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Old 09-01-2014, 05:35 PM   #1
johndallman
 
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Default Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

To follow on from the #RPGaday series, a "doing this stuff better" series. I don't believe I'll be able to think of thirty daily things, so anyone else who wants to start a thread of the day is welcome.

Entertaining your fellow-players is always good. It's really important when the party has to split up. Unless you're playing a highly cinematic game, sneaky infiltration is a job for specialists, and it can take significant amounts of playing time. So is computer hacking, doing an autopsy, or forensic accountancy. So making these jobs interesting is worthwhile.

The way I try to do this is to make clear what's happening: describing what I'm doing clearly to the GM is worthwhile anyway, but making the narrative good is harder. That does not mean purple prose, since letting the audience realise the implications of something is far better than a verbose description, in a game played mostly in the imagination.

Pacing also matters. Keeping things moving fairly swiftly gets the other players back into the game sooner, but rushing is bad. You want to give them a chance to make observations or jokes; that helps keep them involved.

Really, it's an application of GM technique to playing. What have you done along these lines?
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Old 09-01-2014, 07:23 PM   #2
Agemegos
 
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

This is a barrow that I have been pushing for twenty-seven years—I first discussed it in an article titled "That's Entertainment", in one of the early issues of ASGARD Bulletin.

My first piece of advice is "be aware what sort of RPG you are in". Just as there are the several different sorts of gamers of whose needs a GM must be conscious, there are several different sorts of games — or rather several orthogonal tendencies within a multidimensional spectrum of games — of the needs of which all players ought to be conscious. There are games that tend towards being expanded skirmish wargames, in which the enjoyment derives from making best tactical use of resources, including second-guessing, out-witting, and defeating other players. There are games in which the enjoyment derives from acting out character tropes. There are ones in which the enjoyment derives from appreciating ones characters motivations, situation, and emotions and the acting appropriately to them. There are games in which the enjoyment derives from collaborating with others to extemporise a compelling story. Most games are in one or more overlaps; nevertheless it remains the case that in a game that heavily emphasises genuine striving against real opposition you will annoy others and undermine yourself if you make a deliberate mistake "because that's what my character would do" or "because the hero always lives the ingenue unprotected and goes to investigate the sound of breaking glass in the first quarter of a story like this".

Similarly, in a game that heavily emphasises characters responding to incident consistently with their motives or building tension steadily to a climax, setting an ambush for the rancher's hands and blowing them out of the saddle because you can tell OOC that the GM means him as a villain will irritate the other players and frustrate their enjoyment of the game. It doesn't matter whether you win the argument afterwards about what is good roleplaying: if the GM and other players end up frustrated and upset it doesn't matter whether it was "good roleplaying" or "good gameplay" in some purist sense.

So: find out as early as possible what the GM and other players are trying to get out of the game, and make choices as early as possible (ideally, before starting character generation) that will support you in entertaining them by facilitating the game they want and not frustrating it. Don't deliver a group of gamists up to the TPK by playing in character or playing to tropes or playing for the first-act defeat; rather play up to their agendas by setting up devastating moves for their characters. Don't drive a group of narrativists into an anticlimax by decisively jumping the level of conflict and anticipating the plot development to the crisis; instead, have your character respond appropriately to incidents as they occur and the current level of conflict.

If you find out that the advice above would require you to play in a way that you don't enjoy, that is outside your range as a roleplayer, then don't play in it. Find another group, or wait for another game, but take a rain check on the game offered or resign if it has already started, and never force the game you want to play onto people who have signed up for something else.

My second piece of advice is to design a character that is going to be suitable for the game you are going to play. Because if you generate a character that is not appropriate to the game in prospect you will later be forced into the choice of either playing the character badly or of spoiling the game. It is a longstanding bugbear of mine that players insist on generating characters that lack heroic motivations to go on adventures and then blame the GM for not providing them with adequate reasons to stick with the party and go on the adventures.

Help. Make it work. Start by generating a character that is suitable for the campaign you are about to play and not the character that you wish someone would run a campaign for.

If the GM issues a specification for the sorts of characters he or she wants in the campaign, aim for the middle. Constrained-optimisation problems in games have inculcated into most of us a reflex to generate characters right on the envelope of the specification, tricksily sneaking in something that is as far beyond the GM's intention as is compatible with the letter of what he or she specified. This is usually a mistake, except in RPGs that are basically re-skinned Star Fleet Battles tournaments (the extreme gamist ones). If the GM announces a campaign for adventurous professors at weird old Walpurgis U., generate a damned professor, not a bootlegging janitor or a cigarette-smoking man-in-black who hangs out at the Faculty Club to keep an eye on the research. Sure, you want to make a creative contribution; do so by coming up with a really entertaining professor, not by admitting that you are too uncreative to make a professor fun.

Start collaborating with the other players before you boot your chargen app. Knowing what the other players want to get out of the game, set them up to get it right from the beginning of character generation. If it's a hexgrid-intensive game and the other players want to pull of tactical coups, collaborate with them to set up devastating tactical combos. For instance, if one other player wants to play hard-hitting artillery, generate a meat shield to keep rude strangers off him and force his enemy into the open. If another player wants to play a martial artist, generate a mentalist or energy-projector to cover his back. Get some Hawkeye-and-Chingach**** action going! If another character wants to play a dashing and impetuous swashbuckler, generate his cunning and methodical partner. The characters will act as mutual foils, each providing a contrasting background for the other so that they defining qualities will stand out clearly without grotesque exaggeration. The other player will be more free to act impetuous for having someone watch his or her back; you will get to look cool by saving his reckless bacon with a well-prepared contingency plan.

Prepare your character to be drawn into adventures by the GM's scenario hooks. That means providing him or her with a small but diverse selection of sturdy, reusable grommets: features that are suitable for being engaged by scenario hooks and used to draw the character in various directions and the GM may require.

Fasten your character securely to the party, with links either to two other characters or to the Big Iron Ring of the team's occupation or duty. When the party is drawn into an adventure by the GM scenario-hooking somebody else, your character ought to be drawn along too — without the GM having to fiddle about at the beginning of each adventure separately motivating several sub-parties and individual characters. It is part of your job as a player to generate a character who will go on adventures with the party. It is not your job to make the GM work for it.

Last edited by Agemegos; 09-03-2014 at 12:20 AM.
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Old 09-01-2014, 08:02 PM   #3
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

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Originally Posted by Agemegos View Post
My first piece of advice is "be aware what sort of RPG you are in".
I agree with your advice, but I want to add one more item to your list. It seems to me that what the other players in the games I've played in often enjoy is good dialogue—which can mean "in character" but can also mean "amusingly snarky" or "entertainingly naive." We seem to be a rather verbally oriented circle.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 09-01-2014, 08:30 PM   #4
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

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Fasten your character securely to the party, with links either to two other characters or to the Big Iron Ring of the team's occupation or duty. When the party is drawn into an adventure by the GM scenario-hooking somebody else, your character ought to be drawn along too — without the GM having to fiddle about at the beginning of each adventure separately motivating several sub-parties and individual characters. It is part of your job as a player to generate a character who will go on adventures with the party. It is not your job to make the GM work for it.
I have a player who chronically goes against this. When I ran a supers campaign he built a shapeshifting dragon from another dimension. When I ran Worminghall he built a teenage boy sent to study human magic by the dragons who were his adoptive parents (are we seeing a pattern here?). When I ran a capers campaign he built a sniper (highly capable, but kind of one-note, and not the right note). He's actually a good roleplayer, but he has limited kinds of characters that interest him, and it's chronically a struggle to drag his characters into interacting at all with anyone else's.

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Old 09-01-2014, 08:32 PM   #5
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

My third piece of advice is this: Strive to amuse, but stand ready to be amused by others.

When another player has a moment alone in the limelight, step back into audience stance and appreciate his artistry and efforts. Don't butt in, especially not to "help" the GM and player to pick up the pace. For ****'s sake do not take out a comic or your phone and read until it's next your turn. When another player is done with his moment in the limelight, show a little appreciation: applause and congratulations are usually over-the-top and may be read as sarcastic, but a nod and a smile, perhaps even an appreciative chuckle or semi-in-character comment, help you to feel your own appreciation more sharply as well as showing it.

My fourth: Make room and opportunities for others.

In some types of games it may be appropriate to have your character show weaknesses, make mistakes, or imprudently over-reach himself or herself, in ways that are consistent (variously, according to the type of game) with his or her game-mechanical weaknesses, the conventions of the genre, or the nature of the character. Do not try to wriggle out of doing this. Often, especially when you have been diligent about collaboration from the beginning of character creation, these are opportunities to give other players their opportunities to be cool and take a moment in the spotlight. In one of my favourite campaigns, my friend Tony could enjoy playing his idiotic but devastatingly agile Chevalier d'Alembert with a much more carefree flamboyance for the knowledge that he could do the appropriately stupid things and I would get him out of trouble with my reserved and sinister Chessmaster the Earl of Rule. Conversely, I got to strut the Earl's stuff as a master of Thanatos speed chess so much more enjoyably for d'Alembert having created real messes for Rule to untangle.

In a gamist game, play cagily. But in a narrativist or simulationist game, be prepared to have you character make mistakes as required by his or her nature, genre convention, or whatever rules the game. When your character looks foolish in an appropriate way, you look like a skilful and generous entertainer. All the world loves a clown — so long as he or she has a straight-man.

My fifth piece of advice concerns pacing. Let the GM edit: let him or her cut into a scene in media res and cut out as soon as the outcome is clear.

In a tactical or operational wargamey game it may be necessary to set up your fallbacks and contingency plans. Then there will be passages of play in which you make careful lists of supplies and equipment, and play out in detail your approach to the enemy defences and the preparations for getting out that you make while getting in. For a group that is into that sort of thing (or indeed that has wider tastes but is doing that this time) that can be very enjoyable and even tense. But in a few different sorts of games the GM will be editing the stream of events as a writer or film-maker does to maintain pace and eliminate what is irrelevant to the theme. If he our she is taking the advice of film-makers and fast-pace hard-hitting writers he or she will be cutting into any dramatic or procedural scene as late as possible, and cutting out as soon as possible. He or she ought not to be screwing you over by refusing you the chance to make preparations before the scene or decisive actions after the scene — if you don't trust him or her, don't play in his or her game. Neither ought you to be screwing him or her over by jumping the conflict with preparations for bizarre and unexpected actions.

So if the GM says "You track down 'Fingers' McKnuckle in Hanrahan's Fried Oyster Bar and drop yourself into a spare seat at his table", play along. Fight the temptation to say "Before I go in….". If it were that sort of game the GM would tell you that you learned where Fingers was and pass the initiative to you to choose whether, when, and how to approach.

At the other end of a scene, fight the temptation to change the outcome after the decisive moment of the scene, or to drag out the denouement into anticlimax. If you think that you have a decisive point to make, or if you decide that your character is going to pull a derringer and not go quietly, okay. Otherwise, let the GM cut out of the scene as soon as its issue is decided.

If you have a GM who is fond of snappy dialogue, such as me or (I gather) whswhs, and if you recognise a closing zinger, then it's okay to top it if you have a witty comeback, but don't try to re-open the issue.

Let scenes just end. You don't have to narrate leave-taking and departure. In fact, you don't need to narrate anything that everyone can just fill in by extrapolation.

Sixth: concerning dialogue. A lot of role-players avoid dialogue because they think they are bad at it and are afraid of doing it badly. To this I say "Have a go! You don't have to be Oscar Wilde or P.G. Wodehouse, and you'll get better if you practice." Dialogue is fun, and as a way of denoting character it is unequalled. Start with clichés, they're good for a laugh and no film reviewers are going to be criticising you.

Like the dialogue in TV, most movies, and most kinds of written story, dialogue in RPGs neither is nor ought to be realistic. We're aiming to amuse, not to document the inarticulate verbosity of our contemporaries. Vivid, entertaining dialogue is figurative, even indirect, it sticks to the point, and it has the structure of a scene — that is, it progresses as a series of reactions of character to incident in which the level of conflict rises to a crisis in which an outcome is established, and when it the outcome is resolved the conversation ends without trailing into an anticlimax. In reality the issue of whether a lord is going to grant a petition, or whether two people are going to bed together, often involves an hour and a half of importunities, negotiations, and impassioned declarations. To fit into a story, drama, or RPG in which it is but one trial in a larger episode, dialogue has to be stylised.

Consider each reply in a dialogue as a response to the challenge implied by your character's interlocutor's last contribution, and let it be a challenge that raises the level of conflict one step, that goes one step closer to bringing the underlying issue to a head. Ratchet the tension up steadily to a crisis: the final decision — or the explosion into violence. And when crisis has passed and the decision been delivered in a definite refusal or a change to the dramatic situation, don't straggle off into anticlimax. Deliver a zinger or a topper if you want, but let the result stand.

Books of advice to writers about how to write dialogue have helpful things to say; but if you're going that way get a short, cheap one — in RPG you don't get to draft direct dialogue and then re-write it as indirect, and then polish it.

Keep your mind on amusing the other players who are listening, which you do by depicting your character through what he or she says. Display character!

I can't do voices or accents — I can't even do an Australian accent, though I'm Australian — so if all of your voice characterisation blurs into "convention Mexican" know that it is alright to simply not bother. I do put some effort into posture and gesture, word choice, rhythm, and emphasis. That might work for you.

Finally: expressions of appreciation have their place in many games, even in the form of semi-in-character comments. Sometimes they even improve the pace with some leavening punctuation, and give participants a moment to mentally regroup. But keep them in the darkness of the auditorium, don't let them obtrude into the limelight. If your character is absent, or if it is simply some other character's moment in the limelight, don't lose sight of those facts.

Kibbitzing on someone else's scene — such as by criticising another player's play or giving unsought advice about what to do — is very seldom amusing. And heckling a player or the GM is never entertaining. If someone else makes a blunder, try to get over it as lightly as you can.

Last edited by Agemegos; 09-02-2014 at 03:29 AM.
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Old 09-01-2014, 09:10 PM   #6
sir_pudding
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

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I have a player who chronically goes against this. When I ran a supers campaign he built a shapeshifting dragon from another dimension. When I ran Worminghall he built a teenage boy sent to study human magic by the dragons who were his adoptive parents (are we seeing a pattern here?). When I ran a capers campaign he built a sniper (highly capable, but kind of one-note, and not the right note). He's actually a good roleplayer, but he has limited kinds of characters that interest him, and it's chronically a struggle to drag his characters into interacting at all with anyone else's.
I have a player who actively resists any motivation to be an adventurer at all. He once tried to play a character that was an agorophobic loner obsessed with guarding a single location...
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Old 09-02-2014, 07:44 AM   #7
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

I'm going to go one level higher in abstraction that Brett is, because while I don't disagree with him, I think he's making a mistake most of us make in misunderstanding what an RPG is (or, perhaps, just assuming that everyone else already knows and it can go unsaid). I have seen game after game that failed to follow all of his advice, but were HUGE hits anyway. It took me awhile to grasp it, but I have my grand unifying RPG theory, and it is this:

An RPG is a social event, an excuse for friends to gather.

An RPG follows all the same rules as a party:
  1. Have a set time, invite everyone in advance, stick to that time. RSVP.
  2. Avoid inviting people you know will clash with one another, and prefer people who tend to get along well without any additional effort from you.
  3. Have plenty of good food and drink
  4. Have an inviting space for your social event
  5. Have something fun to do, or to faciliate talk among your party attendees

EVERYTHING you see in advice for RPGs is really just an attempt to improve that last point, but the fact is, you can get a ton of mileage out of hitting the other points. Even if people just shoot the breeze and drink your beer and eat your pizza and make jokes and completely fail to connect with the game, if they have fun, they'll consider it a success and will want to do it again.

I'm not saying anyone is wrong-headed for worrying about things like pacing and good character design and descriptive skills. I worry about those too, but if we're going to start somewhere, start HERE. Understand how to throw a nice party first, how to be social first, and build everything out from there, because it's too often neglected, and it can cover your bases when the rest fails.
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Old 09-02-2014, 07:52 AM   #8
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

I've generally tended to approach this sort of thing from a GM's point of view, so I find myself trying to build the sort of PC that, if I were GMing the campaign, I'd like to see someone bring to the table. My level of success varies.

That said I agree that it's important to be entertaining when one's in the spotlight; other PCs may not be present, but players are, and I'd rather have them involved and interested even if they can't actually give in-character advice.
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Old 09-02-2014, 08:21 AM   #9
whswhs
 
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mailanka View Post
An RPG is a social event, an excuse for friends to gather.

An RPG follows all the same rules as a party:
  1. Have a set time, invite everyone in advance, stick to that time. RSVP.
  2. Avoid inviting people you know will clash with one another, and prefer people who tend to get along well without any additional effort from you.
  3. Have plenty of good food and drink
  4. Have an inviting space for your social event
  5. Have something fun to do, or to faciliate talk among your party attendees

EVERYTHING you see in advice for RPGs is really just an attempt to improve that last point, but the fact is, you can get a ton of mileage out of hitting the other points. Even if people just shoot the breeze and drink your beer and eat your pizza and make jokes and completely fail to connect with the game, if they have fun, they'll consider it a success and will want to do it again.
I've heard this interpretation from Kromm, also, and I'm afraid it's one I completely disagree with. If I held an rpg session, and people sat around eating and drinking and chatting and no actual roleplaying too place, I would consider it a failure and wouldn't do it again.

There are occcasions whose definition is "we want to get together and have a good time." We do some of that, both we people we know through gaming and with nongamers (or mixed couples—four of my players have spouses who don't game, for one thing, and all of them are pleasant company). But there are also occasions whose definition is "we want to get together and have a good time doing X." And in that case the enjoyment of the other people's company derives in part from their shared pleasure in doing X; and if they don't share that pleasure the occasion isn't fun. This may mean that I would prefer to get together with them to do something else, or that I would prefer not to see them at all—that depends on the people.

If I go to a movie I want to watch the movie; I don't want someone to talk to me, except for occasional nudges and whispers, even if we're the only ones in the theater and there's no question of rudeness. If I go to a book discussion I want to talk about the book. And if I go to an rpg I want to roleplay. And the people whose company I want and enjoy on those occasions are people whose priorities are the same.

Bill Stoddard
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Old 09-02-2014, 12:11 PM   #10
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Default Re: Doing Things Better #1: Entertaining your fellow-players

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I've heard this interpretation from Kromm, also, and I'm afraid it's one I completely disagree with. If I held an rpg session, and people sat around eating and drinking and chatting and no actual roleplaying too place, I would consider it a failure and wouldn't do it again.
Yes, I agree with this. To the extent that I tend to get moody and irritable if I feel like gaming time is being significantly wasted. On the other hand the rules that Malinka lists are just as valid for having a good rp session as a dinner party:
  1. If people don't treat it as a social obligation, then you can't really expect to start at particular time, or even have consistent attendance. So schedule games in advance, and expect players to RSVP.
  2. If people in your game hate each other, it's going to detract from everyone's enjoyment of the game. Keep this in mind when assembling a group for a campaign.
  3. If people need to leave in the middle of the game session to get food or beverages, that takes time away from gaming. So plan on meals and snacks, or request player's bring their own.
  4. If you try to game somewhere that's uncomfortable or distracting this will prevent players from focusing on the game. So make sure your gaming area is quiet and comfortable.
  5. If everybody shows up ready to game and you aren't prepared, then you aren't going to be able to sustain interest in the game session. Make sure you are ready to run a game, when game-day comes.

If you invite me to game, and there's no game, I'm going to get pretty upset. Gaming is my primary form of relaxation, and even though I'm pretty extroverted, I also have ADHD and crave structured activities. Dinner parties and formless hangouts just leave me wanting to do something not boring instead.

I was at a party, not long ago, where there were supposed to be boardgames, but most of the people didn't apparently agree, so I ended up playing no games even though I kept trying to start some. There's not much that's more frustrating than that.

Last edited by sir_pudding; 09-02-2014 at 02:25 PM.
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