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Dust Devils approaches the final reel

Started by Ron Edwards, May 06, 2002, 01:10:52 PM

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Ron Edwards

Hi there,

Due to some scheduling conflicts, we haven't been able to continue the Dust Devils game until recently. It's demonstrated some interesting features, most of them very positive. I think it's a brilliant game.

I'll be posting a review during this week with lots of the details and with some calls for clarification and further development, but this post is about one specific thing that could probably use some feedback right now for our game, from Matt and anyone else.

Basically, not "just any character" can be a good protagonist. One player made up a consistent, plausible character who has turned out to be, well, marginally successful in terms of satisfaction.

Ezekiel Hawthorne
owner of the general store
(attribute scores not immediately available)
Knacks include Talkin', Gamblin', and other mostly social stuff
Traits: Smart as a Whip (and one other I can't recall)
Devil: Can't stop gambling

The trouble is that Zeke is all "hook" and no "sinker." That is, the character got into trouble very easily, but is not well suited to acting upon a crisis. Now, I don't mean that he needs to be a shootin', ridin', bloodthirsty cuss type (although that sort of character is much easier to play and GM in Dust Devils). But I think the player didn't consider what Zeke would be like in stressed action, so much as whether someone like Zeke was merely plausible in the setting, and so he's not "happening upon" determined actions for the character during play. Instead, he tends to say, over and over, "Let's be reasonable," and then get frustrated when it doesn't work.

Again, it's not a matter of violent vs. non-violent character concepts. By contrast, another player - Julie, our own "jrs" from the Forge - came up with Sally Waters, who might best be desribed as a somewhat slatternly, less comedic version of Jodie Foster's character in Maverick. Sally in repose is a fairly plain and innocuous girl; Sally in action (with the Devil either helping or hindering the draw) is a scenario-twisting monster, ie, exactly what the game is about.

And also by contrast, the third player did create the one gunslingin' type of character, basically a cold, mean, impassive, deadly Indian scout. And this player, oddly enough, took a little while to get in gear as well. Throughout the second session, she had the character behaving more or less as a "save the town" activist, until she finally realized that this tactic was dissatisfying for all kinds of reasons, entered into some OOC discussion, looked at her sheet, and said "Oh!" and settled down to plain old bushwhackin' bullets to solve her problems.

So I think that a big part of the Devil involves what the character does when the Devil drives, and how that might be different from how the character usually acts. It's not a matter of going into a berserk fury; Sally, for instance, gets smooth, sparkling, and charming.

I'm wondering about how to establish this principle into the process of character creation without (a) pre-determining too much and writing the character before playing him or her, or (b) relying simply on color text (which is all too easily ignored by the reader, "Oh, character stuff, blah blah").

My favorite quote of the session (from Julie): "You know, I can easily see my character at the end of this session, lying dead in a ditch."


Matt Snyder

Hmm, sounds like ol' Zeke is a bit tricky to play. It just sounds like he's not too effective when the hot lead starts flyin'. I'm not sure this "solves" the problem, but my suggestion is this: let Zeke's player use his social skills to take part in "dangerous" conflicts. For example, he might play his cards using his Talkin' knack to taunt the opposing shootist into firing a wild shot (he insults his mama and his horse), maybe even one that richochet's off the stove and hits the outlaw's pardner in the leg or some such. Or, Zeke ducks behind the roulette table and begs the casino dealer to quit whimperin' and pull the trigger on that shotgun he's got slung under the table, by God!

I don't think the rules say you must have "shootin" or whatever else to take part in combat (then again god knows I probably forgot half the stuff I wrote there). What they do say is that players can use a reasonable combination of attributes and Knacks to , and the Dealer is the arbiter of what's reasonable. I'd say go for it, if Zeke's player can colorfully describe Zeke's taunting or frantic bribery to get the outlaw to miss.

Now, this is all just combat, but obviously you mentioned that's not exactly the issue. Rather, you said "stressed action." I think you're getting at it later in the post -- that is, that characters need to behave differently somehow when their Devil rises up. In Zeke's case, I'd say he get's desperate to win a gamble, and the resulting stakes he offers to "double or nothing" aren't reasonable. Now, he's clever and smart, but shouldn't he become quite manipulative and sly when his Devil's riding him, as you say? In those situations, rather than acting "reasonable," Zeke might appear cool and smart, trying to act as though the unreasonable, stressed situation is just what he planned all along (even though he might be frustrated, scared shitless or whatever). Zeke: "I bet you dimes to dollars you don't want to open that door, stranger. And if'n you do, I'll take my dollars up front." Zeke tries to scare the stranger, and in doing so may even be able to deliver him trouble to, say, his Guts attribute as the stranger thinks twice about entering and looks a bit cowardly for doing so.

When the Devil comes to town

One of the trickier rules of the games, as you know, is the high card narration rule. This means that while players choose what their characters do in a given Hand, they aren't likely to be describing the actual events. Chances are, that's up to someone else.

When characters take part in a hand in which their Devil DOESN'T come in to play, they seem business as usual (in Sally's case, this means she's pretty innocuous). Other players will have to describe those actions. However, when the Devil IS involved, it's likely still up to other players to describe the results of the characters choices and behaviors/actions (Sally becomes a silver-tongued cutthroat, and her sharp wit peeks through the bonnet-in-hand veneer).

Therefore, it's not merely a matter for the player and what he/she outlines at character creation. It's also how well that player shares the vision of his/her Devil with the others. I think you already knew this, Ron, but it's worth mentioning.

Quote from: Ron EdwardsMy favorite quote of the session (from Julie): "You know, I can easily see my character at the end of this session, lying dead in a ditch."

Yep, that's what the game's all about. I LOVE that! Classic.

Hope my ramblings were in some way helpful, Ron. Never sure if these more abstract solutions are intelligible or useful! Chalk it up to being humbled by you saying the game is good stuff.
Matt Snyder

"The future ain't what it used to be."
--Yogi Berra

Ron Edwards

Hi Matt,

Let's get away from the whole combat thing entirely. As I said, the third player did make up a combat-oriented, violent character, and she had a hard time getting adjusted too.

We're talking about two things, I think.

1) Actual focus and application of the Devil. If it's "compulsive gambling," then basically, the Devil can't be in a scene unless it's a gambling scene. Now, you can extend the metaphor just as you describe, to other situations and conflicts, but it is an extension, and sooner or later, it's going to feel like a stretch. This happened in play; we kept saying, Think of the situation as a gamble, and the player didn't find that compelling. A gamble is not the same as a risk; desire to win the stakes is not the same as plain greed. He cared about those differences.

So one important quality of a Devil, I think, is that it can apply to a variety of conflicts. Note that this is personal to a large degree; another player might well not have had the same qualms about applying "Gambler" to not-formally-gambling situations.

2) Expression of the Devil through one's own play, especially to the extent that the other players can pick up on it when it's their chance to do some narration. I agree with you that the goal, ideally, is for a player to smile delightedly when someone else's narration captures the player's character perfectly.

(In fact, that's a wonderful goal of much role-playing, but it is usually restricted to hypotheticals: back in the 80s, someone might say, "Nocturne would do this, if he were here," and I'd be pleased that they knew my character well enough to say that. I really like these trade-narration games that allows this behavior - which I think is something most role-players enjoy - to enter actual play.)

#1 and #2 are related, and in some way, construction of a character needs to get their potential way up. Clay's Dust Devils Session II brought up the same issue. I remain interested in how this goal can be facilitated without over-writing the character at the outset.



Quote from: Ron EdwardsI remain interested in how this goal can be facilitated without over-writing the character at the outset.

If I had it to do over again (which I may), I might be inclined to begin with each player actually narrating a bit about their characters. In particular I'd like to have them narrate the bit that gets them into our story.

I think that I'd also like to produce less character ownership.  My players are too attached to their players to naturally navigate them into deep shit, and it only happened with some help from me and some out of play discussions.

I think that the primary role of the GM in this game should be scene framer and choosing what scene we cut to next. I am also inclined to the idea that there should be a healthy dose of out of character discussion about where we want to take the story with each session.

The more I look at Dust Devils, the more I can see that it is wildly deviant from the normal mode of play.  I've always looked at the GM as the evening's entertainment, with the players as the supporting cast and audience.  In Dust Devils, the Dealer is much more a facilitator, and the players are self-entertaining. That's not bad, but it's a major switch and one that needs to be considered carefully.
Clay Dowling - Online Campaign Planning and Management