*The setting* as the focus of "simulationist" play

But wouldn't a Blades in the Dark game disintegrate in a similar way if a character wanted to, say, hang out in cafes and find true love? Meaning, to what @Manbearcat said (or rather my reading of what they said), it seems less about the presence or not of dramatic need, and more about the premise of the game.
No, not really. Because the character's other needs, as established by setting and basic premise of "you are a person" (IE you need food, water, shelter, and protection/company) would still have to exist. And in fact this is part of the tension inherent in some places in BitD. My character, for example, wanted to discover the truth about the fate of his homeland, and was bound in service to an evil spirit/demon (manifested mechanically as his vice). These things came into direct conflict, with each other, and sometimes with the needs of the other members of the crew. My character still pursued his desires, and the game worked fine, he just still had to do scores and whatnot, and in our game at least, a LOT of the scores were motivated by the PC's personal wants/needs.
Do the players in The Between, which contain very explicit playbooks and a very very specific genre (Penny Dreadful), really author their characters dramatic need? Again, the premise of the game is doing a lot of work to provide such needs.
I don't know. And I'm not saying that in BitD (or we could mention Stonetop) that the game's organizing premise doesn't shape the territory in which the dramatic need getting takes place. It does! Hugely! But don't mistake "I'm a wizard at Hogwart's" with "I am an orphan who has a deep need to understand what happened to my family." Harry Potter is not about Hogwart's. It is about Harry, and it just plays out in the arena of Hogwart's. No matter where Harry would be, he will be essentially the same. Put Grog Half-Ogre in a different milieu and his "I want gold and XP" motivations will make no sense, nor will you have anything to build an explanation of who he himself actual is except pure imagination.
I agree that different games treat those needs differently, along the lines you mention. But those needs are system-authored, it seems to me. It might be an academic distinction.
 

log in or register to remove this ad

But wouldn't a Blades in the Dark game disintegrate in a similar way if a character wanted to, say, hang out in cafes and find true love? Meaning, to what @Manbearcat said (or rather my reading of what they said), it seems less about the presence or not of dramatic need, and more about the premise of the game.



Do the players in The Between, which contain very explicit playbooks and a very very specific genre (Penny Dreadful), really author their characters dramatic need? Again, the premise of the game is doing a lot of work to provide such needs.

I agree that different games treat those needs differently, along the lines you mention. But those needs are system-authored, it seems to me. It might be an academic distinction.

Great response. A lot of this is on-point, but some of it is a little off. Yes, premise and procedures around premise does a lot of work in these games...but...pile-o-stuff:

* Vice is primarily (with Friends as well) where you find "love" in Blades and my games have seen lots of it with some of it heavily featured. Obligation for being devoted to a ward or a charity or true love or a secret daughter/son in an orphanage. Faith as the expression of love for a Forgotten Goddess that you're trying to bring back into the world no matter the cost (I've had this play out 3 times).

No, PCs aren't gong to be passively hanging out a tavern and pining away for the object of their Obligation/Faith (love), but it will be featured heavily in myriad ways (see below for more on that).

* Heritage, Background, PC relationships of Friend, Rival, Crew Contact, Allied Factions, Cohorts should be heavily sited in play by all participants. The GM should do so in their foregrounding of situation, in their handling of Obstacles & Consequences, in Faction & Setting Clocks during Score and Downtime, in Entanglements, in Devil's Bargains. The players will do so in their PC building, their choices during Info Gathering/Free Play when they are developing their next Score, when dealing with a suite of intra-Score Complications, when making decisions about Downtime Faction/Setting Clocks that put these things at risk, in their Flashback framing, in their Longterm Projects, in their decisions on Entanglements, potentially in their decisions about Overindulgence.

* xp triggers create the Reward Cycles for the above (incentivizing players to bring them into play and risk related struggle/loss).

* So yes, premise does a lot of work in Blades (as it does in a lot of these games), but the above should be primary drivers of play (for all participants as outlined).




Was going to get to The Between as I've run like 8 sessions of it (The Vessel and The American)...but, its late, I'm tired. If I have time tomorrow, I'll post on that game. But I remember the combination of The Unseen + the thematic End of Session xp trigger questions for each playbook + The Janus Mask stuff doing a whole lot of work to foreground those two playbook's inherent motivations and reveal their backstory in the course of resolving the emergent mysteries at the center of play. It was pretty rad to be honest. I'd love to run that game again for two players.
 

pemerton

Legend
I don't know The Between, and so can't comment on it specifically.

I think that there is a distinction between dramatic need as shaped or constrained by genre - which is a thing in (say) Prince Valiant (which I know pretty well) or 4e D&D (which I also know pretty well) - and the pursuit of XP, and hence gp, in classic D&D. I think eliding that distinction is unhelpful, and in both directions: it is no help to a classic D&D player who is used to mostly pawn stance dungeon-crawling to tell them that playing a knight in Prince Valiant is basically the same thing; and its no help to tell a Prince Valiant player who wants to have an old-school experience to tell them that playing a classic D&D PC is much the same as playing their knight.

I personally think the point is best demonstrated this way: although classic D&D claims, as some of its inspiration, classic S&S like REH Conan, the actual play of classic D&D will rarely resemble a S&S story. I don't think it's trivial to explain why not; but the starting point would build on something @AbdulAlhazred posted, and also @Clint_L's post on dramatic need. What drives Conan stories is the conflict of dramatic needs (eg in the Jewels of Gwahlur, the desire to have the jewels and loyalty/affection towards the romantic interest). Whereas in classic D&D there is no conflict. The solution to the need for XP is just to keep on looting!
 

Clint_L

Legend
It's a theatre term, and it describes the internal motivation that drives characters to want what they want. Significant character change usually comes from the character being forced to confront their dramatic need, typically in a moment of crisis.

Here's a well-known example: Peter Parker in Spiderman: Homecoming. What he wants is made clear right away: he wants to become an Avenger. But why? This is not as immediately obvious, but various clues in the film reveal that he is driven by a sense of failure, that he feels a responsibility to use his power to help others and has a dramatic need to prove himself worthy. From his backstory, we know the reason for this - in a moment of selfishness he failed to use his powers responsibly in a way that led to the death of his Uncle Ben, but this is barely alluded to in the film (actually, I think it is only alluded to in Civil War). So now Peter is desperate to prove himself to a surrogate father figure, Tony Stark, and sees becoming an Avenger as validation. This is his dramatic need; it's what drives his decisions right up until the film's crisis.

This allows for character growth that makes the film a lot more interesting than just a bunch of CGI fights. Because Peter's dramatic need, validation, is not what he really needs, it causes him to behave recklessly and undermines him achieving what he wants. Tony recognizes that Peter is not ready and takes the suit away. Peter, ever more desperate to prove himself to his father figure, throws himself into even greater danger and is utterly beaten, left being crushed to death after a failed battle against Vulture. This is the crisis, where Peter has to reckon with his dramatic need and see that it not his real need. His real need is faith in himself, not external validation. This gives him the strength he needs to get out of danger and and defeat Vulture. Tony recognizes that Peter is now ready and prepares to give him what he wanted, membership in the Avengers, but Peter realizes that it's not what he really needs right now and declines. Character growth (change) - by giving up his original want, Peter shows the audience that he has started to understand what he really needs to become fully self-actualized.

So dramatic need is essential to having characters that aren't just stereotypes, that feel like real people whose stories having meaning rather than just plot. It isn't necessary - you can have lots of fun killing monsters and solving mysteries without it - but I think it is essential if you want stories that have depth.
Follow-up: Incidentally, I kind of dislike the term "dramatic need." Because, as you can see from the example above, it can clash with a character's deeper needs, so the word "need" winds up being using in kind of distinct ways that can lead to confusion. With writing students, I find it easier to use the term "motivation", so that you have three distinct levels of character development: the character's want (i.e. to become an Avenger), their motivation (validation, to make up for a past mistake), and their need (to let go of the past and regain faith in themselves).

Ideally, there is a conflict between a character's motivations and wants, and their need. That's what drives character change. It's simplest just to describe it as wants vs. needs, especially when players are just trying to get a handle on character creation. And they don't have to know what their character's need is right away. As long as they have at least one want, you can work with that.

For example, let's say your player is really new, and when you ask them to come up with one thing their character wants, the answer is "treasure." That's great, because you can easily coach them to go a little deeper: "Cool - why do they care about treasure? Were they poor? Do they see it as a way of showing off?" That gets you to motivation. And once you have motivation, the real need can be developed as the player gets a handle on their character. If you and they are that way inclined. I don't think it's something that is at all essential right from the start of the campaign, and might in fact be counterproductive.

Typically, a character doesn't even understand their real need until they encounter some sort of crisis where their typical wants and motivations have lead them into a dead end or terrible choice. So you can see how players and GM's could use wants, motivations, and need to build plots and themes that might not have been obvious at the start of the campaign. Like maybe the character wanted treasure because they see wealth as a way of proving that they matter, and they finally have an opportunity for a huge score...but it turns out that to get it they will have to betray the people they have grown to care about.
 
Last edited:

Follow-up: Incidentally, I kind of dislike the term "dramatic need." Because, as you can see from the example above, it can clash with a character's deeper needs, so the word "need" winds up being using in kind of distinct ways that can lead to confusion. With writing students, I find it easier to use the term "motivation", so that you have three distinct levels of character development: the character's want (i.e. to become an Avenger), their motivation (validation, to make up for a past mistake), and their need (to let go of the past and regain faith in themselves).

Ideally, there is a conflict between a character's motivations and wants, and their need. That's what drives character change. It's simplest just to describe it as wants vs. needs, especially when players are just trying to get a handle on character creation. And they don't have to know what their character's need is right away. As long as they have at least one want, you can work with that.

For example, let's say your player is really new, and when you ask them to come up with one thing their character wants, the answer is "treasure." That's great, because you can easily coach them to go a little deeper: "Cool - why do they care about treasure? Were they poor? Do they see it as a way of showing off?" That gets you to motivation. And once you have motivation, the real need can be developed as the player gets a handle on their character. If you and they are that way inclined. I don't think it's something that is at all essential right from the start of the campaign, and might in fact be counterproductive.

Typically, a character doesn't even understand their real need until they encounter some sort of crisis where their typical wants and motivations have lead them into a dead end or terrible choice. So you can see how players and GM's could use wants, motivations, and need to build plots and themes that might not have been obvious at the start of the campaign. Like maybe the character wanted treasure because they see wealth as a way of proving that they matter, and they finally have an opportunity for a huge score...but it turns out that to get it they will have to betray the people they have grown to care about.
I think your terminology is fine. In terms of actual play this sort of wording isn't really used anyway. Looking at design of games:

HoML - characters advance when, in story terms, they acquire a boon. Usually boons result from completion of quests. Players invent quests for their heroes, and also have 'traits', which are like aspects, and generally relate to something they believe, a goal they have, or a relationship or attitude towards someone or something. Their calling might also have something to say here about motives or behavior (IE knights generally at least give lip service to certain precepts). So here we have a set of pretty usable hooks to tell us about the different things that will drive your character, and might be in conflict.
 

Heritage, Background, PC relationships of Friend, Rival, Crew Contact, Allied Factions, Cohorts should be heavily sited in play by all participants. The GM should do so in their foregrounding of situation, in their handling of Obstacles & Consequences, in Faction & Setting Clocks during Score and Downtime, in Entanglements, in Devil's Bargains.
Totally agree. But this is what I mean by focalization. The initial act of noting those things (friends, rivals, etc) down in character creation is pretty superficial, as it would be in a traditional game. The difference is the the GM should keep those things in mind and bring them forward. This was initially a shift for me...I would think, 'why would this character's rival be here, of all places?' instead of introducing the rival as a complication in a scene because that would put the focus on the character's story.
 

TwoSix

"Diegetics", by L. Ron Gygax
For example, let's say your player is really new, and when you ask them to come up with one thing their character wants, the answer is "treasure." That's great, because you can easily coach them to go a little deeper: "Cool - why do they care about treasure? Were they poor? Do they see it as a way of showing off?" That gets you to motivation. And once you have motivation, the real need can be developed as the player gets a handle on their character. If you and they are that way inclined. I don't think it's something that is at all essential right from the start of the campaign, and might in fact be counterproductive.
Even if they're not new, treasure is pretty common motivator in a D&D-style sim/trad game.

Since a sim/trad game will generally NOT be oriented around a character's dramatic needs/wants/motivations, I generally make characters for those games with one of the three base motivations: greed, curiosity, altruism. Those motivations can easily slot into pretty much any game oriented around any premise within the D&D milieu.
 

FrogReaver

As long as i get to be the frog
let me ask this question - what are the dramatic needs of a D&D character?

Whether Typical or just a one off example, what can we say about them? I’d suggest that the initial overarching dramatic need of d&d a d&d character is adventuring as D&D characters are foremost adventurers. I’d then suggest that additional dramatic needs arise through the course of play and can very much be dm introduced but player driven. Also, Some dramatic needs can also come about by dm approved player backstory.

To me the differences here between d&d and more narrative games are:

1. Player authority to author dramatic needs with minimal constraints and within known constraints.
2. The codified expectation that the DM feature these dramatic needs in most if not all of their narrative decisions.

I guess what I’m saying is I disagree with the notion that the dm is driving dramatic needs in d&d. The players choose what’s important to them and even pursue it - and that’s dramatic need. Unless you define dramatic need differently?
 

let me ask this question - what are the dramatic needs of a D&D character?

Whether Typical or just a one off example, what can we say about them? I’d suggest that the initial overarching dramatic need of d&d a d&d character is adventuring as D&D characters are foremost adventurers. I’d then suggest that additional dramatic needs arise through the course of play and can very much be dm introduced but player driven. Also, Some dramatic needs can also come about by dm approved player backstory.
How is adventuring a need? It's just an activity or maybe avocation at most. If character needs are GM introduced how is it my character and in what meaningful sense do I roleplay it?
To me the differences here between d&d and more narrative games are:

1. Player authority to author dramatic needs with minimal constraints and within known constraints.
2. The codified expectation that the DM feature these dramatic needs in most if not all of their narrative decisions.

I guess what I’m saying is I disagree with the notion that the dm is driving dramatic needs in d&d. The players choose what’s important to them and even pursue it - and that’s dramatic need. Unless you define dramatic need differently?
I doubt anyone holds the view that narrative style play is impossible using D&D, let's assume 5e. But if the focus is narrative and all the needs of the characters are defined and/or locked away behind GM setting and situation, or if they are merely at the level of a prescribed type of activity itself, then where's the drama?
 

As someone who always does sandboxes, I tend to write adventures by writing them fully with the players assumed entirely absent.

From there, I set up sections of those adventures to be timing fluid, meaning they can shift earlier or later in player progression as needed to keep things more or less on the level.

And then, I just set that adventure in motion, with at most a in media res introduction of early threads to pull, but otherwise leaving the party to their devices.

If they encounter the various parts of the adventure, then great! If not, eventually they will have to choose to ignore it.

After all that, all thats necessary is keeping a few of them running concurrently, so players have choices as to what they pursue, though I typically also have them all converge back on each other eventually.
 

Voidrunner's Codex

Remove ads

Top