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Author Topic: Adventure seeds for indecisive players  (Read 9706 times)
Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« on: June 05, 2002, 05:07:37 AM »

[apologies in advance if this is the wrong forum.]

The short version:

My local group has become very indecisive in games.  I'm looking for a few low-fantasy adventure ideas that will help break us out of the mold.

The long version:

Two of us are GMs for our 'group'; both of us have noticed (as have many of the players) that our sessions are suffering from indecisive play and inactivity.  For example, in one of our games we (I was a player this time) broke into a warehouse and finished off some smugglers.  Now's the time to go through the many boxes & bags and see what we got.  As per normal, the group 'leads' start hemming and hawing, and finally decide to open a single box.  In this game I play a very simple tank w/o an agenda, because I'm rarely in that campaign and would rather just play a supporting role when I join up.  Normally, I'd just keep quiet; I'm a tank, and not paid to think.  However, at this point I got fed up with the slow play, and truly frightened that we may argue over every container in the place, so I told the GM that I proceed to go break-open and rifle through every box & sack in warehouse.

Sounds trivial, right? It was.  Every tiny little step in our games has become accompanied by enormous decision making, and it's gotten rather silly.

Now, I'm not going to over-analyze the situation: a lot of it has to do with the fact that the people are working long-hours, married, children, and only meet once a month so the flow is lost.  There may be other factors, but those probably account for the bulk of it.

What I do want to do is try to break people out of the mold in my upcoming session.  In this session, the group (Riddle of Steel, home-grown low-fantasy gritty world w/no magicians in our party) is transporting an artifact (not wand of orcus, just an ancient item) from point a to point b over a very long distance.  What I'm thinking is that "something happens" along the way that prompts a series of very quick events.  I'll even pull the old "you see x, y, and z.  What do you do? 10...9...and so on." to get them making decisions quickly.

Right now, in my mind's eye I see a storm forcing people to take refuge in a tower, but my inspiration has died there.  Anybody have thoughts on a simple adventure seed?  I just want to bully them along a bit, present simple, clear decisions, and generally take a break from some of the drudgery we've experienced lately.

-Jeff

P.S. When I use "group talker", "no group magician", and other gamey stereotypes I'm trying to condense the story.  It's not as simplistic as that, but the description works for what I'm going for.

P.P.S. I don't normally make linear adventures.  I generally have an overall world-view that moves along, and for sessions I develop the detail for the like area(s) that the players will investigate, move-through, or whatever.  I usually try to keep things open for all types of play.  The group loves fighting and general adventure (sneaking into buildings, etc), but often gets caught up in politics and intrigue.  I definitely want to avoid the politics this time.
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Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #1 on: June 05, 2002, 05:22:52 AM »

Hi Jeff,

Have you tried Kickers?

Can't recomend them highly enough.

You'll find full descriptions both in Sorcerer and all over these boards with a but of work with the search engine.  And, if requested, I'm sure someone will get back to you (meaning me, if no one else), if you need a fresh break down on the matter.

The advantage of Kickers is that the Players themselves have defined what matters for their characters, so they've got every reason in the world to keep pressing forward.

This will work espeically well for RoS since the SA's become a clear and vibrant conduit for channelling all that Kicker energy.

As has been pointed out before, players tend to, in the long run, react poorly to being given choices that they may or may not care about -- and I don't think putting them under the gun on the matter is going to help.  This is why adventure seeds (and modules of any kind) though still a habit of thinking in the hobby are usually useless -- Many times they simply exist outside the interest of the players at the table.  One seed might not be better than another.

Because the Kicker is defined by the player, makes it explicit what sort of adventure the player wants to participate in, and gives an open-ended storyline with a resolution the player gets to search for -- it encourages absolute activity on the part of the player.  And if you can't get a player to come up with a Kicker, then they have no pulse anyway.

Kickers.  A GM's Best Friend as far as I'm concerned.

Take care,
Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #2 on: June 05, 2002, 05:29:04 AM »

I have no idea what a kicker is, but I'll take a look.

There's a strong "gamist" streak in our group; we're board wargamers also.  I'm certain they won't mind a series of challenges for a change of pace.

-Jeff
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Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #3 on: June 05, 2002, 05:39:25 AM »

Hi Jeff,

This one:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1359&highlight=kicker

this one:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1310&highlight=kicker

and this one:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?t=1126&highlight=kicker

In that order, might be the most helpful.  Also, as Ron wrote the rules for Kickers, you'll save some time scrolling down to his name on the threads.  He defines and clears things up pretty fast.

Take care,
Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #4 on: June 05, 2002, 06:01:11 AM »

By the way Jeff,

I don't think there's anything inherently non-gamist about kickers -- tho' I might be wrong.

If the group you're playing with really wants to play out RoS like a boardgame, the issue might be: are there clear gamist rewards for rolling forward?  For example, in AD&D (real AD&D, haven't seen the new stuff), you get experience for killing and looting.  So you kill and loot.  Very simple, the players know what to do, they do it.  (A la Squad Leader, Diplomacy, whatever)

Since RoS rewards experince via SA, I think something like a Kicker would get the ball rolling great.  But if this insn't the case, have you guys tweaked the rules enough so that 1) completing the mission 2) performing certain strategic victories and so on provide the oomph of "winning"?

And, as a side note -- and I'm not sure you think this way, but I feel like pointing it out for all the folks watching at home -- there's certainly no conflict between Kicker and Combat.  (There seems to be someone spreading this rumor tha if you care about *story* and *character* you don't care about combat.  I wish this person would go home.)

Most of the *stories* I love (from epic poems to todays movies) all involve violence -- but the best ones involve all the elements of great stories as well.

Since the Kicker was designed in part to help focus player action and keep things moving along (ie, keep everyone decisive), it might really help you indecisive group.  If, however, you want to use RoS as a great single-man Squad Leader game, I think some rules tweaks are in order so everyone "gets" what the night's session is about.

In sum, then, something's stalling your players.  It seems to me they'll be either be served by pursuing a) something to do with the story (kicker) or b) brownie points doled out for quick decisive behavior as in a board game.  Either way, I've found a neat story hook won't matter much if the players don't know why, or care if, they're taking specific action moment to moment.  These two options provide both clear rewards and focused choices of actions to keep things moving forward and decisive play.

Take care,
Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Valamir
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« Reply #5 on: June 05, 2002, 06:35:08 AM »

On a different tack, I've observed that this behavior often arises in groups where the GM tries to be tricky or devious.  I've had DMs where I knew that a good number of the magic items we'd find were cursed.  Net effect MANY hours wasted being extra careful not to get screwed by the DM.

I don't know if this applies to your group but I know stupendous amounts of caution has been bred into many gamers (10' poles and iron spikes anyone).  If this might be a source of the trepadation, as GM you need to be clear upfront that quick decisive action by the players will not be used by the GM as a opportunity for smack down...even if the decisive action is a little ill thought out.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #6 on: June 05, 2002, 06:51:07 AM »

The first time I saw Attack of the Clones, at the very beginning when Obi-Wan leaps through the window, grabs the droid, & gets taken for a ride high above the streets of Coruscant, I thought, "Why don't PCs do stunts like that? If it were most of the games I've played in, the PCs would stand around, discussing what to do, figuring out the safest way to follow the droid." Talking about with my gaming group, we hit upon why: We've grown up with games that don't encourage or reward that kind of decisiveness.

So, like Christopher said, give some sort of tangible reward for decisiveness rather than just pushing them to, by counting down from 10 when giving them a choice. I'd say give them both a carrot AND a stick--give them rewards for being decisive, but also present things in such a way that the immediateness of it hits them. "Suddenly, a group of swordsman bash through the door, point their blades at you, & yell, 'Traitors!' What do you do?" And don't let them dither about it--but also reward them for not dithering.

And as Ralph pointed out, a lot of GMs don't make the Players feel safe being decisive--you're character makes a decisive action, gets killed, & is taken out of the game. Bam. No fun. Let them know that being decisive won't result in them "losing".
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #7 on: June 05, 2002, 07:50:06 AM »

Hi Everybody,

Just an observation based off Jeff's comments that his group is "gamist" and from his posts down on the RoS board:

Bigtime Star Wars action might not be what Jeff's looking for. I'm seeing more BlackHawk Down action -- which involves caution, panic, and tough choices.

What I would offer as a game/scenario tweak for RoS (for RoS: Blackhawk Down) is this:

They're carrying the artifact.  Successfully getting it across the desert is worth so many points.  Failing is a loss of so many points.

They're also escorting a princess and her entourage.  Each member is ranked in terms of how much you get for getting them across the desert, how much lost for losing them.

Each PCs life is worth so much as well, in the final tally.

There might be two possible foes.  Killing one foe is fine, because the folks who've hired the PCs hate them.  But the other foes are currently in negotiations -- so not killing these guys gains you more points.

I'd also (video game style), add Gamist Bangs -- for example, the PCs might see a fortress in the distance.  GM announces: If you take the fort and leave a garrison from your forces, it's worth 1,000 points.  Now the players have to make a choice.  If the GM doles them out when needed it gives the PCs more to go for.  They know what the consequences are and so on.

I'd say certain games really do encourage nutty behavior -- DC Heroes up to Adventure! (and even Sorcerer with the totalling successful dice bonuses).  

But that's one kind of narrative energy.  Blackhawk Down style plays says, "I really want this, but I really could die... Oh, fuck it, here we go," and the tension resulting in taking a really risky action but knowing "This is what I gotta do."

Just some thoughts,
Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #8 on: June 05, 2002, 08:56:32 AM »

Quote
So, like Christopher said, give some sort of tangible reward for decisiveness rather than just pushing them to, by counting down from 10 when giving them a choice. I'd say give them both a carrot AND a stick--give them rewards for being decisive, but also present things in such a way that the immediateness of it hits them.


Hmmm.  I like adding a carrot to the thing: any examples?

On the general subject of kickers, why the group is slow, and so on; that's a hot topic for us right now.  I'm just looking ahead to see what I as a GM can do to help.

Quote
I've observed that this behavior often arises in groups where the GM tries to be tricky or devious.


A very valid observation, and one we've discussed.  The problem for me is that they overreact to anything that isn't straight-forward, and it colors their behavior forever.  So, I make a plot which includes a traitor.  They miss parts, and then are surprised by the traitor.  From then on, everyone the players meet is potentially duplicitous, and thus their actions must be considered carefully.  "The stableboy moves up to take your horses as you enter the in."  "Hmmm, maybe we should have someone watch him, just in case.  You never know."

-Jeff
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joshua neff
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« Reply #9 on: June 05, 2002, 09:00:22 AM »

Quote
Hmmm. I like adding a carrot to the thing: any examples?


I'd go with Christopher's suggestions, like offering points up front as incentive for accomplishing certain tasks. Things like that.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #10 on: June 05, 2002, 09:10:14 AM »

Points? We're not that bad. :-)

The only reason I brought up gamist is to point out that a more structured environment won't bother people for a night.  We've been led around by the nose before, and haven't suffered for it.

Most our sessions are very wide-open to give the characters their freedom, but I was hoping that a more focussed environment will reduce all the "noise" that goes into decision making.

-Jeff
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Valamir
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« Reply #11 on: June 05, 2002, 09:21:38 AM »

One possibility depends on your players willingness to seperate IC and OOC information.  A very valid technique (with the right group of players) is to never let the PLAYERS be surprised by the traitor.  I've played in games where the players knew all along who the villain was, but they didn't let that color what they were doing as characters.

Frex in another thread I mentioned a group where the players highly discouraged secret player to GM communication.  The type that usually went (I'm going to try and steal his boots of speed as soon as he takes them off for the night).  Rather this group was perfectly happy to have the thief attempt (and even succeed on occassion) to steal the boots as long as he announced it in front of everybody and everyone enjoyed watching the scene play out.

Thats kind of extreme, but the point I'm working my way around towards is this.  If you're looking to get the players out of the rut of worrying about the stable boy, start the game session by letting them know that for this game you absolutely will not be using such tactics and that they don't need to worry about it (of course that presupposes that you actually *aren't* planning on using those tactics.

Suggestion #2 would be to use Anti Spirit Attributes.  Award Hesitant Coward Dice when players have their characters dicker around in noticeably unheroic ways...then use them...

Alternatively, reverse this stick into a carrot (or do both) and reward 7th Sea style Drama Dice whenever the characters leap before they look.
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Christopher Kubasik
Member

Posts: 1153


« Reply #12 on: June 05, 2002, 01:13:24 PM »

Hi Jeff,

I saw the smiley face, but I feel compelled to point out that I don't think points in a tactically minded RPG would be "bad" at all.  I think it could work really well, in fact.  (We are of course, creating "characters" with lots of numbers and rolling dice to determine results.  I have no embarassment about using more numbers to create a more of a "gamist" game.  That said, from your comment, I get the feeling you're group is more Sim... But ultimately that's neither here nor there...)

So... Since points seem the wrong way to go, I'll cut to a blunt matter.

When you write:

Quote

We've been led around by the nose before, and haven't suffered for it.


I've got to suggest... How do I say this without being a presumptious fuck...?  I can't....

I think you're wrong.  Everything you're describing... The indecisiveness, the fear of being screwed by the GM... I've seen it described here, at RPG.net, and laid out fully as a real problem in the essay at the back of Sorcerer & Sword -- and it comes from the GM "leading by the nose" or railroading.

I'll quote quickly from your first post:

Quote
What I do want to do is try to break people out of the mold in my upcoming session. In this session, the group (Riddle of Steel, home-grown low-fantasy gritty world w/no magicians in our party) is transporting an artifact (not wand of orcus, just an ancient item) from point a to point b over a very long distance. What I'm thinking is that "something happens" along the way that prompts a series of very quick events. I'll even pull the old "you see x, y, and z. What do you do? 10...9...and so on." to get them making decisions quickly.

Right now, in my mind's eye I see a storm forcing people to take refuge in a tower....  I just want to bully them along a bit, present simple, clear decisions, and generally take a break from some of the drudgery we've experienced lately.


Railroading, right?  I mean, that's the definition.  And it's often difficult to see the danger of this, the unfortunate habits it fosters because for so many years we've played this way.  But player passivity is a chronic result of the players

a) not expecting they should be making proactive choices because they've been trained by the GM to wait for him to feed them the next move (ie: you're carrying this from here to there; a storm rushes up, the only place to hide is that fortress there....) and

b) having no clear goal outside of whatever the GM has in his head they  should be deciding to do (ie. open all the boxes: why? because that's what one does? maybe, maybe not, depends on the goal. well, the goal's to open all the boxes. well, how do I know that?)

I know the solution of Kickers may seem counter-intuitive -- how the hell can I offer the players *more* choice when they barely handle the choice they have now.

But the truth is, they have no choice.  They're not used to choice. They're waiting for the GM to nudge them along toward the next encounter.

The trick is not to give them choice in the vacuum of real choice, but to use tools like Kickers, which really lay out for the players, before play begins, "This is what I want."  Then, if the GM has the patience to stand back enough to let them be really proactive, and not think, "If I don't come up with a bunch of great scenes nothing's going to happen," but instead, "If I really let the players push as hard as they want on their goals, and I provide resistence off the fly it's all going to work because they're going ot be committed to what's going on."

It's a hard transition, I know.  But I think the bullet must be bitten on occassion.

Again: most players have never really been given the chance to proactive.  (They get little microbursts of nealy insignificant decision making inbetween the GM's pre-planned plot points); most players are trained to wait on the GM; most players have no idea why their character is in the scenario except to await the GM's next plot point.

On the other hand: using tools for proactivity (Kickers, for example, and Bangs, where we in fact do not know what the characters are going to do when confrontented with a problem and do not anticipate any particular path) encourage the players to develop the haibt of proactivity and choice.

It's a very different way of running the game.  It might take a couple of hours of play for the players to get used to it, but it will provide a fundemental change in the way players play.

I know.  I haven't sat in on your sessions.  I know.  There's no way I can be mind reading this.  But I'm not.  Again: I've read it from people describing their games here.  I've read it with people describng their games on RPG.net.  I've seen it in other groups I've played with / observed.

As we say in yoga: The trick to learning how to do a headstand away from the wall is to do your headstand away from the wall.  For RPGs: The trick to getting players to make choices is to to let them start making choices from the get go.  That's what a Kicker is right from the get go: a story decision made by the player right then and there for the character even before play begins.  That's a habit forming, and the habit can be encouraged.

Don't force them one way or another.  Let them choose.

Hope this was of use.

Take care,
Christopher
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"Can't we for once just do what we're supposed to do -- and then stop?
Lemonhead, The Shield
Jaif
Member

Posts: 327


« Reply #13 on: June 05, 2002, 01:41:56 PM »

I've actually already put the choice (to use kickers) out there for them - we're discussing in an email stream.  I'm sure people here would be amused by the misunderstandings of what a kicker actually is.  I quoted some clear description (like you said, stuff Ron wrote), and gave some examples, but the whole concept is still eluding many of them.  Anyway, I'm going to see what shakes out.  I'm certainly up to try different things.

I'll tell you this, though; the "every player has his own unique story" thing died with us awhile ago.  We're a group of people who barely get together once a month, and the game is a minor concern to most.  No one really remembers a whole lot from one game session to the next, even when I send out a synopsis (and ask for comments, and feedback, yada).  When last we had everybody-with-a-different-story, running off on their own and so forth, it simply became impossible to manage.  Remembering the basics of one storyline with a few twists is bad enough: fighting to recall details of 5 different stories, as well as the basic effect on the world, became insane.  (Btw, that was Amber.  Everyone liked the system and the game, but we had to stop because it became too much.)

RE: Sims

If I get it correctly, we are Simist in preperation; people expect the world to make sense.  We are narrativist in play; people expect the heros to be focal points, escaping the jaws of death and generally being "better" than most of the world (but not all, some enemies can be bad too).  Our gamist streak runs underneath both areas - the world better not be easy to beat, and the games better have some challenges and some rewards.

RE: Kickers again

I do have a negative comment about kickers.  I don't mind the idea as a whole, but it has a bad side, at least to me.  The problems is that it allows players to dabble with the 2% inspiration side of things, but leaves the 98% persperation in the hands of one person.  It's reflective, in part, of a lazy attitude that I can't stand.  (I sense I just got in trouble.)

RE: Led by the nose

What I was trying to say is this: if I told the players I adapted the Tomb-of-Horrors (pick your favorite dungeon), and was going to run them through it, they'd probably love the idea.  Sure, it makes no sense in regards to character motivations and what-not, but they'd each know exactly what to do and how to fit in.  Many such adventures would get stale, but a little blast like that wouldn't hurt.  Well, ToH would probably kill everybody in a Riddle game, but that's another story. :-)

-Jeff
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #14 on: June 05, 2002, 01:58:02 PM »

Hi Jeff,

Lots of important stuff is going on here, I think. Lemme see if I can help at all.

1) I guess the first thing is all the GNS jargon. But I want to emphasize that this is just a side note, and not something we need to delve into. (A) It seems to me as if the players aren't really too Simulationist - just wanting plausibility isn't, itself, a Sim-thing. (B) Narrativism seems straight out of the picture, as you say. (C) Given the Tomb of Horrors comment, it sounds like a lot of Gamism to me - they want a challenge, they want a fair shot, and they want to work out tactics and so on about it during play. Sound right?

2) You're not in trouble about Kickers, but it's kind of interesting that you see them as extra work for the GM, whereas I see them as less work for the GM. The fact that (in your view) your players would use them as some kind of cheap/lazy tactic is reeeeeaally interesting.

I also think that Kickers are most useful (if not uniquely so) for Narrativist play, so they probably aren't going to be very interesting to your players. After all, if their goal is to identify the opponent or problem and then smack it down, then they're not really out to invest in the problem's creation emotionally or creatively.

(Let me know if I'm misreading your players, by the way. I make no claims to be able to "read" people's play from a distance, as recently verified by Psychopompous on the TROS forum.)

Best,
Ron
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