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Getting players to define their characters... also, character death by suicide.

Started by David C, August 09, 2009, 06:10:15 AM

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Mike Sugarbaker

David, I wouldn't make major decisions about your design based on play with this group. Concentrate first on finding some testers who actually care about the same things in the game that you do. You'll never get reliable feedback on whether your game encourages people to define their characters if you play with people who don't act as though they care about defining their characters.

Also, you said in your first post that you're making mechanics to give each character an "Epic Destiny" - did the players engage with these mechanics at all?
Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex

David C

Mike,

Your right about making not making major changes. I am feeling that part is inadequate.  I'm a hopeless perfectionist, so I'm sure there'll always be some change I want to make.  Some of the changes I HAVE made, I look back and am very glad that I did.

I'm now thinking that my problem isn't so much the game, but the group.  Instead of trying to make the game make them enjoy being a group, I think I need to make the group enjoy being a group. I think maybe if I can get people to talk to each other positively, we can fix things.
1) Adam needs to stop teasing Eric incessantly.  Even though it's teasing, Eric is taking it personally, I feel.
2) Eric needs to realize that he needs to earn respect, not take it. He wants this group to be like his "old buddies" where I think he was the leader. Also, maybe address the issue of him trying to be a one man army.
3) Karl will fall into line if Adam falls into line.

I still need to get some narrative mechanics that work for me.  This game is very complicated (design wise). If I get it working the way I imagine, the pay off will be great (for my personal enjoyment).  The downfall is, it isn't easy trying to make the game work this way, because of the detail and flexibility inherent to the system, while trying to push for character and story development.  (Basically, the difficulty is that I am trying to keep tactical fights as a subsystem of narr play.) 
...but enjoying the scenery.

JoyWriter

Dream mismatch by the sounds of it, hilarious dream mismatch! Here's my diagnosis; he has his starting hook, generated at char gen, which is created based on his own interests. He whiffs on that so goes for an alternative:

I may be wrong but he sounds like a D&D giant killer in a jack and the beanstalk world! Someone else defines something as badass (sauron), he wants to take it out. Something defined as scary and tough (dragon) and he wants to humiliate it. A friend of mine loves stargate, which operates on the principle of "the bigger they are, the harder they fall". If something is about to destroy the universe, it's gone in two seconds, after it has had it's turn to set up how bad it is. In your world though things are closer to universalis: a creature like that has a solidity in the world that can only be overcome by greater solidity, by building yourself into the mechanics of things and overcoming them through struggle.

Now this objective is close to "dickery", because it explicitly means kicking over your sandcastles; he may want to beat everything big and stand on their corpses, basically standing on the corpse of your world. He's not doing it to spite you, he probably just thinks that's the kind of thing that protagonists should be up to. Meanwhile, because his objective is based on bigging up himself, everyone else responds by subverting his self-pedestaling. It's just classic "he who exalts himself will be humbled" stuff.

Solutions? Intermediary and possible total: Firstly ask "why" when he does something, whenever he first initiates and action or pauses and looks like he is changing direction, as an ancillary question when he declares the task. This will help you get a grip on what on earth the significance of his actions is. His means may not be appropriate for that purpose, and you can tell him now that that is the case. For example you could have him roll or just tell him, if the means are inappropriate given your campaign mechanics/metaphysics. This adds one of the big strengths of a conflict mechanic into a task mechanic, in that the motivations of play constantly appear, allowing GM and players to get inside each other's heads faster.
Secondly, sounds like he wants vicarious esteem, and doesn't know how to get it except at the expense of other things. If you just complement him on other features of his character, that relate to his own actions in shaping the character but not to his giant-killing objectives, he may hop onto a new track and start going for that. What kinds of things may he be able to do? Well, helping well-drawn npcs, being able to hit other players concepts nicely and having them thank him, perhaps having an actual npc sidekick of his own, made less than sentient for your satisfaction, and totally obedient for his! Loads of stuff that could happen, keep the variety of rewards you try up, but don't push the intensity that high, or the other players could get peeved.

Just giving him tokens will likely lead to him zeroing in on the thing that has the most tokens, and trying to destroy it. Perhaps play some games of universalis to check. The brutal honesty of that game may change how you respond to each other.

Finally I have a difference of opinion with some people here; there is an idea that for the sake of play you should construct a coherent group based on a shared agenda with a focused game to support it. You find people who are already just as invested as you in a concept/way of play and then go for it. I understand that as a valuable concern, that can produce exciting play, but I am also interested in starting with a group of people you like and moving towards coherence. Now that basically puts achieving "buy in" within the context of the game, rather than a prerequisite at the start.
Imagine people play a themed "icebreaker" game before they start playing an rpg, and then imagine that the two are linked, so that insights from one can pass into another, and then imagine a further more involved and specific rpg later on. Stages of insight and further specification of the experience as you get to know each other better, ideally approaching a constant feedback loop that teaches you about each other.

How much of this coherence are you front loading into character creation? How much can people shift their characters to suit events and find a niche? What mechanisms do you have to tell you what people like? How frequently do they operate? But if you take this approach to the extremes I intend to, be aware that no-one in the world has yet succeeded at it!

Adam Dray

This post regards the trouble you had getting players to care about stuff in the fiction. You're aiming for player buy-in. You can front-load that by getting players to invest in their characters (most common technique) or the setting (somewhat common). You can try to get them to invest during the game through escalating situation.

Let's look at front-loading characters. One way to make characters more interesting is to let another player create certain aspects of your character. For instance, in Annalise, every player writes a "secret" on a slip of paper and then the secrets are randomly redistributed. If you reaaaaally hate your secret, you can ask to trade with someone, but generally people go with what they got. In my cyberpunk game, Verge, you create group-owned characters first with all kinds of weird relationships; once they're mostly finished, players get to choose which they'll play and customize it a bit more to their liking.

Yeah, a lot of players get riled up when other people start telling them how to play "their" characters. You can skirt this with a rule that says that other players get to create situation for your character, but can't get in his head. For example, in such a game it would not be cool for me to say that Bob's character is in love with the princess, and the king doesn't want it to happen. However, it would be totally cool to say that the princess is in love with Bob.

Front-loading setting investment can be done in a couple ways. A lot of games just try to make the setting so awesome that players are dying to connect their characters to it. Mechanical bits help. Alongside that, you can add player-created setting rules. Look at My Life with Master. The group collectively defines the Master NPC who makes their lives miserable. By the time the Master issues the first order, the players already have a love-hate relationship with him, because they created the thing they hated most. You don't want to go overboard with player-generated setting. This should be quick and fun. Maybe have players write phrases on notecards describing setting elements in certain categories: like each player writes 2 cool places, 1 evil NPC, 1 magic item, and 2 threats. Then give every player 10 poker chips and have them vote their chips onto cards. Use the number of chips as scores for GM-dice or some other mechanic.

Using situation to build investment is tricky but very rewarding. Dogs in the Vineyard does this marvelously with its Town creation and escalation rules, which tie closely to the resolution mechanics. Basically, the GM creates a Town, which is really just a place full of problems that will get worse if the players don't do something, anything, to change it. The rules further tell the GM to escalate conflicts. Okay, Bob, you shot a sinner earlier, but will you shoot a sinner if it's a 15 year-old boy? Yeah? What if it's a 5 year-old girl? Really? But with each escalation, the conflict gets more grabby and important because you're getting at the heart of what is really important to the players.

These suggestions are generally useful, regardless of your specific game mechanics, because every game designer needs to figure out how to hook players and keep them coming back. The various elements of Exploration (character, setting, situation, system, and color) are the main points, I believe, for inserting the hook.
Adam Dray / adam@legendary.org
Verge -- cyberpunk role-playing on the brink
FoundryMUSH - indie chat and play at foundry.legendary.org 7777

Mike Sugarbaker

Quote from: David C on August 12, 2009, 05:13:12 AM
I'm now thinking that my problem isn't so much the game, but the group.  Instead of trying to make the game make them enjoy being a group, I think I need to make the group enjoy being a group. I think maybe if I can get people to talk to each other positively, we can fix things.
1) Adam needs to stop teasing Eric incessantly.  Even though it's teasing, Eric is taking it personally, I feel.
2) Eric needs to realize that he needs to earn respect, not take it. He wants this group to be like his "old buddies" where I think he was the leader. Also, maybe address the issue of him trying to be a one man army.
3) Karl will fall into line if Adam falls into line.

All of that is bad enough, and none of this addresses whether any of these guys actually want to do serious character work the way you do. I'm thinking there's sizable evidence that they don't. They want to kill stuff and be badass.

Don't be afraid to look for other testers; you'd be surprised how many people are interested once we learn how to socially frame what we do in different ways.
Publisher/Co-Editor, OgreCave
Caretaker, Planet Story Games
Content Admin, Story Games Codex

David C

I think your right, Joywriter.  You know, I don't think you can really have any narr play in a world where you are able to kill anything.  I mean, if the king doesn't like you hitting on his daughter, kill him!  If the kingdom gets angry, kill them! Etc. Etc.

D&D has set up this really bad precedence of whatever you meet, you can kill with practically no problem. Some friends I've never played D&D with have told me stories about these complicated strategies to kill the dragon where they hunted down these herbs and things to help them.  However, my experience with D&D has always been, no matter how badly prepared you are, you always kill the dragon.  For example, one time I played a Ptolus campaign where we fought the dragon after fighting all of his minions.  We were all badly damaged and out of spells, and this dragon had been terrorizing the countryside for 500 years. Also, he had a giant vat of acid he could swim in.  But we killed him... even though he could have grabbed several of us and jumped into the vat of acid to escape (and kill some people.)

As for finding new play testers.  Well, that is always an option, and I've HAD other play testers in the past.  The truth of the matter is that Adam (the organizer of the group) really badly wants me to run my game for him. We're all good friends, but as soon as it involves dice... well all's fair in love and war.
...but enjoying the scenery.

JoyWriter

It's probably obvious, but may need saying nonetheless: You could play with Adam and some other people!

If you think people really are incompatible with how your game should work, then you should select the group you playtest with on that basis, not necessarally on the basis of your standard friendship groups. Hopefully your friendships are mature enough that people won't feel they are being "left out of the group", and if they do, make sure to different fun things with them that you both enjoy.

That's my experience, although I would also add that playtesting with (semi-)strangers requires a lot more in the way of introduction, they will be new to you or the other players, let alone your system!

If you've experienced similar already, fair enough, just thought I'd stick that out in the open in case.

7VII7

This might be going off topic but what Eric did to they dragon could have been a viable strategy, you said in the first post that the dragon was on a lesh (chain & collar), and sleeping, pulling the eye lids off of something probbably would blind it, if not by blood then sheer pain, and waking up to having your eyelids peeled off would make it paniced and enraged which would hurt it in combat. It was a very stupid thing to do however you're playing a ttrpg, not a video game which affords a greater amount of leeway.

I hope that makes sense...

Lance D. Allen

Hey David,

Here's a thing:
QuoteYou know, I don't think you can really have any narr play in a world where you are able to kill anything.  I mean, if the king doesn't like you hitting on his daughter, kill him!  If the kingdom gets angry, kill them! Etc. Etc.

It's not the world, it's the player mindset. If the players believe that this is an acceptable way to deal with problems, then they're not interested in narrativist or even simulationist play. They're interested in killing whatever crosses them, and possibly goofing off and cutting up a bit. This can be frustrating when you want to play "seriously". Oh the flip side, killing the king because he doesn't like you hitting on his daughter can, if the group is invested in it, have some very interesting outcomes. I remember a similar sort of thing happening in the only game of IaWA that we played.. A PC decided that diplomacy wasn't getting him what he wanted, so he started killing people. Instantly, he went from being just another guy in the scenario to being a really bad dude. The remaining PCs (who were playing different flavors of "good guy") teamed up and drove him off, but not before he got something he wanted. If we'd have continued that game, I'm sure he'd have ended up as a reoccurring villain.
~Lance Allen
Wolves Den Publishing
Eternally Incipient Publisher of Mage Blade, ReCoil and Rats in the Walls

Sam Orton

Hmmm... I see two different problems here.

1) Eric:

Everyone on the planet likes being an important, valued member of the group they're in. To some, it's more important than others. The combination of

QuoteHe can come off as dickish at times, but I think he genuinely is there to play.  After all, he spends hours every week making his own D&D campaigns (and sometimes we let him run them *shudders*) but that's a different story.

QuoteI think it excites him to break the status quo? Either that, or he's testing his boundaries.  (Sometimes, I wonder if he tests me to see if I'm just "bluffing" the danger.)

QuoteEric wants very badly to be the super hero with his spunky side kicks along for the ride.  But even more than that, he wants to be the leader of the group.  He wants people to ask him how they should plan a battle. He wants them to listen to what he wants to happen.

Quote2) Eric needs to realize that he needs to earn respect, not take it. He wants this group to be like his "old buddies" where I think he was the leader. Also, maybe address the issue of him trying to be a one man army.

all suggest to me that being an important part of the group is not only a high priority with him, somewhere in his head it's vital to him that be be essential to the group at all times, so much so that everything falls apart if he's not directing it.

Fine and good, if you can pull it off. But as you pointed out, "he needs to earn respect, not take it". It's actually worse than that, respect cannot be gotten other than by earning it. Human nature doesn't allow for it. More to the point, he's not just trying for generalized respect, but the respect due the leader. "Hot-dogging" and "leading" are two entirely different concepts that don't run in harness well.

Eric reminds me a lot of a player I had in a Twilight 2000 game back in the day. His character was a SEAL team C.O., thrown in with half a dozen "regular Joe" soldiers, of whom he was the only officer. And yes, he tried to "be a one man army" and got shot by his own side when he ran through the line of fire. And yes, he was hurt and angry when the other players called this Naval officer "Skippy" rather than "Lieutenant", "Skipper" or "Sir".

The good news is that when he started paying attention to the job of leading, they started calling him 'Sir' and meaning it. That gave that word, "Sir", a lot of value I doubt it would have had otherwise.

2. Destinies:

Long term goals are all very well, but the more integral they are to the character concept and the longer term they are, the more thoroughly they need to be thought out by both players and GM in order to work. Character concept isn't just one thing, at a bare minimum it's three: 1) Where do I want to start, 2) where do I want to get to, and 3) how do I hope to get from here to there?

I see it as essentially a communication issue between you and your players. In the specific case of Eric, it might help if you pointed out some probably incompatible assumptions in his thinking. For example, "So what you want is basically to start at 1st level, fight only the final boss monster of Final Fantasy, beat it at 1st level, go up a level and move on to only the final big bad boss monster of Final Fantasy II... that sort of thing, right? Are you sure you want the setting to be that cartoonish, that divorced from reality? I can create that setting if that's what all you guys actually want, but be advised that you can't get 'stomp the big bad bosses and ignore everything else' without being cartoonish, it just can't happen."

Make sure the four of you are all on the same page as to where you want to go and how you want to get there. During that process, the question, "And then what?" is your friend.

Catelf

Hello. This caught my eye, and i feel i have to describe how i see it:
First: Considering the situation, being somewhat bullied by the rest, failing to kill archenemy, getting used by archenemy.... That may actually make a self-proclaimed "Hero" to commit suicide!
Yes, i think that Eric may truly have acting correct to his Character in That case, at least.

Actually, i want to tell a small tale of a character i once played:
She started out as a kind of private investigator, with a higher skill level in fighting than detecting( due to slightly twisted rules).
She was pulled into machinations in a brewing war between two Kingdoms, and ended up doing some important deeds, togerther with the group she was with, for the Kingdom where she was born.

Eventually, the group was approaced by emmisaries from a third party, that seemed to have far more power than any of the two Kingdoms.
These requested that the group would help them, and betray their country.
My character thought "No way i'll help them, and i don't think i'll get out of here alive, since i'll be too big a threat if i'd manage anyway", and i, as player, knew, that the Emmisary was also one the Gamesmaster's recurring cold, but still powertripping "avatars", so he could easily kill all in the Group, i assumed.
So, i let my character say what she thought, followed by something like "...so just shoot me now".
She was dead the second thereafter.

My points is, not all deaths are heroic, even if they are played out well.
Suicide by Dragon is far more fitting a disgruntled hero, than Suicide by knife.
Some people are having power-trip dreams when they play Games, especially Rpg's! There is not much to do about that Ruleswise.
In my experience, with someone very similar to this Eric, is that you have to meet this Storywise, and, even more important, as a Gamesmaster, quite possibly even on a personal basis, if possible!
However, in some cases, you Can say: It says so in the Rules, and that'll be it. However, that may lead them to want to change the Rules...
Didn't you mention Eric was doing his own Rpgs?
To sum it up: If there is anything wrong in the Rules, it is, as i see it, not concerning This sort of half-engaged Gameplay.

Sincerely, Catelf.