Stories in Novels Vs Difficulty curves in games (and idiot RPG authors who say you can do the former)

I wrote this recently as a comment on reddit and it warrants it’s own place rather than being buried amidst a pile of comments.

The situation was the GM had a group of ‘bandits’ (actually a political faction causing trouble under the guise of bandits) . The players run right into the group and get defeated, one captured the others escaping. The players weren’t happy. And here is my reply to this:

The problem is in Venn diagram terms, what the players find fun is one circle and what you presented is another circle – they really didn’t overlap.

Imagine you’d done this instead – they ran into outlier camps of the bandits, who are in small groups that are more balanced to the PCs and wont be calling the main group. The players would win the battle – which they were looking for at least once otherwise they feel their new PCs are chumps.

Further imagine you make larger and larger groups, with an increasing chance of calling the next group along.

The players would encounter tougher and tougher resistance until they question whether they can take the next group. Maybe they should see if anyone in town can help – sellswords, for example? Exactly as it turned out, but with players being happy about it.

This is a smooth difficulty curve, rising from low to challenging. What you had was a difficulty spike – nobody can really handle that and enjoy it, precisely because it’s too realistic – if realism was fun, why are we playing fantasy rather than being out in the real world?

That said, the author of the books give the impression you could run the game exactly as you did (or so I guess – most RPGs do). And the authors are idiots for it. You were told what you did would work but you were told something that does not work because it’s not actually compatible with human psychology.

So many new gamer’s try to use the aspiring novel writer method of designing games – but it doesn’t work, because as a novel writer you can screw your characters over royally and no one bitches about it. What you did would work as a novel. As a game it doesn’t work. But you were given bad advice, so it’s not your fault.


No story? Or did you forget what you did?

MMO crunch asks is borderlands a mmog, and in doing so asks if there is a story

This is what I had to say in short:

In terms of story, I always look at gamers who expect to read a story in an interactive medium and think “Wha!?”. It’s an interactive medium – YOU make the story.

What I would grant is that these games, not at all right now, have any tools to record player actions and layout a story (or atleast a log of cool events). So it’s easy to forget the story you just made.

I wrote more on my other blog

Philosopher gamer, video games, mmorpg, pieces of string

Video games, mmorpgs, traditional table top roleplaying, more!

And sorry to regular readers* – I’m trying to direct google to spider into that site – it seems to do it for this blog really quick and it occured to me I’ve only linked to the other blog in edits, which the spider might not pick up on.

Traffic, traffic, traffic!

I just want it to start showing up! I didn’t even try with this blog and it shows up on google! Crazy!

* Or am I humouring myself in thinking there are? 😉

What ‘happened’ on game night

You know, it just struck me that roleplayers report their roleplaying sessions in terms of what actually happened. Like one might report the results of a sports or chess match.

It struck me, because if I compared that to sitting down with someone to just make up a story (humourous link) you wouldn’t, I would think, report ‘what happened’. At the time you’d have thrown together a story. But in reporting it you wouldn’t say any of the events happened.

However, roleplayers do, even when they enter straight story crafting. It’s never “So we thought it’d be a good story if a guy swung into the base from a helicopter guy rope. So we wrote that down”. It’s always “And then my PC swung into the base on the choppers guy rope!”

And I’ve always, perhaps delusionally, assumed this meant there was a desire in the general RP culture for the game rules to be like a board game or sport, where events actually happen (like losing a piece, or getting a point scored, or whatever). Because, and this is important, that’s the only way I know how something can actuallyhappen at a session. I thought, when people said their PC ACTUALLY swung into the base, they wanted rules for it as much as I could say my rook moved forward in chess, because there’s rules for that and it’s an actual event.

Because otherwise it’s just story crafting. It didn’t happen – the guy didn’t actually swing into the base in the same way a rook actually moves five squares forward or whatever. The only thing that happened is that you made up a story about a guy swinging into a base.

But it’s always reported as that’s what actually happened.

And I thought people just kept missing the fact there was no rule to what they asserted was happening, so it wasn’t happening, it was just a story they were making up. I thought they wanted an actual rule to make it actually happen, since they kept asserting events in game actually happened during play.

Although really, it’s been many years of it. Really why did I think they were missing it all this time? For years and years?

I thought there was something in common. But now? People go to sessions, just story craft amongst themselves but then assert they happened as events – when there were no rules that make them events (as I said, the only way I know to make something an actual event is to follow a rule, like in sport or chess). The only events were them talking about what story to make next and scribbling it down/remembering it. That’s all that happened – making stuff up. Which is a fine activity. But they speak about it then as if it were happening and speak about it after as if it happened.

And I always thought they wanted rules for these things, so they actually would be real events, and were just a bit confused on the fact that there weren’t any rules currently. Particularly in my own group, but also in general RP culture.

But now I think I’m looking at a culture, hundreds of thousands of people, who don’t want rules that would make an actual event, but they do want to call the story they crafted, an actual event that happened. When the only thing that actually happened was some people sitting around, making up a story together.

I don’t know what I’m looking at.

WoW and ‘phasing’ content

I’m suprised at the reaction in a thread (or should I be?)

I’m surprised simply removing some models is perceived as a big deal? I’m not sure as to the exact details, but as I understand it it in no way mechanically effects gameplay for the player. It just changes what they see. So they have story right over here, and players just play their character right over there! And if you do stuff, the story advances – in a preset way, of course of course – and you see new graphics which in now way affect your gameplay.

It’s seen as a big advance? It’s nothing that hasn’t been done in single player RPG’s for years?

How come this sells, and how can I wrap my iron claws around its throat and shake some money from it?

Open plan gaming, a rough outlay of a procedure

I realised I’d do well to describe a game procedure – I’ll call it open plan gaming. This is a rough layout – it’s hard for me to remember all the components.

To start off with, there’s a stark understanding at the table that people are just going to be adding story fragments, for the majority of play. Story fragments are like the toitoise beats the hare, because slow and steady rules – or even that if you have sex, the psycho will immediately kill you. They don’t have to be particularly rational or coherant. Often they will be a chinese whisper version of another story – just a warped fragment. That’s okay – mistakes are another way of looking at things. Also sometimes you’ll just make up story fragments from wholecloth – be careful not to get too attached to these. They probably do deserve center stage in their own story, but this is open plan gaming – it’s not there to nurture your gentle inner creativity. It’s more like making soup by throwing in whatever sounds good. If you’ve got a fantastic ingrediant, I’d suggest keeping it away from the pot or putting some in the pot and making your own recipe with it latter.

Second; other people are going to riff off of those components and bring in their own. It’s really just riffing – don’t get too excited (or unexcited) about any links you can get going. If everything seems to be fitting together in some amazing way, that’s great. But it’s doesn’t make or break the activity whether it happens – it’s adding components that’s the activities key. That it fits together is nice, but it’s just bonus points. Make sure you don’t get so excited that bonus points become the point of the activiity – they aint, even though they can be exciting.

Third, you all deliberately try and push for whatever direction you want as an individual. It’s like everyones hand is on an ouija board, but everyone knows everyones going to give it a little nudge towards various letters. No one pretends the ouija board moves itself, but they do know that since it’s a mixed up combination of everyones hand pressure, it’s slightly random and slightly guided. Also everyone knows its quite possible to utterly take over the board as everyone else just gives it nudges – don’t do this, not because it’s bad, but because you could do this at home already. The semi randomness of the ouija board is a special thing – if you want full authorship control, that’s understandable, but you can get that at home or you can even call us all over and well sit around cheering you on, drinking your beer, while you brainstorm with complete solo control. That’s a note for the desperate authors out there – their understandable. Some people will just take over because their jerks – potentially even people you know well (bad week at work, control issues, whatever and bam, they grope for full control) – now you know, you decide what a take over is and when to walk out. No one else can really tell you, without being a take over merchant themself. Just remember, whoever silently respects you leaving was likely sharing power as best they could – silence says alot here; remember the quiet people.

Frankly all of that is usually pretty intuitive – usual folks off the street don’t get mad, they’ll just make a face and cease participating. I suppose I’m saying it, because if you need too much instruction on it, it’s probably not an activity for you.

Okay, now you have this ouija board thing. Basically you aim for the ending you want – everyone else does, as you know, and you’ll end up with some kind of wacky hybrid ending of what you want and what they wanted. It probably wont make alot of sense as an ending (or maybe it’ll make a ton of sense, who knows).

Here’s the odd bit – I don’t expect it to make sense just in terms of what story was cobbled together. What makes sense to me is that everyone contributed bits of story that are somehow important to them – these people added what is important to them. These people I care about. That make some sort of importance in the whole mixed up ouija soup, because its made of the important parts of people that I care about (note: if your intending to play with people you don’t care about, not even in a faint way, oh dear god…). At the very least, the whole great lump tells me more about these people, and I think the lumps I added tells them more about me. So at worst, it’s like a meandering conversation – which isn’t worst at all – meandering talk is great to share. And occasionally it’ll shape into something coherant story – my god, that tells you something about all these people AND it makes history amongst them as a repeatable part of them and what is important.

And that’s it. That’s the raw, McGuyver version, making it up with whatever components you have around.

When you actually bring this into contact with a system designed to influence the ouija board, its…it’s like another hand on the ouija board, but one utterly inhuman. It can also be granted the absolute fik’n power I talked about before, if you’d trust it, to actual interesting effect. Alot of current designs would take absolute control, but due to shit currency design, someone at the table can mechanically take it over and you get that crap effect I talked about above. The usual RP denial is that they are bad to do that – which begs the question, why do you guys keep using a system where what they can do is bad, if its so fik’n bad. Or the other denial is to discard the dice, which raises the question why bother owning a system. But that goes on forever, that crap – here I talk about an actual activity and how its fun, rather than harp on about broken, broken activities.

Anyway, letting system get its paw on the ouija board is a whole different thing – that’s what makes it potentially worth buying a game system. After all, if it did the same old thing as before, why bother? So, since it’s a whole nother thing, I’ll take a stab at describing it in another post. I’m not even sure I do raw open plan gaming justice here – it might need a few more posts itself.

Hope you try open plan gaming sometime – for some of you, it’s probably nothing new and your wondering why I took the time to describe something which is about as new and different as breathing. Well, I hope I described it a bit more than that – there is yoga breathing, for example – there can be more potential technique involved with a day to day activity than first meets the eye. 🙂

In game ‘truth’, as if the truth wasn’t a white eared elephant already

I was browsing through Lumpleys site

I read the line “You need to have a system whereby narration becomes in-game truth.” (it’s from a few years back) and it struck me, atleast with what I know today, how wrong that is. It probably sounds all naturaley and roleplayeyeyey and what-not, but that’s what I mean – it takes what I know today to just see the wrong (though I realise I’m one line quoting).

The reference to ‘truth’ is the uncomfortable seat of it all. If I started talking to you about this tortoise, right, and this hare, right, who decide to have a race – am I talking any kind of truth to you? Of course bloody not, you know I’m telling one of them old stories where everything in it is just part of conveying a central moral.

See, in the past if I’d heard roleplayers talk about truth in the game, I’d think they were just being a bit over the top with their wording. But seriously, roleplayers actually refer to truth in their game. Perhaps, if your lucky, they’ll add the prefix ‘in game’ before the truth. But ultimately, ULTIMATELY, they are ACTUALLY talking about the truth. No metaphor, no funny amorphasized animals used to convey a moral or a message or even a question – they actually refer to fik’n truth existing in the game.

It’s bizarre – it’s like they can’t work out who wins the race, rabbit or hare, unless they treat the shared ideas of rabbit and hare as ‘truth’. It’s as if they live in a parralel world where stories are started, then just exist in a flux state that needs to be resolved by some truth internal to them. Actually, I suppose that is where most roleplayers live – the bald truth of stories seems to evade them. If someone pulls their pockets out, then flops out their willy calling ‘White eared elephant!’ the ‘source’ of the elephant is pretty bloody obvious. But to a roleplayer, the rabbit and hare are some sort of creature that exists – they aren’t an extension of some other human, like the white eared elephant is, no, somehow the rabbit and hare just exist. The essential idea that they are puppets and someone has their hand up their bums, completely slips the mind of the average roleplayer – even when it’s their hand up the puppets bum. At those points, they tend to wonder why play is dull and lifeless, seemingly unable to see that the only hand in the puppet is theirs.

Anyway, I’m cruel – I’m pulling out the laser cutter on one line. But it’s like finding a landmine in a third world country – sure, there are millions more, why am I picking on this one being planted here? I guess I gotta take things in bite sized chunks.