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Author Topic: Preparation as fuel for Story  (Read 10915 times)
TonyLB
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« on: November 11, 2005, 10:50:22 AM »

So I've been thinking about the connection between GM-preparation (whether classic "what's gonna happen" or more (to my mind) useful preparation schemes like Sorceror or DitV) and its function in the game, particularly in terms of the emergence of actual story.

I don't think that preparation as the structure that will constrain story is my thing.  It may not even be functional.  But maybe it is.  Anyway, I've thought of a different metaphor, inspired by the aforementioned sources:  Preparation is the fuel, story is the fire that consumes it.  I can go on and on about my own failings as a (literal) fire-maker ... I fiddle with the logs when I don't need to.  I put too much wood on the fire and choke it out.  I build elaborate structures based on how pretty they are, not on how well they'll burn.  etc, .etc.  They all correspond to failings I also make as a GM.

I want to make a game that explicitly represents the story in this way:  as a resource that the players are meant to burn to ashes in the process of creating a story.  What I'm wondering is whether there are any modern games that I should be going to for inspiration on how to do this.

I say modern because, of course, the grandfather of all gaming, D&D works on exactly this paradigm:  the GM creates a large number of encounters and challenges, with the explicit intent that they will be burned to a crisp (metaphorically ... though sometimes also literally) by the players, and that the beautiful sparks and flames of their burning will be the story of the game.

Sorceror and DitV both implicitly support this structure:  Ron even talks about a "bandolier of bangs" ... a pile of ammunition.  That's not at all distant from saying "You've got a wood-pile, and when the fire seems to need it you toss on another log."  But it's not the same as saying it explicitly and backing it up with mechanics that track how the story elements are being expended.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #1 on: November 11, 2005, 12:21:52 PM »

You already mentioned Dogs, but the proto-NPCs are a good example of this.

In FLFS, each character is created (collaboratively, which is relatively tangential) with three Thematic Batteries.  These are the things that are important to the character, and they are player-defined.  They can be "Loyal", "Gentleman", "Crack Pilot" or even "Reformed Jew" or "Closet Homosexual."  This is phrased in the book as "What you want your character to be about" but it also translates, mechanically, into "What you want the game to be about".

The GM creates the adventure after character creation.  She takes the Thematic Batteries of the player characters, the ship, and the NPC captain (or whatever superior officer the group created) as well as stated player expectations and uses these as a checklist of things to create conflicts about.  Kickers are an optional thing that can also get tossed in at this point.  The GM looks over the list and creates obstacles, victims, and resources to fit the items on the list.  Note that this is pretty CA-independent: the GM can create challenges to be conquered, threats to be explored, personal conflicts to be addressed, et cetera.  There are running sidebars explaining how to do all of these on index cards because that's how I prep my games, but as a former teacher I'm well aware that different people think, prepare, and implement in manifestly different ways than I do.

Lastly, the GM takes all of the stuff that she's created and juxtaposes them into a situation (taking a quick QC step to make sure that every player has something tied in somewhere).  It's assumed that not all the pieces will always be addressed, and some of the pieces created that aren't in that initial situation may be tossed in in the middle of play because it was convenient, and hey, they were right there on a handy index card.

Given four players (12 batteries), a ship and a captain (8 batteries), and a handful of player expectations (4 items) that yields 24 items on the list.  If the GM takes just half of those and creates two or three obstacles, two or three victims, and two or three resources, say seven pieces for each item, that makes 84 pieces to play with.  Use half or even a quarter of them for the situation, and leave the rest as backup material, you should have a pretty vibrant and flexible foundation to create a session or two of play.  And of course play generates new items for the list, new pieces for the pile, and new situations to play.

...or at least, so goes the theory.
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #2 on: November 11, 2005, 12:29:33 PM »

I should note: by "pieces" I mean any of: NPCs, props (tools, bombs, weapons, infrastructure, fuel, food), critters, environmental threats/obstacles, groups of NPCs, sets (wildernesses, ports/space stations, cities, mines, native villages), etherships, aliens... you know, stuff.
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Judd
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« Reply #3 on: November 11, 2005, 02:13:40 PM »

Tony,

Right now the games that come to mind are Spiritual Attributes by The Riddle of Steel, that have the players writen down what is important for the GM to see and rewards them when they go after these goals.  Burning Wheel's Beliefs and Instincts has a similiar reward mechanism for following these goals and makes the GM's life easy by putting these goals and hence, the direction of the game, on the character sheet.

In Sorcerer we've got kickers and more in line with SA's and BIT's are the descriptors and the back of the sheet, again, guidelines for what the players want to have happen.

Of course D&D had alignment, a player's way of telling the GM they wanted conflicts about X, right?  Often it wasn't used as that and it certainly isn't described as that but we can see these things as kind of a proto-SA before SA's existed.  And playing a Thief means that you want to sneak around, etc.

The thing with bangs is, that I didn't see in your idea was that they are mutable, they are always changing.  If I write down a dozen bangs for a Sorcerer session, 4 are total crap, 4 are gold and another 4 end up being dormant because of .  Maybe 3 or 4 get used in a game.  This fuel that the players are burning through, it has to mutate with the story.  The logs in the fire need to be able to be moved around with the ole cast-iron poker and sometimes smashed to bits.

Good luc, sounds interesting and I hope the above has helped.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #4 on: November 11, 2005, 03:41:59 PM »

Hi Tony,

Might be a side point, but what is the process involved with burning? Is it something like the GM writing out prep that's important to him (prep which he's not interested in will make a dud of a game). But in play, what happens as a result of that prep (ie, story) gains more importance than the original prep. Thus prep is burnt to a crisp/used up and forgotten about in favour of the generated story. Way off?
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Adam Cerling
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« Reply #5 on: November 11, 2005, 05:09:08 PM »

Though I don't know if it's a roleplaying game, the card game Once Upon a Time leaps to mind. The cards in your hand are the resources you expend to include in the story, and you win when you've expended them all.

What you're saying also sounds similar to buying off Keys in the The Shadow of Yesterday.
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Adam Cerling
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TonyLB
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« Reply #6 on: November 11, 2005, 07:34:07 PM »

Might be a side point, but what is the process involved with burning?
I don't know.  I'm asking for source games that might be close to this, precisely because I'm interested in ways it might work.

Riddle of Steel and Burning Wheel definitely have explicit "Let's make things about this" markers ... but they don't get expended.  You never have any sense "Okay, that's as much importance as that thread has in this story."  Which is fine for character-attributes:  those issues are supposed to be evergreen, ever-changing, not consumed.  But for GM prep it means that you don't support a build toward climax.  The SAs and Beliefs are unmoving, relative to the player:  like the stars and the moon, as you walk along a road, but not like the wayposts on the road itself.  By comparison, if you have only a finite number of times a story element can appear, and you know that you're on the penultimate appearance of the McGuffin then you know it's time to prepare the ground for the great climax.

Now Sorceror's Bangs are definitely expendable:  you use them, and they're pretty much spent.  But they're not formalized in a way that makes that information into a communication channel and negotiation forum between the players and the GM.  I have absolutely no doubt that much of that information gets communicated sub-rosa, but I don't have a good explicit grasp on how that happens.

Does that help make more sense of what I'm looking for?
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #7 on: November 11, 2005, 08:21:21 PM »

Would it be accurate to say that you're more after a structure in which to use story elements rather than a way to generate them in the first place, Tony?
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Marco
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« Reply #8 on: November 12, 2005, 09:40:27 AM »

GEAR (http://www.jagsrpg.org/jags/content/GEAR/GEAR.pdf) has explicit instructions for story and game prep-work. The fuel you are talking about most closely corresponds to Player-designated Dramas (of which there are three types). A Drama represents a situation, the PC and NPC actors, and the focal-point (and it even suggests some roles or emotions connected with it).

The GM is instructed to take Dramas into account when expanding on the Story Foundation (a step in the set-up of a GEAR game) and make a best-effort attempt to get the Drama into play (i.e. if the PC for some reason flees the drama situation with all his might, the thread will not, obviously become important). Some Dramas (internal dramas) have a begining, middle, and end wherein the PC either gives in or resists the inner conflict.

-Marco
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TonyLB
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« Reply #9 on: November 12, 2005, 07:02:39 PM »

Would it be accurate to say that you're more after a structure in which to use story elements rather than a way to generate them in the first place, Tony?
I'm after any game that has approached this question (how does the telling of story expend prepared material) explicitly.  I am not designing here, I'm conducting research to see what (if anything) has already been designed in this vein.
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Alan
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« Reply #10 on: November 12, 2005, 08:51:00 PM »

Riddle of Steel and Burning Wheel definitely have explicit "Let's make things about this" markers ... but they don't get expended.  You never have any sense "Okay, that's as much importance as that thread has in this story."  Which is fine for character-attributes:  those issues are supposed to be evergreen, ever-changing, not consumed.  But for GM prep it means that you don't support a build toward climax.  The SAs and Beliefs are unmoving, relative to the player:

That's not strictly true.  In TROS, the player can, at any time, spend SAs down to zero, discard them, and start new ones.  While there's no mechanic for determining just how many points can be earned before a particular SA must change, the player does get to "expend" the idea when he or she feels it has run its course.

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- Alan

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TonyLB
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« Reply #11 on: November 13, 2005, 04:21:13 AM »

Cool!  Good info.  Now I have to go examine much more closely.  Thanks!

Any other systems?
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Alan
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« Reply #12 on: November 13, 2005, 06:12:49 AM »

You've looked at Keys in The Shadow of Yesterday, right?  Players' characters start with Keys that are goals, emotional ties, or vows that earn XP when played.  Each Key has a Buyoff action that earns a lump of XP and ends the Key.  Of course, players can get new ones in play.

Kickers in Sorcerer.

Towns in Dogs in the Vinyard.

Situations in Trollbabe.
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- Alan

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