Visual details, style and "superficial" roleplaying

edited February 2012 in Story Games
I feel like in every RPG I play, what happens and why is the most important thing. That's cool, but I often find myself wishing for the kind of experience I sometimes get while reading evocative fiction. When I was reading Neuromancer as a kid, I didn't have any idea what was going on: stuff like character motivation and plot was completely lost on me. However, I learned to like that feeling, because I totally got Gibson's style. Visual details and associations became everything.

Now, I really want to get those kind of kicks from gaming. But trad games seem to care most about players beating the scenario and story games about relationships between the characters and what's happening inside their heads. It seems that even when I'm running, without any mechanical backing to create consistent imagery the plot takes over everything else in the scenario and my descriptions become rushed, as I'm trying to serve the players the plot developments they crave.

I think I want slower and more detailed gaming where imagery and style trump everything else. Thoughts?
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Comments

  • I tried to improve my physical descriptions a few years ago. One thing that really helps is boxed text. Like, pre-write descriptions of actions, people and things, practice them a couple of times in front of a mirror, then read them when the time comes.
  • So are you thinking about ways to be sure to have more descriptions, and enable everyone to imagine the same place? Or are you thinking about game mechanics that make the scenery more important to play?
  • Rich description and style is one area where play by forum excels. Players have more time to describe rich environments, action, and thought. Gameplay is inherently more literary and makes you a better writer.
  • edited February 2012
    The D20 Call of Cthulhu GM sections ha good advice in improving description:
    http://www.amazon.com/Call-Cthulhu-Horror-Roleplaying-WotC/dp/0786926392
  • I sometimes keep a card propped up in front of me that lists the five (or maybe six, in a fantastic game) senses as a reminder to key in details. It doesn't take much. I try to combine multiple senses in small ways for a setting, like touch + smell + sound. In action scenes, I alternate between that and engaging in something other than visual in a similar bundle of three, e.g., clash of metal on metal, horses screaming, the hiss of arrows passing by.

    For more suspenseful scenes, I may take a little longer, but I try to streamline the description by focusing on key details rather than a long, poetic laundry list.
  • edited February 2012
    I'm totally with you, Upstart.

    Here's my take:
    I think there are a million tips and tricks to add a little more detail here and there, but if the play system doesn't support it, it won't last, because someone in the group won't care. No GM can sustain slow, vivid description if the players look bored.

    What's really necessary is (a) a social agreement up front that character of experience is a priority, and then (b) a system that backs that up by some combo of inspiring, prompting, requiring, and staying out of the way of fictional color.

    I don't personally know of any systems that do this in a universal sense, but I know a few that pull it off in a specific context. Sign in Stranger does alien world exploration with a great focus on environmental features, and my game Delve puts a "what it's like to be there" focus on medieval supernatural problem-solving. In both cases, studying the unknown is the best way to survive and profit.

    More often, I've seen success where a system simply gets out of the way and allows a group agreement that "detail is important" to be carried out by all the participants. I think Vampire and Cthulhu both market an experience and are thus more conducive to "detail first" social contracts. Then, in both games, it seems to be accepted that the GM can say "yeah, that works" or "no, it doesn't" rather than resorting to the dice at a moment when dice would be unwelcome.

    In theory, indie games that don't invoke any mechanics until the group decides it's a dramatically satisfying moment to resolve a scene (e.g. Primetime Adventures) would be just as good for this, if not better, but I haven't seen it happen much. Perhaps it's a difference in appeal and emphasis leading to different social contracts. Or maybe it's just because I've had more trad than indie multi-session campaigns.
  • I'm with this, too. I love my relationship-heavy conflict games and love triangles and all that s--t, but I also like colourful details, interesting costumes, cool descriptions, and fantastic locations. It's fun when you explore something that you feel you can reach out and touch, you know, to explore the texture.

    I've never understood, however, why your typical "story game" couldn't be played in this style just as much as any other game. Maybe it's just a question of finding like-minded gamers?
  • Posted By: Upstart
    I think I want slower and more detailed gaming where imagery and style trump everything else. Thoughts?
    I was thinking about this last night after watching Drive. Like, obviously the easiest way to play a game that would be like Drive would be to play Fiasco. But even though you'd get the same plot, you would be missing everything that is important and memorable about the movie. It's all about the artistry of the shots, the pacing, the color...essentially, "description".

    So yeah, how to do that in games? Thinking on it.
  • edited February 2012
    System Matters. I'm going to bring up the Old School Primer, so here is the free download.

    If you are playing a game that has Search skills then a roll will be made and anything "interesting" will be found if successful or not found if the roll fails. Then what happens? It depends on the system: perhaps another roll until it succeeds or not.

    If we are playing more story games style then exploration of the fiction/environmnet once again doesn't really matter. All that matters is what we all "agree on" being awesome. And the focus is usually more on talking heads than exploring a fictional physical space.

    Then there are games that don't have rules for exploring these fiction physical spaces, like oD&D. Read the primer. The system in many ways is encouraging one to explore because that is the only way to receive that information. They have to interact with the Mysterious Moose head to find out what it is.

    In a Story Game we would just all come to an agreement that the Mysterious Moose Head is awesome and must be a shaman's mask for worshipping the Primal Forest God and by wearing it we can... but we didn't explore the space to find this out we just decided on it.

    So there's my musing on this.

    EDIT: to put it all another way: skills make us lazy because we aren't encouraged to explore the fictional physical space because what one finds is dependant on that skill roll.
    Story Games turn the focus on "talking heads" and agreement on the fiction, so once again we can't explore the fictional space if we just agree what is there.
    So one would have to find a way of making this interaction with a fictional physical space fruitful. I think oD&D did that pretty well. But I'd love to see a different way of making the interaction and exploration meaningful.
  • Maybe something like MDQF, but instead of replaying scenes where emotional content is iteratively allowed, you replay scenes where content of detail and description is iteratively allowed.

    Scene: "Driver kills Bernie, drops the bag of money, and drives away."

    "Hmm, let's replay that"

    Re-scene: "Bernie follows Driver out to the car, where Driver opens the trunk, revealing the money. Driver turns around, gets stabbed by Bernie, and stabs him in the neck. Bernie falls down, bleeding out. We see Driver in the front seat, his still face framed by the open twilit sky past his window. He drives away. The bag of money lies open next to Bernie's dead body".

    Something like that. You get the idea.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: David BergI think there are a million tips and tricks to add a little more detail here and there, but if the play system doesn't support it, it won't last, because someone in the group won't care. No GM can sustain slow, vivid description if the players look bored.

    What's really necessary is (a) a social agreement up front that character of experience is a priority, and then (b) a system that backs that up by some combo of inspiring, prompting, requiring, and staying out of the way of fictional color.
    I bet your "pacing dial" produces heavy description and colour often in play. Am I right?

    (At least, I know *I* would use it when I wanted more detail and more description: it's a handy lever to pull to fulfill that need in the fiction.)
  • edited February 2012
    It does get used that way, but some groups use it much more often than others!
  • Im sorry everyone, Im going to pimp my game again, because seriously, this is up your alley, Upstart. Plus I want playtesters damn it!

    Ingenero
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: stefoidIm sorry everyone, Im going to pimp my game again, because seriously, this is up your alley, Upstart. Plus I want playtesters damn it!

    Ingenero
    I don't see what Ingenero has to do with evocative details. I mean, I mostly see stuff like motivations, goals and relationships. Normal story stuff. Edit: ok, signature plays maybe. But they're still too much "how does it physically happen" instead of "how does it look, sound and feel".
    Posted By: Hans c-oMaybe something likeMDQF, but instead of replaying scenes where emotional content is iteratively allowed, you replay scenes where content of detail and description is iteratively allowed.

    Scene: "Driver kills Bernie, drops the bag of money, and drives away."

    "Hmm, let's replay that"
    I don't know, that sounds even less detailed than standard trads. "We see Driver in the front seat, his still face framed by the open twilit sky past his window" was cool, though.
    Posted By: IrminsulSystem Matters. I'm going to bring up the Old School Primer, so here is thefree download.
    According to my experiences, old school isn't exactly concerned with aesthetics. And I'd like to detail a futuristic water hydrant even if no character is going to actively do something with it.
    Posted By: Hans c-o

    I was thinking about this last night after watchingDrive. Like, obviously the easiest way to play a game that would be like Drive would be to play Fiasco. But even though you'd get the same plot, you would be missing everything that is important and memorable about the movie. It's all about the artistry of the shots, the pacing, the color...essentially, "description".

    So yeah, how to do that in games? Thinking on it.
    Funny you should mention Drive, I was actually thinking about the movie when I wrote my post. Aesthetics are a big part of that film's charm.
    Posted By: David BergI'm totally with you, Upstart.

    Here's my take:
    I think there are a million tips and tricks to add a little more detail here and there, but if the play system doesn't support it, it won't last, because someone in the group won't care. No GM can sustain slow, vivid description if the players look bored.
    Yup, that's how I feel.
  • Posted By: mease19Rich description and style is one area where play by forum excels. Players have more time to describe rich environments, action, and thought. Gameplay is inherently more literary and makes you a better writer.
    This a fallacy, I'm afraid. It certainly encourages you to write more words. This does not equate to better writing, I'm afraid. It leads to thesaurusitis and purple prose just as often.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: mease19Rich description and style is one area where play by forum excels. Players have more time to describe rich environments, action, and thought. Gameplay is inherently more literary and makes you a better writer.
    I think a typical description is very concerned with what the character is thinking and who she is. But the sandals she's wearing interest me more.

    "Sienna wanders over towards the commotion, fully aware that she probably has no business over there. She doesn't even take the time to register the others at the moment, although that may be just too much thinking in her head. A part of the back of her head wonders if it's someone she knows, especially since this sort of stuff has been going on more often."

    An actual PBP post. It's not bad stuff, but it tells us more about motivations and feelings than what the character is actually sensing.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: UpstartI don't see what Ingenero has to do with evocative details. I mean, I mostly see stuff like motivations, goals and relationships. Normal story stuff. Edit: ok, signature plays maybe. But they're still too much "how does it physically happen" instead of "how does it look, sound and feel".
    Its intended for character-based, cinematic action, yes. It was designed to support what you want, so without monopolising the thread further, I suggest you check it out more closely, particularly how plays work, and risking body and soul. The GM and player advice sections are also directly relevant.

    Edit: ah, OK, I see where youre coming from now. Plays are Ingeneros way of promoting imagery in the action, and although the game has advice such as 'show dont tell' and GM advice for setting scenes using sights sounds and smells, it doesnt mechanically support it. So yeah, probably not enough for what you are after.
  • Those kicks your after are elusive, and hard to explain or understand. I for one crave such imagery.
    This could be right off the mark but a book Im reading by Andrey Tarkovsky Sculpting Time
    http://www.openculture.com/2010/07/tarkovksy.html
    The link to his films free online.
    This guy talks about the spectator becoming more active. He becomes a participant in the process, unsupported by ready made deductions from the plot or ineluctable pointers by the author. He's talking about the medium of film but I think a cross pollination could be possible hear.
    I've only started to read this book in the hope for some new insight.
    Might help.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: UserClonePosted By: mease19Rich description and style is one area where play by forum excels. Players have more time to describe rich environments, action, and thought. Gameplay is inherently more literary and makes you a better writer.
    This a fallacy, I'm afraid. It certainly encourages you to writemore words.This does not equate to better writing, I'm afraid. It leads to thesaurusitis and purple prose just as often.
    I dunno, writing is one of those things that you get better at with practice and PbF requires lots of writing. For people that want more detail, I think it makes it easier for them to fit it into the fiction. It also gives them time to use google/wikipedia/etc. to add interesting/historical details. The format also rewards good grammar/sentences formation and clear communication with fewer posts trying to clarify what you're trying to communicate.
  • Unguided practice, I've found, just as often leads to writing that is more prolific, but no better in quality. So instead of some bad prose, it's lots of bad prose. Kind of like if you give a four-year-old a violin. He'll get better, with guided practice, even if its just reading about music theory, or listening to violin music, or watching youtube tutorials. Just scraping a bow across the strings a lot with no music in front of you does not (usually) a violinist make. Similarly, lots of words != improved writing.
  • I don't know the game well, but every time mentions looking for games that encourage evocative description, somebody points them at Wushu. So I'm going to point to it too.

    My understanding is that the primary mechanic of the game is the GM giving you more dice for how totally awesome you describe stuff. It seems like you could drift that toward what you are looking for really easily. Like if you don't want to focus on martial arts combat, you could give more dice for cool descriptions of cyberpunk geegaws.

    Or just use any game that focuses on a feedback loop, like PTA's fanmail, but say that feedback is always going to be for awesomely detailed descriptions.

    (That being said, I can't think off the top of my head of a game that also rewards the GM for their awesome descriptions. That might be an interesting thing to tackle.)
  • Hey Upstart, I relate totally to what you are driving at. What mechanical support or reward incentive can be used to encourage evocative narration (by all the players). For I've found, that like most things, practice makes perfect and most systems don't require you to make that detailed, languid description for the game to function. It makes any game sing (if that's what your group likes) but isn't part of the game. Humph. I wrote a thread about colour improvisation and evocative detail that can be 'tagged' by the mechanics on the BW forums a couple of years ago, and I still try and incorporate this approach (and encourage everyone at the table to do so!).

    http://www.burningwheel.org/forum/showthread.php?8987-Reinforce-colour-with-mechanics&highlight=colour+mechanics

    So the Burning system of games was the first I'd played that seemed to encourage this sort of lyrical exposition. Folks naturally start with what something 'looks' like. But the art of asking provocative questions of each other in the 'conversation' can elucidate (and sometimes mechanically re-inforce) the fiction. Of course I've found since, that the 'World cluster of games encourage me (and the group) to focus on their narration (or story telling), since they have to start and end with the fiction. You can't just say that you do a move without authoring it into the story. FATE system games too, with their Adjectival Tags, encourage (but don't enforce) fictional supposition of the trait or skill as you add their die to your pool.

    I'm with most of the other peeps here on SG - lead by example, practice a lot (even with canned text) and try and mechanically re-inforce the wonderfully immersive contributions from everyone at the table.
  • Posted By: RobMcDiarmidOr just use any game that focuses on a feedback loop, like PTA's fanmail, but say that feedback is always going to be for awesomely detailed descriptions.

    (That being said, I can't think off the top of my head of a game that also rewards the GM for their awesome descriptions. That might be an interesting thing to tackle.)
    IAWA is not quite this, but there is that "one concrete detail" rule that's a pretty interesting start.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: UserCloneThis a fallacy, I'm afraid. It certainly encourages you to writemore words.This does not equate to better writing, I'm afraid. It leads to thesaurusitis and purple prose just as often.
    Practice leads to better writing. Play by forum gaming requires you to write more. Writing with a dash of self-reflection thrown in = practice. That some people practice bad writing does not mean they aren't getting better at it.

    More on topic: Jackson Tegu has a game called The Hydra. You should get your hands on it and play it. It is exactly a game based around layering and developing description of a scene. There are some actual plays around as well.

    The mention of My Daughter, Queen of France is funny to me, mostly because my previous Game Chef game (back in 2008?) -- What Remains -- was, like The Hydra, a direct attempt to create gameplay entirely around description and exploration of scene detail. The game mechanics were pretty clumsy, but it might still be on the internet somewhere?

    Edit: and I second the recommendation for Mist-Robed Gate.
  • Mist-Robed Gate is an arthaus wuxia game. Characters have signature weather & colours tied to them, and locations matter. The result is that players pull in lots of aesthetic details, and specifically the type that matter to the genre.

    In addition, the ritual elements of the mechanics (especially the knife ritual) bring a lot of the genre's tone & theme right to the table. You're veiling and unveiling a knife, making ritualistic motions, all while describing how your character gracefully leaps from slender tree branch to tree branch, the sky a swirling pink behind them.

    Shreyas just released the PDF for free, so you should definitely check it out.
  • edited February 2012
    System doesn't matter (so long as you have a GM)...

    Speaking as someone who is really into this kind of thing:

    #1 USE PICTURES!!!
    If you imagine something in the game as looking like something, Google it and get a picture and print it out or show it to your players on the screen.

    This is huge with getting people on the same page--it can be a drawing, a painting, a photo, a clip, whatever.

    "It looks...like...THAT...." is worth a thousand words I find.

    You only have to do it once or twice a session for everyone to move, visually, to the same place as you.

    #2 Miniatures? Works if you're playing in a genre they make minis for.

    #3 You can build a mechanic into a visual:

    http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2009/10/binding-painting-of-thrigulas.html

    or, say, show the players a streetscape and tell them they see that--each thing in it (you know) is keyed and you know what it is and does.

    In a call of cthulhu game I printed out that group photo from the end of The Shining:

    http://i2.listal.com/image/395820/936full-the-shining-screenshot.jpg

    (well, a detail of it) and said "here are the people you meet, which one do you want to talk to?" and had people point.

    #4 Cue up music on youtube or somewhere else and play the music when something happens--again, you only have to do this once or twice a session, but, for example, playing this:

    at the right moment gets you so much mood and mileage in a horror game it's ridiculous, or play this:

    when players get into an unfamiliar environment

    #5 don't be afraid to use an image that's totally expressionistic--if it gets your point across, it's the right picture. "Chaos and bodies everywhere"...

    http://29.media.tumblr.com/tumblr_l99gxniZjo1qzaos7o1_500.jpg
  • Yeah, John Gardener said the #1 priority of fiction was to 'weave the fictive dream'
    Less pretentious: I like to see TV in my head.

    Lately, most of my play has totally scratched that itch for me. Maybe it's just me and the people I've been playing with, (like, we're playing Fiasco and Ben will ask me what I'm wearing and I'll say 'A wetsuit - it's a 3/2, and I'm sweating - beads of sweat running down my face' and he'll say, 'Oh, does it squeak when you walk?' and I'll say 'Totally') but also:

    Apocalypse World: Barf Forth Apocalyptica

    Monsterhearts: Blanket The World in Darkness

    Archipelago: Can You Describe That In More Detail?

    I've heard good things about 1001 Nights as well - each character has a trait based on the five senses - and will pick it up when Meguey re-releases it.
  • Posted By: jdfristromlike, we're playing Fiasco and Ben will ask me what I'm wearing and I'll say 'A wetsuit - it's a 3/2, and I'm sweating - beads of sweat running down my face' and he'll say, 'Oh, does it squeak when you walk?' and I'll say 'Totally'
    I was laughing my head off as soon as you said 3/2. Scuba humor.
  • edited February 2012
    Pre-agreed methods for adding and rewarding detailed description are good. That way no one feels like a dick asking for it, nor feels confused about how to ask.
    Posted By: RobMcDiarmidOr just use any game that focuses on a feedback loop, like PTA's fanmail, but say that feedback is always going to be for awesomely detailed descriptions.
    Posted By: jdfristromArchipelago: Can You Describe That In More Detail?
    Posted By: Paul T.I bet your "pacing dial" produces heavy description and colour often in play.
    Without establishing such things, I know I've confused groups by asking for more detail:

    Ted: So I convince her to come with me.

    Me: What does that look like?

    Ted: Huh? What do you mean?

    Me: How do you convince her?

    Ted: I used Oratory.

    Me: Right, but... I mean, it didn't seem like she wanted to come. So what happened?

    Ted: Dude, are you trying to make me justify my roll?

    If the game tells Ted to expect such questions, and asserts that part of each player's job is to make the fiction come alive for others, then that exchange doesn't happen like that.
  • David, I think your example highlights something else: Example Ted has actually been taught by a previous game that they can just roll Oratory and not answer questions.

    I find people brand new to gaming are not at all put out when you ask them to describe. But some veterans of other RPGs do feel pressured when you start asking them questions they don't expect. That's my data sample anyway.
  • edited February 2012
    Agreed. The up-front social agreement that detail matters would be wise to include "this may be different from other games you've played". The whole group needs to get it, and the model of "one person claims expertise and presents the game to others" only works when those others are in fact noobs with no expectations. With a group of folks who've played different games, it needs to be made crystal clear that a commitment to detail is part of the group purpose of play and not merely one dude's taste or opinion.

    With Ted, I tried to forge that social agreement, but it was clearly just my taste/opinion. The game didn't tell him "Dave's correct" so he defaulted to his own habits and preferences.

    Here's a funny thing: when Ted felt like contributing colorful details, he was great at it! He always seemed to have a great movie running in his own head. He just didn't always feel like communicating it, because he was juggling dice or hurrying on to "what next?" or something.
  • edited February 2012
    Upstart, I recently asked a similar question, you might find some useful advice in that thread:

    http://story-games.com/forums/comments.php?DiscussionID=15753&page=1#Item_0
  • We tried to encourage description in Locus by integrating it with the rules. That doesn't mean that every rules statement contains all the required description. It just means that (in my experience) talking about rules results in less jarring breaks from dialogue and description since you can do a little bit of both at once. (I have been wanting to say this for a couple of days but had to wait till I had something to link to.)

    The other thing I've been thinking about in terms of descriptive sequences is that long GM monologues tend to make players feel distant from their situation - like they're reading or watching a film. So to make games that are descriptive as games, the description must be in terms of a game element or event. For example, telling players it's cold does little to convey that it's cold. A brilliant description will make it clear, but it's best conveyed by having them interact with the cold. If it's really cold, perhaps it limits the player character's recovery rate, for example. Or distracts them during combat unless they've got warm clothes. Description isn't just sense data, it's sense data organised by interactive experience.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: bigglesDescription isn't just sense data, it's sense data organised by interactive experience.
    Hell yeah. Great point!

    I don't think it's always possible (or desirable) to include a character-success-based incentive (e.g. recovery rate, combat distraction) for every detail you want to describe, but poking stuff is definitely better than staring at it.

    Of course, if you include interactive stuff that doesn't have tangible impact, you damn sure better have a way to communicate to the players that they can move on and aren't missing a key or clue or something.
  • Right. Phrasing interactive bits correctly is important. Not just in the sense of verbal phrasing but also in game terms - the way play leads up to them, how they work, etc. One way to do this is to include sections of the game that exist only to prove a point about the environment. These can be puzzles, challenges, fights, conversations with people or anything else, but they exist to achieve your descriptive or tonal goals. Having to swim through goop without getting it all through your stuff, for example, makes players aware of the omnipresence of goop in your goop dungeon. Stopping to cough and having impaired perception from the dust you kick up when you push open the trapdoor makes Grandma's Attic seem dusty in a way that seeing the dust doesn't. So yeah, they don't have to be the primary object of the interaction to become part of the interaction.
  • I find FATE's environmental Aspects can help a scene cook with gas. One, it keeps with Thor's/Judd's rule of three (Thor and Judd are the ones I learned it from)... I never use more than three and sometimes less. Two, it encourages the interaction with said elements in a game mechanical way. Three, it encourages the party to come up with more environmental Aspects organically IF needed.

    Four, it is descriptive shorthand, quick and fast and then gets out of the way. I totally agree with what Biggles said about too much description leads to distance from the game. I've experienced this myself with GMs who are overly descriptive. Partly, this is my own nature to blame... I'm highly visual and am a visual problem solver (I'm a professional artist)... and I get word images in my mind in less than a second. I don't need someone explaining more and more to me. Not only can it get boring, but the longer it goes on, the more chance it can disrupt my visualization of the scene, which then boots me out of the immersive frame of mind and I have to go "hey, what?" and try to negotiate the two visions into a useful whole.

    One trick I use is to be VERY clear about what is description for description's sake. When it isn't a clue. So the players are not wondering and spending energy on trying to interpret my wording as the keys to the scene. If they players still want to explore some little nugget I dropped in passing... GREAT!!! Let's do that! It can lead to some awesome scenes and role-playing. But I don't want them to feel obligated to do so. So, "Two men arguing in the corner as you enter the tavern" will be followed up by me breaking the fourth wall and saying; "the argument is just color. " Which is our group's shorthand for you don't have to go over there and break it up or listen or anything, it is just to give some life to the tavern. But if you WANT to take a interest in it, cool.

    And yeah, I use and I like lots of pictures for gaming. Great for getting everyone on the same page. I also do online Maptool's gaming with some real lovers of minis (2 of the 3 players) and they love the various icons and maps I find.
  • Cool discussion here. I agree with explicit mechanical returns: pre-written, GM-centered and non-interactive stuff is not that interesting to me. I want to construct the visuals organically during the game, possibly with other players.

    I don't know what to do with all the game-name-dropping. Unless the game is free and I know what part to look for, it's just a game I'm probably not going to buy with some potentially cool stuff inside it. If some game has some interesting mechanics relevant to the discussion, please tell me about those particular mechanics.

    A lot of gaming detail is concerned about movement rather than static stuff. I'm more interested about what the sword looks like rather than how it moves. I guess I want to stop time and marvel at the scenery occasionally before moving on. In comics terms, I want more decompression.
  • There's always the old: "Ok, describe your gruesome critical hit" trick and related phenomena.

    In other words: before rolling, take time and brainstorm out the sorts of questions that you could ask other players that would get answers which would be basically/mostly sensory detail. Like in the question above you are providing the nouns and the verbs and asking for adjectives...

    "The jungle is lush, exotic and blue, what do you see?"

    "The village is a scene of squalor and slaughter, piled with evidence of El Tortuga's raid...such as an arm doing what?"
  • Oh, another mechanic for descriptive detail I just remembered last night - Penny For My Thoughts memory triggers.

    So, how much does the OP care about the details, and how much about the prose quality?

    Because "The sky is overcast and polluted" isn't in the same league as "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" though they both make video in my head. I'm totally okay with story games not hitting that bar, though.
  • Posted By: jdfristromSo, how much does the OP care about the details, and how much about theprose quality?

    Because "The sky is overcast and polluted" isn't in the same league as "The sky above the port was the color of television, tuned to a dead channel" though they both make video in my head. I'm totally okay with story games not hitting that bar, though.
    Of course quality prose is a plus, but it's not something I'd be interested to enforce.
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: UpstartUnless the game is free and I know what part to look for, it's just a game I'm probably not going to buy with some potentially cool stuff inside it. If some game has some interesting mechanics relevant to the discussion, please tell me about those particular mechanics.
    In The Hydra, individual scenes are frozen time. Literally nothing happens other than four lines of dialogue -- and the rules explicitly tell you not to have significant time pass between each line. The average in-fiction length of a scene is presumably something like twenty seconds. However, despite these limitations, players could theoretically take an infinite amount of time to play out the scene: whenever it is your turn, you can either add a piece of physical/sensory description to the scene, or (if you haven't spoken last) speak a line of dialogue. As mentioned, you only get two lines of dialogue, but you can add as many pieces of description as you want. Since dialogue is expensive and description is free, players are encouraged to build up description as a way of exploring and evoking tone & meaning -- and also to provide crucial context for the dialogue.

    While the initial tendency is to rely on the dialogue to reveal the most important elements of the characters' relationship -- while using the description to add emotional and aesthetic tone -- over time these roles tend to blend together. It's like collaborating on a mash-up between a collection of old photographs and a Raymond Carver short story.

    In What Remains, much like A Penny For My Thoughts, you are performing a sort of archeological dig of the past; unlike Penny, this happens through the frame of a place, rather than a person. Players collaborate to create a location and then slowly fill that location with objects. Each object is a storehouse for memories, and all of play consists of describing the details of these objects and the details of the memories connected to them. As players add description to an object, it becomes heavier, more real -- which is important, because the location is very windy, and everything is in danger of blowing away. These are mechanical concepts.

    Evocative description is rewarded by permanence: if you describe interesting details then other players are more likely to add their own elaborations, and so your contributions are more likely to survive the wind. The more often a memory is revisited the more detailed it becomes.

    In Mist-Robed Gate, characters have specific aesthetic motifs -- scenery, objects, locations, colours, clothing, etc. -- that provide them with benefits when incorporated into their descriptions of wuxia kung-fu fights. Furthermore, the fights themselves are entirely descriptive in character -- the players who are involved in the kung-fu take turns describing how awesome they are, and the rest of the players pass silent judgment on who they think is winning. In my experience, the motifs help provide structure to what is otherwise a relatively freeform descriptive exercise, rewarding players for keeping the concrete details of the scene in mind even as they attempt to one-up each other within that larger context.

    All of these games achieve descriptive richness in a fairly obvious, explicit way: they make 'describe sensory details' into a specific type of player action that is necessary in order to play the game. They then support that request by providing a framework to the player, generally by providing concrete limitations/specific suggestions as to what sort of description might be appropriate -- and also focusing heavily on listening to and reincorporating the descriptive details provided by other players.
  • Posted By: UpstartI think I want slower and more detailed gaming where imagery and style trump everything else. Thoughts?
    I love this kind of gaming. I tend to glide towards it in both classical and modern games. It's a great part of my immersion in the character.

    I believe you are right when pinpointing "slower" as a quality in such gaming, or a premise. We need to slow down, and let the interaction dip into mellow scenes close to sleep. Doing that we may rediscover the magic of building situation with smells, sounds and emotional states.

    Try gaming a drama with no purpose; everyday life in some corner of the world where nothing happens, nothing but simple life. Go into insignificant characters and seek out their small happiness. It's a challenge, but it is fun when the small themes lifts our spirits.

    Have a nice day!
  • I can't say that I've ever gamed where imagery and style are pre-eminent - I get this nightmare vision of a degenerative LARP where everyone's emoting and describing how cool their character is and the actual interactions dwindle. Obviously this isn't what you mean!

    When I'm GMing story games, I find myself so wrapped up in plot and hitting flags that it is hard - two things I've found help me bring in more description.

    1. I delegate description to players. For their own successes for sure, but also things they encounter. I'm not consistent with it, but I get some breathing room if I'm worrying about plot, and they get to exercise their creative muscles.

    2. I pre-generate fragments of color, little dynamics or natural trends that I can graft in wherever they fit. Rather than focus on the details, I determine the underlying trend, say, agriculture being disrupted by a superstition, randomly pick a sense that the players would perceive this through. That last bit adds a surprising amount of crispness to the concept, which would otherwise remain abstract. Smell - for example, takes me to the idea that crops are being burned sacrificially, or that there's an over-abundance of a nutritionally useless but fragrant herb.
  • Posted By: Ice Cream Emperor

    InThe Hydra, individual scenes are frozen time. Literally nothing happens other than four lines of dialogue -- and the rules explicitly tell you not to have significant time pass between each line. The average in-fiction length of a scene is presumably something like twenty seconds. However, despite these limitations, players could theoretically take an infinite amount of time to play out the scene: whenever it is your turn, you can either add a piece of physical/sensory description to the scene, or (if you haven't spoken last) speak a line of dialogue. As mentioned, you only get two lines of dialogue, but you can add as many pieces of description as you want. Since dialogue is expensive and description is free, players are encouraged to build up description as a way of exploring and evoking tone & meaning -- and also to provide crucial context for the dialogue.

    While the initial tendency is to rely on the dialogue to reveal the most important elements of the characters' relationship -- while using the description to add emotional and aesthetic tone -- over time these roles tend to blend together. It's like collaborating on a mash-up between a collection of old photographs and a Raymond Carver short story.

    InWhat Remains, much likeA Penny For My Thoughts, you are performing a sort of archeological dig of the past; unlike Penny, this happens through the frame of a place, rather than a person. Players collaborate to create a location and then slowly fill that location with objects. Each object is a storehouse for memories, and all of play consists of describing the details of these objects and the details of the memories connected to them. As players add description to an object, it becomes heavier, more real -- which is important, because the location is very windy, and everything is in danger of blowing away. These are mechanical concepts.

    Evocative description is rewarded by permanence: if you describe interesting details then other players are more likely to add their own elaborations, and so your contributions are more likely to survive the wind. The more often a memory is revisited the more detailed it becomes.

    InMist-Robed Gate, characters have specific aesthetic motifs -- scenery, objects, locations, colours, clothing, etc. -- that provide them with benefits when incorporated into their descriptions of wuxia kung-fu fights. Furthermore, the fights themselves are entirely descriptive in character -- the players who are involved in the kung-fu take turns describing how awesome they are, and the rest of the players pass silent judgment on who they think is winning. In my experience, the motifs help provide structure to what is otherwise a relatively freeform descriptive exercise, rewarding players for keeping the concrete details of the scene in mind even as they attempt to one-up each other within that larger context.

    All of these games achieve descriptive richness in a fairly obvious, explicit way: they make 'describe sensory details' into a specific type of player action that is necessary in order to play the game. They then support that request by providing a framework to the player, generally by providing concrete limitations/specific suggestions as to what sort of description might be appropriate -- and also focusing heavily on listening to and reincorporating the descriptive details provided by other players.
    Thanks, that was helpful.
  • edited February 2012
    Whoa. Hydra and What Remains sound very cool. Never heard of 'em. Links?

    Upstart, here's a sketch of how Sign in Stranger works: character looks for something, asks another player what they see. Other player rolls a color, randomly picks a noun out of a pile, and narrates just sense detail, not meaning or function. When a character tries to interact with it, now draw a verb. Somewhat specific to environments where anything could exist (in this case, unknown alien worlds).
  • edited February 2012
    Posted By: David BergWhoa.HydraandWhat Remainssound very cool. Never heard of 'em. Links?
    What Remains was my Game Chef entry from 2007 -- it never really got to what I would describe as a playable state, though if you're really interested I could try and dig up what I submitted to the competition.

    The Hydra is one of Jackson Tegu's games but I don't think it's currently widely available, since it's in the middle of endless revision. If you wanted to read some AP, there's this thread about a game I played with Michael Peterson at GoPlayNW a few years ago.

    Sign in Stranger is a great example as well, both in how the basic premise of the game -- 'figure out what crazy alien things/people actually do/are like' -- prioritizes detailed description, and also how the game actively provides support for that description via the colour pallette, noun/verb draws, etc. By actively banning functional/purpose-based description -- you literally cannot describe things in terms of what function they serve or an alien intelligence in terms of what they are really feeling, which are of course exceedingly common shorthands in most roleplaying description -- the player really doesn't have any choice but to rely on purely sensual description.

    Sometimes if you want players to develop new skills or tools for play, you need to take away their other tools, that they have been relying on all this time (possibly without realizing it.)
  • Posted By: UpstartI think I want slower and more detailed gaming where imagery and style trump everything else. Thoughts?
    This was one of my goals as well with my gothic horror game Annalise. Creation and, even more importantly to me, reintegration of specific colorful details is something I really like in my play. There's explicit support for this in the game, through a system I called "Claims", where you basically write down ephemera that other people say, and then can bring in those details later to help you out. People who have played the game seem pretty into them.
    Posted By: Transneptune Games reviewClaims are just beautiful. Completely wonderful. I want to use them in everything now. Basically, when someone else introduces some fictional element, you can claim it (sometimes for free, sometimes for a cost), and then you are the arbiter of that motif. You can mention its inclusion in someone else’s scene, you can use it to fiddle with the dice, and you must also keep an eye out for when and where it would be good to introduce. This really helps encourage powerful and gothic motifs.
    Posted By: Geekbuffet reviewPlayers can “claim” non-player characters, props, locations, visual motifs, relationships and events introduced by other players as bits of fiction they control. Shadowy dogs, bodiless limbs, Frank’s uncle, the oncoming storm, tapping fingernails; the cheap tropes list is nigh inexhaustible. This is the players’ way of telling the others: “That thing you came up with was so awesome, it’s got to come up again!” These Claims then help you out later in the game, ensuring their recurrence in the story as well as a useful game boost.
    The basic mechanical idea is pretty easily integrated into other games, if you want to try it, I think. When another player says something you think is cool, and you want to see again later, write it down on a piece of paper and put a token or die on it. Later, spend the token or die to help you out in some resolution roll, by describing how that thing matters to the situation at hand. Adjust quantity of tokens and frequency of being able to claim things as suits the game and group in question.
  • Annalise is really effective for this, and it has a very strong design choice that makes the color matter to the players: selective reincorporation.

    As players, you get really powerful social feedback for introducing an intriguing, on-tone detail: the moment where it's Claimed by another player. Then both players get reinforcement when the Claim is reused later - the creator gets to see his idea adopted and run with, and the other player draws dice from it which allow him to advance his goals. Claims that turn out to be less interesting or fitting get used less, but they still start off with that burst of positive feedback. (It turns out that Nathan is a really good game designer ^_^ )

    Something I like to do when I'm playing a game that doesn't have mechanical description support is to think about information I want to impart to the players, and use description to show it instead of telling it in exposition. Like, here's three contrasted descriptions:

    A woman walks into the offices. You recognize her as Lady Rothny from the noble House of Orskel. She seems worried that she is being followed.

    and

    A woman walks into the offices. It's Lady Rothny from the House of Orskel - today she's wearing layers and layers, coat upon coat, because it's so chilly outside, and the mud on her slippers obscures their fine leatherwork. Her mink-fur cap is slightly askew, and her chestnut-brown hair is disheveled. She shuts the door behind her with exaggerated care.

    and

    A chestnut-haired woman slips into the offices, looking nervously behind her. She is tightly bundled in layers of brightly-colored wools, and the collars of her coat have embroidered crests featuring a golden orskel - this must be the Lady Rothny Orskel (she is famous for her hair). Her fine slippers are covered in mud - they will never be the same again. Her wide-eyed tension doesn't fade until she closes the door completely and the latch clicks shut.

    Here you see three approaches to introduce the same character. In the first, there is no attempt to build a visual narrative at all - you just get white spaces with noun labels. The second gives you a lot of visual information, but it doesn't tell you anything relevant about the character. It's all visual crap you don't care about.

    The third description is all motivated showing. Every detail there indicates something that you can know or conclude, about the character or her current mental state. You gather quickly that she's upset, maybe concerned that she's being followed, sacrificed a pair of nice shoes to come here on foot, it's cold outside, and you experience the process of identifying her based on visual cues. You never get the opportunity to visualize empty cutouts because you get visuals every step of the way. You need to plan a little to do this, until you're used to it, but it's a very useful method.

  • Posted By: shreyasA woman walks into the offices
    Yes. Fantastic examples, Shreyas!
  • edited February 2012
    I've never played Annalise with a facilitator who really knew the game (hoping to remedy that soon!), but my impression is that the system addresses fictional content, regardless of how it's described. You can just as easily motivate a Claim by coming up with compelling facts, events, and story fodder, as by being colorful. Maybe more easily.

    "And there's a mysterious guy exiting the chief's office!" works as well or better than "The office reeks of old cigarette smoke, the plaster on the ceiling has peeled in little circles, and you see the head of an ancient typewriter peeking out of an awkward-fitting box in the corner," right?

    Folks who've actually played it a bunch, is that accurate?

    Don't get me wrong, I think it's cool, but I'm fuzzy on how it addresses the "slow down and give us some detail" issue.
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