Steve Jackson Games - Site Navigation
Home General Info Follow Us Search Illuminator Store Forums What's New Other Games Ogre GURPS Munchkin Our Games: Home

Go Back   Steve Jackson Games Forums > Roleplaying > Roleplaying in General

Reply
 
Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 10-15-2018, 02:31 PM   #1
Mark Skarr
Forum Pervert
(If you have to ask . . .)
 
Mark Skarr's Avatar
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Default Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

As I’ve said before, I’m an acolyte of John Wick. Not the movie, the game designer.

I don’t think that dice rolls create drama. It can happen, but, more often than not, it doesn’t. You should never have the players roll dice unless you’re willing to let them dictate what happens. Most of the time the random elements are just those moments that pad out the show. But, you should always be ready for an amazing success or failure: Todd being unable to fast-draw his pistols, Alistair breaking six lockpicks on a single lock, the cops believing the cute, eleven-year-old girl really is looking for her babysitter. None of them are drama in their own right, but, they can, eventually add to it, in the future.

I view an RPG story not like a movie or book plot, more like a well-crafted TV series. Each session, more-or-less, stands alone, but there is a thread that ties them all together. As they reach the end of the arc/season, what the players have done and seen is shifted into more focus and little things that they’ve encountered make more sense.

This works because hindsight is better than foresight. Having time between sessions allows me to review my notes and view things with hindsight, as well as, foresight. It’s then easier to tie together random events into important events that may not have been important at that exact moment, but maybe in the next session, the players discover that one of the prisoners actually knows something because they didn’t have time at the end of the last session to interrogate them.

This also allows the players time to think about events and come up with their new plan of attack. It also gives them time to reflect on their characters and decide how they want to continue their story.

“That’s great, Mark, but what does this all have to do with drama?”

Well, imaginary voice guy I hear in my head, RPGs are a form of collaborative storying telling. It’s my job, as GM, to weave the events of the party together into a coherent narrative. However, they’re equally invested in assisting with that by playing their characters and collaborating with me and the other players. And drama doesn’t come from the uncertainty of dice rolls, but the uncertainty of action.

Todd Diallo, from my first Infinite Weirdos game, was a gunslinger combat-monster. After his first fight (where Alistair the elf/mage/hacker had the “I shoot center of body mass, you should be doing backflips between moving cars shooting people in the eye because you’re awesome at this” conversation with Todd’s player before I could) there was never a fight in which Todd was ever in any real danger because combat was his time to shine. That’s what he wanted to run, so that was when he got to show the other players just how awesome he could be.

The eighteen raiders weren’t a threat to Todd, even only armed with a pair of six-shot revolvers. The Deathclaw wasn’t a threat to Todd. The nanozombies weren’t a threat to Todd. Only one combat enemy, the Enforcer, was ever a threat to Todd, but that’s because it was a “boss” and the point was that the party had to come together as a team to defeat it. And they did. But, the raiders and Deathclaw fights were there to give Todd’s player a chance to feel out the character and get an understanding of how amazing he could be. The nanozombie fight—that was Drama.

There was never a doubt that Todd could defeat all the nanozombies. That was a foregone conclusion. Wielding Warmonger, Todd was an agent of death with few equals. But, what was he willing to do to protect Sherry and Ana? They were also there. And they were separated from Todd. And the zombies were between him and them. And Warmonger said he should let them die. Ana was seriously injured and her environmental suit was compromised. Sherry’s laser rifle was empty and she wasn’t sure how to reload it. If he wanted to protect his friends, he had to get past the zombies, and keep their attention on him.

Now the zombies are a threat to Todd. Not because he isn’t sure if he could kill them, but, could he kill them fast enough to protect himself and the girls? What was he willing to do, to protect them? Turns out, whatever he had to. And protect them he did. Which caused Todd and Sherry to bond more closely. So, at the end of the arc, when ISWAT showed up and kidnapped Sherry, it caused anguish to both Todd and his player.

This was important because this was the first game Todd’s player had ever been in (not the first session, but Todd was his first character, ever, in a TTRPG). He said, after the nanozombie fight, he was wired because he was so scared, not for Todd, but for the other two. He told me that, after Sherry was kidnapped, that night, when he got home and it finally sunk in, he actually cried because he wasn’t sure if they’d ever get her back. That’s drama. And there’s nothing on his character sheet to protect him from that drama.

So, now, he is aware that a major point of the new Infinite Weirdos game revolves around Sherry and ISWAT weaponizing her. That adds drama to the player. And the players are my audience. Foreshadowing the plot to the audience . . . well, isn’t that what a good TV show does?
Mark Skarr is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 02:33 PM   #2
sjard
Stick in the Mud
 
sjard's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Rural Utah
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

As this thread is not specifically GURPS related, I have moved it to Roleplaying in General.
__________________
MIB #1457
Scott Anderson
sjard is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 03:29 PM   #3
Anthony
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Berkeley, CA
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

So, my essential issue is that I don't consider RPGs to be story telling or story creating. This is probably influenced by having heard or read stories that were or appeared to be based on RPG campaigns, and they were inevitably bad. Conversely, adventures that set out to tell a story are prone to massive railroading.

RPGs are their own thing. Why try to force them into the mold of something else?
__________________
My GURPS site and Blog.
Anthony is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 04:13 PM   #4
Brandy
 
Brandy's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Nashville, TN
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
So, my essential issue is that I don't consider RPGs to be story telling or story creating.

<snip>

RPGs are their own thing. Why try to force them into the mold of something else?
I'm having a really hard time wrapping my head around this.

First, I want to note that I nodded in agreement to pretty much everything Mark said above, from where the drama comes from to when you roll -- even down to thinking of the form of the stories as akin to a TV series with an ensemble cast.

So, Mark and I seem to be cut from very similar cloth when it comes to running a game.

I googled a definition of storytelling, and got "the activity of telling or writing stories", so then I googled a definitio for story and got "an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment".

I guess I'm having a hard time understanding how what emerges from a game session isn't a story, in your mind. Can you clarify?

Aside: I don't like "argument by definition", so this isn't an attempt to score a point or something. I genuinely want to understand better where you're coming from.
__________________
I didn't realize who I was until I stopped being who I wasn't.
Formerly known as Bookman- forum name changed 1/3/2018.
Brandy is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 04:30 PM   #5
Anthony
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Berkeley, CA
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brandy View Post
I guess I'm having a hard time understanding how what emerges from a game session isn't a story, in your mind. Can you clarify?
If I replay the narrative of a game session to an uninvolved third party, without extensive editing, they will probably be bored and confused for at least 90% of the time, not entertained. That makes it not a story.
__________________
My GURPS site and Blog.
Anthony is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 04:54 PM   #6
dcarson
 
Join Date: Mar 2008
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
If I replay the narrative of a game session to an uninvolved third party, without extensive editing, they will probably be bored and confused for at least 90% of the time, not entertained. That makes it not a story.
That just makes it a story that needs editing. Like 99% of fanfiction and 10% of commercial fiction.
dcarson is offline   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 04:59 PM   #7
Brandy
 
Brandy's Avatar
 
Join Date: Aug 2004
Location: Nashville, TN
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
If I replay the narrative of a game session to an uninvolved third party, without extensive editing, they will probably be bored and confused for at least 90% of the time, not entertained. That makes it not a story.
Interesting. I think you've qualified what you said (by including the phrase about "extensive editing") in way that it's probably literally true, but I still disagree with the spirit of your conclusion.

It seems correct to me that a six-hour game wouldn't be entertaining if told as a six-hour story. It also seems correct to me that the experience of playing in a game shouldn't be reduced to the same kind of entertainment as being told a story. If it is, then it probably isn't a very good game.

In spite of that, my games through the years *have* generated a number of stories that I find to be pretty interesting in the retelling, and if I'm honest, the sessions and campaigns that I remember most fondly are the ones that created the best stories.

Mark said: "RPGs are a form of collaborative storying telling. It’s my job, as GM, to weave the events of the party together into a coherent narrative."

I think this is correct. Just off the top of my head, a session of an RPG is composed of a series of connected events in an interesting setting where players make decisions for their characters (and those decisions are influenced by the traits, backgrounds and motivations of the characters) and where the outcomes of those decisions are ruled upon by a GM, whether using dice or fiat to determine the outcome.

It seems to me that that description fits the basic definition of "story", but I do see better where you are coming from I think.
__________________
I didn't realize who I was until I stopped being who I wasn't.
Formerly known as Bookman- forum name changed 1/3/2018.
Brandy is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 05:28 PM   #8
Anthony
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Berkeley, CA
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Brandy View Post
In spite of that, my games through the years *have* generated a number of stories that I find to be pretty interesting in the retelling, and if I'm honest, the sessions and campaigns that I remember most fondly are the ones that created the best stories.
Lots of activities have memorable scenes that can turn into stories. People tell stories about work all the time, and no-one is going to mistake that for cooperative storytelling. The secret is that the storyteller trims and edits the raw narrative into a story.
Quote:
Originally Posted by Brandy View Post
Mark said: "RPGs are a form of collaborative storying telling. It’s my job, as GM, to weave the events of the party together into a coherent narrative."
What does that even mean? Do I redefine what the PCs are doing? In any case, 'coherent narrative' does not mean a story. It just means it makes sense, and assuming players who actually play roles and think about what they're doing, you expect their actions to be coherent.
__________________
My GURPS site and Blog.
Anthony is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 05:33 PM   #9
whswhs
 
Join Date: Jun 2005
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by Anthony View Post
So, my essential issue is that I don't consider RPGs to be story telling or story creating. This is probably influenced by having heard or read stories that were or appeared to be based on RPG campaigns, and they were inevitably bad. Conversely, adventures that set out to tell a story are prone to massive railroading.

RPGs are their own thing. Why try to force them into the mold of something else?
I think that's a problem of misplaced specificity.

Music, as Western people mostly think of it, involves a composer, who writes a piece; a performer, who plays (or sings) it; and a listener, who hears and attends to it. But it's possible to have performers who create new, perhaps never before played series of notes, as is common in jazz. And it's also possible to have performers who play for each other, with no separate audience, as in jam sessions, or as in the musical traditions of Bushmen, Pygmies, and some other aboriginal peoples. Are those not music? One might say that there are no written notes to be performed and interpreted, so what they're doing isn't performing a musical piece, but just fooling around. But there are important things in common between these three activities.

If you listened to a traditional storyteller, you might find a lot of things happening that didn't work in printed fiction. There might be the use of voices and accents; there might be a lot of repetition of catch phrases ("and the third one was JUST RIGHT"). And conversely, a printed novel may do a lot of things that are poorly suited to oral narration, such as having footnotes. But that doesn't mean that either the novel or the oral narrative is "not fiction" or "not story"; it means that they're different forms in different media.

There are a lot of differences between an RPG session or campaign, and a novel or television series or ballad or epic. But I don't think that means that the RPG doesn't involve story. I think, rather, it involves the emergence of story through creative interaction among the people who are at once performers and audience. There's no story in advance, but when the session has been completed, there HAS BEEN a story.

Defining "story" in terms that apply only to printed fictional narratives, and then objecting that RPGs aren't "stories" because they lack the features that such narratives require, strikes me as akin to the book I read a decade or so ago that argued that rock and roll could not be considered "music" because it didn't have the architectural structure of a symphony or an oratario. Well, no, it doesn't, because it's made up of pieces three to five minutes long, played by maybe half a dozen musicians, and often listened to by people who are dancing rather than sitting still and concentrating. But that doesn't mean that "Night Moves" or "Light My Fire" is defective as music; it means it's a different kind of music.
__________________
Bill Stoddard

A human being should know how to live fast, die young, and leave a beautiful corpse. Specialization is for insects.
whswhs is online now   Reply With Quote
Old 10-15-2018, 05:53 PM   #10
Anthony
 
Join Date: Feb 2005
Location: Berkeley, CA
Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
I think that's a problem of misplaced specificity.
How you name something influences how you think about it. If you call RPGs storytelling, that encourages bringing storytelling methods into RPGs, and RPG methods into storytelling. If you don't, it doesn't.

My experience is that bringing storytelling methods into RPGs is something that should be done cautiously (there are valuable things, but also nasty pitfalls) and bringing RPG methods into storytelling is almost always a mistake unless they are already shared methods (learning to think/speak/write from the perspective of a character is certainly a useful skill in storytelling, but hardly something RPGs invented).
Quote:
Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
Music, as Western people mostly think of it, involves a composer, who writes a piece; a performer, who plays (or sings) it; and a listener, who hears and attends to it. But it's possible to have performers who create new, perhaps never before played series of notes, as is common in jazz. And it's also possible to have performers who play for each other, with no separate audience, as in jam sessions, or as in the musical traditions of Bushmen, Pygmies, and some other aboriginal peoples. Are those not music?
Now, imagine people doing those activities, only there's an adjacent street with passing traffic. The random noise from passing traffic is roughly the dice.
__________________
My GURPS site and Blog.
Anthony is online now   Reply With Quote
Reply

Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Fnords are Off
[IMG] code is Off
HTML code is Off

Forum Jump


All times are GMT -6. The time now is 01:08 PM.


Powered by vBulletin® Version 3.8.9
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, vBulletin Solutions, Inc.