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.

Game Chef Hangover

Man I’m tired.

Of course, work would ramp on up the stress the week of Game Chef. I feel like I’ve been staring at a computer screen for six days solid (oh wait, between work and designing I have). So the game is called Crime & Punishment and it actually got done and sent in on time. Considering that I didn’t even really intend to do Game Chef, I think that’s pretty good all on it’s own.

It’s a game built to create procedural dramas in the tradition of Law & Order, Law & Order SVU, Law & Order CI and Without A Trace. It can also be, I think, pretty competently used for CSI shows, but I don’t watch them so I am less sure. We had a playtest last Wednesday, and it was a pretty high-engagement very thinky kinda game, which is to say I had fun, but it felt like an RPG boardgame. I suspect, considering the main theme was time, and the kinds of intervals allowed, that this was one of the intents of the competition.

The thing I find funniest about game design, is that I never try and design the kinds of RPG’s that I really enjoy the best. I don’t think that’s very unusual from what I’ve been hearing from some other folks. Despite that, I find it pretty strange. I guess I build “T” games cause I’m a “T” person and when performing a design activity, I draw on all my “T” strengths. When I game, I become an “F” person. I’m not sure I know how to “T” my way into designing for and “F”.

I’ll have to muse on this one.

Killing Sinners for Vincent

Over on Fair Game, Vincent Baker and Clinton R Nixon are interviewing each other and Vincent said something that made me blink:

“Nobody I know of has played Dogs and not killed sinners just for sinning.”

Now, John Harper at The Mighty Atom has already done this, but I thought I’d throw Jeremiah Wainwright, my first Dogs character into the fray as an example.

Jeremiah’s never killed anything, for sin for fun, or for any reason at all. In fact, Jeremiah’s got a trait to prove it: “I ain’t killed anything my whole life: 1d8.”

What’s more, Jeremiah’s whole premise is about the killing line: what it takes a person to get there and about how much of a man it takes not to cross it before the time comes and how much it takes to make that step when it does.

Through a series of escalating situations that line has been questioned, but the step over has never come. Brand will, eventually, get his ass into gear and run us some more of that campaign (she says, despite the fact that she currently demands 2 other games from him on a regular basis, so is really out of line with that “get his ass in gear comment”), and I am interested in seeing what’s the point that Jeremiah might actually have to kill something, or someone, whether or not he’ll be able to step up when we get there, and how it will change or destroy him.

There were two particularly memorable moments:

In the town, basically a man’s pride in refusing to give his wife children had escalated to a group of women forming a false priesthood, engaging men not their husbands in adulterous acts for the sake of insemination. One of the characters was a mentally challenged wall of a man in his 20’s one of those men beguiled by the women. He was angry, and confused, and Jeremiah, knowing August had sinned by fucking his brother’s wife, as well as another woman in town, was confronting him to try and get him to understand the error of his ways. Jeremiah talked, August got physical, Jeremiah talked, August got violent, and Jeremiah talked him down, just before things got really really bad for Jeremiah. As it was, he took a lot of fallout from the challenge.

Later, in the moment the murder was coming on, August’s mother, a prideful old convert was trying to kill her daughter in law after shooting the Steward who had started the false doctrine in the first place. Jeremiah tried to talk her down, and failing that, escalated to physical (in the face of her gunfire) and managed to eventually make her back down, getting in between her and the muzzle of his fellow Dog’s gun. Once again, much fallout, but he never once escalated to violence, never mind gunplay, nevermind killing.

That’s not to say he was easy on anyone. People were exiled, their houses were taken, they were put into public service, cut off at their knees in the public’s standing.

Brand said afterwards that one of his only dissappointments in the game was, that no matter what he did, he couldn’t force Jeremiah tto shoot anybody in the face.

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?

Pull Clarification and Promises! Promises!

Brand said something in the post over on anyway that I’m really rather thankful for:

For now, let me say that one of the things I think is going on is that everyone in the discussion is talking about pull/push on different levels. Mo was talking about it at the social level, as a rhetorical stance that people take towards the power dynamic of game. It then quickly moved into discussion of techniques and ephemera that enable such a stance, and from there into the underlying logic of game theory.

This is absolutely true. I see now where I might have contributed to the confusion between the elements up there. You see, I’m not used to talking to y’all. When something pours out of my head at Brand, where they always invariably go, he gets it, and I don’t have to make strict delineations. I see why the bigger forum needs them. I might not always use your lingo, cause quite frankly it’s hard to get a hold of. From what I’ve seen there’s a lot of internal debate about the naming of things too, you can just imagine what it’s like when you’re just looking in the window. I hope that doesn’t make you walk away – after all, just because somebody speaks a different language doesn’t mean they don’t have good ideas.

For the record, I am interested in a lot of things about pull:

  1. I am interested in it at the social level as a viable alternative to, or married partner of push.
  2. I am interested in (some, not all) pull techniques as viable immersionist methods — both mechanical and social level — that may create better harmony, by providing more active, less immersion-destructive forms of authoring characters to meet the needs of the story, game or social contract.
  3. I am interested in examining current games to identify mechanics that support pull or push play, and see how using those mechanics feel different from each other.
  4. I would like to see more mechanics that support pull play in games in general to create a better balance, support those who prefer it over, or like it along with their push play. I am interested in talking about ways to accomplish this.
  5. I’m curious about the concept of seeing if an all-pull game is possible, and finding out if I’d like it or not (I suspect it would probably be not, but not as much as I would an all-push) Note: I’m not at all claiming to have the foggiest idea what an all-pull game would look like or contain, so don’t rag me on it until I give some indication that I think I do.

In the previous post, I was introducing #1 in the hopes of moving toward #2 in my next post and hopefully #3-5, down the line if people were interested. – well, I think I got my answer there.

So, to that end, I’m going to start fresh tomorrow after work, and see if I can get down my next intended post that will discuss some Actual Play examples that I think are indicative of the potential of pull and talk about their effects on the games they were in.

In the meantime, go check out Brand’s post: Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down. That should keep the discussion rolling along.

Push vs. Pull

I think it’s called Indian Wrestling, at least I’m pretty sure that’s what we called it as kids. You face your opponent, right leg forward, left leg back, your inside right foot touching your opponent’s inside right foot. You clasp your right hands together like you are about to arm wrestle, and count off. At go, you try your damnedest to throw the other person off balance. The player still standing at the end is the winner.

That game, minus the winning or losing bit, summarizes my internal picture of the process of playing an RPG. Mostly I am referring to the process between the player and the GM. Instead of the winning, the point of the game is to throw or tug each other as off balance as possible without making anybody fall down. The up and down and side-to-side, near fall and save is the story. The harder we both work to drive each other off balance but still keep each other safe and on our feet, the better the story will be. So. That movement, dynamic, fluid, always connected, in endless struggle, rife with moments of certain failure and gasps of almost victory, is how I feel about RPGs when they are at their very best.

Are you with me? Good.

Now, some people are better at the game than others. My cousin who introduced me to the game seemed like the King of Indian Wrestling. He was three years older, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier than I was. For two or three consecutive years he whupped my ass at it. Because we lived nowhere near each other but have cottages on the same street, we only ever got to play it in the summer. Every year he was still three years older, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier than me. Every game ran through the same process: he gloated his advantage, let me have a full swing at trying to push him off kilter, him neatly resisting my charge, him rubbing it in verbally, and then slowly, exerting his superior strength to force me backwards, out of my field of gravity, and on to the floor.

I was a stubborn and optimistic kid. I never gave up. Eventually I figured out the knack. It’s easy to look at that game and think that strength and power is the road to victory, but as I got older and my body coordination and lateral thinking skills improved, I realized that if I couldn’t out-force my opponent, I could try and outbalance him. Over the course of the next summer, I probably didn’t take his King’s crown away from him, but I enjoyed the game hell of a lot more once the playing field evened out. He would wait, I would wait, he would nudge, I would nudge, he would push I would push, he would push, I would drop my centre of gravity and pull, taking him to the floor. It was a lesson years later that I would be re-taught in Judo.

It’s a lesson that over the years I applied to a lot of things. Push never has been my thing. When Brand first started “going on” about Narrativism, I was very worried. I had finally managed to import my very own GM from California, and had just gotten him to a place where I could command he do my bidding, when he started talking about something that really didn’t sound like fun. The GM’s whole job is to push, he said, and players push back, and as a result of all that pushing, conflict, choices and stories come to be! To me, it sounded a whole lot like schoolyard bullies and football field chest thumping – frankly, it sounded stressful. So I went to the Forge, and I read a lot, and could understand why the Narrativism Brand was talking about had grown out of it. Even when just talking about the ideas of Narrativism, people on the Forge love to push each other around.

Now, I’m not saying the Forge is a bad, terrible place that no one should bother with. If you’re a pusher, you’ll probably find your niche there. I’m not a pusher, I ‘m a puller, and that means that the style of discourse on the Forge, and the style of discourse in many Nar games is really not for me. I’m not Forge diaspora adrift in the blogsphere, I’m just a girl that thought she could open the discussion a little wider, and couldn’t find her place at the Forge.

So what is pull? It’s the act of creating space that something can fall into. It’s the act of pulling yourself back to allow another to step in. It’s collaborative play rather than competitive play.

Lets take a look at both:

Dust Devils and Nine Worlds (not to pick on Matt Snyder here, it’s just that I have been thinking about Nine Worlds since our not-so-successful experiment this past weekend) are very much Push games. A mechanic in them that illustrates this very neatly is that when you win a conflict you win narration rights, which give you the authority to push anything in the game.

GM: You’re going to the Saturn Palace to retrieve the Oracle of Poseidon, but you know the chimera is in the area and hunting for you.
Player: I can deal with the chimera, I want a conflict to overcome it.
GM: OK, Let’s go.
(Cards are pulled, Player wins the conflict.)
Player: The chimera does spot us, and attacks, but I use the magical words that Hecate taught me to bind the chimera to my will, so that when we get to the palace, it fights with us.

That’s a push conflict. The player has taken it from the GM’s conceived scene of a Han Solo on the Death Star variety and pushed it by enforcing his will on the game. Lots of people, such as Brand, love push conflicts, which is why so many games have these kind of mechanics. There’s nothing wrong with push conflicts… unless you’re a puller and not comfortable with them.

In contrast, Breaking the Ice has many pull elements:

In Breaking the Ice, you must please the other player, rather than beat the other character to get bonus dice to make attraction happen. You must be willing and open to step back and let another player please you so you can grant the dice because your granting dice allows the other player to try to and attract you. It’s collaborative. An especially good example of a pull is the mechanic for Complication:

Player 1: OK, my dice hate me.
Player 2: I guess I do too.
Player 1: No, lets see here, it’s the end of the night, things have been going only fairly and Mark has walked you to your door. He tries to tell you he had a good time, but the words just stammer out. He flushes deeply red in a hot embarrassment and turns to go, but at the last moment, screws his courage to the sticking place and kisses you.
Player 2: That’s sweet! You get a re-roll.

Rather by making yourself more aggressive, you make yourself more fallible to win. You don’t get to push on the rule. You can’t make the other player give you the re-roll, you can only please them enough to make them want to give it to you. Similarly, the other player can tempt you to let them contribute to your story by making suggestions and offering bonus dice, but they can’t force it to happen. They have to pull you to pull them to put your ideas in play.

The first is like a boxing match, the second like a ballroom dance.

I think it’s important to notice that the first game is created by a male designer and the second by a female designer. I’m not saying that one game is male domain and one is female. That’d be a stupid thing to say. I can’t help but think though that this fact has some relevance based on the different ways that boys and girls are socialized. What we are talking about here is the ways in which we are skilled in dealing with conflict resolution. I’m a very strong woman who was raised by a very strong woman who taught me to stand up and represent myself when the situation called for it, and as Brand can attest, when aggression is called for (heh, when push comes to shove), I can call it on in spades. But my preferred method of approaching conflict resolution is by negotiation, approach and collaborative effort. I was taught that, most girls I know were too.

This doesn’t mean that there aren’t women out there who love to get their push on. Of course there are, and perhaps that too is a reaction against – a pushing past – socialization. Conversely, there are guys out there that would land in the middle of a primary pull game and relax for the first time ever because pushing is not really their thing. Neither is weak or strong, neither is good or bad, neither is only for men or only for women, they are just preferences, or skills, or safe space in playing a game.

Maybe, just maybe (positing not declaring here) push vs. pull is (one of) the answer(s) to the age old question: why don’t more girls game? I do think that it is one of the primary reasons most girls don’t come to the Forge.

Anyway, enough for tonight.

Next up: Pull in Practical Application.
p.s. Read this to Brand and he reminded me: Please don’t mistake Pulling for passive or aimless play. It is a conscious, deliberate act on my part to encourage the story to become more dynamic and create more drama. I’ll get into the hows of it later.

Stance Crap and Authorial Intent.

I’m going to say something very unpopular. Ready?

Actor stance and Author Stance are different names for what are two streams of the same authorial act and only really exist to explain and define each other. They are NOT different things.

OK. Disclaimer time. I am talking the only way that anybody can with any degree of certainty: out the framework of my own experience. While my experience is varied and diverse, it is decidedly west of the pond. I know that there are freeform LARPers and experimental gamers that will fight me tooth and nail on this – and perhaps rightly so. I’m willing to admit that I don’t know what that is like and so can not really test the idea. I let y’all fight it out among yourselves.

With that in mind, I think this is the way, and the only way that Actor stance exists: In an old 7th Sea campaign. I had a character Livia who had fallen in love with two different men. She was extremely conflicted about it, and when it came down to having to make a decision, had a terrible time choosing between them. All the while, I as a player, knew that she was going to end up with Fortuno, because damn it, he’s one mofo sexy rogue, and me? I’m a complete sucker for a mofo sexy rogue. The latter is, of course my author stance and the former my actor stance.

That statement up there about Livia feeling conflicted is something that I have made up, because the character is fictional. I’ve come to the statement through a very different process than the statement about the mofo sexy rogue, but it’s still something that I have constructed, made decisions about and chosen. Giving it the name Actor Stance only helps delineate it as a parallel thought process that is occurring in my head beside the one about the sexy mofo rogue. The terms “Actor Stance” and “Author Stance” is a tool that helps me clarify to the listener that I feel or think two divisive things about one situation.

Now, say in the same situation, I did not think or feel two divisive things. Say, Livia, my character was just as clear about choosing of Fortuno at the time as I, Mo, was about what she should do. Then the terms “Actor Stance” and Author Stance” is used, again, as a tool to illustrate something: of course being that there is no disparity between the thought processes

The problem arises when we talk about Actor Stance and Author Stance as if they are not related, or as not products of one single source (my brain). Actor Stance does not exist separately from me, it is a product of me, just like Author Stance is. If I talk about what Livia thinks as if it is divorced from my self, then I am creating a fallacy. I created the character, I have made choices about the way she has pushed and pulled on the world and about how these events have changed her. I own her, and her process is a part of me.

Still with me, even if you do or don’t like it? Good… I’m going somewhere.

There’s an old argument that’s been going on between Nar GM’s and Players that have come to Nar games (particularly Immersionists), that says that the Players don’t Author, and that is destructive to the story. The converse is often thrown back that Nar games destroy the immersion process (or socket character enjoyment ) by either demanding authorship and bring the immersionist out of the immersive seat or meddling with the “integrity” of the character. Neither of these statements is necessarily true.

Here’s the situation:

It’s a super heroes game. The Player has expressed a strong, Author Stance desire to meet Superman, but has never expressed such a desire in Actor Stance. The GM is putting the opportunity on the table.

GM: OK, So you hear that Superman is in Metropolis.
Player: OK.
GM: Are you going to go?
Player: No.
GM: But you want to see him meet Superman, right?
Player: Yeah, but John has no reason to go to Metropolis.
GM: Come on, just make him go. You never author your character!!

Everybody’s frustrated.

Here’s what’s happening. There are three Author Stance statements that the Player is saying. Only one is articulated in a way the GM is understanding.

1.) I think it would be cool for the character to meet Superman, (for whatever reason) and I would like that to happen. The GM has obviously heard this quite clearly.
2.) It is important to me for the character to feel “organic”, or play naturally. This may have been an articulated statement at one time, but it’s not clear to the GM at the moment, or is not valued by the GM at all.
3.) Because of 2, I need you to give me reason in game to go and fulfill my desire.

There are also a few things the player is misunderstanding:

1.) “Authoring your character” in this case has relatively little to do with authoring or with author stance. The player has authored, and employed author stance by declaring a desire to meet Superman. What the GM is actually saying is: “It’s not my job to change your Actor Stance to meet your Author Stance. This is a Narrativist Game. Employ your Director Stance to insert a reason to go to Metropolis.
2.) In many games, the “organic” declaration is stated frequently by the Player, but is not heard by the GM as an Authoring Statement. Instead it’s heard best as a statement of enjoyment of the game, at worst, an episode of MyGuyism. All too frequently it’s just ignored, which makes the player feel like the statement has been made and accepted, and therefore should be respected.

How do you fix it? Social Contract of course. If there is a strong, crystal clear directive at the beginning of the game, everyone has expectations down: “There may be times for you in the game to change the way your character thinks or feels or acts for the good of the story. If that situation arises you are responsible to change those things in a direction more friendly to the game, and to find your own means of accomplishing this, either by simply changing your character’s mind or by employing your Director Stance in a way that is acceptable to the GM.” Players with any experience in trad games at all have been enculturated to:

1.) Express all desires in Actor Stance,
2.) Abandon any hope of control over the setting,
3.) Just enjoy the ride via the character and
4.) STFU Newb, I’m the GM.

Therefore, if the social contract does not expressly re-negotiate it, this will end up as the unexamined default, and everything will run amok..

Up next: Push vs. Pull

Agenda Affirmation

I saw this over on Deep in the Game and thought it was a really useful exercise, so I yoinked it. Thanks Chris!


  • I like it when people approach the game with a commitment to social responsibility.
  • I like it when players make firm emotional commitments to game and allow themselves to move and be moved by the game, by the story, by their characters and/or by each other.
  • I like it when everybody around the table is adult enough, sensitive enough and friendly enough to be able to have games where strong, brutal situations can happen and we can be affect by but not destroyed by the impacts.
  • I like to make falliable characters who can sometimes make bad choices without the other players assuming that I am stupid because I am not making the “correct” strategic choice.
  • I like to make strong opinionated moves in character that say much about my character without the people around the table assuming that the choices my character is making are the choices that I personally believe are right. (Eg. I might have a Dog that believes in capital punishment for capital crimes, and I don’t want the players to assume Mo feels the same way. I know that I am making a statement about religion and capital punishment, but it doesn’t mean that it would be my real life choice because I am not in the situation nor of the religion.)
  • I like to play with folks who I genuinely like out of game too.
  • I like playing with folks who have a similar sense of cultural reference.


  • I like to have the freedom and support to go *way* outside of the box.
  • I must be able to immerse to fully enjoy any long term game.
  • I must be able to make characters that are dynamic and able to change with the support of the system.
  • I like to explore the psychology of characters.
  • I like powerful conflicted characters that clash head to head with other powerful conflicted characters often with elements of romance, sexuality, politics or strong, unique visions of the world.


Overall, I’d say I’m pretty Vanilla:

  • I like games that let me learn as we go rather than having to “take a course” up front.
  • I don’t like games that have a lot of modifiers, reference charts or lots of pre-determined or group determined difficulties and conditions.
  • I don’t like to have to fiddle with a lot of crunchy math.
  • I like it when games nest task resolution inside conflict resolution (i.e. Dogs) rather than being all one or all the other.
  • I like being able to throw rules out the window when they impede the dramatic quality of the game.
  • I like optional mechanics that allow me and others in the game to be able to tailor to the style and comfort of individuals at the table. (1000 Stories aims to do this)
  • I am stressed by systems that require me to perform a lot of resource management (e.g. Nobilis, extended contests in Heroquest).
  • I like games that reward players for being socially responsible and supportive to each other.
  • I don’t like hidden target numbers. I especially hate it where death is involved. I like knowing death is on the line and choosing to go there if I want to.
  • I don’t like (what Bankuei refers to as) “bunk choices” (things that look like choices but aren’t really choices at all).
  • I like multiple paths to success.
  • I don’t like mechanics that interfere with the process of play, because they interfere with my ability to immerse.
  • I like my rewards as instant reinforcement (Fan mail in PtA, Hero Points in Truth & Justice, Drama points in Buffy or 7th Sea, Bonus Dice in BtI)


  • I have real problems with mind control or possession plots that usurp my sense of protagonism. (I.e. Polaris might be OK because I still play my character when she is posessed, but “You are now a Nazi” is not fun for me).
  • I don’t want my personal plot to be in competition with the group’s goal (I often don’t like big group goals anymore). I would like my personal plot to affect the game, but not in a way that undesirably puts me at odds with another player(s) , unless it happens by agreement between the players.
  • I like having rich and colourful settings that serve as backdrops to the story.
  • I do not want to have to keep track of time, logistics, and other Simmy details, especially where they conflict with our ability to concentrate on the story or on character interaction.
  • Although I like strong, dynamic stories, I do not like to push, push, push endlessly towards conclusion. I need to have interludes of reflection and interaction to keep sane and to make a more “literary” sense of pace.
  • I am not so interested in one shots, as they don’t allow me to immerse and so don’t let me plug in and get what I like of game.
  • I HATE when games just die without resolving. I like campaigns long, or mid length, but with good, satisfying conclusions.
  • I really like solo games.
  • I like kewl powers and colourful abilities when they serve to enhance the human drama, and generally lose interest in them when the focus is on them in and of themselves.
  • I can be entirely happy playing real human non-metanormal characters so long as they are set up in a suitably dramatic fashion.
  • I like either a certain degree of fantasy wish fulfillment or strong feelings of dramatic catharsis, and when they come together it rocks my socks.
  • I am fetishistic about character sheets and handouts. I love good art that helps to illustrate characters and places in very visual, beautiful ways. I keep all my character sheets in a binder (a.k.a. “the menagerie”) which has come to look like a gallery of my gaming exploits over the years. I love to draw my characters and the other PC’s or NPC’s in the game. Note: its not that I fetishize the numbers on the sheet. Instead, graphic design, visual image and layout on the sheets is almost like a ritual for me that allows me to express the character on multiple levels. Dogs would still be Dogs in Times New Roman on a stapled pack of 8.5 x 11 white bond, but there’s something between the funky Dog’s coat picture on the front, through the dimestore novel, bibletext-font finished final product that makes it come much more alive to me. Same goes with my character sheets. (If you are interested, look at Amalkau, Ravi, Deja Vu, Eva, Morgan, Katya, or Liz. )

Feel free to comment on mine, or share your own.

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. 😉

Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down

This is an archive of Brand’s Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down from Yughisthira’s Dice January 6, 2006.

Okay, there’s been lots of discussion since Mo first started talking about push and pull. I’m going to try to put my thoughts on it in here, after talking with Mo and running this post by her, to deal with some of the confusion that’s come out of the mingled enthusiasm and misunderstanding that’s come from the posts. Sometime in the next few days Mo should be doing a companion post to this one that talks about push/pull in actual play that we’ve done or seen, which gives the practical grounding to this otherwise aetheric bit of jabber.

First, let me say that a lot happened with push/pull in a very short time. Mo started talking about it in terms of social dynamics: the way that players approach the process of making decisions in game. It then quickly morphed to become partly about techniques, ephemera, and ideas around how this may be codified in game and the ways in which games may have already mechanically reinforced one or the other. Some people hooked onto the social angle, some to the ephemera, some to the mechanics and some to he theoretical possibilities. So when they all started talking to each other there was a lot of miscommunication because they weren’t all talking about the same thing anymore. Maybe I can take a small step towards fixing that.

To start with the social level, which has to come before the mathematical game theory level in my brain because that’s the way the discussion started, let’s look at Mo’s comment about “a space to fall into,” as it has become pretty infamous. That one is an interesting social/rhetorical bit, and not one I see a lot of mechanics to point at in terms of providing clear examples. That one more has to do with the way that the person at the table is working with others in order to get their desired response. So, let me try to elucidate in terms of rhetorical strategies.

When you are in a debate, or giving a speech, the commonest method of getting your point across is to build your fortress of logic, maintain it against assault, and then wear down the opposition before you to drive your final point home and win the duel of wits. You point out the gap in their reasoning, and then fill it in with your superior logic. (Or just superior ability to manipulate through words, but lets assume some honesty for now.)

When you are a teacher, a parent, or someone trying to Rorschach someone else, however, there is another common method. You build your fortress of logic, move it forward to the point that it fascinated the other person, and then before you reach the final point you pull back and let them reach the final point all on their own. This is the stereotypical “So you know if A is B, and B is C, and C is a dog….” A moment passes, a grin “Then A is a Dog too!”

That first one is a push, you overwhelm their argument. That second one is a pull, you create a space and let the other person overwhelm themselves. Obviously sometimes one technique works better than another (you rarely change an entrenched opinion with the second, but it is far easier to build process understanding with the second than the first). That is what Mo was talking about, more or less, with the gap. You do still build something, you do still put ideas forward, but in the end you let the other person decide if they are going to buy into those ideas or not.

Now, at the start of the conversation the reason this is at a different level than mathematical game theory is that we are, for the nonce at least, talking about social dynamics that go outside the normal role of mathematical game theory. Let us take, for one moment, the prisoner’s dilemma. Those of you who know the logical structure will know that it does a very good job of describing the logical choices that the prisoners have to make. It lets you know what the strengths and weakness of each position are. It also doesn’t tell us a lot about why emotional human beings in real life chose as they do. We’ve all watched Law and Order, right? How often do the confessions have to do with the logical structure of “if I squeal and he doesn’t” and how often with “I’m gonna screw the bastard because he was screwing my wife” or something similar? Push and pull were not, initially, looking at the moves of the game in logical sequence – they are looking at the motives behind, and the methods around, ways of gaining and using influence.

There is a real way in which, when discussing P&P; I’m reminded of something that Ron (I think) said about looking at the script of a finished game and trying to say if it was G, N, or S. Basically, he said that you couldn’t. Because GNS doesn’t have to do with if a story is told or not, it has to do with who got to say what, when, and why. So if you’re looking at the finished product, you’re looking in the wrong place. Same deal with push and pull – if you’re looking at a lot of statements after they have happened it can be really hard to tell if they are push or pull, because you have to watch the dynamics of it as they are ongoing. It isn’t so much about the result as it is about the power dynamics between the human beings that lead to that result.

So when on anyway Tony LB said that you couldn’t look at chess and say which move was push and which was pull that is because, by the rules at least, there is little pull in chess. You can bait someone in, but that’s just so you can spring on them and overwhelm them in the end. The point of chess is to push. The game theory of RPGs, however, is a little more complicated by the mix of modes and the interactions of people, stories, and power discourses. Even then you can push and pull outside the realm of game theory, in the social sphere (Illusionist GMs who are good at keeping the PCs from knowing they’re on the railroads are really good at it) – but with those understandings I think we can look towards some mechanics that may reinforce push and/or pull as viable ways to play the game.

Lets take a simple case at the mechanical level: Dust Devils vs Breaking the Ice. Both are very fine games, and both could not rock harder. I say this to dispell any lingering misconceptions that anyone is saying that pull is better than push or any such silly thing. Both are good, both have their place. They just are different ways to move things, is all.

In Breaking the Ice, you want Kate to love you. To do this you must convince Kate’s player that you’re doing cool things. You have no way of forcing Kate to love you. You have no way of forcing Kate’s player to give you bonus dice, or re-rolls. And yet you need those bonus dice and re-rolls, so you have to do things that please Kate’s player. You have to entice him to give you dice by doing things that please him. Similarly, Kate’s player cannot force you to do anything. He can suggest, he can entice, he can bribe you with dice — but in the end its all bribes and enticement.

The kick in the head about Breaking the Ice is that even if you entice each others dice out, you may still not have Kate fall in love with you. That is because in BtI the push all comes from the system. There are a limited number of dice, and a limited number of rolls. So even if you work it, you may fail in your mutual goal. That’s where the tension comes from. But both players pull all the way through. Neither gets to force anything on anyone at any time.

Now, otoh, in Dust Devils, you want Kate to love you. You start a conflict with the stakes “Kate falls in love with me.” If you win that conflict Kate falls in love with you. If you get high card, you get to say how Kate falls in love with you. This is push. You see what you want, you get it. (Or don’t get it, based on how the game goes.) By the rules the GM may or may not be able to refuse the conflict on its face, but once it starts (is accepted) he who wins, wins. If you push your system and take the stakes, regardless of what the others may want you to do, you can happily have Kate love you. You don’t have to entice points out of the GM, you don’t have to work to gain his approval. You pushed, you won, you get.

Now, there are obviously going to be social contract issues that mess with this. There are ways of others at the table pulling you back (or pushing you back), socially. There are also probably social pulls around the table where people sweet talk you into the ways you do and don’t handle your narrations (or social pushes, for that matter…). However, in the absence of a problem, you push, you win, you get.

So, in terms of mechanics working on their faces, there it is. At the grossest level of mechanics, pull means you have to bribe, entice, sweet talk, and lead someone by the nose to get them to where you want them. Push means you can bowl them over and take what you want, if you can win it. We already have lots of push mechanics, and people are starting to work on some nifty bribery based mechanics (like here and here) that show some of the possibilities for pull as bribery — you can tempt, you can build holes and step back, but you can’t force and take.

Now, I am certain that there are more subtle levels of push and pull – but the difference between gaining narration rights over someone else’s character, and bribing the player of that character to do what you’d like to see are at least a step towards the differentiation. It’s harder to do that “open a space” thing with mechanics, as of yet, because… well, because I’m not quick enough to think up a way to do it. I’ll bet money that it can be done though.

Now, to turn to that enigma which is Capes. A push game. A pull game. A pully pushy game. Tony LB is demented, and a genius, and this game makes use of both pull and push, at different levels, at almost the same time. The cycle of the game seems to be, after watching the flash demo, to go something like this.

You start with mechanical push: introduce a conflict that changes play at least until it is resolved, and which will change play more after it is resolved. It is a push because the simple act of introducing a conflict does change the flow and course of the game, and you can see your chance and take it without getting permission or help from anyone else. However, the first part makes it a weak push, at best, because nothing has been resolved yet. The second, however, is the iron hand in the velvet glove – and is very important to the next step.

(In the flash demo this is shown as a push most clearly by Claire introducing the “Vindicator and Claw Fight” – by doing this Claire has already interjected her will into game by making sure that there cannot be a fight until the conflict is done. That was a push, as I see it, because it has already changed the flow of the game. If she had done a different conflict, the game could have gone to the fight as a conflict. But now it must happen differently, and Claire did not have to by your leave to get it.)

At the same time as you are introducing your subtle mechanical push, you need to match it with a social pull. That is to say, as Tony tells us over and over, you need to introduce conflicts that the other players will care about enough to contest. You can maybe win something that nobody cares about over in the corner if you want to – and if it is important enough to you, that option is open. However, if you want to get significant resources from the event you have to pull the others in at their social level, by grabbing the things they care about and dangling them over that open space, so that they fall in. This is, I must note, a particularly brutal way to pull (a pull with big spikes and fangs and shit), but it really does seem to be pull based.

Next, there is a mechanical tug of war (mostly pushed based, using the system to enforce your will) over who gets control that ends when one player wins the conflict. They then get to narrate the resolution. Pretty clearly push again – you won by forcing the mechanics to support you, now you take what you won. This is often a much stronger push than that at the start of the conflict, and goes to the Dust Devil’s model above.

So, in this model I see Capes as being very judo. There are several throws in judo in which you start with a moderate push, and when the opponent responds to readjust their balance, you use that energy to take them down. If you then kicked them on the way down, you’d have something like what Capes does. In the end push is more mechanically enforced, but if you can’t play the social pull game you won’t do as well. Without both the mechanical push and social pull elements, Capes would be half the game it is.

Now, MarkW also brought up some good issues about Proposing and Judging, and some worries about how P&P; fits into that category. He felt that if you pull you refuse to propose, and judge instead. This, however, is not always the case. In push or pull you can defer and renegotiate who is proposing and who is judging as you go – it doesn’t have to do with one or the other, so much as it has to do with how you deal with one or the other. For this example I’m going to use Polaris.

You’ve entered conflict in Polaris, and someone proposes “And then she falls in love with me.” This, in Polaris can be met with judgment (either acceptance, or “This Shall Not Come To Pass” or other key phrases). However, it can also be met by another proposal. “But only if it turns out that she is your sister.” In that case I find “But Only If” to be a bit pull mechanism – you accept what they say, but hang that acceptance over the hole of “if this thing that I want too” and so use their initial proposal as an enticement. The initial proposer can then judge that statement, or propose back, and so the cycle goes.

Eventually someone will hit a judgment point, or a push phrase, and the whole cycle will get judged and decided. In this context “It Shall Not Come to Pass” is probably the strongest push in the game, as it sends it to dice. If you do it at the right time and win, you see it, you want it, you win it, you take it. The whole cycle of proposal and judgment then becomes like footwork and body position in aikido, something that works on multiple levels and with more than one possible direction.

It isn’t as simple as “every time there must be one propose and the other person must be the judge” and so there is no need for the puller to refuse to propose, or to ever judge (though they can also do both, propose and judge, judge and propose, propose and propose and judge and propose…). You don’t refuse to engage in propose and judge by pulling, because Polaris lets the cycle work round and round in footwork until the final blow is struck.*

P.S. A note, thanks to alephnul, it is also possible to, in a more simple setup, just read a pull as a counter proposal with pre-acceptance. That is, something is on the table, the puller proposes that the other person fill the void, with the understanding that the new proposal is accepted. Thus when you pull in this mode you give something, and the other person does not have to push in response because there is no resistance to overcome. Essentially the pattern becomes “I love someone, tell me who it is” (proposal, judgement already made that your response will be accepted), “Well, it’s Kate!” (proposal, accepted on its face because the judgement that it was good enough was made before it was said).

When used in that way pull requires a lot more trust, openness, and vulnerability. It isn’t the only way to use pull, but it is a very strong statement when it is made. That is a pull of a very different kind than the “competetive pull” of Capes, or the coercive pull of a bribery system, and may point the way to a mechanic based “open up a space for them to step into.”

So, that’s four games with mechanics, some social backgrounding, and ideas about bribery and opening holes. What do I need to do next guys and gals?

MBTI of Gaming

I’ve gotten sidetracked from my Immersion stuff over the last week to (further) kick around some ideas Brand and I have had about the Myers Briggs Type Indicators and their applications to gamers and gaming. Brand’s been busy writing up some of our thoughts on his blog over here. I’m probably going to be making reference to that post in later posts, so you might want to go read it.

More imnmersion posts coming up soon, promise.

Intro to Immersion 101

I’ve been promising an essay on immersion to a bunch of people for a while now, so as much as I hesitate to use any word so formal as “essay”, I guess this is where it starts.

Hrm, OK. Lets start here:

It can be said that:

  • Narrativism requires active rather than passive participation in the process of the game.
  • Narrativism requires enhanced emotional commitment to the story in order to make it powerful.
  • Narrativism requires strong, dynamic, pulsing characters that make strong, dynamic, pulsing choices to make the story out of.

And I find:

  • Immersive players, by nature of their immersion have clearer ideas and often fuller articulation about the wants and needs of their characters, which can lead (with support) to fuller, more dynamic kickers, and choices.
  • They have techniques, which enable them to make strong emotional investments into the game (via their characters).

And yet, much of the theory around Narrativism seems to suggest that immersion is antithetical to Narrativist play. To this I’d like to say: WTF?

I concede that immersive players who create full, cohesive, complete backgrounds in which their stories are already told and there are no choices to be made, or who’s rich internal dialogue never comes out of their heads and into the story do not make good additions to a Nar game. However, I’d go further to posit these behaviors don’t make good additions to any game at all because they are dysfunctional behaviors and are not complementary to any mode of play. Essentially they’re just the immersionist version of turtling.

Does that mean all immersionists will exhibit these behaviors? By no means. Many immersionists will employ the techniques used in Narrativist games to enhance both their immersive play and the story. They will do so consciously, and functionally, and the game will be better for it.

The problem is, that immersion’s a difficult thing to pin down. It’s hard to talk about because it’s an instinctual and emotional process – that by which we find the place that we can most satisfactorily “plug in” emotionally to the game. I don’t think that those who use characters as their emotional “socket” are the only kind of immersionists, but I’ll talk more about that later. For the rest of this entry, I’ll stick with these folks alone. I’ll also show my biases up front: I consider myself a character immersionist, and I believe that we are frequently given a bad rap.

There seems to be this perception out there that all immersionists talk about their relationship to character as if it’s a magical or mystical process that cannot be explained, and that this leads many of the theorists to get exasperated and decide that immersionists simply are obfuscating because object to the analysis of their play. I disagree with this, and I find it rather dismissive.

There’s a reason why so many immersionists express their immersion experiences in mystical terms: the immersion process is in a secular sense, extremely mystical in that the process is enigmatic, obscure, and it often inspires a sense of wonder in the person who experiences it.

I think that this mode of expression means less that “I object to you analyzing my play” and more a statement of one or more of the following:

  1. I don’t necessarily fully understand the process myself
  2. I have major trouble expressing it analytically because it crosses over from the left brain to the right brain, and I have trouble finding language for it.
  3. It feels less authentic and emotionally satisfying to me when I try and force it language around it.
  4. I’m sensitive about because I’m emotionally connected to it and while I don’t object to subjecting it to the process of analysis, I feel like people are frequently dismissive or belittling about the process and I fear that people will dismiss or belittle me for engaging in it.
  5. It’s an emotional process and I’ve been socialized against discussing emotional things.
  6. I’m doing it for dysfunctional reasons and I don’t want to admit to myself that I’m being dysfunctional
  7. I’ve learned to do it not out of choice, because of dysfunctional stimuli and I don’t feel safe talking about it, or I’m dysfunctional about how I do it because of dysfunctional stimuli and I don’t feel safe talking about it.

So, how do we get around that? I don’t know… yet. I do know that I am a character immersionist, I don’t object to analysis of my play, and while I do have a dose of A, a hefty chunk of B and a little bit of D going on, I recognize that games are being created by both myself and others, and if I want those games to support my style of play. In order for that to happen, we need to find a way to get at what it means. So, this post and the posts to follow will be me talking about the bits I’ve figured out or am trying to figure out.

Some of the stuff that I’ll be talking about in later posts:

  • Description of what immersion means for me as a player, how I came to it, why I like it, and some techniques I use while doing it.
  • Different substyles of immersion
  • Immersion and GNS modes
  • Other immersion “sockets”
  • Mechanics that support immersionist play and mechanics that detract from it (specific to Nar games and actual play examples, possibly more)
  • Probably a whole lot of other blather.

1000 Stories

So… the weekend was a lot unique. Brand’s paperwork finally came through, so we took an overnight run down to Niagara Falls to land him at the border and to celebrate. Very fun, very exciting, such a latent load of stress off for us both! – all of which might have contributed to what happened next. On Saturday, our second (and last) day out, we were supposed to be going to lunch and then heading to the Aviary. We never made it. Over lunch I told Brand (again) that I wanted to make games with him, like, soon. We’ve been batting around cool ideas and what if?’s and how do we do…?’s for a long while now.

So we did.

I mean, we’re by no means done, but in the three hours in the restaurant, the three hours at the train station, the two hours on the train and the two hours over dinner we’d sketched out what we wanted the game to accomplish, how we wanted to accomplish it, came up with an in-progress mechanics model, a chargen system, a system of social support and engagement based on a game idea I dreamed up a couple of months ago.

Yesterday I spent the day creating characters, to “try on” what the game’s dimensions were from the inside. In the next couple of days we’re going to theoretically model the system works (Hey! I guess this means my Process & System Analyst training comes in useful in my regular life for once, eh?) This weekend we’re mapping it out and trying to flesh out enough text that other people will be able to try it out. I’m hyped about moving towards a playtest because I want to see how people will react to it, what they will create with it.

I’m not sure how much I want to go into details yet, because things are still ruminating in my head, and are changing on an hour to hour basis. Suffice to say I’m extremely excited because if we can do what we’re setting out to do, we will be offering support for types of play not necessarily supported by existing games – hard hitting, strong emotionally connective stories that are modular, evolutionary , are designed to accomodate both immersive and non-immersive players and that have strong ritual support that both underline and encourage social responsibility in play.

Tall order? Hell yes! Can we do it? I guess you’ll have to tell us when we’re done!

For now, we’re referring to it as 1000 Stories. Not sure what it will be called down the line… Can you tell I’m hyped?

Actual Play – Breaking the Ice.

Okay, so I’m a dork who starts a blog and then does nothing with it for two months. I should have warned y’all: I do this, especially at the beginning. I get periodically obsessed about one of my hobbies and devote whatever free time I have to it. This last month I’ve been sketching. I’ve also been working. More in the last month than in the last year, I’d say. Anyway, on to the post.

Brand and I pretty much have the whole gambit of Nar games now, they’ve been arriving almost daily, in flurries, like snow. The only one we’re missing is Mountain Witch, and that’s just cause shipping to Canada was problematic, so it’s sitting at his folks house waiting to be shipped out in the next couple of days.

So Brand and I decided, quite spur of the moment-y, to play Breaking the Ice tonight. We spread out a big flip chart sheet on the coffee table, break out a mound o’ d6’s and set to work. We settled on something easy to start: Romantic Comedy – a PG 13 John Cusak-y kind of thing somewhere between High Fidelity and Gross Pointe Blank. We ended up nowhere near either of them. Our switch was gender.

Mo: Charles LaFleche
Colour: Purple -Royalty – Entitlement – Wealth
-Talkative – Writer
– Gossip
– Rumour
– Sunset – Lake
– Ending – Coffin

Turned into: Self: Metrosexual New Orleans Playboy
Creole descent
Independently Wealthy
Work: Society Gossip Columnist
Play: Has a summer home
Crowned Prince of Mardi Gras
Beautiful Singing Voice
Conflict: Dead lover: Lorelai

Brand: Deneis King
Colour: Blue – Police – Brutality_________
> Bourbon Street – Stripper
– Saxophone – Jazz – Speakeasy
– Sadness – Rain – Farm
– Sky – Airplane
Turned into: Self: Grew up on a farm
I used to date a cop
Work: Window Dancer
Trained in ballet
Play: Jazz addict
Plays the Sax
Conflict: Jealous Ex

Overview: Background: Charles met Deneis at the club she works at on Bourbon Street, he asked her out, she accepted, he’s going to pick her up.
Date 1: Charles picked Deneis up, she took him to Pirelli’s for the best fried chicken in NO. While there, a couple of cops show up and give Deneis a little bit of a hassle, introducing her ex-bf Marcus (complication) and a finds a friend of hers has started working there, exhibiting her lower class background (re-roll). He handles both situations moderately well, they leave. Deneis plays her sax for him. They discover that they have a mutual interest in Jazz (compatibility), he comes on to her harder, they have a first kiss, he leaves. They’ve established a bit of Attraction to each other (2).

Between dates (reroll on perm attraction), we discover that there has been some rumours circulating about her ex-bf the cop dating a woman with ties to underground crime. Deneis earns new trait: Brother in a gang.

Date 2: It’s just after Easter, lent is over, the N.O. Mardis Gras royalty are gathering, and Charles has brought Deneis as his date. It’s a masquerade ball, and she has come as Odette the Black Swan. The rumour comes out, some society women identify Deneis, call her a slut, make overtones to the crime connections. Charles uses his mad skillz as the local gossip maestro to publicly embarrass the woman. Deneis sticks up for herself before running out. Charles humiliates the woman and then chases Deneis out. She tells him that she can’t live with his job, they part, not intending on seeing each other again. Their attraction grows more, mostly because they have resolved not to be together (4).

Between the dates the rumours get worse, the brother gets arrested and Charles refuses to print the story (re-roll), earning the ire of his boss and the trait: In danger of losing my job.

Date 3: On a suddenly rainy day weeks later, in the entrance archway of Preservation Hall, Charles is waiting out the rain storm when a soaked Deneis ducks in for a moment of respite against the deluge. They talk, and learn that they have more in common : that they believe that what is inside is what counts (compatibility). They apologize to each other, decide do give it one more go. They go for coffee at Cafe du Monde and run into Marcus, who was generally intimidating. Charles goes to stand up for her when she finally stands up to Marcus, and the pair go running off. Cafe du Monde is overrun with a traveling, damp, grumpy octogenarian tour bus load (reroll) so they take their Cafe de Laits and beignets to go and head down to the Jazz National Park. There is a crooner inside, and as they listen, sharing their love of jazz, they dance in the hall and out into the rain. When Charles’ boss comes upon them, who has been brought to witness by the woman who Charles humiliated at the club, Charles confronts him and quits. Deneis and Charles both agree that they are above all the Gossip (compatibility)

Deneis takes him home and after a sexy change of clothes, they have a fade to black. Afterwards, Charles watches her sleep and thinks of Lorelai and finally begins to mourn. She wakes and they talk about the accident that killed her. Deneis comforts him and he asks her to promise him that she won’t die on him, she tells him that she can’t promise that she’ll be there forever, or even that she’ll love him forever, but that she’s here now, and she loves him now, and that’s enough. She told him that it was a mistake to think he was driving then, or that he was driving now. She told him they were all just hydroplaning in life and there wasn’t any control to be had, and in their mutual comfort of each other, the credits rolled. Final attraction score: 6 Final compatibility: 3.

Playing notes:

We struggled a lot to find a happy pace in the game. Because we were learning the whole new fangled dice process, we found that we would get distracted by that and drop the story. So, while the story turned out kind of neat in the end, it wasn’t consistent through the actual play. We weren’t entirely sure when we should be rolling dice, so ended up rolling them as we went (including Attractiveness dice and bonus dice) but this ended up getting us bogged down in vying for re-rolls by making plot go askew when we failed. On a re-read, we see that the book says that conflict/compatibility dice are to be rolled in-scene, but the others should be at the end. That probably would have made for a better focus in scene, but we also wondered if it would end up in a pattern of:

Good date interaction + good date interaction + good date interaction = lots of dice + bad dice roll -> bad date interaction + bad date interaction = higher attraction, and weren’t sure how that would affect the game.

I had some trouble because I’m really an immersivist at heart (and I think that this style of play can entirely be Nar, but this is for another post) and because our story was told in fits and starts I couldn’t really immerse – so I have a more intellectual appreciation for the story than an emotional attachment to it.

I also had problems with the switch, though I so did not expect this. I do not think it was strictly a matter of playing a male character, as I have done this on a number of occasions. I thought maybe it was playing a sexualized boy (less as trouble sexualizing the object of desire but as being the subject of desire in this context) but I don’t think that’s it either. I thing it was more the type of sexualized boy that I was aiming for. I was an envisioning a Jude Law to Brand’s Gabrielle Union, where usually if I had opted to play a boy I would have aimed for a butchier, less upper-crust high society man, and more a blue-collar rake, if this makes any sense.

We thought the word web was a neat chargen idea and liked having input into each other’s character. Now that I’ve seen it in practice, I’d probably apply a better focus and intent to it, and not been so random. We’d probably make more traits at the get go and add them more liberally in play to help shape the story more fluidly. That’s mostly a matter of getting used to how the game works.

We liked that we could decide at 6:30 to play, be about to start actual play by 7:00 and wrap up by 9:00 (with the freedom, of course, to go longer). It made for a fun, non-stressy way to spend an evening. We’ll definitely play again, especially since we have a better idea of how the game should flow, and we expect that when we iron that out between us, it will be loads of fun.

We both liked the idea of “suaving” to earn bonus dice and “flubbing” to earn re-rolls (we both look favorably on system support to reward players to be vulnerable and give), though we have trouble dis-associating the roll from the chronological event of the outcome. The re-roll system is really neither task nor conflict resolution, it’s social support and story generation, yet it determines the attractiveness score and compatibility traits, which are, essentially, the conflict resolution outcomes of the interaction (date). It’s not a bad thing, but it is a whole different take, and therefore requires some stretching to get your head around.

The Active Player/Guide dynamic was very interesting to us, and quite revealing about us. On my part, I’m someone who has rarely been a GM, and so it is not second nature to handle things like awarding bonus dice, determine re-rolls, etc, nor especially to keep track of those things while at the same time contributing to the story. I felt (especially at the beginning) a little torn between the two responsibilities when acting as the Guide. The fact that I was initially negligent highlighted how deftly the bonus die system is an approval generating mechanism. In the book it mentions that the dice you dole out are a method to give props to the Active Player, and it’s interesting to see how true that is. I kept forgetting to give them out, and Brand quickly thought I was not enjoying the game or his contribution to story, so would change gears. When I tried to follow, I would forget again about the dice, and so he’d think the change hadn’t been sufficiently interesting. He frequently had to prompt me to confirm if I had just forgotten to award the dice or if I needed more.

On Brand’s behalf, who has more GM experience than any other person I’ve ever met, he found the Guide roll to be difficult in an entirely opposite way. As a GM, he’s used to being the source of all opposition, the “push” that makes it possible for the characters to make hard moral choices out of which stories are born. In Breaking the Ice, there’s no pusher, and no push. The game is all pull, everything is contribution, collaboration and agreement. It drastically changes the way that story is created, and we both agree that it’s closer to a female mode of story creation, though neither of us are fully sure what that delineation will lead us to. Props to Emily for making a game that allows us to explore that differentiation.

We both found it interesting that as Active Players, neither of us in the course of play ever turned down or even really debated any suggestion made by the Guide. Brand wonders if we had never been each other’s GM’s before if we would have given more resistance, but in the end we think it’s just that the system effectively supported the collaborative aspect, rewarded it by mechanics, and we were both more interested in seeing the process than pushing the story this time around. It’ll be interesting to see where our next game goes.