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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 158 - most online ever: 565 (October 17, 2020, 02:08:06 PM)
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Author Topic: Roleplaying The Short Story  (Read 4827 times)
jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« on: March 25, 2003, 11:45:51 AM »

Hello All,

I have to admit that I really enjoy the classic four hour con event.  I find the thrill of playing with (mostly) strangers in a brief effort to create something cool and interesting to be very exhilerating.

However, we're constantly going on here at The Forge about how a lot of the games I like or want to try are incredibily difficult to pull off in the four hour con slot:  Sorcerer, Riddle of Steel, Dust Devils, Trollbabe, even InSpectres. (i.e. mostly Narrativist games).  Phrases like, "starting about 80% done" get thrown around.

Damnit!  I say screw that.  Here's what I want: I want to, in four hours of con play, produce a complete, whole unto itself, punchy and poignant, thematically powerful SHORT STORY.  That's my goal everytime I go into a con game and now I want to talk about how to achieve that.

First of all, I'm concerned with Narrativist play alone so keep it focused on this style.  In addition to that I'm primarly looking for three things.

1) Raw Technique.  That is, anything independet of System I can do as a GM to help facilitate this Short Story creation.

2) Modifications to any existing games.  Maybe you can think of a clever Humanity tweak for Sorcerer or certain SA combinations for Riddle of Steel that will facilitate a tighter focused, faster resolving (but still complete) story.

3) Brand new rules.  I'm less interested in this but if anyone has an outline for a game system specifically aimed at the creation of single sessions short stories, I'd like to hear it.

Looking forward to the replies.

Jesse
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #1 on: March 25, 2003, 12:14:47 PM »

During my playtest of Storypunk, we did an entire story, start-to-finish, in just over 2 hours.  No prep.  All improvized using a Universalis-style world-creation mechanic.  The thread is here:

http://www.indie-rpgs.com/viewtopic.php?p=55675#55675

That stuff is totally possible.
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xiombarg
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« Reply #2 on: March 25, 2003, 12:17:02 PM »

I've run a few con games in my time, and the trick I use I think would work fine with Narrativist games, as it's the same trick used in literary short stories.

Start out "80% done". Seriously. Think about it -- most short stories of any punch start out in the middle of a situation, with a serious punch, and keep rolling from there. They don't let up.

So, you create the situation nearly in full -- detailed pregenerated characters, with a complicated web of connections, summarized in a few pages.

This CAN be done. It's pretty simple -- give a basic personality outline of the character, talk about his background. Then list all the other characters relevant to the scenario, PCs or NPCs, and how the character feels about them/what the character knows -- a paragraph each. List some goals.

It's just like writing a good Kicker, only more detailed. You can think of it as writing several Kickers at once. Specify what the character WANTS, what their goals and interests are -- but don't specify what the character has to do to get there. Give 'em a Situation that can be wrapped up in a short amount of time, give 'em tools, and let 'em go.

Think about the sorts of things that J Random Player is going to want. Have characters ready for that -- think in archetypes, most people love that.

I've run tons of successful con games, and tons of successful LARPs this way, long before I had Forge jargon to shorthand it. Set up a Situation, make sure there are characters for most player preferences (in this case, within Narrativism, insomuch as it is possible) and let the PCs go.

For the game to be Narrativist, there'd have to be a Premise that the rules support, such that by using those tools -- the rules -- the players are likely to get there on their own. Tho it can't hurt to have something in every packet that says something like "in this game we'll be exploring man's inhumanity to man" or whatever. Narrativism requires co-operation.

Also, I will note that InSpectres works fine in a four-hour slot. You can run two full scenarios in that time; I've done it. Just keep the size of the job small, is all. You don't even have to create characters and the Franchise ahead of time, but it might help. But I think a single mission shows off the game quite well.

Same goes for Dust Devils -- I explained the rules and ran the sample scenario over the course of maybe five hours, six tops, and if I'd had a bunch of handouts ready (there's another tip: handouts, rules summaries, every prop and aid you can think of) I could have easily done it in four.

The other games might be harder, but anyone can grasp "Ghostbusters" or "Spagetti Western" quickly. Which is another short story trick -- if you're reading an anthology of Western stories, a lot of assumptions are built in so you can hit the ground running.

That's why Sorcerer is generally considered not to work at a con, IMHO -- people have a tough time grasping it quickly. However, consider running Demon Cops at a con, with the "80% Done" technique -- the Humanity definition in that game is easy to grasp, and it still shows Sorcerer's strengths. Everyone's seen a cop show, and a lot of people have seen anime with demons in it.

(And in blatant self-promotion, I imagine Unsung would be a good for, say, a cop-show game based on the grittier examples of the genre. Also, what about OtherKind? It's "mission-based" orientation would seem to be perfect for convention play, and is pretty accessible to someone who's into faeries.)

I don't own Riddle of the Steel, but I suspect if you ran a game based on some form of well-known media (Conan, perhaps) that highlights the game's strength's, it might be accessible quicker...

These are the keys: Be prepared, which admittedly takes a lot of work, but you can use that work over again if you do it well. Be accessible: Since most people are likely not familiar with a particular indie game, you need to do everything you can to give 'em something familiar to hang onto. Be clear: Let the players know what you're aiming at.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
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« Reply #3 on: March 25, 2003, 12:25:12 PM »

For the record, InSpectres can be taught, characters created, and a whole story be told in four hours. And very well, I'd add. SOAP can be done in half that.

It's not something specific to Narrativism. It's specific to how action develops in each game. For InSpectres the game structure makes things go blindingly fast. Which is the same for Paranioa.

So, if you want to have complete stories in four hour Con slots, stick with the right systems.

Mike
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Blake Hutchins
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« Reply #4 on: March 25, 2003, 12:43:59 PM »

One technique I've used is to provide each character with a "splat" overview summarizing their outlooks on significant in-game relationships.  In an Ars Magica con game, for example, the bratty Lady's attitude toward the earnest budding hero Stable Boy grog was:

"Cute, for a peasant.  Make his life miserable."

What this approach does is let players start the game with a concrete sense of the relationships between their characters or other game world entities, gives them a starting place with their agendas, and moves everyone swiftly past the "uhh, what's your name?" phase.  This technique works well to establish flavor, set expectations for relationships, and even foreshadow NPC involvement.  I've used it in con games featuring Everway and Fading Suns as well.  Not only is it well-received by players, but it sounds cool to people at other tables, because play picks up really fast, and players begin by focusing on relationships rather than tasks.

Best,

Blake
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jburneko
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Posts: 1351


« Reply #5 on: March 25, 2003, 01:22:11 PM »

Hello Again,

Thanks for swift replies.  InSpectres has been mentioned twice and indeed I've run InSpectres at cons before with great success.  My only niggly issue with InSpectres is that a lot of the games Premise is tied up in the actual management of the Franchise, which doesn't come off in con play.

As for the "80% done" thing I guess I'm thinking about walking a thin line between just a really powerful, semi-extended Kicker and actually a summary of what probably should have happened over 3 or 4 sessions of previous play.

My latest attempt is with Deathwish, playtest last night and already tweaked.  The idea is start the characters slightly opposed, but to eleminate any pretense about the "goal" of play by laying out a lot of stuff in the open at the beginning.

Jesse
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xiombarg
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« Reply #6 on: March 25, 2003, 01:24:57 PM »

At the risk of a "me too" post, what Blake is talking about is exactly the sort of thing I was talking about, regarding listing "all the other characters relevant to the scenario, PCs or NPCs, and how the character feels about them". This reallly works well.

And ditto what Mike says, tho I think that some of the games can be "tweaked" to work in a short time, like my Sorcerer example.
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
xiombarg
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« Reply #7 on: March 25, 2003, 01:29:06 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
As for the "80% done" thing I guess I'm thinking about walking a thin line between just a really powerful, semi-extended Kicker and actually a summary of what probably should have happened over 3 or 4 sessions of previous play.
We crossposted, and all I have to say about this is: Yes, it's a fine line. Like anything in RPGs, it takes actual play and practice. I've got a one-shot, three-hour LARP scenario that I've been tweaking through actual play for over a decade now...

However, what's wrong with having a summary of what should have happened over 3 or 4 sesession of previous play, so long as it's short, succinct, and easy to grasp? So long as the player can quickly absorb it as a handout (hell, give 'em a Relationship Map as as a handout, skewed toward the character in question), what's the big deal?
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love * Eris * RPGs  * Anime * Magick * Carroll * techno * hats * cats * Dada
Kirt "Loki" Dankmyer -- Dance, damn you, dance! -- UNSUNG IS OUT
Mike Holmes
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 10459


« Reply #8 on: March 25, 2003, 01:46:30 PM »

Quote from: jburneko
InSpectres has been mentioned twice and indeed I've run InSpectres at cons before with great success.  My only niggly issue with InSpectres is that a lot of the games Premise is tied up in the actual management of the Franchise, which doesn't come off in con play.

Point taken. But then you didn't have that as a requirement. You said you wanted complete short stories. Now you want intrasession stuff as well?

Hey, I want to be able to play an entire Aria game from world creation to armageddon in only four hours, but I don't think it's going to happen. No matter how hard I tweak it.

Mike
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