How to Fix Yadda-Yadda Games?

edited September 2008 in Play Advice
This is something else I've noticed in a couple of Forge-inspired games. It came up a few times in our With Great Power... game, but every so often in other games too.

Scene Setter: "Okay, this scene is about X. Dude, you're in the scene."
Dude in Scene: "Uh... okay, so we want to address X. I'm going to want X to move in my direction. So, my guy says... (says what guy says)"
Opponent: "Whoa, I'm going to try to get X to move against the Dude-in-Scene. So this other guy says (says what other guy says)"
Dude in Scene: "Hmm. (Says more what his guy says - basically the same stuff, just more emphatically)"
Opponent: "Oh. (Responds, escalating a bit)"
Conflict Caller: "Okay, fellas, we've got a conflict. Let's bust out the mechanics."

Dialogue serves a lot of nifty purposes in a conventional drama. It provides exposition to the audience, gives characterization, and notifies the audience of the states and sometimes the very nature of the conflict ("Luke, you've turned off your targeting computer!"). When the writer is really fine, dialogue is a joy in its own right.

But in Yadda-Yadda Games, I find that dialogue occasionally strikes me as this de rigeur obligatory thing. Going into the scene, everyone knows what the scene's about. We know what the Dude's motivation is. We quickly figure out, or are told, the Opponent's motivation. Everyone knows we're headed to a mechanically-resolved conflict, the only question is how precisely do we get there? And sometimes it doesn't really matter all that much to me.

Other things like Yadda-Yadda Games:
* Dialogue in porn
* Dialogue balloons in console RPG's - Link, shut the hell up OMG I want to fight

What like is to have:
* crisp scenes (i.e., which don't take forever to get going, or stop)
* dialogue which adds a lot to the scene as dialogue
* (optional) Drama-based resolution

Anything out there do that?


  • edited September 2008
    From the example, this is a framing issue. As in... nobody frames anything. Saying "you are in the scene, the scene is about this" is not framing.

    In some games, there is some description o the scene before it's framed (Primetime adventures, for example). In others there is usually do discussion before framing the scene (sometime a player will request a scene, turning this into the first case again).

    In the second case, you simply frame the scene: place, time, people in the place at that time. etc, then the players start playing their character. The npc respond in kind, so when the PC says "I want to do this", you can ask "how?" if it isn't clear or you can simply say what the npc(s) do in return. No time for rewpeating what already happened

    (example: "I want to bore there people to death with my tales from my last holiday" "they try to stop you with beating you with a club", "OK, I begin narrating my fist day at the beach..." "ehm... dude, we are already past that, they are hitting you with clubs. What do you do?".
    NOT: "I want to bore there people to death with my tales from my last holiday" "please, play-act what you already told us you wanted to do, while I wait for you to finish..." )

    In the fist case, you simply frame the scene AFTER the description:
    "OK, (time, place, people in the place at the time, check). You are trying to bore them, but then they attack you with clubs. What do you do?"

    I have seen this problem in my games when I make the mistake of framing scenes BEFORE the action they already narrated, pushing them to repeat it again"before the camera".

    Or I could have simply misread the example... =:-I
  • James,

    It's a person peeve that I'm sure only affects me. So if you don't think it's worth pursuing, ignore me and assume and an idiot.

    The term "Forge-inspired" is meaningless to me. The games I play (which may or may not be games people consider Forge-inspired) never has this happen. I don't know what games you're talking about.

    The nature of the games today are so varied, so all over the map in terms of rules, techniques and procedures I actually have no idea what games you're talking about.

    Could you name the games?

    (As I mentioned in the other thread, I have not yet played With Great Power... But I might have played some of the games you are referring to.)

    To address your request at the end -- in a horrible, not productive way -- it seems to me that the first two of your three requests depend on the players. I don't know how rules can make something crisp, or how could they make the dialogue add value. Those are judgments made by the people at the table. Right? I'm willing to assume I'm foolish and missing something... but honestly I can't see past that fact that "better" will be determined by -- and made by -- the people at the table.

    You ask: "Anything out there do that?"

    I recently played a session of In a Wicked Age.. that did that. I wrapped up a 9 session game of Sorcerer that did that. I ran a session of HeroQuest in Glorantha that did that. I ran a session of Pendragon that did that. I bring these four games up because, in my view, they all did the thing you are asking for, and never went near the thing you're trying to avoid.

    I think this depended on the players and how we chose to play. I know as the guy in the GM seat I try to start scenes as far in as possible and to cut when something interesting has happened. But what happened in-between was up to the Players. I'm sure the rules helped in interesting ways -- and I think this is a really important and fruitful discussion. But I'm still not sure how much the rules can do to make this happen.

    I think that in the subject you've brought up it has a lot more to do with "Community Inspired Habits" than "Forge-style games." Something has crept in where folks are jumping toward the mechanic/resolution system to wrap things up, instead of discovering what the heck is going on in the middle of scene. I saw this happen the first time I played In a Wicked Age... for example. But I don't think that's the game. I think that's how we played.

    Are you talking about the rules, or how people are using the rules? I'm not sure.

  • Posted By: James_NostackAnything out there do that?
    A player with the desire to skip the foreplay.

    GM: "So you're in this scene with Sarah, and ..."
    PC: " 'You'll never love me the way you loved HIM, will you?" "
    GM: "Uh ... so ... uh ..."
    PC: "I'll just start rolling dice, shall I?"
    GM: "Uh ... yeah ... that'd be ... uh ... you do that."

    To the folks who hold off on that because they think that if they don't get their natural sounding, enjoyable dialogue in before then they'll never get it at all: Learn to include dialogue in your use of the mechanics of your choice. Seriously. Get your chocolate in your peanut butter. Chocolate and peanut butter taste great together.
  • edited September 2008
    Posted By: Christopher Kubasik -- The term "Forge-inspired" is meaningless to me. The games I play (which may or may not be games people consider Forge-inspired) never has this happen. I don't know what games you're talking about.

    Chris, I'm looking explicitly at With Great Power..., Primetime Adventures, Dogs in the Vineyard, and (in a few cases) Sorcerer, which are the Forge-y games I've been mostly playing. I haven't really played a whole lot of Shadow of Yesterday but I can certainly see how the same issue could arise there. (There are a whole ton of games published after about 2004-5 that I haven't caught up with. What I'm describing may simply be a common design feature of a particular era.)
    I don't know how rules can make something crisp

    What I mean by a "crisp" scene is that we open up on either Situation (dudes in conflict!), or Character (dudes talking, reavealing something about himself or herself--it's not really a conflict, though) or maybe Setting (description of the natural world--Tolkien's nature passages, for example--might qualify as dialogue in the sense that the players, rather than the characters, are describing it. Think of the whaling chapters in Moby Dick or Steinbeck's passages about the land). People know what the scene is for, and they don't dilly-dally about getting to it. And once we've got a resolution of some kind, we lower the curtain and raise it somewhere else.
    make the dialogue add value

    I guess what I'm saying is that dialogue, in a novel, isn't just stuff people say for no reason. The author puts those lines there because each sentence either reveals something ("I shot him"), does something ("Okay, I'll agree to shoot him"), or sounds pretty sweet ("And you will know my name is the LORD when I lay my vengeance upon thee").

    So (this is a stupid idea which I'm not seriously suggesting) if you can't do one of those things, you don't get to talk at this juncture in the conversation. Play remains with the speaker until someone else takes the reins. If the speaker runs out of Revelations, Verbal Actions, or Quotables, and no one can say anything, the conversation is over.

    And you're right, "better" is a subjective term, but there you go.
    the subject you've brought up it has a lot more to do with "Community Inspired Habits" than "Forge-style games." Something has crept in where folks are jumping toward the mechanic/resolution system to wrap things up, instead of discovering what the heck is going on in the middle of scene. . . . I don't think that's the game. I think that's how we played.

    That's very astute, and maybe that's what's going on: I'll have to think about it. But, all things being equal, bad community habits = opportunity for corrective design, right?

    PS. Tony, I'm not looking for ways to bypass the foreplay. I'm looking for ways for the foreplay to work better for me. But I'll take your suggestion into consideration and see how it works next time I play.
  • In my experience this usually happens because...

    1) We've framed the scene too sharply, cutting directly to the core without letting it build by actually playing out the scene. We already know what's going to happen, so there's no point in playing it. The solution is just to frame to when things are just beginning to get interesting, not directly to the conflict. This is often the "playing it before you play it" problem.

    2) People are tired of all the build up crap and just want to get on with it already, because they're either tired or antsy or know exactly what they want to do or who they want to beat up on. Occasionally you can just jump right into things. Dogs is really good at this actually. Go ahead and roll; the other stuff can come during Sees and Raises. Other times, you may have to try and figure out why folks are feeling so impatient. Is the pacing all messed up? Is it getting late? Etc.
  • "Foreplay" is a great analogy. And, just like with sex, if you focus only on GETTING TO THE BANGS!!!! all the time, it's going to get pretty stale.

    There's a game that does what you look for - and exclusively that. It's a great exercise and eye-opener; it's called "Lady and Otto". Read it and play it.
  • Have you ever had a game where everyone was roleplaying really awesome, but then all of a sudden a combat was introduced, which took far too long, and that basically derailed all the cool character drama that you were doing into a die fest that everyone was lukewarm about?

    That's what it feels like when folks:
    1) Push hard to define a scene too tight: "Let's have a scene where you and I are in it, and you are all depressed about what happened earlier, and I have to try to console you."
    2) Push too hard to get to "the conflict" in games like PTA or WGP (where there may be a conflict per scene, but doesn't necessarily have to be one).

    I get bored quickly by both, personally.

  • Yeah, this happens a lot to me and it sucks. Jonathan Walton is bang on, above, to the extent that I almost just want to quote him and leave it at that. Andy's also right, in that "every scene gets to a conflict eventually" fosters this, often not because the designer intended it but because that's where the game seems to happen.

    Try playing something entirely freeform as an antidote, first up. I'd recommend a little freeform experience to anyone - many of my freeform experiences were just PACKED with meaningful dialogue. Indeed, the lack of a mechanism for resolving physical interactions has the effect that players tend to shy away from them, resulting in lots of dialogue instead.

    But "playing before you play" is the big problem - the sense in which, before a scene begins, you have already mapped out where it's going to go, and so the actual doing of it seems an irrelevant detail. I'd like to see a game in which no player or group actually framed the scenes, but in which they were in some sense framed at random, or by systemic effects. So you have to play the scene to find OUT what it was about...
  • edited September 2008
    Posted By: MeserachI'd like to see a game in which no player or group actually framed the scenes, but in which they were in some sense framed at random, or by systemic effects. So you have to play the scene to find OUT what it was about...
    Dulse maybe? I mean, yes, that tells you something in advance about the scene, but not what matters
  • Posted By: James_NostackPS. Tony, I'm not looking for ways to bypass the foreplay. I'm looking for ways for the foreplay to work better for me. But I'll take your suggestion into consideration and see how it works next time I play.
    Okay, gotcha. You're not looking to skip dialogue, you're looking to insure that dialogue is productive and fun.

    I think, to some extent, that's what I'm suggesting when I say that you should have dialogue inside of the system resolution ... but in many systems that will make things all too constantly conflicty.

    Ideally, the presence of the system (as a possibility) would encourage and lead to crisp, entertaining, meaningful dialogue even in scenes where the system wasn't used.

    Maybe the simple act of occasionally (as a GM) saying "And ... scene!" when people seem to be acting out of obligation. Cut the scene before anything conflicty happens, to make clear that going through the motions is not a useful path to any goal.

    On the foreplay metaphor: Sometimes it's not foreplay. Sometimes it's just cuddling.
  • Hi James,

    I'm looking forward to hearing more about the With Great Power... game on the thread you started at The Forge.

    As far as Primetime Adventures goes, well... I'm not seeing it. I'm seeing that people might play that way. But that's not the game. It just seems like too much is being decided up-front to hold any interest in what the scene is about or what's going to happen (we know what's going to happen -- there's going to be a fight!)

    And Sorcerer? Really? Again, there's nothing in the rules to even bring us close to this.

    I can't see this being about these two games at all.

    Dogs in the Vineyard, yes. I can see this happening. The game is about how far you will escalate a conflict, so you might as well get to the conflict. But I shied away from this game specifically for this reason. Frankly, it's kind of boring to me. What I want is systems where I simply don't know how things will turn out. The conflict resolution mechanics of both Sorcerer and Primetime Adventures guarantee two things: I don't know when or what is going to mark the beginning of a conflict; and I have no idea how the outcome of the conflict will bear no resemblance to expectations of how the conflict started.

    This doesn't mean that the players at the table can't choose to front-load, over-designate and pre-defined tons of material about the conflicts and the outcomes. As far as I can tell, people do it all the time. I see this as a strong influence of Dogs. I'm not faulting Dogs here -- it's fine game for what it does. I'm faulting players who grabbed some of the gameplay sensibility of Dogs and stapled it on to games where it had to place.

    As far as I can tell this is a matter tied directly to the Dude-in-a-Scene problem you're having. A lot of the suggestions over in that other thread about handing the Players NPCs and keeping them busy enough to distract them from the fact that their PC is not in the scene. But this misses, I think, the more important question: Why are the Players so disengaged and bored when someone else's scene is happening right in front of them? I mean, that's the issue -- in my book at least.

    The reason might well be that, from the way you're describing how you play, there's really no mystery in what's going to happen? All the scenes seem kind of done even before they start. There is, of course, the formality of rolling the dice to get things over with... but that's not particularly interesting if there wasn't much interest in a) how we got to the conflict in the first place, and b) how the the conflict might turn out.

    I need to expand on what I mean by "how the conflict might turn out." I don't mean -- "Someone wins or loses," or "He ends up drawing his gun but the bad guy gets away." I mean, in a given game of Primetime Adventures, when a conflict is Narrated after cards are drawn, there is no fucking way anyone at the table should know how the person won narration rights is going to narrate things. Certainly there will be a matrix of possibilities that can be chosen from. The character with the Issue of Pride might end up humbled, for example. But we should have no idea whether or not that's going to happen. We should have not a clue what direction the narration is going to take the scene. The narrator might weave in new details and whatnot that turns the story in a new direction -- which is the whole point of having a conflict.

    The same with Sorcerer. I've noticed that whenever I start a Sorcerer conflict the damndest things happen before its over -- enemies become allies, confident sorcerers retreat with their tails between their legs and have to rethink everything they thought they knew, protagonists are purged of emotional ghosts before they even knew what hit them, and so on... Everything you're describing above simply doesn't happen. The twists and turns of the die rolls are liike a maze and we always end up some place unexpected. No one knows ahead of time what the scene is "about," what the stakes are, or where we are heading. It's always uncharted territory.

    Which, by the way, is the way I like it. Which is why I'm stuck on this topic. Because when people start typing complaints about "Forge-style" games and how the scenes are all pro-forma, I can only say, "Then stop." Like that. "Stop doing it." Because it's a choice on the part of the players at the table to bend the gameplay to something that these games were never meant to do.

    There's a thread going on over at The Forge right now that addresses this very subject about a Primetime Adventures game. In Ron Edwards second post he breaks out all the issues I'm talking about, referencing a post of Actual Play. I know a lot of people have bugs up their ass about Ron, but that doesn't mean he's not right a lot of the time. If you care about this topic, or at least Primetime Adventures, you might want to check it out. Certainly he addresses the issue of having people blow by scene material with pre-plotted everything. I think that's the bane of fun, and suggest that people simply don't do it if it's causing trouble. Certainly we have that control over our game experience if we want it.

  • edited September 2008

    I'm also strongly reminded about some not to distant discussions about In A Wicked Age and how many people were fucked up about the resolution because, basically, they were using it as stakes resolution when it really, really isn't. Conflicts in IaWA should start at one point that you didn't know was coming, and then go fucking wild and let play emerge as you go from the things you do passionately in the moment.

    Anyway, I think a big problem with the Yadda-Yadda issue is that folks are trying to ratchet up tension and interest 1) to close to the moment, 2) to on the nose, and 3) before resolution hits the table.

    To break that down:

    1) Is basically what Jonathan said -- if you frame in to tight to the moment of conflict, but aren't really going right into the conflict, then you get this odd situation where you have something about to explode, because you've said its about to explode, but have no gas and no matches. Setting up a scene so that the context follows and things happen as decisions in the moment rather than decisions made before the scene even starts often requires us to back off a little and let the characters have some moments to breath before they go to the face stabbing.

    2) "On the nose" is a thing that screen writers use to talk about scenes that are too explicitly saying what they are about. You know, when there is a scene about how Buffy is sad because Angel dumped her ass and Buffy says, "I am sad because Angel dumped my ass" instead of, you know, getting all weired and jealous when Cordelia and Xander are macking. The second scene shows Buffy's sorrow, and its manifestation in her human situation, the first scene is just a talking point to get plot across. A big part of the "yadda yadda" problem sounds like it could be because the players, having set up a scene for a specific reason, get very much too much on the nose and have their characters talk too directly and too explicitly about what the scene is about. Both backing off, as above, and giving the scene a context of the characters issues and wider screen personality, as well as not explicitly pre-setting what the scene is about, but instead finding out about it as you play, can help with this.

    3) Tony covered, I think. If you're doing everything, hitting dice, and stopping the narration and dialog, then things get odd because a lot of the games we seem to be talk about assume some level of ongoing talk and narration during resolution. So when you push all the stuff that would be giving the resolution momentum, and be gaining context from the ongoing resolution system, up to the front and then leave the resolution running empty, everything gets stretched and distorted.
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