Pedantic Methods for Obtaining Author Stance

In another thread I mentioned that there exists a whole body of techniques that one can use to "convert" players to what amounts to using Author stance. Note that when I say "convert," I'm not assuming that anyone needs converting (and certainly not that anyone else's style of play that doesn't include using this stance is wrong). But you may find that you want to engender in your game more use of author stance in your players. There are many reasons why you might want to try this - for me one simple reason is that it makes the game easier to run - but we'll just assume that you have a valid reason for wanting this in your game.

And we'll also assume here that your players are having trouble grokking just how to do this stuff. This is a non-issue for a lot of players who either are doing these things already, or who will do so with only minor prompting. And, again, at the risk of looking like I'm bashing, I'll say that the most common problems getting players to author are with those players who have been canalized by traditional play that teaches strongly that the player is not to do such authoring.

It's my opinion that, despite some peoples' complaints that authoring is unnatural, and needs to be learned, that it is actually as normal as roleplaying, or even more normal. Neither is taxing, and both are fun. So it can really behoove you to try to re-awaken these natural tendencies in players, to get a broader response in play from them. Again, this all assumes that this is what you want from play, and that you don't find player authoring to be problematic for play.

As a quick note, in case the reader doesn't know what "Author Stance" means, it's a pretty intuitive phrase that means that the player, instead of "channeling" the character, and making decisions based on "What the character would do" or simply associating with the character closely and only making decisions based on what he knows... this is "Actor Stance"... the player makes decisions for the character as though he were the author of a novel portraying the character in question.

What this comes down to, most importantly, is making decisions by including data that the player knows, but the character does not. This is key to understanding this. In a lot of traditional "Actor Stance" play, especially that which occurs in games meant to test the player, if a player directs his character to act with "player knowledge" instead of "character knowledge" this is seen as cheating.

In Author Stance, the player does make use of player knowledge to create decisions for his character, and this is not only accepted, but seen as good form. There is one other criteria to Author Stance, however, and that is that the player, as a novel author would, has the character act plausibly. That is, though the player is using character knowledge, he doesn't have the character do something that would be out of place with his character knowledge. To do so, to have the character act with player knowledge in an implausible way, is known as "Pawn Stance" (as though the character were a pawn in a board game).

I won't go into the usual "Brawl in the Park" example, unless somebody demands it later in the thread.

So, given that we want the player to, at least occasionally, look at the character as though he were the author of the character, how do we get a player who isn't used to this form of play to get comfortable with it? Below are a list of techniques (all of which I've used with success, I should mention) that may come in handy.

- Talking About It -
Just to head off some folks at the pass who will say that I'm being duplicitous or avoiding communication about the subject, I'll agree up front that, in many cases you can just discuss this subject with folks, and this might help. Talking about author stance has two main drawbacks that I've found, however, of which people should be aware:
1. It can offend some people. Often people see a suggestion to play another way as criticism of their methods of play. As opposed to just a preference difference. Why should they change, when they like how they play? Indeed, they are correct. We're not trying to force anyone to do anything that they don't want to do, just discuss adding a new dimension to the way we play. As such, sometimes it's much more powerful to "Show, don't tell." Just be careful in any discussions about this.
2. Talking often doesn't work. Even if you do get an agreement in principle from folks to try out this way to play, they often fall back on what they know. It can be more effective to give them some stimuli in play to get them to head in this direction.

And talking about it is not playing, too. Why not just get to playing, and have it fall into place with the following techniques. Talk about it if you feel that you have to, sure. Might work well. But consider the other techniques to reinforce learning about this sort of play.

- Delegating GM Authority -
In the traditional play dichotomy, the GM has authority to modify the world, and the player their character. This reinforces the idea that the player is supposed to only be considering his character's actions from the "actor" POV. It can work wonders to allow the player to have some of this authority. So, for example, you can ask the player, "What NPCs do you need to have in the scene to address your character's issue?" Allowing the player to move the NPCs to the scene puts the player immediately in the mind frame of the author. This can be done with other things than scene-framing, too. Object creation during scenes. Even creating the basic nature of challenges (though beware the Czege Principle).

- Prompting -
Just having a policy is often not enough to get the idea across. That is, you can tell a player, "Hey, if you ever want to frame a scene, just say so," often results in the player never taking advantage. So you have to prompt the player, like in the example above. By actively suggesting that the player take the authority, you adjust their mindset right then into thinking about doing it. When in the Actor Stance, they are thinking about their character, and not about adjusting anything else. So you may have to prompt them.



  • ...from above.

    - Language -
    In the example, if I ask the question, "Who does your character track down in the next scene?" I'm leaving the player in Actor stance. He's not moving the NPCs in his mind, he's just moving his character to gather the NPCs he needs. Asked like this, the player doesn't have to adjust his mindset. Instead ask, "Rob, who do you think would be cool for your character to encounter next?" This forces the player to answer as the player, and according to his own needs. Once the player indicates who he'd like to see in the scene, then we come up with the plausible rationale for how the encounter occurs.

    In general, request that the player state his needs, don't ask about the character, or what they are doing. Avoid, "What do you do next?" like the plague. This is a code phrase that slams the player hard into the perspective that he *is* the character, and has to make decisions as if he were.

    - Obvious Rationalizing -
    In our example, once we've decided to have X, Y, and Z, NPCs in play, it's easy enough to not only come up with a rationale, but to find arguments about why "it would have happened." That is to make it seem like we're not authoring, that we're merely intuitively leaping on to what "would" happen next. This has two problems:
    1. It tries to hide the authoring as acting. Even worse, it might stigmatize what we've just done as somehow degenerate, and needing to be ameliorated.
    2. It takes unnecessary time and effort. Yeah, sure, it can be fun to think this way. But wait until the teaching period is over, to avoid confusion on the subject.

    Make it obvious that you're rationalizing, and that this is the norm that you expect.

    - "No Myth" Play -
    The term No Myth (coined by Fang Langford, IIRC), refers to the idea of play where it's apparent that everything that exists, does so in order to forward the play of the characters and plot. In traditional modes people go to lengths to ensure that the players feel that the world has it's own persistent existence outside of the needs of the story (and for some styles of play, this is important). If you make it clear to players, however, that the world is adjusting to fit their needs, then we break the paradigm that says that the players "Are" the characters inside of some extant-feeling world.

    How do you do this? Simple catch phrases are what I use. For instance, a player will ask, "Is there a Merchant's Guild in this town?" To which I'll reply, "Good idea, yeah, let's have one there." Or simply, "There is now." When presenting something (and in keeping with giving players some GM authority), you can ask, "What do you guys think... should there be a merchant guild in this city? Would that be cool, or help to move things along?" Simply speak of the world as the fictional place that it really is, instead of as if it had some actual existence of it's own, and this becomes clear.

    What this does is to tell the player that the GM, too, is "authoring" the world in order to facilitate play. Instead of "channeling" an extant world to the PCs.

    I'm sure that I'm forgetting some techniques, but I've tried to make the above ones as broad as possible in order to give the impression of what most of them are like. But, simply, treat the players as authors, and not as the characters themselves, and you'll get the response you're looking for.

  • Those are great, here are some more:

    Always, always use third person. And maybe past tense!

    Clearly refer to things happening that the characters could not know about. Even to the point of directly saying "What they couldn't know..." or "What he didn't see..." on failed perception checks, and so on.
  • A quick and dirty way is to just say "don't think of yourselves as players, think of yourselves as co-GMs, and your "PCs" as NPCs." I've been using author stance for 20 years before playing any modern hippie games... as a GM.
  • I want to hear the Brawl in the Park example. Or get a link. Thanks!
  • Posted By: lachekI want to hear theBrawl in the Parkexample. Or get a link. Thanks!
    Me, too. I must have missed it in the past.

    Seth Ben-Ezra
    Great Wolf
  • Great couple of posts, Mike.

    Doing author stance as the GM is what we do isn't it? It's required for even traditional GM'ing, so GMs at least know what it is. The thing is to teach the players, especially those who never GM, the goodness. I recommend Trollbabe for this, and of course TSOY, because both games have a GM, and hence "seem like normal roleplaying games", but require players to utilise author stance in every moment of the game.

    I can only think of a few who I have showed author stance who didn't get it - and those who did never looked back. I did try talking about it, as Mike mentions, and boy doesn't that suck. Show, don't tell I s'pose.
  • Upon reflexion though, there are at least two dangers with the "Author stance is what you do when you GM approach." First, in some games like Polaris, this is a serious error, because the traditional concept of GMing comes with a bunch of other baggage that does not translate well to all games (like Polaris). E.g. a traditional GM is supposed to be "Fair" and "impartial", but not a Polaris Heart or Mistaken.

    The other problem is in terms of advocacy. If author stance is akin to being a GM, then what if the person doesn't WANT to be a GM, and wants to be a "player." Then the claim that author stance is fun will be looked at skeptically. I still have this attitude toward small doses of author stance. "If you are going to give me some non-character interpretable narrative authority, why not go all out and make me a co-GM/scrap the GM position/make us all GMs?"
  • Apologies if my post read "GM'ing = author stance", that was not meant like that, merely that I think (hope?) somebody who is used to the GM functions in a given game should have little or no problems understanding author stance in practical play.

    I would also suggest not using the term when teaching it to new players - just do it :)
  • edited March 2008
    One benefit of enforcing separation of IC / OOC behaviour - both in players and GM - is to minimize unfair use of force. The reason I'm mentioning this in this particular thread is to identify and work around possible player resistance.

    In some situations, players may be afraid of the GM's NPCs using OOC information to force a certain outcome. For example, the players take time to set an elaborate trap in a mountain pass, but the NPC in question decides for no particular reason to approach from the east instead of the south and sidesteps the trap.

    In similar situations, the GM might be afraid of players' PCs using OOC information to sidestep challenges or story complications. Consider if the GM had told the player of the NPCs' elaborate trap, and the PC stating that his horse was thirsty so he decided to take a detour to a watering hole, which leads them to approach the pass from the east instead of the south.

    Sure, this boils down to trust issues and dysfunctional play, but a large number of players still consider this to be the norm because they have known little else - this is what "using OOC information" means to them. How would you defuse such arguments? I mean, without group therapy.

    EDIT: Of course, one way of doing this is - as has been stated numerous times - Just Do It, and show that using OOC information can be a good thing.
  • Right on, Per:

    There's not much use to people thinking of play as separated into two different "stances". Better if they just see all those different techniques as part of "normal play" as an activity.
  • edited March 2008
    Wow, great comments all. Thanks. On to specifics...

    I'm glad that I'm not alone in finding that talking about these things doesn't always help (or can even be harmful). RPG play has elements that are like religion, and questioning those in a player can often get a like result to questioning their religion. Something you don't want to do at parties, or other social get-togethers like, say, a RPG session.

    Mikael, yea, when you author explicitly, then the argument "my character is doing this, because it's what my guy would do" become easily seen through. You're a player, you control the character (even when "channeling") and are responsible for what you create through the agency of your character.

    William, yep, that's why the "Stance" model also includes "Director Stance." Author stance does assume that the player has the POV of being somebody who is driving a character. Even if they do so by somtimes using GM authority that, in the hands of a GM would indicate Director Stance (and, yes, sometimes players do use Director Stance as well).

    JD, excellent addition. I knew I was forgetting some big ones. I wrote an entire article with follow-ups regarding language factors of point of view, and what it does in play (even references the play from the movie Mazes and Monsters). And I love that "Narrator" technique where you frame action in such a way as to make the dramatic reasons for the information clear. Saying, "and what your character doesn't know is.." puts the player momentarily into (the somewhat controversial) "Audience" stance, which takes the player out of Actor Stance as well as anything.

    If other people have more techniques, by all means, please post em.

    Now for the Brawl in the Park example. I think that Ron may have come up with this, but I can't recall. It's virtues are it's brevity and clarity.

    The situation is that Player A has his character at a tavern, drinking. Player B's character (a good friend of character A's) is walking through a nearby park, and the GM has some thugs attack player B's character. The GM frames over to the Tavern, and asks Player A what his character is doing. Player A would like to help out player B's character. Examples of responses that might be produced by player A in the varying stances are:

    Actor Stance - The player has his character leave the tavern and go home. After all, his character is not aware that his good friend is being attacked, so the player cannot choose to have the character respond.
    Pawn Stance - The player has his character rush over to the park, intent on helping his friend out, implausibly.
    Author Stance - The player, intent on getting his character into the fight, narrates that his character decides to leave the tavern, and go for a nice stroll in the park on the way home. Player's goal is accomplished, plausibly.

    (Audience Stance - The player says that his character is just going to sit around for a while, signalling to the GM that he wants to pass the scene back to the other player, so he can just watch the action. Audience is the "Non-Stance" stance.)
    (Director Stance - The player decides that lightning strikes down character B's assailants.)

  • What about Director stance - the player decides that the park is on the way home.
    Or - the player decides there is a loud noise coming from the park direction. Since it is a pre-established fact that the character is curious, he goes to investigate, ending up at the park.

    (This is also what I'd expect a "good" traditional GM to do in such cases; change the setting around so I don't have to compromise the character or change the setting myself [which is forbidden in a traditional game]. Naturally, I understand that maybe it would be best to give the authority to me directly then rely on the GM to read my mind and have to come up with these changes always and on his own)

    Maybe this is what drives me up the wall about author-stance focused games or mechanics. Given a choice, I'd rather rewrite the world then rewrite my character if I am playing to explore character. (I wonder if rewriting the world undermines exploration of setting, which I usually care less about.) Or, at the very least, if I have the option to rewrite the character, give me the option to rewrite the world in addition, so that I can choose case by case which I'd rather do. (maybe I can think of a very simple, minor change to the character that will deal with the logistical/player level problem to be solved, but it would take major rearrangements of the setting to make it work)
  • William, yes, those are examples. I was giving one that was unequivocally not about player As character. But, yeah, as long as it's control of something outside of the character, even if it affects the character, it's Director Stance.

    I don't understand your objection to "author-stance focused games or mechanics," however. That is, often these games do empower you to change the world so as to make it so that you can have the character be as you like, and still get the sort of plot advancement you want as well. In Universalis, for instance, the players are all "GMs" in terms of their authority to change anything to fit their needs for their characters (or are you saying that Universalis doesn't count as it's more 'director-stance focused?')

    In those games that don't give the players such powers, I'm failing to see how they are specifically "Author Stance focused." Note that you can play through an entire game of Sorcerer in Actor Stance, for instance. So which mechanics are you talking about?

    Or are you talking about games in which GMs use techniques like the ones above. If so, how do they cause the problem in question?

  • I'm thinking of:

    1) drifted trad game. Take a trad game, but ask players to regularly use author stance to fix problems. For example, if a player ever has the impulse "My character would never [buy in to plothook]" then the player is obligated to rewrite the character to fit the plothook. (I am implicitly using the assumption that trad games forbid BOTH director stance AND author stance (that's metagaming, stop it!) and so defining a trad game that permits/encourges author stance as a kind of hippie game)

    2) DitV. IIRC bids, blocks, etc. either must be from the character perspective (the character does something) or at least it's subsidized to do so, to the sense that traits are related to the character, not the setting (invoking a character trait is easy to do from author stance, can be tricky to do from director stance). Although it is possible I misunderstood the rules. Could you make a ditv character with no character traits, and all setting/theme traits (Destined to do blah, bedeviled by bad weather, etc.)

    3) PTA IIRC any use of director's stance is subject to either a veto or discouragement or something from the producer. For example, iirc a player is forbidden from introducing a new npc and claiming control over it, While use of author's stance is always ok by players

    Partial counter example: All freeplay statements from the heart have to come from protagonist perspective (which is a rule my group has chafed against, and in some cases blatantly ignored) but conflict statements are unlimited. IOW director stance is sometimes forbidden in Polaris, while author stance is always ok.

    So all these games permit/encourage/ or even subsidize author stance, but put restrictions on director stance.
  • One technique I use, like, all the time is "The viewing audience..."

    Like, "So, you shake hands with the man you just met. The viewing audience recognizes him as the guy who was taking pictures of your battle with Twelve Dragon Tears on top of the parking garage last session."

    Also, describing things as if the fiction was occurring in a movie or TV show. "You come up to the door. We cut and see a shadowy figure behind the door, waiting for you."

    It's a non-aggressive but seemingly effective way to put everyone at the table in Author Stance mode (which I unequivocally prefer, usually). People I'm playing with usually start using similar turns of phrase. I picked up these phrases playing PTA, I think, but I use them all the time now, both as GM as when playing my character.
  • I actually used to use a "incidentals by request" method - I grant you, this was with players I was very, very comfortable with. We had a scene once where a couple of the PCs were talking with a shopkeeper, and another was in the background - and they described their character as "avidly shopping".

    I paused the scene, and asked the player to give us some running commentary from the background on stuff their character was finding and announcing, just make it up, y'know. So they did, and the discussion became this sedate thing that wove between shouts of "Blue glue! They have glue that is BLUE?" and similar weirdness. Which, in that game, was perfect.

    Of course, the player took this as a "make stuff up" challenge, and had to counter-challenge; they declared having found a square rubber ball, all glittery, and their character stormed up to the shopkeeper in deep bafflement to ask "what's THIS for?"

    ...With the player looking back at me, with a look of "Okay, your turn to make something crazy up."

    I managed to catch that one. Just barely, and lob it back. And for the rest of that night, we were ON.
  • Nathan, yes, yes, using language that indicates that the narration is to be handled like, well, narration, does the job well. Kudos to Puppetland for being perhaps the first game to do something like this, by the way (all narration is in the past tense, as if telling a story).

    Consider for a moment just how odd RPG language is. In school I even wrote a linguistics paper on the subject. But in no other media do we use the second person present to tell stories, other than those darn "choose your own adventure" books.

    "You go over to the table."

    In any other story-telling medium it would be "Then Ragnar went over to the table." Not only third person, but also past tense. There are a few (mostly post-modern) exceptions to this in novels and such, but that only proves the rule about how relatively strange this is.

    So it's even more strange when we look on third person past tense narration as feeling odd in play.

  • Following up the above, because I forgot to reply to other posters...

    Levi... do you find it difficult to trust just any player to handle this sort of authority? I think that your comment that they were players you were comfortable with is interesting. Why did you feel compelled to mention that?

    The problem with the drifted trad game, I totally agree with. In my recent thread about "party play" I pointed out specifically how this was a problem. Basically forcing a player to be creative, not in order to further their own creative ends, but in order to facilitate some other factor of play. When it seems to me, at least, that the point of play is to get to be creative.

    You're objecting to how DitV handles this? Interesting. This is an issue with deep roots that we've discussed elsewhere. Basically should system ever control your character, or even give constraints on your creativity regarding your character? Note that everyone accepts that it should to some extent. For instance, hardly anyone bridles if the system says that their character fails to leap over a chasm. That certainly is an authority you could give to a player, and some games do. But if the game specifies that we roll in such situations, then we roll, and accept the outcome. It's the standard in RPGs.

    Where it becomes fuzzy is in terms of the game telling you when your character must make a decision a certain way, within a certain set of constraints. Even then, there are usually acceptable cases, like "Your character falls prey to his fear of the dragon, and must react fearfully." I don't want to recapitulate that entire discussion here. But the point is that all such constraints are a matter of group agenda, and all are acceptable in theory, assuming that they're agreed to up front. Even the "party play" example.

    For myself, a rule that says that I have to figure out how my character is countering, should I want to push countering dice, is just a fun creative constraint... after all, I have the choice to give. And even if I do push, it's pretty wide open. And, actually, in many groups using Director Stance here will be allowed. Even if the trait is personal to the character. I've actually seen stuff like "Hates Snakes" invoked to counter by the player narrating that just then a snake slithers by. Nothing in DitV indicates that the player has this power specifically, but nothing says that the player does not have this power.

    Note that most games only say something like, "The player controls their character, and the GM controls the world." Which is actually quite vague. In most play (I contend), even where we assume this "Traditional" split, I contend that it's quite common for the player to control the world in small ways, and it's expected that the GM will control the characters quite a lot. This is a subject I hit often, so bear with me if you've heard it before. But let's say that the player says, "I cross the street, and start chatting up the peddler there." Well, he's assuming a lot about how the world will interact with his character. That the traffic on the street does not present a challenge to him crossing - it could. And how often do GMs say things like, "OK, you head out of town, and three days later, you end up in Kersplatistan." Doesn't this assume quite a lot like that the characters do nothing of interest for the three days in question?

    Yes, in both cases there's a tacit question being asked. "Can I do this with this thing that you have final say regarding?" But in most cases it's answered with a tacit "Yes." Control is given out quite freely.

    The point being that the only case in which a participant feels that they're being "forced" to do something that they would rather not, is when the other participants are making decisions that he himself would like to make. Nobody narrates going to the bathroom, but we assume it happens off screen. There is simply a world of details that we don't care about that could potentially be narrated by somebody playing. We're only disappointed when somebody makes one that we expected to be able to make ourselves. And that expectation varies from game to game. And is sometimes called the Creative Agenda.

    So. William, would it be safe to say that your expectation in play is to always have maximal control of your character's reactions to things? How do you feel about "fear" mechanics? Have you had negative experiences with losing character control that affect how you feel about this?

    I, myself, have had bad experiences with games where the players have full control over their characters, in that I find that they tend to fall into ruts. I like constraints on character control as a way to spur creativity. But that's just my preference.

  • Posted By: Mike HolmesLevi... do you find it difficult to trust just any player to handle this sort of authority? I think that your comment that they were players you were comfortable with is interesting. Why did you feel compelled to mention that?
    Because there was no "previous discussion". Zip.

    Opinion time!

    While I *agree* that author stance is totally just as natural as any other... It's natural to new players. To players that have been playing traditional games for a while, the idea that "my character is my toy, and the world is yours" is pretty seriously part of how they define the whole experience of playing an RPG. Which means, in turn, that such requests are asking the player to "do a bit of my job" - at least at first. Then their internal definition mutates a little, and we get back some of that stuff we put on the shelf way back when we first "got" the traditional authority structure.

    Hopefully that all hung together sensibly.
  • edited March 2008
    "I've actually seen stuff like "Hates Snakes" invoked to counter by the player narrating that just then a snake slithers by. Nothing in DitV indicates that the player has this power specifically, but nothing says that the player does not have this power."

    Ok, but what about a trait "tends to attract snakes"? Is that a legal trait? (I honestly don't remember) Such a trait makes it really straightforward to go to director's stance and assert the existence of snakes in a wide variety of ways. "A snake appears and attacks my opponent!"There's also the flexible parameter of how much slack the other players are willing to give on trait calls. Naturally, with enough slack, one can turn what look like character traits into world-traits (your hates snake trait being used to invoke the existence of snakes) but with less slack then having the traits be world-oriented makes it clear that the trait is meant to be used in director's stance.
    "So. William, would it be safe to say that your expectation in play is to always have maximal control of your character's reactions to things?"

    In the context of this discussion, this is almost the problem. In a way, the celebration of author stance actually gives MORE control of over the character than traditional play, since it permits/endorses rewriting the character as much as I want with no fear of being called out for metagaming by the group.or my conscience (i.e. we are playing under a norm "every player should make a good faith effort to only have their character do what is in character"). It only becomes a constraint if the system not only permits reauthoring the character, but actually rewards or demands one do so. The problem is I'd oftentimes rather NOT reauthor my primary character. If you want to empower me for whatever reason, let me reauthor the setting, switch characters, or switch to a minor character and reauthor that one.

    (Maybe this is off topic, but maybe not. My thoughts on fear mechanics are conditional on how much director authority I have. If the mechanics _rewrite the character_ and I have NO authority over setting or authority over multiple characters, I tend to get angry, as the number of constraints become unreasonably high. (Remember, in a traditional framework, I am still under the constraint that I should never break character. Even in a traditional game I may have absolute authority [I decide when I have broken character] but that doesn't mean I don't have self-imposed constraints) If I DO have directorial control, then if the mechanics imply I lose partial (or total) control over (one of) my character(s), then it's not a big deal to me. I just switch my attention to manipulating the environment or one of my other characters. In other words, if I am absolutely forbidden to have directorial power, then yes I expect to have lots of control over my character.)
    "Note that most games only say something like, "The player controls their character, and the GM controls the world." Which is actually quite vague. In most play (I contend), even where we assume this "Traditional" split, I contend that it's quite common for the player to control the world in small ways, and it's expected that the GM will control the characters quite a lot. This is a subject I hit often, so bear with me if you've heard it before. But let's say that the player says, "I cross the street, and start chatting up the peddler there." Well, he's assuming a lot about how the world will interact with his character. That the traffic on the street does not present a challenge to him crossing - it could. And how often do GMs say things like, "OK, you head out of town, and three days later, you end up in Kersplatistan." Doesn't this assume quite a lot like that the characters do nothing of interest for the three days in question?"

    Yes, and I don't have a problem with this. If anything, I advocate MORE directorial control to the players. Even traditional games acknowledge that forbidding _all_ directorial control from players is not really functional. And then as that increases, more character control to the GM/other players is fine. What I oppose is a) letting players rewrite their characters and then b) expecting/subsidizing/demanding they rewrite their characters. Whatever it is you are trying to accomplish by doing (a) and (b) I'd prefer you implement it by letting players rewrite the setting/play multiple characters/rewrite minor characters.
  • I've noticed something conspicuously-absent in this discussion: System.

    Is that because System isn't a technique in this sense, but rather just a vehicle for certain techniques, or is something else at work?

    Or is System just really, really bad at converting players?

  • edited March 2008
    Hey guys,
    I ran into some trouble with author stance with my D&D group* lately - basically I was playing Author stance and some of the other players took offense. "You can't base your decision on that!" a couple of the old-time D&Ders said (while the other, newer players didn't seem to care). I tried to explain where I was coming from, that in my other gaming group we play games that require Author stance sometimes (Burning Empires, Burning Wheel, PtA), but it was hard to get across in the heat of the moment.

    After the session I sent an email explaining the difference between Author stance and Actor stance, and that went over pretty well. (I even included the original 2002 Brawl in the Park example on the Forge [it was Ralph Mazza's].) The old-timers chimed in saying they preferred Actor stance for a variety of reasons, but that they could see it was a preference.

    My question is though, is this situation really tenable, where some players enjoy Author sometimes but others don't like it when another player uses it? I find it very annoying to be forced to play Actor stance -- to not be allowed to ask others what they think I should do at key moments, for example, or to have secret notes passed around. But it seems to really bother these other players when someone takes Author stance.

    * I'm new to this group, I know the DM from work. What I find funny is that as soon as combat starts, certain types of Author (or even Pawn) stance are encouraged for tactical reasons. "Should I take a 5-foot step now?" "Yes because I want to charge on my next action." etc.

  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: RogerOr is System just really, really bad at converting players?
    I think some systems are really good at telling you what to do in order to get to "Author stance", a smaller number are good at telling you how to do it, and none that I've seen have been able to convince anyone why they should do it. It seems like figuring out why is something you're supposed to either do on your own or be shown by someone else, not something you can extract from the system itself.

    And no one gets converted without being sold on "why." Hell, I'm not even convinced yet, and I've been making some serious efforts in that direction. (But then, I tend to agree with the sentiment that most of what "Author stance" entails is stuff that we already do in our games -- we just didn't put a name to it, formalize it in a system, make it mandatory, and/or make a serious study of it.)
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: hamsterprophetOne technique I use, like, all the time is "The viewing audience..."
    Oh, this is good, thanks, Nathan!
    Posted By: artellan...or to have secret notes passed around.
    I think getting rid of notes and side meetings and generally playing "no secrets" is a great subtle prompt towards a more authorial game. But I am a big note-hater.*
    Posted By: artellanWhat I find funny is that as soon as combat starts, certain types of Author (or even Pawn) stance are encouraged for tactical reasons. "Should I take a 5-foot step now?" "Yes because I want to charge on my next action." etc.
    Yeah! It seems generally acceptable to put a tactical game on hold so that the players, not the characters, can discuss battle strategy. How can this precedent be exploited to wedge authorship into the game?

    A GM who wants to foster authorship can put the game on pause, say explicitly that the table is "out-of-game" so that the normal rules don't apply, and ask probing questions. " You want to see that NPC again?" "You want to do another scene at the castle?" "I didn't feel that scene went right, did you?" I think players who have authorial tendencies will respond to this. I know I totally would've, even back in the days when I thought that firewalling was the truest skill of a master gamer.

    The most strongly immersive guy I know is constantly kibbutzing out-of-game with his group---and this is a guy who has tried authorish play and doesn't like it at all. For him, it's all about the difference between in-game and out-of-game play. I told him once that he was just playing a lot more than he thought he was.

    It's easier to drive this stuff if you're the GM, of course, but you can work it as a player too. When I'm playing a traditional game, I use non-game time to tell the GM what I want to see in the game. "You know, I'm looking forward to..." or "I think it would be really awesome if..." Every traditional GM I know welcomes that input. And if they don't, they're probably not compatible with the idea of shared authorship under any circumstances.)

    I look at these little whispers in the ear more like commentary or critique, so I try not to overdo it or be overbearing about it. It's not quite full authorship, but it's a lot better than simple dumb helplessness. And I've heard a lot of echos back from GMs that it's actually easier to plan when you have players whispering in your ear, so you can hook them on it, and from there your traditional game will naturally drift authorways.

    * Goddamn, do I hate note-passing. I once played in a D&D session where my character was possessed. I got a DM note, so everyone was on notice. Then the DM asked for Sense Motive rolls. One player made theirs. That player got a DM note. That player wrote a note to their neighbor. Their neighbor wrote a note to their neighbor. And so forth; there was brief awkwardness when the note had to jump my place at the table. Everyone knew exactly what was going on, but they had to put the game on pause and go through this elaborate phone tree ritual before they could act. I wanted to shake them. WHERE IS THE FUN IN THIS????
  • I ran a game last year that was a 'Lost' clone: action taking place in the present, on the island, was oriented to actor stance, but the flashbacks were author stance.

    In actor stance, players were responding to the evnts I described on the isalnd and having interpersonal conflicts with the other PCs and the large cast of NPCs.

    In author stance though, I handed over the storytelling to one of the players, who had a free hand in creating an episode in their character's life before they got stranded on the island. As with Lost, this often brought in recurring characters who crossed over from one PC's life story to anothers. After a while, we even started using these flashbacks to tell parts of the NPCs life stories, without involving any of the player characters in that past episode.

    As these flashbacks built up the past of the characters, they naturally informed the present situation occurring on the island, so some big turning points and arc-plots in the present day, which were played out in actor stance, were created by the players in the flashbacks, using author stance.
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: johnzo* Goddamn, do I hate note-passing.
    I interrupt this thread to AGREE COMPLETELY.


    Please continue.
  • John,
    Totally agree with you on the notes. Same goes for "secret room" too. I used to play in a group where on average a quarter to a half the session took place with the GM and another player or two in the secret room, with the rest of us left to twiddle our thumbs.

    That Lost-clone game sounds really neat. It sounds like the players also played from Director stance with the flashback scenes sometimes? Oh, and what system did you use?
  • edited March 2008
    Posted By: hamsterprophetOne technique I use, like, all the time is "The viewing audience..."

    Like, "So, you shake hands with the man you just met. The viewing audience recognizes him as the guy who was taking pictures of your battle with Twelve Dragon Tears on top of the parking garage last session."
    I think Cut Scenes can be used in a similar fashion. I might for instance have used a cut scene during your examples battle with the Twelve Dragon Tears to show that someone was photographing them.

    Cut Scenes are scenes without the presence of the protagonists, that is the player characters (PCs), that the GM can use to show the players, not the characters, what's going on elsewhere in the story. Normally they focus on what the antagonists are doing. The Third Person, Past Tense technique works wonderfully well in Cut Scenes, since they allow you to summarize the scene in past tense letting the GM get away with roleplaying multiple NPCs in conversation. This momentarily puts the players into Audience Stance, which is also away from Player Stance, and if used well will give the players motivation to use Author Stance to have their characters do something plausible about what occurred in the cut scene.

    I also like the Fishing technique popularized by Timothy Kleinert's The Mountain Witch. It involves asking the players to fill in the blanks of the story. Such as saying, "Outside the city gates the road is lined with severed human heads on stakes. It's a gruesome sight. Oh damn! You recognize one of the heads." Then point to a player and say, "Whose head is it?" Or how about, "You're relaxing in the tavern, sipping a nice brandy, when lo and behold who stumbles through the door?" Then do the same thing, point to the player and say, "Who just stepped into the tavern?" Fishing obviously cover other details then people, such as, "The painting in the dining room makes you sick to your stomach. Why, what's depicted in the painting?"

    While Fishing enters the realm of Director Stance, at least it gets the players away from Actor Stance, and gets them to think about the game differently.

  • Artellan,
    yes, much of what happened in the flashback gave the players Director Stance as well; they were essentially in control of the environment for flashback scenes, up to the point where a conflict arose and the dice were rolled to resolve it.

    The system I chose for running this game was Brave New World, the superheroes-as-second-class-citizens game by Matt Forbeck. Sounds like an odd choice, but there were at least 2 good reasons for it.

    1) My background notes for the game setting indicated I would need to allow for some pretty weird powers to emerge in some characters as the story progressed, so using a system with a catalogue of simply implemented powers was very attractive.
    2) The basic mechanic adapated very easily to encourage a different play style in flashback scenes; usually players roll a pool of dice and are looking for a single result of 5 or greater to succeed, with other stages of success being at multiples of 5, e.g. a result of 15 might equal 3 wounds in combat. The flashbacks were structured to occur over three scenes, spaced acroos one session and taking place between scenes on the island. Each flashback started with a budget of 10 dice and myself, or one of the other players if they felt like playing an NPC, would choose a number of dice from this pool to provide resistance to a conflict chosen by the acting player.

    If I was to run this game again, there are two things I'd do differently; first, fewer background notes on the setting. It was more fun for me when players created content rather than just discovering what I had written weeks previously. Second, give the acting player a dice pool in flashbacks rather tha having them use their PC's attributes and skills, as this would encourage them further away from actor stance and give them much more author or director stance.

    Its also worth mentioning that the flashbacks provided the only character progression system: they earned negative or positive experience points from each scene, which were spent on skills and negative/positive quirks. Hence, a character could, as a result of a flashback, display hitherto unmentioned skills, connections, knowledge and tools in the present day scenes on the island. This created some very big twists: one character discovered that her father had been to the island before her and was deeply involved in the conspiracy surrounding it. Another was revealed to be a member of the secret organisation fighting to prevent access to the island who had been suffering from amnesia; he recovered shortly before being assasinated by an agent of a rival organisation, who the same player than went on to play for the remainder of the campaign!
  • In traditional convention games with pregenerated characters, I very often use the following technique with success:

    When everybody have read the characters and we maybe have had a small one-by-one clarification session, when all players are back at the table, I prompt the players in turn questions about their character like: What kind of car does he drive? How old is his daughter? and then slowly into more open questions like: Describe his way to work. Tell us about his morning routine? Describe her office space. From here I can go directly into scenes, cutting between the player characters and possibly also plot scenes without player characters, until we end up in the official opening scene of the scenario with all characteres together in one scene (like the traditional mission briefing followed by the "What do you do" sim-style prompting). These kind of questions often naturally fall in the category of what traditional gamers will still think of as their creative domain.

    I have also used flashback scenes with success. I have found that some players really dislike aggresive prompting for improvisation at the table (you open the chest, what do you find?) and I have respect for that. Stressing players can lead to a creative block or unappropriate content. This can be solved by preparing the player for the task, e.g. by handing out the assignment in advance. Either as a strict: read this text aloud at some point, but better as an open assignment, e.g.: At one point, when you first recognise your sister, I will ask you to tell us about the last time you saw her in a flashback.

    Finally, techniques for verbalizing thoughts can be very useful, even though this may not be author stance. In one recent game, one character got a psychic power to listen to peoples surface thoughts, so whenever this character was in the room, the other players would both verbalize the dialogue and their thoughts.
  • Frederik-

    Awesome! Those sound like some great ideas. And you're totally right--that whole "describe your day at work" wouldn't even faze most old-school trad roleplayers. They would jump in without hesitation!
  • edited March 2008
    Nice stuff, Frederik! Well, except for this parenthetical example, which jumps right up my nose:
    Posted By: Frederik J. Jensen(you open the chest, what do you find?)
    ...because this is one of my biggest story-gaming pet peeves of all time, and it has nothing to do with being prompted too aggressively or feeling stressed out by being put on the spot.

    See, if someone else opens the chest, I don't mind being asked what they find inside. If you're opening a chest, I'm willing to tell you what you see there. But if I'm the one opening the chest, then it is because I am interested in finding out what's inside the chest, and throwing that question back onto me is denying me both the thrill of discovering the answer to that question and blowing a perfect opportunity for me to interact with someone else. The fact is, if I wanted to narrate everything all by myself, I wouldn't be hanging out at the table with you to play this game; I gave you "so-and-so opens the chest," now it's YOUR turn.

    I don't know if that falls under the umbrella of the Czege Principle, but damn it, it should. When players do something that poses a question (what's inside the chest? who framed Roger Rabbit? how long can he last in the bank vault before he suffocates?), making them answer that question themselves is a shitty, fun-ruining thing to do.
  • "You open the chest..." was meant as a variant of "Whoose head is it?" from Yokiboy's post on Mountain Witch. I can see that this prompting technique is different depending on who is doing the build up and who is doing the revelation, but this distinction was not in my mind or relevant for my point above: My point was merely stating that I know players who really dislike being asked to improvise content on demand (Be clever, right now, quick!). They can provide rich content to the game, but prefer to do it in their own pace.
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