Category Archives: Roleplaying Theory

Covering the Bases

I’m pretty sure that the three of you that read Sin Aesthetics understand me when I use words like sockets, goals or payoff, but just in case my Great Aunt Gertrude decides to check in on me and is having trouble understanding what the heck I’m talking about, this post is a quick run down. For the sake of my lazy ass, I’m going to quasi cut and paste some from a couple of public conversations I had with Thomas Robertson, who asks too many damn questions for his own good, but as such is useful in getting me to explain my damn self.

Sockets:

The socket is the place in the RPG which serves as the participant’s locus of enjoyment. It’s the place where people plug themselves into game and give and take their focus and energy to and from. Obviously character can be a primary socket, because immersion wouldn’t be such a problematic word without the character being an extremely invested locus.

It’s also easy to identify what some other kinds of sockets are. Setting is obviously a socket for a lot of people. System is an obvious one too. We can be pretty damn sure in our community that there are Story socket players. There are other kinds, too: Social socket people, Choice socket people, probably a lot of others too.

I think that many/most people have more than one socket, that is, more than one place that they can plug into the experience of the game, but I suspect that there is always a primary socket, one that is preferred above others. I would say of myself that character is my primary socket, but that I also have a distant story socket as well. Farther still, I could have a social socket and a setting socket, even a choice socket… but the farther down the road a game pushes me to go to find a socket, the less like an RPG it will feel like to me, the less it will fulfill the body of what I come to games to for, and if always pushed to a different socket, the less likely I will be to continue playing the game.

Payoff:

This one’s simple, though figuring it out often is like pulling teeth. We all have one reason that we play RPG’s. Regardless of the kind of player we are, or the kind of play we do, our reason is one in the same: We come to the game to get out of game what we want out of game. People talk about the concepts of “art” or “game” or “play” as lofty ideals but in reality, gaming has a payoff for everyone who engages in it, which is why we play RPG’s rather than golfing, stamp collecting, worm breeding, singing in a choir or whatever else might have had an appealing payoff if RPG’s didn’t exist, or more importantly, didn’t give us what we want.

That payoff will differ vastly from person to person. For some, the payoff is simply “completely forgetting I am me for a couple of hours”, for others “engaging in an actively creative co-operative endeavor with people I like” might be the payoff. “Feeling fully, really challenged in a social engagement while making something that feels lasting to me” or “proving that I have the biggest dick at the table” might be the thing you want. “Being validated by other people recognizing my talents as a really good GM”, or “participation in creating an epic that was worth telling” might also be what keeps you coming back.

If some of those sound more important than others, if some of them sound right and some wrong, then you’re missing the point of why I am talking about payoff. There’s no right/wrong/better/worse/worthy/not worthy/valuable/not valuable when it comes to you and what keeps you coming back to the game. You want what you want. It’s whether or not you are being honest about what you want, both to yourself and to other people where things can get to being wrong. If my payoff is: “working hard, winning big, and lauding my victory” and your payoff is “non-conflict co-operation towards an emotionally engaging experience” we’re not going to play well together unless we really, consciously work at it. That doesn’t mean that either of our payoffs are better or worse, it just means we like different things out of the hobby.

You’ll notice too, that many of those payoffs in the list up top sound like they would align really well with the kinds of sockets I was talking about earlier. Is that surprising? It really shouldn’t be… we do most what works to get us the payoffs we desire, after all. In my case, with a primary character socket, a secondary story socket and a penchant for highly emotional cathartic play it shouldn’t be at all surprising that my payoff is something like: “to experientially feel a sense of emotional euphoria as a result of a powerfully engaging story”.

Goals:

Back in this post, I talked about some possible goals of play, though they were certainly not meant as an exhaustive list.

Goals in this context define what the end experience of the game is that you work towards, and may imply or suggest a method you use to move towards achieving it. Ideally, your goal should closely align with your payoff. I’ve seen lots of situations in reality where that wasn’t the case, but each and every one described a very unhappy player.

I had a friend who came from a heavy competition war gaming background who stumbled upon and came to really like the social dynamic of the LARP scene. Playing in it drastically changed the kind of payoff he expected from RPGs. He went from a payoff of “validation of my intelligence and cunning through hard won challenge” to something like “escapist enjoyment of being someone else in a highly theatrical mode”. The problem was that when he came back to table top, he employed his old high challenge, high competition skills and techniques towards his old goal, but could never, unsurprisingly, achieve his new payoff. He doesn’t play anymore, and most of the people he used to play with (post LARP) aren’t really sad about that.

So there you are. That there’s the basics: sockets, goals and payoffs. There will probably be more as I ramble on, but that’s where I’m starting from.

Abandoning Immersion

So I’ve been out of the country for four months, and there’s nothing like being thrown into the unfamiliar for a prolonged time to clear the head. While I was away I had very little time to keep up with the sundry blogs and forums that I normally follow. When I could find some precious time to look around, I found that with distance, my brain was becoming more and more frustrated with the discourse of gaming in general, and in particular, with immersion. It’s a word I’ve been using for a long time now, and a word I really was rather fond of once, but I think it’s long lost any semblance of meaning.

So I’m letting it go.

Since last fall when I started shifting my focus towards specifics and away from some nebulous idea of the body immersive, I’ve found it more and more helpful in actually establishing some kind of communal understanding and explorative progress with the people who I’m talking to. So from here on in, (on SA and wherever possible) I will be using words like goal and socket and payoff as a kind of matrix to point to specific things rather than try and situate things that are clearly different in a catch all word like immersion. Rather than saying You are immersive or I am not immersive, which really tells you nothing because too many people assert too many conflicting qualities to immersion, I will talk about the means of play, the motivations of play, and the path of play, which hopefully can allow me to talk to the three of you quite clearly, at least for the next ten minutes.

This also means that if I get general questions about “what this means to immersion” in the comments, I’ll likely be ignoring them.

While I’m on the topic of comments, I’d like to note that going forward I may or may not respond to any or all who comment. I’m doing this on my blog rather than on a forum for a reason which has little to do with you and a lot to do with me. If I wasn’t doing it here, I wouldn’t likely be doing it anywhere, and I’ve found over the last year or so since I started Sin Aesthetics that engaging in response is very powerful to me. It historically has the power to fuel or destroy my enthusiasm or my momentum and that I’ve given it the unmitigated power to do that pisses me off.

So, from here on in I will be attempting to engage with it selectively to feed my energy and momentum when it can and to let it go when it can’t. When I will and when I won’t probably has little correlation to the value of your response, so don’t take it personally. Please ask questions and comment where you see fit. Even if I don’t respond immediately, it doesn’t mean I won’t read it and let it influence me or that I won’t get back to you as a later date.

Immersion Goals Borrowed from Literary Theory

Borrowed from the literary tradition, I’d like to put forward some new words for your perusal that might help explore the differences of goals that exist under the catch-all word immersion. There may be others that would help too, but I think these three are important.

Catharis: Yes, I know you know this word, but do you know what means in the context of literary theory? Catharsis (which was introduced by Aristotle in The Poetics and means either “purgation” or “purification” in Greek) is the emotional effect a tragic drama has on its audience. The audience of a tragic drama would experience an overwhelming feeling of exaltation or relief following the drama because either they formed a vicarious identification with the hero which cleansed the emotions as if they have themselves had undergone the trauma of the story, or because the audience becomes so engrossed in the emotions for the hero that they are removed from the context of their own lives and return refreshed and renewed back to themselves following the drama.

Kairosis: is associated with the epic novel (association with the Greek meaning “the right time”, and represents the feeling of integration experienced by the audience with the protagonist. It is associated specifically with the moments of moral and psychologicical transitioning of the character in important, dramatically impacting moments. It is interesting to note that Kairosis is often achieved by challenging unique dynamic characters with typical, everyman dilemmas and emotionally engaging in the moments of change.

Kenosis: is associated with lyric poetry, and represents the audience’s abandonment of the ego manifestation in favour of the immediate emotional body and sensory manipulation of the poetic. It comes from the Greek word for “emptiness” and is used to achieve a feeling of timelessness or transcendence.

(If you don’t care about the words in their application in literary theory, you can skip this indented part.

***ETA: There’s more discussion after the indented part. Pick up the post again in the paragraph starting with: “So, what the heck am I talking about?”**

When I look at these terms, I make some adjustments on them to compensate for the differences in the method and process of the act of roleplaying:

Where we in a widely literate, educated and media saturated environment have specified, culturally driven, inherited understandings of drama, and in a world where the lines between the novel the drama and lyric poetry have been distorted, deconstructed and blurred, it seems to me that goals may not cleanly align by the form but can still maintain similar extant resonance to the emotional outreach of the audience.

Where we, as roleplayers, serve as both the authors and audiences of our own characters, inside a dynamic, living drama rather than a static text, we can elect to chase the fulfillment of multiple goals at once.)

So, what the heck am I talking about? Well, I know for a long time I have been describing my particular brand of character immersion as an intense, cathartic connection with the character in which I feel the character’s emotional state acutely, understand the mental process of the character acutely and objectively (rather than the character understands it: subjectively) and feel a vicarious emotional response of my own towards the character.

When I look at this in relation to the terms, I know Catharsis to be my primary goal: It is the place that the intense connection to the character is formed, in which I feel, simultaneously, the character’s emotional state, my own emotional state, my character’s inner workings, my own inner workings and my empathy for the character. Catharsis will make me physically weep when my character’s lover dies in her arms even if she does not shed a tear, because while I feel her emotional state as acutely as she does, I am feeling it vicariously. I am immersed in who she is, but I am not her. The feeling of exaltation or relief is something I can validate. An intense, cathartic immersion experience can leave me feeling a little high in an emotionally-induced endorphin way. This goal, IMHO, is all about feeling (For you following the MBTI stuff, it is an immersive F gamer’s playground).

I also know, although it is not part of my description above, that Kairosis is a frequent goal for me. It here that I go to for the moments of resounding transition; the moments that feel as if the soundtrack on the drama has picked up and the character’s life and the story will never again be the same. The “right moment” of Kairosis is the one where the character and the story interact and change each other, powerfully and irreversibly. This one is both about thinking and about feeling. In order to do this reliably and intentionally it requires a thinking setup, but transitions to feeling mode in the actualization of the moment’s resonance. I suppose it is possible to be setup and actualized both in T mode, but I’m not sure if it would lead to the immersive integration that the goal is looking for. This kind of immersion could serve story socket players as or even more effectively than character socket players. It is also, I believe functionally incompatible with Kenosis.

Kenosis is not a goal of mine, but one that is associated with the term immersion quite frequently in discussion, especially in association with larpers over the pond. Also called “Deep IC” or “altered state flow” or that I have been calling “submersion”, the goal here is to feel completely like the character and to feel as little like yourself as possible. The feeling of timelessness or transcendence is something that a lot of these folks talk about, even sometimes going so far as to compare it to a religious experience. Again, this is also about Feeling, I think (MBTI note: and I would think that it is commonly a goal of “SF” immersive gamer types, who would require strong myth to make a full transition from self to character). Note: This kind of immersion goal would also work as well for a setting socket player as a character socket player: the goal would be to get out of the player’s world and into the world of the player’s character.

I also think it’s interesting to note that when looked at this way, it’s unsurprising that there is so much debate about the compatibility of the goals of nar games and the goals of immersion. A goal like Kairosis requires intentional dramatic framing and intention to achieve the synthesis of character transitioning in the right moment and as such would be perfectly compatible, whereas a goal like Kenosis may repel such deliberate constraint, or force the player back into his own head, making the styles incompatible.

Also, it gives some good groundwork for why immersive players are at odds as to what kinds of game processes or mechanics are counterintuitive to their immersion activity. A Kairotic Immersives might not have trouble discussing stakes or out of game strategy to optimize the “right moment”, Cathartic Immersives might have no trouble authoring to intensify drama but could have real trouble any time the game required transition from a Feeling to Thinking mode, such as crunchy calculation or resource management. Kenotic Immersives might find any out of game negotiation that draws them out of character unappealing.

Death and Mourning.

This post has been sitting in my pending file for some time, and Chris over at Deep in the Game reminded me that I never finished or posted it.

I remember a time when ending a game was a thing I never looked forward to. I remember, in fact, dysfunctionally digging my heels in hard and resisting it to the bitter, dissatisfied end. Characters are my emotional sockets to the games I play. They are the conduits that funnel my energy into and out of play, and the catalysts which allows me to play hard, right up to the edge, and not get burned. I didn’t much trust my GM’s to do my characters (or the story) justice in an ending, and that lack of trust was earned in many (but not all) of the games I played.

With the advent of Nar play, where I can push or pull endings of my own instigating, I find myself far more interested in participating in them. I’ve had a number of big ones over the last couple of years, one of which I talked about over on Fair Game in “The End of the Game“, the other was Kika’s end that I rambled about in my my push/pull actual play post.

In reflecting on them in recent weeks, I’ve been musings about character deaths and the preferences of players around them.

I have a friend (who played Dae, the barbarian warrior woman from the that Exalted game) who is adamant when negotiating her social contracts that the possibility of character death is NIL unless the player declares an authorial intention to die. This doesn’t stop other players from choosing to receive the grim stabbies, but it means that regardless of her actions in game, her character will not die by any means but by her own out of game declaration.

Now before anybody asserts that this is a dysfunctional, dickweedy, or assy attempt to play without responsibility or consequence I’ll pre-empt with this info: I’ve been playing with this player for about 12 years, and in that time, I don’t ever remember a single situation where she spit in the face of death and then refused to die. Despite the fact that I introduced you to her as the player of a warrior, she usually plays social, non-combative characters.

Why the !death rule? Well now, that’s a complicated question. I’m not sure I have the answer. I’m not sure she could even tell you herself. I have some theories, though. I may be talking out my ass, here, these are just based on observation and speculation and are not actually from the player herself. She does read this blog though and she’s welcome to clarify or expand on anything I put down.

The concept of possibility is very central to her personality. In life, she’s not someone who’s comfortable with a lot of restrictions. She likes her options open, and she rarely closes doors behind her. She’s so taken with possibility that she often finds herself having trouble finishing things. So on one hand, we could make a fair assumption that she doesn’t like her characters to die simply because it means the end of the possibility of the character and shutting the door to possibility is fundamentally (as opposed to tangentally) antithetical to who she is.

RPGs are the playground of wish-fulfillment, and this player likes the heck out of that jungle gym. Every character that I remember her playing in has at least some element that the player would aspire to be or have something that the player would like to have (freedom to be uncensored or unfettered, considerable social power), and I suspect that she engages in immersion because (at least in part) it allows her the ability to feel like either she owns the quality (when she would actually aspire to have it) or the freedom to play in the quality tangibly.

There are definately times I do the same thing with my characters. mostly my big spots are confidence and power. I often borrow from my characters the ability to be hotheaded, spontaneous, thrillseeking. I borrow their bravery and courage, their right to live in the world without being morbidly introspective about it.

Is this the manifestation of our imago? Is there a creation and experimentation of the ideal us in the characters we make – even in those that aren’t us, or that we don’t like? Do we establish our own potential by being in the playground of someone who can, and is this why giving up characters is so difficult for some of us? Do we feel like what we have proven that we can do becomes unowned when a character dies? Do we mourn the loss of that potential when our characters die?

Now for myself, I’ve discovered that when it come to the end of a character, I actually prefer death as an ending to a living ending, and I had to look at why…

I think that its because unfulfilled possibility is a tragic thing to me, because knowing that there was a character that I’d invested in, that was the locus for such fun is still alive and still out there means that there is still room for exploration, still more to be played. A death means that everything was played out, it means tangible closure. Resolution and reflection are really important to me. I think that when the character dies, I can strike the set like I used to do in theatre and pack the bits and pieces back into me.

Note: I didn’t post this so that somebody could start a debate about what’s better or worse, or what’s functional or not, so don’t bother with those. I’m interested in our psychological and emotional attachment to character and to RPG’s in general.

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. 😉