Good Solid Gamism

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mike Holmes has some crucial things to say about good Gamist play, over here at the Forge.

Pretty much everything Mike says is also true of good Narrativist play, too. The main point is simply this: know what your game is about, and then deliver those moments of decision-making to the players. Don't present false decision points, or "filler."

"What do you do now?" is one of the most dangerous questions a GM can ask, when it comes to facilitating coherent play. That question needs to be asked from within the framework of a proper scene, where "proper" means, "the preferred space in which game-appropriate decisions can be made."

Mike's example is a good one:
Asking "What do you do now?" when the party encounters an intersection in the dungeon can be a good GM question when the game is about navigating dungeons and getting out again alive.

In the same game, asking "What do you do now?" when the party is in town is probably a recipe for disaster as everyone goes wandering off "doing things" that have nothing to do with the stated goals of play. That's when you see players fidget and roll their eyes because Fred is "wasting time" haggling with merchants and getting his armor dyed green.

Good Gam and Nar play demands a GM that can cut from scene to scene so that players area always presented with "What do you do?" questions that support the goals of the game at hand.

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Blogger James says:  

That burden's got to be distributed though, otherwise the GM is guessing when "what do you do now?" matters. Jumping to the important scene is a powerful technique that kicks gaming up at least a couple notches - IF you're all on the same page. If you aren't, it's railroading - pushing the scene to the GM's idea of what matters, without regard for the players. Sort of the opposite of the dying armour problem.


Blogger John Harper says:  

Did you read Mike's post? He addresses your point about railroading directly, James.

Blogger Bankuei says:  

Yep. This is why my overall motto about gaming has become, "Fun Now"- it can be "Story Now" or "Challenge Now", or whatever makes fun for you and your group, but it needs to happen now.

There's this fear about doing that. Like fun has to always involve squeezing water from rocks before you can get it. I wonder how much of it is from groups a) not knowing what fun is for them, b) subconsciously recognizing that fun isn't the same for everyone in the group, or c) not knowing how to reliably get it...

Blogger Frank says:  


Yes, there is a burden on the players. Their burden is to communicate their desires so the GM is not guessing (and their communication may effectively be "We want you to lay the rails for us to follow to the next dungeon").

You point out everyone needs to be on the same page, which is absolutely right, which is why understanding creative agenda is so important.

In my just finished D20 Arcana Evolved campaign, pretty clear railroad tracks led from one adventure to the next, but really the only time I tried to guide things within the adventure was when I had incomplete prep (and I don't think anyone has ever minded the "Dungeon Under Construction" signs [which back in the days we used to actually make explicit - what a refreshing communication if you think about it]).

When I think back to the decision points I presented, there were things like "Where to next?" (when the PCs were in the middle of a "dungeon") or "Do you want to take a boat or walk to XYZ?"

If you've communicated well on the goals of the game, you can even offer the players the opportunity to go on the next adventure, because everyone knows that the answer is of course yes.

And that fails mightly when the players are not all on the same page, as happened with my previous D20 Arcana Unearthed game - twice. I presented an adventure opportunity, and players stonewalled because they were no longer on board. What miserable game sessions those were. Then there was the new player who thought it would be funny to try and sabotage the adventure (who admitted later that he liked to do that to new groups to "test" them of something).

I should note that all of this is all true for simulationism also. Since the game isn't a perfect simulation of real life or some fantasy, there must always be constraints.

Always the key is to understand what are the decision points for your particular game. The GNS mode indicates the type of decision points, but does not indicate the specific decision points (you could have a gamist game where the wilderness has specific encounter tables, and specific areas are at different danger levels etc. and the PCs can be free to go anywhere they want, so "where do you go next?" could be a functional question. But you still don't ask the open ended "What do you do now?"


On fun having to involve squeezing water from rocks...

I've been noticing this attitude in lots of places (the place I actually observe it most is in my religion). It seems like people have an attitude that if they had to go through torture to get something, everyone else who follows also has to. I think this attitude is responsible for the number of players who think newcommers to a D&D game should roll up 1st level characters (I've still noted that attitude with D20 gamers - though it's getting less prevalent). I see it when people think D&D should still be about figuring out what the heck an orc actually is capable of (nothing wrong with having some surprise monsters up your sleeve, but guess the monster's abilities isn't really fun anymore, and I'm not sure it ever was all that much fun).

You are probably also right that sometimes it just stems from not being able to identify and communicate what is fun for each person, and mistaken feelings that everyone must be able to have fun even if they perhaps have different ideas of fun.


Blogger John Kim says:  

Hmm. The question of "What do you do?" can be dangerous, but can also be very powerful. In some of my more GM-directed games, I'll take the lead in scene-framing. On the other hand, if I have proactive PCs, I generally step back more from the framing. Instead, I ask "What do you do?" and let them dictate to me the conflict. cf. my essay on Proactive PCs and Related Issues

Blogger John Harper says:  

Yes. The "What do you do?" question is very powerful and useful in all kinds of play. I hope my post (and Mike's) says that loud and clear.

I think your proactive play is totally compatible with Mike's post, John. This part of your essay:

"The important feature is that they must be motivated to alter the status quo, and it must be interesting to play out at least parts of their effort."

is talking about getting everyone on the same page before the "What do you do" question is posed -- the "must be interesting" bit. You don't just turn the PCs loose on the setting, with no goals or expectations among the players.

Good essay, by the way.

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