What's in a "Bang"?

edited June 2007 in Story Games
I've been reading Sorcerer a lot, and just started a new game with some friends. But for the life of me, I don't know what the heck makes a good "bang." I can recognize one in retrospect; but I don't know how to put one together from scratch.

A "kicker" is pretty easy: you declare what your character has been doing lately; you describe how his or her situation got completely turned around; you explain why you better act now as opposed to sitting on your ass. It's sort of like a checklist, and it's easy for me to go through.

But with "bangs"--I always think, hell, I always game this way: throw a crisis or something interesting at the players, and then sit back and react to their reactions. But is that all there is to it? I always got the impression that "bangs" were supposed to be a Narrativism thing, but plunking your characters into something interesting and then leaning back in your chair to watch seems pretty universal...


  • body parts. squelchy.

  • edited June 2007
    Yeah, I think you have it, James. "Bang" is just putting a name to that thing you do. Giving it a name gives it some life, so it sits there and looks at you like, "any time now, sport." I find that having a name and concept for a technique helps me put it in my bandolier of stuff to do at the table. Some people don't need that kind of mental organizer, and that's cool too.

    So, yeah. You kind of squint at it and go, "So? I do that." It's all good.

    EDIT: Oh! There is one key thing in the Bang description from Sorcerer, though. It's okay for a bang to utterly fizzle and do nothing. You let it go without a second thought, and reach for a new one. That's pretty key. I can think back to some less-fun play that stemmed from me doggedly trying to make the bang work out "just the way I had planned it" while everyone just wanted to move on.
  • Okay, but I guess the question then is: isn't having a "bandolier of bangs" just way to say -- "think up some open-ended, juicy stuff to happen"?

    And then--as a follow-up--what's a good way to streamline the process of thinking up juicy stuff?
  • Yes, it is. :) One strategy I used was simply to throw things at the characters that made their lives *cough* more interesting. It doesn't necessarily have to interact directly with the main goal, but throwing a wrench in things is always fun. :) I remember a great scene where I was NPCing the girlfriend of one of the characters and pulled the whole "you stood me up. you don't love me. You have to beg and make it up to me big time." act. She was a "bang" in the sense that she caused things to be a bit more challenging for the character in question 'cause he now had to juggle demons, The Enemy, and a girlfriend. And don't forget, you can always use the demon withholding Power as a Bang!

  • In our improv troupe, we talk about "finding the danger in a scene." You identify that thing that everyone in the scene doesn't want to deal with. . . and then you deal with it. It's not quite the same as Bangs, I don't think, but the core of the idea is the same. What are those things that the character, when presented with them, will have to react to/be changed by.
  • edited June 2007
    Paul and Nancy: yes.

    James: YES. You've so totally got it internalized that it's not even a thing. I would add "... juicy stuff that relates to the character's flags."

    Look at those flags. The descriptors. The kickers. The demons. Are your bangs related to those things? Are they those things, in motion? Are they kicking down any doors that a player carefully nailed shut? You know what you're doing, so yeah. They are.

    And you're done! Bangs away.
  • My guy (Key of Conscience, Key of the Union, Key of the Abolitionist) is on a mission from Abraham Lincoln to find George Washington's stolen remains in a Boston warehouse. In busts an enormous superpowered black man in a powdered wig bellowing "Give me them bones now!"

  • Might be helpful to think about what is not a Bang. A reveal is not a bang. A fight is not a bang. Squelchy body parts are not a bang. A bang has to demand a response, and also must leave the content of that response open. A Bang is a question.
  • Hi James,

    Here's two audio files I've done on the subject:

    Kickers and Bangs plus Flags and Bangs.

    I've got a clarification to make on the show that I should be recording and editing later today, but hopefully those are helpful. The first was before my new audio equipment, so I wince when I hear it. If you listen I'd appreciate if you let me know if they are helpful or not, especially where they aren't helpful. If you don't listen then that's fine too.
  • One thing I've always wondered about regarding bangs is how they related to the old idea of Hooks in game.

    Jolly Blackburn used to have a column "Hook, line and sinker" in Shadis. The hook was some juicy bit of action that lead the player to the story. It had to look good so they would bite. The line was events that rewarded the players for biting the hook by giving them juicy action. The sinker was when the players fully committed to the story the GM was feeding them.

    This is a very Story Before technique because it presupposed that the GM had a story they wanted to tell but in actual play it would look a lot like a bang. I wonder if people could tell them apart by looking at it? They might conclude that the Story Now player was making things up as they went along (and thus was not prepared - to put a negative spin on it).

    Chris Engle
  • Yeah, a "hook" in that sense fails if it isn't responded to predictably. The whole point of "hooks" like this is to get a predicted response out of players. A bang doesn't care what happens next.
  • edited June 2007
    [Oh, sure, Mark jumps in two minutes before I do] :-)

    Oooh, good time to jump in. Good set up, Chris.

    A good Bang, a "real" bang, varies from a traditional hook in a couple of important ways. A "hook" is often an expectation thrown out that's expected to be reacted to in some way. Think of it like those old scenes from movies and Looney Toons where somebody on stage gets caught by the big hook, and hauled off-stage. Or even just fishing.

    Does the fish want to be caught?

    The term hook is apt for how this is usually done.

    Bangs, as Ron defines (and refines) them, have a different meaning. A good bang has two qualities:

    1. It sets up the situation such that no matter what decision the player makes for his character, it's dramatic. It is a "hook" insamuch as it doesn't allow the player to wiggle out of making a dramatic decision somehow. Even if the player's response is to "just walk away" from some conflict, that should say something damn important about the character.

    2. It should be uncertain as to how the player will have their character react. If you can figure out what the player is going to do... it's not a bang. Bangs are supposed to be an opportunity for the player to be creative in the interpretation of their character. If you present a situation in which we all know what the character will do, then we learn nothing.

    Bangs create character development. When we're done with a bang, we know more about the character than we did before. The character is revealed to us. And the creation of this relevatory information is performed by the player.

    When they work. As John says, sometimes what you prepare intending it to be a bang "fizzles" and you don't get the desired outcome. Don't try to force it (there is a technique you can use here to save a bang, but it's rather dangerous).

    So, what steps can you take to create bangs? Well, people are hinting at some of the elements above. And, in fact, there are probably a lot of ways to do it. There are lots of different sorts of bangs. What I can give you in short order is an easy method for creating a very archtypal sort of bang, the "dilemma bang." A dilemma bang presents two choices to the player, neither of which seems to be more beneficial than the other. That is each option seems as likely to be selected as the other, often because they both have downsides.

    So, the classic example I give is for the villain to be escaping while the damsel hangs by a thread above a firey pit. Can our hero accomplish both the villain's capture, and the rescue of his fair maiden? Maybe, maybe not. The choice presented here is in terms of which goal he goes after first. Neither choice presenting a tactical advantage, the selection of one over the other says something about the values of the character. Is it love first, vengeance later, or the other way around?

    Now, how do you go about creating a dilemma bang? As people have mentioned, you look at the character flags. Find two values on the character sheet. You see "Loves Griselda" and "Hates Black Hat." Then you simply have to concoct a situation in which the player has to make a choice between those two values. This is the creative step, but you'll find that once you've got the two values selected that you want to oppose, that coming up with the appropriate Bang situation isn't hard.

    In fact, usually there's many ways to create a dilemma bang. In our example, for instance, you could have the PC find Griselda in the arms of Black Hat. The dilemma here being whether or not the character can forgive Griselda (especially if she asks for forgiveness, claiming it a mistake or momentary weakness).

    As for what constitutes a good flag, see Chris Chinn's work on the subject (I assume Clyde's is good, too). Identifying that's interesting about the character to the player, is a key skill here. And not hard. Often all you have to do is glance at the character sheet. Almost all bang creation techniques (for any sort of bang) revolve around making sure that the player is engaged with the issue that the bang brings to light.

    In any case, this is just one method to create just one sort of bang. But hopefully you can see from the example the sorts of processes that you can use to come up with bangs of various sorts. You can see the key difference from how hooks work - you're not making the player act a particular way so as to avoid having the character act implausibly (so that you can get the plot moving). You're giving the player an opportunity to actually create the plot in terms of how his character reacts to the events that you put out there.

    Those old Shadis hooks... well, if the player says, "Nah, my character's not interested" then what happens? Nothing. They assume that the player will comply because no other interesting alternative is being offered. This is the GM creating plot (or the player circumventing it, if they do say no). Bangs ensure that whatever the player response, the plot moves forward... according to the player's design.

    Very different things.

  • Incidentally, it is well worth checking out the Gender and Stories chapter of Sex & Sorcery. In it, Ron lays down some fantastic stuff for generating Bangs for two types of stories (what he calls "male" and "female" stories).
  • Glad to be your straight guy.

    I like the explanation of making the PC choose between two conflicting values. That will yield that narrativist edge people call "addressing the premise".

    I'm running a PBEM Engle Matrix Game right now about the goings on in the hill top mansion of a depraved millionaire. Each of the six characters has a short written description that says something about what they value. The story openner says there is a secret in the mansion and asks the players to find it out or hide it. The set up would potentially be full of bangs - but because of the way the rules work I don't think that happens.

    Players pick a question to answer from a short list (the questions all focus on a thriller plot line) They are all about making preparations, gaining advantage and carrying out "bad things". Players can jump in with counter-arguments to each player's move but this it to prevent a disadvantage more than it is to create a bang. When that happens it is really just two proposals engaging in a dice rolling contest rather than feeling Story Now. It still produces a fun game - we vye with one another over who will win and how. So something that could lead to this kind of play does not have to.

    As Vincent said - System Matters.

    Chris Engle

    BTW The Hamster Press booth is across from Vincent's booth and catty cornered to the Forge booth at Gen Con. Should be interesting.
  • Neat Chris.

    One caveat to keep in mind is that the dilemma bang is just one sort. Another that I'm fond of is the "Open Question Bang" where some event creates a situation that has potentially myriad solutions. My typical example here is dropping some ungodly powerful object on a character. Does the character use it? For what? Does he look to find it's owner? Does he hid it? Does he... Well I can go on and on with plausible stuff here about what the character has as options. It's just a wide open situation.

    It's also, BTW, an example of a positive bang. A dilemma bang often hoses the character in that they have to give up one of two things (not always, tho). With the "power drop bang" example, it's really all upside, just a question of what values the character upholds in dealing with the event.

    Bangs are not about certain particular sorts of questions posed to the player. They're about creating a situation in which the player's reaction says something interesting about the character. Which can be accomplished in a bewilderingly wide variety of ways I find more and more.

  • Posted By: Mike Holmes
    Bangs are not about certain particular sorts of questions posed to the player. They're about creating a situation in which the player's reaction says something interesting about the character. Which can be accomplished in a bewilderingly wide variety of ways I find more and more.
    Right on. I'm interested in digging into these bit. Can you provide some examples and defining characteristic of other types of Bangs?
  • I'm with Paul here Mike. I just learned more. I have always only done the dilemma bang.
  • Mike, can I convince you to start a new thread with just a list of different kinds of bangs?
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