Friday, January 25, 2013

Narrative Devices

What is your favorite narrative roleplaying game? Describe the narrative/plot element system used.

If I could get a paragraph from you kind folks on any of the games below that you've used, I'd be ecstatic.


FUDGE
FATE
Bulldogs!
HeroQuest 2
Story Engine Plus
Gumshoe
Donjon 


I've been running and playing mostly simulationist games over the last 20 years, but I want to look at story/narrative games. Perhaps to include in a future project.

16 comments:

  1. been introduced to Fate, via Dresden files. Very impressed. Very easy to fall into character. Tried FUDGE a while ago, never got the hang of it. Odd, since they are of the same stock. The Fate Point system with compels and such makes me welcome negative results, sometimes suggest them, to further the story arc..

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    1. So tell me about FATE points and why they are good.

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    2. Fate points can be used in several ways, including:
      -players may make narrative declarations such as "I know the captain of that space freighter" or "There are some crates piled up in that corner of the warehouse... I hide behind them, jump up and fire from on top of them...push them down onto the mud golem advancing toward me"
      -players may invoke one of their Aspects, or an Aspect of another PC, NPC, thing in a scene, or the space of the scene itself for a +2 bonus (i.e., the warehouse is "Gloomy", so I attempt to sneak past the guards)
      -players may regain Fate points by accepting a Compel on one of their own "Aspects". This is essentially a GM or another player's offer of a temporary disadvantage in exchange for a Fate point. This is one way that a Fate point economy is established and reduces the need to horde points
      -players may re-roll dice in a contest or skill roll by invoking an Aspect of their own that is relevant to improving the result ("'Just in Time'" is one of my Aspects, so I figure I can reroll my attempt to defuse the bomb before it goes off")
      -players sometimes need to spend a FP to invoke a particularly powerful Stunt

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    3. I'll have to figure out Aspects next.

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    4. They are narrative hooks, that 1)describe aspects of your character, NPCs, things, places, etc. and 2)tell the GM what buttons the player wants the GM to push (i.e., how the player wants to have fun with his or her PC).

      #2 is a very big piece of what makes some people prefer the narrativist experience (the player is being transparent about what they want out of the experience, and the GM has that information to build off of). You can think of it as a way of mechanically embedding the social contract at the gaming table. FATE Core takes that once step further by creating a simple two-step process for collaborative campaign creation.

      I think this is more disturbing to OSR GMs who connect strongly to what I call the "auteur tradition" of world building than it necessarily is to GMs who just prefer simulationism. By the Auteur Tradition I mean GM's who get their energy from creating all details of the world, like classic Hollywood or French film directors.

      It sort of ignores the fact that gaming is a labor process in which everyone brings things to the table anyway, just like even great movies are never entirely the brainchild of one brilliant director.

      The narrativist approach builds mechanics around what happens at the game table in ALL RPGs (hopefully): the players talk and speculate about what is going on, voice speculations that are sometimes cooler villain motivations, plots, and secret plans than what the GM had in mind anyway, and the GM says to herself "Yea, I think I will go with that cruel idea that Johnny just speculated might be going on."

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  2. Is WEG D6 considered narrativiist?

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    1. Not really, though it is rules lite. IIRC the average person has like 2d6/3d6 for attributes and skills, and its a fixed (sort of) set of difficultly numbers. So you can focus a bit better on the story then some games. I run like the space opera it is.

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  3. I've been playing Spirit of the Century (FATE) for ... my, it's been over three years now. We may do some Dresden Files in the future. We've been having fun.

    The GM definitely makes a difference - it can be a mechanistic system if you want it to. I've only read Dresden Files - there are some game play things it suggests (related to compels) that I suspect are an improvement on Spirit of the Century. They'd probably work well in Spirit of the Century, we just haven't been doing it.

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    1. We had some great sessions with Spirit of the Century. Once I had read Diaspora, however, I realized how badly organized SotC felt in retrospect. I remember having many problems understanding Stunts and Gadgets at first.

      Did your GM ever feel it was difficult to challenge players on a mechanical level? As a game master I kept wondering how to run a "dangerous" combat if each of the players has 10 fate points. We had five to six players and played on week day evenings for three hours per session. That left us a lot of fate points to burn in one evening. Perhaps we should have changed that.

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    2. 10 fate points for a 3 hour session seems incredibly high. I think more like 1 per hour is more like it for me.

      I heard about someone using sort of a fate point mechanic for quickie group world building. Give everyone 5-10 chips, and they get to use them to specify the world in turn. If you don't like someone's addition, you can bid against them. If it's still a tie, roll a die.

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    3. One point per hour sounds much more reasonable. Oh well, we were still figuring things out. :)

      As for the world building mechanic: I think I heard something like it mentioned in the context of Universalis.

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  4. I've been playing a lot of Indie games and a lot of old school D&D in the last few years. Perhaps you're interested in this blog post where I talk about my dislike of bennies (AKA. FATE points, hero points, and so on). The short version is this: "their use devalues the decisions I have made."

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    1. Perhaps I can also interest you in this series of three blog posts where I talk about the Solar System RPG, the rules at the code of The Shadow of Yesterday, which uses three FATE dice and a "transcendence" mechanic whereby you improve your skills until it is possible for your character to get the max result. Once the character does that, however, he or she transcends and is taken out of the game.

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    2. (Be sure to read the comments: the Solar System RPG author comments on the last one, Solar System vs. Old School D&D.)

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    3. Thanks for the reply. I don't have enough experience with them, probably only played in 2-4 games (and I mean games, not campaigns) that used them. Still evaluating. I think the rerolling aspect (not Aspect) of plot points is the least interesting to me. The most interesting is giving the players the ability to inject information into the game, like "I know the pirate captain." This makes the players more invested in the game and the setting, I think.

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    4. Personally, I think that the two are still very much related. Here is how come to that conclusion: Let us start with what you are saying. People love to interject things into the situation. I like that part as well. In practice, I find it hard to pull off because of various reasons. People like to be funny, so often enough "wouldn't it be cool if…" turns up the gonzo factor of the campaign. People don't always share the same vision of setting and style. You might end up NPCs, factions, or the wilderness not looking the way you expected it to. That might lead you to conclude that it doesn't pay to make elaborate preparations as a game master. That, in turn, turns me off as a player because I get the feeling that the game master is improvising the campaign world. If the game master is improvising it, I don't feel like I'm exploring it. The game subtly shifts in tone and introduces an element of alternate story telling. You improvise something, I improvise something. And that, in turn, is very similar to how aspects, fate points and rerolls work: there is a mechanic that allows me to talk over difficult situations. I get to reroll, or introduce elements, and so on.

      Thus, as far as I am concerned, I started wondering whether I can't have an old school game and keep the interjection of new stuff by players. (I actually like turning up the gonzo factor in my campaign.) And that works by simple agreement. If a player says: "wouldn't it be cool if…" and I agree, then that's that. In my experience, therefore, making it a mechanical element had advese effects on the campaign I was running. I liked it better when it was a meta element at the table.

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