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Plotting for Group Involvement

Started by Bill Cook, August 30, 2003, 04:04:21 AM

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Bill Cook

(If this is well-trodden ground, whoever references the respective posts, please share your approach to searching.)

My core dilemma is creating game play that features the functional value of involvment in the actions of fellow players, and I seek to address it through preparation of plot.

Assume you're operating from a model of GM master plotting.  (Not necessarily for rigid adherence; for no less than a touchpoint.)  Will anyone suggest techniques or share experience in building sequences that engender group involvement?

The actual play punishment that motivates my interest is players staring into space, slumped over in their chair, hating life as they wait for their next time slice.

Bill Cook

Bill Cook

I summarized those comments I found most useful to my understanding of narrativist technique in reviewing suggested threads.  I thought other newbies might find this useful:

Scene Framing
Quote from: Bankuei
Standard Play

GM-Where do you go?
Player- Batman goes from his cave to the docks to rough up some guys for info
(scenes ensue, info is gathered)
GM-Where do you go?
Player- Batman goes to the warehouse to wait for the shipment.
GM-What do you do?

Scene Framing

GM- 4 hours, 3 contusions, and one cracked rib later, you find yourself damn well freezing crouched upon a rafter in a seedy warehouse. Down below, you see the weapons shipment is a bit more heavy powered than you anticipated...must be the Army's new android soldiers...What do you do?
Player- (See response examples below)

Notice that if we're talking the typical Illusionist/Sim sort of play, the point of the GM asking, "What do you do?" is pretty pointless because there's really only a couple of "right" answers that will get the PC to the next event in game. With Scene Framing, there's not need to "lead" Batman to the action, you just throw him right in.
What exactly are you meaning? What/Whose reactions are you referring to? I think I get what protagonist play is.. play whereby the PCs are the movers/shakers/decision makers, in the sense of the storyline that is...

Ok, so check the first example. The GM is wasting game time asking "What do you do?"when, in effect, the answers are limited or predetermined. The player really doesn't have any kind of input. The second example, yeah, the player doesn't have any input into "how he got there", but the input comes into, "What happens next..." So let's go into some possible responses on part of the player....

Scene A
Player- Batman throws down smoke bombs and jumps from the rafter, smacking people left and right, tossing batarangs, etc.!

Scene B
Player- Batman carefully sneaks up and places a tracer on the shipment!

Scene C
Player- Batman decides to call in the Bat-jet and "nuke it from's the only way to be sure"!

Scene D
Player- Batman decides to call it a night and make it back in time for his date, and let the cops handle it.

So, here we have 4 possible examples, out of an infinite amount of possibilities. The key point here is that the GM shouldn't limit what is the "right response" for the player. Granted, C & D are uncharacteristic of Batman, but if we had another similar character put in, one who is either a bit more ruthless, or less driven, one could easily see those as possible results.

For protagonistic play to work, the players have to be free to make any kind of response to the situations you present to them, including to drop it completely("We're in the tavern, and you expect us to take a job, involving danger, from a person who won't show his face, and won't tell us who we're really working for....right...."). The responses the players make, make a statement about who that character is.

So, response A shows you guts and glory Batman. Response B shows you careful calculating Batman. Response C shows you ruthless vigilante Batman. Response D shows you a Batman no one familiar with the character would recognize. If you remove Batman as the character, and swap "Heroman", each of those responses tells you something very important about "Heroman".

In other words, for a player to be able to express what their character is about, they need to have the freedom to make whatever decisions, or responses to what happens, that they desire.

Second, by not limiting the player's choice in responses, you've effectively given the players the "Ball". You've said, "Here's the set up, now tell me what happens next?"

If the player chooses A, action happens now. If the player chooses B, action happens later, tension builds, etc. If the player chooses C, most likely the crime syndicate will be after his ass hardcore, plus the police and military may step in. If he choooses D, then obviously the social roleplaying is more important to the player.

You set up the scene, the player reacts and tells you where this game will go by reaction and simultaneously tells you about his or her character.

Quote from:  Mike Holmes

[*]An event that causes a situation to arise that has two qualities:
[*]It cannot be ignored. If the character can walk away that decision must be as impactful as any other.
[*]The decision is a conflict. That is, it's not at all certain how the player will have the character react. The player will be making up the response, and not simply reacting in an obvious manner.
Basically look at the character sheet or at the players play, find two values of the character's and make the player choose between them.
[*]Don't try to have all bangs affect each character equally. This does lead to play that goes off in a lot of directions, but that's part of how narrativism works, and shouldn't be fought. Basically play looks more like a book than the typical RPG flow where the characters are always at each other's sides. As long as you have bangs that will affect each character, it's all good.
[*]Once things are established, you just need to come up with a few new Bangs each session. You don't really write entire scenarios, just the precipitating events.
[*]Look at what the NPCs want from the PCs. The bang can be generically written: NPC X comes to PC Y, needing Z; Y can only provide it via A or B or C.  None of which (A, B, and C) being things which suggests itself more than any of the others. The results of Bangs will make other bangs obvious.
[*]To an extent, all a Narrativist GM does is force characters into situations.  The key isn't restraining yourself from doing that. The key is restraining yourself from selecting the outcome of the Conflict which you have driven the characters into.
[*]What you do is to assume that the character will do anything that's perfectly in his nature. Just narrate all that you're fairly sure about, right up to the point that the player has to make his decision.  Simply move the story up to the next point of conflict. Then let the player decide how to resolve it.
[*]Real Railroading isn't simply the use of Force. It's the use of Force to make the sort of decisions that the players are interested in making. As long as you avoid that, you can use as much Force as you want.

Quote from: Bankuei

[*]Remember the two keywords for good Bangs: Pressure and Drama.  
[*]Remember, push everyone to desperation and drastic decisions, even your NPCs. It's what makes the drama go.

Quote from: Ron Edwards
The Kicker is a sentence or two written by a player regarding his or her character. Its requirement is that something about the character's life has just changed, in such a way that they must take action. Ideally, the Kicker should not be a no-brainer but pose a bit of a conundrum or even an ethical dilemma.

Relationship Map
Quote from: Ron Edwards
It is literally nothing but a chart of all notable NPCs with their names connected by bonds of (a) family relationship, (b) sexual contact, and (c) anything else if it seems important and is not (a) or (b).

It is to be COMBINED with, not to substitute for, all the usual notes of who's killing whom, and who hid the letter in the old trunk, and all that usual sort of back-story thing.

Rob Donoghue

Just chiming in because that's a great list, one that I'll probably cut and paste to a text file somewhere just to keep on hand.  However, I think it's missing one really key element.  To my mind, at the beginning of every game I can thinkof, the players hand the GM an explicit list of all of the things they want to see happen, all the things they're interested in, and all of the things they really don't care about.  I am speaking, of course, of the character sheet.

A lot of the time, GMs just ignore the character sheet entirely. There are no shortage of games where the min/maxing of advantages and disadvantages hinges not on the mechanical drawbacks of the disads, but rather on the perceived likelihood that the GM will bother to bring it up in the first place.  The simple task of looking at the characters advantages and disadvantages often provides easy ways to hook the play into the characters.  

The kicker is, it doesn't stop there.  Every element you see on the character sheet represents a choice made by the player, and a choice reflecting what they want to see happen.  Take a minute to look at character sheets thinking of them as questionaires where the players got a chance to fill out what's important to them.

Some things are easy to interpret - lots of combat skills? Lots of social skills?  Throw out the approriate challenges and your going a long way towards making your player happy.  But dont' stop there.  Look at the lesser skills - the ones you think of as being there for color.  Odds are good that a lot of the group has combat skills or social skills, but if only one character has a noteworthy amount of sailing skill, that's a hook.  Knowledge skills, in all their various flavors, are almost always telling - if the player cares enough about this knowedge, then they want it to matter.

It's really easy to dismiss a lot of character sheets as simply being mechanical, or discount the choices because they were made for optimization reasons.  Take for a moment the Storyteller system.  Most of their games have some sort of central trait (Generation/Gnosis/Arete/Essence/etc.) which is so central to the way the rest of the system works that most players will buy that element as high as they're allowed.  In theory, this element represents something (enlightenment, age, whatever), but the GM and players are hard pressed to consider this a real roleplaying hook, since it's understood why everyone bought it.  I would suggest that that is important, not for the so called RP hook, but because of that shared understanding.  If a player maximizes that so they can do  more cool powers things, take it as what it is: a sign that the player likes the cool powers (or whatever else it gets him).  Use that interest to rope him in. After all, just because powers are cool, doen't mean they can't be interesting.

Once you've managed to figure this out, the question still remains as to how you want to use this information.  Even using it for something as simple as making sure each character gets a spotlight moment can improve player buy in dramatically.  Going further, and using it as inspiration and seeds for where your narrative is going (if that's your thing) or for gauging what sorts of challenges the players want to encounter  (if that's your thing) or otherwise keeping it in mind when you do your planning, you can end up with not just hooks, but enthusiastic player buy in.

There's a lot more to interpreting this "secret language of character sheets", but it merits more space than I really should use up at the moment, so I'll wrap up with a plea: Your players are talking to you, though they themselves may not know it - listen.

-Rob D.
Rob Donoghue
<B>Fate</B> -

Bill Cook

Quote from: Rob DonoghueThe simple task of looking at the characters advantages and disadvantages often provides easy ways to hook the play into the characters.

Too true.  And it's right under our noses.  And treating irrelevant skill fluff as hook tips -- that's a winner, too.

My last session, a player kept reminding me of his tracking abilities.  I asked him how it worked.  He made some confused statement about percents and conditions.  Argonauts!  I thought.  We're not tracking anything, anyway.

But later, it occured to me: he didn't mention it so much to cheat my sim or aggravate me with silly complications; it was a plea for involvement per his particular interest.

So when they checked in with their Gnome allies and found a deserted camp, I asked him to make some "tracking" rolls and said his lore revealled signs of an aerial assault (e.g. Gryphon talon wounds in a horse carcass) and a hasty flight into the woods to the North.  His eyes got bright like Christmas tree lights.