Role-playing Characters vs. Authoring Characters

edited August 2009 in Story Games
Split from the thread on Removing XP from Fantasy Games ...

So, Paul said some stuff about authoring mechanics interfering with role-playing (see below), which I wanted him to elaborate on, since I am playing a game of Storming the Wizard's Tower at the moment, and the "role-playing stuff" has been a fun part of the game, which is of interest to me because the game does not have any mechanics for that at all.
Posted By: Paul CzegeI think lots of indie games have skewed many of us to where our play behavior is more like authoring at each other than it is character play. We play many indie games to use the engine of the mechanics to author something that affects the other players. But the result is, paradoxically, less affecting. Because for a story to be affecting it must be made from some of the author's bare personality and honest identity. When a player's character is a tool for affecting others, more than a membrane for two-way communication, play is "awesome" but boring. We appreciate the creativity and talents of our fellow players, but have no contact with their identities.
Then Ralph said this:
Posted By: ValamirAlternatively...mechanics focused authoring eclipsing character play is a good thing.

*I* happen to think its a VERY good thing...even to the point of going as far as saying an inherently superior thing.
But did not elaborate, which I am hoping he will do.

Paul, follow-up your example of 'Acts of Evil' didn't help me so much, because I don't know anything about that game.
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  • An example from the erlier thread was The Shadow of Yesterday:
    Posted By: HohoI don't really think it's that fun to look at my sheet and be like "Oh, I have the Key of the Goat-Molester! If I go smell that goat's butt, I get 2XP!" I don't really think it's that much fun to do that thing in order to cash in on the mechanical stimulus—it devalues the action's inherent value by making it a thing I get paid for.
    This is part of what I don't get with this entire line of thought.

    To me, the Key mechanics in TSoY are about replacing the reward cycle of D&D ... so the player is rewarded for pursuing his or her own goals, rather than only the goals of combat and loot. I don't see them as an authoring mechanic ... but maybe that's because I don't quite get what we're talking about here.
  • edited August 2009
    I have a feeling this thread is going to devolve quickly if we don't establish a base-line for what "authoring" means for purposes of this thread. Paul and I have talked about this issue a bit over IM so I know what he means... partially because I agree with him.

    One possible point of confusion is Big Model Stances. Paul is most definitely NOT talking about "Author Stance." Indeed what Paul is calling "character play" Ron would still refer to as "authoring the character." What Paul is calling "authoring" is stance neutral. You can do either the "character play" or "authoring for affect" thing Paul is talking about across all three stances. As such there really isn't any need to discuss them here.

    What Paul is talking about is more related to what I and Eero refer to as "Advocacy Play." That it is your *job* as the player is advocate for the interests of your character. That is if the GM says, "The bad guys show up to kidnap you." You're obligated to try and help your character escape even if you, personally, think it would be more "dramatic" to have him be kidnapped. Note: That is effort agnostic. It's okay to put in minimal effort. This only becomes problematic when you go, "Hell yeah!" and spend game resources or whatever on the side of the GM.

    Why is this problematic?

    Because it promotes emotional distancing on the part of the player. Basically, the player is trying emotionally impact the others in the group *without themselves having an emotional stake in the fiction*. That's the paradox. How can something affect someone else when it clearly isn't affecting you. If it's more "dramatically" interesting to have your guy kidnapped then I suggest it isn't dramatically interesting to have him get away either. I suggest the entire scene is dramatically void because there is no legitimate, for real, emotional tension among the real-world players. This is the entire thesis of of my Play Passionately project (which is sadly on hold for the moment).

    The next step, of course, is where Paul refers to "connecting with our identities." The idea here, is that the reason you advocate for your character's interests is because YOU have some personal stake in those interests even if that's a negative stake (i.e. your character believes or does something you personally abhor). This promotes personal revelation and bonding among your fellow players. When your character does something revealing, you by consequence, reveal something about yourself. The character and the fiction by their indirect nature act as a safety zone for this personal exposure.

    That's at least what Paul and I have talked about. Paul can clearify if I've missed something or misrepresented his own position.

    Jesse
  • edited September 2009
    Yeah, I didn't want to elaborate because it was tangental to that thread. It's just become so much of the "New Story Game Meme" to criticise author focus mechanistic designed games that I felt the need to announce that not everyone has drunk the cool-aid on that idea.

    My distaste for that Meme has several layers, some of which I've discussed at some length on Anyway which is perhaps the epicenter of this current "lead with the fiction" focus. I'm not sure how effectively I'll be able to summarize my thoughts here, but I'll give a shot at some bullets.

    1) Firstly I think the entire angle (that on Anyway has been called "Lead with the Fiction" and in other places has been called "character focused") is the result of a pretty profound misdiagnosis of observed phenomenon. The phonomenon being recognized goes something like: a) there is a highly enjoyable effect in roleplaying where the act of play creates an understandable fiction where events and character action emerge organically from interacting with their environment. b) There is a certain category of games (i.e. author focused mechanistic designs) which can be played in a way that doesn't engage that enjoyable fiction effect. c) there are several examples of actual play which fell flat because the fiction was not engaged.

    The misdiagnosis IMO comes when the game design is blamed as being the cause of this, rather than putting the blame where it belongs...on the players who didn't engage the fiction. Just because the game engine will progress through a story arc without *forcing* players to engage the fiction, doesn't mean that that is the proper way for players to use said game engine. Therefor, to my mind, the proper line of thought is to examine why the players were not engageing on the fictional level and address that, rather than throw out this entire evolutionary (and I would say revolutionary as well) branch of game design in favor of more "character focused" design.

    This to me is pretty obvious. Doing thing A did not produce fun. I played a game, I did thing A, I didn't have fun. Therefor the proper solution would seem to be "stop doing thing A". Instead a rather faulty leap has been made suggesting that these games put a gun to your head and force you to do thing A and therefor its the game's fault.


    2) On Anyway at least the focus has been on de-commoditizing game mechanics and returning to an older paradigm where the player can only interact with the world through the vehicle of their character. The idea seems to be that if you strip out all of the other rules that are apparently distracting the player from engaging with the fiction that they'll have nothing left to do BUT engage with the fiction. This solution boggles me with the extent to which it revisits nostalgia through rose colored glasses. I think story gamers have become so spoiled by several years of awesome play engendered by awesome games that we've forgotten how horrible many of our earlier game experiences had become as a result of following this paradigm. There were problems with that paradigm that much of of the author focused mechanistic designs came into being specifically to address.

    3) I'm constantly bemused by the rapidity with which the broader story game community will stampede from one design meme to another. It is the nature of design communities...and "indie" styled design communities in particular, to pursue novelty by pushing the envelope. The engineer in me says chasing after the new technology before we've even begun to fully tap and appreciate the possibilities in the old technology is a habit of questionable value. Oh how quickly "scene framing, conflict resolution, stake setting" and other techniques have fallen out of favor and are now commonly disparaged by the same people who embraced them just a few years ago. I find that practice rather distasteful and disingenuous. Pursuing the new hotness is all well and good...I think gaming can sustain and benefit from a wide range of hotnesses...but there's no reason to disparage the old hotness on the way out the door.

    4) The engineer in me has a profound distaste for philosophical theories being used (usually incorrectly) to justify poor or lazy design. The Fruitful Void (also, perhaps not uncoincidentally being revisted currently) was a big source of this. Its central insight (that designing too directly what your game is about can actually hinder rather than help) was promptly misused to justify any number of sloppy designs. Numerous were the occasions over the past few years where broken unfinished work was explained away as "that's the Fruitful Void"...um no...that's just the part of the game you couldn't be bothered to actually write...there's nothing fruitful about that void...its just a void.

    The "Lead with the Fiction" paradigm's advice to search for non-commoditized solutions when designing for player behavior has the similar potential to be misapplied as a catch all justification for not bothering to actually design rules that work. I am anticipating the first thread where a designer comments "I don't need to have rules...I'm leading with the fiction".
  • So those are reasons why I tend to not automatically think the Character Focused angle is actually a better solution. Why do I think the Author Focused solutions are at least as good, and quite likely better?

    1) Largely because Author Focused games are by nature, to borrow an Alton Brown phrase "Multi-taskers" while Character Focused games are by nature "Uni-taskers". You can, while playing an Author Focused game ALSO completely engage with the fiction, advocate for the character, and fully enjoy all of the things that the phenomenon described in #1 indicated was missing in some AP. You have to try, and the game usually won't force it upon you, but you can, and can very well. But the converse is typically not the case. When playing Character Focused types of games where your agency in the game is primarily limited to that of your character you typically lose the ability to reach up to the author level and tug on story strings.

    IMO, a design that provides both avenues of player agency is inherently superior to one that provides only one. Sacrificing one altogether simply to make the other easier strikes me as a throwing out the baby with the bathwater solution. Now I recognize that some game experiences require specifically NOT letting the players tug on the story strings. And for such experiences a character focused design may well be the right choice to make. As I said, there's more than enough room in gaming for multiple different types of hotness. But that's a specific application. As a general principal more flexibility is usually better than less.

    2) Additionally I believe that a game whose mechanics allow you to engage them completely effectively and completely enjoyably WITHOUT engaging in the fiction at all...is a SUPERIOR design...not, as Vincent suggested in some Anyway threads a while back...an inferior one. The fiction is something you layer on top of the mechanics AFTER you have mechanics that actually function. Mechanics that won't function without fictional input are not effectively designed mechanics at all. At best they are illusions disguising GM fiat (or potentially other player fiat depending on who the ultimate fictional judge is).

    My favorite example of a superior mechanic design in this sense is Polaris. It would be hard to imagine (and I've never experienced) actual play of Polaris that didn't engage full force with the fiction that didn't produce memorable characters doing memorable things in memorable ways...ways that are both meaningful and impactful to the players. And yet, the mechanics stand alone by themselves quite well. By simply substituting "Good things happen to my guy" and "Bad things happen to your guy" for real fictional events and characters you can use the Polaris mechanics completely effectively. You can play out an entire conflict fully utilizing all of the game rules...without ever creating or requiring a scrap of fiction. Because the rules work. The rules work on their own, with no fiction required to make them function. This is a GOOD THING. And it in no way detracts from the ability to then use those rules to engage the fiction


    So, to summarize, I think the entire "character focus" meme originated from some misdiagnosis of actual play problems. I think it has some inherent short comings and pitfalls that are inadequately addressed in some of the current designs purporting to use this paradigm (Apocalypse World being the easiest example). And I think it entirely misrepresents how effective more author focused and commoditized play can be at addressing the very issues that they are claimed to not be able to address well.
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: Valamir
    My favorite example of a superior mechanic design in this sense is Polaris. It would be hard to imagine (and I've never experienced) actual play of Polaris that didn't engage full force with the fiction that didn't produce memorable characters doing memorable things in memorable ways...ways that are both meaningful and impactful to the players. And yet, the mechanics stand alone by themselves quite well. By simply substituting "Good things happen to my guy" and "Bad things happen to your guy" for real fictional events and characters you can use the Polaris mechanics completely effectively.
    Ralph, this, to me, is proof that you don't fully understand Vincent (or Paul or mine's position). No you CAN NOT use Polaris's mechanics effectively without the fiction. When you make a declaration in Polaris without its emotional content within the context of the fiction I have NO IDEA, NONE, ZERO whether I want to go with "But only if..." or "You ask too much..." I simply can not respond in a meaningful manner without that detailing. Vincent made this EXACT point with the Raises and Sees in Dogs in the Vineyard. Without the fictional content of your Raise I have ZERO idea of whether (emotionally) I want to take Take The Blow or not.

    Jesse
  • Jesse, I understand what you are saying about advocacy play. It does seem like that would leave out a number of games, though.

    To use an example (because I have trouble writing about these things purely in the realm of the abstract, which may be because I have not played some of the games that are coming to peoples' minds) ... the Shab al-Hiri Roach is a game where there is very little advocacy for my character. I don't care what happens to him. If terrible things befall him, the game may be that much funnier or more interesting.

    So I'm assuming we would consider this an example of a game with mechanics focused on "authoring" my character, rather than advocating for him.

    But the Roach is a fun game, and it reliably (in my experience) results in a lot of role-playing and satisfying fiction-making.

    I offer this point not to be all internet nitpicky, but because I am genuinely trying to see the divide here.
  • edited August 2009
    I think we play The Roach very differently. When I play The Roach I build characters that I am absolutely in love with. Sometimes I'm in love with them because they are so arrogant, in that charming way that only academic professors can get away with. And then I laugh my ass off through my tears of sorrow at this poor bastard as he falls to the influence of The Roach.

    In fact, I wrote about it here: The Shab-al-Hiri Roach

    Jesse
  • Brian, would it be fair to say you're advocating for your character's goals, not their best interest?

    I think the divide between authoring the character and playing the character comes to some degree from the motivation: are you playing your character as they pursue a goal (even if that goal is tragically flawed and you know it) or are you playing your character to present a great story?

    I think Roach falls into the first category: you advocate for your character's goals, even though you know those are not in the character's best interest.
  • YES! To be clear: I am VERY MUCH talking about advocating for the character's goals. Much like in real life I very rarely know what's in my character's best interests except in hindsight.

    Jesse
  • Posted By: JesseI think we play The Roach very differently. When I play The Roach I build characters that I am absolutely in love with.
    Okay, then we do play the game differently. Not the best example, as it turns out.

    Here's another example ... In A Wicked Age is one of my all-time favorite games. In IAWA games, I've seen players get behind their characters and work for them to overcome the odds and kick ass, old-school D&D style, and I've also seen players (in the very same games), play villains or comic relief characters with little concern for the fates or success of those characters.

    But I love that game, and, like The Roach, I think it reliably creates good fiction and good role-playing. Would you consider this example of authoring mechanics?

    I *think* this is what Ralph is saying ... you can advocate for your character in a game with author-focused mechanics, so that *kind* of play works, but you can also work against him/her. And in a game without author-focused mechanics, you can *only* advocate for your character, if you want to make the engines go.
  • Hi, Sage.

    I think, emotively & narratively, there's a difference between guiding your Cthulhu investigator into ruin - you know there will be ruin as a consequence of your actions - and guiding a character in a narrative game framework into self-introduced ruin. That's a wordy way of saying that I, as another player, don't care about your self-introduced drama.

    OTOH, for some reason, if you start off with "I don't get along with my dad" on your character sheet and the GM is responsible for introducing the challenges this bit of drama results in, the scenes are cooler and I care about them more. I may even have an opportunity to involve myself, which makes me care about them even more.

    The alternative is a bit like. . . well, let's say it's your turn to play and you're like, "I'm gonna go visit my dad, who I don't get along with" - my response will initially be, "Your character has a dad? When did that happen? When did you stop getting along with him?" and then everything you subsequently say will seem like you're just making stuff up. If the drama really has no impact on the game, I'll also wonder why I care. Heck, I'll wonder why you care too.

    This is why drama that emerges via tense moments in the game, often created via the mechanics, via random chance, via an immersive setting where we're all "getting it", seems more interesting to me than drama made up by a player. If you actually have to ride off into the sunset because the game just works out that way, we're all gonna go, "Remember that time Sage had to ride off into the sunset? God damn!" But if you just make that up at the end because you think it's cool even though it has nothing to do with the game, you're gonna sound like a bit of a tool when you recount the story of that one time you narrated about your character riding off into the sunset.
  • Sorry, I posted before I saw those last few comments.
    Posted By: sageI think the divide between authoring the character and playing the character comes to some degree from the motivation: are you playing your character as they pursue a goal (even if that goal is tragically flawed and you know it) or are you playing your character to present a great story?
    I guess I'd have to say both, depending on the game and the character. In games like the two I've mentioned (Roach and IAWA) I think the rules let me do either.

    Maybe I'm remembering these games differently than they actually went down.

    * * *

    I'm still not sure where people are coming from when they say that certain kinds of "character authoring" mechanics are detrimental to role-playing.

    And I say this not in a confrontational "I'm sure I don't know WHAT you're talking about..." kind of way, but in the sense that I really don't know what you mean.

    But, as I said in the first post, I've had a recent game experience that *was* chock-ful o' role-playing, yet it was a game that intentionally lacks these sorts of mechanics, so I can certainly accept that there is something here.
  • edited August 2009
    Brian,

    I'm not sure where you're coming from. What I'm talking about is "story role" agnostic. If you play and your characters turns out to be a villain, awesome. If you play and your character turns out to be the comic relief side-kick awesome. I'm not saying you can't enjoy your character's folly and fall. But there's a difference between playing your character with honesty and having him end up in folly and deliberately *pushing* him over the cliff because you think that's going to be emotionally "affecting".

    Jesse

    P.S. I just realized that "turns out" is the key phrase. It's about discovery in hindsight. As opposed to "make" where I a priori decide my guy is the villain and then use all the tools to "make" that happen.
  • Posted By: JesseI'm not saying you can't enjoy your character's folly and fall. But there's a difference between playing your character with honesty and having him end up in folly and deliberately *pushing* him over the cliff because you think that's going to be emotionally "affecting".
    I understand that distinction. Or, at least, I think I do.

    Game #1 -- I wanted my character, the evil grand vizier, to triumph, and I worked hard for him to do so, but despite my best efforts, he fell over a cliff, and I enjoyed it when that happened, because it was a cool ending for such a memorable villain.

    Game #2 -- I didn't want my character, the evil grand vizier, to triumph, because my friend's character was the hero of the story. So when push came to shove, I opted to have my character fall over a cliff, and I enjoyed it when that happened, because it was a cool ending for such a memorable villain.

    Does this sound like the difference between character advocacy (in the first example) and character autoring (in the second)?
  • Posted By: JesseP.S. I just realized that "turns out" is the key phrase. It's about discovery in hindsight. As opposed to "make" where I a priori decide my guy is the villain and then use all the tools to "make" that happen.
    I missed this bit earlier. (Was it there? Maybe I was responding too quickly.)

    I guess I get that too ... IAWA is a game where you're not sure who the heroes and villains are until later. So that makes sense to me.

    But that makes all this discussion of two different kinds of mechanics seems very ephemeral.

    I guess I was hoping for more concrete examples.
  • Ben, I think I agree with you, were you specifically replying to my point or just saying hi?

    I think you're driving at two things: Czege Principle and pacing, both of which I agree with.

    Czege Principle (paraphrased) If I introduce a difficulty AND advocate that difficulty, play tends to fall apart.

    Also, if someone (me or the GM) introduces a challenge that seems to come from nowhere, play tends to fall apart.



    Let's play with your example a little: first let's clarify the setting a little. Let's say we're a few sessions into an ongoing Cthluhu game, and so far we've been dealing with cultists ripping a hole in eternity from their caves in the remote jungles of Borneo.

    If, in that session, the GM says "and then the Soviet assassins that have been following you since you first met attack!" things are likely to kind of fall apart. Unless the GM has given some hints that the Soviets are after the players, or at least hinted at something sinister lurking in the bushes, the threat seems meaningless and just a way to create trouble. I think, as players, we're more conditioned to accept this, since 'the GM's word is law,' but that doesn't make it less lame: someone just added a challenge to the fiction that doesn't seem to have anything to do with anything.

    Now, if in that session a player says "I go to see my dad, who I don't get along with," it's really kind of the same thing: it's not that there's a problem with setting your character up to fail by advocating their goals (NOT their best interests, since Dad is actually a cultist, of course), it's that you've introduced a new element to the fiction kind of abruptly. It's just made worse by the opportunity for a Czege Principle issue when you start advocating for your meeting with your dad to go wrong, even though your character wants to make things work.
  • edited August 2009
    Brian,

    I can't say with certainty because it is just a hypothetical situation but your Game 1 vs Game 2 example is certainly on the right track. I am fond of using the phrase, "I enjoy failure the most, when I want it the least."

    Jesse
  • Posted By: BWA
    Game #1 -- I wanted my character, the evil grand vizier, to triumph, and I worked hard for him to do so, but despite my best efforts, he fell over a cliff, and I enjoyed it when that happened, because it was a cool ending for such a memorable villain.

    Game #2 -- I didn't want my character, the evil grand vizier, to triumph, because my friend's character was the hero of the story. So when push came to shove, I opted to have my character fall over a cliff, and I enjoyed it when that happened, because it was a cool ending for such a memorable villain.

    Does this sound like the difference between character advocacy (in the first example) and character autoring (in the second)?
    Here's my takes on game #2:

    Option 1: You advocated for your character until the final showdown, and then realized that the character's plot was finished and it was time to let it go. Fantastic! I guess this is a slight caveat to my stance: you can get away with not advocating for your character in some very specific cases, most notably in deciding when their story ends.

    Option 2: You decided your character was the bad guy and would lose to the hero, so you lead him towards that end. If this is the case, where is the conflict in the game coming from? Each time the hero and villain face off, both players are going to be on one side. At most you're disagreeing over the proper time for the end to come. Might as well do away with rules entirely (which isn't a bad thing). There only seems to be one interesting side in the story (the hero's).

    This is pretty specific to this example, but hopefully it adds something: if the players are at odds, they're kind of GMing for each other. If one of them doesn't oppose the other consistently and strongly, it's like getting everyone together to play D&D and not putting any monsters in the dungeon.

    In a more general sense, if you're advocating for the coolest story for your character, why are you playing a game? Just tell the story.
  • I have no idea if I'm playing wrong or what, but here's how I like to play my character:

    * I have a list of traits that describe my character's various personality aspects. Some are "good" and virtuous and stuff I can be proud of, most are flaws that are inconvenient to play.

    * The GM presents me with situations in all the usual ways -- prepared material, riffing off flags, whateva. Or I prompt the GM with something I want the character to pursue, and expect the GM to either allow it or to challenge me along the way.

    * When I respond to the GM's situation with my character, my depiction of him is as consistent with his various traits as I can be. I play this way despite whatever game-level consequences may be looming as a result.

    * The creativity I enjoy bringing to the table is in the portrayal of those flaws and quirks, and then watching the GM and other players take the resulting complications into account -- without judgment and entirely accepting that I'm playing my character in a principled way.

    * I like it best when the inevitable out-of-character moments are clearly flagged for me so, either as player or GM, I know what voice to hear things in.

    What I don't like to play, and really hate to GM:

    * Players who play their characters in an unprincipled, expedient way. That is, I feel like we've all come to an agreement about how someone is going to portray their character, only to watch that agreement broken because the player wants to "win" a situation.

    * Players who refuse to engage the fiction like they actually care about it. Don't really care what the motivation is for that refusal; I fucking hate it regardless. They can be scared or uncertain or have cripping stage fright -- DO NOT CARE. The result is flowing, growing timidity that is far more contagious and destructive than enthusiastic, damn-the-torpedoes play. MST3K play is the worst. I've cancelled entire game sessions on that note.

    * Play that is entirely divorced from either the mechanics or the fiction. Leading with the fiction is nice and all, but sometimes mechanics prompt new fiction and that's good too.

    * Total lack of character ownership. That bums me out. I've tried a few designs and doodles that try and break that mold and it just doesn't do it for me. This element for me pushes my "THIS IS NOT AN RPG" button the hardest.
  • edited August 2009
    Sage,

    Your Option 2 is spot on.

    Here's my quibble with Option 1. I've pretty much learned that when you let a priori assumptions about the nature of the conflict that's about to happen interfere with your decision making you tend to miss out on some pretty amazing story opportunities. If you let your Hollywood blockbuster informed aesthetic go, "Ah this is the showdown!" before it's actually happened then you miss out on the opportunity that this is NOT the showdown but instead simply a major turning point in an otherwise surprisingly, hither to unforeseen wider narrative.

    (Or even simply, "Man that was the showdown and it turned out to be a tragedy! Who would have known?")

    Jesse
  • Jesse,

    I think you're mostly right, let me explain how I got there:

    I played in a game that ran for around half a year that was just amazing, and one of the definitive moments was when one of the players, after a torrid descent into crime, had a showdown with his former mob boss in the sewers. The battle ended with the PC and the NPC dropping dead in the same round.

    The player then had the option to burn a Fate Point (forget the exact name, this was Warhammer) to cheat death. The player decided not to, leaving the character dead and giving the story a fitting conclusion. It was great.

    I think the key element is that the player didn't decide it was the end until the battle was done. I stand by that choice, since it wasn't deciding ahead of time that a given even was the end, it was taking a clear ending and not taking the option to escape it.
  • edited August 2009
    Sage,

    YES! That's fine and yes, your observation that the decision was *post* conflict is the key. It was a moment of authorial *evaluation* rather than bid for planned effect. The emotional impact had already happened and the player decided to let it ride. Perfect.

    Yay for AP example making things clear.

    Jesse
  • edited August 2009
    Posted By: JessePosted By: Valamir
    My favorite example of a superior mechanic design in this sense is Polaris. It would be hard to imagine (and I've never experienced) actual play of Polaris that didn't engage full force with the fiction that didn't produce memorable characters doing memorable things in memorable ways...ways that are both meaningful and impactful to the players. And yet, the mechanics stand alone by themselves quite well. By simply substituting "Good things happen to my guy" and "Bad things happen to your guy" for real fictional events and characters you can use the Polaris mechanics completely effectively.
    Ralph, this, to me, is proof that you don't fully understand Vincent (or Paul or mine's position). No you CAN NOT use Polaris's mechanics effectively without the fiction. When you make a declaration in Polaris without its emotional content within the context of the fiction I have NO IDEA, NONE, ZERO whether I want to go with "But only if..." or "You ask too much..." I simply can not respond in a meaningful manner without that detailing. Vincent made this EXACT point with the Raises and Sees in Dogs in the Vineyard. Without the fictional content of your Raise I have ZERO idea of whether (emotionally) I want to take Take The Blow or not.

    Jesse

    I fully understand it Jesse...and I fully reject it. Not that the fiction isn't helpful. Not that it isn't useful. Not that it doesn't do certain things that are desireable, not that it isn't necessary for play to be fun...but necessary to the MECHANICS? No.

    When there is fictional stuff in Polaris you can evaluate it...How much do you want thing X to happen...how much do you not want thing Y. You evaluate it, and you decide how much it means to you and you make your decision.

    But MECHANICALLY...all you need is the relative value not the fiction that got you there.

    Observe:

    Heart: "I want this level 5 Good Thing to happen to my Guy"
    Mistaken: "But only if this level 8 Bad Thing happens to your Guy"

    I don't need to know what the good thing or bad thing is to know how to respond. If I accept I'm suffering more than I'm gaining. In actual play I'd be evaluating my relative gain vs. relative suffering based on the fiction...but its not necessary for the rules to function.

    Heart: "Ok, but only if this other level 3 Good Thing happens to my Guy"

    See...mechanically I know that Good Thing 5 + Good Thing 3 = Bad Thing 8. In the fiction I'd have to come up with that based on how much things matter to me in the story...but for purposes of engaging the mechanics...its just math.

    Mistaken: "Ok, but only if Level 10 Bad Thing happens to some other character you love".
    Heart: "You ask far too much".

    I don't need to know what he asked to know that throwing another 10 units of Bad on top of the equation is asking too much.


    Is this interesting? No,
    Would it produce good actual play? No

    But does it demonstrate that the principals on which the mechanics are grounded are fully balanced and functional even outside of the fiction? Yes.

    THAT'S what makes the Polaris mechanics so profoundly good. You know they work regardless. NOW when you play and you add fiction to the mix you know you're layering fiction on top of mechanics that are fully functional. No matter what the fiction is, no matter where it goes, the rules can handle it. Because the rules are stable and functional even with no fiction at all. What every player is effectively doing in Polaris is evaluating the fiction and deciding case by case on the fly whether that thing that was said is 3 units of Bad or 5 units of Bad and reacting to that perceived balance relative to the perceived value of the good they're after. Its more complicated and more nuanced and is often a moving target as players turn formerly good things into bad and you find ways to make formerly bad things not so bad. But essentially...it still boils down to the math.

    Dog's is somewhat weak in this regard because while the core of the mechanics function wonderfully, the sloppy balance between the PC's relative effectiveness and NPC's + Demonic Influence relative effectiveness has caused numerous threads worth of questions and problems. If those mechanics had been balanced against each other such that they worked perfectly well in the absence of fiction, that wouldn't have made the fiction any LESS impactful when it was added. It would have made the fiction MORE impactful because you'd avoid the times when that balance issue causes problems that disrupt the fiction.

    As for the Raises and Sees aspect requring the fiction...that makes for a nice story for Vincent to talk about on his blog but its bupkiss. One can create perfectly effective play using those mechanics without ever engaging the fiction in the exact same abstract sense I did above for Polaris. Once you know the mechanics actually work...THEN when you layer the fiction on it, you really have something...and you do...because the raises / sees / and fallout rules are all perfectly functional as raw mechanics without any fiction whatsoever.
  • edited August 2009
    Ralph, I see where you're coming from. All I can say is that to make your example work, you've layered in a systemic component that doesn't exist in the game. You point out that evaluating the fiction is *required* and then show that assuming we slap a number on that evaluation the mechanics work.... but uh, you DON'T slap a number on your statements in Polaris. In other words, you taken the mechanic that IS there (personal judgment of the fiction) and added a mechanic that isn't there (some other way of evaluating the weight of the statements).

    If I say, "X happens" (literally that phrase). How do you know what the number is? You don't. You *need* the fiction to make that call. And more importantly it's YOU whose making that call, not the person speaking. Your whole argument denies the critical mechanical function of that fictional evaluation by filling it with another mechanic that doesn't exist in the game. Of course, if the game HAD the mechanic you describe it would work without the fiction. But the game doesn't have that mechanic. Observe:

    Imagine there IS a number. If I say, "X happens and it's worth 5 Doom" or whatever. It doesn't matter what you personally think of X because no matter what, it's worth 5 doom. And then you get to say, "But only if I get 3 points of Salvation." Then yes, you're absolutely right. But then the game has the very problem Vincent and I am criticizing.

    Those two things are VERY different games, systemically.

    Jesse
  • I disagree. I believe I already answered why in the post. But I'll make it clearer.

    When you say "But only if your niece becomes a demon" there's a whole host of evaluating that I must do. How much do I care about my niece. How bad a fate do I think becoming a demon in this instance of Polaris play actually is...etc...etc. Ultimately, however, I assign a value to it.

    It might even be a numerical value like in my abstraction. Frex: "holy cow...on a scale from 1-10 that's like 8 units of Bad"

    More often its a relative value on a word scale like "holy cow...that's a whole lot of nasty"

    Regardless...it has a value and that value can be compared to the value I assign the other stuff that I want to happen and from that comparison I can decide whether I'm getting a "good deal" or a "crappy deal" out of the bargain my Mistaken is making me.

    That's not a VERY different game...that IS the game. Always.

    I've added nothing except to shine a spot light on what is really happening at the table. All's my abstraction has done is strip away the fiction to get to the core of the system...which is a comparison of relative value between and among multiple events. And again...its not to say that the game should be PLAYED at this level. Its to say that if the mechanics CAN'T be evaluated at this level...you've got faulty mechanics.
  • edited August 2009
    Ralph,

    Right. But where does the numerical evaluation come from? That's not a trivial design decision. Where that number comes from is *vital* to the creative dynamic of the game. Change where that number comes from, you change the game. Leave everything the same except:

    "The player decides on how impactful the fiction is"
    "The antagonist decides by spending from a damage pool."
    "The system decides by taking 5 * the current destiny value minus the number of players"

    Uh, those all fundamentally change the game. Only one of those is the game Polaris. The other two are something that mostly looks like Polaris, but isn't.

    Jesse
  • Right...which is why I didn't do that. I just simplified the process by assuming that the Mistaken was skilled at predicting what the Heart would and wouldn't find good or bad.

    Which isn't much of a stretch of a simplification if you're playing with the folks I normally do. Knowing exactly which buttons to push to make your Heart player squirm is pretty much standard operating procedure....and one we rarely get wrong.
  • edited August 2009
    So, I guess I just don't understand why you see that interaction as immaterial to the mechanics? Pushing the Heart's emotional buttons is just a much a mechanic as rolling 3d10 is. That's required to make the rest of the system work.

    There are games that *don't* require player A pushing player B's emotional buttons to function and those are the games that Vincent (and I and others) consider having a design flaw that encourages weak fiction.

    Jesse
  • Jesse you're completely missing the point. Which at this point is derailing this thread into a topic pretty minor to be spending this much time on.

    But take a look at Apocalypse World if you don't see what I'm saying. Vincent's solution in AW is to literally design a game where there are not mechanics at all outside of the fiction. Which is a very different thing from the abstract example I'm doing here.

    My point, which I've amply demonstrated is that the Polaris mechanics are first and foremost fully functional and effective on their own. Thus when fiction is added the fiction makes engaging the mechanics that much better. It isn't required to make the mechanics function at all.

    IaWA is another game whose mechanics are fully functional and engageable in the absence of fiction. Thus when fiction is added the mechanics become that much better. But the fiction isn't required to make the mechanics function at all.

    The list goes on, but I trust the point has been made.

    My position is: Mechanics that do not function well in the absence of fiction will not function as well as they should when fiction is added. Fiction is not a substitute for unpolished mechanics.
  • Fair enough.

    Hey, Brian, this is your thread and I kind of took it over. Was there anything from all of the above you wanted to focus on?

    Jesse
  • Posted By: Jesse
    Hey, Brian, this is your thread and I kind of took it over. Was there anything from all of the above you wanted to focus on?
    No problem. I asked for "elaboration", with no real guidelines, so I deserve what I get. Plus, earlier, I think I was just "responding" without really thinking about my own questions.

    Since you ask, however ... I'm trying to get my mind around the concepts you and Ralph are arguing here. The back-and-forth over where fiction hits the rules has muddied the waters for me. I feel like its a different question from where this thread started.

    As you pointed out earlier, AP is better than nebulous theorizing. I've never played Polaris, but Ralph brings up In A Wicked Age, which helps, because it's a game I know reasonably well:
    Posted By: ValamirIaWA is another game whose mechanics are fully functional and engageable in the absence of fiction. Thus when fiction is added the mechanics become that much better. But the fiction isn't required to make the mechanics function at all.
    I get Ralph's point here. You can just chose which forms to roll for a conflict (say, Directly and With Love) without actually narrating anything that ties them into the scene. But the scene will be much better if you *do* narrate fiction that ties them in. The last time I played IAWA, there was a player who didn't spend much effort doing that, and it made for less interesting conflicts. You know? He'd just kind of grab the dice, and roll whatever.

    So when we're talking about advocating for a character, as opposed to authoring a character, we're talking about mechanics, correct?

    Jesse and/or Ralph, would you say that IAWA's mechanics promote authoring characters, as opposed to merely advocating for them, and this is makes them superior mechanics, to your way of thinking?

    Or am I totally off the reservation now?
  • Brian, I think these two are unrelated (more or less) things. One is about authoring vs. role-playing and the other is about "IIEE with teeth", as Vincent called it somewhere. They're in the same arena (making people engage with the fiction on an emotional level), but they're two different phenomenons. you can be authoring but be forced by the mechanics to detail the fiction and you can be role-playing but fail to detail the fiction because the mechanics don't force you to.

    Trad games are all doing both the "no authoring" and the "force detailing" things. Some indie games do one or neither.
  • Brian, one of Vincent's own criticisms about IaWA is that it let that player just roll dice without spending the effort and, as expected, made for less interesting conflicts.

    One of his goals for Apocalypse World (which we're now on session 2 or 3 of...I forget because we've had some scheduling issues) is to make that impossible. In AW that player literally could NOT do that. If he wasn't putting forth effort to describe his characters actions*...and if the GM isn't putting forth effort to describe the environment and the actions of the NPCs embedded in that environment than no one will ever get to roll dice and the game will just...stop.

    I find that exceptionaly intrigueing from an experimental design let's-poke-at-this-and-see-where-it-goes perspective although I don't find it all that compelling as a solution to the problem of lack luster fictional engagement. (as noted above I think this solution brings with it more problems than it solves and I think there are other ways to solve the problem with out introducing more). But, as a fun thing to try, its a pretty cool thing in its own right.

    * a key piece to this particular issue can be found in your phrase "narrate fiction". The catch phrase "Lead with the Fiction" is a bit misleading in this regard because most folks would understand "The Fiction" as being synonomous with "The Story" which is more of an author focus concern. What the catch phrase really means is "lead with the concrete details of the here and now." For the GM...what does the character see, hear and smell. For the player...what does the character think, feel, and do. Then the "story" such as it is develops organically from the intersection of those two things and will automatically have substance and gravity.

    Anyone at this point who is scratching their head and thinking "wait...doesn't that sound like the whole 'Impossible Thing Before Breakfast' that we worked so hard for years to purposefully avoid" is seeing one my (several) issues with this approach as a "solution" to the identified problem.

    What IaWA allows is for players to narrate fiction (i.e. high level story stuff) rather than simply narrate / advocate for their character. This IMO is a good thing...it is, after all, what we spent 5+ years at the Forge struggling to learn how to do effectively But it does allow players to fall into the bad habit of ONLY narrating high level story stuff and forget to actually advocate for their character. For some this makes the experience feel less like a Role Playing Game and more like a "story boarding workshop".

    I think story boarding workshops can also be hella fun, but its also nice to have a much tighter connection to the characters as people rather than the characters as pawns in the story.


    There are those who view the pendulum as having swung too far towards "story boarding workshop" and the New Meme I was criticising is a wellspring of backlash against that. A wellspring that, IMO, pushes the pendulum too far back in the other direction, which is why I felt the need to highlight my problems with it.
  • Posted By: ValamirWhat IaWA allows is for players to narrate fiction (i.e. high level story stuff) rather than simply narrate / advocate for their character. This IMO is a good thing...it is, after all, what we spent 5+ years at the Forge struggling to learn how to do effectively But it does allow players to fall into the bad habit of ONLY narrating high level story stuff and forget to actually advocate for their character. For some this makes the experience feel less like a Role Playing Game and more like a "story boarding workshop".
    Boom. I think this nails it. If we expect our games to do everything for us as players, then we will inevitably look for mechanics to force us to roleplay well. I say that's a bunch of BS. "The game" has always, and should always, be a tool that we as players use to roleplay skillfully. But we all have to bring that skill to the table. We can't just wind up a toy and expect it to do the work for us. If we are forgetting to set concrete scenes, and merely story-boarding, then that may be our own fault.

    A separate issue is a game that specifically tells us to merely story-board instead of roleplaying. I think that's bad design because it saps the power of roleplaying. If you want to sit around and story-board, I suppose that's your prerogative. But don't be surprised when everyone complains about something missing.
  • Posted By: ValamirBrian, one of Vincent's own criticisms about IaWA is that it let that player just roll dice without spending the effort and, as expected, made for less interesting conflicts.

    One of his goals for Apocalypse World (which we're now on session 2 or 3 of...I forget because we've had some scheduling issues) is to make that impossible. In AW that player literally could NOT do that. If he wasn't putting forth effort to describe his characters actions*...and if the GM isn't putting forth effort to describe the environment and the actions of the NPCs embedded in that environment than no one will ever get to roll dice and the game will just...stop.
    Talking about specific mechanics is helpful, so I appreciate the example.

    I still don't quite understand it, however.

    I totally get that it's better for the game if the players narrate the fiction as they engage with the mechanics. And I can also see how, in In A Wicked Age, for example, you could fail to do that. I'm sure I've done it myself. You'd just say "Okay, he's coming after you with his cleaver!" and pick up the character's dice for, say, Directly and With Violence.

    I am not familiar with Apocalypse World. How do the mechanics of that game solve the problem? I'm hoping the answer is more elegant than "The rules explicitly tell you to narrate something".
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: Tim C Koppang
    A separate issue is a game that specifically tells us to merely story-board instead of roleplaying. I think that's bad design because it saps the power of roleplaying. If you want to sit around and story-board, I suppose that's your prerogative. But don't be surprised when everyone complains about something missing.
    This. I don't get this. What, exactly, is wrong with an effective story-boarding game? I understand that it isn't your bag — and, frankly, it isn't mine, either — but why does everybody keep saying it's "bad design" or "incomplete" or "lacking" when what they mean is does not do what I like?

    So a game doesn't foster deep character identification by straitjacketing you into your character's abilities and reach and nothing else. That doesn't make it a bad game, let alone a bad roleplaying game — it just makes it a poor choice for play where you enjoy deep character identification via straitjacketing.

    (Tim, I point the finger at you because I'm pretty sure you know when you're being picked out as exemplary and not picked on because you're singled out. ;)
  • Posted By: Josh RobyThis. I don't get this. What, exactly, iswrongwith an effective story-boarding game? I understand that it isn't your bag — and, frankly, it isn't mine, either — but why does everybody keep saying it's "bad design" or "incomplete" or "lacking" when what they mean isdoes not do what I like?
    Josh and Tim, what are some examples of the kinds of games you'd consider "story-boarding games"?

    I feel like this discussion is mostly about mechanics, as opposed to techniques, so examples of specific games will help. Or, help me, at least.
  • At the risk of being the obligatory definition-debater, how is it roleplaying if we're working on the story level, not the character level? Seems to me that authoring leads quickly to high level plot description, which isn't bad but isn't really the same thing either.

    So no, it's not a bad thing.

    But no, it's not roleplaying.

    In particular, once you move to caring about the character's story, not the character themselves, play tends to move away from anything actually happening in character. Why describe the details of the fiction if the character just exists to tell a better story to everyone else. Story flows from character, if you have a strong character (which usually means someone advocating for them, in RPGs) the rest comes naturally.

    This is kind of like asking why coffee drinkers dislike bananas: they probably don't, but if you try to pass off a banana as coffee you're not going to get very far.
  • Brian,

    My most story-boardy experience was Universalis: there didn't seem to be any real action, or anything happening, just kind of high level story description that was full of 'awesome' but didn't really feel that fun at the table. Interesting fictional things happened, but the mechanics and approach of the game made it feel like we were workshoping the plot for a novel, not playing a game or actually writing the novel.

    Thinking back on it, playing the game felt like listening to somebody describe the awesome game they had played in.

    That isn't to say that character advocation is all you need, some awareness of 'story' level stuff is great, and probably leads to better play overall. It's when the value of the story is always greater than the value of the character's goals that things start to move out of being a roleplaying game (and fall apart, in my experince).
  • Posted By: sageAt the risk of being the obligatory definition-debater, how is it roleplaying if we're working on the story level, not the character level? Seems to me that authoring leads quickly to high level plot description, which isn't bad but isn't really the same thing either.

    So no, it's not a bad thing.

    But no, it's not roleplaying.

    In particular, once you move to caring about the character's story, not the character themselves, play tends to move away from anything actually happening in character. Why describe the details of the fiction if the character just exists to tell a better story to everyone else. Story flows from character, if you have a strong character (which usually means someone advocating for them, in RPGs) the rest comes naturally.

    This is kind of like asking why coffee drinkers dislike bananas: they probably don't, but if you try to pass off a banana as coffee you're not going to get very far.
    Which circles back to the idea that one of the primary players in an RPG, the GM, isn't roleplaying, despite playing a role-playing game.

    Which I think is a fairly daft concept.
  • Posted By: BWAJosh and Tim, what are some examples of the kinds of games you'd consider "story-boarding games"?
    First: we're talking about a kind of game that's currently derided as "bad design" so realize that the moment I point at any game, I'm casting the cloak of "not really roleplaying" over it — and that can have a direct effect on that game's success. So no, I'm not going to name the other people who were members of the Communist party.

    However, I will point at my own game, Conquer the Horizon, as an example. You play the members of an expedition to the new world, and you each take like two-minute turns discovering and exploiting features of the new world. It in no way creates anything resembling a hard-hitting character drama featuring fraught situations and tough moral choices. If anything, it creates a little fictional history of the colonization of the new world. It's fun and amusing, and it's definitely roleplaying.
  • Posted By: Josh RobyFirst: we're talking about a kind of game that's currently derided as "bad design" so realize that the moment I point at any game, I'm casting the cloak of "not really roleplaying" over it — and that can have a direct effect on that game's success. So no, I'm not going to name the other people who were members of the Communist party.
    I wasn't trying to foment argument. I'm just trying to bring this concept down to the ground where I can make some sense of it, and the talk has (mostly) been very high-level and conceptual. Not a problem for those who want to engage at that level, but I still haven't quite managed to grok what we're talking about in a real way.

    Josh, thanks for the example of your own game. I was hoping for more examples of games I'm familiar with, or at least some brief discussions of the kinds of mechanics we're talking about. (As for whether or not such games are badly designed, I have no dog in that fight, so no such judgement is implied or intended.)

    So, if you're posting in this thread, and it's at all possible to provide an example of the kinds of game mechanics that you feel illustrate the point you're making, whether from AP or a rules text, please do so. It will help me out.
  • Posted By: sageMy most story-boardy experience was Universalis: there didn't seem to be any real action, or anything happening, just kind of high level story description that was full of 'awesome' but didn't really feel that fun at the table. Interesting fictional things happened, but the mechanics and approach of the game made it feel like we were workshoping the plot for a novel, not playing a game or actually writing the novel.
    Thanks, Sage. That makes sense to me. I haven't played Universalis, but I'm familiar with it.
  • I am not familiar with Apocalypse World. How do the mechanics of that game solve the problem? I'm hoping the answer is more elegant than "The rules explicitly tell you to narrate something".

    Caveat: Understand that my own bias is: there is no real problem needing to be solved, and if there was I'm not sure AW mechanics actually do it.

    Given that, I'll try to demonstrate how the AW mechanics work.

    First and foremost is the central AW mechanics tenet which, rather cleverly, goes like this:
    "If you do it, do it...and to do it, do it"

    What this means is that 1) if you describe your character doing something that the GM feels falls into one of the Dice Roll Categories you must roll, period...the "if you do it, do it". and 2) if you want to roll you must describe your character doing something that the GM feels falls into one of the Dice Roll Categories, period...the "to do it, do it" part.

    The Dice Roll Categories are where this becomes something more than just "narrate cool stuff before you roll".

    You don't roll for skill checks or attribute tests or anything like that. You roll when you coerce someone into doing what you want them to do, or to resist same (only players roll in AW). If you want to simply persuade someone...there's no roll for that...you actually have to persuade them player to player by playing it out. So no "I persuade you to help me..." <roll some dice> "you do".

    You only roll for coercion. If you Bully and Intimidate them you roll for "Going Aggro". If you just smack the crap out of them you roll for "Sieze by Force". You can also roll to Manipulate or Seduce (i.e. in AW seduce = manipulate with sex).

    So combine this with the above and basically the player just talks...saying what their character does...until they say something that falls into one of the categories and the GM calls for a roll. Similarly, the GM just talks and says what his characters do...which (more or less) automatically always succeeds unless the player says what their character does to stop it...which typically falls into one of the above categories and results in a roll.

    In order for this back and forth to work, however, the world needs to be rich and full of detail. If the GM says a couple of thugs burst into my work shop and try to flank me I can't say "I dart behind the farm machinery and grab a steam hose" unless we've already populated the world with details like the farm machinery and steam hose. So it becomes increasingly difficult for me as a player to say what my guy does in a way that falls into one of the categories without that world detail being present. Similarly it becomes increasingly difficult for the GM to make a "hard move" against me (AW-speak for bringing the hurt) without those layers of details having been built up. The game eventually either grinds to a halt or becomes completely floaty. For the game to function at all you really have to be committed to playing "down in the mud".*

    There are also rolls for sizing up an opponent or a situation which is a way for the player to demand the GM add specific details like "what's my best escape route" to the fiction.

    So far its pretty fun to play...but I don't think it really solves the "problem" above because its just as challenging to play "down in the mud" in Apocalypse World as it is in In a Wicked Age.

    The difference is that in In a Wicked Age if you don't play down in the mud...you still can have a kick ass game session when everyone is floating above their characters in author mode...while a few people will find that disatisfying the game will still function and produce an interesting story.

    In AW, however, if you don't play down in the mud...the game simply fails.

    I don't particularly see "enforced failure" as an effective solution as I can't see how no-play-at-all is a better result than solid-if-somewhat-unsatisfying-on-some-levels play. I think the goal is that the impending failure of the game to work will serve as a reminder to everyone to come back down to earth and keep yourself grounded in your character...whereas the smooth functioning of IaWA does nothing to remind you to come back down and quite happily purrs along long after you've entered into full blown God of the Story mode. But that doesn't strike me as a particularly effective technique.


    *I'll note here that the game does do some pretty exciting things on the GM advice side of the equation in terms of preparing adversity (codified as "fronts" in the rules), and coordinating the timing of that adversity with clock wheels and regular vs. hard moves. A regular move being things NPCs are doing in pursuit of their objectives (as outlined for the Front they're a part of) which sets up a Hard Move...which is the pain that comes when the players fail to out maneuver the NPC.

    So as an answer to the declared problem of insufficient "leading with the fiction" I'm pretty underwhelmed with AW's solution. But as a pretty damn effective way to help GMs codify and track prep, and as a killer means of delivering setting specific color melded (almost) seemlessly with game mechanics to the players via their character "books" I'm extra special impressed.
  • edited September 2009
    There's kind of an interesting side phenomenon going on here, perhaps the ultimate result of the focus on "system matters" in the early days of the Forge.

    It goes something like this: We've spent years drilling into people's head that the *procedural* aspects of game rules are important. As a crude example: its not just HOW to make a skill check but also, when, why, who, in what order, and who decides those things that matters.

    As a result of this effort we now have a number of games that do a pretty good job of outlining clearly and concisely the procedures of play...this IMO is a good thing and I'll Knife Fight the hell out of anyone who says otherwise.

    But here's where it get's interesting. Back in the day when procedures were sloppy or even non existant, players were smart enough to "figure it out". They'd work their way through the murk and come up with a procedural solution that allowed them to play the game.

    But now...when they don't have to do all that extra work...when the work is done for them in the design...all of the sudden there's this tendency to (forgive my bluntness) forget to think. Since the procedures don't specifically say "now is the time to roleplay" they just...don't. They get so caught up in blindly following the outlined procedures of play that they neglect to do what they sat down at the table to do. The old games never made special arrangements for roleplaying...it just happened organically because that's what players wanted to do. But now...you still have players wanting to do it...but instead of making it happen organically they blink and stare and scratch their heads and say "the game doesn't let me roleplay".

    I liken this to a guy who'd driven a beat up old stick-shift his entire life and who goes and buys a new car with Automatic Transmission and Cruise Control. All of the sudden he's driving like he's never driven a car before. Now that he doesn't have to worry about the clutch or holding down the accelerator on long trips its like he expects the car to be full on auto-pilot.

    Note to players in Author Focused Games: You still have to drive.
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: Josh RobyThis. I don't get this. What, exactly, iswrongwith an effective story-boarding game? I understand that it isn't your bag — and, frankly, it isn't mine, either — but why does everybody keep saying it's "bad design" or "incomplete" or "lacking" when what they mean isdoes not do what I like?
    That's a fair question I suppose (and no worries about me taking this personally by the way). There is obviously a difference between a game that is badly designed and a game that I simply don't like as a matter of preference. Really, it's a fine line, but one that I'm going to try to define (yikes!).

    I think a game that mandates story-boarding goes beyond my own taste because it fails to generate at least two things: (1) movement and (2) engagement. Let me take those one at a time.

    First, when I say movement, I mean story -- plain and simple. Things have to happen in a story. The characters have to advance, and the plot has to continue. When you're story-boarding, the opposite seems to take place. You're not creating a story, you're creating a collection of stagnate "scenes". If it was a movie, you'd have to actually make the movie in order for the story-boarded scenes to do anything. As is, they're just sort of sitting there, divorced from the context of an actual story. They are in need of movement, a common link to tie them all together. That link is roleplaying.

    The other problem here is that story-boarding encourages strings of revision and discussion. Instead of stating an action and creating a shared imagined space, the players are constantly moving backwards, stuck in what can become an endless loop. That's not story. That's planning. No movement.

    Second, we have a lack of engagement, both with the characters and with the story. This is heavily related to my first point. But really, how can you engage with a story that isn't really a story in the fist place (except maybe in an abstract sort of way)? I concede that it's certainly not impossible to engage with story-boarded events, but I think it's so much more difficult that it's more of an ideal than a common product of play.

    That may sound harsh, I know, but I don't say it to be confrontational. I really think that story-boarding leads to a disconnect in most instances. And I think it's behind a lot of the difficulties that players are experiencing when they sit down to play. They always seem to wonder why the game doesn't quite seem to work. Most of the time I want to shout, "What are you preparing?! You're always preparing! Just go!"

    So to bring this back to your question, Josh, what in your mind would be an "effective" story-boarding game? And I admit that if what you're after is a tool to story-board with, then go for it. I'm not going to stop anyone. I'm just saying that I don't think pure story-boarding works as an effective roleplaying game.
  • Posted By: Valamir

    Note to players in Author Focused Games: You still have to drive.
    I have noticed this at times when I'm playing Burning Wheel or Burning Empire and we are working through mechanics we do not know. We will play through a battle without describing the often things that just happened. After a while, it flows better.
    Posted By: Tim C Koppang

    That may sound harsh, I know, but I don't say it to be confrontational. I really think that story-boarding leads to a disconnect in most instances. And I think it's behind a lot of the difficulties that players are experiencing when they sit down to play. They always seem to wonder why the game doesn't quite seem to work. Most of the time I want to shout, "What are you preparing?! You're always preparing! Just go!"
    A friend of mine played PTA for the first time and he mentioned that it felt kind of disconnected to him (the conversation was a long time ago, so I'm paraphrasing intensely here). I asked about the brainstorming that led to the series creation and he told me that the brainstorming took over two hours.

    I suggested that the play was lame because they had talked their way right past 2 or more seasons of play in creating the series history, rather than coming up with a cool premise, getting characters down and playing.
  • I don't think there have been any pure story boarding games. Just games where players forgot to get to the roleplaying.

    Sage's experience with Universalis is like that. The game feels like workshopping the plot for a novel...because its supposed to feel that way. But that doesn't prohibit roleplaying. I roleplay the hell out of Universalis. You have to be quick to pop into and out of character like a GM, but you still should be roleplaying when you play. Having to periodically drop a Coin in the bank as you roleplay your scene isn't any more difficult than having to periodically roll a die as you roleplay your scene. When I play Uni and I'm in a scene I'm all about deciding which character I want to control and deciding what that character wants and then spending my Coins to fight for that character to get that thing. I could play (and from time to time I do) such that in a particular scene I'm all about what *I* as audience to a story want and then spend my Coins to fight for that to happen...but that only works (i.e. is interesting) after having spent the first 80% of the game fighting for the characters.

    The game works, i.e. produces a narrative, if you don't fight for the characters...but it works alot better when you do.

    So knowing that...my question will always be...why didn't you?
  • Posted By: JuddI suggested that the play was lame because they had talked their way right past 2 or more seasons of play in creating the series history, rather than coming up with a cool premise, getting characters down and playing.
    Yes. Exactly. PTA is a prime example of a game that, while solidly designed, suffers from a common misconception that it's all about the planning and not about the playing. Which is of course exactly backwards. When you turn a game into a story-board event rather than a series of solid scenes grounded in story, the truth is that nothing much is really happening.

    And I'm guilty of this myself at times. It's easy to get lost in high-level talk. But I have to remind myself, "just play a scene stupid."
  • edited September 2009
    Posted By: Tim C Koppang, heavily snippedThings have to happen in a story. The characters have to advance, and the plot has to continue. When you're story-boarding, the opposite seems to take place. You're not creating a story, you're creating a collection of stagnate "scenes"... As is, they're just sort of sitting there, divorced from the context of an actual story.

    The other problem here is that story-boarding encourages strings of revision and discussion. Instead of stating an action and creating a shared imagined space, the players are constantly moving backwards, stuck in what can become an endless loop. That's not story. That's planning. No movement.

    Second, we have a lack of engagement, both with the characters and with the story. This is heavily related to my first point. But really, how can you engage with a story that isn't really a story in the fist place (except maybe in an abstract sort of way)? I concede that it's certainly not impossible to engage with story-boarded events, but I think it's so much more difficult that it's more of an ideal than a common product of play.
    See, this is kind of weird, because I really have no idea what you're talking about — which is to say, while I'm sure this does and has happened to you, I haven't ever experienced this myself.

    Which, I realize all the sudden, isn't quite true, because when we played Polaris, we walked away saying that it created a great outline for a story, but it didn't actually deliver the story. Which is somewhat ironic, in that folks have been arguing that Polaris does the lead-with-the-fiction thing that makes it immune to storyboardingitis.

    But seriously — outside of that one game, I've never had trouble connecting scenes together into a story structure, I don't feel mired down in revisions, and I engage with the story being told even if I don't engage individually and personally with my character. In fact, I actually prefer games with a strong scene structure or economy, because it gives me tools and procedures for pacing and development. It may be, as I've said in one of the parallel threads (seriously, this discussion is spread out over like four different threads) that I simply 'plug in' with story structure instead of character. Thus, a game that puts story structure front and center doesn't phase me (and contrariwise, reading Apocalypse World makes my skin kind of crawl thinking about being so profoundly trapped in my character).
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