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Author Topic: player-directed exploration of GM-created world  (Read 25510 times)
Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #60 on: February 16, 2008, 09:02:50 AM »



@ pells
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That said, what type of game can this generate ?
- The "scenario" is not about the PCs (they are never mentionned), so, as there is no predefined role for them ; this is truly player directed.
- As "events" happen into the world, indepedant of the PCs, there is a sim feeling to the game ; not the system, but about a living world.
- PCs decide what plots/sub plots they want to explore. As the scenario is very high level, players and DM complete the "holes" as they see fit.
- Bottom line, in my opinion, this really, but really changes my approach toward pre written scenarios (and even rpg in general). The game turns out to be about the PCs' place into the world. Which is what I'm looking for in a game. For more on this, I invite you to read this article.

After perusing you system, and the Avalanche example a little more carefully, I would say that, while I don't especially disagree with your objectives on any level, this doesn't exactly conform to the kind of game that David has in mind.

Essentially, you've traded a single railroad plot for multiple concurrent railroad plots, and allow the players to hop between them at will.  Which is fine, except that you've multiplied by the amount of prep required by the author by the number of concurrent plots.  You have cleverly managed to cover the full range of player exploration in both space and time by attaching histories for associated geographical factions.  But if they players can truly impact that history, how do you prepare for future sessions in an economical fashion?

From your website:
"The critical points : there are two kinds. The entry ones represent the major "events" (or "facts", if you prefer) from the past that influence the current scenario. For instance, in LOTR, a critical entry point would be "Bilbo has the ring". If a critical entry point does not reflect the reality of your game, than the impact on the scenario will be major. As for the exit critical points, they do represent the "major events" from the current scenario that can influence the future. So, an exit critical point of a scenario should turn out be an entry critical point of another, later, scenario. Those critical points are a way to make jonction between the scenarios."

This is where I become unclear.  You seem to make provision for the players' ability to affect the world at certain predefined points (whenever there's a delicate balance between two forces which could go either way?)  -but what if the players have advanced in power and influence sufficiently that they've become movers and shakers in their own right?  Why should they not be able to wreak merry hell with the material?

Now, to be clear, I would consider your sytem to be an excellent guide to composing a large scale structure or framework for the player characters to inhabit/explore, with realistic constraints, but the amount of detail that you provide is prohibitively expensive for homebrew efforts.  I am hopeful that the technique of incremental detail I propose earlier may remedy this difficulty.  But neither will satisfy David's requirement that:

1.  The players do not determine the content of the world.  The GM does.
2.  The players can require that whatever aspect of the world they choose to explore will be interesting.

I fear these objectives are close to contradictory, but what if the players decide to explore something when genuinely bears no significant relation to the plots you've prepared?  This more or less compels the DM to attach great importance to, and flesh out accordingly, whatever aspect of the world the players deign to notice.  And then all your prepped material and elaborate web of interwoven plotlines are for nought.

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If you can provide a DM with a complete product (which means a lot of work from the author's/designer's part), then prep, using Avalanche's design, is very, but very easy !!! And very fast (by the way, that's one the main goal of the project).
Yes, but again, we're assuming for the present, that the GM is making up this world from scratch.  Besides, much the same constraints on time and budget will apply to any publisher with limited resources.  I consider your approach to be a significant advance, but it carries it's own problems.

@ contracyle
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Agreed, but: it seems to me that in practice all game of this type have some kind of boundary, but in this case the boundary arose in an explicit manner, with its own rationale, rather than being imposed for its own sake.  It was neither a case of the GM saying "you just can't" or trying to leap through hoops to redirect players away from an "invisible wall"-type boundary.  The limit thus had buy-in from the players and was not experienced as a constraint on play so much as a property of play.
I would consider your session description to be an excellent example of using plausible constraints to provide the players with challenges they enjoy (as well as helping to curb the amount of material you would have to prep.)

@ MKAdams
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What if the GM is stumped by the player's desire to explore orc tattooing?  What if the GM doesn't actually know anything at all about tattooing?  What if they haven't thought out the full details or orc society?  You're going to create a game system that generates content without player input or GM input?
I think that David covered this by allowing that any exploration objective specified by the players for which there isn't an immediate and obvious route would only be covered in the next session (and might take multiple sessions to yield meaningful results.)  That should give the GM ample time to research background.

Not as a particular point of contention, but I found this hilarious:

"In a world gone horribly wrong, where actions have no consequences, where all of humanity has become unaccountably oblivious to blatant violations of the time-space continuum, where rules exist not to be broken but to be disregarded, where continuity is irrelevant... anything is possible."
-Roger Ebert, Jumper review.

Of course, I've always held that movies and games have very different objectives, but I think it gives some idea of, ah... potential pitfalls to complete player freedom.
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #61 on: February 18, 2008, 08:54:31 AM »

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The problem then is not the establishing of facts, which I think is pretty easy, but instead a mechanism for actually introducing those facts into play in an elegant manner.
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What interests me here is how to deliver said obstacles.  I think we've had some good discussion of that, and I hope it continues.

*feel free to start a new thread to tackle that issue! -- just don't use this one
Well, it seems to me that challenges normally form a natural aspect of the world.  You wouldn't have to go out of your way to introduce them.  As for how to deliver said obstacles, well, I mean, that's a balancing/setting issue, and you're right, it goes beyond the scope of this discussion.  But, I think you might use obstacles as a sort of 'plot currency' in exchange for particular exploration requests by the players.  Anything that requires a lot of work on the GM's behalf will be proportionately difficult to back out of.

1.  If there is an obvious and immediate route for exploring the player's topic of interest, then this will be explored in the next session.

2.  If there is no obvious and immediate route for exploring the topic, but no established reason for why it should be difficult to explore, results should be forthcoming within 2-3 sessions. The players may choose a different immediate topic to explore in the upcoming session, and the GM may, optionally, introduce a constraint that makes it harder to backtrack from the long-term exploration.

3.  If no obvious and immediate route for exploration exists, and there are established facts about the world which make exploration of the subject difficult or impossible under present circumstances, then this forms the basis for a major plot structure stretching over many sessions.  The GM may select the topic of the next scene for the players, and introduce 2-3 constraints which make backtracking from this exploration difficult or impossible, (again, under present circumstances.)  The player characters must have some compelling pre-stated reason to explore the subject.
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #62 on: February 21, 2008, 09:03:49 AM »

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I have an idea that basically gurantees every five or so scenarios will add up to more than the sum of their parts.  "Ah!  We learned in Mission 5 that the potion of visions from Mission 1 will allow us to see the door that the key from Mission 2 fits!"  That kind of thing.  Not quite as tidy as what you describe... but it might hit the same virtue, which I think is cumulative progress over continued play...?
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Re: "no plausible way to find out", I think a gimmick is required here, along the lines of an oracle that gives PCs just the right amount of information to get to the next scenario.  I have some ideas on how to make this as non-contrived-seeming as possible, but I'm gonna wait a bit to present those (might need a new thread).
I think you might be able to combine these two together. e.g, If the players request some kind of difficult, long-term exploration, that's your cue to script some kind of larger plot hook.

Well, maybe it would help to throw in some terminology...

Locales.
Locales are permanent areas/places.

Factions and personalities.
These are groups (cultures, natiuons, etc) or agents, similar to the player characters, capable of making informed choices and with some awareness of the world and history.

Events.
Events are tied to a particular locale and faction/personality.  Before scripting an event, the GM has to ask-
Why does this event occur?  Can the players realistically affect it?  If they can affect it, what are the likely alternative outcomes?

Level of Detail (LoD.)
Events, Locales and Factions/personalities which the players can most realistically explore in the near future should be described in greatest detail.  Remoter prospects should be described in successively lower detail.

Level of Persistance (LoP.)
Events which occur due to powerful, deterministic forces on a large scale (and are therefore difficult for the player characters to affect or even explore) have a high Level of Persistance.  Events which are local, limited or down to chance factors (and therefore easy for the player characters to affect or explore) have a low Level of Persistance.

Links.
An explicit pre-stated path for exploration.

Constraint.
An explicit pre-stated block on exploration.

Bridge.
An Event which provides a Link surmounting a previous constraint, usually permitting exploration on a higher level of persistance.

If it's possible to go from Locale A and Locale B, then logically, it should be possible to go back from B to A.  That's a Link.  A constraint blocks travel in one or both directions.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #63 on: February 21, 2008, 12:19:13 PM »

Alfryd,

If "plot currency" actually is felt as determining gameworld content, that's too meta for me.  As far as backing out of a situation, I'd prefer to treat the symptom rather than the problem, and just forge some 100% workable agreements on what's fun to play.  I know this is a tall order, but I am hopeful!

As for long-term exploration preferences, I think letting those evolve over time might be best for the GM's workload.

Well, maybe it would help to throw in some terminology...
I dig it.

Locales.
Locales are permanent areas/places.
Fine name.  Perhaps largely irrelevant -- see LoD.

Factions and personalities.
These are groups (cultures, natiuons, etc) or agents, similar to the player characters, capable of making informed choices and with some awareness of the world and history.
These are already in my game text as Interests (see Anders' post and my response), so I'd prefer to use that, unless you see a problem with it.

Events.
Events are tied to a particular locale and faction/personality.  Before scripting an event, the GM has to ask-
Why does this event occur?  Can the players realistically affect it?  If they can affect it, what are the likely alternative outcomes?
Agree with this final stage of the process, but not sure what you have in mind as the first step, i.e., GM says, "I will create an Event."  When, and why?

Level of Detail (LoD.)
Events, Locales and Factions/personalities which the players can most realistically explore in the near future should be described in greatest detail.  Remoter prospects should be described in successively lower detail.
Absouletly, but I think perhaps I can be more precise than this.

Locales/Events/Interests that can be explored in today's session should be described in greatest detail.  Everything else in the gameworld can be divided up into two categories:

1) will not be referenced in today's session -- don't waste a nanosecond on it
2) might be referenced in today's session -- make it able to be referenced, and nothing more.  This means come up with some names and the basics of a situation.  "In the town of Thulford, there is a shaman named Greymuth who claims to be able to protect the town from Orc raiders who've afflicted nearby villages."  Done.  (The Thulford info will come up in the middle of the current scenario, and there's no reason to expect the players to bail on the current scenario, so going to Thulford will not happen this session.  Hmm, perhaps I should emphasize, "Don't drop hooks into a scenario before the scenario's really underway!")

Level of Persistance (LoP.)
Events which occur due to powerful, deterministic forces on a large scale (and are therefore difficult for the player characters to affect or even explore) have a high Level of Persistance.  Events which are local, limited or down to chance factors (and therefore easy for the player characters to affect or explore) have a low Level of Persistance.
As with Events: When and why?  I definitely agree with the relevance of these considerations, but only if High-LoP events are actually created.  They may not be.  Or pehaps they are, but all pre-campaign, not pre-session.

Links.
An explicit pre-stated path for exploration.
Do you mean established during play, and thus "on the table" in future play?  If so, great!  If you mean, "the GM prepped it", I don't see a need for any prepped Links between scenarios, only Links within the scenario of today's session.  Or, well, see my final thought in this post.

Constraint.
An explicit pre-stated block on exploration.

Bridge.
An Event which provides a Link surmounting a previous constraint, usually permitting exploration on a higher level of persistance.

If it's possible to go from Locale A and Locale B, then logically, it should be possible to go back from B to A.  That's a Link.  A constraint blocks travel in one or both directions.
Ooh!  This has some cool potential.  Let me run through some examples:

1) The players decide to go to the marshlands.  The GM doesn't want the players to go there, ever, and imposes some Constraint for this purpose.

2) The players decide to go to the marshlands.  The GM has only a very fuzzy idea of what the marshlands are like, and would have to spend a lot of time prepping them.  Fortunately, when he decided that the marshlands might be referenced, he also came up with a Constraint: the rainy season.  You can't go to the marshlands for another two months, cuz it'll all be flooded until then.

3) Same scenario, different Constraint: the border wall.  You can't just stroll into the marshlands, because the Palatine army has built a wall across the only entry point, which they guard.  Unlike two months of rain, however, the PCs can do something here.  They can sneak, or climb, or haggle, or bribe, or lie, or maybe even pick their moment and try to fight their way in.  This could be a fun session in itself, and gives the GM an extra week (or whatever) to prepare the marshlands.

4) Same as (3), except there is the explicit potential for the PCs to form a relationship with the guards such that they can travel to and from the marshlands as they please.

My thoughts on these:

(1) is not acceptable.  If the marshlands are ever going to be mentioned in play in some interesting fashion, they can't be simply a dead issue.  The one exception I'd make to this is for an obvious categorical impossibility, like "There might be something interesting on teh surface of the moon," in a game with no space travel.

(2) is not as fun as (3) or (4), but I could see valid reasons for using it every once in a while.  It seems like a generally non-optimal solution to "I don't wanna prep fast", though.

(3) is great if the players enjoy the guards/gate scenario.  The key here would be the GM leaving his initial description of the situation open enough (e.g., "There's only one way into the marshlands, and you hear that Palatine controls it.") that he could later prep the specifics to be something the players find fun.

(4) offers a bigger reward to the players, with a permanent Link instead of a temporary one, and thus might inspire a little more enthusiasm.  When (3) and (4) are equally plausible, I'd go with (4).  When (3) is more plausible, I'd go with (3).

So, basically, most Constraints would exist to be turned into Links by the PCs.  The process of transformation should be fun to play -- in a game about exploration, I'd think the players oughta like building Bridges*.  It also buys the GM some time to develop the next Locale.  A few Constraints would be turned into Links by PC-external Events, for large-scale campaign reasons and perhaps world-plausibility reasons.  And a very few Constraints would just be, "sorry, that was pure Color, it's not explorable."

I could go on to talk about (2) more, but I'd rather pause for now.

Final thought:
When does the GM identify a Link or a Constraint?  Well, at the end of a session, the players pick what to do next, and they should be able to pick between interests that are either Links or (3)- or (4)-Constraints.  That is, they should already know not to set their hearts on a (1)- or (2)-Constraint.  (1)s should be easy.  So, I guess what this means is that before any given session, the GM needs to identify any (2) Constraints, and present them as part of the hook: "Thulford's shaman does blah blah blah; Thulford is many months' travel away."

* for groups where this is not true, though, I don't think they should be forced to spend full sessions conquering obstacles and not getting the info they wanted to pursue... perhaps a solution is just to imbed some Secrets in every scenario, even a "talking to the guards of the wall" scenario
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #64 on: February 22, 2008, 07:36:29 AM »

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These are already in my game text as Interests (see Anders' post and my response), so I'd prefer to use that, unless you see a problem with it.
Suits me.
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Agree with this final stage of the process, but not sure what you have in mind as the first step, i.e., GM says, "I will create an Event."  When, and why?
It just strikes me as part of the GM creating the world.  Why insert Orcs, or descriptions of their tattoos?  You have to put in something, and people in that world will make an impact on the world.  That's an Event.  The point is, the GM should be very careful when scripting events that the players could have power to affect.
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As with Events: When and why?  I definitely agree with the relevance of these considerations, but only if High-LoP events are actually created.  They may not be.  Or perhaps they are, but all pre-campaign, not pre-session.
I'm sorry- I should have amended this definition- LoP can include Locales and Interests, as well as Events.  To give an example, say that one of your players asks to look toward the east horizon while riding.

"You see a distant line of amber mountains, stretching far toward the coast, their peaks still flecked with winter snows despite the season."

-here you've established a Locale with High LoP and Low LoD.  There's not much the players can do to move mountains around the place, (and they're also a significant Constraint, since you'd probably have to go around them.)  For that matter, the coast you mentioned would have similar properties.
A powerful monarch or large nation exhibiting solidarity would be Interests with High LoP, since it would be quite difficult to get close enough to harm or simply talk with the former, and the latter is too large and uniform to deflect from it's course (at least, until the players become much more influential.)

I certainly agree that a certain amount of pre-campaign briefing on the world and general backdrop would be essential for the players.  But the amount of detail in that briefing on various topics would itself be a reflection of level of persistance and proximity to the players.  You'd describe their immediate surroundings and important events in greatest detail, while distant lands or minor interests might get a passing mention.

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If "plot currency" actually is felt as determining gameworld content, that's too meta for me.  As far as backing out of a situation, I'd prefer to treat the symptom rather than the problem, and just forge some 100% workable agreements on what's fun to play.  I know this is a tall order, but I am hopeful!
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Absouletly, but I think perhaps I can be more precise than this...
1) will not be referenced in today's session -- don't waste a nanosecond on it
Well, here I feel there may be some friction between your objectives.  Say the players ask to explore the subject of Orc tattoos, and the GM knows there are certain obstacles the players must circumvent or overcome to get that information.  So the GM knows that the players must go from Node A to Node B to Node C to Node D to get that data.  So he then has to flesh out that path of exploration, which is a lot of work- and that's fine, provided it actually sees use.

So, to ensure that the GM isn't overburdened with work, you need to either:
1.  Reduce the average workload per Node.
OR
2.  Ensure that it's hard for players to stray from the given path.

The method of incremental detail exists to permit (1), while constraints exist to allow (2).  With incremental detail, the GM can simply provide a rough outline of Nodes B and C, and a few words for D, while the players explore Node A.  If the players lose interest no great harm is done, as the GM had only scripted bare bones of later prospective sessions.
With constraints, on the other hand, players have an incentive to finish what they started, so that the GM's work won't go down the crapper.  (Even if they don't like the initial setup, there may be a long-term satisfaction to dealing with the obstacles introduced over successive sessions.  As long as those constraints don't persist unnecesarily beyond that subplot, it seems fair.  A similar rule exists for single sessions- constraints introduced for that single session should be reasonably surmountable within that session.)

The other reason why I would favour detailing locales/events/interests beyond the current session is so that you can A. help brief your players on larger aspects of the world when called for, and B. (a similar consideration,) maintain consistency, internal logic and continuity between different sessions and encounters.

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(1) is not acceptable.  If the marshlands are ever going to be mentioned in play in some interesting fashion, they can't be simply a dead issue.  The one exception I'd make to this is for an obvious categorical impossibility, like "There might be something interesting on teh surface of the moon," in a game with no space travel.

(2) is not as fun as (3) or (4), but I could see valid reasons for using it every once in a while.  It seems like a generally non-optimal solution to "I don't wanna prep fast", though.

(3) is great if the players enjoy the guards/gate scenario.  The key here would be the GM leaving his initial description of the situation open enough (e.g., "There's only one way into the marshlands, and you hear that Palatine controls it.") that he could later prep the specifics to be something the players find fun.

(4) offers a bigger reward to the players, with a permanent Link instead of a temporary one, and thus might inspire a little more enthusiasm.  When (3) and (4) are equally plausible, I'd go with (4).  When (3) is more plausible, I'd go with (3).
I agree, by and large.  Certainly, the GM can't arbitrarily decide the players can't visit a given Locale, which should otherwise be trivial to explore, if he hasn't thought to prep some believable constraint in advance.  And certainly, most constraints should be surmountable with enough thought and effort.

For instance, cozying up to the guards might require undertaking some quest on behalf of their captain (who finds a little plausible deniability useful for the purpose, or he wouldn't be hiring adventurers,) that then permits you entry to the marshlands.
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* for groups where this is not true, though, I don't think they should be forced to spend full sessions conquering obstacles and not getting the info they wanted to pursue... perhaps a solution is just to imbed some Secrets in every scenario, even a "talking to the guards of the wall" scenario
Well, the purpose I had in mind is that a constraint (introduced after a subplot request) exists as an incentive to the players to complete that sub-quest, not that it actively impedes completing that subquest ...that would just be cruelty.
For instance, if they want to undertake that Marshland-exploration subquest (which, after all, didn't have an immediate and obvious route for exploration,) the guards' captain will want a favour in exchange for letting them pass.  If you can provide that favour (which should be possible as part of the subquest,) all is well.  If not, failing to live up to your side of the bargain may have long-term ramifications (such as the arrest scenario from earlier.)
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When does the GM identify a Link or a Constraint?  Well, at the end of a session, the players pick what to do next, and they should be able to pick between interests that are either Links or (3)- or (4)-Constraints.  That is, they should already know not to set their hearts on a (1)- or (2)-Constraint.  (1)s should be easy.  So, I guess what this means is that before any given session, the GM needs to identify any (2) Constraints, and present them as part of the hook: "Thulford's shaman does blah blah blah; Thulford is many months' travel away."
I'll have to think about that some more.  I would say that Links/Constraints would mainly be used by the GM for prep purposes, to help ensure a reasonably open but relatively structured world, and wouldn't be made explicit to the players unless neccesary.  If the players ask about the marshlands, then the GM tells them about the rainy season or border guards.

I mean, one of your objectives is that the players can legitimately seize on some aspect of the world's description which was just there for colour.  Now, if you're cool with the GM saying "sorry, that was pure Color, it's not explorable," on occasion, (and I agree it should only be occasional,) then that's fine.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #65 on: February 22, 2008, 11:28:32 AM »

Alfryd,
I think we're communicating well on most of this stuff, but there may be an important disconnect.  Let me see if I can get at the heart of it.

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Agree with this final stage of the process, but not sure what you have in mind as the first step, i.e., GM says, "I will create an Event."  When, and why?
It just strikes me as part of the GM creating the world.  Why insert Orcs, or descriptions of their tattoos?  You have to put in something

In the instance of Orcs, they are a creation of the game-designers, a pre-condition of play, and might well be an incentive to play. 

Once a group's decided to play, it is the GM's job to determine what they're psyched about (e.g., Orcs? not Orcs?).  That, and only that, is the "something" that the GM has to put in.

Well, here I feel there may be some friction between your objectives.  Say the players ask to explore the subject of Orc tattoos, and the GM knows there are certain obstacles the players must circumvent or overcome to get that information.  So the GM knows that the players must go from Node A to Node B to Node C to Node D to get that data.

How could the GM possibly "know" that?  Because he made it up.  Why did he make it up?  If the answer is, "to entertain himself," he's doing it wrong (for this game).  If the answer is, "to entertain the players," then either Node D should be right around the corner, or Nodes A,B,C are all addressing player interests quite directly in their own way.  Either of these is inherently fun.  Imposing constraints to keep players on a path they might otherwise want to leave (e.g., if A,B,C don't address player interests) is not inherently fun and should never ever be necessary.

Are we in agreement on all of this?  If so, the disconnect I'm perceiving is probably just semantics.  If not, then it's going to be hard for me to use your ideas, as they are fundamentally not about what I'm trying to do here.
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #66 on: February 22, 2008, 12:41:45 PM »

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How could the GM possibly "know" that?  Because he made it up.  Why did he make it up?  If the answer is, "to entertain himself," he's doing it wrong (for this game).
I'm referring to case 3 given a few post back:  "if no obvious and immediate route for exploration exists, and there are established facts about the world which make exploration of the subject difficult or impossible under present circumstances..."
Yes, the GM made it up, but if he states that as part of the world's description before the players make their decision, then it's binding.

For instance.  Let's say the players want to visit a town on the other side of the mountains, which requires you either go around or through them, and there are bandits to one side and feuding armies to the other, and packs of wolves.  This has all been established before they made that choice.  So whatever the players do is going to involve a fair amount of blood, sweat and tears, just to keep things plausible.  (Now, this might not be the case with learning about orc tattoos specifically, but the principle stands.)

How, exactly, is a GM supposed to make provision for the characters' toppling a world-girdling empire unless he goes to significant trouble to puzzle out exactly how they might go about doing so?  Empires don't just topple themselves.  (Or if they do, there are reasons for it, which must be detailed as facts about the world.)
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Either of these is inherently fun.  Imposing constraints to keep players on a path they might otherwise want to leave (e.g., if A,B,C don't address player interests) is not inherently fun and should never ever be necessary.
Again, I think there may be a conflict between long and short-term gratification here.  Having your ass kicked by a Knight with high damage reduction is not fun.  Having to deal with situations which include the threat of a Knight-with-high-damage-reduction can be.  But this is a secondary issue.

You're basically saying that the GM should never impose a constraint which bugs the players for more than a session or two.  Which would be fine, if the GM were never required to plan ahead more than a session or two.  But you want the players to be able to specify long(er)-term subplots, regardless of plausibility, and you want individual episodes to add up to more than the sum of their parts, regardless of advance planning.  And either of these structures could become epic in scale (indeed they must, as ever-more-powerful characters attract the attentions of more and more vested Interests.)  Discrete, disconnected sessions simply can't maintain that kind of continuity unless the GM plans well ahead.  You don't want the GM to use incremental detail, and you don't want to penalise the players for wasting his work.

So what, exactly, is he or she (the GM) supposed to do?  It seems to me you pick one or the other, unless you have a magic wand.

The following may also be of interest, as it addresses many of the same concerns.
http://www.darkshire.net/jhkim/rpg/theory/plot/proactivity.html
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Once a group's decided to play, it is the GM's job to determine what they're psyched about (e.g., Orcs? not Orcs?).  That, and only that, is the "something" that the GM has to put in.
Sure, fine, absolutely, but if the players decide that Orcs are indeed what they are psyched about, then Orcs enter the story and enter the world.  Orcs make decisions and have their own interests, and that will generate Events.  Once the players decide that orcs are what they want to explore, orcs won't just disappear from the world when and if they lose interest.

Put it another way- why can't the GM put it in if he feels like it?  As long as it doesn't immediately interfere with the players' likely plans (i.e, impose a Constraint,) it's just another aspect of setting.  Nor are those events neccesarily whimsy on the GM's part- sometimes they're just natural outgrowths of pre-stated facts about the world, combined with effects of the player's own actions.  (And again, the players are not neccesarily dicks for inviting those repercussions, nor is the DM for making such invitation a prominent possibility.)

Well, anyway, that's my current perspective.  Look, I'm no fan of the railroad plot, but life is not, realistically, an entirely open and level playing field.  You'll have to strike a balance between the two if you want to maintain suspension of disbelief.
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MKAdams
Member

Posts: 36


« Reply #67 on: February 22, 2008, 12:56:08 PM »

How could the GM possibly "know" that?  Because he made it up.  Why did he make it up?  If the answer is, "to entertain himself," he's doing it wrong (for this game).  If the answer is, "to entertain the players," then either Node D should be right around the corner, or Nodes A,B,C are all addressing player interests quite directly in their own way.  Either of these is inherently fun.  Imposing constraints to keep players on a path they might otherwise want to leave (e.g., if A,B,C don't address player interests) is not inherently fun and should never ever be necessary.

Jesus David, did a DM pee in your cheerios when you were a kid or something?  Why do you hate game masters so much?

I mean, let's just stop for a second and ask a simple question:  What if the DM described the Orcs has having tattoos because the source art shows them having tattoos, but the DM himself is ambivalent on the issue of tattoos, isn't interested in them, and would be bored by adventures revolving around Orc tattoos?

You seem to be of the position that this doesn't matter, that the DM's fun isn't a valid consideration, and that the DM's imagination and energy are enslaved by the "fun" of the player.   I mean, I don't know, maybe I'm just really having a hard time understanding you, but reading your demands my first thought "Dear fucking god am I glad this guy isn't one of my players!"

And I don't mean this as an attack on you, I just seriously wonder if you've thought about the human element of the DM in this?  Do you yourself DM?  Would you want to run a system where the players could choose any element from your game at random and force you to spin it into an adventure, even if it's of no interest to you and you have no real good ideas about how to do that?  Would you want to run a system that made it a point of the game that the DM's interests, the DM's fun, is of negligible concern when compared to the player's fun?

There's just something so inherently selfish about what you want that it really kind of offends me (mostly because I identify with the DM far more than the player, having far more experience in the first role).   I'm looking at your first post again, and you're talking about how you don't care what the DM has put effort in to, you don't care about his "plot", and you just want him to serve your interests.  I honestly can't see any reason why any DM would want to play that way, and I'm also not sure how that would work with multiple players.  I mean, you seem to be ignoring (or unaware of?) the two primary reasons DM's use plots:

1) If you know where the adventure is going to go, you can prep the parts that you need prepped, and leave the other areas blank.  If you know the plot will lead the players into the Desert of Desolation, you don't need to worry about what's going on in the Swamp of Slaughter.  If the player's whim is dictating things, then the DM can't prepare things way in advance, because he has no idea where is campaign is going.

2) A plot if is a great way to get a group of players with wildly disparate interests all on the same page, in the same place, going the same direction.  If each player is guided by his own interest, and the DM is forced to indulge that interest and sacrifice his own interests and the plot, then it's going to be very hard to keep the game from going in as many different directions as their are players.

Another thing that sticks in my craw about this idea is the memory I have of this player, "Chris."  I never wanted Chris in my games, but he came included with two players I did want, and they were a package deal.  Chris always played Elven Fighter/Mage/Clerics.  He was that guy.  Once, Chris ate up 30 minutes of game time describing a knife he wanted to buy.  I finally had to shout at him and tell him that no one cared how many fucking amethysts were set in the fucking hilt of his fucking dagger, shut up, buy your damn knife and let's fucking move along.  And the idea of letting Chris interests, his boring, mundane and irritating interests, dictate where my imagination goes, giving him any sort of control over what I'm allowed to do as a DM, sickens me and fills me with dread.  The guy was barely tolerable as a player, but if we were playing the way you want, I would have had to fucking kill him.

I don't know, I guess I could boil this all down in to one question:

Why would I want to DM a game like this?  What do I get out of it?  Where's my fun?
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #68 on: February 23, 2008, 10:12:31 AM »

@ MKAdams
Perhaps, if you could formalise what the GM's interests in playing the game are likely to be, we could find some way to resolve the two perspectives?

I think you raise an interesting point when it comes to ensuring the characters have a set of consistent motives for working together toward more-or-less common goals.  I think the pre-campaign briefing and prep session should include some mechanism for character creation that helps to integrate the players as a common force with more-or-less compatible goals (at least for most of the plot.)  I recall legend of the Five Rings puts some emphasis on this?

Maybe the players could include their characters' personality traits as kind of constraint, in line with a merit/flaw system.

Perhaps, instead of using constraints to herd players along the straight and narrow, you could offer a Bridge as a reward at the end of minor subplot.  Or perhaps use both.  I think, it may be useful to have some form of challenge resolution system to help ensure a balance between the GM's interests and each of the players.  Maybe some kind of collective vote, with a tie in favour of the GM?  I still think that some form of plot/influence point system could be helpful here.

Okay.  We have some starting terminoloy.  Guidelines so far...
1.  If a constraint results from the player's actions, they should have fair warning first.
2.  If a constraint results from entering into a long-term subplot, the severity of that restraint should be in proportion to the complexity of the subplot.
3.  The GM shall not otherwise impose constraints upon the players.
4.  The GM shall not trap the players between a rock and hard place (unless by the conditions of 1 and 2.)
5.  The players may always explore an aspect of the world if there is an immediate and obvious route for doing so.  They need not do so during the same session.
6.  Constraints must be believable, non-arbitrary and non-retroactive.
7.  Completed subplots should have a reward in proportion to the constraints that were imposed (such as a Bridge.)
8.  If the players request to explore an aspect of the world where there is no immediate and obvious route for doing so, the players and GM must use some sort of resolution mechanic.

Sounds fairish?
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #69 on: February 23, 2008, 12:48:31 PM »

Alfryd,
If the GM initially makes something up cuz it'll be fun to play through, then yes, of course, that made-up thing will persist and may act as a constraint within further play.  All I'm saying is, that's one of a very few reasons why constraints should exist.  Your recent list shows that we are on the same page about most of this, but there's still some disconnect.  I think I may have identified the source: "long-term" missions.

I should specify again that the purpose of this system would not be to ensure that PCs can achieve any goals, just that they can achieve knowledge goals.  If they want to topple an empire, they are guaranteed that they can learn and learn and learn all about any facet of the empire they want to know about.  They are not guaranteed that this info will in fact enable them to topple it!  In a game about exploration, "topple an empire" is a shitty priority.  It's a fun supporting goal, but an awful main goal.

If you want to take these ideas and use them in a game that's all about players using their characters to dramatically change and alter the gameworld, feel free!  But my idea is all about exploration and discovery, with broad-scale change as a big "maybe", not a reason to play.


Ken,
Great question.  That absolutely needs to be part of my pitch: "why the fuck would you GM this?"

Here's the thing: the whole reason I'm creating this is to use it when I GM!  I swear.

My GMing history has followed this pattern:
- make a plot
- fill the plot with good and evil factions
- hide the evil factions' plans, methods, and identities from the good factions
- in play, have the players discover info on the evil factions, and use that knowledge to save the world
- throw obstacles at the PCs that they will just barely kill
- make the ending that I had in mind happen

I am really good at doing this in a way that my players have enjoyed.  But I'm tired of it.  I've come to feel like a story-teller, not a story-collaborator.  I don't want the job of managing everyone else's input, of making sure everyone turns to the right chapter in my story.  Finding a way to do it that doesn't make them feel too disempowered is merely necessary, not actually fun (for me).

What I'd rather do now is not make up plots, but make up snapshots.  "Here's something cool in the world!  Go look at it in-character!  Feel the coolness!"  Except I don't want to have to convince the players that it's cool, and I don't want to just cross my fingers and hope they find it cool.  I want them to say, "Here's what we think is cool, make something up with that in mind."  Thus, two levels of feedback:
- pre-game questionnaire on "what kinds of tasks do the players enjoy doing" -- planning, talking, fighting, gambling, etc.
- pre-session statement of "next let's learn about Orc tattoos!"

"Let's learn about Orc tattoos!" is not a stifling constraint, it's an inspiring jumping-off point!  My "snapshot" can be a swarm of rabid monkeys guarding a stolen black box with a complicated, logic-puzzle lock on it if I want!  (Assuming logic puzzles are among the tasks my players enjoy.)  And what's inside the black box?  A vial of weird ink!  As long as the players (and PCs! that's what the gimmick is for) know that something in my scenario is related to Orc tattoos, they've got all the reason they need to go up against my obstacles and observe the coolness of my snapshot.  I don't need to give them a reason!  They picked it themselves!

Now let's assume this works.  If it does, that gives me the option of filling the world with plots too!  If I want to reveal monkey plots and the players want to learn about Orcs, we can do both!  This isn't the same kind of plot-making as the kind I used to do; I give up a certain kind of authorial control.  I think, however, that it's a kind I don't miss.

Re: coolness of monkeys, this is another type of agreement that the players (GM included) need to arrive at.  My current preference is that the gamebook presents a gameworld with a certain aesthetic.  For those groups who dig that aesthetic, the GM will create in accordance with it, and have well-founded expectations that his cool bits will in fact be deemed cool.  For those groups who don't dig the gameworld aesthetic, they will play another game (and maybe steal my system ideas if they like them but don't like the gameworld).

I don't know whether that's the end of my explanation or just the beginning; feel free to keep the questions coming.

Ps,
-David

P.S. As for Chris and his stupid amethysts, that sounds like a fundamental inter-player disconnect that no game should ever be designed to accommodate.  At best, the game should help the players realize that a disconnect exists, so that Chris says, "I don't wanna play this game," and the group either punts him or plays something else.
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MKAdams
Member

Posts: 36


« Reply #70 on: February 23, 2008, 01:59:39 PM »

David,

Okay, I'm confused.  This latest post is very reasonable and makes a lot of sense, and if this is what you've been after all this time, then I'm finally on the same page.  Your earlier posts seemed to indicate that you wanted a system that would allow players to decide what the next "cool snapshot" would be despite GM reluctance or resistance to explore certain parts of the setting.

I'm still uncertain what it is you're looking for.  To get the sort of play you're describing, you don't need a new system.  You just need to talk to your players.  If you are willing to let them set the agenda, if you are willing to allow them to decide what they'll explore next, and they are willing to play explorer, then you're done.

If the GM is not willing to do that, no system will change that.  A system that strong-arms the GM into detailing areas of the campaign he finds boring, dull or uninspiring isn't going to produce better game play, it's going to produce bitter and resentful GMs.
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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #71 on: February 23, 2008, 03:14:27 PM »

Ken,

I've tried to make a distinction between the GM's scenario ("cool snapshot") and the players' knowledge pursuits ("secrets").  Maybe I've done a shitty job of that in this thread. 

Here's my best shot:

1) The players can decide that they will be given an opportunity to learn about Orc tattoos, and they cannot decide whether this opportunity will include ghosts or monkeys or Orcs or magic swords or evil wizards etc.

2) In addition to this, the players can hear about ghosts or monkeys or evil wizards and go explore that too, not knowing what knowledge might be gleaned, if they really feel like it.

3) In (1), where the players are guaranteed an interesting secret, the GM does his best to provide a cool snapshot.  In (2), where the players are guaranteed a cool snapshot, the GM does his best to provide an interesting secret.  GM and players should be on as close to the same page on "cool" and "interesting" as possible.

I may use that in the text if folks find it effective.

To get the sort of play you're describing, you don't need a new system.  You just need to talk to your players.

The new system is (I hope) a way to make that communication as effective as possible.  I think that's a large part of what many new (to me, anyway) RPGs have to offer: providing the right guidelines, questions, and in-game structures to facilitate agreement on inter-player dynamics.  Specifically, the inter-player dynamics of this game as opposed to other games.  (That last part is less about my play group and more about a group who might see my game on a store shelf.  "We like playing explorer and setting agendas as players!"  "I like allowing that as a GM!"  "This sounds like our kind of game!")

If you're confident in your own ability to create such a dynamic with no player questionnaires or exploration fiction or in-game oracles or prep pointers, then more power to you.  Personally, I like all the help I can get.
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Alfryd
Member

Posts: 45


« Reply #72 on: February 24, 2008, 06:25:08 AM »


@ David Berg
Quote
If the GM initially makes something up cuz it'll be fun to play through, then yes, of course, that made-up thing will persist and may act as a constraint within further play...  I think I may have identified the source: "long-term" missions.
By 'initially', do you mean before the campaign starts, or when the DM describes a new scene which the players have entered?
Quote
If they want to topple an empire, they are guaranteed that they can learn and learn and learn all about any facet of the empire they want to know about.  They are not guaranteed that this info will in fact enable them to topple it!  In a game about exploration, "topple an empire" is a shitty priority.  It's a fun supporting goal, but an awful main goal.
Even accessing information on a given topic may not, in itself, be a trivial task, and you still have to maintain consistency and coherence over multiple sessions, especially if you want multiple episodes to add to up to more than the sum of their parts.

From my personal perspective, if you're playing a Sim game, there's no good reason why I shouldn't be able to alter a portion of the world that I'm capable of exploring in detail.  Otherwise, it feels like a tease.  There are two reasons for this:
1.  The act of observation changes the observed.
2.  Knowledge is power.
If I know everything there is to know about a world-girdling empire- it's strengths and weaknesses, allies and enemies, ethnic composition and military strength, down to what the emperor has for breakfast tuesday- then there's no good reason why I shouldn't be able to topple it, or at least have a fair go.

As far as I can tell, you're saying that if the players want information on topic A, there is no guarantee that what they learn or do will actually be applicable to the source of topic A, but will simply be an incidental side-effect of pursuing goal B.  (Ghosts, or monkeys, or evil wizards, or whatever.)  The players' interests become window-dressing for whatever linear plot you foist upon them (leaving aside what should be directly and obviously explorable.)
Quote
As long as the players (and PCs! that's what the gimmick is for) know that something in my scenario is related to Orc tattoos, they've got all the reason they need to go up against my obstacles and observe the coolness of my snapshot.  I don't need to give them a reason!  They picked it themselves!
This would be great, if you didn't have to deal with plausibility, advance planning, or cause and effect.  And if the GM were guaranteed to be enthusiastic about whatever the players want to explore.  But your first-post example strongly implies that the GM had no clue that the players would want to explore Orc tattoos, that it has nothing to do with the material he's prepped, and that he has no particular enthusiasm for exploring the issue.  This is a legitimate complaint on Ken's part and you have to address it.
Quote
Now let's assume this works.  If it does, that gives me the option of filling the world with plots too!  If I want to reveal monkey plots and the players want to learn about Orcs, we can do both!
Quote
If you're confident in your own ability to create such a dynamic with no player questionnaires or exploration fiction or in-game oracles or prep pointers, then more power to you.  Personally, I like all the help I can get.
Certainly.  But this will require a certain amount of advance planning on your part.  Depending on the scale involved, and the amount of established facts about the world, potentially quite a lot.  You either need to use incremental detail (to cut your losses,) or ensure the players have some motive/incentive to explore that topic beyond the next session (to penalise wasting your work/reward it's use.)

Because, and I have to say it, there is no guarantee the players will actually find the subplot interesting beyond the next session or two.  If the players lose interest within that session, sure, that'll cause play to grind to a halt, which is it's 'own reward'.  But there's no incentive for them to show similar respect for long-term goals- despite being the very goals that they specified- given our GM is obliged to service their whimsy between each session.  You're basically trusting to the players' good faith and sound judgement about what will or won't prove engrossing in the long term.

Now, simply saying 'This system won't work if the players/GM are dicks', and blaming failure on 'a breakdown of social contract' is not helpful.  The whole point to having rules in a collaborative storytelling endeavour is to give incentive- and guidelines on how- to behave fairly to eachother- Otherwise you have Cops and Robbers.

"Bang, you're dead!"  "...No I'm not!"
RPG rules exist to help negotiate the social contract.
Quote
GM and players should be on as close to the same page on "cool" and "interesting" as possible.
How?  How do you intend to promote this goal?
Quote
1) The players can decide that they will be given an opportunity to learn about Orc tattoos, and they cannot decide whether this opportunity will include ghosts or monkeys or Orcs or magic swords or evil wizards etc.

2) In addition to this, the players can hear about ghosts or monkeys or evil wizards and go explore that too, not knowing what knowledge might be gleaned, if they really feel like it.
Then what incentive, exactly, does the GM have to invest effort on the orc tattoo subquest, knowing full well that the players can take off an utterly irrelevant tangent, and never return?  You're pretty well saying exactly what I and Ken were complaining about- that the GM's interests and workload are irrelevant and subservient to the whims of the players.
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Paul T
Member

Posts: 369


« Reply #73 on: February 24, 2008, 10:56:22 AM »

This reply is a little off the beaten path, but I wanted to throw in another... something you may want to consider.

There are a lot of subtle techniques you can use to focus the game on the players' interests. They kind of straddle the line of player creation, which if you've stated you want to avoid, but nevertheless can create very much the feeling you want.

One is to use a system that has character bits that tie directly into the setting. For instance, if you have stuff like Keys (from The Shadow of Yesterday), Muses (from Nine Worlds), or mechanically enforced ties to bits of the setting (like relationships, oaths, etc), you can use those to create the world and the events within it. As a GM, you create or develop the parts of the setting that meaningfully interact with the characters and their "bits". Since the players are designing the characters, they are, in a sense, creating the fiction of the game world. However, it doesn't feel like it to them, since they are still discovering the details through you, the GM. The difference is that it makes the GM's job much easier--you have a good grasp on what to emphasize and what to deemphasize.

As a non-mechanical alternative, consider Kickers in Sorcerer. The players are creating the starting line, but the game is still all about exploration and discovery for them. However, the Kicker has effectively told the GM what the player is interested in exploring.

A second technique is to allow player input to structure the exploration of your world. For instance, let's say a player takes interest in finding traitors within an organization.

You most often see this in recent games in a pretty hard-over-the-head sort of approach. But there are subtle ways of doing the same thing.

The "hard" way:

--The player authors elements of the world corresponding to their research.

The "soft" way:

--As a GM, you zoom in on the area they are exploring and give them _something_ to find. You can figure out how it all ties together later. For instance, the same PC, from above, begins to look for traitors in the organization. You may not have had any plans for betrayal within that particular group. But, now that a player has taken interest in it, you zoom in on the issue and give them *something*. Perhaps they find someone involved in suspicious activity. Later, perhaps in-between sessions, you can brainstorm how that fits in to the rest of your setting. Chances are that it will! (You'd be surprised, honestly.) If it doesn't, then you'll figure out whether that character is being framed as a traitor, or perhaps is involved in some activity that makes them suspicious, or something else.

Who is framing that character? What weird activity are they involved in? You go back to the world elements you've already developed (especially any you haven't had a chance to throw in yet), and find one of them that can fit this role. For instance, you had this idea about some weird, illegal, yet government-sponsored research happening in a bad part of town, and the players didn't get a chance to explore that. Now is the time we discover that the character they're investigating is drawing attention because he's involved in this research somehow. Or, that NPC who is important to the action but you haven't been able to fully bring in? He's paid this poor fellow to betray the organization, so if the PCs follow the traitor, they'll find the NPC.

A third example is allowing players to frame their own scenes. You can do this in subtle ways--just by asking the players questions about "what happens next". You may find that you do this already, and just haven't noticed. For instance, a scene or encounter ends. You turn to the quietest player and say:

--"OK, Dave, what are you going to do next?"
--"Uh, I want to go ask the General about dating his daughter."
--"How are you going to find him?"
--"Didn't someone say he often has lunch with visiting officials? Maybe there's an ambassador in town or something, and I can catch them at the hotel's restaurant..."
--"OK! Let's go! You walk into the hotel lobby. Sure enough, behind the little artificial waterfall, you see the General having lunch with some strangely-dressed man..."

The player has effectively framed that scene, with you just supplying at bit of specific narration. But chances are that it doesn't feel like that to the player. To the player, it's just *logical* that the General would be doing that, so it just reinforces their belief in the world--it appears that the world is alive and coherent.

The reason these techniques work is because of the players' suspension of disbelief, or whatever you want to call it. They really, really want to believe in your world. Whenever they suggest a course of action or investigate a particular element, it's because that's what makes sense to them at that moment. If they're looking for traitors, it's because it's logical to them, as players, that there would be some. If they want to check for traps, it's because it makes sense, to that player, that their opposition might have planted some in that location. If they're asking an important person about something, it's because it *makes sense to them, based on their understanding of the fictional world* that this person would know that piece of information. By giving back at least a part of that (maybe straight-up, maybe with a twist), you strengthen their belief in the fictional world, and give them a stronger suspension of disbelief.

(It's not a straight jacket for the GM, however: for instance, they may be mistaken about that important person giving them the information. They may later discover that the important person is completely misinformed, or has simply lied to them.)

For the same reasons, the techniques are effectively "invisible" to the players--the exploration of the world just feels natural and seamless because the players are really getting into the process and *discovering stuff* that interests them. Their discoveries are flowing from the logical assumptions they're making about the fictional reality and how it works. When that is confirmed, the fictional reality just seems more real, and more coherent. (Some improv drama teachers say, "do what is obvious". It's kind of the same thing, and good advice.)

In short, the sort of advice you hear here--allow yourself to be loose about the world and the backstory, focus on the PCs, and play your NPCs as strong motivated characters of your own--really works. It doesn't follow the _process_ you're looking for, but you may find that it gives the _results_ you're looking for.

Best,


Paul


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David Berg
Member

Posts: 612


« Reply #74 on: February 24, 2008, 11:37:06 AM »

Alfryd,
I worry our back-and-forth here is becoming counter-productive, like we've started down a path to repetition over the same issues.  Right now, I think it'd be cool to see you outline your ideas of how this sort of game should be made to happen.  I mean the whole process, from, "We find this game on the shelf," to, "we finish our first campaign."  Would you be down to give that a shot?  If not, no problem.  Just let me know, and I'll ponder how best to proceed...
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