[Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

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[Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 7:08pm on 07 Feb 13

Fiction-Oriented Gaming:- Similarities and Differences

I’ve noticed that there’s a certain type of gamer who plays the sorts of games that came out of the Forge who tends to assume that “trad” games are all about gamism/challenge or simulation/modelling. I’m not saying that this is true of all storygamers, or even a majority. But many times in gamers who are drawn to exploring fiction through roleplay I’ve seen two implicit assumptions:-
(1) that the fiction in roleplaying games can be equated with story;
(2) that “trad” games don’t do enough to put fiction at the centre of things because they’re all about modelling events in a probabilistic way, providing a game of hack-n-slash or a messy mixture of those two things.

I’d like to persuade you that those assumptions are both wrong, and that there are styles of trad roleplay out there that have fiction at their heart just as much as any storygame.

Let’s start with some conceptual basics. Gamers can do [at least] five things with fiction:-

(1) they can contribute to its creation by human agency – collective creativity;
(2) they can contribute to its creation by applying rules and dice – this covers mechanics generally, not just probabilistic modelling;
(3) they can explore the fiction, in the sense of finding out more about it, pushing on its various buttons to see what happens;
(4) they can feel as if they’re a part of the fiction – the central case of this is immersion, by which I [now always] mean immersion in character;
(5) they can use it to make the stakes of combat or other challenges seem greater.

Now a mildly controversial assertion. As a general rule, “hippy indie” storygames aren’t designed with (3) or (4) in mind. Let me hastily qualify that by saying that I’m fully aware that many “hippy indie” storygames can be excellent for immersion, at least for some gamers.

So why do I say that storygames aren’t designed with (3) or (4) in mind?

In a nutshell, because the spirit of the Forge was all about (1) – collective creativity. The “System Matters” idea brought in an element of (2). But Forgie games often place human agency at the centre in setting stakes (because of their emphasis on creativity), so the mechanics are never in control of the game. People are in control of the game.

Indeed, at times Edwards’ posts/essays seemed to deny the very existence of immersion.

Of course, the rules-lite ideology of the Forge makes “hippy indie” storygames better suited for certain gamers’ immersion than many a trad game. But as a general tendency, the emphasis in Forgie games tends to be on sharing narrative authority so that players can get involved in contributing to the fiction (“can I please have a go?” to paraphrase Pete), and avoiding complex mechanics that aren’t related to central aspects of theme/premise or the distribution of narrative authority.

[continued...]
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 7:08pm on 07 Feb 13

Some gamers enjoy that kind of game more than anything else, and find no enjoyment whatsoever in trad games. Fair enough; to each his own; one man’s meat is another man’s poison, live and let live and all that.

But it frustrates me greatly that a minority of gamers seem to have no conception that there can be fiction-oriented gaming that isn’t storygaming of the hippy indie Forgie variety.

It doesn’t help that some people seem to use the word “storygame” to mean “any roleplaying game that puts fiction at the centre of things”. To me, a “storygame” is a distinct kind of thing, the sort of game that the Forge encouraged, a focused game, focused on theme/premise, a game that encourages sharing of narrative authority. These games merit the term “storygame” because “story” is what the players actually do. The players create story, and not only that, but the creation of story is what the game’s all about for them.

In tradder games, the point of roleplay, for players, isn’t to contribute creatively to the development of a “story”. “Story” in a sense emerges through play, although I’d argue that the only person who’s really “telling” a story, or a part of a story, is the GM, at least if narrative authority is all in his/her hands. The point of roleplay, for players in tradder games, is more likely to be some or all of (3), (4) and (5) that I listed above, although “sticking your oar in” to the fiction in some sense (i.e. a bit of (1)) may well come into it, and some players, I suppose, might actually be interested in probabilistic modelling for its own sake.

And yet aspects (3) and (4) are very much about the fiction --- not the rules, not the modelling, not the probabilities, not the dice and not who “wins”/”loses”.

What storygames and certain styles of trad gaming have in common is that they are fiction-oriented in the sense that they put the fiction at centre stage.

They do it in very different ways.

But having devoted many of my contributions to gaming discussions to identifying differences between storygames and immersive roleplay, I feel it’s time to be more “party-constructive”*.

The way I see it, fiction-oriented gaming is a large umbrella with room underneath it for storygamers, immersively-oriented roleplayers and other types besides. We are all part of a broader family of gamers who value something to do with the “soft” fiction over the aspects of challenge or probabilistic modelling.

[continued...]
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 7:09pm on 07 Feb 13

It’s important to remember that we have that in common, even though we approach the fiction in oftentimes very different ways. Storygamers enjoy collective creativity – collaboratively telling a story. That’s of minimal interest to gamers like me. I’m more interested in exploring the fiction from within and feeling as if I’m a part of it. But the same fiction can serve us both. We both want poignant themes, believable roleplay, three-dimensional characters. We both want characters to have real motivations, full personalities, heart and soul. Storygamers can get on with indulging their collective creativity and I can get on with experiencing the fiction and exploring it from within, and, I contend, we can do so at the same table. Far from impeding my gaming experience, a storygamer at the table can enliven it.

How does this have a bearing on the complexity or simplicity of systems we tend to use?

The topic of immersion I’ve hashed out to death already, and I think it’s fairly clear that the interaction between the complexity of a system and immersion is double-edged. More complicated mechanics can snap people out of their immersive state. On the other hand, simplistic mechanics can jar with the suspension of disbelief, and hard rules present an opportunity to anchor aspects of the fiction into our experience of the game, helping to reify the characters’ abilities and by extension the characters themselves. So, rules complexity cuts both ways for immersion. Sometimes it can be a good thing for some players. Sometimes it can be a bad thing for some players. So in short immersion provides half an answer to why some gamers like complex systems, but only half an answer.

I suspect the real answer is what I listed as aspect (3) – exploration of the fiction, pushing its buttons, seeing what happens.

I guess this lies at the heart of what I’m saying here. You see, I love complex fiction. I’m not talking about the rules themselves. I’m talking about the fiction. I love complex “plot”, although “plot” isn’t really the right word, because my focus isn’t really on “story”, but simply on fiction, i.e. that which is not real, but which is imagined/depicted through play. I love a sense of mystery, suspense, intrigue, discovery/revelation, of seeing how, in the fiction, A connects to B and B connects to C, of guessing at it, of wondering about it. Not because I’m trying to “crack” a puzzle for the challenge. More that I feel I’m working my way around a tangled web and discovering all sorts of interesting links between different bits of it, even if I don’t need to discover them for my character to survive/prosper.

Let me give you an illustration of this. I was GMing a game early in 2012. There was a lot of ritual magic going on, none of which had any firm rules framework to follow – it was all basically whatever I had dreamt up. And there were machinations going on as well. One of my players was thriving on it, working everything out from limited information thanks to a solid understanding of the setting. A second player I think was enjoying it. The third player actually complained of brain-ache.

There were no dice-rolls, no mechanics in play here. It wasn’t a question of complex simulation or modelling. The only thing that was complicated was the combination of setting, characters and situation.

You don’t necessarily always need complex rules for that. But complex rules often end up being complex because they’re designed to afford opportunities for complex situations in a complex setting.

If you insist on a narrowly focused game with simple rules, you lose some of the potential for that beautiful complexity of situation and setting.

Not all of it – especially not much of the part that grows out of essentially human drama. And not most of it. Probably only a small part of it. But some of it. Some of it you lose.

[continued...]
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 7:09pm on 07 Feb 13

To build up this level of complexity of situation and setting takes time. People have to play a game for long enough to become familiar with the setting. And you can get so much out of this style of gaming that you can’t get without it – I’m obviously not saying that you can’t have equal fun in other ways, but it’s equal, but different. It’s not exactly the same. It’s not the identical feeling that you can get from a (setting/situation-wise) complex game.

There is potential for myriad different approaches to fiction-oriented gaming, and a multiverse of different preferences. Some fiction-oriented gaming will have limited appeal to certain fiction-oriented gamers for whatever reason – wrong genre for that player, wrong complexity of rules, insufficient attention to immersion, insufficient attention to collective creativity, whatever.

But the fundamental message is that many different approaches to gaming can deliver gaming with fiction at centre-stage in such a way that a broad variety of fiction-oriented gamers can appreciate it in their different ways, at the same table, at the same time.

That, at least, is the optimistic assumption behind the rules for assistant GMs (“a-refs”) in my forthcoming game Soul’s Calling. But from my own experiences of gaming with storygamers at the table, I definitely feel it’s true. Our preferences don’t align 100%. But sometimes a storygamer at the table can be a real asset for gamers of my (non-storygamey) persuasion. I hope and believe that the converse is true.

So my plea is that if you identify as a storygamer and you prefer hippy indie “storygames”, please remember that a great many trad gamers also prefer fiction-oriented gaming. It might not always be the exact same fiction-oriented gaming you prefer, but it has a huge amount in common with it, and I really don’t think there’s a fundamental incompatibility between gamers there, even if there may be some games that gamers of one variety or another will never enjoy.

Final thought. You could call it “fluffy” gaming if you wanted, instead of “fiction-oriented”, as in “fluff” versus “crunch”. But I think that might be a bit off-message.

* “party-constructive”, of a character in a roleplaying game (adj.) – tending to facilitate/encourage cooperation among the player characters for the fulfilment of a common objective
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby JohnK » 11:25am on 08 Feb 13

Coming to this from the System Matters #meh thread. It looks like when I say story vs wargame, by your terminology I mean fluff vs crunch (which I quite like actually). When you say storygame vs immersion I'd probably say story vs character and in 'forge speak' it'd probably come out as actor vs director stances. Probably not 100% correct but close enough, given how interesting arguing about definitions on the internet isn't.

I've played in trad games before that have drawn me into the character, generally everything came down to GM arbitration and not the rules, for instance getting in to a fight would break the spell pretty quickly. I don't get drawn into characters in storygames in the same way, but then that's not the point.

The difference to me seems to be the presence of a GM who can allow you to get lost in the world (basically your points #3/4) and I don't think we have any system design tech at the moment to replace that particular GM role fully. Some roleplaying poems can probably immerse without a GM but only in a limited scope (almost like the system writer is the GM when he sets the scene in motion).

I have thought in the past about writing a structured freeform game that has a player who has this role of 'story maintainer', to let the other players concentrate on their characters rather than the story/world. Don't know how well it would work as I've been working on other things, but the idea is appealing.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 12:25pm on 08 Feb 13

JohnK wrote:It looks like when I say story vs wargame, by your terminology I mean fluff vs crunch (which I quite like actually).


Possibly your "story" = my "fluff"... though if that's the case, the meaning you attribute to "story" is wider than the meaning I attribute to "story".

I'm pretty sure "crunch" is a lot wider than wargaming. I mean, "crunch" is any mechanics whatsoever, really... and a "crunchy" game I guess, in the sense I'm using the word in this thread, would be a game where crunch is more of a feature in the game than fluff.

Though in the past when I've used the word "crunchy" I've meant anything with relatively speaking a lot of crunch in it, even if centre-stage was actually given to fluff.

JohnK wrote:When you say storygame vs immersion I'd probably say story vs character


Indeed, I've used that "focusing on our story" versus "focusing on my character" line before in trying to explain what I see as a tension between storygaming and immersion. It's a line cribbed from a post Andy K made in 2006 on the storygames site.

JohnK wrote: and in 'forge speak' it'd probably come out as actor vs director stances.


Character/Audience Stance (with Actor Stance thrown in while you're warming up) versus Actor/Director/Author/Pawn Stance, IMHO. The trouble with the stances terminology, apart from the word "stance", is that they combine aspects that exist on totally different axes. Actor/Director/Author/Pawn are about how you create/portrary fiction/character. Audience stance is about how you experience it. Character Stance is about both, but insofar as it's about creation/portrayal, it's more or less the same as Actor Stance. Immersion is a question of how you experience the fiction, not of creation/portrayal, though obviously each can feed into the other on many levels in practice.

JohnK wrote: I've played in trad games before that have drawn me into the character, generally everything came down to GM arbitration and not the rules, for instance getting in to a fight would break the spell pretty quickly.


This I guess is why I'm bigging up soft-rules (arbitrated) combat in my forthcoming RPG Soul's Calling. There is hard-rules combat, but the advice is to use it sparingly. My own immersion doesn't always take a hit during hard-rules-style combat, for instance in MET-LARP V:tR. But sometimes it does I guess, and I know that other people are more sensitive to complex combat "breaking the spell".

JohnK wrote:I don't get drawn into characters in storygames in the same way, but then that's not the point.


Although some people apparently do, and maybe for them it is.

JohnK wrote:The difference to me seems to be the presence of a GM who can allow you to get lost in the world (basically your points #3/4) and I don't think we have any system design tech at the moment to replace that particular GM role fully.


In the absence of a computer GM with full artificial intelligence, is it even possible, or desirable, to replace that GM role fully?

And caveat to your central point:- some people do find immersion [in character] best in storygames. Or so it seems, anyway. I'm not one of them. But enough of them answered my first poll on what breaks/strains immersion on the Big Purple to give me that impression. Some may have misunderstood the question but I prefer to believe that the majority, at least, reported their experiences accurately.

JohnK wrote:Some roleplaying poems can probably immerse without a GM but only in a limited scope (almost like the system writer is the GM when he sets the scene in motion).


Can we rename roleplaying "poems" to "gamelets" please. I know, I know. Fascinating picking terminology to bits on the Internet.

Have you seen Indie Pete's gamelet If On A Winter's Night Four Travellers? Link here:- http://www.ukroleplayers.com/wiki/If_On_A_Winter%27s_Night_Four_Travellers...

JohnK wrote:I have thought in the past about writing a structured freeform game that has a player who has this role of 'story maintainer', to let the other players concentrate on their characters rather than the story/world. Don't know how well it would work as I've been working on other things, but the idea is appealing.


How is a "story maintainer" different to a GM? Isn't the essential point of a GM to let the players concentrate on their characters?

As for a freeform game with a GM, I have played such:- Chris Loizou does an excellent job of it with his Cursed Empire freeform game, a regular feature at Indiecon. Link to my AP report here:- http://www.ukroleplayers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=63&t=11817#p129462

I've never played Amber Diceless, but supposedly, it's the Daddy.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 1:22pm on 08 Feb 13

By the way, I've posted a slightly shorter and more refined version of the same thoughts on the storygames site here:- http://www.story-games.com/forums/discussion/17943/friday-topic-fiction-oriented-gaming#Item_1
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby JohnK » 2:09pm on 08 Feb 13

Omnifray wrote:
JohnK wrote:I don't get drawn into characters in storygames in the same way, but then that's not the point.


Although some people apparently do, and maybe for them it is.

Interesting, I be interested in talking to this group of people, because I can't see it at the moment.

Omnifray wrote:
JohnK wrote:The difference to me seems to be the presence of a GM who can allow you to get lost in the world (basically your points #3/4) and I don't think we have any system design tech at the moment to replace that particular GM role fully.


In the absence of a computer GM with full artificial intelligence, is it even possible, or desirable, to replace that GM role fully?

For me, yes. I hold the (controversial) view that all games are better of without a GM (with the possible exception of some very passive players who may find they need one) and in the cases where this isn't the case we just need new/better gaming tech. Previously I'd only identified mystery investigation as something that we can't do GMless very well and thinking about it I'd be tempted to add immersion... although apparently I'm wrong and they can do it for some people.

Omnifray wrote:Have you seen Indie Pete's gamelet If On A Winter's Night Four Travellers? Link here:- http://www.ukroleplayers.com/wiki/If_On_A_Winter%27s_Night_Four_Travellers...


Yes, I have to say it's one of my favourites and I had that in mind when I made my point.

Omnifray wrote:
JohnK wrote:I have thought in the past about writing a structured freeform game that has a player who has this role of 'story maintainer', to let the other players concentrate on their characters rather than the story/world. Don't know how well it would work as I've been working on other things, but the idea is appealing.


How is a "story maintainer" different to a GM? Isn't the essential point of a GM to let the players concentrate on their characters?

Good question, I don't really know which would be why the game doesn't exist. I guess it may be the essential point of the GM, but the GM has a lot of other stuff to do which I'd do away with. If, after all that's gone, you still want to call them a GM then that's fine, but I'd have to experiment to see how happy I'd be with that arrangement.

Omnifray wrote:As for a freeform game with a GM, I have played such:- Chris Loizou does an excellent job of it with his Cursed Empire freeform game, a regular feature at Indiecon. Link to my AP report here:- http://www.ukroleplayers.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=63&t=11817#p129462

I've never played Amber Diceless, but supposedly, it's the Daddy.

My objections to GMs count double in freeform games. You can have excellent GMs and they will run excellent games (often despite the system used) but 99% of people aren't excellent GMs and end up acting as a bottleneck for the awesome, and in freeform games don't even have the system as a crutch.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 2:55pm on 08 Feb 13

JohnK wrote:
Omnifray wrote:
JohnK wrote:I don't get drawn into characters in storygames in the same way, but then that's not the point.


Although some people apparently do, and maybe for them it is.

Interesting, I be interested in talking to this group of people, because I can't see it at the moment.


Here's the link to the first poll I posted on the Big Purple on what breaks/strains immersion:- http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?653347-What-breaks-strains-immersion-in-character-for-you

Make what you will of it!

I also did a follow-up poll:-http://forum.rpg.net/showthread.php?669176-What-breaks-strains-immersion-in-character-for-you-and-what-helps-it-follow-up

I have a third poll planned in my head but it's too soon for it at the moment.

JohnK wrote:
Omnifray wrote:In the absence of a computer GM with full artificial intelligence, is it even possible, or desirable, to replace that GM role fully?

For me, yes. I hold the (controversial) view that all games are better of without a GM (with the possible exception of some very passive players who may find they need one) and in the cases where this isn't the case we just need new/better gaming tech. Previously I'd only identified mystery investigation as something that we can't do GMless very well and thinking about it I'd be tempted to add immersion... although apparently I'm wrong and they can do it for some people.


I would urge you to consider that "mystery investigation" in the sense of "cracking the puzzle" isn't the only kind of game that depends on GM secrets. There is also what I used to call "suspensist" gaming:- mystery /intrigue /suspense /discovery /revelation. I allude to that upthread I think. As for immersion, yes, for some players, GM secrets are very helpful, as it can assist you in suspending your disbelief that you're only thinking your character's thoughts, and that by extension you are your character. However you can have a perfectly immersive LARPy game without a GM. What the GM does in such games is, I think, facilitate a greater scope for the fiction without making players bear an immersion-busting cognitive load.

In short I think there are quite varied reasons why GMs are irreplaceable for a variety of gaming styles, which leads me on to my next point...

JohnK wrote:
Omnifray wrote:How is a "story maintainer" different to a GM? Isn't the essential point of a GM to let the players concentrate on their characters?

... I guess it may be the essential point of the GM, but the GM has a lot of other stuff to do which I'd do away with.


What stuff, exactly?

The way I GM, the way I've known other people GM, what does a GM basically do:-
1. frame scenes and scenarios... freeing players from the cognitive load of doing so, enabling them to concentrate on their characters
2. resolve outcomes... freeing players from the cognitive load of doing so, enabling them to concentrate on their characters
3. roleplay NPCs... allowing players to concentrate on their individual characters
4. withhold secrets from players, facilitating secrets-based gaming be it cracking the mystery or experiencing a sense of wonderment at the mysteriousness of it all
5. act as a walking rules encyclopaedia / arbitrator

What 1 through 3 all have in common is that it can be immersion-busting for a player to have to work stuff out and think thoughts that bears no relation whatsoever to any thought processes their characters would be having - this is also the problem with dissociated mechanics, but it's mainly about ensuring the players don't have to deal with what Forge theory calls Author Stance or Director Stance.

As for (4), this can assist players' immersion for a sort of similar reason - if you're just a character in the game-world, there'll be things you don't know. If you as player know everything about the game-world that counts for anything, then it may be harder to suspend disbelief at merely being your character.

So if you're going to have a role of "story maintainer" as being the gamer who facilitates everyone else's immersion, he's going to be doing (1) through (4). And to be honest, also a bit of (5), because the more players have to think about the rules, the less they can focus on being their character, as my polls confirm. And to boot, players have a vested interest in outcomes if they're immersed, whereas the GM can hopefully be relied on as a more neutral and fairer arbitrator.

What do you think I've missed, in terms of functions a GM performs? Which of the 5 I've listed, or which other functions, would you wish to cut out, and how would that limit the scope of the fiction or, if the players do the job instead, risk impairing their immersion?

JohnK wrote:My objections to GMs count double in freeform games. You can have excellent GMs and they will run excellent games (often despite the system used) but 99% of people aren't excellent GMs and end up acting as a bottleneck for the awesome, and in freeform games don't even have the system as a crutch.


Depends what you think the "awesome" is, doesn't it. Is it the players' creative contributions to the game? The collective creativity? You see, that's in tension with immersion from the beginning. (Tension doesn't necessarily mean mutually exclusive, nor does it mean tension for necessarily *all* gamers.)

Because to me, GMs are the conduit for the awesome, not the bottleneck for it. But by the "awesome", I mean allowing me to have my immersive moments in fiction of unlimited scope with variety and excitement that I don't have to dream up at the expense of interrupting my immersion.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby JohnK » 4:02pm on 08 Feb 13

By "mystery investigation" I mean players actively looking into things. Suspense/discovery/revelation can be handled by allowing contributions from multiple players, so you don't know what's coming up next. I think it's important if you're actively investigating that the clues you find and mysteries you uncover are actually uncovered and not just plucked from the air on the fly. If you aren't actively investigating then I don't feel it matters as much where the unknown information comes from.

For your points on GM roles, I think maybe you are underplaying the impact of GM as rules arbitrator on the game, especially when it comes to inventing/breaking rules on the fly. At least it's a major sticking point for me, it's more important than the 20% share of that list makes it seem.

Another couple of points; GMs are in charge of world building, which could probably be farmed out in little interludes or by asking questions of the players between scenes or sessions. They are also generally seen as being 'in charge', as a figure with more authority than the other players.

With further thought maybe it's not enough, maybe I'd have to drop something immersive form the GM before I was happy. I require further thought.

As for 'awesome', I mean whatever it is that makes the game good. So if they are conducting moments of immersion to you then there is little you can do to get more immersion out of a game than the GM permits. They can do it very well or they can do it poorly, and since what people want from a game varies they may even be trying to be a conduit for the wrong type of awesome to the wrong people.

Anecdotally there are great GMs and they hit the stop just right, but that's the exception not the rule in my experience.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 4:31pm on 08 Feb 13

JohnK wrote:Suspense/discovery/revelation can be handled by allowing contributions from multiple players, so you don't know what's coming up next. I think it's important if you're actively investigating that the clues you find and mysteries you uncover are actually uncovered and not just plucked from the air on the fly. If you aren't actively investigating then I don't feel it matters as much where the unknown information comes from.


Sort of... I mean, what if the players kind of are actively investigating, but at the same time as doing other things, and not everything they discover is going to be critical to their survival, or maybe none of it will, and it's not just a game about whether they can crack the puzzle, but more of a general game of exploration/discovery... what you're discovering feels more real, and you get more of a sense of revelation/wonder, if you can preserve the conceit that you're discovering facts that actually had a real existence beforehand. Now, you can do that with multiple players without a GM if each player has their own domain to make secrets about, as long as you can somehow ensure that none of player A's secrets contradict player B's secrets. This should be possible by each player producing a written list of off-limits topics for the other players, or by each player having a neatly carved-out domain, e.g. player A is world-building for the Orcs, player B is world-building for the Elves, player C is world-building for the Humans and player D gets stuck with the furry-footed halflings.

JohnK wrote:For your points on GM roles, I think maybe you are underplaying the impact of GM as rules arbitrator on the game, especially when it comes to inventing/breaking rules on the fly. At least it's a major sticking point for me, it's more important than the 20% share of that list makes it seem.


Hmmm.... Well, part of the role of inventing/breaking rules on the fly is to maintain believability, or indeed "story" qualities, for the game [or game balance actually - which is all about ensuring a fair share of the spotlight for each player] --- and if a player has to apply their mind to that in an active way, it can mess with their immersion. So I prefer that burden to be offloaded onto the GM. Why does it bug you so much? Why does it matter that the GM has this power? It's just about bare bones functionality of the game, after all.

JohnK wrote:Another couple of points; GMs are in charge of world building, which could probably be farmed out in little interludes or by asking questions of the players between scenes or sessions.


Secrets only exist in the game-world because of how the game-world is built... so it's tied up with the GM secrets thing. And world-building is immersion-busting if you have to do it mid-game (for most players). But if you don't have GM secrets then you could have the players building large sections of the world BEFORE the session. OR you could have players building large sections of the world BEFORE the session then the GM adding the secrets in afterwards, secretly. In fact I have no real problem with that although I'm not sure that I see the value-added from it [compared to the completely trad model], given that it restricts the GM's scope to inject his insipiration into the game-world and given that the players can't really have a global view of the whole game-world (secrets included) so as to be able to give their inspiration free reign, so you end up with a situation where no-one's inspiration gets free reign in the world-building. But I accept that that's a relatively marginal trade-off.

In summary I see no fundamental problem with having basically a trad GM but letting the players do the world-building pre-game (or inbetween games), subject to the caveat that the GM can edit what the players have given him, including secretly, more or less as he sees fit.

Many a GM might see this as a welcome sharing of the burden.

Another perspective, however, is that large aspects of world-design can be done by the game-designer. See the Guide to Glorantha Kickstarter for an example of how much love and attention can go into this. [I have only my recollection of the Kickstarter promotional videos to go on, not the materials themselves.]

JohnK wrote:They are also generally seen as being 'in charge', as a figure with more authority than the other players.


Maybe, but so what? I mean - who cares about that little smidgen of social authority at the end of the day? If you go to a gaming convention and you play a GM-less game that someone, say Ashley or Indie Pete, is facilitating, then the facilitator is imbued with a spark of social authority by virtue of being the facilitator. I remember Ashley telling me to frame harder, for instance, in Fiasco, and it's not as if there was any doubt in anyone's mind that he had the social authority to give instructions like that:- he was the organiser of the game. If you play hosted at someone's house, they have social authority there too. I know the Pundit goes on about the Alpha Male GM but honestly - what does any of that have to do with the price of milk?

IMHO a GM takes on a huge burden, so cut them a break. If the players help design the game-world pre-session (subject to GM editing), maybe there's less of an argument for that, but I would still rather the GM runs a game that really inspires them, even if that means I have to compromise a bit on the sort of game I'm playing. The only area where I don't want the GM to be throwing his weight around is in my choice of character, within reason of course.

JohnK wrote:Anecdotally there are great GMs and they hit the stop just right, but that's the exception not the rule in my experience.


Now any fool can pose a question that a wise man can't answer, so now it's my turn to do so:- what is it that makes these great GMs great?
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby JohnK » 5:24pm on 08 Feb 13

About GM authority, I think it's another contribution factor to how they can become a bottleneck in the game. Ash may say 'frame harder' but that's more like giving advice than excessing authority. It's also another burden they must shoulder, I have known people who don't want to GM because they don't want to lead a group.

You know, maybe what I want from a game is going to hurt becoming immersed in that game and I'm chasing some kind of mythical beats that doesn't exist (for me). I'll have to go away and think about it some more.

Omnifray wrote:what is it that makes these great GMs great?

"When it's working you don't notice it"... it's the case in good game AI and the same with GMs, I think. The game flows through them and no one thinks about it (till after the game). How you achieve that I don't know, I'm not a great GM myself and if you notice someone being a great GM they have stopped being a great GM :P ...so it's a rather unhelpful answer.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 5:38pm on 08 Feb 13

JohnK wrote:You know, maybe what I want from a game is going to hurt becoming immersed in that game and I'm chasing some kind of mythical beats that doesn't exist (for me). I'll have to go away and think about it some more.


I wouldn't give up hope if I were you. If you can pin down conceptually what you want out of a great game, it may just need a little ingenuity.

Having said that, maybe what you really want is a great GM who doesn't throw his weight around but acts as a genuinely encouraging facilitator for the game, and maybe his GMing function is a little bit watered down by bits being spread out among the players, or by having assistant GMs (quite a theme for me lately, see upthread, though more for the enjoyment of others than for myself).

Now the Pundit would vehemently insist that rules can't make a mediocre GM great. I think he'd say that a lot of what storygaming has come up with by way of trying to codify certain GMing techniques ends up being perhaps a mediocre crutch for rubbish GMs, but on a best case scenario it turns great GMs into merely very good GMs, and on a worst case scenario it turns great GMs into mediocre GMs and doesn't help the originally mediocre GMs at all.

I don't know what the truth of all that is, but I do suspect that great GMing partly springs from giving the GM's subconscious free reign in large aspects of how he runs the game. And I don't think that rules can ever replace that.

Bear in mind, of course, that in the mechanical implementation of rules, human beings are far inferior to computers, and no computer can be a substitute for a human GM. It's in the modification and sensible interpretation of rules that human beings outshine computers. And sensible interpretation depends on a very human skill-set.

Then again, if you can pin down conceptually what you are unsatisfied with about gaming as you've thus far experienced it, and explain why you're unsatisfied with it, then try me out - I might be able to dream something up to help you out! :-)

JohnK wrote:
Omnifray wrote:what is it that makes these great GMs great?

"When it's working you don't notice it"... it's the case in good game AI and the same with GMs, I think. The game flows through them and no one thinks about it (till after the game). How you achieve that I don't know, I'm not a great GM myself and if you notice someone being a great GM they have stopped being a great GM :P ...so it's a rather unhelpful answer.


Sounds rather like good acting... you hopefully only realise how good it was after the event, when you realise that the spell went unbroken for the whole movie. I mean, you *might* realise it during the movie/game, but it's a shame if you do, because it means that (no matter how great they were) the magic's been broken for at least long enough for you to notice how great they were.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby JohnK » 6:04pm on 08 Feb 13

To a certain extent I've already written the perfect game for me, it's Quest, and it's neither immersive nor GM'd. But I'm not one to stand still, however my next project is probably going to focus more on fixing 'rules getting in the way' (as per the post on Rule 0 on my blog) rather than fixing problems I may have with GMs. That's why I think I shall come back to this at a later date.

Omnifray wrote:Sounds rather like good acting... you hopefully only realise how good it was after the event, when you realise that the spell went unbroken for the whole movie. I mean, you *might* realise it during the movie/game, but it's a shame if you do, because it means that (no matter how great they were) the magic's been broken for at least long enough for you to notice how great they were.

Or for that matter, it's the problem I have with HD / 3D in films, if you notice the shiny tech your belief is no longer suspended. And that loops back nicely to Pete's problem with shiny rules tech getting in the way.
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Re: [Long] Fiction-Oriented Gaming

Postby Omnifray » 6:15pm on 08 Feb 13

Dumping the Edwards baggage, I would agree with the naked phrase "system matters", but that phrase has to be understood in a certain context. And that context is this:-

People First
Real-World Gaming Environment Second
Fiction Third
System Last

Cf:- http://jimboboz.livejournal.com/7305.html

OK, OK. You can't necessarily always put these things in an absolute order. But, on the whole, People First, Environment Second, Fiction Third, System Last.

Yes, system matters. Yes, the system has to pull its weight. But let's not idolize it or put it on a pedestal. This may seem odd coming from someone who's TBPF probably spent more time designing than playing tabletop RPGs, given that full-fat Omnifray alone was half a million words with virtually zero errors (seeing as I read every paragraph at least 3 times and some many more). I play a lot of LARPs, and I've been involved in long-running tabletop campaigns as well as things like Indiecon, but the countless hours I've spent on game design are, I suspect, way out in front. And most of my game-design time has been about system more than anything else. Even so, it's very far from being the most important thing in RPGs. It's just that I don't see why we shouldn't get it bang-on right, if we can.

Not saying that I managed that with full-fat Omnifray, mind. But I may have managed it (for me at least!!) with my next game, Soul's Calling. Only time will tell.
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