Spicy Agenda and Principles

Consider this an extension of the Spicy Dice Roll thread. What I'm trying to do here is lay out how to run a game with a strong GM where immersion, myth, and player performance are all extremely important. My main inspiration comes from a series of posts by Silmenume on the Forge about a game set in Middle Earth; they're all linked from the original thread.

I'm still pondering moves. It's inchoate. I feel like there's no equivalent of *World player moves in this paradigm; rather, something more like GM moves exist on both sides of the table.

And, while I'm kinda adopting *World nomenclature here, it's just for ease of discussion. I'm not trying to shoehorn this into the *World methodology, but I think agenda, principles, and moves are excellent ways of talking about what goes on at the table, at the levels of social contract, technique, and the interplay between the fictional space and game mechanics.

GM Agenda
These are the things you aim to do at all times.

- Immerse your players in their characters and your world.
- Weave a rich and textured Myth.
- Test the characters' wisdom, mettle, and leadership.
- Play for their choices and reactions.

GM Principles
When you have a decision at hand, look to your principles to guide you.

- Be consistent.
- Stay within the bounds of your authority.
- Hold yourself accountable: even when the players will never know.
- Pursue desired outcomes.
- Abandon your plans when you must.
- Reward player performance.
- Nurture player relationships with your world.
- Set the atmosphere and tone.
- Build with whatever's at hand.
- Present the world through their eyes.
- Do the obvious.
- Telegraph.
- Improvise on cue.
- Begin and end with the fiction.
- Give them the benefit of the doubt.

I have much more written on all these, but it's an enormous wall of text. Find it here if you like.

Comments


  • - Nurture player relationships with your world.
    This seems particularly fruitful to me. If you want to encourage immersion (of whatever sort), it would be smart to pay attention to how the players react to various places, things, and people in the fictional world, and constantly reference that and build on it.

    Whatever they show interest in, draw it up in more detail. Whoever they fear, make them more scary; whoever they love, make them complex and sympathetic. Whatever they're fascinated by, keep dropping hints about it.


  • - Telegraph.
    I feel like this one is pretty big, both for making it clear why the things that you're doing are happening (i.e giving the players a clear fictional justification for the events, even if the real reason is "I wanted this to happen") as well as for giving players clear signals about where and how they can "get on board." It's important to remember than when heavily "illusionist" or "railroading" style game play works, it does so because the players actively buy into it.

    That being said, "telegraphing" (or outright telling people what you're trying to do) is also an important skill for everyone to have in a lot of other gaming paradigms, for the same reason; let people know where you're going so they can get themselves on board to support you.
  • About nurturing relatioships there's a constant I've seen. I dunno if anyone here has seen it too; it's how players can't be persuaded to see an NPC in a specific positive light. I mean, they will collaborate and humor the GM just to keep things going but they will never believe this nice kid you introduced isn't meant to be some sort of threat or burden in disguise, a timebomb of sorts. Specially if you have done that trick once. I've felt this myself as a player too many times: if the GM presents a princess it's like we know it's gonna be kidnapped, posessed or she's the BBEG in disguise, or at least the PCs will have to make some quest related to her because she's the princess.

    Present any kind of NPC in any light and player's natural reaction will of utter distrust. That is, unless players themselves asked for this person, making the GM improvise this character or change its original role to suit the current situation. This is one of the things that pushed me a bit more towards improvisation. The more the players make up, the sooner they will build trust and establish relationships towards it.

    I've got attached more than once to a character that was put there by the GM to die and make us hate the BBEV, to the point of wasting time, resources and getting quite creative with the system just to protect that character. I've seen players request for pets and pile up resources to create something in the setting, and then do everything to protect them and avoid being separated from them in a way that made that story more dramatic, epic and interesting than anything the GM had prepared. So, why fight it while you can make it part of the game?

    Perhaps this is going too far from the principles, I dunno. But if you have a better way to nurture relationships between players and the world in the way you want, with the NPCs you want that doesn't rely just on having players collaborate while suspecting your plans, I'm all ears. I've tried a lot of things, some do help like adding distractions, red herrings, having the NPCs be helpful and generous to the PCs, trust them and be honest to them. You can make players tolerate some, tag some as "useful for X or Y" or "the DM needs this guy alive to keep things going" but generating an specific reaction from the player towards that character is a bit harder most of the time.
  • I'm still pondering moves. It's inchoate. I feel like there's no equivalent of *World player moves in this paradigm; rather, something more like GM moves exist on both sides of the table.
    When a player wants to nudge the plot in a certain direction, tell him to roll 1d20.

    On a 1, something terrible happens: tell him the fate of his character.

    On a 20, something great happens. Tell him what he's accomplished.

    On a 2-19, make something interesting happen.

    Joking aside, the Spicy Dice Roll is inchoate. In such a game, the GM has limitless authority, and the players are characters in a story he is writing in his head. That is fine and dandy for some groups, but it's not going to map well to defined mechanics. The players push against the boundaries Cary sets for them, and he permits them success occasionally.

    Nailing down a few mechanical bits and pieces...

    There's a robust skill list. Acting out your character's actions gives a bonus. The system must use a d20 because the potential for 1s and 20s fuels the drama.
  • WM, I think the key to nurturing relationships is not attempting to foster them in the way you want, with the NPC you want. It's just, throw out stuff at the players (with no particular intentions or grand schemes) until they glom onto something; take whatever they glom onto and build on that. (This goes for not just NPCs but places, cultures, bits of history, whatever.)

    Like, a D&D 5e campaign I ran a few years ago, when the game first came out, there were these Robin Hood-esque bandits; they'd kidnapped two kids from a wealthy family and were holding them for ransom; the kids had a sword shield / bodyguard who was a drunk, who had failed in his oaths, and whom the bandits had swayed to their cause. At some point in the scenario, the cleric among the PCs spared this bodyguard's life. And at the end, the paladin among the PCs inducted this sad sot into his order, and took the girl-child (disguised as her brother) as his squire. The players just sort of found something in these characters they liked or empathized with or thought interesting, and began building a relationship; I took that and built on top of what they'd made for the rest of the year we played that game.

    VSK, I don't think the GM has limitless authority in this sort of game. I think the GM walks a very fine balance of maintaining player trust and investiture, and staying within the bounds prescribed by that trust.

    Which is to say, the GM can in theory do whatever they like—but there's a huge swath of action-space that will basically kill the game dead, instantly and utterly destroy the good faith and trust that makes the social contract here tick. Or temporarily but grievously harm that trust. Part of what I'm interested in is codifying ways of feeling out those boundaries.
  • WM, I think the key to nurturing relationships is not attempting to foster them in the way you want, with the NPC you want. It's just, throw out stuff at the players (with no particular intentions or grand schemes) until they glom onto something; take whatever they glom onto and build on that. (This goes for not just NPCs but places, cultures, bits of history, whatever.)
    Yes, exactly. Well put.

    If you look at my post, above, you'll see I explained the order in precisely this way: observe player reactions, and then build on those.

    VSK, I don't think the GM has limitless authority in this sort of game. I think the GM walks a very fine balance of maintaining player trust and investiture, and staying within the bounds prescribed by that trust.
    Also exactly right.

    This doesn't entirely undermine the previous statement: yes, the GM has *nearly* unlimited narrative authority here. But she also has to keep an eye on navigating those invisible boundaries.

    I'm looking forward to seeing more discussion and/or design looking at how to establish or feel out those boundaries in play!

    It would be pretty cool to see a solid and functional "railroady" game suddenly appear on the market, in a well explained and structured way. It could open up new directions for design (and probably spur some really interesting discussions).

  • WM, I think the key to nurturing relationships is not attempting to foster them in the way you want, with the NPC you want. It's just, throw out stuff at the players
    Of course, my point was that quite a lot of newbie GMs think the opposite and it's often something that ends badly. So if the gameplay can be explicitly explained so GMs don't go in that direction, that could be great!

    I'm kinda worried that Immerse your players in their characters and your world
    and Nurture player relationships with your world could be misinterpreted and end up generating that kind of toxic gameplay.

    Your idea does work, though I dunno if build with whatever is at hand fully transmit that. I believe It's the players input the one that should be more important than the prep, if by "whatever is at hand" you mean both of those. Or maybe I'm confusing this principle? Paul's observe player reactions, and then build on those. looks more clear to me.

    Also, would this gameplay use witch mountain like questions to introduce player's expectations into the game? That's the other main point I wanted to address on my other post, I mean, if we're going to build upon player's input, this way of giving them a bit more of agency to talk about their expectatives and introduce them into the game is one of the best I've found. It doesn't take away GM agency, it's safe because the GM can make it in a way that the player qill only give back some color.

    Like, whenever I've used at my table the player is asked about something he's been thinking of but hasn't got a way to introduce into the fiction until then. Like, asking the elf player what are elves like. When he immersed in the elf character he thought of something specific about elves. Up until that point the elves on the GM's imagination and on the player's imagination could have been quite different, This question puts them both on the same page about the atmosphere the player wants to see, part of his real expectations from the game.

    It's totally different when you ask the player something like "What are your expectations from the game?". Most probably the player will talk about gameplay, perhaps something they hate or something they want to see in the game. But rarely they will tell you "oh, I choose to play an elf because elves are like this and that in my mind and I expect them to look like that in the game".

    Most probably the player will expect the GM to already share their ideas about the elves, because "everybody knows what elves are like", and will find themselves a little dissapointed that elves in the setting are nothing but pretentious arrogants. Or maybe because they aren't.

    So well, maybe fulfilling player's expectations isn't too much the agenda here, I may be wrong and this technique won't do much for this gameplay, but it's just my two cents. I totally agree at throwing stuff at the players and then build upon it. What I'd really like to add to that is "ask their expectatives to the players and throw them back at them multiplied by 10"
  • First, an aside on "build with whatever is at hand." This was a hacky attempt to summarize some pretty huge old Forge threads about bricolage, which Silmenume argued was at the core of Sim play. Basically, synthesizing myth and system from the events that occur during play. Like you say, it's what happens when prep collides with the table: not just player input, but also system input and GM input. But it's not the Story component of that collision, it's the Myth component.

    The canonical example is about a magic sword in the Middle Earth game, owned by one of Silmenume's characters. He starts out just knowing that it's a magic sword +1 and not much else. The first few times he uses it against trolls, he ends up hitting natural 20s, so the GM synthesizes this into the idea that the sword as a special purpose against trolls. (You can see how this is a collision of GM whim, events marked as special by the system, player actions / input, and ideas kinda latent in the setting.)

    Later, he's at the bottom of a well with another character who has been pinned to a wall by an iron spike. Silmenume announces he tries to cut through the spike with his magic sword; everyone expects this to fail (swords can't cut steel), and knows from past context that a natural 1 might mean he strikes the other character; but it's magic, which makes the possibilities open-ended. By luck, he rolls two natural 20s in a row! The GM states that not only does he cleave through the spike, but the sword is now +2, and should he ever roll three 20s in a row, it will become +3, etc. He synthesizes this new mechanic and bit of myth ("This is a sword capable of growing in power") again from an intersection of his own whim, player actions, system input, and ideas appropriate to the setting.

    What we conspicuously do not see here is the GM saying something like, "Silmenume, you've got this magic sword. What's its power?" We don't even see the GM asking him "What do you think would be cool for a sword?" out of game. (We get a bit of that kinda thing in character creation, it seems, but not once play has really begun.)

    --

    So yeah, from that perspective you're right that fulfilling player's expectations isn't at the top of the agenda. I was *this* close to flinging an off-the-cuff "Mountain Witching isn't appropriate in this paradigm," but that's not entirely true, there's a small family of related techniques that I've been assuming would be present. It's a lot more... restrained? Confined? Than typical mountain-witching, though. More, ways in which the GM might allow and expect players to contribute to the myth which don't get so heavily filtered.

    Not-Quite-Mountain-Witching Technique the First: Players Learning about Character Skills. In Silmenume's original posts he talks a lot about how player knowledge of character skills is important. Like, if your character is an expert archer, you're actually expected to go learn about archery. To know how a bow is constructed and how far it can shoot; how you treat a bowstring in the rain; how you choose an arrow that will fly straight; that kind of stuff. Obviously the GM isn't capable of educating themselves on the million little skills that characters will have, so when the players bring this knowledge into the game—which is encouraged and rewarded—the GM basically trusts them.

    It's kinda like pre-hoc Mountain Witching at the time of character creation. It's saying, "Player, it is your responsibility to tell us all what X looks like in the game world." Except it's not really the player making it up, it's the player learning about the actual historical context of whatever skill. (But, of course, the player's interests will guide what they learn about and bring up.)

    "Players learning about the Myth" falls into this category too, I think; in the Middle Earth game, this meant studying your Tolkien.

    Not-Quite-Mountain-Witching Technique the Second: Reflexive Immersive Knowledge. I can't remember if this comes from the canon or from other threads where I've asked people about their experiences with immersion. But some folks describe immersive RP experiences as including a sort of improvisation that manifests mentally, to the immersed player, as reflexive knowledge. "Oh, of course my home has a stone hearth and an orchard." That kind of thing. Stuff that might seem extremely minor in the broader context of the setting, and the player is confident and comfortable enough to just insert without asking permission. People say it feels more like remembering something than making something up.

    Not-Quite-Mountain-Witching Technique the Third: That Weird Character Creation Process. This one. It seems like a fair amount of really truly straight-up Mountain Witching goes on in chargen. But, see, the weird part is, in most games this would be a place where the player has completely free reign. While in the Middle Earth game, it seemed that the GM's remit allowed them to guide the chargen process with a pretty heavy hand.

    Not-Quite-Mountain-Witching Technique the Fourth: Players Brainstorming Between Games. In the canon, players have ideas for things they want to happen, and put some effort into persuading other players and the GM that their idea is cool enough to see game-time. "I want my evil vampire to team up with a lich, the whole world's out to exterminate us and we need to overcome our pride and band together to survive!" Stuff that would be totally appropriate during the game itself in, say, Fiasco, but is strictly banished to between-games here.
  • Agreed with everything. Except that I'd never use mountain-witch as here

    What we conspicuously do not see here is the GM saying something like, "Silmenume, you've got this magic sword. What's its power?" We don't even see the GM asking him "What do you think would be cool for a sword?" out of game. (We get a bit of that kinda thing in character creation, it seems, but not once play has really begun.)
    That would be shooting on my own foot as a GM! Questions like this take away too much fun from the technique and should be avoided at all costs. For starters, it's beyond the player's authority to define game mechanics. They can suggest, but letting them define it is risking the game balance. Second, it takes away the fun of discovery from them. In Silmenume's original account, the GM does the right thing, letting players discover what the artefact does and letting them define it by what happens in the game.

    I've done something similar with NPCs though. The party once faced a group of goblins lead by a bugbear. They killed a bunch of goblins but didn't made it to the boss and had to retreat. Later the bugbear chased them, killed and captured a few PCs (whose players had dropped from the campaign) and the rest barely escaped with their lives. It was mostly because of a few lucky rolls from the bugbear, but since then I started to give the bugbear a bit more of relevance and personality. Eventually it turned into a recurrent NPC that the players hated to their guts. The Middle-earth: Shadow of War game uses a similar mechanic.

    But going back to mountain witching and player expectatives, for me the keys of using this trick are:

    -Ask questions the players can answer from their character's point of view. Asking something their character shouldn't know breaks immersion.

    -What you are aiming for is player expectatives that they give for granted to be in the game, but that you actually can't know exactly what they are. If they play a cleric they will have an expectative of what clerics are like in the setting, how they talk and what they do. You can always edit how much of that is true or actually happening in the place the PCs visit, but asking the player what would be the norm for clerics is the best place to start building from.

    -What you're not aiming for is to make real player's expectatives just as they are. You either make them better by building upon them or add conflict so players turn that into an interesting story. This is why "I want my evil vampire to team up with a lich, the whole world's out to exterminate us and we need to overcome our pride and band together to survive!" is a great one to build upon, it already contains excellent conflict! But not always players suggest things like this. There's no reason to block them out if they say "I want my pc to find a magic sword able to kill demons on a single strike", I'll just let the players find something they don't know how it works, that they saw killing a demon on a single strike... in the hands of an angel that has gone nuts, for example. It's a bit of the "be careful for what you wish" trick.

    So there. It seems you're doing quite a nice work of this gameplay, just be careful with the issues that tend to appear out of nowhere when somebody gives a principle or agenda point the worst interpretation possible.
  • I have been thinking about GM moves, and I have a draft. WM, I've been thinking a lot about your advice, "Ask questions the players can answer from their character's point of view." I really, really like that. It seems like the best way to use this family of technique to further, rather than damage, immersion. It also ties in to the canonical practice of players learning about character skills. If a character is an archer, and the player learns about archery, then I as the GM can ask them, "How do you keep your bow strings when you're not using your bow?" Or, "How far can you shoot true?"

    Anyway, some GM moves & related tools.

    GM Tools
    Your main mechanical tools are the Target Roll and Impression Roll, plus critical 1s and 20s, as described in the Spicy Dice Roll thread. On top of that, you may assign Damage.

    Damage: Choose some number of damage dice: 1 point, ½d6, 1d6, 2d6, 3d6. Use 1d6 for a solid blow with a deadly weapon, 3d6 for a critical blow with a deadly weapon. Have the player roll and sum the damage dice, with open-ended 6s. Accrued damage at least equal to HP usually disables a character, at least equal to 150% HP is certain death. A single blow with damage at least equal to 50% of HP is a specific and ugly wound.

    GM Moves

    General Moves
    When the table turns towards you to see what happens next, do one or two of these.

    - Interpret their hesitation or confusion as their character's.
    - Show the immediate fruits or consequences of their actions.
    - Answer as their character could sense or judge.
    - Describe what their character sees, hears, feels, smells.
    - Share an element of the Myth known to their character.
    - Ask them a question they can answer in-character.
    - Ask them how they do or say it exactly.
    - Demonstrate the danger or difficulty.
    - Hint at unrevealed complications.
    - Show them an opportunity, and any apparent complications or cost.
    - Call for a target roll and announce the TN.
    - Call for an impression roll and commit to the most likely result.
    - Assign dice of damage for the threat as established.
    - Read the dice as your tools demand.
    - Make an NPC move.
    - Reveal the next event from your prep.
    - Put someone in the spotlight and cede them the initiative.

    NPC Moves
    When its time for an NPC to speak or act, do one of these. Always speak in the actual words of your NPCs. (Actually, take that as a Principle: Speak in their words.)

    - As the NPC, share something you know.
    - As the NPC, turn to them for leadership, aid, or judgment.
    - As the NPC, do or say something to reveal your intent, motive, or nature.
    - As the NPC, show them trust, good faith, respect, or generosity.
    - As the NPC, do something threatening or stupid.
    - As the NPC, ask or demand something of them to advance your goals.
    - As the NPC, speak falsehoods to advance your goals.
    - As the NPC, grant what they desire.
    - As the NPC, lay your cards on the table.
    - As the NPC, flee the situation.
    - As the NPC, demonstrate your abilities, proficiencies, or gifts.
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