Dramatic coordination techniques

edited December 2018 in Play Advice
I found these techniques in Solar System on the internet, but they seem universally valid. *edit : or rather, we can try to see what is generally valid about them.* I thought I'd propose them to your attention.
Especialmente @WarriorMonk para tu compilacion de técnicas :

Dramatic coordination :
A) Linking characters X and Y
a) direct link : X-Y
b) introduce common element : X-Z-Y
c) indirect link : X=Z-Y (=:existing link, -:new link)

Implementation :
Using (a) in the middle or end of a story is felt as a Deus ex Machina and (b) is slightly less "brutal". The linking is less noticed as artificial by the audience if it occurs during preparation or early exposition, when the audience is somehow under the influence of infodump pain killers. Adding (c) on top of (a) and (b) increases the resistance of the link.

'B) Framing scenes relevant to goal : having the goals stated or even, written in plain sight.

C) Resting : Take a Refresh, lower the stakes, put your princess dress, stall story progression, relieve creative strain by lowering the necesity to "deliver", thus opening a door for new perspective, narrative material and goals.

*edited : implementation*


  • I found something about Solar System on the internet, but I don't know if it's there with the consent of the author.
    It's unlikely that it wouldn't be - the game is licensed under a Creative Commons license. I guess somebody could be miss-attributing something or other, but outside that it's unlikely to end up breaking the permissive licensing terms.

    Regarding clumsy dramatic coordination, I wouldn't be quick to make blanket statements on what's appropriate; it is often a highly complex question of aesthetic context. The degree of creative irony and the genre of the story determine a lot about how overt dramatic coordination should be. For example, in a consciously stylized fairy tale story it is all but expected for the dramatic coordination to be highly stilted, while for immersive slice-of-life realism it's the opposite. One revels in its story-ness to the degree of alienation, while the other puts on a pretense of reality.
  • It's interesting to consider if there are any universal dramatic coordination techniques.

    I don't have any words of wisdom to add just yet, but I am quite fond of the text in the Solar System pamphlet. There is some good stuff there.
  • edited December 2018
    @Eero_Tuovinen You're right the techniques are there, neither good nor bad. I tried to edit in that sense.
    @Paul_T I don't expect the techniques to be universal at all. I phrased it very poorly. My approach here is very pragmatic.
    I am confident underlying principles and the concerns of implementation in various cases will appear, when enough techniques are presented. So I begin by gathering mine in one place. It's the kind of "tool caches" I find very useful to have in the forum. I say "cache" because the titles of the discussions are not always self evident...
  • Ok, in that case, I'll link you to an old thread of mine. It's *one* good dramatic coordination technique which I really enjoy:

  • I've been looking for the right system for my Towerlands campaign. I should give Solar System another look; it's been a long time.
  • Thank you, that's exactly it. That technique puts the focus on relevance (B). You can change the time unit (game sessions) to 'dramatic beats', for a conveniently vague, broader application. The introduction is very relevant to my intent with this thread :
    "How do you make sure the story reaches an endpoint that is satisfying and conclusive, and leaves everyone happy, sad, or otherwise fulfilled? This seems like nearly unexplored territory. And it shouldn't be"
  • I was just working on a mechanic for this for my current game. Linking PCs with NPCs, Places, Fronts and Objects is a must for me right now, but there's an important issue with the nature of the links: They need to generate a specific type of conflict agreed by everyone at the table before starting the game.

    I meant this like, if the game is going to be collaborative, your links between PCs are mainly about building trust and teamwork. If the group is going for PvP the links between them are mainly about secrets they keep from each other, distrust and hate.

    The social contract often ends up including unwritten rules about how far PvP can go in a collaborative game after some bad experiences. There's a reason GMs end up starting the game saying "You all know each other from long ago". Yet it's rare to see recommendations about optimal ways to link characters to one another and with the setting.

    Even in more story-oriented trad games, everywhere you will read about the need to establish those links but no one will tell you much about the nature of those links, except maybe that "they must call for a conflict". For me, this still isn't enough to avoid blank page syndrome. Even worse, players in the wrong frame of mind will insist on protecting their characters as if they were an extension of them, so they will naturally resist to create relationships that the GM could exploit to create motivation or conflict.

    You do have games like Fiasco, where players feel a bit more secure since they control most of scene framing and can't play unless they are in the right frame of mind about having their characters crash and burn. But when the game is meant to give them higher chances of success too few players expect or want to see their characters lose anything, or fail on purpose just to see an interesting story develop. Plot becomes action and reaction-driven instead of character driven, and next thing you have a GM leading PCs by the nose again.

    Links can develop naturally in the course of the game too. Maybe the dice end up making players hate a particular enemy and the GM can bring it back later, so they get very motivated to fight and kill it. Maybe by good roleplaying the GM manages to make an NPC lovable enough so the PCs will strive to save him. PCs end up facing enough challenges together that the players develop natural companionship. Friendship outside the table can become and influence friendship in the fiction. Rivalry and competition can work here too, by helping players define antagonistic roles in a story when this calls for PvP conflict. If it's all in good (and agreed) fun, everything is welcome.

    But the things I'm trying to avoid are, like, when in D&D the player with the chaotic neutral thief goes a bit too chaotic for the paladin PC. D&D doesn't provide any mechanic or standards for those links beyond "have all players play good-aligned characters" so it ends up being a matter of having a healthy social contract to avoid issues with players that like to roleplay their PCs into creating group tension or even conflict when the game isn't about that.
  • edited December 2018
    Btw, I still need some help to turn this into a technique as I would like to apply it.

    So far so good: We want to establish links between PCs and other PCs, NPCs, Places, Fronts and Objects. We want those links to have the potential for creating conflict.

    By adding an Emotion you nicely help players define conflict-ready links by themselves. Tenra Bansho Zero does that with the Emotional Matrix. Players there roll for a random emotional reaction whenever they meet someone else and use that as a prompt to create those links.

    But PCs in TBZ are designed for working alone instead of as a part of a group, so emotional reactions that create enmity are mixed with the ones that create positive bonds in the same table to generate conflict and story randomly. I roughly separated emotions/reactions/behaviors in three groups:

    Those that create positive bonds between characters:
    -Respect / Mentorship
    -Guilt, Regret
    -Shared Hate

    Those that generate enmity:
    -Thirst for Revenge

    And those that serve as an obstacle to create bonds:
    -focused on enmity for a third party
    -distracted by positive bond with a third party
    -Health-related bad mood
    -work-related stress
    -Focused on immediate need (food, health, etc)
    -Just wants to play a joke on you

    Positive bonds should create a cohesive group and a motivation for PCs to get into a conflict. Negative bonds should get characters straight into conflict. The last group is mostly meant as an obstacle in social scenes, where it can be mixed with either positive or negative links.

    Hmm this is still too long for a technique, but may work as a mechanic. I'll prbably test it on january, see how it goes.
  • Nice job !
    I use R maps and I thought putting the relationships on paper was enough, but you brought the whole thing to the next level.
    I want to make the third category (obstacles) bonds toward exterior objects : centrifuge. And common objects : centripetal (typically a common organization or enemy). Yes, it means that I put people, goals and abstractions alike on the map. I have seen Places used in Smallville and other things, but really, it's a very weak dramatic bond. If places are going to be a thing, in that kind of story (a specific kind of wilderness exploration, or city investigation), I prefer to add a geographic map.
  • I see your point. Perhaps places and objects should work as a symbols for any previously defined emotional link. Like, your character X is afraid of Y, who wanders in N place. At least it makes more sense than your character just being afraid of N place. Or the respect X has for his father is represented by the sword his father inherited to him.
  • Totally. Anything that informs why the characters care, how they are inscribed into the story.
  • As for the nature of the (A) bonds, they can be
    a- simply declarative (is that what they call freeform ?)
    b- produce resources (moral comfort, coordination)
    c- allow resources transfers or condition specific moves (typically : intimacy), voluntary (assistance) or not (treason).
    Adapt the resources to the system engine and the rates and conditions to the degree of character and player trust you want to build.
    I want to use c : resources transfer, considering the concentration of resources from multiple players into one action is a nice benefit in itself (team work !) And I want the "treason" option to play in the spirit of Gon "chain wielder" arc (a sort of "what your friends don't know can't hurt them" feel)
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