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Messages - Munin

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376
Apocalypse World / Re: how do brainers impulses work?
« on: January 02, 2014, 06:17:36 PM »
I think the confusion comes from the use of terminology that is very specific to Apocalypse World.

By "Threats" Ebok is referring to the standard AW terminology for "the opposition."  Warlords, Grotesques, Landscapes, Brutes, etc.  Threats act under certain "impulses" (i.e. the "Prison" Landscape threat has an impulse to trap, to contain, to prevent escape).  These impulses simply serve as an easy reminder to the MC that that's what this particular Threat is all about.

The Brainer on the other hand is a PC playbook type.  It doesn't have "impulses" the way a mechanical Threat does (largely because the Brainer is acting under player control, and gods only know what impulses the player has ;) ).  So I think we don't understand your question.  What is it about how the Brainer works with which you're having trouble?

377
Apocalypse World / Re: XP each roll, even in "a sequence"?
« on: January 02, 2014, 06:07:58 PM »
We tend to limit gaining XP from a highlighted stat to once per scene, though the goal is to keep scenes pretty short such that this isn't too much of an issue.  But we found that some characters (especially the Brainer, who uses Weird for basically everything) were advancing really really quickly if their Weird was highlighted.

As for using stat-substitution moves, I would be inclined to only allow XP if the highlighted stat is rolled.  So if I'm playing a Brainer with Unnatural Lust Transfixion and my Hot is highlighted, what that is telling me is that if I want to turn this person into a meat-puppet through seduction, sure, I can use my Weird and I will likely be successful.  But if I want to learn something (i.e. gain experience), maybe I should try it the old fashioned way and actually connect with the person on a more human level.  Just because you have a stat-substitution move doesn't mean you have to use it.

And remember, to do it, do it.  You can't just say, "Oh, yeah, I totally Go Aggro on this guy to get him out of my way."  You have to describe your actions, you have to add to the fiction.  And if you do have a stat substitution move, I want you to actually describe how you are doing what it is that you are doing that uses the substituted stat.  Playing a Battlebabe with Ice Cold?  Tell me what it is that you're doing that's so Cool when you Go Aggro on someone.  If the answer is, "Uh, I stick my gun in his face and tell him to do what I want," then I'm likely to argue that you're doing it using Hard, not Cool.  But if the answer is, "Without a word I draw my katana using flawless iai, cut the belt of his holster straight through the buckle, then perform a perfect flourish of chiburi and noto, returning my sword to its scabbard before his gunbelt hits the floor.  With my hand still on the hilt I say, 'We will be entering this establishment without further interference'," then hells yeah you can use your Cool!  And if it is your Cool that's highlighted, then mark experience because you actually did something Cool.

What stat highlighting means to me is not that someone wants to see you do a certain thing, but rather that they want to see you be a certain way.  They want to see that aspect of your character.  By highlighting your Cool, they want to see how you rise above stress, how you are graceful under pressure, or how you impress people.  By highlighting your Hard, they want to see you be aggressive or strong-willed.  Hitting your Hot means they want to see you connect with people, to see you as a social animal.  Highlighting your Sharp means they want to see your introspective side, or see you think before you act.  And by pegging your Weird they want to see your spiritual side, want you to reveal just a little bit of your soul.

378
You have Daring listed as a stat twice.  I assume this is an error and there are only 5 stats?  Or should one of them be something else?

And the dreidl mechanic cracks me up.  True story: one of the dreidls my wife has is naturally loaded, but in a bad way.  If you spin it clockwise it always comes out a nun, if you spin it counterclockwise it always comes out a shin.  Something with the interior center of mass of the wood or some imperceptible flaw in the faces, I guess.  Either way, remind me not to use it for this game.  :)

379
brainstorming & development / Re: Viking Playbook
« on: December 19, 2013, 06:02:06 PM »
Right you are!  I think the easiest alteration to convey the idea is to say, "if you are the only member of your crew getting laid, roll+hard..."

I think this makes it more clear, and furthermore answers both questions (do you share or does your partner bring friends).

That said, the idea that the Viking raid leader never shares and is thus always in tension with his crew is an intriguing one.  I'm not sure I'd go that far because I think it penalizes the Viking Special a little too much, but it's certainly an interesting twist.

It's also interesting to consider how this move plays with the special of the other playbooks.  For example, having sex with the battlebabe is "safe" because the Viking special is nullified.  Maybe your crew thinks you're crazy for going there.  And if the Skinner is actually willing to be shared with your crew there's all sorts of potential for disaster and hilarity.

380
brainstorming & development / Viking Playbook
« on: December 18, 2013, 10:53:17 PM »
I'm looking at running a re-skinned version of AW in a low-fantasy medieval setting (Harn, for those who might be curious).  Not really a full hack, just a difference in setting and a few cosmetic changes.  Pretty much all of the playbooks convert straight across as-is or with very little modification with the notable exception of the Driver.

But one of the things that's present in the area where the game is to be set are viking raiders, and it occurred to me that if I was looking for a character that was mobile, someone with a ship could be cool.  But just having a ship can be pretty limiting, so I wanted to add more to it.  A gang of raiders seems kind of cool, but I wanted to be careful not to tread too heavily on the Chopper's toes.  The trick is to work things out such that the Viking has its own niche, but isn't completely useless if the story isn't taking place at sea.  This is my attempt to balance that idea.  So I give you:

THE VIKING

STATS
Choose one set:
• Cool=0 Hard-1 Hot+1 Sharp+2 Weird=0
• Cool+1 Hard=0 Hot=0 Sharp+2 Weird-1
• Cool=0 Hard+1 Hot-1 Sharp+2 Weird=0
• Cool+1 Hard-2 Hot=0 Sharp+2 Weird+1

MOVES
You get all the basic moves, as well as a no shit sailor and raid leader.

*  A no shit sailor: when at the helm...
...if you do something under fire, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if you try to seize something by force, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if you go aggro, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if you try to seduce or manipulate someone, add your ship’s looks to your roll.
...if you help or interfere with someone, add your ship’s power to your roll.
...if someone interferes with you, add your ship’s weakness to their roll.

*  Raid leader: when you try to impose your will on your crew, roll+hard. If you are at the helm, add your ship's power as well.  On a 10+, all 3.
On a 7–9, choose 1:
• they do what you want
• they don’t fight back over it
• you don’t have to make an example of one of them
On a miss, someone in your gang makes a dedicated bid to replace you for raid leader.

O  Good in the clinch: when you do something under fire, roll+sharp instead of roll+cool.

O  Weather eye: when you open your brain to the world’s psychic maelstrom, roll+sharp
instead of roll+weird.

O  Daredevil: if you go straight into danger without hedging your bets, you get +1armor.
If you happen to be leading a gang or convoy, it gets +1armor too.

CRAP
Your crew is a lightly-armed mob of 10-15 blood-thirsty raiders who know their way around both a hawser and an axe (2-Harm gang small unruly savage 1-armor).

Your ship is a modest long-boat capable of carrying a small gang in addition to its crew.

Choose one of these profiles:
• power+2 looks+1 1-armor weakness+1
• power+2 looks+2 0-armor weakness+1
• power+1 looks+2 1-armor weakness+1
• power+2 looks+1 2-armor weakness+2

Pick one per power:
• Your crew is heavily armed (+1harm)
• Your crew is heavily armored (+1armor)
• Your crew is numerous (counts as a medium gang)
• Your ship is capacious (can hold either a medium gang or a small mounted gang in addition to its crew)
• Your ship is armored (gives +1 armor to people fighting from it)
• Your ship has braziers and fire arrows (gives +1harm reload to people fighting from it)
• Your ship is easy to handle (can be crewed effectively by just a few people)
• Your ship is fast
• Your ship is rugged
• Your ship is easy to repair
• Your ship has a shallow-draft

Pick one per weakness:
• Your crew is prone to drunkenness (vulnerable: desertion)
• Your crew is a pack of scurvy dogs (vulnerable: disease)
• Your crew has made bitter enemies (vulnerable: reprisals)
• Your crew owes a significant debt to someone powerful (vulnerable: obligation)
• Your ship is hard to handle (needs at least 10 people to crew effectively)
• Your ship is cramped (fits only the crew)
• Your ship is slow
• Your ship is fragile
• Your ship is finicky
• Your ship is unreliable

VIKING SPECIAL
If you and another character have sex, they immediately mark +1 Hx with you.  In addition, they may also choose whether to give you -1 or +1 to your Hx with them.
In addition, roll+hard. On a 10+, it’s cool, the conquest is yours and your crew is impressed - take +1 forward with them. On a 7–9, there's a little grumbling but it doesn't amount to more than talk.  On a miss, they're pissed at you for not sharing - you can either take -1 forward with them or impose your will.

IMPROVEMENT
__ get +1hard (max hard+2)
__ get +1hot (max hot+2)
__ get +1weird (max weird+2)
__ get a new viking move
__ get a new viking move
__ choose a new option for your crew or ship
__ get 2 gigs (detail) and moonlighting
__ get a move from another playbook
__ get a move from another playbook

__ get +1 to any stat (max stat+3)
__ retire your character (to safety)
__ create a second character to play
__ change your character to a new type
__ choose 3 basic moves and advance them.
__ advance the other 4 basic moves.


Analysis: The Viking has both a gang and a vehicle, but needs to split his choices between them.  As such, his gang won't ever be as good as the Chopper's.  Additionally, (and perhaps somewhat subtlely), I chose to make the Viking's gang unruly in addition to simply savage, and discipline is not one of the crew improvement options.  This strikes me as characterful, largely because what we're talking about here isn't an organized mounted warband (like the Chopper's gang) but rather a group of men banded together for the sole purpose of raiding to get rich.  They're going to have different ideas about how best to accomplish that.

Furthermore, most of the stat pack options don't help the Viking out with Hard rolls.  This makes imposing your will on the gang dicey when you're not at the helm.  So in shipboard actions, imposing your will should be OK.  But once the boat is beached and your men are running around causing havok?  Not so much.

I am hoping I've struck a decent balance here, but I'm interested to get other peoples' feedback on it.  What have I gotten right and what have I missed?  I'm especially interested in opinions on the Viking Special move, because I'm curious as to whether having a sex move affect the character's other crap will work well.


381
brainstorming & development / Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« on: December 18, 2013, 03:57:00 PM »
Yes, the game I'm daydreaming about making is.... Shtetl World!
Hahaha.  Nice!  My wife would be all over that.  :)

382
brainstorming & development / Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« on: December 17, 2013, 04:23:49 PM »
OMG, is this a game of family intrigues and politics set in czarist Russia?  Hell yeah, sign me up!

In terms of Eligibility, I think you could also do a lot with tags.  Maybe that's what you were getting at with "tell the MC what's wrong with them."  And maybe you can use the tags in interesting ways, like if you are doing something that aligns with the tag, take +1 forward.  If you are doing something against the tag, take a -1 forward.  So for instance, if your suitor is known to be lecherous and you want to take advantage of that fact, put some fiction into it.  "I wear my lowest cut dress with the bodice that best accentuates my cleavage."  Awesome, take +1 forward into your First Impressions roll.  Alternately, "Yeah, I think this guy is a loser anyway, so knowing his lecherous tendencies I dress like a nun for our first meeting."  Equally awesome, take -1 forward into your First Impressions roll.

Setting up the number of suitors in set-up would be a good start, but I almost think that it could be routinely altered by something like rolling Wealth or Augury or Moonlighting - every so often, you roll+Eligibility.  On a hit, a new suitor is available.  On a 7-9, some change to your existing suitors happens.  This could be advancement or retraction of a countdown clock (family negotiations speed up or break down), a change in suitor Eligibility (your beau gets a commission as an adjutant to Prince Bagration, improving his future prospects and making him more desirable), or some conditional thing (your beau's family decides to winter in Odessa this year, putting a hold on negotiations for a season).  You could even add or remove a tag from a suitor (your beau is wounded in action, adding a "crippled" tag, or is induced by his own family to sober up, losing his "alcoholic" tag).  On a miss, one of your existing suitors gets taken off the market (either she marries someone else, dies of the pox, or dislikes the thought of marrying you so much that she runs away, disguises herself as a man, and joins the czar's army).

I am not familiar with the Strings mechanic from MonsterHearts.  Can you give me the tl;dr version?

I think part of the fun would be what the PCs do in order to enhance their own Eligibility.  Pursuing advancement of one's military career, amassing wealth, getting named as a chambermaid to the duchess, all could enhance a character's Eligibility, which in turn will help them attract more suitable suitors.  And if you have the backdrop of an ongoing war, there's plenty of opportunity for fighty characters to do fighty things.  Similarly, if you have internecine court politics, it gives an opportunity for social characters to do social things.

Man.  Just thinking about this is making me want to re-read War and Peace.

383
brainstorming & development / Re: mechanic for arranging marriages
« on: December 16, 2013, 09:27:43 PM »
Coming to this one late, but this is something that screams for a countdown clock.  These kinds of arrangements are always about the process.  There are lengthy and complicated negotiations involving numerous participants, many of which will have been underway long before the potential bride and the groom ever meet.  At any of these steps, things can break down, but once things reach a sort of "critical mass," they're hard to stop.

So maybe it's something like, before 9:00, parties are interested, negotiations are ongoing, the idea is being given weight but no one is committed yet.  Without active participation to advance the pact, both families will entertain other offers and passing time will mean a weakening of the prospects.  In other words, if no one is actively trying to advance it, the countdown clock will tick backwards, much like Harm before 9:00 healing on its own.

After 9:00, however, the negotiations have been largely settled, a good-faith agreement has been made between the families, and preparations are actually underway.  This is when the aroma of inevitability begins to permeate the proceedings, and unless someone is actively trying to stop it, the deed is going to be done whether the bride or groom want it or not.  In other words, Harm after 9:00 gets worse with time.

And after 12:00, it's time to head to the wedding chapel.

Adding even more fun, there could also be additional Threat Clocks representing the proposals of other suitors.  This gives more opportunities for both hilarity and fuckery, as discrediting other suitors becomes an additional aspect to the battle.  And if two PCs are both vying for the same PC/NPC's hand?  Hilarity indeed.

To handle these complicated negotiations, you might have some custom moves like:

Gifts Befitting a Blushing Bride
When you give gifts to the family of the bride, roll+barter (up to N barter may be spent this way).
10+: The bride's family is greatly impressed.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick, and take +1 forward on your next interaction with the bride's family.
7-9: The bride's family is duly impressed, but there's a complication.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick, and choose 1:
  • The bride's family lets it drop that there's another offer on the table.  Create a new Threat Countdown representing this alternate merger and set it at 3:00.
  • The family likes the gifts, but can't help comparing them to the gifts brought by the family of suitor X.  Advance suitor X's Threat Countdown by one tick.
  • One of the bride's relatives takes an instant and intense dislike to a member of the groom's family, and begins trying to put on the brakes.  Take -1 ongoing to all future negotiations with the bride's family.
  • Perhaps all is not as it seems.  Some member of the bride's family lets something slip that indicates that perhaps she is not quite the catch she has been talked up to be.  The bride's "Eligibility" score goes down by one.
6-: The bride's family is insulted.  Maybe they feel like the amount was not commensurate with what their daughter is worth, maybe they just didn't like the gifts themselves.  Or maybe they're just looking for an excuse because they've had a better offer.  Either way, pull the countdown clock back two steps.  If this drops it to 0:00 or earlier, this window has closed irrevocably.

First Impressions
The first time the bride and groom meet, roll+Hot.
10+: The bride thinks you're a smoking hottie and stops (or at least greatly slows) throwing tantrums to daddy about not wanting to get married.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick and take +1 forward to your next interaction with the bride herself.
7-9: The bride thinks you're decent looking, but isn't blown off her feet.  Advance the countdown clock by one tick and choose 1:
  • The bride's chaperone doesn't like the look of you.  Take -1 forward to your next interaction with the bride where the chaperone is present.
  • The bride isn't all that impressed with you, but the bride's little sister is completely smitten, to the point that she's on you every chance she gets.  Any time you are doing anything in the presence of the bride's family, you are Acting Under Fire as you try to keep the little minx's lascivious attempts to get at you from being discovered.
  • The bride likes you but doesn't find you as attractive as suitor X.  Advance suitor X's Threat Countdown by one tick.
  • Turns out those pictures of the bride were pretty well-doctored "glamor shots."  She's not nearly as attractive in person.  Reduce her "Eligibility" score by one.
6-: The bride finds you revolting.  Maybe she really doesn't like your manly unibrow.  Maybe she doesn't like tall men.  Maybe she doesn't like men.  Either way, she has threatened to throw herself out the window in the tallest tower if forced to marry you.  Daddy still remains resolute that this is a good match, so while your countdown clock is safe, take -2 ongoing on all future interactions with the bride-to-be.  Yeah, she hates the look of you that much.

Matchmaker/Homewrecker
Any time you undertake negotiations on behalf a suitor (or a smear campaign against one), roll+Sharp.
10+: You make your case convincingly.  Advance the countdown clock of the suitor in question by one tick in the direction you desire.  Additionally, your arguments are so well-stated that you may advance the countdown clock of another suitor in the opposite direction.
7-9: Pick 2:
  • You are well spoken and the family seems receptive to your ideas.  Advance the countdown clock of the suitor in question by one tick in the direction you desire.
  • You are treated as a valuable source of information by the bride's family.  Take +1 forward with them in your next interaction.
  • You don't have to lie through your teeth to get what you want.
6-: The bride's family sees you as either an intrusive busybody or a bitter harridan.  The countdown clock of the suitor in question goes one tick in the direction opposite to what you intend.

Throw a Tantrum
You rave like a lunatic, throw things, break stuff, behave badly at social functions, and generally make a pest of yourself.  Once per session or after a suitable amount of downtime has passed, you may roll+Hard.
10+: In an effort to get a little bit of peace in their household, the family relents and agrees to take a step back from the negotiations.  You may pull back the countdown clock of a single suitor of your choice by one tick.
7-9: Your parents offer you the kind of choice that parents tend to offer - pick one:
  • Pull back the countdown clock of a suitor of your choice but take -1 ongoing with your family whenever marriage negotiations are concerned
  • Suck it up and mark experience
6-: Your parents have had enough of your shit.  Now they just want you gone, and the sooner the better.  Advance the countdown clock of the suitor who is the front runner by one tick.  In the event of a tie, use the suitor with the highest "Eligibility" score.

Any of the above described moves could have an Advanced Form: on a 12+, the desired change in countdown clock is doubled, or two clocks may be moved.  Plus also, it would be awesome to have a character who had Advanced Throw a Tantrum;)

And certainly some of the basic moves work too, particularly things like Seduce or Manipulate.  The actual mechanical effects might be more nebulous to adjudicate, but at some level it's all about positioning the characters within the fiction in order to set up the next move.  So as a suitor who has attracted the unwanted attentions of the bride's hussy of a little sister, I could roll a Seduce or Manipulate on my buddy Sergio to be my wingman at the big feast the bride's parents are throwing and keep that little minx occupied (meaning I wouldn't have to Act Under Fire as described above).  I could even drop him 1-barter to hit the 10+ without having to roll.  "Seriously, Sergio, I'll even outfit you with luxe new threads for the party.  But I need you, man."  And if Sergio is a PC, well, it's his choice and further hilarity will ensue.

For "Eligibility," I'd rank it from -3 to +3 (with a -1,0,+1 value for each of wealth/prospects, beauty/temperament, and breeding) and subtract this from any rolls for negotiation.  The thinking behind this is that highly eligible brides or grooms will have lots of offers to choose from, whereas the families of less desirable candidates will be much more willing to get them married off with less hassle or haggling.  Even for something like a First Impressions move would use this - after all a rich, beautiful girl from an important family has seen lots of pretty-boys come and go.

Alternately (or additionally), you could use the combination (probably the difference) of the bride and groom's Eligibilty scores as the negotiation modifier.  So a suitor with +3 Eligibility isn't penalized for trying to land a girl with a +3 Eligibility, but a suitor with a -3 Eligibility is going to need a miracle to make that match happen.  And if a family with a +3 child wants (for whatever crazy reason) to marrying that child off to a -3 suitor, that shit should be super easy (i.e. taking +6 to the rolls) because the parents of the less eligible partner are thanking their lucky stars their child is getting married off at all.

And for the next generation, maybe the children's base Eligibility will be that of the average of the parents.  I mean, it's always in peoples' best interests to marry up, right?  So after the PCs manage to arrange marriages for themselves and start having kids, they'll start haggling to advance the prospects for their children (and subsequent generations).

Obviously this is written from the AW perspective (using terms such as barter and attributes like Hot or Hard or Sharp), but I think it gets the point across.  But I think the idea of a process of negotiations is interesting.  it certainly gives plenty of opportunities for things to go badly, for other suitors to pop up as Threats, and for the whole process to feel like a giant, organic, delicate social process, which is what I've always imagined an arranged marriage to be.

Is this at all useful to you?

384
Also, you should absolutely ask questions during the Hx round any time something interesting crops up.  OK, so Casey the Brainer has decided that he is going to take the Hx bonus for having watched Deke the battlebabe sleep.  Ask about the circumstances behind this.  Either one or both players will probably have something awesome to add.  Doesn't need to be more than a few sentences, but it serves to add something to the fiction that will come in handy later.

385
roleplaying theory, hardcore / Re: Augury vs. Spell Lists
« on: December 15, 2013, 11:09:15 PM »
I like this.  It leaves things open-ended, but allows players to repeat known effects.  Essentially allowing them to build their own "spell-books."  What might make this even cooler is if there were no way for one witch/mage/sorceror to teach a "spell" to someone else - you just have to know it's possible and try to figure it out for yourself.  That makes magic highly individualized, which I think is fantastic.

386
roleplaying theory, hardcore / Re: Scene-Centric MC Style?
« on: November 29, 2013, 05:52:08 AM »
Thanks for the book recommendation, Oldy.

Yeah, I think the part about making every scene useful is critical.  In film it's the difference between one that's tight and one that drags, I think.

I've always loved running very sandboxy games, with lots of setting detail to provide friction to give the PCs traction to go in whatever way they chose.  It's a lot more work up front, but in the end it's easier to roll with the punches when the players go off on some completely unforeseen tangent or totally new direction.  But frankly, keeping the pace of the game up is something I've struggled with in the past I think.  I was able to get away with it in some sense because my players were freaking awesome and (once they figured out that I wasn't limiting the possibilities to "The Plot") were very much self-starters, essentially creating story arcs for themselves and finding trouble into which to get.

But I occasionally caught myself starting a session with a brief recap to get everybody back into the in-game frame of mind and beginning the session with, "OK, so what are you guys doing now?"  I have come to realize that this is pretty lazy GM practice and have been trying to come up with better ways to keep things clicking.  Not pushing the players into a pre-determined plot, but always making sure that something interesting is happening "on-screen."  A scene might not advance "the story" per se, but it should tell us something about the characters, or reveal their relationships with each other and/or the world.

Trying to keep that in mind all the time is hard.  If the players say something like, "OK, we need to tell the Baron about the goblin menace," it's easy to segue into a perfectly banal, perfectly forgettable scene where the PCs are paraded into the great hall, make their report to their liege, and leave.  Just because something is the next step in "the story" doesn't necessarily mean it's worthy of a scene, and that (deciding which bits to feature on screen and which to gloss over) is one of the most difficult things.

I love the advice of always asking "what do you do?" after the MC makes a move, but I think the critical bit is that the MC must make the move to begin with.  It prods the players to action and keeps the MC focused on keeping things moving.  I know that I need to get better at doing it.

387
roleplaying theory, hardcore / Scene-Centric MC Style?
« on: November 27, 2013, 05:27:25 AM »
This topic came up in another thread under the AW section, but it is something that I thought might be interesting in its own thread.

Quote from: Munin
I too have come to really concentrate on scene-centered methods.  It's funny, because this is something for which we all have an intrinsic feel, but that is very rarely spelled out explicitly in telling you how to MC a game.  Vincent's "don't make your character's lives boring" is fantastic advice, but unless you understand framing, pacing, introducing tension and escalating it to conflict, exposition, dialogue, and juxtaposition like a filmmaker, it's kind of like black magic - as a player you can feel when a GM is doing it right and when they're not, but it's not always easy to say why.  It's like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography vs. art - you know it when you see it.

In that thread, zefir made the comment that the most fun comes from having good scenes, regardless of the story.  When I think back on some of the most memorable moments in all the games in which I've played or GM/MC'd, I think this is a very insightful statement.

And if you think about certain movies or TV shows or whatever, it's the great scenes that stand out.  Goodfellas is an OK movie, but the scene in which Joe Pesci busts out with "whaddyou mean I'm 'funny'?" is amazing.  So intense, so evocative.  The scene in A History of Violence where Viggo Mortensen's character drops the "just a small-town short-order cook" act and opens up a can of whoop-ass on the goons threatening his family is awesome.  The way his mannerisms, tone of voice, and even facial expression change as though he's flicking a light-switch is crazy-memorable.  From Boromir's heroic/tragic death scene in Fellowship of the Ring to the unforgettable, "I am your father, Luke" it's these scenes that grab us, throw us to the ground, and make us beg them to violate us.

That is the shit I want to capture in my games.

But how do we do that?  What distinguishes a good film/TV episode/book/whatever from a mediocre one?  As it turns out this stuff is kind of hard, and there's a reason that good directors, screen-writers, and authors make fatty boatloads of cash - doing this stuff well takes some skill and a whole lot of dedication.

Over the years I've had a chance to ruminate on a bunch of this stuff, but recently I've actually begun formalizing it.  I'd like to barf forth some of those ideas and get feedback.  Specifically, I'd like to hear what has worked for other MCs and what hasn't or how different players' play-styles have interacted with MCs setting a scene.  So here goes...

When constructing a scene in which the player characters are "on-screen," I find it useful to consider the following ideas.  This is by no means an exhaustive list, but I think it helps to keep me focused:

Setting: In this regard, AW gives some great advice in the simple tip "barf forth apocalyptica."  I find that in just a few sentences, the MC can create a very evocative setting, specifically by appealing to the player's senses.  Not just how the scene looks, but how it smells, how it feels.  Instead of "you meet with Cage way out in the Ash Wastes," give it a little extra oomph: "Cage is waiting for you in the Ash Wastes under the dessicated husk of a huge old oak tree.  There's a bit of a breeze, which ruffles the messages that travellers nail to the tree for passers-by to carry on if they happen to be going in the right direction.  The withered trunk provides the only shade for miles, and he's squarely occupying it."

This kind of description is cool because it also sets up a little tension from the start.  Cage has claimed the shade, a psychological ploy.  It's minor but a subtle dig.  And real people play little power-games like this all the time, so it speaks to both Cage's personality and the verisimilitude of the world.

You have to take a little bit of care here though, because it's easy to go all JRRTolkien and describe the place in too much detail.  Three or four sentences max.  Choose your words well and you can pack a lot in those sentences, especially if you use words that are heavily laden with connotation.  If you want to add extra details, do it as the scene unfolds.  Maybe the meet with Cage isn't going well.  You can use the setting description to ratchet up the tension: "Cage looks kind of pissed, and keeps tugging on the collar of his coat.  Probably from the inevitable ashen grit that gets kicked up out here."

And don't forget to rope the players in by asking: "How do you cope with the ash dust?"

Extras: Unless this is a scene with only the PCs, give some thought to the other people around.  Maybe give them a sentence when you describe the scene, "The place reeks of rag-weed smoke, and the clientele look pretty sullen and dirty."  Any NPCs with whom the PCs interact should get a little something more.  "Nabs is 'cleaning' the glasses by spitting in them and wiping them out with his filthy apron.  He looks up at you with a bored expression, puts the glass he just 'washed' on the bar in front of you, and says, 'whatcha drinkin?'  What do you do?"

It is here that the concepts of setting (world) and setting (scene) come into contact.  One of the key elements to creating a verisimilitudinous world is to have NPCs with believable motivations, goals, foibles, and quirks.  Like Vincent says in AW, they "follow their parts."  That's great advice, but in order to convey it to the players, you have to actually convey it to the players.  But just like you never reference your move by name, you shouldn't openly describe your NPCs' motivations directly.  Describe what Nabs does not what he thinks, but have him actually do stuff during the scene such that the players can see him for who he really is.  Give your players enough to piece together on their own the idea that Nabs is a lazy fucker who cares only for coin.  They'll feel clever and Nabs will feel more real.

Tension: Every scene should have some built-in tension.  It doesn't need to be a full-on gunfight or anything crazy, but there should be somebody in the scene who isn't happy.  Or maybe who's too happy.  The tension doesn't even have to come from the primary NPCs - it can come from the nameless extras or even from the setting itself.  But it should always be there.  Maybe when the PCs walk into Nabs' establishment, the filthy, desperate looking patrons at one of the far tables give them the stink-eye.  Now the players are on the alert for trouble, and even if nothing comes from it it still helps set the stage.  And the players can never be sure which threats are real and which are imagined - and their reactions to things have the potential to take the story in directions you never imagined.

Similarly, this is a good place to stick an established NPC as an extra (as opposed to a speaking role).  So if we've already established that Parsons, the Hardholder's chief lieutenant is a prick, and if he and Deke the Battlebabe have already tangled, having Parsons sitting at one of the tables when the players enter Nabs' place is great.  "Deke, once your eyes adjust to the dim, smoky interior, you notice that Parsons is sitting at one of the corner tables.  He leers at you, and makes a rude gesture. With his tongue."  And again, even if the players never interact directly with Parsons during the scene, his presence helps set the stage.

And from the setting itself?  Maybe the scene takes place in the manufactory, where it's hot and noisy and sparks and molten metal occasionally drop from the catwalks above.  Or like the above scene in the Ash Wastes, where it's hot, the sun is blazing, the grit is irritating, and everyone knows you don't want to get caught out here after dark.

Even in a place where the PCs are "safe" there should be some situational tension.  Maybe a couple of the PCs are chilling in the Savvyhead's workspace when an urchin brings a note from Spider impatiently wondering when the Savvyhead's going to be finished with his bike.  Note that this setting of situational tension is a great use for "announcing future badness."  While the location might be a "safe" space, the intrusive external demand on the Savvyhead PC's time adds an element of external tension, even if Spider is never present in the scene.  And Spider may never have been mentioned before the scene started, but now the Savvyhead knows he's fixing the bike of a guy who lacks patience.  Even if Spider is never referenced again (which would be a shame), it gives depth to the world and the PCs' places within it.

As an aside, this is another great way to ask the players, and is a good teachable moment for players unused to having direct input into the story.  When your player says, "OK, but who the fuck is Spider?" just turn it back on them - "I don't know.  You're the one fixing his bike, so you tell me."  The answer is almost sure to better than whatever half-formed idea the MC had in mind initially, so go with it.

Conflict: AW gives us another fantastic piece of advice, which is "play to find out."  This is absolutely great, but if you're not careful it can be at odds with "don't make the characters' lives boring."  Sometimes, when left to their own devices players will get into role-play scenes in which there is no conflict.  Nothing actually happens in the scene.  Sure, they want to talk in-character, and you should absolutely give them plenty of opportunities to do so.

But something needs to happen.  It doesn't need to be a fight, or even anything physical, but the nature of the story and/or the PCs' roles within it should change, at least a little bit, in every scene.  I find that a good rule of thumb is that at least once during any given scene, dice should hit the table.  Give the players opportunities to use their skills and abilities, and they won't disappoint.  Even something as simple as "read a sitch" can be a conflict - something is hinky about the social dynamic between the NPCs and the PC needs to figure out what it is.  Or one of the NPCs doesn't seem completely forthcoming - what's she hiding?  And the more you have the players rolling dice, the more chances you have to subject them to fuckery.

And here the rule of "to do it, do it" is key.  If the player is describing their actions in a way that sounds like a move, make them roll.  Be free with information, but don't give them freebies.  The risks associated with the random chance of actually rolling the dice can serve to enhance the tension in the scene.

So before you frame a scene and begin describing the setting and the extras, give some thought as to what the central conflict might be.  You might be totally wrong, and you'll have to balance "play to find out" with "don't go in blind."  Just because no plan survives first-contact with the players doesn't mean you shouldn't have at least some kind of plan.  The players might take things in a very different direction than you imagined, and that's OK, but at some point something needs to happen, whether it's sussing out information, gaining a new insight, getting leverage over an NPC, or a vicious face-stabbing.  Or you know, all of the above.

Exposition: Right, so sometimes raw information needs to be given out.  Exposition is one of those things you need to handle carefully.  Like describing a setting, exposition is a great excuse to "barf forth apocalyptica", but suffers from some of the same drawbacks.  You need to make sure you're not droning and that your players are still engaged.  There are a couple of ways to do this, but I think the easiest ones are to a) bury the exposition, or b) put it under a microscope.

Burying the exposition means simply hiding it in the characters' interactions with the world or the NPCs.  So rather than going into a long-winded explanation about how the Fix Virus works and how members of the Sun Cult cut off peoples' lips to make sure no one has it, reveal it only through the NPCs.  "Nabs watches you drink and says, 'it's good to have customers with lips again.'"  Chances are good that this will make the players say "WTF?" and engage with him.  "'Yeah, we had a buncha Sun Cultists in here last week.  Idiots cut off their lips so's everyone can see they got no lesions on their gums.  On account o' they don't wanna have anyone carrying the Fix.'"  Boom.  Three sentences.  Instant apocalyptica.

Putting the exposition under a microscope means talking about it out of character, but bringing the PCs thoughts and feelings into the discussion.  "So one of the first stages of the Fix Virus causes lesions to form on your gums.  It's the earliest warning indicator.  Deke, what was your reaction the first time you entered a holding and the guards examined your mouth in some detail before they allowed you entry?"  Or "You see couple of dudes in the market, and their orange scarves mark them clearly as Sun Cultists.  They have had their lips removed.  Samson, how does watching them eat street-food with no lips strike you?"

Pacing: Try to keep scenes popping.  If a scene is hitting on all cylinders, you can let it go a while. But once the scene's central conflict (no matter how big or small) has been resolved, you should be looking for a way to wind it down, and quickly.  If you have lots of players, the easiest way is to just switch to a new scene for someone else.  But if the story demands that the same characters move from one scene to the next, you need to make that happen.  Use your transition to set the stage of the next scene.  If the players are going from Nabs' place to The Shrine, throw in a sentence or two about what's happening in the market along the way.  And maybe give the players the chance to interact there as well.  "As you leave Nabs' and head across the marketplace, the acid-drizzle has just started. Up the way there's a shunt-cart blocking the street and pissing everyone off.  What do you do?"

And if they answer, "curse at these filthy fucking poors and continue on to the Shrine," then that's fine too.

Flow: The concept of flow covers how you escalate or alternate things from one scene to the next.  Not every scene needs to be a tense, gripping, drama-filled vignette.  Intersperse heavy stuff with lighter stuff.  But remember that even comic relief can (and should) have internal conflict.  That conflict is low-stakes and may not even feel like anything important, but it's there.

This is also where you think about how best to share screen time among the PCs.  If your players are old-school, they'll have a tendency to stick together.  Use your moves to split them up and construct scenes that will let each character shine individually.  If the Chopper always feels like he's playing second-fiddle to the Battlebabe, construct a scene that is all about the internal politics of Chopper's gang, preferably after he's been separated from the rest of the party (and the Battlebabe in particular).  Make everyone feel special.

And even if a PC isn't on screen, you can still make them feel special by featuring their "crap" in a scene.  The Hardholder, Chopper, Hocus, Operator, Angel, and Savvyhead can all have associated NPCs.  Use those NPCs in someone else's scene (a great way to build PC-NPC-PC triangles).  You can even use their inanimate crap.  If the Gun-Lugger is looking for a quiet, arguably semi-private place to get his freak on with Maggie, maybe she pulls him into the back of the Driver's nearby van.  And ask: "Hey Lugs, how is it that Maggie can get into your van?"  "'Cause I forgot to lock it after she was in there with me."  Oh, dang!  And next time the Driver's car is integral to a setting, be sure to mention the suspicious stains on the leather seats.  Heh.

Juxtaposition: If scenes are long and/or complicated, it can be useful to break them up into parts.  This lets you play the kinds of cinematography games frequently used in movies, where you switch back and forth between two scenes.  This is especially cool if what's happening in the two scenes is related.  Like in one scene, Deke is trying get Nabs to tell her where the Sun Cult is holed up, and in the other scene the Sun Cultists are torturing the fuck out of Samson.

Another good use for juxtaposition is in a battle in which multiple characters are participating. I think this is related to what Vincent is talking about when he says to sometimes zoom in on the fighting and sometimes gloss over it.  By effectively setting "sub-scenes" within the overall scene of the battle, you can make each player feel like their character is contributing something beyond "I follow up on her move."  This is especially true if the PCs are more than a few yards apart.  Describe the setting for the Battlebabe's desperate fight for the gatehouse in as much detail as you do the Gun-Lugger's attempts to keep the Datsun Cannibals out of the wire.  Switch back and forth, especially as soon as someone fails a roll.  Give them a moment to ruminate on their "oh shit" moment and wonder just what sort of bad thing is going to happen to them.  And in a very real, concrete MCing sense, this allows you a little bit of a breather to decide just what sort of fuckery you're going to unleash when you come back to that player's scene.

Take Breaks: This one is straight out of the AW rulebook, and will be doubly important to the MC.  Breaks give you a breather to think about things like your pacing and the kinds of conflicts you want to frame your scenes around.  Give you a little time to think about how you want to describe a setting or which extras you want to have "on-screen" with the PCs.  All of the above stuff is work, and you'll want to give yourself a little mental downtime.  After all, individual players get a rest when they're not in the scene - you don't!  So take it easy and don't burn yourself out.


In the context of AW, remember that you're playing to find out.  But just because you're playing to find out doesn't mean that that finding out can't happen in the context of a well-framed scene.  Let the story unfold based on the PCs' actions, but keep that story moving in whichever direction it's unfolding.  And give them memorable interactions and scenes that will have them talking about "that time when Deke and Thompson hunted down Clemson's killer in the abandoned manufactory."

I'm sure there's stuff I'm missing or glossing over, and I'd love to hear other MCs' experiences here.  Is any of the above useful to you?  Which elements have you already been using?  What worked for you in your games and what didn't?  How much setting description could you get away with?  How did your players respond to "extra" elements within a described setting?  Do your players notice?

388
Apocalypse World / Re: perfect group size
« on: November 26, 2013, 09:32:58 PM »
@zefir - if your Chopper's gang is involved in lots of things, then you have some great opportunities to work in other PCs through the NPCs in the gang (which will inherently create PC-NPC-PC triangles).

So for example, say the Chopper's gang is involved in patrolling the marketplace and keeping the trouble there down to a dull roar.  But the gang is doing lots of other stuff too, so the Chopper leaves that operation up to one of his lieutenants, whom we'll call Jughead.  So Jughead's spending a lot of time in the market, which perhap is right next to the Savvyhead's workspace (or where the Hocus' followers hang out, or whatever).  And maybe Jughead has taken a shine to the Savvyhead, and rather than doing what the Chopper has told him to do (police the marketplace) he's spending all his time hanging out with the Savvyhead, mooning over her and generally making a pain in the ass of himself.

This is a little devious because the Chopper's gang (his big piece of character-defining "crap") is involved, which makes him feel important.  But he's off-screen and another player gets the limelight.  This same trick can be used with the Operator's crew, the Hocus' followers, the Angel's or Savvyhead's clinic/workspace staff, the Hardholder's lieutenants, etc.  It also gives you the ability to work additional delicious conflict into your fiction - as trouble erupts in the marketplace and the Chopper is mad at the Savvyhead for "distracting" Jughead from his assigned duty.  And the more stuff the Chopper's gang in involved in, the more opportunities for this kind of stuff crop up.

It also gives you opportunities to bring other players on-screen for Chopper-related scenes.  Like when the Chopper has to resolve an (inevitable) issue in the marketplace, he does it by first tracking down Jughead - at the Savvyhead's workshop.  Boom!  Another PC on-screen.

@Arvid - I too have come to really concentrate on scene-centered methods.  It's funny, because this is something for which we all have an intrinsic feel, but that is very rarely spelled out explicitly in telling you how to MC a game.  Vincent's "don't make your character's lives boring" is fantastic advice, but unless you understand framing, pacing, introducing tension and escalating it to conflict, exposition, dialogue, and juxtaposition like a filmmaker, it's kind of like black magic - as a player you can feel when a GM is doing it right and when they're not, but it's not always easy to say why.  It's like the Supreme Court's definition of pornography vs. art - you know it when you see it.

But when I say we all have an intrinsic feel for it, I think much of that feel comes from watching movies and TV shows, and reading books or comics.  Good, gripping stories (regardless of medium) take hold of you and don't let go.  They keep things moving, and while there may be some exposition it's not central to the story (as that would be more like a documentary).

Of course the problem is that just as different people like different game-play styles, different people like different movie styles.  A friend of mine ran a Battlestar:Galactica-themed Solar System hack in which the character creation, plot elements, and scene framing were designed to recreate the feel of a TV show.  I thought it was a great concept.  Some of the other players were ambivalent and at least one of them found the whole thing frustrating.  And I think much of that has to do with what players are looking to get out of the game.

389
Apocalypse World / Re: perfect group size
« on: November 25, 2013, 11:04:47 PM »
My preference is to have 4 or 5, largely because this brackets the possible playbook capabilities better and allows the players to tackle a wider array of situations.

But some of this will depend on both your players and your style of running a game.  If your players think quickly on their feet and are engaged in the idea that they bear some responsibility for advancing the story, it's easy to use tricks like roping an unlikely character into the scene.  You know, when the Operator goes to talk to the Hocus the MC says, "OK, Hondo is there too."  She then turns to the player of the Gun-Lugger (who has a well-established "difference of opinion" with the Hocus) and says, "What is Hondo doing at the shrine and what kind of mood is he in currently?"  This is insidious and devious and glorious and lets you get people lots of screen time in new and interesting ways.

But if your players balk at this kind of being put on-the-spot, then I'm with zefir in that fewer is better.

390
Apocalypse World / Re: Help with Fronts - peer review?
« on: November 25, 2013, 10:46:46 PM »
Afterthought: For additional hilarity, you could reverse the order of the moves.  So if you get a 10+ on your Under the Watchful Eyes of SkyNet roll, the Gizmo works just like you wanted and gives you the bonus going forward.  If not, well, the sky(net)'s the limit on possible outcomes.

This difference in move order is subtle, but addresses Daniel's point about a move where 10+ is "nothing happens."  Realistically it's "nothing bad happens," but that might be semantics.  It's not without precedent: the example custom move in the AW book's example Front about initial exposure to the mudfish parasites is similar (i.e. on a 10+ you are immune - nothing bad will happen), but the structure and order of the moves can be used to produce different effects, so I figured it was worth mentioning.

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