't tell them they are.)  These two tips are 'use liberal amounts of bait' and 'do the expected.'  Let me exemplify.

Quote from: hyphz
-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

"Cracking the bunker" is right out; your analysis is very good here.  Eventually, these kinds of 'bunker players' will figure out that it's more fun to 'come out and play,' but for now?  Bait.  Parade whatever seems appropriate to either the players, their characters, or the setting, around in front of them.  Make it valuable to the point of being irresistible and just out of reach.  Make it seem so close they can taste it, but seemingly just a tiny bit of work to get.  Don't pounce when they go for it, just keep stringing them along.  They'll come out; you can bet they will, just try it.  (And always leave the bunker there for them to go back to; after all, unlike "the farm," it belongs to them - and you can always bait them again until they leave it behind for good.)

Quote from: hyphz
-  Unexpected detail.  "What story is the guy in the Cantina telling?"   The problem with this is that you can't avoid answering it, because not answering is an answer - and to the bunker players above, it's the answer "you have to follow my plan, because only the stuff in my plan has any detail in the world."

Honesty might work; "Hey guys, I don't have anything planned here, you mind if we move it along?"  That always works when I'm too tired to improvise. Otherwise, we're using bait again.  Did you realize that the Greedo example is bait?  Or rather it throws the spotlight on the bait that PC#1 and PC#2 already offered?  (Sometimes you need to continue to 'parade' an offer until the players 'catch on.')  Likewise, having the stormtroopers show up wasn't just a motivation to move away from the Cantina, it also happens to be a reminder of bait.  Indirectly it says, "Hey, Luke, remember the fabulous babe hologram?  Wanna go save her?" and "Hey Ben, don't forget you want to save the world, right?"  And for gods' sake, unless you want it to turn into an 'on the run' campaign, think of every reason you can that the stormtroopers don't want a battle.  (Leave them with a warning, too much paperwork, or anything that characterizes them as lazy will work.)

Spare the rod; this is role-playing gaming.  If the players want to 'stick with the Cantina,' they're just 'bunkering down' again.  If you can't offer bait, remind them of the bait they're already after.

Quote from: hyphz
-  Coherence problems.  "What's down the corridor?  How long is it?  How many doors are there, where are they?  We go and look in on where they lead."  This isn't the problem.  The problem is when one of the players spots something that they think is stupid or inconsistent ("hey, they had the mess hall next to the barracks!  Guess they *forgot* the kitchen, right?  Haha.") and calls you on it.  And our old bunker friends learn "you have to follow my plan, because nothing apart from my plan has any internal consistency so meaningful actions and consequences can't exist outside it."

You're forgetting something that you are implying; 'all consistency is pretend.'  That's right, it is only as consistent as it seems.  You avoid a lot of these 'preparation flaws' by simply not preparing, by not describing things.  Take the Detention Level for example.  They get down there and have a fight.  No one even realizes there are hallways leading off the main room because you don't describe it.  I can't say how many times I've seem gamemasters screw this one up somehow thinking that if they don't totally describe it, people will have problems imagining it.

That ain't how it works people.  We've all seen the movie; about all the description you need sometimes is 'you're in an Imperial hanger bay' and leave the rest to their imaginations.  (They brought those along, didn't they?)  This is an important time that 'do the expected' comes in.  Play upon the imaginations of the players; remember, we're not planning ahead here.  Don't tell them what the room next to the barrack is, ask them.  That's how the garbage chute got created; one of the player must have gone, "Hey, I shoot out a hole in the garbage chute."  After you get over the initial 'the what?' knee-jerk reaction (I caution you to always bite your tongue and never, ever say 'no' to something), you go, "Okay, a horrible smell comes out."

There really isn't any reason to block a direction the players want to go, like I said, simply move 'the stuff you want' so that it is 'in their way.'  If the players seem to do something impractical or stupid ('quick down the cell bay for cover'), help them find a way out.  (Remember, it was Leia - the non-player character - who shot the garbage chute.  When you do 'help them out' make sure it looks like 'out of the frying pan and into the fire,' but isn't really.)

Quote from: hyphz
-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?

Ultimately, this is precisely why I advocate 'not controlling' the game.  No matter what you do, unless you are a savant gamemaster, your players are going to find out that you are just not that creative.  That's why I keep hammering on the 'your idea is better than the players ideas' myth.  Not feeling creative?  You do have a bunch of other human beings there with you just brimming with imagination; leave it to them.

In fact, I'd say 'do less prep on the game than they do on any one player.'  Lessee, you came up with a deathstar (you didn't detail it, it isn't the deathstar until they go there and everyone, you included, discover how cool it is), four non-player character sketches (Leia, the droids, and Chewbacca), and what else?  Yeah, the plans.  Nothing else.  Period.

Player #1 created the desert world, player #2 created the contacts based on his heroic history, player #3 created the starship and most of the tone for the adventure (his 'by the seat of his pants' lifestyle), you just run it from there.  Most of the movie is predicate upon 'getting them together.'  Furthermore, it comes out of using character details as the foundation for bait (the girl, the Republic, and money for loan sharks) and tying the bait to other characters.  You don't force them together, you tie 'meat around their necks to get the dog to play with them.'  (PC#1 has the droids with the plans, PC#2 can teach the force and pay, and PC#3 has the ship; bait, bait, and bait.)

If anything, what you did as the gamemaster was 'uncreate' things; you blew up the farm and Alderaan (which was just a name before that), you took out the intrigue you had expected planetside, you even got rid of the running battle at the detention area at the deathstar (well, you decided to use it later; get it?  You moved it in front of the players).  You spend more attention on pacing and tension and making sure things stay 'epic enough,' and get all your ideas from the players (that's another 'do the expected' bit).

Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).

What about abuse?  Don't give them the time for it.  If you give them something they like because it is so powerful, I expect they're not the only ones who think so.  Somebody else's gonna want it.  (Y'know what?  That makes it seem even more valuable to the players.)  And want it enough to reasonably crack a few bunkers too.  Not only that, but hey, 'isn't that illegal?'  (Yeah, just another organization who thinks it should have the thing.)  Or maybe it needs batteries (not when the player want to use it, only between scenes - batteries are bait, not 'the rod;' spoil the players).  I've had more fun gamemastering, giving the players the problems that reasonable go with getting everything they ever wanted, so much that I don't have to be hardly creative at all.  (Logical maybe, deductive, but not creative.)

Does that help make anything clearer?

Fang Langford
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Valamir
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« Reply #2 on: January 31, 2003, 08:59:51 AM »

Right, so you're going to cut and past this latest post into the "how to play" section of Scattershot right. Good.

Some day you'll have to come down out of the tundra and run some games for us.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #3 on: January 31, 2003, 10:34:53 AM »

Sorry Ralph, only if you pay my way (wife and kids too).  Too many responsibilities to match your jet-setting lifestyle.

Glad you liked it.

Fang Langford

WWFD!  Hahahahahaha!
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hyphz
Member

Posts: 157


« Reply #4 on: January 31, 2003, 02:18:18 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur

No problem, I'm more than glad to help out.


Your help is very much appreciated and interesting.

Quote from: Le Joueur
Then you're reading it differently then intended.  I was trying to illustrate a common problem gamemasters have, the player who 'does what the character would do' almost intentionally at the expense of the game.  What you provide is the common bad habit that grows up around the most traditional solution.  I'm trying to give an example of how it could be done differently.

When you "blow up the farm" in the example, you aren't 'hosing' the player for avoiding the plot because there isn't any.  (I said that at the start; remember to understand the example, you have to imagine that the movie doesn't exist for the exemplars.)  


Yes, I agree absolutely.  There is no fixed plot.. but the players don't know that, and doing this certainly make it looks like there is.  I guess this is a matter of social contract, but the PC heading back to the farm in spite of the offered hook might be pushing that a little anyway (because as you imply, it feels like it's being done deliberately to impede the game).

Quote

If you must think of it in terms of what I consider more 'bad writing' than 'traditional gamemastering' (running them through a plot because you 'know it's better'), then simply learn the 'get stuff out of the way of play' technique.  However, I highly advise against it; if you have players who "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed," then they also have some pretty bad habits they need to unlearn.


Well, that's kind of my point.  Many players I've seen do have this, and it would be really valuable to know what to do about it when it happens.  

Quote

How is "Alderaan is gone" bad stuff?  How is being "captured," bad stuff?  They aren't on Alderaan, they don't end up in the brig (well, not until later).  


Being captured is bad stuff.  The PCs would oppose it, given the choice.  You imply that they should be denied the choice somehow.  Now, if you're playing in the kind of the game where the players will take it on trust that if this kind of 'off-screen' action occurs the result won't be too bad for their characters, then that's fine.. but a lot of players I know - and I mean really met, played with, run for, know - wouldn't consider that to not be railroading, just for it to be "good" railroading.

The reason why I'm thinking on this is that it's exactly the "let's get the PC's captured now because it would be cool" that leads to problems when the PCs decide to... (big groan, you guessed it) hack the guidance systems of the ships sent out to capture them.

Quote

Quote from: hyphz
-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

"Cracking the bunker" is right out; your analysis is very good here.  Eventually, these kinds of 'bunker players' will figure out that it's more fun to 'come out and play,' but for now?  Bait.  Parade whatever seems appropriate to either the players, their characters, or the setting, around in front of them.  Make it valuable to the point of being irresistible and just out of reach.  Make it seem so close they can taste it, but seemingly just a tiny bit of work to get.  Don't pounce when they go for it, just keep stringing them along.  They'll come out; you can bet they will, just try it.


Mmmmm... I see what you mean.  It'd probably be best to let them get the bait, because otherwise they'll think it was just 'one of those things we'll never get'.  It's described very well in the Unknown Armies rulebook as the Static Picaresque: "you never really get what you want, because there's got to be another episode".  (And which is one of the reasons why I so appreciated the bit in Ron's essay on making campaigns consciously finite.)

Problem is - if they get the bait without too much work, you've effectively rewarded them for sitting around in the bunker... Grrm.  I guess at that stage OOC discussion has got to cut in.  But discussing that kind of stuff seems to be hard, for some reason.  (Could get into a waffly discussion about how railroading describes the philosophical nature of free will, but won't.  Well, not here, anyway.)

Quote from: hyphz
Honesty might work; "Hey guys, I don't have anything planned here, you mind if we move it along?"  That always works when I'm too tired to improvise. Otherwise, we're using bait again.  Did you realize that the Greedo example is bait?  Or rather it throws the spotlight on the bait that PC#1 and PC#2 already offered?  (Sometimes you need to continue to 'parade' an offer until the players 'catch on.')  Likewise, having the stormtroopers show up wasn't just a motivation to move away from the Cantina, it also happens to be a reminder of bait.  Indirectly it says, "Hey, Luke, remember the fabulous babe hologram?  Wanna go save her?" and "Hey Ben, don't forget you want to save the world, right?"  And for gods' sake, unless you want it to turn into an 'on the run' campaign, think of every reason you can that the stormtroopers don't want a battle.  (Leave them with a warning, too much paperwork, or anything that characterizes them as lazy will work.)

Spare the rod; this is role-playing gaming.  If the players want to 'stick with the Cantina,' they're just 'bunkering down' again.  If you can't offer bait, remind them of the bait they're already after.


Okay, fair enough...

Quote

You're forgetting something that you are implying; 'all consistency is pretend.'  That's right, it is only as consistent as it seems.  You avoid a lot of these 'preparation flaws' by simply not preparing, by not describing things.  Take the Detention Level for example.  They get down there and have a fight.  No one even realizes there are hallways leading off the main room because you don't describe it.  I can't say how many times I've seem gamemasters screw this one up somehow thinking that if they don't totally describe it, people will have problems imagining it.


Oh, that's fine.  The problem comes when the players explicitly ask for that description.

Quote

That ain't how it works people.  We've all seen the movie; about all the description you need sometimes is 'you're in an Imperial hanger bay' and leave the rest to their imaginations.  (They brought those along, didn't they?)  


How do you do this in the case where the game isn't based on a movie, or set in the modern day?  

Quote

Quote from: hyphz
-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?

Ultimately, this is precisely why I advocate 'not controlling' the game.  No matter what you do, unless you are a savant gamemaster, your players are going to find out that you are just not that creative.  That's why I keep hammering on the 'your idea is better than the players ideas' myth.  Not feeling creative?  You do have a bunch of other human beings there with you just brimming with imagination; leave it to them.


The problem is:  "Ok, we ask around if anyone's heard anything about the McGuffin."  The nightmare I'd have of responding: "Well, yes, there's a.. umm.. uhhhh... guy who.. umm..."

Quote

Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).


I agree with this a lot; a lot of what you're saying seems to tie in with Ron's "story now" comments in Sorceror, that there's no reason to go roaming around a bunch of dull "it isn't here" places before getting hold of the Big Thing.

I don't know - your comments are just ringing true for me because it sounds like something I need to get over as well.  My problem is that when I try to run something I have ideas and thoughts and plans but then get an endlessly nagging voice in my head which keeps repeating "Yes, but what if..?" or "Yes, but what THEN?" until I give up and the game never runs.  Which just makes me feel like I'm letting down the players and that I'm not cutting it as a GM - that bit about hanging up screens wasn't purely exaggeration, for a long while I strongly considered just giving up because nobody locally was running anything I liked and, although I had players interested in my running something, any attempt to do so (beyond a one-shot from a scenario book) seemed to be doomed to entropy.  Now I've heard from others before about running games the way you described but I'd never read an example of it as good as your original post, but it still feels like it's something that "expert GMs" do and I'm not one of them - I *know* that's nonsensical but it's still there.  Um, sorry, paragraph too long, too much personal neurotic ranting, I'll shut up and just say thanks very much again for what you've written.
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Matt Wilson
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« Reply #5 on: January 31, 2003, 02:42:55 PM »

Hey Hyphz:

Sounds to me like your players are exercising any means for control that they can get. Have you thought about playing a game with them that has rules for narration rights, and that sort of thing? They might really like something like the I-System. Let them tell you the details, and why not? If they like Star Wars as much as you, they'll say the right things.
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jdagna
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« Reply #6 on: January 31, 2003, 02:55:52 PM »

hyphz,

Maybe I can offer some advice.  I pretty much agree with Fang, though I've used some slightly different approaches in my years of running games.

Re: movie plots and RPGs
I have never found movie plots to transfer well to RPGs.  I think a big part of is just a change in medium.  For example, Star Wars reads differently as a book than it did as a movie or comic, and the radio series was different from all of them.  What works in a movie medium doesn't work in a game medium (necessarily).

Furthermore, a movie gives the screenwriter a lot of control, especially in a case like Star Wars where Lucas also directed.  This means he can fine tune what happens to reinforce theme or irony.  If you share control with players (which you do, even in old-school games), then you lose that fine control.  What seems like a great scene full of depth and meaning turns into a confusing, disappointing muddle.

Re: PC Bunkers
Boy can I understand this one.  I've had so many players who would retreat to their bunker.  One spent enormous sums of money designing robots that he could send outside to gather information while he hid.  The only sure-fire solution I've found is to stop the game and say "OK, what do you want to have happen next?"  

Oftentimes, the player isn't really thinking through the implications of hiding.  He's fallen into a gamist mode in which he thinks the GM wins by killing him, thus he thinks he'll win if he survives.  Bunkers are great for surviving.  Asking him what he wants to have happen reminds him that it isn't about winning, but about playing.  And you'd be amazed how many players will answer with "Well, maybe the villain should raid my bunker and capture me" or something like that.  If you'd just done it as a GM, he'd be really pissed... when you allow him to give you permission first, everyone has a blast.

This strategy works for your example of going back to the farm.  Blowing it up is only if you feel like it adds to the story.  Otherwise, you're better off asking the player why he's going back and what he wants to happen as a result.  I do agree with you that blowing it up is more likely to cause problems than solve them.  

Re: Making up details
I once spent a long time reading Stephen King to figure out what people liked about his writing.  My conclusion is that King throws in lots of little, apparently random details.  It isn't just "a guy" its "a man in a nice suit, but with his tie loosened."  Now, what the guy wears is irrelevant to the story, but those two little details flesh him out - the players will probably feel like they know his personality before even speaking to him.  You should be able to make up these details off the top of your head, because they don't really mean anything.

What if your details don't add up? As in your example with the missing kitchen, the best option is to find a way to explain it, quick.  If you're not good at ad-libbing or can't think of anything, just apologize, explain that you didn't think about it, and ask them to just work with it.  If the missing kitchen is important to a PC plan, consider adding it.

You also asked about describing things like a hallway or docking bay.  I really think you can afford to be vague, even if its an unusual setting.  Most people process the world from the general to the specific.  When you walk into someone's house, you see "Oh, the kitchen is over there, and the dining room and living room are in front of me."  Only instants later do you process details like the chandelier, the flowers or the couch.  If players feel like they need those details, let them ask.  Otherwise, leave the description vague and give players room to improvise.  If they're in a kitchen and they say "I grab a knife" don't reply "You don't see any" or "Which drawer do you look in?"  Say "There are lots of drawers - it'll take about a minute to find it."

And, of course, there are systems (like Donjon) that share narration and encourage players to add their own details.  In those systems, let the players provide details using the game's mechanism.
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Justin Dagna
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #7 on: January 31, 2003, 03:58:40 PM »

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Then you're reading it differently then intended.  I was trying to illustrate a common problem gamemasters have, the player who 'does what the character would do' almost intentionally at the expense of the game.  What you provide is the common bad habit that grows up around the most traditional solution.  I'm trying to give an example of how it could be done differently.

When you "blow up the farm" in the example, you aren't 'hosing' the player for avoiding the plot because there isn't any.  (I said that at the start; remember to understand the example, you have to imagine that the movie doesn't exist for the exemplars.)

Yes, I agree absolutely.  There is no fixed plot.. but the players don't know that,

Um...why?  When I gamemaster, I'm pretty up front about that.  "There isn't any kind of plot so feel free to take the game where it pleases you!"  "I dunno, what do you want to play tonight?"  These are the kinds of things I always start a game with new people with.  They know, right away, that the game is 'about' their characters; these characters are the movers and the shakers of 'the movie.'  I explain that if they don't act impulsively or if they try to second guess 'what should be done,' they're doing it wrong.

So, why don't "the players know that" there is no fixed plot?  Is it important for a gamemaster to keep so many secrets?  I don't think so, a few choice nuggets that are the focus of the conflict, probably, but why not tell them 'there's no plot to follow?'

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
If you must think of it in terms of what I consider more 'bad writing' than 'traditional gamemastering' (running them through a plot because you 'know it's better'), then simply learn the 'get stuff out of the way of play' technique.  However, I highly advise against it; if you have players who "follow the GM's plot or you get hosed," then they also have some pretty bad habits they need to unlearn.

Well, that's kind of my point.  Many players I've seen do have this, and it would be really valuable to know what to do about it when it happens.

Like I suggested, tell them there's no plot to follow.

Again and again and again.  Eventually they'll look up and say, "you know, I don't think you're using a plot," as if it occurred to them all by themselves; usually they want to make another character at this point.  One that they can 'do stuff' with rather than the one they made to shield themselves from 'the plot.'  I find, 'give them enough rope,' tends to speed this up some.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
How is "Alderaan is gone" bad stuff?  How is being "captured," bad stuff?  They aren't on Alderaan, they don't end up in the brig (well, not until later).

Being captured is bad stuff.  The PCs would oppose it, given the choice.  You imply that they should be denied the choice somehow.  Now, if you're playing in the kind of the game where the players will take it on trust that if this kind of 'off-screen' action occurs the result won't be too bad for their characters, then that's fine...but a lot of players I know - and I mean really met, played with, run for, know - wouldn't consider that to not be railroading, just for it to be "good" railroading.

The reason why I'm thinking on this is that it's exactly the "let's get the PC's captured now because it would be cool" that leads to problems when the PCs decide to... (big groan, you guessed it) hack the guidance systems of the ships sent out to capture them.

Then hit 'em where it counts.  If they're thinking 'I gotta do something to keep my character out of trouble,' they're thinking as players, not characters.  Just turn to them and say, "Okay, who wants to get captured so we can have a 'daring escape?'"  I mean it.  Literally ask them.  People who play 'deep in character' won't mind if you capture them, they know something will come up because you won't end the game suddenly like that (or they should); everybody else is already out of character, so ask the players if they'd like to try a 'daring escape,' and...just forget to mention that they have to be captured to escape.  (But remind them when they start groaning.)

Really, you're forgetting to share the game with them.  You want them captured?  Negotiate it with the players, make it seem like it'd be more fun; let them work out the rest.  Don't forget to tell them that there is no 'plot' to follow, so they can escape however they think of.

Really, start sharing this information.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Quote from: hyphz
-  Bunker players.  They defend themselves optimally and then wait for something to happen, taking no real action on their own.  Whatever you do to crack the bunker open invariably looks like railroading to them because it wasn't the result of their action; and since they believe they are being railroaded they carry on bunkering because that's the best tactic in that case.

"Cracking the bunker" is right out; your analysis is very good here.  Eventually, these kinds of 'bunker players' will figure out that it's more fun to 'come out and play,' but for now?  Bait.  Parade whatever seems appropriate to either the players, their characters, or the setting, around in front of them.  Make it valuable to the point of being irresistible and just out of reach.  Make it seem so close they can taste it, but seemingly just a tiny bit of work to get.  Don't pounce when they go for it, just keep stringing them along.  They'll come out; you can bet they will, just try it.

Mmmmm... I see what you mean.  It'd probably be best to let them get the bait, because otherwise they'll think it was just 'one of those things we'll never get'.  It's described very well in the Unknown Armies rulebook as the Static Picaresque: "you never really get what you want, because there's got to be another episode".  (And which is one of the reasons why I so appreciated the bit in Ron's essay on making campaigns consciously finite.)

And remember, Star Wars would be a lousy movie if it didn't stop right after they blow the deathstar.  Endings are important in this form of game.

Quote from: hyphz
Problem is - if they get the bait without too much work, you've effectively rewarded them for sitting around in the bunker... Grrm.  I guess at that stage OOC discussion has got to cut in.  But discussing that kind of stuff seems to be hard, for some reason.  (Could get into a waffly discussion about how railroading describes the philosophical nature of free will, but won't.  Well, not here, anyway.)

What do you mean "for sitting around in the bunker?"  The most important thing is they have to leave to get the bait; make that rule numbah one for baiting.  Rule numbah two has to be play them along right until they get bored being 'outside chasing the bait' and just give it to them.

Think of it this way.  Han and Luke could have bunkered down for the night overlooking the Falcon.  Leia was the bait, "more money than you could imagine" sweetened it enough for Han.  They took to the bait and left the bunker; did they encounter problems?  Nope; the gamemaster practically gave the princess to them (once they were quite clear of their bunker).  Then it got interesting.

Hell yes a lot of trust is needed, but anyone can learn to trust; ya just gotta keep trying.  The nice thing about bait is it's like paying them for trusting you.  (We're not talking about carrot-and-stick here, you really do give it to them after they chase it a while.)

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
You're forgetting something that you are implying; 'all consistency is pretend.'  That's right, it is only as consistent as it seems.  You avoid a lot of these 'preparation flaws' by simply not preparing, by not describing things.  Take the Detention Level for example.  They get down there and have a fight.  No one even realizes there are hallways leading off the main room because you don't describe it.  I can't say how many times I've seem gamemasters screw this one up somehow thinking that if they don't totally describe it, people will have problems imagining it.

Oh, that's fine.  The problem comes when the players explicitly ask for that description.

I never have this problem.  See, you're talking about the dysfunctional, bunker-liver player here; he's looking for some edge he can use the next time you hose him.  He wants to stake down as much territory as possible to keep from getting surprised.

What do I do?  I turn to them when explicitly asked and go, "I dunno, what sounds reasonable?  You describe it."  I mean we're talking about shared imaginary space here.  I depend on two things when running, what people expect within the genre and their input.  "Do the expected;" have things in the background be so achingly archetypical that anybody and his mom could tell you what it looks like.  This gives you three important gifts; first, they feel more apart of the gaming experience, second, it's less work, and third, when you do something atypical, they know that's the 'interesting bit' they should go after.  (Not so much leading them around, but more like the bugle cry that pacing is going to pick up; 'go that way and things will speed up.'  Pacing isn't just a matter of doing what you think is right; you have to watch for the social cues that they want faster pacing - like when they look bored.  Remember; it's a shared game.)

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
That ain't how it works people.  We've all seen the movie; about all the description you need sometimes is 'you're in an Imperial hanger bay' and leave the rest to their imaginations.  (They brought those along, didn't they?)

How do you do this in the case where the game isn't based on a movie, or set in the modern day?

That's the real tough nut to crack.  I tend to shy away from any game that doesn't have a really clear 'world.'  A lack of archetypes to latch onto is the same problem as having no way to communicate.  If I ran a game set inside the human body where all the players were different types of cells (or maybe a cold capsule), I'd do something, anything, to make it more familiar (like turning it into a cop show).  When I'm called upon to run something with a 'fuzzy' world, I spend a good amount of time dickering over "What is it like? (Name three examples.)"  (By the way, unlike most gamemasters I've spoken to, more often than not, my players bring me a world and expect me to be able to run something in less than twelve hours; you learn that archetype is your friend that way, real quick.)

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Quote from: hyphz
-  Just plain not being creative.  This is, I realize, an awkward question, but let's just suppose for a moment that you are uncreative.  You haven't "got it", whatever "it" is.  And this is genetic or whatever - it isn't going to be overcome or changed, not even with practice, although it might be possible to work around it.  But CAN it be worked around, or do you just have to hang up the screen?

Ultimately, this is precisely why I advocate 'not controlling' the game.  No matter what you do, unless you are a savant gamemaster, your players are going to find out that you are just not that creative.  That's why I keep hammering on the 'your idea is better than the players ideas' myth.  Not feeling creative?  You do have a bunch of other human beings there with you just brimming with imagination; leave it to them.

The problem is:  "Ok, we ask around if anyone's heard anything about the McGuffin."  The nightmare I'd have of responding: "Well, yes, there's a.. umm.. uhhhh... guy who.. umm..."

See, the kind of game we're talking about here is not a 'simulate the reality of the Star Wars universe;' it's Star Wars, it's clashing lightsabres, it's space dogfights, it's shootouts and moral quandaries, don't let the bunker-livers fool you into 'playing their game.'  Like I said, they're just looking for an edge to protect themselves with.

If they ask for information like you're some kind of dictionary, don't give it to them.  Close your eyes for a second and think about what 'powers that be' have been introduced (were talking real creativity-well-run-dry time here).  Just say that Jabba has the McGuffin and he's...um, having a yacht party tonight.  (It doesn't have to make sense, trust me.)  Let the players cook up some kind of outlandish 'slip a man in with Jabba's guards, send the droids as a gift in exchange for considering an offer to buy the McGuffin, and have someone go disguised as a bounty hunter' kind of plan.  However outlandish it sounds the better; just sit there and keep saying 'that might work' like you mean it.  They've already told you that Jabba has guards, you didn't know that.  Perhaps you've even forgotten that he pays bounty hunters to bring in deadbeat clients, all you said was there was going to be a party.  And when the Jedi shows up talking big, to rescue everyone (you can't give it to them too easily after all), what's a despotic, perverted worm going to have but his own mini-coliseum for gladiatorial combat.  So far, they've done all the work, you're just giving them what they implied; then you take them out for a yacht party, like you said.

Simply put, if you can't think of an answer...reuse something.  "Do the expected," if they go hunting for McGuffin info, use whatever archetypical scene you can think of, even if it doesn't fit the world; let their imaginations solve that fit (another good reason not to describe too much).

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).

I agree with this a lot; a lot of what you're saying seems to tie in with Ron's "story now" comments in Sorcerer, that there's no reason to go roaming around a bunch of dull "it isn't here" places before getting hold of the Big Thing.

I don't know - your comments are just ringing true for me because it sounds like something I need to get over as well.  My problem is that when I try to run something I have ideas and thoughts and plans but then get an endlessly nagging voice in my head which keeps repeating "Yes, but what if..?" or "Yes, but what THEN?" until I give up and the game never runs.  Which just makes me feel like I'm letting down the players and that I'm not cutting it as a GM - that bit about hanging up screens wasn't purely exaggeration, for a long while I strongly considered just giving up because nobody locally was running anything I liked and, although I had players interested in my running something, any attempt to do so (beyond a one-shot from a scenario book) seemed to be doomed to entropy.

"What then?s" are easy; "then the players do something."  Sharing is the real trick; I've long figured that the reason so many gamemasters are so over-controlling is not really because they think their ideas are so cool, but because they're scared.  More scared than the players...to trust.  That's what we're talking about now; trusting the players.  If you get a batch of those players who're just looking for a 'rollercoaster ride' where they get on and you do all the work (and you like that kinda stuff), tell them on those nights when you don't feel creative enough; tell them the truth.  If you can get a group together who are willing to share in creating the game, and everyone can learn to trust each other, you can get some really kicking games going.

But that comes down to a matter of trust (and there ain't any rules systems that include that - but I'm trying).

Quote from: hyphz
Now I've heard from others before about running games the way you described but I'd never read an example of it as good as your original post, but it still feels like it's something that "expert GMs" do and I'm not one of them - I *know* that's nonsensical but it's still there.  Um, sorry, paragraph too long, too much personal neurotic ranting, I'll shut up and just say thanks very much again for what you've written.

Hey, no problem.  You're right though; Star Wars: A New Hope is the work of an expert, and he ain't no gamemaster.  The reason what I'm describing works, as far as I can tell, is because the players become so engaged in sharing, that they aren't looking for problems.  Too much of what happens really feels like a group effort (especially when you keep telling them it is), that to look for flaws is to insult themselves.

So, you don't need to be an "expert gamemaster," all you need is help.  And hey, there are these guys yer gamin' with, their don't know it, but they're dying to pitch in.

Remember, 'getting there is half the fun.'

Fang Langford
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hyphz
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Posts: 157


« Reply #8 on: January 31, 2003, 05:06:33 PM »

Quote from: Le Joueur

Um...why?  When I gamemaster, I'm pretty up front about that.  "There isn't any kind of plot so feel free to take the game where it pleases you!"  "I dunno, what do you want to play tonight?"  These are the kinds of things I always start a game with new people with.  They know, right away, that the game is 'about' their characters; these characters are the movers and the shakers of 'the movie.'  I explain that if they don't act impulsively or if they try to second guess 'what should be done,' they're doing it wrong.

So, why don't "the players know that" there is no fixed plot?  Is it important for a gamemaster to keep so many secrets?  I don't think so, a few choice nuggets that are the focus of the conflict, probably, but why not tell them 'there's no plot to follow?'


Because they resist that.  I've been trying to get them to try out a game of InSpectres or Donjon, but they seriously resist that because they feel that there's no real adventure unless there's something they can push against.  Not that I think they'd resist just having the ability to do stuff in the world; but they resist author/director stance like crazy.

Quote
Then hit 'em where it counts.  If they're thinking 'I gotta do something to keep my character out of trouble,' they're thinking as players, not characters.  Just turn to them and say, "Okay, who wants to get captured so we can have a 'daring escape?'"  I mean it.  Literally ask them.  People who play 'deep in character' won't mind if you capture them, they know something will come up because you won't end the game suddenly like that (or they should); everybody else is already out of character, so ask the players if they'd like to try a 'daring escape,' and...just forget to mention that they have to be captured to escape.  (But remind them when they start groaning.)


Well, I did do a similar thing to that once.  We were playing a game of Conspiracy X and several of the characters had maxed out for combat (including one who had gone all the way to Strength 5 Size 5, creating substantial laughter when we found that according to the Aegis book he could then be individually targeted by orbital satellites..)  But, most of the people they were interacting with were suspicious rather than hostile, and although I knew there was an ending fight in the adventure (it was a sample adventure to try the system out) we ran an awful long time without any combat.  

So, once when one of the PCs was going to interrogate some dodgy gang members I basically just admitted that they probably had the skills and appearance to intimidate these guys, but if they wanted a fight they could have one.  

They said no.  But their perception of it was not that I'd offered them a free choice either way, it was that I'd offered to 'fudge' the adventure.  One of them also said that he felt that the creepy atmosphere which was going up to that point was utterly destroyed by the knowledge that the OOC player had affected an NPCs actions.

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What do you mean "for sitting around in the bunker?"  The most important thing is they have to leave to get the bait; make that rule numbah one for baiting.  Rule numbah two has to be play them along right until they get bored being 'outside chasing the bait' and just give it to them.


But when they get it, they've effectively 'learned' that if they bunker down the bait will come to them.

Quote

I never have this problem.  See, you're talking about the dysfunctional, bunker-liver player here; he's looking for some edge he can use the next time you hose him.  He wants to stake down as much territory as possible to keep from getting surprised.


Partly that.  But partly also that they're quite used to playing systems where this sort of thing is explicit.  (I mean, don't get me wrong, I have nothing against crunchy systems, I just don't want to wind up using a hex map in Godlike just because I'd use one in Hero.)  

Quote

See, the kind of game we're talking about here is not a 'simulate the reality of the Star Wars universe;' it's Star Wars, it's clashing lightsabres, it's space dogfights, it's shootouts and moral quandaries, don't let the bunker-livers fool you into 'playing their game.'  Like I said, they're just looking for an edge to protect themselves with.


Well, we were originally talking about Star Wars with Eric but I was looking for general principles - I'm not running Star Wars and nor do I particularly want to.  The game I'm trying to run now is UA, which has been "got players, waiting to be run" since freakin' SEPTEMBER because I felt I could not complete an adequate adventure plan.  (And that wasn't helped by mentioning it in passing to a more experienced GM who gave me in one second and twenty words a plot idea better than any I'd had in that time.  Which, to be honest, made me feel like throwing my rulebook - no, screw it, my bookshelf - in the trash, and is why I asked the question I did about noncreative people earlier.  But in retrospect I realised I'd been too harsh on my own idea and his had just looked better because it hadn't be subjected to the "what then, what if, why" grinder.)

At least it has a consistent setting which the players will be familiar with - or rather, the bits they aren't familiar with are the bits they're not SUPPOSED to be familiar with.  

Come to think of it I *DID* have a Star Wars game fail completely to entropy over the course of last year, again due to permanent adventure stuckage, but that was partly because I wasn't personally very keen on running it either.  I think it's more like, while I'm talking about 'bunker players', I'm becoming a 'bunker GM' by trying to make sure that whatever happens in the game can resist every possible player objection, and the safest way to do that is simply not to run.

Quote

If they ask for information like you're some kind of dictionary, don't give it to them.


They don't ask for campaign information like you described.  I'm talking about questions like "How wide is the bridge and what's it made out of?"  

 
Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Let me leave you with one last bit of advice: 'give them enough rope.'  See, one of the biggest problems I've had helping gamemasters get over the need to be over-controlling is some idea that if the players 'get their hands' on something great, it'll ruin everything.  Just the opposite I've found (when you don't plan).  Have you ever heard the saying, 'give them enough rope to hang themselves?'  Do that, a lot, as often as possible.  If the players want something real bad (like bait) let them have it (after as much of a struggle as remains interesting; when it gets boring hand it over).

Quote
If you get a batch of those players who're just looking for a 'rollercoaster ride' where they get on and you do all the work (and you like that kinda stuff), tell them on those nights when you don't feel creative enough; tell them the truth.  If you can get a group together who are willing to share in creating the game, and everyone can learn to trust each other, you can get some really kicking games going.


Well, this is the thing - I don't know if they look for the rollercoaster ride or not.  I mean, for a long while they (sorry - WE) were playing rollercoaster D&D3E but then we quit it because we were bored.  So they might not like the rollercoaster style, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll get the idea of.. well, having to go do stuff.  

Thanks very much again for taking the time to write these long replies. ;)
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Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: January 31, 2003, 07:34:01 PM »

Quote
They don't ask for campaign information like you described. I'm talking about questions like "How wide is the bridge and what's it made out of?"


Fang is so spot on when he answered this above.  One of the best things you could tell you players to break them out of the defensive "keep the GM from screwing me mode" is to simply ask them.

"How wide do you need it to be?"
"What would you like it to be made of?"

See cuz the player asked that question for a reason.  He's thinking...My super jump abilty allows me to horizontally leap 60 feet, I'd love to jump over the bridge and surprise the bad guys from the other side, but if I tell the GM what I'm thinking he'll make the bridge too long for it to work, so I'll make him tell me how long it is first and then he'll be stuck with it.  

or if only the bridge were made out of stone I could use my Stone to Mud spell and send all the baddies into the river.  But if I told the GM I was going to cast it, he'd just say the bridge was wooden or something, so I'll make him tell me what kind of bridge it is first.

In other words the whole issue of GMs not being creative enough can simply go away.  The players are plenty creative enough on their own to pick up any slack.  They already have in their heads a cool scene for resolving the conflict at the bridge...quite likely far cooler than any solution the GM had imagined.  The only thing the GM has to do is make sure the scene is staged such that the cool scene they thought of is possible.

But for that to work the GM has to let go of the vs. mentality to.  The GM can't be thinking "this is the 4th of 6 encounters, its supposed to be really hard.  I can't let the players beat it simply by casting a Stone to Mud spell, that's too easy."  After all who cares how hard it is if the solution was fun and full of fantastic imagery.  After all the GM can always through in more baddies on the other side of the bridge if he needs to crank the challenge level.

That's the whole key to what Fang is saying.  Let the players help you be creative.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #10 on: January 31, 2003, 09:31:03 PM »

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Um...why?  When I gamemaster, I'm pretty up front about that.  "There isn't any kind of plot so feel free to take the game where it pleases you!"  "I dunno, what do you want to play tonight?"  These are the kinds of things I always start a game with new people with.  They know, right away, that the game is 'about' their characters; these characters are the movers and the shakers of 'the movie.'  I explain that if they don't act impulsively or if they try to second guess 'what should be done,' they're doing it wrong.

So, why don't "the players know that" there is no fixed plot?  Is it important for a gamemaster to keep so many secrets?  I don't think so, a few choice nuggets that are the focus of the conflict, probably, but why not tell them 'there's no plot to follow?'

Because they resist that.  I've been trying to get them to try out a game of InSpectres or Donjon, but they seriously resist that because they feel that there's no real adventure unless there's something they can push against.  Not that I think they'd resist just having the ability to do stuff in the world; but they resist author/director stance like crazy.

Oh come on (I'm smiling; this is friendly cajolery), are you really trying to tell me that your players actually like a fixed plot?  Okay, all kidding aside, let's not be extremists here.  To be technical, I have yet to play with anyone who wanted full bore Author Stance or any kind of Director Stance; that isn't what I'm talking about.

Lessee, how about an example?  I run a lot of 'romance-based' solo games these days; my main player wants to 'romp around' in the world and get to fall madly passionately in love with one of the non-player characters.  Do I choose which one?  No, that would never work.  For a while I tried to describe these 'leading men,' these potential romantic partners, differently and yet attractively; you know what?  I stunk at it.  So we can up with a compromise, whenever I introduce a new non-player character, she does the description.  It's not Author Stance or Director Stance; it's...I dunno, Fill-in-the-Blank Stance.  It's like Ralph said about the bridge; do I really care about what they look like?  No.  (Well, that's only partly true; it's really important that they're all too cute.)  That's inviting the players to 'be creative' and 'be involved,' without the 'taking over' implied with InSpectres or Donjon.

And I'm all about "something they can push against."  That's actually what I meant.  See, I'm a deconstructionist; I spend a lot of time deconstructing how things work, especially gaming.  Here's what I figured out.  There are two basic types of "things they can push against."  The first is a strong opponent, the mastermind, dragon, or other super tough baddie.  They push; he pushes back.  Then there's the second; the enigma.  They don't know what it is or they don't know where to find it or they don't know who it is or whichever; you can use any question word (note: I used "or" not 'and,' while you can use more than one; one is often enough).

The problem with a lot of traditional, 'old fashioned' gamemastering is this competitive streak it had.  IF there could be an enigma, then all information had to horded by the gamemaster.  If it was a strong opponent, they also had to be hidden within an enigma; otherwise "it'd be too easy."  Too easy?  For what?  Too easy to 'beat the gamemaster' is what, but you never hear them say that.  Well guess what?  If you're sharing a game the only people being cheated are the players themselves.

So I deconstructed it.  If you have an enigma, you use basically two techniques; first is the decoy, second is 'tar feet.'  Too much of either is bad, but that goes back to pacing.  Decoys are great, toss a little information here or there and the players go for it.  Tar feet are anything that slows them down, but just a little; too much and it feels like you're blocking (which is competitive again).  Mix them up and have fun; sometimes I run a game where each enigma only leads to a bigger more ominous one.  I like this idea so much I coded it into Scattershot explicitly, we call them Mystiques and Intrigue.

Then you have the strong opponent.  For this you start with the opponent not aware of the competition (unless it's an equal opponent).  What this opponent does in regard to the players is indirect at best and a total miss at worst.  As the players get more 'in line' with what they want to do (and progress in the savvy to do it), the opponent comes to more directly conflict with them, until the source of conflict is resolved.  (This last part is key to 'non-controlling gamemastering;' it doesn't matter how the players deal with the opponent.  Heck, they could even turn him into an ally; it works for Dragon Ball Z again and again.)

Beyond that...nothing.  All else is filler; stuff you use to smooth out the pacing.  That's why it doesn't matter if the players create the detail.  Heck, we've been playing around with delegating not just the descriptions but 'keeping track' of these details and have created some nascent Mechanix around the concept of Proprietorship.  (Basically, if you put it into the game, it 'belongs' to you and only you get to say what becomes of it.)

So, you hold onto a few cards, these are your Mystiques and Intrigues.  You dole out information about them by the scruple, everything else is 'on the table.'  Whenever you decide, you can say 'that is a part of the Mystique, so I get to say;' the rest of the time let the players rock on.  You'll find eventually the players get so they automatically respect that and 'work through channels' to get at your Mystiques.  It's mostly a matter of learning the 'art of seduction.'  Your Mystiques flirt with the players, but the players make themselves jump through hoops to get at them.

That's what "they can push against."  It's there, you just don't need all the shells to hide it.

Quote from: hyphz
Quote from: Le Joueur
Then hit 'em where it counts.  If they're thinking 'I gotta do something to keep my character out of trouble,' they're thinking as players, not characters.  Just turn to them and say, "Okay, who wants to get captured so we can have a 'daring escape?'"  I mean it.  Literally ask them.  People who play 'deep in character' won't mind if you capture them, they know something will come up because you won't end the game suddenly like that (or they should); everybody else is already out of character, so ask the players if they'd like to try a 'daring escape,' and...just forget to mention that they have to be captured to escape.  (But remind them when they start groaning.)

Well, I did do a similar thing to that once.  We were playing a game of Conspiracy X and several of the characters had maxed out for combat (including one who had gone all the way to Strength 5 Size 5, creating substantial laughter when we found that according to the Aegis book he could then be individually targeted by orbital satellites..)  But, most of the people they were interacting with were suspicious rather than hostile, and although I knew there was an ending fight in the adventure (it was a sample adventure to try the system out) we ran an awful long time without any combat.  

So, once when one of the PCs was going to interrogate some dodgy gang members I basically just admitted that they probably had the skills and appearance to intimidate these guys, but if they wanted a fight they could have one.  

They said no.  But their perception of it was not that I'd offered them a free choice either way, it was that I'd offered to 'fudge' the adventure.  One of them also said that he felt that the creepy atmosphere which was going up to that point was utterly destroyed by the knowledge that the OOC player had affected an NPCs actions.

That simply looks like you waited too long.  Waiting until the end of the scene to solicit the result does look like 'chickening out.'  Giving them the option to call a single scene is deferring what they expect out of you as the gamemaster, operating the opposition.  The point when to invite their input is just before you're going to do something 'they won't like,' like capturing them.  "Do you want to play a 'daring rescue'" is arguably different from 'you can do pretty much what you want with this guy.'  One sets the stage for adventure, the other shows that a scene should be up-paced, compressed, or even skipped.

I actually find myself asking my players (in part due to 'giving them enough rope'), "Do you really want to turn this game into one long chase scene?"  Often a point to cross the legal authorities or serious power structures.  Sometime they say, "no way," and rethink their action; sometimes they say, "Yeah, cool."  I take it either way, I'm not in control.

Quote from: hyphz
And that wasn't helped by mentioning it in passing to a more experienced GM who gave me in one second and twenty words a plot idea better than any I'd had in that time.

That's the time to steal!  Like none other, if you can't steal ideas, you've fallen for the mystique of 'originality.'  Well let me clue you; if yer willing to abstract, there ain't nothing new under the sun.  Just steal the idea, file off it's serial numbers and run.  I can't think of the last time I started with an inspiration 'out of the blue.'  More often than not, I simply steal whatever show or song I happen to like at the time the game starts.  By the time the players get done adding to it, it's nothing like I supposed.

Quote from: hyphz
I'm becoming a 'bunker GM' by trying to make sure that whatever happens in the game can resist every possible player objection,

Then sharing must be the answer; how could the players object to stuff they came up with?

Quote from: hyphz
Well, this is the thing - I don't know if they look for the rollercoaster ride or not.  I mean, for a long while they (sorry - WE) were playing rollercoaster D&D3E but then we quit it because we were bored.  So they might not like the rollercoaster style, but that doesn't necessarily mean that they'll get the idea of.. well, having to go do stuff.

Yeah, that's the inherent problem that a lot of 'rollercoaster seekers' fail to realize.  It just does the same thing all the time (a lot like a video tape).  If you want bigger and better thrills it eventually becomes this great quest for 'something fresh.'  Even that quest gets old too.

I've seen only a few break out of 'rollercoaster play' and get into 'doing stuff.'  That's one of the driving urges to keep working on Scattershot; I want it to explain how to 'do stuff.'

Quote from: hyphz
Thanks very much again for taking the time to write these long replies. ;)

You're welcome.  As Ralph pointed out, I get some of my best ideas and methods of explaining things for Scattershot by answering these kinds of posts.  (His 'cut this and paste it into Scattershot' comment.)  I owe you a debt for prompting this kind of writing.  Honestly, I'm a much better solve-the-problems-of-others guy than a write-a-manual-of-how-to-do-it guy.  So you've participated greatly in Scattershot; can I get the proper spelling of your name for the 'credits page?'

Fang Langford
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Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!
Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #11 on: January 31, 2003, 09:53:37 PM »

Hi Fang,

You may be better at helping other folks with their problems than solving your own.... But who isn't like that?

I wanted to thank you for the work you've done on this post and Eric's Woe post.  I suspect they'll both be referred to many times in the future for GMs looking to expand their range of GMing styles.  The clarity and passion you've brought to bear on a still relatively unknown type of GMing is going to go a long way for many people who stop by the Forge.

Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Ian Charvill
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Posts: 377


« Reply #12 on: February 01, 2003, 05:44:38 AM »

Quote from: hyphz
Well, we were originally talking about Star Wars with Eric but I was looking for general principles - I'm not running Star Wars and nor do I particularly want to.  The game I'm trying to run now is UA, which has been "got players, waiting to be run" since freakin' SEPTEMBER because I felt I could not complete an adequate adventure plan.  (And that wasn't helped by mentioning it in passing to a more experienced GM who gave me in one second and twenty words a plot idea better than any I'd had in that time.  Which, to be honest, made me feel like throwing my rulebook - no, screw it, my bookshelf - in the trash, and is why I asked the question I did about noncreative people earlier.  But in retrospect I realised I'd been too harsh on my own idea and his had just looked better because it hadn't be subjected to the "what then, what if, why" grinder.)


To hit on the UA blockage, if you don't mind getting into specifics, a quick question or two: what kind of characters have the players created?

When prepping, I find knowing who I'm prepping for (both in terms of the characters and the players) is a terrific boost.  Whether or not your players are used to Author Stance during play I'd bet large amounts of money that I don't have that they're very used to it during character creation.
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Ian Charvill
hyphz
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Posts: 157


« Reply #13 on: February 01, 2003, 09:41:47 AM »

Quote from: Le Joueur

That's what "they can push against."  It's there, you just don't need all the shells to hide it.


This was a very interesting discussion - thank you very much for it.

Quote

That simply looks like you waited too long.  Waiting until the end of the scene to solicit the result does look like 'chickening out.'  Giving them the option to call a single scene is deferring what they expect out of you as the gamemaster, operating the opposition.  The point when to invite their input is just before you're going to do something 'they won't like,' like capturing them.  


I don't see the distinction here. I asked the question before the scene started, while their PCs were headed to the place where they were going to meet the guys.  The scene could not be skipped because they needed to play out interrogating the guys - the question was if they would actually have to smack them down before they'd talk or whether they'd just be intimidated without the PCs needing to fight.

How is asking "do you want to fight them for the info or not?" any different from saying "do you want to play a daring escape?"

Quote

Then sharing must be the answer; how could the players object to stuff they came up with?


Because they can and do object to being asked to come up with stuff in the first place.

Quote from: hyphz


I've seen only a few break out of 'rollercoaster play' and get into 'doing stuff.'  That's one of the driving urges to keep working on Scattershot; I want it to explain how to 'do stuff.'

Quote

You're welcome.  As Ralph pointed out, I get some of my best ideas and methods of explaining things for Scattershot by answering these kinds of posts.  (His 'cut this and paste it into Scattershot' comment.)  I owe you a debt for prompting this kind of writing.  Honestly, I'm a much better solve-the-problems-of-others guy than a write-a-manual-of-how-to-do-it guy.  So you've participated greatly in Scattershot; can I get the proper spelling of your name for the 'credits page?'


Geez, that's yet ANOTHER indie game to buy and marvel at the insight of ;)
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hyphz
Member

Posts: 157


« Reply #14 on: February 01, 2003, 09:47:23 AM »

Quote from: Ian Charvill

To hit on the UA blockage, if you don't mind getting into specifics, a quick question or two: what kind of characters have the players created?


I'll be blunt about it because they were:  the Punisher, Mr. T, the Equalizer, and "a hacker".

I actually had a think about it today and had quite a few ideas about where it might go (beyond the obvious).  But it took time and I don't think I'd have been able to do it on the fly, which is my ongoing worry.
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