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Independent Game Forums => Adept Press => Topic started by: Valamir on October 04, 2004, 07:17:10 PM

Title: Marcus' game (latecomers to Flagging thread)
Post by: Valamir on October 04, 2004, 07:17:10 PM
Perhaps that is been my main problem running the game- I am divided between two principles, being "don't exercise any control, the players will drive the game and interesting situations will arise out of the adressing of the character's life issues", and the conflicting "take control, drive the players to the interesting bits, but then let them choose their own destiny by how they decide to act". To my mind, the latter will only work if I work out a plotline of some sort (or, rather, a series of branching plotlines with player choices to determine which path is in fact followed), but I fear that I am then violating the principles of Sorcerer by doing this. I am concerned, however, that the former strategy is not going to work at all.

I hate to come late to the party especially after its been more or less closed but I just wanted to highlight something I think might be catching you up.

The answer is definitely the second choice above.  Sorcerer has a very traditional GM role.  The GM must be in the drivers seat doing GM stuff and running this game.  Approaching like a free for all everyone contributes Universalis style game is doomed, not just for your group, as you rightly surmise, but pretty much everyone.  Sorcerer is not that type of game.

Where you go wrong, however, is the end where you equate the GM taking charge with coming up with branching plot lines.  Branching plot lines would (as you rightly suspect) be a huge mistake for Sorcerer.  That doesn't mean that the GM isn't in charge.  That just means that the branching plot line approach is the wrong tool for the job.

The correct tool for the job is Relationship Maps.  Powerfull and compelling NPC doing powerful and compelling stuff to each other and who a) all have a reason to want to engage with the PCs (either as allies or enemies) and b) aren't in the business of keeping their business secret from the PCs.

Don't create a plot, create a situation.  Create a situation with a bunch of people who each want something and by extension either want the PCs to do something or want the PCs to not do something.  And then don't make any great effort to keep those wants secret from the players.  Let them in on it and BAM that's when the game starts to run.

But as GM you have to be very much in charge.  In charge of who the NPCs are.  In charge of what the NPCs want.  In charge of what demands and threats the NPCs are making of the PCs.  In charge of what is going to happen to the situation if the players don't act so you can then figure out what actually happens when they do.

Very much in charge.  But very much not with a pre determined branching plot.

I think doing a search on Relationship Maps will pull up about a bazillion threads of wide ranging value, but perhaps someone can direct you to the best of them.

Title: Marcus' game (latecomers to Flagging thread)
Post by: marcus on October 04, 2004, 08:00:21 PM
Thanks, Ralph, for a helpful post.

I am familiar with the Relationship Map concept from my reading of Sorcerer's Soul. Indeed, even before I read about it, I think I was using the technique in other games without giving it any special name. I thus follow what you are saying.

There are a few matters I'd like to discuss arising out of this and other postings, but in view of the fact that this thread is supposed to have come to an end, I better start a new thread to raise them there.


Title: Marcus' game (latecomers to Flagging thread)
Post by: Scripty on October 15, 2004, 05:56:00 AM
Like Ralph, I apologize for catching this thread late but I wanted to make two comments.

First, I wanted to commend Chris on a classic post. "Raargh. muncha muncha."

Second, I wanted to highlight a technique that it seems hasn't been much mentioned.

Here, Marcus says the following:

Chris seems to be suggesting that my Sorcerer game should be more like a post-modern soap-opera, with a lot of attention paid to the minutiae of the characters lives...
I am not suggesting that Chris' advice would not and has not worked a treat in other Sorcerer groups, but I'm worried that a game run like this is not going to appeal to my group.

And I would like to add some points which may very well apply to the game he is running right now. And may very well affect the outcome of that game (hence I felt the need to post).

Sorcerer (and Narr play in general) is all about the characters' lives. One of the biggest disconnects for me (as a GM) and for my players (in a previously failed attempt at Narr play) was in realizing how radical a shift this was in the focus of the game.

Notice how Chris, in his post above, defines what's happening by asking questions of the player. This is a subtle and radical shift in the focus of play. Most posts here have talked about how different Sorcerer is from other rpgs, but Chris' post actually shows how it is different, if in just a humorous example.

Traditionally, a GM tells the player whats happening. The player functions as a receptacle of the GM's imagination and makes a few choices, rolls a few dice. But the basic dynamic is "GM to player". The vast majority of roleplaying is performed in this fashion with players affecting the plot only insofar as they are able to with good dice rolling, tactics or kewl powers.

Narr, at least as I've read it in Ron's books (and the couple of times I've got it right by accident), is very different. It's far more collaborative and the flow isn't from GM to player but more like the GM setting the tone and overall big picture (not plot), the player setting the details, the GM working with those details and sending it back to the player, while the plot works itself out in the exchange (from my understanding, at least). The players are key collaborators in determining what the story is, where it goes and how it gets there. The story does not exist without the players. That's a 180 degree shift from most roleplaying and your players may be butting their heads up against that.

The one key technique that I think you can take from this thread (and Chris' post especially) is to ask the players questions. Everyone likes to answer a question. Everyone likes to help somebody else figure something out.

Ask the players what's going on. Ask the players what certain things are like. Give them "permission" to take a greater part in the game (to sign on) with your queries.

If the players say "Man, I'd like to find those thugs and show them a thing or two..." jump to that scene and ask the players how they want it "framed" or how they arrived at the scene. The details that most RPGs set firmly in the GMs seat are much more fluid in Narr, as I understand it. The players have to understand this because, IME, it's not all that evident at the onset, even in bona-fide, Forgista Narr groups.

Using games that codify this subtle distinction in Sorcerer and HeroQuest is a good starting point for recovering roleplayers, Donjon and TrollBabe do a great job, IMO, of letting the players know not only that it's alright to speak up but when (which is something I think veteran RPGers, including myself, have a hard time coming to terms with). It's no surprise to me that the most consistently successful Forge game I ran for my last group was Donjon. It gave them license to input. They knew it and they used it. But, more importantly, I used it too.

What will help your players first is knowing they can add whatever they want (relax, your line of questioning and what you do with their responses will already set the boundaries of what they can and cannot determine).

Asking them questions, like Chris points out above, will help let them know not only that they can give input into the situation but also what kind of input is acceptable. Furthermore, by having the players answer the questions and having those answers really matter, you ensure that you're not locked into minutiae of play that the players don't find interesting. The game only becomes a soap-opera if your players want it to. They're guiding the game, not you. In Narr, you're controlling the flow and contributing on a more equal level than most GMs are used to.

Ask the players specifics -- things you don't have worked out or would like elaboration on -- as Chris points out, and if they have no answers ask the other players for help. Don't take it on yourself to supply these things. You'll still get to show off your GM mojo by taking the info they give you and working it into what has come before. And, believe me, you'll look good for it...

The ultimate responsiblity falls upon you, though, to actually use what the players give you -- from Kickers on down to the Felix the Cat alarm clock the player says is hanging on his wall. This lets the players know that you're on board with this whole Narr thing and it not only reinforces that what they're doing (as in contributing to the story) is right (remember the GM is still an authority figure) but it also reinforces that what they are doing is important to you, the story, the plot and the setting, which, IMO, is at the very heart of Narr and, again IMO, it's a very powerful and connective statement. Ron's analogies to a "band" jamming together is very, very apt.

And that, to me, is an "Aha!" if you will that may turn your next game around. In 90% of the rpgs most people have been exposed to, the characters are largely extemporaneous. Their actions and decisions may affect the endgame of a story but, for the most part, they are largely interchangeable pieces in the GMs big Plan.

In Narr games, the characters are the Plan. I couldn't imagine prepping a Narr game without knowing beforehand who the characters were and what their Kickers were. It's not just that they're central to the story. They are the story. It's a subtle difference (as in it's hard to see how truly big it is until you've done it or experienced it) but it is a radical one.

Next game, ask questions like Chris does in the above post. If you don't get an answer from one player, open it to the rest of the group. Don't let them be lazy. Let them know if they won't step up as individuals then someone else will. And, believe me, they will, especially if they see you incorporating their answers into the game. It may start out a bit awkward but, soon enough, they'll be chomping at the bit.

That's all from me. Best of luck, Marcus. I hope it goes well.

Title: Marcus' game (latecomers to Flagging thread)
Post by: Ron Edwards on October 15, 2004, 06:57:27 AM

I got tired of the My Sorcerer game is flagging ( lurching back up, shedding detritus and mucking up the carpet.

So any further folks who decide to chime in can do so here, and not have to preface it with "gee, even though this thread is closed" openings. Bonus!


Title: Marcus' game (latecomers to Flagging thread)
Post by: Scripty on October 15, 2004, 09:35:16 AM
Thanks, Ron. I felt a little weird about posting in that last thread. I didn't know if I should or shouldn't. But I also wanted Marcus to have a go at some practical Narr GM techniques that I didn't see mentioned that much in the last thread. There was a lot of good advice regarding group dynamics and how to set up a Sorcerer game but my impression was that Marcus was already in a Sorcerer game and needed help making it better.

Chris hit upon, what I think, is a fundamental technique of Narr GMs I've played under, from Mike Holmes to Kirt Dankmeyer to Russ' accidentally Narr D&D pirate game back home. But a lot of people over here don't seem much to acknowledge that it is a bona-fide, simple technique/paradigm that separates Forgistas from the vast majority of GMs out there.

Sorry for extending the thread (yet again). But I just had to let it out, man!


Title: Marcus' game (latecomers to Flagging thread)
Post by: marcus on October 15, 2004, 09:50:49 PM
It is clear from Scott's post, as well as several before it, that I certainly need to find out from my players where they would like to take both the game in general and their own particular parts within it. Hopefully after 3 sessions of play they now know a little about both their characters and the game, and they can talk about this more easily than I felt they would be able to prior to the game's commencement. Even asking each player simply "what sort of problems would you like your character to face" would go a long way in this regard. That function is probably supposed to be largely filled by the Kickers, but I think in many cases in my game the Kickers have little to do with the sort of situations the players want their characters to have to deal with, but they just tossed of some appropriate-sounding phrase to stop me from pestering them any more in this regard.

I also need the players to flesh out their characters considerably more. The characters have grown a little through the first 3 sessions of play, but from the posts so far the characters personal worlds obviously need to be far better defined by the players. Apart from the PCs generally tenous relations to one another, and their relationships to several other NPCs, they exist in something of a vacuum. Apart from one PC who is living with his evil brother, I have no idea, for example, of any family members of any PCs, who their friends are, who their work colleagues are, or much about their personal lives at all. Ron was correct in an comment in another thread that the backs of the character sheets were never filled in. In this regard, I must confess that for some reason I greatly dislike the back of the sheets diagrams (which was one of the reasons that they were not used), but I should have obtained the relevant character information in another form the players and myself found more acceptable.

In addition to the above, I need more NPCs, and need to deepen the characterisation of those I already have in play. I also need to work some more on moral dilemmas to pose- I've thrown a few in to date, but not all players have been equally challenged.