Cut the brakes

edited December 2018 in Play Advice
Some people like their game sessions spiced up with unwelcome events (in fiction, of course !) @hamnacb 's post referencing Vincent Baker's article I understand the need for an adversary, but what about a contrariety for the whole table ?

I don't play that way, and always with people that play like me, for the surprise, wonder discovery and puzzlement. After his article, Baker, "falls back" on the idea that people don't really want the unwelcome event, just the menace of it. And that the menace has to be executed sometimes to stay menacing. I don't know. That's probably true for some, but it's also a less polemic, more acceptable point, that people want fear rather than pain. So I don't fall for it totally. After all, stepping on up can be interpreted as sadistic by nature. Also, I haven't got the answer to the horror paradox.

The overall question seems to be cultural : flirting with the limit / transgressing. Character death is in many instances a response to the players flirting with the limit of what their characters can do. Having the most agreed upon game mechanics dealing with danger is a sign of this.

Until now, I used a "racer" analogy for this : what makes it for you ? the wind in your hair ? the Gs in your stomach ? the lack of control ? zapping by and there in the traffic ? According to the answer, you could pick a bike with no brakes, a gravity racer in a gentle or steep slope, a motorcycle with or without helmet, a convertible, bungee jump, etc. What would be the risks in this analogy boredom and an accident (losing playing partners ?) As you see, this analogy is not very productive.

I am not trying to break boundaries here. Just inquiring about 2 things :
- what level of unwelcome people are after ?
What are the factors that get into play ?
- themes
- who's at the table
- character as pawn vs character as alter ego
- games
- day of the week and mood
- age
- ???


  • Given that a meaningful game is about confronting adversity (otherwise it would be boring), as adversity is "consumed" by successful players there has to be a source of adversity.
    Typical ones include game rules that cause trouble automatically (e.g. common patterns like spending resources now and running out later; achieving something at an unaffordable price; eluding a growing problem temporarily), harmful moves by other players (e.g. most interactions in boardgames), freely choosing to have problems (e.g. betting instead of folding in poker), and the case in point: delegating an impartial party, the GM, to come up with something fun to play with.

    The "level of unwelcome" can be fixed by the rules of the game (e.g. games where complete defeat is a constant threat, like chess, vs. games where you risk scoring 15% less than the winner at the end; RPGs with frequent deadly combat and ones without ways to get hurt) or it can follow player tastes (e.g. adventures about saving the world from apocalypse vs. adventures about successfully serving dinner despite small children).
  • edited December 2018
    Of course the level of unwelcome depends. But it depends on what ?
    Your examples say it depends on tastes. Allow me to read stakes.

    The end of the world is a good example because it is not only a high fictional stake, it is also the end of setting and characters. Failure means more than non achievement there. I'd say it is a mild player stake : players won't burst into tears, but that would be a bump in the fun if it is not well timed and more or less agreed upon. Whereas failing to feed the kids can be utter fun.

    Clearly then it depends on more than fictional stakes, because in some games, the menace simply won't come true. The bigger it is, the less probable. Or the consequences will be just a reset.
  • Personally, I don't want any unwelcome at all ever for any reason.
    I don't want stakes to be anything more than IC-only, etc.
  • edited December 2018
    I get from what you are saying that no character will be teleported in CMWGE's ghost / void university against their will if the players signed in for romance in the harbour. That would be the "pain" level. Am I making sense to you ? I only flipped though the game's rulebook.

    This is the part that is familiar to me. The whole safety in fun, brakes, panic button, etc.

    So : mild contrariety for you ?
    E.g. It is guaranteed the team arc will leave room for personal arcs.
    Or must players fight for it ? Not getting to play their personal arc would be equivalent of a harsh punishement in another game : a promise not held. Only with "expressing your character fully" instead of "achieving martial / social victory" (equivalent in a conveniently feudal world).

  • edited December 2018
    Yeah, definitely. Everything in my play is handled exclusively on a level of the players choosing for stuff to happen. Stuff happens because the players say so, and then we use the mechanics to describe the stuff that's happening (which is the way Chuubo's is designed, since it does not mechanize outcomes and does not ever mechanically tell you "you have to do things this way", because it's designed as tools to tell stories your way, with mechanics to help you do it well).

    I'm not quite following the question about mild contrariety, and on a level I'm wondering if maybe it wasn't directed at me. Or maybe I'm just really confused because the example. I'm sorry for my confusion.
    A part of it is likely just me being confused with the example, since Chuubo's doesn't have a "team" arc, since it doesn't have the concept of a team or party. It just has the arcs of individual characters, which are woven together to make a thematic whole.
  • OK. My misconception about the game, sorry. So there is no way a player could not get to play what they want, as in "your character loses despite what you want". This is very safe. I suppose therefore you sometimes play your characters failure to the hilt, in self-adversity.
  • Definitely! My group and I are huge flashlight droppers, so we play failure to the hilt a lot.

    Chuubo's doesnt have any sort of win-loss in its mechanics, so if stuff like win-loss is shown at all, it's all just player choice.
  • edited December 2018
    Too many people take for granted that workers work for money and players for victory. It is true, but false also.

    Thank you Emmathecrucian for your help ! You play in all safety, but do you experience fear or pain playing that way ?
  • edited December 2018
    When we choose to include fear and pain in our stories (which we regularly do because we like very emotional stuff and play heavily for bleed), definitely.
    It is very much fear and pain we choose instead of fear and pain foisted upon us, which is nice. A problem we had in some other games actually was the rules forcing that kind of stuff on us when we didn't want it, and it being very disruptive because it would often end up happening in scenes we had gone into with very different aesthetic goals.

    We very much feel that those emotional experiences are so much more meaningful and intense when we choose them and plan them and establish them ourselves.
  • edited December 2018
    Excuse me for the poor wording, but if there is no real danger, how do you take fear seriously ? Do you go "actor studio " and the emotion echoes on the other players and their apparent fear triggers real fear in you ? Verging on hysteria. Or what ?
    There's this cool mechanics for void emotions, when you can't get it to fly and you "take a void". I don't think it is well known on the forum. Maybe this is your danger : that the emotional motor sometimes won't start. And the game instead of saying "you dead, the end", just notes "it didn't fly one time". And this small bump is enough already because you put all of yourself at risk in your acting !
  • Acting is part of it definitely, but it's also just really strong in investment in the fiction. When a really good story brings about strong emotions in you.

    We all get very very invested in fiction in general, and when we consume static fiction, we read detailed spoilers beforehand, because we find that we get way more invested when we know stuff in advance, because we can focus on the execution rather than on figuring out what's going to happen, so even in static fiction, unknown outcomes are not a thing for us. Even in static fiction we knew whether the character will live or die, but we feel strong emotions anyways as we experience the fiction, and find that we actually experience the emotions of a piece of fiction more strongly when we know ensures going to happen.

    This is doubly true for our collaborative writing/roleplay.
  • edited December 2018
    Do you see a difference in sessions where you have to play negative emotion ? Do you have a technique to start them (except safety prevautions).
    Also is surprise totally crossed out ?
  • edited December 2018
    There's not really a specific technique for starting negative emotion sessions. There's just a lot of emotional check-ins in between scenes and after the session. We don't really so much use specific techniques, we more realistically just handle emotional situations the way we handle them in our relationship the rest of the time. (It should be noted that my play group is me and my long-term romantic partners, so a lot of more traditional safety stuff isn't needed because of how deeply we know each other, and how much we already have very established methods of dealing with each other's emotional troubles.)
    Surprise is completely crossed out. Our play is heavily pre-planned and deeply structured. We very deliberately remove the surprise because none of us like surprises in our play, and because we very much view play as a collaborative writing exercise, and we're all very in-depth planners with our writing, so for it to allow us to write the way we want to, surprise must be removed.
  • Whereas my current group... three out of four emailed me to assure me that they like angst, that I don't have to pull my punches, that I should please feel free to stab them in the plot as often as I like. One of them handed me PC Amnesia and when, after the first of 3+coda scenarios, I asked if he wanted to know what the full story was (as the PC was in a position of possibly remembering) demurred so I could add more angst to it. So, yeah, wide range in groups. The fourth player is also fine with angst.

    What folks aren't as interested in is doing serious detectiveing, and that's fine. I've learned enough to know that one can run a mystery as unfolding at whatever the appropriate speed of plot is.
  • edited December 2018
    Thanks for your help too, Lisa Padol.
    Armed with your experiences it seems to me that : people mostly choose their level of contrariety, communicate it to the GM or players, and that's enough to set boundaries and feel emotions freely at the table. I believe it is so. It is my experience too. Without proof of the contrary the "menace must be real" is a myth, or rather, it is a way of communicating a style of play made into a contract.

    But this doesn't touch the first point Lorenzogati has noted : rules that automatically cause trouble. Oh, yes, it does ! These games allow the game to be punishing without the players having full responsibility for it (in a weird, delusional way, that is). Am I caricaturing ? Is it that simple ?

    If that is the case, I bet many players are playing punishing games only because they weren't told the contract by their "friends".
  • The idea of the "unwelcome" is an interesting one, and I've heard people both agree to it wholeheartedly and reject it in fear.

    In practice, I think it's pretty hard to nail down what that means.

    To me, it comes down to:

    The game forces into being something that the players wouldn't be able to do by consensus. That makes it real in a way, and raises the stakes of what is going on.

    Vincent Baker's question is:

    "If your game isn't creating some situations or moments like these, why shouldn't you just collaborate, freeform, doing everything by consensus? Would that not suit you better?"

    I think the argument about whether the "unwelcome" is truly unwelcome ("This sucks! I don't want to play anymore!") or something we happily agree to because we secretly like it isn't terribly useful.

    Thinking this way about game design is quite interesting, though. I used this idea to design the Oracle for my mini-game, As the Worm Turns, for example. In that game, it's precisely when all the players agree that something should go a certain way that surprises happen - the game denies the group's consensual impulse and forces the opposite to happen, instead.

  • edited December 2018
    My answers to Baker would be "How do you "just collaborate" ? What procedures help building consensus ?" If it were that easy, and people knew that for sure, I wouldn't need rules (and every day life would be much simpler).
    Also, in this case, I need procedures for something more specific : to ease into a creative mindset, and then confront myself to unpleasant things, and that they work reliably, repeatedly. These procedures are not obvious to me. I thought I should ask how people do it, to find what I am missing.
    The level of unwelcome I am asking to document is directly linked with factors to get there. I need the factors so I can recreate them (or not destroy them) with procedures. I can rephrase :
    "Your experience of a certain level of fear or pain at the table is linked to certain factors. What factors ?"
    For instance, does As the Worm Turns produce fearful or painful experiences ? I would guess : more so because Themes give you something to expect (hope or fear). Less so given that players are distanced from their characters. Less so because players get to interpret what "bad" means (transposing Czege principle to the whole table yields strange fringe results). More so if the table is full of bleed-happy players. Then maybe where we're going to is that , all things considered, this last factor is the only that matters. That wouldn't surprise me, but I don't see it clearly. I still believe certain circumstances help people bleed more willingly ^^.
  • edited December 2018
    At some critical point in a game session, would you be willing to give away some portion of character control / character expression ? Like this : "If you lose, your character gives way to anger and a 3rd party narrates their action" or like this "If you lose, what your character thought was generous is retroactively proved selfish" or some other way ?
    I am asking in order to know if my game rules would limit your enjoyment.
  • I would not be willing.
  • OK ! I'll ponder that. It looks looks like the more freely we play hard emotions, the furthest we can go. No contract can add to that freedom.
  • The terms you're looking for are Control and Identification. As in "Take away control from players to generate an emotion in them". For some players this is cool, up to certain point which is "how much do they identify themselves with the character/situation". If they are too deep into the character they will experience a bad travel, "bleed" in a painful way. If the situation falls too close to past traumatic experiences they will re-live them, get trapped into the emotion and stop feeling this as a game.

    Experience that enough when you're young and it gets imprinted in your reactions, you will develop a sixth sense to avoid such situations even in fiction. Take away the player control to avoid such situations and you get a recipe for their perfect nightmare made real.

    So the questions for the designer now are: how much do you care for deep emotions to risk players emotional health? How do you convey players the risks they will take when playing this game? Which tools do you include to help players protect themselves? I mean, there's a responsible way to do this just fine and lots of people will be interested. It may even work as a tool for safe shock theraphy. Most horror games work by removing control from the player. I'm pretty sure there are already designs out there who ask the player which themes are they more sensible about just to make a more fearful atmosphere for them. I'd go as far as to drop hints of those themes instead of fully taking on them, as the players imagination gets more active in absense of enough information.

    Hope this helps!
  • Hey, you just drop gold bars, here. Thank you. I see I need to make a horror scenario !
  • Nod. There are ways to do horror that put control into the hands of the players. I hand Aviatrix's Fixed Stability Loss for Trail of Cthulhu to players and while we will hit points where I'll say "Lose X Stability", more often it's "And feel free to lose a Stability point or two if you want".

    Occasionally, it's been "Okay, you have a choice here -- hold it together, and lose 1 Stability, or lose it completely, losing 5 Stability and falling, weeping, at the foot of the statue."

    There's no catch here. You want your character to keep control of their emotions? That's totally fine. Yes, there's a lower cost -- the cost is what the character pays, not what you pay.

    Well, okay, the catch is I made this offer to a player who's in the "stab me in the plot again" boat. I was well aware of which option would be picked. But, you know, I could have been wrong.
  • Thank you for your help : willingness is the key, but giving it structure is a nice touch.
  • edited December 2018
    So on top of setting Flags at character creation, I found one thing that is faster than the (player's) emotion wheel to flag during the game : black / white flag. With the white flag you ask the other players to care for and support your PC. With a black flag you ask for opposition. It is not exactly push harder / slow down from LARP, because it is really a coordination tool centering around PC actions, not something about how you feel. I already use Faster / Slower for zooming out and in, I had to find a new analogy. Also black / white is easy to make flipping a card.
    And it works for princess play too, where you can add a black / white dot on your character sheet next to the aspects you want challenged or supported by the other players. Old wolves will like their sheet full of black dots as so many proofs of valor. A sort of "No holds barred" allowance marker. The in game card is still useful to coordinate raising tension.
    The thing you opened my eyes to is that it better not be a blank check for any badness in a game, and more a personal adjustment. This is also a nice way of having children or neophytes and adults at the table and handling a handicap of sorts (nothing to do with disability here, more like in a game or competition).
  • That's a pretty interesting idea, DeReel. Have you had a chance to try this a number of times or is it still experimental?
  • edited December 2018
    I hope I'll be able to playtest it in the coming solstice festival with the family. It's true I don't play much, board games being easier to "sell" because of their duration and accessibility.
    I have been looking for this tool for so long ! It is a sine qua non for my game where nearly every statement is challengeable by default. I had all the Safety device but my Dramatic coordination (@Eero_Tuovinen 's Solar System FTW) toolbox was still incomplete.
  • edited December 2018
    Hello again. I am posting a lot because at home with a flu...

    I harnessed the circumstances and made a big step identifying my main objective - though it is wide encompassing : creating tools for Dramatic Coordination. Safety and communication tools are close, but not precisely that. For me DC is about the table having certain common expectations regarding the fiction (past established truths : what's fact, aesthetics : how we do it, guiding stars : propositions about the future) and collaborating to advance a story, managing these expectations.
    For those who are interested in the subject, I think the concept of "horizon of expectation" (from literary theory) can be very useful.
    Can you direct me toward some other useful stuff ? Anything from Improv @Rickard ? Or from other collaborative artistic domains ?
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