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I'm a great role player

or so people keep telling me. Last time it happened was after playing Campus Security. If nothing else the game helped me to further understand what I need to feel comfortable at the table. Here is what happened:

 

Daniel, one of the people who found the Spelens Hus AP community after the summer, brought a game that is living in his head. If I recall correctly he had developed and played it frequently with the group he was part of in Uppsala.
So my attempts to find out if it would fit me before sitting down at the table didn't lead anywhere. Arriving I asked “what dice should I take out” (meaning the number of sides) and the answer was “whatever dice you'd like to play with”. That was not the answer I had expected and though I'd guess it was meant to put me at ease it raised the first red flag of the evening.
Short but important interlude: if I'm talking about flags it is from my perspective and about what I like and dislike about play, it has absolutely nothing to do with the qualities of the game as such!

 

“How do I build a character?” Just tell me two things they are good at and one they are bad at, throw in a name and gender and (here I may be wrong) what they were majoring in. Well, that wasn't so difficult and basically “neutral ground” as far as I'm concerned.
But now it got weird, I'd never had somebody running a game who wanted to play with each player seperately befor we started playing together – I really got confused. Play maybe not the right word, I basically got told what my character experienced and was asked what kind of reaction that would trigger. No rules or dice involved. This scene was set at a party “the evening before”. I'm still not sure why it was important to do this one on one and I still don't know how I was supposed to handle it (maybe I missed a clue there in my confusion). Was it to be kept from the other characters as good as possible, was it supposed to be referred to directly or indirectly, what was I as a player supposed to do?

 

Dice rolls were called for by Daniel but a feeling that the “below average” ones were rather toothless started creeping into my mind. As play progressed players started to more actively require rolls or define the effects of them (especially for the “below average ones”).
Another problem I had with the rolls was that I couldn't figure out how what I described related to the rolling of the dice. Think of the IIEE model (intent, initiation, execution, effect) but you don't know at which point the roll happens.
 

Play, especially the second session, reminded me a lot of my experiences with Simon and his Hantverksklubben (Hantverksklubben 19: Fighting against oneself and Hantverksklubben 21: Feelgood). If I remember right Simon calls that kind of play “freeform”, the main difference is that I never saw a die when playing with him.
I am able – but only with the help of others around the table – to participate in play like that, but for me it lacks important elements to make me feel really comfortable. I do not want to tell a story I imagine, I want to see a story grow out of everybodies contributions that takes unexpected turns not only because we imagine different things but also because the tools (mechanics, rules) the game gives us do provide an element of chance in a relateable and understandable way.
I still have difficulties to decypher social clues at the table and to put certain things, like seperating the players to give them role specific information, into context – I think that is part of a certain kind of games but I've never before played like that so I don't really know how to handle it without more context (had I not been so eager to finally start playing I could have asked for it).

 

Daniel, Ron and I had a really great discussion after the game, but as I was rather exhausted at that point and the others have a far broader and longer experience of role playing and talking about it I hope they will be willing to repeat their points here, it was really nice to listen to it and sometimes chime in with an observation or opinion.

 

To come back to the beginning of this post. I don't think I'm a good player. For me that would define somebody who can play different kinds of games in a consistent and, well, good way. I can't.
What I'm now certain about is that I need a certain amount of rules and constrains to feel comfortable and cut loose. If they are not there I constantly look for prompts and assurances and it probably makes play difficult for everybody around.
In addition I know better what kind of horror I don't like (see here for reference http://adeptplay.com/actual-play/i-dont-horror). It is the surreal, creepy kind that asks you to investigate it like you were some amateur detective but even if you follow all clues and figure things out the only thing you can do is run. But that really is personal taste. For a game with that theme it wasn't half bad.
I'm probably going to continue to avoid games of this type (is there a generic term for them?) ainly in an attempt to not destroy the fun for those who like them, but I'll try to remember that it can be a really positive learning experience to play something that is out of my comfort zone.

Department: 
Actual Play

Comments

Johann's picture

I do not want to tell a story I imagine, I want to see a story grow out of everybodies contributions that takes unexpected turns not only because we imagine different things but also because the tools (mechanics, rules) the game gives us do provide an element of chance in a relateable and understandable way.

I can relate to this. The fiction feels different to me - more real, I guess, though that sounds a bit irrational - if I see it take shape through die rolls. An unlikely sequence of rolls creates excitement as everyone scrambles to understand the ramifications or someone is tasked to incorporate the rolls' results.

It's great how you reflect on the game(s), understand your own (current) preferences and see value in leaving one's comfort zone. That makes you a good player in my book.

noah's picture

To come back to the beginning of this post. I don't think I'm a good player. For me that would define somebody who can play different kinds of games in a consistent and, well, good way. I can't.

What I'm now certain about is that I need a certain amount of rules and constrains to feel comfortable and cut loose. If they are not there I constantly look for prompts and assurances and it probably makes play difficult for everybody around.

Helma, one of the points I carried away from “People & Play” is that in any activity, we have a desire for mastery. Not in a toxic, self-destructive sense, but in the perfectly ordinary sense that, when we are agents in an activity, we like to improve, to feel our engagement or experience of the activity deepen. 

Setting aside the question of "what it means to be a good player in general," I've become really interested in examining "What does better play look like in this game, for me?" It feels like the past 2 years at Adept Play have been a process of me learning how to play at all. Go back through any of my posts and you'll see me learning the fundamentals, the baseline...basically, how to do it without screwing up.

Lately though I've found myself hungry to pursue more. In the Champions Now game I’m about to start playing, here are my objectives, potential elements of not merely good, but better play for me, in this game, right now:

Playing a character whose experience is uncomfortably different from mine.

Mastering the instruments of play. I took multiple passes at creating my character, and stretched into a Framework I'd never used before (Multiform). In conflicts, I want to be a wily and terrifying foe.

To love success as much as I love failure.

Not rolling along on fictional inertia, then going for big, dramatic moves when I see an obvious opening (like a duelist who stays on the defensive until their sparring partner drops their guard). Instead, keeping the pressure on myself (and consequently my fellow players) to remain engaged, probing, in an active stance. 

I’d love to hear from you (and anyone else engaging with this post) what better play looks like, to you, in a game you're playing right now.

Ron Edwards's picture

Here's some more information about Campus Security, as Daniel presented it to us.

Odin, Helma, and I created characters by writing down a few prompts, knowing that we were creating college-age characters who live on or near campus. My fellow, for example, was Emil: strengths "Playful creativity," “Fun as a barrel of monkeys,” weakness “Always on stage.” I was thinking about guys I knew at that time who coded physically as complete and total jocks but were instead thoroughly theater-people with a strong affinity for musicals.

Daniel took us each aside in turns and played a brief while, establishing a bit about the system and our characters’ respective circumstances. Without giving away too much, each of us found that we could do a new, odd thing.

Then we all convened for a couple of sessions of play, without knowing the details of one another’s discoveries. The characters were all roommates, with Emil being the bright & sunny side to the intense scholastic grind and the moody sarcastic smoker, both of the latter being female. The situation as GMed by Daniel swerved hard to the surreal and occasionally horrific, and we had to cope and try to do things.

We used rules in the same sphere or concept of play exemplified historically by Stefan O'Sullivan's SLUG (available for free), which some of us will remember as a one-page insert included with his FUDGE back in 1992. It wasn’t exactly the same but similar: when some action or possible event seemed to call for it, a player rolled a single die, of whatever sort they wanted. The only results are “tends toward high” being successful and “tends toward low” being unsuccessful or dodgy or requiring further attention in some way.

In practice, to make any such thing viable, the group has to establish a lot of rules during play, often without realizing they’re doing it. I’m sure anyone here is all too familiar with the zoo of terms I might start spraying at this point, so I’ll move on from there into just a couple of things I know for sure that we did:

  • Establish who states outcomes for sure, including or not including whatever inspirations may emerge from others
  • Establish what die value must be treated as a distinct success regarding the actions being taken or their goals
  • Establish who nails down the initiation of a stated action, i.e., whether it’s under way and to what extent due to having been described

Daniel discussed that idea as we talked about it afterwards, especially that the alleged free-form quality of such a system is no such thing, but instead is a requirement for game design of this sort as a feature.

The overriding question for me is what was actually up for grabs overall, situationally, i.e., as played and resolved outcomes. There was definitely a “big problem” in the situation, which we might have fled, or confronted in some way, or otherwise resolved relative to our characters. One might play a game of this sort without ever really, for example, having a player-character’s life on the line, despite seeming to threaten it often, and playing “through” until some such moment as seems like a good getaway or victory or whatever offers itself. Or one might assess the risks of a given moment to be sufficient actually to spell real defeat for one or all of the player-characters, relative to the situational crisis. One or the other of these, it seems to me, is worth understanding as a significant design feature of the game we “make” when starting this way

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