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Author Topic: Rethinking the Kicker  (Read 6615 times)
Tor Erickson

Posts: 134

« on: December 14, 2001, 10:10:00 AM »

Hi all,

Up in RPG Theory or Actual Play or somewhere I posted that the purpose of Kickers is to give the character some sort of an emotional investment in the adventure.

Now, this statement troubled me even as I wrote it because it didn't mention the Player, and the key in narrativism is to give the Player emotional investment in the game.  But I think the statement is an essentially true.  Kickers are about the character.  For example, when the character Bob finds a suitcase full of money in his car, Bob is going to be very, very excited/scared/nervous/whatever, but as a player I probably won't be experiencing any of those emotions (okay, that's not true: I should be feeling excited about what's going to happen, and maybe a little nervous or even scared as well, but nowhere near to the extent that Bob is).

And I've been thinking a lot about resolution, especially since we're going to finish our Southern Fried game tomorrow, and how it ties in with the Kicker.  And what I realized was that the Kicker has a deeper purpose than the one I stated above.  What the Kicker really is is a spur to get the character to resolve their conflict.  And their conflict and its resolution is what emotionally engages the Player.

So in the game we're playing, I've come to realize that of all the Kickers, not one is the central issue or conflict of that character.  Instead, the conflict is something that they wrote into their backstory, and hopefully its resolution will emerge as a result of Actual Play (gotta love those caps).  Unfortunately, I think I miscommunicated this to the players at one point and one of them has made his Kicker the central conflict of the character.  Now I'm trying to back up a little and get us back on course, hope it goes well...

But it brings up a lot of issues.  I think the Kicker is a surprisingly complex thing because it has so many permutations.  I can think of cases where the above statements about the Kicker being the emotional investment for the character but not the player would not hold true, and the Kicker would be the REAL conflict or issue of the character which engaged the Player as well.  

What do you guys think?  In what different ways have you used Kickers in the past, or in what ways could they be used?

Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters

Posts: 10459

« Reply #1 on: December 14, 2001, 10:38:00 AM »

Before we get into all the very Narrativist theory about kickers, the basic exploration advantage of kickers (and hence why they also make sense for Simulationism) is that they simply provide a quick launch for the action. And they indicate to the GM what interests the player in terms of themes. Even for Gamists, the kicker can be an indicator of the type of challenge that the player expects right from the start.

IMO, they're a good idea for any game.


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Ron Edwards
Global Moderator
Posts: 16490

« Reply #2 on: December 14, 2001, 10:58:00 AM »

Let's move from general to specific.

Mike is correct at the general level; a Kicker is valuable because it generates a relationship between two fundamental elements of role-playing, Character and Situation. It is at this level that the Kicker, Melodramatic Hooks (Feng Shui), missions (Justifiers, SLA Industries, etc), letters from distressed relatives (Call of Cthulhu), and more, are all the same thing.

At the more specific level of character-centered, Narrativist role-playing, the Kicker is refined or shaped further because it automatically engages the player as author in terms of further play. Some previous discussions demonstrate that I am happy with any degree of Kicker intensity, because it is the further authorship which matters.

That's why the Kicker looks as if it's about the character, but in application is really about (as it is derived from, and ultimately acted up) the player. When GMing Sorcerer, my goal is simply and easily to make that one, basic thing possible.

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