Are OSR-style play and Story Now play really antithetical?

edited March 2012 in Story Games
In another thread, a poster mentions this essay by Ron Edwards on Story Now play and using its approach with rich gaming settings. As with most essays by Edwards, I felt thinky after reading, and a bit punchy. Here's my reaction. It seemed reasonable to start another tread to see if people had further thoughts on this, rather than de-railing the previous discussion which really wasn't about the essay directly, much at all:


Hrm. I like how Ron punks "sandbox" play as an ambiguous shibboleth coined by misty-eyed nostalgicism, and then turns straight around and lauds "your Glorantha may vary" as a mechanism for gloriously vibrant creation through localized interaction with a setting by selective embracement of detail.

Funny -- that's what I thought "sandbox" play actually meant. Here's a setting, of some size, evocative in detail to some degree, not in plot. Now it's yours, go have fun. In other words, "your Wilderlands of High Fantasy may vary". Hrm.

In my reading of many of the leading, actually playing, lights in the OSR end of the hobby, it seems to me that the focus they propose of dynamic "just draw it out at the table" gaming is more similar than not of the sorts of details Ron proposes for Story Now play: Start with some evocative detail ("sword & sorcery pulp-age fantasy type vibe! dark gods, here are some capsule descriptions!"), and a tightly focussed setting ("ummmm... this dungeon"), some characters that are lightly created, but -belong there- ("ummmm... OK, here's a fighter, a thief, a cleric, and a magic-user: why are they here? because they want -gold-"), introduce a radical conflict trigger ("you've been exploring mostly empty rooms for five hours; suddenly you hear a hideous shambling noise -between you and the exit-, and your torches are -burning low-...").

Ron makes a lot of good points, as he seems to in all the essays of his that I have read. But he also seems to have a pretty solid axe to grind. Which is fine, I suppose, but at the end of the day, he still seems to be doing his part to attempt to invalidate other people's fun. I'm not sure I'm cool with that.
«13

Comments

  • Sure, I can see how someone might get a burr up their nose about that sandbox aside. What Ron's saying about it, though, is simply that he isn't seeing a clear definition of what the word means. That's his problem, isn't it? I mean, I don't know of any official language institute that'd have defined the term either, but I've seen contexts where that word has been used in functional and useful ways. Not having an exacting universal definition isn't much of an obstacle - don't use the word if it feels too ambiguous, and if you do use it or see it used, read charitably and try to figure out whether there's something useful being said.

    Aside from that, it should be noted that Ron's writing here exclusively about narrativist attempts at getting some use out of intricately detailed settings in roleplaying games. That's a pretty specific topic, and it means that he's going to judge things from that viewpoint: many things that have a purpose for other perspectives won't be useful for him, here.

    As for the bulk of the article: if you don't already know this stuff, then now's a high time to learn, assuming you're at all interested in narrativism / Story Now. I say this qualitatively because people who already grog say The Shadow of Yesterday will probably not see anything new in Ron's recipe: this is totally tread ground, I've utilized these techniques myself in e.g. Glorantha-based gaming. It works, is fun, and truly enables one to have a meaningful narrativist game while also having a plentiful setting background for it all.

    The OSR connection is tenuous to my mind, most OSR games and gamers explicitly embrace things like the party model and adventure-based goal-oriented play as techniques, so they're likely not going to be interested in an alternative model of structuring the campaign. (I don't even need to go into the creative agenda contradiction here.) Perhaps we'll get a good flame war about this if we do our best, though?
  • The crux here is, do you think OSR play requires a DM coming up with complete detailed plots in advance, or is winging it and focusing on the characters while kicking in dungeon doors cool?

    If you are of the belief that OSR play demands a plot and narrative locked in by a DM in advance, then yeah they're incompatible.

    If you are of the belief that OSR play can still have dungeons and trolls, but have an open plot that focuses on a character, then they are totally compatible. In fact, it's pretty much how I run my OSR-style games (and a few D&D 3e campaigns)... As long as the DM is skillful enough to create encounters on the fly: In this case, the ability to "Create a living, breathing NPC on the fly with goals opposing the players"--which is a skill that games like Sorcerer requires of the GM--is comparable to a DM creating a living, breathing encounter (or mini-dungeon) on the fly.

    (note: while I loved all the ideas 4e brought to the gaming table, in the end I simply could not create balanced encounters with the system (it took too much time, effort) that I could with 3E or other simpler OSR systems, which is why I could never get that true sandbox style play required for Story Now-OSR; others have had more success)
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: AndyThe crux here is, do you think OSR play requires a DM coming up with complete detailed plots in advance, or is winging it and focusing on the characters while kicking in dungeon doors cool?
    Anybody who spends any time reading self-identified OSR people will notice that the DM having "detailed plots in advance" is pretty much completely anathema to how the OSR rolls.
  • Yes, they are antithetical. Next question?

    More serious answer below...
    Posted By: Zak SPosted By: AndyThe crux here is, do you think OSR play requires a DM coming up with complete detailed plots in advance, or is winging it and focusing on the characters while kicking in dungeon doors cool?
    Anybody who spends any time reading self-identified OSR people will notice that the DM having "detailed plots in advance" is pretty much completely anathema to how the OSR rolls.

    Yeah, this. "Detailed plots in advance" is trad gaming, not OSR. (And notice I'm agreeing with Zak here!)

    The reason the OSR and Story Now playstyles are incompatible is not because they require different skills from the GM (though they do, to an extent), nor is it because they require different mechanical tools (though I do believe different tools are helpful for each). Rather, the reason they don't mesh well together is because Story Now requires a focus on human, moral issues that tends to kill pure exploration and resource management dead.

    If you really wanted to play a game that married those styles as much as possible, though, I would look at doing a "Burning Thac0" style game, or the forthcoming Mouse Guard hack Dungeoneers and Dragonslayers.

    Matt
  • I think the biggest problem for doing Story Now with an OSR style game is the complete lack of interest in who the character is and why he's chosen to go into a dungeon in search of wealth. OSR just doesnt care about that stuff we just want to see if you can take this character in and get out alive.
  • edited March 2012
    This is a complicated thing, partially because I don't feel like I'm up to date on recent theory discussions along these lines.

    My sense, at least nowadays, is that "sandbox" play is 1) a very real thing, and 2) not so much a Creative Agenda (at least in Ron's sense) as it is a way of structuring the fiction and some behavior on the GM's side of things. You can have sandbox-structured games that fit a variety of Creative Agendas, so there's nothing that necessarily makes sandbox and Story Now (or any other agenda) antithetical.

    The relationship between sandbox play and OSR play is closely related but not the same. Both are part of the "play to find out what happens" school of practices, which means the players have agency to do whatever they want, within the agreed-upon boundaries of the game, and the GM "follows the player around" and makes the game about those choices and their consequences. However, the OSR has a bunch of other stuff going on that plugs into some aspects of Creative Agenda, and is -- again, IME -- a much more specific term and school of play than "sandbox," which seems to be a more general concept (and is sometimes used to talk about campaign structures in which there's only the illusion that the players can do anything).

    In my thinking, the OSR as a whole probably isn't best analyzed in terms of Ron's three Creative Agendas (Step on Up, Story Now, Right to Dream), because it's a semi-established set of practices that includes aspects of all of them and can be approached by players in a few different ways. The OSR is maybe better thought of as a "tradition of play" (complex, interconnected and somewhat diverse) rather than a consistent "style of play" if that makes any sense (it does in my mind, but maybe not to you). That said, it might be useful to examine specific swaths of OSR play and the diverse motivations involved from a Creative Agenda perspective (which is -- IME -- where the idea of CAs is most useful, not in analyzing game texts or traditions of play).
  • I really don't have a good handle on what a lot of these terms mean, so this is only my take on how I've seen them used, which may be pretty varied.

    Generally, when someone says "sandbox" they really mean "no GM generated plot, "railroading", rules that tell me what to do". It's more of a statement against, than a statement for, most of the time.

    That usually degenerates into an argument about whether players "really want this" or if it's even possible, given that the GM is typically describing everything, and making decisions about what every other freaking thing in the game world does other than the players, and so has significant ability to guide, plot and railroad even when they may not be aware they're doing it.

    But I think that's missing the point. What I really think sandbox means is "I get to feel like I'm in control" from a player perspective. Which I totally get. We probably all want that, we just have different ways of feeling that we're being listened to.

    What's funny is that a lot of folks who use "sandbox" also really dislike having a lot of rules - and especially hate rules that try to force a certain sort of game experience on players - which I suppose goes back to issues with plotting and railroading and control. They often hate it when someone else says "the game is _about_" because for them, the game is "about" whatever the hell they want it to be about, and emphatically NOT what the rules imply, or what the GM says. So minimal rule sets are awesome, because they don't place any strictures on what might happen.

    The only real analogy I can draw is the difference between literature and poetry - OSR is like literature, in the sense that there are few rules, it's very free and open, and can take a long time for anything to happen, but that can be OK. Trad RP is a bit like genre fiction - it's telling a specific sort of story, and so has more rules, but is still pretty likely to take a while. This story-game stuff, from what I've seen, seems to be more like poetry - highly restricted in form, and with a particular set of rules that are aiming for something very directly (i.e. "it's _this_ sort of game") which often brings the climax faster, and meanders less, which some folks like, and others can't stand.

    I think it comes down to where you like to spend the majority of your time...OSR likes to spend the majority of it's time following characters around and seeing what happens - Trad does the same thing, but for very specific plots - Story games likes to get to the blood and guts right away. Not to say that some OSR games dont turn into something "epic and trad" on their own, and not to say that some Trad games have moments of great beauty, emotion, and all the other stuff that story games aim at, and pretty much every possible combination thereof. But it's more about the "how" you get to whatever cool moments happen, however defined. Where you spend the majority of your time.
  • edited March 2012
    While I would say my own personal group is antithtetical to But Why Do You Want to Kill Trolls? type play, not all OSR groups are identical.

    -It would be true to say DIY D&D provides very little rules support for that kind of play

    -It would be equally true to say you could go over to like the How To Start a Revolution In 21 Days or Less blog and read all about an OSR-type game that includes that kinda thing.

    -It would also be true to say the OSR-Of-My-Understanding is partially about doing things without rules support

    Plus--and correct me if I am wrong here--"story now" play can encompass both "story about my feelings now" play or "story about Captain America shoving his shield into Carnage's mouth just before Carnage bites down thus activating the BrokenTeeth tag on Carnage" play, yes/no?
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: malcolmpdxI really don't have a good handle on what a lot of these terms mean, so this is only my take on how I've seen them used, which may be pretty varied.
    A sandbox is an imaginary physical environment described to the players in enough detail that the players might view more than one target as a good/interesting place to start and where different choices about where to go at what point will--by dint of mechanical positioning--result in substantially different consequences for the characters.
  • I don't think that OSR sandbox style play is antithetical to the type of setting-rich Story Now play that Ron is advocating in this essay. And I'm pretty sure he's not saying that it is, when he says:
    As far as I can tell, it can mean anything but railroading, but that means it can include the whole range of Story Before, Now, or After, and the whole range of setting use from barely-any to all-encompassing.
    I think his point is that the term doesn't map well with Ron's terminology. And that if your goal is to play in a setting-rich Story Now style, you could do it using the OSR sandbox methodology, but that by using the OSR sandobox methodology, you don't necessarily get to that style of play.

    And considering that play is generally driven by light characterization where characters are pawns through which the players interact with the challenges of the setting...

    And also considering that there's nothing inherent in the rules or setting books that encourages players to create characters that are deeply embedded in the setting rather than wandering adventurers (frex, Keep on the Borderlands assumes that you're a band of outsiders just arriving at the keep, rather than folks who are living there and are part of the network of interconnected relationships present at the Keep)...

    It's unlikely that you'll arrive at the type of play he's talking about, where you're deeply engaged in the local ecology, culture, religion, economics, politics, in a deeply personal, not an "outsider who's been drawn into this web of intrigue" way.

    Disparate bands of murderhobos hunting dungeons looking for gold is just not the same type of interaction with the setting, even when your GM and group does a good job of engaging relatively strongly with the setting.

    And when a setting provides ample opportunity for guilt-free killing and looting by providing caves filled with unambiguously evil monsters, you just aren't going to have the same kind of interactions with the setting that Ron's talking about.

    Again, it's not that you CAN'T have deep interactions with the setting in an OSR game. It's just that, by itself, the game doesn't make it very likely that you will, and does very little to encourage it to happen.
  • Posted By: J. WaltonIn my thinking, the OSR as a whole probably isn't best analyzed in terms of Ron's three Creative Agendas (Step on Up, Story Now, Right to Dream), because it's a semi-established set of practices that includes aspects of all of them and can be approached by players in a few different ways. The OSR is maybe better thought of as a "tradition of play" (complex, interconnected and somewhat diverse) rather than a consistent "style of play" if that makes any sense (it does in my mind, but maybe not to you). That said, it might be useful to examine specific swaths of OSR play and the diverse motivations involved from a Creative Agenda perspective (which is -- IME -- where the idea of CAs is most useful, not in analyzing game texts or traditions of play).
    Definitely. If we wanted to talk about OSR creative agendas, I'm seeing a lot of gamism in there, but also others in minority portions. Not much else to be said about it, aside from the fact that there are some excellent tools for gamist play available in the OSR tradition. Less so for the other agendas, perhaps, or it might be that I simply haven't yet understood and perceived how to do the other things with the OSR tools.
  • Sure seems like if anyone's gonna make any meaningful headway, you'd have to define "OSR", "style", "play", "Story Now" (probably the only term of art with a definition more than one person agrees with), "antithetical" and "sandbox".
  • edited March 2012
    The only grinding of gears I notice is in the area of challenge:

    If you can invent not-your-PC-based assets (as you can in many Story Now approaches) then the field of conflict is fundamentally different than it is in a game where you can only control what your PC does.

    The possibility of a carefully titrated level of overall narrative control tied to in-game challenge-based performance (and perhaps feeding back into the next challenge) like in Marvel FASERIP or

    http://dndwithpornstars.blogspot.com/2009/11/not-quite-shatnerday.html

    or Pendragon seems totally possible.

    In practice, through things like at-the-table invention of Cleric gods or negotiated long-term player goals (requiring, for instance, the player going "I'm looking for a sage who can tell me if there's aby use for....") mean the door is open. Though, procedurally and designwise, not many have run through it yet.
  • I would also add that you shouldn't be fooled by the words "Story Now" into thinking that it's about story or indeed about immediacy. It's not about story in the normal sense of the word. The definition of Story Now indicates that to qualify, a moral statement must be made in play by the players. In other words, just the portrayal of character motivations or the exploration of an adventuresome psychology is not enough. The players must express some kind of morality through play to qualify as Story Now. If they don't, it doesn't.

    "Old School" is just a term people use to yell at the new kids, always has been, so I won't weigh in there. But very little "overlaps" with Story Now, it's extremely very super-tightly defined. A ton of stuff just doesn't qualify.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyThe definition of Story Now indicates that to qualify, amoral statementmust be made in playby the players.

    Plus--and correct me if I am wrong here--"story now" play can encompass both "story about my feelings now" play or "story about Captain America shoving his shield into Carnage's mouth just before Carnage bites down thus activating the BrokenTeeth tag on Carnage" play, yes/no?
    Ok, then, question:

    How do you define a game that is all about the player describing exactly how the bullet hits the glass and how it ricochets afterwards? Is that not Story-Now? Or do such games not exist enough to have a name yet?

    Serious question--I've done the reading, but the local language is not my native tongue.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Zak SPosted By: JDCorleyThe definition of Story Now indicates that to qualify, amoral statementmust be made in playby the players.

    Plus--and correct me if I am wrong here--"story now" play can encompass both "story about my feelings now" play or "story about Captain America shoving his shield into Carnage's mouth just before Carnage bites down thus activating the BrokenTeeth tag on Carnage" play, yes/no?
    Ok, then, question:

    How do you define a game that is all about the player describing exactly how the bullet hits the glass and how it ricochets afterwards? Is that not Story-Now? Or do such games not exist enough to have a name yet?

    Serious question--I've done the reading, but the local language is not my native tongue.

    My guess is that would fall under Right to Dream, if that's really the main focus of the game. You could definitely do that in a Story Now or Step on Up game, but if the reason you're playing is for really well described bullet ricochets, then you're probably doing a specific type of Right to Dream play.

    (For the record, I am the sort of person who plays Dogs in the Vineyard as Right to Dream, so I completely support the claim that you can make basically any game work for basically any agenda. Some games just facilitate it better than others.)

    Also, apparently "The Big Model" has a wikipedia page. This amuses me.
  • Posted By: Paul BSure seems like if anyone's gonna make any meaningful headway, you'd have to define "OSR", "style", "play", "Story Now" (probably the only term of art with a definition more than one person agrees with), "antithetical" and "sandbox".
    LOL
  • Posted By: PeterBBPosted By: Zak SPosted By: JDCorleyThe definition of Story Now indicates that to qualify, amoral statementmust be made in playby the players.

    Plus--and correct me if I am wrong here--"story now" play can encompass both "story about my feelings now" play or "story about Captain America shoving his shield into Carnage's mouth just before Carnage bites down thus activating the BrokenTeeth tag on Carnage" play, yes/no?
    Ok, then, question:

    How do you define a game that is all about the player describing exactly how the bullet hits the glass and how it ricochets afterwards? Is that not Story-Now? Or do such games not exist enough to have a name yet?

    Serious question--I've done the reading, but the local language is not my native tongue.

    My guess is that would fall under Right to Dream, if that's really the main focus of the game. You could definitely do that in a Story Now or Step on Up game, but if the reason you're playing is for really well described bullet ricochets, then you're probably doing a specific type of Right to Dream play.

    (For the record, I am the sort of person who plays Dogs in the Vineyard as Right to Dream, so I completely support the claim that you can make basically any game work for basically any agenda. Some games just facilitate it better than others.)

    Also, apparently "The Big Model" has a wikipedia page. This amuses me.
    By my understanding, if how the bullet bounces matters and can kill other PCs or NPCs and can affect the whole course of the fiction then you are out of "Right To Dream" territory, right?
  • Posted By: Paul BSure seems like if anyone's gonna make any meaningful headway, you'd have to define "OSR", "style", "play", "Story Now" (probably the only term of art with a definition more than one person agrees with), "antithetical" and "sandbox".
    Nah, I don't see that as an issue, I think the thread is pretty clear. The only person having trouble with definitions here is Ron because he doesn't get what sandbox means.

    OSR is very much about developing fruitful procedures of play with old systems, which almost exclusively means D&D as it was published (roughly) before the mid-eighties. Its actual play is very much gamist, like Eero notes.

    OSR is not a creative agenda as such, so it's not antithetic to SN, but its play certainly doesn't go into that direction. They are close cousins in the sense that they are both averse to any sort of preconceived plot or foregone conclusions, but they aim for different goals in play.
  • Posted By: JDCorleyI would also add that you shouldn't be fooled by the words "Story Now" into thinking that it's about story or indeed about immediacy. It's not about story in the normal sense of the word. The definition of Story Now indicates that to qualify, amoral statementmust be made in playby the players. In other words, just the portrayal of character motivations or the exploration of an adventuresome psychology is not enough. The players must express some kind of morality through play to qualify as Story Now. If they don't, it doesn't.

    "Old School" is just a term people use to yell at the new kids, always has been, so I won't weigh in there. But very little "overlaps" with Story Now, it's extremely very super-tightly defined. A ton of stuff just doesn't qualify.
    This is slightly complicated by the fact that Ron, the king of hyper-clarification, seems to use Story Now to mean 2 different things during the essay.

    On the one hand, he uses the phrase to mean "plot determined during play" as opposed to Story Before and Story After.

    And on the other hand, he uses it to mean "theme-driven exploration happens during play". Moral judgements and hard character choices and all that good stuff.

    Which are 2 different things.

    I think part of the confusion comes from the fact that OSR-style sandbox play (inasmuch as that is a defined style, which it only sort of is) strongly encourages at least a certain degree of "plot determined through play". But it doesn't really encourage "theme-driven exploration happens during play".

    Nor does OSR style sandbox play generally encourage "players introduce elements into the fiction outside of the constraints of characterization (such as, there's a chair there because I want it to be there in order to throw it at someone)" which is a technique often strongly associated with Story Now play and Story Now inspired rulesets, but not inextricably intertwined with that creative agenda.
  • edited March 2012

    By my understanding, if how the bullet bouncesmatters and can kill other PCs or NPCs and can affect the whole course of the fictionthen you are out of "Right To Dream" territory, right?
    I don't think so. (Please, someone stop me if I'm fucking up the theory. I think it's useful, and I think I get it, but it's complicated and maybe I'm wrong.)

    Right to Dream is about exploration, in a broad sense. If what you want to do is see how the bullet bounces, and how that affects things, and you get to see that thing, then you're doing Right to Dream.

    If you want to decide as players how characters (in the sense of human-like people with moral stances) react to the moral questions created by the bullet ricocheting (so maybe like the ricochet is a crystallization of the moment of dread when you/the characters realize the consequences of your actions and have to deal with that shit by making some morally hard choice), then you're doing Story Now.

    EDIT: Fucked up a couple important words.

    EDIT 2: And JDCorley below is of course right. I was extrapolating to assume that all anyone cared about in the game was a constant series of things like bullets ricocheting, which I think would be Right to Dream. But you need exploration for any creative agenda, so that particular example could fit anywhere.
  • Posted By: Zak SHow do you define a game that is all about the player describing exactly how the bullet hits the glass and how it ricochets afterwards? Is that not Story-Now? Or do such games not exist enough to have a name yet?
    The canonical answer is that looking at such a description is focused too narrowly to tell. It might be Story Now, or it might be something else. Story Now exists at a less focused level of classification. What you're describing is as relevant to Story Now as the presence or absence of redheaded NPCs.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Zak SBy my understanding, if how the bullet bouncesmatters and can kill other PCs or NPCs and can affect the whole course of the fictionthen you are out of "Right To Dream" territory, right?
    Not necessarily. Maybe the "dream" that is being played out here is the detailed and correct description of gun physics, not the construction of a right narrative. Or perhaps more accurately the bullet path is "what would really happen", it's true to whatever standars we have set to uphold, the path of the bullet is the narrative we're interested in...

    EDIT: Basically, what JD says. It's not the describing the path of the bullet that counts, but what end does it serve (if any).
  • edited March 2012
    In the Forge's Big Model terms, which isn't really the local language here, and very seriously only because you asked: how the bullet bounces is "exploration," who gets to describe it (player or GM) is "ephemera," and any possible arrangement of exploration and ephemera can conceivably contribute to play that fulfills - or fails to fulfill - any given creative agenda.

    In other words, "a game that is all about the player describing exactly how the bullet hits the glass and how it ricochets afterwards" could be Story Now, could be Step On Up, could be Right to Dream. We can't know which from just that.

    If you're interested in how GNS really works, and what its real (very real) limits are, drop me a line. Polling Story Games won't help, it'll just show you that mostly the people here don't know.

    edit: I crossposted that with like a million people. JD's right.

    My answer to the topic question is: no, they're not antithetical at all.

    Some of the funnest times I've had in the past 5 years have come from seeing and trying to figure out the relationship between D&D, Story Now and Step On Up.

    I like to say that sometimes there are tactical circumstances that provide texture to the moral situation, and sometimes there are moral circumstances that provide texture to the tactical situation, and D&D loves to cross back and forth over the line between them.
  • Jason is canonical about Forge theory here, so far and in my understanding. I thought it better to say this explicitly, in case some reader has gotten the impression that he would misrepresent because he doesn't belong in our happy little cult. I like how he tries his best to be informed even as he disagrees with the Godhead.

    I have to say, though, that I would expect a game that featured players being interested in bullet ricochets to be simulationistic, especially if the interest is consistent. It feels natural to me that I would play some game about let's say criminal lifestyle, and we would really get into how, exactly, our bank robbery becomes a mess. We would be totally into determining the ricochets because it would just be so cool if some innocent bystander bought it, and my character who is a total loser never saw that coming when he pulled the trigger. Definitely could be sim, sim is often played with systems that actually provide some tools for bullet-ricochets. Of course, I can name at least one narrativist system where bullet ricochets are explicitly chosen as a venue: kill puppies for satan.

    But as Jason says, ultimately we could be inordinately ricochet-curious for any agenda reason. Ricocheting bullets are what the theory calls ephemera, on-going details the players focus on in passing in service of a greater goal. To perceive the Creative Agenda, we need to recognize why these players are excited about playing this game, at this time, with these people. (I say that in that way specifically to close off the "I don't care what we play as long as we play something" red herring.) What is the gaming activity providing? For many OSR gamers it seems to be providing challenging excitement (gamism), but even that is obviously a humongously large slice of creative possibilities; plenty of room for nuance within that box.
  • edited March 2012
    Ok, I get it with the bullets.

    So:

    Basically, if you want to do OSR and Story Now (i.e. with Values) and feel you want system support, play Burning Wheel or a hack thereof.

    If you don't feel you want system support and can freeball it, read How To Start A Revolution in 21 Days or less every time it's updated.
  • In my experience with "OSR" and "Story Now", I think they are antithetical in practice.

    Story Now is about establishing, discovering, and authoring Theme (in Egri-speak, to Address Premise) through play. To the extent that Theme is present in OSR, it is predefined.

    (Tangentially, I suppose I should not be coy about the Theme of OSR. In my experience, the Theme is this:

    Life is unfair, and death can come for us at any time.

    Again, though, this is simply in my experience -- I don't mean to imply any universality here.)

    I would suggest that this undermines Story Now play to such a radical extent that it becomes essentially untenable. No significant Addressing of Premise can occur while the shadow of death looms so large.

    There can only be one moral to the story of "George the Paladin was just and brave and torn between his duty to his King and that to his wife. Then he was stung by a giant bee and died."
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenJason is canonical about Forge theory here, so far and in my understanding. I thought it better to say this explicitly, in case some reader has gotten the impression that he would misrepresent because he doesn't belong in our happy little cult. I like how he tries his best to be informed even as he disagrees with the Godhead.
    WHERE IS YOUR GOD NOW
  • If by combining OSR and Story Now we mean "play a sandbox game that retains player freedom, sets the GM as the gatekeeper of the world and reliably creates theme as per Egri", then I believe that this is eminently doable. I could hack up a game that used only tools that OSR D&D recognizes and achieve this. Those tools would, of course, be used in different ways: I might have thematically provocative random encounter tables, more Charisma and Wisdom checks to regulate character behaviour (basically, to get characters to do foolish things they'd have to atone for later), advice to the GM in how to build his adventure locations, special xp conditions maybe, and so on. This is all just mechanics and methodical tools, the OSR has a rich selection. Story Now / narrativism (same thing, if somebody was unclear - I prefer the old name) does not require player control of narratives, no matter what some people might think; those narrative control tools are just situationationally useful for certain game structures.

    In fact, if you take something like The Shadow of Yesterday and give it to an OSR gamer, I don't think that there is a huge amount of game mechanics in that that would be anathema. He might not be interested in the game's insistence of ignoring tactical positioning detail, but that's creative agenda talking - TSoY just thinks that it's more important who you love than whether you have a short or a long sword. You could convert TSoY easily enough into something "OSR-compatible" simply by... well, really, somebody with a better nose would have to tell me what the OSR would find anathema in there. Every mechanic of the Solar System that implies e.g. player narration rights is optional, you could play an entire campaign without a player ever making a decision outside character perspective. Maybe the one thing that would cause the most hiccups would be the notion that the GM is mandated to edit and select the content of play to emphasize interesting fictional events over everything else. (This is called "pacing and scene framing" in the subculture.) I don't see myself how this could be different in any game, though - surely nobody plays a roleplaying game by devoting exactly the same amount of time and attention to the in-character days when nothing happens and then days when everything happens all at once.

    Myself, though, I don't think that "OSR compatibility" is that important. I'm not curious about OSR D&D because of some misguided notion of purity, I just see an unique game there that does things I don't see others doing. I don't know how common the sort of OSR gamer really is who gets offended by modern game mechanics (dice pools are the Devil's invention!) but would in fact love narrativistic gaming if he only could get it with his old, good OSR game mechanics instead of these stinky, treacherous resource pools and such the hipsters play with. I instead imagine that the OSR is dominated by people who genuinely like the creative opportunities D&D offers them.
  • so.. what is the officially sanctioned name for "plot determined during play" ?
  • Posted By: lumpleyMy answer to the topic question is: no, they're not antithetical at all.

    Some of the funnest times I've had in the past 5 years have come from seeing and trying to figure out the relationship between D&D, Story Now and Step On Up.

    I like to say that sometimes there aretactical circumstances that provide texture to the moral situation, and sometimes there aremoral circumstances that provide texture to the tactical situation, and D&D loves to cross back and forth over the line between them.
    Yikes. Every time I've crossed over that line with a play group, it's led to UnFun Now play. I'm sure if I had the opportunity to play with your playgroup regularly, Vincent, it'd work great, but it pretty much never has for me. (Though bear in mind I've mostly run and largely played more recent editions of D&D, beginning with 2E, but I have done some OSR stuff.)

    I can see in theory how what you're saying could be true, but the local play cultures I've been exposed to (or created, I guess, since I've GM'd so much) simply don't make that kind of cross-over possible. As Eero says, many people drawn to D&D simply aren't interested in morality in gaming.
  • Posted By: ivanso.. what is the officially sanctioned name for "plot determined during play" ?
    "Player-and-consequence-driven-narrative" is a popular one.
  • Posted By: Zak S"Player-and-consequence-driven-narrative" is a popular one.
    I like that, it's transparent to the meaning. I'm not aware of any wide-spread jargon for this. The Forge theory is sufficiently concerned with Creative Agenda that things like "Story Now" specifically are intended to mean not only "plot determined during play", but specifically "plot generated by thematic choices made during play". Its got consequences and its got choices, but you can easily have those without having the choices primarily concern thematic weight-lifting.
  • edited March 2012
    In the OSR-of-my-understanding the consequences are often merely simulationally determined.

    Like "dude, you knew he was the head priest and you killed him in front of like nine guys"

    There is a lotta stretch for GM fiat in there, but in general the idea is if you put a moving part with a known-to-them response profile (when you do A, expect B) in front of players before they make a move, if it does what they'd expect it to do in response to their move (you did A) that's 100% legit sandboxery.

    At a certain point a GM can make a location so thick with these AB devices and incurring the B can be so thick with judgment calls (how long does it take the news of your betrayal to travel?) that it ceases to be a sandbox because there is no clean view of Player Choice A resulting in Setting Response B.
  • Posted By: Eero TuovinenIf by combining OSR and Story Now we mean "play a sandbox game that retains player freedom, sets the GM as the gatekeeper of the world and reliably creates theme as per Egri", then I believe that this is eminently doable.
    QFT, basically what I said earlier. There's no reason premise-addressing can't be a core part of OSR-style play, but it's not central by default, necessarily. OSR isn't for or against premise-addressing; it's a set of methods that may or may not be used to address premise.
  • edited March 2012
    I would say this:

    campaignish OSR-style sandbox play is somewhat antithetical to- (or at least problemy for-) sustained focused play of any kind.

    The platonic OSR assumption is that you play a longish campaign, and the GM and players pretty much put whatever they want into the game over time whenever they want, themes grow, develop, and collapse and new ones emerge.

    Sustaining focus over multiple sessions requires engineering the playgroup to accept a given focus, not so much jiggering the rules to do it. A core OSR assumption is you can do a lotta things with the game and the "work" it takes to do them is part of the game. You want domain-based intrigue? Get to work assassinating someone. And pray the other players want to do that, too.
  • edited March 2012
    Blog post about how the OSR and new school games like Apocalypse World are similar:
    http://www.rolejack.com/2012/03/role-playing-rebellion/

    I don't know how relevant this is. I've played quite a few OSR games now with a variety of OSR GMs and I've played a lot of Apocalypse World but I'm still thrown off by what "Story Now" means.
  • That's a great point, Zak. It's a dream of persistent, endless fantasy: all your creative energies directed at this one world/game/campaign/project, so that new inspirations are assimilated and adopted, rather than having the table swept clean for them. It's really rare to meet such game groups, at least here in Finland; could be something to do with how inwards-turning such a campaign could be before the Internet. If you weren't looking for new people to play with or new games to play, you never made a sound so others could even know you exist, I imagine.

    I believe that much could be done even within the boundaries of a single campaign to shift it more towards Story Now than before. And certainly, if you did such a shift of attention once, you could do it again later to return back to a more usual mixture of content.
  • edited March 2012
    Posted By: Eero TuovinenThat's a great point, Zak. It's a dream of persistent, endless fantasy: all your creative energies directed at this one world/game/campaign/project, so that new inspirations are assimilated and adopted, rather than having the table swept clean for them. It's really rare to meet such game groups, at least here in Finland; could be something to do with how inwards-turning such a campaign could be before the Internet. If you weren't looking for new people to play with or new games to play, you never made a sound so others could even know you exist, I imagine.
    It's rather the same issue as the whole forum-selection-bias:

    If you like your game and have players and it is going well and has been all along you're probably less likely to turn up on the doorstep of a forum, hat-in-hand going "How the hell do I make this game work?" (or "This game sucks, what does the same thing only better?")

    Same goes for showing up at cons and the local game store--if you have a group and you're rolling and like it, you're less likely to show up looking for new people to play with and games to play.

    This may be why the blogs ("Let me tell you about my game") tend to have people who like some old game and the forums ("Please tell me things about your game") tend to be spawning grounds for new ones.
  • I think "sandbox" means that the players have enough agency to go wherever they like in the setting. That is, they make choices with whatever information they've collected and explore in a certain direction and their choices about direction matter.

    The opposite of sandbox implies that the GM tells the players where they'll be going next. You know, "So after long negotiations with the local baron, your group agrees to clear his basement of critters..." That's not sandbox play. Sandbox play is "Where do you want to go now?" or (better) "Where do you want to go next week?"

    I'm not sure if everyone agrees that sandbox play means a hexcrawl or something like it. I'm pretty sure sandbox play means that the GM isn't allowed to pick up his dungeon and drop it in the path of the PCs; that's considered Not Cricket. Doesn't mean it doesn't happen. And it violates the player agency I'm talking about, but because it's Illusionist play, it's considered sandbox-but-cheating.

    Am I far off base here?
  • edited March 2012
    The single biggest structural difference I see between Story Now and OSR games I've participated in is spotlight. It seems to me that if the goal of the game is going to be that "a moral statement must be made in play by the players", the tendency is going to be to put the spotlight on one player to drill down on their moral conflict. When I played a long-running trad D&D campaign with only one player over the phone, it explored lots of moral choices even though I didn't know anything much about RPG theory or technique and there was nothing in the mechanics to support it - it was just that we could keep exploring the consequences of the choices of that one character over time, without distraction.

    I think this is implicit in what Eero says above about embracing the party model. I really like it when the spotlight is quickly moving enough that everyone stays more or less lit, and that means as a GM I am going to look to create situations that engage every player at once by virtue of having their characters contributing to a charged situation that's ripe with possibilities and has enough moving parts for everyone to do something in the same scene. I've sometimes seen a group moral conflict emerge from this kind of OSR play, and it was really exciting and meaningful to all involved, but it just emerged out of a lot of play together getting to know characters and personalities (on the player side) and randomly generating some balrogs and thinking "what these demons want to do is to push mortals' buttons" (on the GM side). Note though that we very quickly went from "wow apparently this is the moral decision we made as a group, how interesting" from "now how will we collectively solve the challenge that moral choice leads to."

    Mechanics teach this to some extent. Apocalypse World feels to me like the resolution is meant to be player-changes-world and not party-chips-down-enemy-hit-points, whereas the way that 4e seems least to me like a storygame is that its emphasis on balanced combat teamwork leads to eliminating interesting individual spotlight mechanics in earlier editions where a single character could make a moral choice about whether to use their totally game-changing spell or magic item to achieve this outcome or that.
  • Well, I donno. Dogs in the Vineyard has what some might call a "party model" (you're a group, with an objective, and some commonality of motivation and background), although the assumption that the whole group will be together all the time is not there, which sometimes I've seen defined as part of it.
  • DiV is a fine example of a narrativist game that uses the party conceit, yes. It's perhaps an exception from the rule insofar as games designed explicitly for this purpose are concerned. It's a bit of an expert game, also: the most common misplay with it regards this very issue, as players trained to execute cooperative party play fail to emphasize individual character viewpoints sufficiently and end up in a "us versus the world" mindset. I personally think that this just tells us about the difficulty of communicating different but superficially similar games effectively within a group; somebody else might think that it's the very notion of having a party in a narrativist game that's wrong-headed.
  • I don't know if it's not-Story-Now if the whole group collectively makes the moral statement instead of one player (at a time?) I always interpreted heavy Dogs party play as people expressing a consensus morality, not that they were refraining from moral expression. Such angel counting is beyond my pinheaded expertise.

    WAIT DID I JUST SAY THAT
  • Any Dogs game will see the PCs going individual over a long enough timeframe. As a "campaign," it's about how and why your Dog stops being a Dog, so eventually it's going to come to the point where the Party isn't a thing anymore (this is often accompanied by shoot-outs between the Dogs, but not always).
  • That's an interesting thought, Jason. My experience (not with Dogs, but Mountain Witch - another narrativist game with the party trope, and similarly vulnerable) has been that sometimes the players are genuinely expressing moral concensus when they act in tandem, but other times they're just thoughtlessly grouping together. It's actually pretty easy to perceive which it is if you're there at the table, it's evident in the table chatter. The moral concensus is not a problem, and even the reflexive grouping can be played with if the players are willing to let go at some point. A pro forma moral statement is not as important in a narrativist game as having such statement carry weight in the context of the story, and this we can only achieve if the players depict characters who are true to life and vulnerable: this will not happen if the players are acting routinely in the face of adversity and never consider the challenges their characters face from the moral viewpoint of their characters.

    I could just about imagine a Dogs session where the characters agreed all the time about everything. If this was the result of talks and soul-searching, then everything's good and the game can proceed to the next town over, where the GM will presumably seek to drive some wedges. If the players are of like mind because of a siege mentality or because they're seeking to "win", then it's not going to work - the game's not mechanically set up for mindless combat for the same of combat, it's not going to be particularly fun.

    I should mention that some of my best Mountain Witch plays have ended up with concensus between the characters: they all decide that whatever's at stake, their interests and values are aligned. I think that it's easy for anybody to see that this will only be an interesting and meaningful outcome if the play so far has featured and established interesting differences that the players can set aside to reach this concensus. If the characters were all along consistently single-minded and the game never featured tensions between them, then their final agreement won't be that surprising or interesting, either.
  • This is so crazy. I just spent the past week discussing/arguing about this in chat with various friends. Weird. Is it the hotness of Stars Without Number? Dunno.

    I started thinking about this w/r/t Burning Wheel -- can your BITs accrete around the setting, which basically just reverses the standard setting-accretes-around-your-BITs scheme? Does that make it a sandbox? Does it make the play more OSRish? Then I got the SWN hardback and now I'm gonna put that thesis to the test, mostly by ripping out its default reward/advancement scheme (tl/dr version: level up for achieving goals set by the GM) and replacing it with something that should produce more Story Now-ish play.

    I was talking the other day with Peter Aronson, who's an even-older-old-timer than me, about the weirdness that is OSR. He described it as funhouse mirrors: For those of us who actually played the old-school games, the deconstruction/reverse-engineering/sentimentality around how OSR is described is just *weird.* Sometimes there was a "sandbox" type element to it, and sometimes there wasn't -- I'm not sure I would instantly conflate "sandbox" and "old school". There were many many dungeons, which I would hesitate to characterize as anything more than severely constrained sandboxes. Sometimes you were just there to get the XPs, and sometimes you weren't. Sometimes it was a survival slog (fantasy Vietnam). Sometimes the players became so comfortable with the setting assumptions that it wasn't hard to figure out correct/reasonable outcomes for the setting, freeing up bandwidth for more character-driven drama. I suppose the OSR creators are wrangling all those questions as well. But heck, given the huge, huge range of possible definitions for "OSR", I honestly have no idea how to gauge whether it's antithetical to Story Now. I was only half-kidding with my first post.

    Here's my thought, starting with my internal definitions:

    Sandbox play: The setting exists apart from the authorial needs of the players, and is created and managed by a central authority.
    Story Now play: The players address "premise" through character-driven play in a way that cannot be planned for in advance by a central authority.
    OSR play: who the heck knows?

    So. Given the central authority can't preplan the premise-addressing itself, and the central authority is responsible for generating setting material, that leaves premise as something the players are responsible for generating within the confines of a setting over which they have no authorial control. Seems totally reasonable, with caveats.

    IMO for real sandbox play, outcomes need to maintain and promote consistency within the sandbox. Outcomes that affect the sandbox, that is. The sandbox can shift around likely and reasonable outcomes of actions by the characters, but that's gonna be on the GM to determine. The moment the non-GM players have some authorship, that makes the whole thing a lot less sandboxy. Which is maybe not a bad thing. And may have nothing to do with the OP, which asks about OSR and not per se sandbox.

    My only real caveat, before I get started with my SWN experiment, is that there will be "moments of play" where addressing premise and mantaining sandbox will come into conflict. If it's real old-school, it's on the GM to make that call -- your character drama's need wins this time, maintaining the setting's assumptions wins next time. Whatever.

    At the very very worst, I can't see this as any worse than ... using an inefficient toolset for either kind of play. But it may also reveal new material and approaches! Inefficiencies aren't awful, as long as the players have the patience for it.
  • edited March 2012
    Do not confuse "the OSR" with "attempts to claim people used to roll back in the day the way we do".

    That's like saying the Ramones were an attempting to sound like Buddy Holly.

    And anything is more efficient than buying a new game every week, reading it and rolling whole new characters just because you want to move the focus to a different thing for a few hours.
  • Posted By: Paul BSure seems like if anyone's gonna make any meaningful headway, you'd have to define "OSR"...
    Yes, please.

    48 posts and everyone assumes OSR is a recognizable acronym like D&D or ATM. (The only thing I know is no one is talking about anything on the OSR wikipage.)
  • The OSR is an attempt to experiment with the gaming possibilities of TSR-era rulesets and gaming tools with an eye toward possibilities that were left un- or under- explored at the time.
Sign In or Register to comment.