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

Imaro

Legend
I think as well there are a range of interesting cases formed from combinations of the above. Possibly that's usual, seeing as characters are seldom - say anything at all you like - but rather - say things that describe characters from the Gilded Age, or whatever.

This is what I would love to discuss, as I don't really run games that are strictly one (GM driven game) or the other (Player driven game). I tend to have a mixture of both and see little if any discussion around that. How do we mesh these techniques? How can both the GM who wants to express his creativity via setting and the players who want to express their creativity via their characters and play in the game drive the game together... and to what/how are the varying degrees that one or the other can drive certain aspects of the game.
 

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niklinna

satisfied?
If someone wants to ask, say, What's a good way to get creative PC building? we can talk about that, maybe with references to particular approaches (eg we could compare Burning Wheel's Lifepaths to Wuthering Heights' Problems Table to Dungeon World's Bonds and Alignments).
This would interest me. I've sometimes had trouble with the scope of choice in character creation (and in choices of action). For example, you can have the very unbounded freedom of, say, Over the Edge, where you have a bit of info about the weird setting and are told you can basically create anything, within reasonable power levels (and even unreasonable power levels, as long as you're ready for the heat). On the other, you have games like Apocalypse World, which give you playbooks with menus to choose basically all your options from, even your character name in some cases. The first can be as bewildering as it is free; the second can feel as restrictive as it is streamlining of that part of things so you can get to the action. More generally, I find that sometimes if I am thiniking of how to respond or act in a situation, and the GM prods me with a suggestion or two, it shuts down whatever nascent trains of thought I had building up, and unless I have a firm idea of what I do and do not want to do, I'll default to one of the suggestions. That's a bit far afield of the OP but it seemed relevant to mention.

A middle ground is, for example, playbooks that ask specific but open-ended questions, such as the Ranger in Stonetop with its questions about "What dark threat do you see in the region?" and followons, plus the inter-character questions. I wonder what general sorts of guidelines can be discerned regarding these various approaches: What aspects of they are applied to, what is left implicit, and so on.

I'll add that playbooks with menus of options that also include blanks I can fill in are my favorite. :) It makes explicit that each menu is a list of suggestions and not a Hobson's choice.
 

This thread seems to have sidetracked from the actual topic, which is prep for RPGing and what happens when that prep is based around player-built PCs rather than GM-built setting.

But in case anyone is curious as to whether I look at the RPGs I play in a positive light - yes, I do. That's why I play them. If anyone reading this finds that they don't enjoy the RPGs they are playing, I encourage them to look around for some that they do enjoy!
Yeah, I have to agree, and contrast this with @bloodtide and say that while there are certainly myriad discussions of various problems and dysfunctions, challenges, and different techniques related to what we're calling 'GM-built setting' games/trad/neotrad, whatever you want to call them, none of us are calling them bad games. I have never said 'traditional D&D is bad'. It is just a representative of a certain type of RPG. However, when I hear criticisms of Narrative/PC-focused/Story Now/whatever sorts of games the criticism I generally hear isn't related to some bit about a technique, its a FLAT OUT DENIAL that the entire class of RPGs exists AT ALL, or that they're games, or that they have any Role Play in them, or whatever the other 100 existential 'you are badwrongfun' statements are. I mean, literally just look through this thread, this one here Player-driven campaigns and developing strong stories and the hilarious and preposterous nonsense of the recent 'Illusionism thread', which I won't even link to as its pretty much just pure nonsense.

So lets not have any false equivalences here about the nature of the discussion! I'd love to have a discussion about the topic of this thread, but all I get served up is "your entire idea of what an RPG is is wrong, and you have no idea what you're doing." Usually followed by some ad hominum attacks on some guy that posted something they don't like in a long dead forum that I've never read.

To get back onto the topic: There is prep in many Narrative games, so an actual interesting question is what purpose does it serve, why do some games rely on it and other ones don't (within the general sphere of games usually labeled as Narrative or similar). Is it analogous to the kind of prep that is done in classic trad D&D, most Traveller games, and presumably other more modern trad games like Numenera/Cypher, PF1, PF2, etc. I'm genuinely interested!
 

I believe you've misread. I think that "priors" is meant to refer to prior credences or perhaps more generally to the beliefs that you are bringing to the conversation prior to considering the evidence and reasons adduced in the conversation. That is, the term is being taken from the theory of rational belief rather than the theory of sentencing and criminal evidence.
I can see how someone can take 'priors' in a certain sense, but it is actually terminological bleed from Bayesian Analysis, which is a certain version of probability theory in which 'prior' refers to 'prior evidence' (IE examples of previous behavior for example) which predict future behavior (or the composition of a population, etc.). Nick Bostrum in particular has been shilling this as a form of 'rationalism' for a few years now. lol.
 

This is what I would love to discuss, as I don't really run games that are strictly one (GM driven game) or the other (Player driven game). I tend to have a mixture of both and see little if any discussion around that. How do we mesh these techniques? How can both the GM who wants to express his creativity via setting and the players who want to express their creativity via their characters and play in the game drive the game together... and to what/how are the varying degrees that one or the other can drive certain aspects of the game.

In the games I run I'm definitely in the same boat—mix of GM- and player-driven—in part because my main group is still new to games where the GM isn't fully in the driver's seat. That means I do still have to do some prep, but it's less and less, and it's been really exciting to move that cognitive effort into the actual sessions (instead of before them). Having the narrative chase player contributions, and improv-ing constantly, is like running on a tightrope sometimes, as least to me—sometimes scary but often thrilling. In my experience the only way it's worked is when the system really supports and incentivizes players to keep contributing, like with flashbacks in Blades in the Dark.

Edit: changed "improving" to "improv-ing." Typos don't get more conceited than that!
 
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pemerton

Legend
This would interest me. I've sometimes had trouble with the scope of choice in character creation (and in choices of action). For example, you can have the very unbounded freedom of, say, Over the Edge, where you have a bit of info about the weird setting and are told you can basically create anything, within reasonable power levels (and even unreasonable power levels, as long as you're ready for the heat). On the other, you have games like Apocalypse World, which give you playbooks with menus to choose basically all your options from, even your character name in some cases. The first can be as bewildering as it is free; the second can feel as restrictive as it is streamlining of that part of things so you can get to the action. More generally, I find that sometimes if I am thinking of how to respond or act in a situation, and the GM prods me with a suggestion or two, it shuts down whatever nascent trains of thought I had building up, and unless I have a firm idea of what I do and do not want to do, I'll default to one of the suggestions. That's a bit far afield of the OP but it seemed relevant to mention.

A middle ground is, for example, playbooks that ask specific but open-ended questions, such as the Ranger in Stonetop with its questions about "What dark threat do you see in the region?" and followons, plus the inter-character questions. I wonder what general sorts of guidelines can be discerned regarding these various approaches: What aspects of they are applied to, what is left implicit, and so on.

I'll add that playbooks with menus of options that also include blanks I can fill in are my favorite. :) It makes explicit that each menu is a list of suggestions and not a Hobson's choice.
I've read but never played Over the Edge, but you reminded me of Cthulhu Dark: PC gen in that system is very simple - choose a name and a job for your character. (Where "choose a job" is literal - you're not choosing from a list of classes or playbooks, you're answering the question for the PC the same as if, it a party, someone asked you "So what do you do?")

The first time I ran a session of Cthulhu Dark, I told the players I wanted us to play in between-the-wars Boston, they agreed, and then one said their PC was an investigative journalist, another that their PC was a longshoreman, and the third that their PC was a legal secretary. That put a bit of pressure on me as GM to think of a way to weave their paths together! I chose the docks as the initial focus, and that worked.

The game I've played that is the most opposite of this that I can think of is Prince Valiant, where in the first session the default is that every PC is a knight: Although each player has their choice of how to allocate 7 ranks across Brawn and Presence, and 9 ranks across Arms, Riding and 12 other skills; which at least at our table produced some interesting character differences straight away.

In terms of what general sorts of guidelines can be discerned regarding these various approaches, I'll try two initial thoughts and see what you and others think.

One is inspired by Christopher Kubasik's Interactive Toolkit; by the remarks in the Apocalypse World rulebook about setting Hx (p 103 of my version of the rules): "the
players can and ought to bring each other into it when they’re making their choices"; and has been suggested on these boards more than once by @chaochou: the players can work together to build their PCs, at least in general terms.

Where this takes place can be interesting. In my own practice, it often happens a bit downstream. Eg in our Prince Valiant game, three players all build their PCs separately from one another - it took about five or ten minutes at the table, as all they had to do was allocate Brawn and Presence, choose their skills, and write a brief description. Two players build remarkably similar PCs, differing only in their allocation of one or two ranks to Fellowship vs Healing. And one described his PC as "a middle-aged knight who has achieved little of note" whereas the other was (paraphrasing a bit) a young knight rather confident in his ability. We quickly decided that they were father and son; and this gave, and has continued to give, the relationship between them an interesting dynamic, a bit different from what is typical in action/adventure-oriented RPGing.

In my most recent Burning Wheel play, my friend and I agreed to each burn a PC with 4 lifepaths, and he built a weather witch while I built a bitter Dark Elf. We then discussed how it was that they came to know one another and be in one another's company. And I wrote my character a Belief that clearly connected him to my friend's character.

The second thought: I think it's reasonable to expect the GM to do some of the heavy lifting here, and for the players to accept that. I already gave the example of the docks. In the BW game I just mentioned, my friend and I are co-GMing (each frames the adversity for the other's PC) and we collaborated to establish the initial set-up. When I ran Wuthering Heights, each PC was generated by rolling the relevant stats and then on the Problems Table, and when one was a myopic socialist interested in the occult and the other a mute, republican, non-conformist clergyman I started with the socialist first - and established with that player that the PC worked in a radical bookshop in Soho with a more obscure upstairs section with occult texts - and then agreed with the clergyman that he had gone into the bookshop looking for copies of radical texts (of the sort the reading of which had rendered him mute!) to denounce and destroy.

I think the further upstream the players collaborate in building their PCs, establishing their connections, etc, the less the responsibility will fall on the GM and the more the players might shape their starting situation. (If this is too narrow a thought I'm interested to learn that.)
 

niklinna

satisfied?
This is what I would love to discuss, as I don't really run games that are strictly one (GM driven game) or the other (Player driven game). I tend to have a mixture of both and see little if any discussion around that. How do we mesh these techniques? How can both the GM who wants to express his creativity via setting and the players who want to express their creativity via their characters and play in the game drive the game together... and to what/how are the varying degrees that one or the other can drive certain aspects of the game.
That sounds like a great topic for a new thread.
 

Arilyn

Hero
Tolkien is setting prep. Peter S. Beagle is character prep. They are both fantastic writers. If you want to move away from setting prep, think about Beagle's Last Unicorn. The conflict and drama come from the characters and their drives. What world are we in? Where is the unicorn's wood in relation to the old king's castle? We don't know and it doesn't matter because the character's are driving most of the tale. The world pieces are building around the protagonists.
 


Imaro

Legend
Tolkien is setting prep. Peter S. Beagle is character prep. They are both fantastic writers. If you want to move away from setting prep, think about Beagle's Last Unicorn. The conflict and drama come from the characters and their drives. What world are we in? Where is the unicorn's wood in relation to the old king's castle? We don't know and it doesn't matter because the character's are driving most of the tale. The world pieces are building around the protagonists.
What would you categorize Game of Thrones as? There is a ton of conflict and drama from the characters and their drives... but on the other hand alot of the setting creates and drives conflict and drama both dependently and independently of the individuals.
 

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