GMs who are frustrated by Trad players.

edited August 2010 in Story Games
I found this thread yesterday.

It is very interesting. It sums up exactly what I always seemed to feel before I found story games. It was in the last year prior to discovering story games that I started to aggressively frame scenes and provide serious pressure to player characters in an effort to make my games fun. This did not always work. Now story games have provided me with tools to more consistently bring teh awesome. It is really interesting to check out a thread full of people who are having the same problems that I did, and they have no idea how to really avoid this problem. I am not even sure how to suggest to them that there is a different way. The subject is so huge, I am not sure that I want to get into it. Though that I would point this out to people with more story game experience than I have in a effort to find out how to approach this population with this problem. I don't think telling them that the games that they are playing are not designed to support the experience that they are looking for would get me anywhere.

So to all the denizens of Story Games:

How do you go about suggesting other ways to get consistently good stories out of your RP to players who are likely extremely dedicated to trad games?

Comments

  • Posted By: Nameless
    How do you go about suggesting other ways to get consistently good stories out of your RP to players who are likely extremely dedicated to trad games?
    Ask them what they like about roleplaying games.
    Hear all their answers as valid.
    Identify the ones that get you the most excited.
    Offer concrete techniques that amp those elements of play up.
    Deliver the goods.

    If Kyle likes building empires, pry into what that means.
    If it means political backstabbing, suggest some neat techniques & play mindsets & mechanics that deliver that.
    Make sure that your suggestions are really reflective of his interests. By asking if they are.
    Then, drop some of those techniques into play, after having earned Kyle's enthusiasm for the idea.
  • Ben Robbins posts here occasionally, and I found his advice on bringing teh awesome in trad games to be really good stuff in his blog Ars Ludi. Incidentally, it served as my gateway to indie games, but he gives lots of solid techniques for better GMing and play for character and story development and what not. It might give some further concrete examples of how to deliver on Joe's advice above (which is good advice).
  • Thanks, I like the Ars Ludi link. There are several posts there that sum up this idea really quickly, and I can just point people to them. Very helpful.
  • I read about three pages of posts along the lines of "it's the GM's job to create interesting hooks and the players' jobs to follow them" before I got to a post that said "protagonists create the story" and "i had a good game once when one of my players had a goal before we started." Seems to me, the problem is a question of buy-in. I could be totally wrong, but it sounds like the GMs are creating a plot in a vacuum, the players are creating the characters in a vacuum and I don't see how that will work very often. To use Burning Wheel as an example, if the GM has written a plot (before the character was even created!) that doesn't test any of the char's beliefs or even come near them...well of course the player is going to be uninterested in following the GM's "interesting hooks." The player wanted to play a different game.

    So, I suppose I would suggest that they talk to their players about what their characters are interested in doing...and then write a plot that allows the players to do that kind of stuff.
  • edited August 2010
    Tell us more about them. How do they play?

    I've found it depends on what players want.

    Lots of people don't care about stories (dramatic structures).

    Others may want it but don't know how.

    Some people love railroads!

    Some people just want to out think you! The more work you do, the more rewarding it is to find loopholes to exploit.

    At this point I've probably GMed for 300+ different people. People with no experience, people who only play D&D, writers, video game players, historians, therapists, military tactical geniuses, kids. I've GMed for stage actors who became shy when playing in character, introverted pre-teens that stole the show the second the dice hit the table, and experienced players who won't contribute unless I say roll initiative (even in non-combat). What it's taught me is to assume very little before we actually play.

    The issue is compounded by the reality that some people aren't good at expressing what they actually want. They may not even know what they want. Strong communication helps but experience playing with someone and strong observation skills can be even better. But once you have an idea of what they want, it's easier to give it to them or decide you want different things.
  • Posted By: NamelessI found story games. It was in the last year prior to discovering story games that I started to aggressively frame scenes and provide serious pressure to player characters in an effort to make my games fun. This did not always work.
    That's almost exactly my experience as well. My gaming was changing, I was trying very experimental things in D&D, and I knew I was looking for more. Still, I was surprised when SGs presented such a complete answer for me.
    Posted By: NamelessI don't think telling them that the games that they are playing are not designed to support the experience that they are looking for would get me anywhere.
    Nope! And I don't think introducing "techniques" are going to do that GM a lot of good either, frankly. He'll have to find the answer on his own, I'm afraid. If he were local to you, you could have him over to play. Maybe you could run a Skype game for him? It's definitely better to show then tell when it comes to SGs.
  • Well, I posted in that thread. We'll see what kind of response I get. I read several of the posts at Ars Ludi and I actually became somewhat excited about a sandbox game in a more trad oriented story game. Maybe it will get some of them to think about more story focused games.
  • I could be totally wrong, but it sounds like the GMs are creating a plot in a vacuum, the players are creating the characters in a vacuum and I don't see how that will work very often.
    I also don't see how that will work very often.

    The problem is, there's no reliable cure. Even when I take the time to sit down with everybody and say "this is what the game is about," often each player has their own unique version of 'this.' I'll note that this happens a whole lot less often with players I have a significant play history with, where I know what I need to tell them and what I don't need to tell them. But knowing someone for a long time outside of gaming often doesn't help that process.

    I think the best you can do is to set up a game of one or two sessions with new players, before launching anything more involved.
  • Other people have said this before, but it bears repeating: while most gaming-related social issues are hard to solve, one of the easiest things to do (in many contexts) is group character generation. Making the characters together, even in a game without explicit flagging, makes it really easy for everyone to get on the same page in many respects. I found it really helped even for running 4E—it didn't instantly turn the game into an intense character drama, but it helped spark interesting character interactions throughout the campaign and helped me and the players maintain an internally consistent fiction.

    Matt
  • Group chargen was my first step into more indie techniques for D&D. What followed was group buy in with strong theme, aggressive scene framing and some bettter pacing techniques, yes and statements, and the mountain witch trick. Then I just started playing indie games. I think I am about ready to try D&D again, but I am not exactly sure what I can get from D&D that I can't get from indie games easier. That thread makes me unsure I want to try with anyone who has not played some indie games.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: Accounting for TasteWhat the EN thread is complaining about, and what people there and here are suggesting solutions and strategies for dealing with, has absolutely fuck-all to do with whether the players are "extremely dedicated to trad games." :(
    I guess you are right in a way. "Extremely dedicated to trad games," may have not hit the nail perfectly. Maybe it should have been "Players who are likely to have had little exposure to story games." I don't know. I just have never seen a story game group with passive players. My experience is limited, but there it is. And the thread relates again and again the woes of GMs in games with an expectation of the GM bringing the story, and is basically the entire point of the thread. That is a very trad game setup as far as I can tell. I have seen this problem and heard this story only in trad game groups. I have never seen this here on Story Games.

    I guess this could easily slip into the definition of indie and trad, but my working definition that I was going on when I posted was that trad games have a traditional GM-player divine ala D&D, with players having authority/responsibility over their character's actions and DM having authority/responsibility over everything else, while indie games redistribute that some, and provide tools for getting to the story more.

    The entire point of that thread as far as I can tell is, in fact, the opposite side of the coin from the argument that investiture of all authority in the game in the GM is unhealthy. Basically the sentiment is that placing all responsibility for the game in the hands of the GM makes for a messed up game, and as authority and responsibility are two aspects of the same role, the argument is the argument for why story games exist.

    Not perfect, but I hope that you can see where I was coming from. My story game experience has pretty much bannished the type of play that they discribe, and I had the same experiences they have expressed before that. Am I wrong to assume that these techniquies are extremely common in indie games if not what drives them, and that play experiences like those expressed in the other thread are extremenly common in trad games, if not the driving force for the evolution of indie games from trad games?

    How would you have titled this thread to get at the sentiments expressed in that thread as they relate to my experience of story game techniques having eliminated those same experiences from my games?
  • Player passivity really irritates me. I love the concept of Ben Robbins's West Marches game (described here) -- it explicitly puts the responsibility for everything, from figuring out what the characters are going to do to scheduling the game session, on the players. This was a solution I tried myself, unsuccessfully, with a gaming group in college - it was supposed to be a weekly game, and after three weeks in a row where I found myself chasing the players down to find out if they were going to play, I told them that we'd have the next session when the five of them collectively scheduled it. We didn't have another session of that game that summer, but we did have a lot of "When are we going to play again?" "When you schedule it." exchanges.

    Another valuable thing to realize is that there is no one true play style; different people have different tastes. This means that you're likely to run into people who are wonderful people who have lots of fun roleplaying that you simply cannot stand. Start with the advice that Joe gives above -- find out what the player likes, and what engages the player in the game, and dial that up to 11 -- but realize that sometimes the wisest thing to do is to say, "You know, we just don't like the same sort of games."
  • I once felt really sad after GMing a game (a Spycraft adventure at Gen Con UK about 2003) and one of the players said afterwards, "Did we do what we were supposed to do?"

    I asked him if he felt that his character had been able to do what he wanted to do in the situation with which he'd been presented, and he looked a bit confused. So I asked him if he'd had fun, and (fortunately) he said he'd enjoyed the game tremendously.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: NamelessHow do you go about suggesting other ways to get consistently good stories out of your RP to players who are likely extremely dedicated to trad games?
    Lead the players who want to be lead. Follow the players who want to lead.

    To mistake leaders for followers is to railroad. I believe that to do the opposite is equally dysfunctional.
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: NamelessI guess this could easily slip into the definition of indie and trad, but my working definition that I was going on when I posted was that trad games have a traditional GM-player divine ala D&D, with players having authority/responsibility over their character's actions and DM having authority/responsibility over everything else, while indie games redistribute that some, and provide tools for getting to the story more.
    I think this divide is horrendously bad. It always says more about the classifier than about the games. Look at the rules and practices surrounding character background in D&D. "My guy is from a noble family who was very generous with the peasants under their rule." "You're not allowed to say your family was generous, you were just a tiny baby at the time." Did that happen? Maybe it did, but I would say that it more often didn't. Joint responsibility/authority has always been a part of roleplaying, even in the earliest days. Toon rewards improvisation. Ghostbusters let you write your own character traits (as Burning Empires demonstrates, this is a strong element of situation creation). Feng Shui let you create setting details that even influence the mechanics. Whatever we can say about "traditional" gaming, it's not that the responsibilities and authorities over the game weren't shared to various degrees, or even systematized (Adventure!, Buffy, etc.)

    So let's toss that division and meld two bits together and now I'l reply to what I think your actual question is.
    Posted By: NamelessHow do you go about suggesting other ways to get consistently good stories out of your RP to players who are likely extremely dedicated to...completely misleading edit here GMs in games with an expectation of the GM bringing the story.

    So first of all, be sure that the players want something that is compatible with what you want. Not all players of RPGs care about story in their games, and don't see a compelling story as a reasonable goal. They will never produce it and they will never pursue it. jenskot's post goes into more detail on this.

    But let's assume you have people who enjoy story in their RPGs. These are a sizeable bunch, it's not that hard to find them. Indeed, one of the founders of the hobby, Dave Arneson, is best known because of his shift of focus towards story as the main product of RPG play. This happened in the late 70s. (This is another reason why contrasting "traditional" play to "story game" play is nonsense.)

    Here are the elements of GM-and-player play that contribute towards story play:

    * The main method of creating drama or comedy is through character action. This character action, in what-you-call traditional RPG play is one hundred percent in the hands of the players and zero percent in the hands of the GM. This is enormously empowering. This is why story oriented RPG play has always happened and has been wildly sucessful for decades: the main instrument by which non-GM players contribute to the game is the exact same instrument by which a creator contributes to the drama of a story.

    * Many extremely fruitful forms of story, such as the novel, use, like the GM, one singular voice to tell its story. This means that we are accustomed to singular people telling us stories. That is the normal state of affairs when one buys a novel or reads a short story. (But compare this to films, a massively collaborative undertaking even at its smallest size.)

    Your job as both GM and player in these games is to identify and pursue story elements while recognizing exactly what your tools are for. As a player, you have the most powerful tool for creating emotion in the game - character action. As a GM, you have the most powerful tool for creating everything else, including setting, genre elements (and even some character action yourself, in the form of antagonists and supporting characters.)

    Once you identify what the story role of the GM-and-players divide creates, you can begin to pursue those elements within your grasp. If everyone is doing this, you will soon begin to recognize the shape of the story you are collaboratively creating, and then you'll be able to shape it into the sort of story you enjoy best. But that's the advanced class. Just get everyone to know what they're about (by the way, how long has it been since you read a 'What is Roleplaying?' section of a rulebook? Read a few and I bet you'll find something out that you didn't know...I always do!)

    D&D is a great story game. So are virtually all RPGs, for exactly these reasons.
  • Posted By: NamelessI don't think telling them that the games that they are playing are not designed to support the experience that they are looking for would get me anywhere.
    I've done that one, gotten away with it too. But that's because with my gamer friends I'm that guy who hates everything that other people love. In my experience it makes you look like an ass, something that may or may not be desired. I'm not sure about in the context of that thread, but in person I've found that the best way to convert people is to talk about what you find exciting in terms of play and then letting it be for a while. People tend to get interested sooner or later in what you're talking about and then you get a dialog.

    I've also found that if you're running a game, even a super GM-centric dungeoneering game, pushing hard against the characters tends to shift the story into being driven by the interaction between the GM and the PCs and not by the GM. Of course, this is a lot easier with a game that has rules to support this play style, but with some discipline it's fairly doable.

    Really, I think the main difference between "story games" and "trad games" is the way the game rewards players and instructs the GM to influence the players. In D&D by default players get rewarded for killing stuff, so they are going to go looking for things to kill. Shadowrun focuses on showing up and not dying, so players are driven towards playing a super safe tactical game. On the other hand in Burning Wheel you get rewarded for making the story your own, so players (even players who have only played hack-n-slash D&D) are going to take actions that makes the story their own in order to get rewarded. Ignoring the issue of unfairness in XP distribution (as well as this just being a reskinning of GM fiat), handing out significant bonus XP to those people who drive the game might push play in a more collaborative direction.

    I'm also going to say that I 100% agree with the stuff that Jason says, but it seems to me that at the table play tends to focus on the mechanics of rewards with satisfying story being something that generally only comes up after the game session is over. I know I've been in plenty of games where there was lots of fun to be had at the table but after the game I always felt disappointed (Feng Shui comes to mind for me). I think that this is because while I was heads down in the game I was engaging with the mechanics and hitting the rewards, but once the session was over I didn't have any real feeling of player authorship or connection to the story as a whole since the rewards for playing didn't set people up to do actions that made for a good overarching story.
  • Posted By: cathexisI'm also going to say that I 100% agree with the stuff that Jason says, but it seems to me that at the table play tends to focus on the mechanics of rewards with satisfying story being something that generally only comes up after the game session is over.
    Well, it can be, but there's no reason that it has to be. Ever since Dragonlance's module series there have even been story-oriented preplanned sessions. A good deal of advice is aimed at getting things together in play. White Wolf's suggestion to organize your campaign by theme and tone, for example, makes no sense if you think this sort of thing only happens in retrospect.
  • I like how no one replied to what you said, Nameless, but just went on with their conversation. It's sort of a meta-level of what you yourself were describing. :-)

    Matt
  • Oh, BTW, to give a (slightly) more substantive response:

    I've GM'd a lot of things like Mouse Guard, 3:16, Labyrinths and Lycanthropes, Burning Wheel, PTA, SotC, and so on for people more accustomed to traditional game mechanics. I've found the following to be true:

    Almost everyone who isn't a completely dysfunctional gamer will pretty quickly come to appreciate the value of a game with focused mechanics provided that the game does something for them that they already like. There was this guy at DexCon this summer who played Labyrinths and Lycanthropes with me, and really liked it. Later in the con, he dropped out of a session of Jason Godesky's 5th World because it was too much role-playing, story-oriented play for him. (Too bad for him! More awesome for me!) That guy liked L&L because it is simple, easy, fast monster-slaying and dungeon-crawling. He'd probably do okay with 3:16 (mebbe), but he's simply never going to enjoy, say, Under My Skin.

    Conversely, someone whose gaming background and preferences have taught them that mechanics suck and get in the way will often enjoy PTA or 1,001 Nights, but would never take to BW or BE and may even have trouble with Dogs.

    Now, I do believe there are gamers who are simply too badly-trained by prior experiences, or maybe even by their own preferences, to ever meaningfully contribute to a game. Don't game with those people.

    Matt
  • Posted By: DeliveratorI like how no one replied to what you said, Nameless, but just went on with their conversation. It's sort of a meta-level of what you yourself were describing. :-)
    Hey, the whole second half of my post was replying to him. I didn't want to suggest a bunch of games to try, I wanted to show how he could get what he wanted under the circumstances he thought he was in.
  • I think he's talking about the ENWorld thread, and it IS pretty funny that no one over there seems to have even noticed him.

    I mean, I loved his post over there, it was really thoughtful and even-tempered. I even complimented him on that, but maybe I shouldn't have. Maybe if he'd been nasty and judgmental and shook the tut-tutting finger of BadWrongFun, he would've actually gotten some replies.

    ...okay, so not any useful replies, but...oh man, I think I'm starting to make an argument in favor of trolling.

    Forget I said anything.
  • Oh, sorry, yeah, was talking about Nameless' post in the ENWorld thread, not here.

    Matt
  • edited August 2010
    Posted By: JDCorleyWell, it can be, but there's no reason that it has to be. Ever since Dragonlance's module series there have even been story-oriented preplanned sessions. A good deal of advice is aimed at getting things together in play. White Wolf's suggestion to organize your campaign by theme and tone, for example, makes no sense if you think this sort of thing only happens in retrospect.
    I must have been somewhat unclear in what I was aiming at. I blame wanting to leave work but trying to get this posted first. Also your quoted bit misses the second half of that paragraph there.

    What I meant by having a satisfying story only after the session is over isn't that they are totally unconnected, but that from a players perspective they are very much in the thick of things while play is happening and it's unlikely that during play they will be concerning themselves too heavily about if story that they are creating will be any good. I've been in exceptionally great game sessions that after the fact had created a fairly shitty and non-inspiring story, and I've been in whole campaigns that were agonizing and frankly not much fun for everyone but that years later people still mention as having generated an awesome story. There's also the issue where, at least in my experience, the stories that RPGs create tend to be better when there's a sense of shared ownership in what is being created, instead of springing fully formed from the genius fount that is the GM.

    It's all well and good that game modules have story oriented sessions or for give advice for having an organizing thematic tone, but if there isn't some method for tying in-session play to these story goals it's either going to be a lot of work on the GM or not a whole lot of fun for anyone, and doesn't really solve the shared ownership issue anyway. That's why I suggested having an in-system reward for story-driving activities: it provides for a more enjoyable experience, both at the table (you're turning the reward crank) and after the game (the story is more engaging since the players now have authorship).

    And the best part is if you do it right, or even half-ass it a lot of the time, it looks almost identical to when the story is driven by the GM, only now everyone is getting rewarded for "engaging in the story" (read: players affecting important and the GM making shit up, which is what really GM centric stuff does only with less player input) and the story that is created is a lot more textured and interesting.

    EDIT: late night posting means giant posts... I really need to stop doing this...
  • I've definitely noticed this divide between, on the one hand, process of play, and, on the other hand, the fictional output of the game. Both need to be excellent in order for a game to be, overall, truly awesome.

    Matt
  • I also find it interesting that there was absolutely no response over there. Funny. Oh well.

    And I would like to say that I appreciate the fact that I was called on my bull over here. I didn't mean to come off as a hoity-toity-better-than-those-guys-neo-story-gamer. I just thought that I was using some language that would elucidate some more. Didn't realize that there was a lot of baggage with the terms that I chose as well as didn't see the tone that I was conveying. I actually checked in over there because I want some D&D in my diet, not that I totally look down on "those" games. Just an obvious flag for my storygamer noobishness. I'll have to think more on it and homefully mature in my conversation.

    Now on to medscool for me this (still dark) morning to get educated.
  • Posted By: cathexisThere's also the issue where, at least in my experience, the stories that RPGs create tend to be better when there's a sense of shared ownership in what is being created, instead of springing fully formed from the genius fount that is the GM.
    Sure, as I say, there are two prongs to the GM-and-player story creation engine. A game with that setup that doesn't use both might be good or bad, but whatever it is, it isn't using all the tools available to it.

    I'm all for shared ownership of the game but let's not pretend you don't give something up when you do that. You give up the singular voice of the GM that corresponds to the singular voice of a storyteller in our culture. How many great novels are collaborations? Not many. You may gain something that offsets this for you, but you may not. My last group disliked this approach intensely - it sounds like Nameless' does too.
  • Posted By: NamelessI also find it interesting that there was absolutely no response over there. Funny. Oh well.
    Fuck forums. Seriously. I don't think many people are reading forums looking to learn something.

    If you want to help people find more satisfying play, stop posting about it and go play games with them. Pick a good gateway game, like Universalis or Mouse Guard or Lady Blackbird, and take it to the people!
  • "How do you go about suggesting other ways to get consistently good stories out of your RP to players who are likely extremely dedicated to trad games? "

    Something that I want to keep in mind here is that even the non-traditional gamers can occasionally run a bad game. So expecting a good story from traditional gamers every time is pushing it.

    A Few things to remember when introducing players to a new universe, game, and style of play: Traditional players carry over traditional habits that don't work for story games. Introducing them to a new universe is going to need a bit of a story so they can know what they're running around in. Introducing them to a new game is going to sometimes need a player who can show them things that they're allowed to do that traditional games don't allow. Once they've seen an example, the gm can encourage the others to follow suit. Sometimes they might be stuck in a rut, and need a few options.

    When introducing traditional players to story games, start off with a story, and a path. Design it so that the players have to figure things out from their perspective. Drop a few clues, let the players connect the clues how they want, and run with it. Things start off slow, but eventually, they begin to pick up the pace. Soon, you don't need to plan the next session, the players have done it for you.
  • The two techniques that get used explicitly in story games that really set trad games on fire are aggressive scene framing and going straight for the conflict. So what I'd do, if I had a group of trad gamers who were open to story games, is play something drastically different -- Fiasco, or Remember Tomorrow -- where the benefits of that kind of approach are obvious. And then I'd explain what I was doing and why, when I framed a scene aggressively or when I went right for the conflict.

    The idea is that you want to get them out of their rut, so they don't see a GM and players and fall into the same habits. There is no GM, so they *have* to do something different.
  • Just a follow up, I did receive some XP for posting on the other thread. Seems some people actually wanted to address the issue presented in the OP.
  • Earlier this year I had a long-term (well, long term for me anyway - 18 months) D&D campaign implode after I tried to implement some SG ideas into the system - namely the Sweet20 experience system.I think most of the players were on board, but one of them was a die-hard old-school gamer who dug in his heels pretty hard. We ran a couple of sessions with Sweet20, and it started off well - but after the second Sweet20 session it became apparent that there was a huge disconnect between what I wanted (a story-focused game with lots of player initiated plot) vs. what they wanted (a traditional spoon-fed D&D game where the DM drags the PC's from one encounter to the next). It's weird that it took implementing Sweet20 to highlight this divide, but once it was apparent I couldn't bring myself to run the game anymore. I told them at one point that if they want me to do all the heavy lifting story-wise, I'd just write a bunch of short stories and read them aloud for four hours every week (I wasn't quite that snarky, but that's basically how I put it).

    It was pretty disheartening, but I can't lay it all at the player's feet.I think part of the problem was that over the last couple of years I've shifted away from traditional RP models.

    The big problem is that D&D doesn't support these ideas mechanically. You can jerry-rig it to do all kinds of stuff, but in the end the game just isn't designed to support certain models of gameplay. It can be made to do so, but why not pursue games that have these mechanics baked in (Burning Wheel, etc.) from the get go? If you want to see 'behaviour X' in gameplay, play a game that mechanically encourages 'behaviour X'.

    Then again, I'm probably still bitter about my sadly aborted D&D game...
Sign In or Register to comment.