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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 06:32
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Player involvement in the narrative

There's something which has been playing on my mind recently. And by recently, I mean since one of the Paizo newsletters a few weeks back, although really it sort of ties in with a similar rambling thread I made a while back about the line between boardgames and roleplaying games.

In your typical RPG you have two distinct categories, from which each participant can choose one or the other (sometimes both, but it's a bad time): Gamesmaster and Player. Traditionally, as described by most rulesets, you have a single GM and a herd of players. Sometimes the GM has a helper, but it's usually the minority position to be in. It is also the category which is in charge of the story, which is what I want to talk about.

1) Freeforms

To take an extreme example though, games do exist which either have no Gamemaster or no players, it's a fuzzy line. I'm sure that RPG rulesets exist like this, I can't directly think of any, but you have boardgames over there (any narrative tends to stem from the rules, chance and interpretation by the players) and you also have a certain type of game of which we have a glorious example on these very boards: Eidolon. A standard RPG, but without the DM, and with the players also describing the consequences of their own actions.

Here, the very game is in the telling of a story (Eidolon is a very extreme example, as I believe the rules have taken a backseat and are just a vague framework - but this is not important here).

So:
[Other RPGs]-[Freeforms]

2) The Railroad

The absolute opposite end of the spectrum is much more common. What we have here is a GM with a story to tell, the players move through scenes in the tale and, while they are not guaranteed victory by any means, the narrative sits apart from them. It is entirely held by the GM (or even by the module which he is running from). This is also sort of analogous to CRPGs, but I don't want to dwell on that.

[GM Railroad]-[The Rest]-[Freeforms]

3) The Malleable Story

Off to the side of the railroad we have a GM with a story to tell but one who reacts to his players in a personal way. I'd say that this vague region contains most games, but this is baseless speculation.

A player might want a dark past that can catch up with him, and the GM dutifully either throws in a few standalone encounters relating to this (for a "leftmost" example) or weaves the dark past to the pre-existing story (for a more "right example).

Again, these can stem from modules, but the key is that they require the GM and the players to work together. The narrative itself would be different if a different group of players had played.

An example of this, is Nocturne of Souls (my own game). Here, without any spoilers for my players, the original story concept was a merry band of adventurers together in a bustling metropolis off to solve the mystery of a missing moon. What happened though, was due to the characters made by the players and the actions chosen by them, the world started to end (something I had not anticipated at all when I first posted my advert for this game). As a result, I'm having a great time, and my players are doing a good enough job of faking enjoyment that I can pretend not to notice.

[GM Railroad]--[Malleable Stories]-[The Rest]-[Freeforms]

4) The Sandbox

Just to the left of Freeforms though, we have something else. Or possibly, there's just not much of "The Rest" left. We have the Sandbox. These are a popular idea, but they are quite a bit rarer than the two types to the left. In fact, I can't think of a surviving example.

Here, the GM has less of a story in mind and more of a world or a series of events. The idea is that each player delivers a fleshed out character who can have a real impact and start shaping the narrative directly through his own actions. It's a subtle difference from the "Malleable Story", but I think it is a discrete one.

[GM Railroad]--[Malleable Stories]-[The Sandbox]-[Freeforms]

5: Directed Narrative Alteration

I think that there is something else though, possibly it's more of an extra dimension to that existing, fairly arbitrary, line I've fabricated. Each of them works on a similar principle, that a player can impact the narrative only through the actions of a character (to degrees ranging from zero on the left to 1/(player number) on the right).

So, this steps into metagaming, as the player is put in control of not only his own character but also the larger story. This can be done in many ways, I'm sure, but I've spotted two.

5a: World Building

A GM might define an entire universe in which a game takes place, or he might define only that which the players directly experience. Or he might initially do only the latter and openly invite the players to develop the world around them, not just in the form of character history, but also in the form of inventing geography, history, politics, physical laws and all the rest.

My prime example of this is treehouse' Inceptum. The game takes place pretty much in the arse end of nowhere on the frontiers of civilisation, but the world at large has been put together in collaboration between treehouse and the players (except me, for some reason). Now, I've no idea if anything that somebody has said in there has changed the outcome of the plot, but even if it didn't happen in that example it is obvious that it could. A player invented group gets subbed in for something the GM had in mind.

It's at this point that I realise I should have actually drawn my little diagram, as putting sidebits on it in ASCII is too much of a pain.

5b: Playing the Metagame

Then we have the idea which I found out about through the Paizo newsletter: You make adding directly to the narrative in a manner outside of a player's character a game for the player.

The example I have here, is the Plot Twist Card. These are a physical deck of cards handed out in a roughly similar manner that action points might be (so say one per level). The cards contain themes and concepts. The idea being that at any given moment a player might play one of his cards and explain his idea for a "twist" related to the theme. The GM doesn't have to accept it verbatim, but the idea is to make the story telling experience more of a shared one.

Here's an example

Ignore the thing about treating an enemy as flanked, they have some optional mechanical effects, but that is irrelevant.

So, why did you type all of that?
I don't know. I'd like to see if people agree with my rambling or have examples outside of the categories I pulled out of my arse (I mean scientifically researched). Or whether anybody has ever tried to use such cards. Or if the idea appeals and they are going to.

Would it be a terrible idea if my inevitable next game included such things? (obviously PMed to players and kept hidden from between them).

Does anyone have any other ideas for making metagame narrative direction into its own sidegame?

And then BigRedRod realised he never did make that thread about the relative merits of handing out awards for player advancement in PBPs (i.e. XP for the most part).
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 07:12
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“ Originally Posted by BRR Then we have the idea which I found out about through the Paizo newsletter: You make adding directly to the narrative in a manner outside of a player's character a game for the player. ”
There are actually a lot of systems designed around mechanics like this; they're probably the defining feature of "narrativist" games. Some easy ways to put some narrativism into D&D are contact systems, for introducing helpful NPCs, and action points, for swinging dramatic rolls.

Another example that comes to mind, being very similar to yours, is 4e Drama Cards.

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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 12:04
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There are a plethora of games that have player-driven narration baked into the game itself. Apocalypse World and In a Wicked Age come to mind first. Houses of the Blooded has Style Points which people can spend to add things to the game world. Mortal Coil, a diceless game of magic and passion (bear with me, the tag line is important), has Magic Tokens which can be spent to add magical facts to the world or activate pre-existing magical facts for a given session.

Some games completely remove the GMs ability to plot and carry on: again, In a Wicked Age and Apocalypse World proscribe coming up with a plot and attempting to force it on your players.

OD&D, while not explicit on this matter, plays best when you aren't forcing a plot on players but instead giving them a world to explore. They get very little say in the details of the world, but by-and-large the direction of the action is up to their characters (by way of how they are played by the player).

White-Wolf games would be far into what has become the "traditional" model (though this only came into vogue when TSR started moving away from the "hobby" aspects of roleplaying and into the commercialized entertainment zone), with a given meta-plot and advice on how to create your own plots.

Amber DRP is another example of a plot-driven game: you interact with the plot and world as established by the novels, even if you go so far as to take the line "What would another generation have been like?" to heart and craft an entirely new Amber family.

Hm. Lady Blackbird is kind of a mix: you get the skeleton of a plot, along with maps, name lists, potential advances (i.e. things you can buy with XP), location names and descriptions, and a description of how the action begins in media res along with the background for the characters being together. So on one level you have this whole metaplot, but on a closer level you basically do what you want and connect the dots as you go, crafting your own allies, enemies, and adventures.

There could be more, but I'll stop now to give people a chance to respond. I may be way off-topic here.
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 12:36
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Another rules light system that focuses on player involvement in story telling is one of my favorites - Wushu
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 12:59
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Say Gral i hear that FATE has some interesting mechanics...
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 13:08
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Feng Shui seems like an interesting rules light system, but it's not necessarily a player involvement one.

There was some fairy tale based game I was interested in a couple years back that was very much a player driven game - players threw in cards to change the story, met goals, etc.

But I remember nothing more.
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 19:34
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“ Originally Posted by LeadPal # Some easy ways to put some narrativism into D&D are contact systems, for introducing helpful NPCs, and action points, for swinging dramatic rolls.Another example that comes to mind, being very similar to yours, is 4e Drama Cards.

”
While interesting, the drama cards are more one-off player powers than anything involved with the narrative. Still an interesting idea though. And action points, while I see what you're saying, don't really address direct interaction any more than a player investing more in his skills so that he fails less often does.

It does tie in to an idea I was toying with though of giving the characters some direct analogue to action points in the term of "luck points" which could be spent to have some minor piece of luck (such as fleeing from a castle and managing to pick a series of doors and passages which handily lead to a window. Another could be spent for a convenient hay cart below.). Of course, each time a player spends such a point, the GM gets one to inflict similar misfortunes.

I suppose you could extend it to allowing players to make any given situation worse for themselves, if you handed out "bad news" tokens that cause things like enemy reinforcements, or doors to be jammed. Possibly granting them XP bonuses for that challenge? Hmmmm

“ Originally Posted by Croaker # Big ol' list of game systems ”
Interesting, although all of that seems to fall on the original line I drew. Each time it's the players influencing what goes on through their characters, they aren't contributing in a manner outside of that (not that I think it's a bad thing, but it is kind of what drove me to type up my long waffle there).

I found the Plot Twist cards interesting as they interact with a given scene outside of the influence of a player's character.

FATE and Wushu both appear quite similar. So, Wushu frees the players in terms of their own actions and FATE has that clever little system that lets them try to tie things to their own characters (in a manner which is usually very hard to employ in PBPs).

That fairy tale thing sounds just like what I was going for, I think. Although, for my own purposes, I'm mainly interested in piggy backing them into more fully established systems.
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 21:13
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“ Originally Posted by BigRedRod # While interesting, the drama cards are more one-off player powers than anything involved with the narrative. ”
Not to say it's not in there, mind. Several of the card categories, such as 'Subplot' and 'Adventure', are entirely story-based; I'm not sure how many would be left if you removed the PC-based cards, but probably still plenty for a deck. There are a lot of cards.

Hmm. Something about your--or the newsletter's--definition of narrative control doesn't sit with me; I can't quite place what it is. I suppose it might just be that I don't see a clear-cut line between narrative control through PC actions, and narrative control through setting manipulation.
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 21:47
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No, that stems entirely from my own thoughts. It seems pretty clear cut to me though: one is a player using a character to do something and the other is the player without a character
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 22:28
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“ Originally Posted by BigRedRod # Interesting, although all of that seems to fall on the original line I drew. Each time it's the players influencing what goes on through their characters, they aren't contributing in a manner outside of that (not that I think it's a bad thing, but it is kind of what drove me to type up my long waffle there). ”
But that's not the case. In a Wicked Age lets you just say whatever you think is true, and people go along with it, that's fine. Apocalypse World is the same. That's kind of the free-form approach.

Mortal Coil gives you a player currency (Magic Tokens) that let you add magical facts to the game completely outside of your character. More later.
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Unread 13th of August, 2010, 23:49
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“ Originally Posted by -J- the Magnificent Say Gral i hear that FATE has some interesting mechanics... ”
Of course, when I read this thread FATE was the first thing to come to my mind. Fate points can be used by the players to take narrative control in the story. Pretty much, I spend a Fate point and declare something to be true and it is.

Well, not definitely.

The GM has the option to escalate if said action takes too much control or has too much impact. In other words, the player says "I spend a Fate point to have a crowbar on my person". The GM doesn't like that idea, and so responds with "I'll give you a fate point if you don't have a crowbar". At that point, the player can back down and accept an extra Fate point OR he can choose to spend two Fate points to get his crowbar.
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Unread 14th of August, 2010, 01:24
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The Buffy game has Drama points. They are effectively trump cards. You spend them to do stuff You couldn't do or to succeed when You failed.

The interesting piece is that there are two kinds of PCs -Heroes like the Slayer, and white hats like Xander. Heroes Get more stat points but half the drama points.

Check out Shakespeare's thread on ghost busters too. He quoted the Brownie points which are XP and action points and drama points all lumped together....
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Unread 14th of August, 2010, 02:41
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You can use Fate points that way as well. The versatility you get with Fate points is pretty cool - they are offered as currency when you play into a disadvantage (as in the crowbar example above), but you can use them to take some amount of narrative control or to succeed when you should have failed or to do something you normally couldn't do.

Overall, it is a very nice incentive for creating drama. Not only to you get a reward for creating drama, you also get a means to help yourself succeed in said drama. Yes, I could spend a Fate point to overcome my injured leg and run away faster (which is cool), but if I take the offered Fate point and gimp along I now have two Fate points to spend in the ensuing brawl when the bad guy catches up to me (which could end up being even cooler).
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Unread 20th of August, 2010, 16:26
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No idea how I missed this thread til now. I have been considering this in a Pathfinder game I am going to be running. I think it is along the same lines as what your thinking of BRR. If you don't mind me asking...what system were you considering piggy backing off of and in what way were you thinking to impliment it?

For me it was mostly out of personal laziness and/or not having enough time to put the proper effort into world building. I am going to be running some great modules I found (which I normally don't do) but rather than me shoehorning them into an existing world I would rather have a sort of homebrew world where the players have input as to what exists in the world. I'm thinking mostly deities, geography, race interactions, national histories, etc. Nothing that has big dramatic effects directly on the character, but gives a sort of shared concept of the world.

I sorta have a guise as to why I want this too. I'm hoping it will lead to someone else being able to pick up the game when I'm done DMing and we can all just play in the same world we all collaborative have helped build. Who knows...maybe its something that will grow on us and blossum into something more. Nah, who am I kidding?
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Unread 20th of August, 2010, 17:47
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Well yes, if I had such answers I might have directly included them.

It sounds like you're more into letting the players design the setting than changing the direction of the story (as you're using modules, which makes that much harder). The standard formula for that ,which I've had almost no success with at all, is handing out bonus xp for player contributions (so when they write a piece about a country/city/God/culture/race/etc.).

Inceptum has does this better than most, take a look in its setting forum and the posts that hand out XP. Or just ask treehouse.
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Unread 20th of August, 2010, 19:48
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Ah, it sounded like you had a direction. Just theorizing then?

Also, yeah...for now just modules. But if I had more time (/inclination) then I would like to try it for my normal homebrew style of campaign. And I agree, I have tried the reward method you say but have had little success. I dunno why though, if I was presented with that kind of opportunity then I would take advantage of it.

I haven't looked much at Inceptum but I might have to take a look. I try to stay away from Treehouse as much as possible as I hear he is the clingy stalker type.
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Unread 24th of August, 2010, 07:00
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