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Alms for the poor

Started by Skippy, January 30, 2002, 04:19:46 PM

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Okay, its sad to admit, but I find myself needing GM'ing advice.  

See, I've never run (or tried to run) an all-out player empowered game, and I'm really liking the simplicity, concept, and system for TQB.  I am setting up a new group, with one or two (still not sure) old players, and two to three new players.

Using Ron's example of his Released Beast session, I have sketched out an outline of the Accords (correct term?) that I think will be interesting.  However, I am running into some nervousness about how much further to go before the actual play session.  Do I need the players' input on the setting/twist for the background.  I'd really like to have the players create their own characters, but I am uncertain about their ability to leave behind the trappings of their RPG past (particularly the old players).  Although with this system, it seems that it would be pretty difficult to slip into the "old ways".

You know, it occurs to me that my issues may be deeper than this.  I have run hundreds of game sessions over the last twenty years (I've been playing since I was thirteen), I have never been nervous or apprehensive before.  I routinely establish a player-GM contract, and get issues out in the open; why should this be different?  I think crux of my dilemma is my own uncertainty about what is expected from me in a narrativist game.  I'm afraid I won't be able to deliver what I really want for myself.  I'm used to delivering a story, not sharing in its creation.  How do I get them involved in creating the story, so I don't slip back into my normal role of sole-author.  How do you move the story over the slow spots without usurping control?

So.  Advice?  Apologies if this is the wrong forum.

Scott Heyden

"If I could orally gratify myself, you'd have to roll me to work."

Ron Edwards

Hey Skip,

I think you've raised some questions which are tremendously important to the Random Order Creation forum in general, given James' design aesthetic and the fact that he's moving into "full writeup mode." I hope I can help both you and him with my response.

You've taken step 1 to exactly the right place: get a notion of what you'd like to see in the Accord. Players do not like a GM merely to say, "Uh, gee, what do you want?" They'll fall into self-protective habits rather than really consider what they want. Therefore a solid statement is a good idea.

The next step, as I think you're instinctively perceiving already, is to open up the discussion. I'd suggest that emphasizing their take or elaborations on your foundation is better than a full-on debate about whether your foundation is any good. (That might come in a future game.) Also, I suggest keeping this discussion phase short, taking the input and using it rather than eddying off into little side-discussions.

The danger of this discussion phase arises because people have been so burned or at least habituated to "my guy/ GM world" play that they would rather chat about what good play would be like than actually get into producing it. So knowing when to stop this phase is crucial. As soon as the talk begins to include events and decisions of the character, whether past (back-story) or future ("when we play"), it's time to move on.

Lay out a one-sheet with the four outcomes of TQB dice-rolling clearly illustrated (success with MoV, failure with MoD, guided event by GM, dolorous event by GM). Also, illustrate the modes of dice-rolling - a recent new thread on this forum did a really nice job of this for The Pool, and you can see how I did it in The Beast Released I in the Actual Play forum.

Move into play quite quickly once the basics are established - who's going to play, what their characters are like. I strongly urge you to keep the Trials few and simple, and to remember that they are not barriers to overcome (like a puzzle in a computer game which you must solve in order to leave the room) but rather experiences to endure or be enlightened by.

Be prepared to walk the players through the first few instances of dice-rolling. Again and again, they will gaze at you waiting for your cue, instead of announcing that they'd like to roll. Again and again, they'll say "Am I there yet?" instead of "I arrive." Again and again, they'll announce tasks like "I try to hit him," rather than goals like "I impress him with my prowess" or "I kill his raggedy ass." You'll have to explain how play works differently in this game without criticizing anyone or saying that "they're playing wrong."

Anyway, those are just some of my notions, and I guess I'm getting too far ahead into actual play. I'd like to spend some more time discussing how the GM in TQB really has tons of material to work with, and how to use the dice outcomes as a means of story-juncture, information flow, and instances of getting characters together or apart, but I think that these are relatively advanced relative to the concerns you raise (ie the players must get past the first shock-stages). Let me know what you think of the material I've presented, and then we can get to this other stuff.



Nonetheless, this is all priceless advice for me...I'm in the same boat with Skippy in regards to nervous apprehension about my players/myself and how to handle "getting Narrative."

What you covered, Ron, is exactly what I'm trying to encourage in my group of players...let them really run their characters and author more, decide how they succeeded, how they failed.
Lately, I've hated being the "description hog" in that they just roll and speak, I tell them what their characters actually "do," or rather more accurately, I describe it.

However, I'm worried that to the long-time players I'll come off sounding like a nutcase or fruity-artsy goof running from new-thing-of-the-week to new-thing-of-the-week. In other words, I'd like to engage their interest in it without turning them off to it. This advice is right along those lines.

Anyways, onward!
(One of these days I'll actually have something to add to these discussions.)
Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
Wild Hunt Studio

James V. West

Excellent advice, Ron. Much appreciated from both an actual play persepective, and from a designer's stance.

Skippy and I are actually in the same boat. Its my game, but haven't had the chance yet to run it properly. I fully anticipate the players (whoever they all end up being) to move into it slowly. The games of The Pool I've ran went that way. It took 3 sessions to get people to really understand what was and wasn't expected of them.

I think creating a set of characters and the foundations of an Accord before discussing it with the players is a good way to go with a new group who hasn't played like this before. What I plan to do is to give them some room to tweak the character they choose. A simple, short discussion about what they want to change should be enough to give them a stronger feeling of creative ownership.

I think having an Accord already detailed would be preferable to me as a player, rather than having to create one in a group effort. The details of the Accord are going to be expanded anyway through my contributions during play. There's no way you can account for everything, so your group will add to the core of the Accord.

I wanted to also reiterate what Ron said about Trials. This is perhaps the least thought-out aspect of the whole game for me, so I'm not even sure I got my point across in the text. Probably not. But Ron seems to have nailed it.

Trials  are points of difficulty and change that should signal a shift in the character, in his quest, or the story as a whole. When Frodo realized he must be the one to carry the ring he passed through a Trial. In Excalibur, when Arthur comes to terms with his identity and kingship, he passes a trial. That doesn't mean those characters were forced to make those specific choices. Frodo could have said "hell no, I ain't doin it" and it still would have been a Trial he passed through. The point is, the Trial is a marker. In pure game terms, its a measure. The player must pass his Romance through x Trials to win the right to end his story as he chooses.

Does that make sense?


Ah, the inestimable wisdom of Father Ron: pragmatic, cool, the voice of reason.

Okay, I'm coming down from the Bell Tower.  Nothing really shockingly different about the approach, which is a great comfort in itself.  I routinely use cheat sheets for whatever game I'm running.  I'm used to setting up the basics of the world, and letting them discover it as we go on.  And I agree, gently prodding will probably work pretty well toward getting them to phrase their actions in terms of successes instead of attempts.  The unfamiliar aspects (player control, story progression) aren't so scary to me now, considering the comfort zone of the basics.  I suspect that was what you were trying to help me realize.

I re-read my PDF of TQB yesterday, after your comments, so I'm quite a bit more relaxed.  James' comments were very helpful as well in getting inside the concept of the game.

So now, I would like to further the discussion into the tools available to the Guide, and how he can use the material.  There's still a gap in my understanding about how much of a role the Guide plays, and how much he will rely on the players.  Of course, it will probably depend on the group dynamic.  I am normally the one directing the story, and my players have more input and control than most of the GM's I've played with.  I don't think I'll have trouble giving up authority-it's actually appealing to me, and I think it would be a relief.  So, how to gently nudge the characters/players along and still have them drive the story?  Or am I expecting too much from this?  Does the Guide still need to develop a metaplot (other than the setting), a basic goal-oriented outline for the direction of the story, or is it entirely player-constructed?

It occurs to me that I'm expecting a somewhat backseat-driver position for myself as the Guide.  So if you've got players serving as Author/Directors, what am I - The Producer?  Perhaps that would be the way to look at it; my job is to coordinate efforts and make sure the film comes in under budget and on time.  Keep these artsy-fartsy directors on task.  Is that a valid analogy?  As Producer, I have the big picture of the plot in my hands, but I'm letting each director realize his vision of the scenes under his control.  It's my job to help edit-as-we-go to make sure the effort is a coherent whole with a reasonable flow.

More!  I need more!

Scott Heyden

"If I could orally gratify myself, you'd have to roll me to work."


Hey Skippy,

Are we talking about general techniques for running a game now?  If so, maybe some of this stuff will help.

Instead of "metaplot", I suggest creating a strong Premise and being very up front about it with the players.  TQB goes a long way towards doing that for you, what with its Accords and all, but it doesn't do it all.  I also suggest phrasing the Premise as a question of moral or emotional interest; I prefer a question because players will instinctively start thinking about answers to it, and that helps guide their play.  Anyway, you don't need metaplot if you have a strong Premise that the whole group is interested in; with Premise serving as sort of a guide to what makes for suitable content within the game, plot will emerge naturally and cohesively through the players actions, with no need to railroad on the GM's part.

See Ron's "Beast Released I" post in Actual Play to see how he did Premise in his game.

The other big weapon a GM has is scene framing.  Everything I know about scene framing I learned from Paul Czege, and perhaps he'll expound upon the ideas herein.  

Scene framing should be dramatic and aggressive.  Players may ask for scenes of a certain sort, or may even occasionally frame their own scenes witha  MoV (or even a MoD I guess), but you, the GM, should regard this as your primary tool within the game.  Don't be afraid to frame a scene where the PCs are already up to their ears in some kind of trouble, but make sure they have options and things to do, and make sure there is cool Premise related material present for the players to riff of.  Inour run of The Pool, Paul wasn't afraid to frame us into some pretty drastic situations; at one point a player started a scene imprisoned in a bamboo cage in the midst of an enemy encampment.  The key to making this work is that after you've framed the scene, let the players go wild with what you've given them.

I sometimes think about scene framing like this: There are two points to a scene - Point A, where the PCs start the scene, and Point B, where they end up.  Most games let the players control some aspect of Point A, and then railroad the PCs to point B.  Good narrativism will reverse that by letting the GM create a compelling Point A, and let the players dictate what Point B is (ie, there is no Point B prior to the scene beginning).  Of course, that's just my little theory...

Knowing when to end a scene is important to scene framing.  When the coolest thing that could happen in the scene has happened, or when its dramatic potential has been plumbed, it's time to call an end to it.  And that's the GM's job.  Don't let scenes go on too long; they undermine the cool stuff that happens, and create aniticlimax.  Don't worry about transitional scenes or how the PCs arrived from a geographical location in one scene to some other geographical location in another - that stuff can be explained away in dialogue or voice over, or just plain ignored if it's not relevant.

Don't waste any scenes.  If every scene has some Premise-related content in it, even if it's just revealing a little more of the character's take on the Premise, then it's not wasted.  But you don't really want many scenes that in retrospect could have just been thrown away.

Have an interesting cast of NPCs and use them judiciously.  When you frame scenes, throw some NPCs into them, even if you're not sure what they will do in the scene.  They present you and the players with options, even if those options aren't obvious.  Riffing off of NPCs is a great way for players to express their thematic takes on the Premise.  It's especially cool in games like The Pool and TQB, where the player can occasionally take over (limited) control of an NPC for a scene.

Have some scenes/ content ready that you think will be interesting and play off of the Premise, but be ready to kill it if you never find a good chance to insert it into the game.

I have more to say, but I have to go to work.  Maybe some of this stuff helps...or maybe I missed the whole point of your post.

- Moose


I think I've got a fair handle on Premise for my proposed initial game: Is the sacrifice required of Honor worth the price?  (Particularly when confronted with low morality, evils, and the apparent success of those who choose to abandon it.)

My accords are twisted around this version of the Premise, and I think its interesting, but that remains to be seen.

-Camelot is a frontier city, the last vestige of civilization, honor, and hope.
-Arthur is King, and territorial Marshal.  His knights ride the Land, dispensing justice and protection.
-Gwenivere is the symbol of hope for most people.  She runs the hospital, schools, and is determined to keep hope alive.
-Lancelot is the fastest gun alive, and has never been wounded.  His affair with Gwenivere has gone on hiatus, as he struggles to recover his honor.  However, enough people have rumored about it that it has tainted his image.
-Mortdred and his band of rabble have been raiding the towns and ranches in the territory.  He has killed several knights, and many citizens tthat have crossed him.
-Excalibur has been lost.  It is a mystical Colt Dragoon, that never needs reloading.  It is the symbol of Arthur's power.
-The Land is in drought.  The quest for the Grail will hopefully restore the rains.
-Morgan has established a house of ill-repute on the edge of Camelot, and several gambling parlors.  The people are spending more and more time in these places with the despair of the drought growing.
-The respect for the knights is dwindling with recent developments.

So that's my setup, so far.  Now, I really don't know what is meant by scene-framing, or the specifics that Moose went into.  Can you give me some real examples briefly?  How does that play into this type of environment.  (I suspect that I'm unfamiliar with the terminology specifics of narrativism, but capable of dealing with the concept.)

Keep it coming.
Scott Heyden

"If I could orally gratify myself, you'd have to roll me to work."

Ron Edwards

Quick question, Skippy,

"Is the sacrifice of honor worth the price?" looks like it was typed too fast - it makes no sense, or lacks a crucial phrase of some kind. I'm pretty sure you mean one of the following:

"Are the sacrifices honor calls for worth it?" (implying that honorable action must afford some kind of benefit to be worth those sacrifices)

Or, "Does abandoning honor lead to better outcomes?" (implying that honorable action may well fail to provide better outcomes)

I'd take it to a stronger, more open Premise question anyway - "What's the point, if any, of honorable actions?" and that way, any take or concern or version of this question may be addressed across the variety of characters.



Yes, to both questions.  

Or more simply, "Is honor worth the sacrifice?"  Which asked the implied questions you summarized: Are the benefits (even illusory) of honor worth the price?  I wanted it to be open to interpretation, which is why I didn't try to nail it down too closely.

Scott Heyden

"If I could orally gratify myself, you'd have to roll me to work."

James V. West

Hey Skippy, I friggin love your Accord!! Camelot as a western setting...Lancelot as the fastest gun. Awesome. I'm looking at including a couple of different pre-made Accords with the print version of the game. Keep me posted on how this one pans out and let's talk about including it.

Thanks for the scene-framing stuff, Moose. Killer. I'm just now starting to grasp it all myself. Traditionally, you let the players drag a scene on and on ad nauseum, but using this tool you could cut that crap out.

To address Skippy's questions about Guide's duty:

Your Producer analogy is very close to what a Guide is. But a Guide needs to be very flexible because he will range from producer to director as a session goes on. I suspect that your first game or two you'll play the director role more than anything else, just until folks loosen up. Then you might find yourself in a purely reactionary stance, playing off what they are creating with their Monologues.

There really shouldn't be a need for a huge metaplot. The Accord itself should have all the basics already in place (Lancelot's affair, Morgan's brothels). The real magic comes in with the players' Romances. You should read all their starting pages and let the elements they create seed your ideas for NPCs and events.

Here's another idea I came up with to help keep a group semi-focused and in tandem:

At the start of a game, before characters are created, write a few ideas that you want to see iin the game. Short sentences that are provocative, but that involve some very specific things like NPCs or places or whatever. Have each player read them and choose one. They must work that idea into their Romance's beginning. If everyone does this, you can achieve some overlap like having two characters with ties to Sir Burtlet the Fearsome or a couple of characters who have the Isle of Apples in their history.

What do you folks think of that, not just for TQB, but any game?