[Weekly Challenge] Start your week with a BANG!

There has been talk about launching reaccurring topics to help people feel like they can contribute without feeling intimidated by all the big fish in this pond, but also to learn about jargon. With this this idea of having somebody post a situation each monday (roughly) and challenging the forum subscribers to introduce a BANG in it. A bang is a term I learned about on this forum, but it’s older than that. I found this definition on Wikipedia.
A "bang" is a situation that requires a choice from the player as to how the character will respond to the situation. The choice will often be thematically relevant, based on the Humanity definition and earlier events in the game. For a bang to be effective, the game master shouldn't force a specific choice, and the player doing nothing should also have consequences.
So what do you say we practice coming up with bangs?


  • Scene 1: Monday, the 29th of April

    Montana Roberts, a middle aged American adventurer-scholar is browsing the charming market stalls of Cairo Egypt in the year 1943. He’s looking at a snake charmer working his trade, while waiting for his contact, a charming young French journalist called Chloe Chanel, who is here to take over the stolen Nazi secret documents that lead to a mysterious and secret archeological dig in South America. He suddenly feels a tender tap on his shoulder, and a familiar perfume in his nose. Chloe!

    Surely, it can’t be this easy can it? Bang away!

    (Also sorry for the terribly stereotypical and corny example. It’s late and I wanted to get this out quick so I went on instinct. Stereotypes are easy.)
  • For historical context, the concept of "Bang" originates, as do many other practical and theoretical concepts, in the toy chest of Ron Edwards. He conceptualized the idea for his rpg Sorcerer in the early '00s as an answer to a specific technical question: how can a GM meaningfully prepare gaming material for a game that specifically excludes GM-developed plot? In other words, what is it that you prep if you aren't prepping one of the therefore known forms of GM preparation:

    You're not prepping an adventure location like you would do for D&D, and
    you're not prepping a sequel of scenes that form a story like you would for a traditional rpg adventure.

    So what is it that you do instead? Ron's answer is that a game that cannot use a geographical structure or story structure in its procedures is still capable of using analytically chopped up content: ideas about characters, places, situations and themes that might be introduced into the game at suitable moments during its execution. This chopped up content could be crafted into little narrative rosettes that retain an inherent moral conundrum without also requiring the entire play session to revolve around introducing and micromanaging the moment of revelation. The GM wouldn't be reading a script, but they would rather have something that Ron calls a "bandolier of Bangs": a list of relevant pre-prepared content ideas that could be accessed in arbitrary order and used as needed to provide the game with steady and constructive content.

    (If all this seems vaguely familiar to fans of never roleplaying games, well, it is one of the major innovations of '00s rpg tech.)

    Bangs can, depending on the game and its specifics, be prepared specifically for individual player characters, or they can address the game's setting. They are generally used for narrativist games (that's a GNS theory term, please ignore this sentence if you aren't familiar), but the technique per se is agenda-neutral: it might suit you for any game where the GM wants to prepare content, but doesn't want to prejudice themselves about the way this content gets treated in play. As Bangs don't have any causal relationships to each other, or planned order of use, the GM should in principle be able to retain their balance and avoid over-committing to ideas about where the game is going. You just sit there, pitch out Bangs as needed, and play to see what happens.

    A simple example of a narrativist Bang could be something like these ones. I write them intentionally in the way I might jot them down myself as a GM.

    Player character A gets accosted by their boyfriend. The boyfriend wants to break up, as she doesn't really seem to care about him, as proven by the events of the last session.

    The adventurers arrive at the gate to the Golden City. They learn that each free entrant is expected to enter with a slave, such that the balance of free and slave inside the City remains unbroken. They provide the shackles if necessary.

    Non-player character X accosts one of the PCs, probably the nicest-seeming one. They ask for help in smuggling a strange parcel out of the city. The parcel actually hides the NPC's brother, a wanted outlaw.

    All of the above are pretty normal Bangs, obviously created for specific (imaginary) campaigns of specific games. There are a lot of different games that do well with Bang-based prep, so I won't start listing them here, but do keep in mind that Banging isn't supremely universal. The simplest Bangs are easy to transfer between games, but many of the best ones are carefully crafted for very specific theming in specific campaigns. What is meaningful depends on the context.
  • So, it's Chloe alright. Only she seems strange. She insists on calling Montana "mister" and acts like she doesn't recognize him, bumping into him, talking like she's inebriated. She is in fact accompanied by a man in a black leather trenchcoat who yanks her elbow to lead her into a car with tainted windows. At this very instant, a police officer with a document in hand, flanked by 2 agents, breaks the circle of the audience and comes straight to Montana. Montana notices in their back a young boy on the verge of taking the change in the blind snake charmer bowl.
    What do you do ?
  • Thank you for the extra explanation Eero.

    So, practically, what kind of bang would you introduce in the previously established scene? Assuming that Montana Roberts and Chloe Chanel are Player Characters, that is.

    That’s kind of the excercise I wanna establish here.
    Maybe something like this:

    Montana turns around and sees that Chloe indeed is standing there besides him, but so are two gestappo looking fellows. You know the type, tall, strong, blonde, penchant for black uniforms and trenchcoats. Chloe grimaces apologetically as the gestappo who is obviously secretly holding a gun to her back takes the lead. Chloe has a black eye, and a bleeding lip, but the officers don’t look much better. “Ah, Herr Roberts, I presume? You have somethink that is ours, and ve seem to have somethink that is yours. It would be a shame if any ov ze somethinks gets hurt. Nein?”
  • This is not a bad idea, but making both characters PCs and leaving any other relevant information - how did we get here? What kind of themes are in play? Who are these characters? - makes it pretty difficult.

    I’d want to know what both PCs really care about in this situation before I could come up with a good “bang”.

    Here’s an old thread which does much the same thing and contains some good tips and examples:

  • edited May 2019
    After re-reading the context @Eero_Tuovinen gave and the arguments @Paul_T brought up (haven’t read the linked thread yet) I’m wondering if the format might need some change. Like starting with the frame for a bang and people trying to use it in a scene as a result? Would that work better? Anyway, waiting on the answer of people more experienced than me, here’s a next starting situation to start with:

    Monday, the sixth of May:
    Inspector Chan is sitting at a bar, cradling a glass of whisky, rolling the ball of ice in it around while grimacing through the sigarrete smoke filled bar. He’s looking at a newspaper heading.
    “Senator Barckley Released Due To Procedural Mistakes!” it read. This had been the third time Chan had caught Barkley and the third time he got off due to “procedural mistakes”. It had cost him hours, manpower, and the life of his partner in the force. It had him lose days, weeks, months of seeing his daughters grow up, of seeing his wife. She was understandably upset. But he couldn’t just let this guy continue to poison the neighbourhood with cocaïne, now could he? What if his daughters got approached near the school gate, to buy cocaïne because he had let him go? He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself. But now it seemed he couldn’t do it. He’d tried every rule in the book. He took his sigarette from the ashtray, took a drag and punched it out on the newspaper heading. He emptied his whisky, left the cash on the counter, tip included and left. Maybe he should let it go.

    Little did he know what happened next...

    (tried to add some more history this time, and some relationship ties etc.)
  • edited May 2019
    Coming up with Bangs is a fun process, and, for me, depends almost entirely on what the players are introducing into the game. There will be times when I have my own ideas, but generally my favourite technique, in terms of ease and effectiveness, is just combining those elements to create new fictional input.

    I'll describe my process in some detail; in practice I don't necessarily follow all these steps unless I have lots of time and I'm not coming up with anything good just off the top of my head.

    What I tend to do is to look at what the players have created (whether as prep or in play, by making decisions, taking action, and holding certain positions) and then combine those things in different ways. I often do this randomly; I find the randomness solves "blank page" syndrome and gives me ideas quickly without leaving me feeling predictable.

    So, first I'd look at what themes, ideas, and story elements are present in the material I'm working with. I'll take your example and tease out a few.

    (This will seem rather academic, as an exercise, since I'm "showing my work", but in practice I can do this quickly and intuitively. I do enjoy making it into a little "game" for myself - it's a more fruitful and enjoyable form of "lonely fun" than just sitting there scratching my head trying to come up with "something good".)

    Monday, the sixth of May:
    Inspector Chan is sitting at a bar, cradling a glass of whisky, rolling the ball of ice in it around while grimacing through the sigarrete smoke filled bar. He’s looking at a newspaper heading.
    This is just flavour text. I don't see anything particularly of use here (though see my notes on genre and style, at the end of my second post - they could be important, depending on context). Let's keep going.

    (It's actually a goal of mine to teach players to favour actual content over "flavour", since so many RPG players have been trained to provide "flavour" first, and wait for the GM to introduce actual content, but that's just an idle point, not relevant to the topic here.)

    Senator Barckley Released Due To Procedural Mistakes!” it read. This had been the third time Chan had caught Barkley and the third time he got off due to “procedural mistakes”. It had cost him hours, manpower, and the life of his partner in the force. It had him lose days, weeks, months of seeing his daughters grow up, of seeing his wife. She was understandably upset. But he couldn’t just let this guy continue to poison the neighbourhood with cocaïne, now could he? What if his daughters got approached near the school gate, to buy cocaïne because he had let him go? He wouldn’t be able to forgive himself. But now it seemed he couldn’t do it. He’d tried every rule in the book. [a little more flavour text follows]
    I've bolded what I see as significant elements, phrases, or words in there; things that could be mined.

    What can I glean from this short writeup, then? What's important to Inspector Chan, and, more importantly, Inspector Chan's player? Here are the basic story elements present in the short text:

    1. Senator Barckley, a corrupt politician who always gets away.
    2. His dead partner. (Although a lack of a name and any details suggests the player might not be too interested in this story element.)
    3. His daughters.
    4. His wife.
    5. Drugs (specifically cocaine) are poisoning the neighbourhood.

    These are the primary elements I can see here; I'd mostly be working with these. These can give us fuel for basic, actionable Bangs. Great for a basic story and relatively simple developments.

    I like to take a pair to create a Bang or new story development.

    Like I said, combining them at random works just as well - almost any combination can be fruitful. There's no need to get too clever; the most obvious and immediate idea usually works, and then you can get clever in presenting it, if you like.

    For instance, let's take the first combination possible, which is the first and second story elements - the Senator and the the dead partner.

    What comes to mind first? The most obvious idea is that the Senator is directly responsible for the death of the partner. Simple and easy:

    Inspector Chan finds some new evidence which shows that his partner was murdered by the Senator, in cold blood.

    That's already interesting, because we get to see what kind of emotional response the Inspector will have to this new piece of information, but not the best Bang in the world, because he could just ignore it.

    Dressing it up will make it more fun. What kind of murder? Why? What kind of evidence is found, and under what circumstances?

    Perhaps the partner died precisely because he stumbled across some further nastiness the Senator was engaged in, and so he had to be killed. The Senator killed him in some particularly unnecessary cruel way, perhaps. (This would be easier if we had more info - I'd be asking the player to tell me more about the death, ideally, and then riffing on that.)

    Or, it could be a more twisted connection. Was the Senator involved in some criminal activity, beyond what we know? Maybe he ran an illegal fighting ring, and the dead partner was obsessively involved with it, hiding that fact even from the Inspector?

    Better yet, though, is to combine it with something else we already have on the table - one of the other elements. I simply take them in order. Is it the Inspector's daughters (element #3)? Then we learn that one of the daughters got caught up in some drug affair, and the partner sacrificed his life to save her. Or the wife (element #4)? Was there an affair between the wife and the dead partner, and the murder was a way to cover that up? Or the drugs (element #5)? Perhaps the dead partner got addicted to some terrible narcotic, to the point of ruining his own life, and committed suicide as a result, when he couldn't pay his debts?

    So, that's what I get from the first pairing - elements 1 and 2. I could next try 1 and 3: Senator Barckley and the daughters. What's happening here? Perhaps one of them applying for a fancy scholarship, or aiming for some other important life goal... and the Senator is one of the people who decides whether she is chosen for that goal. Let's say the Inspector's daughter, Olivia, has dreams of getting admitted to a famous arts school, and the Senator's letter of reference is the only thing which will get her admittance.

    So, that's another example of an idea:

    Olivia asks her father to go to have dinner with the Senator, and convince him to write a reference letter for her. The Senator, of course, expects the Inspector to drop this investigation and to apologize to him before he will do any such thing.

    You can hopefully see how any combination of elements suggests something interesting. "Daughters" + "drugs" tells me that one of his daughters is involved in the drug world herself, and maybe even starts to see the Senator as a role model instead of her father. That leaves our Inspector in quite a pickle.
  • edited May 2019
    That's what you can get from basic story elements.

    If the game is one with some meaning and depth, I'd also tease out some themes or ideas from the writeup. Here's what I see on a quick read-through:

    A. Barckley has gotten away three times - perhaps the "rule of three" is significant here, and can be a theme to play on. Pretty minor, though.
    B. "Procedural mistakes" suggests two themes to me. The first is incompetent authorities, perhaps even pointless bureaucracy, getting in the way of justice (if it's a question of error and incompetence on behalf of the "good guys"). The second is the idea of corruption - it's not the authorities are incompetent, but that they aren't "good guys" at all. This feels pretty juicy.
    C. Inspector Chan's growing distance/dissociation from his family. They stand in opposition to his work and his call of duty. This suggests that we want to juxtapose these two and force the Inspector to choose between them.
    D. There is definitely a theme of "forgiveness" in there - when does someone move on from a crime or misdeed?
    E. The general theme of sacrifice is hinted at a lot, as well - the sacrifice of time, family, loved ones, and even someone's life in the pursuit of justice, a career, or the greater good.

    These can be randomly combined with each other or with the basic story elements, as well. For instance, (4) "wife" + (D) "forgiveness" suggests some development where the Inspector must choose whether to forgive his wife, or vice versa - does she blame him for his partner's death for some reason? Or blame him for her daughter's drug addiction?

    To take another random example, what about (2) and (B)? How is the dead partner involved in a theme of incompetent authorities? Perhaps we discover evidence that he died at the Senator's hands, as we discussed earlier, but some legal loophole means that this evidence isn't admissible in court. Or, taking the second theme in there - the "good guys" aren't "good" after all - we learn some dark news about the partner or the events that caused his death. Maybe the police chief who assigned Chan and his partner to a case had him set up. Let's type that one up, quickly:

    The Inspector discovers that the circumstances under which his partner died were set up by the chief of the police (the Inspector's boss). Is he working for the Senator? Was Chan supposed to die, as well, but got lucky? What will he do with this knowledge, and is his own boss actually likely to try to get him killed again?

    Coming up with the particular details is always the fun part, of course. Maybe the police chief sends him on a dangerous mission with a new partner who is clearly just there to make sure the Inspector definitely doesn't escape alive this time, for instance. That will lead the Inspector to suspect his own superiors and have to question his own loyalty to the police force.

    I see I bolded "the school gate" in there, as well. It's mostly a colour element, but I could use it as the location of a Bang or a scene (e.g. the Inspector catches his daughter buying drugs when he picks her up at school) or as a hint that the school life/situation is important to the story in some deeper way. Focusing on the neighbourhood and what that means to the Inspector and his family might be another topic or theme which might be of interest.

    I hope these examples are helpful; I'm really more interested in the process than the specific outcomes. I usually have more to work with than a paragraph of text, so this would be more personalized in the context of an actual game. (For instance, the personalities of the players, their interests, story elements invented by other players, the genre and other story conceits - are we inspired by film noir, here, or black comedy? - and the game mechanics might all suggest other things. For example, if the Inspector's character sheet listed an interest in Boxing or Journalism, those would give me other elements to build into this, as would another player character who was a sex worker looking to escape a tortured life, or another player character who was into demon summoning - you can imagine how any of those would give new material and new possible combinations of elements and ideas to craft further Bangs, scenes, or story developments.)

    Combining story elements or themes across multiple characters/players is when it gets really fun. What if the other PCs were a cultist learning about accessing otherwordly power and a sex worker down on her luck and fighting for her rights? You can easily imagine how combining "the Inspector's daughter, Olivia", "demon summoning", and "sex work" would generate some ideas almost instantly... well, the Bangs pretty much write themselves.
  • I love how a concept-proving thread on what newbie-friendly, easy-access, perennial discussion threads might look like inevitably turns into an advanced GM technique seminar. Very droll.

    Whatever the conclusion about this particular thread, I'd like seeing more attempts at the concept of low-threshold participation threads. I'm really bad at participating in those myself (I don't seem to get motivated by that sort of thing), but perhaps there would be enough users here for the right sort of thing to flourish. The "what did you play this week" thing has been amazingly vivacious for many years by now, so it sort of proves that the concept is possible.
  • @Paul_T wow. That’s actually really helpfull for me understanding it! But yeah, @Eero_Tuovinen made an apt observation. :tongue:

    I mainly was inspired by this by a thread on the Dungeon World reddit, where people were challenged to practice their hard moves in a certain situation. I thought: “A hard move isn’t that much different from a bang, right? And I wanna learn about those, through practice!”

    On thing is that Reddit has nested comments, so discussing an outcome can be elaborate, but hidden for the other examples for people just interested in examples ... Anyway, gonna have to think if I can streamline my pitches a bit more or start a different weekly thread for low threashold participation. I think the rpg reddit has some challenges like a weekly theme for which to write a scene, or an npc or something. I don’t know. Gonna let it stew. Feeling a bit burned out creatively this week though, so it may take longer...
  • edited May 2019
    Haha! Indeed, I was well aware of the irony of what I was writing, but once I started it seemed kind of odd to just stop without explaining the idea fully. And it’s my favourite GM tool/technique, which, as far as I know, is unique to me. It allows me to come up with great material very quickly and reliably - sometimes enough for several sessions of play after just sitting down with a piece of paper for 5 minutes.

    Why give a man a fish when you can teach someone to fish, right?

    If people want to post their own, much shorter and easier responses, I hope I didn’t stop them! (They could post their own ideas or even try my technique themselves.)

    However, I should also point out that the thread I linked to does exactly what you were looking for, as well. (I should find some of Ryan’s similar quick-fire threads and link to them, perhaps; he was good at starting such discussions and keeping them running!)
  • edited May 2019
    I think I see where Paul_T is coming from here, it's kind of hard to just stop and post something random, because if you were really playing you would know a little about the player and you would be able to ask follow up questions and other information with the particular game and other players.

    But maybe I'm just being a perfectionist.
  • It's also the format of the question; writing a "hard move" in response to a maneuver is something which takes a sentence or two. Writing a "Bang" is supposed to really speak to the player's interests and present a non-obvious choice which can't just be ignored (without interesting implications, anyway!) - that's a much more involved process. "Bangs" are supposed to go with Sorcerer's Kickers, and an already developed and nuanced fictional scenario. Part of the issue is that the examples posted weren't complete Kickers just yet, making it hard to write good Bangs based on them.

    Again, the thread I linked does a better job of showing the process, so I'd recommend that as 'required reading' on this topic.
  • Ok, so I think the idea here is a cool one, but we're kind of stuck on the BANG. Maybe we do something else that gets to the original idea but it doesn't have to be specifically this.

    I'm blanking on any good suggestions, I usually respond more to creative questions about genra or world building myself.
  • edited May 2019
    Hey, how about that : given a simple situation, complicate it dramatically (/ morally) to the point of higher tension (- undecidability) in a single cut (= adding only one new information) ?
    Like : They are in love and about to get married.
    He just killed her father (Corneille).

    Chloe asks for a service from Montana.
    She is with the Nazis.

    Detective Chan hates druglord Senator Barkley.
    He needs the money for his daughter's treatment.
  • I like those, DeReel (as well as the tight constraint). Excellent!


    On a side note, about "easy entry" threads which don't turn into heavy and deep discussions:

    I'm going to link to some "easy entry" threads that used to work very effectively. A short premise and quick answers were key to them working, I think. Ryan (Ry St) was particularly good at starting them:






    I've tried it for game design:


    Humour works well, too, sometimes:


    We've done it for math/probabilities:



    We used to have a lot of these for *World moves, as well, with a few really memorable ones:



    And the followup:


    I hope these links might inspire someone!
  • edited May 2019
    Update: I found the mother of all AW move threads, which I was thinking about but couldn't find.


    Note to readers, especially new ones: We are not at all against resuming old threads ("thread necromancy") here at Story Games. Feel free to post in any of those, if you feel inspired, and get them rolling again! The readership has changed enough that the threads will be brand new to most people here and they will be glad to see them.
  • On the other hand, if you're interested in learning more about Bangs, there was a good discussion back here a while back (stick with it, it gets better):

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