Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Power to the Players

Ceding some measure of narrative control to players is not just for those of us who choose to play fancy pants indie or "story" games. It's a technique that I had been applying to more traditional games for years before GNS theory or the Forge or even before White Wolf (though not by much). Giving up narrative control is not directly related to being touchy-feely or melodramatic. It's a technique that can be very effective for games involving mercenary treasure hunters and monster slayers in a half-civilized fantasy landscape. Moreover, it's a technique than can easily be employed using your favorite classic role-playing system with no adjustment to the rules.

One small technique that I will mention in this post is the "How Do You Kill It?" technique (better name pending). In Risus, the rules explicitly state that a player who wins a combat has absolute control over what happens to the loser. There is no reason why some variation on this can't be applied to more traditional games. In fact, I have.

When I run Dungeons & Dragons (new school or old), I allow (and encourage) players to describe their killing blows in exquisite detail. When I do this, I borrow from Risus and allow the character to deviate slightly from the rules, if only to give them latitude to come up with a move that is cooler than the last. The character can flip and dip like a crazed monkey ninja for all I care - he has already done the hard work of defeating the enemy with "to hit" rolls and lots of damage. That killing blow is a chance for the character (and the player) to be all iconic and badass without rolls getting in the way. And as I said, the dice have already done their job.

I'm up late on a work deadline, so I may speak to this more in subsequent posts. There is a whole range of options between "How Do You Kill It?" and ditching the GM entirely for games like Fiasco and Microscope. In fact, I even discussed this a bit with Target Numbers and the Single Scientist (for Risus but adaptable to other games).

7 comments:

Pierce said...

Thats a good point, and a good idea. Thanks bro.

GeneD said...

While I've enjoyed the sharing of narrative duties between role-players and the Game Master in FATE-based games, I like to see creativity in more ways than "How do you kill it?"

In "Starblazer Adventures," for example, I've been encouraging my group to describe scene aspects, "tag" attributes of their opponents, and describe their own characters' appearance and mannerisms.

On the other hand, there's a danger in D&D-style games that even supposedly benevolent characters become ever more bloodthirsty as their players gleefully describe with Dexter-level detail how they kill, dismember, and otherwise defile their enemies (which happened in my D&D4e game).

Gaptooth said...

I'm with you. Even though rich fiction is totally unimportant to 4th edition D&D, I always try to get players involved in making the world and the actions of their characters more vivid.

In addition to letting them narrate the killing blow, I also usually ask them to narrate their failures. I hate "whiffs". Since they're ostensibly playing heroes, I think their failures should be meaningful, and the seemingly common GM habit of narrating failures in the most degrading way possible doesn't appeal to me. Asking "Why did you miss" or "what went wrong" after a failed check is a vanilla way to get the players involved in describing the kind of adversity they are interested in. I stole this from Trollbabe, where it's an explicit part of the game mechanics that the GM narrates success and the player narrates failure.

I have also played "exposition" by taking all the rumors and info snippets that would usually be given by "talking head" NPCs and putting it on index cards tagged with related PC skills. At the beginning of the session, I give each player cards related to the skills they have and ask them to narrate how they used their skill to get that info. This was pretty successful at getting the players more involved in the fiction, for those who wanted too, and speeding things up by avoiding needless searching for the needle-in-the-haystack, allowing them to get on with informed decision-making and choosing their next goals. I stole this idea from Ry and adapted it.

I have a bunch of other tricks that are probably the same things you've tried too. I use them in an additive way when it increases engagement and enjoyment.

Risus Monkey said...

@Pierce: No prob. :)

@Gene: "I like to see creativity in more ways than How do you kill it?"

Of course. :)
This post was just trying to get things started. And yes, I love the tagging aspect of FATE games. It's the aspect of FATE that is most appealing to me.
I have not had trouble with Dexter-level detail of blood and gore... well, not since the games I used to run in high-school. :)

@Gaptooth: I don't know where your comment vaished to, but it did arrive in my inbox...

In addition to letting them narrate the killing blow, I also usually ask them to narrate their failures. I hate "whiffs". Since they're ostensibly playing heroes, I think their failures should be meaningful, and the seemingly common GM habit of narrating failures in the most degrading way possible doesn't appeal to me. Asking "Why did you miss" or "what went wrong" after a failed check is a vanilla way to get the players involved in describing the kind of adversity they are interested in.

I love this idea!

Gaptooth said...

[Blogger has been filtering my comments as spam off and on for a couple weeks. It's kind of ridiculous. If you check your Blogger Spam Memory Hole, you might find it there. I've contacted Blogger about it, but they don't care.]

Staples said...

Good ideas! I was first exposed to this kind of thing by Tavis Allison when I played in one of his games. He would ask us to "Please describe how your character kills the monster," and, when a PC died, "Please describe your horrible death." I thought the inclusion of "horrible" was a really good touch. It brought levity to the death of a PC and encouraged the player to be creative and "out there."

Risus Monkey said...

@Staples: Tavis has some great ideas. I love the bit about describing your own horrible death. :)