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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 73 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Vanilla Narrativism In Action  (Read 2339 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« on: October 29, 2001, 11:56:00 AM »

I find it sort of funny that Ron should post about Vanilla Narrativism the same weekend I happen to run just such a game.  Saturday was my monthly Deadlands game and personally I've felt the game has been draging of late.  How I HAD been running the game was I'd develop a new scenario from scratch every month but I'd include little bits of each character's personal 'storyline.'  This was running me into the ground and resulting in more and more and more railroaded stories.

So, I simply shifted gears.  Instead of doing this trickle of personal subplots I simply made them the main event.  All of them.  Simulataneously.  I threw all the elements I had in mind for each character into one big scenario.  Any NPCs became part of a relationship map.  Any events or encounters got added to a list of potential Bangs.  The only slightly odd thing about this is that the game has more than one villian and there are A LOT of McGuffins.

I then opened the game by saying the following to my players: "I want you all to know that I've designed this game a little differently than usual.  I have created a bunch of interesting characters and situations but no goals, paths to victory, or preset plot paths.  So, don't try to second guess me because there is no right or wrong way to react to any one element.  The plot will be organically grown from your actions."

WHOA!  What a DIFFERENCE.  I learned more things from that one session than any of my other experiments.

Lesson 1: This is definitely the method for  me.  I had more fun and felt more relaxed than I have in a LONG LONG time.  A close second was that Chill game I ran at the con but this time I actually achieved it with my own group.

Major Contributing Factor: I didn't have to watch my words or think too hard about unexpected action ramifications.  When there's no plot to derail whatever happens, happens and that's just fine.

Lesson 2: Ron has often stated that a relationship map is most effective when the links are that of family or sexual relations rather than things like employment.  I've often doubted this assertion thinking that finding out two people are brother and sister is not necessarily more impactful than discovering that two people are part of the same conspiracy.  So I actually built an experiment into this game.

One of my players has a character nammed Holiday and she has told me in the past that her character has a twin sister named Hannah.  Also during play Holiday had gathered enough information to peg this one Mad Scientist, Dr. John Deker, as a potential villain.  I then brought Hannah into play.  During the course of a conversation Holiday learned that Hannah is working for Dr. Deker.  This elicited a certain amount of concern from Holiday's player.  But as the conversation went on it was revealed that Hannah was in fact ENGAGED to Dr. Deker.  Holiday's player nearly choked on her soda.

Experiment concluded.  Ron wins again. :smile:

Lesson 3: I now understand even without Director Stance or co-GMing or any other of the more 'advanced' Narrativist techniques,a LOT of responsibility still falls on the players.  Still present was that tendency for things to devolve into silliness.  In THIS case I was able to make it work and in fact it added a lot of interesting elements.  Deadlands is camp and my silliness tolerance is much higher.

However, afterwards I was discussing with my girlfriend the possibilty of shutting down the Deadlands game and playing something else after this scenario had run it's course and everyone's character had reached a point of resolution.  My girlfriend said that she'd really like to play In Nomine but that she felt that a good chunk of our group wasn't subtle enough for it.  I thought about it and I agreed that anything less than Dark Poetry would be very disappointing.

Even when just working with actor and author stance if the players aren't working on the same aesthetic level the game just doesn't function with a unified vision and/or feel.

Lesson 4: The group seemed to instantly split into two camps.  Proactive players and reactive players.  The proactive players were constantly doing things.  No matter how small or how insignificat they were doing SOMETHING.  And often I could use that something to insert one of my bangs or follow up on some previous decision of the character.

The reactive players would either follow the proactive players around or would just sit in the saloon drinking or some other non-action and seemed to be waiting for something to happen.  The result was that the proactive players got a lot of attention and the reactive players just sort of fell by the way side.  I felt bad and no matter HOW hard I tried to include them they just refused to work with me.

Lesson 5: You can never have too many bangs.  The first time I'd tried to run a relationship map based scenario I had forgot to include bangs.  The result was a dull traversal of the relationship map with nothing really happening.  This time I rectified the problem but there were STILL lull points.  Picking up the pace and scene framing are definitely things I need to work on.

Lesson 6: A little kicker like element goes a LONG LONG WAY.  Since this was a game in progress I couldn't have the players write any sort of motivational opener mid game.  And on top of that they were already pursuing their own goals in play.  I happened to notice that on the Deadlands character sheet there was a place for 'Your Worst Nightmare'.  I had all the players fill this entry out at the top of the game.

I plan to use these as sort of inverse-kickers.  Rather than being starting motivational points I plan to try and use them as climactic resolution points.  In any event, they really help me focus on future elements to include in the scenario.

I think that about covers it.  I thought I'd just share the experience should others be interested.

Jesse
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Paul Czege
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #1 on: October 29, 2001, 12:54:00 PM »

Hey Jesse...great post!

One of my players has a character named Holiday and she has told me in the past that her character has a twin sister named Hannah. Also during play Holiday had gathered enough information to peg this one Mad Scientist, Dr. John Deker, as a potential villain. I then brought Hannah into play. During the course of a conversation Holiday learned that Hannah is working for Dr. Deker. This elicited a certain amount of concern from Holiday's player. But as the conversation went on it was revealed that Hannah was in fact ENGAGED to Dr. Deker. Holiday's player nearly choked on her soda.

This is hilarious...an awesome experiment. Similarly, Scott, Tom and I have talked about the highly experimental way we've been approaching games with our Monday night group. My scenario for The Pool has been kind of an experiment to see how severely I can hose the player characters as long as I'm consistent at driving protagonism at them at the same time.

I think that about covers it.

Did you get any feedback on the session from your players?

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
jburneko
Member

Posts: 1351


« Reply #2 on: October 29, 2001, 05:10:00 PM »

Player feedback was minimal but overall very positive.  The proactive players of course were very happy.  Deadlands combat is kind of long and involved and unfortunately the one large fight that we did have two of the players spent it chained to a cult's altar.  I was going to have a stray bullet set one of the free at the earliest convenience but an oportunity never arose so they were a little bumed at that.

There was one player who was new.  She had actually shown up at another player's house thinking it was their day to GM.  So that player called me and asked if it was okay if she brought a guest player along and I said fine.  We ripped one of the pre-gen archetypes from a soucebook and handed it to her.  Her reaction was surprising.  She seemed to REALLY be having a good time and in the end asked if she could be invited in the future.  Interestingly enough this player was one of the more reactive centric players but she's new to roleplaying in general, so we'll see how she develops.

One of the players who stayed largely in reactive mode suddenly realized that being proactive would probably greatly improve their enjoyment of the game and so briefly went over some character development ideas with me that might help propell the character into action.  This was pleasent.

That's about it really.  Overall people seemed pleased.

Jesse
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Clay
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« Reply #3 on: October 29, 2001, 07:44:00 PM »

I'm glad to here that it went so well, Jesse.  

I've had good luck with the relationship maps as well.  My first GMing experiences were inspired by detective novels, so it isn't surprising that I like to make relationships and greed the driving point in my games.

I do have to constantly keep in mind Ron's advice about relationship maps, that they need to be "grabby," i.e. if the character tries to walk away from it and catch a fast train to the coast, the map will be there first on a plane.

After some floundering around with maps, I also realized why blood and sex make the best links.  If the relationship isn't strong enough to cause somebody to kill over it, it isn't going to be a story driver.  That part of the map isn't going to reach out and grab someone.  The relationships might be important for fleshing out the world, but not for driving the story.

It's still something that I keep working with; one day I'l become proficient at it, and hopefully my sessions will show the benefits.
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Clay Dowling
RPG-Campaign.com - Online Campaign Planning and Management
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: October 30, 2001, 06:30:00 AM »

Jesse,

Let me be among those to congratulate you for emerging from the "long dark night of the soul," which was characterized by your anguished threads about fizzled or tempestuous play. This thread is both a joy and a relief.

Best,
ron
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