Preferred stance to address premise?

edited February 2018 in Story Games
Let's say you've come up with a compelling idea you want to explore through an RPG. Something that seems of real-world significance, like whether a criminal can juggle their competing efforts to get revenge and to get out of their life of crime. (As opposed to the "Bill, the Time-Traveling Stegosaurus!" sort of compelling idea.)

Now let's say you want to feel, as much as you can, that you discovered the answer, as opposed to invented the answer.
  • I can sit here right now and say something like, "I declare that he does get revenge, but it was always going to be tough to leave the life of crime, and the revenge thing blows any chance he might have had. So in the end he's only briefly satisfied, and then it's back to the life of crime." I answered the question I posed, but I didn't find that exercise very satisfying.
  • I can also go through some sort of exercise to test the character and the situation, to see what emerges from a sequence of character decisions. If this tells me something I wouldn't have simply mapped out from the beginning, I can find that very satisfying.
Supposing that you feel similarly, what's your favorite way to go about it, in terms of your relationship to your character?

Do you like to act primarily as an author, scripting your character's next actions as you're inspired by the unfolding narrative? Do you like to immerse so deeply into your character that you feel like you're there, experiencing events as them? A mix of both at the right times? Somewhere in between? Something else entirely?

Comments

  • My preference shows in my game : I want to direct William's story, but with tools that align my interest with that of an herbivore saurian. In a nutshell : I don't think there is a best stance. Only preferences.

    For time travel to come as a surprise, I need at least another player.
  • Agreed, @DeReel -- I have changed the title from "Best" to "Preferred" accordingly.
  • Hey, @David_Berg
    This was on my mind due to our recent PM exchange. As I said there, I favor "author stance", overwhelmingly.

    But first, a disclaimer: the way I understand "stance" accords with old-school Forge stuff, where stance was postulated to be fluid. Even when I say I "overwhelmingly" favor one, I'm of course still likely to use, like, all of them over a given session of play, probably switching every few minutes, even every few seconds - whenever I make a move, I can make it from any one stance, irrespective of the stance I made my previous moves from.

    That said, when exploring a premise, when looking for meaning in a role-playing game (which really is my favorite thing to look for) I often make my moves from what they used to call "author stance" on the Forge - I try to put my character/s on a collision course with those moments of play that will actually highlight the premise, be those critically hard choices or merely tense one-to-one conversations.
    (Almost) in your words, I "like to act primarily as an author, scripting [my] character's next action as you're inspired by the unfolding narrative".

    While I favor taking my time, and a slow build is very much to my taste, ultimately one has to trim the really "useless" parts, such as scenes where nothing happens that is even remotely relevant to the premise (I'm using "happens" in the broadest possible sense, as changes in a character's internal state are often as important to me as outwardly apparent events, if not more).
    In order to trim those useless parts and drive toward the real "meat" of the game, I'm very much OK taking action first, then looking for a-posteriori fictional, in-character causes (justifications) for those actions later. As long as the end excuses the means, so to speak, means to a preferred end can always be found.

    Now, when quoting you two paragraphs ago I substituted "next action", singular, for "next actions", plural. My point being: I generally avoid thinking ahead, and focus on being in the moment, allowing myself to be surprised by what comes next. If a premise is a question, I really want to find out the answer, as opposed to bringing my own preexistent answer to the table! I want uncertainty.
    Luckily, in a RPG I have constant access to at least one very powerful source of uncertainty: the other players! The game's designer has probably provided some additional layers of uncertainty on top of that.
    As long as I only advance a step at a time, then I let all other players and the game's components and rules make their moves, I can never be certain where I will end up next.
  • edited February 2018
    My favoured approach is to set up as much of the character's interests/cares/passions ahead of time - thinking as an author! - so that I can simply play the character moment-to-moment within the actual scene or situation, as purely as possible.

    However, as an additional wrinkle, I sometimes feel the character's emotions or interests keenly and intensely, but as an observer. In such moments, I might narrate the character's actions in the third person, but still feel them very strongly - as though they were inevitable and self-driven, by the character's internal integrity.
  • Supposing that you feel similarly, what's your favorite way to go about it, in terms of your relationship to your character?
    I prefer to not have an explicit teleological thematic goal immediately at hand, first of all. So no setting me a working quota, some question that I need to explicitly answer. Those things can be embedded into the situation my character experiences, without me having to care about them directly. "This character should express bravery" is no good, while "this character is threatened by things X and Y" is fine.

    Second, the ideal in this regard is the moment of discovery, when my understanding of the character "comes together" into an intuitive whole and I understand naturally, without a conscious choice, what the character wants. This often requires us to play for while; at the beginning you're just deducing your character's moves ("my character sheet says that I care about thing X, so I guess I'll make some choices to reflect that"), but at some point your hindbrain has enough to work with, and it constructs a "model of the mind" for the character. Once that happens you can understand on an intuitive level what the character wants, without having to make an authorship decision on it - you just know what "feels right" and sensible in the context of foregone events and what we know about the character.

    (What I just wrote overlaps badly with all sorts of immersion theory. I'd prefer no assumptions about that, though, as I am undecided myself about whether I'm talking about immersion as understood in Nordic theory, or something else.)

    In technical terms I've found that the stance that best facilitates this goal of achieving an intuitive understanding is the "advocation" stance, so named by myself because I wasn't quite happy with the traditional Forgite classification of stances. I suppose it's basically actor stance.
  • edited February 2018
    at some point your hindbrain has enough to work with, and it constructs a "model of the mind" for the character. Once that happens you can understand on an intuitive level what the character wants, without having to make an authorship decision on it - you just know what "feels right" and sensible in the context of foregone events and what we know about the character.
    . . .
    In technical terms I've found that the stance that best facilitates this goal of achieving an intuitive understanding is . . . basically actor stance.
    This is similar to where I'm at.

    I can answer, "What does the character do?" from tons of possible angles, but for that answer to tell me anything new about "what happens with such a person in such a situation", the character needs to make the decision, not me. And since that isn't literally possible, I like to inhabit the character as fully as I can, so as to get as close as I can -- reacting spontaneously as if I were them, standing in their spot, thinking their thoughts, feeling their feelings, as best I can.

    I'm not saying I can't enjoy other ways, but this is my favorite. In addition to the "virtual experience" kicks, I find it gives the most authentic answer to the "what if?"-simulation component of the play exercise.
  • Luckily, in a RPG I have constant access to at least one very powerful source of uncertainty: the other players! The game's designer has probably provided some additional layers of uncertainty on top of that.
    As long as I only advance a step at a time, then I let all other players and the game's components and rules make their moves, I can never be certain where I will end up next.
    I was all ready to respond to you with some combo of "I don't get it" or "not my kind of fun" until I read the part I've quoted here. But this part makes total sense to me, and is also true in my experience, at least sometimes. I think my favorite version is when the unexpected development provokes some character-organic response rather than author-inspiration response... but the line between the two can blur (especially given the stance-shifting you mentioned), and hey, author-inspiration is pretty awesome in its own right.
  • edited February 2018
    My favoured approach is to set up as much of the character's interests/cares/passions ahead of time - thinking as an author! - so that I can simply play the character moment-to-moment within the actual scene or situation, as purely as possible.
    Yeah, I'm not picky about stance in prep. Agreed that doing the work before hand so actual play can just run smoothly is an excellent approach!
    However, as an additional wrinkle, I sometimes feel the character's emotions or interests keenly and intensely, but as an observer. In such moments, I might narrate the character's actions in the third person, but still feel them very strongly - as though they were inevitable and self-driven, by the character's internal integrity.
    I've definitely felt the emotions of a character I'm not inhabiting while watching a captivating movie. But I think the act of controlling them while not inhabiting them puts a little dent in that for me.

    Or maybe you're talking about inhabiting them but just using a different dialogue technique to express them to the other players? In that case, works for me!
  • I'm not saying I can't enjoy other ways, but this is my favorite. In addition to the "virtual experience" kicks, I find it gives the most authentic answer to the "what if?"-simulation component of the play exercise.
    Agreed on all counts.

    I'll add that it may be easy for an immersionist to read this and deduce that we like character immersion, but at least for me it's not quite that. I don't "go deep" in a way that would require other people to address me by my character's name (so as to not "break immersion") or anything like that, and I don't dwell on the subjective experience of "being my character" for lengths of time. It's more typical for me to jump up and vehemently deliver my momentary understanding of what my character wants, and then continue building on that realization in an intellectual way. It's a joyful moment of realization more than a continuous altered state of consciousness.

    For example, years ago we were playing Dust Devils - this would have been in 2005, I think. My character was the only son of a farmer, but he was also an artist of some sort - painter, I think. A B-plot emerged during play about my character being pressured by filial piety on one hand, and his need for artistic self-expression on the other. The session was made memorable for me by the fact that in what was essentially the climatic scene of the scenario, I suddenly realized intuitively what my character wanted, why he wanted it, and what drove those feelings of his. (Specifically, part of why he hesitated to leave the farm was that he feared to "make the call" on his art and find out if he really has what it takes to become an artist. It is not an unfamiliar psychology for me personally, obviously.) This was directly brought about by the GM putting pressure on him, too - I was forced to choose what the character would do, right here, right now.

    My reaction to that moment in play was to call for silence and explain to the other players exactly what I'd realized, and how my character needed to act towards his father. I also complimented the other players for the compelling scenario, and how vivacious and relevant it felt to me in that moment. Then we continued play, me armed with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what my character was going through, exactly.

    I often think of this kind of "character advocation" as a sort of externalized immersion experience: instead of the player "dropping off" into immersion at the moment of insight, he instead puts the experience into words for the benefit of the whole table.
  • I love that example, Eero!

    Personally, I tend to dig the long-running immersive trance, but it is never the ideal solution for every moment of play, and if someone popped out of character voice to share a realization gleaned from inside the fiction, I'd be totally happy with that.

    Honestly, when I'm teaching techniques for immersion, it's less a matter of telling each individual how to immerse for themselves, and more a matter of helping each individual foster immersion for others. The more flexible the group, the less specific those techniques have to be. "Talk about what came to you while immersed" strikes me as a great technique for sharing/building enthusiasm.
  • For example, years ago we were playing Dust Devils - this would have been in 2005, I think. My character was the only son of a farmer, but he was also an artist of some sort - painter, I think. A B-plot emerged during play about my character being pressured by filial piety on one hand, and his need for artistic self-expression on the other. The session was made memorable for me by the fact that in what was essentially the climatic scene of the scenario, I suddenly realized intuitively what my character wanted, why he wanted it, and what drove those feelings of his. (Specifically, part of why he hesitated to leave the farm was that he feared to "make the call" on his art and find out if he really has what it takes to become an artist. It is not an unfamiliar psychology for me personally, obviously.) This was directly brought about by the GM putting pressure on him, too - I was forced to choose what the character would do, right here, right now.

    My reaction to that moment in play was to call for silence and explain to the other players exactly what I'd realized, and how my character needed to act towards his father. I also complimented the other players for the compelling scenario, and how vivacious and relevant it felt to me in that moment. Then we continued play, me armed with a deeper understanding and appreciation of what my character was going through, exactly.

    I often think of this kind of "character advocation" as a sort of externalized immersion experience: instead of the player "dropping off" into immersion at the moment of insight, he instead puts the experience into words for the benefit of the whole table.
    This resonates with me as a great example of what I meant when I spoke about "looking for meaning" in RPGs!
    In case anybody's wondering (but I guess you aren't) this is the word "meaning" as used in the Process Model of Role-playing, a nice piece of ecumenic and straightforward Nordic (was it Finnish, perhaps?) theory-thought from the late 00s.
    I look forward to moments like that - both experiencing them and provoking them - as both a treat and a staple of successful (can I say) story now role-playing. Sometimes these also involve "bleed out" - that is, the realization had while playing comes with attached applicability to my current situation IRL and does affect the way I end up dealing with it.

    I expect your vocalizing your insight to have enriched the experience of play for all other players - part of me thinks it's sad when people don't, but rather keep it all to themselves (although sometimes, with bleed involved, the very valid reason to keep it to yourself is that you feel it's something too personal to share in a gaming context). Notably, for forms of role-playing where we aren't supposed to break character - such as larp - I expect this sort of commentary to surface during the debriefing. In fact, when hosting a larp, I make a point of always including a debriefing phase, mainly because of this!
  • I also love to mix debriefing with my immersive play. Sometimes at the end, sometimes in breaks, and sometimes (in the case of an ongoing game) at the beginning as a recap.
  • My earlier post wasn't terribly verbose, but I think a close reading will show that I'm pretty much on the same page as you folks here - I particularly favour Eero's described style of play, where the internal experience of the character turns into an interesting conversation at the table. I greatly enjoy tables where internal monologues are brought out into the open, whether in- or out-of-character.
  • edited February 2018
    I think it's a weirdly phrased question.

    What's the premise of the game, to begin with?

    I think it's more appealing to me to try to come up with different takes on the premise of the game.

    But to answer the question, if I want to discover the "answer" then I would do it together with someone else. Either by taking an author stance and then react to whatever curve balls the other participants send to me, or by immerse into the role and interact with my game master. Nowadays, I prefer the former because I've done the latter too many time, but it's the interaction with other people that makes me discover, instead of invent.

    ---

    Perhaps it's because English isn't my native language, but exploring a premise doesn't come with an answer. To me, it comes with a conclusion. Perhaps you jumped a few steps and assumed that addressing the premise should be done in form of a question. But is "juggle their competing efforts to get revenge and to get out of their life of crime" a premise? It seems more like a setup for an internal conflict.

    To quote Wikipedia: "... a premise is an assumption that something is true".
  • Rickard,

    I think David is using a different definition of “premise” that is used in filmmaking:

    “The premise of a film or screenplay is the initial state of affairs that drives the plot.”

    Here’s a wiki link if you want more detail:
    https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Premise_(filmmaking)
  • Rickard, sorry for the lack of clarity -- I was using "premise" in the sense Jeff describes. "Address premise" is a phrase I've heard a lot, though I can't remember whether it's just from RPG talk or also elsewhere. It means "explore an issue", more or less.

    Regardless, your answer makes a lot of sense to me: engage with another person, often in author/actor combo.
  • To clarify, "addressing the premise" is pure Forge jargon - it comes from Lajos Egri's dramaturgical theory, as mediated at the Forge by Ron Edwards in his theory of Narrativism. That particular piece of theoretical insight is one of the most important in the Forge discourses, so it pops up again and again in different places.

    (I'm just adding this to give a bit of background on what David is talking about and why some people understood him immediately and others didn't. The jargon backstory probably isn't otherwise pertinent to the topic.)
  • APMAPM
    edited February 2018
    I agree that author and director stance is preferred to actor stance when aiming for addressing premise.

    I sometimes see people avoiding the opportunity to reveal a secret (that would be great for the story) because "that's not what the character would do". I think people using author and director stance are more aware of what's good for the story and help to actively steer towards that.
  • I agree that author and director stance is preferred to actor stance when aiming for addressing premise.

    I sometimes see people avoiding the opportunity to reveal a secret (that would be great for the story) because "that's not what the character would do". I think people using author and director stance are more aware of what's good for the story and help to actively steer towards that.
    If you're using "addressing premise" here in the sense of Narrativism/Story Now, than making choices because they make for better "stories" is not at all a concern. Nothing stops you from playing a game with the objective of ending up with a good story, and that's perfectly fine, but that's of no relevance to Narrativism as in GNS theory. You are certainly expected to play your character as conceived, subjected to hard (e.g. moral) choices, and see what emerges (and thus address premise and explore theme), and not to play your character with the objective of making the story "good" as if one is reading a novel or watching a movie.
  • I agree that author and director stance is preferred to actor stance when aiming for addressing premise.

    I sometimes see people avoiding the opportunity to reveal a secret (that would be great for the story) because "that's not what the character would do". I think people using author and director stance are more aware of what's good for the story and help to actively steer towards that.
    If you're using "addressing premise" here in the sense of Narrativism/Story Now, than making choices because they make for better "stories" is not at all a concern. Nothing stops you from playing a game with the objective of ending up with a good story, and that's perfectly fine, but that's of no relevance to Narrativism as in GNS theory. You are certainly expected to play your character as conceived, subjected to hard (e.g. moral) choices, and see what emerges (and thus address premise and explore theme), and not to play your character with the objective of making the story "good" as if one is reading a novel or watching a movie.
    I'm sorry, I think using the very vague term "making a good story" was a mistake. Maybe what I wanted to say is that if you're always focused on what your character would do, you might miss the opportunities to address the premise. A player in author/director stance would however be more likely to steer towards situations where the premise could be addressed.

    Does that make sense?
  • Hei, no need to apologise! Yeah, it makes sense, sure. It allows players to have more input overall (scene framing, scene content, events, etc) as opposed to let everything to the GM while the players only react. It can certainly help with addressing premise (not that I consciously care about that). But I'd still emphasise that it's essential that the players play their characters consistently in accord with their personalities and make choices that are logical for their characters. The way I see it, it's only by playing characters consistently that premise can be meaningfully addressed. The good thing is that author/director stance and playing characters consistently are completely unrelated things, so no problem. My time to ask: does that make sense?
  • edited February 2018
    Also, it becomes very important to build the characters consistently : TV trope in TV trope out.
  • Hei, no need to apologise! Yeah, it makes sense, sure. It allows players to have more input overall (scene framing, scene content, events, etc) as opposed to let everything to the GM while the players only react. It can certainly help with addressing premise (not that I consciously care about that). But I'd still emphasise that it's essential that the players play their characters consistently in accord with their personalities and make choices that are logical for their characters. The way I see it, it's only by playing characters consistently that premise can be meaningfully addressed. The good thing is that author/director stance and playing characters consistently are completely unrelated things, so no problem. My time to ask: does that make sense?
    Yes, I agree fully. I would like to add though that even if you take decisions for your character based on what you (as a player) know would be great for addressing the premise, that may spring your imagination so that you can retroactively motivate why the character did what they did. In that way you still make the character's behaviour consistent but the decisions can be more strategic (in order to address the premise). Would you agree?
  • edited February 2018
    Hum. Not sure I do. I'm not saying you can't do it, mind you, but from my perspective meaningful, dramatic, emotional decisions are a result of the character in that situation, they should be felt by the player as a consistent character reaction. Retroactively justifying uncharacteristic character behaviour feels like missing the point, to me. But if instead you say that you're using authorial/directorial power to set a particular scene, or bring about an event, or whatever, and position your character in there, because you feel that facilitates addressing the premise, then sure, I agree, as long as that doesn't mean having your character act "out of character" and then justify it retroactively somehow.

    Not sure I'm being clear about what I'm driving at. But anyway, I could be wrong, perhaps it works. Personally, I don't make any conscious effort to "address premise", and I don't really buy Narrativism as defined back in the day at The Forge to begin with, so this is a bit of a non-issue to me.
  • Hum. Not sure I do. I'm not saying you can't do it, mind you, but from my perspective meaningful, dramatic, emotional decisions are a result of the character in that situation, they should be felt by the player as a consistent character reaction. Retroactively justifying uncharacteristic character behaviour feels like missing the point, to me. But if instead you say that you're using authorial/directorial power to set a particular scene, or bring about an event, or whatever, and position your character in there, because you feel that facilitates addressing the premise, then sure, I agree, as long as that doesn't mean having your character act "out of character" and then justify it retroactively somehow.

    Not sure I'm being clear about what I'm driving at. But anyway, I could be wrong, perhaps it works. Personally, I don't make any conscious effort to "address premise", and I don't really buy Narrativism as defined back in the day at The Forge to begin with, so this is a bit of a non-issue to me.
    I hear you, I understand, and I agree! :)

    It's just that sometimes I feel as if when I'm making decisions from my character's point of view, I'm unable to wrap my head around it. I mean I don't know what to do. On those occasions letting go of the character's perspective and thinking out of a director's perspective have been very useful. And I've been surprised at how many times those retroactive motivations make perfect sense even though I couldn't see it before I made the decision.
  • Ah, that seems to be a different issue, then. Can't really help you there, I think. Fictional situations described verbally are quite different from being there in reality, so sometimes there's some "murk" regarding what exactly is going on and how that may affect a character in a given situation. This may be a bit worse if you also haven't really nailed down the character's personality yet. But if your approach has been working for you, then no worries.
  • edited February 2018
    from my perspective meaningful, dramatic, emotional decisions are a result of the character in that situation, they should be felt by the player as a consistent character reaction.
    This is my take as well. I can make anything look "consistent", but if it isn't coming from some sort of emotional center, it doesn't mean much to me.

    Controlling a character to not be utterly nonsensical? I think that's easy.

    Making character decisions which emerge authentically from the situation? I think that's only easy (or even possible) if approached the right way.

    For me, that "right approach" is easiest in actor stance. But what I'm reading in this thread indicates that the stance itself is probably not the largest part of this. For example:
    It's just that sometimes I feel as if when I'm making decisions from my character's point of view, I'm unable to wrap my head around it. I mean I don't know what to do.
    My take is that if you are "in character" and your character doesn't know what to do, then they should follow through on that indecision and pay the consequences for it. They fret, dither, avoid, hide, or distract themselves, and the GM (or whoever) describes how the situation gets worse while they're doing that.

    But if it's simply that you the player don't know what your character would do, then clearly the attempt to get into character POV has failed. "Let's use actor stance" doesn't magically get every player into the state where their gut takes over with authentic character reactions to every situation.

    And if you do forge that intuitive embodiment of your character, apparently not everyone needs to be in actor stance when they make the resulting character choices. (Or maybe they do, but only very briefly, and then they pop right back into author/director stance?)

    Interesting stuff.
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