Thinking about AP threads

edited December 2010 in Story Games
(Thinking about the disconnect over in this thread)

I'm thinking about AP threads, particularly when games aren't going so well or when some mechanic in a game isn't clicking with you. Maybe the technique that would have helped was written but not diagrammed out and you are a visual learner. Maybe the technique was inferred and not explicit and you aren't in the habit of gaming as that game. Maybe the technique you needed to hear wasn't in the game book at all or was in a later edition or an article online or whatever.

But the purpose of posting about a game that didn't go so hot or a scene that made you a bit nervous or whatever is to get better at this thing called gaming.

If gaming has techniques that people can improve upon through use then people can use these techniques incorrectly or poorly. To me this means that each of us at different moments in our gaming lives might be, "playing wrong" and by wrong I mean, "could've been better."

And that is okay.

So yeah, we might be gaming wrong or to put it in a better way:

We could be gaming better.

But we can get better at this through honest and earnest discussion of our game's events, dialog with other like-minded gamers and honest/earnest discussion.

(And putting words to our disconnection moments out into the world in a clear, well-meaning way can help make future games better written/laid out/explained).

Comments

  • Note: This is not a shot at Paul B or a shot off his bow or anything. We're whispering away amicably on that very same thread.
  • Great post, Judd.

    My own personal house is very divided on the question of to what degree gaming is a skilled activity that can be learned (or contains a cluster of skills each of which has the potential to be improved upon), and how that is at odds with my desire to introduce new people into the hobby and the way new players can often contribute just as much as veterans in many games. It relates to the question about "how to GM well" or how to become a "good" GM.

    Certainly individual games can be improved upon by calling upon specific techniques when playing them.

    Matt
  • I don't know if it's always about getting better. Sometimes discussions in this vein can lead to discovering a game's rules are problematic, or something necessary is broken or absent. It seems like when story games/indie games are involved the onus is more often put on the GM or the player for having 'baggage' or not having the necessary skills to run the game smoothly where a similar post about Vampire: The Masquerade would lead to thrashing of the rules.
  • Bret, as far as I am concerned, learning that a game's rules are problematic or left an explanation out is part of the all around improvement, which is what I was refering to when I wrote:
    Posted By: Judd(And putting words to our disconnection moments out into the world in a clear, well-meaning way can help make future games better written/laid out/explained).
    The baggage claim is one that comes up with indie RPG's because they are the RPG's that tend to have explicit instructions about how to play them. I know when I came to indie RPG's, I had lots of ego pent up in my ability to GM and my reputation for doing so. I ignored parts of games all of the time and when they are well-crafted games, this can lead to problems. Often those problems were from me trying to run Sorcerer or Dust Devils just like I ran every other game I ran for the decade or so prior to that.

    Game texts should absolutely be thrashed in public but in order to do so the text has to really be engaged as does the actual play in which the game was on the table. Its hard to have discussions about games when folks freak out about something not working and the problem is solved with the quoting of one page number. Maybe the rule on said page number was buried or not written clearly or not laid out in a skillful fashion.

    That's great, its all part of talking about gaming in an effort to get better.

    Are there problems, status games, a general unwillingness (well beyond the thread linked above) to discuss games that don't go smoothly? Yeah, sometimes.

    When I wrote an AP thread, I try to write cool shit that happened, the rules that facilitated the cool shit and/or a moment or moments where I was worried or queasy or confused along with how we worked our way out of it.
  • edited December 2010
    A good point, Bret, but I'm made hesitant by the notion of someone who plays V:TM and has one of the best gaming experiences of his or her life, and then goes on to report an AP about it. If the game is so broken that literally no one comes forward with such an experience, then I'm pretty sure everyone will agree it's the game, not the players. But if even just one person steps forward saying, "I don't know what y'all are talking about, I've never encountered these problems, this game kicks major ass in my group," then the question immediately gets turned to what the different players are doing that makes the game either work or not work. A lot of the reason why the onus is put on the GM or the player with regard to story/indie games is, I think, because so many people have had very good experiences with some of these games, such that if other people are having poorer experiences, the question becomes one of practices, and not of rules.

    Another element, I think, is that these AP reports are often most important in delineating exactly what is enjoyed about the game. The AP reporter who loved his game of V:TM may enjoy something everybody else finds appalling because he's a sick, sick man. The point being that, in this case, the issue isn't the rules being problematic, or the players actively getting better...it's this notion that there really are some elements which some people may enjoy about some games, and others may not.

    ETA: Cross-posted a bit with Judd, will read when I get back.
  • Okay, so I've written quite a bit of AP in my day. It's a lot of work, and very few people know how to do it well. Mostly it works better as it's happening, like as an annotated log. That sort of AP is pretty amazing, and pretty rare.

    Then there's the micro-AP of "this is a thing that happened in my game that illustrates something that didn't work." Maybe the player misinterpreted a rule. Maybe there's a best practice floating around he's unaware of. Maybe the rule doesn't work as written. In any case, the player has an issue and wants to resolve it.

    I'm in total agreement that that sort of AP should be freely given and charitably read. That'd be awesome.

    But there's also this cultural problem with demanding AP as the cost of entry for talking about games. It's really easy, and maybe this is facilitated by the technology involved, to utterly misread a poster's intent and/or microanalyze and/or make assumptions based on what you think you're reading. I think AP is great but it's also handing a gun to the guy who is there to show you why you're wrong. It happens a lot. I mean, shit, this is a characteristic of our beloved BW play culture! It can be tiresome to prepare for what feels like the inevitable shellacking you're about to get for daring to critically discuss one of the sacred cows of indie gaming. Might be AW, might be BW, might be whatever.

    AP is also, sometimes, irrelevant to what's being talked about. This was my issue in my AW thread: Judd, you wanted me to break out specific examples of play to show why a particular move didn't work in my group, while I was trying to get past the specific move and talk more broadly about stuff like my feeling the game takes too much work for the reward. I mean, I have no idea how to write an AP of me feeling overwhelmed by the sense of having to treat AW's various procedures like rules, and how by changing "play advice" into "rules of play" ended up making me unable/unwilling to pass every creative decision through that validation process. How is an AP really relevant to my overall sense of a thing like that?
  • Posted By: Paul BHow is an AP really relevant to my overall sense of a thing like that?
    A game made you feel a certain way...I don't see how that fails to be relevant to your recollection of playing that game.

    You didn't want to go there and that's fine. You didn't want to go there. But that's exactly what AP is, its about how a game made you feel and how the mechanics helped or hindered.

    I don't understand posting a game experience that wasn't all it could be and asking folks not to help figure out how it could have been better.
  • What I'm saying is that I have no idea how to express that feeling via Actual Play. It's a feeling accumulated from *all* my play, not a specific instance of play.
  • There were no specific instantiations of that feeling? Moments that exacerbated it grandly? Even if the feeling was a result of the whole, I think those moments would help greatly. I know the sort of feeling you're describing; I've gotten into a similar state with regard to other games which are often, themselves, considered wonderful and fantastic by many I've spoken with. But in most cases, I can point to moments during play which really seemed to wear on me. Those moments may have accumulated into that malaise I feel at the end of play, but it was a series of moments that took me there. Discussing those moments, then, is the best way to get at the overall feeling.

    But I can acknowledge that perhaps no such moments stand out for you, so you're left looking at an indivisible whole of play, without any idea of where exactly to begin to attack it. In which case, perhaps picking out specific instances of stuff you may have liked or not liked is still the best way to go at it. You may not hit the general feeling for a while, but I think it would be like chipping at it, to go over those specific instances.

    I do tend to agree that not speaking in specifics is something of a dead end. I have a bad habit of doing it myself when I talk about games, and ultimately I think it leads to more misunderstanding than not, when you don't use concrete clear examples. True, giving concrete examples is sometimes giving ammunition to those who think you're just plain doing it wrong...but sometimes, that may be because they're right.
  • How about something like this? A thread for bite-sized *mediocre* AP where we're asking for feedback?
  • This is a really interesting thread. I'm relatively new to the world of indie RPGs and found it tough to get into as a lot of AP posts seem to disconnect between mechanics and story generated. I remember reading a lot of Sorcerer AP posts and thinking "but how often are you rolling dice?"

    People often post the fiction generated but I find AP most useful when it becomes metapositional. The dice rolls or mechanics feeding the story, the GM throwing good stuff in and the subsequent emotions arising at the table. Should AP reports then be subject to some form of textual analysis. Could we create a system of standardised recording that might enable meaningful comparison or must it always be case by case? I'm rambling somewhat now and appeciate this idea might be a path people feel reluctant to go down.
  • Paul,

    I can't and won't argue with your feelings, man.

    That thread was the straw but there were others on the camel's back. Please do not feel like you have to explain yourself to anyone.

    Judd
  • edited December 2010
    The "micro-AP" thing described above is the kind of AP most likely to have a decent discussion follow along after it.

    A general "welp, I played this game, and this happened" AP post is one I'm likely to read but not comment on. I mean, that's what you did, that's what happened, coolstorybro, but it's not really a discussion? I like reading them but I normally don't jump in and say anything, and if I do it's probably just one of those worthless one-liners.

    Discussion only really comes with a specific question, which AP might or might not enhance.

    I've never subscribed to the "if you can't talk about it with AP, you can't talk about it" school of thought, to say the least, but it's really valuable for a whole lot of reasons. For example, people whined for years that the Forgotten Realms was bad because Elminster would just come in and solve all the problems, and it's painfully clear that really what happened was, they read a Forgotten Realms book, imagined what it would be like to play a shitty Forgotten Realms game, and concluded it was shitty, justifying the conclusion with shitty events completely imagined/made up. Such a conclusion is impossible to reason someone out of, because they didn't reason their way into it.

    By the way, Vampire: the Masquerade is a great game, haters gonna hate, though. Haters gonna hate.
  • AP works really well for reporting (and maybe examining, though I'm much more leery of it there) short, punctuated games with discrete and easily identifiable bangs, moments of interaction with rules, and clear moments of explicit engagement with mechanical systems.

    AP is more or less shit for reporting the way that long term games and evens build up over time through the course of a large game with a group that engages in multiple ways. Mostly because most of us are more or less shit at actually remembering and following all those interactions and less than explicit exchanges. And partly because even if we aren't bad at reporting it, most of us are shit at reading another person's AP and actually understanding what was going on.

    So, I'd say AP has made a lot of folks a lot better at hitting specific points and specific focused interactions and practices. But it hasn't done as much for developing more subtle, understated, or long term practices and strategies.

    Also, I rather think that the focus on practices as the key to good experiences has a tendency to overlook the fact that sometimes perfectly functional play will suck for someone because the game does nothing they actually enjoy. But that's just learning to de-geek, so....
  • I'm regularly playing a Forgotten Realms game, straight outta the gray box and we've had bunches of NPC guest stars (Khelben the Blackstaff, Mirt the Moneylender, a few of the Seven Sisters, Peirgeiron Paladinson, and more) without any problems with the Elminster Syndrome. That said, I don't think people whining about FR without ever having played a game set there has anything to do with wanting some AP sugah in my bowl.

    I don't think AP needs to be present in order for a conversation to happen but it often helps, gives the conversation some foundation, a starting point.

    Sure, Vampire's a great game, next you'll be telling us that art shouldn't even be in RPG's...
  • Great post, Brand.
    Posted By: Brand_RobinsAlso, I rather think that the focus on practices as the key to good experiences has a tendency to overlook the fact that sometimes perfectly functional play will suck for someone because the game does nothing they actually enjoy. But that's just learning to de-geek, so....
    Is that learning to de-geek or is learning to de-geek another way of saying, "gaming at the right table for you."?
  • Judd,

    Ha! Yes. Also "to post to forums that are right for you."

    I mean its a matter of learning that its okay that we don't all like the same things, and a game that was played with the best techniques on earth can still not be fun for someone because the game is setup to do something they don't like. Where as we often talk like "play right, with the right set of tools, and you'll certainly enjoy Burning Wheel despite the fact that you hate competitive games, think that 'earning a victory' with dice rolls is ridiculous, and hate everything that Tolkien ever wrote."

    Which is just geeky. We are not at all ONE OF US!
  • That is a silly thing to say because humans are hard-wired to enjoy dice rolling victories and Tolkien (and Burning Wheel).

    Its written.

    In science.
  • Oh shit. I did indeed forget about science.
  • Posted By: Brand_RobinsI mean its a matter of learning that its okay that we don't all like the same things, and a game that was played with the best techniques on earth can still not be fun for someone because the game is setup to do something they don't like.
    Sure, but discourse about an experience in order to understand it doesn't have to be based on the idea that everyone must like the same thing. It can just be an exploration of our differences as well as our similarities and a basis for mutual understanding.
  • Posted By: JuddSure, Vampire's a great game, next you'll be telling us that art shouldn't even be in RPG's...

    When I see this much Scotch tape being used, I know serious bullshit is afoot.
  • Writing AP appears to be a fine art that I suck at. I find it hard to say enough without saying too much. I either get feedback I can't use because my respondents lack context, or no feedback at all because I took up a fucking page laying everything out.

    I do enjoy reading a chunk of AP that relates a game procedure to a moment of specific fun. "Rolling 3 times for each resolution built up suspense!" or something. I love that shit. Especially if it arrives by the second paragraph.
  • Posted By: Paul B...But there's also this cultural problem with demanding AP as the cost of entry for talking about games. It's really easy, and maybe this is facilitated by the technology involved, to utterly misread a poster's intent and/or microanalyze and/or make assumptions based on what you think you're reading. I think AP is great but it's also handing a gun to the guy who is there to show you why you're wrong...
    Thank you Paul. I think you're spot on with this. I've written AP posts here and on other forum and been hit with the "what are you writing this for?" or "what do you expect to get out of writing this AP?"

    Sometimes I just want to write about the experience the players and I had, or to highlight an issue that we had with rules or assumptions on setting. Sometimes it's nice just to share, and I have written APs as an exercise in attempting to share a good or bad experience, but 9 times out of 10 I delete the post before it's posted. Generally the reaction to AP posts is not worth the hassle of writing them. But that may just be me.

    John
  • I really enjoy AP threads where multiple players from the game share their thoughts.

    Or if that's not an option, the poster sends the AP for review to their group first before posting.
  • edited December 2010
    Posted By: John AndersonPosted By: Paul B...But there's also this cultural problem with demanding AP as the cost of entry for talking about games. It's really easy, and maybe this is facilitated by the technology involved, to utterly misread a poster's intent and/or microanalyze and/or make assumptions based on what you think you're reading. I think AP is great but it's also handing a gun to the guy who is there to show you why you're wrong...
    Thank you Paul. I think you're spot on with this. I've written AP posts here and on other forum and been hit with the "what are you writing this for?" or "what do you expect to get out of writingthis AP?"


    John, when you say "hit with" it sounds as if it's meant as an attack. Maybe it's an honest question, like "do you want input? if so, what kind?" Asking why you've written something, is not the same as saying it shouldn't have been written. It seems like a reasonable question. If the answer is "because I just wanted to" then that would seem to be a fine answer.
  • edited December 2010
    Massive post incoming.
    Posted By: Brand_RobinsI mean its a matter of learning that its okay that we don't all like the same things, and a game that was played with the best techniques on earth can still not be fun for someone because the game is setup to do something they don't like. Where as we often talk like "play right, with the right set of tools, and you'll certainly enjoy Burning Wheel despite the fact that you hate competitive games, think that 'earning a victory' with dice rolls is ridiculous, and hate everything that Tolkien ever wrote."

    Which is just geeky. We are not at all ONE OF US!
    Yes! Especially the bolded part.

    I guess we could break it down into:
    1. Mechanics that are objectively not broken/sucky/incoherent.
    2. Correct techniques for those mechanics.
    3. Correct expectations for what those mechanics + techiques produce.

    Now, your game might be "working wrong" because:
    1. The mechanics suck.
    2. You're not playing it right for that game (there's a theoretically infinite number of doing it right outside this game).
    3. What the mechanics and play produce, whereas coherent, is not what you want out of a game.

    It's a cycle. 3 feeds right back into 1. If the game is not delivering what you expected, you might go out and declare the mechanics suck whereas everything is fine with them.


    For Vampire the Masquerade, there is one small thing about the mechanics that sucks objectively, because the math is broken. That does in no way make the game suck, unlike say, FATAL. VtM as such is an O.K. game. It actually has a bunch of cool mechanics (although I personally feel a lot of it could be thrown out, but that's because I like lighter, tighter mechanics...it's subjective).
    Then, the actual play experience...when a game sucks is A) because we're running/playing it wrong. We're not using the right techniques. I was just rereading the core manual a while back, and I place this blame squarely on the game text. Just like John Harper is in some sort of supernatural communion with the AW text, I know a lot of people can be in such a communion with Vampire (Jason, amongst others). But the book certainly sends a lot of mixed messages about what you're supposed to do with it, if you're not a "natural".

    or B) obviously. We're doing everything right, but we're still not having fun. It's not the right game for us. It's not the game's fault. We should just move on to something else, it's not delivering what we want. The answer to this used to be "rule 0", but frankly, I think that's just ass. I know many would disagree.

    ***
    I think a lot of this would be easier to talk about if we were talking about boardgames or other traditional games. Like, there's everything fine with chess, on a mechanical level. But if I'm A) trying to eat all your pawns instead of going for the king, I'm playing this game wrong, and I'm not having fun, because I'm not getting it. Or maybe my opponent is doing something like that and ruining my fun. So someone should explain it to him. We should talk about this game. Figure it out. Which brings us to...B) we're getting it and playing it right, but it's still not fun, because maybe I just don't like strategic, competitive play. The answer to this is not to go and fiddle with the rules of chess, or "talk to the other player".

    (Unless we're living in 4000B.C. and there is nothing else but chess around. In which chase, you know, we end up inventing new games. Ta-da, I just explained WoD->Sorcerer. No hard feelings involved.)
  • Posted By: TeataineJust like John Harper is in some sort of supernatural communion with the AW text
    Verily, I have tasted His body and His blood.

    (FYI: They taste like gunpowder and gasoline.)
  • Posted By: noclueJohn, when you say "hit with" it sounds as if it's meant as an attack. Maybe it's an honest question, like "do you want input? if so, what kind?" Asking why you've written something, is not the same as saying it shouldn't have been written. It seems like a reasonable question. If the answer is "because I just wanted to" then that would seem to be a fine answer.
    Absolutely. My bad for using such emotive language. I do now approach AP threads with that in mind, and that's as a result of such questions.
    John
  • I thought that the original purpose of AP was to understand what people meant when they said e.g. 'immersion'.
  • For me, talking about particular moments in play reveals very different things than talking about general impressions. The connection between the two is often non-obvious or counterintuitive for me, and inferring in either direction without actual examination gets it wrong a surprising amount of the time. "Oh, I didn't have a bad time because of the combat system; I had a bad time because the GM didn't know how to reward us for winning combats" or some such.
  • edited December 2010
    [wrong thread--too many tabs open]
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