Playing toward partially pre-established outcomes

edited August 2018 in Story Games
I recently ran into some minor snags in games with partially pre-scripted plot arcs. I'll go into the details if it becomes relevant, but the gist is that I was intuitively making my character's decisions based on inhabiting them in that moment of the fiction, and I announced what they were doing, only to then be reminded that that wouldn't be compatible with the pre-scripted plot.

This was kind of a bummer for me, because these were very much character-arc-focused games. Waiting until Act 5 to take a stand for what my character believes just feels weird to me if a moment arrives in Act 3 that I react to with, "That does it! I know where I stand now!"

I realize this isn't an issue if the plot is entirely pre-scripted, but as far as I understand it, Montsegur 1244, Mars 244, and Witch: Road to Lindisfarne all use limited scripting in service to a "play to find out" agenda.

Does anyone else have experience with this sort of clash between the plan and the emergent moment?

Does anyone else who's played these specific games think I'm playing them wrong?
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Comments

  • The thing with partially pre-scripted plot arc games is that it's assuming one of your core goals in play is telling a good story, one that follows the game's dramaturgical arcs, not embodying the character in the moment.
    Your choices in this kind of game should be made first based on what suits the story, and then tempered by what your character would do. (i.e., there's something that would make for really good fiction, but the first thing you imagined wouldn't suit your character, so then you adapt it to what your character would do).

    So tldr, I kind of think you're playing them wrong.
    But also, I feel that partially pre-scripted that's shooting for "play to find out" is a bad idea on a design level, and that if you're going to have a game pre-script, you should go all the way and have everything pre-scripted, with the goal in play being to explore how things happen instead of learning what happens.
    So basically, you're playing them wrong, but it's not your fault, because there's some issues with the format.
  • edited August 2018

    I feel that partially pre-scripted that's shooting for "play to find out" is a bad idea on a design level

    I disagree! These games may fill a fairly specific niche, but I think the niche has some ardent fans. Witch and Montsegur are among the very favorite games of several people I love to play with. I don't know how those folks approach these games internally, but it sure looks like a "play to find out" core to me.
  • That's a really interesting dialectic you two have set up. I, like Emma, feel some tension there, too. But, as Dave says, the people who are into this kind of play seem to enjoy the "play to find out" core of it. Hmmm!

    Sidenote:

    Is there a reason, in Montsegur or Witch or whatever, that you can't "pick a position" early (keeping in mind that you CAN, theoretically, still change your mind until the game's "deadline" actually hits)?

    (And, if that actually happens, it would be extra dramatic, would it not? I haven't played those particular games, sadly, so I'm not sure.)
  • You can make up your mind who you are and what you believe in before you ever play your character, if you want. It's just that, if those things are never ever in any sort of doubt, then your character isn't really a star of the show. Which is fine, especially in a larger group -- you can still contribute plenty, with flair and personality and by being a foil for the other characters. But other characters will keep us in more suspense and probably get more attention, if what I've seen is typical.

    These games are set up to provide a lot of fodder to put a character's "position" to the test, so on the one hand, there should still be dramatic uncertainty there, no matter how rigid you start out. On the other hand, if you really do ignore the intended tests of faith, then you're declining to engage with a core component of play.

    You can certainly end up where you started! But if there's no struggle or doubt, then I don't think anyone will care where you end up.

    And if there is struggle and doubt, then sometimes I wind up really feelin' something that turns out to clash with the script...
  • Witch: The Road to Lindisfarne has provided me some of the most satisfying play of my gaming experience, both as a player and a GM/facilitator.

    We usually make it really clear to players at the start of play, what the boundaries are. There's still tons of room within those boundaries for deep immersion and thematic exploration.

    Witch is about figuring out where you stand (or, if you're the witch, changing where people stand), and players change their minds between Acts 1 and 5 all the time!
  • Adam, how do you handle it when a player is caught up in a moment of portrayal and violates one of those boundaries (e.g. releasing the witch or killing another character in Act 3)?
  • Witch specifically forbids freeing the witch. There's no restriction on killing other characters before Absolution but in a spirit of fair play I haven't seen it come up much. Montsegur 1244, Mars 244, and my own Red Carnations on a Black Grave forbid the killing of main characters* before the end of the game.

    The thing about these games is that the predestined occurrences are very generalized--the north tower falls, the Terrans destroy our cargo, the march to Versailles ends in disaster--and generally off screen. So it sets up a place of deciding how people deal with the aftermath, or propose trying to break the frame (even knowing the rules won't allow it). I've had a lot of scenes in these games that involve pleading that other characters (or mine) should flee or try to escape. We know it can't happen but that doesn't mean there's not juice in exploring the emotional states of the characters at that moment.

    I'd posit that a lot of these games get juice out of the fact that your characters are not free and face an inescapable destiny and the emotional resonance is because they scrape up against that most grounded of tropes, human mortality. But that may just be my lit degree talking :smile:

    * RC doesn't have a main/secondary character split and one character can die before the final act, but the main point stands :smile:
  • edited August 2018
    Aviatrix said:

    Witch specifically forbids freeing the witch.

    Yeah. I do appreciate the clarity of the constraints, and the fact that we know them up front.

    And I certainly can consciously play toward them / within them.

    But the experience of thinking, "That did it! I'm totally freeing the witch now! Oh wait, Dave, stop thinking in character, the rules won't let you do that," is not my favorite.

    I think the rule is a good rule. Freeing the witch could mess a lot of stuff up. I wouldn't want to change it. I'm just not sure how best to honor it and honor my character vision at the same time.
    Aviatrix said:

    I'd posit that a lot of these games get juice out of the fact that your characters are not free and face an inescapable destiny and the emotional resonance is because they scrape up against that most grounded of tropes, human mortality.

    I dig this, but I'd rather encounter it in character than inflict it upon my character myself. Let someone else take away their freedom. :tongue:

    Hmm, maybe that's the solution. I announce that I'm freeing the Witch, and then someone else narrates why that effort fails...

    I'm 100% happy for my Witch character to fail at everything, I just don't want to have to "rig" them into not even trying.

    I guess another option would be to draw a line: I play my character until they do something that would violate the rules, then someone else notes that, then I drop out of character to say why my character's effort fails (so as not to throw that burden on another player). That seems more appealing to me, if the shift between character-embodier and gameplay-supporter hats is an explicit switch.
  • Adam, how do you handle it when a player is caught up in a moment of portrayal and violates one of those boundaries (e.g. releasing the witch or killing another character in Act 3)?

    We've released the witch once, but inevitably she has to end up back in the cage, so we push her back in, narratively speaking. The players are fine with this, because we explained the rules up front.

    We've had sword fights and injuries, but we don't let anyone die as a result. The players are fine with this, because we explained the rules up front.

    Of course, killing each other in the final scene is fine, once the key phrases have been read (or they refuse to read them).

  • Adam_Dray said:

    We've released the witch once, but inevitably she has to end up back in the cage, so we push her back in

    Cool. That works for me. Do you remember how your group got her back in the cage? I don't just mean fictionally, I mean the at-the-table process.
  • I think twice I've offered to kill the witch during the absolution scene, once with the monk offering her poison to take rather than burn to death (I mean, he was an illuminator, he knew chemicals) and once with I think Thorne.

    Freeing the witch temporarily is fine and dandy, she just has to go back in as Adam says. As I recall the game specifically calls this out :smile:
  • For Witch, I thought it specifically said that all of the characters, not just the Witch, must get to Lindisfarne alive?
  • Do you remember how your group got her back in the cage? I don't just mean fictionally, I mean the at-the-table process.

    I think the Witch player just had her get character back in the cage, accepting that she couldn't really escape. I am pretty sure that if the male characters had said, "We throw her back in the cage," everyone at the table would have accepted that, too.

    For Witch, I thought it specifically said that all of the characters, not just the Witch, must get to Lindisfarne alive?

    That's right. It's never been a problem in the 10-12 games I've run or played in.
  • I just found my solution for this!

    Don't roleplay toward a pre-established outcome. Frame toward a pre-established outcome.

    In character, take the train off the rails. Out of character, get it back on.

    Finding satisfying ways to get things back on track is not always trivially easy, but with everyone at the table available to pitch in, it's certainly doable.
  • Interesting!

    I don't disagree with what you're saying at all, but I feel like I'm missing the epiphany here. Do you just mean 'make sure to address the issue/moment in scene framing'?
  • I just found my solution for this!

    Don't roleplay toward a pre-established outcome. Frame toward a pre-established outcome.

    In character, take the train off the rails. Out of character, get it back on.

    Finding satisfying ways to get things back on track is not always trivially easy, but with everyone at the table available to pitch in, it's certainly doable.

    Oh man, I haver to go back and re-read this whole thread, but this snippet may help me to solve a problem I couldn't quite put my finger on for some of the stuff I've been half-assed designing for years.

    If I understand correctly, you're arguing something like Actor Stance within the scene, but regular Author/Director Stance outside/surrounding the scenes? And perhaps making that official?
  • edited January 7

    If I understand correctly, you're arguing something like Actor Stance within the scene, but regular Author/Director Stance outside/surrounding the scenes?

    Essentially, yes.

    But it depends on how "scene" is construed.

    If a "scene" is a unit of play which may jump around in time and location, then you can shift stance within such a scene. The thing that's important to me is that the stance shift be distinct, rather than muddy.

    So, let's say it's my turn to frame a scene in Witch. My character is Sir Thorne. I start out in Director Stance and set up a scene between Thorne and Eloise. Once I'm done describing the situation, I jump into Actor Stance and roleplay out Thorne's actions and speech. As Thorne, I decide to let Eloise go free. I do not think to myself, "Dave, the rules say Eloise can't go free, so play Thorne differently." (Key # 1!) Then, once Thorne has freed Eloise, I shift from Actor Stance to go solve the problem of getting Eloise re-captured in Director Stance. So, I might narrate an avalanche which closes off Eloise's path of escape, forcing her into the area where Ham and Brother Armond are looking for her.

    Or, if it feels really underwhelming to me to be the one meddling with the consequences of my own character's decision, I'll throw it out to someone else:
    "Okay, Eloise's player, tell us what happens to force Eloise back to where Ham and Armond find her."
    "Okay, Armond's player, tell us how Armond sees through Thorne's attempt to cover Eloise's tracks."

    And then, in Director Stance, I will also do what I can to make sure that Thorne's attempt to free the witch, despite failing, still matters. (Key # 2!) So, if necessary, I might narrate something that makes it completely obvious to Armond that Thorne let Eloise go, so now we get to see what comes of that.

    (I'd generally like Thorne's decision to matter in the fiction, but honestly, simply mattering at the table can suffice. If the other players are all like, "Wow, Dave, Thorne has really had an enormous change of heart! Didn't see that coming!" then I'm probably content. :) )

    I started this thread to ask how to hit Key # 1 and Key # 2 without breaking the rules, if possible. After playing the game again last night, now I have my answer: yes, it is possible, as long as I do my character exploration in my preferred fashion (actor stance), and then separately do my situation generation in my preferred fashion for that (director stance with an eye on both the consequences of character actions and creating the rules' pre-established outcome).

    And perhaps making that official?

    If I were re-designing Witch for people like me, yes, I would absolutely make this separation of tasks official.

    I might be in the minority of people who care about such details, though. :)
  • edited January 7

    Or, if it feels really underwhelming to me to be the one meddling with the consequences of my own character's decision, I'll throw it out to someone else:
    "Okay, Eloise's player, tell us what happens to force Eloise back to where Ham and Armond find her."
    "Okay, Armond's player, tell us how Armond sees through Thorne's attempt to cover Eloise's tracks."

    Just to elaborate: obviously in this example I'm still the one deciding roughly how Eloise is recaptured; I'm just enlisting someone else to flesh it out and make it actually happen in the fiction.

    If, on the other hand, I really want nothing at all to do with the recapture, then that should be an option too -- everyone knows where Eloise needs to wind up, so I should be able to leave it to the other players to make that happen. "I made Sir Thorne's decision, now I leave it to you to say what comes of that."

    The more I trust my fellow players to provide something that is both plausible and meaningful, the more hands-off I can be. Somebody needs to do some framing/situation creation/director stance tasks, but it doesn't necessarily have to be me.

    My previous post assumes that it is me, though, as I think that's often the practical solution, according to how Witch apportions responsibilities.
  • edited January 7
    I just realized that a better test case would be, "Thorne decides to release Eloise and kill Ham and Armond to prevent her recapture." But I think the same process applies. I should be able to make that decision as Thorne and then, separately, I/we should be able to get Eloise back on the road to Lindisfarne with some creative authoring/framing. In that situation, my character play would certainly make it harder to frame/author the rules' pre-established outcome, but I'm okay with that. I/we would just need to rise to that challenge.

    The first time I played, the veteran facilitator did not allow me to do this (or, well, something very similar). I'll chalk that up to different preferences/priorities between us. Perhaps they made the correct call in not wanting to take on that particular challenge at a convention.
  • Those are some good observations and takeaways, Dave.

    I was just about to post about how your example was incomplete, but then you got to it above ("..and kill Ham and Armond..."). Because that's where it gets interesting and hairy.

    I'm reading these and kind of torn between "hey, that's really smart!" and "this is blindingly obvious and what everyone does anyway".

    Is the main utility of this understanding just a personal way to separate these issues for yourself (to maximize your enjoyment of the game) - a minor Technique, in other words - or do you see it as a larger issue?

    If you were playing Thorne and you DID decide to free the witch and then kill Ham and Armond, what would be your preferred way of handling it? Would you "step out of character" before the murdering happens, so as to turn resolution over to the group (or go to director stance), or something else?
  • edited January 8
    Paul, I'd say this technique constitutes the key to playing through a structured plot without ever intruding on organic character exploration.

    I think "don't ever intrude" is not something most players require. So perhaps it'd be a minor technique for some. It's pretty big for me, though.

    The majority of folks I've played scripted RPGs with have not engaged this technique, even in cases where I'd wager it would have improved the fun. So, obvious from a distance perhaps, but clearly not obvious in the moment.

    Yes, I would roleplay Thorne's decision to kill Ham and Armond all the way through the point where that decision was final -- let's say "sword in mid-swing". And then I'd stop roleplaying Thorne, and we'd figure out how to get from "sword in mid-swing" to where we needed to wind up (Eloise back on the road to Lindisfarne).

    When I played Mars 244 (a hack of Montsegur 1244), I attempted some pretty bold character stuff that I had to backtrack a bit because the rest of the group wasn't prepared to help dig me out of the hole I was creating relative to the script. Most of the players spent their whole in-character time just talking about their feelings and not trying to change anything, which I found underwhelming. So I think there's a relevant group decision to be made about whether my approach of passionately roleplaying characters as if (in that moment) there is no script is welcome or unwelcome. And then, depending on that decision, different techniques would be appropriate, and those could probably stand to be articulated.
  • I see what you are saying. I wonder how much of that is personal preference? (I'm not sure myself.)

    I think most people might either avoid potentially contentious character actions outright, or switch to author stance roughly at the same time as you are suggesting to turn the thing over to the group (or to step out of character).

    I fought with this a little in our game of Witch, during the "heretics attack" scene. It was very difficult for me to decide in that scene what stance I wasn't occupying and what actions might be relevant or appropriate.

    Lots of food for thought here.
  • I just found my solution for this!

    Don't roleplay toward a pre-established outcome. Frame toward a pre-established outcome.

    In character, take the train off the rails. Out of character, get it back on.

    Finding satisfying ways to get things back on track is not always trivially easy, but with everyone at the table available to pitch in, it's certainly doable.

    I like the way you've put it.

    Even during "free" roleplaying, there is a certain mutual agreement.
    For example, have your PCs move together through the world and adventure.
    Or, i.e. if the game is a dungeon crawl, one of the PCs won't suddenly stop fighting and settle down as a farmer.
    I believe there are lot of unspoken agreements along with the SIS that we go along consciously or unconsciously when we play together.
  • edited January 12

    So, let's say it's my turn to frame a scene in Witch. My character is Sir Thorne. I start out in Director Stance and set up a scene between Thorne and Eloise. Once I'm done describing the situation, I jump into Actor Stance and roleplay out Thorne's actions and speech. As Thorne, I decide to let Eloise go free. I do not think to myself, "Dave, the rules say Eloise can't go free, so play Thorne differently." (Key # 1!) Then, once Thorne has freed Eloise, I shift from Actor Stance to go solve the problem of getting Eloise re-captured in Director Stance. So, I might narrate an avalanche which closes off Eloise's path of escape, forcing her into the area where Ham and Brother Armond are looking for her.

    That's how I was playing... :) I thought it worked.

    Downside: It did create a kind of cognitive dissonance in my head, since part of me was advocating for my character, and part of me was advocating for the game's rules (and the fixed pionts in the plot).

    Upside: I found it to be an interesting constraint on my character and the fiction. Rather than being bound by rolls, I was bound by a fixed plot point. And the results were certainly good!

  • edited January 16
    Demiurge said:

    part of me was advocating for my character, and part of me was advocating for the game's rules (and the fixed points in the plot).

    Yeah. I can't do both at once and really enjoy it. Doing them in sequence, though, worked out just fine, as long as I was clear on which I was doing when.

    One key was to not author actions for my character during scene framing. Happenstance, acts of nature, NPCs, sure -- anything to keep the plot on track except "I guess my character goes this way for the sake of the plot".

    By the way you played Ham, I know you're with me on this! "No, he's not going to do something nonsensical to get himself caught, but he could get injured in a freak avalanche."

    In player mode, you play Ham; in GM mode, you play the avalanche.

    I think it's natural to get muddy with this in Witch, because if it's "your scene", you may well be playing Ham and the environment in the same scene. And if you're bouncing back and forth between describing Ham's actions and describing the pretty scenery, there's really no problem in that case, so it can seem like a natural way to play.

    Heck, I guess it's even possible to play Ham running from an NPC, and then grab the GM hat and narrate the NPC shooting Ham in the back, and then resume playing Ham to beg for mercy, and then GM again and have the NPC ready a fatal blow. But I would find it hard to play Ham in any way that felt authentic to me if I was ping-ponging that fast. Distinct stance shifts suit me much better.
  • Games have constraints. We're used to editing ourselves for setting constraints ("Forgotten Realms doesn't have Volkswagen cars") and those kinds of edits do no violence to our immersion. I think situation constraints can be just as seamless ("Everyone will get to Lindesfarne"). We're just not used to constraints editing future situation, even though "You can't buy a Volkswagen when you get to Lindesfarne" doesn't bother anyone.
  • I tend to see this the same way. "Buying a Volkswagen" isn't, maybe, the best example (because no way is the character you're playing even remotely likely to think that!), but many others are. For instance, as a D&D character, you're not (really) allowed to say, "Hey, you know what? I don't want to be a hero. I want to go back home, get married, have a farm. I'm not going into that dungeon," nor are you (usually, at most tables) allowed to say, "Ooh! These monsters are too scary for me. I put down my sword and I surrender. What do they do with me?", nor, usually, "There are monsters in the dungeon?!? Oh, man, I'd better ride to the capital and let the King know - they'll want to send a detachment of their best men to deal with this." At least not at the beginning of the game, anyway.

    (Yeah, there might be SOME situations where that's OK or even welcome, but for 99.9% of D&D play those things are off the table.)

    At the same time, some constraints are more tricky than others.

    I don't know.
  • Paul_T said:

    as a D&D character, you're not (really) allowed to say, "Hey, you know what? I don't want to be a hero. I want to go back home, get married, have a farm. I'm not going into that dungeon,"

    Many a D&D game has fallen apart from exactly that. (Well, okay, not "get married and farm" specifically, but something else equally incompatible with dungeoneering.)

    D&D players who really want to make decisions in character are plentiful, and the ones who have stuck with it have learned to only make characters who want to go into that dungeon. You do the right kind of work in advance to avoid clashing goals in the future.

    I think Witch entails a similar risk of clash and benefits from a similarly tailored approach.
  • Indeed! My point was to echo Adam here:

    Basically, we're always doing this when we play RPGs.
  • edited January 19
    We're always employing constraints in some fashion, sure. This thread, though, is about working skillfully with a specific sort of constraint. It's very different from "no medieval Volkswagens," which is trivially obvious and easy, and from "don't quit D&D adventuring", which entails different concerns due to different GM/player roles.
  • Yeah, I agree with Dave here. We are used to accepting genre and setting constraints. However, we tend to keep the possible outcomes fluid and (often) determined by some random element. The constraint in Witch is a pretty severe one: the witch must arrive to Lindisfarne alive and in a cage. And this is an unusual constraint in that it's on the conclusion to the action.

    There is My Life With Master that has a similarly constrained ending. Any other games you can think of?



  • Paul_T said:

    as a D&D character, you're not (really) allowed to say, "Hey, you know what? I don't want to be a hero. I want to go back home, get married, have a farm. I'm not going into that dungeon," nor are you (usually, at most tables) allowed to say, "Ooh! These monsters are too scary for me. I put down my sword and I surrender. What do they do with me?", nor, usually, "There are monsters in the dungeon?!? Oh, man, I'd better ride to the capital and let the King know - they'll want to send a detachment of their best men to deal with this."

    This made me smile. :) I can see that you've put some thought into this, Mr. OSR. :p

    --Jonathan

  • edited January 20
    I see less of a distinction between the two than you guys do, I think.

    When I play D&D, I know I need to envision my character as someone who is absolutely committed to going into the dungeon, with the adventuring party, before I even start, because that's the premise of the game.

    When I play Witch, I know I need to envision my character as someone who is absolutely committed to getting the witch to Lindisfarne, caged, before I even start, because that's the premise of the game.

    But arguing over that distinction isn't terribly fruitful, and may have to do with some subtle stance things (perhaps "are you able to envision such commitments in-character while playing out a scene?" or something like that).

    The takeaway point might be to think about how to identify such constraints, perhaps. How do we do so for any give notice game we might play? And how do we get better at flagging those things, as a designer?

    And, second, how do we find a way to do that (the above) within our preferred stance/approach? That might be worth considering. What's your personal solution?

    I'm pretty sure that *my* approach is what I described above: I strongly envision what I see as the premise when I conceive of the character.

    So, my Thorne was 100% convinced that he (and everyone he cares about) can only survive the plague if the witch is brought to Lindisfarne, and that's enough for me. That's the very heart of the character, just like my D&D character I see committed to being a hero and fighting evil (to go against Jon's OSR label for a second ;) ). As Dave points out, I can handle other discongruities out of character, through social negotiation, between scenes.

    Dave and Jon: is there a reason that approach wouldn't work - or wouldn't be sufficient - for you?
  • Paul, when you conceived your Thorne, which of these did you do?

    Thorne is, and will remain, absolutely committed to burning the witch, regardless of what happens in play.

    Thorne starts out absolutely committed to burning the witch, which may change during play. If it does change, and he wants to free the witch, he will only do so after she is brought to Lindisfarne, because of [reason you never shared with us so I can't guess it].


    If you did the latter, well done! Tell us what Thorne's reason was!

    If you did the former, I think you missed out on the entire purpose of playing Witch.

    If there's a third option I'm missing, please fill me in?
  • Interesting question!

    I came up with the idea that he was (or believed he was) infected by the Plague very early on. You'll recall him lifting up and kissing a small child suffering of the Plague on our first scene.

    I wasn't yet sure whether he already knew about it, or whether that moment would just foreshadow him getting sick later.

    I also decided that he must believe in the IDEA that burning a witch could redeem and save us all (or at least himself), so that he had a purpose to be on the journey in the first place.

    Beyond that, I wanted to stay open to exploring his feelings for the Witch as the game went along. There were scenes where I felt he was sympathetic to the witch (remember, I'd established that he thought he might be her illegitimate father!), and other scenes where he thought burning her was worth it.

    I also established in my mind (via those flashbacks/vignettes) that Thorne had been traumatized by being forced to carry out immoral orders during the Crusades, so he wouldn't do anything just because someone ordered him to.

    That gave me a character who had a variety of possible motivations and reasons to either go along with the burning or to go turn against it.

    I also realized after a handful of scenes that Thorne was searching for a moral authority, which he found in Brother Armond.

    I very deliberately didn't actually commit to a decision until the final scene, because that seemed to me like the most interesting way to play the game - if the whole point was to make this decision, then making it upfront would be undercutting the purpose of the game. (Like deciding what bets you're going to make before you even meet your Poker opponent or see your cards.)

    However - and I guess this is the important part here - I very deliberately established a character for myself who wouldn't be, say, automatically opposed to the idea of witchery and human sacrifice from the get-go. If that was Thorne, his most rational course of action would be to let her out of the cage at the first possible opportunity and flee into the countryside with her, running from the guards or fleeing the country.

    No, he had to be the kind of character who had the potential to believe in this whole thing, or turn against it, depending on how things played out. That, to me, was the whole point of playing. I would give the character a starting position and then vicariously experience his final decision, depending on how the journey shaped his feelings about the whole situation.

    But he WAS committed to taking the Witch to Lindisfarne. In my mind he saw that as a way to repay the moral debt of being a deserter in the Crusades - carrying out this task, at whatever cost, was his way of redeeming himself and his honour and he would not flinch from it.
  • edited January 22
    Paul_T said:

    he had to be the kind of character who had the potential to believe in this whole thing, or turn against it, depending on how things played out. That, to me, was the whole point of playing. I would give the character a starting position and then vicariously experience his final decision, depending on how the journey shaped his feelings about the whole situation.

    Cool. We agree on the point of play, and on what's basically required for that.
    Paul_T said:

    But he WAS committed to taking the Witch to Lindisfarne. In my mind he saw that as a way to repay the moral debt of being a deserter in the Crusades - carrying out this task, at whatever cost, was his way of redeeming himself and his honour and he would not flinch from it.

    So, if you took her to be executed, and then got to the execution site, and then freed her, you'd consider your honor redeemed? That doesn't make any sense to me, but it's not my character, so it doesn't have to. As long as that makes sense to you, that your Thorne could see it that way, then that's perfect.

    "Have an in-character reason why, even if you eventually decide to free the witch, you will NOT do it until Lindisfarne," is a great technique, IMO. If you nail that, then perhaps nothing else is required.

    That said, I assume the designers didn't put that in the rules because 4 acts without even the possibility of any attempts to free the witch makes for a less interesting story and game. So I think it's probably necessary that your technique remain one of many, and that other techniques are required for characters who do decide they'd like to free the witch in Act 2.
  • You're right that there is a bit of a grey area there. We'd prefer the characters to be committed to the premise the game expects from them, but we also need them to be believable.

    Surely, there is a level of circumstance to which Thorne's only reasonable response would be to free the Witch. (Because to do otherwise would simply break our suspension of disbelief.)

    How do we deal with that "grey area"? Both pitfalls are game-breakers, in my opinion.

    However, the idea that we can have attempts to free the Witch (which I'm using as shorthand for any actions which deviate from the agreed-upon plot) but that we all know that we will reverse their effects by consensus before moving to the next scene or Act doesn't excite or inspire me a whole lot.
    It's a sort of false tension we're pretending to harness which doesn't do it for me.

    The particular idea of "attempts to free
    the Witch" is interesting, because it still plays into the premise (a judgement on her eventual fate) and adds to the characters.

    But there are also many other such options which would not add anything to the game, by refusing to engage with the themes of the game.

    Ultimately, to me, I think that is a matter of taste rather than something which has a clear answer.

    I can see having an interesting game of Witch where the entire group decides to free her - or to kill her! - in the third scene.

    That would be a failure to play the game for some people, and a resounding success for others (depending on how compelling it was to them).

    If I felt that was a really cool and compelling outcome, I wouldn't want it reversed in director stance between scenes: I'd want it played to the hilt.

    It's not an obvious thing to negotiate, though! And the game's design doesn't support it.

    It seems to me that it's a question of how reliable, fun, functional, and predictable you want your gaming experience to be.

    Like any other art form, I don't think there is a simple, clear, objective answer.

    In that sense it's not too different from the constraints of any other RPG. If your d&d adventurers quit the module you're running, you're suddenly on your own. Do you see that as a failure to play the game, or an exciting development into a new direction? Depends.
  • edited January 22
    Instead of flat out cancelling the freeing of the witch, you can play riddles with logic : if we can't free the witch, the thing we freed is not the witch. If Mrs Bates is alive, who's in the grave of Mrs Bates at the cemetery? Not a man. Not born from a man. The forest of Birnam, etc. Stories are full of them.
    It still requires writer intervention, but it's nothing like an "undo" move.
  • Paul_T said:

    the idea that we can have attempts to free the Witch (which I'm using as shorthand for any actions which deviate from the agreed-upon plot) but that we all know that we will reverse their effects by consensus before moving to the next scene or Act doesn't excite or inspire me a whole lot.

    It's a sort of false tension we're pretending to harness which doesn't do it for me.

    Interesting. I see the character tension as being over the witch's escape, but the player tension as being over the (inevitably failed) attempt's impact on the character. Both tensions are interesting from the correct frame of reference. Just gotta learn when to switch frames.
    Paul_T said:

    I can see having an interesting game of Witch where the entire group decides to free her - or to kill her! - in the third scene.

    That would be a failure to play the game for some people, and a resounding success for others (depending on how compelling it was to them).

    If I felt that was a really cool and compelling outcome, I wouldn't want it reversed in director stance between scenes: I'd want it played to the hilt.

    Hmm. I dunno, I think that's a straight-up social contract thing. If everyone at the table is stoked about ending the game in scene 3, why wouldn't you?

    But if not everyone is stoked, then probably best to honor the initial agreement to play by the rules.
    Paul_T said:

    In that sense it's not too different from the constraints of any other RPG. If your d&d adventurers quit the module you're running, you're suddenly on your own. Do you see that as a failure to play the game, or an exciting development into a new direction? Depends.

    Same answer. If you agreed not to do that, and anyone objects, honor your agreement. If no one objects, cool, update your agreement! If no agreement was ever formed, well, time to get on that. :)
  • Agreed on all that! Absolutely.

    For me, though, the aesthetic/artistic aspect is important, as well as the social contract. Like, if we all agreed to see the game through but it's not fun, I'd rather we change what we're doing.

    I'll think on the "character tension" thing. My solution would normally be to author my own corrective, I think. It's easier for me to come up with an in-character reason why my character hesitates and doesn't actually rescue her (so long as we that tension on-screen!) than it would be to commit to the rescue and then have to perform mental gymnastics to justify why the character wouldn't just try again in the next scene. That feels smoother and more organic and would allow me to stay in-character more easily. (I think; I haven't played a lot of these fixed-plot games!)
  • Paul_T said:

    the aesthetic/artistic aspect is important, as well as the social contract. Like, if we all agreed to see the game through but it's not fun, I'd rather we change what we're doing.

    I agree in principle, but I'm not sure how that applies here.

    Are you saying that ensuring the witch gets to Lindisfarne, regardless of character decisions to the contrary, is artistically underwhelming and you'd rather play a different game?
    Paul_T said:

    It's easier for me to come up with an in-character reason why my character hesitates and doesn't actually rescue her

    Huh! I mean, I agree it's easy, but for me it also ruins the exercise of using the character to address the situation. If you feel otherwise, then there's no dilemma, and this thread is probably a big waste of your time. :tongue:
  • edited January 22


    Are you saying that ensuring the witch gets to Lindisfarne, regardless of character decisions to the contrary, is artistically underwhelming and you'd rather play a different game?

    Oh, not at all! Just that the execution matters. If we're all doing the "we're committed to getting to Lindisfarne together" in a way which is cool and compelling, I'm enjoying the game. But if it feels uninspired because everyone feels their character would actually abandon the journey and free the witch, then we're failing.

    Contrariwise, if we all decide that our characters abandon the journey, and that *feels right* and is compelling to us, then that's what we should do.

    That's why it's not just a social contract issue to me; it's also about what happens in the fiction and how it feels in the moment.

    Once we get to that point, though, as you say, it becomes purely about the people and we have to negotiate at the human level.

    It's certainly *safer* to just agree to the premise before we play (in this case, that the witch will reach Lindisfarne alive and caged), but then we run into the problem you're describing here.

    Again, for me it's much easier to do if I author that as a character motivation to begin with. It's not difficult for me to picture that my character has a strong sense of duty or obligation he's rationalized for himself. In this case it was something like, "I see it as my moral duty to bring this girl to Lindisfarne, no matter what, and I will see myself as a failure if I do not do that, at a level which is completely unacceptable to me", but also that I've kind of failed to think it through and could totally change my mind about the "burning to death" part.

    This isn't weird for me, nor hard to believe - people do this kind of thing all the time, where they fail to think something through until they get to the end of the road and are suddenly struck with something they hadn't considered. Rationalizing that away is very human, in my experience of our land-dwelling species!

    Maybe, in our case, Thorne was convinced that he was doing god's work, and, therefore, surely the divine spirit would intercede and give him the courage and determination to do what needs to be done by the end of the journey, even he didn't have it now?

    He could just commit to making good on the journey, and then leave the final decision in the hands of god. :)


    Huh! I mean, I agree it's easy, but for me it also ruins the exercise of using the character to address the situation. If you feel otherwise, then there's no dilemma, and this thread is probably a big waste of your time. :tongue:

    So, this part is pretty interesting!

    My impression here seems to be different from yours. I feel that, by creating a motivated character who is basically in line with the premise of the game, I do *far less* violence to the integrity of the character.

    It's much easier for me to imagine, in-character, that my character might hesitate just a little longer and not rescue the witch just yet (I suppose because character and audience interests are lining up here, and it's just very plausible to me) than it would be to play out the rescue attempt and then somehow step out of character and contrive a way to get the character back on track. That would take me out of character far more.

    In other words, given the endpoint the game presents, it's fairly easy for me to rationalize the character holding off on his decision until we reach Lindisfarne than it would be to commit fully to impulses in the moment and then, afterwards, have to retcon and "rewrite" that somehow from director stance. In the former case, I feel like I am very much "using the character to address the situation". In the latter, it's like I have to, first, "use the character to address the situation", but then also somehow remove the consequences of that action in "editing", making it more or less meaningless as well doing violence to the character concept (or, at least, the integrity of the character's psychological state, as it exists in my imagination).

    I'm not 100% sure we're talking about the same thing, though, and neither do I have a great deal of experience with this kind of play. Does that make more or less sense than what I said before?

    I find the question this thread poses *extremely* valuable and relevant - it's certainly not a waste of time! In fact, I'm pretty sure we're looking for solutions to the same problem, so it's interesting to see whether we, in fact, have different priorities/preferences when it comes to this kind of thing or we're just misunderstanding each other.
  • Paul_T said:

    It's certainly *safer* to just agree to the premise before we play (in this case, that the witch will reach Lindisfarne alive and caged), but then we run into the problem you're describing here.

    I'd rather play Witch as designed and solve whatever problems that creates. We have other games to play when we want other things.
    Paul_T said:

    by creating a motivated character who is basically in line with the premise of the game, I do *far less* violence to the integrity of the character.

    "Basically in line" is handed to you. It's built into the pre-gens. There's no debate around "basically in line with the premise of the game". Yes, do that, everyone, always. This thread assumes that.

    All we're doing is troubleshooting within that. We're talking about the character who has real reasons to take the witch to Lindisfarne and then, in play, discovers stronger reasons not to.
    Paul_T said:

    it's fairly easy for me to rationalize the character holding off on his decision until we reach Lindisfarne than it would be to commit fully to impulses in the moment

    You definitely do not have the problem that I started this thread to address. This thread is about how to work with not wanting to do the thing you just called "fairly easy".

    Maybe start a new thread to specify what problem you do see here?
  • edited January 23
    There's another technique that hasn't been mentioned in this thread. One that I like a lot. Perhaps it's not David's cup of tea, though. Or perhaps it's two different, related techniques.

    Technique 1: Why would my character not do that?
    This technique is about inventing a reason on the fly. I realize it feels like my character really would free the witch now. This thing would set him over the edge. But I know he won't. Why? I invent a reason in his background, in the situation, in his though process. Perhaps he looks at the witch and sees something that causes him to doubt again. Perhaps he has a flashback to a scene where he let a criminal go and that criminal killed his uncle (the Spiderman trick!). Etc. Make up a reason.

    Technique 2: Why don't I do that?
    This is an amazing technique that has led to some of the best gaming experiences of my life. I look at the witch. I can't take it. She's obviously innocent. The right thing to do is to let her go. I'm a good man who always do the right thing. And yet ... I don't do it. I just sit here. I can tell she's innocent and I'm too cowardly to let her go.
    Doing something that breaks with my image of the character and, even worse, breaks with my character's image of himself, can be really powerful. This can trigger a major identity crisis in my character. I'm not the person I thought I was. When push comes to shove I don't stand up straight and do what's right, but rather sit here and do nothing, because nobody else is doing anything. That's a pretty realistic scenario (look up the bystander effect), too.

    I've used these techniques a number of times when the rules tell me to do something that I feel is out of character. Just rolling with it and saying "OK, so I do this thing (or I don't do this thing). What does that mean for the story and/or character?" can create some really interesting things, and in the second case, trigger a major turning point in the character. It's probably not something that David will like, since he's into straight Actor Stance, but I really like it.
  • edited January 24
    Simon,

    That's excellent. It's exactly what I was trying to describe in terms of "my approach"; you articulated it far better, though. Well put! That's what I do in such games, and I find it quite plausible.

    Dave,

    I'll have to think about what you wrote there. It feels like we're miscommunicating, and I can't quite put my finger on where.

    You definitely do not have the problem that I started this thread to address. This thread is about how to work with not wanting to do the thing you just called "fairly easy".

    No, I think it's relevant. I'm poking at it because the technique you're describing, for me, does more violence to the experience of playing the game in-character, rather than less. So, I recognize the problem, but I feel like the solution you're talking about sounds like a lot more work to me, not less. I don't know if that's a question of technique, something we're imagining differently in our heads, or straight-up player preference.

    I'll ponder it further! I'm equally thrown/confused by your reply in the other thread, so maybe I'll step back and think things over for a few days and then get back to you.


    Quick edit: The reason the whole scene with the heretics/cultists attacking the travelers was difficult for me was for (I think) exactly them same - or perhaps just very very closely related - reason. In short, a constraint had been applied to the story (in this case, the danger and its very specific resolution), and that made it really hard to play my character authentically: I was thrown entirely out of Actor Stance, but without the authority to narrate my own outcome outside of character, as well. We should probably stick to discussing that in the other thread, but I thought I'd mention it here, because I see it as part of the same phenomenon (or, at least, it feels really similar to me).
  • edited January 25
    Paul_T said:

    I'm poking at it because the technique you're describing, for me, does more violence to the experience of playing the game in-character, rather than less. So, I recognize the problem, but I feel like the solution you're talking about sounds like a lot more work to me, not less.

    Yeah, my solution is definitely more work.

    We just disagree on the "more violence" part. My feeling is the opposite of yours on that front.
    Paul_T said:

    a constraint had been applied to the story (in this case, the danger and its very specific resolution), and that made it really hard to play my character authentically

    If you thought that playing your character authentically would break the game, then I'd say you were incorrect, as I was prepared to work with whatever Thorne did. We can discuss that in the other thread. But yeah, if you had been correct, and there had been plot constraints beyond the fictional constraints, then I agree that it's the exact same type of problem as "get the witch to Lindisfarne no matter what choices the characters make".
  • Dave,

    I'll follow up here briefly. First, is your solution "more work", but doing less violence to the character? Naturally, we're not necessarily going to agree on this 100%, since we're talking largely about player preference and personal experience.

    However, I can try to explain my point of view. Perhaps that would be helpful!

    I think that the use of one type of solution over the other really depends heavily on the specifics. I really don't think that one is always going to be better than the other; the particular situation matters a great deal. Having this other technique, in that sense, is really handy, and I'll be keeping it close by in my future gaming. Where I disagree, though, is that it's categorically better.

    We have the first approach, which is to consider the constraints of the game as you're playing, and to keep an eye on the developing fiction for possible conflicts. This requires a little bit of effort/attention all the time, which is not ideal (although, as Adam and I seem to have argued, that's pretty much always present in gaming). When a possible conflict occurs, the player tries to compromise on their current idea of how to play the character in the minimal way necessary to make their choices in the scene more in line with the constraints of the game.

    In the second approach, we free ourselves to play the character "in the moment", but, at the same time, keep an eye on the developing fiction for possible conflicts, so we can "pause" the action or cut the scene, and then revert to an out-of-character perspective to "fix" the problem. I like the clarity involved in separating the two phases; that's definitely a strength of the technique.

    However, I am arguing that this *still* requires us to keep an eye on what's developing and then to remember to pause or reframe early enough to catch the problem. (Or, otherwise, to retcon after the fact, which I find pretty suboptimal.)

    Where the "violence to the character" comes in has to do with the nature of the editing/change we have to get into.

    For illustration, let's take your earlier problem example:

    Somewhere along the journey, Sir Thorne decides that he should free the witch and kill the others.

    How do we play this?

    If I'm using the first technique, I become aware that this contradicts the pre-established plot constraints. Now I ponder, from his perspective, if there might be some way to reconcile those two demands. Very often, I find, a very simple and entirely believable solution presents itself.

    For instance: perhaps I decide that Sir Thorne is now convinced that the Witch is innocent and that he is willing to kill the others, as above, BUT I also decide that he doesn't feel capable of fighting the others. It wouldn't be hard to justify: I can narrate that his sword is broken, decide that he has weakness or illness, simply assume that is afraid of one of the others because of something he heard, decide that he thinks he will be paid or otherwise rewarded when he reaches Lindisfarne, and that's worth sticking around for, and so on. I would pick something which aligns very naturally with what we've established so far - chances are that there is some bit of fiction or character dynamics which would easily justify the choice.

    Most easily and reasonably, however, I could even do far better and easier: yes, Thorne *wants* to do this, but he is suffering from indecision and moral cowardice. He will hold off until the last possible moment, because he's afraid to actually make this decision.

    Or, perhaps, there is something about Lindisfarne that makes him feel his plan is more likely to work once we get there. (For example, maybe Thorne decides in that moment that the journey is long, and the others are likely to fall sick or die before we get there, so it's to his advantage to delay as long as possible.)

    By picking an option that's very closely in line with his character, personality, and the circumstances, I do very little "violence" to the character. Often, to me, it doesn't even feel like any kind of "violence", because I'm filling a whole in the fiction in my mind that hasn't been established yet. (For example, in our game, I had hinted that Thorne was infected with the Plague, but we didn't know the extent of that. It would be easy to decide that he was, in fact, in terrible pain and suffering (perhaps to the point where he is afraid to even try to pick up his own sword!), but had been hiding this so far, out of pride. That doesn't change much about the character or how I (in this example) was picturing him, not at all - it just adds another detail I hadn't been sure about. Game fiction is pretty much always full of such little lacunae we haven't described or decided yet; all I have to do is think of one and colour it in appropriately.)

    In this sense, it feels very natural and very organic. It's also interesting to play out - I can spend the rest of the game hinting at his inner conflict, experiencing it as the player, and so forth (and it will enrich the game going forward, for everyone). Deciding that Thorne will hesitate is very natural, very believable, and doesn't force me to change much (if anything) about how this character acts and feels. Moments later, I'm back to playing the character, no terrible damage done, and I'm still 100% "in the game".

    The alternative, under the second technique, if I'm understanding it correctly, is that I follow my impulses rather unabashedly, and we go to the point of Thorne letting the Witch out of the cage, and, perhaps, even to the point of swinging his sword down onto the sleeping forms of his companions... and then we pause the action and start brainstorming how we get out of this mess.

    This has many benefits, too, and one of the main ones is the drama and excitement of such decisive action taking place: that would be a cool scene! I like the freedom this gives us.

    However, where it gets difficult for me is that now... well, here we are, Thorne with his sword raised, and it's not exactly clear how we will get out of this, and we start negotiating and brainstorming. In my mind, though, Thorne is committed: there's not much room for changing his mind here - after all, he's deliberated about this long enough that he's gone through with the whole plan, including letting the Witch out of her cage and committing to the murder of his companions.

    NOW I'm supposed to conceive of some convoluted way not only to justify how the murders don't happen, but also how the Witch is recaptured (granted, that's probably the easiest part), and, as well, how Thorne can be placated or intimidated into agreeing to back down and not to try this again. Given how much he's put on the line to do this in the first place, what would that even take?

    This part, to me, feels like rewriting the character, his priorities, his interests, and the fictional situation in general. I am now completely at odds with the character, too, as a player/author, because I am forced to advocate against his best interests. It's very likely that whatever we come up with could change the very character concept dramatically, perhaps even to the point where I don't like him anymore or don't understand who he is.
  • Keep in mind that's not *always* going to play out like this; especially, given less commitment to an irrevocable course of action, the latter could sometimes be easier and smoother. But my experience has often been close to the example I just described.

    In fact, I think we saw that in our own game: once Ham let the Witch go and fled from the group, we had a very similar situation. Ham had decided he was going to go. But we reframed the scene so it was believable that he would be caught. But, what now? He was still convinced he should go (and we hadn't decided to force such a complete character change as to make him want to stay). And that's exactly what he did in the very next scene. In other words, if our goal was to stick to the pre-established plot constraints, we failed completely (i.e. he never made it to Lindisfarne). If our goal was to ensure that his actions had consequences, no matter whether they followed the plot constraints or not, then we failed at that, too (i.e. we would have been better off just having him flee successfully the first time he tried).

    That's rather long-winded, but I hope it illustrates my experience with this kind of thing. Again, it's not 100% consistent; there will be situations where it might be the other way around. For me, I think, keeping both techniques under my hat for now seems like the most reasonable choice.
  • edited January 28
    other thread. But yeah, if you had been correct, and there had been plot constraints beyond the fictional constraints, then I agree that it's the exact same type of problem as "get the witch to Lindisfarne no matter what choices the characters make".
    This is a difficult tack to take. From your perspective, sure, maybe you were 100% committed to respecting any decisions made by the players. (I'm not sure, though; if we had come up with some clever way of scaring the Heretics away, would you have eagerly embraced that, or - even at a subconscious level! - tried to sabotage our attempts, since that would spoil the cool "Witch saves them from a desperate situation" scene you were setting up?)

    In any case, it doesn't matter, because what I'm talking about is my own personal experience of playing the character in that scene. Once it became clear to me that you were committed to pushing the fiction strongly in a particular direction, I could no longer play the character authentically, because, instead, I was painfully aware that the current events in play weren't truly open-ended, but served a particular agenda. This may be a shortcoming I have as a player (I've struggled with this in many/most freeform games I've ever played, which is why I often don't like them [*], so it's not just specific to this game and this experience), perhaps. I don't know. I can't really imagine not feeling this way, but maybe you don't! (Again, I'm talking about an inner/personal psychological experience, not making some truth claims for every player and about all roleplaying.)

    So, for me, the common point is that I am finding it difficult to play purely from Actor Stance because I am aware that (in this case, another player's) fictional constraints limit the ways in which I can play my character. I could tell that you were pushing hard from a certain outcome, which meant we were no longer doing open-ended freeform collaborative "yes, and" improv roleplaying; instead, I had to conform to the constraints of the scene or run into a (social level) conflict with you.


    [*] : In fact, interestingly for this thread, I find plot constraints such as in Witch to be, perhaps paradoxically, freeing! Knowing that we're all on the same page about where things are headed makes it far easier for me to be comfortable playing the character, since I have a much better idea of what kinds of "moves" are available to me in the game before we run into a conflict of interests between the players.

    The constraints here help, rather than hinder, me when it comes to freeform roleplaying.

  • (As a sidenote, I may have just explained the appeal of Emma's style of play to myself here, indirectly. I'll have to ponder that further! Emma, if you have any thoughts on the matter, please do share.)
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