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Old group, new Creative Agenda?

Started by Frank T, November 03, 2005, 04:15:50 PM

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Quote from: Sydney Freedberg on November 03, 2005, 08:07:15 PM
This approach sounds completely logical in the abstract, but it's also what's warned against in every concrete Actual Play-based discussion I've seen here whose moral is "you can't sneak up on Creative Agenda." I suspect it may be harder to make subtle changes in a relatively familiar system than to make drastic, obvious changes in a blatantly different system. It's like the difference between (a) trying to quit smoking by smoking one less cigarette a day until you're down to nothing -- easier to start, hard to finish -- and (b) trying to quit smoking by throwing out every pack in the house. It can be helpful to put a big, glaring barrier up that says "We are doing something different now!" It's possible to interpret Sorcerer as just another traditional RPG (hey, I did, the first time I read it); it's impossible to make that mistake with Capes or Universalis.

Well, my experiences are actual play based.  When I went into indie games the first one I dropped on my group was Universalis.  Dismal failure abounded.  They didn't get it, they didn't like it, they didn't want to play it.  As a group, they stopped playing with me altogether, preferring more traditional formats of gaming.  And not just that group -- virtually everyone I've played narrativist games with have had a lot of problems with them ranging from not really wanting to RP out these emotional travails their characters are involved with to feeling embarrassed and silly after being called upon to offer up narration and being caught flat-footed.

And I am not suggesting sneaking up on them.  I should have made that clearer.  Frank should be open and honest about what he wants out of gaming.  He wants them to take greater narrative control of the game, but in my experience with this dropping traditional gamers straight into something hardcore like Universalis is just a bad idea, whereas I have had some experience easing players into it.

You make the analogy of smoking.  I'll make one of sports.  It is unlikely that a person will play football if the only players they go up against are NFL professionals.  They'll feel weak, slow and be soundly and irrevocably defeated constantly.  They won't have fun.  They'll quit.
-- Chris!


Hi Frank,

I´ve been thinking about this for a while now. It´s kinda hard for me to come up with the kind of input you were asking for, ´cause I really do think that this is about social issues, at least judging from what I know about this group from your post here and the earlier one from a few months ago over at Grofafo, and what else do I have?

The thing is, whenever I start writing about it, I find myself starting to sound patronizing and condescending. I really don´t feel comofortable analyzing people. So I won´t. You´re grown up, you´re smart, you know your friends, not I. Let me say this much, though: I see you putting a lot of pressure on yourself and on your group. You really wanna make this work. I hear " I have one shot, I don´t wanna mess it up" or "If it fails, I wanna make sure it´s not my fault".

My expirience is that you can not make people like the things you like as much as you like them or the same way you like them. At all. It doesn´t work. If you try, it ends with disappointment for either side involved.

The best advice I can give is that you´d pick the game that YOU are most excited about, and bring all of that enthusiasm to the table. And keep playing if everyone likes it, and stop playing with that group if they don´t. You made it clear that non - forgy gaming with them is not an option for you. So what it comes down to is: either they like it or they don´t. They are your friends, you can do other things together. Doesn´t have to be RPG. They´ll understand.

I´m not sure that helps, but it´s the best I can come up with.

Frank T

Hey Jasper,

it's a little trickier than that, I'm afraid. Sure I am totally capable of wasting my time second-guessing the girls and telling myself what else they will reject. I have proved that in the past. However, I think I have learned that lesson as best I can, and my concerns voiced in this thread are valid.

You are right I should only run a game for them that I really want to play myself. That's why I ordered TSoY and Sorcerer, and not Donjon and Capes. But excited though I may be about Polaris, I'm pretty sure that it'd be a very bad idea to play it with them. And a much worse idea to play it with them without ever having played it before.

- Frank


Chris' advice is awesome and completely in line with my experience on the matter at hand. Shadows of Yesterday is a great choice, I think. I'm not so sure about the tearing up of paper thing. Personally, I would be turned off by dramatic devices of that sort. But you know your group best.

Ben Lehman

Frank, I'd like to second your feeling that Polaris wouldn't be good to play with your traditional group.  Maybe if they were native English speakers.

I'd like to recommend Riddle of Steel -- all that I can say is that it worked pretty well for me.  It does a good job of making everything seem like "The GM is still in control.  The GM is still in control." whilst actually giving the players an appalling amount of story control.



Really not to try and be a pimp, but if you check my sig, my Imp Game - Mischief & Mayhem has been a GREAT ice breaker for a lot of indie concepts for a lot of people I know (and not just because of me writing it). Most of my initial playtest crew consisted of people who live, eat, and breathe D&D/d20 and after an initial, occasionally jarring, couple minutes, most players jump right on.
System is pretty fast and loose - I, as well as any other player I've spoken with, have sat down with people totally unfamiliar with it (and sometimes totally unfamiliar with the concept of roleplaying), laid it out, and been mostly through character creation in under ten minutes.
System is totally open to the players, which can be the jarring part: GM sets up the initial scenarios, steps in only when absolutely needed, but otherwise players are free to narrate as they will or, in the case a roll to see if something can be done, narrate their own success or failure, gives players a real sense of control because they really have control.
Nice thing about this one, though, is no prep what so ever on anyones behalf. Even con demos, we come up with everything we're going to do at the table in under a couple of minutes. Its light and light hearted, so theres not a lot of pressure to be cool, just to roll with the flow and have a good time amusing everyone at the table.
Nate Petersen / daMoose
Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!


Hi Frank,

(NB: I am one of those freaks he referred to in his post)

Do You think You are able to answer the following questions:

"What do the girls want from the game, and what 'indie' concepts can be uses to achieve them?"

You know that they enjoy participative illusionism[1], but why? You probably know that they're not very
interested in large backgrounds or heaps of rules. This is most probably because of time constraints in addition to most game world knowledge being 'useless' outside.

This thread gave a lot of recommendations about games that are easy to handle (and if you want to try out Fate or TSoY with Fudge dice, I got a load of them I could borrow out to you).

I do understand the cop issue. Is it an unwritten rule, or was it a concious agreement by the group? I see that there is a potential for conflict, but if you are open and direct about it, you may just come through clean. If you leave out the TA in your towns for this group, the questioning of law and justice may not be as eminent in your games.

And then there is the other question:

"What's your goal in bringing the girls over to the nar world?"

Sometimes, people's tastes and personalities change. Maybe it's better to keep up the good friendship and do the gaming with other people. I know this is a hard step, but it might be safer than trying to force something into the relationship it's not built for.


[1] ha-ha, only serious

Frank T

Hey Harald,

I have actually thought about using Dogs. Someone PM'ed me saying as much. Hey, maybe it's not that bad. If I spin the "supernatural" dial up real high, it's going to be fantastic enough not to be offensive to anyone. Um. Did I mention one of the other two girls has some serious issues against Christianity and Church? Well, well. To say it the Star Wars way: I have a bad feeling about this.

Now for that part on "what do they want from a game..."?

Screw that. You read it all over the Forge, but if you look closely, you won't see Vincent or Ron or Mike or Ralph or Clinton tell anyone: "Find the one thing you want from RPG's in general". Cause that's just not the way things roll. My girls like Illusionism. Why? Cause I'm a fucking Illusionist badass, is why. When I prepare carefully and put all my effort into it, my games fucking rawk out. I know that old Illusionist Star Wars d6 like the back of my hand. It runs smoothly. It's a damn good show.

How did it come about? Because I brought it about. I forced it on the players. They liked it well enough. But they never chose it as that "one way" they would play. Cause they had no choice: This is the only way I showed them! And as I started to no longer do it that way, I did it without announcing it, without even conciously choosing to let it down. No wonder they didn't know how to react to that. No wonder play became dysfunctional. Does that mean that anything other than the way we used to play is wasted on them?

Hell no!! Of course not. I KNOW there's no point in forcing them to play "my way" if they don't like it. But only that they didn't respond immediately to my first clumsy attempts of changing our Creative Agenda doesn't mean that they're incompatible with anything else but Illusionism. Damn it, ALL of us would react that way if we had the same history as my girls. That means exactly NUTHIN.

Now, will the girls like forgy pervy Narrativism? I don't know. The only way I can find out is play it with them, and play it right. It's not that I'm trying to force something on them of which I already know they'll flat out reject it. I do believe there is a good chance of them liking it--once they understand how it works. See, you can play different styles and have fun with all of them.

Sorry Harald, I know you probably didn't mean it that way. This was just something I had to get out of the system, so please don't take it personally.

- Frank


Hi Frank!

1. Your post almost perfectly mirrorrs the fears I've had before my first narrativist game with my 'trad' group. I used The Pool and'll second the recommendations in this thread: it can be learned in a minute and it does not put the players on the spot: They can just take a die and to heck with narrative power. They'll come around, though.

You can read about my actual play report here:

Side note: I prepped fairly extensively and benefitted from it. So The Pool is not necessarily a low-prep game.

2. If these are your friends, they'll give you some slack. They'll be sceptical, sure, but not outright hostile. Or so one should hope. Anyway, I think it will be a bit of a bumpy ride at worst, but even then, I don't see how they'd never give you a second chance.

3. I'll be frank: Scrap the plan of dramatically tearing sheets. It's condescending and builds high, but diffuse expectations. This is not helpful at all. Show, don't tell (i.e. just start playing).

Regards & Good Luck,


Eero Tuovinen

Quote from: Halzebier on November 04, 2005, 02:58:53 PM
3. I'll be frank: Scrap the plan of dramatically tearing sheets. It's condescending and builds high, but diffuse expectations. This is not helpful at all. Show, don't tell (i.e. just start playing).

Seconded. Nothing new to add otherwise, but that's clearly a authority technique, which is pretty good if you're either trying to dominate people or are preparing yourself for a fall for some reason. But otherwise you'll just ensure that the session won't be "you and me exploring this new kind of play together", but instead "I'll show you how it's supposed to be done". The latter works awfully, because this kind of roleplaying requires people to invest themselves, and nobody invests themselves AND acts as a pupil at the same time. Your main priority should be that before the end of the first session all players will be giving out independent contribution in the game, and that won't happen if they're afraid of going against your dogma.

If you feel that you have to remind the players of these theoretical matters before you start playing, write them down and pin the sheet on a wall nearby. That way you can just gently point at the sheet when you feel the need during the game. Generally, though, I myself go for sermonizing during the game: whenever a player acts in a way that's counter to the purpose of the game, take it up right away and explain why that won't work. This way players get concrete instruction instead of dogmatic authority.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
Publishing Zombie Cinema and Solar System at Arkenstone Publishing.


Hey Frank,

no offence taken, really. Nice rant. But let me play devil's advocate for a bit longer. It's good if it flushes some bad feelings out of Your system. I'll come up with something....on sunday night, probably.



Oh, just in case You have missed it.This thread: might have some useful advice.


Callan S.

Hi Frank,

You've got two gamist inclined players, but you want the players to give more input?

Have you discussed with them what everyone wants to do? For example, have you seriously considered during any discussion with them, taking on their agenda and entering into gamist sessions of play, even if that's not quite your cup of tea?

If you haven't and they just sort of follow your lead as to how to play, they wont be doing any game input - play started with them following your lead and it will continue that way in terms of game input.

If they don't choose what agenda they play in IMO they wont be making any in game choices/input either. It's a flow on effect.

However, how much choice they have about the agenda hinges on how seriously you could accept something like a gamist session. If you couldn't accept that idea at all, they have no choice except to play your way (or don't play with you at all).
Philosopher Gamer


Hey Callan,

I'm not sure if I'm reading you correctly, but your advice to discuss agenda - if that's what you're suggesting - strikes me as somewhat problematic.

1. Talking about agenda is rarely useful with people who don't know the theory. Moreover, such people often (a) can't identify or articulate what they want (at least not in theoretical terms) and (b) don't easily accept the idea that agendas can conflict with each other.

(The latter is especially relevant with people who are used to illusionism which, among other things, can give the illusion that your choices matter to the story and your choices and luck decide the outcome of fights and everything flows naturally from the world.)

2. All three agendas which have been identified are fun. It's a human thing. You may prefer one over the other, especially in the long run, but a well-designed and well-run game pursuing any of them is still fun. It may not be the kind of fun which will keep you coming back for more, but you'll have had a good time nonetheless.

(For example, I'm not keen on board games. Yet, if social circumstances conspire and I end up playing one, I usually have a pretty good time (provided it's well designed). Board games do not provide the kind of fun I'm actively seeking or would choose to spend my precious free time on, but I could do far worse for an evening's entertainment.)

So I think it is best to just choose a well-designed game and suggest playing it (rather than discuss preferences - that can wait until one plans repeat sessions or a campaign).



Frank T

Hey Callan,

Please refer to my above rant for my opion on "the way they want to play". I don't "have Gamists in the group". I have some players who, for lack of a clear Agenda supported by the whole group and the System, try to Step On Up more often than they do other stuff. And yes, I have tried to respond to the Stepping On Up tendecies. Actually, it's what I'm doing at the moment. Also,

it's not that I previously GM'ed 100% Sim. It's not like a fucking ball game, where tonight we play football, and on Wednesday it's volleyball. It's not like a little switch in your head that goes from Sim to Gam.

There was always some Challenge and some tendency toward Stepping On Up in my group. It wasn't enforced by my GM'ing at big scale because I railroaded, but it was present at a smaller scale, as in "how many TIE's do we manage to blow before the reinforcement arrives 'just in time'? How much of a hard time can we give the Impies before they manage to capture us?"

The point is, I've run out of Challenge for Star Wars d6. I feel there is virtually nothing new there. The players just pick one of their standard tactical patterns and roll some dice. It's dull. There never was a coherent Gamist Creative Agenda anyway in the group, and I doubt it'll arrive (unless, of course, I bring it about, but that was the thing you objected to in the first place, wasn't it?)

It's a nice idea that every fucking roleplayer on this planet could instantly and without fail answer the question "hey, watcha want outa roleplaying?" But people are not that predictable. And unfortunately, "what do I like" is not always something conscious. You know, I've been through this. I wrote up a fucking mutliple choice test to determine what they want out of roleplaying. There was NO recognizable pattern whatsoever in the answers, let alone a SHARED pattern. They told me that if we'd fo the test again on a different day, the answers would probably vary considerably.

There is no such thing as "THEIR WAY" of playing which I could play along with. The only functional and mostly coherent way of playing they know is the one I forced them into, all those years ago. And now as I try to do this trick again, there's sure some people to jump up who've read too much theory lately, and they're gonna refer me to Dogma No. 3 which says that it always be Badwrongfun to make other people play your way.

Which is really only to say, yes, I have considered following their lead, but it doesn't really lead anywhere. Also, I don't see why they shouldn't be able to give creative input only because I take a lead. Now if I want to do some improvised Blues and play the guitar, and you sing to it, would you say you give no input just because it's not Jazz? And only because you like Jazz, why shouldn't you like Blues as well? This line of argument doesn't make a whole lot of sense to me.

Hey Hal and Eero,

That's some sound advice there, thank you. Alright, so no dramatically tearing sheets apart. But I will tell them that there won't be "the right solution", which is just explicitly announcing that I'm going to change the way I GM.

- Frank