Tell me if Polaris is broken

edited April 2011 in Story Games
I was involved in an interesting discussion with a fellow Danish blogger (in Danish, unfortunately, so I can't just link to it) about what he sees as differences between fx. American and Danish roleplayers when it comes to character advocacy in particular. I'll try and put Oliver's thoughts forward here, but he's around so he can chime in and correct me if I'm mis-representing him.

It's not really what I want to ask you guys, but for reference Oliver thinks that the American way is to root for your character to succeed and overcome obstacles, while the Danish (Nordic?) way is just as much to root for your character to fail and get knocked down, if it makes for a more interesting story. I don't quite see this split, and indeed several games endulge in making failure interesting (The Burning Games, AW etc.).

But following on from that, Oliver argues that some games' mechanics only work if you actively take the side of your player character and gives Polaris as an example. I don't have enough play experience with the game to judge whether he's right or wrong, so I hope some of you who have played a lot of it can help. Oliver is arguing along these lines:
In Polaris it's imperative to seek possibilities for being a hero and saving the world, while the game and your opponent will make sure you fail. On this road to failure it's important to be a proponent of the hero and help him because the bigger the fall when it happens. The game mechanics are sharply built towards that, and if you step outside the whole structure fails.

I don't think I agree with this, but I don't have any actual play examples to show. Any thoughts, actual play examples? Is Polaris broken?
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Comments

  • Polaris definitely requires character advocacy and pushing for positive shit, because your mistaken sure as hell isn't going to! I definitely don't think the game is broken in any sense however, and there are many examples of games that encourage you to cherish your characters downfall.

    In this context, what do you mean by broken?
  • Every time I've played Polaris or Thou Art But A Warrior it has been about failing differently. The Mistaken/Infidel wants one thing, you want another, maybe neither of them are a happy ending but both are an interesting ending.

    "Broken" is a hugely perjorative term. Personally I reserve it for games where 2+2=5, a category into which Polaris does not fall.
  • Broken as in "not working". I think in this context that if you as player don't want the same thing as your player character then the mechanics don't work. Arg! I dunno, I don't think I get it either.
  • Per,

    Remember when we played Polaris? We ran into this problem a bit. But I don't know if we could have fixed it on a second run-through. Probably!
  • That's my only actual play experience. It's been a while, can you remember any details? Who was the third player - Joe?
  • Yes, it was with Joe!

    I only remember a little of it, but I do remember this:

    I drove my character to a tragic death in his final scene, and it felt really awkward, because I would narrate something, and then you two would be like, "Yeah, OK. What next?"

    It was some kind of scene with the Senate (or whatever it's called in Polaris), and my Knight was making a case. In the end, he was pierced with icicles and died. (I'm poking fun a bit here; from what I remember our game was quite serious!)

    Anyway, it kinda fell flat because of that. There was no conflict. I remember talking about it with you two afterwards (unless it was just with Joe, but I don't think so). I'm pretty sure we considered that next time, the Mistaken might try to throw their own vision of how things should happen into play, instead.

    But I agree with this premise, whether it has to do with Danish/American styles or something entirely different: many/most games with strong character advocacy pretty strongly assume that the player will be pushing as hard as possible for the character's success, his/her hopes and dreams (e.g. TSoY, Polaris, Apocalypse World, etc). I would imagine many games will "void the warrantee" if they are not played this way, or will require a major change in the function of the GM/antagonist role.
  • Polaris is pretty clear about how it should be played, so I don't think this is a design flaw any more than AW's Principles are. If you play it in a way it's not designed to be played, your experience won't be as intended. It certainly sounds like you game might fall within those bounds!
  • Really, I think a more dominant aspect of American roleplaying is that players are often required to advocate for different outcomes, fictionally, in order for there to be interesting tensions and conflicts in the narrative of play. But, as Jason says, you can have that tension with two different negative or tragic outcomes being advocated. What sometimes makes things difficult, as folks seem to be implying above, is when somebody says "And then you fall down a cliff and your arm gets crushed!" and the other player, totally on board, says, "Yes! Hurt me more! Then what?" That's not so much about it being a problem when you push for a tragic ending, but that the players can't all be teaming up to push for similar narrative outcomes. Some players have to be advocating for the character or just advocating for other sorts of outcomes in order for productive tension to be created, which is often critical for engaging the mechanics as well. There's no taste of victory or defeat, no back and forth, if everybody's essentially aligned together.

    In Polaris, the Mistaken, Heart, and Moons are set up to be pushing for different kinds of results, based on their individual roles and interests. Sometimes the Moons are on the Heart's side, sometimes they ally with the Mistaken, sometimes they are independent. If that doesn't happen, if the players are all similarly aligned or don't assert their individuality, then, yeah, of course it's going to fall flat. That's one of the main points of the game!
  • I'd like to point out that if you want your character to fail and everyone else wants your character to fail, and then your character fails, there's not a whole lot of tension in the events.

    Shock: draws a lot from Polaris, but it doesn't assume that each Protagonist wants something good for the world. When they want something awful, their Antag is there to oppose them. It's the tension that makes real tragedy possible in both games.

  • Polaris is probably the most not broken story game of its generation. Advocating hard for the interests of your character* as your character perceives them is the most effective way to wind up with drama and interesting story. There may be heavy elements of irony as the players realize that their character's goals are not healthy for them. And there is often an appreciation for (and even an embracing of) that poignant moment where the tragedy hits. But actively pursuing that tragedy...abandoning your character and rooting for their failure is toxic. Such play isnot "playing" it is group mastabory emo-porn that could be better accomplished by writing short stories than through RPGs.

    Tragedy only has story merit when it accompanies Drama. Drama requires tension. Tension is only possible when goals are in opposition. Someone must be advocating for the character's goals. If everyone is against the character, there is no opposition, there is no Drama, there is no story. That's the whole purpose of the Heart vs. Mistaken split. Authors can get away with this because they can pretend that the character is advocating for themself even though they the writier are guarenteeing failure. But to do this in an RPG is pointless and defeats the purpose of roleplaying in a group in the first place. You'd be better served by just getting a pen and writing all the tragedy you want.



    *It would be possible to reverse this so that someone else was advocating for your character. In Polaris one would simply reverse which player was Heart and which Mistaken.
  • Don't pull your punches, Ralph, say what you really feel!

    I think for most of us there is a split personality thing going on. At the very least, if we were truly playing to "win" we wouldn't play Polaris/Fiasco/etc. Above and beyond that, often times I find myself sowing the seeds for my character's destruction while at the same time having my character do what he thinks will further his own best interests. I played Mountain Witch last week, for example, and because the GM doesn't know my dark fate (Fear comes true) at first it's up to me to provide the hooks whereby he can screw me (my young child stows away with us on our mission). Does that put me in the emo-porn camp or is that the heavy irony you speak of?

    I might agree that "American style" is to try to win - because Polaris doesn't represent most Americans, D&D does.

    I'm wondering how Danish games/style works now. Are they all just like, "I drink myself to death. I drink myself to death some more. Okay I'm dead." (Hey, how would you do "Leaving Las Vegas" as a story game?)
  • I'm with Ralph on this one - the group consensus shit repulses me as well, I've never quite understood why you would use a medium such as a story game to accomplish this - makes no sense at all to me.

    Good point from several of you stressing the need for tension to drive the drama - very true.
  • edited April 2011
    edit:comment removed due to oversnarkiness.
  • Ralph, what a load of rubbish. You're talking about one of the ways I like to play. If it's toxic, I've been poisoned for years.

    Per, it's probably a cultural thing. When I first played "A Taste for Murder", it fell flat because we were used to going for whatever was interesting - whether the character succeeds or fails isn't really the point for us; whatever is cool, gripping, reveals character etc is fun in the circles I play. When I play it now, I make sure to tell people "...and you have to actually root for your character, okay?" Then it works.

    When asked for good playing tips at a Jeepform panel, Frederik Berg Østergaard answered: "Lose more". That works very well in some games.
  • Yeah, gotta disagree with those opposed to anything other than character cheerleading.

    Especially in games like Fiasco, or the Shab-Al-Hiri Roach, you end up playing characters who are by turns horrible and victimized - but more often than not I look forward to their fates. When I play one I like, I advocate (as much as that is possible) and when I don't like them, I advocate but relish their comeuppance. Neither is the "right" approach, especially in Fiasco where there's very little way to mechanically bias the Aftermath in your favour unless the rest of the table is on board - and even then it's not guaranteed.
  • edited April 2011
    How you will guide your protagonists

    Each player in the group serves in a different capacity as a guide to the protagonist and a shepherd to his story. To this end, each one is said to have guidance over a specific set of story elements. Only the player with guidance over the proper character can make a statement in the story about that character, although other players are strongly encouraged to make suggestions. The different guides are:

    The Heart guides the protagonist himself, and can make definitive statements about his actions, their results, his health, emotions, and general status. The Heart’s main responsibility in play is to react to the situations presented by the other players and play aggressively: making judgments, taking decisive action, and moving the story forward. The Heart is also responsible for maintenance of the Cosmos (see below). When there is conflict, the Heart negotiates in favor of the protagonist.

    The Mistaken guides the antagonists of the story, including all demons, and also guides the environment and background of the story. The Mistaken’s main responsibility in play is to create conflict for the Heart to respond to — difficult situations, difficult battles, difficult choices. She plays the demons to the hilt, as vicious and nasty creatures, and at the same time makes sure that there is as much threat from those amongst the people that have turned against the knights. Perhaps the most important demons that the Mistaken must guide are the dark temptations within the Knight’s mind, which is why, in conflict, the Mistaken negotiates for the demons.

    The Full Moon guides the social and hierarchical realms of the story, including guiding all the secondary characters with
    whom the protagonist has a primarily societal or hierarchical relationship, like fellow knights, artistic colleagues, commanding officers, senators, or emotionally distant family members. The Full Moon also guides minor male characters not present in the Cosmos. The Full Moon’s main role in play is to introduce these characters, support their interests, and allow them to at times conflict with knight, at times aid him. In conflict, the Full Moon takes a referee role, making judgments about the fairness of the maneuvers between the Mistaken and the Heart.

    The New Moon guides the personal and interpersonal realms of the story, including guiding all the secondary characters with whom the protagonist has a primarily emotional and personal relationship, like lovers, close friends, and some family members. The New Moon also guides minor female characters not present in the Cosmos. The New Moon’s main role in play is to introduce these characters, support their interests, and allow them to at times ask too much of the knight, at times support him. In conflict, the New Moon works with the full moon in a referee role, making judgments about the fairness of the maneuvers between the Mistaken and the Heart.
  • If you can't separate your desires from your character's desires, then rooting for their failure is counter-productive.

    But if you can be of two minds about it, the dramatic irony can really make for good drama.

    I do not believe that it is my responsibility to see that my character (in any game) always actively bends the situation to his or her best possible advantage. I believe it is my responsibility to reflect how they would behave in the moment, and let the setting and the world punish or reward them as thematically appropriate for that fiction.

    Polaris does this very well.

    I see a difference in playing a game, and "rooting for your character's success or failure." The later is side-band table-talk. No matter the game, the game itself allows you a certain set of moves. You use the moves available to you to accomplish what you want. Telegraphing "why" is irrelevant, and isn't a layer of the game I'm interested in.

    Polaris doesn't allow table-chatter, so how could any of that be "broken"?
    You have roles, and so long as you take them on, we haven't had a bad game.
  • For the record, I think Ralph is wrong as far as "player tension --> narrative tension" being the only way to structure meaningful narrative, and I've said that for a long time.

    But it's important to recognize that a lot of games assume that sort of dynamic and the mechanics often won't have any teeth or won't make any sense if you try to interact with them in another fashion. Polaris is a good enough text, as Ben pointed out, that it explicitly tells you that this sort of advocacy is expected.

    There are plenty of other ways to play, though. But not every method works well with every ruleset.
  • I better step in and hijack the conversation, seeing as I started this mess.

    It was never my point that Polaris is broken, I can see a very tight game design in it. It's a game that I would dearly love to see work, but the gaming tradition I've been learning to play in, is really hard to leave behind when playing other forms of games.

    My original thought is that the prevailing danish way of playing has some idiosyncracies that interrupt the flow of some games. For example we have a strong culture of deep character immersion that sometimes interrupt the gamier elements of storygames and the narrativist agenda.

    The issue here is that we really don't believe in the czege principle as an axiom of gaming. When I explain it to danes, many reply that they know their characters best and therefore are the best at getting them in trouble. We really love beating up our characters and wallow in their tragedy.

    I've also seen these things crop up in games of Shock, Poison'd and Fiasco, to name a few. The only storygame I've seen make it through repeatedly is PTA. (I suspect it is because the mechanics of the game can be put aside until needed, unlike many other games.)
  • edited April 2011
    Posted By: Per Fischerthe group consensus shit repulses me as well, I've never quite understood why you would use a medium such as a story game to accomplish this - makes no sense at all to me.
    Per Fischer, what do you mean by group consensus? In what context?
  • Thanks, everyone! As I said in the original post, I don't think Polaris is broken, also not in this particular case, and it seems that's the general gist. Cool!

    The discussion I had with Oliver did originate in him saying that the Czege principle doesn't work for Danish gamers (or they don't believe it's "true"), where he then used Polaris as an example, hence my posting here about Polaris specifically. Just FYI.

    So let's take it from there if anyone feels like it :)
  • I think the Czege Principle is often oversimplified for some reason. The key problem is conflict AND resolution being decided by the same person - it's boring. Why be in a social group for a game if that group's input isn't important? You may as well be wanking quietly in a darkened closet.

    But I enjoy getting my characters knee-deep in shit; I just don't also want to say how they get out of it.

    So, in the danish tradition, do you determine adversity and resolution? If so, how does that make your gaming differ from other traditions, and where is the mechanical and social interaction between the players?
  • I really can't compare to many other play styles, as I only have second hand experience with those.

    We don't really think too much in terms of conflict and resolution, it's quite often just pure role playing maybe with some limited narration rights thrown in. The game design isn't founded in mechanics, but more in terms of prewritten characters and story.

    The character setup and story flow or scene setting drives the characters to conflict while the players cooperate to create the experience. The focus is often on choices and consequences, rather than challenges or conflicts. If resolution is needed it is mostly found via group consensus or gm fiat.

    There's been a movenment from the indie tradition to include simple mechanics to create resolution or distribute narration rights in the games, but it isn't universal.
  • So I assume there's a strong tradition of character ownership as well? Is consensus or fiat more common?
  • edited April 2011
    Posted By: ValamirPolaris is probably the most not broken story game of its generation. Advocating hard for the interests of your character* as your character perceives them is the most effective way to wind up with drama and interesting story. There may be heavy elements of irony as the players realize that their character's goals are not healthy for them. And there is often an appreciation for (and even an embracing of) that poignant moment where the tragedy hits. But actively pursuing that tragedy...abandoning your character and rooting for their failure is toxic. Such play isnot "playing" it is group mastabory emo-porn that could be better accomplished by writing short stories than through RPGs.
    I agree with the content of this, but certainly not the word "advocacy" to describe it. All you're saying is that you make decisions on behalf of a character seeking their goals, not that you yourself fight for those goals as an advocate fights for the goals of their client. It sucks to hang on a clockface and everyone is laughing at you. An advocate for a character would certainly never permit such an outcome to occur, nor would they enjoy it if it did. "Fuck!!!! My guy is hanging from a clockface! THIS IS AWFUL, I HATE THE GAME!"

    But you're right, a player who doesn't say "Well, yes, all right, my guy agrees to climb another floor and switch places with Bill there" based on his character's love for his Best Girl isn't going to create great situations.

    "Advocacy" is the wrong word. It's not advocacy, take it from an advocate. It's just roleplaying, in the good old "announce what your character would do in this situation!" way.

    Edit: oh uh yeah so this is an international thread and people might not know what im talking about dur dur dur. sorry. This is what I'm talking about. And here's the full film.
  • Posted By: ValamirPolaris is probably the most not broken story game of its generation. Advocating hard for the interests of your character* as your character perceives them is the most effective way to wind up with drama and interesting story. There may be heavy elements of irony as the players realize that their character's goals are not healthy for them. And there is often an appreciation for (and even an embracing of) that poignant moment where the tragedy hits. But actively pursuing that tragedy...abandoning your character and rooting for their failure is toxic. Such play is not "playing" it is group mastabory emo-porn that could be better accomplished by writing short stories than through RPGs.

    Tragedy only has story merit when it accompanies Drama. Drama requires tension. Tension is only possible when goals are in opposition. Someone must be advocating for the character's goals. If everyone is against the character, there is no opposition, there is no Drama, there is no story. That's the whole purpose of the Heart vs. Mistaken split. Authors can get away with this because they can pretend that the character is advocating for themself even though they the writier are guarenteeing failure. But to do this in an RPG is pointless and defeats the purpose of roleplaying in a group in the first place. You'd be better served by just getting a pen and writing all the tragedy you want.
    Doesn't a lot of this depend on your goals for playing?

    For example, when I GM certain games, I don't advocate 100% for my NPCs. I will use them to oppose the player's characters but only to the extent that it supports the goal of the game. If it's pure competition, I will advocate the NPCs hard. If it's a thematic game, I'll advocate only as hard as I need to in service of that theme. If I'm running D&D 4E or 3E as written, my goal in early encounters is to dwindle resources, not push so hard that it leads to a premature TPK.

    That said, I do agree that if a conflict isn't a real conflict, it doesn't have tension for those directly involved. Although if my goal is to create tension in my audience, then this doesn't hold as much truth. You see this frequently in LARPs. Characters may be in conflict, but the goal isn't to create tension amongst the combatants but rather the audience who are also roleplaying in the game.

    Even purely as a player, I will often make decisions that go against my character's interests. Instead of having a conflict, I will "say yes" to my opposition to put my character in a terrible situation. Often because I think it would be more fun for me to then advocate hard for my character from this new situation. In other words, I may hose my character in scene 1 so that I can fight hard for them in scene 2 from a position that is more interesting to me. If it’s a game where players can scene frame, then I will scene frame myself into that position. But if I don't have that power, then I will let the opposition beat me early on so I can have a more dramatic time fighting them later. Common examples: letting the bad guy get away so we can have a more dramatic fight later or letting myself get captured so that I can later fight my way to freedom. In games like Call of Cthulhu, we constantly play against our character's interests to create a more entertaining time for the players.

    One thing I love about many RPGs, they are flexible. I can be in a group with different ways of playing and still make it work. One person can be speaking in first person to another person speaking in third person… and the conversation works! Or one person can be advocating hard for their character while another person is using their character as a puppet to create new interesting situations.

    Ultimately I think a lot of this depends on what your goals are. One person's broken will be another person's awesomess. Some old school D&D players consider speaking in character to be toxic. Some LARPers consider rolling dice to be toxic. If your goal is to feel real tension, I agree that you likely need real conflict.
  • edited April 2011
    Posted By: J. WaltonFor the record, I think Ralph is wrong as far as "player tension --> narrative tension" being the only way to structure meaningful narrative, .
    You don't think "Ralph is wrong"...because Ralph never said that.

    The goals that "have to be in opposition" are not player goals, they're character goals. The character has to want SOMETHING that it feels it should have. WE as players might realize (and often do) that that something is going to cause more harm than good, but that is NOT the same as intentionally driving towards tragedy and wallowing in their misery. The character believes that the goal it is seeking is good for it*. They are not pursuing that goal wanting it to end in fiasco. They are pursuing that goal believing it is in their best interests. Since they cannot pursue it themselves, being of course fictional, we have to pursue it for them. But we have to pursue it for them as they would pursue it...and they would not pursue it by actively seeking for it to end badly. We, who are also audience, can often often see the bad end coming. And we as players may choose not to avoid that bad end if we judge our characters as being unable to perceive it. But we should not actively steer for a misery that our characters would have the awareness and will to avoid.

    Its not about the player wanting to "win"; that's a red herring. Its about playing your character as if your character wanted to win* (for whatever definition of success the character has in the given situation...success that we as players may well view as being pretty horrific). And that means making decisions on the character's behalf that move that character closer to achieving their goals, just as they would make them if they could make them for themselves. Intentionally sabotaging your own character because you think that would make the story more "interesting" is counter productive to producing interesting story in an RPG medium**
    Posted By: RivoClavis For example we have a strong culture of deep character immersion that sometimes interrupt the gamier elements of storygames and the narrativist agenda.

    The issue here is that we really don't believe in the czege principle as an axiom of gaming. When I explain it to danes, many reply that they know their characters best and therefore are the best at getting them in trouble. We really love beating up our characters and wallow in their tragedy.
    This is a self contradictory statement. It cannot be true that you both are immersed in your character AND intentionally getting them in trouble and beating them up. Unless your character is Tyler Durden, he does not go around intentionally beating himself up. Therefor, if you as a player ARE doing so...then by definition you are not immersed in that character, you are floating above him like an author chosing when to fuck with one of the characters you are writing. If you are immersed in the character, acting as the character would, making decisions for the character that the character would make, then your choices may lead to tragedy...(and you may well LOVE it when they do) but you should not seek it out intentionally...because no character* would actually do so.***
    Posted By: JDCorleyI agree with the content of this, but certainly not the word "advocacy" to describe it.
    I don't know what else to call it. The behavior I'm describing has always been called character advocacy in every conversation I've seen. Probably too late to change the terminology. Also, I'm not clear on the distinction between these two behaviors
    All you're saying is that you make decisions on behalf of a character seeking their goals, not that you yourself fight for those goals as an advocate fights for the goals of their client.
    that you're drawing here.


    * Exception: If you're actually playing a highly self aware self destructive character who is seeking their own doom.

    ** There are some nuances around enforcing genre convention that are important to this broader issue that I'm leaving out here.

    *** For clarity for those who've read other things of mine before: no, I'm not advocating immersion here. I often play "floating above the character". But even so, you still must be making decisions for your character that your character would make. If in fiction land your character is pausing, looking up at you and saying "wtf? I'm gonna do what?" then whatever drama you think you're creating is going to be hollow, artificial, forced, and not at all believable.
  • Ralph, we're really into tragic, self-destructive stories. I see a lot of danish roleplaying stories being about a character wrecking everything around him, in a downward spiral. Maybe there's a moment of redemption at the end where the character changes his ways, but it is often just as satisfying to play it all the way down.

    It's about living and feeling the character while we as players are aware that it will end badly, the characters are never perfect, never in control of themselves or their surroundings. They most likely know that they are making the wrong choices, going against their own best interest. But it doesn't change their path.

    As I said, it's a different play preference, it doesn't run on the same conventions and traditions that I see in this community. I was originally pointing out to Per that even though the premise of Polaris really ressonates with people here, our way of doing such stories makes it very hard to use the game as intended.

    Please don't call badwrongfun on it because it doesn't follow the rules of how you play.
  • edited April 2011
    Matthijs is absolutely right. It's a cultural thing.

    The first time he played A Taste For Murder, it didn't work. I needed to explain that, yes, you needed to advocate for your character. No, of course it won't work if you play your character to fail. I explained this with some incredulity. (Why, I thought, would anyone drive their character towards failure? How could that be fun?)

    Ralph, to a large extent, I think you're doing that thing where you can't see your cultural bias. It seems utterly, utterly obvious to you that a certain play style won't work, but in other cultural contexts, it works fine.
  • Rivo, I am entirely agnostic as to whether you are into tragic self-destructive stories. If you are...great. Fantastic. More power to you. For the record, I LOVE playing Polaris, and that's the only kind of story Polaris produces...I get it. In fact, I have never played an RPG that does tragic self-destructive stories BETTER than Polaris.

    Thing is, ist is the Mistaken's job to bring that tragedy, not the Heart's. Its the Mistaken's job to put the character in situations where the Heart player, advocating for their character, has no good options..no happy ending...no way to get off scott free. And the rules of Polaris make that a certaintude.

    When you play the Heart, there is no way you are going to manage to get a happy ending for your character. There is no way your character is going to get out unscarred. There is no way to avoid the tragedy...hell, the game's only two options are death (typically horrific) or betrayal. But you have to TRY. You have to play to the hilt your character's effort to save the world, get the girl, destroy the demons, and restore civilization...and, at least until you become "veteran", you have to play the character as believing they CAN actually achieve the happy ending.

    Don't worry. You won't get it. You'll get all the tragedy you can handle. And when you do "level up" to veteran, your character will start to become fully aware of their own impending doom and can be played accordingly. If your Mistaken is doing their job, your character probably WILL wind up making things worse rather than better, "wrecking everthing around him in a downward spiral"...that's EXACTLY the stories you'll tell with Polaris. But its the Mistaken's job to make that happen, NOT the Heart's. So yes, if you are doing that to your own character as the Heart, you are playing WRONG. Period, Paragraph, Fin. As the Heart player you can (and should if you're going to enjoy the game) fully revel in and enjoy watching the excruciating hell the Mistaken is putting your character through. But you CAN'T help them do it. You have to fight them with every bit as much effort and skill as your character would be fighting them with.


    And yes, IMO that is not only true of Polaris, which does a fantastic job of encoding that into the rules text, it is true of ALL roleplaying. OTHER players are the sources of the antagonism that your character encounters.. That's not your job. Your job is to play your character and negotiate those sources of antagonism as best you can. This is entirely seperate from enjoying your own character's tragedy vs. wanting your character to win as a player. They aren't even really related. Your job as a player is to play your character's efforts to struggle against the antagonism...regardless of how much you the player are enjoying watching your character suffer. It is other people at the table (GM, other players, in Polaris the "Mistaken") whose job it is to represent and hit you with that antagonism, not yours.

    If you are providing the antagonism for your own character AND negotiating that antagonism on your character's behalf...then you are not roleplaying. You are authoring fiction.

    I'll say that again: If you are both the source of the antogonism facing your character, and your character's voice in dealing with that antagonism, then you are an author, writing your character's story, not a roleplayer playing your character..

    Is that badwrongfun? No. Of course not. Lots of people are authors and lots of people enjoy reading authored stories. But trying to use an RPG as a writing tool for authors and then blaming the RPG for not fulfilling that role IS bad and wrong.
  • Ralph, I am completely aware of how Polaris is supposed to work, what the players are supposed to do and how that shapes the play. That is not the issue here.

    I am saying that it is an interesting point of conflict between to ways of playing, that on the surface seek identical goals. I'm sure we can have the exact same amount of fun doing the same tragic story with both ways. But the foundation of those two ways of looking at roleplaying is where the interesting bits of difference emerge to me. I have seen plenty of wonderful roleplaying experiences emerge from people blatantly providing their own adversity, I'm sorry you have not.

    Also, now it looks to me like you've replaced badwrongfun with "it's not roleplaying," which to me is worse. There is no one true way of playing, even if one is more based on literary views, than another based on games. The theories are not universal, they're based in specific cultures and traditions.
  • It can be totally fun to drive your character toward failure! You want to see what they'll do to try to succeed, though, right? If the rules are working, you can simultaneously drive the character with all of their passions while fucking them over good.

    Otherwise, it's like everyone playing on the same side of a chess board. Ha ha. Take that, White. Not much fun, is it?

  • Well, it wouldn't be like that. He said they don't do conflict and resolution. It's essentially freeform.
  • Posted By: Graham It seems utterly, utterly obvious to you that a certain play style won't work, but in other cultural contexts, it works fine.
    The play culture is part of the system. When the assumptions align with the written rules, they support play. When they don't, you get interference. This is a great example.

    In Ben's rules it is specified whose job it is to oppose/promote the character's agenda. That aspect of Danish style play took those job assignments and mixed them around. Since no one advocated for the character the tension that should have been there was missing. Same with Taste of Murder.

    I'm tempted to talk about mountains and mole hills, but it really is a big issue. When I look at the text of some danish games, I feel like a lot of the underlying rules--stuff that comes from the play culture--is missing. If you haven't played with a Dane, you might not know what to do. And here it is going the other way: Ben and Graham spelled it out, but it still wasn't clear until directly addressed. How to communicate better?
  • Posted By: ValamirYour job is to play your character and negotiate those sources of antagonism as best you can. This is entirely seperate from enjoying your own character's tragedy vs. wanting your character to win as a player. They aren't even really related. Your job as a player is to play your character's efforts to struggle against the antagonism...regardless of how much you the player are enjoying watching your character suffer. It is other people at the table (GM, other players, in Polaris the "Mistaken") whose job it is to represent and hit you with that antagonism, not yours.

    If you are providing the antagonism for your own character AND negotiating that antagonism on your character's behalf...then you are not roleplaying. You are authoring fiction.

    I'll say that again: If you are both the source of the antogonism facing your character, and your character's voice in dealing with that antagonism, then you are an author, writing your character's story, not a roleplayer playing your character..

    Is that badwrongfun? No. Of course not. Lots of people are authors and lots of people enjoy reading authored stories. But trying to use an RPG as a writing tool for authors and then blaming the RPG for not fulfilling that role IS bad and wrong.
    I'm not sure what you mean as "negotiate those sources of antagonism". Let me try two examples from Polaris. I'm a knight in a fight with a demon that has been set up as particularly tough. Here are two statements I might make:

    1) "I lunge desperately to chop off his head, and my sword cleaves through his neck in one stroke."

    2) "I lunge desperately to chop off his head, and my sword shatters against his stone-hard flesh."

    I'd say that both of these are role-playing from the first part, but both of them are not role-playing in the second part. In particular, both #1 and #2 involve equal role-playing. Yet what we are discussing is that #2 can be problematic for Polaris in particular. I don't think that's true for all games, though.

    This isn't always the case, though. For example, in Spirit of the Century, I've found that players are often really good at suggesting strong compels against their Aspects. Players often have great ideas for what would be a good source of antagonism for their character.
  • edited April 2011
    I've always been an advocate of cross-cultural editing. If you're a Forgite, get a Jeepie to read your game, and vice versa. That way you can uncover a lot of fruitful confusion.

    For me, trying to play the earliest Forge games was a mind-bending experience. I attacked them like an anthropologist would an alien artifact. It was a great learning experience. Sometimes it was awesome, sometimes a trainwreck. We'd sit for hours before and after play, discussing how on earth we were actually supposed to play this or that game. Feeling like there was gold in there somewhere, and getting - at times - really mad at the authors for not bothering to explain how to get at it.

    EDIT: One thing I remember we really struggled with was the idea of wrestling for narrative control - like in Universalis. The basic assumption that we'd disagree on where the story should go, and that this would be a driving force for the game's mechanisms, didn't fit our group.
  • edited April 2011
    EDIT: Removed a comment that wouldn't really make the world a better place, although I enjoyed writing it.
  • Joshua, we danes sure do love playing on the same side of the chess board. We find the reward of the game to come from vigorous creative agreement and seeing a collective effort succeed. More play, less game.

    Emily & Matthijs, you've dug nice and deep into what I've been trying to uncover from this. When I first discovered the story games way of playing, it was really hard to do cold. I bought Shock online, having never tried this strange form of gaming. It wasn't until I had read a dozen different games, read and listened to actual play, that I understood the mindset that lies beneath. I now consider myself fairly good at storygaming, but it is a continual effort to explain how my friends need to approach the games. It can for example be really hard for them to accept how the rules system contribute to generating the story and not just getting in the way of telling it.

    The same goes for narrative control, as I can see Matthijs also has experienced. I'll be running Fiasco at this year's Fastaval and my biggest concern is how to get the point across with regards to sharply dividing between establishing and resolving the scenes. When I try it, both often end up being decided by group consensus. The game loses some of it's edge that way, in my opinion, but it is still playable and creates the right kind of story.
  • The games of Fiasco I played involved a fair amount of vigorous agreement.
  • I'm wondering whether Accomplishments, the final stage of character creation in Dogs in the Vineyard, brings more in this into focus. )Generally speaking, I'm in the "Story Games assume this advocacy, but that's culturally conditioned" camp.)

    Dogs gives players options for failure--you can tactically decide to take the blow, or you can give whenever you want--but those options (usually) ramp up your effectiveness in later conflicts. In other words you can fail any time you like, but the system pushes you to advocate for your character.

    However, the Accomplishment stage of character creation attacks the problem of advocacy for or advocacy against directly. Vincent proposes two ways of doing things (we're on p. 16 of my edition):

    1. When your accomplishement is "straightforward" the player plays his/her character and the GM takes the character's opposition.

    2. However, if "your accomplishment for your character is growth, learning, or a change of habits, then we play a little trick: you take the part of your character AS HE OR SHE IS, and I take the part of whatever forces or pressures are on your character to change."

    For someone who has played primarily North American games, this is a bit of a mind fuck, but it straightforwardly shows two things: 1) That the game is set up so that dice play is for the character's advantage; and 2) you can play against your character's advantage, but only if the incentives of the dice system are switched around. Note that your character's better nature can win at any time--you just have to let it.

    As an example, I think it demonstrates both the possibility of playing against your character and the difficulty that the systems of most Storygames pose to that problem.
  • edited April 2011
    Fiasco is a good example here, maybe, since it's more in the "freeform"/vigorous agreement camp than a "conflict-based Forge game".

    Because in more "freeform" play, conflicts are essentially resolved through some kind of fiat or consensus, right? I think that's why we have:
    Posted By: MatthijsWhen asked for good playing tips at a Jeepform panel, Frederik Berg Østergaard answered: "Lose more". That works very well in some games.
    If you're playing in a fairly "freeform" situation, someone has to decide to "lose" when a conflict in the story comes up. If you and I are fighting, one of us *has* to, sooner or later, say, "OK, I'm defeated, you win." (Or else the entire group has to somehow make that happen, but one of us still has to accept that outcome to keep playing.) So, agreeing to "lose" is an important part of freeform play, or it grinds down into... I-don't-know-what.

    As far as I can see, this is kind of like 'resolving a scene' in Fiasco: most likely, it was 'established' by other players, maybe just your opponent, maybe the whole group working together.

    Can we use some examples from play to describe what we're talking about? That might help us get on the same page, whether they're real examples or made-up ones.

    For example:

    One player: "The stone monster lunges at Sir Gabriel!"
    A second player: "Sir Gabriel ducks to the side and swings his sword at the stone monster, but it bounces off the monster's skin, shattering to pieces! Sir Gabriel falls to the ground, weeping with shame."
    The first player: "Haha! The monster towers over Sir Gabriel, lifting its stone fists high above the knight's head, ready to crush him to death."
    The second player: "Sir Gabriel cowers in fear, prepared to die, as a lone tear for all those he has failed rolls down his cheek."

    What's going on here? Where do we go next? If I was at that table, I would be confused about what to do next, unless Sir Gabriel's death seemed like a great way to finish the scene: but even then, who should be the one to decide that now is the time? It seems like both player one and player two are hesitant to do so.

    On the other hand, maybe the second player has more to add: "... but, at the very last moment, he rolls out of the way and flees toward the forest." This would be something like what John (jenskot) is describing: it's a middle ground where player two is advocating for his character, sure... he just wants to see him get into a little more trouble first, to escalate the drama, or to help the other player establish the fearsome nature of his opposition.

    Can this example be a functional form of roleplaying, if player two is playing Sir Gabriel? What would it look like in your group?

    Now, what if player one is playing Sir Gabriel? Would this ever happen? What would it look like?


    [Edit: Dogs accomplishments! A great example, too. I hope we can chat about that one. I've never seen a successful "reverse accomplishment" scene.]
  • edited April 2011
    Posted By: ValamirAlso, I'm not clear on the distinction between these two behaviorsAll you're saying is that you make decisions on behalf of a character seeking their goals, not that you yourself fight for those goals as an advocate fights for the goals of their client.
    that you're drawing here.

    I understand, many jargon ships have sailed, leaving us with non-narrative Narrativism, non-simulation Simulationism, non-impossible non-things not-before-breakfast Impossible Things Before Breakfast and now I suppose we are stuck with non-advocacy Advocacy. Sigh.

    Anyway, to the distinction!

    An advocate is someone who looks at a situation, looks at your goals, and does their best to guide you to those goals using their wisdom, thinking, experience, and knowledge. "You shouldn't climb the outside wall," the advocate says sagely, putting a hand on The Boy's shoulder. "That will get you in trouble with the police and your best girl is so in love with you that she'll understand that you just need a little more time. She's waited this long, right? Right. Now here's what you're going to do to get that money so you can send for your best girl and you won't end up dangling from a clockface in a dangerous position. First you're going to go apologize to the police officer and say it was all a big misunderstanding..."

    Whereas someone who is roleplaying says "Oh man, I've just GOT to get that prize money! I start climbing!" The roleplaying person creates the hilarious situation and great story, the advocate inerringly guides the character away from their own mistaken passions.

    To say a player advocates for a character is to say the player guides the character towards the character's goals with the player's knowledge and drives and thinking. You don't hire a lawyer because the lawyer goes off half-cocked and screams at your neighbor to stop throwing garbage over the wall, that's something you do yourself. You hire a lawyer to advocate for you exactly because the lawyer will NOT do that in pursuing your goal.
  • you're right, that term sux.

    What do you use?
  • I'm confused by a number of things in this thread, but the most obvious one is why its not obvious to others that the issue is actually not one of advocating for your character, its actually caring about how your character ends up enough for conflict to be possible. It seems to me that in Per's Polaris game the Mistaken was missing a vital opportunity to fulfill their game role by not figuring out how to inhibit the Heart player's designs on how the character should be coming to a bloody, horrible end. If the Heart only wants to see the character burn and doesn't much care how it happens -- well, in terms of simple story narrative, they've got some crappy stories.

    Perhaps the Danes just have a cultural affinity for crappy stories, but I don't think literary history really bears that out.

    The Mistaken player has to observe what's going on and then consciously go for the antagonism, or the Heart won't care and you get bland, limp stories. If they can't do that, or won't do it, you get bland, limp stories. If its all collaborative hand-holding on the Road to Doom ... why bother playing Polaris, which is all about jumping right into someone's way with both arms outstretched and saying, "OK, fight for it!", whatever it is? Write a freakin' story together. You don't have conflicts to resolve, why are you even playing a game?

    Oddly enough, it was Capes that put its finger right on making that aspect of narrative GM-less gaming clearest to me. You have to create Conflicts people will care about. Anything they care about. If you don't play dangerous, there's no story, no one cares. And whatever someone cares about, that's what you go after with violence aforethought. You have to target what they care about, or there's no story. In Capes, its very clear when you're succeeding and when you're failing with that and the mechanics make it explicit; good play and good Conflicts gets you more tokens to build more story with. Polaris goes off in a similar direction with less immediate feedback available on a per-scene basis for knowing how well you're doing; its more an issue encoded in the roles than the process. That's what the Mistaken's there to do, to antagonize in the purest sense.

    In closing, I'd like to reply to Matthijs when he says:

    "One thing I remember we really struggled with was the idea of wrestling for narrative control - like in Universalis. The basic assumption that we'd disagree on where the story should go, and that this would be a driving force for the game's mechanisms, didn't fit our group."

    Why were you playing a game, then? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical question. What was the point in having a set of rules to mediate conflicts if you don't have conflicts at the level of the rules? That's not useful and its not fruitful. That's not to say you shouldn't be playing together, just that you shouldn't be playing games together. Vaguely as if you said you played Monopoly, but run it as a communal pool of money and the die rolls were just suggestions. It goes well beyond "What's the point?" and over into "Aren't there more rewarding contexts for your time?"

    Sometimes I think people really just don't want to play games, they want a communal social context and they're terribly confused and think they need rules for it as an excuse. This is one of those times.

  • Like I say, I just use "roleplaying".

    Anyway, to the topic of the thread, I think there's probably not as huge a distinction as people are making it out to be here. To use Paul T.'s freeform example:
    Posted By: Paul T.One player: "The stone monster lunges at Sir Gabriel!"
    A second player: "Sir Gabriel ducks to the side and swings his sword at the stone monster, but it bounces off the monster's skin, shattering to pieces! Sir Gabriel falls to the ground, weeping with shame."
    The first player: "Haha! The monster towers over Sir Gabriel, lifting its stone fists high above the knight's head, ready to crush him to death."
    The second player: "Sir Gabriel cowers in fear, prepared to die, as a lone tear for all those he has failed rolls down his cheek."
    I think the "prepared to die" here is the centerpiece of the scene - it reflects something in the knight's character/passions, the action (cowering, etc.) is based on the desires and priorities of the knight. Saying "he's prepared to die" is a strong statement right in the wheelhouse of what I think Valamir is saying about connecting character action to character needs/goals.

    Certainly there's a difference (and maybe we can talk about which character passions/goals/beliefs/etc create stories to our taste), but it is a very fine one.
  • edited April 2011
    Posted By: SquidLordIn closing, I'd like to reply to Matthijs when he says:"One thing I remember we really struggled with was the idea of wrestling for narrative control - like in Universalis. The basic assumption that we'd disagree on where the story should go, and that this would be a driving force for the game's mechanisms, didn't fit our group."Why were you playing a game, then? Seriously, that's not a rhetorical question. What was the point in having a set of rules to mediate conflicts if you don't have conflicts at the level of the rules? That's not useful and its not fruitful.
    Well, that's not quite what Matthijs is saying, is it? They might have plenty of conflicts at the level of the rules that don't have to do with "where the story goes". I think a considerable percentage of RPG play is like this. Ask a group of D&D players how the story of their next adventure will go and they will have a tremendous amount of agreement. There'll be some opportunity or danger that presents itself, they'll try to face it, they'll have some setbacks and dig around to find out what's really going on, they'll set some intermediary goals maybe and then face off with the problem and prevail. Pretty much none of the conflict mediated by D&D rules is about "how the story will go" from a birds-eye view. It's all about the development of the story, the details of what happens and to who, and the possibility of a not-unwanted twist at an unexpected time. No reason Universalis should be any different.

    Edit: I guess I should have said "there's no reason Universalis MUST be different."
  • Posted By: JDCorleyWell, that's not quite what Matthijs is saying, is it? They might have plenty of conflicts at the level of the rules that don't have to do with "where the story goes". I think a considerable percentage of RPG play is like this. Ask a group of D&D players how the story of their next adventure will go and they will have a tremendous amount of agreement. There'll be some opportunity or danger that presents itself, they'll try to face it, they'll have some setbacks and dig around to find out what's really going on, they'll set some intermediary goals maybe and then face off with the problem and prevail. Pretty much none of the conflict mediated by D&D rules is about "how the story will go" from a birds-eye view. It's all about the development of the story, the details of what happens and to who, and the possibility of a not-unwanted twist at an unexpected time. No reason Universalis should be any different.
    Except that's exactly what he's saying. Especially in the context of Universalis, all those conflicts are explicitly about "where the story is going." Hell, I think its fair to say that every part of the narrative is about where the story goes at some level. The very definition of conflict. In the context of D&D, whether your character is flat on his back in the dust or on his feet doing At Wills is explicitly and entirely about how the story will go and at least one person at the table is invested in a different outcome than another.

    I've only played one game-system where there could reasonably be said that the players are all in one-mind on the direction and no conflict exists between them on the levels we've been speaking of, the Two-Hour Wargames All Things Zombie, Warrior Heroes and such, and that purely and only because the mechanics themselves driven by randomizers act as the "opposition" in play and same-side groups run with -- in theory -- the same narrative ends in mind. And even then, out of all the games I've ever run of ATZ, I think there's only been one case where no one started shooting at someone else to leave them as zombie bait. Needless to say, they had narrative differences which the mechanics helped resolve.

    Even in the above, antagonism is being provided from an external source to the individual player, its just mechanized. The player has explicitly committed to caring about something by committing to play the game rules and they are opposed. Per's been talking about not even having an external source of conflict because everyone's in agreement and Matthjis stated outright that the idea that the players should disagree on where the story goes as being a driving force for play didn't work for his group. All I'm saying is that if you don't have any differences in desires imposed from without on how the story should go, you're not playing a game or shouldn't be playing a game. Period. There's no need to pretend, no need to whitewash it, if you don't want to have some conflict between players about ends ... you're probably not playing a game. If you have no common buy-in about where you want things to go and have taken on board an externally sourced conflict, you're not playing a game and shouldn't be.

    Writing a story together is not a game. It can be fun, and it might be exciting, and it might be about conflicts, but its not a game. Story Gaming implicitly suggests you've bought in on the process of playing a game and the "mechanics matter" crowd makes it explicit that there will be conflicts between player directions and it systematically exists to resolve them in them in interesting ways.

    So, to bring it around to the original question: No, Per, Polaris isn't broken. Your understanding of it seems to have been and your play certainly might be, but the systems in Polaris which demand your players (Mistaken) figure out what the Hearts want and oppose it isn't. That's the game.
  • edited April 2011
    Posted By: SquidLord

    So, to bring it around to the original question: No, Per, Polaris isn't broken. Your understanding of it seems to have been and your play certainly might be
    What? I think you're barking up the wrong three here entirely. Did you read post #1 and #22?

    What?
  • Posted By: SquidLordEspecially in the context of Universalis, all those conflicts are explicitly about "where the story is going." Hell, I think its fair to say that every part of the narrative is about where the story goes at some level. The very definition of conflict. In the context of D&D, whether your character is flat on his back in the dust or on his feet doing At Wills is explicitly and entirely about how the story will go and at least one person at the table is invested in a different outcome than another.
    Sure, if you want to define it down to the point where the question "do I hit with my sword in this six-second increment of time" is a question about where the story is going, then yeah. But that seems to stretch the definition past the point. Indeed, while the player wants his character's sword to hit, and may be let down a bit when it doesn't, failing that roll in no way takes the story in a direction they don't want to go. They're okay with missing a swing.
  • <blockquote><cite>Posted By: jhkim</cite>1) "I lunge desperately to chop off his head, and my sword cleaves through his neck in one stroke."

    2) "I lunge desperately to chop off his head, and my sword shatters against his stone-hard flesh."
    </blockquote>

    Just FYI, these are both wholly legal and effective Polaris statements.

    The restrictions on whose behalf you argue apply only to conflict.

    yrs--
    --Ben
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