Sunday, 20 December 2015

Narrative Sharing, my two cents

Just Wanted to jump on the bandwagon of this wave on the interwebs.

You can look at the arguments across some of the forums, from here and here and here and here

TL;DR; If used sparingly, a narrative mechanic might work, but you gotta be a dang good GM to know how to use it.

Should Players have Narrative Control?

Sure, about themselves, their characters, their decisions, for the most part. When players suddenly decide their law abiding paladin decides to slaughter innocent children, I gotta ask the player.. "hey buddy, that makes zero sense for your character, should we talk about whats happening?" So maybe not 100%.

When it comes to asking the now famous question: "Do I see a rock nearby?" or the other "is there a Botany book in this library" Now we're getting to some of the problem.. I'm thinking, probably yes, but, ... and I'll get to that..

When a player starts saying things like, " I wanna play an elf" and I say, "sorry, but the campaign is set too far from any reasonable expectation of an elf being within dragon-spitting distance, let alone born here, what is it you want to play?" we're not talking narrative, we're talking setting.. so thats another point.. kind of a yes.. but.

If a player ask, in my Pratchettesque fantasy setting, " I want to buy a glock.38" then I'm going to look at him quizzically and say, "you do realize this is a fantasy game right? no guns?" so that's a plain.. No.

Working backwards:

Setting, I hope it doesn't need to be explained in detail, no-one is really arguing that a player insists on breaking the setting, and that a GM need to allow it. strike it off the list.

Bending the setting, When a player wants to create his character that's not really permissible. Early GMs might capitulate because they don't know or haven't experienced how sometimes saying yes to make the player feel good, will break the world. My example of an Elf above, would suggest, somehow against all logic and reason, some Elven parents managed to sneak into territory hostile to elves, have a kid, raise him, all the while disguising themselves and their kid until adult-hood, enough that he can now become an adventurer with the group. This is when my players can use my Karma system, what would be Fate/Bennies/points that could make this 'background' ok, why? Does that break my world? no because its setting, we haven't started playing, its developing their own character, their background, in a way that is interesting to the player and the group.

Ok, struck from the list.. Now for in-game player narrative..

Looking at the Idea, Is there a Book about Botany in the library. To start most would agree, It is pre-destined or it is unknown.  In the case of the pre-destined book existing we have the concept of, the GM pre-thought the books existence or non-existence, and is in his notes. "the Library contains only roleplay manuals". But realistically, a book about botany not existing in a library, sounds quite far-fetched, so maybe the GM takes a moment and thinks.. hmm, well maybe..

So we're left with the Schrodinger cat conundrum, Does the Book exist or not? Like many before me have spoken, There seems two camps of thought..The Book has a chance of existing, because the world has a statistical chance of it existing, or the Book exists because of Narrative reasons.

With the chance of existing, the statistical value is based on factoids that the GM mostly knows, but maybe the players might also know if its a published adventure world, such as forgotten realms or Warhammer40k. In this case, most GMs who follow this style of GMing would roll a percentile dice of chance to see if the book exists. If it does, it does, the GM didn't decide that it existed, the plot didn't decide, The statistical chance determined that is was there all along, the percentile roll only determined that the player found it. Actually, the roll might determine that the player didn't find it, but its still actually there.. If a tree falls in the woods, does the GM hear it?

From the Narrative point of view, the Books existence is based on the flow of the story. If the player has an idea and the idea doesn't directly break the GMs current world view, he allows it, because the player has more narrative control.. and this seems to be the whole argument..

Did the book exist? or did it pop into existance because the player, and not the GM determined it needed to exist.. will this break the world?

Some game systems and Improv Theatre roleplay groups insist that this be the norm, if the GM didn't previously state that it was not so, then the players should be able to include it, sometimes for some kind of point/luck/benny/fate cost.. 

Now sure, if a group decides together that this should be the way they play.. go for it.. find out the dangers and benefits, play to their hearts contents, but don't for a second expect me to listen to your story with any level of immersion, its like kids explaining how cool it is to play a game with god-mode on, or how cool minecraft is in creative mode.. no.. its not cool.. I'm not going to say that to their sweet little cherub faces of course, but I know deep down that they've missed out on the very reason roleplay games work.. 

Experience, creativity, boundaries and obstacles.

Its fun to figure out a puzzle, we get the boundaries and the obstacles, we use creativity and when we solve it we are wiser for the experience. If we can suddenly change the boundaries, how will be ever be able to learn how to solve the original puzzle? we've changed the puzzle and we solve, probably an easier version, probably we've changed it to something we've already done before, because its easier, so we don't even learn anything new.. 

Lets look at the rock in the above example..

The Player stands in a stream and says "Oh I need a rock, is there one nearby?"

Every GM says, of course there's likely to be a rock in a stream, and lets them have one. I say.. Hang on.. what is the player asking? I have an idea.. I want to use a rock for something.. spell component or throw it or.. something.. In a movie, there will be a rock if there needs to be, because we like luck to favour the hero. If the plot determines that a rock will make the event too boring too easy, then there is no rock.. but that's a movie.. Its understood by the writer and director where the movie is going so they can balance this exactly as needed.. but a GM, on the fly? with a player who hasn't told the GM what the rock is for yet? how can he judge if that rock is going to make or break the plot.. so its easier to determine.. likely that rock exists in reality, the player wants one.. so let him have it.

I might think also.. wait, is that player always 'coming up with ideas at the last moment? and using his fate/benny/luck to change the plot? how will a person grow, if he expect life to always have things ready for him.. so maybe the rock will be there, but not accessible, not right this very combat round.. so he thinks, next time, next time I'll get a rock and be prepared, have one in my pocket.. like a good adventurer should.

That's sorta "yes, and" but I've created an obstacle to what they wanted, because they thought of it at the last second and wanted 'god' to 'shift' reality to accommodate, which I hate to do, but they are heroes and they should be lucky, because roleplay is a little cinematic.. but they have to use the luck.

Why is this acceptable to me? because dice are fickle, and narrative is not supposed to end because someone rolled a 1 at the wrong time, but I don't want to bend the rules, because then it never ends.. and when I've played games with GMs who rule bend to keep the narrative, I got bored almost instantly.. why bother to try so hard if the GM is just going to allow me to do my cool thing because it fit the narrative or as much it didn't break the narrative. So I included a mechanic, dice are fickle, monsters and NPCs might die because life is like that, but you are heroes, so if you make a choice and it results in poor dice rolls, you can use your luck to take back that roll, and live another day.. but learn from your mistakes, because you have a limited pool and once they run dry, you've out of luck.

For systems without some kind of saviour, I don't see an answer. fickle dice will kill a straight simulationist story, but player narrative will destroy players agency in the long run, and make a game boring. finding the right balance is hard.. which is why people will argue about it.

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