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Author Topic: Pitching a "new way"  (Read 14538 times)
Tim Alexander
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« on: August 05, 2003, 12:36:37 PM »

Hey All,

So in the last week or so I've had my head turned inside out, mostly from the content here on the forge. Especially enlightening have been the "actual play" posts as well as the commentary sparked therein. Suffice to say, I'm hooked, and a copy of Sorcerer and Sorcerer's Soul should be winging their way to me now.

One of the things I've found most interesting, is the rather intensely narrative format of Sorc., especially when handled by Ron and using his prep techniques. Unfortunately, I think I'm sort of doing a poor job selling this to the folks I'm trying to engage in playing. Basically they're very used to a certain style I've worked on, which is a refined illusionist handling with narrative elements. Unfortunately that style has been hit or miss (in my opinion) and I think a lot of it stems from the way it's prepped and some misaligned intent vs. actualization on my part. It's actually in looking for ways to refine this, or more specifically rework it, that I ran across Sorc.

So when the heck is he getting to question? Ok ok, it's coming, but not quite yet. In Art-Deco Melodrama - The Final Chapter, Ron says:

Quote
Finally, part of this goal is entirely social. I have to generate trust among the group, especially for players who are new to my style. They have to believe that I DO have that GM-mastery of the situation, that whatever happens, I can handle it. If they get too much of a "making it up" feeling, they get nervous (later, if we play well together, they don't). If they get a "railroady" feeling, they get pissed - or worse, go into willingly-railroaded acquiescence, being willing to do what clues tell them and fight foes who jump at them. So I'm looking to generate the sort of trust which allows them, later, to step into their roles as Authors - and paradoxically, that begins by taking a rather strong hand in delivering information and in setting up Bangs.


My question is, as someone who's trying out what's essentially a new style for the first time, how do I get the players to trust enough to make it work? In Ron's case he's going to be comfortable with it, and the players will be given cues about that which they should pick up. I'm guessing I won't be quite that suave my first time through it. If the players aren't willing to pick up some of that slack, we're sort of at an impasse, right? It certainly seems that player authoring falls pretty quickly apart if the players aren't authoring. Which makes for a pretty unfun, and unproductive session. So how do I present this in a way that leaves me room to screw the pooch without forever damning the game as 'unfun?'

Questions, comments?

-Tim (Who may well be overthinking it)
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: August 05, 2003, 12:46:34 PM »

Hi Tim,

Great question, and no, you're aren't over-thinking it. You're asking the perfect thing.

Here's the bad news: I'm the world's worst candidate for answering. You're talking to a guy who wanted Sorcerer-style Narrativist play from the get-go, back in the late 1970s. I never went through a dungeon-crawl phase; I abominated such play (although I'm having a wonderful time with Tunnels & Trolls at the moment, but that's after GNS-ing my viewpoint). Then, later, I essentially developed Illusionist skills and came to break them myself, learning that they would not achieve what I wanted, through many years of playing Champions, Cyberpunk, and a few others.

So. That means I really struggle to answer these questions. The people you need to hear from are: Paul Czege, Jesse Burneko, Christopher Kubasik, Ralph Mazza, and Josh Neff. Gentlemen! Please speak up, because I'm telling you, this is where I goggle and shuffle and say, "But, just do it," and thus annoy everyone.

Best,
Ron
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #2 on: August 05, 2003, 12:54:51 PM »

Hi, Tim, and welcome.

No, I don't think that you're overthinking this. It does present an interesting Catch-22. You can't feel really confident unless you have done it, and you can't do it right until you get that trust, requiring confidence. That's a pickle.

There are some options it seems to me.

First, if you can get any experience with this sort of play under your belt, so much the better. For instance you could come on over to Indie Netgaming (see sig), and get into something Narrativist (note, narrative is not a theory term) there. Or find another group with that style around where you play. Etc. The reason experience is so important it because it's not really all that difficult to play in this style.

That's way number two to gain confidence. Hopefully you can realize that Narrativism isn't any more difficult than any other mode of play - perhaps easier in some ways. So, given that you're not new to RPGs, you're actually better off than you were when you first ran a game. So feel confident in whatever skills you already have to pull you through.

Lastly, there's showmanship. That is, don't let them see you sweat. Just because you're nervous doesn't mean that you have to show it. Put on a brave face, and tell them that it's all under control. They'll buy it.

And don't worry if the first session doesn't go well. Does every game you run go well? If there are problems, tell your folks that you've noted the problems (and always ask for feedback), and that you'll rectify them before the next game.

Does that help at all?

Mike
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: August 05, 2003, 01:02:51 PM »

Well, its a hard question to answer without knowing the social dynamics of the group in question.

In my experience, the type of play envisioned in Sorcerer et.al. is actually the NORM.  Its the way most people would be playing if we hadn't been so thoroughly indoctinated into "traditional" play.

I think in order to be successful the assumptions about traditional play have to be unwound, and they have to be unwound very carefully.

By very carefully I don't just mean the obvious thing of not casting aspersions at the current style.  Rather the GM has to be especially careful as to not slip back into old habits.

See most traditional gamers are well trained.  They can detect the subtle nuances of their GM and know when the shit is about to hit the fan, or when they're being screwed and such.  As a result GMs have gotten very good as using subtly and trickery to "maintain the suspense" so to speak.

Saying something like "I have no preplanned notion of where this story is going, you guys are in the driver's seat, take it where you want" is a great start...as long as you adhere to that.  Its often too easy to slip back into GM leading habits...at which point your players stop believing that this is something new and different and file it away as a new GM trick/technique.


I'm not sure what parts your players aren't buying.  Perhaps some specifics on the parts they seem reluctant about would help.  

I think getting a handle on Kickers is the key to effective Sorcerer play.  Getting a handle on Humanity and the nature and definitions of Demons and sorcerery is essential for Sorcerer prep.  But everyone should be on board with the idea of Kickers.


BTW:  Talex, welcome to the Forge.  I notice this is your first post here and in it you quoted a great paragraph from an old thread.  At the risk of sounding snobby, I greatly appreciate your efforts to plunge in and do some advanced homework before posting.
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joshua neff
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« Reply #4 on: August 05, 2003, 05:23:00 PM »

Ack! I've been summoned! Okay, okay...

First of all, welcome, Talex. You're amongst good people here, so don't worry.

Second, I know where you're coming from. Like Ron, this is the kind of gaming I've wanted to do since I started playing on the cusp of the '70s & '80s. Unlike Ron, I was younger & less sure of myself. I figured we were supposed to be playing the way the rulebooks promoted & the way everyone else I knew was. So, I had these visions in my head of dynamic settings in which the PCs were the big heroes. (Being a huge comics fan, my RPGs were like comics & the PCs were the title characters.) But with nothing written to really support that, I fell into horrific railroading & other crappy attempts at producing "story." But in my gut, I knew there must be another way. Discovering Sorcerer & Gaming Outpost (& then, this ol' place), I found out there is another way.

Enough testifying. You want practical advice? Good. Of course, there is a slight hitch. This is really like sex--no amount of prep in the world can really prepare you for it. You have to go in knowing it might suck & give it your best shot regardless.

Here are my tips:

* Love your Players & their characters. Here's another sex analogy: while you're worrying about how much fun you're having, worry equally about how much fun they're having. Do what you can to ensure they're having fun. Play attention. Listen to them. Don't get so wrapped up in your own NPCs or nifty Bangs that you ignore your Players. If a Player says, "I follow the suspicious NPC," s/he is obviously looking for something to happen with that NPC, so give them something--some exciting information or a scene of confrontation. If a Players are having their characters prepare some elaborate plan to confound the bad guys, but you planned to have an NPC hire them to do the same thing, forget about the NPC & let the Players go with their own plan.

* Let your Players know, as soon as possible in the first session, that even if their characters screw up, the Players won't get screwed. If they blow some rolls in a fight scene, don't kill or even maim the PCs--instead, have their antagonists just capture them. If a Player blows a seduction roll, don't make the PC act like a clod--instead, the PC is SO seductive, his target falls madly in love with him & becomes a major hindrance. (Read E.R. Burroughs "The Gods of Mars" to see this in action.) If a Player blows an interrogation roll, have the NPC s/he's interrogating spill his guts--with misinformation. Also, in the first session, let them see that their Kickers are what's driving the game, not your carefully-crafted backstory. Let them see, not through words but through deeds, that they are the ones driving the game, that what they want matters.

* As Mike said, don't let them see you sweat. Most of my GMing involves coming up with things by the seat of my pants. "Ryan seems to want his daredevil pilot to be in some cool fist fights. I hadn't planned to have a fight scene tonight, but...what the hell"--& suddenly, a bunch of mooks burst in & start throwing punches. "Mike's come up with a wonky theory for what's going on, & it totally contradicts what I have in my notes for this session--ah, screw it"--& suddenly, Mike's mad scientist PC is right, & my notes are due for a quick revision. "Julie had her character sneak into the NPC's office, & I didn't plan to even have anything there. Oh well..."--& now there's a vital clue in the desk drawer. Even when you're fumbling for a good name for your off-the-cuff NPC, or you need a minute to figure out what's going to happen next (because you're Players have done a 180 on what you planned for the session), do it all with enthusiasm & cheer. Don't let it be work, let it be play. I go into every session with an absolute dread that it's going to suck, but I do my best not to act like that. If I'm not feeling confident, I fake it & act like I am.

* With Sorcerer specifically, there a few things you can do to push Player-authoring. When a PC summons a demon & asks you, "What does the demon look like?", respond with, "I don't know, you tell me?" (Right, Ron? *ahem*) Whenever the dice are going to be rolled, remind your Players how they can get bonus dice. Don't pressure them--if they need a minute to come up with something (a cool tactic, or a nifty quip), give it to them. If they honestly can't think of anything at the moment, let it slide & move on. Don't make this stuff work for them either, let it be play. When a Player does a spiffy bit of authoring, reward him/her, even if it's just with a dropped jaw & a "Wow, that's bloody brilliant!"

Does this help at all?
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Tim Alexander
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« Reply #5 on: August 05, 2003, 05:33:45 PM »

Hey Guys,

First off let me say thanks for the responses, like most of the stuff I've seen on the forums they're really helpful. More specifically; let's see:

Ron: I totally understand the perspective of, 'it's natural for me, so it's hard to explain.' The idea that I even have the access to you to ask these questions, is really mindblowing, and wholly appreciated.

Mike: The point about getting some outside experience is well taken, the problem being that I've been pretty insular in my gaming for a long while. My last couple of forays outside my little group ended with some pretty lackluster experiences. Unfortunately this has lead to less and less actual gameplay over the years, and it's something I'm looking to rectify. On that note, I'll definately take a gander at Indie Netgaming. Oh, and thanks for the correction on Narrativism vs. narrative. I'm still wrestling with the lexicon a bit, though I'm very happy to finally have one.

As to your second point, I'm at least partly aware that everything might turn out perfectly well. The improvisational elements don't scare me really, I'm fairly comfortable thinking on my feet assuming I'm 'on.' What really worries me is breaking old habits, and inadvertently stepping on the players authorship. I guess this brings up a good point, I'm at least as worried about things going 'the same,' as I am about them going 'badly.' This being because you're right, we've had games go badly in the past and it wasn't the end of the world.

Ralph: I think you touched pretty well on my fear of dropping into old habits, anyone got suggestions on how to remind yourself not to do this during play? An, 'I'm stealing authorship' checklist?

As for specific areas where the players are reluctant, I think it's best summed by "doesn't somebody have a plan in this?" I don't have good ways of saying, "Well, yes, but it's sort of you folks who have the plan, I just facilitate it." Come to think of it, maybe that's not a bad way of saying it. :) I'm not sure that will really get it across to them though. I think the best way to get it to them, is in play; but at that point it comes back to, do I pull it off, or do they cue off me falling into old habits?

On the issue of kickers, I haven't wanted to ask too much since I hadn't gotten to read the source text yet. From the forums and the game play texts I can see how they're both critical to grasp, especially since they're so linked in making the game play work. That said, I'm still murky on some of the details, which I'm hoping will come into focus a bit more with book in hand. Any thread references from the forums for a good treatment?

Lastly, thanks for the warm welcome all; and Ralph, I appreciate you appreciating my homework. :) I mostly feel like a dork if I'm not at least conversant in a topic before trying to get involved, sometimes to my detriment.

-Tim
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #6 on: August 05, 2003, 05:59:58 PM »

Gah! I was so wrapped up in posting, I missed Josh's (ed: totally miffed this the first time and called him Jeff, sorry Josh!) post! Anyway, this:

Quote

* Let your Players know, as soon as possible in the first session, that even if their characters screw up, the Players won't get screwed. Let them see, not through words but through deeds, that they are the ones driving the game, that what they want matters.


Is really useful. I think they're worried that this 'player authoring' concept is a bit too lovey dovey, that we could all pass the flashlight around and tell a story without all the trappings if we wanted to do that. I think it's important that they know that a) There is a system, and it does allow for outside influence (fortune, which we're a fan of,) but that b) it's there to help them get at what they want, not arbitrarily force them down a path.

Quote
do it all with enthusiasm & cheer. Don't let it be work, let it be play. I go into every session with an absolute dread that it's going to suck, but I do my best not to act like that. If I'm not feeling confident, I fake it & act like I am.


This is really good too, though for me I think more than my dread showing, it's remembering that if the game just turns into a pitch for "Hey look how cool this way of doing it could be,' it won't be very cool. I'm still there to have fun, and so are they.

Quote

* With Sorcerer specifically, there a few things you can do to push Player-authoring. When a PC summons a demon & asks you, "What does the demon look like?", respond with, "I don't know, you tell me?" (Right, Ron? *ahem*) Whenever the dice are going to be rolled, remind your Players how they can get bonus dice. Don't pressure them--if they need a minute to come up with something (a cool tactic, or a nifty quip), give it to them. If they honestly can't think of anything at the moment, let it slide & move on. Don't make this stuff work for them either, let it be play. When a Player does a spiffy bit of authoring, reward him/her, even if it's just with a dropped jaw & a "Wow, that's bloody brilliant!"


These sorts of specific points to try to prod authorship are really important too. Being open with those sorts of questions, and really being cognizant of encouraging authoring, without forcing it, is great.

I'm already feeling a lot more confident in both imparting this concept to the players, and making it work as well. Anyone have tips on where they find players new to the concept have trouble, and how I can best help them get it?

-Tim
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joshua neff
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« Reply #7 on: August 05, 2003, 07:12:06 PM »

Tim--

It's Josh, not Jeff. Josh Neff, not Jeff Nosh. (Dammit, Jared leaves but his legacy remains. Curse you, Sorensen!)

That aside, I'm glad I could help.

And I know all about the worries of stepping on Player authorship. I worry about that a lot. And then I worry that I'm being too much of a wimp, & that Players still want a GM with authority, not someone who lets them get away with murder. I honestly think it's not really that much of a fine line, that it's really pretty simple--but fear makes it seem like an awfully thin line sometimes.

As for the "facilitate" thing--ask Ron, I've been using that word for...oh, at least a year now. "It's not the GM's role to create a story, it's the GM's role to facilitate the Players creating a story," I always say. Which gets some strange looks at the supermarket, but nevermind.

If you have anymore questions, ask away.

Edited to address Tim by his real name & not "Talex."
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Ron Edwards
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« Reply #8 on: August 05, 2003, 08:09:11 PM »

Jesse!

Where's your Sim-by-Habit article, dammit!

Failing Jesse's reply (he obviously has better things to do than talk to us), does someone know the link?

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #9 on: August 05, 2003, 08:31:42 PM »

Quote from: joshua neff
It's Josh, not Jeff. Josh Neff, not Jeff Nosh. (Dammit, Jared leaves but his legacy remains. Curse you, Sorensen!)


Ouch! Sorry Josh, I edited above to remove the error. If it's any consolation, I do that sort of unconscious word leaping/melding all the time, with some extreme results on occaision.

Quote
And I know all about the worries of stepping on Player authorship. I worry about that a lot. And then I worry that I'm being too much of a wimp, & that Players still want a GM with authority, not someone who lets them get away with murder. I honestly think it's not really that much of a fine line, that it's really pretty simple--but fear makes it seem like an awfully thin line sometimes.


This sums up my concerns on this topic much more concisely than I did.

Quote
As for the "facilitate" thing--ask Ron, I've been using that word for...oh, at least a year now. "It's not the GM's role to create a story, it's the GM's role to facilitate the Players creating a story," I always say. Which gets some strange looks at the supermarket, but nevermind.


Excellent, then I'll hope I'm headed down the right path.

-Tim
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Valamir
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« Reply #10 on: August 06, 2003, 03:47:26 AM »

Hey Tim.  I think you're in pretty good shape.

One key thing to remember is that in trying not to control things as the GM...don't forget to play.  All players around the table should be contributing to the development of the story.  Player empowerment doesn't mean the GM has to sit back and wince helplessly.  The GM is also a player and is also empowered.

And don't get hung up on an overly egalatarian sense of all players participating.  Sometimes you'll wind up with sessions where certain players are more involved than others and certain characters carry more thematic weight.  Sometimes you'll have players that seem to always be in the spot light, but it will be the crucial and powerful choice made by a wall flower player thats actually the premise defining moment in play.

Mechanically pay close attention to the "Free and Clear" aspect of Sorcerer Combat.  The nature of being able to freely describe and redescribe what your character is doing prior to rolling the dice seems to be pretty effective at turning the lightbulb on for players realizing that they don't have to wait their turn and ask for permission to do stuff.
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #11 on: August 06, 2003, 06:41:33 AM »

Hey Ralph,

The reminder about not controlling, but still playing is a good one, as is the commentary on a sort of more organic feeling participation. This thread has been great, it's really making me see that this is all not too far from what I've been doing previously, it's just a bit more coherent. I'm especially excited to check out the bang, and the relationship map stuff, which seem to neatly address a couple of areas where currently things can get muddy in my games. Instead of shuffling the players into a preplanned scene, I'll hopefully be able to disassociate it, and use or discard it as necessary. I think it's going to be really helpful to sort of have that process codified for me, it's nice sometimes to see a method laid out.

As for the "Free and Clear" rules in Sorcerer, I've brushed against this in other threads, but since I don't have the books I don't have a good picture. Can someone give me a quick overview of how it goes?

-Tim
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Valamir
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« Reply #12 on: August 06, 2003, 07:04:57 AM »

I brought up the Free & Clear because mechanically it was the part that gave me the most trouble figuring out...mainly because in the rules its explained so succinctly that if you're not looking for it, or not already geared to thinking in these terms, you're likely to just read right over it and not realize what it says.

(BTW I don't think the rules actually refer to it as Free & Clear...I think that's just short hand that we've been using...)

Basically, there is no concept of "player initiative" in the game.
Characters have initiative (who goes first will depend on who wins the big die pool roll off).  But players don't.  In most traditional games Player Initiative and Character Initiative are linked.

Traditionally, the player doesn't announce what he's doing until its his character's turn to act and then the character acts and the next person announces.  In a common variant you might have the players announce in reverse order and then the characters go, or sometimes the players announcements might be made in secret etc.

Sorcerer doesn't do this at all.  Players declare what they are doing in any order.  Other players then respond, the first player might then change, the other players might then change, etc.  Essentially everybody brainstorms until everyone is satisfied about who is going to attempt what.  THEN the dice pools are rolled (with any bonus dice from cool descriptions).  The order of the attempts (i.e. character initiative) is set by the result of this roll.

Eg.

Andy:  I'm going to shoot Bob
Bob:  I'm going to command my demon to go after the relic
Andy:  Cripes...the relic...yeah, I'm going to order my demon to go after the relic too.
Chris:  I'm going to command my demon to attack Bob.
Bob:  Ouch...ok, I'm going to order my demon to defend me against Chris's demon.

GM: Ok...so we have Chris's demon going after Bob, Bobs demon defending against Chris's demon, and Andy's demon going after the relic...everybody satisfied with that.

Chris:  No, if Bob's going to defend with his demon, than I'm not going to do that...I'm going to try and command Bob's demon to attack Andy.
Bob:  Ok, than my demon is back to going after the relic.
Andy:  I'm not afraid of Bob's puny demon...especially not if I get the relic first.

GM:  Ok, so Chris is going to try to command Bob's demon to attack Andy instead of going for the relic, and Andy's demon is trying to beat Bob's demon to the relic...right...ok.  Time to roll.
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #13 on: August 06, 2003, 07:09:06 AM »

Ralph nailed it.

The key point is the not set in stone part. It's pretty hard to convince people from a traditional rolep-playing background that during this "phase," they are free to go back on what they said - that their initial "what my guy does" was a suggestion, not a fixed commitment. It becomes a commitment upon the group consensus that now is the time to roll.

I gave this phase the name "Fair and Clear" in the Trollbabe rules, but Ralph's right, it doesn't have a name in the Sorcerer rules.

Best,
Ron
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Tim Alexander
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« Reply #14 on: August 06, 2003, 07:46:53 AM »

Wow, that is pretty important.

I assume this includes any relevent NPCs in the situation, ie:

GM: "Billy bad is going to try and get the relic"
Bob: "Crud, ok, I'll have my demon eat Billy Bad."
GM: "Billy bad is going to try and not be eaten..."

until everyone's cool, and then the big dice happens? Has anyone ever seen this degrade into, "Well, if you're doing that, I'll do this, and if you stop doing that, I'll go back to this.." circular discussions?

-Tim
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