Advice for new "story now" GMs

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
It just doesn’t make sense to me that a nation could be invaded, and somehow the PCs wouldn’t notice it was coming. One of them wants to become the Emperor, and they have no allies (on either side), informants, or anything that could give them a clue? The other nation doesn’t approach the PCs with an offer to back their claim in exchange for future consideration?
There's a load of assumptions here:
--- that the PCs are in position to notice it coming (right now my own throne-chaser is adventuring off-plane, for example; who knows what she'll come home to?)
--- that the PCs are important and-or public enough to have attracted the attention of the invaders.

But the biggest one of all is even if the PC does notice the invasion coming, that she can do anything to stop it.
Do the PCs expect to go on an adventure, find some doodad, and think that will cause them to be crowned Emperor?
I hope not. :)

But, the throne-chasing PC has to make both political and military plans of her own and is IMO far more likely to be concentrating on those - which are all internal to the nation - rather than on any external threats. She's also not likely to be having much to do with those currently in power if she can avoid it, lest they find some way of winnowing her plans out of her; and as an adventurer she'll certainly know such means or information extraction exist having doubtless used them many a time on captured foes.
 

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I used to be pretty big on immersion, but I’ve come to prefer table-facing information with the obvious restriction that the PCs can only act on what they know in the game world. My reasoning is our interface with the game world is pretty limited. No matter how hard we try, the PCs are going to have a fuller experience because they are actually living it. What table-facing information does is provide a shorthand for those kinds of things they’re experiencing. It also serves as a reminder to the GM to make sure the tells the PCs should be seeing actually manifest.

It just doesn’t make sense to me that a nation could be invaded, and somehow the PCs wouldn’t notice it was coming. One of them wants to become the Emperor, and they have no allies (on either side), informants, or anything that could give them a clue? The other nation doesn’t approach the PCs with an offer to back their claim in exchange for future consideration? Do the PCs expect to go on an adventure, find some doodad, and think that will cause them to be crowned Emperor? This is where table-facing information is useful. The impending doom draws nearer. How does that manifest? Well, you’re having a drink with your man on the inside, and he’s got something to tell you ….
Exactly, the notion that somehow this is 'unrealistic' or 'inauthentic' is fiddlesticks IMHO. Any serious contender for the thrown could potentially have a billion perfectly plausible ways of knowing something was up, or even of thwarting it, etc. I mean, you want a plausible AND character-engaging concept? OK, how's this; you are contacted by the soon-to-be-invaders, they need a puppet to put on the thrown. Do you achieve your lifelong dream (albeit perhaps in a less desirable form) or do you go to your hated rival and expose the plot, insuring the kingdom's safety, but insuring you will be exposed as a plotter for the thrown? Will your dream be smashed? Will your rival reward you or have you done in? Perhaps your noble intentions will simply trigger the civil war that the invaders wanted! This is a HELL of a lot more interesting premise than "sorry Charlie, being a king is 'unrealistic' in my fantasy world!" I mean, sorry, that makes me roll my eyes.
 

I think certain rule sets have more of those sorts of DMs than others, but the problem still is not with the rules themselves, but with the people. Especially the older crowd who cut their teeth on 1e or before.

I've tried that in the last few campaigns that I've run for my players, and they largely ignore the test rules(plot points and such) that would give them more control. At this point I've given up and will just keep the reigns. They seem to want it that way.

I agree with this. More player focused doesn't mean that the DMs and players of traditional games are as the other poster described. He was describing a DM issue, rather than something inherent in traditional play.
See, I don't think a GM-authored total setting and premise with 'plot points' tossed in makes a narrativist system. Even AD&D 1e has both alignment (not to mention some steep penalties for breaking it, even if you aren't a paladin and such) plus the training system's player ratings, which are a pretty heavy incentive. Yet it is not one more iota narrativist for this. The 'impossible thing before breakfast' is clear here, you can't own the plot and yet have the players own the story, it simply doesn't work that way. Even games that focus heavily on a 'currency' like BitD's stress track are ALREADY character-centered games, the currency is a stakes mechanism and a resource sub-game. Its needed in BitD to get the game to work right, but it doesn't manufacture narrativist play.
 

So, spoilers all the way, then. The characters (and by extension the players) know the future of their world as well as its history. Yeah, not gonna fly.

Now if there is no preplanned future - which is, I suspect, where you're leading with this - then fine, bigger-picture events can be made up on the fly. That still doesn't mean those bigger-picture events don't and can't exist, and the guides for some of these games even say as much when referring to what happens off-screen.
Sure AW and DW both have fronts. The GM is part of the game, and I am not advocating for a lack of any input into setting, situation, or even character in some degree (though generally GMs stick to NPCs mostly). And, as I have also said, its not that there cannot be any surprises either, they simply cannot be of the type that yanks the wheel out of the player's hands. You can put LOADS of obstacles out there, heck, the more the better! They can spring up as needed. I would advise that the most substantive ones are probably anticipated, but these games surprise you! I mean, in our BitD game we killed a couple guys and took their horses. Those damned horses did 5x more damage to us than the gang that was riding them! lol. Talk about an obstacle, one horse came within an hair's breath of doing for the entire crew. It was great! Nobody can invent that stuff.
When you phrase it as "oh sorry I decided all your plans are crushed" that phrasing implies the decision was made on the spur of the moment (which I agree would be terrible form). Things like this should be laid out before play even begins and before the GM has any idea what the PCs' goals will be.
But you have to imagine, the players are not really aware of, nor terribly interested in, some list of events you might have made last week or last month. As I've said a zillion times, there's no compelling logic that demands an invasion over a diplomatic mission, or nothing at all. So in the final analysis, its only YOUR sensibility that is effected. Your satisfaction, not mine or any other player's.
And then if-when a PC comes up with a goal that by sheer bad luck is almost certainly doomed by something bigger that will happen, IMO all the GM can do is keep a straight face and carry on, even if inside thinking "this ain't gonna end well". I suspect I-as-player might have been in this very situation for some time now: my characters end goal is to overthrow the faux-Rome republic* and make it an empire, with herself as Empress; but I've a nasty sneaking hunch that nation is going to fall long before I get anywhere near a throne and I ain't entirely sure there's a thing I can do about it: I know what's out there, and I know if it comes for us we can't beat it.
No, he can, as I just suggested up thread, assuming you want to stick to your meta-plot more-or-less (and OK, you do want to do that, nobody is certainly denying that's your desire) recast it as a choice for the PC, the crown or loyalty to your country, or I'm sure you are creative enough to come up with any of 10 other ways to make a dilemma or obstacle out of this. Why should your player not have a chance of success? Why? What purpose is it serving not to give her the chance! All she has to do is marry the disgusting barbarian and she can rule (albeit sharing power). Its like you have the gold coins in your hand, but something stops you from spending them. Give it a try!
Still, she soldiers on, hoping for the best...

* - very short version of a VERY long story: when she was younger it was an Empire, but due to some cataclysm or other during the campaign the whole nation got punted 250 years back into its own history, to a time when it was still a republic. My character is still in her own "time", however, and thus has a whole bunch of memories of things in her past (and the country's history) that now may or may not happen in the "new" future.
So, none of this is a surprise to her, and she KNOWS how to change the future. Man, there are so many ways to hand the keys to the players here and make gold. I mean, D&D won't make that EASY, but you can at least get halfway there. Hey, maybe you'll invent a style of play that makes everyone happy, you can always dream! ;)
 


There's a load of assumptions here:
--- that the PCs are in position to notice it coming (right now my own throne-chaser is adventuring off-plane, for example; who knows what she'll come home to?)
--- that the PCs are important and-or public enough to have attracted the attention of the invaders.

But the biggest one of all is even if the PC does notice the invasion coming, that she can do anything to stop it.
Here's the thing, you are in charge of the plot here, so you can't tell me that you are both in charge, and the player's are NOT, AND that you are unable to decide that things could go multiple ways and its potentially in the hands of the character to shape the future.
I hope not. :)

But, the throne-chasing PC has to make both political and military plans of her own and is IMO far more likely to be concentrating on those - which are all internal to the nation - rather than on any external threats. She's also not likely to be having much to do with those currently in power if she can avoid it, lest they find some way of winnowing her plans out of her; and as an adventurer she'll certainly know such means or information extraction exist having doubtless used them many a time on captured foes.
'far more likely', 'not likely', who's playing the character?

Again, circling back to the theme of the thread, as I'd much rather stick to that overall, we can see the issue with the GM having charge of this kind of thing and no narrativist principles to operate on. Stick to your principles. In every SN/narrativist game I'm aware of (a small fraction admittedly) there are STRONG principles and practices that are clearly spelled out for the GM to follow. They pretty much always do not include "decide what the character will do for them." Quite the opposite, hands off that! Give the player the goods, tell them what the situation is, make sure it presents them with difficulty and hard choices, and WATCH, don't dictate!
 

I didn't say it made a narrativist system. I said I was leaning into it a bit to test the waters and my players drowned. :(
Fair enough ;) Still, I think its less important to give them currency than to give them clear choices and obstacles that bear on the character's concerns, with other concerns largely being secondary. I think they might not 'drown' on that, but at the very least a game like DW offers a 'life vest' there.
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
There's a load of assumptions here:
--- that the PCs are in position to notice it coming (right now my own throne-chaser is adventuring off-plane, for example; who knows what she'll come home to?)
--- that the PCs are important and-or public enough to have attracted the attention of the invaders.
There are a lot of assumptions because there weren’t many details, so I addressed hypotheticals.

One thing that isn’t clear to me, though it’s implied by your last paragraph, is just what steps the PC has taken to realize her ambition. If she’s just expressed it but not acted on it in any way, then it doesn’t seem like she has a credible claim.

But the biggest one of all is even if the PC does notice the invasion coming, that she can do anything to stop it.
This one probably might come down to scruples. If all you want is the throne and the crown, you don’t have to stop the invasion. You just have to be the one they let wear the crown and sit on the throne of what remains.

But, the throne-chasing PC has to make both political and military plans of her own and is IMO far more likely to be concentrating on those - which are all internal to the nation - rather than on any external threats. She's also not likely to be having much to do with those currently in power if she can avoid it, lest they find some way of winnowing her plans out of her; and as an adventurer she'll certainly know such means or information extraction exist having doubtless used them many a time on captured foes.
What are her political plans? I’d expect them to include both allies and informants. The latter are particularly important because they’ll allow her to make informed decisions. The former would be able to alert her of trouble while she’s away, e.g., by using sending, which even works across planes (albeit with a slight failure rate). I also think if she’s not looking for opportunities to exploit, she’s going to have limited success with her claim.
 

pemerton

Legend
Simple example: your goal is to become Emperor of Catallia. You're nicely on your way to getting there when Catallia unexpectedly gets invaded by the Deshuanti armies and ends up almost annihilated, with its power structure in ruins.

The GM might have known this was coming for ages but couldn't exactly tell you, without spoilering the campaign, your goal was likely going to end up unattainable due to external factors.
So, spoilers all the way, then. The characters (and by extension the players) know the future of their world as well as its history. Yeah, not gonna fly.

Now if there is no preplanned future - which is, I suspect, where you're leading with this - then fine, bigger-picture events can be made up on the fly. That still doesn't mean those bigger-picture events don't and can't exist, and the guides for some of these games even say as much when referring to what happens off-screen.

When you phrase it as "oh sorry I decided all your plans are crushed" that phrasing implies the decision was made on the spur of the moment (which I agree would be terrible form). Things like this should be laid out before play even begins and before the GM has any idea what the PCs' goals will be.

And then if-when a PC comes up with a goal that by sheer bad luck is almost certainly doomed by something bigger that will happen, IMO all the GM can do is keep a straight face and carry on, even if inside thinking "this ain't gonna end well".
The GM when designing the setting before play begins.

You're making the same (wrong) assumption as AbdulAlhazred, that this event is being introduced on a whim. And as I posted before, I agree that doing so on a whim is a bad call.

However, I most certainly don't agree that pre-scheduling some events to happen in the setting on particular dates is a bad call, provided such pre-scheduling is done in complete neutrality and without knowledge of how or even if any PCs will be affected.
This thread - as its title proclaims - is about advice for new "story now" GMs.

What I've quoted is basically the opposite of that - it's describing approaches to RPGing that are more or less the diametric opposite of "story now". If you want good story now RPGing, then don't "pre-schedule" events, keep them secret from the players, and then use that hitherto-unrevealed backstory to defeat, "crush" or "doom" players' concerns for their PCs. As I posted upthread, that sort of de-protagonising play is the opposite of story now, which (to reiterate the OP) has, at its core, players bring the protagonism.
 


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