And, but, because

edited October 2012 in Play Advice
When I GM, no matter what game, I try to use player involvement as much as I can. All RPGs got player involvement, but when I mean it as a term, I'm thinking of letting the players create stuff on the fly that I as a GM have to adopt to. It may be things in the environment, people they encounter, relationships and even plot things. You will probably recognize this below, but I think I will show it in a slightly different context.

And is something I use to add to the players description. For example when the player describes the characters action or when the player "invent" something in the environment that I feel that I can build on. Using "and" is also a sort of confirmation. I acknowledge what the player is creating, which is a sort of reward. I even use this in a OSR kind of game while fighting, to let the players know how damaged the opponent is. I can add "...and there is pouring blood out of the target's wound", where "blood" is a keyword for "lost half of the hit points".

But restricts what the player just said. By telling the (traditional) players that I can always use "but" to restrict their figment, they get more confidence when it comes to creating things because they don't have to feel that they will break any boundaries. I do point out that they control the silliness of the game. If they want to create unbelievable things then I will adopt, but I will tell them how I usually play the game (realistic, hong kong action, horror et c.).

Because is giving the players something to play with. It gives a reason why something is in a certain way. I usually use this when I say "no" but that's not always the case. By using "no, because" I can still give the players a way around the problem. "No, you can't go through that door because there is guards there". I can also use it if the player creates something that I want to give an explanation to. "...because it's part of their religion".

Here's the thing. I'm not the only one who may use these three words. I encourage the players to use them to build on the others players narrations. By doing this, having the players create a dialogue within themselves, I kind of remove my part all together sometimes. The players can go on building a story, adding or restricting things from each others creations and even create adversaries to fight. The only thing I do is to add more wood to the fire if I feel the flame is fading. By letting the players taking chunks out of the normal GM role, I reduce the amount of work that I have to put into my role in the game. Only once, of the last 15 sessions (a 1-2 hours of play) with total strangers, have I been forced so say "No, that doesn't work. You have to come up with something else".


  • This is terrific stuff! Great techniques.
  • edited October 2012
    Questions are, together with The Three Words, one of the strongest narrating tool that you got as a GM. By asking questions, you add more wood to the fire, hopefully giving either inspiration or atmosphere. They can also give certain thinking patterns in the players. I never try to give suggestions to my players when they are about to solve a problem or wants to describe their character or the environment. Instead, I ask questions. I usually ask questions to introduce something that the players don't normally think of.

    Are there any particular sounds?
    Are you wearing something on your head?
    Is there anything in the ceiling that you can use?
    Was it something that happened between you and your friend?

    You can also ask targeted questions, if you want to add atmosphere. So instead of saying "... and it's raining", you can ask if it rains. The players will most often go along with your question and answer yes, because you leave it to the players to decide. Try asking some targeted questions that really changes things like "Do you die from this?" or "Does she refuse you?". Ask these kind of questions when you want the players to elaborate or perhaps to surprise the players, taking a stance that they haven't thought of.

    Note how different this is compared to "How do you die?" or "How does she refuse you?" where you already decided that something happens. "How much does it rain?" is another example. If it's not build into the system, I personally don't use these kind of questions.
  • edited October 2012
    Now to the most important part: how do you introduce these narrating tools to the players?

    Through the years, GMing at conventions, I created a structure so the players can pick up these techniques really easy. First, I explain that what we are going to play is a roleplaying game, and it's all about bouncing the narrative between each other. The players are allowed to create things on the spot and I will make that happen by not describing the environment more than a word or two.

    "You are all in a library, for example.", I say and then pointing towards a player. "What's in the library?"
    "Computers", the player answers. I fill in with " ... and you can see people sitting there.". "You", I point at the next player. "What's more in the library?"
    "A librarian", the player answers. "... but she is being busy with something at the computers.", I reply. I point at the third player: "Do you recognize someone in the library?"
    "No, not really", the player replies and I continue with: "Because..?".
    "Because I've never been to the library."

    As you can see, with this exercise I both introduced The Three Words and that I ask questions. I point out that the players are allowed to create whatever they want, may it be relationships, things, places or whatever. I can always fill in with "and", restrict with "but" or sometimes give an explanation with "because" or ask questions. I repeat what I said in the exercise as examples for "and", "but", "because" and the questions while explaining this.

    There are also three things I point out.
    -- I wont describe details, because I want to leave that to the players to fill in. On the other side, the players should be fair and leave out the details when they narrate something, so I can continue adding stuff.
    -- I'm not the only one who are allowed to add to the players narrations. The players can continue each others narrations as well.
    -- I explain how the world works, but I will adjust if the players will start narrating silly or illogical things. They set the bar.

    Then I start the session ... and the first scene takes place in the library. It takes around 10-20 minutes before the players get a grip on how it works. Around 10 minutes for beginners and 20 minutes for experiences players.
  • Great stuff!
  • Around 10 minutes for beginners and 20 minutes for experiences players.
    Ha! Same as with teaching In A Wicked Age. ;)
  • Richard I like this stuff, you have created a path all can follow which is lacking in many games.
    But my question is have you a path for character voice acting? (speaking in character) bringing this out of players and meshing it with player involvement words you use.
    Which for me would complete this topic.
  • But my question is have you a path for character voice acting? (speaking in character) bringing this out of players and meshing it with player involvement words you use.
    I'm not sure I really understand. Could you explain this further? Are you talking about immersionist playing, describing the environment through dialogue (a cool technique that I sometimes use) or making the players create stuff that tells something about their character?
  • I'm not to sure myself :-) but here goes.

    Your techniques and, but because are great for bringing out player involvement on the level of descriptive intent? or player to player. (Describing the environment through dialogue or players create stuff that tells something about their characters mind set body posture.) all above work on this level.

    but I'm thinking on the in character to character if that makes sense?
    Trying to keep the fiction or the game on that level.
    How do you flip between the two? in character out of character and player to player.
    Any techniques you use that support or help. If there are?

  • edited October 2012
    Good things! (consider this as if i were pressing a like button)
  • Are you talking about dialogues like this?

    - I draw out the chair from the table while saying "Are you really sure?"
    - "Yeah, of course". I puff some smokes from my cigarette while standing at the French balcony.
    - I flip through the pages. "But it doesn't say anything about it." I raise the folder and like I want to show it to Jim.
    - "I'm absolutely sure." I flip my cigarette over the balcony railing down to the traffic below.
    - "Kebab and French fries on a pizza? That sounds absurd!". I'm grabbing my telephone and press the speed dial to the pizzeria.

    It's not really something I encourage, because it happens after a while when some of the players starts experimenting with how to express themselves. Sometimes I tell them that they could look at their skills and create stuff on the fly from that. A player whose character is into art can describe how the character is looking at paintings or someone who got the skill Info: beer knows a lot of people at a pub. Last time a player came up with a relationship when they met one of the antagonists. "I'm sorry, Jane, that I had to leave you five years ago." was his starting line and I adopted to that. It turned out that the ape king (the main antagonist) was the son of Jane and the PC; nothing that I really thought of. I just kept on building on the player's ideas.


    Something I use all the time with experienced players, who ask me all the time about what they can find on the area, is to always ask a counter-question. "Yes, is there one?".

    - Is there a chair there?
    - Yes, is there one?

    I love to see the spark in the player's eye when s/he gets it and answers "Yes, of course there is a chair there, and I use it to ...". But I only use the question if I established that they may freely add anything on the spot.

    In the RPG Feng Shui, there is a rule that if the player ask if they can find something in an area, it doesn't exist. I had an experience where I instead did the opposite thing, and allowed everything that the players in my ordinary group asked. The PCs were hunting down a man and they got an address to an old warehouse. Well, so I thought anyway but I just said »building« ("I wont describe details, because I want to leave that to the players to fill in."). So the players asked me if there were any guards there and I answered that there were guards there. The followed up questioning about dogs and so on. So the abandoned old warehouse became a fortified house with security guards, dogs and cameras with gatling guns. Half way through, some of the players understood what I was doing so they started to shout at the other players to stop asking me questions. xD
  • Yes the dialogues you give are part it, and agree this could be left to the experimenting player with how to express themselves.
    But do you change your accent or speak as that character and not your self? as a cue from character to dialogue.
    I was hoping you might have some technique for helping players to shift into the accent of the character.
    There seems no advice on learning accents in any game I know of.

    Also storygames as a type seem to mean (to me) a shared game of responsibility. (GM/ Player)

    Now what I like about your techniques is,,,, they are coming from that shared experience. This takes the pressure off the chosen one to run the game.
    I'm getting where you coming from. Teaching through play. "always ask a counter-question. "Yes, is there one?".
    Seeing the spark in someones eyes when they get it. That's the ticket.
    The second part of your post is great, I will definitely be putting this as well into practice.

    I think my original question has become clearer a bit because of your post.
    See I can imagine all above happening around the table and if it was up to full steam and everyone was on board it would be cool.
    But thing is how do you handle the share experience.
    Maybe at times it gets out of hand, do you experience overload with many players trying to define?
    How do you order such events.

    Thanks for the gems of advice :)

  • I'm not really about acting out any more (or immersion - "acting in"), so I can't really help you there. Sorry.
    But thing is how do you handle the share experience.
    Maybe at times it gets out of hand, do you experience overload with many players trying to define?
    How do you order such events.
    This doesn't have much to do with the thread, but here's the thing.

    I've lead perhaps 7-10 players at the time a few times, and I've noticed that the more players I got, the less I'm needed. Leading only one player is the most exhausting things I know. Not only do I have to keep track of the world, I have to respond to the player all the time. With more players (6+), I tend to divide them into groups, throwing the first group a spinner to play with. Then I attend to the second group and give them something to play with. Then I lean back, and if a group's spinner starts to slow down, I give it a twirl. So I just go back and forth, co-ordinating the groups. Sometimes I step in as a NPC to play something out (to give it a twirl), and if I miss something that the other group plays out at the same time, I just ask for a recap.

    Hope the analogy didn't confuse to much.

    To do this, I have to have some toys prepared to give to the players. It differs how I do this, but it's usually a fish tank. I can't really go through with a descent railroad if I got a lot of players, because then some players have to wait on their turn. Fish tanks manage more players much easier. Within the fish tank, I got relationships to reveal, people to interact with, events that I can throw in at any time and consequences created through the agendas of other factions. How the players respond to this differs from group to group: some like to talk OCC about how to solve the problems and some like to act out with their characters. I don't really care, as long as the players are engaged. I actually prefer the groups that like to play out their characters, because they are easier to get started and they also, through player-to-player interaction, feed each other. :)

    So the only thing I have to do is to keep my players busy. One guideline I always follow is to always engage the player who looks most inactive; leaning backwards or fiddling with something is a typical sign for that. (This technique backfires with InSpectres, but that's another story.)
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