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Players establishing facts about the world impromptu during play


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To follow along, at no point in a Story Now game is it the player's responsibility to complicate the situation.

Nor do they actually have nor feel they have the unilateral capability to either (a) defeat the obstacle before them (because its just a prompt for creativity) at the furthest level of zoom or (b) deploy moves that disregard their present fictional positioning in order to accomplish (a) at the tighter level of zoom. See my immediately preceding post with the Ranger and the Dragon for reference (want to get that volley off...solve the gale force wind problem and make a decision about the impending cave-in...and solve that problem if you're aren't good with getting buried alive).


EDIT - I feel like a lot of these conversations are issues because most people are coming at it from the tightly rationed action economy mechanical architecture of traditional systems vs structured freeform. Structured freeform extremely zoomed out and without deep understanding about how all the moving parts are integrated and what principled GMing of these games looks like (both under the hood and in the actual play) can probably look like "cooperative storytelling without authentic and 'to-the-hilt' adversity."

EDIT 2 - My guess is a lot of this is why 4e Skill Challenges were so "huh?" to so many folks (because they're structured freeform closed scene resolution).

EDIT 3 - IN FACT, I know I'm right on EDIT 2. One of the primary M.O.s in misconstruing 4e Skill Challanges was "they're just freeform storytelling with some dice." That is literally probably exactly how people who don't understand how to run Dungeon World or Apocalypse World (et al) see those games.
 
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From Masks: A New Generation
Sometimes, the GM and the players have to talk a bit to get on the same page about the uncertainty. A PC wants to fly into space, and the GM feels that it’s uncertain if they can because they’ve never done it before. But the player’s always had it in their head that they can fly into space, should the need arise. The player and the GM have to quickly figure out if this is truly uncertain. The point of moves is to make us excited, interested, and surprised about what happens next, and if someone doesn’t feel excitement around the uncertainty, then it’s a good sign that either a move isn’t being triggered, or someone doesn’t fully understand the situation. Talk it out and find a place where you agree on the uncertainty, then make the move that makes sense. Or no move at all.
we can see that your abilities are subject to your discretion as negotiated with via the GM, the limitation is thematic appropriateness-- your toolkit is intentionally fuzzy.
MASKS doesn’t pay close attention to physical harm, though. How much physical harm can an invulnerable space alien take before they go out? How much punishment can the utterly human bowman take? MASKS isn’t about that—in MASKS, their responses to getting punched are far more important. The alien gets Angry. The bowman gets Afraid.
Here we establish that the rules don't really care much about the physical simulation of the action as problem solving, instead it wants players to engage with the game world's emotional push and pull and their arc of personal development, again direct storytelling over the simulation of a reality in which the players just make physical choices.
Abilities don’t clearly state exactly what you can or can’t do: after all, if your ability is super speed, that doesn’t tell you at all whether you can travel at 600 miles per hour, or break the sound barrier, or vibrate your molecules through a wall. Abilities give you a clearer picture of your character at the start of play and a jumping off point for figuring out what makes sense for your character’s specific capabilities. For example, someone whose abilities are martial arts and swords probably can’t run at 600 miles per hour, break the sound barrier, or vibrate their molecules through a wall. Yet. You’ll discover the specifics of your abilities through play at your table, through discussions with the GM, and through your own decisions. After all, you’re playing to find out!
If we're playing to find out what the character's tools to solve problems are, the nature of what's in that toolbox is pretty open to freeform problem solving, a game that isn't trying to be low power could easily invent convoluted knock-off effects from their powers like the Flash's 'Speed Force' which allow them a fairly unconstrained toolbox with which to solve problems.
You don’t have any decisions to make about your playbook’s Moment of Truth, but it’s good to familiarize yourself with it early. Your Moment of Truth is a script for a special instant when you get to seize control of the game’s conversation. Each playbook’s is a bit different, and gives you an idea for the kinds of thing you’re allowed to say when you trigger your Moment of Truth. You’re not mind-controlling anybody, so you probably can’t say what the other PCs or NPCs choose to do—but you can say largely everything else, including how you defeat them or how you change the world around you. It’s a moment when the spotlight’s on your character, and we’re all interested in seeing them be awesome—which means you get to say what happens in a much more direct fashion than at any other time in the game. You can’t trigger your Moment of Truth until you’ve unlocked it through advancement (page 115). Then, you can trigger it whenever you want, and during that scene you have full control of describing what your character does, for as long as you remain within your playbook’s script. After your Moment of Truth is over, you permanently lock one of your Labels—it will never change again (page 118). Your Moment of Truth tells you a lot about the key, critical moment for your playbook—what it looks like when everything comes to a head, and your character shows off the fullest extent of what they can do.
If I used my Moment of Truth while we were fighting the Dragon in your example (depending on what the Ranger playbook would suggest that could entail) it wouldn't even be a problem to solve anymore (not that you can do that all the time, but I wanted to show the range.) Again though, the mechanic concerns story structure, not the simulation of the fictional world that the Game takes place in.

The rules simulate the creation of a narrative, not the physical reality of the world. The physical reality of the world is an exercise in creative writing, where problems are prompts for reaction, and the validity of those reactions are governed directly by the needs of the narrative (tone, consistency.) The rules do not care whether your character is a street level, pretty much human, or an earth shatteringly powerful alien from another world. The game's mechanical play space is concerned with how the emotional push and pull of the situations.

Villain Moves are even more narrative, where the Villain just does something without a role designed to complicate the situation for the players respond to. The players invent a solution (or a reaction at any rate) that they and the other players find believable in the fiction of the game. Their toolkit is not limited

In your dragon example, the player must either respond with a believable means of surpassing the obstacle of the winds, or alter their actions to suit the fiction. The GM authored a complication, the Ranger Player is going to author a reaction to that complication. If DW is like Masks, that could be a creative new use of their ranger abilities (which would be a loosely defined idea of they're personal abilities and equipment) a completely different plan, or even a newly established element of the fiction (that the GM would in turn, be obligated to complicate) which would trigger a move to roll if its believable, on a hit it happens according to the move, but on a miss, the GM would decide what happens-- potentially giving the Ranger player what they want but with some further complication they're dealing with.

The Dragon, the Ranger Wanting to Shoot, The Wind being too much, the Potential Miss, each of these is functionally a prompt for straight authorship of the fiction being tossed back and forth in conversation. If these opportunities for authorship are policed to the extent that they begin to represent constrained toolboxes in a world simulated by the GM's sensibilities, we've practically, whether through system or playstyle, stepped away from the subject of the thread. Since players are no longer establishing facts about the world.
To follow along, at no point in a Story Now game is it the player's responsibility to complicate the situation.
This sure seems like players creating complications to me, these only really work well if the players are interested in creating drama and tension themselves, rather than just doing their best to solve problems:
Some of the basic moves help you clear conditions—comfort or support and defend, in particular. But the most straightforward way to clear conditions is to take a particular action to relieve that emotional state. The action varies depending on the specific condition. At the end of any scene in which you take the corresponding action, clear that condition.

• To clear Angry, hurt someone or break something important.
• To clear Afraid, run from something difficult.
• To clear Guilty, make a sacrifice to absolve your guilt.
• To clear Hopeless, fling yourself into easy relief.
• To clear Insecure, take foolhardy action without talking to your team.

Clearing Angry requires you to vent your anger, either on someone or on something. It’s not enough to just punch a bag—you have to take your anger out on someone, or something important. What’s important is different for every character, but the GM should ask if and why an object is important when the Angry character breaks it. Hurting someone doesn’t necessarily mean hurting them physically—yelling at them and hurting their feelings would do the trick, too. Clearing Afraid requires you to avoid or flee from a complicated, dangerous, or problematic situation. That could mean anything from running away from a villain to fleeing the room when someone wants to have a conversation about your recent actions. The key is avoidance—instead of confronting something, you’re running from it. Clearing Guilty requires you to pay some cost on behalf of others, those you feel you’ve wronged or let down. It doesn’t require them to actually absolve you of your guilt—just so long as you pay a price in an attempt to redeem yourself. This might be anything from standing alone against a dangerous villain so your teammates can escape to agreeing to follow the older heroes’ rules even when it’s easier not to. Clearing Hopeless requires you to seek the easiest and quickest way to relieve your feelings. Most likely, that means making stupid decisions in pursuit of stupid fun. It could be anything from finding some cheap booze and getting drunk to making out with the wrong person. Clearing Insecure means following your worst, most impulsive instincts without consulting anybody first. You feel doubtful of your own abilities, so you’re proving yourself by following your own plan without talking to anyone first. That could be anything from deciding to attack the bad guy while the rest of your team waits in stealth to agreeing to give up the crucial component
More broadly, I would note that the Games being discussed, DW and Torchbearer are Story-Now emulations of Dungeons and Dragons esque gameplay. They might have more of the 'playstyle' of the game they're emulating than other Story Now games necessarily do. They may also police tone more than masks does to try and keep the tone correct.

Conversely, it would feel awfully like one if you have a GM who polices the fiction in such a way as to enforce constraints and prohibit additions to the fiction during problem solving. You'd be playing a fairly Gygaxian Mother-May-I "I only roll dice for the sound it makes" type experience defined by limiting player addition to the fiction.
 

I quite liked the video. I have to admit though this is one area where I am not too keen on just filing it under 'good general advice'. There are campaigns where I want a firm line blocking that kind of thing, and there are campaigns where I want to encourage it or strike more of a middle ground. And there are always gray areas.
 

@The-Magic-Sword

I'll get a response up to you this evening, but a few questions so I can appropriately frame a response:

1) Do you have any experience with any explicitly Story Now games that aren't Superhero genre? Particularly Apocalypse World (as Baker's work is the authority on PBtA agenda, principles, procedures) or Dogs in the Vineyard (Baker's other seminal work)? That would help this conversation immensely because I can use that game to compare/contrast as not all Story Games are the same in terms of nuts-and-bolts (Torchbearer is very different from My Life With Master is very different from Dungeon World is very different from Dogs in the Vineyard is very different from Blades in the Dark).

2) Do you have any excerpts from your play of Masks (running it or playing it is fine) that we could post-mortem? Play excerpt post-mortems are infinitely more helpful to discuss this kind of stuff.
 

@The-Magic-Sword

I'll get a response up to you this evening, but a few questions so I can appropriately frame a response:

1) Do you have any experience with any explicitly Story Now games that aren't Superhero genre? Particularly Apocalypse World (as Baker's work is the authority on PBtA agenda, principles, procedures) or Dogs in the Vineyard (Baker's other seminal work)? That would help this conversation immensely because I can use that game to compare/contrast as not all Story Games are the same in terms of nuts-and-bolts (Torchbearer is very different from My Life With Master is very different from Dungeon World is very different from Dogs in the Vineyard is very different from Blades in the Dark).

2) Do you have any excerpts from your play of Masks (running it or playing it is fine) that we could post-mortem? Play excerpt post-mortems are infinitely more helpful to discuss this kind of stuff.
1) No, sadly TTRPGs are time consuming to learn, my experience with narrative emphasis is mainly Masks: A New Generation as well as reading through Monster of the Week, Kids on Brooms, Blades in the Dark, and using the techniques discussed in 4e's DMG 2 at various times.

2) I could write one up, but I don't have one on hand, and I can't promsie it would be word for word or even scene for scene accurate. Usually my own Masks games fall victim to my experiences being mainly in games like 4e and Pathfinder 2e, and I have to remind myself not to overly control the fictional world around the players. The other GM who introduced me to the game runs pretty similarly, with combat scenes being very freeform, and just calling moves as they happen, and framing complications and villain moves where appropriate to the pacing. Playbook moves in practice, tend to heighten the establishment of fiction, with several allowing the player to do just that on a hit or pass it off to the GM on a miss. The conversation of play sees terrain, objects, and sometimes even characters invented and named by everyone at the table.

3) I will point out that I'm not looking for some kind of correction here, the thread's topic is about player establishing elements of the fiction during impromptu play. If you somehow play 'Story-Now' games with not a lot of stuff involving player establishment of fiction, you're probably playing and trying to correct us from a very different set of experiences than the ones we were discussing. This is why I brought up admixtures that allow you to have more of X in your Y, it sounds like your experiences are mainly with games where you aren't really expected to collaboratively add things to the fiction in the same freeform way, or you specifically don't through an understanding of tone where you self-police, or your GM moderates it accordingly to a more traditional expectation. My examples concerning Masks were to demonstrate examples of games that do work this way, not to get the 'no no no, you simply must be doing it wrong' talk. The difference in play style, where on one hand, the world is established at the table collaboratively by the players as equals, and on the other by GM as author and players as explorers, is what we're discussing. So if your game, for whatever reason doesn't work that way... then why did it come up? No one brought up Dungeon World in the abstract, is it because you think of it as a 'Story Now' game, categorically?
 
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S'mon

Legend
Wow I can't believe this discussion which was pretty well ran through in the GM notes thread has now jumped to a new thread. We do have a lot of new discussers though so maybe it can be interesting.

Must have been something I've not read. I asked the question here to see if response would differ from the other two places I asked it. And it does differ - people here are mostly a lot more open to the notion. I particularly appreciate Campbell's post #3 which helped clarify my feelings on it.

Edit: I should probably leave this thread to the Storygamers now! :D
 

Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I get tired of people who try, in vain, to argue that games like DW (or Blades, or whatever) are engaging in the creation of narrative that is somehow separate from the physical reality of the diegetic world. It betrays a desperate misunderstanding of how those games actually function at the table.
 

@The-Magic-Sword

Good stuff. Appreciate your response and what you’ve offered this far.

That is what I reckoned. I’ll talk about Masks tonight when I get a post up this evening and contrast it with some other games and talk about how they differ in terms of Skilled Play (there are varieties of Skilled Play priorities; thematic, tactical, strategic, social, puzzle solving) and how their various authority distribution and avenues for introducing content into play intersect with that.
 


Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
From Masks: A New Generation

we can see that your abilities are subject to your discretion as negotiated with via the GM, the limitation is thematic appropriateness-- your toolkit is intentionally fuzzy.

Here we establish that the rules don't really care much about the physical simulation of the action as problem solving, instead it wants players to engage with the game world's emotional push and pull and their arc of personal development, again direct storytelling over the simulation of a reality in which the players just make physical choices.

If we're playing to find out what the character's tools to solve problems are, the nature of what's in that toolbox is pretty open to freeform problem solving, a game that isn't trying to be low power could easily invent convoluted knock-off effects from their powers like the Flash's 'Speed Force' which allow them a fairly unconstrained toolbox with which to solve problems.

If I used my Moment of Truth while we were fighting the Dragon in your example (depending on what the Ranger playbook would suggest that could entail) it wouldn't even be a problem to solve anymore (not that you can do that all the time, but I wanted to show the range.) Again though, the mechanic concerns story structure, not the simulation of the fictional world that the Game takes place in.

The rules simulate the creation of a narrative, not the physical reality of the world. The physical reality of the world is an exercise in creative writing, where problems are prompts for reaction, and the validity of those reactions are governed directly by the needs of the narrative (tone, consistency.) The rules do not care whether your character is a street level, pretty much human, or an earth shatteringly powerful alien from another world. The game's mechanical play space is concerned with how the emotional push and pull of the situations.

Villain Moves are even more narrative, where the Villain just does something without a role designed to complicate the situation for the players respond to. The players invent a solution (or a reaction at any rate) that they and the other players find believable in the fiction of the game. Their toolkit is not limited

In your dragon example, the player must either respond with a believable means of surpassing the obstacle of the winds, or alter their actions to suit the fiction. The GM authored a complication, the Ranger Player is going to author a reaction to that complication. If DW is like Masks, that could be a creative new use of their ranger abilities (which would be a loosely defined idea of they're personal abilities and equipment) a completely different plan, or even a newly established element of the fiction (that the GM would in turn, be obligated to complicate) which would trigger a move to roll if its believable, on a hit it happens according to the move, but on a miss, the GM would decide what happens-- potentially giving the Ranger player what they want but with some further complication they're dealing with.

The Dragon, the Ranger Wanting to Shoot, The Wind being too much, the Potential Miss, each of these is functionally a prompt for straight authorship of the fiction being tossed back and forth in conversation. If these opportunities for authorship are policed to the extent that they begin to represent constrained toolboxes in a world simulated by the GM's sensibilities, we've practically, whether through system or playstyle, stepped away from the subject of the thread. Since players are no longer establishing facts about the world.

This sure seems like players creating complications to me, these only really work well if the players are interested in creating drama and tension themselves, rather than just doing their best to solve problems:

More broadly, I would note that the Games being discussed, DW and Torchbearer are Story-Now emulations of Dungeons and Dragons esque gameplay. They might have more of the 'playstyle' of the game they're emulating than other Story Now games necessarily do. They may also police tone more than masks does to try and keep the tone correct.

Conversely, it would feel awfully like one if you have a GM who polices the fiction in such a way as to enforce constraints and prohibit additions to the fiction during problem solving. You'd be playing a fairly Gygaxian Mother-May-I "I only roll dice for the sound it makes" type experience defined by limiting player addition to the fiction.
The ussue, as I see it, is that you're taking some experience with a superhero genre game that isn't actually about superhero stuff but about what it neans to be an emotional teenager while being a superhero, and expanded the fuzzy areas into all Story Now games. By this, you're pointing out how easily Masks just narrates past parts of the superhero genre that most other games focus on and ignoring the bits of Masks that have serious weight abd heft. Masks doesn't really care about fighting villians, so tge hiws of that are fuzzy and intentionally dealt with loosely. This is on purpose, because the point of Masks is to deal with the emotional weight of being a teenage superhero. In other words, it's not abour how you beat the villian, it's about how that makes you feel.

If you look at tge aspects of Masks tgat deal with this, there should be a good deal of weight you can't just narrate past. I can see the easy mistake, here, though.

The move you quote isn't about the player introducing complication, it's about forcing the resolution of a weighty emotional state to be not easy. We wouldn't think twice about using a superhero power that has a drawback, but requiring you to actually vent to reduce anger seems odd and asking the player to introduce complication? This analysis seems very rooted in the D&Desque construction that what the character thinks can never be outside the player's control and so any such expression is the player intentionally making things difficult by complicating the scene. It's a narrow approach that, frankly, baffles me when claimed alongside wanting to make characters feel real.
 

The ussue, as I see it, is that you're taking some experience with a superhero genre game that isn't actually about superhero stuff but about what it neans to be an emotional teenager while being a superhero, and expanded the fuzzy areas into all Story Now games. By this, you're pointing out how easily Masks just narrates past parts of the superhero genre that most other games focus on and ignoring the bits of Masks that have serious weight abd heft. Masks doesn't really care about fighting villians, so tge hiws of that are fuzzy and intentionally dealt with loosely. This is on purpose, because the point of Masks is to deal with the emotional weight of being a teenage superhero. In other words, it's not abour how you beat the villian, it's about how that makes you feel.

If you look at tge aspects of Masks tgat deal with this, there should be a good deal of weight you can't just narrate past. I can see the easy mistake, here, though.

The move you quote isn't about the player introducing complication, it's about forcing the resolution of a weighty emotional state to be not easy. We wouldn't think twice about using a superhero power that has a drawback, but requiring you to actually vent to reduce anger seems odd and asking the player to introduce complication? This analysis seems very rooted in the D&Desque construction that what the character thinks can never be outside the player's control and so any such expression is the player intentionally making things difficult by complicating the scene. It's a narrow approach that, frankly, baffles me when claimed alongside wanting to make characters feel real.
Its not the only game that does this, Kids on Brooms for instance freeforms the problem solving capability of magic in the same way, and distills it to a check based off a narrative abstraction of your plan to solve the problem.
 

Ovinomancer

No flips for you!
Its not the only game that does this, Kids on Brooms for instance freeforms the problem solving capability of magic in the same way, and distills it to a check based off a narrative abstraction of your plan to solve the problem.
What's the focus of play in Kids on Brooms? Is it solving problems with magic?
 






Fenris-77

Small God of the Dozens
I don't see any real shared DNA between Fiasco and KoB. That splash page isn't talking about Fiasco type stuff as far as I can see. The game has stats, a GM, and GM set difficulties for actions and whatnot.

image_2021-05-03_184730.png
 


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