Most Formally Challenging Scene You've GM'ed? ("GM Stunts")

edited June 2009 in Story Games
What's the most formally ambitious scene you've ever run?

I'm not talking about challenging in terms of, "this scene is critical to my 10-year-long campaign, and I really need to hit these notes perfectly" or "there are 25 cave-trolls fighting 6 brass dragons fighting 3 PC's". (These are certainly challenging to run, but in a different way.) I'm thinking more like, "Art Film" style GM'ing-- scenes were time isn't operating in a linear fashion, scenes that operate entirely in dream-logic, scenes where there are weird communication rules between the (real life) participants, etc. etc. What scene have you run that made you say, "Damn, I can't believe I pulled that off?" (or, "Argh, if only I hadn't been so madly ambitious"?)

Mine occurred this afternoon, when I improvised a scene set entirely in another player's hallucinations, which served (a) to challenge the player's most cherished trait, (b) to provide an info-dump on the villains' true goals (which were entirely improvised but 100% logically coherent based on the material we'd had so far), all while (c) obeying David Lynch-style dream logic. There was a little bit of flailing around, and we had a slightly difficult time figuring out when to trigger the conflict rules, but I was really pleased at the scene overall.


  • edited June 2009
    In a recent Unknown Armies game the PC was stuck in a room in the House of Renunciation.

    The House, for those who don't know UA, is a place where the universe (kind of as an aggregate whole, kind of as an individual twitch in the break down of order) sticks people when they need to be turned inside out and become someone other than who they've been on a fundamental level. Different rooms do this differently, but my vision for this room was pretty much a place where the logic of the character's live was turned inside out, with hopping through time to different decision points and how things would have turned out if the character made different decisions.

    So the PC, trying to spring someone else from the room, ends up in the room herself. We proceed to frame and make up scenes, on the fly as we weren't really expecting this to happen, in which I try to unravel the character's psyche and put her into a place to doubt herself and her decisions.

    We move in and out of past and future, of worlds where she has children, of a world where she dies of old age (her fear in life is that she's not going to see 30, and she's probably right), in which she's married, in which she has money and success, in which she only has to give up some little bit of herself, some little thing that she wants as an individual in order to be rewarded with what most people want in life (money, fame, love, safety). Each scene ended with her having to leave something, or usually someone, behind if she wanted to be able to continue to be herself.

    It was very much a scene that focused on the pressures of being a feminist, especially a radical feminist, and the places where love and family and sex conflict with the need for autonomy, choice, and ... well, sex. It was difficult, often, to know where to engage the mechanics. Mostly we played freeform until we came to the critical juncture (the "oh no you don't asshole" moment) -- and then used the UA stress meter system to see if the character could actually make the choice the player wanted her too.

    She did. She left her baby, she left chance for safety, she left a life where she was loved in order to go back to her world of being shot, chased by psychos, and actually having a chance to fundamentally change the world.

    It was also strenuous because there were a large number of NPCs in the scenes, including some scenes of NPCs talking to each other about the PC, and many of them were functionally different than the normal behavior for the NPC. Like what if this character had never learned to shoot a gun, and thus never become a killer, what would he say in this situation that is so unlike anything we've ever seen him in... and how can I make that feel real while he's telling another NPC who we've never met but has to be a believable love interest something that will shake the PC's self confidence. Lots of juggling to make that work.

    It was awesome.
  • Wow, great story! My group is very forgiving of GM fuckups, which both takes the pressure off me, but also keeps me from feeling pressured in a good way, you know? Cool thread idea.
  • I ran a Mage game with non-sequential causality at a convention some years ago, but really that looked harder than it actually was.

    An Unknown-Armies inspired con game about dissasociative identity disorder was somewhat trickier. The PCs were each a seperate personality of a single patient in therapy; the GM, as therapist, could only talk to a single player at once and had to judge when particular personalities had been triggered. At the same time, he had to ensure that the game was running smoothly for all participants (sometimes you'd have to deliberately trigger a personality if the player had been left out too long). None of the players are told that they are alters of the same patient; they think that they are five different people in a group therapy session.

    The game was run immersively; players seated in a circle, the GM walks around behind them (facing whoever the currently dominant alter is), and no dice or breaking out of character. Each alter is identified by a surname (Halliday, Lovett, Manning, Schofield, and Vaughn), but they have not been assigned a personal name or gender. Not only does this allow players of either sex to choose from any of the characters without a gender bias, the GM was intended to reinforce the immersion by identifying each player with their chosen alter, and assume that the alter is identical in gender and personal name to the player. I did not use the alter’s personal name initially, but remained detached and professional towards the Patient. However, later in the session I would “slip” and use the player's name in a way that strongly identified them with the alter.

    Running the game took a bit of careful handling at times, both to get players immersed in their characters, to manage the fictional reality, and to make sure that each player was also okay at all times. I'm fine with pushing the discomfort boundary a little (the game was advertised as such), but if there's a possibility of a player experiencing a triggering episode by a game, the GM has a certain duty of care. It was definitely worthwhile, but more work than the usual RPG session.
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