Approaches to prep in RPGing - GMs, players, and what play is *about*

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
This seems like a good description of the idea. It seems to capture the problem I've seen and had with this type of play which is that if you as a player want to play an honorable character you might not want that to be under threat from the game. That's really more a matter of taste than good/bad.
I've had a conversation about this with one of my players, they don't really like that kind of conflict in their stories and it def came up when we played Masks, and their playbook pushed them into conflict with the previous generations of their legacy. They like their characters to be uncompromising in their ideals and to have that be backed up by the tilt of the story, similarly, they don't like conflict within the group, they prefer everyone be doing their best. It's kind of interesting though, because the need to make it something that will be challenged, from a literary perspective, imposes the idea of situational compromises on the kind of story it is.

It kind of dovetails with my impression of "play your character like a stolen car" where play in Masks, which features moves that always point back to modifying the character's self-image, feels like it reminds me of certain kinds of fiction, but not others and demand a kind of movement every session. In the first of the two linked series, character drama plays a constant role where the protagonists are confronted constantly with the dramatic questions produced by their backstories, personalities, and beliefs, and they often act recklessly in response to those things which produces constant cliffhangers and status quo changes in their relationships-- but in the second linked series the characters 'turn' (in the sense of ships) more slowly, and they spend a lot of time inhabiting their status quo while the attention is on the situation itself that they find themselves in, but then their private worlds eventually do explode in particular arcs or events.

What I've noticed comparing the two, is that Supernatural's character development is a lot more reflective because the monster-of-the-week narratives introduced by the setting and premise frequently lets their internal conflicts breathe over the course of a season, it spends more time examining who the characters are, and less time changing them-- in other words, it develops the characters rather than the characters develop. They let a lot of things happen where Dean just gets to be Dean without challenging the things that make him Dean, and the monster of the week story carries the need for dramatic conflict because it's a self-contained story nested within the grander narrative. I found myself preferring Supernatural for that reason, separately I also realized that I deeply preferred its more fully realized exploration of it's setting rules as set up for things that happen.

I think it's just something that games don't tend to be designed around though, and while I seem to get that more in the higher prep, traddier games I can recognize it's more because of the things they don't do (point the consequences back to the character's sense of self immediately, like Vices and Stress in BITD or Mask's labels, which both pull your character's inner self directly into the gameplay loop) rather than what they do.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

I've had a conversation about this with one of my players, they don't really like that kind of conflict in their stories and it def came up when we played Masks, and their playbook pushed them into conflict with the previous generations of their legacy. They like their characters to be uncompromising in their ideals and to have that be backed up by the tilt of the story, similarly, they don't like conflict within the group, they prefer everyone be doing their best. It's kind of interesting though, because the need to make it something that will be challenged, from a literary perspective, imposes the idea of situational compromises on the kind of story it is.

It kind of dovetails with my impression of "play your character like a stolen car" where play in Masks, which features moves that always point back to modifying the character's self-image, feels like it reminds me of certain kinds of fiction, but not others and demand a kind of movement every session. In the first of the two linked series, character drama plays a constant role where the protagonists are confronted constantly with the dramatic questions produced by their backstories, personalities, and beliefs, and they often act recklessly in response to those things which produces constant cliffhangers and status quo changes in their relationships-- but in the second linked series the characters 'turn' (in the sense of ships) more slowly, and they spend a lot of time inhabiting their status quo while the attention is on the situation itself that they find themselves in, but then their private worlds eventually do explode in particular arcs or events.

What I've noticed comparing the two, is that Supernatural's character development is a lot more reflective because the monster-of-the-week narratives introduced by the setting and premise frequently lets their internal conflicts breathe over the course of a season, it spends more time examining who the characters are, and less time changing them-- in other words, it develops the characters rather than the characters develop. They let a lot of things happen where Dean just gets to be Dean without challenging the things that make him Dean, and the monster of the week story carries the need for dramatic conflict because it's a self-contained story nested within the grander narrative. I found myself preferring Supernatural for that reason, separately I also realized that I deeply preferred its more fully realized exploration of it's setting rules as set up for things that happen.

I think it's just something that games don't tend to be designed around though, and while I seem to get that more in the higher prep, traddier games I can recognize it's more because of the things they don't do (point the consequences back to the character's sense of self immediately, like Vices and Stress in BITD or Mask's labels, which both pull your character's inner self directly into the gameplay loop) rather than what they do.
Its an interesting thought. I mean, I don't see any reason why you can't pace things differently. It may be pretty tricky game design in the sense that you have a game that delivers well on, say, presenting a character with challenges to their beliefs. Will it also do a good job at other things? Sometimes these goals are at cross-purposes in game design. Not to say I think its impossible, I have no real idea. It might require some pretty specific game architecture though, and then is it going to handle a range of different player preferences? Hard to say.
 

The-Magic-Sword

Small Ball Archmage
Its an interesting thought. I mean, I don't see any reason why you can't pace things differently. It may be pretty tricky game design in the sense that you have a game that delivers well on, say, presenting a character with challenges to their beliefs. Will it also do a good job at other things? Sometimes these goals are at cross-purposes in game design. Not to say I think its impossible, I have no real idea. It might require some pretty specific game architecture though, and then is it going to handle a range of different player preferences? Hard to say.

I guess it could break down into:

1. You need core activities that happen and can sustain game play even when the inner conflict of the self isn't playing out. Simple enough, all the combat, exploration, negotiation and so forth of ye trad RPG, or any other mechanics that could give the characters things to do, like farming or something.

2. The part DND doesn't generally have, a mechanic to structure your long term emotional development and make you develop it in small ways, but result in dramatic payoff ala the player's arc for the season, in tv show terms. It would be like those other mechanics, but a slower burn and it would be advanced via that reflective action.

You can "just do it" now but the group has to structure it by hand.
 

Pedantic

Legend
I guess it could break down into:

1. You need core activities that happen and can sustain game play even when the inner conflict of the self isn't playing out. Simple enough, all the combat, exploration, negotiation and so forth of ye trad RPG, or any other mechanics that could give the characters things to do, like farming or something.

2. The part DND doesn't generally have, a mechanic to structure your long term emotional development and make you develop it in small ways, but result in dramatic payoff ala the player's arc for the season, in tv show terms. It would be like those other mechanics, but a slower burn and it would be advanced via that reflective action.

You can "just do it" now but the group has to structure it by hand.
This resonates with how I've generally felt trying to play BitD. I constantly felt like I was on tenterhooks and waiting for stuff to stop happening, so I could play the game. Like, I wanted to stop at some point, take the setup that was created by the mechanics and move it to some other game for resolution, before turning back to them to generate something new.
 

The example that always stuck with me was the code of honour, I think from Ron Edwards.

The gist of it is that in some games if your PC has a code of honour, the expectation is largely that you will embody that at all times during play. It's a static fact of your character. 'I'm a samurai, we don't do that here'.

But in a narrativist game the expectation might be that your code of honour is a time bomb waiting to explode. Do you betray it now? How about now? How about now? It may be that the character does stand firm on it, in which case we will explore the cost in terms of battles not won, friends not helped, etc. Or it may be that the character breaks the code, and the consequences are to their position, their family name, etc. Either way there is a choice to make and a price to pay, and things cannot stay as they were originally. The character is in flux.
I believe this is a false dichotomy, or, at least, an automatic assumption on one side.

In a game where the character's beliefs and identity is explicitly going to be challenged, it's going to be challenged. If not, then it may be challenged depending on how the character changes and grows through play. But, there's no reason that a core belief or identity would not be challenged, especially if it becomes a source of adventure. However you define adventure.
 

pemerton

Legend
I believe this is a false dichotomy, or, at least, an automatic assumption on one side.

In a game where the character's beliefs and identity is explicitly going to be challenged, it's going to be challenged. If not, then it may be challenged depending on how the character changes and grows through play. But, there's no reason that a core belief or identity would not be challenged, especially if it becomes a source of adventure. However you define adventure.
There's no false dichotomy.

Look at how D&D classically handles alignment. And related ideas like paladins falling from grace; the GM deciding a cleric's god withholds spells if the cleric does wicked things; etc. These are all analogous to:

the expectation is largely that you will embody that at all times during play. It's a static fact of your character. 'I'm a samurai, we don't do that here'.

That is a different way of approaching moral/behavioural parameters, in RPGing, from this:

things cannot stay as they were originally. The character is in flux.
Just as one example: the concept of alignment-based or personality-based "gotcha' GMing makes sense as part of the critical repertoire for the first sort of approach.

Whereas that concept has no purchase for the second sort of approach.
 

There's no false dichotomy.

Look at how D&D classically handles alignment.
Why? 5e doesn't handle alignment in a classical manner. Among other reasons, that's why it is false. In AD&D there were certainly "gotcha" mechanics for paladins, which were completely tiresome along with Lawful Tyrannical play. However, currently, not only are there several oaths for paladins there is explicitly an oath for the oathbreakers.

Good grief, even with my mutant AD&D I've mostly thrown alignment out.

If the character is honorable, then the milieu responds to that according to the worldbuilding / setting, be it reinforcement or challenge. And the challenge could be how do you deal with betrayal or dishonorable people.

Ultimately, I think that the order of Worldbuilding / Setting => Character or Character => Worldbuilding / Setting is irrelevant. The key part is Character => Situation. I need to know what kind of game my players want. Presumably, they will make their characters in accord with that desire and will seek out those situations appropriately.

(Received BW via the post, reading now.)
 

If the character is honorable,

Who decides this is one major pivot point.

Is it systemitized?

Is it table consensus/negotiation?

Is it GM decides (unilaterally)?

What informs this systemization, negotiation/consensus, or GM decides (unilaterally) is another major pivot point.

then the milieu responds to that according to the worldbuilding / setting

This (above), which looks like naturalistic extrapolation + genre logic, is one way to operationalize the above.
 

Who decides this is one major pivot point.

What informs this systemization, negotiation/consensus, or GM decides (unilaterally) is another major pivot point.
Okay...

And?

I mean, yes, if I'm playing Bushido, Pendragon, Burning Wheel, or Vampire: the Masquerade the precise game definitions are important. If I'm playing D&D with an honor system addon the precise definition is important.
 

Okay...

And?

I mean, yes, if I'm playing Bushido, Pendragon, Burning Wheel, or Vampire: the Masquerade the precise game definitions are important. If I'm playing D&D with an honor system addon the precise definition is important.

And where your game lands on the fault line of either of those pivot points is going to create a matrix for play which works out as a dichotomy.

If you're a 5e table and your (i) GM decides unilaterally what happens and what operationalizes that happening is (i) the GM's particular conception of naturalistic causal logic and extrapolation of setting then your table experience is going to be quite different than if you're a 5e table and your table decides by (ii) some manner of negotiated consensus what happens and what operationalizes that happening is (ii) what creates the best story outcomes for the most participants at the table.

And if you mix and match (i) and (ii) (either arbitrarily and opaquely or via declared organized principles and transparently so), then that formulation will create a very different experience than either of the two above.
 

Remove ads

AD6_gamerati_skyscraper

Remove ads

Upcoming Releases

Top