Character/team advocation in RPGs

edited July 2017 in Story Games
To me, character/team advocation happens when a player does something (socially/mechanically/in-game) that is supposed to advance the character's/team's goals. I'm lumping character and team advocation together, because I think the dynamic is so similar in both.

It feels to me like even the games that are not supposed to have character/team advocation as a focus often drift into this direction. Sometimes I feel like I'm in a competition even when the focus of the game is supposed to be dramatic. I think it's a combination of my own insecurity issues (?), the game mechanics supporting character/team advocation and players identifying with and rooting for their characters.

What games do you think discourage character/team advocation, or at least don't encourage it? Do you think character advocation is a useful tool in RPGs? Personally, I'm tired of it and wish games didn't encourage it so much, but I'm not sure if I'm looking at the issue clearly.

Comments

  • What you're seeing here is two different yet similar psychological modes related to how the player relates with their character. I happen to call one of them "advocation" as well, but it's a more narrow concept. Namely, consider this pair of terms:

    Character Identification: Player shares viscerally in the victories and defeats of their character. His task in the game is to experience and express his character, be entertained by imagining themselves in the character's place.

    Character Advocation: Player sympathises with the viewpoint of his character, but does not identify with them. His task in the game is to express his character, and advocate for their interests.

    When you observe that games that are supposed to be dramatic drift into competition instead, I believe that what you're seeing is players playing in a character identification stance when the game presupposes a character advocation stance. Because character identification is the older theoretical concept (for the longest time traditional games offered it as the main explanation of what a player is supposed to in rpgs) and highly popular, it is much more common for people to misapply it to games where it does not belong than the other way around.

    The reason why character identification produces the "wrong results" in many dramatic games is that many dramatic games are narrativistic ones in the GNS sense, and they rely on the players having an ironic, literary perspective on the game: you're supposed to be very clear about what your character wants, but you're not supposed to play to win: it should be OK if horrible things happen to your character as long as they're the true consequences of their situation, and you get to express the character's viewpoint truly. The crucial difference is simply that a player who identifies with their character handles "losing" differently from the advocating player, and therefore ends up misunderstanding their role in the game.

    (It is of course possible to be a problem player in the other direction as well: an advocating player in an immersive game will often be perceived as grandstanding and being disruptive, because the game is expecting them to have a more internal focus to their pleasures.)

    As for how games discourage competitive thinking, I think that most drama games do not condone it, but they are generally unable or unwilling to address it systematically, because it's much easier to simply try to explain to the players what the goal and nature of play is, and then expect them to understand and approve, than to try to build guard rails into the game. I suppose you could e.g. have the GM watch for and penalize excessive in-character zeal in an attempt to maintain properly objective character relationships, but that would be an example of a rule that you would only need when playing with people who don't want to play in the right way. Those kinds of rules are common in e.g. sports ("don't kick the other players or you'll get a penalty"), but I think it's because the stakes are high, games are fast-paced and tempers occasionally erupt in those games in ways that make it a regular problem. In normal rpg situations you either can play the game faultlessly in regards to attitude and therefore do not need the penalty box, or you should be playing a different game altogether, one that matches your creative interests better.

    For an example of how a game handles this, my own Zombie Cinema tries the pedagogical approach, with no attached rules procedures to haunt those who misplay:

    Players of a story game do not compete for a win. Their goal is to enjoy creating a story together. However, the fun in the game is that the players do not need to reach a consensus to create their story. Instead, each player has a character he advocates for in the story: the player describes his character’s thoughts and actions for the others and lets the character strive for his own well-being in the story. The story is created effortlessly by the clashing character interests.

    Advocating means that the player makes the intents of his character clearly known and allows the character to struggle for them, but the player himself will stay impartial and cooperative towards the other players. Specifically, in Zombie Cinema most player characters will strive to avoid the zombies and save themselves. The player, meanwhile, is trying to create an interesting story, which might involve making his character a sympathetic protagonist or a vile and pitiable antagonist, for example. Players cooperate, characters struggle.


    I think that's fairly clear about the matter: you're not supposed to root for your character to win, because you've got a bigger fish to fry in that you want a good story, and that should mean for you as well as it does for me that you're not mindlessly rooting for your character to win. You express your character's desire to live, yes, but that is not the same as being psychologically committed to it. You're the advocate, not the defendant.

    This being a pedagogical approach to the matter, I am entirely powerless to do anything about it if a given player ignores or misunderstands this advice and instead plays the game in character identification mode: in my experience they will find the game repressive and bullying, because other players often establish extremely hostile situations against your character (it's a survival horror story game, after all), and a player who identifies with their character is unable to perceive this as being anything but hostility that they must respond to with their own agressive moves.
  • As players of games, we expect the games to provide us with challenges and adversity to overcome.

    As players of characters, we expect the characters to face challenges and adversity as well.

    The dominant paradigm in RPGs is to align these two things.

    It's no surprise to me that it can be a challenge to separate them!

    I think the games that best smack me out of my habitual striving on my character's behalf are (1) games with tons of fun play options beyond character play and (2) games in which I don't have a single character ongoing.

    Maybe Polaris counts, because in a 4-player game you spend 3/4 of the time not playing your character, and instead developing interests in the other situations you contribute to? So when you do get back to your character, it's more like they're just a part of the whole rather than a stand-out focus? I'm sure there are other GMful/GMless games that are better examples...

    @Paul_T 's Inconceivable is a storytelling game with ongoing character ownership pretty optional. Over time, players do seem to take that option to a significant degree, but definitely not everyone or all the time. The option to chime into a scene as a sort of temporary second GM provides a nice alternative.
  • edited July 2017
    Maybe I'm not fully understanding you, but I think we're talking about the Czege Principle here.
    The Czege Principle says that when one person is the author of both the character's adversity and its resolution, play isn't fun.
    You ask "Do you think character advocation is a useful tool in RPGs?"

    I wonder what the alternative is. When we consume media, if we're engaged, we want things for, from, and about the characters. When we game, we're creating the media. If you say "my character wants X but I don't really care if he gets it or not because the story will be interesting either way," what you're really saying is "my character's motives are not meaningful to me." Your buy-in is ambivalent.

    I perceive a subtext in your post that drama and competition are counterproductive or mutually exclusive. I think the opposite of that: drama only happens if you are committed to your character's interests and if your character is opposed by another character who is played by another equally committed real person. In other words, competition isn't the antithesis of drama, it's the means by which we create it. We agree to enter this particular arena of competition because that is what makes story emerge.

    In a Wicked Age is the best expression of this idea that I know of.

    At the Forge we used to talk from time to time about "I want my character to fail." Now I think this only works in a kind of ironical way *wink wink nudge nudge* where everyone is in on the joke. I'm thinking of games like Elfs and Paranoia.

    The basic underlying question is about what the real people want: if I want my character to succeed or if I want my character to fail, what are the parameters for deciding that I should or should not get my way this particular time? There's no point in having categories like "success" and "fail" unless they're linked to the desires of the real people somehow. Drama doesn't come from flipping the categories against each other. What I mean is: I "fail" my roll, so my character "accidentally" "succeeds."

    I will try coming at it another way too. I think there's a widespread idea that if only we set up "morally charged" (whatever that means) situations, then it doesn't matter how things turn out; our story will still have weighty moral implications. This is false. Unless you, the real person, have a strong opinion about which is the "good" thing and which is the "bad" thing, the situation is morally neutral. I've been talking about Trollbabe a lot recently; here's some good GM advice from that game about this:

    When you're doing your game prep, come up with around 4 NPCs who are at odds over something. Make at least one of them be doing something that you think is wrong but understandable. In other words, don't make an "evil for evil's sake" villain. Make a character whose motives you can believe in who is doing something that you think is morally bad. Then play that character to the hilt. Play him to get what he wants. Play him to win. Watch the dramanoes fall.

    - N
  • edited July 2017
    If you're always putting the good story before your character's interest, you're already doing something I'm interested in. And I have no problem with Zombie Cinema, or expressing the character's interests. Maybe it's character identification I have problems with, then, at least if it results in universally rational characters.

    @paganini I've seen "playing to win" too much already, and I believe there are other ways to play RPGs.

    @David_Berg I don't really believe in that principle, actually. I don't think Fiasco works that way, for example.
  • One thing I really like about the RPG theory/talk/design revolution of the last 15 years or so is how we've become open to games treating this in entirely different ways.

    A lot of competition and drama can depend on a sense of tension created by uncertainty - what are you emotionally invested in, when you play? How will that thing turn out?

    * If you see yourself as the character, and try your best to "win", that makes for exciting human drama (at the actual table). However, sometimes that can come at the cost of the fictional drama: for example, sometimes the "winning move" is a dramatically neutral or boring one. (I'm going to guess that this is what this thread is bemoaning, right?)

    * If you see yourself as a storyteller, and try your best to "create the best story", that makes for exciting fictional drama (in the story). However, sometimes that can come at the cost of the "feelings" of drama the participants experience. If you're playing your character with a constant level of remove ("Yeah, sure! I guess it will be cool if my guy dies in this scene..."), that sucks a certain enjoyable tension out of the game, too. You've just demonstrated that you don't really care that your guy dies, and that means I don't get to enjoy seeing you wrestle with those hopes and fears, either.

    I've painted this is a dichotomy, but, in practice, I think there are many hybrid forms. In challenge-oriented old school D&D, you're trying to "win", but (at least in some games), you're trying to do so within the constraints of fictional believability, which might include dramatic conceits like a) playing a stupid character with consistency, or b) playing a character with powerful or irrational emotional desires (e.g. a warrior who treasures his pet dog more than his own life). That's quite different from playing to win, full stop.

    In competitive play, this is also an issue, right? If we're playing Chess, how hard are you trying to win? Will you let me take back a bad move? Will you let me take a break to call a friend, even though the clock is running out? Would you consider trying to distract me in some underhanded way? What's winning worth to you, and how *personal* is it?

    I often see this divide come up among players who love "Narrativist" or "Story Now" play. On one hand, we have the folks who want enough remove and detachment to feel free to create the most hard-hitting story: if I'm attached to one character's success of failure, I can't always trust myself to do what's best for the story. On the other hand, we have a style of play where it's the emotional impact which is the goal: the players want to engage in play passionately, acutely feeling their characters' triumphs and failures, much in the same way that seeing the protagonist of a book or movie you really love fail hurts.

    Those two styles of play are very, very similar, in a way... and completely different in another way.

    I agree with Dave's comment, above: in our fooling around with my somewhat hypothetical game Inconceivable, we keep seeing all levels of this kind of attachment and advocacy... sometimes even shifting from scene to scene. It's pretty curious in that way!

    An interesting discussion. I look forward to hearing about other people's experiences.
  • Winning blandly is part of it. But I think character identification (or strong advocation?) can easily lead into characters simply not losing or not demonstrating vulnerability. I don't think I've personally seen passionate character advocation where the character's weaknesses would have been explored. I've seen more drama and character acting come out of very detached mode of play where the player coolly thinks what's good for the story.

    I love your answers by the way, you're pushing me to rethink this.
  • I know what you mean, Upstart! But I've also seen it the other way around.

    In fact, "passionate character advocation where the character's weaknesses are being explored" is probably my favourite style/type of roleplaying, period.

    The key is (usually) for the player to buy into it from the beginning, and to "set up" the drama while outside the frame of the character, so that she may then play full tilt once the game is "on".

    Here's a really simple example (in actual play, this would be developed much more slowly, and more detail, of course - maybe the player would draw portraits or write diary entries or some such):

    ..

    GM: "Ok, the Orc invasion is approaching the country of Glebeholme. Who is your character?"
    Player: "Oh, he's a farmer who's been forcibly drafted into the army. He's a fish out of water and terrified of what might come."
    GM: "And what is he most frightened of?"
    Player: "Oh, man... I think he worries about his family. He's got an aging mother and two very young brothers, barely old enough to take care of the farm. Will they make it without his help? Worse yet... maybe his home lies in the path of the invasion. Oh, no!"
    GM: "Ok, let's play! Your company has just received orders to turn South towards the capital, to fall back. But that would take you away from your homestead, and leave them defenseless against the invasion. What do you do?"

    ...

    You can see how the player here can now play in a very passionate way, identifying with the character full on and trying to "win". However, he's positioned himself in a place that's frightening and weak, so the struggle will feel intense and real. There's no easy victory here.

    Some/many "Narrativist" games do this procedurally, too. In fact, they rely on it - for example, Dogs in the Vineyard. You've got to play to get what you want, and to fight for it... but you also need to feel personally invested, to care. Otherwise the game's not that interesting, frankly.
  • You might also enjoy Jesse Burneko's blog/site, Play Passionately.

    It's basically all about that style of play, from a very personal perspective.
  • I'm interested in "He's a fish out of water and terrified of what might come." This is clearly a vulnerability. How can the player project this weakness in a meaningful way and still advocate for her character effectively? I don't mind passionate play where players are invested in their characters and care about them, if they let them fail and show weakness. It's the creeping rational optimization I dislike.
  • Maybe it's the term that I'm using wrong.
  • I think that, in this case, the player is *asking* the others (or the GM) to provide the adversity - here, he is saying, "Hey, GM, I want my character to be up against stuff he's unfamiliar with and frightened of." That doesn't in any way preclude the player from playing the character at full tilt within the game.

    (Although keep in mind that the constraints of our model of the character's psyche, resources, and intelligence are also important in this type of play. When that player makes decisions for the character, he doesn't try to make the optimal decision; instead, he makes the best decision he thinks the character would consider. That may include acting irrationally to protect a valued interest - like self-sacrifice because of love or attachment to another.)

    I think you should read Jesse's blog posts on "Play Passionately"; he's spent a lot of time and effort in describing this style of play.
  • Also, a sidenote:

    Playing games which do not give any options for mechanical optimization may also be helpful for someone who wants this kind of play but doesn't get it reliably. Take away the tempting levers and buttons and leave just the kinds of choices you want to be making.
  • Wow, this thread has blossomed!

    Upstart, here is an anyway. thread I think you should read: http://www.lumpley.com/archive/167.html

    Maybe everything that follows is a restatement of or obviated by that thread. But that's OK. I had fun writing it. :)

    I suspect you and I are coming from pretty widely separated conceptual landscapes, so I'm going to try a kind of point-by-point progression from first principles and see where (or if!) we diverge.

    One

    Epistemological foundation: there are two things:

    1. The way things are
    2. How we describe things

    "The way things are" means stuff we can observe - in others: what they do, what they say, facial expressions, gestures, tone of voice, etc. This can get pretty subtle. - in ourselves: thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.

    "How we describe things" means the symbolic verbal model of "the way things are" that we use to communicate about stuff.

    Words like "advocate" and "identify" are not the names of things. They're the names of categories we use to sort and talk about internal stuff (thoughts, feelings, desires, etc.).

    When we play an RPG what's really going on is that people are just talking to each other. That's what "role-playing is a conversation" means. There are lots of different kinds of conversations; what makes a particular conversation be a role-playing one is what the rest of this post is about.

    Two

    Writing fiction, one author.

    We can observe things like the pencil and paper, expressions of satisfaction, frustration, concentration, the words that get written down, crossed out, etc. If I am the author, I know how I feel, what I want, what I think. Sometimes my decisions are based on technical principles, sometimes something just bubbles up from my subconscious and I "just know" what happens next. Either way, there's no constraint on what I write other than what I bring with me. It's like being home alone. I maybe still follow some personal rules, but I act at will.

    Three

    Writing fiction, collaboration.

    Collaboration adds a layer of good-faith negotiation. Deciding how to divvy up scenes and characters, deciding which way pivot points that will affect multiple plot threads wills wing, etc. You want something, you argue for what you want the best you can, your collaborator is convinced or isn't, you give up, or you come up with a third option that satisfies both, etc. This involves two important ideas:

    First, art. Art means "I have a firm moral conviction that this creative work must be one particular way and not any other way."

    Second, consensus. Consensus is how collaboration makes progress or doesn't. Collaborative projects crash and burn thanks to "irreconcilable artistic differences."

    Four

    The collaborative storytelling game.

    Also known as the "conch game." We replace negotiation with an algorithm that does one thing: decides who gets to talk; or, which person is the "author" this particular moment. In the simplest form, we just take turns, like that old game where you pass the notebook around and everyone adds a sentence.

    A Breakpoint

    None of those are RPGs. The reason is that they are all exclusively content creation activities. This is obvious, maybe, but writing a novel and reading one are very different experiences. When we write, we create without consuming. When we read, we consume without creating. In the conch game, the creating activity is there, but not the consuming activity.

    Consuming

    Just consider for a second what it's like to watch a movie or read a novel in an engaged way. You have feelings about the characters; you want things from them and for them. You have an emotional buy-in. This is what sets fiction apart from an interesting documentary. And this is critical: you can't have emotional buy-in about something that you are in control of. The emotional buy-in comes from sympathizing with "the character wants... but he might not get it!"

    When it's your turn in the conch game, what you do is not very different from what you would do if you were a single author writing by yourself. You are doing the "content creating" activity, not the "consuming activity." The other players in the conch game who are watching your turn may have preferences about this or that thing and whether or not this character or that character prevails, but they aren't involved in the game. Those preferences are explicitly not part of the game. The conch game is about taking turns being an author. It's not about our emotional buy-in as consumers of fiction.

    RPGs

    This is the crucial bit. RPGs are a hybrid form. We are both author and audience simultaneously. We consume the fiction at the same time that we create it. That means that the emotional buy-in and the authoring are intertwined.

    I almost hate to bring out this analogy, it's been chugging along for so many years that it's practically a cliche. But... RPGs are like free jazz. You're not a composer. You're not performing a recital of prepared music for an audience. You're not listening to a recording after the fact. You and the other musicians are the only people in the room. What you do right now, how you all feel about that, and what everyone does in response is what makes it go.

    And so, maybe this will seem radical, but it's really really important for RPGs. There is no such thing as "my character wants X, but I want Y because it's good for the story."

    There's not some independently existing entity called "Story" that you and/or your character have a relationship with. "Story" is your character wanting X and doing something about that. If your character doesn't get X, it's because some other character wanted not-X. That other character wanting not-X and getting it at the expense of your character is also "the Story."

    You notice as soon as I started talking about RPGs I started using the phrase "your character." That's because without a "your character" there is no RPG. There's no simultaneous authoring and buy-in.

    "Your character" doesn't mean that you play one character and only one character for ever and ever amen. In trad games whatever NPC the GM is playing at this particular moment is the "your character" for the GM. In In A Wicked Age you don't play the same character every session, and sometimes another player will play the character you played last time. In Dirty Secrets one player always plays the Investigator, and everyone else takes turns playing all the other characters. The important thing is that, at any particular moment, there's some real person who "has this character's back." It's not just a big pool of group spitballing. Like Shreyas said in the recent Mistrobed Gate thread: "You’re sharing, but you’re not communists."
  • So, I'm talking about RPGs where we make and experience stories in the moment. Sure, there are other ways to play RPGs. We can "play to win," the way we play to checkmate our opponent in chess. But there's not some other way to play RPGs to make stories. "Playing to win" in this context means "I'm responsible for this character right now, and as long as I am, I will work to further his agenda." It doesn't mean that it's your job to make your guy mechanically invincible. It doesn't mean that your character has no weaknesses. It does mean that it's not your job to stress those weaknesses. This is what Vincent is talking about when he says: "The GM is the person who identifies what decisions the character needs - needs! - to confront, and who puts them in her way." This is an Olde Thyme way of talking about it; it doesn't always have to be the same person, and that person doesn't have to be called "the GM" or be responsible for other "GM tasks" like scene framing. But it does have to be some person who is not you. If you are doing both, then what you are doing is plain old fiction writing.

    I want to state this strongly, because not only is this what makes RPGs different from plain old fiction writing (with collaborators or without), but it's what makes RPGs special. The simultaneous creative act and emotional buy-in is why RPGs are worth playing as story games.

    - N
  • I read the stuff you linked. I guess I'm not a very passionate player and mostly think my characters as tools to communicate to other players. I protect them if it's the game's agenda, but I don't get attached to them.

    I'm not sure if character advocacy of Play Passionately has a very clear agenda that you can observe based on play. If the player is making her character's life difficult on purpose, she's already playing in a way I'd like to see more. It's the optimization that's boring. More later.
  • I guess I'm interested in compromising the "playing to win" mode of play. And yes, I think many RPG mechanics use that to motivate the players. It's a bit jarring if the whole game isn't built around it.
  • From our prior dialogues I get the sense that you have a relatively expansive idea of what "playing to win" encompasses. I would suggest, however, that there are two different things that game texts are trying to do in this regard:

    Coordinating with goals: Many games provide players with teleological tasks as their part in playing the game. Instead of having a well-defined set of tools at your disposal with complete freedom as to what to do with them, the game instead may simply give you a task and ask you to go about executing it with whatever means you may have at your disposal.

    Defining a victory condition: Sometimes games really do say that something or other is the victory condition. Sometimes they encourage players to set their own victory conditions. Sometimes players do this regardless of what the game would like them to do.

    Teleological coordination is very common in games - in trad games the GM is actually nearly completely goal-oriented, for example - and it's easy to confuse it with playing to win, because in both cases a player is striving to accomplish a goal. Particularly when multiple players are instructed with parallel or even conflicting coordinated goals, it is easy to interpret this as setting up a race or a conflict between them. This,then, turns into struggling for victory.

    I like to use Zombie Cinema as an example of how victory conditions and coordinating goal-like teleological instructions are not the same thing at all. I think it's a good example precisely because the vast majority of people grok it instinctively that despite this game looking a lot like a competitive survival match, it's actually not.

    As you know, ZC gives every player a survivor character in the middle of a zombie apocalypse and asks those players to portray their characters as interesting dramatic protagonists in a horrible situation, in the general interest of performing in an epic zombie horror story. The game's rules are nearly exclusively concerned with the issue of who gets eaten next, and who might survive the story alive. The game text is essentially telling you to play a character who is competing for survival with other characters.

    Why, then, does Zombie Cinema suggest that you might spend a lot of attention on having your character survive, if that's not the actual goal of play? It's because the survival thing is an useful general heuristic for making high quality dramatic moves in the game: you are generally playing your character true to life when you try to have them survive, as survival is a basic human instinct. You are also setting the character's interests ahead of the interests of everyone else, which makes for the basic sort of drama that Zombie Cinema presupposes. All in all, telling a player to "play your character as they try to survive" is an excellent short-hand and preliminary instruction for a player new to the game, to be followed and then potentially discarded later when they get their feet under them and understand how the game works.

    Roleplaying games are chock-full of these kinds of teleological coordination ideas that are not intended as actual goals to be competed over. For example, the traditional adventure game is, more often than not, just like this: you're supposed to play this adventurer who ostensibly is after fame and fortune, but in reality it's just a convenient conceit for you to cooperate with the GM in setting your character up as a witness to the GM's wondrous sights and adventurous events. What your character wants (fame and fortune) is simply not the same thing that the player wants (to see the GM's adventure). It's beginner-level play to act like you're really competing in a game where this is not the case. The GM laughs at you in secret, looking at you all worked up over fake competition. Don't be the newb who does that [grin].

    Considering the above, one answer to question about "play to win" attitudes is that what you need is either game texts that use goal-based coordination less, or players who are smart enough to distinguish between a facile conceit and a genuine goal. Or, maybe you could develop particular instructive tools - clever ways to explain and teach - that help players make that distinction? I personally like to explicitly tell players of Zombie Cinema while starting the game that the idea is not to force your character to survive all the way to the end, so much as it is to depict a true and interesting character and pay attention to the characters of the other players so you can frame relevant scenes for them.
  • This thread is setting off my "this is about technical, not Creative, agenda" alarms. Maybe, Upstart, you just need to play games that can't be min-maxed, like PTA or whatever.
  • Yeah, I agree (I'm pretty sure I've mentioned this earlier on, as well).

    Still, there is a difference between:

    a) This game gives me a way to be more effective mechanically; I'm tempted to take it,

    and

    b) in this game, I'm playing character X, and character X probably would never do Y, but it WOULD be the smartest move; I'm tempted to take it.

    The first is clearly a Technical Agenda kind of thing, and easy to fall into.

    The second is something quite a bit deeper: is the player interested in the weaknesses and foibles of the character? Is exploring the dramatic downfall of a character (or even just believably consistent characterization) part of the reason they play, or not?
  • This thread is setting off my "this is about technical, not Creative, agenda" alarms. Maybe, Upstart, you just need to play games that can't be min-maxed, like PTA or whatever.
    +1

    I was actually re-reading In a Wicked Age yesterday and thinking it might be an even better fit than I had already imagined. It specifically talks about character weaknesses, and bringing them out in play is the central feature of the "advancement system" (if you can call it that).

    - N
  • (You might note that pretty much all of Vincent's games do this in one way or another.)
  • This thread is setting off my "this is about technical, not Creative, agenda" alarms. Maybe, Upstart, you just need to play games that can't be min-maxed, like PTA or whatever.
    That's pretty much what I've been doing, when possible. I guess just the potential for optimization is a red flag for me. Not everyone has a same idea of optimization as I do, though.
  • @Eero_Tuovinen I don't think it's beginner-level stuff. IMO, so-called teleological coordination ideas can easily turn into player objectives which practically override everything else. I have seen this in multiple groups.
  • Well yeah, I suppose so - roleplaying is annoyingly complex in an unusual way due to the intertwined creative possibilities involved in it. I probably should say that it's beginner-level stuff in my rpg academy, where I teach gamers to construe their gaming activity consciously from the ground up [grin].
  • (Eero, as much as I wish this was not the case... your approach to explaining games and then playing them in a conscious, self-aware culture is a very, very rare thing.)
  • FWIW whenever someone in our group gets interested in games where character/team advocation ruins the fun I often tell them something along the lines of "in this game is like your characters are actually actors competing for an oscar to best dramatic actor; the worse things go for your character and the more you can move the audience with a dramatic performance, the better"

    It kinda works to help get them the idea, because otherwise nobody seems to quite grasp what's the fun of -while knowing there are better options- willingly lose, do things that will end badly, show a vulnerable side of ourselves, allow the game to mess us emotionally, etc.

    Like lots of forms of fun, it's possible that it just requires going out of your comfort zone and try it until you get it.

  • That's a great, simple way to explain that style of play! I like it.

    (Completely different from the "Play Passionately" ethos, however, notably.)
  • Ah, that's possibly just because our group is mostly composed of people who like to either collaborate or compete against something. But I'd bet that if we had more players able to step out of their comfort zone and show everyone else how to have fun they would totally buy the "Play Passionately" point of view as the more accurate.
  • I think they're related but very different types of fun. I see lots of people who like one but the other?

    "Play Passionately" definitely relies on a higher level of interpersonal trust, though. I could see it being impossible to achieve with a group that has had a lot of experience with railroading GMs, for instance (or similar baggage).

    (On the other hand, in my experience most newbie gamers approach play that way almost instinctively. One of the reasons I love playing with non-gamers!)
  • Over the years I've observed that when trad gamers suddently understands the underlying principles of Swords Without Master they immediately start to experiment with narrating failures and such. Maybe because 'not winning' becomes an exciting challenge to them? I'm not sure!
  • Sorry to be commenting so late here.

    An RPG, at it's most basic level, is a game in which players put themselves into the mind set of a character and make decisions for that character. That's it. But unless the character's goal is to destroy themselves, the goal is going to be to "win." That "win" could be to defeat an evil overlord, or to snatch up the most gold, or to score a fatal dose of heroin.

    So I can see both sides of the argument. I think the problem is that if a PLAYER win is the main goal, it makes sense that they will choose to play PCs who are ascetics: who only train, and have no personal life that could get in the way of becoming the universal master of their martial devotion.

    Which PCs are the flattest and most unbelievable? Ascetic masters with no weaknesses. But add some human frailties and their story can become much more interesting.

    The author of Play Passionately makes some very good points. If you aren't advocating for your PC, then you are approaching them from a "director" standpoint. That may give greater control over direction of the story, and creative control of outcomes. The cost is loss of immersion (in part or completely).

    Story as a player goal vs. immersion as a player goal really just comes down to preference. But Play Passionately does make some good arguments for getting into character (immersion) and then trying to get what it is you want (whether it's a sensible goal or a self-destructive goal, just so long as it's a PC goal). That can lead to some unexpected story results. It does take going out on a ledge. It might really be the ultimate in "let's see how this story unfolds" to let the PC motivations and goals drive/heavily influence the drama.

    The social contract at the gaming table is very important in regard to this. If your fellow players don't want you to bring awkward "baggage" to the table (in character, or IRL I guess too), then that is something to consider. Inter-PC conflict also raises an important question. If the social contract of the gaming table is not okay with inter-PC conflict then it's not a welcome source of drama.
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