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[Dust Devils]: Failing to get really intensive conflicts

Started by Remko, October 18, 2006, 08:56:36 AM

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I'm now back from a small con, where I ran a short Dust Devils session, and it didn't go as I had hoped. I made a short analysis, which I've posted down here (copy-pasted from my PDA, so therefore the two lines to indicate from where this started. It really was my direct experience written down).


It didn't work out extremely well, though, although I can pretty much explain this. I also have one point of critique on the system, which I'll also post down here.

But, first things first. Problems during the game:

   1. The devil wasn't more than a 'big trait'. This problem was created by the following (IMHO):

          o I had five players. Because I gave them the freedom of creating their own character (without having pre-existing relations), and we had a short 4 hours, I didn't really had the time to give each players devil attention.
          o Furthermore, because their devils were only words instead of parts of their life-story, I really couldn't bring them in a situation in which the players were confronted with their devil.

   1. I wondered about how I should prepare DD. I did it analog to the way it is done in DD first ed of the hanged man (and also to DitV, I guess). Because I created a village full of conflicts, I reckoned that the players would dig into it themselves. 2 of the players had already played nar-games, 1 played one session of TMW and the rest hadn't even played a Nar, so it was pretty much up to me to take care of the situation. Because I focussed myself too much on creating conflicts between the players based on the created series of bangs instead of on the characters of the players, The story didn't really focus on the players.
   2. Because the devil didn't really come into play, I had 4 chips dealt out total in 4 hours of play, which is frankly a bit too less.

Plus Points of the game were the fact that all players used their freedom of creating the story and the fact that the players used their ability as narrator to have partial goals succeed.


I got the comment of one of the players that the system is a bit slow: Players telling why they think a particular trait, past/present or devil is useful and then using the cards.

When I ran my thoughts over this, I realised that in games where this is also a slow process (as is BtI), the large parts of the story is created during the play: in both BtI, to get extra dice, you have to narrate this into the story which is much harder in DD because you don't have that much options to narrate about (only the two traits and either past or present).
One type of question / remark and one question:

1. Did I fail in my preparation? If so, what should I do?
         a. I'm guessing myself that I've got to either use premade characters, or don't take up so many persons. This due the short amount of time I had.
2. I think that I failed in a pretty 'beginners'-way: lacking to give full attention to the core mechanic in a Nar RPG. I played quite a few Nar RPGs, but most of them had a system similar to either DitV, MLwM or BtI in that they do have quite a bit of control over the scenes. Any tips / comments about this to prevent such a thing happening?
Remko van der Pluijm

Working on:
1. Soviet Soviet Politics, my November Ronnie
2. Sorcerer based on Mars Volta's concept album 'Deloused in the Comatorium'

Eero Tuovinen

A quick reply:

The Devil has to be a backstory first, jazzy buzz-word second. Even if we use the shorthand all the time, the backstory is where the meat lies. One of the great fallacies of narrativist roleplaying is to think that players can just decide on a premise and start addressing. This doesn't work, you have to root whatever you're about into the fiction. As long as there's no backstory to why the buzzword is significant to the character, there is no content either. (Note that the "backstory" isn't always a literal story about character past, but most of the time it is.)

I generally create the situation based on characters for single-session play, I find that pre-created situations only work for longer term. Setting Devil values is a great step to discuss the on-coming play with the other players, as you can pretty much figure that whoever takes the three is going to be the pivotal player in some manner. Just build your scenario around resolving that devil, and go from there.

When I play short sessions, I use lots of aggressive scene framing and constant conflicts. I'd estimate that a four-hour session with four players goes through around... say, 20-30 chips. (I use some mods that increase chip spending, though.) In general every conflict in my short-form DD games has stakes, and 70% of the game time is spent in conflict. There is very little "free play". I like to compare it to the rhythm to poker; you might stop to get a drink or boast about the last round, but the shift from last round to the next one is almost instantaneous; the minute you resolve a round of poker, everybody's attention already turns to the next round and it's potential winners and losers. That's how I like my DD.

The above is a data-point to compare with your own GMing technique. I've found DD to be one of the (if not the) most reliable games for quick play with strangers. It's not automatic, but the game is definitely a worthy tool to master in this regard.
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Quote from: Remko on October 18, 2006, 08:56:36 AM

1. Did I fail in my preparation? If so, what should I do?
         a. I'm guessing myself that I've got to either use premade characters, or don't take up so many persons. This due the short amount of time I had.
2. I think that I failed in a pretty 'beginners'-way: lacking to give full attention to the core mechanic in a Nar RPG. I played quite a few Nar RPGs, but most of them had a system similar to either DitV, MLwM or BtI in that they do have quite a bit of control over the scenes. Any tips / comments about this to prevent such a thing happening?

Hi Remko:

I won't actually answer your question, but I will say that when I four-hour sessions with my own set up (Galilee, Texas, I will post it someday, somewhere), I am always glad that I havea pile of pregen characters and insist people using one of them for the session.  This:

a) Makes the whole startup go much faster, ensuring that the play starts faster and conflicts start happening.
b) Allows me to build a relationship map among the characters, which then help guide the adversity I throw at the players (when they aren't providing it for themselves).
c) Allows me to have a good feel for each of the devils/traits before play, so that there is rarely any confusion over them.

I do have a pile of pregens (about 10) for people to pick from, and I have never had someone seem unhappy with the selection.  Essentially, by having pregenerated characters, I am able to essentially think through a lot of different possible ways to "create the situation based on characters", as Eero put it, and not have to come up with that on the spur of the moment.

While I haven't gone through NEARLY as many chips as Eero says he does, I do agree with the 70% figure on time spent in conflict.  As he says, Dust Devils is not a game that thrives on "free-play".  I have never had preplanned bangs; I don't think Dust Devils works well with them.  I do have some "kickers" (starting scene conflicts, essentially) for a few of the pregens (one of which is mandatory) if the players themselves are having a hard time placing their characters for the start of play.   

Instead, I have found that with the pregen characters, the conflict arises very naturally among the players themselves, with them usually breaking down into two or more opposing "alliances" and pretty much the whole story then develops around the player vs. player conflicts and their resolution.  Characters are chosen in the open, and often players will select characters purposefully to oppose another player at the table or, alternatively, ally with them. 

In a four hour one shot session of Dust Devils, I think the goal is to somehow get the players (through their characters) at each others throats, and then let the conflict between the PC's spiral into a final, usually bloody, cataclysm round about the three hour 30 minute mark.  In fact, I have stated this goal to players at the start of the session and reminded them of it at the two hour mark to keep things on track for this final conflict (usually involving every player at the table).  No one has any idea WHAT this conflict will be when we sit down at the table, but everyone around the table knows there MUST BE ONE, and makes it happen.

The biggest problem with running this kind of thing is that, occasionally, there will be one player who simply doesn't "engage" in the conflict going on between the other players.  There are several reasons for this I have seen, but the usual one is a kind of simulationist static that creeps in for that player.  The player gets wrapped up into exploration of either the setting (checking out the different things I have on either the relationship map or the physical map of the town) or of system (picking conflicts with NPC's instead of the other players because they feel they have to or just because they think it will be fun).  I have not been completely successful at warding this off, but I do now warn people about it at the start of the session, suggesting that for them to have the most fun over the next four hours they should either a) get involved in ongoing conflict between other PC's somehow or b) create conflicts with other PC's.  "Hitch your car to someone elses train, or hop in an engine and start your own, but don't miss a train by wandering around the station looking at the train schedules."

I will disagree, perhaps, with others here in that I believe the core mechanic to stress in a four-hour one shot of Dust Devils is NOT the Devil (although it is important), but the card based conflict resolution system, especially the narration rights transfer, from the perspective of people who have not had that much experience with that kind of thing.  The Devil is like a direction pointer for this central system.  In other words, I guess I am saying that conflict is the key, but its better if its devil related conflict.

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