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Author Topic: Bangs and Narrativism... I -so- need help  (Read 17189 times)
TonyLB
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« on: March 23, 2004, 02:27:57 PM »

Okay, so I've run SO many failed PBeMs that it's got to be me.  And they all fail the same way.  And my newest one is doing exactly the same thing.  So please, somebody, anybody help me.

Here's how it goes:  I establish situation, and give the PCs some modest goals which they accomplish with grace and joy.  Everybody's happy, but eager to work together against a larger threat.  Obligingly, I provide a larger threat, make a few attacks against the characters personally, link the fate of things they love and hate to the primary conflict, give them a few advisors to ask questions of, and sit back to see what they invent.

And what happens is:  They ask questions, explore the problem from all angles, short of actually taking action that would commit them to anything or expose them to any risk.  Then, one by one, they reject every possible solution as flawed, rather than choosing one and trying to make it work.  Then the time between posts from PCs gets longer and longer, and eventually I pack it in for another cycle, to the disappointment of all.

So I figure (though I could very well be wrong) that I'm shifting too far away from providing Bangs, and toward giving the PCs responsibility for driving the course of events.  But I don't know how to balance the two, or even whether they're supposed to be "balanced".  It seems like every time I provide a new crisis, it increases PC paralysis by making the situation seem even more desperate.  If I lay down the neat little railroad track of a single shiningly obvious plan that they must follow then I feel like I'm being shortchanged by the players, and that never ends well either.

Frankly, I don't really know what I'm doing wrong.  I don't know enough to give the information you'll need to diagnose me :-)  I just want to get better.
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Valamir
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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2004, 02:36:49 PM »

Well, the key to a bang is something that they cannot avoid.

Its there, and they MUST do something about it.  There should be multiple options, and all should be valid (i.e. not weighted so there is an obvious "right" or "expected" choice).

Then you just throw it at them.

Its not a railroad because you don't care which way they jump.  You're just arranging it so they have to jump.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2004, 03:04:28 PM »

Okay.  How?

Honest.  I'm not being facetious.  When I create something that I think the character will be forced to respond to, they freeze, preferring the death of their friends, the destruction of whole worlds and their own messy demise to the alternative of making a decision that might be wrong.
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clehrich
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« Reply #3 on: March 23, 2004, 03:30:46 PM »

UPS Man!  Package for you, sign here, have a nice day.

Tick tick tick tick tick tick....

What do you do?

Seriously, man.  Put a clock on them.  If they dick around, blow them up.  Make it clear that this bluff cannot be called.

That's one way.

Here's another:

"Stop me before I kill again!" says the raving homicidal maniac.

Now won't they feel guilty if they don't?  I mean, people will drop like flies, and the PC's, as they mull it all over, will keep stumbling on the hacked and mangled bodies.

Here's another:

The cops know for sure that you burned down that warehouse.  They're going to catch you, and fast, because a cop's baby brother died in the blaze.

Trouble is, you didn't do it, and they're not real likely to listen to reason.  In fact, the pal of yours who warned you they're after you says they're planning to shoot first.  I suggest you catch the bad guys, or flee like hell, really fast.

And if you flee, of course, the FBI is going to be on your trail....

This isn't hard.  It's not a railroad, because you have no idea what they're going to do.  But they have to do something, because time is running out.

The fact that they tend to freeze will generally go away if it's not a literal gun to their heads.  That is, they have to do something soon, and the clock is ticking, but they don't have to do it RIGHT NOW OR ELSE.

Think of this like Chicken: you're driving cars at each other, real fast.  Who's going to turn first?  Trick is, you won't die if you get into the collision, but they will.  So it's totally dishonest and sick.  They have to turn.  But when?

Chris Lehrich

[edited for confusion]
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Chris Lehrich
quozl
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« Reply #4 on: March 23, 2004, 03:31:03 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
Okay.  How?


Did you see the Spider-Man movie?  Remember the scene where the Green Goblin makes Spider-Man choose between saving his love or saving a bunch of kids?  

Do that, but I suggest starting on a smaller scale.

Note: in the comic, Spider-Man was not able to save both.
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--- Jonathan N.
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coxcomb
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« Reply #5 on: March 23, 2004, 03:33:06 PM »

Have you clarified to the players that there is no single "wrong" answer? Or better yet, that they get to define "wrong" themselves?

If the players are used to "traditional RPGs" they might be laboring under the delusion that you have already decided what the right thing to do is, and they may be waiting for you to dole out more clues to point them in the direction to go.
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Jay Loomis
Coxcomb Games
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montag
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« Reply #6 on: March 23, 2004, 03:49:45 PM »

maybe you're going for the wrong "threats" and should stick to smaller stuff. We used to have a similar problem in our group: it was either help out your neighbour or save the world in three hours.
The latter conflicts or problems were always so enormous, that players (not characters) got lost and confused and on a "realistic" scale "correctly" assumed, that their characters were out of their league.
If that's your problem, the solution is to make the adventure "cut out the middle man" instead of "kill the big evil master", otherwise, what everyone else said.
Hth
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markus
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"The real problem is not whether machines think but whether men do."
--B. F. Skinner, Contingencies of Reinforcement (1969)
John Kim
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« Reply #7 on: March 23, 2004, 04:15:27 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
  And what happens is:  They ask questions, explore the problem from all angles, short of actually taking action that would commit them to anything or expose them to any risk.  Then, one by one, they reject every possible solution as flawed, rather than choosing one and trying to make it work.  Then the time between posts from PCs gets longer and longer, and eventually I pack it in for another cycle, to the disappointment of all.  

Hmmm.  The "bang" suggestions here seem to lean toward making the situation more immediately threatening.  I would actually suggest making the situation easier and less directly threatening.  Give the PCs more power and especially more information. The more real power the PCs have, the more confident the players will be in taking action.  

So I agree more with montag's suggestion that you make the problems "smaller" relative to the PCs -- though this can be by powering up the PCs as well as scaling down the opposition.  

Also, you probably want to simplify.  I would diagnose that the players feel they don't have enough information on which to base decisions.  So you need to give them reliable, true information about the extent of the opposition and the consequences.  If it's too complicated for the players to get a handle on easily...  well, it's probably too complicated.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #8 on: March 23, 2004, 04:39:27 PM »

I'm with John on this one. The trick to Bangs is not to put the clock on them (not necessarily).  The trick is to give them situations that need a resolution, & the resolution is up to them. Give them loads of information, so they can make an informed decision.

Examples? Okay.

Let's say the PCs are all police detectives. One PC gets a call from his best friend. The friend found out his wife was having an affair, & in a fit of rage he killed her. Now he needs help disposing of the body & covering up the crime. "I know you're a cop, but we've been friends since we were kids. You gotta help me!" Meanwhile, the other PCs have been told to investigate a homocide--the guy the wife was having an affair with. And the friend swears he didn't kill the guy.

Now, the PCs have to do something. But what? Will the one PC help out his friend or turn him in? Will the other PCs look the other way or do their best to solve the crime. Whatever they do, decisions have to be made.

EDIT: Information: have the NPCs be incredibly chatty. The friend spills his guts to the PC. "I didn't kill my wife's lover, but I know who did." And the real killer confides in another, probably different, PC. The point isn't to solve the mystery of who killed whom, the point is to make meaningful decisions.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Valamir
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« Reply #9 on: March 23, 2004, 04:48:10 PM »

Yeah, John's right.  Bangs don't necessarily have to be high pressure "do it now or die" situations (although clearly, they can be).  They just have to be things that:

No matter what the player decides the outcome makes a statement.  It says something about the character (and indirectly about the player).  The crucial thing is to not put a succeed vs fail option on it.  Success or failure is important yes, but its tangental to the purpose of the bang.  The purpose of the bang is to get the players to commit to the game.  Success is great, but all failure needs to mean is that things just got more complicated.

And Markus is right too.  A bang doesn't have to be huge.  In fact, often they can be all the more effective if their personal.  If the outcome doesn't matter to anyone else but the player and his character.

I'm reminded of that Frost poem.  "Two roads diverge in the woods and I took the road less traveled by".  Making that choice says something about the poet...he's the sort to take the road most others wouldn't.  Your players may make the choice to take the road most traveled by.  That's ok too.  Because that also says something about them.


Joshua:  That is a killer situation.  I want to game that situation right now ;-)
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Callan S.
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« Reply #10 on: March 23, 2004, 06:06:45 PM »

It sounds like these players, given more information and power, will simply keep asking for even more info, and hold off on using any power for longer.

It sounds like this: http://www.newyorker.com/critics/books/?040301crbo_books#top is happening.

They are terrorized by choice.

You may simply need to discuss with them the idea of scene framing. Ask them to trust you in that when you put them into a scene with action rather than you waiting for them to go there themselves, your doing it not to cheat them of choice, but so they are quickly presented with cool choices rather than 'walk up this corridor, left, right, look at water cooler, etc'.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
TonyLB
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« Reply #11 on: March 23, 2004, 06:15:24 PM »

I like the insights on both sides of the "more urgent/less urgent" divide.  Thanks everyone!

One thing I've already done (in response to this advice) is to put my players on notice that I intend to push forward game-time fairly soon.  I think that there may be an unconscious meta-game decision occurring that people want to investigate little things that don't consume much time, rather than risk advancing the clock and then discovering that they forgot to do something important.

But I'm still confused about how Bangs interact with PC direction of the plot.  It seems to me that Bangs do a great job at helping PCs create story in reaction to GM prodding, but that they interfere with the ability of PCs to create story proactively that the GM then needs to respond to.  Thoughts?
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Callan S.
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« Reply #12 on: March 23, 2004, 06:24:24 PM »

It's creative focus. Focus means leaving other options.

The trick is to leave behind small options like talking to the librarian for ten days, and keep focused on big ones, like the idea of tailing her boss who just walked out of his office with a musty old tome. Or they can sneak into his office. Or burn everything down.

Get big choices made, otherwise nothing happens.
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Philosopher Gamer
<meaning></meaning>
TonyLB
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« Reply #13 on: March 23, 2004, 06:50:38 PM »

Okay, but dropping a Bang means you're getting big choices made that the GM is interested in.

This means that the only provision for pursuing the plots the PCs are interested in is if the GM takes it upon himself to make it happen.  Which they should, granted, but it's still a wildly unequal situation.

I don't have any objection to "all killer, no filler".  But how do you spread that power around to the PCs as well?
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Alan
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« Reply #14 on: March 23, 2004, 07:11:42 PM »

A good GM tries to create bangs based on what his players seem to be interested in.  In the first few sessions, this may mean quessing and throwing things out.  In later sessions, after you've have a chance to see what the player's respond to in the situation, it gets easier to focus.  You may even hear player's saying "wouldn't it be cool if ... "

Think of bangs as ammunition to throw at the players.  You might have some developed before a session (Ron talks about a bandoleer of bangs), but their use is always optional, based on your assessment of the situation.  Use them if they seem to improve play.  If you throw a dud, just move on.  

Finally, you might even ask players between session what they think is a cool thing to happen to their character.  Or even let them suggest such a thing in play.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
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