Game went so well last night (self-torture follow-up)

Played with my friends Sarah and Will last night.

Humans are a de facto underclass in a city of Fold, populated by various insectoid species.

The player characters trying to case out a target, this military commander noble's pyramid / arena.
  • Watching humans getting bought and sold in the east market
  • Funny exchange between the humans and a "mating arranger" / slave trader.
  • Intimidation by a gang of clickers (ant folk)
  • Player characters separated, trying to find each other as a sandstorm kicks up
  • Moments of kindness expressed between the Shum, a more slug/spider/ewok underclass, and the PCs
  • Left on a moment of high emotion, player characters finding each other in the sandstorm while pursued by assassins in league with a demented body-grafted noble.
  • High level of texture and fidelity maintained throughout.
  • Players really happy, laughing and worrying and staying in the moment.

Comments

  • Cool! And how did you prep for this? How much prep was needed this time?
  • a more slug/spider/ewok underclass
    Whoa.

    Tell us about your prep!

  • edited December 2015
    Sometimes after I play enough realistic and/or derivative RPGs, I forget how much potential the medium has for unique weirdness. Body-grafted insect nobles sending assassins after slug-hugging, sandstorm-blinded humans? Sign me up, man.
  • Yeah, pretty awesome stuff. (Although also necessarily VERY prep-intensive, unless you embrace the wackiness and don't seek coherence.)
  • the prep was as per what I landed on at the end of the thread -

    I sent myself a series of random but specifically helpful questions to try to constructively daydream about the game more.
  • Those questions helped me create

    Pressures, desiderata, moving parts and texture

    In these proportions: PPPPDDMT
  • What are moving parts?
  • Yeah, pretty awesome stuff. (Although also necessarily VERY prep-intensive, unless you embrace the wackiness and don't seek coherence.)
    I'm not really sure how one arrives at this conclusion. There are ways to avoid incoherence besides exhaustive prep, right?

  • Hmmm. Good question. Certainly it seems like there is no *objective* reason why that would be the case, although, then again, maybe there is.

    However, it's been my experience that creating something which is extremely alien/unfamiliar and operates on principles different than we are used to is quite a challenge. Doing that on the fly, while maintaining high standards of coherence/internal logic, can be very demanding. c.f. Ry's "high level of fidelity maintained throughout" -> I interpret that to mean that this is a high priority for Ry and his group. I could be wrong, of course!

    I would feel more confident creating something consistent on the fly if it was supported more by basic expectations which were shared with the players, whether that was based in a) the real world, or perhaps b) simple genre tropes (like D&D fantasy), given the right group. When playing in this style, we depend heavily on the player's ability to draw correct inferences, and, if the players can't rely on real-world knowledge or some other background, the burden lies with the GM. That can place a lot of stress on one person during the game.

    I can imagine that thinking about all of that in advance, and taking some notes he/she can refer to during play, might give the GM greater confidence in this regard.

    I'd love to hear the counterargument to this, however (and it might be helpful for Ry, as well).
  • Moving parts are interactive elements that the players won't immediately interpret as increasing or decreasing the pressure on them. They have consequences for the game world, but not in ways that are directly good or bad for the players.

    Examples
    • another gang moves into this territory if the Street Sweepers look weak
    • If you impress Ztikik, he would be willing to take your group on as your owner
    • The raised platform slides left and right, controlled a the winch behind the Bishop's throne


    Questions that help me get at this idea (subject to improvement)
    • What's under here?
    • What would they trade?
    • What would they trade, but not admit to?
    • Who are their allies?
    • Who looks like an ally, but is actually unreliable?
    • Who do they secretly rely on?
    • Who would benefit from their demise?
    • What do we have that they want?
    • What happens here after things get smashed?
    • What could break or fail here?
    • What looks stable, but isn't?
    • Are there any physical switches or dials here? What do they do?
    • What's movable?
    • What could be secured or barricaded?
  • RyRy
    edited December 2015
    Ry's "high level of fidelity maintained throughout" -> I interpret that to mean that this is a high priority for Ry and his group.
    yep. It's a priority, for sure.
    I would feel more confident creating something consistent on the fly if it was supported more by basic expectations which were shared with the players, whether that was based in a) the real world, or perhaps b) simple genre tropes (like D&D fantasy), given the right group.
    definitely a challenge. Part of the key to this game is discovering what the PCs decide their morality is, so I deliberately don't want the players to be able to fall back on tropes (or me) for guidance on what the big picture is. The world they come in is both alien and their continued survival in that world is incidental.
  • Generally, my approach for this kind of thing has been to make prep manageable by prepping only very small chunks at a time, and giving myself space to build on them as I go. (Our 'Dogs' game is a good example; there was fairly little prep for that, but it would have evolved into a pretty interesting setting in a short while. Of course, Dogs itself leans on a number of tropes/expectations, which helps move things along.)
  • the prep was as per what I landed on at the end of the thread
    Some readers might be struggling to figure out what thread that is (as I was) - it's Ameliorating the Self-Torture of Prep

    ---

    This is interesting stuff. I enjoyed your Threats-Resources-Assets-Problems system for D&D. What do you think are the advantages of this system over that?
  • Really it's a straight evolution from that, and from In A Wicked Age, and Apocalypse World

    It started with me bringing TRAP lists, plus lists of People in Need, Objects of Desire, and Events that add pressure (IAWA) and Risks (for 7-9) / Hard Moves (for 6-)
  • Oh, and a list of "texture" elements or sensations. Because I always forget to make things colourful / being in incidental smells and sounds
  • So that's 4 (TRAP) + 3 (OPE) + 2 (R / H) + 1 (T) for 10 lists that I need
  • But in actual play it turned out those were not easy to reference. So I moved from left to right, least dangerous to most dangerous.

    Then it became clear that there were really way fewer lists.
  • When the players look at me, eyes full of hope, I always want to be able to add pressure to the situation.

    Seeing a person in need adds pressure, as does a threat, as does a problem or a risk or a hard move. So this is half of the prep for a given topic.

    But at other times I want to ease the pressure, or they're searching for and would reasonably find something useful. That's desiderata, a quarter of the prep. Assets, rewards, objects of desire.

    Finally there are moving parts and texture which I detailed above.

    Also the flip side of each page is for maps, NPC portraits and lists of names.
  • Is part of this thing a need for the players to feel like the world is "real"? In my game Nerver av stål it's very important to be consistent, since you're playing a film noir thriller/mystery, and there can be no loose ends. But the story is completely improvised. This is solved by two simple principles:

    1: After each scene you write down any questions that have been raised in it. for example "What's in that bag?" and "Who killed Jimmy?". As the questions are answered, you cross them out. This document is crucial in keeping the game on track, making sure that no ends are left loose and that you keep a suitable number of questions in the air at any one time.
    2: Players are encouraged to stop the game any time they spot an inconsistency. You say "Hey, time out, you just said you didn't recognize the name, but we established in the beginning he's your brother. Are you bluffing or did you forget?".

    These two principles do wonder in keeping the story consistent and tight. In fact, I've never played a game that gives such tight, consistent stories. This is a different kind of consistency that the one you're talking about here, but couldn't similar tools be used? I'm not convinced this play style is prep-heavy by necessity. I think a LOT can be solved through a proper procedure for documenting what's being improvised. Proper documentation is an underused technique.
  • Ah, moving parts! I used them a lot when I started GMing, only I didn't called them that way. In fact, 80% of my prep consisted on moving parts, created according to what I thought players would do if they were presented with a situation using predetermined cues, designed to reduce the possible options to those moving parts.

    It ended up turning railroady as each time I unconsciously reduced the amount of moving parts prepped and reinforced the cues, as players decided their course of action and focused in a specific part of the setting. Of course, it doesn't have to turn that way for everybody, I still think it was just my case. A lot of why I felt it perhaps more railroady than it was came from all the stuff I was reading on forums at that time.

    Also, due to a particular session where impro with player aid became so good that it made me I throw all my prep through the window, I started to give credit to most of things said on the "Play Unsafe" book and finally decided to try more procedures and mechanics that could help me go that way.

    That's why now my prep is 50% randomizers and "Mountain Witch"-like questions and techniques to get things out of players without breaking immersion (or doing in a tolerable fashion), then 30% trad prep with more detailed events which define a situation but leaves it up to the players how to solve it. Absolutely no moving parts, no "if"s, no "hmm, I should present things this way so players would thing that and do probably only X,Y and Z, all for which I can make a prep with detailed events, color and keep branching from there"

    I admit the effect is cool as it boosts your narrative to be certain about what are you going to do next as a GM. Your voice and manners will transmit security and make the players feel like you are ready for everything. It's totally subconscious, and while subtle and absolutely not the intention of the GM to come of that way, it makes a day and night of a difference in the game.

    Only other thing that compares to that is to have some training or practice on applied social psychology, NPL, public performing, acting or whatever helps you boost your confidence, react calmly and come out with creative and plausible feedback on the spot to whatever the players do/say/ask. That's kinda my specialty, so, not everyone's cup of tea anyway.

    And even having that for me, I still favor prep over full impro, since pre-written stuff can be carefully edited before presenting it to the players (even if you just edit it a bit right when you present it to the players) dramatically improving the quality of the experience, specially if you're focusing on immersion. Way to go, Ry!
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