Archive for the ‘The Cull’ Category

Ain’t Happening
September 13, 2008

To anyone following the blog; sorry, but The Cull just isn’t in the cards right now.  Not enough hours in the day between work, 3.5 hrs/d of commuting, and a young baby.

Occasionally I do feel the need to blog, so be warned: this will turn into a personal blog site next time the mood strikes.

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ISBW 2.0 part 1
July 23, 2008

I finally replaced my mp3 player, and I’ve started listening to Mur Lafferty’s podcast, I Should Be Writing.  I’m Culling 5 episodes of that today.  Also, I’m starting to use a new category called Rough Cut for when I do a very quick Cull.  That means you won’t get “what seconds should I listen to” or “what posts should I read” but more like “what shows should I listen to” or “what threads should I read”.  This Cull is performed with a rifle at long distance with no scope but lots of bullets.

A podcast about writing is only partially related to gaming, but since this is my special snowflake you guys can follow this or ignore it (key phrase follows) AS YOU SEE FIT. We cool?  Cool.

From episode 83 to 86 (including specials) here’s what survived:

Special #29 (John Scalzi interview)

The interview is entertaining and and definitely worth listening to for Scalzi’s ideas about juxtaposing the grim with humor.  If this wasn’t a rough cut I imagine I’d get it down to about 10 minutes or so.

Episode #86 (Back to Basics)

The meat of this episode is great to listen to when you’re ready to submit, but it’s not about the writing process so much as the submission process.  Otherwise, this mnemonic from a call-in listener stands out: “Am, is, are was were, be, being, been.  These, are, very bad words, never, use them again.”

Otherwise, a few comments in the other episodes really struck me.

In Special 28 Mur said (I’m paraphrasing again):

Am I the most talented of all the writers I’m up against in the submission process?  Well, maybe not.  But the most talented person gave up after their hundredth rejection and I didn’t, so I’m the one who’s going to get published.

Episode 84 was amusing, but not much use.  The best part was the very quick reference to the Bushido of Writing from about 10:10 to 10:50 – Matt Wallace describes the first virtue as Write, and the second as Persistence.  I’m highly curious where that’s going.

So that’s what you need to know, and now you can skip 83, 84, 85, and Special 28.  If you don’t, and I’ve missed a gem, let me know in the comments.

antiquated anyway part 2
June 8, 2008

Continuing from part 1, this is the culling of the AP threads linked off of antiquated anyway post 144.

What survived?

All of the first posts are worth reading.  More than direct advice, these posts contain provocative accounts of actual play and follow up with excellent techniques that support it.  If you want to make your game more collaborative and want to see how it was done by skilled gamers in a mechanics-independent environment, this is the place to look.  Beyond the first posts, I’ve quoted the worthy text (sometimes substantial).

From Adventures in Improvised System (Direct Link – Not Safe For Work)

The top post of this thread is an example of roleplayers dealing with the unwanted results of miscommunications and unhelpful rules.  You can read it or not to understand the following:

In Reply 15 Vincent talks about the pressures that can come from the reward system or rules and impact back on the players, and how rules can take away from collaboration.

In Replies 17 and 18 Meguey discusses the group’s techniques, which is followed by Emily’s words on the group’s priorities in Reply 19.

Vincent touches on both in parts of his following replies:

Somebody has their character do something, odds are that somebody else will tip their head to one side and say “you do? how come? what’s that like? where’s that come from?”

[…]

We ask those kinds of questions across all our various and permuted player / GM type roles. Not just about the characters’ internal lives, but about the whole landscape.

“Soraya, dude, you killed a dragon?” I might have my guy Acanthus say. “What’s up with that?”

“I haven’t figured out all the details,” Emily might say, “but I know that [Soraya’s abusive master] Severin made me do all the dangerous work, like I was the one who played the riddle game with it to distract it while he bound it, and he made me cut its head off, he didn’t help.”

Maybe she makes a facial expression to show how much it sucked. “That musta sucked,” I might say.

“Yeah. Y’know, every time I think about him, Severin is more a prick.”

So there’s me asking questions to draw information out of Emily, and it’s all good information, and it’ll all eventually come back into the game, but it’s not just Soraya’s motivations or experiences, it’s whatever. A stew of character-level, player-level, and level-crossing stuff. (Who is the “I” in Em’s last sentence, Em or Soraya? Probably both.)

From more adventures in improvised system: techniques (Direct Link)

This thread contains more excellent techniques as well as accounts of their history as roleplayers (see Replies 10 and 12 in particular if you want to know more on that subject).  The first post of the thread is a recap of techniques that Emily thinks are crucial to the playstyle, after that the stuff that survived the cull were the concise, clear insights and recommendations for collaborative play.

In Reply 2, Emily discusses recordkeeping:

As a matter of fact we do have pretty thorough records. Thanks in great part to our faithful scribe, Meg, we have a running record of events from each session (recorded very briefly on a yellow legal pad). And keeping all those magi straight is quite a chore–Vincent created some lists of mages (by covenant, with house affiliation, player and master included) when we peopled the tribunal. And of course, there’s our Big Map o’Mages–two sheets of poster board with all the mages whe know about in the world, grouped by covenant, with major relationships indicated by connecting lines (master-apprentice, etc.) This is used for a certain amount of record keeping too–little x’s by the mage name if the character dies (and, out of some fit of insanity that siezed us, the map also has the actors we would cast for the character if the campaign was made into a hollywood film :).

In Reply 16, Jason Lee sums up the benefits of associated characters being under other players’ control:

[T]hat approach makes the primary characters’ lives evolve more dynamically. With another person in control of attached characters the relationships are more “alive”. The attached characters will act with agendas other than that of the primary character’s player and the relationships develop as responses to actions and conflicts, instead of being planned out. Which makes quite a bit of sense to me with a static setting and the length of time that can pass in an AM game. The changes in the relationships in the covenant is probably the main focus of play (just guessing).

With us, attached characters are like part of the setting that the primary character comes from. Most of the time, but not always, the character is designed first and then the world he comes from is based on the character. The relationships between the primary and attached characters serve the purpose of establishing themes about the character.

My character’s father is there to illustrate she’s a daddy’s girl.

Tara’s character’s ex-wife and child are there to illustrate what he’s losing by being unable to return home.

So, those relationships tend to be more static, because controlling them is part of what creates character-centric themes (when you can get to the attached characters, that is).

Meg on the ramifications of collaborative GMing:

Releasing control as a sole GM was a relief and a challenge; a relief because suddenly there were whole new sections that came into being that I never would have seen, and a challenge because suddenly there were whole new things I had no control over. I’m totally converted, though. GMless play is a challenge for players because they have to learn to firewall, to protagonise appropriately, and to share their vision of the world. It’s hard sometimes to see a given thing clearly (for me it’s usually mapping a place) and have someone else with equal authority say “I’m not seeing it like that” or even more firmly “I see it this very different way”. You’ve got to trust the process of group story-telling, and trust each other at least enough to trust your character won’t be blocked without your input.

If you’d like to try GMless gaming and never have, definitely try with a like-minded group of folks, or the ones who want a GM to guide them through the dungeon will feel like they’re floundering. I’d suggest starting by having someone set the scene (time of day, place, and season), and then take turns sort of vibing it out and telling whatever details come out of what has been said so far. In my book, probably the best tool for successful GMless gaming is having done guided meditations, where you’re in a semi-trance state while someone else is describing a scene and encouraging you to look around the imagined landscape and noticing what you see and experience. This is very like the space I’m in when we’re co-GMing as opposed to straight IC play of conversation.

Ok, next bit:

Handling multiple characters is, for me, kind of like a wardrobe. I have different clothes for each one. Cruciel and Emily Care both talked about voices and accents for distinguishing between multiples; yep that, plus body language. I find that I identify different body postures or habits with different characters. I’m *really* looking forward to the Tribunal, when we’ll have to deal with masses of colorful, well-defined characters in one place at one time. It’ll put every multicharacter skill we collectively have to the test. Stay tuned for that one, I’ll bet.

Also, let me not forget the importance of art, for me at least. I’m getting the tickle to draw all the mages we’ve just seen in this round, so they become more full-color. In our Caer Mearabourne campaign, we had profile headshots of all major and most minor characters, and we had way too much fun rearranging the pics and making the characters look at each other. Sometimes we got whole new insights into the character’s relationships. That’s what you can do when you have nothing to do but blow off a class that afternoon. :)

I loved the diagramming of characters Emily and Jason did. Emily already outlined our attention to playing each other’s ‘branches’, so I don’t think I have anything substantive to add. We do occasionally sum up, and there have been times when we’ve just played out both sides of a brief but important exchange (much switching of voices and body language here).

Hmm, why do some characters get left behind? They may have served their purpose, or just be waiting till their turn. I feel like Emily’s handling of Sioban was very adroit in this regard: Sioban was vital to early plot, but it was always understood she was not going to be around long-term. Now she’s who knows where doing who knows what. I feel like some of our other covenfolk are a bit more in limbo. I’m not sure the characters off-screen are less important, they’re just off-screen. Also, some support cast just have less purpose at some points than others. In setting up Griffin’s Aire, my mage Damwild had as her concept that she was travelling with her stricken and beloved master to a place where he might retire and die in peace. That required a retinue of support cast, who made handy instant coveners. I’d love to see all their various stories, but the importance of the mages setting up the covenant has been overpowering so far. We’ll see what happens. Oh, and then there’s the unpredictability of characters. I recently had a character I really liked and enjoyed playing off Vincent’s mage Acanthus. This character was a visiting mage who just rubbed Acanthus wrong. I was all set to play him at GA for a while, since Damwild is busy with apprentice stuff. But no, Quintus up and leaves. I didn’t know he was leaving until he started saying goodbye and giving Acanthus little prezzies. Jerk. But, from a story point of view, it was totally right that he leave. So there you go.

Of note is reply #25, which is another nest within a nest of AP goodness.  I’m not Culling that or I’ll have to cull the whole forge (anyway’s big enough as it is).

From Further More Adventures in Improvised System (Direct Link – Slightly Unsafe For Work)

Read the first post which is a neat AP account, and hits a high point when Vincent points out some problems at the table.  Otherwise, this reply from Emily illuminates what the players were really doing at the table:

One of my favorite parts about the session was the brainstorming. We knew very close to nothing about these characters prior to that night. Our discussion lead us to flesh out their background and get them plunked right in the middle of juicy plot. From an obscure, almost never thought of trio of characters, they became transformed into pivotal players.

And just a comment about the dice mechanic: I see the dice we rolled as giving us more material to work with, rather than being used to determine resolution. As you said Vincent, we knew they weren’t going to bite it. What a waste that would have been. But it made it easier for us to come up with a believable (to us, anyway) sequence of actions since we had the dice results to interpret. The numbers we rolled on the dice gave us a structure, or put the players in some kind of relative ranking. We had to made sense of the differences, and we did so in ways that gave us ideas for the plot/character development etc. Make sense?

From Adventures in RGFA Simulationism (Direct Link)
The theory left-turn towards the end doesn’t go anywhere, but you won’t go wrong reading this 1-post thread as it’s an account of players working together to create something brilliant.

From More Adventures in Shared Character Vision (Direct Link – Really Not Safe For Work)

Read only the first post, which emphasizes that yeah, the human beings at the gaming table can negotiate and talk intelligently about what htey want.  Just like it’s okay to talk about your game, it’s okay to talk about things that you’re not sure about, to get help from the other players and to work on the elements that didn’t feel like they held together.  This is a good technique – not something that’s limited to the specific kind of collaborative relationship that Meg, Vincent, and Emily nurtured in their game (although it’s that game’s defining characteristic).

The following replies just try to position the actual play relative to some jargon being worked out, without learning anything from that exercise.  However, right towards the end Jason pops up with this very excellent observation:

It’s all about trying to maintain character integrity. Vincent is trying to integrate his character vision into the shared imaginary space. The explored element fails validation through Emily and Meguey, so he has to redefine/elaborate and pass it through validation again before it can be integrated as he originally envisioned.

From Adventures in Dramatic Drama (Direct Link – Not Safe For Work)
Read the first post, which starts slow but is ultimately riveting and contains lucid descriptions of what’s happening at the player level throughout.  This is the grand finale of all the AP you’ve read so far.  After that, skip to reply #6, and you’re done.

In Reply #6 Emily’s guidelines for bringing a new player into a collaborative relationship are good, but ultimately boil down to “Establish responsibilities (especially their responsibility to step in and take authority), proprietorship, and expose them to detail.”  Behind that there’s a few assumptions (like “Make sure they want to and that you have a good creative relationship with them.”) but I think that’s quite clear.