Thursday, April 19, 2007

Goes Down Smooth

This week’s Primetime Adventures episode had what I like to call “that laid-back awesome feeling.” There weren’t tons of conflicts, and the action was relatively low-key. The show was mostly about people talking to each other. And yet, it rocked. We had Roy enjoying his momentary successes but setting himself up for a fall. We had Christina finding out more about what had happened to her and what is really going on, but not yet making strong decisions about what’s going to happen. And we had Ted feeling out possible avenues for the plot to go but not charging hard down any of them yet. We were definitely feeling the flow of the season and using it to our advantage.

One thing that we’ve all noticed about the game is that I keep having Budget left over. My initial comment was that this meant the players needed to be going harder after conflicts. I’m now thinking that the problem may be that I’m too accepting of what the players suggest. I’m tempted to say that this is an overreaction to my improv classes. That might be true, but I want to make sure that I don’t accidentally block by saying yes when someone wants me to say no. There’s a great example of this in Carol Hazenfield’s Acting On Impulse.

Alice is preparing to undergo a medical procedure performed by Bob.
Alice: (worried) Is this going to hurt?
Bob: Yes.
Alice: (even more concerned) Have you done this before?

The correct thing for Bob to say is no. Alice is making the offer that the scene be about Alice’s fear of the procedure. If Bob says yes, he’s denying that. Sometimes, yes means no.

What I need to do a better job of is being clear on what opposition the players want and playing it hard. I’ve got a pretty good idea for Roy (as he made things very clear at the end of the last episode), but I need to think further about the other two.


Blogger Andrew said...

The way I see it, if improvisers can get beyond "don't ask questions," then they can probably hazard their way past "always say yes."

9:42 PM  
Blogger Ryan Macklin said...

You touch on an idea that's been lodged in my mind for the past couple weeks, since playing in that Full Light, Full Steam game:

That might be true, but I want to make sure that I don’t accidentally block by saying yes when someone wants me to say no.

I asked Joshua if the windows to the Zahnball trolley opened, and he (naturally) said yes -- but what I wanted was him to say no, so that I could have a little scene where I shoot it out. The actual question I asked was "Do the windows open?"

I ended up proposing the "the windows don't open and I have to shoot them out" anyway, but as a player communicating an offer to the GM, I should have better stated the offer in a way like "Are the windows immovable?"

The more I hear people talking about improv theory, the more I know I need to get in on some of that action.

2:01 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

My choice would have been "The windows are stuck, aren't they?"

2:02 PM  
Blogger Ryan Macklin said...

*nod* That's exactly the wording I'm looking for.

Let me ask you this: did you already have a handle on this sort of offering -- of communicating to the GM "please complicate my life so that it might cause a cool thing to happen" -- before you started getting into improv?

2:03 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

Somewhat, although my experience with improv has taught me to be more efficient with it. Because scenes are short and you have to make offers in-character, you learn how to make your meaning clear in as few words as possible.

My gaming has been drifting in the self-complicating direction for the last few years, so this a pretty natural extension of that. As a player, what you're doing is saying "These are the sorts of challenges I want to face," which is awesome. Of course, as Paul Czege observed, when the same person who created an obstacle also describes its resolution, a lack of fun can result. That's why it's important to get other people on the same page about what you want to do, so that they can play that adversity to the hilt. And that's that I'm really looking at in this game.

2:12 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

Over on the LJ feed for this thread, Christina said:

"I've been surprised by how much Lena can get away with saying. She says all sorts of things that I'd never say to people for fear of hurting their feelings. At first I did want Nick to push back more and thought I'd declare a conflict myself for Nick to grow some balls, as Roy suggested to you. But I'm glad I didn't, because Nick's apparent "issue: spine" makes him a more interesting character. I like watching how Nick's and Lena's personal tendencies play off of each other to their detriment, and it's interesting to find myself as Lena frustrated with Nick, because in relationships I'm more like Nick. So accidental or not, that worked well. At this point Nick feels real and I'm more interested in seeing him play out organically than I am in having him react a certain way to Lena just to create opposition.

"Of course, there's a fallacy in saying I like things better having turned out this way than if I'd won Nick balls; I don't know what would've happened otherwise. Nick's speech in the Halloween episode where Lena was crying on the bed and he walked out was awesome. Powerful stuff for me.

"But there was no conflict in that scene, either, and even if Nick had reacted badly to more of what Lena said later, it probably wouldn't have invoked the conflict mechanic the way I've been playing it. A lot of Roy's conflicts deal with how others are going to react to a conversation. My conflicts have been taking place mostly within conversations and not using the conflict resolution system. I think it would be useful to me to figure out where in the last episode or two things might've been more interesting if I'd stopped talking and started using the conflict mechanic instead, and what the conflict would've been. (I have a couple thoughts on that, but I need to get back to work)

"Less relevant for last episode, but I don't trust the principle that if the player's screwing herself, you should stand back and watch. Quite possibly you should join in. The thing that made the Taussigy plot trajectory work in MLWM is that the dice were driving the story to the bottom of the barrel as hard as possible, meaning that whenever I came up with a solution that was morally reprehensible / painful but not morally reprehensible enough, I failed. Partly that's because I never took desperation dice when I was choosing the lesser of two evils. Amway, not the plot arc I want with this game, so at some point that'll lead to conflict.

"All that said, I realized yesterday that Lena now knows enough about the magic to hatch a scheme to Have It All and avoid decisions. It's awesome and I have a lot of chips, so I might even be able to get it to work before it backfires. Not sure what kind of opposition I want with regard to that, either, though – should I give you more details so we can discuss or leave it a surprise?"

2:13 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

I think the general issue that we're grappling with here is that when I don't have a clear idea of what I want, I tend to say yes to the player and not invoke the conflict resolution system. I haven't had a clear idea of what I want to see happen, mostly because I haven't been preparing as much as I think I should.

I agree with you regarding letting players continuing to screw themselves. See Paul Czege's observation above.

Oh, and if Lena totally goes Dark Willow on us, that could be cool.

3:08 PM  
Blogger Josh said...

Hey Paul, how much budget do you have left over? Cause if it's just a bit, don't worry too much. We end our Conservancy of Gears PTA episodes with one to five budget all the time. An episode spending all its budget is a guideline, not a hard-and-fast rule.

7:47 PM  
Blogger Paul Tevis said...

It tends to be around three, if memory serves me.

9:05 PM  

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