Judgement calls vs "railroading"

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
When you talk of GM "steering" or "guidance" it seems to me that you are assuming some sort of GM subtlety or even subterfuge (hence the connection to "illusionism"): the GM innocuously drops in an elf here, or a foil NPC there, seemingly nothing more than a bit of scenery, and then - BAM! - the GM springs his/her big reveal.

But, as per the quote from Czege, that's not really how "story now" RPGing works.
In theory, perhaps; but as we all know theory and practice are not always the same.

In theory Gygax wanted AD&D to more or less work in one particular way, as seen in the 1e DMG page 96-99 example of play. Didn't take long for all kinds of DMs to make it work - and more often than not work well - in lots of ways that he didn't intend and with lots of rules he never imagined and without lots of rules he put a great deal of work into.

Who says the same can't happen to the "story now" theory?

Lanefan
 

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pemerton

Legend
In theory, perhaps; but as we all know theory and practice are not always the same.

In theory Gygax wanted AD&D to more or less work in one particular way, as seen in the 1e DMG page 96-99 example of play. Didn't take long for all kinds of DMs to make it work - and more often than not work well - in lots of ways that he didn't intend and with lots of rules he never imagined and without lots of rules he put a great deal of work into.

Who says the same can't happen to the "story now" theory?
Without more context of what you have in mind, I'm having trouble following.

I mean, if the GM is not showing his/her hand then I as a player can tell, here and now, that the game is not "story now". You can't keep it secret that there is not story NOW! The absence of that is something the players will notice!
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
Without more context of what you have in mind, I'm having trouble following.

I mean, if the GM is not showing his/her hand then I as a player can tell, here and now, that the game is not "story now". You can't keep it secret that there is not story NOW! The absence of that is something the players will notice!
Sorry, but no matter how often or how forcefully you repeat this I flat out don't believe you.

A DM who wants to do so can in any system subtly - but quite easily - steer you to where she wants you to go, assuming she knows her stuff. She can tell her story, interwoven with yours, if she wants to. And if she's good at it you won't even notice because your story (the one you'd be playing out anyway based on your beliefs etc.) is happily going right along with it.

All it takes in the system you describe is careful choice and some forethought in scene framing and (is the term scene resolution?).

My example some posts above (which I don't know if you saw) speaks to this. Your character and Aramina are at the homestead, you fail a check and thus cause complications, which the DM decides are (i.e. frames as) orcs too close for comfort. Any number of things could have been used as the complication, but the DM chose orcs. Your posts indicate orcs make sense for the surroundings, no problem there, carry on.

But what if the DM was trying to insert a story about a hobgoblin-orc conflict in the area that up till now you knew nothing about (and for all that maybe she didn't either and made this up on the spur of the moment). Your complication becomes hobgoblins instead of orcs where you might have been expecting orcs, leading you perhaps to wonder what's up...or not. Subsequent complications as they arise keep returning to this theme, and eventually in your travels you might find some recent battlegrounds and so forth.

Or, what if the DM had decided there's no orcs left in the region as they've all gone off to invade Althasia (or wherever). Your current complication instead becomes that you accidentally stirred up some embers while searching and maybe set the homstead on fire, and subsequent complications as they arise continue to be anything but orcs even though the area in theory has a reputation for crawling with 'em. In your travels you might find abandoned orc villages.

What I'm getting at is that if she wants to, a DM can steer the ship somewhat just by what she frames as scenes or uses for complications even while keeping your beliefs etc. front and centre.

Lan-"never mind that ancient bit of true wisdom: there are no rules in RPGs, only guidelines"-efan
 

pemerton

Legend
[MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION], you're missing the point: if there is no story now, I can tell. Because nothing is happening.

And, conversely, if stuff is happening - if the GM has "gone where the action is" - then subtlety has been abandoned.

If the GM makes it about hobgoblins, or orcs, or whatever, I can tell. If this doesn't speak to my thematic concerns, I can tell. And if it does, then the GM is doing his/her job and there's no illusion.

Here's a comparison: you can't "subtlely" show me how you play the trumpet - you either play it, or you don't. Likewise in this case - the GM is either framing scenes that matter to my character, or is not. If s/he is, there's no illusion. The mattering is evident.

Another way to put it: if the GM thinks orcs would be fun, all s/he needs to do is introduce orcs into the situation. There's nothing to be gained by pretending s/he's not.
 

Lanefan

Victoria Rules
And, conversely, if stuff is happening - if the GM has "gone where the action is" - then subtlety has been abandoned.

If the GM makes it about hobgoblins, or orcs, or whatever, I can tell. If this doesn't speak to my thematic concerns, I can tell. And if it does, then the GM is doing his/her job and there's no illusion.
Or so you think...

Here's a comparison: you can't "subtlely" show me how you play the trumpet - you either play it, or you don't. Likewise in this case - the GM is either framing scenes that matter to my character, or is not. If s/he is, there's no illusion. The mattering is evident.
To follow up on that analogy: you might despise the sound of trumpets and shudder every time you hear one to the point where you'd refuse to listen to anything that you knew had trumpets in it, but I could still slip a few into the orchestra (and have them be played) such that you'd never notice their presence in the recorded music even though they are subtly driving the melody.

Same is true here. Each individual scene is framed such that it matters to your character...it's not till you look in hindsight at the overall pattern those scenes have built that you realize there's a bigger DM-generated story afoot.

Another way to put it: if the GM thinks orcs would be fun, all s/he needs to do is introduce orcs into the situation. There's nothing to be gained by pretending s/he's not.
On a one-time basis this is obviously true. See my previous post for longer-term examples re hobgoblins, orcs etc. so I don't have to type it all again.

Lan-"sound the trumpets!"-efan
 



hawkeyefan

Legend
[MENTION=42582]pemerton[/MENTION]

Sorry to take so long to get back on this. Rather than address specific points, I think a more general reply may be best.

I understand your point, and the methods you're describing. I think it is a solid approach in many ways. I prefer to have a plan in place that I can change on the fly if need be rather than determining everything at the so-called "crunch point" that you describe, but that's more a personal preference.

However, I think that the methods you are describing, divorced from mechanics that support them, can be applied in a general way to just about any RPG. Would you agree with that? You said that Story Now is not dependent on mechanics, so is that what you meat? That Story Now elements can be used in any game?

If not, then it seems that they are dependent upon the system in question, which to me means that they are tied to the mechanics of that system.

I say this because I actually believe that I do a lot of what you are calling out as the Story Now approach's strengths in my game....but I'm playing 5E, and I have pre-authored much of the world.

Now, as for the GM steering things....let's go back to the Vader/Luke example. The player has indicated a mystery in his character's lineage and that he wants to examine that as part of play. The GM has come up with a Galactic Empire threat that he feels would be a cool story to examine, along with a major NPC villain tied to this Empire. The players haven't shown strong interest in the Empire storyline....they seem more interested in smuggling aboard the Millenium Falcon than in a battle between good and evil. So the Empire will be a foil, but only in that it will be the existing power structure that may cause complications for smugglers rather than an opponent of heroes in a rebellion.

So the PCs are more interested in avoiding the Empire rather than opposing them. I would think this an important distinction that would very much determine the thrust of the campaign, and the two would be very different.

Now, in your game you very well may not do this....but would you say that if the GM decided to put forth his NPC as a strong contender to be the PC's father, then that may hook the players into being a bit more interested in the Empire, and then as a result, the campaign might shift from avoiding the Empire to opposing the Empire? Would you say this is a bad thing, no matter what? Would you say the players would recognize this "force" without fail? Or would you consider this a marriage of the player's desire and the GM's desire?
 

pemerton

Legend
Each individual scene is framed such that it matters to your character...it's not till you look in hindsight at the overall pattern those scenes have built that you realize there's a bigger DM-generated story afoot.
If the "bigger GM-generated story" is all about the stuff that I chose to matter for my PC and that has been unfolding resulting from my action declarations - then that's just the "standard narrativistic model" - the GM has been framing scenes by "going where the action is", and the result is the continuous unfolding of those events.

If the "bigger GM-generated story" is something the GM planned in advance, then how has this been done while each individual scene is framed such that it mattered to my character. How did the GM know what would matter to my character as the campaign unfolded, and what choices I would make?

let's go back to the Vader/Luke example. The player has indicated a mystery in his character's lineage and that he wants to examine that as part of play. The GM has come up with a Galactic Empire threat that he feels would be a cool story to examine, along with a major NPC villain tied to this Empire. The players haven't shown strong interest in the Empire storyline....they seem more interested in smuggling aboard the Millenium Falcon than in a battle between good and evil. So the Empire will be a foil, but only in that it will be the existing power structure that may cause complications for smugglers rather than an opponent of heroes in a rebellion.

So the PCs are more interested in avoiding the Empire rather than opposing them. I would think this an important distinction that would very much determine the thrust of the campaign, and the two would be very different.

<snip>

would you say that if the GM decided to put forth his NPC as a strong contender to be the PC's father, then that may hook the players into being a bit more interested in the Empire, and then as a result, the campaign might shift from avoiding the Empire to opposing the Empire? Would you say this is a bad thing, no matter what? Would you say the players would recognize this "force" without fail? Or would you consider this a marriage of the player's desire and the GM's desire?
From my point of view, the scenario you describe at the end could play out in so many different ways, and all those different ways involve nuance.

Just to give an illustration of what I mean: at a certain point in the OP game I introduced the dark naga, because (i) one player had established, as a Belief for his shaman/spirit-binding PC, something about visions of a dark force rising in the land, and (ii) another player had brought a snake-handling shaman into play, and (iii) earlier in the campaign the PCs had had a rewarding encounter with a friendly naga guarding a desert oasis.

This is a little bit like your example, in that I'm dropping something in which is my conception of what might be interesting in the context of the campaign and the players' signalled preferences. But it's hard to know, until one tries it, whether or not it will get uptake or just be a small blip which ends up going nowhere (eg the snake-handler isn't that interested in magical spirit snakes; the player who wrote the belief about a dark force had something quite different in mind). As it happens the naga did generate uptake, and so has been solidified as an element in the campaign (although its deeper in-fiction ramifications and historical and mystical significance are still all unknowns).

If the uptake had been weaker, and I kept going with it, I think the players could easily tell that I was pushing something I was keen on. (Maybe my GM will do that with his mumakils!) Is that good or bad? It depends so much on what form the pushing takes, whether or not the integrity of action declaration and resolution is respected, etc. Eg if the players have their PCs kill the dark naga, that's a pretty clear thing, and ignoring or subverting that would be bad GMing - but also pretty evident. But if the players put up with the GM's soft spot for nagas or mumakils or evil imperial overlords, that just looks to me like give-and-take at the table. But also not involving any covert applications of force.

In the scenario you describe, the crunch point might be when the GM wants to centre the evil overlord via the parenthood claim, while the player experiences that as the GM trying to make his/her enthusiasm - which the players have been going along with in a reasonable way - into the front and centre of the campaign as that player is engaged with it. It seems to me that that could be a good way to wreck a game! - in the same sort of neighbourhood (though slightly different details) as Luke Crane's examples of killing off the person the PC is sworn to protect in the first session, or bringing the wife back to life without the player getting to experience that as the final conclusion of the character's quest.

Which goes back to what I posted upthread - I think these sorts of misjudgements, about what will or won't work in terms of framing and consequences, are the real "pressure points" for "story now" GMing. Not illusionism, because the player can tell what the GM is doing by watching the GM do it ("There's that Darth Vader/mumakil/dark naga again!"), but making the wrong call about "where the action is".
 

pemerton

Legend
Ron Edwards once made this post about authority over the content of the fiction, and scene-framing - and it seems relevant to this thread:

Content authority - over what we're calling back-story, e.g. whether Sam is a KGB mole, or which NPC is boinking whom

Plot authority - over crux-points in the knowledge base at the table - now is the time for a revelation! - typically, revealing content, although notice it can apply to player-characters' material as well as GM material - and look out, because within this authority lies the remarkable pitfall of wanting (for instances) revelations and reactions to apply precisely to players as they do to characters

Situational authority - over who's there, what's going on - scene framing would be the most relevant and obvious technique-example, or phrases like "That's when I show up!" from a player

Narrational authority - how it happens, what happens - I'm suggesting here that this is best understood as a feature of resolution (including the entirety of IIEE), and not to mistake it for describing what the castle looks like, for instance; I also suggest it's far more shared in application than most role-players realize . . .

There is no overlap between those four types of authority. They are four distinct phenomena.

Do they have causal relationships among one another? Of course. The easiest version is top-down reductionist: because content is consulted, a plot authority decision is made, and then a situational authority decision/presentation must be made, and finally narrational authority must be exercised. I assume that for you, this is the most easy and familiar construction, and you're used to conducting them (or at least constructing them, idealistically speaking) as a single causal sequence in this order, with one person in charge - it's a "thing," perhaps the thing you call GMing. . . .

The real point, not the side-point, is that any one of these authorities can be shared across the individuals playing without violating the other authorities. . . .

in the Jasmine game . . . I had a bunch of NPCs. Whatever happened, I'd play them, which is to say, I'd decide what they did and said. You should see that I simply gave up the reins of "how the story will go" (plot authority) entirely. . . .

in the Jasmine game, I scene-framed . . . That's my job as GM in playing The Pool. By the rules, players can narrate outcomes to conflict rolls, but they can't start new scenes. But I totally gave up authority over the "top" level, plot authority. I let that become an emergent property of the other two levels: again, me with full authority over situation (scene framing), and the players and I sharing authority over narrational authority, which provided me with cues, in the sense of no-nonsense instructions, regarding later scene framing.

And similarly, like situational authority, content authority was left entirely to my seat at the table. There was no way for a player's narration to clash with the back-story. All of the player narrations concerned plot authority, like the guy's mask coming off in my hypothetical example above, or in the case of the Jasmine game, the one suitor becoming a popular rather than sinister guy through his actions. . . .

That's a Trollbabe technique that is specifically permitted by the rules [eg "in an interrogation scene, a player might be able to say, 'I want to roll to find out what his connection to the mafia is,' and if he is successful, then the victim of the interrogation is involved in the mafia, period"], which is to say, the GM is bound by the rules of the game to add elements into the back-story, continually, based on the conflicts that the players bring into it. If the players don't want to do any such thing, they frame no such conflicts in this manner, and if they do, well, the GM's job is to cope. . . .

But note - that is a technique of a specific game, and not even a required one within it. It does not exist in The Pool's rules, and in fact, is defined out of them given the rules that are there. . . .

You gave him [a player whom the GM found disruptive] narrational authority ("describe how you're involved") and he took situational authority ("am I or am I not involved"). That's all there is to that story, right there. . . .

poster to whom Edwards is replying said:
when I'm looking forward to some scene or some revelation or plot twist, everything becomes boring until we get there, so I am not really interacting with the players--I'm just trying to shut everything down so we can get to the next bit. The players feel lost, everyone gets bored and/or frustrated.

In games where the players have the power to contribute as authors, they can do this as well. Although in games with distributed authority no one can fully railroad the game, anyone can still withdraw from play by hoping to see their vision come out on top of anyone else's.
Well, let's look at this again. Actually, I think it has nothing at all to do with distributed authority, but rather with the group members' shared trust that situational authority is going to get exerted for maximal enjoyment among everyone. If, for example, we are playing a game in which I, alone, have full situational authority, and if everyone is confident that I will use that authority to get to stuff they want (for example, taking suggestions), then all is well. Or if we are playing a game in which we do "next person to the left frames each scene," and if that confidence is just as shared, around the table, that each of us will get to the stuff that others want (again, suggestions are accepted), then all is well.

It's not the distributed or not-distributed aspect of situational authority you're concerned with, it's your trust at the table, as a group, that your situations in the S[hared] I[maginary] S[pace] are worth anyone's time. Bluntly, you guys ought to work on that.​

In the "standard narrativistic model", the GM has full situational authority. But authority over content is distributed - eg the players, in building their PCs, establish elements of backstory (eg the existence of groups they belong to, allies and rivals, etc). And the GM is obliged to make this player-authored stuff part of the game, ie part of the framed scenes.

Narrational authority belongs to the player in declaring his/her PC's action, but shifts to the GM in the event of failures, while remaining at least in part with the player in the event of success (eg at a minimum the PC has got something of what s/he was hoping for); and these exercises of narrational authority establish new material ("consequences") that, again the GM is expected to incorporate (via situational authority) into new situations.

If the GM is usurping narrational authority around action declaration or consequences of success; or is disregarding the obligations that govern his/her use of situational authority, including the duty to have regard to player exercises of content authority and narrational authority; that will be evident. (Hence, as I've said, no illusionism.)

If the GM doesn't do any of the stuff in the previous paragraph, but nevertheless includes stuff that wouldn't have been there but for the GM wanting it to be there (eg Darth Vader, a dark naga, a renegade elf, [MENTION=29398]Lanefan[/MENTION]'s war of orcs vs hobgoblins) then we might have a great game!

But if the GM is not exercising his/her narrational and situational authority well - no one is interested in the consequences, the scenes fall flat, etc - then the game is not delivering "story now". Whether or not people keep going along with it (which is a purely social matter, nothing to do with RPGing as such) it's going to be a failure from the "story now" point of view. And that failure won't be secret either - "falling flat" with an audience (the players) isn't something that can happen without the players noticing.
 

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