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Author Topic: Functional Roles and Narr  (Read 4338 times)
TonyLB
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« on: October 30, 2004, 04:07:04 AM »

In "GM is God"...
Quote from: Scripty
I'm all for taking some of the duties off of a GM and see Narr games like Sorcerer and its deriviatives as putting some of the onus of responsibility back on the players

Do you see the fairer apportionment of roles as being something connected to Narrativism as a CA, or a coincidence of mutual development (i.e. both of these ideas were being explored at the same time so a lot of games with one also have the other)?

My first thought is that the apportionment of roles is a completely separate question from CA, but I have many niggling doubts... I see ways in which Narrativism's needs could have driven people away from the idea of centralized authority.

Hrm... and now I'm thinking this should go in a new thread, because it totally doesn't deal with the "GM is God" question.
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timfire
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« Reply #1 on: October 30, 2004, 07:34:50 AM »

Tony, you're talking about mechanics/system here, right? Who has the power to do what?

In that case, the answer is sorta both. Nar does have some special needs. Narratist players need authorship. Though it can be done with a heavy-handed GM, it's alot easier to facilitate player authorship when the players have a certain degree of power.

That said, the distribution of power is something seperate from CA. Look at the Great Ork Gods, a hardcore gamist facilitaing game. The players set the difficulty for tasks, which essentially gives them the ability to create challenge. Or Universalis, which can be played by any of the three CA's.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: October 30, 2004, 10:02:30 AM »

I'm talking "system" in the "Lumpley Principle" sense.  I know that's not real helpful in narrowing things down, but it's what I was thinking.

Great Ork Gods is a good entry into this discussion.  It shows quite nicely that distributed power doesn't mean Narrativism.  I still wonder whether Narrativism means distributed power.  

I'm not sure that I have a good practical grasp on what it means that narrativist players need authorship.  Is it because the Creative Agenda they (personally) are pursuing is influence by so much more in the story than just their actions?  Can players address Premise only through the actions of their characters... even, possibly, through exclusive use of Actor stance?
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timfire
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« Reply #3 on: October 30, 2004, 09:51:59 PM »

Quote from: TonyLB
Great Ork Gods is a good entry into this discussion.  It shows quite nicely that distributed power doesn't mean Narrativism.  I still wonder whether Narrativism means distributed power.  

I'm not sure that I have a good practical grasp on what it means that narrativist players need authorship.  Is it because the Creative Agenda they (personally) are pursuing is influence by so much more in the story than just their actions?  Can players address Premise only through the actions of their characters... even, possibly, through exclusive use of Actor stance?

This isn't a very technical definition, but as I understand it, player authorship basically means that the player in question can tell the story they want to tell, or rather, the story events inside the SIS happen the way they want it to. Compare this with a Illusionist game where everything that happens is decided by the GM.

For example, if the player wants a tragic character, tragic events need to happen that engulf the character. If only good things happen to the character, then the character won't be very tragic, will he?

It should be pretty obvious the issue with player authorship - it's much easier to facilitate authorship if the player has direct control over game events. But its not required. If the GM is sensitive to player desires, then the GM can be as heavy-handed as they want and the player can still get the game/ story they want.

As an example, TROS depends upon this - TROS works on the idea that GM will follow the player's lead and incorporate the PC's SA's into the game. But by the book, the GM has a ton of power and can completely ignore the PC's SA's if they desire.

This type of sensitivity is hard work for the GM, and even a good-willed GM can misread or misunderstand a player. That's why its easier to facilitate authorship if the player has some sort of direct control over events.

Now, because its easier to facilitate player authorship with widely distributed power, many Nar games prefer it. And because so many Nar games provide widely distributed power, I understand its easy to think that Nar needs it. But the distribution of power is something outside of CA. I think it was John Kim who a while ago commented on a game of his that was both completely Nar and completely Immersionist.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: October 31, 2004, 07:08:38 PM »

I think nar tends to be associated with no GM role (ie, no player granted extra powers by the other players) because there's no real need seen there.

For gamism, curent RP culture often demands mystery be involved, and actions by opposing forces that are entirely out of ones hands. This basically requires someone to forfil this role.

In nar, you just need to be able to face a problematic choice and make it freely...this just doesn't need someone to forfil mystery or such. You can have it, it can be fun to have it...but it's not seen as a practical requirement in the current culture like it is for gamism.

Also, it might be good to remember that a GM is someone everyone else is deciding to grant extra powers to. Players don't 'get' extra authorship powers so much as they stop handing over their own authorship power and instead use it themselves. It's a power they already have and is often used even with the most hard handed GM (The old 'I'll meet you by the fountain' example, where the GM never introduced a fountain, demonstrates this).
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Philosopher Gamer
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Scripty
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« Reply #5 on: November 01, 2004, 05:42:20 AM »

Can you have Narr play and a heavy-handed GM?

I'm sure there's someone out there who could dig up an example of how their particular group got that to work but my experience doesn't hold much with it.

I think that the spreading out of what traditionally would be GM duties in effect dilutes the GM's role in Narr play. No matter how heavy-handed the GM may want to be the basic structures of games like Sorcerer are going to curb that GM's power (from a traditional interpretation of what a GM is). In this sense, I think it's a "System Matters" issue. If the system doesn't work towards the GM's end (ultimate authority over the game/plot/players) then I think eventually the disconnect between the GM's agenda and the game's system will be laid bare.

A good example (in a backwards sense) is a Buffy game I ran about a year ago. I gave players all sorts of power over the game. They were popping in and out of Director Stance, Author Stance and Actor Stance like old pros (though most in the group would have went into dry heaves had they know what I was really up to). They were creating scenes and storylines for themselves. I even had them portray the "Big Bads" so they not only "created" their adversaries but also the diabolical plots that their regular characters would be facing. They also portrayed supporting cast in other players' scenes. My role in that game was very much like a traditional film director or stage manager in that I said "Okay, this scene has Player X, Player Y in it. Player Y wants to blah. We have two NPCs present at the start. Who wants to play them? Okay. That's cool. Start!"

And I would literally watch the scene unfold, rarely playing more than a single NPC in any one scene. The old traditional questions such as "Is there a boxcutter in the room?" were replaced with the more proactive "I grab the boxcutters and start opening the package!" My "interference" in scenes was frequently to resolve a rules dispute or to moderate a player who had gone "too far" in a role and stepped all over another player's mojo. For once, I was that referee that people keep insisting this ultimate authority empowers a GM to become. My guerilla Narr experiment was not only working, it was enlightening me to the vistas revealed by not handing over the reigns but throwing them up in the air altogether. I was reaching a close approximate of GM Zen...

Then the system showed up.

The big climactic finale was a wreck. In fact, the whole last session was a wreck. Because there were a lot of physical conflicts cropping up at the end (as in any Buffy series) the fluidity of our earlier play was entirely betrayed by a system that assumed the traditional lineup. Thus my Narr agenda was thrashed against the rock of the Unisystem's simulationism. Everyone went Simulationist or flat-out Gamist. The disconnect between our earlier play and the new reliance on rules/system was apparent. Dysfunction set in and we just gave up on the long, drawn-out, final combat and resolved the whole thing by popular consent.

I'm a "System Matters" wonk anyway. But my experiences in this game revealed to me just how subtly system can sneak into actual play. And, although I agree that it's perhaps possible to have Narr play with a heavy handed GM (especially one who knows his players extremely well or is, perhaps, a telepath), I'd have to say that I have never seen it firsthand. I've seen it tried. But never seen what I would consider a real success.

That said, I think that the way Narr play is setup it behooves (and in some cases mandates) the GM to give up some traditional authority over the players/game. Many of these Narr games just won't fly, IMO, with a GM who is hoarding the plot, spotlight and setting.

Scott
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timfire
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« Reply #6 on: November 01, 2004, 06:43:45 AM »

This whole topic has been discussed before. The most recent thread that I can remember is this one:
Narrativism: Not a Creative Agenda... It's a really long thread, but if you can see past all the sub-topics, you'll see that the topic is really is all about whether Nar needs certain techniques.

Another thread worth looking at is this one:
"Sacrificing Character Integrity" - a Rant
. That thread is also really long, but it discusses the idea of whether or not addressing Premise requires some sort of meta-gaming. In other words, can Premise be addressed in actor stance.
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timfire
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« Reply #7 on: November 01, 2004, 06:55:57 AM »

Quote from: Scripty
Can you have Narr play and a heavy-handed GM?

Nar will not work with an railroad-y GM - one that decides the outcome of events. *But as long as the GM is sensitive to the desires of the players,* the GM can be very "heavy-handed(*)". It's possible that a sensitive GM can totally make up the setting, NPC's, and all situations all by themselves without direct input from the players and still have a functional and enjoyable Nar game. But that's a big 'if', and that's why most Nar games prefer to give players some degree of control.
__________
(*) Now, this may just be an argument over words. Someone may say that a GM who is sensitive and always incorporates the thematic elements that the players want to see isn't really "heavy-handed."
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--Timothy Walters Kleinert
Scripty
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« Reply #8 on: November 01, 2004, 08:59:59 AM »

Thanks for the links, Tim.

Quote from: timfire
But that's a big 'if', and that's why most Nar games prefer to give players some degree of control.


I agree. But the degree of sensitivity that is presumed on the part of the GM to make all this happen stretches the boundaries of cognitive science. It practically requires the GM to be a telepath, empath, or a body language reader extraordinaire to pull it off at the same level of proficiency as simply allowing the players some degree of input outside of the traditional reactionary responses given from player to GM (aka "I check the door for traps", "I search the room...").

Quote from: timfire
(*) Now, this may just be an argument over words. Someone may say that a GM who is sensitive and always incorporates the thematic elements that the players want to see isn't really "heavy-handed."


You're entirely correct here, so I'll try to clarify what I mean by a heavy-handed GM. Note that this thread branched off from a comment I made on the GM is God thread.

IMO, if a GM is sensitive and incorporates thematic elements that the players want to see then I would necessarily have to say that GM is not heavy-handed. Traditionally, the GM's role is to act as director, referee, NPC actor and, for the most part, the sole writer of the primary story arc. This much is recorded in more mainstream RPG books than I can list here in any reasonable timeslot. Suffice to say that all the major hitters (D&D, White Wolf, WEGd6, etc.) in the RPG industry have this as the defined role of the GM and the role of the GM has been shaped through the years by those works into what we know it to be today.

My definition of heavy-handed is a GM that takes those roles seriously to any extreme. By definition, I would say that a GM that incorporated player input into his game wasn't heavy-handed. He's allowing players to act (even indirectly) in Author or even Director stance, and (even if he's being sneaky about it) he's diluting the role assigned to him by countless rpg books. In essence, giving a piece of his role over to the players. Even if he's a stickler for the rules, he's not a stickler for his plot. Likewise, a GM who was honestly willing to discuss what players felt were unfair rules decisions and amend those decisions following a well-reasoned argument wouldn't be heavy-handed either, IMO. He's schluffing off part of his "responsibility" as the final say of every in-game conflict.

It's worth noting that I've never encountered a GM that was one way with something like the rules or whatnot (at least as they pertained to Player-Character actions) but was another with the plot. Generally, open-mindedness and just all around human decency spread like a cancer through all levels of the GM's responsibilities in the non-heavies I've known.

Likewise, most Heavy-Handed GMs I've played under (and that word usage is apt) took all their roles way too seriously and took their "responsibilities" or, rather, their control of the game just as seriously when it came to adjudications as they did when it came for them to introduce their plot, or their important NPC, etc. etc.

A heavy-handed GM, IME, is one that will relinquish no control of his duties over to the players. And, IMO, it is a matter of control for these individuals, as I stated in my post on the "GM is God" thread.

That said, I do think it's possible with a number of Forge games to be heavy on the rules but still play Narr. That's considering a ruleset which is wired for Narr play, however. Enforcing the Pool's MoVs or Donjon's rules for player input, is very different, IMO, than adjudicating Attacks of Opportunity or Spell Range.

So, as far as a debate over definitions of "heavy-handed", I agree that the definition is fairly open to interpretation. To me, however, it's pretty much been fired to a sharp point on the anvil of play experience. I've been in Narr play situations with non-Heavy Handed GMs. I've been in Sim play with both and Gamist play with both as well. To date, I have yet to experience a successful Narr play experience with a heavy-handed GM, as defined above. Maybe the differences in the Narrative perspective require a redefinition of what being a heavy-handed Narr GM is?? Administering electric shocks prior to play until players come up with actual Kickers for their characters?? Throwing a dicebag against a wall when a player opts out of their MoV??

I may someday encounter this (but, man, I hope not) and, as I mentioned in my last post, I'm sure there's someone out there who will say that they have already. But, as far as I know from play experience in tabletop and online play, the two approaches to GMing seem too divergent to me at this time. Narr play values the players' input, at the very least in terms of Theme, and Heavy-Handed GMs, from my experience, see such aspects of the game as under their control. And they take that control quite seriously. Hence, I call them heavy-handed and not just "handed".

I'm not sure a Heavy-Handed GM could function in the new environment offered by games such as the Pool, Sorcerer or My Life with Master. It lacks the control element that, IMO, draws those kind of people to the Big Chair. Hence, I don't even think they would find it appealing and may find it threatening. Maybe that explains why some of these Narr games/theory elicit such a fervently defensive response among forum users at RPG.net and also among some of my old players, many of whom qualified as heavy-handed GMs in the few games that I played under them.

:)

Thanks again for those threads. I'll definitely check them out.

Scott
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M. J. Young
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« Reply #9 on: November 01, 2004, 08:19:15 PM »

Quote from: timfire
Nar will not work with an railroad-y GM - one that decides the outcome of events.

This is perfectly true and completely useless to the discussion.

Narrativism is one of three identified creative agenda. A creative agendum is what a player wants from a game, and how he expresses his creativity within the game.

Thus a "railroad-y" referee stifles any expression of any creative agendum. In a railroaded game, the only person who is contributing creatively to the shared imagined space is the referee. That means no one is playing narrativist, or gamist, or simulationist, successfully except the referee.

Arguably, you could still have a gamist, or simulationist, or even narrativist game that has been fully railroaded; it's just that you only have one player contributing to it, one player permitted to express and exercise his creative contributions within the imagined space, and the rest are mere onlookers who are not being permitted to play.

That said, of course the question of whether the referee is "heavy handed", which is an entirely relative matter, has a lot of influence on the ability of the players to express their creative agenda. The point is not whether the referee exercises a little control or a lot of control, but whether the referee exercises a lot of control over those aspects of the shared imagined space which the players desire to influence.

If the referee is taking full control of the outcome of contests, gamism is hobbled.

If the referee is taking full control over the direction and depth of exploration, simulationism is crippled.

If the referee is taking full control over the essential elements of story creation and meaning, narrativism is impeded.

--M. J. Young
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Scripty
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« Reply #10 on: November 02, 2004, 07:41:45 AM »

Quote from: M. J. Young
That said, of course the question of whether the referee is "heavy handed", which is an entirely relative matter, has a lot of influence on the ability of the players to express their creative agenda. The point is not whether the referee exercises a little control or a lot of control, but whether the referee exercises a lot of control over those aspects of the shared imagined space which the players desire to influence.


Great post, MJ. I think you hit the nail on the head with that one. Thanks.

Scott
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