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Author Topic: Questions for those who've played long-running GMless games.  (Read 3503 times)
anonymouse
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« on: February 11, 2004, 10:39:06 PM »

Something like Universalis in particular, I imagine, but possibly other games would fit the bill.

* Do you tend to stick to an overarching story stretching between sessions, or do you find more one-shot play?

* Is it very hard to get started at each session without a focused "plot guy"/GM, or does everyone get right back into the game?

* Do you ever have other friends drop in for a session or two and, if so, how does that change the group dynamic of such a game?

Reason for asking is I'm tentatively sketching out a game design in my head and it seems to lend itself to a lot of "one session, one story" play; it's GMless and characters are semi-communal. But I've had absolutely no experience in playing in any such games (Uni used to give me the hives; then I hit on this idea and it doesn't look so weird now ;), so I'm wondering if anyone's had similar game sessions and how they played out.

Any other quirks you might've noticed in the subject-line games would be appreciated!
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clehrich
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« Reply #1 on: February 12, 2004, 06:44:23 AM »

Just for clarification (I admit, I haven't read Universalis), do you mean GM-less or with a shifting GM?  That is, do you mean that at any given moment there will be no arbitrator/director/setting/rules-guy at all, or that who will fill this role at a given moment will vary wildly, without any one dominant person for it?

Chris Lehrich
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Chris Lehrich
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #2 on: February 12, 2004, 08:29:13 AM »

Hello,

To elaborate on Chris' question, I tend to think that there is no such thing as a GM-less game - because GMing is actually a widely-diverse set of tasks, many of which are distributed among multiple members of the group in a near-infinite number of ways. So-called "GM-less" play usually refers, as I see it, to distributing certain tasks which are usually permanently concentrated in one person around the group in an explicit fashion, and even permitting them to shift about.

Is that what you mean, Michael? Or something else?

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: February 12, 2004, 09:17:21 AM »

The Kroolian Jungle game seems to be worth commenting on, here. First, it was totally serial, there we didn't even do cliffhangers all that often. Meaning that plots seemed to be going wherever they were going at their own pace. Think soap opera. Nothing at all like one-shot play, and I think that you would never get that, without an explicit decision to do so before play. I'd like to see that tried.

Second, everyone who knows the previous action gets right back into the game, right off, without anyone designated to do this. Records are key to this, so that people can remember what just happened, however.

Third, we swapped people out a lot in the several sessions that game went. It only changes things in the way that you would expect - the personalities and proclivities of the particular players come into play somewhat. Interestingly, however, overall motifs and style of the story are unaffected. It seems that once you have that much background to the current play, that it has a momentum that nobody wants to upset.

All in all, very easy to do, and has the logistical advantages of being playable with any set of players present.

Mike
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anonymouse
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« Reply #4 on: February 12, 2004, 10:05:13 AM »

re: Clarification: Ron hit it right in terms of what I was thinking of. I haven't actually played in any game like that and the whole idea used to be sort of unsightly to me, so 'pologisin' for poor terminology. ;)

Mike, thanks! I'll poke my head around and see if there are any threads lurking on said game and give it a read.
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Emily Care
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« Reply #5 on: February 12, 2004, 10:12:58 AM »

Hi there Michael,

If you are wondering about how it works to have multiple gms, I've been involved with one that's been running for 4 yrs or so. It's only been 3 players, but if we'd been open to having other players I think it would have been fine as long as they could have been clued in to what had gone before. At this point we've so much history it would be hard. We've had many plotlines, united by the arc that united our three primary characters.  We used the Ars Magica system as a base, too, which places a lot of emphasis on setting--we were all in the same covenant (or rather making the covenant) all together. We didn't have to worry about getting our characters to come together or trade time between them for screen time on their various plots.

Records, clear distribution of who can do what and who has to do what seem critical. Fang Langford's Scattershot system might be useful to you to check out as well.

Also, if you haven't read Sorcerer already, try to do so. Ron has a lot of good notions about how to enlist players as audience to the plotlines of characters not their own.

Good hunting,
Emily
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Doctor Xero
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« Reply #6 on: February 13, 2004, 05:17:07 PM »

I'd like to know more about this as well.  Can it be done with roleplayers or is GMless (as Ron defined it) primarily
for gamists and strategists?

For example, in a GMless game with five players, does this mean that my PC's mother will be played by any
of those five at any time?  How do I roleplay my PC's rapport with her if I never know what her personna is
going to be like since it oscillates between five different interpretations?

In a GMless game with five guys, if my PC and an NPC get into a fencing duel, do I choose who gets to play
the NPC, is it chosen randomly, or do people bid for the "privilege"?  I can see a lot of frustration waiting to
boil over if people bid -- unless all five are identical in abilities and personalities, I might become very frustrated
if I always end up against the best player so my PC is a failure overall while someone else is the group's
golden child and always ends up against players who are afraid to best his PC.  In competitive PC as opposed
to cooperative PC games, a player has to be good at objectivity to keep his PC's rivalry with my PC from
spilling over into his depiction of the NPC, and in competitive player as opposed to cooperative player games,
I am definitely in trouble!  (Or is bidding to play the opponent part of the competitive fun?)

Are mysteries, in which we all strive to discover who killed the victim, impossible to run in a GMless game?
If they are run, how do we keep the murderer's identity secret from all the players while letting anyone who
wants to play the murderer as an NPC?

If the campaign is mostly-realistic modern day, and one of the players is a devout atheist and another is a
devout theist, does that mean that whether there's an interactive God or not in that world varies according
to whether it's the atheist's turn or the theist's turn to adjudicate my prayers?  Or will they bid against each
other to determine who gets to decide whether or not my prayers have any effect at all, with the atheist
and the theist battling out their incompatible belief systems through the game?  Or is this one of the things
which is decided ahead of time as per social contract?

I have other questions, but these should give you an idea of my curiosity.  I doubt I shall ever have the
opportunity to play in a GMless campaign except at a gaming convention.

And I apologize in advance if my questions seem overly naive.

Doctor Xero
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clehrich
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« Reply #7 on: February 14, 2004, 09:34:27 AM »

Quote from: Doctor Xero
I'd like to know more about this as well.  Can it be done with roleplayers or is GMless (as Ron defined it) primarily for gamists and strategists?
I'm not sure what you mean by these distinctions, and I don't see clarification in the later remarks.  Can you define?
Quote
For example, in a GMless game with five players, does this mean that my PC's mother will be played by any of those five at any time?  How do I roleplay my PC's rapport with her if I never know what her personna is going to be like since it oscillates between five different interpretations?
Depends considerably on the system.  My own preference is to have NPC's get taken up by a given player, and then be consistently played by that player if they turn out to be regulars.  That is, minor thugs might get swapped around, but your PC's mother should be played by one player, consistently, to avoid precisely the problem you refer to.
Quote
In a GMless game with five guys, if my PC and an NPC get into a fencing duel, do I choose who gets to play the NPC, is it chosen randomly, or do people bid for the "privilege"?
Could go lots of ways, but again, I prefer to have one player be the other duellist.  In Shadows in the Fog (see weblink, but it's an alpha and weak), you would tend to have the NPC played by the current GM (since it swaps around), but another player can indeed bid to get to be the NPC.  Unless the GM of the moment has something particular in mind, this is unlikely to result in a bidding war, because presumably the person who bids has some reason to spend resources (cards, in Shadows) on the character, so has some neat idea about what to do with him or her.
Quote
I might become very frustrated if I always end up against the best player so my PC is a failure overall while someone else is the group's golden child and always ends up against players who are afraid to best his PC.
Can you clarify this?  I don't understand what you mean about the golden child and whatnot.  I'm not trying to be snarky; I genuinely don't get your point.
Quote
Are mysteries, in which we all strive to discover who killed the victim, impossible to run in a GMless game? If they are run, how do we keep the murderer's identity secret from all the players while letting anyone who wants to play the murderer as an NPC?
Mysteries are a bitch, frankly.  You do probably need a dominant GM for that plot thread, although in some groups you might be able to get away with a kind of "make it up as you go along" mystery.  I tend to have GM's control a given plot thread, so that these consistency problems don't arise much.
Quote
If the campaign is mostly-realistic modern day, and one of the players is a devout atheist and another is a devout theist, does that mean that whether there's an interactive God or not in that world varies according to whether it's the atheist's turn or the theist's turn to adjudicate my prayers?
No, this should in some sense be determined by the game universe, which all must agree upon to some degree.  For this reason, I tend to emphasize a dominant GM who more or less sets the universe, but everything he or she does is subject to some revision by other players, either as PC's or as GM's.  I do not think that the players' personal beliefs about divinity should be allowed to dominate what they do as GM's; this is asking for social problems, unless everyone has previously agreed to such a structure.

Chris Lehrich
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Chris Lehrich
talysman
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« Reply #8 on: February 14, 2004, 02:28:44 PM »

in case anyone's interested, I've decide my priority project for now is to write and publish a book on GMless gaming, including a sample stand-alone GMless game as well as rules for playing GMless with existing systems. naturally, this means I've been thinking about techniques of GMless play quite a bit, even beyond what I've already written here on the Forge or this Usenet thread. I figure getting more involved in Forge threads on GMless roleplay and listening to what others have to say would make good research...

Quote from: Doctor Xero
I'd like to know more about this as well.  Can it be done with roleplayers or is GMless (as Ron defined it) primarily for gamists and strategists?


I'd say there's no strict "roleplayer versus Gamist" dichotomy. first, "softcore" Gamists (those that prefer playing Gamist with Sim support) would roleplay just as much as what you would no doubt call "real roleplayers"; second, the similarities of Gamist and Narrativist techniques would mean that if hardcore Gamists find GMless roleplaying easy, then so would hardcore Narrativists, since the only difference is the reward system and goal of play.

but skipping that issue and focusing on your real question ("can high Sim players play GMless?") I'd say yes, although GMless Sim designs have been pretty scarce. the trick to a GMless Sim is that the setting must be collaborative, so either the players need to agree on a vision for the setting or they need to use a completely external setting, like playing in the "Star Trek" universe or the Buffyverse or some other published very familiar setting.

agreeing on a vision that everyone will limit themselves to while creating new setting elements isn't as hard as it sounds; after all, in a tradition GM-run game, players who don't agree with the GM's vision can spoil the game for everyone as easily as they could in a GMless game. how you arbitrate vision disagreements between players will vary, depending on what the the group feels comfortable with; obviously, if I plan to write a book on the subject, I will need to fully detail ways of doing this, but some obvious methods would be automatic veto, majority rules, a bidding system, or a dice contest. if you're playing with a group of people who are actually friends, who are just as enthused about the group vision as you are, there probably won't be many disagreements -- if you already know how to get along, you'll get along.

for handling NPC, Chris pretty much has it covered: mooks and extras get handled by whomever, more important NPCs get assigned. I'll skip on to one of your other questions:

Quote from: Doctor Xero
Are mysteries, in which we all strive to discover who killed the victim, impossible to run in a GMless game? If they are run, how do we keep the murderer's identity secret from all the players while letting anyone who
wants to play the murderer as an NPC?


first, keep in mind that not all GM mystery games have predefined solutions to the mystery: a GM could "wing it" on any or all "facts" in the mystery, perhaps going into full all-out No Myth style (funny, I can't find the main No Myth threads that introduced the concept, although I think Feng was the originator of the term; any help, Ron or Mike?)

another example of a variable plot or mystery would be InSpectres; Jared quite bluntly says that if you plan for one kind of monster but the players suspect another kind of monster (and that seems more interesting,) then change the plot. presumably, this applies to everything else: if you note in your prep that the butler is the vampire, but the players think it's the guy who runs the newstand (who was just an improvised extra,) then go ahead and change it.

so what this all means is that it's possible to leave the identity of the murderer in a mystery undefined; define it in play instead. maybe use something like an "insight roll" when you suspect a particular character; if the roll fails, the NPC does something suspicious, but you still can't prove anything.

in the Usenet thread I referred to above, I suggested some specific ways of working plots into GMless games. the approach I suggested was to allow each player to run one subplot and determine when plot elements surface some other way; I gave examples of writing the plot elements on index cards and drawing from the deck to see what surfaces, or instead have everyone roll at the beginning of a scene to see who gets to insert a plot element. if you were adapting Fungeon with plots, whoever gets to describe the Treasure in a given room can add a clue to their plot as part of the treasure, while whoever gets Monsters can choose to make the monster relevant to *their* plot.

allow me to brainstorm another approach to GMless mystery play. for this approach, I'm assuming Call of Cthulhu instead of using the D&D examples I normally give. I haven't played CoC for a couple years and I'm not sure how the rules changed, so bear in mind these are rough rules suggestions.

now, the main issues for a GM in CoC are:

    [*] handling temporary and permanent insanity, and
    [*] the actual nefarious plot.
    [/list:u]

    for permanent insanity, you can continue to follow the "lose character" rule; your PC now becomes an NPC. the only change for GMless play is that your character, as an NPC, can now be part of the plot, as I will explain later.

    for temporary insanity, I would suggest that everyone write down a phobic tendency during character creation. when you fail a SAN roll and become temporarily insane, you get to work the object of your phobia into the current scene; if anyone else has the same phobia, they must make SAN rolls as well.

    anyone who has a critical failure on a SAN roll gets to describe a bigger, supernatural version of their phobia -- immediate SAN rolls from everyone, regardless of their actual phobia.

    so, for example, you're investigating rumors of a cult in Dunwich and someone with a phobia of heights blows a SAN roll while inveting a house. that player could say that the floor gives way and the characters are now looking down into a yawning pit of unknown depth. if that same player later had a critical failure on SAN, the player could say instead that the character was snatched up by an invisible force and is now dangling in the air, forcing everyone else to make SAN rolls to deal with this mind-boggling event.

    while temporarily insane, assume that a character can either flee the scene or cower in fear without problem; a player could choose to try normal actions instead of roleplaying the overwhelming fear, but every such action requires another SAN roll; on every failure, worse and worse examples of the phobia get introduced into the scene. also, of course, these multiple SAN rolls can whittle away SAN points, moving the character closer to permanent insanity.

    so much for sanity, now for plots. in CoC, the plots are usually of the form "cultist X under influence of Great Old One Y is doing something, perhaps with assistance from minion Z". in GMless play, you can specify the general idea of what is going on ("a famous occultist just died in an unexplained fire") and add details (excluding minions and Great Old Ones) as play moves on.

    so what you need to keep undefined to create the feeling of mystery is X, Y and Z (the cultist mastermind, the Great Old One behind him or her, and the minions assisting.) there are also, of course, minor cultists and thugs in the employ of the mastermind.

    there are two parts to the mystery: when any particular element surfaces and what the specifics of the element are. the method I'm about to describe definitely keeps both parts of the mystery *for the cultists and mastermind* and also keeps the players guessing on when the minions and Great Old One surface; it's possible to keep the specifics of which GOO and minions are involved mysterious as well, but for now, let's assume that the group as a whole decides "we want to investigate a cult of Nyarlathotep, who is being served by these four minions..." there need to be four minions, because the method I am describing uses a deck of standard playing cards (with both jokers.) assign one minion to each suit.

    so you describe the "kicker" for this adventure -- the spontaneous combustion of an occultist, say -- and you know which GOO and which four minions could surface during the investigation (although the *characters* don't know...) you now roleplay an investigation. any player can and should add NPCs to each scene, as well as any other interesting details that seem to add to the mood. NPCs and details can be as creepy or as normal as desired. whichever NPC or potential clue seems like the most interesting to explore, explore it; imporvise more details, try various skill rolls, and so on.

    at any moment during play, any player could say "let's see if this clue/NPC is really linked" and draw a card from the deck. if it's a number card, the number from 1 to 10 is the chance of relevance, while the suit represents the type of relevance:

      [*] SPADES are directly related to the cult (cultist or cult property);
      [*] CLUBS are indirectly related to the cult (hired thugs who aren't cultists, &c);
      [*] DIAMONDS are financially linked to the cult in some way;
      [*] HEARTS are "good" and opposed to the cult.
      [/list:u]

      roll 3d6: if it's less than or equal to the value of the card, improvise an interpretation based on the suit; if not, this was a false lead. shuffle the card back into the deck in either case.

      if you draw a jack, don't roll: the clue or NPC *is* relevant, again based on the suit. if you draw a queen, the clue is linked to a major NPC (or the NPC you're investigating plays a major roll.) the queen of hearts represents an important opponent of the cult, the queen of diamonds is in the dark about the cult but knows something major is going on. the queen of spades is the mastermind (or a clue linked to the mastermind); the queen of clubs is the mastermind's assistant (either in the cult or outside of it.)

      jacks get shuffled back into the deck after interpretation, same as for number cards. if a queen is drawn for a potential clue instead of an NPC, it gets shuffled back in, too. if a queen is drawn for an NPC, however, the card only gets shuffled back in if the NPC escapes. this allows the mastermind to suddenly resurface later.

      the kings are minions or clear examples of minion influence. you can either have minions manifest whenever you draw a king for an NPC (the same as for jacks and queens,) or you can decide beforehand how long you want the session to last and assume that minion appearances before the halfway point are "signs of the minion" rather than the minion itself. if it's a lesser servitor race, you can shuffle the card back into the deck even if the minion is killed; for greater minions, you might decide to discard the king if the minion is eliminated.

      jokers are the influence of the GOO itself. this definitely should use the timed approach; if you draw a joker in the last hour of play, the GOO manifests in some way. otherwise, you only discover signs of the GOO.

      in either case, signs of minions or the GOO should require SAN rolls, just as running into the minions/GOO themselves would.

      one variation on this technique would be to prep two decks of index cards, one for minions and one for GOOs. go through the CoC book and write each minion and GOO on a seperate card; at the beginning of play, shuffle each of these auxillary decks. this keeps even the minions and GOO mysterious -- you only draw from the appropriate deck when you pull a king or joker.

      I think this technique would work fine for a mystery/horror game; the players need to be comfortable with Director Stance, of course, but a card technique removes the "we know what's coming" feeling you would get if everyone knew the full plot in advance.
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      Doctor Xero
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      « Reply #9 on: February 14, 2004, 07:26:41 PM »

      Quote from: clehrich
      Quote from: Doctor Xero
      I'd like to know more about this as well.  Can it be done with roleplayers or is GMless (as Ron defined it) primarily for gamists and strategists?
      I'm not sure what you mean by these distinctions, and I don't see clarification in the later remarks.  Can you define?

      They're not distinct -- they overlap.  I was trying to cover more bases that way.

      Quote from: clehrich
      Quote
      I might become very frustrated if I always end up against the best player so my PC is a failure overall while someone else is the group's golden child and always ends up against players who are afraid to best his PC.
      Can you clarify this?  I don't understand what you mean about the golden child and whatnot.  I'm not trying to be snarky; I genuinely don't get your point.

      A Golden Child is a slang term for someone who is favored by the game master or the group -- sort of like the teacher's pet except no one really resents it, because the golden child status comes either from the considerable talent and/or charisma of the golden child or from the feelings of protectiveness everyone feels towards the golden child (i.e. everybody's honorary kid brother).

      I've read the term "snarky" used several times in the Forge.  What exactly does it mean?  Does it refer to being rude, being defensive, or being wise ass?  I can only determine so much from context.  (And no, you haven't seemed snarky to me!)

      Thank you, Chris!

      Quote from: talysman
      I'd say there's no strict "roleplayer versus Gamist" dichotomy

      Sorry for any confusion, talysman.  The roleplayer/strategist dichotomy is a rhetorical artifice used to make it easier to discuss the differences between people who privilege the theatre side of gaming over the tactical side and those who privilege the tactical side of gaming over the theatre side.  Maybe this dichotomy is old-fashioned; I recall hearing it used most often as a kid back when the controversy of the day was whether RPGs should return to or avoid their war-gaming roots.

      Quote from: talysman
      the players need to agree on a vision for the setting or they need to use a completely external setting, like playing in the "Star Trek" universe or the Buffyverse or some other published very familiar setting.

      I can see how many of the problems I've encountered and envisioned would be less likely to occur when all players are equally familiar with the setting, such as Star Trek, rather than trying to explore a single individual's vision of a setting, which is the gaming style with which I am most familiar.  In the one Star Trek campaign I ran, all the players were allowed to pitch in to help me with Star Trek lore at any time, which had an element of GMlessness to it I guess.

      Quote from: talysman
      keep in mind that not all GM mystery games have predefined solutions to the mystery

      Quote from: talysman
      Jared quite bluntly says that if you plan for one kind of monster but the players suspect another kind of monster (and that seems more interesting,) then change the plot. presumably, this applies to everything else: if you note in your prep that the butler is the vampire, but the players think it's the guy who runs the newstand (who was just an improvised extra,) then go ahead and change it.

      In the gaming groups I've been in, that would ruin the game completely for the players.

      I recall one time I ran a mystery for the players, and somehow it wasn't working for them (not anyone's fault -- it just happens sometimes).  When one of them suggested something which fit nicely and actually worked better than what I'd had planned, I went along with it.  They congratulated themselves on cracking the plot.  Later on, they found out that I had changed it (as you and Jared might advise), and they were outraged.  They felt  betrayed, as though all their characters' hard investigative work were now rendered meaningless because I had arbitrarily changed the plot to hand them their victory.

      From that point forward, any time I ran a mystery with that group, I first had to promise them that I would not alter the mystery for them, or else they would refuse to play in it.

      Do not assume I'm criticizing you or Jared or a gaming style in which changing the plot is okay!  I have enjoyed a number of Jared's works, adapting them to a GM style when using them so my group would try them out, and I appreciate the depth of your answer.  I'm merely pointing out that this doesn't work for every group.

      Thanks, talysman!

      Doctor Xero
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      anonymouse
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      « Reply #10 on: February 14, 2004, 07:29:59 PM »

      Discussing merits of GMless stuff is best suited to another thread; this is AP forum, and I was looking for actual play examples, not theory or explainations (as useful as they may be).
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      clehrich
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      « Reply #11 on: February 14, 2004, 08:29:13 PM »

      Quote from: anonymouse
      * Do you tend to stick to an overarching story stretching between sessions, or do you find more one-shot play?
      Bit of both, really.  I like having an overarching "alpha" story, and then a whole bunch of other stories, all more or less running concurrently.  If the climaxes of the various stories are staggered, and you start a new story each time an old one ends, you end up with a continuous-running game.  That's more theory, though; when I've tried to run it, coincidentally two of my players headed for another country.
      Quote
      * Is it very hard to get started at each session without a focused "plot guy"/GM, or does everyone get right back into the game?
      I do tend to have an "alpha" GM for precisely this purpose.
      Quote
      * Do you ever have other friends drop in for a session or two and, if so, how does that change the group dynamic of such a game?
      This is easy, because you can just hand them pre-made NPC's, or alternatively have them make up bit parts of their own.  Since everyone's used to NPC's being played by just about anyone, there's no difficulty with new people entering and leaving rapidly.

      Obviously, I'm more comfortable with a mostly-shared GM system, rather than a completely communal one.  I'd love to hear from people who do pure communal GMing.

      Chris Lehrich
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      Chris Lehrich
      Peter Hollinghurst
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      « Reply #12 on: February 16, 2004, 09:08:39 AM »

      Doctor Xero wrote:
      Quote
      Are mysteries, in which we all strive to discover who killed the victim, impossible to run in a GMless game? If they are run, how do we keep the murderer's identity secret from all the players while letting anyone who
      wants to play the murderer as an NPC?

       

      talysman wrote:
      Quote
      Jared quite bluntly says that if you plan for one kind of monster but the players suspect another kind of monster (and that seems more interesting,) then change the plot. presumably, this applies to everything else: if you note in your prep that the butler is the vampire, but the players think it's the guy who runs the newstand (who was just an improvised extra,) then go ahead and change it.


      Doctor Xero wrote:
      Quote
      In the gaming groups I've been in, that would ruin the game completely for the players.

      I recall one time I ran a mystery for the players, and somehow it wasn't working for them (not anyone's fault -- it just happens sometimes). When one of them suggested something which fit nicely and actually worked better than what I'd had planned, I went along with it. They congratulated themselves on cracking the plot. Later on, they found out that I had changed it (as you and Jared might advise), and they were outraged. They felt betrayed, as though all their characters' hard investigative work were now rendered meaningless because I had arbitrarily changed the plot to hand them their victory.

      From that point forward, any time I ran a mystery with that group, I first had to promise them that I would not alter the mystery for them, or else they would refuse to play in it.


      I am planning to do some experiments around this in play shortly, using a system of story 'seeds', where the resolution of the story occurs when all the elements in the seed are resolved/understood by the group. The game ('Fortunes Wheel') uses Tarot and seperate seed cards together to build and resolve stories told through shared GM'ing. Once I have done a few test plays I will let you know how it all went (since this area should have some play examples on it!) and post the results.
      The key so far as I see it in resolving the mystery element is that firstly the group should know they are helping construct the mystery as well as 'solve' it-that the mystery is implicit in the story seed somehow. If they know in advance that 'solving' the mystery does not imply a fixed solution, but one of several implied in the seed they must 'tease out' creatively, they would begin play with the expectation that they are helping to 'write' the mystery as well as 'read' it. For example-the seed is a dark old house with a mirror, a stuffed cat and three men standing by a half open door. A body with a knife in it is on the floor (this would be shown as an image). You have all the key elements of the mystery there-presumably one of three men is a killer, and it somehow involves the mirror and the stuffed cat.
      The players solve it by using their imagination through playing cards to build up themes and encounters, with certain cards in a deck relating to aspects of the seed according to their percieved symbolic meanings. The solution 'exists' only in so far as it is possible for us to construct elaborate fictions based around limited information-we are adept at creating meaning. Its one of the strengths of conspiracy theories-Umberto Eco's book 'Foucault's Pendulum' is a good example of this (I wont reveal the ending in case you read it), and he also goes into this in some depth in 'Serendipities' (if in a rather round about way).
      The problem of frustration in discovering 'there was no ending' after all, or that it was always open ended, has been being explored in some depth on the white-wolf.com forums in their time of judgement thread (and a few others), since they have created very much this sort of problem in how they have ended their World Of darkness game line-there is a lot there worth reading. I believe that as we explore new ways of creating stories interactively, we are increasingly stiring up expectations of what it means to be a 'reader' or a 'writer'-that we fall into either role naturally because our experience of reading a book or film has conditioned us to be more passive and receptive and less creative. We need to create new 'contracts' of sorts with players in games that break the reader/writer dichotomy, ones where they know in advance that this is what they doing, that it is their creativity that is being allowed to flourish.
      Hmmm.I hope I have not rambled on too much here...
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      clehrich
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      « Reply #13 on: February 16, 2004, 09:54:40 AM »

      Quote from: Peter Hollinghurst
      Hmmm.I hope I have not rambled on too much here...
      No, not at all!
      Quote from: Doctor Xero
      Are mysteries, in which we all strive to discover who killed the victim, impossible to run in a GMless game? If they are run, how do we keep the murderer's identity secret from all the players while letting anyone who wants to play the murderer as an NPC?

      Quote from: Doctor Xero
      In the gaming groups I've been in, that would ruin the game completely for the players. ... Later on, they found out that I had changed it (as you and Jared might advise), and they were outraged. They felt betrayed, as though all their characters' hard investigative work were now rendered meaningless....

      Quote from: Peter Hollinghurst
      I am planning to do some experiments around this in play shortly, using a system of story 'seeds', where the resolution of the story occurs when all the elements in the seed are resolved/understood by the group. The game ('Fortunes Wheel') uses Tarot and seperate seed cards together to build and resolve stories told through shared GM'ing. Once I have done a few test plays I will let you know how it all went (since this area should have some play examples on it!) and post the results.
      Since my own game Shadows in the Fog is fairly similar in some respects, e.g. using Tarot cards to do conspiracy-style mystery, I'd love to hear a lot more about this; certainly post what happens!
      Quote
      The key so far as I see it in resolving the mystery element is that firstly the group should know they are helping construct the mystery as well as 'solve' it-that the mystery is implicit in the story seed somehow.
      Well, that's one way to do it, but it sounds like Dr.0's players would respond, "Well, then it's not a kind of mystery we want to play in."  Another way is to have a roughly fixed structure, but not work out all the details of how you get from point to point.  These the players fill in as they go, but they still have to get the right answer or be wrong.

      Here's an example of one GM's prep for a shared-GM mystery.

      Presented Situation
      Dave, head ripped off, found on floor in locked room.

      Known Clues
      One window catch is loose, and can be locked from the outside by playing with a powerful magnet.  This is how the killer got out (alternatively, you don't even know that, if you want to keep it to a minimum).

      Solution
      Janet's pet orangutan ripped Dave's head off.  If you chose to determine the mode of egress above, then Janet went out the window and locked it from the outside with a magnet.

      The Bare Minimum
      Body minus head in locked room.  One window-catch can be manipulated from outside.  Killer was an orangutan.

      Now I know pretty much everything you need to know.  The GM of this thread (let's say it's me) needs only to make sure that these few points remain intact.  If other players invent stuff that doesn't explicitly contradict anything here, it's fair game.  Of course, some of what they invent will be red herrings, but some will complicate and deepen the picture.  For example, I don't know here whether Janet brought her orangutan to the room for this purpose, and I don't know where she got the magnet.  These sorts of things can be left to the players' imaginations safely, and I don't have to worry about a continuity error.

      Now if the game has broadly shared GM-ing, the only point you need to emphasize is that this is my plot, and I get creative control over this limited number of points on this list.  So now you're running a thread, and it crosses this one, and somebody "discovers" that all the window catches are very tight.  I now step in and say, "Sorry, correction.  One window catch isn't tight.  And now back to your regularly scheduled program."  Of course, you have now telegraphed that this is an essential clue, and some people may want to shift GM's back to me so as to follow it up, but that isn't necessary.  The only thing I absolutely cannot do here is assert clues that only extend from my known facts.  So when somebody says, "None of the windowsills have any hair or marks on them," I can't change that.  I do now have to think about why neither Janet nor her orangutan left marks, but I can't jump in for that reason.  Conversely, if someone says without warning, "Aha!  One window catch is very loose!" I don't say anything.  They don't know whether that's because it was already true, or because it isn't on the list.

      Basically, so long as anyone running a mystery is willing to swear up and down that he or she has kept the required elements to a bare minimum, you can shared-GM any mystery you like; in the end, the thing will be horrendously complicated, I guarantee, because people will start inventing crazy things that make up a wonderfully "thick" description of the situation.  Then they'll start running down the red herrings to see which ones matter.
      Quote
      Its one of the strengths of conspiracy theories-Umberto Eco's book 'Foucault's Pendulum' is a good example of this (I wont reveal the ending in case you read it), and he also goes into this in some depth in 'Serendipities' (if in a rather round about way).
      An excellent example.  Since the players in most games don't have access to infinite data, you can have them make it up instead.  So long as their inventions never cross the few "real" points, they will produce fantastic conspiracies out of molehills.  And if, as in Shadows in the Fog, they are encouraged not only to make up data but also dredge it out of a really wide range of historical craziness, you'll end up with conspiracies that would make Fox Mulder change his underwear.  

      The only important point to making this work, beyond what I've mentioned, is this: everything is almost certainly fantastically important.  There's no such thing as a pure coincidence, in other words.  If a completely different thread discovers that there were actually two orangutans loose that night, that's not random.  There must be a Reason.  Now go figure out what it is.  And so on.

      Chris Lehrich
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      Chris Lehrich
      Peter Hollinghurst
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      « Reply #14 on: February 16, 2004, 10:42:31 AM »

      clehrich wrote:

      Quote
      The only important point to making this work, beyond what I've mentioned, is this: everything is almost certainly fantastically important. There's no such thing as a pure coincidence, in other words. If a completely different thread discovers that there were actually two orangutans loose that night, that's not random. There must be a Reason. Now go figure out what it is. And so on.


      Absolutely fantastic way of putting it-everything is almost certainly fantastically important-I love that. It sums up the main thrust of how I think this sort of story construct would work! Thank you!

      One of the aspects of Tarot that is central to 'Fortunes Wheel' will be that much of the game revolves around the concept that many story elements and concepts are culturally ingrained (which might mean it flops completely in China as an idea, but oh well). To some extent our life experience (and most importantly, our experience of stories) means that we share certain expectations and assumptions about the way stories work. Locked room mysteries for example, have to solve how either the room was entered and left leaving it locked, or reveal a method where the evnt occured without outside interference (our life experience helps here-there are certain observable 'logic' aspects that can be deduced)-when the story aspect comes into play is when 'clues' are given-other parts of the puzzle. If a monkey is introduced, we know it 'must' be part of the puzzle, no matter how improbable that may be (kinda a weird reversal of Sherlock Holmes' dictum that whatever is left once you have eliminated all other possibilities must be the truth, no matter how absurd it may appear). Once you have a monkey involved it starts to conjure up other stories in our minds with monkeys-the murders in the rue morgue-jungle book-king kong. Throw in a few more clues and they interact-its a murder, so the rue morgue story seems to fit. A whole plethora of backstories, motivations, methods and so on will follow. If the story clues evoke particulary basic and ingrained 'culturally learnt' stories and themes (call them archetypal perhaps?) then the players of the game may not even know they are invoking them. This is particulary relevent when using Tarot, since I would argue that is how 'readings' of the cards work as well. Thus if Tarot are being used to help create the story, with players using cards to add story elements and drama (as they do in 'Fortunes Wheel'), it should naturally introduce archetypal imagery into the game and make events seem 'destined'-everything will feel not only fantastically important, but also fantastically relevent...
      Hope that makes sense.
      Shadows In the Fog sounds interesting-I hope we can continue to discuss the Tarot aspect without treading on each toes creatively, and see both our games flourish. I have been a bit fed up having zero number of people around me wanting to really go into the theory!
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