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Author Topic: Some thoughts on GMing in Alyria  (Read 1640 times)
GreatWolf
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« on: September 03, 2001, 04:20:00 PM »

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Seth,

I think that my earlier comment may have been out of line. That is to say that I think that given the distribution of authorial/directorial power as you've designed it (or at least as you ran it at Origins) that I don't have to worry as GM. The real question will be whether or not the players will go with the flow. You'd mentioned something about a chapter that delineated this stuff, but what about players who just aren't any good at making stuff up. I've got a few of 'em, and I worry that they won't be able to get the idea of making up plot, other than may be obvious from your setup map method (even that might be precarious). Is this game not for those players, or will there be some method included to try and hook those players into all the neat Alyria stuff? Or is that a GM responsibility.

That'd be an interesting perspective. Give almost all directorial power to the players and leave the GM as a sort of coach to help the players on their way. Is that what you're after?


I'm tossing this quote into a new thread because...well...I thought that it belonged here.  :smile:

My initial reaction is to say that hooking the players is the GM's responsibility.  You may need to teach your players how to play Alyria.  However, I don't think that it need be as difficult as you think.

One of my players has a bit of a background with a rules-lawyering, munchkining D&D group.  To be fair to him, the twinking of the system turned his stomach, but I think that a bit of the mentality rubbed off on him.  Additionally, the strict deliniation between GM and player was firmly set.  I didn't think that he would enjoy Alyria at all.

I was so wrong.

It took a while to get him into the right mindset, but not much longer than the rest of the players.  It was quite simple.  Whenever anyone would ask me, "Can I do this?" or "Is my character close enough to do that?", I'd turn it around and say, "Well, you tell me."  After the first couple of times, the idea began to sink in.  Soon my players were simply making statements and running with them.  Certainly I retained veto power, but as my players had connected with the underlying conflict (since we had discussed it before the game started), they kept the story moving in appropriate directions.

I had assigned this player the character of Victor, an apparently brave farmer with a dark secret.  Upon seeing Virtue and Inspiration/Corruption explained, he looked at his character and said something like, "So, my character would probably do anything to keep his secret safe, right?"  It clicked right away.  He then proceeded to play Victor perfectly as someone on the dark spiral into the heart of darkness.  It was an excellent performance that reached its penultimate moment when Victor confronted Uriel (the villain and Victor's son).  Uriel was going to reveal Victor's secret (the fact that Victor was his father) and left Victor in the woods surrounded by a horde of his beasts while he headed back to the village.  Uriel had instructed his beasts not to kill Victor.  Victor didn't know this.  However, his fear of being shamed before the villagers drove him to do the unthinkable:  he pushed his way through the ring of slavering beasts.  His fear of shame so controlled him that he was not afraid of death at the hands of these beasts.  Right there, this player captured the contradiction that lay at the heart of Victor.

All this from someone who I thought would not get the concepts.

Jeremy was similar, in fact.  You were there for his first run at Alyria.  I thought that he'd have a difficult time catching the concepts as well.  Didn't look like it at the time.

Mike, your players may surprise you.  You will need to teach them this new style of play, but I would be willing to bet that most of them will embrace the freedom that it gives with open arms.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: September 04, 2001, 06:49:00 AM »

I'd like to back Seth up on this one - not in regard to Alyria, of course, which has not been made available to me, but in terms of players latching on to the kind of play he's describing. The tactic he describes, of refusing the creative reins as a GM, is extremely effective. Many players are used to (1) being resigned that they will never have that power and (2) just giving it up to the GM at the outset so they won't have to suffer and hit brick walls later. When the GM refuses it, they are suspicious at first, but eventually - when trust has developed and they realize that their power is real - they take off like rockets.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #2 on: September 06, 2001, 10:23:00 AM »

I'm not so much concerned about the idea that they will create stuff so much as that they will create stuff that isn't D&D, or more importantly is Alyria. If they have the control, then it is their prerogative to make the game about the sorts of stories that you find in Alyria. I worry that some character will invent orcs and go off to slay a passel for their gold. Now, this is an extreme example, and I know that the setup map mechanic is good for getting them off in the right direction. And, yes, creating characters as sets of values does inform them that the game is supposed to be about those sorts of things. But will that be enough to keep them on a sustained track?

The other problem is that players are often not as informed about the conventions of a world as is someone who is willing to GM. For players with short attention spans, how do you make sure that they don't break convention, or invent something inappropriate to the setting, etc? And the feel of the background as well; how is that conveyed. Cover art? :wink:

As Seth said, the GM may have to come in to inform the players that a particular direction is unsuitable. And as I said, this is interesting, because it says to me that the role of GM in this game is to referee when a player has gone foul with the story. Interesting way to look at the job. As opposed to all the newer games that have no GM and instead trust to mechanics and player goodwill/social contract to keep the game on an even keel.

Hmmm...Personally, I like the idea a lot, in general. The question for the GM becomes when to interfere, and when to stay out of it. If you interfere very little, but then step in occasionally, might that not be seen by the player being vetoed as being prejudicial? Perhaps some mechanic to make GM interference seem regular and unbiased like taking a turn at narrating every so often so that his editing is seen as a normal part of the cycle of play?

Also, does the GM have any (all?) responsibility for NPCs? Can he take control of them if he likes? Otherwise the GM role might be about as exciting as being a referee at a game. Not really participating, just adjudicating and observing.

Or should I just shut up and wait for that chapter to be published?  :smile:

Mike
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GreatWolf
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« Reply #3 on: September 06, 2001, 07:33:00 PM »

Quote

Or should I just shut up and wait for that chapter to be published?  :smile:


Nah.  I'll answer your questions now.  :smile:

Quote

 I'm not so much concerned about the idea that they will create stuff so much as that they will create stuff that isn't D&D, or more importantly is Alyria. If they have the control, then it is their prerogative to make the game about the sorts of stories that you find in Alyria. I worry that some character will invent orcs and go off to slay a passel for their gold. Now, this is an extreme example, and I know that the setup map mechanic is good for getting them off in the right direction. And, yes, creating characters as sets of values does inform them that the game is supposed to be about those sorts of things. But will that be enough to keep them on a sustained track?


The excuse that I've usually used is that if your players are trying to slay orcs in Alyria, a) they are playing the wrong game and b) it won't be much fun.  Let's face it.  You've played Alyria.  Would a hackfest really be all that fun using the system?  Not likely.  It's just not crunchy enough to support that style of play.

But more importantly, I think that players coming into the game being well-informed should not have this problem.  This responsibility rests with the Narrator to communicate the necessary information to the players.

Case in point:  my wife and I are going to start a Castle Falkenstein chronicle, just the two of us.  We were hashing out story and character ideas on Friday, and it became obvious to me that we just weren't communicating.  In particular, I had failed to communicate to her the feel behind Castle Falkenstein.  So we sat down and I read her the section on Honor and Virtue, and explained the underlying moods and themes of the game.  Suddenly it clicked and we went on to finish setup quite nicely.

If you are running Alyria (or any game, for that matter), it falls to you to ensure that your players know what is in store for them and that they are willing to have that waiting for them.  They ought to know that Alyria is not about hack-and-slash in the same way that Rune is not about complex tales of morality.  :wink:  Certainly I intend on assisting with the presentation of the game (more later), but ultimately the duty lies with the Narrator to ensure that everyone is on the same page and is still interested in playing.

If this is the case, then I think that you will do fine.  Certainly some extra shepherding at the beginning will be necessary, but the players won't be fighting against you.  Once again, the initial setup proves to be critical to the outworkings of the game.

Does that clarify?

Quote

The other problem is that players are often not as informed about the conventions of a world as is someone who is willing to GM. For players with short attention spans, how do you make sure that they don't break convention, or invent something inappropriate to the setting, etc? And the feel of the background as well; how is that conveyed. Cover art?  


Let's see.  First off, so long as the proper feel is communicated, I am not concerned about violating the setting.  If you think about it, the setting is pretty malleable and can absorb quite a bit in one way or another.  In fact, it was designed this way.  :wink:

Communicating the feel is a trickier matter.  First, I do plan on having quick summary sheets for the players for each major locale or concept (e.g. the dragons, the Citadel).  This way the Narrator can hand out just the relevant handouts to brief his players.  Cover and interior art is also important in this respect, as is the flavor text and stories.  Visual presentation and narration is as important (if not moreso) to communicating the feel of the game as rules text and mechanics.  One of my columns discussed this, in fact, using Little Fears as an example.  There is a game that visually communicates its feel very well.

Quote

As Seth said, the GM may have to come in to inform the players that a particular direction is unsuitable. And as I said, this is interesting, because it says to me that the role of GM in this game is to referee when a player has gone foul with the story. Interesting way to look at the job. As opposed to all the newer games that have no GM and instead trust to mechanics and player goodwill/social contract to keep the game on an even keel.


I'm going to let you in on a secret.  (Yeah, just between you and me on this Internet forum).  A lot of people put a lot of stock in the social contract theory in terms of politics, thus forming the foundation for democratic thinking (i.e. rule by the masses).

I don't buy any of it.

I believe in top-down authority that does not derive from a "mandate from the masses".  Not everyone is equal, and I will defend that statement to my dying day.  At the same time, I firmly believe in servant leadership, that being in authority does not give you perogative but responsibility to look after those under your authority.

If that doesn't sum up what it means to Narrate (or GM), I don't know what does.

In my chapter on roleplaying, I plan on discussing the Golden Rule of roleplaying.  No, it's not "Ignore the rules when necessary."  It's...the Golden Rule.  You know, treating others as you would like to be treated.  Putting others' preferences before your own.  Being selfless in your gaming, not selfish.  I am firmly convinced that no RPG can survive without these principles being enacted, and that goes double for rules-light, Directorial-intense games like Alyria.  It is the Narrator's first and foremost responsibility to enforce these principles in the game, both by word and deed.

Quote

Hmmm...Personally, I like the idea a lot, in general. The question for the GM becomes when to interfere, and when to stay out of it. If you interfere very little, but then step in occasionally, might that not be seen by the player being vetoed as being prejudicial? Perhaps some mechanic to make GM interference seem regular and unbiased like taking a turn at narrating every so often so that his editing is seen as a normal part of the cycle of play?


Mechanics.  Bah.  :smile:  It's all about Dude stance.  In most games the GM has veto power without being limited by a mechanic of some sort.  If the Narrator is indeed being biased, that is an important concern, regardless of the game being played.  However, under normal circumstances, a Narrator needs unlimited veto power in order to maintain the integrity of story and more importantly the Golden Rule of roleplaying (that I discussed above).  While I believe in permitting vast amounts of Directorial power at the gaming table, I also believe that someone needs to act as the watchdog to ensure that the Golden Rule is observed.  Otherwise you end up with the Round Robin Dilemma.

Encumbering the Narrator with a veto mechanic will only limit his ability to pursue quality gaming for everyone.

Quote

Also, does the GM have any (all?) responsibility for NPCs? Can he take control of them if he likes? Otherwise the GM role might be about as exciting as being a referee at a game. Not really participating, just adjudicating and observing.


That honestly depends on the style of the play group.  I am not going to mandate shared NPC control.  However, I think that it can be a nifty tool when done properly and I plan on suggesting it in the book.

Does this remove the fun of Narrating?  I don't happen to think so.  Not every player is going to want to run every NPC (and keeping in mind the Golden Rule, perhaps they should also allow for the Narrator to get his share of the time in the spotlight).  In addition, there is the joy of molding the developing story.  Certainly the players retain much control, but pacing and cuts from scene to scene are still firmly in Narrator control.  The Narrator will still end up controlling much of the tension level, weaving the players' scenes and improvisations into a coherent whole.  The Narrator stands at the eye of the group, taking their joint efforts, molding them and preserving their meaning.

In addition, the Narrator can be the "first audience" of the group's story.  In my last Alyria playtest, I was literally blown away by the improvisations of my group.  I have never experienced that before.  For the first time as the Narrator/GM, I was watching the story unfold as much as any of the players and I loved it.

Hopefully this answers your questions.

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Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown
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