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Old 10-17-2018, 08:43 AM   #31
Dalin
 
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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Originally Posted by whswhs View Post
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.
I agree with this, at least ideally. I've certainly played in a few dud games where there was merely a setting with some lackluster attempts at conflict and nothing approaching a climax (or games with lots of plot in a flimsy setting with two-dimensional characters). But better games, whether due to an experienced GM or players who help build the story, have these elements in abundance. My point was really to suggest that one explanation for why RPGs might sometimes seem to make bad stories is simply that the storytellers aren't doing a good job. Just like someone can butcher a great novel when they attempt to describe it, gamers sometimes focus on the wrong elements in the retelling.

Your post helped me realize, too, that because each session of an RPG is live and collaborative, the storyline, at least across each individual session, doesn't always match the standard narrative arc (or Freytag's pyramid). As a GM, for example, I might plan a session with a series of increasingly tense encounters (rising action) leading to a climax, but decisions by the players might demolish this plan, leading to an early climax or a postponement of the climax into the next session.
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Old 10-17-2018, 08:58 AM   #32
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

As a GM, I find I use 3 kinds of dice rolls in order to create drama:


Pump Priming: This is done far away from the session, and possibly even before the campaign. This is used as a kind of artificial brainstorming. I roll up adventure ideas, NPC's that could be useful, and themes. I've used this to roll up the next world an infinite worlds or space-faring campaign will visit next. I've used it on adventure tables to get the framework for an adventure. I've used it in monster hunters to both generate new monsters from a list of traits and to give me an edge in surprising my players as to which foe they are hunting this time.



When Priming the pump, the dice rolls don't create drama, but they set it up. Its my job to turn the rough rolls into something interesting, spot the moral dilemmas, the unexpected twists, and character motivations. The rolls don't generate the drama, but without them, I'd probably be using the same plots and elements over and over. They aid the drama, but it requires a lot of work.


Resolving Interesting Decisions: As a GM, its my job to set up interesting decisions. Some of these decisions, the players will make on their own, agonizing between two choices. Other times, the choice isn't in the hands of the players, and both options are interesting. This is a fantastic time to bring out the dice. No one knows which way the dice will fall, not even the GM. And it matters which way they fall, but you aren't in trouble if they fall unexpectedly.



Fleshing Out on the Fly: As a GM, I don't have the ability to predict everything my players will do, or everyone they meet. People are particularly hard to predict, and I often roll up a random NPC during the game. Such NPC's are unlikely to play a strong dramatic roll. Other times, Its used to answer questions the PC's had. A player will ask if a condition exists, and if it exists, everything will work out wonderfully. I haven't thought about this before, and I admit it to the player, hand them the dice, and say: "He could have a mistress... try to roll under 8 and we'll find out." That's drama.
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Old 10-17-2018, 03:16 PM   #33
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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As a GM, I find I use 3 kinds of dice rolls in order to create drama:


Pump Priming: This is done far away from the session, and possibly even before the campaign. This is used as a kind of artificial brainstorming. I roll up adventure ideas, NPC's that could be useful, and themes. I've used this to roll up the next world an infinite worlds or space-faring campaign will visit next. I've used it on adventure tables to get the framework for an adventure. I've used it in monster hunters to both generate new monsters from a list of traits and to give me an edge in surprising my players as to which foe they are hunting this time.



When Priming the pump, the dice rolls don't create drama, but they set it up. Its my job to turn the rough rolls into something interesting, spot the moral dilemmas, the unexpected twists, and character motivations. The rolls don't generate the drama, but without them, I'd probably be using the same plots and elements over and over. They aid the drama, but it requires a lot of work.
I don't think I do this. At least, my experience has been that rolling dice to define a character, a species, a planet, or whatever is likely to produce something random and unsuitable, and I've basically given it up.

Quote:
Resolving Interesting Decisions: As a GM, its my job to set up interesting decisions. Some of these decisions, the players will make on their own, agonizing between two choices. Other times, the choice isn't in the hands of the players, and both options are interesting. This is a fantastic time to bring out the dice. No one knows which way the dice will fall, not even the GM. And it matters which way they fall, but you aren't in trouble if they fall unexpectedly.



Fleshing Out on the Fly: As a GM, I don't have the ability to predict everything my players will do, or everyone they meet. People are particularly hard to predict, and I often roll up a random NPC during the game. Such NPC's are unlikely to play a strong dramatic roll. Other times, Its used to answer questions the PC's had. A player will ask if a condition exists, and if it exists, everything will work out wonderfully. I haven't thought about this before, and I admit it to the player, hand them the dice, and say: "He could have a mistress... try to roll under 8 and we'll find out." That's drama.
I do both of these. But I also do something that I'm not sure they include: I call for a dice roll when the player has chosen to have the character undertake an action that carries risk for the sake of attaining some important goal. The player's uncertainty of the outcome creates tension, and their choice to take the action anyway shows that it's important to their concept of the character, that it's something they would have to do.
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Old 10-17-2018, 03:49 PM   #34
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

Suppose I go to the store, witness a robbery, and trip the robber as he leaves the store. He bashes his head against the door and is knocked out. The police arrive and arrest him. The end.

While those event were happening, was I engaging in storytelling? There were characters, there was action, there was a resolution. But I wasn't creating a story. I was able to take what happened and turn it into a story, but it's not storytelling until I impose a narrative structure on it. Until then, it was just life.

Now suppose my RPG character goes to the store, witnesses a robbery, trips the robber as he leaves the store so that he bashes his head against the door and is knocked out. Then the police arrive and arrest him. End of session.

Why is this storytelling? While I'm sitting at the RPG table I'm just directing my character's life. It doesn't become storytelling until I tell you about it later and I impose a narrative structure on it.

I agree, however, with Mark Skarr's initial premise: that it's not the uncertainty of the dice that produces the drama of a game, but rather the uncertainty of the action. Rolling the dice may produce a momentary thrill when seeing whether a gamble pays off, but the real drama comes from finding out whether your strategy or tactics have served you well. Whether or not your die-roll ends up with you slaying the dragon or being eaten by it is a momentary thrill; real drama comes from the culmination of your plans to infiltrate the dragon's lair, try to steal its treasure, have an improvisational contest of riddles with it, and finally decide to engage it in battle. YOU chose that course of action. It's YOUR success if you win, and YOUR failure if you lose. It's not about storytelling; it's about making decisions and seeing the consequences.
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Old 10-17-2018, 03:55 PM   #35
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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Now suppose my RPG character goes to the store, witnesses a robbery, trips the robber as he leaves the store so that he bashes his head against the door and is knocked out. Then the police arrive and arrest him. End of session.

Why is this storytelling? While I'm sitting at the RPG table I'm just directing my character's life. It doesn't become storytelling until I tell you about it later and I impose a narrative structure on it.
While I basically agree, it's more equivalent to "I go to the store. While I'm there a reality TV company that is taping in the store arranges for a robbery....".
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Old 10-17-2018, 04:27 PM   #36
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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Suppose I go to the store, witness a robbery, and trip the robber as he leaves the store. He bashes his head against the door and is knocked out. The police arrive and arrest him. The end.

While those event were happening, was I engaging in storytelling? There were characters, there was action, there was a resolution. But I wasn't creating a story. I was able to take what happened and turn it into a story, but it's not storytelling until I impose a narrative structure on it. Until then, it was just life.

Now suppose my RPG character goes to the store, witnesses a robbery, trips the robber as he leaves the store so that he bashes his head against the door and is knocked out. Then the police arrive and arrest him. End of session.

Why is this storytelling? While I'm sitting at the RPG table I'm just directing my character's life. It doesn't become storytelling until I tell you about it later and I impose a narrative structure on it.
It's storytelling because, unlike the situation with you in the real world, the actions of your RPG character exist only insofar as you describe them. That descriptive is narrative, and your character exists only within the narrative, unlike you. You can't play an RPG without narrating.

And the RPG as such has a narrative structure. It's divided up into sessions, just as a book is divided up into chapters or a play into acts. It has a narrative sequence, where one event is described at a time, even if they're taking place simultaneously; that's imposed by the nature of literature, and primarily by its being in the medium of language, which is unavoidably linear. There are also formal elements in the play of RPGs; for example, the calling of the players' attention at the start of the session, and the summing up at the end, and the taking out of dice in scenes where the PCs have something at stake. These are almost a form of ritual, one that creates a kind of sacred space marked off from the surrounding world and the conduct of everyday life in that world. (I think this could be said of games in general; baseball or poker or go, you have a ritual aspect.) It's not that different from Homer starting out "Sing of wrath, Goddess!" or Shakespeare ending "So good night unto you all. Give me your hands, if we be friends, And Robin shall restore amends."

I'd also say that RPGs almost always have themes. A theme is a principle of selection that determines what content is appropriate to a novel, or a painting, or a film; and such principles operate in RPGs, even if they're as simple as "gaining wealth and power by confronting natural and supernatural peril in mysterious places" or "the struggle of personified good against personified evil." These need not be sophisticated themes, but concepts such as theme and conflict and dialogue aren't confined to high literature, or to the academic analysis of high literature. We spend a lot of time here talking about them, even if we don't always use the academic words for them; for example, when we caution someone that players often respond poorly to "bait and switch," that's about theme and why it's important.
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Old 10-18-2018, 04:13 AM   #37
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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I don't think I do this. At least, my experience has been that rolling dice to define a character, a species, a planet, or whatever is likely to produce something random and unsuitable, and I've basically given it up.
My wife told me a method for making decisions: flip a coin. If you say "oh, well best of three…" you know what your preference was.

I use random generation similarly; I make a roll, look at the table, and then think "oh, well, I'd rather use that option".
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Old 10-18-2018, 04:24 AM   #38
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

The random generation I do isn't tables, it's just a luck roll. A good roll is helpful, a bad roll is unhelpful, an extreme roll is something dramatic as well.
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Old 10-18-2018, 02:44 PM   #39
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
Pump Priming: This is done far away from the session, and possibly even before the campaign. This is used as a kind of artificial brainstorming. I roll up adventure ideas, NPC's that could be useful, and themes. I've used this to roll up the next world an infinite worlds or space-faring campaign will visit next. I've used it on adventure tables to get the framework for an adventure. I've used it in monster hunters to both generate new monsters from a list of traits and to give me an edge in surprising my players as to which foe they are hunting this time.
I don't do this at all. It's fun to sit around, with friends, and roll on random tables to see how non-sequitur we can get with results, but, that's not something I'd set a game up around.

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Resolving Interesting Decisions: As a GM, its my job to set up interesting decisions. Some of these decisions, the players will make on their own, agonizing between two choices. Other times, the choice isn't in the hands of the players, and both options are interesting. This is a fantastic time to bring out the dice. No one knows which way the dice will fall, not even the GM. And it matters which way they fall, but you aren't in trouble if they fall unexpectedly.
I always consider it important to let the characters have the choice.

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Originally Posted by ericthered View Post
Fleshing Out on the Fly: As a GM, I don't have the ability to predict everything my players will do, or everyone they meet. People are particularly hard to predict, and I often roll up a random NPC during the game. Such NPC's are unlikely to play a strong dramatic roll. Other times, Its used to answer questions the PC's had. A player will ask if a condition exists, and if it exists, everything will work out wonderfully. I haven't thought about this before, and I admit it to the player, hand them the dice, and say: "He could have a mistress... try to roll under 8 and we'll find out." That's drama.
I wouldn’t consider “roll and see” drama. Randomly generating NPCs, on the fly, isn’t something I would do. I have a large stable of NPCs that I can draw from, and, if necessary, I can always create a new one to fill the role I need right now. If they were in a position where “do they have a mistress” is a relevant question, I would already have an answer because I know what is going on, in general, and could decide that in an instant.

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Why is this storytelling? While I'm sitting at the RPG table I'm just directing my character's life. It doesn't become storytelling until I tell you about it later and I impose a narrative structure on it.
For the same reason slice-of-life shows are popular and considered storytelling. And you’re telling the story, with the GM, to the other players. They are your audience.

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Rolling the dice may produce a momentary thrill when seeing whether a gamble pays off, but the real drama comes from finding out whether your strategy or tactics have served you well. Whether or not your die-roll ends up with you slaying the dragon or being eaten by it is a momentary thrill; real drama comes from the culmination of your plans to infiltrate the dragon's lair, try to steal its treasure, have an improvisational contest of riddles with it, and finally decide to engage it in battle. YOU chose that course of action. It's YOUR success if you win, and YOUR failure if you lose. It's not about storytelling; it's about making decisions and seeing the consequences.
If you’re playing your game as a strategy/tactics/loot/shopping simulator, there’s nothing wrong with that, and I can see that you’d have a very hard time weaving a complex narrative. If you treat every encounter as happening in a void, then yes, there is no story.

We don’t play games where the goal of the game would ever be to steal the dragon’s treasure. Stealing the treasure would just be one, small, part of the overall narrative. If the dragon had the MacGuffin that the party needed to move the story forward, then they would do it, but the story continues after that. Your example would just be a single, small, chapter in the larger story.

If your example is the only “story” you’re looking for, that’s fine. But, many of us are more interested with how the characters react, and interact, before, during and after. Is someone against stealing from the dragon? What are the attempts to parlay with the dragon for the artifact in question? Can the dragon be reasoned with? If there’s a fight, how do the party members react to the incident? Was this because of a failed roll, or just someone’s ego (likely the Dragon’s but, could be a PCs)? After the party gets the treasure, how does that affect the characters? Did anyone die during the battle? If so, how do they mourn the loss of their companion? Did someone botch a roll, and one of the other characters think they did it on purpose? Did someone do something amazing, that they had never done before, and the other characters ask about it? That’s where the story and drama come from. Killing the monster and taking its loot isn’t the story or drama, it’s a scene and it’s behind what would drive the drama.
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Old 10-18-2018, 09:03 PM   #40
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Default Re: Drama, dice-rolls and Plot

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If you’re playing your game as a strategy/tactics/loot/shopping simulator, […]
If your example is the only “story” you’re looking for, that’s fine. But, many of us are more interested with how the characters react, and interact, before, during and after.
Now you're going beyond the question what is narrative, and you're going into which kinds of narrative you like and which you don't. If you accept whswhs's definition of narrative — and I think it's overly broad, covering anything you can possibly say with words — then you must accept that "I go to the store. I trip a robber. He bashes his head and is arrested. The end." is just as much a narrative as a complex, structured plot with interleaved characters, heroic archetypes, and what have you. How detailed you make it is irrelevant. What the object of the game is, whether it's to retrieve treasure or to follow the lives of a group of flawed, angsty anti-heroes through all their ups and downs, is irrelevant. By this definition, to be storytelling, to be narrative, it just has to have words that describe what happens.
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