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Author Topic: A demoralising day  (Read 26393 times)
hyphz
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Posts: 157


« on: April 22, 2003, 03:25:42 AM »

The Easter weekend brought about a few good opportunities for actual play, which sadly has left me feeling demoralised and down over RPGing in general.  I thought I might post a little of what happened together with a question about the cause of the morale loss.  Bear in mind that the obvious problems with what happened aren't actually that much to do with the eventual question, other than that they were the experiences that left me asking it (and I'm not sure why).

There were two games planned for the Easter weekend: one was a 'test  run' of Mutants and Masterminds, and the other was a run of the much-postponed Unknown Armies I've mentioned here before.  Unfortunately not all the players involved in the UA could make it, so I decided instead to run Bill In Three Persons for the remaining players as a 'system taster'.

The M&M test game - again using a sample adventure - was a disaster.  Basically, one of the players was a munchkin, and because I hadn't played the system before I didn't catch his broken character until it was too late.  He defeated three villains in a single attack on the first round of a battle, and then destroyed their plan two turns later.  Total playing time: 10 minutes.  (There's more detail on the Green Ronin forums if anyone cares.)  The main reason for this test was that I hoped that the Power Level system would alleviate the classic problem I have with supers games - that all of the complexity and detail in character generation gets turned back on itself when the GM has to design villains to counter the players abilities just enough to create a comic-book style showdown.  It didn't.  Oh well, lived and learned.

The Unknown Armies game went a bit better.  The three characters - with reference to my former post - were the Punisher clone, the "mean badass", and the auto speedfreak.  They pulled over to the three Bills and helped them out, the speedfreak investigating the circumstances of the accident and finding them rather bizarre.  

Sub-scenario one: They moved to the end of the aisle, Punisher immediately shot Skeet, Badass shot Bill.  The cop told them to drop their guns, Punisher shot Manning (who had taken his last action to put down the safe and get his gun out), and the other players surrendered to the cop.  The cop took a shot at Punisher (because he fired again when told to put his gun down!) but missed, and Punisher then surrendered too.  The weapons were taken from the three (although most of them had others concealed - UA is very lax on equipment rules, but I figured it doesn't really matter that much given that combat isn't mean to be that huge) and they were shepherded over to a holding area while the cop went to deal with the customers held in the florist.  Since they'd killed Bill, that was a scenario win.

Sub-scenario two: They walked into the apartment, saw Don with his mouth sealed over.  Punisher blew his Unnatural check and frenzied on Bill and killed him.  They then cut Don a new mouth and tried to interrogate him.. they rolled quite badly but I fudged that Don was so freaked out by that point he admitted to the business with the girl (forcing a Self check on Punisher, as he realised that killing Bill had violated his Noble; not that he minded, as the player has basically stated he wants Punisher to be a sociopath, although he doesn't know about Avatars yet).  They went to Don's apartment, searched it and found the girl, but by then there was little more to do, so the scenario ended.

Sub-scenario three:  The PCs went into the trailer and saw the mutilated body and got an explanation from the cultists.  Badass annouced he was going to throw Bill at Satchel (he actually took "throwing people" as a skill) which he did, causing the rest of the cultists in the trail to either panic or go on the defensive.  Punisher (predictably) shot Bill, then Satchel shot Punisher and rolled a crit.  Punisher's player very quickly learned why gunfighting everyone in UA is a bad idea.  The others PCs blew up the trailer and dived out.  End of adventure.  Total time: about an hour.  The Punisher player then said he wanted to make a differently-themed character if he was just going to get blown away all the time, but I tried to convince him that a hard guy with a gun can make a difference in UA.. you just have to be more careful than that.

But the negative feeling I got afterwards wasn't about the munchkinism, or the violent solutions (hey, I *knew* the guy was playing Punisher, I *expected* that).  It was about the fudging and shifting I had to do.  I mean, basically, as I sat there running I had numerous occasions where I was saying "well, right now I either have to get them to roll a dice or come to some unqualified judgment about their roleplaying skill, and if they fail or aren't good enough, then the game's going to be over".

This happened several times.  In the M&M, I had to have one of the villains cough up the location of their secret base even though the player blew the Intimidate roll because if they didn't, they wouldn't find it.  In UA, I didn't really think it was reasonable to have Don admit that he had kidnapped the girl, but if he didn't, they'd never find out about that part (and Punisher would never have faced the Self check as he'd never know he'd done anything wrong).  

And this seems to apply regardless of group, regardless of game, regardless of setting: "if they fail, then nothing happens and it's over".  Even if there isn't a predefined plot, a dynamic developing plot can still be brought to a crashing halt by a failure at the wrong moment.  Or look at the i-System games: if somebody manages to roll a 1, I get to narrate a negative consequence, but if I hose them enough to affect future actions seriously then the game is over, and if I don't they don't give a damn.

There must be a middle ground somewhere, but to be honest I really can't see it.  Am I doing something wrong?  Am I thinking about this all the wrong way?  Any help would be appreciated, as right now I just feel really down on the whole RPG business.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: April 22, 2003, 05:51:39 AM »

What you're missing is the "failure means adversity" principle.

Never have a failure mean that things come to a stop. Just don't ever rule that way. Always interperest a failure as a continuation of the situation with an additional problem worked in.

Failed Intimidation die roll? Don't have the guy clam up, have him give directions to a trap. Once they discover the trap, they can make another roll with a bonus representing how pissed off they are.

Failure by the players to ask "the right questions"? That's a horse of a different color. Unless it's a Gamist game you're playing with failure as an acceptable option, the "neccessary information" must always come out. So, just have players roll for it. Make it another Intimidation die roll. Or smarts, or whatever. If they succeed, then they get the info. If they fail, then they get the same treatment as in case one.

As long as you keep throwing adversity in front of the characters, the players will be pleased, and the plot will continue. And as long as the plot continues, the final goal can be reached (assuming that it's important to you for that to happen).

Just remember, failure doesn't mean that the plot stops dead, it means more adversity.

Mike
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #2 on: April 22, 2003, 06:41:17 AM »

Hey Hyphz,

'Know howya feel buddy.

Quote from: hyphz
...The negative feeling I got afterwards...was about the fudging and shifting I had to do. I mean, basically, as I sat there running I had numerous occasions where I was saying, "Well, right now I either have to get them to roll a die or come to some unqualified judgment about their role-playing skill; if they fail or aren't good enough, then the game's going to be over."

And this seems to apply regardless of group, regardless of game, regardless of setting: "If they fail, then nothing happens and it's over." Even if there isn't a predefined plot, a dynamic developing plot can still be brought to a crashing halt by a failure at the wrong moment. Or look at the i-System games: if somebody manages to roll a 1, I get to narrate a negative consequence, but if I hose them enough to affect future actions seriously then the game is over, and if I don't they don't give a damn.

There must be a middle ground somewhere, but to be honest I really can't see it. Am I doing something wrong? Am I thinking about this all the wrong way? Any help would be appreciated, as right now I just feel really down on the whole RPG business.

When asked about the future of the suffrage movement at some point, I understand Susan B. Anthony said (if I may paraphrase), "failure is impossible."  For gaming, I've always taken that to mean, whatever the players set the minds to (whether they know they have or not) will eventually come to pass.  That "eventually" appears to be a fundamental change from how you are used to running role-playing games.

The second part has to do with something I call 'the myth of reality.'  This is the idea that things in the game world that the players don't know about have some kind of 'place' or 'existence' or 'identity.'  I've found subscribing to this myth causes one of two things to occur: 1) exactly what is happening to you or 2) it's an excuse for gamemaster to 'punish' their players.  (The funny thing is I was just thinking about this, this weekend.)

Lastly, is something we got to calling the 'chasm problem' a few months back talking to Christoffer (Pale Fire).  This is the idea that when the players come to a chasm, the gamemaster thinks they only have one choice, 'turn,' and the players choose the other, 'jump.'  The dice come out and the game invariably doesn't survive.  A lot that discussion (and the whole 'El Dorado' kick) lead to me coining the idea of Symbolic-Language Gamemastering - you'll have to look it up - as a way that both players and gamemasters could 'do their thing' without undercutting each other.

First of all, you've got to shake off this 'pass or fail' mentality.  Ms. Anthony wouldn't hear of it.  Since what you are running is 'going somewhere' (the players don't know they've set their minds to that 'place'), failure is not an option.  The fundamental change in thinking is that you aren't placing roadblocks in play, but Complications.  Never, and I mean ever, use any kind of situation where you haven't thought of at least one out if the resolution goes kablooey (this means it's likely that the players will think of five others you haven't).  Better yet, learn to think in something other than absolutes (no more chasms).

Y'see, there's probably a reason for having the players interrogate so-and-so or whatever, that's fine.  Thinking that 'that is the only way' is the mistake for two reasons.  1) by letting yourself believe that so-and-so is an actual McGuffin that the players must see before the game moves on suffers from the idea that he exists, 'the myth of reality;' he doesn't, sure he's trope for what you're running, but that doesn't mean he has to exist or that play has to go see him.  He's just a Complication that keeps the players from reaching 'the end¹' prematurely.  And that's 2) this McGuffin really is nothing more than another complication, play will reach 'the end¹' no matter what.  In fact, 'the end¹' is the main reason that you can't do either of these and why you feel let down playing this way.

Now all three of the things I've listed come together in exactly the kind of problem you're having.  It isn't a matter of finding a 'middle ground;' it's a matter of leaving the ground entirely.  See, the flip side of the problem you've been having is also, "If they fail, then nothing happens and it's over," is "If they succeed too much, everything is circumvented and it's over."

This is how you need to start looking at it; you've got this 'end¹,' right?  More often than not what that means is you feel that things need to 'go a certain way.'  The problem is this 'way' can't rise up from the background (as in 'the players need to collect widget A, talk to person B, and go to location C'), it's a pattern or Sequence that follows from cliché based upon the source material.  If necessary, I can go into how to orchestrate specific examples of these Sequences, but for now I'll stay abstract.

Without the Complications, the characters would go from the 'start' to the 'end¹' in 'one move' (failure is impossible).  So you arrange a number of Complications.  Dungeons & Dragons has conditioned most of the hobby to think that these Complications occur on a map that the gamemaster follows, but breaks down when the players 'go the wrong way.' ('the myth of reality')  So what you need to do is think in terms of 'how Complicated' you want the game to be (this is a sliding scale and changes very frequently during play).  With that in mind you use what you know about the game and the background to create Complications on the fly so that it attends a 'master Complication' according to what everyone expects out of the game.  They range from minor ("You're low on rations.") to major ("You're low on hit points.") but must most definitely not be game-lethal (Chasm problem).

Early Complications should come from what everyone thinks their characters are.  Middle Complications should come from the climax pulling itself together.  And final Complications must pull together the potential endings¹ into something like a menu.  If you cannot attach the beginning of these Sequences to the characters themselves, you run the risk of the players feeling uninvolved (which can be managed if you know that it must be).  The real trick to not railroading a game in any way (a little is always fine if no one notices) is to let the players' responses to the early Complications dictate what parts are used in the middle Complications and figuring out how those 'pieces' could make a number of potential endings¹ and highlighting those pieces (so the players' choices can 'assemble the puzzle').  The final Complications are there only because you have and 'ending¹.'  If you tie all the 'favorite parts' the players have from the middle Complications into an ending¹ (not the ending¹), you'll have what it sounds like you desire.

What you cannot forget is that you are not 'herding' the players around.  Don't set up 'chasms' to make them go in a certain direction; keep putting Complications in their self-chosen path.  'What the players don't know' is an amorphous nothing; if you haven't told them previously, then there really is nothing at all beyond that door.  When they open it, the result should not be predetermined, but flow from a number of sources and mix together.  Some of these sources are 1) what you'd expect in terms of the background (you don't get to the back of castle and find a bathroom), 2) what you need to have happen in terms of 'master Sequence' (if they've got the McGuffin you needed them to get, it's an exit from the scene; otherwise it's a foyer full of McGuffins), 3) what the point in the Sequence 'requires' (if it's early in the game, this Complication is probably an empty foyer; in the middle a treasure room; at the end¹, an 'arrowing gauntlet of archers before the exit).  The important thing to remember is that all Complications should be something that has some way of being dealt with (no 'bottomless chasms'), just varying difficulties.

The three most important things to remember are if the players deal 'too quickly' with a Complication or don't 'get it' from something in the scene, ya gotta turn it over right away; if they miss it, give it to them again, right away - a different way.  Do not fall in love with a scene or NPC you've created, even if they have seen it; you'll get inflexible and that way lies madness.  And finally, 'keep 'em coming;' no matter what, when on Complications is dealt with, do another, don't stop.  Nothing founders like an uncomplicated game.

The heart of this whole way of thinking is that 'nothing is real until the players hear it.'  Likewise, 'if you have an ending¹' stick to it, but don't drive to it.  And 'no [thing] is so important that you can't cover it with 'a sheet' and use it again.'  If the character's don't get the information from the source you thought of, think of another.  Every game is based upon a wealth of tropes you can find alternatives in.  Did they fail to interrogate someone for the information you want them to have?  Let other NPCs show up who think they did get the information that they didn't; it'll come out for sure eventually (ya just gotta keep trying different things, not fudging).  If the players need to 'get somewhere' just move the place; no 'location' is so important that the same Complication can't happen in a similar place (if you have to, imagine why the NPCs went where the characters are going because the original place was 'busy').

What you need to do is start thinking of things as Complications as opposed to opposition.  Opposition requires certain NPCs, places, and times to occur; Complications only need to be where the players 'are going.'  What you've run before, what the players choose to do, and what you can expect from games run in your system should be the only source of detail (who did what to whom and why the players are involved), you need only concentrate on 'how difficult' it ought to be and choose details from these.

I hope this, if not informs your gaming, stimulates you to think a little differently.  It's grown so long I don't want to give examples, but would be happy to if you have specific questions.  I can't tell you how much I appreciate the chance to give you all of this advice, it's the part of my work that I am working on right now and I need practice writing it to deliver the message I'm looking for.  Thanks!

Fang Langford

p. s. Before I go, let me sketch out a few of the ways a Complication can be dealt with.  You can create it, change it, put it off for later, or dispose of it.  Bringing up a Complication that hasn't been used or introducing one that relates to something that has gone before is how you create one.  Changing them can be as simple as upping the import, to as Complicated as passing them off to someone else's responsibility, converting the whole problem.  Putting them off means anything that makes it so that you don't have to do anything with them right now (temporarily eluding your pursuers and such).  Disposing of a Complication is simply doing whatever satisfies it so you'll never have to worry about it again (resurrecting dead Complications is the same as creating them anew).

¹ An 'end' doesn't mean something as specific as 'the heroes kill all the bad guys and get the treasure,' it means things like, 'the hero will face off with the villain' or 'the BIG SECRET will come out' or even 'something big goes kerblooey!'  The more specific the 'end,' the less suited it is to role-playing gaming (and not writing), in my opinion.  If you can make the end more 'open' (like 'it ends like every Dukes of Hazard episode' or 'the criminal receives legal or poetic justice.'), you'll find yourself in a much more tenable situation.
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: April 22, 2003, 07:17:31 AM »

You know, I'm getting a strong Deja Vu feeling here. Haven't we been over this with you already, Hyphz?

Mike
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #4 on: April 22, 2003, 07:32:30 AM »

I think Mike stole some of my thunder, though I think I may have something useful to say here.

First problem is modules themselves. This is not meant as being critical but did you read the Three Bills adventure? there certianly are notes on what happens if you 'fail.' and I do not see any reason why you need to fudge anything.  As long as they were given every oppurtunity to make the right decisions, sometimes the dice just fail you.  Unwelcome consequences can be (should be) as exciting and fun as unwelcome ones.

the real problem though is modules.  for the most part they tend to be very point A to point B.  Some basically put you on the Train and drive you along the railroad.  It is difficult to get a true sense of the game play when really your choices are limited.  Essentially a gun is leveled at the Player's head: "Succeed or no XP"

This ties into the second point.  I have no issue per se with the Traditional defeat it or no XP model.  If thats how a game wants to run then ok, we can play by the rules. It IS a bit limiting though.  That is why so many people wonder whether Experience for Failure should be a part of a reward system.  Ideally, a player should be rewarded for playing his character, whatever that exactly means, and it should not be tied to success or failure.  The honor is in the attempt and 'failure' can teach us a great deal.

So fudging rolls for the players so that they follow the plot may not be the best idea.  Simply my two Lunars.

Sean
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Walt Freitag
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« Reply #5 on: April 22, 2003, 08:23:33 AM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
You know, I'm getting a strong Deja Vu feeling here.


You're probably thinking of this thread and its precursors.

As far as I'm concerned, we could have this discussion every week and it wouldn't be too often. (Since Fang's been doing the heavy lifting here, he might feel differently, of course.) This is important stuff. The issues surrounding "The Myth of Reality" is where the Forge meets the Knights of the Dinner Table. For every true frustrated Narrativist out there, I suspect there are two (if not ten, or a hundred) groups who have no problem with GM authoring of the story, but constantly struggle with the friction of pre-planned hopes against the happenstance of play.

There's little I can add to Fang's essay, which appears to me to be getting clearer and more convincing with every iteration. But I can toss in the point that I usually toss in, which is that what Fang is asking hyphz to do is not easy. It seems to come more naturally to some than to others, but it requires practice in any case. It requires the gamemaster to adopt an alternative "system" of decision-making that is completely unsupported by the mechanics of most popular game systems, and which, as ADGBoss pointed out, is completely contrary to the examples of game preparation provided by modules.

- Walt
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Wandering in the diasporosphere
ADGBoss
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« Reply #6 on: April 22, 2003, 08:53:32 AM »

To add a little more, I believe there is also a prevailing set of feelings that make 'failure' anathema.  Of course none of us want to fail and many of us being Americans, we never want to quit (or BRitish and having stiff upper lips) etc... Here are some of the items that facotr in (I apologise if they have been enumerated with better grammar by someone before me.)

Failure = Game over.  The idea that if you fail the game is pretty much done. Sauron gets the ring, Yavin 4 blows up, my Sorcerer fails to bind that big demon he wanted. Ok we're done time to go to Dunkin Donuts. Modules and one shots, can have a tendancy to support this because there is no going back.

tied in with the above is lineage of war gaming. Now I love war games and have no issues with RPGs being the bastard children of such. However, in most competetive games, if you do not reach the victory conditions, well again game over. Defeated by the big boss? Toss in another quarter (or three).

We talk about realism (well ok maybe not here as but in gaming 'realism' is one of those words) and yet no one wants to role play time in jail, working for the Dark overlord, living alone after our lost love is well lost. Its a Clint Eastwood world where he always lives on, not a John Wayne world where sometimes the Duke bites it.

Which is not saying people have to accept failure as much as it is saying the have to play THROUGH failure.  Case in point above, in The Cowboys John Wayne's character dies. Well ok the Cook and the boys could have had anice funeral and roll the credits. Instead they get revenge and eventually get the herd through.  

Of course its all about discussion between GM and Player which may be the single most important thing I have learned in my time here. Talk between GM and Player can alleviate both sides need for 'success' in traditional terms.

Sean
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Bankuei
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« Reply #7 on: April 22, 2003, 09:45:39 AM »

For those of you who saw my little rant down in Theory, here's a twist on it that may help you Hyphz:

Gamers, think about what gameplay experience you want, and what can deliver it

This, of course, is basically the same message delivered in GNS, but different words.  If I'm understanding you right, you want a superhero experience with M&M.  That means heros vs. villians, escalating threat, big showdown with (bomb timer running out/fortress falling apart/deathtrap filling room with water, etc.).  

The key problem with M&M, and really any game like it, is that while it does a great job recreating superheroes in terms of lists of powers and skills, it does very little in terms of giving advice to recreate that "superhero" pacing, or feeling.  In other words, like many other games, the gamers are expected to "just know" what that gameplay experience is supposed to be like.  The GM is rated "good or bad" by the players based on how well he or she can make the expected gameplay experience happen.

All of this really occurred to me when I sat down and made a couple of characters for M&M and said, "But what do I do now?  How do I enmesh these characters in a conflict, in a universe?  What is the point of play?"  At that point, I realized that all the "cool stuff" I needed was absent.  

Coming back to your personal experience, you're realizing that the M&M rules alone do not constitute enough to give you that superhero experience.  No matter what superhero comic you read, all of them face adversity and conflict, from poor abused Daredevil all the way up to nigh invincible Superman, or even Dr. Manhattan from Watchmen.  And as you experienced, simply setting up a higher DC or raising an enemy's hp/damage save does not constitute a good "conflict".

If I find myself fudging, that means the rules aren't supporting the type of play that I want, and that means problems.

On note of the UA game, I have to agree that the pass/fail mentality makes games get "stuck".  If there's a linear, "this is how it has to be" whether a single plot or a flowchart of scenes, again, you'll have points where the players do not know "what they're supposed to do" next.  This is the great dysfunction of illusionist play..."I've got this story, but I can't tell you, and if you act out of line from it, I'll be forced to fudge/cheat/railroad you to get you back in it..."  Its not much different than a person in a relationship who is mad at you and won't tell you why.

As far as what you're saying with bringing the game to an end, that's part of the assumptions of gameplay that need to go.  Character death and "simulating what would happen" generally need to get tossed out for the sake of a fun game, and also are the places where GMs fudge the most.  If something would happen that would leave the PCs stranded in space, and end the adventure, then either it doesn't happen, or somehow they find another way to get to where they were going.

Like everyone is saying, proper failure/complication/difficulty is "Aw, jeez, not this TOO!" not "Well, that's it pardner!".  

All of the above comes back to the differences between Sim and Nar issues. For the Sim game, things happen a certain way because they "make sense" in terms of the plausibility of the setting.  The villians get wiped out by munchkin hero because his powers and skills and stats would take them out.  For the Nar game, things happen because "they are interesting/fun and fit the expected conflict/story experience".  The munchkin hero does well, BUT THEN the villians pull out their secret weapon!

Failure means, "Not this time, or not this way" but never "never".

Chris
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #8 on: April 22, 2003, 10:27:57 AM »

To make a short note on Bill in Three Persons and linearity, the adventure provides an ending that is responsive to "success" or "failure" in all three parts of the scenerio.  There are no "fail and the story ends" points in it.  There are "fail" and the characters don't learn thing X, points, but they don't stop the adventure in its tracks.

(As an aside, Hyphz, there are better 'getting to know the system one-offs' for the game: Jailbreak from the collection "One Shots" is oft-vaunted)

Walt may be right about the style of running not being easy, but I don't feel there's that much to be lost trying it out: try it, if it doesn't work start looking for plan B.

Just to gloss something Fang wrote...

Quote from: the something that I wanted to gloss that Fang
And 'no [thing] is so important that you can't cover it with 'a sheet' and use it again.' If the character's don't get the information from the source you thought of, think of another.


For this to work, the players must be invested in finding the thing.  They don't need to have originated the thing, but they do need to want it.  Putting something the players are indifferent to in their path, no matter what, will feel like railroading.
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Ian Charvill
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« Reply #9 on: April 22, 2003, 10:39:24 AM »

Hey Ian,

You're right of course and it doesn't go without saying, but I don't want to waste a lot of space, so how about a flip-seeming retort?

Quote from: Ian Charvill
Quote from: Something I wanted to gloss over that Fang
And 'no [thing] is so important that you can't cover it with 'a sheet' and use it again.' If the character's don't get the information from the source you thought of, think of another.

For this to work, the players must be invested in finding the thing.  They don't need to have originated the thing, but they do need to want it.  Putting something the players are indifferent to in their path, no matter what, will feel like railroading.

Id est: use better sheets!

Fang Langford

p. s. The [thing] has to have been 'skipped' the first time around, by the way.
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Christopher Kubasik
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« Reply #10 on: April 22, 2003, 11:19:11 AM »

Hi all,

Walt suggested that what Fang suggests is not easy.  I'm not so sure about that.  (This might be a new thread, by the way, but I'll tack it on here for now.)

One thing I've noticed over time is that people give other people a lot of credit for being "that kind of person" or a person with "a knack" for that kind of thing.  But the truth is, from what I can tell, having learned a bunch of disciplines, is that the thing that seperate one person who can do one thing and another who can't is that the first is doing it, and the second isn't.  (You can get better with practice... but the first step in practice is to *do.*)

I think Walt is closer to the difficulty of the matter when he refers to the issue of "alternative system of decision making" which is required by this style of playing.  Most games don't support it, and most folks don't even know about it.  

I'd offer, ultimately, that what's stake is not the GM's temperament (again, if you do it, you're doing it), but his or her dependence on tools or haibts that run completely contrary to what he or she actually wants to happen.

So: When Fang rightly suggests that one has to give up the Myth of the World, has to start trading Opposition in for Complication, he really means it.  The GM who wants to stop getting caught up on these issues needs to turn away from the old kind of action and start the new kind of action.

After all, we expect players to think on the fly, making up decisions and new bits of detail on the spot.  Why not the GM?  Because he's responsible for the whole game world?  No.  As Fang points out, he's responsible for the scene at hand.  To let the players open that next door and be guided to know what's behind it by Fang's suggested list of "sources" is different than how we're used to running games.  But not nescesarily more difficult. In fact, since the one we're used to using often leads to frustration, I'd suggest the old way (for certain desired results of play) are *more* difficult.

To give up the rules that frustrated us, the pre-printed scenarios that tie our shoelaces, the habits of GMing that only run counter to what we want our of play may not be easy -- but that doesn't mean that the new alternative is hard.  It's becaue giving up our habits is difficult. That's a completely different issue than the new methods being hard.

Like a debtor who knows that as long as he's got access to one more cash advance so doesn't need to really change his life and change his income habits, the GM who keeps trusting tools that don't force him to behave differently will not change.

I'd offer that's what's at stake here.  Change.  Not the new work itself.

Christopher
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John Kim
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« Reply #11 on: April 22, 2003, 12:25:59 PM »

OK, while I agree with many of the poster's points, I want to point out drawbacks of the "failure=complication" model.  I have experienced this both as a GM and as a player.  What I experienced as a player is often a feeling that I was just jumping through hoops: i.e. regardless of what I did, I'd end up at the same ending point simply by a different path.  Sometimes I would just metaphorically grit my teeth and proceed by the most blunt means possible, simply accepting that my PC will take some lumps but will make it through in the end.  

An important alternative is simply not having a pre-defined plot.  If you don't have an established end you are working to, then failures can be seen as opening up new story possibilities rather than closing old ones.  There are two approaches to this:
    [*] Prepare setting elements: i.e. locations, NPCs, groups.  As long as there is conflict among the characters and groups, there is interesting material to play out.  You improvise what happens in response to the PCs actions.  (Simulationist - Exploration of Setting/Situation)
    [*] Prepare story elements: i.e. you have a Theme or Premise pre-defined, and then improvise setting material and events in response to what the players do with this.  (Narrativist)
    [/list:u]
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    Mike Holmes
    Acts of Evil Playtesters
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    « Reply #12 on: April 22, 2003, 12:42:01 PM »

    I think a lot of this presupposes that Hyphz wants to change his style. The Adversity equals failure that I laid out was intentionally slanted towards the style that he seemed to be trying for (Illusionism).

    There are certianly other approaches, but they all require him to alter his style further. IMO.

    Mike
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    Sidhain
    Member

    Posts: 160


    « Reply #13 on: April 22, 2003, 01:36:20 PM »

    I read quite a  bit about this elsewhere on the Green Ronin boards. My understanding on reading that is:

    A) A newbie GM (Hyphz) allows a player to use the rules to make a PC
    B) Said player appearently knew the rules better than Hyphz
    C) Hyphz didn't make an "executive decision" that is override certian things that were dubious in the character to begin with (and some that IIRC were outright rules violations)


    Then Hyphz complained on the games' boards about the game not running well, and was provided with advice that ran from excellant to dubious on dealing with the player character/player. (Much of it dubious, but there was some really good suggestions as well.)


    Hyphz I've run superhero games for many years, there by far my favorite  style of gaming and have written one superhero game.

    Which has /absolutly/ no play balance in its design.

    Why?

    Because flat out no mechanical system will ever accurately allow superheroes in all their variability and remain balanced. Many give you points, checks, limits "no more than PL in stacking effects" such as M&M but the sad truth is that won't ever work.  That produces the /illusion/ of balance--but it only stays that way based on how a GM (and players) make use of those rules. The same thing could (and I've seen!) occur in Hero, in Marvel Superheros Advanced Set, in Blood of Heroes, and Villians and Vigilantes--among many others.


    Superheroes specifically is in my mind always going to be one of the "high" trust style games--that means you and your players /have/ to be on the same page with regards to scale of the game, the scope of the game, and the tone of the game.

    The M&M adventure is aimed specifically at playing fairly Heroic (non-lethal!) style supers--and your player---not his PC--but the player didn't fit the feel of the game. He didn't approach that adventure in the way he was expected. (Hence why so many games have GM's to adbjucate these situations).


    The adventure wasn't themed for the player--no pre-packaged adventure will fit every given player, and you being new to the game, and new to GMing (right?) lacked the knowledge to adapt to the players decisions and styles.


    I don't wish to be harsh here, but the reason supers are high trust is because they ask for far more leeway with what characters are capable of than most games--many games you say "I wish to move the moon" and the play groups will laugh. You say it in a supers game and might really have a PC capable of doing just that--moving the moon, right now.

    This is where the trust and player contract come in--you have to share that trust with your players that they won't abuse the system.

    But your player did.

    It has nothing at all to do with the system, or RPG's and everything to do with what the player wanted.


    He got what he wanted, at the expense of you getting what you wanted out of the game. Now this is a flaw in many games--the expect you, the GM to simply "deal with the player"---and a lot of the advice you were given is based on that.


    I think its time to change that personally. Now your player may not be one who will ever understand, but my suggestion is to sit him down, talk to him, and explain to him "what you want out of X game." and then ask "What do you want out of X game."  finding out what they want out of the game may help you choose games, and create adventures more suited to those players. But without asking, how do you know? M&M is a great game that gives a lot of good advice--but this one not a lot do:

    Not everyone is suited to playing every game, and not every game suited to every play style. Find out what your group wants, as a group. If this one player wants something different than everyone else, he may not ever be happy playing any game you run, and by default will destroy your fun, and the fun of other players because A) he can or b) he's bored or C) Both.

    But /find out/ what they want first and foremost.



    It's like a misprinted page in a comic---you read the Punisher offing everyine around him then flip the page and see Archie and Jughead--while extreme, this is how different some players can be from each other and still otherwise be players in the same game.
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    Le Joueur
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    « Reply #14 on: April 22, 2003, 02:08:02 PM »

    (Keeping to the questions asked as opposed to analyzing the questioner...I'm still trying to figure out how to explain this beast.)

    Hey John,

    You and Christopher K. pretty much underscore the toughest part about explaining the 'No Myth' gamemastering style.  Your post provides a few cool insights, if you don't mind....

    Quote from: John Kim
    OK, while I agree with many of the poster's points, I want to point out drawbacks of the "failure=complication" model.  I have experienced this both as a GM and as a player.  What I experienced as a player is often a feeling that I was just jumping through hoops: i.e. regardless of what I did, I'd end up at the same ending point simply by a different path.  Sometimes I would just metaphorically grit my teeth and proceed by the most blunt means possible, simply accepting that my PC will take some lumps but will make it through in the end.

    Yep, that pretty much describes trying to do 'No Myth' with a plot in mind.  No matter what, the players eventually find themselves right where the gamemaster wants them to be.
      Which is why you can't really run 'No Myth' style with a plot.[/list:u]Hmm...this has always been a tough nut to explain.  I tried to with that whole 'Symbolic-Language Gamemastering' thread, but it just went over everybody's heads.  I had a little bit more luck suggesting that the u-boat that seizes the Ark from Indiana Jones (
    Raider of the Lost Ark) was introduced this way went a little bit better.  (Sorry, guys, you'll have to do the searches yourselves.)

    Y'see it works like this; as a gamemaster, you don't know who's going to be there at the end, just 'how big' it'll be.  With Indie, you have to guess some a' them will be nazi's, but you can't even plan to have Ravencroft; just hope his 'schedule is open.'  I use Raiders as a classic example because it goes against type.  By the time the protagonists get the Ark on the boat, they've pretty much won, right?  Time for a major Complication.  You know it's gotta be big; I mean really beeg, big.  It has to be a factor of magnitude, head and shoulders above the 'sneak the Ark past a whole camp of Nazis' and 'beat' the truck chase, big.  Heck, if I were the gamemaster, I woulda thunk they'd face off at the dig site and it'd be 'shows over.'  The players surprise by sneaking the Ark out, okay; what next?

    See this is where 'No Myth' separates from traditional.  In a traditional game, that's it, game over and the good guys win.  All the maps have been used; you have to guess that the 'loose ends' will be fodder for the next game.  Not so with 'No Myth,' you know ya wants it BEEG in the end and that truck chase just ain't it.  So you recycle the whole Complication, Nazis with Ravencroft in tow show up and board the vessel.  Time for the show down right?  Nope, the players hide their Personae; try again.  Okay, next notch up, you invent a hidden sub base, big explosions and such, grand finale, right?  Nope, more sneakiness, okay you let the players pick 'a spot;' you get the face off for the Ark with the rocket powered grenade launcher (probably be all kinds of supernatural fireworks blowing up the Ark right?).  Indie backs down, what next?  You tie 'em up and open the Ark; doesn't that deport...depreten...deprotag...whatever, don't that make the characters meaningless?  Naw, keep focusing on what they do while the ceremony takes place ("Marian, don't open your eyes!"), using the ole' pillar of salt axiom is as good as summoning angels yerself.

    The point is, you didn't know nothing 'bout no hidden-island-sub-base, but it suits the Background (World War II), reestablishes the villains (overwhelming odds is stock and trade with 'serials'), and leads to the all-important climax no matter how many 'tries' you have to give the players.  All you did was take 'what went before,' what 'fits,' and player choice and keep upping the ante.  You aren't making anyone jump through hoops, 'cuz you didn't know how it was gonna go.  (Each reaction to Complication is in the players hands; they decided to sneak the Ark past the plane, they decided to go to any lengths to 'beat' the truck, they put it on a boat.  Not you; no hoops.)

    If you, as a player, really think that I, as the gamemaster, had the whole sub-base-temple experience planned from the start, I'm a hell of a lot better at fooling you than I thought.

    Quote from: John Kim
    An important alternative is simply not having a pre-defined plot.  If you don't have an established end you are working to, then failures can be seen as opening up new story possibilities rather than closing old ones.  There are two approaches to this:
      [*]Prepare setting elements: i.e. locations, NPCs, groups.  As long as there is conflict among the characters and groups, there is interesting material to play out.  You improvise what happens in response to the PCs actions.  (Simulationist - Exploration of Setting/Situation)
      [*]Prepare story elements: i.e. you have a Theme or Premise pre-defined, and then improvise setting material and events in response to what the players do with this.  (Narrativist)[/list:u]

      Nope, once again yer reachin' back into the 'traditional gaming' bag o' tricks.  Setting elements should be as familiar as the genre, no need to prepare; not places, people, or things, it should all pretty much flow out of what everyone expects.  Flying wings, deuce-and-a-half trucks, desert roads, nazi u-boats, hidden bases, all of these things are absolutely no surprise coming from Indiana Jones' world.  I'd go so far as to speculate that every single thing you prepare ahead will feel like a hoop.

      I should say that your suggestion of Narrativist preparation sounds exactly like what I'd want to avoid.  Aren't the players supposed to be "authoring Theme based on Premise?"  If you prefabricate, it's just more hoops, right?  I'm tellin' ya; the heart of 'No Myth' is notsetting up any of these details.  You take whatever the players through at you (whether they let themselves win or not), add a little 'kick' based on 'what they don't know,' and hit it back at them, with English.

      I dunno about the whole "opening/closing" thing, I always think of a failure as a divergence from 'an easy victory.'  I guess that's pretty much what I'm preachin' agin, 'victory conditions.'  Y'see, this here's gaming, not novel writin' and not wargamin'.  Nobody wins!  It ain't the ends that matter, only the means (however you justify it).  It isn't about 'where you go,' but 'how you get there.'  So the players decide their goin' to Dublin.  Do they take the high road or the low road?  Doesn't matter, what does is that you're gonna make it anything but easy.  Do you have preplanned opposition?  No, that'd be another "hoop."

      If they take the low road, then whatever you have to choose from will have to make sense coming from the low road and the vice is versa.  Ya ain't expecting either, but ya know something about both; outa player choice comes what they face, you just pull it outa the bag they picked.  (Ya might haveta feel around a bit in the bag afore ya pick somethin', but they don't care and can't tell.)  Your strength as a gamemaster is presenting it with that smile that says, "I planned this all along," even though that's a complete lie.

      What 'No Myth' ain't is a way ta deal with 'failures;' it's a way to deal with reactions, with outcomes, with whatever the hell they throw at you.  Ya build on what already happened (and what 'usually happens in this game') pulling junk outa whatever the players choose, you only pick 'how big' that junk is, not what.

      Any better?

      Fang Langford

      p. s.  Walt and Christopher are both right.  It is harder, until you let it master you.  It's a completely different way of looking at gamemastering (and Mike's right, it might not be Hyphz cupa tea).  Unless and until you can let go of the idea that stuff 'exists' before the players encounter it (which is required if you prepare something ahead of time), you ain't gonna get it.  That said, there is a lot of 'prep' you can do; absorb the source material, drink it in, until you sweat whatever it is.  When you get that, drumming up specifics that meet the requirements of the players actions can be hard; once you do, you ought to have all that you need to 'take' everythin' they can throw atcha.  They'll go 'we do this' and you just 'see' what goes next based on your 'feel' for the material; not only that, but you'll be able to 'wow them' every step of the way by dumping them deep into 'it.'

      Good luck!
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