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Old 10-15-2018, 11:28 PM   #21
whswhs
 
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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That's probably the big conflict, yes.
I agree that this [the role of plot] is a major source of problems. That follows from the participatory nature of RPGs. It's as if a musician came to a jam session with a bunch of music sheets to hand out to the other musicians so that they could play exactly what the aspiring composer had worked out. It denies the "joint creation" aspect of the activity, in which the participants are both audience and creators/performers, reducing them from originators of content to, at most, enactors of someone else's content. That same joint creation aspect applies to RPGs.

That's why, though, I think your discussion of the use of literary concepts as guides to invention is not quite the same as my conception of literary concepts as tools for understanding what is going on in RPGs. I think of story, and plot, not as things that the GM creates, but as things that emerge from the activity of the RPG. This is rather directly opposed to the White Wolf custom of calling the GM the "storyteller"; I think that if you want to be a storyteller you should write novels rather than running RPGs. In my view, it's all of the players together, the GM among them, who are the "storytellers."

I'd note, though, that novelists rely on a predesigned plot to different degrees. There are writers like Ayn Rand, who worked out the entire plot of Atlas Shrugged before writing the first scene, or so she claimed (though she also admitted that the story of the "Wet Nurse," which I think one of the very best parts of the novel, emerged while she was writing, and I think if she had trusted her powers of invention more she might have been a better writer). But there are writers like J.R.R. Tolkien, who wrote the whole Lord of the Rings not knowing what the "plot" was, to the point that when he was writing the Council of Elrond he though he had reached the halfway mark! For the latter sort, plot is something that emerges out of the activity of telling the story.

My theory for some time is that the GM's job is not to come up with a story, but to come up with a situation (including a potential conflict, or maybe more than one) that has the potential for story, and then turn the PCs loose on it. The thing that's needed is to have the instinct for a fruitful starting situation. But the tale grows in the telling, as Tolkien put it; the story and the plot are not designed by the GM, but emerge from the play. But then the GM can see what's going on in the story, and introduce elements that will make the situation more interesting and enhance the tension. And a sense of plot can help in this, even in a type of story where you can't know in advance where the plot is going.
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Old 10-16-2018, 02:20 AM   #22
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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My theory for some time is that the GM's job is not to come up with a story, but to come up with a situation (including a potential conflict, or maybe more than one) that has the potential for story, and then turn the PCs loose on it. The thing that's needed is to have the instinct for a fruitful starting situation. But the tale grows in the telling, as Tolkien put it; the story and the plot are not designed by the GM, but emerge from the play. But then the GM can see what's going on in the story, and introduce elements that will make the situation more interesting and enhance the tension. And a sense of plot can help in this, even in a type of story where you can't know in advance where the plot is going.
I don't disagree with any of this, though I might say the job of the GM is to curse the PCs with living in interesting times.

My general theory about designing an adventure are that I need:
  1. A situation that introduces some sort of challenge to overcome. I prefer to have multiple vague options out there, and ask the players at the end of a session where they're going next, so I have time to flesh out the vague.
  2. If there are NPCs, which there usually are, a general sense of their motivations and capabilities.
  3. A reason for the PCs care about the situation.
  4. A reason the PCs are appropriate people to deal with the situation.
  5. Multiple ways the PCs might deal with the situation. It should be possible for the PCs to handle it in ways the GM didn't think of.
As a story teller, 2-4 are directly relevant. 1 and 5 are somewhat indirectly relevant, in that you may want to leave uncertainty for the audience, but if I come up with a new idea for how to solve a problem I want to leave hints.
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Old 10-16-2018, 10:26 AM   #23
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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My theory for some time is that the GM's job is not to come up with a story, but to come up with a situation (including a potential conflict, or maybe more than one) that has the potential for story, and then turn the PCs loose on it. The thing that's needed is to have the instinct for a fruitful starting situation. But the tale grows in the telling, as Tolkien put it; the story and the plot are not designed by the GM, but emerge from the play. But then the GM can see what's going on in the story, and introduce elements that will make the situation more interesting and enhance the tension. And a sense of plot can help in this, even in a type of story where you can't know in advance where the plot is going.
I think there's a range of this that falls within "most players will enjoy it". Some players like more direction (e.g. "your mission this week is…" games); others prefer to come up with their own subplots and plots, e.g. by seeing a bad situation and deciding how to get involved.

This is where I part ways from Robin Laws and Hamlet's Hit Points: I don't think that the up-and-down beat structure of some linear fiction is necessarily a good fit to an RPG, which is not only constructed in ongoing collaboration but (with very few exceptions) is always a first draft, happening in order, with little possibility of going back and changing things after the fact.
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Old 10-16-2018, 10:36 AM   #24
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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I think there's a range of this that falls within "most players will enjoy it". Some players like more direction (e.g. "your mission this week is…" games); others prefer to come up with their own subplots and plots, e.g. by seeing a bad situation and deciding how to get involved.
That's part of why I offer my players a choice of campaigns, though I'd note that the great majority of my players have not stuck to a single option.

I actually think there are more like three options than two. I've run campaigns where every session or couple of sessions, the PCs get an assignment or a problem. I've run campaigns where there's a long term problem that the PCs are dealing with. And I've run campaigns where the primary focus is the setting, and the PCs, as you say, come up with their own subplots and plots by exploring it, and new problems arise out of consequences of past actions. Both of the latter two lack a "mission of the week," but what they have instead is different.
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Old 10-16-2018, 01:46 PM   #25
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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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.
I am genuinely interested in what you consider the "proper" use of an RPG. I'm not saying anything about badwrongfun, but you seem to think there is, effectively, one correct way to play and would like to know what your method would be.

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RPGs are their own thing. Why try to force them into the mold of something else?
While I disagree that RPGs are not a storytelling medium, the very simple answer is Emergent Gameplay.

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That just makes it a story that needs editing. Like 99% of fanfiction and 10% of commercial fiction.
Word.
But, to put more focus on it, if you tell someone about a book, or movie, or tv series, you don't tell them everything, you "edit" it down to what your audience would find interesting. There is no difference.

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I don't want to speak for Mark, but I took it to mean that as players declare actions for their characters, the GM responds using the elements that the GM controls (the game world and its NPCs) in a way that is both logically consistent and also interesting.
Basically yes. The players decide what they're going to do, and, as the GM, I tell them how the world reacts to their decision.

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I've already said a lot of what I have to say about this in GURPS Adaptations, at more length than I can take here.
Well, now I need to buy Adaptations.

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I don't disagree with any of this, though I might say the job of the GM is to curse the PCs with living in interesting times.
When the PCs aren't doing it themselves, yes. My job is to entertain my players and provide them with their interactions to the world in our heads. Since telepathy isn't a provable thing, I have my words (my simple, simple words).

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My general theory about designing an adventure are that I need:
  1. A situation that introduces some sort of challenge to overcome. I prefer to have multiple vague options out there, and ask the players at the end of a session where they're going next, so I have time to flesh out the vague.
  2. If there are NPCs, which there usually are, a general sense of their motivations and capabilities.
  3. A reason for the PCs care about the situation.
  4. A reason the PCs are appropriate people to deal with the situation.
  5. Multiple ways the PCs might deal with the situation. It should be possible for the PCs to handle it in ways the GM didn't think of.
As a story teller, 2-4 are directly relevant. 1 and 5 are somewhat indirectly relevant, in that you may want to leave uncertainty for the audience, but if I come up with a new idea for how to solve a problem I want to leave hints.
Number one depends on the type of story you're telling. I like to end a session on a cliffhanger, so the party has something to look forward too and can prepare themselves. ("When did you draw this picture?" "And that's our time, we'll be picking this up next week." "NO! When did you draw this picture?!")

Number two I agree with.

Number three I think of as the players' responsibility.

Number four is completely optional, as sometimes it is much more fun if the PCs are the wrong people to handle the situation.

Number five . . .. I don't usually come up with a solution to the problem. Some are obvious, but some, I don't have an answer to. Seven brains are better than one, and I'm sure my players will come up with an answer that is both more interesting and effective than the one I could have.

The current situation in the New Infinite Weirdos game is that the party has come to the conclusion that they need to speak with Blackwolf as he is familiar with the ancient dead that is coming back, and years ago, his Earth fought off an invasion of them.

The way the party has chosen to locate him . . . is one of the worst ideas I could come up with: get captured by the RoboMages, get taken to their library, then let 01 and Glitch hack their computer to get his location, then use the Robomages' portals to get them to him. Easy-peasy.

As we game over the internet, and don't use cameras, that my jaw was on the floor during the discussion of this plan was not obvious to them.

But, if they're okay with that plan, then, I'll help them make it work. Normally, it would be an incredibly stupid idea, but, hey, how many set-piece events in other media aren't incredibly stupid ideas that ultimately play out for the heroes.

To quote Peter Venkman: "I love this plan! I'm excited to be a part of it! Let's do it!"
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Old 10-16-2018, 04:13 PM   #26
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Really, as long as everyone has fun, you all win. For me and my group, we have moved very strongly toward storytelling as our mode. Every year or so, the subset who likes more tactical games will get together and have a plot-light story-light slugfest, but for the most part, we're very much into storytelling.

In terms of getting story elements into a game, some of the best advice I have seen for GMing is in the Amber roleplaying books. It's such a crunch-light system that we used to make characters on 3x5 note cards and there are no dice. Once you get past the self-aggrandizement (there's a whole section on why Amber is THE BEST), there's a lot of really solid advice.

One of the best gems is that it's NOT ok for the GM to force players in a certain direction, but it IS totally fine for an NPC to strong-arm them in a direction. The distinction is subtle but very important. If it's in-game and in-world, then it's fair and ok. If it's out of game and out of world, it's not fair and not ok. It's also a matter of your game having plot or just a sequence of events. If your characters are moved on from one thing to the next by outside events, then there's a plot, maybe a large one. That's a story element.

Following the advice of Amber, I've tried to work harder and deeper story elements into my games with varying results. The most consistent good results have come from keeping an eye on things like tone, theme, and audience. As long as everyone is on the same page, much can be forgiven in the name of "action" or "heroism" or "epic awesomeness" or "mad science" or whatever themes were agreed upon at the outset. In one game, I even managed to successfully use foreshadowing and prophesy without it being too heavy-handed. That was a real challenge, but very rewarding for me and my players in terms of an entertaining story.

So, I agree with Anthony that story elements have to be introduced cautiously. Foreshadowing is not too hard in a book, but really hard in a game. Tone and theme are easier in a game if everyone is on board. The key is always that everybody is with you since it's always collaborative. Story-oriented works for me and my group, but that's not the only way or the "right" way regardless of what Amber roleplaying author Wujick would have you believe.
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Old 10-16-2018, 04:59 PM   #27
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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I am genuinely interested in what you consider the "proper" use of an RPG.
You should use it as a tool for things it's good at doing. It's a form of social game intended to be entertaining to the players at the time you're doing it, not something intended to produce a lasting artifact (you can use RPG techniques as an intermediate step in creating a lasting story, but it's an exercise for inspiration, not something you expect to give a final result).
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Number five . . .. I don't usually come up with a solution to the problem.
I come up with a solution so I know at least one exists, not because I expect it to be used.
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Old 10-16-2018, 05:53 PM   #28
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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You should use it as a tool for things it's good at doing. It's a form of social game intended to be entertaining to the players at the time you're doing it, not something intended to produce a lasting artifact (you can use RPG techniques as an intermediate step in creating a lasting story, but it's an exercise for inspiration, not something you expect to give a final result).
Really, though, I think that all forms of story are intended to be entertaining to the audience at the time they experience the story; that's the fundamental function of story. Oh, if you really like a story, you may want to hear it again, or in technologically advanced societies, read it again. But even in a print culture, a huge volume of fiction is intended for ephemeral entertainment. And that was true even more recently for film and video; it was within my lifetime that it became possible to see a favorite work again without being dependent on a revival, an art house showing, or a broadcast that was likely to be chopped up to fit in commercials. There are early movies that are lost because no one thought there were more than ephemeral trash—and that includes parts of recognized classics like Metropolis.

And on the other hand, being done for entertainment doesn't preclude either the treatment of serious themes, or the use of sophisticated narrative and dramatic techniques. Some of those techniques can be borrowed from other forms than RPGs—film provides us with a lot of useful analogs, such as cross cutting or fading to black—even though not all of them work. And it's also possible to produce real emotional effects on players.

For example, back when I was running DC Realtime, I used a White Wolf supplement to put the superheroes through an "amnesic circus freaks" story, one of the classic tropes of comics. And after they freed themselves, they started wondering about the source of the magic that created the amnesia. And to make a long story short, they traced it to the Endless, and one of them, who had the power to enter the Dreaming, invited Delirium to come back with him. She took one look at the Veil of Delirium (its actual name in the book!) and said, "You found it! I didn't even know I lost it!" and reached out, and then her eyes were the same color and I told the players that Delight had come back to the cosmos. And they sat there in utter silence for a full minute. I doubt that I will ever achieve anything in RPGing that tops that moment for applause.

More generally, I don't view an RPG as a tool for creating a "story" in the form of a novel, or poem, or movie, or what have you. I view it as a tool for creating a story in the form of an RPG. I don't think that's any less a story than the other forms, any more than Bushman chants are any less music than the Messiah. And yes, it's ephemeral, but for most of human existence, all music and literature, dance and drama were ephemeral. . . .
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Old 10-16-2018, 09:08 PM   #29
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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...if you tell someone about a book, or movie, or tv series, you don't tell them everything, you "edit" it down to what your audience would find interesting.
Yes.

Like @Anthony, I have definitely heard far too many terrible RPG war stories. (I don't care about your 50th level ninja anti-paladin!) I agree that the storytellers don't do nearly enough editing; like beginning writers, they don't want to cut anything. They also often conflate the game-mechanical bits of the story with the narrative elements. The mechanics only mean something to people who know the game system well. And even then, it's a lot more exciting to roll a critical hit than to hear about someone else rolling one.

But, I do believe that most games have satisfying stories embedded in them. They just may require more skill to extract than many tellers have. (Or more time to dedicate to editing and rehearsal.) This, to me, matches real life. Many people bore me with rambling stories from their lives. But the people who captivate my attention with their tales don't necessarily have more exciting things going on; they just know how to build dramatic tension in the telling.
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Old 10-16-2018, 11:25 PM   #30
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I do believe that most games have satisfying stories embedded in them. They just may require more skill to extract than many tellers have. (Or more time to dedicate to editing and rehearsal.) This, to me, matches real life. Many people bore me with rambling stories from their lives. But the people who captivate my attention with their tales don't necessarily have more exciting things going on; they just know how to build dramatic tension in the telling.
This seems when I read it to take the position that a story is, for example, something written down as a novel, or a script, or the like, and that an RPG is simply raw material from which a story can be extracted and polished. I tend to define things differently. For me, a story is a narrative structure. A novel is a means of recording a narrative structure that an author has created (sometimes in the process of writing the words of the novel, and sometimes beforehand; different authors work differently). But a narrative structure can also be embodied in the play of an RPG, during which the narrative is created.

What you are doing when you write a novel based on an RPG is translating a narrative structure into another medium, just as if you were turning it into a film, or a graphic novel, or an opera, or an epic poem (or turning one of those into a novel). And the fact that a novel, or a script, can be polished at leisure before it's presented to an audience makes it capable of more economy than an RPG session, where the narrative comes into being as the audience experiences it and participates in creating it. (There's also the factor that a novel, and still more a film, needs that economy, as few audiences will hold still for spending as many hours on either as players spend in a campaign's play.)

But the RPG session has a theme, and conflict, and characters, and a setting, and props, and dialogue, and perhaps even a climax and dénouement. Really pretty much all the elements of "story" are there.
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