Saurashtra – Actual Pull Play Examples

So. Actual Play.

For the moment I’m going to stick with one particular game, because it’s a Nar game, even if it didn’t use a good system to support it’s Nar (Brand found it a pain in the ass, but frankly, I think it made us innovate), and because, well it’s full of examples, and I’m a lazy ass.

Part the first: Kika

There’s the (apparently) infamous one that Brand talked about on The Forge, and that is written up here in more story-like style. In this discussion, I’m going to talk about one critical pull transaction, but it will be important later in the blog to discussions about using pull techniques to create satisfying and functional immersion play in Nar games. So if I’ve referred you here from the future, this is the example I mean. If you’re reading this in the present, the previous sentence has nothing to do with the droids you’re looking for.

The critical pull, is, of course, the moment that I had Kika set aside her weapons and charms and put herself at the mercy of Jerzom. Over on 20×20 when we were talking about it today, Brand helped to explain that we were in what Polaris calls “freeplay” when I did these things. Brand was all expecting a war, either physical or manipulation-verbal. I did not need a conflict for Jerzom to come to me, I knew he was coming. Brand wasn’t sure what I wanted and so he asked what I was trying to accomplish, and I pulled.

In that moment, Kika was the hero I’d always hoped she’d be. I was happy with what she’d become, and nothing that Jerzom did to her was going to change that. I had complete trust in Brand, in the group, and in the story we’d made together. I opened up the space for Brand to fill up. It wasn’t a passive move, it wasn’t that I didn’t care, wasn’t engaged or was being passive aggressive. I’d brought it hard in this game for two years. I’d addressed the premise of the game to the fullest extent every step of the way and in the last moment I put her and everything I worked for on the table to be judged, for Brand to come in and tell me what it was that I’d accomplished, to agree with me that this is what the story was all about, and fill up the space I’d given him with everything he wanted Kika and Jerzom and their story, and the story at large to say.

Part the second: Taree

This one is not my character, its one of other players in the game, who played the flawed hero striving to live past his flaw to become a truly noble scion. By this point he had faced off against his family, against the Realm, against himself a lot. Throughout the game, Taree’s player pushed and pushed and pushed. He pushed exceedingly well from within the system – he killed everything that came in his way. He told a great story, and this was the end of it:

In his last scene, he faced off against his cousin, possessed by Malefeus, the biggest Yozi of them all. He pushed and pushed, speaking with the Yozi inside his cousin, and it was all really heartbreaking. Finally, he used knives that could suck the souls of their victims driving one into her gut and one into his own. Doing so, he trapped both himself and the Yozi within his body, and at last, he spoke the Rune of Unconquerable Self which, when invoked, kills the user instantly, ending both his life and the Yozi’s with him.

Sound like push play? It is. What came next wasn’t. Brand pulled Taree’s player. He asked him to roll his virtues and gave him the opportunity, for each success he earned, to describe the legacy that his life had brought to the world. Taree’s player accepted this, and described several, but what Brand offered him was a wealth of opportunity and a little overwhelming. Rather than just laming off the extras he couldn’t think up, or putting anything less than the game deserved, he turned to me and the other player and said: “You tell me. What kind of person has he been? What good or ill has he brought to the world?” and invited us to make strong, lasting statements about what he’d given to the story. He pulled his fellow players to have the last word on who his character had been.

There’s a couple.

I’m sure I’ll do more as I think of them, but I wanted to get something out.

One more note: I can’t say if this has anything to do with the pull examples above, but I think it has a lot to do with the pullish kind of social dynamics that we’d encouraged around the table over the entire duration of the game. Even if it’s irrelevant, it’s a cool success story about a former Sim junkie in her first Nar game, so I think you’ll like it:

The third player played Dae, a barbarian warrior woman who becomes the protector of the civilization she once despised. Her player had real trouble initially in the game with some of the concepts of Nar. She had problems authoring directly to the fiction, thinking of the story in terms of premise, and she had real trouble asserting desires or demands to the GM. At one point in the beginning, she even had brought some notes in on a piece of paper that she gave to Brand with some things she wanted because it made her so uncomfortable to tell him about it, and Taree’s player, (her husband) had told her that she must ask for it when they were discussing the previous episode. She even at one point pretended to lose the sheet to stall in giving it to him (though this may have been done comically). She’s definitely never been a particularly push player.

In her last scene, she realized in a fight with the Ebon Dragon, that she couldn’t kill him, and he couldn’t kill her, and that they couldn’t exhaust each other. The fight would be endless, her life filled with nothing but the endless, un-winnable war. In the entire two years of the campaign, the character had never walked away from a fight. She had only ever lost two fights, and those were when she was beaten so badly she really had no choice. She had to choose between letting him go free or giving up any chance at happiness, or a life. She chose life.

At the end of the game, all of our final scenes had ended, it had been brutal and beautiful and brilliant. Brand said “I think that’s it, unless there’s something else you need?” and (which, come to think of it, can be seen as a pull, considering where we were and how open it was, and what came of it.) Dae’s player, who had had such a problem asserting narrative desire, nevermind narrative control didn’t tell Brand what she wanted, she just started to narrate, giving the story the denouement that she needed it to have, that frankly, we all needed it to have and that none of us, Taree’s player, Brand or I could have given at that time.

Neat huh?

14 thoughts on “Saurashtra – Actual Pull Play Examples”

  1. Ahah!

    Thanks for the anecdotes.


    P.S. I think that what you’re describing as a “pull” is often called by the term “bang–” an action which demands immediate and meaningful participation from other players. You or Brand can correct me, of course.

  2. Ben,

    Some types of pull are bangs. But then some bangs are push based too. It all depends on how you are demanding participation. You can bang by forcing something in that people must respond to, or you can bang by drawing something out that people jump in to respond to. Either way can work.

    Also, how often do you get players banging the GM? Or each other? Round robin bangs? Bangs in the middle of your I and E in IIEE?

    Bangs can be push or pull, and pull can result in bangs. But I don’t see a one to one connection.

  3. I dunno, Brand, I bang my GM all the time. So do you. 😉

    Oh wait, that was TMI, wasn’t it?

    Besides, round robin bangs must only be supported in particularly pervy systems.

  4. I would bang my fellow players more regularly, but some of them are shy about it.


    P.S. I’m appropriating the term. Ron is using it for a GM prep technqiue. I’m saying: whenever anyone takes that action (action which requires/invites meaningful decision on the part of another player) that counts as a bang.

    P.P.S. So here’s some actual confusion: I don’t understand how, in the example w/ Mo’s character, you weren’t forced to react. Any action on your NPC’s part would have been incredibly meaningful. Right?

  5. This has really been messing with my head since you kicked this off, Mo. Thanks a lot!

    I’m still terribly unclear on what, precisely, a pull is. I understand it on some sort of intuitive level, but I am coming to fear that it’s some sort of false distinction since I can’t actually distinguish it.

    If a pull is simply an attempt to draw a player into responding without being able to require them to, then it must happen all the time. I’d estimate that well over 50% of my play is pull.

    That is, every so often I want something to happen in play and I shove it out into the play space simply because I find it really dang cool. I’d like some acclaim for my great idea, but if I don’t get it, tough. Most of the time, though, (and this is true of every game I’ve played with every group I’ve played with as far as I can determine) when I put something into play I’m doing it to evoke a response.

    An anecdote of my own: In Mike Holmes’ HeroQuest game I play a character who serves as the advisor of one of the other player characters. Between us, the other player and I had been slowly ratcheting up the tension in the personal relationship of the characters. This finally culminated in and explosive scene which ended with my character bleeding on the floor all alone. It was great!

    But a lot of the fun was derived from the scene’s rapid escalation. I would throw something I judged to be just enough to provoke a response. Then I’d get the same thing back. This went on until I felt the tension had just about peaked, so I pushed it over the edge. I escalated to physical action, I had my character attempt to physically force the other character (who had just stood up in agitation) to sit back down.

    Of course at this point the other player could have backed off and instantly defused the tension we had worked so hard to build, but I was so hoping that I had picked just the right action to provoke a violent response. And to my excitement I did. (Interesting aside, at this point Mike called for a conflict roll. I was hoping the whole time while we added up augments and such that I would lose, and I was ecstatic when I did.) But, and this is important, it didn’t have to. The other player could have had the character sit and take it, they could have done any number of things. I mean, without a mechanical contest they could simply have ignored the shove altogether. I wasn’t able to force them to do what I wanted (or rather, I was not doing so at the time).

    My question boils down to: what were we doing here? Clearly we were using our authority to make stuff happen in the game world no matter what anyone else might say, but at the same time we were each doing it because we wanted the other player to respond in some specific manner.

    It seems to me that we were pulling with pushes (or something like that). But if that’s the case then it’s not a question of “Push or Pull” since you can have them both. If this is the case then the entire discussion will need to be reframed to understand the difference between a pure push, a pure pull, and a push-pull (which, if my experience is anything to go by, is really common).

    The highly proactive nature of the interchange seems very “push”-ish to me somehow, so I’m pretty sure that we weren’t doing pure pull here. (This is the part I’m least sure about…)

    If, on the other hand, we were just pushing then it seems clear that a simple intention to make the other player respond in a certain manner is not sufficient grounds to label something as a “pull”. And that leaves the question of what is sufficient grounds to label something a “pull”.

    So, yeah, any light you could shed on the subject would be greatly appreciated.


  6. To clarify my point slightly, I see a number of options that can be taken here.

    1. Push and Pull are categorically different and thus not opposed. This gives us a matrix something like:
    ………..|PUSH | No-PUSH |
    ….PULL |…….|…………|
    NO-PULL |…….|…………|
    ________L_____L________ |

    Rather than an opposed sliding scale. This works fine for me except that there seems to be some intuition that suggests that they are opposed somehow. I’m not sure I share that intuition (but I might), but the vast majority of the discussion has been framed in those terms so it’s clear that a lot of other people do, and I’m not willing to say they’re all wrong about it (yet).

    2. We can define “Pull” as any action that provokes a response that is not a “Push”, but that seems a bit silly. What do we call response-provoking actions when they are Pushes, then? Especially since not all Pushes are intended to provoke a response. We have to call them something, right? Might as well call them the same thing whether there’s Pushing going on or not.

    3. We can define “Pulling” as any action that attempts to provoke a reaction and simultaneously include as part of the definition of “Pushing” “not Pulling” so that any action that is intended to entice reaction is not a Push no matter how much it might look like one. But this seems to violate our intuitive sense of what a Push looks like in play and how they are handled mechanically.

    4. We can define both “Push” and “Pull” by the intent of the action such that if a player is trying to provoke a response it is a Pull, and if not it is a Push. But this either indicates that my gaming experience (the prevelance of Pull-based actions) is an anamoly (which is possible), or (and this is possibly worse) it does not explain the clear incompatibility that Mo is talking about between play styles. Clearly there is such an incompatibility at work, and some sort of Push/Pull distinction jives with most of our intuitions on the subject.

    5. Some other thing that I’m not clever enough to see…


  7. Correct me if I’m totally wrong, but what I see in common in all of your AP examples is – Player A has some chunk of legitimately earned/allocated narrative power, and rather than using it themselves, they hand it off to someone else, with some degree of instruction on what it ought to be used for.

    Ben, I think that may be part of what’s been niggling me – these sure look like Bangs to me too.

  8. Ben,

    To your PPS, the answer is because I wasn’t forced to react in a specific way.

    Pull does not mean you don’t have to react (though soft pulls mean that, hard pulls you do have to react to).

    Push means you react by stepping back to let them have their way. This means that you have to give them what they are asking for.

    Pull means that you react by stepping in to fill a place the puller has deliberatly left open. This means you have to give them something, but they don’t control what it is.

    So if Mo had said, “I do that and then he gives in and repents” it would have been a push. If she’d won the challange that came next, I would have had to have done that, would have to respond to it and make the NPC make it work.

    But as she let me do anything I wanted to, let me step in in any way I wanted, let the game hang on what I wanted to say rather than what she did (as she had already said it) it wasn’t forcing me to react in a specific way — just to react.

    Now, as for your P.S. I do think that in that sense a lot of good bangs are pulls. However, a lot of good bangs are still pushes. You can get people to “react meaningfully” in a lot of different ways in a lot of different situations.

    Ron’s classic example of a demon coming screaming from the roof to try to kill you is a push bang. Shit is coming into your face and your ass best step back and then deal with it. Same desl with the “you’ve been in a bar brawl for 15 minutes and now there are 6 unconcious men around your feet, but you’ve broken your hand and you don’t know what you’re going to do as the next wave starts coming in.” In both situations something is shoved at you, and the telling part of your response is how you react to it being shoved in. You’re pushed, and what do you do to keep your balance?

    Pull bangs work more like Matt describe in PTA. You both set a scene relevant to the issue at hand and then play into the scene, working each others emotions and desires into the scene until eventually you colaberativly. Those are pull conflicts because you feed into each other and then someone sets it up and steps back to let the others make their choices by stepping in.

    So, one more time, yet again, Pull does not mean passivity. It does not mean reaction. Pull uses force. It just uses it differently than Push.

    Bangs are good things. But you can push with bangs, you can pull with bangs.

  9. Thomas,

    It sounds like you were using cycles of push and pull. As well as the mechanical push and social pull combination that I described in my writeup of Capes.

    And yea, I think that pull does happen all the time. It’s fairly common. However, as you seem to be pointing out pull often happens mostly at a social/non-mechanical level while its far easier to push using the mechanics.

    The questions we’re really looking at are ways to make pull more systematic, so that it can be supported in a consistant way that gives creedence and coherence to its use.

    Now, for the second post:

    Push and Pull both can have authority. Both can force reactions. The difference is not that they force or do not force reactions, the difference is in how they do it.

    When you push someone you force them to react by stepping back and ceeding the space. In most situations the person will then want to come back at you to get some of that space back, or to get a new space, or just to shove back because they got shoved. Your push can set off a chain reaction of other pushes and pulls.

    WHen you pull someone you draw them to step into the space you have ceded. When this works the person steps in for their reaction, and then may want to draw you off to the side and pull you that way, or they may want to push you another step back, or you may want to pull them in a different way….

    Push and pull aren’t about the next action after this one. They are about how the energy of this action gets spent. It isn’t a matter of “after I have completed this transaction, there will be/won’t be a new transaction based off of it.”

    Push and Pull are about how you are getting what you want out of the other player before the end of the current transaction. (Note, the transaction can be very long and large scale, or right now and immediate.) Do you get this thing right now by luring them in, or pushing them back?

    So your HQ example probably does have a lot of pull — but your terminal example is a push. You’d set up a stron social/story pull on the situation as a whole, but in that specific moment you pushed the other guy. He had to step back and then make a decision. His response, from the sounds of it, was then to push back. That is fairly common, really.

    If, otoh, before you had pushed him back you had gotten his buy in for the next action so that you both knew it was coming and set up the blow up, that would have been more pull.

  10. I’m suddenly reminded of something that someone, I think Ninjamonkey J, said over on anyway about his ideas of good games and design. It was a martial arts/sparring metaphor that eneded with a statement along the lines of “and we end up both bruised and bloody and grinning, feeling more connected to each other than before.”

    I know that feeling. That is the feeling of good push. You push, they react. They push, you react. They push, you counter push, they react. You push, they counter push, you counter push, they counter push, you react. There is a long string of actions and reactions that builds to the finale, and at the end you’ve built something together and feel close to each other.

    That is how push play builds story. (If there is such a thing as pure push play. I think there are many games that only push at the mechanical and only allow pull at the social….)

    Pull play, otoh, it much more in Mo’s dance motif. I step back, you step in, you step to the left, I step to the right. I act, you react, I react to your reaction, you take action. At the end we’re flushed and happy, feeling closer to each other than before. The whole time we were pulling each other into new actions and direction, not competitivly but cooperativly.

    Anyway, I’m just mumbling now. I’m going to take the weekend off and come back with fresh eyes on Monday.

    Now off to actually game, rather than just talking about game.

  11. Okay, one last post.

    Thomas, I think your number 4 is closest. However, both push and pull can invoke response. It is just that the kind of response is different, and the ways in which you invoke it are different.

    If you pull you make yourself vulnerable and give up part of what you might want in order to integrate part of what the other wants before the resolution. You do this to gain their buyin, and to get them to step in and move with you, in the action. (You can be forced by system to do that after resolution in a push, but in a pull you are doing it before.)

    In push you try to make yourself as strong as possible in order to get what you want. You do this to gain leverage and position.

    Note that either of those things can, and will, lead to reactions and then response-actions. As both types of actions build story, it is the intent at the moment that counts.

  12. OK Guys,

    There’s this thing happening in my head where I’m startuing to see it more clearly but am not yet able to fully conceptualize or articulate it yet. I’m finding that every new post draws me a little off to the right or left and the result is that I’m getting to what I’m trying to focus on super slowly because of the very meandering way I’m going about it.

    I think I need a couple of days to mull it over and get my head straight. I think I’ll be able to come back with a framework that might clear some things up. – at least I hope so.

    So for the moment, I’m calling a hiatus of discussion on Sin Aesthetics about this so I can concentrate on one stream at a time.

    Thanks 🙂

    p.s. Thomas: Thanks for putting so much work in coming to me. You helped very clearly define some of the key areas where confusion is being generated.

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