What exactly is the appeal of emergent narrative?

(I'm sorry if this post is a bit of a disorganized mess. I was having trouble getting some of my thoughts out with this.)

Something that's always kind of baffled me in the ttrpg community is exactly how much a large portion of the community is obsessed with emergent narrative and is against things like games that mechanize narrative planning because of it. I've seen a lot of people say that cutting emergent narrative is to them defeating the purpose of ttrpg.

(I should note, I'm not at all talking about stuff where the GM plans everything when I talk about planning and non-emergent play. I'm talking about collaborative stuff where the group plans the story together, structures it together, then explores it. Where the planning is playerside, and the campaign is playing through and expanding the plot outline everyone wrote together.)

And tbh I've just lately been trying to understand the train of thought, because for me, emergent narrative isn't at all rewarding, feels artificial, has a big risk of producing crappy fiction, and generally just makes play feel extremely casual on a level that for anything beyond short-form play (1-3 sessions) just generally makes me disengaged.
(Which like, mind you, I'm not saying it's bad. It's just hugely not for me.)

So in my effort to understand, if you like and value emergent narrative, can you explain to me what about it appeals to you, what makes it important to you, generally why you like it?
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Comments

  • edited March 2018
    I'd like to see specific story games/RPGs mentioned when someone gives example of emergent vs planned(?) narrative.

    In my experience, the lines are quite blurred and distinction is not so easy. Especially, there are several dimensions involved:
    - In traditional RPG with a GM, a lot of the planning is hidden. So, what looks like emergent narrative to the players may as well be well disguised railroading by the GM.
    - System mechanics may have a great influence on what emerges, i.e. Fiasco games often imo finish in a similar place - even though theoretically players are free to spin it in what direction they want.
    - Players' background, competence and previous experience. Results are entirely different depending on a shared enthusiasm & knowledge of a setting (i.e. Star Wars fans), experience with certain Indie/Freeform formats and trust & experience of playing various other games in the past together.

    Personally, I'm both happy with planned and emergent narrative - ideally an open structure that can go in unknown directions.
    That is actually the excitement of emergent narrative to me: not knowing.
    Not knowing where the story will go, what could happen. This is something that (currently) no computer game can truly provide.
  • For some examples like you asked for:
    Emergent Story-telling: Apocalypse World, Monsterhearts, Dungeon World, Sorcerer, Blades in the Dark, the whole category of "play to find out games"
    Planned Narrative games: Chuubo's Marvelous Wish-Granting Engine, Nobilis, etc, where narrative structuring and planning is a part of the game itself

    And ye, that makes total sense. Thank you for your explanation.
    I'm personally not a huge fan of not knowing, outside of scenarios where it doesn't matter all that much. Basically, I want to know the core beats, the core moments that make the story work, and then within that, other stuff can evolve, as long as the core stuff happens.
  • edited March 2018
    It's a compound of what I don't like in setting the arcs beforehand, like in Chuubo's, It's a cost/benefit thing.
    What I like in emergent fiction first play style is that it makes it possible to not begin a game by a timeout.
    Also, if the game rules are not the constitution (as in a state's constitution), then you're leaving too much to the social contract for my taste. The game is "framed" in the "we've been framed" sense. And what I like in games, and the reason why I mainly play game boards, is that the social contract is reduced to "let's play this game for an hour and see what".
    Finally, planning scenes and arcs is good for "improv workshop" role playing play style. But for the story telling style, for knitting a story in no time which surprises yourself, narrative emergent play is much more... "responsive". In cinema, some people see two kind of films : the ones about plots, the ones about characters. I am all about plot (as story games go).
  • It's a compound of what I don't like in setting the arcs beforehand, like in Chuubo's, It's a cost/benefit thing.
    What I like in emergent fiction first play style is that it makes it possible to not begin a game by a timeout.
    Also, if the game rules are not the constitution (as in a state's constitution), then you're leaving too much to the social contract for my taste. The game is "framed" in the "we've been framed" sense. And what I like in games, and the reason why I mainly play game boards, is that the social contract is reduced to "let's play this game for an hour and see what".
    Finally, planning scenes and arcs is good for "improv workshop" role playing play style. But for the story telling style, for knitting a story in no time which surprises yourself, narrative emergent play is much more... "responsive". In cinema, some people see two kind of films : the ones about plots, the ones about characters. I am all about plot (as story games go).
    That makes total sense!
    For me personally, the setting arcs thing in Chuubo's is my absolute favorite mechanic I've ever seen in a ttrpg.
    But I very much fall into that "improv workshop" roleplaying style, I think. I'm not really interested in plot; I'm exclusively interested in character arcs, and character arcs take some work to make them work 100% right and as they should.
  • edited March 2018
    Am I right in thinking this is something like the old "Story Now"/"Story Later" distinction? That is, games that emphasize narrative conflict in the moment, for players to engage with, contrasted with games where we interpret a story in what happened after the fact?

    I think in the case of "emergent narrative" some of the appeal comes from a feeling of discovery, from a feeling of having had a story revealed to you through no deliberate efforts of your own. At the end of the session, you're surprised and mystified by what happens, and that can make it feel honest and true in hindsight.

    I'm speaking in absolute terms rather than relative terms. I like "emergent narrative," and I seek it out in all kinds of games, but I don't prefer it to more self-aware story-making RPGs. I know some people do, though.

    EDIT: Actually, I think I'm a bit off-track, but I'll leave this post up in case someone wants to clarify.
  • Am I right in thinking this is something like the old "Story Now"/"Story Later" distinction? That is, games that emphasize narrative conflict in the moment, for players to engage with, contrasted with games where we interpret a story in what happened after the fact?

    I think in the case of "emergent narrative" some of the appeal comes from a feeling of discovery, from a feeling of having had a story revealed to you through no deliberate efforts of your own. At the end of the session, you're surprised and mystified by what happens, and that can make it feel honest and true in hindsight.

    To clarify, I'm speaking in absolute terms rather than relative terms. I like "emergent narrative," and I seek it out in all kinds of games, but I don't prefer it to more self-aware story-making RPGs. I know some people do, though.
    I'm not familiar with the Story Now/Story Later distinction. Could you explain?

    And ye, that makes sense about the discovery thing. I'm personally not much for discovery, or having a story revealed to me. I want to be the one telling the story, and having control over exactly how it goes to make sure it feels right.
    I feel lazy when I feel like the story was revealed to me through no deliberate efforts of my own. (Which is not at all to say that people who don't plan their narratives are lazy; it's just a very personal feeling)
  • edited March 2018
    I'm not familiar with the Story Now/Story Later distinction. Could you explain?
    It's fifteen-year-old jargon that seeks to explain the difference between RPGs that intentionally and mechanically engage with narrative - that seek to put players in stories, "Now," in the moment of play - and any old RPG where you can think about the session after the fact and go "hey, there was an interesting story we told there."

    It's kind of funny, actually: the concept was one of the things that led to that wave of "play to find out" games, but they're all pretty traditional by 2018 standards.
  • I'm not familiar with the Story Now/Story Later distinction. Could you explain?
    It's fifteen-year-old jargon that seeks to explain the difference between RPGs that intentionally and mechanically engage with narrative - that seek to put players in stories, "Now," in the moment of play - and any old RPG where you can think about the session after the fact and go "hey, there was an interesting story we told there."

    It's kind of funny, actually: the concept was one of the things that led to that wave of "play to find out" games, but they're all pretty traditional by 2018 standards.
    Ah, that makes sense. And yeah, totally about a lot of them being pretty traditional.
  • edited March 2018
    Dramatic play style (make a scene, express pathos, feel the psychological clockwork moving you) and Storytelling (how to hook, when to raise, when to follow, when to fall, do we twist this ?). It's all Story Now to me.

    In fact, I have a feeling both styles only differ by the level on which players focus : scene level with the dramatic play style, lax story level with the Storytelling play style. Really, it's the same interpretative-creative game : get hint, follow, neglect, react, diverge, etc. Our twists are like 1 minute long, when yours fit in an eyebrow raised or lowered. Something like that, oversimplified as it may be.
  • It helps to make a distinction between Narrative, Narrative Structure, and Story.
    Probably impossible to pursue some of these questions much further without doing so.
    http://todfoley.com/2014/11/18/204/

  • I don't have high hopes for whatever story happens to emerge from arbitrary starting conditions.

    Given really compelling starting conditions, however, I'm often quite excited to follow the train of, "What would happen?" to whatever answers it produces.

    If pursued in an immediate, intuitive, character-grounded sort of way, the answers can have some real zing to them, like we just discovered or affirmed something about the human condition.

    Achieving that may require some skill and entail some uncertainty, and pulling it off can be very satisfying.

    Having said all that, I think there's room for plenty of similar fun in pre-structured narratives, so long as there's room for the specific details which emerge in the moment to matter. Montsegur 1244 is a good example -- the castle will fall, but how are you going to deal with the various stages by which that fate arrives? In my opinion, GM railroads where the group genuinely cares about the characters' experience, and the players genuinely control that, constitute another example. The overall plot doesn't just "go wherever it goes", but the characters' choices might.
  • The only players I know of that object to collaborating on story narrative flow are those that are more interested in "immersion."

    Meaning they want to play their character and are only interested in the experience through the lens of their character's viewpoint.
  • edited March 2018
    I think that the joy of crafting a narrative together, which may include editing, planning ahead, and so forth, is about making something together which really makes sense, which hits the right bits, and "feels" right. You get the satisfaction of making something cool and, ideally, high-quality together. You feel like a creator.

    Generally speaking, making in-character decisions in this style means picking the most interesting outcomes (or the most suitable ones).

    The joy of "emergent narrative", as you put it, is about exploring together, about being surprised, maybe even shocked, by what happens. This allows you to experience the story more as an audience member. There's a sort of near-magical, unconscious authoring which happens in that style of play; the kind of thing where you can look back at what you played and start to only understand later why it took the shape that it did.

    Generally speaking, making in-character decisions in this style means engaging in dilemmas, puzzles, or situations from the limited perspective of the character, and enjoying that experience. It's visceral, in-the-moment, and, for some people, highly personal - less removed, less technical.

    An important aspect is how it shapes your approach to games over the long term. More collaborative, "planned out" play with the same group over a long period of time is likely to always default to a zone where the participants agree and enjoy each others' contributions: we learn that we like stories where the underdog wins, perhaps.

    A more "play to find out" approach, coupled with design to support that, is more likely to surprise us. That can be exciting and moving, but also more likely to produce unwelcome outcomes. Some people love that thrill and others seek to control it.

    It's notable that this distinction exists for authors, too (novelists, film-makers, etc). Some come from a school where the entire story must be plotted out, beat-by-beat, from beginning to end, for maximum control and maximum cohesion. Others feel this takes the "realness" out of the stories, and write them without any sense of where they are headed: this kind of author "channels" the characters and "lets them" make choices which "surprise" the author - in a sense, the author is discovering the story as they go along. The latter school say that their writing is far better when they don't plan ahead, more intense, more creative.

    As other people have pointed out, many (most?) games are somewhere in-between, sitting in different places along that spectrum. For instance, some highly structured/planned out games are enjoyed by people who really want to "get into character", feeling free to do so when they know where things are headed. Other people, though, can't really "get in character" if they know all kinds of things their character doesn't (that spoils the effect for them, since they're thinking in a very different way).
  • Here's Vincent Baker on this issue, back in 2008:
    As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of an rpg's rules is to create the unwelcome and the unwanted in the game's fiction. The reason to play by rules is because you want the unwelcome and the unwanted - you want things that no vigorous creative agreement would ever create. And it's not that you want one person's wanted, welcome vision to win out over another's - that's weak sauce. (*) No, what you want are outcomes that upset every single person at the table. You want things that if you hadn't agreed to abide by the rules' results, you would reject.
    Taken from anyway.
  • I don't know, the argument you quote some of kind of reminds me of the classic "just have a good GM" thing. Except in this case, it's "just freeform well."

    Plus, I feel like he has a vague enough definition of "wanted" or "welcome" that it's hard to see exactly what he's saying. Is he proposing a system for collectively pushing boundaries, or a system for introducing the unexpected into play? Those aren't interchangeable concepts, but it seems like he's using them that way.
  • I don't have high hopes for whatever story happens to emerge from arbitrary starting conditions.

    Given really compelling starting conditions, however, I'm often quite excited to follow the train of, "What would happen?" to whatever answers it produces.

    If pursued in an immediate, intuitive, character-grounded sort of way, the answers can have some real zing to them, like we just discovered or affirmed something about the human condition.

    Achieving that may require some skill and entail some uncertainty, and pulling it off can be very satisfying.

    Having said all that, I think there's room for plenty of similar fun in pre-structured narratives, so long as there's room for the specific details which emerge in the moment to matter. Montsegur 1244 is a good example -- the castle will fall, but how are you going to deal with the various stages by which that fate arrives? In my opinion, GM railroads where the group genuinely cares about the characters' experience, and the players genuinely control that, constitute another example. The overall plot doesn't just "go wherever it goes", but the characters' choices might.
    The Montsegur thing is very very much actually a good example of my sort of play style, where the core is defined, but there's a lot of details that's still left to be explored.
    I think that the joy of crafting a narrative together, which may include editing, planning ahead, and so forth, is about making something together which really makes sense, which hits the right bits, and "feels" right. You get the satisfaction of making something cool and, ideally, high-quality together. You feel like a creator.

    Generally speaking, making in-character decisions in this style means picking the most interesting outcomes (or the most suitable ones).

    The joy of "emergent narrative", as you put it, is about exploring together, about being surprised, maybe even shocked, by what happens. This allows you to experience the story more as an audience member. There's a sort of near-magical, unconscious authoring which happens in that style of play; the kind of thing where you can look back at what you played and start to only understand later why it took the shape that it did.

    Generally speaking, making in-character decisions in this style means engaging in dilemmas, puzzles, or situations from the limited perspective of the character, and enjoying that experience. It's visceral, in-the-moment, and, for some people, highly personal - less removed, less technical.

    An important aspect is how it shapes your approach to games over the long term. More collaborative, "planned out" play with the same group over a long period of time is likely to always default to a zone where the participants agree and enjoy each others' contributions: we learn that we like stories where the underdog wins, perhaps.

    A more "play to find out" approach, coupled with design to support that, is more likely to surprise us. That can be exciting and moving, but also more likely to produce unwelcome outcomes. Some people love that thrill and others seek to control it.

    It's notable that this distinction exists for authors, too (novelists, film-makers, etc). Some come from a school where the entire story must be plotted out, beat-by-beat, from beginning to end, for maximum control and maximum cohesion. Others feel this takes the "realness" out of the stories, and write them without any sense of where they are headed: this kind of author "channels" the characters and "lets them" make choices which "surprise" the author - in a sense, the author is discovering the story as they go along. The latter school say that their writing is far better when they don't plan ahead, more intense, more creative.

    As other people have pointed out, many (most?) games are somewhere in-between, sitting in different places along that spectrum. For instance, some highly structured/planned out games are enjoyed by people who really want to "get into character", feeling free to do so when they know where things are headed. Other people, though, can't really "get in character" if they know all kinds of things their character doesn't (that spoils the effect for them, since they're thinking in a very different way).
    That makes total sense.
    I personally don't like surprises on the level that before I watch a movie or a show, or before I read a book, I look up as many spoilers as I can find to get a good idea of what I'm getting into in watching it or reading it. So like, for me, knowing spoilers is something I do in all forms of media, because surprise stresses me out.
    And for me personally, I have trouble really getting into character if I don't know where it's going, because when I don't know where it's going, I don't know if I have reason to give a shit.
    Here's Vincent Baker on this issue, back in 2008:
    As far as I'm concerned, the purpose of an rpg's rules is to create the unwelcome and the unwanted in the game's fiction. The reason to play by rules is because you want the unwelcome and the unwanted - you want things that no vigorous creative agreement would ever create. And it's not that you want one person's wanted, welcome vision to win out over another's - that's weak sauce. (*) No, what you want are outcomes that upset every single person at the table. You want things that if you hadn't agreed to abide by the rules' results, you would reject.
    Taken from anyway.
    I can totally understand that perspective, although it's very much not what I want in a game. I personally just want for a game to give me and my fellow players the tools we want/need to tell the story we want to tell, on our terms. The main game we play actually has a lot of mechanics designed to prevent unwanted things from happening, with mechanics to give players direct veto power over things that come up that don't fit their conception of the character and the character's story.
  • Didn't emergent narrative/play-to-find-out arise out of an exhaustion with GM railroads and games that advised GMs to treat their games that way--player disappointment and frustration with detailing character backgrounds, choosing skills, and making choice during the game that didn't have any effect on the outcome? If that's true, it would explain why lot's of people love play-to-find-out, especially if they started gaming during the heyday of GM railroading.
  • edited March 2018
    Didn't emergent narrative/play-to-find-out arise out of an exhaustion with GM railroads and games that advised GMs to treat their games that way--player disappointment and frustration with detailing character backgrounds, choosing skills, and making choice during the game that didn't have any effect on the outcome? If that's true, it would explain why lot's of people love play-to-find-out, especially if they started gaming during the heyday of GM railroading.
    And that makes sense! Thank you! :)
    The thing though that confuses me is people still being stuck in that mode when nowadays there are games out there that don't do play-to-find out but that also don't do GM railroading, and have all the planning be done playerside.
    Because like, something done reactionarily or out of necessity usually fades away when other alternatives arise, unless people really really like the thing. So it must follow that some people just really really like it, instead of it just being exclusively a response to railroading.
  • @EmmatheExcrucian Okay, well now I'm just spit-balling here, I mean, I haven't thought this completely through, but it seems that some play-to-find-out games, at least the ones that I'm thinking about right now, lean towards Princess Play or has touches of it, princessy play let's call it, which is appealing for many players. Although, some of the really grimdark ones maybe don't. This is just a thought.
  • @EmmatheExcrucian Okay, well now I'm just spit-balling here, I mean, I haven't thought this completely through, but it seems that some play-to-find-out games, at least the ones that I'm thinking about right now, lean towards Princess Play or has touches of it, princessy play let's call it, which is appealing for many players. Although, some of the really grimdark ones maybe don't. This is just a thought.
    Princess Play? I'm not familiar with the term.
  • I think it's @Eero_Tuovinen 's term, for wish-fullfillment kinds of play. He can define it better than me. I'll try to explain through an example. So, you're created a bard character with all the cool bard skills and magic and you get to play that bard doing all kind of bad-ass bardish stuff. That's Princess play in my mind.

    Like I said, I might be wrong about this. I don't know the whole spectrum of play-to-find-out games.
  • I think it's @Eero_Tuovinen 's term, for wish-fullfillment kinds of play. He can define it better than me. I'll try to explain through an example. So, you're created a bard character with all the cool bard skills and magic and you get to play that bard doing all kind of bad-ass bardish stuff. That's Princess play in my mind.

    Like I said, I might be wrong about this. I don't know the whole spectrum of play-to-find-out games.
    That makes total sense! Thank you for the explanation!
  • I might be mis-using Eero's term, here. And there are probably a lot of play-to-find-out games that aren't princessy play, either. There is some overlap between them but they're probably not co-terminus. I don't know them all. But the one that I am preparing to run as a campaign, right now, is very much a Princess Play game, so that's what I'm thinking about.
  • I would think Princess Play would be much better suited to a more "pre-plotted" style of play, like Emma is describing. After all, the whole point is to celebrate the character as s/he is, not to be surprised by unwelcome outcomes.

    In fact, I can't think of ANY "play to find out"-style games which fit the label of Princess Play - to me, those concepts are in pretty strong opposition.

    Emma, I think that you hit the nail on the head with this earlier comment:

    I personally don't like surprises on the level that before I watch a movie or a show, or before I read a book, I look up as many spoilers as I can find to get a good idea of what I'm getting into in watching it or reading it. So like, for me, knowing spoilers is something I do in all forms of media, because surprise stresses me out.
    Some people like to consume media in this way: let me read the ending first, to make sure it's something I'll enjoy, and then I can relax and enjoy the movie.

    Others (and I'd guess it might be the majority) absolutely hate to have the experience "spoiled" (hence the term "spoilers, in the first place). The whole point of the experience is to be surprised by the ending!

    For many, if they know exactly how things are going to end... what's the point of playing at all?

    Here's a simple and practical example:

    * The scenario is a fiendish puzzle. You play a treasure hunter, trying to decipher it.
    * The whole point of play is to see whether you - the player - are smart enough to solve the puzzle. Use your wits and step up to the challenge!

    Can you see how this style of play makes sense with a "play to find out" mindset, but doesn't at all make sense to a person who wants to have a sense of where things are going before they begin?

  • I would think Princess Play would be much better suited to a more "pre-plotted" style of play, like Emma is describing. After all, the whole point is to celebrate the character as s/he is, not to be surprised by unwelcome outcomes.

    In fact, I can't think of ANY "play to find out"-style games which fit the label of Princess Play - to me, those concepts are in pretty strong opposition.

    Emma, I think that you hit the nail on the head with this earlier comment:

    I personally don't like surprises on the level that before I watch a movie or a show, or before I read a book, I look up as many spoilers as I can find to get a good idea of what I'm getting into in watching it or reading it. So like, for me, knowing spoilers is something I do in all forms of media, because surprise stresses me out.
    Some people like to consume media in this way: let me read the ending first, to make sure it's something I'll enjoy, and then I can relax and enjoy the movie.

    Others (and I'd guess it might be the majority) absolutely hate to have the experience "spoiled" (hence the term "spoilers, in the first place). The whole point of the experience is to be surprised by the ending!

    For many, if they know exactly how things are going to end... what's the point of playing at all?

    Here's a simple and practical example:

    * The scenario is a fiendish puzzle. You play a treasure hunter, trying to decipher it.
    * The whole point of play is to see whether you - the player - are smart enough to solve the puzzle. Use your wits and step up to the challenge!

    Can you see how this style of play makes sense with a "play to find out" mindset, but doesn't at all make sense to a person who wants to have a sense of where things are going before they begin?

    Yeah, I can definitely understand it with challenge-based stuff, since not knowing is integral to the challenges functioning as they should.
    ...I should admit, I forget how ubiquitous and popular challenge-based play is a lot, since myself and most of the people I interact with really regularly don't like challenge-based play and refuse to play games that have it.
  • edited March 2018

    The thing though that confuses me is people still being stuck in that mode when nowadays there are games out there that don't do play-to-find out but that also don't do GM railroading, and have all the planning be done playerside.
    Because like, something done reactionarily or out of necessity usually fades away when other alternatives arise, unless people really really like the thing. So it must follow that some people just really really like it, instead of it just being exclusively a response to railroading.
    I'd say that you two have this thing backwards!

    The people who like "play to find out" are the people who hated those railroaded games.

    The "let's plan it all out together" approach is a solution for the people who LIKED them, but just wanted to do the railroading all together, so to speak. They just have a more honest, functional, and collaborative way of doing it now.

    As a solution, though, it doesn't do anything for the people who wanted to "play to find out" in the first place.




  • The thing though that confuses me is people still being stuck in that mode when nowadays there are games out there that don't do play-to-find out but that also don't do GM railroading, and have all the planning be done playerside.
    Because like, something done reactionarily or out of necessity usually fades away when other alternatives arise, unless people really really like the thing. So it must follow that some people just really really like it, instead of it just being exclusively a response to railroading.
    I'd say that you two have this thing backwards!

    The people who like "play to find out" are the people who hated those railroaded games.

    The "let's plan it all out together" approach is a solution for the people who LIKED them, but just wanted to do the railroading all together, so to speak. They just have a more honest, functional, and collaborative way of doing it now.

    As a solution, though, it doesn't do anything for the people who wanted to "play to find out" in the first place.



    That makes total sense! I hadn't thought of it from that perspective before, and that makes it make a lot more sense. I've always liked the railroading type stuff in theory, but have been annoyed in the past with GMs who do all the work and don't let the players contribute. Because "railroaded" stuff to me feels more like a story (since stories have strict beginning, middle, end, follow dramaturgical structures and narrative devices, etc), whereas play-to-find-out stuff feels like a simulation of life, and I'm not interested in simulating life; I'm interested in simulating and creating stories. :)
  • The only players I know of that object to collaborating on story narrative flow are those that are more interested in "immersion."

    Meaning they want to play their character and are only interested in the experience through the lens of their character's viewpoint.
    I have quite the opposite experience from roleplaying game discussions. You don't want to be in author stance ("controlling the story") if you prefer to play for immersion. You don't want to think of "what going to happen next" in terms of story making. You only want to immerse in your character, and how that character reacts to what happens.
  • You need to set landmarks for the scene to fill in the blanks. It's a means to an end, like you don't practice judo to set the tatamis up, and still you can be enthusiastic at the idea of setting them up because it means you're going to practice.
  • You need to set landmarks for the scene to fill in the blanks. It's a means to an end, like you don't practice judo to set the tatamis up, and still you can be enthusiastic at the idea of setting them up because it means you're going to practice.
    I don't understand any of that. I don't understand how it relates to immersion, and I don't understand what your analogies tries to show.
  • edited March 2018
    You need to set landmarks for the scene to fill in the blanks. It's a means to an end, like you don't practice judo to set the tatamis up, and still you can be enthusiastic at the idea of setting them up because it means you're going to practice.
    I don't understand any of that. I don't understand how it relates to immersion, and I don't understand what your analogies tries to show.

    But perhaps we have different definition of "immersion"? I use it as in the Vi åker jeep dictionary.
  • edited March 2018
    Sorry for being unclear. I'll structure the analogy hoping to clarify it.
    Tatamis are a means, judo practice an end.
    Setting up tatamis provides safety to practice judo and freedom to roll and frolick.
    Likewise,
    Defning story arcs is the means, immersion the end.
    Setting the story before playing the scenes provides safety to immerse in the roles, and freedom to interpret and ornament them.

    There is room for commensality of play styles under any given game constraints. For example you can drive the plot (author stance) or setup (director stance) your partners while playing a scene in character.

    But some constraints are exclusive of certain playstyles.
    Using an archetypal narrative structure is excluded if you want each session to produce a new narrative structure. Thank you @AsIf and @EmmatheExcrucian for helping me nail that fact about my game.
  • edited March 2018
    The only players I know of that object to collaborating on story narrative flow are those that are more interested in "immersion."

    Meaning they want to play their character and are only interested in the experience through the lens of their character's viewpoint.
    I have quite the opposite experience from roleplaying game discussions. You don't want to be in author stance ("controlling the story") if you prefer to play for immersion. You don't want to think of "what going to happen next" in terms of story making. You only want to immerse in your character, and how that character reacts to what happens.
    Rickard, it sounds like you are AGREEING with him.

    He said "The people who object to collaborating on story narrative flow are those that are more interested in immersion" - that is "The people who want to be immersed in their character don't want to deal with planning".

    And yes, for what it's worth, I agree that GENERALLY Play-to-find-out does not lend itself to Princess Play, but there are absolutely games that do this. FATE seems like one of them to me, because while it discourages lots of "plotting" by the GM, it also quite firmly says "This is who these characters are, and we're going to showcase that."
  • edited March 2018
    I don't think that princess play (play focusing creatively in relishing your character) and the way plot is created in the game, or even if it has plot at all, are in any way logically contingent on each other. I think that traditional rpgs commonly combine princess play with GM plot railroad, but that's just cultural history of the form, not a logical necessity.

    Technically speaking strong princess play doesn't even require a plot; any way to establish situation will do. A GM who plans a plot where the player characters get to "shine" (often in combat encounters) is one way to allow the PC to realize itself in a concrete situation, but as far as princess play activity is concerned, you could just as well let the players think up detached scenes and situations and play those, like children playing with toys do. "My turn, this time our characters are at a mall, being harassed by security guards. Show me how your character acts in this situation!"

    On the other hand, I don't think that princess play is really compatible with the creative priority that used to be called "narrativism"; clear and elevated player commitment to a character concept as a static ideal does not go well with the notion of emergent reveal of theme. An example I often use about this is that the player who's really into the paladin-hood of their Paladin in a fantasy game usually does not appreciate it if the game puts them into a dishonorable situation that calls their honor to question. They want to express the character's honor, not explore it.

    But plot - that's a side concern for princess play, narrativism, many other things. Plot is an overly elevated concern in rpgs in general, really, perhaps because enthusiastic author-GMs are so common. It's just a few specific modes of roleplaying where plot is an overriding concern.
  • edited March 2018
    This may only be tangentially related to what you're asking here, but I asked what I think might be a similar question on G+ yesterday ("What's the appeal behind shared narrative authority?") and got a lot of really helpful answers from people.

    Edit to add the link I forgot :-P https://plus.google.com/+JasonTocci/posts/UXyXDBNwHmb
  • He said "The people who object to collaborating on story narrative flower are those that are more interested in immersion" - that is "The people who want to be immersed in their character don't want to deal with planning".
    I'm stupid. I didn't read "object". Dunno how I missed it. Sorry about that, @DeReel, and thank you @Airk for pointing that out.
  • Like Eero's musings about "plot", I don't think that "immersion" necessarily aligns with these two (entirely hypothetical) styles of play. Perhaps this is because no one can agree on what "immersion" is, perhaps not.

    As I mentioned earlier, I've heard people say that they "want to know how things will turn out, ahead of time, so that they can just play their character". This type of player might even really enjoy a heavily GM-led game (perhaps even a total railroad), because they just want to sit there and experience feelings in-character (or something like that).

    I've also heard people say that they "can't immerse in a character if they can't make organic decisions as the character". In other words, if I have to always have in mind that the story is headed THIS way, and that there are constraints on what I can - and should, really - decide to do, then I "can't experience the game purely from my character's viewpoint. The other considerations intrude and destroy my sense of immersion entirely." For this type of player, open-ended decision-making ("playing to find out") is absolutely necessary for immersion.
  • If you use rules (or strong advice and plenty of time) for narrative planning, it shows you care for narrative structure. I generally use rules for safety, for balance, when I don't want a fight over something.

    But there is a more "hands on" way of approaching things, that is learning by doing. There will be broken p(l)ots, but we'll learn a lot.
  • edited March 2018
    Because "railroaded" stuff to me feels more like a story (since stories have strict beginning, middle, end, follow dramaturgical structures and narrative devices, etc), whereas play-to-find-out stuff feels like a simulation of life, and I'm not interested in simulating life; I'm interested in simulating and creating stories.
    I think this spectrum is one of the more interesting axes in RPG-land. There are a lot of "play to find out" games which aren't "simulation-of-life" enough for me! Usually because at some point in play, the internal causality of the fiction is overridden by a rule. A flow of virtual experience is one of my favorite things to get out of RPGs, but at the same time, if you lose yourself too far into it, it can lose all the benefits of a game and pick up all the nuisances of real life!

    On the opposite end of the spectrum is a play style that I'd compare to workshopping/storyboarding. I really enjoy that too! But it has its own risks, including the risk that the exercise will come to feel like "just making stuff up", with no drama, meaning, challenge or spark to any of it.

    I think the various efforts to combine favorite parts of both extremes is a big part of what keeps the "story game" design space interesting.

    This is part of why I love Sign in Stranger so much, because it has very high amounts of both unpolluted virtual experience and making stuff up. :)
  • Sorry for being unclear. I'll structure the analogy hoping to clarify it.
    Tatamis are a means, judo practice an end.
    Setting up tatamis provides safety to practice judo and freedom to roll and frolick.
    Likewise,
    Defning story arcs is the means, immersion the end.
    Setting the story before playing the scenes provides safety to immerse in the roles, and freedom to interpret and ornament them.

    There is room for commensality of play styles under any given game constraints. For example you can drive the plot (author stance) or setup (director stance) your partners while playing a scene in character.

    But some constraints are exclusive of certain playstyles.
    Using an archetypal narrative structure is excluded if you want each session to produce a new narrative structure. Thank you @AsIf and @EmmatheExcrucian for helping me nail that fact about my game.
    I really like this analogy. I need to think about it more before responding to this conversation in more depth, though.
  • As a general observation, one reason I've sometimes found dissatisfaction in games with a more structured series of plot progression (and keep in mind, I'm saying this as someone actively working on a hack of Montsegur) is that sometimes structure feels imposed from outside, which makes it much less effective.

    My readings in screenwriting, while by no means exhaustive, have made me keenly aware that screenwriters care more about structure than possibly any other kind of writers. (Maybe poets who work in strict forms care more. Maybe.) And most screenwriting guides are pretty explicit that the plot has to emerge from the characters or you get something less then engaging.

    So, here's an example of a game that is highly structured even though it never makes it explicit (or even requires you to follow it): Lady Blackbird.

    Lady Blackbird has a three-act structure, just like a screenplay! (Act One: escaping the Hand of Sorrow; Act II the Journey to Uriah; Act III the confrontation with Uriah). And the reason it works so well is because of the obstacles presented, and more importantly, the motivations of the characters.

    Lady Blackbird wants to escape an arranged marriage and find her former love; her stakes are high, basically losing everything she cares about if she fails.

    Naomi wants to follow Natasha, and take out Imperials.

    Cyrus wants to get Natasha to Uriah...or maybe convince her to not go to Uriah. Either way he's following her.

    Kale wants to follow Cyrus. Snargle is kind of along for the ride, and so it's natural they become the comic relief. (Kale and Snargle both have the most fertile ground to take the characters in different directions.)

    The obstacles are obvious: escape the Hand, find someone who can give the course to Uriah, confront Uriah. But each provide a good breaking point and flow naturally from character motivation.

    A note for fans of Harmon Circles/Monomyth: Lady Blackbird more or less starts at Spot #3: all the "introduce the characters in the normal situation" and "inciting incident" stuff happens on the character sheet.

    Most AW games don't do that; they explicitly start at position 1, introducing the characters. The inciting incident is what is emergent; the rest of the game & MC advice push you to follow the character motivations.

    ...some random observations, YMMV :)
  • edited March 2018
    Awesome, @Aviatrix ! :)

    I wonder if railroad GMs could create pre-gens built to target their plots and thus make everyone happy?

    Putting the status quo on the character sheet, and putting the inciting incident in the session/game premise pitch, are two techniques I'm very familiar with but have never paid attention to as parts of the Story Circle. I think there are definitely some takeaways there.
  • edited March 2018
    @David_Berg I'm not a fanatic about the Harmon circles but they definitely are a way to approach stuff.

    The pregens as kickoff is a time-honored technique, like in Montsegur or a certain Paris Commune game in dev (cough). (For the latter, I also include a deck of questions to build out the very skeletal r-map. The inciting incident is provided by the French Army ;-) )
  • You need to set landmarks for the scene to fill in the blanks. It's a means to an end, like you don't practice judo to set the tatamis up, and still you can be enthusiastic at the idea of setting them up because it means you're going to practice.
    The tatami analogy is tbh fantastic.
  • I'll second Aviatrix (and Aristotle) that the flow of the story must seem to emerge naturally from the initial events and the set of characters. But there is another side to this : the other side is that events must lead to a necessary and yet surprising conclusion.

    I am now reading the OP part that is a counter-attack by someone who gets critics for their play style, and says : "Why the critics ? we are doing classical structured forms. You're producing grotesque nonsense." And it's true. Why the critics ? structure and dynamic are not opposite, but complementary.

    It's not just a question of aesthetics, but also of what "fits" you. It has been shown that in RPGs more than any other games, the players complete the system with themselves.

    Coming back to earth, I suspect that Chuubo's arcs are collective GM prep. If so, part of the discussion is simply "how much prep is too much prep ?"
  • edited March 2018
    .
  • There's two specific things for me that make emergent narrative appealing:

    @BeePeeGee nails the first one right out of the gate – not knowing what's going to happen. The joy of this kind of narrative lies in discovery, in surprise, in the unexpected.

    The second is the reward of functioning as both audience and creator at the exact same time. In a way, it's a bit of the opposite of what @Paul_T was discussing earlier, in that I think the fun actually comes from operating in both of the modes he describes simultaneously (rather than favoring or swapping between one or the other). What I like about this is that it's truly unique to RPGs, and can only really arise through emergent story gameplay. (For me, if I want to be only the creator, I'd rather be writing something, and if I want to be only the audience, I'd rather be reading/watching/listening to something.)

    My initial feeling about pre-planned narrative was, if you're going to do this, why wouldn't you just collaborate on a novel or a play or something instead, but @EmmatheExcrucian's more detailed thoughts on this have convinced me otherwise. I definitely see what you mean about planning the narrative so as to focus on character & immersion, and finding it more personally satisfying to know where a story is going. It seems like there's actually a lot of value in planned narrative gameplay, if that's your vibe.

    Along with @Aviatrix's comments, I think there's a lot of room for structure in emergent gameplay (and vice-versa). I'm a pretty hardcore structuralist when it comes to fiction writing (having read a lot about screenwriting, in particular). So I've noticed that, even though I prefer emergent gameplay, the narratives I'm in tend to pretty neatly follow a traditional 3-act structure – if only because I'm generally playing with groups that share this story philosophy. So as long as the structural stuff is sort of internalized, you don't even need it in the ruleset to play an emergent narrative that also has familiar story beats.

    The FF Star Wars games are a decent example of this – you can play an emergent-story game where nobody knows what's going to happen, but because the setting is so culturally ingrained in everyone, players naturally try to mold what they're doing into a Star Wars Story™. And that means specific story beats at specific points in the narrative. (Okay, now we get Imperial disguises, now we're at the part of the story where we have the dogfight) There's nothing in the rules about this, it just happens. Emergent and structured.
  • edited March 2018
    I think this is basically a continuum.

    At one end is a non-negotiated D&D game, or even more so, Over the Edge (1st edition) -- you have some basic agreement about an activity (adventuring and gathering loot, weird stuff), but very little agreement or consensus for the rest, or even structure that pushes things in a particular direction. Instead, it ends up being a combination of private (and secret) preparation and improvisation, and the structure of the game mostly comes down to what happens, with how much it's like a story being accidental or based on people pushing it that way in the moment (and possibly sometimes being stopped by other people pushing a different way). (given where I put the other end, there's probably something even more chaotic/unknown on this end as an option, but this is where I'm putting it because it actually happens).

    At the other end is a play or reading -- every bit of dialogue and action is pre-plotted and pre-determined, and play is mostly a matter of execution and interpretation of that script. At this extreme, it can be very enjoyable, but isn't exactly what most people would consider a RPG, but it gets RPG nature fairly quickly as you move away from that extreme.

    In the middle is...everything else. If you have an outline of the plot and are playing to it, that's more pre-plotted than if people have set up core contracts abut are improvising around them (ie chuubo's).

    But some things are hard to rate on this scale against others, except that we can see they're somewhere near. Playing with mechanics like My LIfe with Master that push a particular plot structure but leave the execution and to a degree outcomes to players. Playing the SHadows of Yesterday, where you've got a core structure -and- individual player promises, but one of the likely answers to some of those promises is to eventually overcome them (payout on a Key, if I'm being too vague). The core plotline of Call of Cthulhu when played to the formula, where the players -know- that they're going to be presented with a mystery, and solving the mystery will lead to a fight or delve in which they may fail entirely, or succeed at the cost of their lives or minds.
  • I found that the way to amazing emergent story and narrative was letting go of story and narrative.

    Think of the game materials as a world, not a script. In all your prep, game writing, game designing: let go of arcs, pacing, drama, big bads, bosses, story beats, twists, big reveals, etc etc. Let go. Instead create setups, situations, characters with goals and desires and secrets, and obstacles.

    The best and most memorable stories I've had have been from games like this. Games where I steeled myself to avoid thinking about "story", about "narrative", and instead put my effort into thinking about places and the people in those places and then let the player characters meet those people and let the players take the wheel.
  • I found that the way to amazing emergent story and narrative was letting go of story and narrative.

    Think of the game materials as a world, not a script. In all your prep, game writing, game designing: let go of arcs, pacing, drama, big bads, bosses, story beats, twists, big reveals, etc etc. Let go. Instead create setups, situations, characters with goals and desires and secrets, and obstacles.

    The best and most memorable stories I've had have been from games like this. Games where I steeled myself to avoid thinking about "story", about "narrative", and instead put my effort into thinking about places and the people in those places and then let the player characters meet those people and let the players take the wheel.
    That makes sense!
    Not my kind of thing, but I can understand the appeal of it.
    Thank you so much for explaining! :)
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