Finding direction

 Here’s the first consulting session with BPG, author of Directions Storyplaying System, of two sessions we’ve done which includes a pretty detailed amount of “let’s play” across two of them. I found working with this system simultaneously with Tales of Entropy to be a little challenging, as they share the rhetorical philosophy of design and play, but fortunately they turn out to be rather different. Therefore you’ll see or hear some similarities in the consulting about principles and ideas, but interesting and distinct practices and procedures.

This game entails a lot of flexibility during the moments of play, in terms of how certain things are established and resolved. That means a lot of power and effect is available for things like zooming-in or out of the group’s current scale of attention, the grain size of what’s said and resolved. The precise resolution techniques include a couple of options that I find very effective. The big question is whether so many options about what we’re doing and how to do it, result in genuine ‘direction,’ which is to say, plot that builds based on what just happened.

And of course, how much preparation and of what kind helps that happen rather than stifles it. That’s the issue which defines most of what you’ll hear in this session; the second includes more work on resolutions and plot-development once play has begun.

Our game spun off a little imagery I’d been thinking about recently and you’ll see it get expanded and transformed into a role-playing scenario. I think my concerns with it are evident in the dialogue, as I keep resisting detailed preparation, “let’s find out in play,” and also resisting establishing what I see as too many connections per character. I’ll post the second session, including the continuation of our game-in-play, and you can judge for yourself how our prep related to what occurred.

I’m just a little sad that BPG prefers this presentation to be audio because he’s a charismatic guy and fun role-player, and so you’re not seeing some of the visual enthusiasm and physicality of play (getting up and moving around, e.g.).I’ll think you’ll still hear it in our voices, but just imagine two people getting into it with gestures and faces too.

9 responses to “Finding direction”

  1. Next session

    This one is the payoff: Directions Storyplaying consult 2 audio. Here's where BPG was simulaneously fully open to what I was saying, while not budging an inch until fully convinced, and also, keeping my understanding of the game as clear as possible so I'd be critiquing it rather than any other games that might be easy to confound with it.

    You also get to hear some more role-playing regarding the plights of Fern, River, Blood, and Tooth, which revealed the resolution mechanic which I consider to be the game's front-and-forward option, reserving the listed others as backup or modifiers.

  2. Ron and BPG, thank you for your willingness to post this!

    Thanks for this video guys! BPG, having looked at your game myself, I think Ron is bringing up some really good and helpful points; I’m very excited to see the direction in which Directions Storyplaying System evolves. I think that Ron’s input is going to help a lot to towards making DSS be the best game that it can be.

    I’m looking forward to purchasing your game once it’s done, BPG. Please make it available in book form! I have so many PDFs; their much easier to forget about and never play, plus printing them out is a pain and they just end up in ugly binders. This is off topic, but I really want Ben Robbins to make his new standalone version of Microscopic: Union, which he’s currently working on, available in book form. If you’re like me, and prefer books aesthetically and for play purposes, please let Ben know you’d like to see him make a book version as well—I’m having trouble convincing him. Ok, I’m done with my personal, idiosyncratic tangent [grin].

    Ron, the ideas you’ve expressed, in regards to these collaborative storytelling-type games, in these videos and in your Tales of Entropy comment, are right on point. I’m really looking forward to what you’ll have to say about my game and the difficult questions you will pose to me and going through the painful process of burning-burning off the deadwood in my game and killing my darlings. 

    Thanks again for posting these consultanting videos!

    • It is really wonderful of

      It is really wonderful of people to be willing to allow me to post our consulting sessions publicly. It's one thing to show up at a con with a tuned, controlled, and guaranteed a-MAY-zing demo, perhaps including a prepped crew, which serves more as a promotional trailer than a playtest. It's another actually to have to articulate one's own doubts and triumphs, and to have me say "never mind your fancy formatted document, how does it play." I don't know if it's clear in the audio, but BPG didn't know I was going to insist on actually playing right there in the session – that, at the risk of vulgarity for emphasis, I was saying, "talk is fine, now let's grope." Adding to that my request to let people see all this, in its unrehearsed and unscripted glory – that's asking a lot!

      But the benefit is also clear. First, for the author, that a lot of the stress gets relieved and demystified, that once one stands revealed, as it were, then perhaps a lot of self-imposed pressures can be abandoned, and that the concerns one has about the game itself are nothing to be ashamed of. Second, for others, they can think about how our discussion applies to their work, or contrasts with it, and they can also develop a sense of solidarity with the author (often very important for later). Third, regarding my input, that you can see that sometimes I misunderstand the game and have to be corrected, or that I start in one direction of questioning and then realize another is better – but only through these questions and discussion, can we both find what is really happening or "meant" by the game iteself.

      A great deal of what I bring to game design is de-mystification. I strongly support leveling, even demolishing, the notion that the designer is elevated while the user or customer is one speck in a mass. The more we turn this into a human endeavor of fellow practitioners, as opposed to the overly-present notion of few-and-elite producers and anonymous-mass grateful consumers, the better.

  3. Realism vs Volatility

    Hi Ron,

    At 24:30 of the first video (, you circled "Volatility" at its highest setting, "changeable". Is it a mistake? Because BPG talked about how he changed it to "Realism", and I guess that would be the opposite of Volatility… right? If I understand correctly, you guys are talking about using the highest setting on Realism, which would be the lowest on Volatility. But I'm not sure!

    • I continued to use the sheet

      I continued to use the sheet as written in front of me, mainly because it was there and because I liked the concept of volatility. I remained alert to the possibility that this might be a problem, depending on whether that designation affects play in a direct way. 

      I do not see how Realism relates to Volatility at all; it strikes me as a completely different variable with its own dial, rather than a change in terms for a given dial. I decided not to make an issue of it for the reason you have already demonstrated. (Forgive me for being critical) As soon as you moved into guessing that they are opposites, you left the design discussion and started wandering in your own mind, and that's what I immediately decided not to do while BPG and I were playing. I just decided to wait and see.

      That degree of nitpicking regarding the physical instruments of play is not useful for consulting purposes, and it's one of the reasons I am disenchanted with the enthusiastic playtest culture that has sprung up around independent RPGs. It's very intrusive to focus on "wait, that's not clear" things before you really experience how play proceeds. The topic that's relevant to me, and most useful to the author, is merely to discover how those dials affect play. If they do, that's great, and then is the right time to ask whether their terms seem nececssary-and-sufficient to BPG, and whatever he answers is the answer. If they don't, that becomes a procedural issue to assess at a deeper level.

  4. took me a while to sign up…

    took me a while to sign up…


    @Jeff: we already talked about Directions Storyplaying in the past. I remember your wish for a hardcover copy!

    On Volatility/Realism:
    They are completely different parameters. I've dropped one and included the other without any correlation.
    In playtesting, Volatility proved to be a bit too abstract to grasp for players. While it is clear to me – and I guess obvious to game designers and screenwriters – I ended up having to explain it too often. Also, it is a parameter that can be shaped by scene framing during play later. So, it is not entirely lost.
    Realism was another important factor that completely influenced the tone of the game. I'm quite happy to have included it.

    During playing our test session, I appreciated that we skipped some details and focused on getting a feeling for the essence of the game.

    • It’s great to see you here.

      It's great to see you here. Our third discussion was especially great, and I haven't posted it because it's a little bit hard to separate the more philosophical part about what role-playing is actually good for, from the discussion-and-play about Directions Storyplay. Maybe I shouldn't separate it, I'm not sure.

      If players had trouble with volatility, it makes sense to replace it with something they understand. Although that brings up the problem with "realism," that as a term, people may be responding to its familiarity rather than any meaning it may actually have. Still, if it's working at the tables, then that's all one really needs for a design/presentation decision.

      I hope to see your thoughts among the various games being discussed here!

    • Ron, you mean we’d get to
      Ron, you mean we’d get to watch a hybrid consulting/seminar video? Plus maybe get to hear a little more of the adventures of Blood, Tooth, and company? I for one would love to have that video available.

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