Can you bribe for better narration?

edited June 2014 in Story Games
Most designers I know seem primarily concerned with covering player choices and fictional developments. In other words, "What do you do?" and "What happens?" This is, of course, necessary, but it omits an issue that's pretty important to me when it comes to having fun at the table, namely, "How do we experience that?" If you choose and act and suffer in a boring way, I will not be thrilled. "So don't play with boring people," is a common reply, but I feel I could just as easily say, "Don't play with poor deciders and clueless GMs," to people who design rules for choices and outcomes. To me, it's the same thing -- most people who want to roleplay already have some ability to do everything roleplaying requires on their own, and games are there to help them do parts of it better. Just as Dogs in the Vineyard may produce more dramatic situations, meatier choices, and impactful outcomes, I'd love to play a game which produces more dramatic character-acting, meatier scene description, and impactful verbal pacing.

Puppetland and Swords Without Master put the spotlight on the talking in interesting ways -- both give you a chance to shine with your performance, but I don't think they particularly lead you to shine if you weren't inclined to already.

I bet various LARPs have good tools for this, but I haven't seen much luck porting LARP techniques to tabletop as is.

So, the first thing that comes to mind is using the bribe of Character Success. It's a technique that I'm pretty tired of -- giving the player a bonus to some character action they want to succeed at, in exchange for buying trouble or tying in a belief or saying how it impacts their lover, or whatever it is the game values. I'm tired of it, but it works, and most folks seem to accept it, so hey, if it could get me what I want, I'll use it.

So here's my question:

If your arch-enemy is about to press the button, and I give you a +1 to your big dramatic sword swing for each of the following, which of them would you actually do without hating them?

- show (don't tell) how this is important to your character
- narrate a brief cutaway to a prior moment that adds meaning to the current action
- help us visualize how your sword swing looks
- help us hear your character's voice
- warp time -- either speed up or slow down from the current pace
- frame a shot -- of the established elements in the scene, tell us which are foreground, which are background, what angle do we see them from, etc.
- repeat a motif -- describe an object or action in such a way that that same thing has been described before
- dynamic volume -- go loud or quiet to heighten the mood
- request any of the above from the GM or another player, and then incorporate it into your own narration

Feel free to add things to the list if you think of them!
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Comments

  • Wouldn't this mostly depend on whether I wanted to particularly succeed in the first place? Makes the question difficult to answer for me.
  • This isn't directly applicable, but I was in a game of Exalted where the GM offered bonus dice for epic moments. In theory this made for more cool stuff - in practice it slowed things down. We all spent excess time and held up the action trying to weave a grand tapestry out of "I make the tea" or "I punch the mook"; we weren't limited to arch-enemy button-pressing moments, and it turned what should have been a reward for a particularly cool and unique stunt into table stakes and flipping through the thesaurus to remain competitive.
  • This is quite interesting.

    I was working - but now that project is on hold - on a simple fantasy RPG where the basic mechanics worked with xD6 pools.
    By default: only rolling a 6 counted as a success. But...

    - adding colorful descriptions (your list is far better than my simple statement, but you get the idea...) gave Players the possibility to take 5s also, as successes, building towards the required Target Number of successes

    - accepting a minor complication would give Players the possibility to take the 4s

    - accepting a major complication would give Players the possibility to take the 3s

    Basically, in most cases a character could achieve everything, given that the Player would be descriptive, and ready to accept also major fallback.
  • edited June 2014
    I have earlier talked about what I thought was weird with "teeth". When in fortune-in-the-middle systems, where you did the description after the roll, how people added "with teeth" to their system design because the description didn't do anything for the mechanics. If you wanted to hit someone, you could either describe how you shoot the opponent in the face or throwing that person to the moon. Neither option mattered because the result - to kill someone - was already established.

    My solution to that is to make the description be a bridge between the mechanics and the result in the game world. Where, if you only are using game mechanics, you wont understand what happens. You roll, but for what? You use a banana to open the door. Great, but how? We already know what the result is, but not how it's executed. This is the trouble with systems that describe too much. Using the skill Guns to kill someone, that's self-explanatory. Using Compassion to kill someone, that's trickier to understand.

    The game system can also have requirements of using bonuses. In my published game, the players could gain extra bonus to involve several skills (and not only their own), but they had to explain how. Having Pub Knowledge gave a nice tone to a character, who used it to fight people, seek out information or anything by attending bars. Further more, to be able to use points for re-roll, the player had to include something in the environment. A re-rolled Pursuade roll turned into a threat when the player used a point and described it as threatening the secretary to silence by taking the stationary phone on the desk and threaten to hit her with it.

    That's the trouble with almost all the things on your list, except repeating the motif. The system doesn't help the player in any way in what to include in the description. "Make a good description" is not a good pointer. "Make something explode" is.
  • Actually, you only need to stablish a few techniques on the social contract. It's nothing new, the first ones are from Archipielago

    Whenever a player chooses, acts or suffers in a boring way, use any of these as a GM, trough questions to the player:
    -Try a different way: You swing your sword at him? But he's got his shield up, how do you attack him?
    -Describe that in detail: You swing your sword at him again? Ok, how exactly do you do it?
    -That might not be quite so easy: Again with the sword? Ok, you've done the same attack three times on a roll, this time he's prepared, you'll get a -2. Are you sure?
    -A (follow-up/flashback) scene please: Why do you keep swinging your sword like this at him? It's something personal? Ok, let's go back two days, you cross this guy in a bar, what did he said or do that offended you so much?

    Award them a Hero Point if they get a nice scene, but only offer it AFTER they narrate it; don't offer it before or include as a hard-coded mechanic (as in "anytime I do this I'll receive a Hero Point") because then players will start to game the system and ruin the fun; even if they narrate a bit more you'll feel it's because of the reward instead of being for the sake of the game, and you will hate it. All this from actual experience: I tried using a FATE-like mechanic for a game and players started to game the system and make it an internal joke. Later the same group played Pathfinder and we were getting hero points every session, but actually enjoying making things interesting instead of doing it for the reward. Later we would invest those hero points again into making scenes more interesting.

    Which takes me to further to: Why Hero Points and not a mechanical reward on the spot? Because the latter takes players into pushing the button and exagerate every scene because of it, instead of looking for good occasions to take things to another level by investing hero points. Most of the times those ocassions will be epic final battles about things that actually matter to the players. Otherwise you will have players taking it (probably joking, mostly) to the point of narrating how his character goes to the bathroom in an epical way just to get a +2 to whatever they do there, in a worst case scenario.
  • I have trouble answering your question directly - it's very circumstantial, after all, whether I would enjoy "warping time" in a given narration or not.

    But I'll say this:

    I think rewards for detailed narration are only really interesting to me if they correspond with some other thing. Just getting a bennie for a detailed description can easily lead to:
    [...] in practice it slowed things down. We all spent excess time and held up the action trying to weave a grand tapestry out of "I make the tea" or "I punch the mook"; we weren't limited to arch-enemy button-pressing moments, and it turned what should have been a reward for a particularly cool and unique stunt into table stakes and flipping through the thesaurus to remain competitive.
    Davide is on the right track, above: let's gauge the interest level of the players and turn that into narrative focus. In other words, more detailed narration isn't about better odds of success, it's also about narrative weight. (After all, that's often how it works in fiction.)

    When you're trying to make that climactic sword blow, you want to maximize your chances of success. So adding description and various detail is interesting because it heightens the moment.

    The idea, then, is to design a mechanic which brings those together. Think of a movie where some action happens in slow motion: it never ends in a whiff. It will be a cool, exciting victory, or a dramatic and crushing defeat.

    So, using those techniques you're describing shouldn't (only) increase the odds of success, it should also escalate the consequences or increase what's at stake.

    This, then, acts as a natural limiter: I'm not going to add a ton of description to my attempt to get information out of the barkeep, because it's not worth it - and I certainly don't want my character's life to be at stake here.

    The mechanical implementation is one which balances risk and reward. Good examples are the Pool (you can roll more dice, increasing your odds of success but also increasing the "cost" of failure with each die) or Danger dice in Danger Patrol. Another good example is escalation in DitV. All of these give you a foot up on the opposition, but at a very clear and distinct cost or danger.

    From another angle:

    As Rickard says, it's better if the options are grounded in the fiction itself rather than pure player choice. "Heighten the moment" isn't as good or clear as "escalate to Guns" (from DitV), which works all the time, for everyone, because we all know how that happens and why it's significant.

  • edited June 2014
    If you choose and act and suffer in a boring way, I will not be thrilled. "So don't play with boring people," is a common reply, but I feel I could just as easily say, "Don't play with poor deciders and clueless GMs,"
    I like this observation :)
    like how do you get players/games to play in different perspectives!
    Raising the player out of his character mode of play or could I say traditional approach.

    No bonuses here but how about just a deck of cards with all those cool ways of playing out a scene.
    - show (don't tell) how this is important to your character
    - narrate a brief cutaway to a prior moment that adds meaning to the current action
    - help us visualize how your sword swing looks
    - help us hear your character's voice
    - warp time -- either speed up or slow down from the current pace
    - frame a shot -- of the established elements in the scene, tell us which are foreground, which are background, what angle do we see them from, etc.
    - repeat a motif -- describe an object or action in such a way that that same thing has been described before
    - dynamic volume -- go loud or quiet to heighten the mood
    - request any of the above from the GM or another player, and then incorporate it into your own narration
    You just have to pick one card randomly or use them up from your hand replenished from a deck? because if you don't you cant roll the dam dice!
    Ment In a nice way.
  • edited June 2014
    I completely agree that "Hey doodz, roleplay more and better!" is useless as both advice and reward criteria. I also agree that not every single action you do deserves extensive coverage (though I wouldn't assume that, in this hypothetical game, there'd even be success rolls for those that don't).

    For now, though, I'm trying to skip over these concerns, and move ahead to the point where we do have a moment worth playing up, and we do have players who, while not opposed to more dramatic narration, don't default to it, and thus need a nudge.

    The Archipelago prompts are great nudge options if someone at the table wants to use them, but I don't want this to be optional any more than getting a relevant outcome from a Move is optional in an AW game.

    I know I brought up a whole can of worms with this topic, but I really would like to get folks' impressions on the items in my list, assuming they're invoked at an appropriate moment for lengthy narration. My intent with each item (not with the combo; if all were required, that'd be too much) is to provide good narrative delivery prompts, in the same way that good RPGs already provide good narrative content prompts. I'm aiming for as much specificity as possible while still being applicable to various situations.

    Would any of them work? (Now numbered for ease of reference!)

    1) show (don't tell) how this is important to your character
    2) narrate a brief cutaway to a prior moment that adds meaning to the current action
    3) help us visualize how your action looks
    4) help us hear your character's voice
    5) warp time -- either speed up or slow down from the current pace
    6) frame a shot -- of the established elements in the scene, tell us which are foreground, which are background, what angle we see them from, etc.
    7) repeat a motif -- describe an object or action in such a way that that same thing has been described before
    8) dynamic volume -- go loud or quiet to heighten the mood
    9) request any of the above from the GM or another player, and then incorporate it into your own narration

    Which of these would you do when prompted, without hating it? Which would you be unable to do, or hate doing?
  • edited June 2014
    Without any other context, this is my initial impression of each, if I was prompted::
    1,3,4 sound functionally similar. "Shine Time!" whether you want to or not.

    2 ,6,7 seem interesting if used sparingly (limited resource or high cost). Dramatic moments. These could be a result of 5 as described next.

    5 if speed-up was the default then some-one calling for a slow-down points to something potentially interesting. However, unlimited uses could be the equivalent of a Perception check ("is this interesting? how about this? surely there something to explore/exploit here")

    8 not keen on being told how to feel; GM can (try to) set the mood by example. I like the idea of Tone better: High/Light Tone=boisterous, cinematic, even pushing silly. Low/Dark Tone= creepy, suspenseful, dangerous. Back the Tone up by the rules; Light= go for it! Have fun with it! Failure is more embarrassing than painful. Dark=Deadly! Be a clown if you want, you'll probably just die looking sad and foolish, dumb-ass.

    9 unhelpful. Who/when/where should be encoded into each option; not a wild-card. In other words, 9 is the prompt that got us started.

    Of course, on a different day, or if they were worded slightly differently, I might respond differently but those are my survey answers as of this moment. I hope it helps.
  • 1) Not definitive enough, unless you're a writer/creator by trade/training.
    2) Would accept in a heavily story focused game, but would be interruptive in shared or different focus.
    3) Always appropriate.
    4) Always appropriate.
    5) No idea what this would mean practically.
    6) Would only consider this in a movie themed game, otherwise seems out of place.
    7) Interesting, but not sure about implementation.
    8) Usually appropriate.
    9) Done organically I enjoy this, but not sure about mechanical implementation.


    Overall I have to say (even if you don't want to hear it), that even mechanical enticements like these will only encourage already present inclinations, and not evoke unnatural behavior. I can see it being useful in either a 'training game' environment, or in a mostly narrative game with already interested people, but in any other environment I see most of the ideas as potentially causing friction.

    It's kind of like the original Traveler. It had a lot of math and advanced science concepts. They tried to make them approachable (especially in later versions), but doing so only irritated both sides and created those that wanted early Traveler (who were mostly math/science geeks already) and those that wanted later Traveler (who wanted the other elements alone).
  • To answer the original question, since I don't know what +1 means in the underlying system, or what each of those decisions mean in the system or game, I can't answer.

    Let's say I'm a fantasy adventurer off to get rich and famous by fighting monsters and evil. There is absolutely no hope that I'm going to give you a flashback to anything during a fight - the fight is the reason I came to play today, not to express something about my poor widdle childhood.

    Let's say I'm a tormented detective searching for a truth nobody in this lousy city wants me to uncover. You'd have to give me a bonus to keep me from going on long metaphorical tangents about the rain and a girl I knew one time who threw me over.

    It all depends why I'm there. If the game is about warping time and telling things forwards and backwards, then I'll do that. But I won't otherwise and please don't ask me to.
  • I'm with JD here.

    I like all the options listed: they all seem like cool and fun things to do. That said, I probably wouldn't enjoy them if they were mandated by the system. A lot of these could feel very forced, or repetitive if they were used with regularity ("ANOTHER flashback? Can we just get on with the action, please?"). When I have a clever idea for a cut-scene, I want to work it into play; such a prompt could give me permission to do that, and that's really fun. But when I don't have an idea, I'm not sure "narrate a flashback" is enough of a prompt to inspire me. (I'd have to try it to be sure, however.)

    I'm least fond of #8. It just sounds like it might be awkward in play unless it were *already* highly appropriate, and it would lose its punch entirely if it was preceded by a break in the action, where a player looks over this list and tries to figure out what to do. Changing dynamic volume, in my opinion, has a lot to do with timing - hesitating would often spoil the effect altogether.

    In short, I think all of these make great reminders/permissions, particularly in a game. Beyond that, I'm less sure whether they would useful. I'd have to play with them to be sure, but my gut sense is that they would only help in situations where a) I already had an idea for this kind of thing anyway, and b) it's highly appropriate to the moment, genre, or style of play.

    I definitely like the general idea of this thread - this is a great question to be asking!

    I would start by looking at how some games already do this (in my post above). TSoY's Bring Down the Pain is another interesting example, somewhat similar to a "slow motion" effect, or at least an increasingly detailed narration of a conflict. These examples from other games are cool, though, in the way that they elicit this behaviour but don't directly reference or enforce it.
  • edited June 2014
    Of course, perhaps the combination of action and direction is part of the whole challenge of play. Like how my example in the "possibility/probability" thread forced you to imagine a "raging earthworm". If that's the case I would argue for making the directives even more abstract. Perhaps even to the level of "Oblique Strategies", but angled more specifically toward fiction than music.

    PS - One of Eno & Schmidt's Oblique Strategies cards reads "Ghost Echoes".
    Paging Mister @John_Harper...
  • I don't actually get 1, though I can narrate on first person why something is important for my character if that what you ask me as a GM. If that's what you meant, 1,3 and 4 are the same as the second Archipielago technique listed. All you have to do to get this from the players is, after they state their action (if they do it in a boring way) ask them how exactly they do that, or exactly what do they say in character. It feels natural, doesn't interrupt the game or anything. We use this on a regular basis.

    2 &5 make me uncomfortable as a player: Yes, you're giving me control of the creative agenda for a moment and even after a couple sessions I won't be sure what I can use from the setting without making the GM or other players feel uncomfortable. It's the same about the gametime I'll take, not to mention I'd had to be inspired to make a good contribution. On top of that, I'd go too far and give the GM something to pull me through the adventure that could change completely the story I meant to play. For example, a friend playing VtM wanted to play a Tremere interested in recovering an antique item for his boss and go around in a sorta Indiana Jones way about it. But he introduced his ghoul as an NPC shaped as a character he had created for his comic, a girl he's very fond of. The GM then took her hostage as a plot device to keep him running with the rest of the party, which ended up generating some unnatural play. Perhaps that could have been avoided with better communication, but it's kinda hard to foresee all the problems that "playing with each other's toys" may or may not generate.

    I could do 6 anytime, but one of my best friends can't. He can't use his spatial imagination even to save his life.

    7 is nice, but unless the player is at least a bit into poetry and understands the dramatic trick he's meant to pull by using this, they will be a bit at loss.

    8 requires that not only everyone must hear the narrator, she needs to have some way to keep the rest of the players at bay for one moment to perform this trick without making them laugh and ruin it. The GM can pull this from time to time, but players may have a hard time with it unless we're talking about serious people playing a dramatic game and really interested on that feeling. I believe there are only two people in my group that I could play games like that with.

    At least 9 sounds like an emergency exit: no, YOU do it!

    If you just want to have players do more of the GM work (which mades a lot of sense for me: why should only one person of the table focus on all the creative tasks besides dealing with the system?) don't bribe them into it. Give them freedom to do specific tasks, guide them with questions, dare them to try something under limiting conditions... all of it when it isn't their turn. Asking them to be creative just won't do, even if there's a reward of any kind. It will feel stressfull until they understand exactly what's expected from them and what are the limits of their input, something that is already quite clear if you're on the role of a player or the role of a GM, but not when you feel it's something in the middle.

    So yes, you can push players into this until they learn how to face it, but again you could do this way faster if you just ask them specific questions or give them specific tasks. For example, I've seen players use NPCs or monsters beautifully when I handed their specs to them, or even when making them from a couple of hints. Our Pathfinder GM used to ask us what we though was happening and then built the next session from our ideas. Also, I kept building on their input as much as I let them build upon mine so we learned to scalate the action together. Asking for details started to work much better then, because if they told me about how they were swinging their sword in detail, I answered with more detail to make the scene interesting. You can perfectly say: If you give me a good description of how you strike your enemy in a way that he can't counter I'll rule it out as a direct hit without rolling. Try giving the players the chance to do this once in a session and let us know how it went!
  • edited June 2014
    That's helpful feedback on the numbered points, guys, thanks! I hope to come back with a revised list soon. In the meantime, more is welcome!

    As for the "don't tell me how to narrate; folks who want to do it will do it without being told, and folks who don't will resent the requirement" comments... Well, I think that's true for all the people who wouldn't play. Just as "don't tell me how to determine who wins or loses or dies in an imaginary fight" describes the attitude of someone who would never try D&D. I mean, no one person thinks D&D combat is perfect, but many groups agree it's better than working things out freeform on their own. My aim is to build a similar system -- rather than being perfect for any given player, it'll be a set of incentives and constraints that provide a more satisfying style of narration than just letting the different tastes at the table do whatever the heck they want.

    Just as freeform fantasy combatants before D&D disagreed on who would defeat whom in battle, freeform narrators today disagree on how much of what kind of talking is good. Faced with rules that say "THIS type of talking is good", people can then say "not for me", "good enough to be worth a shot", or "perfect!" just like they can with D&D's approach to combat.

    If I knew how to get there I could give clearer examples. Right now, I suspect that different triggers ought to invoke different narrative techniques, just as different D&D actions invoke different dice rules or different AW moves invoke different outcome lists. I'd thought of making these triggers story-based -- e.g. "at a Big Moment, do X" -- but "is this a Big Moment?" is even more at the whim of player judgment calls than "is this Going Aggro?" So perhaps fictional triggers in a genre-anchored game would be better. An intrigue story gets most detailed when it's planting seeds of suspicion; an action story gets loud and speeds up when the hero is fighting through an army of mooks; a drama zooms in on minutiae of fingers and faces when one character is struggling with how and whether to tell another how they really feel; horror goes from whispers while on the run to screams when the monster pops out. Would a horror game that said, "When you whisper, roll to avoid being spotted" be fun?
  • edited June 2014
    Would a horror game that said, "When you whisper, roll to avoid being spotted" be fun?
    Not trying to be a dick, but if the monster/enemy is within earshot, don't you just do this already?
  • edited June 2014
    Would a horror game that said, "When you whisper, roll to avoid being spotted" be fun?
    Not trying to be a dick, but if the monster/enemy is within earshot, don't you just do this already?
    No. The characters may be assumed to be doing this, but many players don't bother. By "you", I meant the player. I also meant that it's the whisper that triggers the roll you want to make; if you don't whisper, you can't make that roll.
  • edited June 2014
    Philosophical aside: I remember this in a Sandman book, either from Gaiman or one of the collection preamble authors: "People don't buy a story, they buy the way the story is told." After hundreds of sessions of over a hundred different RPGs, not to mention thousands of hours of movies and TV shows watched, I am pretty well inured to fictional facts of all sorts. What happens is less interesting to me than the experience of how that content is delivered.

    I dunno what the market is for this in RPG-land, but hey, Puppetland is entirely about how we talk, and it hasn't been completely ignored...
  • I agree with both of these comments:
    It all depends why I'm there. If the game is about warping time and telling things forwards and backwards, then I'll do that. But I won't otherwise and please don't ask me to.
    I think rewards for detailed narration are only really interesting to me if they correspond with some other thing.
    If I'm already doing a thing because the game/genre is perfectly aligned with it (self-reflective monologues in a noir detective game or whatever), it's kind of pointless to offer me anything to do more of it. I'm going to be doing it anyway, to whatever extent seems appropriate, and you can get more or less of it by just asking.

    If I'm not doing a thing and you want to pay me to do it, I'm more interested if you offer me something equally out of the ordinary for it. A bonus to my chances of succeeding at an action, well, that's okay, I guess -- I like success, it's nice -- but it's not really special. You're asking ME to do something special and creative in a very involved way, so why aren't you offering an equally special and creative reward for it?
  • edited June 2014
    It seems to me that this approach is sort of backwards. The vague situations being discussed here mostly revolve around games that already hinge on decisions at their core. Rather than trying to incentivize players to deliver colorful narration and play acting in a game about decisions, you should explore how you make colorful narration into a core part of the game in the first place.

    Without other requirements about the design, making it part word game in the first place is an obvious way to go. Just dealing out hands of cards with adjectives on them that must accompany any piece of narration or action is a fine option. That's less about requiring good narration and more about requiring players to be more active in narration, which is probably the best you can hope for in many cases. But that's just an easy, generic option that's the tip of the iceberg.
    Some people might excessively joke around with or be embarrassed by a core game mechanic that requires speaking in rhyming couplets to woo a romantic interest and taunt the competition - that's going to depend on your group.
    Maybe a fundamental part of your game is that the apparently-definitive history text of the world is fluid or in some way incorrect; and the game includes both writing parts of that text before/during play and then, at appropriate times, cleverly changing some of the words to accomplish what you want and, ultimately, changing what you narrate. That could be a much more concrete way to ensure creation of and rewards for a motif, for example.

    I think once you go whole hog with games that are fundamentally about narration, you'll better learn what tools are required to achieve what you seek for a given group or other game.
  • My old D&D group packed with power players and dull narrators turned into pretty cool storytellers when I ran Always/Never/Now for them. It uses the Lady Blackbird system, so they couldn't do anything effectively unless they gave a narration that hit at least five or six keywords on their sheet, and they only gained XP when they did something appropriate or meaningful for their character, but because it was baked into the system they got on board with it quickly. By contrast, when I played what was functionally a dungeon delve board game that gave rewards if you "described something in a cool way", it just felt awkward and out of place. I knew I could describe things at the level the game wanted, but the game was so tactical that it broke the flow to suddenly launch into a description of a wire fu bullet time sequence rather than just passing turn and letting the next person make their move.

    One thing you could do is have a couple of sample questions that have a meaningful in-game trigger, so whenever someone rolls a mega success, or uses a rare in-game resource, or identifies their current opponent as their nemesis, etc., the GM or someone else round the table can choose to ask the player a question that would prompt one of the behaviours in your list above. "What does that look like?", "What does my PC/this NPC hear from the room next door?", "What happened to make you hate this guy so much?".
  • edited June 2014
    I think once you go whole hog with games that are fundamentally about narration, you'll better learn what tools are required to achieve what you seek for a given group or other game.
    I bet that's true. Do you know any such games? I'm trying to think of collaborative activities which are all about delivery, and the only thing that comes to mind is actors' script readings.

    Random idea: player roles are different narrative styles; players can take the talking stick from each other when they deem their style appropriate. I'm the Dramatic Action narrator and Paul's the Subtle Unease narrator, so when Paul quietly and creepily narrates the characters entering the forbidden sanctum, if I feel that's a good time for an alarm to go off and armed guards to come running, then that's where I jump in and start yelling.
  • edited June 2014
    I think once you go whole hog with games that are fundamentally about narration, you'll better learn what tools are required to achieve what you seek for a given group or other game.
    I bet that's true. Do you know any such games? I'm trying to think of collaborative activities which are all about delivery, and the only thing that comes to mind is actors' script readings.

    Random idea: player roles are different narrative styles; players can take the talking stick from each other when they deem their style appropriate. I'm the Dramatic Action narrator and Paul's the Subtle Unease narrator, so when Paul quietly and creepily narrates the characters entering the forbidden sanctum, if I feel that's a good time for an alarm to go off and armed guards to come running, then that's where I jump in and start yelling.
    That idea is interesting. Pass-the-stick mechanics like that are very hit and miss to me, but that particular idea would definitely get people comfortable with different types of narration - or even train them to do it. I suspect a particularly satisfying part of that game would be learning pacing. Did people grin with anticipation when Unexpectedly Lighthearted grabbed the mic, or did it deflate tension in a way that was just frustrating before they even spoke? And another good part would be how much you have to listen in order to really get anything out of it. Some players get invested as silent audience members, but in my experience, players who listen most intently tend to be ones who contribute well.

    As for games that are, at their core, about narration (or performance), Do: Pilgrims of the Flying Temple comes to mind. I think InSpectres interviews tap into that, too. I'm sure there are many obvious ones that other folks here will recall. Hell, my Game Chef entry this year revolves entirely around stunted, tech-support-like phone conversations with adventurers stuck mid-quest, calling a service for advice. The attempt is to create a comedy duo - I didn't even bother with action/scene resolution. So I'm definitely interested in games that work on the axis of verbal interaction instead of just conflict generation and resolution through character actions; and I hope people can name some with which I'm unfamiliar.
  • edited June 2014
    Archipelago got domains, controlled by different participants. Whenever a domain comes into play, the participant in charge of that domain can take over the narration.

    My own This Is Pulp have pre-made archetypes that will affect the session in certain ways. If Betty Porter, the pilot, is in the party, the session will contain all sorts of vehicles made up by the player playing miss Porter. The descriptions will come into play naturally because that's how she solves problems.

    None of these are using rewards, and you probably know why I don't use it in my game. I do however have a refresh mechanic, where the player must describe how the character is getting hurt during it's next action.
  • edited June 2014
    I think once you go whole hog with games that are fundamentally about narration, you'll better learn what tools are required to achieve what you seek for a given group or other game.
    I bet that's true. Do you know any such games? I'm trying to think of collaborative activities which are all about delivery, and the only thing that comes to mind is actors' script readings.
    Here are some examples, YMMV of course:
    "Swords without Master" (which you mentioned in the OP) is almost strictly narrativistic. Sample adventure here.
    Scenes in Microscope are strictly narrativistic.
    Beatrice Henrietta Bristol-Smythe, DBE.
    The Mustang.
    A Penny for my Thoughts.
    Dead Man Talking.
    Fiasco.
    Shock.
    Skew.
    Medical Bay Three.
    and of course, Sea Dracula is silly narration plus dancing.
  • edited June 2014
    It seems to me that this approach is sort of backwards. The vague situations being discussed here mostly revolve around games that already hinge on decisions at their core. Rather than trying to incentivize players to deliver colorful narration and play acting in a game about decisions, you should explore how you make colorful narration into a core part of the game in the first place.
    This seems like the crux to me. If you want people to do something, organize your game around it. Have the game give them tools to do the thing: tools are a much, much, much better incentive than rewards, especially when the thing you want them to do might require focus or skills that the players' cannot be expected to naturally possess.

    As an example, this is what my game (My Daughter, the Queen of France) does. It gives people tools to improve and explore their dialogue, physical description, and emotional expressiveness. As it turns out it gives them the same tool for all of them: repetition and focus. The game specifically draws attention to the skills it hopes to foster in the players, and it does so in service to a compelling premise. Then it lets them practice doing those things, repeatedly.
    I'm trying to think of collaborative activities which are all about delivery, and the only thing that comes to mind is actors' script readings.
    My Daughter etc. also (uncoincidentally) has a structure based around script readings, rehearsal, etc. This seems like a natural fit, when part of a game's goal is to develop the players' abilities as actors.

    But I mean really I think it comes down to the fact that if you want players to become better at something, they will need a lot of practice; and just doing the thing randomly as part of a game that is primarily focused elsewhere is not practice. Practice has to be thoughtful and deliberate and reflective, and most games are not any of those things -- they are perpetually forward-moving narrative momentum machines that are often designed to actively avoid reflexivity, deliberation and (especially) judgement towards the contributions of players. And for good reason, really, because having those things in the middle of a game can often be destructive towards players' confidence and creativity.

    Now lots of individual players and play groups are super reflective and thoughtful and deliberate, and strive to improve their play or practice particular things; but they don't practice them up and against the game they are playing, they choose games that focus on the things they want to practice.


  • This seems like the crux to me. If you want people to do something, organize your game around it. Have the game give them tools to do the thing: tools are a much, much, much better incentive than rewards,
    Hear, hear. If you had a Youtube channel, I would subscribe immediately. Do you have a link to your game?
  • Here are some examples, YMMV of course:
    I feel like there is some confusion here about what was being asked for. Games that focus on narrative are not the same thing as games that are 'about narration' or 'about the delivery'. Fiasco is generally a game about what happens, not about how what happens is described. Its mechanics are all about creating great situations and resolving outcomes of scenes, not about delivering awesome dialogue or describing compelling physical action. The same goes for Shock:.

    Penny For My Thoughts is a very interesting example, though, because it does actually constrain -- and therefore bring focus to -- specific narrative tools, and therefore specific ways of describing what is happening. By removing the player's most obvious tool to expressing their character -- the ability to describe what their character actually does and says -- it forces players to explore other modes of expression and description. Players in Penny are far more likely to describe their characters' thought and feelings directly, and they are also more likely to show who their character is through how they see the world: the game rigorously promotes a first-person point of view which is very unusual in roleplaying games. Not in terms of how the players think about their character -- I think it's fairly common to try and look at what is going on through your character's eyes, etc. -- but in terms of actually describing what is happening.

    Almost all action/setting/event narration in rpgs is in the third person*, but the third person is not accessible to characters/players in Penny. The only way they can say what is happening is by describing their own memories of what happened. This opens up the possibility of the players using that device expressively, instead of descriptively. The game doesn't directly encourage it, but it tends to indirectly encourage it simply by forcing the player further and further into their characters' head, so that eventually it starts to happen automatically.



    * Or is described using objective language, even when presented from the position of the character. 'I run him through with my sword' is first-person narration in a technical sense, at best.


  • This seems like the crux to me. If you want people to do something, organize your game around it. Have the game give them tools to do the thing: tools are a much, much, much better incentive than rewards,
    Hear, hear. If you had a Youtube channel, I would subscribe immediately. Do you have a link to your game?
    Sure, there was a thread about it on here ages ago -- which includes a link to the Game Chef version of the game, which is not much different from the current version.

  • edited June 2014
    I feel like there is some confusion here about what was being asked for.
    Meh. Not so much "confusion" as "throwing the net wide". Certain types of players can get narrative brilliance and awesome delivery out of really crunchy simulationist systems, so I listed some uncrunchy narrativist systems. You're not wrong. But like I said, YMMV.

    If we're talking about strictly "reward for awesome delivery" that's obviously going to be a human value judgment that differs from table to table. There are games that say "you get bonus XP for telling the tale well" or even "if no one objects, you get a lawyer point" - but of course that's totally subjective. At that level of conceptualization, a mechanic might cover voting methods, counting methods, consensus methods, etc, but could not handle a direct evaluation of delivery "quality".

    One pseudo-qualitative rule I've seen in at least two games: "get a bonus if you make the GM (or the other players) laugh." But that doesn't work across all genres. In a horror game you might even feel a desire to penalize someone for breaking the mood that way.

    ETA: Which leads me to this thought: What if we turn the OP on its head? Instead of asking "Can you bribe for better narration?" perhaps some fresh ideas would arise if we asked a different question: "Can you penalize for poor narration?"

    Note that the word "poor" as I use it above is really shorthand for lots of things. A sampling might include:
    mood-destroying, disruptive, discontinuous, stilted, sloppy, boring, out-of-character, off-point, off-genre, reality-breaking...
    ...and that list might differ from GM to GM, from game to game, or even from session to session.
  • edited June 2014
    I think nerulean nailed it a few posts ago:
    My old D&D group packed with power players and dull narrators turned into pretty cool storytellers when I ran Always/Never/Now for them. It uses the Lady Blackbird system, so they couldn't do anything effectively unless they gave a narration that hit at least five or six keywords on their sheet, and they only gained XP when they did something appropriate or meaningful for their character, but because it was baked into the system they got on board with it quickly. By contrast, when I played what was functionally a dungeon delve board game that gave rewards if you "described something in a cool way", it just felt awkward and out of place. I knew I could describe things at the level the game wanted, but the game was so tactical that it broke the flow to suddenly launch into a description of a wire fu bullet time sequence rather than just passing turn and letting the next person make their move.

    One thing you could do is have a couple of sample questions that have a meaningful in-game trigger, so whenever someone rolls a mega success, or uses a rare in-game resource, or identifies their current opponent as their nemesis, etc., the GM or someone else round the table can choose to ask the player a question that would prompt one of the behaviours in your list above. "What does that look like?", "What does my PC/this NPC hear from the room next door?", "What happened to make you hate this guy so much?".
    And I was wondering why nobody care until I readed this:

    Almost all action/setting/event narration in rpgs is in the third person
    Is it really true? Because, if it is, I've been playing RPGs in a really fun wrong way my entire life. In all of the groups we've been we do use objective language for the actions, but whenever anybody stated an action that included his/her character speaking or doing something specific, the GM always asked the question "Ok, how exactly do you say it?" which was the prompt for us to start talking in character and gesturing our character's actions instead of just describing them. It's like going into full theatrical mode, which is reinforced by the GM narrating things in more detail to increase the drama, going loud or hushing the narration to best accomodate the moment, and lately by sheer luck, matching the background music we keep playing on the pc while we're gaming.

    I agree that the change from hardcore trad players to hardcore trad players who narrate and add detail to their roleplaying requires a different game, one with tools engrained to make that gameplay feel natural among the players. I've been hacking and testing deveral different game mechanics in the last 12 years for this purpose, hacking them from story games and interesting twists on trad games from anywhere.

    What I found is that there's a limit for the amount of mechanics that players will engage in any game. Think if for a moment: nobody uses ALL the rules from D&D. Even when it has rules for almost anything, the GMs and players don't engage on the encumbrance mechanics unless PCs going into a town and start loading themselves with equipment, or go into a dungeon and try to pick up every single dime they find. Even then, a lot of GMs just let go of it and allow players to carry a whole arsenal of weapons and a couple chests of treasure with them just because they want to keep going with the story.

    Next, I found that players tend to become more creative when they are relaxed, as in not worried about the encumbrance rules or trying to find a loophole to use certain class ability as a setting-breaking tool; or when they don't have to pay attention to every single +1 their equipment, skills, feats, ability mods and circumstancial bonuses they get against a particular enemy. As a GM, the less you have them thinking on the numbers, the more you will have them thinking on the story.

    Here's where the narrative mechanics of the game come into play (pun not intended), though again, the less you use, the better. The acknowledgement of the GM or other players to every contribution here is the best reward you can use as a game designer, because any other kind of reward will have them thinking into numbers again. Whenever you reduce a scene into a number, you take away any meaning to it, that's why even if you roleplayed or narrated your best to get that +1 to your next roll, you ended up doing because of that +1 instead of because the story could get more interesting that way. Any acknowledgement that comes after this from anyone is subconsciously identified by the player with the act of gaming the system to get a +1 or more.

    That's why bribing the players into this doesn't work. You're calling yourself bribing, because that's what it is and that's what the players will definitely perceive, even if they don't adress at it like that. Collaborative players will certainly go with it as they could go with railroading, but in the end the chances that this develops into an unnatural/unhealty gameplay ar quite high.

    The archipielago techniques I mentioned are more or less how I have ended up playing today. But the core thing is all about asking provocative questions to the players. "Exactly how you do X?" has become a provocative question for my group because now they know that if I smile while asking it, it means it's a loaded one. It may mean that the GM has something on store that will be introduced as soon as they do the "wrong move", and that if they do it in a different way it will spoil my plans.

    A subtle change on the tone for the same question means "Come on, you've already used that attack on your previous turn and it's boring, try it on a different way"
    But in every case, they are rewarded for the result: either they spoil my plan and I let them notice it and/or I build on whatever they said, and/or other players build on their contribution making the scene more interesting. Even surprise interjections from the GM or the group act like a nice reward.

    Yet I mentioned Hero Points as a mechanic reward since I've been using them broadly and even found them to be quite perfected in the way a trad game as Pathfinder uses them. There a hero point is used to re-roll the dice on any situation or (as we used them regularly) to ask the GM for things that were out of the mechanics but could make the scene more interesting. I recall once that the GM had a dozen drakes and an army of undead surrounding us. I was playing a monk specialized in grappling so I asked if I could spend all my hero points to jump on the drake and try to use his breath attack against the undead. To my surprise, the GM allowed it because the scene was epic, and while the breath attack only did it's normal damage and didin't finished with the whole army, I enjoyed it and became a memorable moment for everyone.

    Another important thing about Hero Points: they are a resource as important as spells. Notice how often magic users save their best spells for later, when they will make a difference? that's because players can read perfectly how serious is a situation (as loong as the GM is clear on the signals) and spend them in the right moment, creating espectacular scenes. It's the same with Hero Points: the players will save them for later and only use in scenes that actually matter, making them more interesting. So there, you have the problem of timing the use of better descriptions and limiting them to the most important scenes. Because, it willonly be on those scenes where they could gain those hero points back.

    I understand there's a ton of ways of obtaining this and other kinds of gameplay, so I beg your pardon for insisting too much on these. It's just that I feel you're stumbling on the same point I was a few years ago and that this may save you a few years of investigation. It's possible that I'm assuming too much while still not getting exactly what kind of game experience you want as a GM or what you would like your players to experience, so I'll keep quiet for the moment and just keep watching how this develops.
  • Good post, WM, but I feel a need to raise my hand and represent for the people who can do math without losing meaning or narrative strength, and without becoming minmaxers. To such a person, each modifier in the (sometimes quite long) chain of modifiers can be a tiny little dramatic moment, like a small detailed brush stroke that contributes to the "big picture" painted by the climactic die roll. (Yes I'm thinking CyberSpace or RoleMaster, sue me.)

    It's a style thing, certainly, and it doesn't apply to all games, or all players.
    But then again, I think the same can be said for every datapoint in this thread.

    If there's a system that can turn a boring person into an exciting one, or an unimaginative person into a creative one, I'd love to see it!
  • edited June 2014
    Ok, I'm gonna toss this in as well, because it's something I see a lot of in YouTube APs and it pisses me off. Here goes:

    When you put people on the spot and tell them they have to be creative, often they comply, but what you get is totally fucking silly. This sort of "pressured ridiculousness" turns a serious game into a parody of itself, and has been responsible for my bailing on more APs than any other reason.

    Picture playing Apocalypse World or APFMT when you have a player who can't stop talking about farts.

    It is a TOTALLY RAMPANT problem. Fear it.

  • Almost all action/setting/event narration in rpgs is in the third person
    Is it really true? Because, if it is, I've been playing RPGs in a really fun wrong way my entire life. In all of the groups we've been we do use objective language for the actions, but whenever anybody stated an action that included his/her character speaking or doing something specific, the GM always asked the question "Ok, how exactly do you say it?" which was the prompt for us to start talking in character and gesturing our character's actions instead of just describing them. It's like going into full theatrical mode, which is reinforced by the GM narrating things in more detail to increase the drama, going loud or hushing the narration to best accomodate the moment, and lately by sheer luck, matching the background music we keep playing on the pc while we're gaming.
    That's not really what I was getting at. Have you played A Penny For My Thoughts? It does very specific things with how scenes are described and portrayed; they are from the character's point of view, in the sense that everything is something they are remembering. A subjective point of view has nothing to do with whether people are speaking in verbatim dialogue, or gesturing, or otherwise 'going into full theatrical mode'. It's not that those things aren't great, or (perhaps?) relevant to the OP, it's just not at all what I was talking about regarding Penny.

  • edited June 2014
    A lot of the boundaries and effects on narration are subtle things, sometimes established simply by expectations or presentation.

    For instance, I've designed several "storytelling games" (GMless story exercises), and I always thought it would be cool if the stories were narrated in the past tense. However, it never worked. At most, people would stick with that for a sentence or two, but pretty quickly switch into the present tense. The story was been created in the present moment, after all - speaking about it in the past tense felt strange. (Consider doing it that way in an RPG - "And then my character swung his sword at the Orc..." - it's weird.)

    But then one day we played Polaris. We started by reading some of the flavour text, and familiarizing ourselves with the ritual phrases. All in the past tense. And, without even consciously thinking about it, we all started narrating in the past tense, and had no trouble staying there.

    As another example, consider how the very act of reaching for and rolling dice creates pauses in narration and punctuates certain actions above others.
  • edited June 2014
    Re: "train people through practice; you can't make someone a better actor through rules" -- I think that misses the point entirely.

    Again, I will compare my intent to D&D combat -- yes, people do get better at D&D combat through practice, and yes, someone who completely lacks the ability to reason through probabilities will never be good at it... but who cares? That's not the point. The point is to take players who can focus on combat in a certain way but otherwise don't, and provide them a system such that now they do.

    Just as every D&D group contains brilliant and mediocre combat strategists, I expect Narration Game groups to contain strong and weak actors. That's fine. What the game does is unite them in acting as best they can. I believe that'll be a huge step up in that department from what traditionally happens.
  • edited June 2014
    @IceCreamEmperor, My Daughter sounds highly relevant here. Am I correct that you have both "make up a story" and "deliver it expressively" in the game, but they're not simultaneous? You invent stuff while talking flat, and then you go through for a second pass, no longer inventing, and emote?
  • edited June 2014
    When you put people on the spot and tell them they have to be creative, often they comply, but what you get is totally fucking silly.
    Yup. Been there 1000 times. In every single case, the "pressure that makes people silly" has been about "you must invent content", not about "you must deliver it thusly". My idea might actually be a solution to silliness. I would hope I'd be giving people tools to narrate mundane events in an interesting way, thus removing some pressure to "come up with something amazing" while reminding people that tone matters. Although, wait a second... some of the items in my list do involve requirements to invent new content. Flashbacks should never be mandatory; as for the rest, I'll have to ponder.
    I think nerulean nailed it a few posts ago:
    My old D&D group packed with power players and dull narrators turned into pretty cool storytellers when I ran Always/Never/Now for them. It uses the Lady Blackbird system, so they couldn't do anything effectively unless they gave a narration that hit at least five or six keywords on their sheet
    It's interesting -- I've heard this technique described many times as "a way to achieve specific and colorful narration", while my experience instead shows that it's merely a way to avert the complete disaster of utter non-description. I agree that Blackbird raises the bar well above "I hit it" games, but my intent here is to raise the bar still higher. Honestly, I find "rope in six keywords" narrations to vary in quality every bit as much as totally freeform description -- some players brilliantly synthesize all six into a single, flowing description, while others awkwardly shoehorn in bits of extra description amid long pauses as they work their way down the character sheet.
    One thing you could do is have a couple of sample questions that have a meaningful in-game trigger, so whenever someone rolls a mega success, or uses a rare in-game resource, or identifies their current opponent as their nemesis, etc., the GM or someone else round the table can choose to ask the player a question that would prompt one of the behaviours in your list above. "What does that look like?", "What does my PC/this NPC hear from the room next door?", "What happened to make you hate this guy so much?".
    I do like those examples of triggers. "Someone else can choose to ask" is too weak, though. It's the gentlest of possible reminders on top of the group doing whatever they're gonna do anyway. I don't want to let them do that, I want to give them an engaging reason to do something else.
  • [...] giving people tools to narrate mundane events in an interesting way, thus removing some pressure to "come up with something amazing" while reminding people that tone matters.
    This is a very worthwhile goal. It's been my experience with wide-open narration games that I have to constantly remind players to keep it simple and down-to-earth. Most people try too hard to come up with something crazy, when something very simple and basic will do. "Don't be afraid to be obvious", in other words - somehow this is a hard one to get people to understand.

    I'm not sure how that could possible be enforced/supported, but it's worth thinking about.

  • Ok, I'm gonna toss this in as well, because it's something I see a lot of in YouTube APs and it pisses me off. Here goes:

    When you put people on the spot and tell them they have to be creative, often they comply, but what you get is totally fucking silly. This sort of "pressured ridiculousness" turns a serious game into a parody of itself, and has been responsible for my bailing on more APs than any other reason.

    Picture playing Apocalypse World or APFMT when you have a player who can't stop talking about farts.

    It is a TOTALLY RAMPANT problem. Fear it.
    Some lesser, tangential form of this is the default mode for the group with whom I play the most. But it's not in some overbearing, can't-get-the-hint kind of way. And it's not that people take the game's fiction to an absurd, infantile place. It's that everybody is simply being non-serious. I think you can take a game seriously, but be a non-serious person who says non-serious things even during that game. For some people, that wrecks their pace, inhibits their ability for some type of immersion, etc.; but for us, it's how we interact in the first place. So it feels far more ironic and fake for us to flip a switch and be something else.

    But then we slip into engaged, focused play. Every once in a rare while, it's a chore to get there, but at least as often, there's a kind of magic in having it naturally sneak up on you that I don't think I've experienced with a group that demands more focus from the outset.

    What's rough is when a player isn't being childish, but simply "goes gonzo" all the time. For some people, there is no barrier between ubiquitous non-play goofiness and ridiculous Hollywood logic injected into the game, itself. I experience this more frequently than not during convention games, actually. It's one small reason that I have no special love for rules or agendas that are designed to protect the contributions of individuals above all else. And, on topic, that's a legitimate danger in many games that are about narration simply because the performance/delivery is supposed to be more impacting and final. It's difficult to socially negotiate those acts.
  • One thing you could do is have a couple of sample questions that have a meaningful in-game trigger, so whenever someone rolls a mega success, or uses a rare in-game resource, or identifies their current opponent as their nemesis, etc., the GM or someone else round the table can choose to ask the player a question that would prompt one of the behaviours in your list above. "What does that look like?", "What does my PC/this NPC hear from the room next door?", "What happened to make you hate this guy so much?".
    I do like those examples of triggers. "Someone else can choose to ask" is too weak, though. It's the gentlest of possible reminders on top of the group doing whatever they're gonna do anyway. I don't want to let them do that, I want to give them an engaging reason to do something else.
    I guess for me there's always an inclination to back away from making this sort of thing mandatory in case it wrecks the flow, but since you're specifically looking to impose that kind of interaction, how about requiring the player to choose one of the questions to answer when the trigger occurs? Or having a mechanical way of determining who picks the question, such as the player with the most positive or negative relationship points with the triggering character, the player whose character is being attacked, the player who's next in the initiative order.

    It would need to be as quick as possible to determine who's choosing and the question list would need to be short and always to hand, maybe five questions at most. As long as it's part of the rules, it doesn't need to be separately incentivised, it just becomes what happens: if you roll a critical success, you do bonus damage and respond to a question that requires a narrative answer.
  • edited June 2014
    The point is to take players who can focus on combat in a certain way but otherwise don't, and provide them a system such that now they do.
    Of course, you can design games however you want, but it seems to me like you take this on from the wrong perspective, where you assume that they don't want to do the task and that you need to bribe them with a reward. I would rather see that you assume that they want to do the task and then guide them into how to do it. Then the fun of doing the task will be to do the task itself, rather than doing it for the reward. If they don't want to do the task, then they should play another game.

    I myself can have a hard time not including mechanical rewards in my designs, because that's how roleplaying games usually works.
    When you put people on the spot and tell them they have to be creative, often they comply, but what you get is totally fucking silly.
    Yup. Been there 1000 times. In every single case, the "pressure that makes people silly" has been about "you must invent content", not about "you must deliver it thusly". My idea might actually be a solution to silliness.
    Repeating what @Paul_D_L said and backing it up with a source too. Keith Johnstone talks in Impro how people start off with silliness before they go into more sexual content and finally steps into a more "serious" mental state. So it's a natural progress, where the silliness to some is a defense mechanism. If a player however, which I thought @AsIf talked about, always is silly then it's more about breaking the social contract. Take a step back and redo the whole introduction phase, where you (the game master or the whole group) sets the tone. I noticed that it's important to repeat this introduction phase at the start of every session.

    I also think that a harder structure creates more comfort, and comfort is important when it comes to narrating, otherwise their defense mechanism can kick in. Experienced game master usually never have trouble spitting out stuff, but that's because they are using unspoken structures that they learned through the years.
  • edited June 2014
    @Rickard when you say "a harder structure", I'm reading you to mean "a more rigid structure" - is that correct?
    I ask because the word "harder" can also mean "more difficult" (which is not what I think you meant).

    PS - About the silly player I really meant "cannot stop talking about farts tonight." Maybe tonight the tone is particularly serious, so he gets silly. The Keith Johnstone arc makes sense.

    But. That said, pressure silliness is (sadly) present in a majority of APs you can find on YouTube. Sometimes I think "I'll send my players a link to a great AP of people playing next week's game, so they can see how it goes." But when I go watch the APs out there, I find ridiculous play everywhere. Often it's difficult to find an AP that takes itself (or the tone of the game) seriously.
  • edited June 2014
    Yeah, rigid, as in opposite to looser. I played a lot of collaborative storytelling games with loose structures, and most beginners will sit there not understanding what or how to play the game. Even the simplest thing as scene framing is missing in most games. Put that into a rigid structure, and you will have more confident players. And keep repeating the structure over and over until you see that they relax.
  • Experienced game master usually never have trouble spitting out stuff, but that's because they are using unspoken structures that they learned through the years.
    This is a great point; a lot of what we see as "boundless creativity" is really a person drawing on hours and hours (or years and years) of experience. And so, a lot of what needs to be done is simply *practice*.

    Not sure if that's helpful in any way from a game design point of view, however.

    Rickard,

    You often bring up the point that rewarding the very activity we come to play for is counterproductive. This is borne out by a number of recent psychology studies in other fields (education, some financial applications, sports, etc).

    However, I have yet to see this effect shown/proven in gameplay. It's funny that your point of view on this sounds quite backwards to many of the people here, since many of us have had very positive experiences with direct rewards in games we've played.

    I'm not sure where these two points of view can come to meet, but I'll keep thinking on it.

  • edited June 2014
    ETA: Which leads me to this thought: What if we turn the OP on its head? Instead of asking "Can you bribe for better narration?" perhaps some fresh ideas would arise if we asked a different question: "Can you penalize for poor narration?"
    Yeesh. I'm trying to envision a scenario where that wouldn't be just a terrible, crushing bummer for everyone involved, and it's just not coming to me. So much of what makes that wonderful audience-participant mix you feel in a really great gaming session depends on mutual trust and lack of social anxiety, and no matter how anyone might feel about being told, "Hey, that was great, here's a reward," I'm pretty sure most people would take hearing, "Hey, that was terrible, you ruined everything and deserve punishment" badly.


    Although it did occur to me that it would be amusing if players in a game where bonuses were awarded for doing things the GM liked decided to award themselves bonuses when the GM did things they didn't like. ("Ugh, this villain is totally bland. I'm taking a +1 to hit him because you didn't make him more interesting.")
  • edited June 2014
    I'm in postmodern exploratory scattershotting mode, maybe Socratic, maybe just rhetorical, and I reserve the right to interpret my intention later. (Which is exactly one of those GM tricks you learn from years of doing it.) So no harm no foul. You have basically raised this question:
    Can the players penalize the GM for poor narration?
  • edited June 2014
    In the same rhetorical vein, is a player taking a bonus on their roll (for poor GM narration, or for any other reason) really a penalty to the GM? (And if the answer to that is "Yes," then are GMs punishing themselves when they reward players with a bonus for good narration, or for making them laugh, or for any other reason?)

    :D


    edit: for the record, I don't think it's a penalty to the GM when the player gets a bonus to success, any more than it is a reward for the GM when the players' characters fail. I think it's just what it looks like: the players' characters being more likely to succeed. Not a terribly interesting thing in and of itself, but I suppose it has some potentially interesting applications. A scene seems to be dragging on too long, an opponent isn't worth bringing back later, an investigation needs to be jumpstarted to get to a more dramatic point, etc..
  • edited June 2014
    Re: "train people through practice; you can't make someone a better actor through rules" -- I think that misses the point entirely.
    I can't tell if that was intended as a paraphrase of what I was saying, but in any case I think it turns out that the things you do to help people practice a skill in the context of a game are extremely similar to the things that you do to help people do something they wouldn't otherwise do in a game. Namely, you make the game about doing that thing and bring attention to doing that thing and provide tools to help the players do that thing. These are all complementary and inter-related things.

    But I am not entirely sure if this is the level of focus you are interested in; half this thread is people talking about having better description of actions in their D&D games, which as you mention seems like a kind of baseline of not-completely-terrible play (in this specific regard.) To me, the idea of a list of rough incentives that provide bonuses to success fall pretty squarely in this design camp -- they're fine if the game isn't about that thing, and you still want some of it in there, but they're not going to elevate players' contributions (along the for-lack-of-a-better-word aesthetic axis) much by themselves.

    Personally I feel like a lot of the games that provide the strongest impetus for this kind of descriptive play do so in part by leading by example; the games themselves are presented with a strong attention to aesthetics, and their premises are evocative in a way that clearly suggests how play will benefit from players following through on those aesthetics. Polaris is probably the strongest example: the game includes a piece of short fiction, and the ritual phrases themselves adopt a specific language that pushes players to focus on their own descriptions. To do otherwise is to constantly introduce basic aesthetic dissonance, and so players naturally adopt a specific aesthetic style when playing the game.

    Another game that comes to mind is Mist-Robed Gate, which pushes its wuxia aesthetic in a variety of ways, not least the production of the book itself. Nobody who looks at (let alone reads) the book is going to avoid the inescapable conclusion that this is game you have to play with a conscious attention to aesthetic and descriptive detail. The game itself then follows that up by bringing further attention to the individual aesthetics of the characters, who have strong mechanical associations with specific aesthetic devices (colours, weather patterns, masks, sounds, etc.) This is clearly not a game where you just sort of describe what your character does and then, you know, whatever. The dueling mechanics bring the whole thing home, as players compete on behalf of their characters on both aesthetic and narrative grounds, attempting to convince their fellow-players that they deserve to win the fight. Again, this is one of the very few games that explicitly calls attention to the fact that your audience (which is to say the people you are playing with) are judging your contributions -- and it goes a step further by making those judgements opaque/arbitrary, consequential and private.

    And while yes these games may have mechanics that 'reward' players for excellence in description, the core of their success is the complete package of the game; its presentation, themes, and about-ness are all focused in part on an aesthetic quality that it both expects from its players and helps them produce. The reward is the feeling that you are playing the game correctly; the motivation is that the game seems worth playing that way. An extra die to attack with just isn't on the same level.
  • (Kagematsu is another interesting example of this, I think.)
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