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Players establishing facts about the world impromptu during play

pemerton

Legend
In a traditional role playing game, values are absolute, so they simulate absolute power differences, difficulty, and increases in skill.

<snip>

Traditional Roleplaying Games measure the power of different game elements in concrete terms, which makes them simulations-- if the Dragon is too powerful to defeat, numerical power increases from levels, treasure can adjust your odds of victory in a granular way. In PBTA, again technically referencing Masks, the numbers simplify into whether I am allowed to roll and are abstracted from the thing I'm rolling against. 1-6, 6-9, 10+, it doesn't vary by threat, just my own bonus, so there's no protocol for measuring my power against the dragon's power and having that relationship define my odds of success

<snip>

I either have the potential to succeed or I don't, and if I have the potential to succeed, we move to the singular action resolution with the predefined ranges for story outcomes based only on my skill and not by my power relationship to the Dragon in world. This is what I mean by it being 'narrative' rather than 'simulative' the action resolution only governs uncertainty, it does not simulate in the way that another RPG might

<snip>

I want that world to be defined by a network of (relatively) absolute numerical values so that my odds of success emerge organically from faux-empirical comparisons between those elements, that can be planned around, and finessed. PBTA (as an example of story now play) doesn't really do that in the same way, because the values are concerned with narrative outcomes of my actions as a scene in a story, rather than quantifying the relationship between in world game elements.

<snip>

I'd especially like my relationship to that game world to be granular so that I get to navigate that network of power relationships through those same simulative elements, a +2 sword isn't just cool because its a magic sword, its cool because it makes me better (by +2) at hitting dragons, which changes my power relationship with that dragon.
This merits a separate response.

I think there is a difference between the game uses numbers to measure degree of potential game effect and the game uses numbers to quantify the relationship between elements of the fiction.

To give a simple example: in AD&D a fighter with 90 hp is harder to defeat in combat than a fighter with 10 hp. That's a fact about the game play. But those numbers don't quantify the relationship between those fighters. Gygax is pretty clear about this in his DMG. It is even clearer if I compare the 90 hp fighter to the 90 hp dragon: the latter has lots of meat, the former lots of "divine protection". Divine protection here is not a quantitatively described ingame element. It's just a label given to a gameplay device, that the higher-level fighter is harder to kill but - in the fiction - hasn't grown to have the size and strength of a dragon. More strictly "simulationist" games like RuneQuest and Rolemaster handle this by using other mechanical devices to make skilled/"high level" fighters harder to kill (eg better parry numbers or dodge numbers).

To give a more contentious but I think more egregious example: in 3E D&D monster AC grows essentially without bound, by piling on ever-higher "natural armour" bonuses. The label natural armour seems intended to imply that these bonuses are quantifying some component of the fiction. But it has to be nonsense. The best possible plate amour in that system grants a bonus to AC of +15 or thereabouts (+6 magical plate). But there are monsters with natural armour bonuses in the 30s! What does that mean in the fiction? And why can't an archmage, or a god, forge magical armour that is just as protective? Once again we have a case of numbers being used to measure degree of potential game effect (in this case, they are defence numbers) that are not (despite the application of the "natural armour" tag) quantifying any relationship between in world game elements.

It's true that in a PbtA game a player can't typically increase the mathematical chance of success by accreting bonuses. (This is not strictly the case - eg in Apocalyopse World itself a player can step up defence numbers by getting heavier armour, or step up damage by getting bigger guns and grenades.) But that doesn't mean that there is no playing of the fiction to deal with situations. Quite the opposite. I recently read an excellent account of this in the Ironsworn rulebook (p 2081):

A leviathan is an ancient sea beast (page 154). It’s tough to kill because of its epic rank, and it inflicts epic harm, but it doesn’t have any other mechanical characteristics. If we look to the fiction of the leviathan’s, description, we see “flesh as tough as iron.” But, rolling a Strike against a leviathan is the same as against a common thug. In either case, it’s your action die, plus your stat and adds compared to the challenge dice. Your chances to score a strong hit, weak hit, or miss are the same.

So how do you give the leviathan its due as a terrifying, seemingly invulnerable foe? You do it through the fiction.

If you have sworn a vow to defeat a leviathan, are you armed with a suitable weapon? Punching it won’t work. Even a deadly weapon such as a spear would barely get its attention. Perhaps you undertook a quest to find the Abyssal Harpoon, an artifact from the Old World, carved from the bones of a long-dead sea god. This mythic weapon gives you the fictional framing you need to confront the monster, and finding it can count as a milestone on your vow to destroy this beast.

Even with your weapon at the ready, can you overcome your fears as you stand on the prow of your boat, the water surging beneath you, the gaping maw of the beast just below the surface? Face Danger with +heart to find out.

The outcome of your move will incorporate the leviathan’s devastating power. Did you score a miss? The beast smashes your boat to kindling. It tries to drag you into the depths. Want to Face Danger by swimming away? You can’t outswim a leviathan. You’ll have to try something else.

Remember the concepts behind fictional framing. Your readiness and the nature of your challenge may force you to overcome greater dangers and make additional moves. Once you’ve rolled the dice, your fictional framing provides context for the outcome of those moves.​

The focus is not on mechanical manipulation or accumulation of numbers. It's on the fictional positioning of the character, and the "stakes" understood in fictional terms. At least for my part that doesn't make the fiction less visceral or less real.
 

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pemerton

Legend
Most of those things were analysis of my preferred playstyle in contrast with Masks intended mode of play.
I know. You are expressing a preference for CoC-esque play, in which a significant component of play is the players learning what the GM is imagining. But based on your description of Masks play - and of how character "dramatic needs" fit into that - I think that, as @Campbell has suggested, you are also playing Masks more like Ravenloft or a certain sort of approach to Vampire, and less like Apocalypse World.
 

I know. You are expressing a preference for CoC-esque play, in which a significant component of play is the players learning what the GM is imagining. But based on your description of Masks play - and of how character "dramatic needs" fit into that - I think that, as @Campbell has suggested, you are also playing Masks more like Ravenloft or a certain sort of approach to Vampire, and less like Apocalypse World.
Never played CoC, or Vampire (though I own COFD stuff) to the best of my knowledge I'm playing Masks like Masks, as its described in the rulebook, the stuff about exploration was my description of what it is, and what I like about it, but not in Masks (I play PF2e for my dungeons and dragons esque stuff):

We frame into scenes where things are happening based off what the player characters want to do, or what things just happen to happen in the world around them. we describe action and reaction in the fiction. We use comic book panel frames as the examples of play and agendas describe. Sometimes the fiction triggers moves, which resolve mechanically based off the relevant dice rolls. I follow the instructions to have adult NPCs tell the players who they are, which triggers moves as they accept or reject those statements and shift labels. The results of moves and sometimes things that just happen in the fiction cause me to inflict a condition, the players sometimes voluntarily mark conditions if they think it suits the fiction. The conditions inform them of how their character is feeling, which they express in the moment to moment roleplaying as modified by that character's personality, and they attempt to clear conditions by taking the initiative to do teen drama stuff (summarizing, but it depends on the condition) just like in the rules, its been suggested that those should mostly be color, but thats hewing back away from the instructions, which discuss the resulting spiral of action and reaction between players, and between players and NPCs as good, causing more shifting of labels, conditions and moves and 'driving the fiction forward.'

Players have, reject, and take influence from one another and the NPCs as the described in the book. We use playbook mechanics as described by the individual playbook, ranging from my soldier's (we alternate GM between me and someone else between arcs) attempts to request certain kinds of Aid from Aegis, to the Harbinger's ability to define the roles of individuals in the future. Villains show up, I try to pace fight scenes like a comic book, players have their characters do things, sometimes they look for specific things to use in those scenes if they have a cool idea, and if it fits the fiction we establish it as part of the scene. Sometimes people have ideas for what something is like, which the GM hears, modifies as necessary, and implements accordingly-- such as the underground medical facility and halfway house my Transformed friend had their character visit as an alternative to the 'AEGIS' facility they were in the narrative officially attending, I think it was technically established in a backstory question answer from the playbook. They had ideas, not for scenes, but for what the place was like, which I took and ran with, establishing new elements of the fiction on top as the scene played out. Sometimes we name characters collectively, especially because its a good way to get dumb superhero names, and someone will suggest some cool aspect of them or a power or something and we'll run with it.

We don't plan story arcs but the GMs sometimes hard frame into situations (not too much, like the book says, this is what I had to be careful of), closest we've come to that was me realizing I established a connection between one event happening and another by making one the cause of the other while I was GM. We have one player who plans too much in a Neo-Trad way, but we keep reminding them nothing exists until its established at the table, so its well handled. We have fun, I slam my face through the book religiously because I'm not as comfortable with play style as I am with something like Pathfinder. We do end of session moves, characters do advancement things when they've gotten enough misses and such. The "when the team first got together" stuff informs the plot even now, which is again, not planned-- the players enjoy their characters and have ideas about what they'd like to do with them, but they don't force those ideas, instead they learn about them through ongoing play and new situations, shifting relationships and confrontations with people whose perspective they didn't consider.

Personally, I'm kind of forming the impression that some of the people in this thread are so fixated on trying to prove my subjective view of game design wrong they're taking for granted that my 4-5 years of off-and-on experience with the game has to be corrected, because it couldn't possibly be reflective of a Story Now game, or that the shortcomings I cite might be accurate, and that our difference of opinion might reflect a lack of attachment to the elements I feel are missing, to the point where they might not have realized that could be a taste someone could have.
 
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DrunkonDuty

Adventurer
The next campaign I run (and it had better be in HERO system! he said to himself) I've decided to go for player world creation. (I count the GM as a player.)

My plan is thus:

Session -1. (probably done via messenger): choose a genre and maybe a sub-genre. I hand out the guidelines for the world building exercise. Guidelines come with examples of what I want to do with session 0, as per below.

Session 0. (It'll be a long session.) I hand out index cards to all the players. Every player writes down on the cards things they want to see in the game. These things can be anything. Diegetic, extra diegetic, themes, schtick, specific scenes, whatever. As specific and as detailed, or not, as people want. None of this is secret - I want everyone to have a chance to get some immediate feedback but more importantly I want the players to spark off of one another's ideas. We keep going until we run out of cards or ideas. (I bought a stack of 500 index cards so I reckon it'll be ideas that run dry first, but you never know.)

Then each player rates the ideas 1 - 5, writing their score on the card. Any idea that averages 2.1 and up gets used, somehow, somewhere. I take the selected ideas and go away and try to make a working world out it. The higher the score an idea got the more prevalent it'll be.

I can't say if it'll work or not. But it'll be fun to try.
 

In adult groups, I have never seen a player take advantage of this impromptu "author's mantle" to give advantages to their character or the PCs in general. On the contrary, they sometimes introduce new conflicts and tension into the story. Mostly, however, it enriches the setting for everybody. It also encourages players to pay closer attention to the setting so that new creations are congruent with the existing fiction. I find that players are often harsher critics than the GM on this front, disliking things that feel too dissonant.
While I've experienced about half a dozen such players, mostly in their 30's and 40's. (of over 300 players I've GM'd for, or more importantly, the roughly 40-50 players I've run games with core rules that include narrative declarations by players as a standard rule.) JB, EP, RM, AG, GH, RB, and BP... plus one I don't know the name of (demo at store). Of those, only one was under 30 at the time.
The thing is, in those games, the designer expects the declarations to advance the player interests within the bounds of story and/or the bounds of good taste and/or prosocial ; those players didn't respect the "bounds of the story" portion (or in one of those cases, good taste, either). In Star Wars, it was easy enough to say, "Try again, that's not even close to plausible..." Less so in Sentinel Comics, STA, Dune, or MHRP, Damned near impossible in Blood & Honor.
To follow along, at no point in a Story Now game is it the player's responsibility to complicate the situation.
Wrong - Character Generation.

Part and parcel of the Story Now approach is that conflict grows from character's goals, and the clear need for conflict to arise in pursuit of them. This is, in many ways, the DNA of the Story Now movement. No long backstories, just goals that go across rough patches and may or may not be actually solved in play, but which drive players to narrate actions which lead to moves which may or may not go as desired.

Most of the people I associate with would consider Ironsworn to be a Story Now game... and right on page 4, top, it requires an iron vow which will lead you into trouble. And later iron vows as well will be conflict creators.

Several Story Now games even go so far as to be GMless, thus absolutely requiring players to contribute to the complications. And Ironsworn is one of those. I'm tempted to get it to table...

I don't think anyone is trying to "correct" your sense of enjoyment. In my case, though, I don't agree with your characterisation of PbtA RPGs. I don't think they are in any meaningful way about simulating the process of story creation. They are about the players declaring actions for their PCs and those then being resolved via adjudication in the usual way.

The difference from (some versions of) D&D or other "trad" RPGs is in the techniques of resolution, and the principles that govern framing and consequence narration.

Some of my disagreement may be based on misunderstanding or uncertainty -eg I'm not sure what you have in mind by impromptu establishment of fiction by the players. I'm assuming that a D&D player declaring I attack the Orc doesn't count as that, even though (i) it's an establishment of fiction by a player and (ii) is impromptu; so I assume you have some further constraint/consideration in mind but it's not clear to me what that is.
Really, I'll quibble and say that PBTA games generally are as much about limiting what needs mechanical focus as the framing and consequence processes. To do it, narrate doing it, and if it's not clear, the narrator or another player if not in GM'd mode, clears up whether it's a move or nor, and directs the fiction so that it matches the mechanical outcome. If it's not a move in that flavor, say yes and move on, or touch the X card or point to the line or veil cards, or even passive-aggressively clear one's throat in a notable way... story arises from the charactrers intents, both in harmony and in conflict, and in driving reasons for the GM to turn the story when the dice require it.

In Re Story Now vs Story Before
@Manbearcat gave a great comparison, which mirrors my own understanding, based upon interactions with Luke, Thor, Jared, and the rest of the BW guys a decade ago in their forums, and in playing games with fellows from those forums.

Simplified: Story Now is "go after the goals you put on your sheet"
Story Before is "Find out the GM's story elements by playing the conflicts the GM puts forward."

Neither is actually tied directly to rules. I've seen (and have done myself) story now type play in games with story before identity... specifically Traveller. Both work best with rules intended for them.
 

As I see it, the DM has sole authorship of the world, and the players have of their characters. Anything that falls somewhere in between, should be discussed by both.

If for example I decided mid game that my character's father was a fisherman, then that is exactly what he was. If however he was from a specific town that does not exist yet, that is a matter that should be discussed with the DM first. I don't get to just insert this new village into the campaign setting.

Likewise, the DM doesn't get to decide that my character's parents were secretly a cabal of werewolves, without discussing it with me first.

Actual example from play:

As a DM I wanted to introduce the father of one of the pc's into the game. But for that I first asked permission of the player, and I asked him what the relationship between his character and their father was like. Since he hadn't written this into his background in detail yet, I asked him if he wanted to add to it a bit.

It ended up being a really great piece of roleplaying. His father had given him away to a whaler, so he could learn an actual profession, and because his father was poor and unable to support him. This father had spent the rest of his life regretting this decission and thinking his son hated him.

As the player character became famous, he sought him out in secret. He talked with his party members, and found out what a great man he had become. Not one angry at his father, but understanding of the difficult choice he made. From afar he looked at his son from a crowd, and saw that he was doing well for himself. Proud and reliefed, he disappeared without ever exchanging a word with him. It was left to his party members to decide if they would tell their friend that his father dropped by or not.

I think as a DM you should tread lightly, and respect the authorship of the players when it comes to their characters, and their backgrounds. Also, resist the urge to kill off or hold hostage any characters mentioned in their pc background.
 
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pemerton

Legend
PBTA games generally are as much about limiting what needs mechanical focus as the framing and consequence processes.
I think this is true for all RPGs, though. To pick a well-worn example, D&D does not make the emotional state of the character a focus of framing, resolution or consequence. (Barbarian rage is an emotional state only in the thinnest sort of colour; magical fear is precisely distinguished from genuine terror in virtue of being magical - and like barbariam rage is a mechanical effect with the thinnest overlay of fictional colour.)
 

I think this is true for all RPGs, though. To pick a well-worn example, D&D does not make the emotional state of the character a focus of framing, resolution or consequence. (Barbarian rage is an emotional state only in the thinnest sort of colour; magical fear is precisely distinguished from genuine terror in virtue of being magical - and like barbariam rage is a mechanical effect with the thinnest overlay of fictional colour.)
AW, per Vincent, as quoth by Luke Crane, specifically limits it much more than more general purpose RPGs. The goal is to only mechanicalize only the thematic elements.

Meanwhile, D&D has rules for a lot of things that aren't it's core focus. Depending upon edition that can include castle building, making magic items, doing commercial trades, and operating a ship or caravan... D&D's core focus, in my estimate, being the push your luck dungeon raids that were the dominant published modules for AD&D 1E and described in the OE core, the AD&D and Basic Boxes (Holmes, BX, BECMI).

AW, on the other hand, has only some of the thematic bits for its genre. And pretty much anything that isn't a move, and isn't bad faith to the narrative, is explicitly "say yes." It also is explicit on the intentional leaving out of other things as moves.

Something some of the derivatives don't hang on to. And, in an ironic twist, which the more traditional GM'd adventures mode of Sentinel Comics does... 7 moves, 2 of them restricted: Boost, Hinder, Attack, Defend, Overcome, Heal, and and create/summon/build (one mechanic, 3 narrative descriptions that use it)

I like the mechanical clarity of Sentinel Comics... but I'd not want to use it for Dune. Nor for Arthuriana. Nor stone age. But for Indie street level to low-end 4 color supers, it's superb...
 

Emerikol

Adventurer
"Design by Committee" has some serious flaws, speaking as GM for whom world building is a primary strength-- while the ability to create something really cool is a skill, and therefore not a given, collaboratively fusing fiction is its own skillset in a way that solo worldbuilding isn't. You need to manage not just the validity of the fiction, but work out who can say no, why, and how others feel about it, and if no one can say no, its a dice roll at best as everyone pulls the story apart.
This was my point. On average, it just doesn't succeed. Design by committee is not a strength for the average group of gamers.
 

"Design by Committee" has some serious flaws, speaking as GM for whom world building is a primary strength-- while the ability to create something really cool is a skill, and therefore not a given, collaboratively fusing fiction is its own skillset in a way that solo worldbuilding isn't. You need to manage not just the validity of the fiction, but work out who can say no, why, and how others feel about it, and if no one can say no, its a dice roll at best as everyone pulls the story apart.

I'm going to dedicate some time either today or late this evening after I get home to get a post up. But I'd like to focus it and I'd like to do so via the vehicle of contrasting a few Story Now games. That feels like the best way to have functional conversation.

As I often lament in these conversations, it seems to me that there is a cluster of play priorities or positions that people hold (below), which invariably get smuggled into these conversations and entangled, making it very difficult to disentangle them and evaluate them discretely. These priorities/positions have historically persisted of:

1) No myth setting (setting overwhelmingly, but not always completely, emerges through play) leads to the play priority of explorative discovery being an impossibility. This was your original contention that drew me into the thread.

2) Players being able to stipulate things about setting/situation will often or invariably lead to "bad faith" play where Skilled Play breaks down (eg players will inevitably introduce "move-amplifying" fiction with insufficient constraint and relative impunity).

3) No myth setting where authority for content introduction is relatively (compared with Trad authority distribution) distributed often or invariably leads to incoherency of setting theme or setting continuity (spatial, temporal, or other).

4) "Ask questions and use the answers" as a GMing principle and conversation-governing energy, along with moves/action resolution that obliges a GM to create fiction that is attendant to player-request will often or invariably lead to a "conch-passing" storytelling play aesthetic.





#1 is what caught my eye and brought me into the conversation. However, sense then, so far as I can tell, you've expressed #2 - 4 in some iteration or to some degree at the same time. Like I mentioned above, this isn't particularly surprising to me, as these 4 positions overwhelmingly cluster together.

So, if you would guide my follow-up post, I would appreciate it.

* Which of those 4 would you like me to focus on?

* Would it be helpful to discuss it via (a) the juxtaposition of Dungeon World (PBtA like Masks and a hack of Baker's AW) and Dogs in the Vineyard (Baker's initial Story Now offering and, imo, the greatest Forge game and one of the best of all time) or (b) a compare/contrast of Torchbearer/Blades in the Dark (these two games share an enormous amount of overlap in structure, procedures, premise)?

So some configuration like 2a or 4b is really all I'm looking for (and if you want to provide a little context for that choice, that would be helpful!).

Thanks in advance.
 

I'm going to dedicate some time either today or late this evening after I get home to get a post up. But I'd like to focus it and I'd like to do so via the vehicle of contrasting a few Story Now games. That feels like the best way to have functional conversation.

As I often lament in these conversations, it seems to me that there is a cluster of play priorities or positions that people hold (below), which invariably get smuggled into these conversations and entangled, making it very difficult to disentangle them and evaluate them discretely. These priorities/positions have historically persisted of:

1) No myth setting (setting overwhelmingly, but not always completely, emerges through play) leads to the play priority of explorative discovery being an impossibility. This was your original contention that drew me into the thread.

2) Players being able to stipulate things about setting/situation will often or invariably lead to "bad faith" play where Skilled Play breaks down (eg players will inevitably introduce "move-amplifying" fiction with insufficient constraint and relative impunity).

3) No myth setting where authority for content introduction is relatively (compared with Trad authority distribution) distributed often or invariably leads to incoherency of setting theme or setting continuity (spatial, temporal, or other).

4) "Ask questions and use the answers" as a GMing principle and conversation-governing energy, along with moves/action resolution that obliges a GM to create fiction that is attendant to player-request will often or invariably lead to a "conch-passing" storytelling play aesthetic.





#1 is what caught my eye and brought me into the conversation. However, sense then, so far as I can tell, you've expressed #2 - 4 in some iteration or to some degree at the same time. Like I mentioned above, this isn't particularly surprising to me, as these 4 positions overwhelmingly cluster together.

So, if you would guide my follow-up post, I would appreciate it.

* Which of those 4 would you like me to focus on?

* Would it be helpful to discuss it via (a) the juxtaposition of Dungeon World (PBtA like Masks and a hack of Baker's AW) and Dogs in the Vineyard (Baker's initial Story Now offering and, imo, the greatest Forge game and one of the best of all time) or (b) a compare/contrast of Torchbearer/Blades in the Dark (these two games share an enormous amount of overlap in structure, procedures, premise)?

So some configuration like 2a or 4b is really all I'm looking for (and if you want to provide a little context for that choice, that would be helpful!).

Thanks in advance.
I think that one of the issues that you're getting stuck on is the idea that the play priorities are getting "smuggled in" and "entangled" they're entangled because they feed off each other in certain kinds of games, they aren't mutually inclusive, and they aren't per say 'smuggled in' either because while you can certainly hew away from them for a different kind of experience, they still represent a possibly damaging aspect to the experience based off what kind of game you're going for, they have a right to be in this particular conversation because this conversation isn't exclusively about one kind of play, we're discussing the practice of impromptu establishment outside of the strict context of Story Now games, which aren't always immune to these pratfalls, though I know taking for granted that people are 'just doing it wrong' if their experience differs is kind of a thing in the Story Now community.

For instance, if you break the play priorities down that way... I don't care about 2 when I play Masks because it doesn't really damage the core motivation to play that game, which is teen drama, the only thing I care about is making sure they can't completely avoid that drama. But when I play Pathfinder, I would care more about the constraints the players solve problems under. This is an intentional element of Story Now play too, the systems are focused on providing certain experiences-- they aren't kitchen sinks, they don't try to do everything, they're very focused games. As Masks itself discusses, its laser-focused on teenage super hero stories, and while other super hero stories are cool, it doesn't focus on them at all. The dungeon-crawls as archaeology 'agenda' I could be argued to run Pathfinder with would be (and thank you Campbell for the term) 'unhygenic' to Mask's intent, similarly Masks Agendas would probably be 'unhygenic' to Pathfinder.

1 is a misconception, I'm sure there is some variety of exploration that could be enjoyed in a game where players can establish facts of the fiction, and story before is discouraged, but it would be a different variety than I actually enjoy, because the myth referred to in 'no myth' is the driving dimension to what I mean, when I say "Exploration" my posts aren't arguments about Exploration having to be that, they're my way of clarifying what the word Exploration is being used to refer to. So it isn't that I think its impossible, its definitionally so, though I'd be interested to see Torchbearer's mechanics, because its obviously made to emulate some aspects of OSR play, though not necessarily this one.

3 is only really a problem with 1, if I don't care about the discovery of something coherent and rife with intent, I also don't care about the setting being 'coherent' in the same way, and I can enjoy the joys and sorrows of collaborative information establishment on its own terms (and the terms of the specific game I'm playing). Again this comes back to me enjoying different games for different reasons, I love my sweet sweet myth, but sometimes I'm down to ignore that for a different kind of fun.

4 is again, down to the experience I'm trying to have, sometimes the conch passing play aesthetic can be fun, sometimes a set of mechanics that govern who controls what the right way is also fun.
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So uh... the question must be 'unasked', its doesn't really reflect the arguments you're attempting to respond to.
 

I think that one of the issues that you're getting stuck on is the idea that the play priorities are getting "smuggled in" and "entangled" they're entangled because they feed off each other in certain kinds of games, they aren't mutually inclusive, and they aren't per say 'smuggled in' either because while you can certainly hew away from them for a different kind of experience, they still represent a possibly damaging aspect to the experience based off what kind of game you're going for, they have a right to be in this particular conversation because this conversation isn't exclusively about one kind of play, we're discussing the practice of impromptu establishment outside of the strict context of Story Now games, which aren't always immune to these pratfalls, though I know taking for granted that people are 'just doing it wrong' if their experience differs is kind of a thing in the Story Now community.

For instance, if you break the play priorities down that way... I don't care about 2 when I play Masks because it doesn't really damage the core motivation to play that game, which is teen drama, the only thing I care about is making sure they can't completely avoid that drama. But when I play Pathfinder, I would care more about the constraints the players solve problems under. This is an intentional element of Story Now play too, the systems are focused on providing certain experiences-- they aren't kitchen sinks, they don't try to do everything, they're very focused games. As Masks itself discusses, its laser-focused on teenage super hero stories, and while other super hero stories are cool, it doesn't focus on them at all. The dungeon-crawls as archaeology 'agenda' I could be argued to run Pathfinder with would be (and thank you Campbell for the term) 'unhygenic' to Mask's intent, similarly Masks Agendas would probably be 'unhygenic' to Pathfinder.

1 is a misconception, I'm sure there is some variety of exploration that could be enjoyed in a game where players can establish facts of the fiction, and story before is discouraged, but it would be a different variety than I actually enjoy, because the myth referred to in 'no myth' is the driving dimension to what I mean, when I say "Exploration" my posts aren't arguments about Exploration having to be that, they're my way of clarifying what the word Exploration is being used to refer to. So it isn't that I think its impossible, its definitionally so, though I'd be interested to see Torchbearer's mechanics, because its obviously made to emulate some aspects of OSR play, though not necessarily this one.

3 is only really a problem with 1, if I don't care about the discovery of something coherent and rife with intent, I also don't care about the setting being 'coherent' in the same way, and I can enjoy the joys and sorrows of collaborative information establishment on its own terms (and the terms of the specific game I'm playing). Again this comes back to me enjoying different games for different reasons, I love my sweet sweet myth, but sometimes I'm down to ignore that for a different kind of fun.

4 is again, down to the experience I'm trying to have, sometimes the conch passing play aesthetic can be fun, sometimes a set of mechanics that govern who controls what the right way is also fun.
_____________________________________________________________________________________________________________________________

So uh... the question must be 'unasked', its doesn't really reflect the arguments you're attempting to respond to.

Its very interesting. I’m certain you feel like you engaged with my post and helped to progress conversation, but I don’t even know where to begin because I feel like conversation has now been completely stalled out!

2 things to maybe help that progression:

1) The beginning part of what I was talking about actually agrees with what you’ve written. When I’m discussing “smuggling in” I specifically mean “smuggling in play priorities that are disagreeable with other priorities or games that aren’t intended to serve those priorities...or at least not clearly delineating the boundaries.”

2) On my (1) above and your response that it’s “definitionally impossible.”

Let us pretend it is a Turing Test.

I describe a setting and situation and ask you what do you do? Our conversation evolves to firm up all matters of situation and tighten up the resolution of the setting your character is interacting with.

How do you know whether you’re interacting with improvised material vs heavily prepped material?

The only answer I can consider is “I’ll know it because humans can’t fool me into not being able to tell the difference between the two...no matter how good they are at improvising.”

Is that basically your position? That no improv GM could ever reach the level of a prep-heavy GM when it comes to unstructured free form, environmental exploration?

And if that is true...how is it not just an artifact of your cognitive sensitivity/capability (it here being the perception of objectivity, of tangibleness, of persistence, of volition of the shared imagined space)?
 

darkbard

Hero
1 is a misconception, I'm sure there is some variety of exploration that could be enjoyed in a game where players can establish facts of the fiction, and story before is discouraged, but it would be a different variety than I actually enjoy, because the myth referred to in 'no myth' is the driving dimension to what I mean, when I say "Exploration" my posts aren't arguments about Exploration having to be that, they're my way of clarifying what the word Exploration is being used to refer to. So it isn't that I think its impossible, its definitionally so, though I'd be interested to see Torchbearer's mechanics, because its obviously made to emulate some aspects of OSR play, though not necessarily this one.

I'm a pretty good reader. In fact, it's a primary component of my profession. Some might even say the primary component. But I do not understand what you mean by exploration here. In relation to what you say about No Myth, what you write suggests to me that exploration only means to you discovering that which is already crafted. A preference for this seems very much at odds with No Myth Story Now gaming.

[...]

4 is again, down to the experience I'm trying to have, sometimes the conch passing play aesthetic can be fun, sometimes a set of mechanics that govern who controls what the right way is also fun.

But nobody here is talking about conch passing games! That's not what No Myth Story Now means.
 

Well to begin with, I'm unclear on where you're trying to drive this conversation? It sounds like you have a bit of a mission and want me to smooth the way for you to feel as if you've accomplished it, your objective appears to be affecting some kind of change in me.

But putting that aside...

I'm not concerned with whether the material is improvised or heavily prepared, I'm concerned with the methodology of its design rather than its timing, as influenced by the role of the person creating it. When one person, improvising or not designs something, they develop a plan for the elements and how they fit together, the authorial intent of the piece as a whole. You may have heard the term 'Creative Vision' in the past, and heard the adage "Too many cooks spoil the stew." My experience of player establishment of fiction is that it lacks, or sharply reduces, the patterns that run through the text of the game world and deplete its meaning as a literary work in its own right. This is actually twofold though--

For a useful example of how intentionality, authorship, and collaboration collide consider SCP, where individuals draft stories and containment entries about a fictional facility dedicated to securing, containing, and protecting the supernatural to add to the wiki. One of the coolest things about the work, is that many of the articles take place in the same interconnected canon, mysterious elements of one story might be references to others, or speak to a metaplot hinted at through a variety of articles. As a reader it can be especially fun to sort through these interconnected canons. But for the most part, those interconnected articles are the work of single individuals or small groups, or planned collaborations-- when reading articles its important to keep in mind whose articles you're reading because it gives you a good idea of which patterns you're looking for, what is likely or unlikely to be a reference to some other work-- these become miniature canons of their own.

1. The first point relevant to what you're asking me is the presence of intentional, referential, and hidden interconnections in the text of the game world. Collaboration can still accomplish this, but it typically requires a 'writers room' where the overall pattern is actively discussed so everyone is on the same page about what is being hinted at, or at least that they're hinting at something unestablished. In the context of player establishment in a TRPG, establishment is usually public (especially, but not exclusively, in Story Now games where 'establish' is an active verb used to refer to information being said outloud, and accepted into everyone's picture of the situation) to the same audience who would have the opportunity to pick up the hints as part of their explorations of the game world, speculate on them, and potentially leverage that information as a reward for their observational skill (or have narrative questions answered for them, anyway). The useful element of traditional player boundaries, in this context, is not the timing of the content creation, or the singular mind, but the presence of the 'screen' between the person creating the content and the person 'reading' it-- the GM (or GMs!) can have information hidden from the players that is still canon to the game world itself, allowing the dissemination of that information to become an element of explorative play. Someone needs to be hiding somehing FROM ME for it to be a mystery to me, and that thing needs to exist before me finding out about it to be meaningfully hinted at. You can kind of reconstruct that process from the other end, as a GM without knowing the 'unestablished' information, (it'll be kind of hard, having done it myself) and it'll just be how well you can carry off the illusion and its eventual transition into something concrete, since it still relies on their conviction something specific is there. Exercises in building a mystery where no one knows the secret until its established logically from the clues are fun, but they play differently.

2. The second is the 'too many cooks' portion where not only is getting everyone on the same page about what you're trying to create hard. But the addition of fictional elements has the potential to overwrite, not the established fiction around the table, but the unestablished fiction some of those elements may have been building to. In other words John may start building an NPC off the premise that their dead wife in their backstory was killed by them (but that hasn't been established in the fiction) but Susan might introduce to the fiction that there were actually killed in this other circumstance. Any 'hints' in the NPCs behavior up to Susan's establishment of that fiction are now 'unmoored' from the piece of fiction intended to have caused them, which can be frustrating if you can feel the undercurrent of hints and other people can't. Now, the systems we're discussing do allow the GM to have a final say about what elements make it into the fiction, which helps, but then the player attempting to unravel these hints probably needs to mentally parse who added what to the fiction to figure out what 'hints' came from someone who could posses hidden information. Alternatively, the need to keep the unestablished information fluid can make it far more difficult to engage in this kind of game play at all, I actually had an experience with this for a piece of major hidden lore recently where I had an idea I intentionally reminded myself wasn't canon unless it worked out, then that piece of information ended up in a chain of cause and effect and I 'established' it by telling the other GM about it, and why I thought I'd accidentally established it (a hard frame happened where the things would have to be true for X to have happened, so it wasn't said, but hole of its shape was carved into the fiction.)

This is what I meant by definitionally. it has to do with what the play I'm yearning for actually consists of, and how that relates to player establishment.
 
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pemerton

Legend
@The-Magic-Sword, I don't know anyting about your RPGing experience or preferences beyond what you're posting. But I think I'm having trouble following some of your posts.

My experience of player establishment of fiction is that it lacks, or sharply reduces, the patterns that run through the text of the game world and deplete its meaning as a literary work in its own right.

<snip>

John may start building an NPC off the premise that their dead wife in their backstory was killed by them (but that hasn't been established in the fiction) but Susan might introduce to the fiction that there were actually killed in this other circumstance. Any 'hints' in the NPCs behavior up to Susan's establishment of that fiction are now 'unmoored' from the piece of fiction intended to have caused them, which can be frustrating if you can feel the undercurrent of hints and other people can't.
I'm not sure which RPG(s) you have in mind when you raise this problem. And your other posts aren't helping me work that out.

We frame into scenes where things are happening based off what the player characters want to do, or what things just happen to happen in the world around them. we describe action and reaction in the fiction. We use comic book panel frames as the examples of play and agendas describe.

<snip>

Players have, reject, and take influence from one another and the NPCs as the described in the book. We use playbook mechanics as described by the individual playbook, ranging from my soldier's (we alternate GM between me and someone else between arcs) attempts to request certain kinds of Aid from Aegis, to the Harbinger's ability to define the roles of individuals in the future. Villains show up, I try to pace fight scenes like a comic book, players have their characters do things, sometimes they look for specific things to use in those scenes if they have a cool idea, and if it fits the fiction we establish it as part of the scene. Sometimes people have ideas for what something is like, which the GM hears, modifies as necessary, and implements accordingly-- such as the underground medical facility and halfway house my Transformed friend had their character visit as an alternative to the 'AEGIS' facility they were in the narrative officially attending, I think it was technically established in a backstory question answer from the playbook. They had ideas, not for scenes, but for what the place was like, which I took and ran with, establishing new elements of the fiction on top as the scene played out. Sometimes we name characters collectively, especially because its a good way to get dumb superhero names, and someone will suggest some cool aspect of them or a power or something and we'll run with it.
I'm not sure who the We is here. At first I wondered whether you meant that no scene can be framed without table consensus - which would be a difference from (say) Apocalypse World or Dungeon World as canonically played. But your description of the GM role in hearing, modifying and implementing seems to suggest something less consensus-based and more AW-ish. Likewise your calling out of collective naming of characters as a special case.

I had a similar question about who the we is who describes the action and reaction in the fiction. I'm not clear who is doing that. From what you say there seem to be distinct player and GM roles - who gets to establish consequences of characters doing things?

Sometimes the fiction triggers moves, which resolve mechanically based off the relevant dice rolls. I follow the instructions to have adult NPCs tell the players who they are, which triggers moves as they accept or reject those statements and shift labels. The results of moves and sometimes things that just happen in the fiction cause me to inflict a condition, the players sometimes voluntarily mark conditions if they think it suits the fiction. The conditions inform them of how their character is feeling, which they express in the moment to moment roleplaying as modified by that character's personality, and they attempt to clear conditions by taking the initiative to do teen drama stuff (summarizing, but it depends on the condition) just like in the rules, its been suggested that those should mostly be color, but thats hewing back away from the instructions, which discuss the resulting spiral of action and reaction between players, and between players and NPCs as good, causing more shifting of labels, conditions and moves and 'driving the fiction forward.'
I'm not seeing here where the John and Susan problem that you described is arising. Which move results in Susan getting to change John's envisaged backstory for the death of the NPC's wife?

We don't plan story arcs but the GMs sometimes hard frame into situations (not too much, like the book says, this is what I had to be careful of), closest we've come to that was me realizing I established a connection between one event happening and another by making one the cause of the other while I was GM.
I don't follow the bolded bit. What was the problem with establishing connections between events? A related question - is event here a synonym for framed situation, or does it mean consequence that flows from resolving a player's move, or does it mean something else again?

My guess is that the bolded bit refers to the same episode of play as this:

the need to keep the unestablished information fluid can make it far more difficult to engage in this kind of game play at all, I actually had an experience with this for a piece of major hidden lore recently where I had an idea I intentionally reminded myself wasn't canon unless it worked out, then that piece of information ended up in a chain of cause and effect and I 'established' it by telling the other GM about it, and why I thought I'd accidentally established it (a hard frame happened where the things would have to be true for X to have happened, so it wasn't said, but hole of its shape was carved into the fiction.)
But I'm still not clear what's going on. First, this seems to be a case of you doing something as GM rather than as a player. Second, I don't understand what the problem is. In AW terms this seems to be an instance of thinking offscreen together with announcing future badness. That's standard stuff.

the players enjoy their characters and have ideas about what they'd like to do with them, but they don't force those ideas, instead they learn about them through ongoing play and new situations, shifting relationships and confrontations with people whose perspective they didn't consider.
How does what you say just above relate to this following earlier post of yours?

because setting and situation orbit around the players and are defined by their dramatic needs, it renders the material that I would typically enjoy exploring subordinate to those dramatic needs. Because the world is defined around the dramatic needs of the characters, the character's stories can't be defined in the same way by their emergent interactions with the world.

<snip>

Similarly, I like to be able to discover themes baked into the text of the game world, and then have the emergent choices of the characters in the actual narrative of the game sessions, be inter-textual with those themes, with the world itself defining the dramatic needs of the characters by confronting them with those themes, allowing them to explore, react, reject, and comment on them.
I ask this question because (for instance) I don't see the contrast between learning about one's character through ongoing play and new situations and characters' stories being defined by their emergent interactions with the world. But if I'm following your posts then you think that there is a contrast between the former - Masks play - and the latter - "trad"/"neo-trad" play.
 
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Well for one thing, the topic of the thread isn't game specific, I'm discussing the consequences of player establishment not as it exists in a singular game, but how it affects games it is included in-- I'm not talking about how I play any specific game, I'm discussing how it influences aesthetic of play as something included in games. Like, player establishment as an element of design, and how that affects the experiences players can have. I play games as intended, or in very intentionally modified ways, I'm not out here trying to run sandbox hexcrawls in Masks or something.

As for the question you're asking, the difference is the texture of play as it relates to the "world being generated during play for the purposes of our story using procedures and player establishment, even if that establishment is moderated by the GM" (Story Now) vs. "the world being designed independently of the players, them inserting themselves into it is the fiction of the game session." (Story Before)

What you'll notice, is that post edit, I clarified away the chronological references, story before as improv makes sense to me, because it has to do with the mentality I use to design the content, but its getting away from the intuitive meaning of the words, I admit.

In Masks I do the former as the game demands, in Pathfinder I do the latter even when I'm improvising. As far as I can tell, some of the posters here are trying to convince me I'm imagining that there's any difference at all. Also announcing future badness isn't what I mean, I just looked it up (since Masks doesn't have anything like that.)

My only original point is that player establishment isn't equally conducive to all desirable game outcomes. I enjoy Story Now gaming too, I actually ordered Blades in the Dark from how awesome it sounds. Its just separate from all that story before exploration stuff I brought up.

Oh yeah, and I don't think my style is trad/neo-trad either, because it doesn't prioritize individual character arcs, it prioritizes the world itself, the player's stories just emerge from their interactions with it.

Edit: lemme come back to this post for additional clarity, ive been typing during cutscenes in FF 14 and i noticed i used some confusing verbage in terms of using preexisting/improvisational but still different than player established, but i don't know that i can fix it tonight.

I LIED I FIXED IT
 
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Campbell

Legend
@The-Magic-Sword

There are absolutely are pretty substantial differences. The differences are just more nuanced and nothing like conch passing or a writer's room. I have seen that sort of play and been at those tables. I hate it. I also see it as radically inconsistent with my understanding of games like Masks. Even more so when it comes to Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts.

It's part of what Play Passionately calls The Culture of Outcome:

Play Passionately said:

The Culture of Outcome​

Over on RPG.net hyphz (real name unknown to me) wrote about a kind of player who outwardly seems very invested in character and story but expresses frustration over not being able to simultaneously have moments of suspense and doubt and still have the story turn out “right.” Hyphz refers to this kind of player as a “Fake Narrativist.”

Bailywolf (Bruce Baughn?) in a follow up post suggests the following:
“…I think this guy is asking for a system which doesn’t resolve … hits and misses, but which resolves conflicts where all possible outcomes are interesting and engaging. meaning, it’s not about “winning” or “losing”, but about the mechanics producing story twists and spawning more play.



He doesn’t want to roll to hit… he wants to roll to see if unexpected and dramatic shit happens in a scene. If he’s got an agenda- a way he wants it to turn out- then he has something to try for, but if the mechanics output something cool regardless of who’s agenda is realized, then I think he’d be happy with it.”

To which I say, no, the type of player hyphz is talking about absolutely does not want that. The type of player hyphz describes exhibits confusion between Story, Character and Outcome as if all three of those things are one and the same. Failure to achieve a desired Outcome (good or bad) is tantamount to not having been allowed to play his Character “correctly” which results in the Story having been “ruined.” No matter how compelling from an external point of view the undesired outcome may be, the player now believes his character to be in the “wrong” story. It’s no longer the story he built his character to tell.

So much dialogue is spent discussing GM-driven railroading that I think player-driven railroading is under discussed and under identified. Once upon a time on The Forge we spoke of the Impossible Thing Before Breakfast. That is, it is impossible for the GM to control the story while the players control the protagonists. I would now like posit the OTHER Impossible Thing Before Breakfast. That is, it is impossible for the players to control the story while the GM controls the antagonists. You simply can not have legitimate adversity without legitimate risk.

Going a little further in hyphz’s thread there are people who are questioning the existence of such a hypothetical player. I’m currently running a Sorcerer & Sword game. I was a little surprised when one of my players said to me, “I don’t like how much the dice define my character in this game.” Considering that the character’s choices and actions were 100% under her control I was a little confused by this so I asked a few key questions. What I discovered was that there had apparently been a few key conflicts she had failed. Failing those conflicts had, to her, rewritten her character concept because the character she wanted to play “would have” succeeded at those things.

The amusing thing, to me, is that from the point of view of an external audience member those conflicts didn’t look any different than any other conflict she had failed but had been fine with. To me, all I saw was a character in motion and the outcomes from that motion. There were no cues to suggest to me the same a priori character redefining “it” moments that were so obvious to the player herself. Even if I had the power to “fudge” those rolls there was nothing to suggest that I should do so. This “character via outcome” exists entirely within the mind of the player.

Oddly, I don’t really see much of a problem satisfying the “fake narrativist” and indeed I think a lot more design has gone towards satisfying that creative aesthetic than people think. Perhaps, again, owing to the fact that I don’t think the phenomenon is well identified. For example, consider the debates over linear vs. bell-curve outcome probabilities. One of the primary points made on the bell-curve side is that it makes outcomes more predictable. In fact, Fudge dice are sort of the extreme product of that debate since the bell-curve is centered on zero no matter how many you roll.

Post resolution modification systems also tend to support this style of play. Pre-roll modification systems such as Fan Mail in Primetime Adventures or Bonus/Roll-Over dice in Sorcerer tend to be about emotional weight and narrative momentum. However, consequences are consequences once the mechanic is deployed. Post roll resolution such as Fate Points in Spirit of the Century and Drama Dice in 7th Sea cater much more to the notion that random success and failure are cool for generating detailing but when the critical conflicts (as identified in the player’s mind) come up the outcome can be controlled to conform to expectation.

Could there be more design advances in this direction? Perhaps. But I think there needs to be more analytical honesty among this play base first. Frankly, I see a lot of denial about this style of play. The player clearly holds a profound need to have his character’s story turn out “right” but at the same time rejects all tools that would explicitly allow him to do so. So the tools that have been developed are all indirect, leaving holes where things might still not turn out right if the resources aren’t at hand or enough aberrant die rolls happen.

But that’s a design discussion and this is Play Passionately.

A big part of why I don't like narrative game as like a thing is that it confuses technique and agenda. Similar techniques can be used to achieve radically different agendas, but a game like Masks tells you how it's meant to be used. There's a lot of very specific instruction provided to the GM that involves engaging the players as their characters and does not really provide for unprompted this would make for a "better story" types of insertions to the fiction. The game expects more disciplined use of the described techniques.

I get that a lot of people see these games and expect unfettered use of these techniques to run amok because they just see games in terms of division of narrative authority, but more disciplined use of the tools that are provided is expected.
 
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@The-Magic-Sword

There are absolutely are pretty substantial differences. The differences are just more nuanced and nothing like conch passing or a writer's room. I have seen that sort of play and been at those tables. I hate it. I also see it as radically inconsistent with my understanding of games like Masks. Even more so when it comes to Apocalypse World or Monsterhearts.

It's part of what Play Passionately calls The Culture of Outcome:



A big part of why I don't like narrative game as like a thing is that it confuses technique and agenda. Similar techniques can be used to achieve radically different agendas, but a game like Masks tells you how it's meant to be used. There's a lot of very specific instruction provided to the GM that involves engaging the players as their characters and does not really provide for unprompted this would make for a "better story" types of insertions to the fiction. The game expects more disciplined use of the described techniques.

I get that a lot of people see these games and expect unfettered use of these techniques to run amok because they just see games in terms of division of narrative authority, but more disciplined use of the tools that are provided is expected.
I'll admit I should have been clearer, I was saying that even in the extreme of conch passing, it can be fun (as it was in college), not that Story Now games are conch passing, the example was meant to express my frustration with non-curated worlds. That curation is a little harder in Story Now, even though the systems give the GM final say because they simultaneously discourage the kind of elaborate world building that really makes other kinds of play for me, and because in practice there's social pressure to not be too judicious with saying no "Yes, and..." is still a major value in these games, it goes against their spirit to exert too much control over setting.

Meanwhile, I value very emergent stories in my Pathfinder play, but not emergent worlds, instead I like for my nicely designed and curated worlds to collide with the players and produce stories by virtue of them making contact with it. That probably isn't trad, because it doesn't focus on making or telling a specific story?
 

kenada

Legend
Supporter
Meanwhile, I value very emergent stories in my Pathfinder play, but not emergent worlds, instead I like for my nicely designed and curated worlds to collide with the players and produce stories by virtue of them making contact with it. That probably isn't trad, because it doesn't focus on making or telling a specific story?
Non-protagonistic Story Now?
 

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