This is a direct reply to this post
"Then things like The Quiet Year (which I love) push the envelope even farther."
I've had sessions of The Quiet Year that weren't bad and then I've had some that were unsatisfying. I would like to know how you are playing the game, as best as you can describe, to have great sessions. For example, what has the mechanic "Hold a Discussion" added to your game and how do you use it in order to get the most meaningful and best story results? Also, when choosing the "Start a Project" option, how do you use the amount of time to make it most relevant a give the most meaningful and best story results? Do you only have players do solo narrations on their turn or do you ever act out scenes with other players? To what degree do you have players act out individual characters within the community if at all? Basically, what are you doing to produce the great results that you are having? Thanks
Mostly I try to stick as close as possible to the game procedures.
I (gently) discourage free flowing dialogue during the game... when Players speak, it usually is either to answer to the game's questions or to describe the outcome of a finished Project or to "discuss" a topick.
Obviously we have also some human dialogue and commentary at the table, but I try to keep a relatively clear division between out-game table chat and in-game conversation.
The result is that I don't see much "roleplay" at the table at all.
Especially in Discussions some Players might do the voice of a highlighted character that they see as representative of their opinion, but that's it.
And I believe this is the winning point with lots of people... "acting" is intimidating to n00bs, and often abused by veterans... by keeping it at a minimum you actually make the game more accessible and help the rules do their job, creating a shared story that all can easily engage with.
The game really has no "scenes".
No space in which Players can "act out" the characters emerged from the story.
Sometimes people make comments and remarks, as viewers of a show would. This too informs the idea Players have about this or that character, how they would act, etc.
Mostly though it is no characters performing actions, as much as actions FITTING a certain character, thus being assigned to them.
"We have to wage war? Ok. Then of course good old Karok would be the voice of this project! He's like _Let them savour our vengeance!_
Some sessions see a lot of Discussions. Some see very little. The general sensation is that Players enjoy the Discussion mechanic, and they feel empowered by it ... until they realise that nothing gets actually DONE just by talking about it. Which is something everyone finds fun, as it mirrors reality XD
That said, the overall feeling is that Discussions (more) and Contempt tokens (less) similarly affect the game, by changing the mindspace of the people at the table ... it puts no new items on the map, but opinions have power.
This is why it works better when the table conversation is kept tight.
Starting Projects is handled pretty liberally. I see everyone spontaneously tends to assign what they feel/believe to be "realistic" times. Only very sporadically it is obvious that such estimate is skewed by self interest; in which case someone at the table comments that maybe a different amount of weeks makes more sense, and everyone agrees, and that is it. Sometime it even happens the opposite, where a Player sets a looong timer and others comment it should be shorter.
Most of these conversations actually help drill down and define the Project, as fictional minutiae are considered to evaluate the proper duration.
But it is, in the end, perceived as a trivial issue so it rarely rises true dissent and discussion.
Oh, one thing I always do is to shorten a bit the seasons. It is actually an official option suggested at the end of the rulebook, if I'm not mistaken.
Basically I set up the season decks and remove 4 cards from each season. I find this allows the game to always end on about 2-3 hours with no rush or fatigue, which helps Players feeling like sessions close on an up beat note.
In the end I think I simply present (and run) the game at face value.
It is a map-drawing game that summons an engaging story.
This turns out always successfull.
And then of course some Players would lament, afterwards, that they prefer games in which they can roleplay an actual character, rather than following a whole community at bird-eye-view.
But even them have fun during the game, and often play it again gladly, if offered.
Being the facilitator I ended up playing this game LOTS of times.
It always works.
It always feels fresh.
Of course it's not something you play every week :P
I think that what I do at the table is 90% game procedures and 10% personal expertise as game moderator ... I see that Players communicate in a civil way, hear each other out, don't trample each other's ideas, etc.
In most cases Players "learn" after just a bunch of rounds... by the end of Spring I usually can relax and simply play the game for myself.
Failures... never happen!
Only once I had a session literally aborted after one single round because one Player kept complaining.
The problem was all about an out-game social conflict, and he was trying to make a point by "showing everyone the game's faults" ... such as not being a true rpg, but also not being a true boardgame, so it is nothing, it is stupid :P
Happened once in my whole life.
Other times I had sub-optimal sessions, yes. These too are rare, but they do happen from time to time.
Mostly the problem in such occasions is that someone at the table has a very different aesthetic than the others... or are themselves confused about what they want...
Recently I had a Player specifically stating during the setting setup brief discussion "no fantasy shit, I don't like that stuff
" ... we all say OK and start off with a normal kind of scenario.
More or less during mid-Spring that same Player starts introducing all kinds of fantasy tropes:
- we actually are immortal elves
- giant sentient spiders are a threat on the map
- somewhere there is a Hogwarts-like castle/school of magic
The game worked, in and of itself. And everyone had fun, I think, from how they were laughing and drawing and engaging with the game the whole time.
But it was much less good than a lot of other sessions I have had, probably because we set A expectations and someone unilaterally injected some jarring B element ... we all rolled with it, but it felt definitely more gonzo afterwards.
But, by the same token, another time I had a sub-optimal game (because of similar dynamics) that actually felt like a huge victory.
The problem Player was the girlfriend of another Player... he basically "forced" her to play. She was obviously not interested, not into it, but he HAD to have her try to play.
He did this once already with a Trad game (of his design) and the session exploded in a spectacularly bad way; it was basically a cautionary tale on dysfunctional social dynamics and how Trad designs exacerbate them :P
The victory was in the fact that, again, the game worked... SHE had fun, everyone else had fun too, except maybe her boyfriend because she acted in many occasions with the obvious aim to annoy him, coming up with jarring and dissonant contributions ... but the more she played, the more the game and table accepted her ideas (which, really, were more naive than malicious), the more she got engaged and started offering ideas that were actually good.
So, in my book, a win