Playing toward partially pre-established outcomes

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  • Yeah, that's definitely part of the appeal.

    You also kind of said something that was a downside of certain play structures for you that is so much part of the point of using some of those structures for my group and I. You talked about fictional constraints and stuff force you to play outside of Actor Stance, and make Actor Stance difficult for you, which is expressly part of the point for my group and I. We expressly avoid Actor Stance. We view Actor Stance as directly antithetical to what we want in play, but it's something that it's easy to accidentally fall into when you get into situations of Bleed (which, Bleed is something highly desirable for us), so we enjoy having mechanics specifically to pull us out of Actor Stance and back into the Author/Director hybrid that we want to be playing in. It's in a way like Bertolt Brecht's verfremdungseffekt. It specifically disallows us from falling into passive audience-like routines and puts us into a "writer's room" kind of space again, which is where our play thrives, and what our play is deeply based in. The sort of stories we want to tell can't be accomplished with a passive audience-like routine. They can only be properly told when we're engaged as authors, when we're all fully invested in our roles as dramaturges - as the authors of the fiction, not the characters in the fiction.
    (There's also the fact that "open-ended" and "improv" are not really terms we would use to describe our play at all. We're big believers in the idea that the more time we've had to plan and discuss and prepare and set up a scene, the better it's going to be, whereas if we just jump into it in a thoroughly improvisational and open-ended manner, it's not going to meet our quality standards as artists.)
  • I really like that perspective, Emma, and the clarity with which you are presenting it. It's definitely worth thinking about!

    When the "indie games" movement started to take form, I think this was a large part of the appeal for a lot of people: to create structures that force, free, or encourage us to think as authors and to make the games and the stories as potent and aesthetically well-formed as they could be.

    In contrast, there is the traditional view of the roleplaying game as a "virtual experience", and the (often) unexamined assumption that this is always the ideal, the goal, and the dream.

    Since the "indie games" movement passed (or became the new normal, depending how you want to look at it), people started to talk about and write games which somewhat consciously wanted to return to that older conception of roleplaying (I'm talking about everything from RPG.net to Apocalypse World to the OSR movement when I say this).

    Your post here is a good reminder of how important that conscious authorship is to the quality of the games we are playing - at least for some of us, some of the time. I'll spend some time thinking about that.

    ...

    On a sidenote: I have a question for you about that, but it might be a distraction from this thread. I'm going to start it elsewhere, and link you here:

    Play Before Play, the Scripted Experience

  • Yeah, that's definitely something I've noticed within the indie games movement.
    There's a lot of older stuff that appeals to me, but then the whole neotrad/"orthodox narrativist" movement (PbtA, Fate, etc.) just falls totally flat for me because of how much it's going for that older style of roleplaying with the only real change being mechanics that make it work significantly better than it used to, and that are just generally much less complicated and confusing.
    With how much modern indie design is attached to that platonic ideal of the "virtual experience", there's not so many games that provide anything for me at all, with the exception of weird outlier stuff like CMWGE that doesn't really fit into the rest of the modern indie movement.
  • edited January 2019
    I pretty much agree with Emma that the director’s stance is what works best in these kind of GMless games (caveat added in the addendum below)...that doesn’t mean you can’t straddle the line but you need to be extra aware of the shape of the story for most GMless games to thrive.

    @David_Berg, I think the reason taking the character’s perspective works for you in GMless games, is that you’re a naturally gifted storyteller, so you can get away with focusing solely on your character and still doing a good job story-wise. You very rarely get “writers block” and have a real talent for smooth improvisation and staying in the scene.

    Addendum: when I say above, that: “The director’s stance works best in these kind of GMless games,” I only mean it works best if one is narrating the scene from their character’s perspective, with them as the focus of the scene (like in a game of Fiasco), not when the group is playing GMless games in a rotating-GM style. I discuss this topic further in my post below.
  • Since the "indie games" movement passed (or became the new normal, depending how you want to look at it), people started to talk about and write games which somewhat consciously wanted to return to that older conception of roleplaying (I'm talking about everything from RPG.net to Apocalypse World to the OSR movement when I say this).
    On the other hand, it seems pretty obvious that for lots of people, returning to that style of play with the experience of conscious authorship fundamentally alters the dynamics of how we play. I think that the consent to uncertainty that is at the heart of serious Play to Find Out play is in many ways a logical extension of the lessons learned from the early storygaming era.
  • edited January 2019
    Honestly, now that I think about it, when I play GMless games with you guys—i.e. Paul, David & Jonathan—we almost always play in the character stance, but it only works for our group for two reasons.

    We are pretty good at naturally dividing up authority; we almost always play the game as rotating GMs. Rather than narrate mainly from our own character’s perspective, which is the more frequent stance groups take when playing GMless games; we, instead, take turns describing a scene for the group to play out, like a traditional GM does. So we play GMless games like rotating GMed games, and only challenge the GMs authority in the rare instance the narrative disturbs our sense of versatilitude.

    Also, we have all GMed games and played a lot of RPGs; so—even though we can be perfectionists and can focus on any hiccups that happen during our session—our stories and characters typically much more naturally coherent and well crafted than the other games I play in. I probably have the least GMing experience in our group and probably have the most moments of “writers block” when we play; however, in the GMless games I play with other groups, with players who are less experienced at playing GMless games—and wherein we play from the more typical GMless stance (where the story is told from the perspective of the current narrator’s character and the scene is about their character’s goals, like how one would play Fiasco)—I’m always the big idea person, and everyone else has “writer’s block” and it falls on me to weave together a coherent and properly structured story together. This is why, in this typical GMless style, there is a necessary focus on telling a good story as the main goal of the game.

    Quite frankly, playing GMless game’s from a rotating GM stance typically makes it simply easier to tell a naturally coherent story; the focus is on the outer world and environment and the actions of NPC, with each PC responding. Whereas, telling the story from the current narrator’s perspective and focusing on pursuing that character’s goals often involves summarizing background plot information and lots of improving of dialogue with less of the outer world and environment sketched out, and that leaves a lot of the story left to dialogue that can end up going many unexpected directions. I’m not sure I’ve described it properly, but basically in a GMless game everyone focuses on playing their particular character and persuading their character’s given objective during their turn, and in a rotating GMed game players take the GMs stance on their turn.

    We play in a different style than is typical when playing these games and this rotating GM style is very necessary to successfully make the main focus of the game be character exploration, rather than the focus being on the telling of a good story, as is usually the necessary focus and challenge when playing from the typical GMless stance.

    Also, since we are all experienced players and most of us are experienced GMs (especially David), we are able to also create stories that typically have satisfying narrative arcs and so forth; especially, when we work together and can quickly overcome differences in creative directions—BTW, I think that introducing the “How about...” technique, which I outlined in the Which: thread—perhaps with the addition of the “What other way could you see this scene playing out?” technique—would really help speed things up and help to get everyone on the same page when we have trouble coming to a narrative consensus.

    A final thought: I think we can sometimes pick our story’s shortcomings to death—which I would argue is an unhealthy impulse and ultimately defeatist. We should instead focus on the overwhelming interesting, creativive and frankly amazing stories we tell together. I think our Dog Eat Dog and Sorcerer games were about as good as it gets; and our Life with Master game has been super interesting and full of creativity so far, David’s character and the obsession the Master has with his inhuman, mechanical parts is beyond awesome.
  • Jeff,

    That's a very interesting perspective! I have lots of thoughts, but I wonder if this is the right thread for them. Perhaps Dave will let us know - and, if he says it isn't, we can move the conversation elsewhere (or even in private).

    I do find the distinction you're trying to draw between GMless and rotating GM styles worth thinking about. though I'm not sure I see it the same way you do. Would you agree that the Tabletop Fiasco episode is a perfect example of your "GMless style", as you describe it here?
  • edited January 2019

    I do find the distinction you're trying to draw between GMless and rotating GM styles worth thinking about. though I'm not sure I see it the same way you do. Would you agree that the Tabletop Fiasco episode is a perfect example of your "GMless style", as you describe it here?
    Yes, I think that Fiasco is a good example, and I think that people play this way most of the time in GMless games, because many/most of these games tell the players to focus on their character on their turn. In essence, their scene is supposed to be about their character in some way, and their turn is when their character’s supposed to be in the spotlight. So it’s natural for people to play out their scene as if they are just playing their character, while also adding some minimum narrative details for context.

  • Some nuggets about plot, setting and dialog regarding player perspective, @Jeff_Slater
  • @DeReel,

    I’m not sure I know what you are specificity asking. Could you ask it in a more specific and detailed way to help me understand what your after? Thanks :)
  • edited January 2019
    Not asking anything. I am saying that you give lots of useful informations and I am specially referring to the description from "Quite frankly" to "other turn".
  • Ohh...gotcha. Thanks :smile:
  • I think this thread is done talking about the initial premise, so wherever y'all wanna go from here is fine by me. :tongue:
  • edited February 2019
    I think we can sometimes pick our story’s shortcomings to death—which I would argue is an unhealthy impulse and ultimately defeatist.
    Perhaps you should opt out of those discussions then -- I don't want to ruin your fun! For my part, I can compartmentalize (a) my desire to mine for design takeaways from (b) my appreciation of our awesome stories just fine. :) I apologize if it's not apparent that that's what I'm doing. I'm totally with you that we've been doing great stuff!

    Separately, great points upthread about our style being particular to who we are as people and gamers, and not just a product of the textual systems we're using. Our Witch game may be a particularly good example of that. I've heard lots of great accounts of lots of great Witch games... and every single one of them has been facilitated by a person with tons of experience in GMful/GMless gaming. I have no idea what would happen if the game were picked up in a very different context.
  • Well said, Dave.

    I'm exactly on the same page as you. Jeff, if our picking everything apart is getting to you, we can hold off, or leave you out of it. I think that, for me and Dave, anyway, it's part of the fun. (And, as I said in our other chat, I would have way less to say if the games weren't enjoyable or interesting.)
  • edited February 2019
    For my part, I can compartmentalize (a) my desire to mine for design takeaways from (b) my appreciation of our awesome stories just fine. :)
    David,

    That’s actually a really good point that I didn’t think of. I was thinking about the other Witch: thread when I said we can sometimes pick our stories apart, and I hadn’t considered how the analysis, that we’d been doing there, could be insightful in terms of game design. I don’t know why I commented about it in this thread because it just confused things and didn’t apply.

    The design discussion in this thread has actually been super insightful. It’s convinced me that I want the games I’m currently working on to either have a GM or a Rotating GM format (because I think the GMless format—as I’ve defined it above—can create unique difficulties for storytelling, and that the format only makes sense for a small portion of games). So even though there is a lot of unexplored creative space for design innovation in GMless games, that’s no reason to try to fit a square peg in a round hole. I don’t think I realized just how radically different these stances are from one another, and how much playing a GMless vs Rotating GM stance had effected the success of past sessions.

    I also think the discussion you’re having about separating the director’s and actor’s stance by framing towards an outcome and then playing the scene in the actor’s stance, is seriously worth thinking about. It is something I haven’t given a lot of thought to or made a delineation between; I think the group, or at least I, try to do both of these things at once when playing in a GMless game.

    I think by using your technique to make the process more explicit, it might help people more easily and naturally craft the story and make GMless games less slippery. It’s a nuanced change though and I have to think about what it would actually do in game play. I think we should play test the idea and see how it works out. Sometimes by making things, that people do in play, more explicit, you can really make things more structured and the procedures can clarify things. I really interested in what the effects of this delineation would be, and whether they would be significantly and help ease of play and story construction. Anyway, it’s got me curious and we should definitely try it out :)
  • I'd love to experiment with that some more, too. It's a miniature technical distinction that could have some real impact on our various games. I'm willing to try this in more explicit ways at any time!

    (For what it's worth, I think we are all over the map in this regard with our particular group - not just from game to game but also from scene to scene and from player to player.)
  • edited February 2019
    Jeff,

    I think the ability to do both some character play and some authorial/GMful stuff at the same time is a big part of the appeal of many "GMless" games. I enjoy it myself in a lot of cases.

    But there are other games in which I much prefer to do all my character play in just actor stance, for a number of reasons. In Witch, it's a sense of tackling the moral questions intuitively, from within the fiction, and discovering where that leads the characters (as opposed to including an element of deciding from without). I know that's highly personal to me, and some people feel the same, and others feel totally differently; in the end, all I want is the option to do it my way.

    So I agree with you that different configurations of GMing work for different games, and that even in games without one permanent GM, having one GM at any given moment might be useful.

    In Within My Clutches, the GM role is held by the player who is playing their supervillain character, and then handed off to others at that player's discretion. This system produces its own unique dynamic. So I definitely think a lot of viable options are out there!

    P.S. Your post format got messed up cuz you have a quote tag from yourself inside your quote tag from me. Might wanna fix that. :tongue:
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