The Lesson of the Duck Brothers

edited June 2009 in Story Games
I've been going slowly over my past gaming experiences for the last couple of months, looking at this and that and the other thing. And I came upon this one weird turning point in the way I think of games that I think might deserve, well, bein noted.

Many years ago, I played Heavy Gear. And our game was blessed with an entertaining assortment of characters... We had a reporter, and a Gear duellist, a foot-soldier veteran, and two engineers. These are the PCs (I was the veteran).

The engineers were Howard and Donald; while not related, they never left each other's company, and came to be known in the game as The Duck Brothers (by way of their names).

In the course of the entire campaign, neither of the Duck Brothers took up arms. We had plenty of fights; they never fired a shot. During fights, they took notes on the fights.

And then they tinkered with crafting, with the Gear-construction rules, with all of that. We had the coolest, most wicked gear in the world, custom-built for exactly our actions and skills, and the players of the Duck Brothers had a great time tinkering while we ran around and blew stuff up.

At a marked, basic level, they were not playing the same game that the rest of us were.

And it worked. With buttery ease.

I've had many, many similar experiences since.

You?

Comments

  • It doesn't seem to me that you were playing the same game, it sounds like you were playing with different mechanics (Which is present in varying degrees in most roleplaying games, this game would represent an extreme example)

    It seems like the point of the game you were playing was "The PCs who are not the Duck Brothers have awesome fights." Which was totally supported by the Duck Brothers (Building gear to make the other PC's fights more awesome.)

    If the point of the game you were playing was "All PCs, included the Duck Brothers, have awesome fights.", then I assume the Duck Brothers refusal to participate in it would be a atleast somewhat frustrating.
  • I doesn't seems so, from your account.

    The CHARACTERS did different things (some fought, some not) but the PLAYERS collaborated in overcoming enemies and obstacles. It's not like the Duck brothers created machines to win a singing contest, without caring about what the other player did, right?

    It seems, from the description, only a more marked version of the difference between the cleric and the fighter in old editions of D&D.
  • I think the comments above me are partially about the fact that the word "Game" has two distinct meanings here: Of course they all played in the same social activity we call game.

    But from a mechanical standpoint, they were not necessarily mechanically active in the same scenes, and they didn't use the same mechanics.

    It's something some people consider a bug and others a feature, when some characters use completely different mechanics, especially when they may not interact with others' subsystems. Like one sub-systems uses 3D6s, Task Oriented, and the other uses 1d20, Conflict oriented, and when one side has to sit on their arse while the other plays (Deckers?). But that's obviously about group preferences.

    I think aside from group and player preferences, it helps that their characters were invested in your fights, taking the notes, and the result of their mechanical tinkering (in both ways) fed into what your characters had done. And that they probably played with the Silhouette's system when you guys weren't together?
  • Posted By: Thunder_GodI think the comments above me are partially about the fact that the word "Game" has two distinct meanings here: Of course they all played in the same social activity we call game.
    No, no, I was not talking about that. I was talking about the difference between what PLAYERS do and what CHARACTERS do.

    Levi's tale is all about the difference between what the characters did. Taken by itself, this mean nothing. In my last Trollbabe game, one trollbabe was evoking a city of undead, while the other was on the other side of the planet saving a farming community from bandits. Did the players play different games? Of course not.

    Even in games where the characters act together, there is the thinker of the group, who never fight, and the bruiser. Think about Buffy the Vampire Slayer: you would say that Giles's player would play a different game than Buffy's?
  • I have an even better example: in a Soccer team, the goalkeeper and the left wing play in different sports?
  • Posted By: Moreno R.I have an even better example: in a Soccer team, the goalkeeper and the left wing play in different sports?
    Let me rephrase your analogy.

    Are the coach and the center playing the same game? To which the answer is "Yes... yes? Yes."

    Because they are. But when you frame the coach as playing, your viewpoint has to zoom out. Er. If you get me.

    I want to say something like "it shows how the pulse of the game can be longer and wider than it looks", translated into theoretical, because I suspect there's a heavy-type theory-idea here.

    But I really don't want to get hung up on the language.
  • Levi, I like that people felt comfortable having very different roles in the storyline. It makes me think about, yes, Deckers from Shadowrun, but also Kaylee and Wash from Firefly - they definitely have different things to do, and aren't at all "hybrid" characters just so they can stay in the action at all times.
    A cleric's just a weaker fighter with healing powers (etc.), but a pilot in a Firefly game is probably just a pilot, even if he's a damn good one.
    It'd be neat to take this route further than D&D does - the party roles aren't just different strengths of fighting skill with something else tacked on; they don't even have a chance of the spotlight in the same scenes as one another.

    This reminds me of my desire to make an artisan class for an RPG at some point, ever since I had a player in a game of Exalted, running a Solar, Twilight Caste, who used her craftsperson powers to be a fashion designer :) Totally not good at combat, only good as a talker, and of course made a living (and twisted a few arms) by making very pretty dresses for officers' wives.

    I love it!
  • This phenomenon is why my Spycraft games keep dying. Each PC is so incredibly specialized, and there's no need for one character to watch and take notes during another's scenes, so it ends up being "Run a solo game for the Hacker; run a solo game for the Intruder; run a solo game for the Wheelman; run a solo game for the Soldier; repeat".

    I would like to see some kind of game where character roles are markedly different like that and yet there was some kind of feedback mechanism that allowed each player to remain active in each scene. Like, in a scene that focuses on the Soldier, perhaps the Hacker has a flashback sequence detailing all the things he did ahead of time to turn the odds in the Soldier's favour, but that are just now unfolding.
  • Adam, you just houseruled it.

    That's part of the GM's role in games where the players throw all the cards into the air and then look at the GM: Herding players and having the party cohesive.

    As opposed to most GMs I personally know, which present the situation, and let the players sort things between themselves till they're all on the same page, or whatever. I once spent two sessions so the paladin won't arrest my rogue in the middle of the dungeon.

    Have the Hacker need the soldier to get to a specific position in order to get the intel he needs and broadcast his signal, the soldier relies on the hacker's successes in order to keep progressing, and don't let the hacker do his whole thing or the soldier. Have it be in "real time" inside the game, so the soldier progresses and then the hacker makes some rolls, then the soldier progresses and/or gets "Random guard patrol" rolls, etc.

    Maybe?
  • Posted By: deadlytoqueThis phenomenon is why mySpycraftgames keep dying. Each PC is so incredibly specialized, and there's no need for one character to watch and take notes during another's scenes, so it ends up being "Run a solo game for the Hacker; run a solo game for the Intruder; run a solo game for the Wheelman; run a solo game for the Soldier; repeat".

    I would like to see some kind of game where character roles are markedly different like that and yet there was some kind of feedback mechanism that allowed each player to remain active in each scene. Like, in a scene that focuses on the Soldier, perhaps the Hacker has a flashback sequence detailing all the things he did ahead of time to turn the odds in the Soldier's favour, but that are just now unfolding.
    Consider this one:

    For a Shadowrun game that never got off the ground (we got distracted by a Larp), we had a very odd idea for a group... The one-man party.

    Skag the crazy combatant goes running to beat some guys to hell in his high-tech suit. As he runs, the face is watching on helmetcam, and actually controls the voice system in Skag's suit - he can talk as if he was Skag throughout the running. The rigger is running a drone gun from out of Skag's backpack. The hacker is "ghosting" right alongside, in the machine, and the mage, who dropped a "touch extending" amulet on Skag earlier, is managing buffs.

    For fifteen minutes, Skag is a god. Because he's five people in one.

    Now, granted, we never did get down to numbers-and-cases; we might not have been able to make this work in the rules. But I still do want to give it a go some time.
  • Ocean's Eleven comes to mind for inspiration on how to do this.

    In a more high-tech situation (or not), it's not too hard for lots of simultaneity to work in favor of everybody getting a little limelight.

    A great, almost cliched example of this: the dilettante must distract the Captain of the Guard while the skulduggers break into the sewer system beneath the palace. Hm, there you go - you don't even need high tech to be able to bounce back and forth meaningfully between protagonists.
  • Movies shows the other way in which it works. Some indie games are all about this: When it's not the characters that are connected, but the players.

    So long each player cares enough to listen to the other's story, it works. Some games add stuff for the non-PC players to do, like an ability to affect the scene. For some reason, most of the games where it happens but not with it being GM-full currently escape my mind.

    Maybe it was also Sorcerer? A game where the PCs might not meet up, but they are all existing in the same world with thematic connections? I dunno.
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Thunder_GodMovies shows the other way in which it works.
    There are more ways to go for solo-group crossovers, if you want to open up the floor. Ars Magica has two - the common holding (covenant) and the bit-part character pool (grogs).
  • Or, ahem, if you really want to go deep on the "Shared character", try Cranium Rats, where the players play one character jointly, by way of playing aspects of its personality? ;-)
  • edited June 2009
    I guess I can say with pride that I am a Duck Brother, because I've been that guy in many games. I like games which make the "engineering guy" or the "wacky pilot" or even "the tough guy's little sister" a viable character. Some games do that through something like Fate Points, some do it through niche protection, and some do it the way PTA does it, by making the characters equal mechanically.

    I think the soccer example is actually pretty deep, not just a throwaway line-- the left wing and the keeper are playing the same game, but in significantly different roles that presumably require different strengths and interests. Even in a pickup game of soccer, you might pick your position based on your skills and interests.

    In fact, I'd say this is a problem with some indie games for me: they are so focused on a specific CA play style* that they really require everybody to be playing the same game in the same way, like a variant of soccer where you have 11 forwards on each team and everybody just chases after the ball at all times trying to get goals.

    *Edit: Corrected.
  • Hm, a tangent or not, going off of Danny's post. Capes? Where all players can "win" in a contest, as each gets the resource they want, which can be used for different things, and requires interaction with those other players.

    Of course, sometimes you both want the same resource now, but still, anyone ends with something.
  • Posted By: DannyKIn fact, I'd say this is a problem with some indie games for me: they are so focused on a specific CA that they really require everybody to be playing the same game in the same way, like a variant of soccer where you have 11 forwards on each team and everybody just chases after the ball at all times trying to get goals.
    Whoa, careful there.

    While I agree that there are limited-focus games, many of them indie / small-press, where this kind of thing can't happen as easily... I'd be real careful about putting CA and other theoryspeak to it in that way. One could, I suspect, just as easily say that the game of the Duck Brothers worked because the group had a unified gamist CA on the long run, as one could say otherwise, if inclined.

    This thing happens. It can be a huge positive; it can also be a big problem. Some games, chasing a tight focus, make it less likely to happen in either direction.

    The big question, I think, is how to encourage it to happen positively, rather than negatively. And we already hit a few notes that might help puzzle on that, I think?
  • Posted By: DannyKI think the soccer example is actually pretty deep, not just a throwaway line-- the left wing and the keeper are playing the same game, but in significantly different roles that presumably require different strengths and interests. Even in a pickup game of soccer, you might pick your position based on your skills and interests.
    The soccer analogy is great, and Danny even picked up on the word I was going to use---role.

    Most games have 2 roles: GM, and player. But Levi's had a third, which could maybe be called "support".
  • Posted By: timfireMost games have 2 roles: GM, and player.
    Beaten to it. Let me amplify: Suppose you have one guy in your group who lives for gameworld maintenance, who really cares that little Sally dotes on her brother Jed, who is a tough thug in public but a softie once he gets home. Suppose that you have two other guys who really want to do the whole Story Now enchilada — they're so hot to address premise and achieve literary technique that they sometimes forget to update the facts in the knowledge base.

    These guys are playing Dogs, the first as GM and the others playing the actual Dogs, and they're having a blast, scratching their own creative itches and reinforcing each others' contributions to the fiction.
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