2006-01-31 : An Awesome Line of Thought

There's a really interesting thread over in Story Games called "A new approach to a World War Two RPG." In it, Jason Morningstar says

This is weird, but I could see using a Polaris-like structure to address your goals - a bunch of shaky vets sitting around telling war stories, correcting each other, reliving the past. The rate of fire of an MG-42 fades to irrelevance. I've actually been toying with an idea like this, creating the entire game in flashback.

which then he expands to

I don't think the format presupposes survival. Once you find out in play that you are, in fact, only a memory in the minds of the survivors, how does that change anything?

Check that out. You could be playing your character in someone else's memory.

1. On 2006-01-31, Matt Wilson said:

Man, with all these awesome new ideas, sometimes I feel like when I finally get a game done, it'll be a reel-to-reel in a world of mp3s.

Your game uses talking? How quaint!


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ecb go "I'm working on the wet-ware version of my next one..."*
LP go "Check out"*

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2. On 2006-01-31, TonyLB said:

Yep!  That's cool.

It also doesn't presuppose the survival of any of the characters.  When you find out in play that all of you are, in fact, only memories ... and not even memories that have anybody to actually remember them ... how does that change anything?


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MSW go "you become the kids?"*

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3. On 2006-01-31, Emily said:

Reminds me of Engine Summer by Crowley.  But really, why do we need the fiction of "someone's" perspective for the story to be told? That person doesn't exist either.  Books & films are from the omniscient point of view as much as anything.


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RIF go "Strong Perspectives?"*
ecb go "1st person is powerful but.."*
RIF go "Not disagreeing, but it seemed..."*
ecb go "gotcha."*

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4. On 2006-01-31, Vincent said:

I feel liberated by the idea that someone else at the table might lean in while I'm talking and say "I don't really remember the next part, let's skip ahead."


5. On 2006-01-31, Gordon said:

I've played in games like this, with one important thing missing - collaboration.  That is, I've played games where the GM slowly revealed or decided (and how would I know which?) that we were dead, or memories, or etc.  As tempted as I've been, I've never actually run such a game myself.  And now I know why: not enough collaboration going on.

Making those things (and more!) available to all participants as collaborative tools is the cool exciting thing to my eye.


6. On 2006-01-31, Brendon said:

I highly recommend reading into the creation of psychodrama, and subsequently sociodrama, by Jacob Moreno.  I'm reading The Art of Play by Blatner and Blatner which is inspired by the subject; the examples at times seem like one of the newer style of games.  It's amazing to me that gaming and this form of psychotherapy have so much cross over.  I kid you not, this is a book co-authored by a M.D., and there is a two page example with a director, a player of Queen Guineve and another of Sir Lancelot playing out the discovery of a plot to kill King Arthur.  Read it and try to tell the difference from Polaris.  As near as I can tell, it's just a little less (or perhaps just differently) structured.

Not only is the crossover interesting, but I think studies of it could push theorists in new directions.  For example, sociodrama relies on mechanisms such as replay and role-reversal to push the drama forward or redefine it, both techniques that I don't believe have received much play exploration yet.


7. On 2006-01-31, Piers said:


I've been thinking about this very thing this week.  It is so cool, because it gives us something that has been central to literary fiction the last century, but which roleplaying has never been able to do—the very opposite of omniscient narration, the unreliable narrator.

We've been using narration to convey what happens, but imagine the difference if we were to start to use it convey what we'd like people (including ourselves) to believe happened instead.


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pb go "cross-posted with the last 2"

8. On 2006-01-31, Vincent said:

...Replay, you say?

Huh. Building some rules where you're like "I rolled a 17! YES! Vincent, we replay that scene with the barmaid, suck THAT up!"

Just thinking out loud here.


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RC go "Say Again"*
RIF go "I'd play with rules like that..."*

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9. On 2006-01-31, Brendon said:

Huh. Building some rules where you're like "I rolled a 17! YES! Vincent, we replay that scene with the barmaid, suck THAT up!"

Yes, that would be one example.  I will summarize the different uses of replay Blatner lays out.

1) At the end of an enactment, there are often feelings among the audience members about how they would have liked the scene to be played.
2) Another form of replay can occur when, in the course of an enacement, there is some impasse.  Then, with the consent of the players, the director asks for feedback from the audience.  For instance, imagine that the main character, Bob, is playing a scene showing conflict with his brothers; he gets stuck, and indicates he would like some help...the audience ends up volunteering, control goes to sara, and then back to bob.
3) A third variation of replay occurs when the main character is dissatisfied with how they are playing the scene

And finally, here's an interesting point of replay as to the therepeutic approach.  Finally, remember that scenes may be replayed to allow for the fullest satisfaction of the main character's desire to explore a role

All quotes are attributed, again, to "The Art of Play" as referenced in the previous comment.

I was toying with the idea of replay and/or role-reversal in regards to your dangerous idea of character ownership (or lack thereof).  The questions I ended up asking myself were what could a protagonist both lose and gain from replay.  Ask the same questions of non-active players, and the player bringing about the conflict.  Now it really starts sounding like Polaris.  I'm trying to think of it differently though, make the system even more compulsory.  In short, what can be achieved, and what does it cost?


10. On 2006-01-31, Matt Wilson said:

I was playing once in a game of Top Secret SI, like 15 years ago, and my character botched something, and my friend, GM-ing, yelled "Cut!" and had Spielberg run up and tell me, "let's try that again without fucking up, okay?" And we backed up and played it again. And again, actually. I hadn't thought of that in a long time, but it's pretty radical for like 1990, moreso if any player could do that in a game.


11. On 2006-01-31, Levi Kornelsen said:

"That's not how *I* remember it."

Hell. Yes.


12. On 2006-01-31, TonyLB said:

Mmmmmm... Rashomon roleplaying.  Me likey.


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RM go "General Mud is meant to do this..."*

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13. On 2006-02-01, Ben Lehman said:

There is something that is adjacent to this idea in Bliss Stage.  It isn't in the playtest copies, because I haven't been able to express it properly yet.  In play, it works great.



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MH go "Put it in the playtest copies!"*
BL go "What part of"*
MH go "Hey..."*
BL go "Sorry..."*

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14. On 2006-02-01, Kaare Berg said:

Conspiracy X had something like this within its psychic powers rules.
Say your character walked into an ambush or something went wrong you could call out for a sixthsense test and redo the scene if you passed it.

the replay of scenes worked brilliantly for horror games. (this was pre"the forge" for me).

My point being is that this works. It should also help in playing games that do not follow a straight chronology. Or even better, you could end up with something kinda like "the real story" by Stephen Donaldson.
Play the conflict once
if it grabs you
Play it again but introduce new facts
If it still is getting better
Do it yet again, but this time it is the real story with even more facts.


15. On 2006-02-01, Tris said:

When scenes become malleable in this particular way, why can't we add such malleability to characters too?


"It would have happened like that, if I'd actually known how to hold a blade.  But when the orcs attacked all I could do was..."


"I'm glad we got out of that cave alive.  I thought we were spider food down there."  "Yep, me too.  Oh, by the way, here's a mutate chip - your guy really doesn't like being around spiders anymore.  In fact, he'll Run Screaming from them."

Something like that.


16. On 2006-02-01, Meguey said:

One of the coolest things we (Emily, Vincent, and I) did was figure this out. Twice in our 6 year game, we ran into places that veered the story so sideways we none of us liked it.

The first time, a wizard's duel with reanimated newly dead (killed on the scene) became the wild rumors that sprang from the lesser (unplayed) actual event. The second time, the killing of a local fairy and resultant slaughter of a mage in revenge turned into the foresight of the only Seer character in the saga, who had had many such visions before throughout the game.

This allowed us to actually play a scene, and if it didn't fit, we could fix it and still use it, instead of the horribly clunky 'ret-con' of old.


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This makes...
KM go "Snapshot"*
SLB go "Osiris J. Christ, Meg..."*

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17. On 2006-02-01, Sydney Freedberg said:

Meguey: Wow! Yes!

You know how Ron (and others) are always hammering on the idea that a transcript or summary of the session of play is NOT "the story" in the sense of "Story Now"? This technique gallops headlong into the gap between those two things.

The transcript—what we actually said during play—or even what we actually imagined was happening in the fictional world during play—is not the story. Maybe the story is something else altogether that we never played out.


18. On 2006-02-01, Emily said:

Maybe the story is something else altogether that we never played out.
Word. We're reaching new horizons here.

For one of my crazy relationship games, there will be part of the game where everybody collaborates on coming up with the worst possible way things could turn out. I've thought it would be neat to also play out the best possible way it could turn out too.

Stories can be lots of things, not just retellings of events. Sliding Doors comes to mind as another example of tales that are an improvisation on a theme, not just a single narrative.

What is it that stories do? Why do we make them? What's underneath the events of the tale?


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This makes...
TC go "Oooh...."*
GH go "Run Lola Run"*
TC go "Yeah..."*
ecb go "totally"*

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19. On 2006-02-01, Sydney Freedberg said:

New horizons, yes—but: as in most discoveries of new territory, people are already living here, they just don't know it. (Don't know its significance in a wider world, that is).

Think about, oh, every person who's ever told you about their character, or their campaign, or their Best Session Ever. What they're telling you, at that moment, is The Story for them—and it is hardly ever a faithful and accurate recounting of either what actually was said around the table or what was done in the fiction. In fact, people remembering play inaccurately is probably the feature that's saved traditional "20 minutes of fun in four hours of play" gaming: People don't remember the other 3 hours & 40 minutes!

And the same reinvention in the telling occurs when we talk about our kids, our jobs, our everything. Rashomon is not a weird and exceptional thing: Rashomon is what we do every day.

What's new here (at least for roleplaying) is that we're recognizing that. So how do we harness them?


20. On 2006-02-01, Mendel said:

Sometime ago I was working on a design using many worlds as a resolution mechanic, likely inspired by "Run, Lola, Run". At any given moment of relevant uncertainty you would play through one or more future extrapolations, as they deviated strongly from reality into the fantastic, the exact deviation also being variable.

Perhaps part of the reason I needed to shelf that design was because the resolution mechanic was more interesting than the game itself.


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21. On 2006-02-01, timfire said:

Re: Replay: While I definitely see some cool potential here, I have to wonder how offering a "replay" option would affect the sense of consequence in a game. If I know I can simply replay a scene, why should I care if I lose? Obviously, you can tie replay to some resource, but still.

Otherwise, cool stuff. Though I haven't actually seen it in play, there's nothing stopping a player of a dead character in The Mountain Witch from inserting Fate-related material into play, including flashbacks and other "memories".


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22. On 2006-02-01, Ninja Monkey J said:

Man, this is a cool idea.


23. On 2006-02-01, Vincent said:

Tim, that's just an implementation concern, along the same lines as "won't allowing the player to spend a Spiff Point to reroll take the tension out of the initial roll?" The answer is, design your game so that it doesn't, no biggie.


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This makes...
Tim go "Yeah, I guess so."

24. On 2006-02-01, kat miller said:

I think it would depend on where the replay element was applied.  If your using Replay to redo an conflict sequence because you didn't like loosing then it could be bad, if your usung Replay to change the actions or reactions to things in order to move the story in a different direction it could be really good.


25. On 2006-02-01, TonyLB said:

Word, Vincent.  You design things so that your back-door doesn't rob the original roll of import.  For instance, Bringing Down the Pain.


26. On 2006-02-01, Vincent said:

What's important to me here about replaying is that, in these games that don't exist yet, you aren't replaying because you accidently made a crap story. Replay or not, the story's good. What you're doing then is trying on different approaches to the same thematic question.

Question: what does it mean to be honorable?
Answer 1: it means killing your dishonorable lord!
Answer 2: well, not killing your dishonorable lord after all, that's bad dishonor, so I guess it really does mean that.

Or else, just as valid, Answer 2: it means letting your dishonorable lord live, but taking arms agaisnt his policies.

I'm afraid that few enough of you can imagine how actual play creates theme that overall I'm not making myself clear, here. Point is, replaying could let you pursue alternate takes on the original question, which alternate takes may all confirm the same thematic answer, or they may diverge into different thematic answers, and let's find out which.


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This makes...
RC go "Wasn't this Tony's pitch?"*
RC go "Huh"*
BL go "Falling Leaves!"*
RGC go "s'okay I'll switch"*

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27. On 2006-02-01, Jason M said:

Hey, great discussion!  My mind is racing.  I'm currently obsessed with the idea of playing the same events multiple times from different points of view.  My thought model is the 1972 Munich Olympic hostage-taking.  What happens when you relive that from the POV of the PFLP?  The hostages?  The Germans?  I don't think this idea presupposes an unreliable narrator - I'm attracted to the idea of sticking to established reality and gaming the terrible points in between.  I think that would be absolutely harrowing.


28. On 2006-02-01, Roger said:

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds."

All the players have their own internal imagined version of The Story, which are consistent with each other to greater and lesser degrees.

Back in the day, when DM was king, it was generally (but not universally) accepted that his version of The Story was canon.  The other players were guests in his Story.

Following the revolution, the DM became just another player.  The Story belonged to all of them.

But there has still persisted this notion that, somewhere within all those imaginings, there's still a canon version of The Story, on which is based the various visions of the players.

Perhaps this concept of The Story, as a singular concrete entity, has become obsolete.  We can write games in which there is no One True Story, but a cloud of stories which are all equally true.  The foolish consistency is no longer needed.  Reconcilliation of the Rashomon Effect is not desired nor possible.

Your character might be the protagonist in his story, but in the stories of the other players, he may well be a supporting character, or at least remembered as such.

All characters are unreliable narrators.  This is to be embraced.


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29. On 2006-02-01, Vincent said:

Roger: "We can write games in which there is no One True Story, but a cloud of stories which are all equally true."

Exactly. We can do it with time- and alternative tricks as well as with points of view.


30. On 2006-02-01, Michael S. Miller said:

Kat and I do a lot of freeform play. One of the techniques we came up with was the "snapshot." If one of us has an idea that we think is cool, but aren't sure if the other person is going to like it, or if it might sap the dramatic tension, we'll say "I'd like to snapshot things here." We then introduce and play out the new idea, with the understanding that if play becomes unfun, we can simply negate everything that's happened since the snapshot and start again. Rather like saving before going into a dangerous area in a video game.

The funny thing is, we hardly ever go back. I think, for us, the snapshots were a safety net to try new, more daring, dramatic twists. They actually drove us toward better play.

Another thing we do, that I was reminded of by Brendon's notes about the psychological uses of RP, is to play the same characters in often very similar starting situations, again and again. It creates great dramatic irony when we know that a certain character is a bad guy in disguise, but our character doesn't. Occasionally, we'll play an almost identical set-up, but switch characters, ending up with totally different story results.


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31. On 2006-02-01, Walt Freitag said:

I'm not so excited by this. As Borges's Library of Bablyon reveals, saying everything is exactly the same as saying nothing. Story creation is expression by instantiation. Expression by enumeration of a bunch of possibilities can only be a weaker form. (And Rashomon isn't a counterexample. Rashomon is one story, which is about multiple stories. If it were itself multiple stories, there would be one version where all the witnesses agree with one another.)

Not that there aren't usable techniques involving story mutability or multiplicity. Retakes, retroactive flashbacks, unreliable narrators (note that an unreliable narrator isn't the same as an unreliable author), ambiguities ("is he really just dreaming all this?"), and multiple points of view all have their potential, especially when used as techniques for arriving at a better story. But too much allowance for mutability or multiplicity in the outcome itself won't free participants to better achieve thematic self-expression through play (= creative agenda), but will instead free participants from doing so.

"A could of stories which are all equally true" is a better description of an author's starting point than of a desirable end result. The exception is metastories along the lines of Rashomon, The Lady or the Tiger, Calvino's If On A Winters Night A Traveler, and so forth. But all metastories all the time would get pretty dull pretty quickly.


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misuba go "A story is not a game."
BL go "Word up"
LP go "Agree on Roshomon."*

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32. On 2006-02-01, Vincent said:

...Yeah, okay.

Let's go back to the jumping-off place here, then, which is playing your character in another character's memory. Really what jazzes me about it is that it's a trick like frickin' Matt Wilson's trick: it makes us think of our characters as characters, so we approach our stories as stories, not as made-up journalism.


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SDL go "I like that..."*
VB go "not me."*
misuba go "made-up *bad* journalism, you mean."
Matt S go "No, just Perry ..."*
CS go "journalism, or journaling?"*
VB go "I just mean a made-up series of events without thematic content."*

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33. On 2006-02-01, TonyLB said:

What would be fun, looking at different people's memories of the same character, would be that folks would make implicit judgments about what is essential to the character.

Yeah, in one story Jojo was into punk at the time, and was out back in the alley packing the amps from a wild gig, while in another story Jojo was helping a friend puke off the after-effects of a particularly wicked bachelor party, but in all stories he looked the cop straight in the eye and said "You hand me that billy-club and I'll show you precisely where you can shove it, mate!" and the cop totally backed down!

That is what (by the process of play) is important about the story, no matter how you tell it.


34. On 2006-02-02, Kaare Berg said:

Okay, lets say you play a scene dealing with the tematic question. And one player says "that's not how I remember it"

So you replay the scene/bang - the fiction moves in a different direction.

You will need a way to determine which of these two outcomes, both may be interesting, full of thematic goodness, that determine the further course of the fiction, or you'll soon be lost in a myriad of different thematic statements.
And then the fiction stagnates on this one point.

Because we are talking about a character in the same situation from different Player POW, not different situation with the same character right?


35. On 2006-02-02, Emily said:

I had one of those 3am ideas that relates to this. Both how do you keep track of the alternate ideas and how to allow ourselves to organize non-linear plot arcs.

Take an event:

The Beatles' final concert, on a rooftop in 1969

That's the initial situation, it gets played out. Then go to the next

The Beatles' final concert, on a rooftop in 1969
—-John and Paul meet

Okay, normal so far, but what if we have three lines that string off of John & Paul meeting that represent three different takes on the same scene:

The Beatles' final concert, on a rooftop in 1969
—-John and Paul meet (myth)
—-John and Paul meet (sgt. peppers/yellow submarine)
—-John and Paul meet (reality)

In the first take, any and all crazy myth that has come to surround the events get included: Elvis was there, they jumped on the stage and immediately started playing "Love Me Do", the Queen introduced them, etc.

In the second take, it's described trippy style, a la Sgt. Peppers or Yellow Submarine. They may be animated etc.

In the third take, they're just blokes in bands meeting up for the first time. The people playing J&P could bring in what they think might have happened based on what they were like at the time. It could be about missing a cab or being nervous about playing etc.

So, from there, all three could converge on another nexus. Say, when the Beatles get signed. From there "real" and "alternate" takes could go off: Pete Best could be with them on the Ed Sullivan show, Paul could really have died, the normal event could take place as they did.

What this would do is create an event map giving you a record of the events, organized by the timelines and different strands.

This could work find because narratives are associational. When we relate them, it is abstracted out, focusing on the most important parts of what happened to build to a point or climax.  Whether the events are related chronologically is immaterial. As long as the connections hold true in our minds it's fine.  As was pointed out in the post about Drama Therapy flashbacks, replays, intercut scenes etc are all viable, powerful approaches to narrative. They are used in novels all the time.


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KSB go "huh"*
ecb go "sorry"*
MSW go "way cool!"*
ecb go "all of the above?"*
KSB go "and you . . ."*
ecb go "totally"*

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36. On 2006-02-02, Walt Freitag said:

There are two aspects the idea of playing your character in another character's memory that are interesting.

One is the in-flow justification it offers for negotiation, scene framing, and retroactive revision, using devices like (respectively) "That's not how I remember it," "I don't remember much about this next part," and "That's what we thought had happened at the time—but later we found out otherwise." There is indeed potential here—but those same techniques can be and have been implemented in many other ways.

What's truly new and unique about playing a character in another character's memory is the opportunity for exploration of the remembering frame-character and the effects that could have on the story. It could be, if you will, an additional lens sharpening the thematic focus.

Emily's reference to Engine Summer is spot on. In a way that's too marvelous to explain (and I wouldn't want to spoil Engine Summer even if I could explain it; I honestly think it's the best novel I've ever read), the first-person narrator is not entirely the same character as the protagonist he's narrating. The story centers around a complex and often frustrating romance between the protagonist and the love of his life,  while gradually making us aware that this story is being seen through the distorted lens of the narrator, who is in love with the person he's narrating to. We know almost nothing about these two frame characters except what we can infter from the distortion itself—but since we know the story only from what the narrator tells, and the setting is a rather alien future earth to begin with, clearly separating distortion from fact is impossible. We can only sense that both voices are there, juxtaposing love and the memory of love—and the distinction (or lack thereof) between love and the memory of love is what the story is about on other levels as well.

Of course, in more straightforward and subtler ways, first-person narrators are not and can ever be exactly the same perople as the protagonists they're narrating, because if there's a story worth narrating, they cannot avoid having been changed by it. And thereby hangs a possible technique.

The application could be as straightforward as assigning distinct traits to the character's narrator-self, the future (and not necessarily still-living) character who's remembering the events. These traits could be brought in as dice to influence conflict resolution in the story. The causality is reversed—instead of the trait being a cause increasing the chance of some pat of the outcome (the character is gung-ho and eager, therefore more likely to storm the enemy trenches successfully), some part of the outcome become more likely because it helps account for the future trait. For example, the future-self has the trait "bitter and disillusioned," bringing in dice that make it more likely that the character will suffer worse fallout from storming the enemy trenches successfully.

That's a little too simple (the future traits should weigh against themselves sometimes too—a character shouldn't usually end up bitter from a whole series of minor frustrations, but from big reversals after initial successes) but I think it points the way.


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WF go "Hi Emily, thanks for the welcome!"
WF go "Hi Emily, thanks for the welcome!"
WF go "Egad, how did that double on me?"

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37. On 2006-02-05, Curly said:

Bedlam is a story game about institutionalized egomaniacs competing over whose self-glorifying version of the truth prevails.

Not so different from confused vets in a VA hospital.  Except that delusions of grandeur aren't a given with the vets.

Like Bedlam, each war-vet PC could be trying to arrange scrawled bits of 'what I remember' into a coherent order.

Vincent's Big Dangerous Idea 2006 could be incorporated by letting players author & assign memory-scraps to other player's characters.


Each vet's present-day Persuasiveness or Credibility could be reflected via a mechanism similar to The Mountain Witch's 'Trust' mechanic.  So other players could weigh-in on whether they 'buy' each PC's version of events, with an economy of tokens.

Unlike Universalis, where the coins used to buy 'what happened' have no explanation within the fiction of the game; the war game's Persuasiveness/Credibility/Trust would reflect aspects of the vet character's personality.

Maybe killing your own character off would be the ultimate Persuasive act.  Something that nobody could dispute happened.


38. On 2006-02-05, SDL said:

Evryone watch this week's Battlestar Galactica?

It seems that episode was pretty much what we are sort of talking about here, no?

We have a pretty simple series of events - a spacefighter duel in a dense rock field.

But every time the protagonists come up to a "decision point", all the side characters jump in, via a flashback scene, to determine if the protag has the Strength she needs to overcome the challenge, or if she is weighed down by her Flaws & Doubts.

After seeing it in action like this, even pre-rendered, i am convinced of its potential for coolness. ;)

There was flashback scenes in the flashbacks too, only shorter.


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RIF go "I hate you all."*
NinJ go "They're screening Season 2 on the internet."*

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39. On 2006-02-09, Vincent said:

I haven't seen it yet! Don't say any more!


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