Category Archives: Roleplaying Theory

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?

Holiday Blues, Chargen, and Contextualization

So, at the end of all of this vacation, still no post. I’m a dork.

The holidays have been very strange and draggy for me. I’ve spent the time dreading going back to work. This is, of course entirely fruitless, I know, but telling myself that hasn’t worked very well to correct the behaviour. I’ve been back into masking a little, which is a good thing. I think I needed to do some physical creation and creativity. It helps me avoid thinking myself into circles – which is something work keeps dragging me into – it’s not the funnest time in telco these days.

So, what of the immersion posts, the MBTI follow-up, an up-to-the-minute update that 1000 Stories has advanced and is ready for playtest? Nope, none of that, my gift to y’all this holiday season is bupkis, I’m afraid. The only game-related things Brand and I have been up to this season is to be playing – one superlong, ring in the new year marathon session of Unbreakable (a sorta Unknown Armies campaign that’s inspired by the movie Unbreakable) that went really quite well, even if I still have not mastered the art of GMing combat, and several sessions of T&J that were very good and hit me right in my gaming “F”, so to speak.

I do have a couple of notes, though. Brand’s got in his copy of Nine Worlds and convinced me to give it a solo run. The character I’ve created is a departure for me. After all the MBTI talk last month, I connected some dots about my characters and used the typing system and the revelations to go somewhere new. The character is more like a character that Brand would be likely to play. She’s an Aether Ship Captain of Saturn’s resistance who is coming to the end of her hope that the war can be won. She doesn’t have any kind of vision of how the world could be made right, and is despairing that it can’t be done. She doesn’t so much have a sense of duty as she has a sense of inertia. She’s a character with a pragmatic past who can’t see a place for her pragmatacism to take her, so she’s flailing at the world and those few people she has left to force the world to act so that she continues to react.

In short, she’s an ISFP where I usually play notorious ENTJ’s. We’ll see how it goes.

I think I came to a realization because I made the character after reading Meg’s thread over on Fair Game and Vincent’s thread at the Forge. It’s that I can now understand why some folks strongly think that immersion is mostly a Sim activity (Not that Vincent or Meg are saying this, the reference to those posts is not entirely germane, they are just all the points on which my brain started musing). As an immersionist, I require a certain amount of world contextualization that is very easily mistaken for a simulationist agenda. This was really clear in the chargen for Nine Worlds. I haven’t read the book – haven’t even skimmed it. Brand had, of course, and described it as “a graphic novelesque mystic science fantasy game with aether ships and greek gods and cool stuff”.

We ran into some trouble along the way because I did not have a contextual sense of the world. Brand used a technique to bring me to chargen that he had seen work very successfully before (in our T&J game) – he gave me a folder of images that *could* be integrated into the game – some characters I could play, some NPC’s that might exist, some cities, some buildings, some items. It didn’t work this time and we both got very frustrated. The difference between T&J’s chargen and this was that T&J came with a set of assumptions that I could make about the world: it was going to be classic comic book style game, the world would be based on a world just to the left of our modern day earth, my backstory could be compiled out of real-life situations, blah… blah… blah.

So when we looked at images, they promoted strong, fast, loose chargen because they evoked emotionality that drew strings across the assumptions to make stories – I could see backwards and forwards from the picture to where the character had come from, and to where the character could go. The result was a quick, painless chargen that created a character that was on the brink of action, could fulfill the premise of the game, and that was ripe for me to immerse into.

In Nine Worlds, all the technique gave me was possibility out of the blue. Without a set of assumptions to put it in context, nothing was evoked by the images but a general sense of aesthetic appreciation for the pictures themselves. I kept asking how the world worked and what the world had in it, and sounding very much like I was begging for a Sim game, all the while frustrating the hell out of Brand, who was all ready to bravely adventure off into Nar land and make choices that no one ever made before!

But the truth is, I wasn’t asking for a Sim game. I wasn’t resisting the system or the game or Brand’s agenda, I just had no context with which to arrive at a character. I needed enough information to inform me in chargen so that the character I created could have a sense of depth to me as a player and be defined enough to have an immersion seat I could climb into. My enjoyment of the game comes from my engagement with the character’s emotional involvement (or alienation as the case may be) with the world around her, and in order for that emotionality to have any relevence or power at all, I need to have a context to apply it in.

Eventually we got to this cool character by having Brand give me verbal “splats” about each of the nine worlds, letting me pick the most interesting to me, hearing a brief synopsis of the state of the world and how it’s come about, and then returning to the images to let the emotionality flow. Even then, before we started playing, I needed to ask a good two dozen questions about how the world worked before I could feel right about entering play with the character. Granted, he didn’t end up answering them all – many we decided jointly – I just needed them to be answered before we sat down to play.

I know that there are some Nar games that do (loosely) this same kind of process (world idea, character idea, world detail, character detail) as part of chargen (Brand assures me that Burning Wheel is a good example here) and some that don’t. Ones that don’t often have ways to get around this. Dogs and Dust Devils have western associations that readily provide a jumping off place that facilitate getting to the action. Where the worlds have less direct or less cliche (I’m meaning cliche in a very good way here) cultural associations, like Nine Worlds that strives to have a cool melding of different feels in order to create a dynamic universe – there isn’t a quick way to get into the action – you practically have to read the whole book, or have enough splatted at you to be able to start.

So I guess this is all just to say: if you want to jump right to the premise with folks like me (that might mean most immersionists, it might not) then you should be prepared to begin with a little cliche or build a common ground to grease the wheels. Chargen is a way to get down a set of co-ordinates which are intended to deliniate your way to interact with the system, but it is also a ritual designed to get you psychologically positioned to play the game. If you are reving towards game and someone is asking a lot of questions about the way the world works, you may not have an agenda clash on your hands, you may just have a player or three that have not received enough information to feel comfortable and positioned to start. Starting without acheiving that comfort will lead to their dysfunction in, or non-enjoyment of the game.

Hey wow, whaddya know… Maybe I did get a post done while still on vacation. 😉