: I suspect but can't prove...
You remember how big a deal it was when we smashed open the GM's power over everything-but-the-characters? We were like, "this thing where the GM creates and controls everything-but-the-characters, solely and exclusively and all by his lonely, this thing is broken, plus stultifying, plus it's not even true." You know how good the games are that came - and keep coming - out of that?
My dangerous idea for 2006 is: we should do the same to the player's power over the character. It'll be just as good.
I want a Universalis, a Polaris, an Under the Bed, and a Capes illustrating playerless play.
Okay then, cancel Lexicon (characters aren't really what it's about) and do still check out the Engle Matrix game. Other players can make arguments about the character a player controls, just like anything else.
Modesty alert: I wouldn't even have thought of my own game in this context without Joshua suggesting it. But I think he's onto something.
In apocalypse girl, you've got three players: the Girl, the Dragon, and the World. The Girl is explicitly a character in the familiar sense of an identifiable person in the fiction of the game-world who does stuff and more-or-less serves the agenda of an individual player. The Dragon can be, if that player explicitly chooses a Core Meaning like "I am the Antichrist" or "I am Satan" Core Meaning and roleplays the Dragon as an individual rather than a force. The World just can't be an individual person, though that player can run and roleplay lots of characters -- like a traditional GM.
Here's the thing: All three of these roles -- the definitely-a-character, maybe-a-character, and not-a-character -- operate by the exact same rules. Anything one of them can do in terms of narrating the fiction or game-mechanics, the others can do too.
Here's the other thing: Even if one of the players "is" or creates a character, there is absolutely no restriction on other players creating aspects of that character. I'm not talking about "well, I'll narrate what your guy does for a bit," or even Polaris-style "but only if your character changes in this way" (and remember "the Heart player has sole guidance over the protagonist" and either Heart or Mistaken can at least try to reject an assertion about any character). In apocalypse girl, you can introduce an "Engine" (game-mechanical element) into play that represents a particular character, and then I can introduce another Engine into play on my turn that represents a different aspect of that same character, and you can't stop me: If you create and narrate the Engine "Mother Theresa," I can create and narrate the Engine "Mother Theresa's predilection for brutal violence against the poor," and while you can try to destroy or redefine that Engine on later turns, you can't keep me from introducing it as both a game-mechanical entity and as a fact in the story.
So "I play a character, but other people have overt, acknowledged, systematic power over my character's person and decisions."
And no, I'm not claiming to be brilliant. I actually wanted to differentiate the roles more, and seriously considered making the World a kind of GM figure, and had in my head rules for vetoing other people's unacceptable input, but, you know what? In a 24-hour RPG, writing at work while on a project deadline, it was just easier to do it this way. That's not me: That's testimony to how far the milieu of the Forge that I'm swimming in has been permeated with these ideas to the point where they're obvious and natural.
The thing about Capes and Engel Matrix Games is that someone else reaching in and screwing with my character is optional, and the social pressure on everyone else to respect my ownership of my character outweighs the system's offering it.
It needs to be non-optional, the way you can't play Capes with a GM.
In GMless play, when you smash the GM, you redistribute his body parts to the other participants. Noone loses because the guy who WOULD lose (the GM) isn't at the table anymore.
If you want to end "My Guy" play, then you have to do something similar. You can't take a piece of my player away, and not give me anything back in return.
Instead, think of this...
You have a group of (one or more) characters. None of them are owned IN ANY SENSE by any of the players.
To take a facile stand on the idea, you have three players. One plays the Ids of the various characters, one the Egos, and one the Superegos.
Or any other fractionation of personality you care to define.
Or maybe one player controls a different fraction of each character.
But if you give me a character, and say, "Here, this is yours," and then to say, "But everyone else at the table can mess with it anytime they like, and you can't do anything about it," then my response is, "Then it's not mine anymore. "
To own is to control. If I don't control it, then I don't own it.
Interestingly I wrote up my answer to the breaking of exclusive control over elements. For the reasons in that article, I don't think we'll ever see a true breaking of the player paradigm in the way you seem to be indicating, Vincent... But hey, I could be wrong.
Was there a glimmer of this in Wraith's mechanics for a different player having control of a PC's Shadow?
A werewolf or Hulk inspired game where you black out and a different play takes control when you go all lunatic-y.
A game where different players are in charge of characters when they use different forms of conflict resolution? If the knight jousts he is controlled by X and if he serenades a fair lady in the audience he is controlled by Y and if he spears the horse and goes for the kill, control goes to Z.
I played in a game with Ron at Gen Con where we all shared a character and some part of me liked the collaboration but this selfish only-child in me was rebelling against the entire idea. But I wonder how it would be different if the game was set up and made for it.
Hmmm. So you want player ownership of characters, but with required interference from other players? Something like the way InSpectres players can add traits to someone else's character in a confessional, but you don't want it to be optional?
OK. I can see that you will need two things in this theoretical game:
(1) Make the only way to gain bonus dice on a resolution roll be "adding traits to other characters". The other players have no say-so; the only limit on how you change another character is knowledge that you'll get yours, soon.
(2) If it's a Narrativist game, the moral issues addressed aren't owned by the characters, but by the setting, so you don't feel like changes to your character screw over your ability to address premise. If it's Gamist, the tactical options aren't defined by your character, but by something else, so you don't feel like your tactical options can be hosed arbitrarily by other players.
The way I see it, #1 is easy to do; it's #2 that's going to require lots of design skills.
You know how when someone comes into Indie Game Design at the Forge and they're like, "hey, I'm making a game," you can ask "is it a GMed game?" You should be able to ask "is it a stop-at-the-skin game?" too.
Holy moly! I think you just cleared the log jam in my brain for 44.
Funny story: Over the holidays, the 44 notebook was attached to my hip, figuratively speaking. So, on our only road trip to visit relatives, I planned to bring it along to scribble if Canada drove the way home. I haven't found it since. It's like someone stole my fetish or something! ;)
You know, I think that games using relationship mechanics already do this in a particular way. If my character loves your character, and you get a bonus die from me if I think our love is involved, that means I have some control of your character, because you'll be thinking about whether it's worth doing a particular thing to get that extra die.
This is all like where co-GMing was before Universalis. We're all hinting at it in our designs in our own ways. Little small impingements on the player's control over her character's emotions and personality, little small ways that I get to contribute to your character (but usually giving you way more oversight than you really need, I guess so that you don't startle like a bunny and run away).
In a recent 20'x20' room thread, someone said "If a GM ever told me 'if you want to hold your character as she is, don't play her,' I'd walk.
"Maybe I'm old-fashioned, but the Storyteller's role is to dictate what happens to your character, but never, ever how your character responds to it. And character death? It better have meaning if you want that player to come back the next game session."
Yep, I want to make that guy walk. The Storyteller[sic]'s role isn't to dictate what happens to your character, so maybe your role isn't to dictate how she responds to it.
MW go ""Storyteller""*
Claire go ""
Claire go "Take two"*
VB go "more efficient, maybe..."*
VB go "no, really -"*
SLB go ""Qien"?"*
NK go "quibble quibble: sidekicks"*
JSH go "Well, then..."*
NK go "We still need new designs!"*
Here's why I think weakening the PC role is a good idea. There are probably more, but this one is the one I think of most often.
First, Vincent and TonyLB are always going on about how you really need solid adversity to make a good story. Getting rid of the GM helps meet this need, because in a typical rpg, the GM is the moderator AND the source of adversity, and that means he or she can't go all out in the opposition. Okay, problem diagnosed, solution prescribed.
Now, what does having a strong notion of "PC" do? It ties the player's status to the character's status. It becomes socially risky, among the players, to play your character in a way that can lower his or her status. (It's important to recognize that there's a difference between status and formal success or rank.) It creates places where you don't want to go.
If you weaken the ownership, though, then the status of your PC might not be tied as strongly to your status, which could make it easier to play with a bigger palette of story.
Choosing "character ownership" as the underlying structure of your play - by which I mean, my play - creates terrible anxiety around antagonism. In order to create an antagonist, I have to build her out of my own character ownership, right? I have to make it so that my character is on a trajectory guaranteed to bring her into conflict with yours - she wants something your character doesn't want to give her.
But then what I've done is, I've cast my vision for my character against your vision for yours. When all we've got to work with is our character ownership, my character wanting something that your character doesn't want to give her is a social-level crisis. It automatically steps on toes, and we don't have any way to deal with that productively. It becomes "I want it! I take it!" vs. "you can't have it! I keep it!" - the only possible compromise is a compromise of vision.
Character-less is exactly the same problem as GM-less. It's all a matter of looking at who can do what with what. The death grip on character autonomy that quote from 20X20 exemplifies is all about you losing your little piece of the creative pie if the GM muscles in on your character territory. Damn, if all I could do was make up what one measly little part of a world does, I'd be loathe to let it go too. Status, like crazy, but more so--it's player effectiveness, authorship & your one shot at looking good. Take that away at your peril. But if we all get the whole pie--its a different story all together.
Then we get: It becomes "I want it! I take it!" vs. "you can't have it! I keep it!" - the only possible compromise is a compromise of vision.
This is precisely the dilemma when you do step out of the GM distribution of roles. Who delivers the adversity? How do you square it with the realities of human social interactions? Brrr...it's a cold world out there once you leave the calm shelter of GMhood. I've been struggling with this for City of the Moon--it like pits the players against the players, vying for resources & letsmakes you choose to destroy other players' juju. I described this to NinjaJ last night and realized what I was asking people to do. I mean, I hate Diplomacy, and here I am inflicting that level of inter-player strife on poor shmoes who might want to play my game.
So what to do? Tie the player effectiveness on another hook, for one. Invest people in the adversity coming their way. Make them want it. Killing character ownership helps do this. If instead of looking at somebody coming at "my" character with a knife as a threat to my gamely livelihood, but as an opportunity to author about something I care about and am interested in, I'll dive right in. I'll take the blow, damn, I'll give myself the blow--if it means I can say something about loyalty, or cowardice or what have you.
I have 2 actual play experiences that speak to this. One is PTA, where we played it straight-up "pass the buck". Everyone suggested actions and whatnot for everyone else's characters, but the "owner" got to pick what they liked best.
The other was Uni. Now, I only played Uni that one time, and the session had some logistical issues, but what happened was that different people developed different ideas for the direction they thought different characters should go. Since no one had direct ownership, it ended up being a struggle over which direction to take the story. The game "worked" in that we were able to effectively deal with these conflicts, but personally I didn't find it as enjoyable as the PTA game.
My reaction to this is to say that each player *needs* ownership over something, if they want to make a statement. And the thing with characters is that a charcter is more or less the basic unit of a story. One character makes one thematic statement. So it makes sense that one player would own one character.
But I don't know, I need to mull over this. Maybe it's just a play preference thing.
Well, you'll notice that I'm still making GMed games; I'm going to keep making games with PCs, too. But just like my GMs have to share their power with the players, my players will have to share their power too.
sdm go "Which current designs?"*
VB go "The Dragon Killer, yeah."*
Emily said: Tie the player effectiveness on another hook, for one. Invest people in the adversity coming their way. Make them want it. Killing character ownership helps do this. If instead of looking at somebody coming at "my" character with a knife as a threat to my gamely livelihood, but as an opportunity to author about something I care about and am interested in, I'll dive right in. I'll take the blow, damn, I'll give myself the blow--if it means I can say something about loyalty, or cowardice or what have you.
I designed With Great Power... to do this without killing character ownership. Each player has a superhero that they have final inking rights over (with 2 exceptions). "Inking" in WGP terms = "the buck stops here" in Ron terms. The first exception is when a character loses a conflict scene. The victor increases the dramatic tension on an aspect of the character (called increasing the Suffering of the Aspect) and describes how that manifests in the SIS.
The 2nd exception is an optional rule in the back. With this option, when you've defined your character as a "partner" of another PC, that character's player can choose to increase the Suffering of your Aspects and get the cards for it.
This illustrates your point about "tying player effectiveness to something else." I looked to nonRPG games and gave each player in WGP the same hand of cards. They can each do the same kinds of things to get more cards (that is, voluntarily increase the Suffering of their aspects).
Vincent, to use an analogy, are you saying that, in these "playerful" games, a player will continue to be the actor of a given character, while someone else is the playwright? If so, do NPC relationships in Trollbabe fit what you're talking about?
Since Discernment has been mentioned, I should say that stories in that game are very, very short. Often only one scene. Characters are conjured into existance and defined by the Lead Scholar, then quickly, furiously played by everyone else, then conflict is resolved and it's time for a new Lead Scholar. That certainly undermines a sense of character ownership.
I'm not convinced that ownership per se is really needed.
In software engineering, there's this idea called egoless programming, which is fully as terrible a name as playerless play. I'll describe it, and then analogize with gaming.
In a regular development project, each programmer gets part of the program and is responsible for making it work. That code is his (or hers, if the programmer's a she). The trouble is that if you have strong code ownership, programmers tend to get ego-invested in their chunk of the program, and become resistant to change and defensive when its criticized. In contrast, egoless programming is a practice that encourages programmers not to invest ego into the code they wrote. The idea is that you practice collective code ownership: everyone owns every part of the program, and as a consequence its each programmer's responsibility to understand the whole system and take responsibility for the quality of all of it.
This has some pretty radical benefits: once you let go of code ownership, writing code becomes an opportunity to both learn and to teach, as you use take critiques as a chance to improve your skills, and you give critiques as a chance to share your skills. Psychologically, it's just way more fun, and it also produces programs of substantially better quality.
I think there's a very strong potential analogy to rpgs: like with programming, rpgs feature a small group of people engaged in a collective creative project that requires close coordination to succeed. My hope is that giving up strong ownership of a PC, we relieve ourselves of having to ego-invest in the character anymore. And if we don't have to be defensive about the boundaries of our characters, we can inhabit and roleplay the character much more intensely, deeply, and with more feeling, as part of our responsibility to the rest of the group.
Well, the thing is that "the GM has sole control of everything-but-the-characters" was never true, because the GM has always been fully subject to social pressure, fully accountable to the group, and fully incapable of enforcing any decision or any ruling against even a single player's genuine dissent. (Yet another straightforward restatement of the Looly Pooly.)
"I have sole control of my character" - even "I have sole control of my character's inner life" - has never been true either, for the exact same reason.
So whatever radical conclusions anyone wants to draw, like "no-ownership play will brainwash everyone!" or "no-ownership play will scupper Narrativism!" or whatever, bear in mind that we've been playing no-ownership secretly all this time.
This goes for any immersionists still reading me, too. "No-ownership play is counter-immersive!" you might say. I reply: it can't be, since you've been playing no-ownership all along and you've been immersing just fine.
Isk go "Is identification important?"*
NK go "Hm..."*
GG go "agree and disagree"*
EST go "If so, what's the big deal?"*
SLB go "Smash the denial!"
EST go "Heh"*
VB go "EST: that's easy."*
EST go "Again, Heh."*
PAW go "Duh. Its so obvious!"*
VB go "Jesus, are you two enen following the conversation?"*
Thematic roleplaying demands at least one protagonist, but it's my experience that I identify with protagonists, no matter who's playing them. I don't need to play the protagonist.
This thing where we arrange our games so that there's one protagonist per player except the GM? That's only one of many, many possible ways to arrange them.
Now we have some games where there's a protagonist per player and no GM - so that's cool, that's another way.
And Capes is probably more weird & wiggly than I credit, yes, but let's have some games where there's one protagonists and some supporting cast. Let's have some games where you don't know whether you're playing a protagonist, an antagonist, or an incidental character until push comes to shove. ("Holy crap. I'm the hero after all! All this time I thought you were, but it's me!")
Neel's quibble in marginalia above is right on. One player => one protagonist is the commonest way right now, not the only way.
JBR go "Buffy!"*
VB go "Not Buffy!"*
JBR go "Sure, that too."*
BL go "Have you been talking to Emily?"*
Also, it confronts directly problems like turtling and other introverted-type behaviors that goes on at the table. "So, you want Your Guy to be all mysterious and have no family, huh? Well -BAM- he's got a girlfriend now. Deal with that, ninja boy."
It addresses players who want to use techniques to cordon off their character and pretend that everyone has a "silo" of fun for themselves, and that we kinda, sorta have the characters do stuff together ... but it's still My Guy so back off.
Vincent : "Holy crap. I'm the hero after all! All this time I thought you were, but it's me!"
Just to clarify - are you talking here about players switching characters, or characters switching narrative roles? Most of this thread seemed to be more about the former, but your phrasing here suggests the latter. (The protagonist role switching from Deckard to Roy in Blade Runner, or from Aubrey to Maturin in Master and Commander : The Far Side of the World.)
Why start of a perfectly reasonable topic -- the question of what variations are reasonable (or present) in player/character identification and control -- with a firestarter off-hand comment like the one on GM-control. Everway is still my favorite game (and OTE mys second favorite) -- not despite minimal rules, absolute GM control and responsibility, and players-only-control-their-characters aspects, but because of them. Limiting most players to describing character actions creates an unparalleled sense of immersion. Making other trade-offs can produce a more collaberative gestalt, or whatever, but no given point is broken or stultifying. Certain specific games are broken, not the whole idea. Locking RPGs into one mode of thought is wrong, but not broken; it's an idea, not a system.
That said, yes, having widened character-player roles into quasi-GMs -- forced to take a story-level view of events at least some of the time, the natural next step is to break open player-character identification (in fact, it's long since started, with Capes, Polaris, etc). It's worth keeping in mind the reasons for the meme -- that if you're roleplaying the character -- improving -- rather than just describing his or her actions, it's very disconcerting for someone else to muck with his -- your -- inner state. Much more so than to introduce game-facts that impact the landscape indirectly. That said...well, going into third person-mode is a much greater imposition to character identification and immersion than second-party insertion ever is.
I do think that going too far along this road moves things away from the "rpg" label (in the same direction that the Laws "New Style" games did) and out into a more general category of story-making games where collaberative writing, murder mystery games, and Once Upon a Time live. But there's nothing wrong with that -- a category is a descriptor, not a straightjacket.
Fred, it's already not yours. I imagine that it's comforting or something to pretend that it is, or you wouldn't care so much, but it's not yours. It never has been.
I'm not taking it away. I'm pointing out what's really going on.
Same for you, Joshua. I just want to make formal, systematic, what's already happening when you play. You, yes you, playing Everway, apparent GM and all.
Hey everybody, there are two things that really, really don't move me. Thing one is "please preserve the status quo of roleplaying!" like Adam's. Thing two is "but ... that's not a roleplaying game!" like Joshua's. I don't respect those sentiments or the agendas behind them.
Hi Matt, I don't think it should be confrontational, because that makes people dig in. What I'd like to see is a game that supports and encourages all the players to take responsibility for making all the characters and the whole game work. I'm dreaming of something like this:
Matt: Hey, Neel, you've been running Wolfboy as a total ninja -- he's got no ties to nobody and this game is about family.
Neel: Uh-oh, you're right. I was too focused on being mysterious and brooding and got tunnel vision. Fix?
Matt: Easy; Wolfboy is totally lusting after Jeanette Grey.
Neel: Sounds good; let me add that to the character sheet.
Vincent: Wait, Matt, Jeanette is married to Polyphemus. She's been faithful, too, so is she...?
Matt: Hormones say "Wolfboy". Brains say "Polyphemus". She's pretty torn.
Vincent: And pissed off about being torn, of course. It must be really embarassing for a psychic to be unable to control her emotions.
Matt: That's great. I'll add "Angry about love" to her character sheet.
Neel: Yeah, that's awesome -- it's total soap opera. Wolfboy and Polyphemus are friends, definitely, to up the angst.
Matt: No, I think they should just plain hate each other, but squelch it out of loyalty to Dr. Z's vision for peace. Want to hold an author auction, Neel?
Vincent: Nah, it would be cooler if you two saved the friend-or-foe thing for an in-character scene.
Matt & Neel: Okay!
Joshua, I tried to get at your concern with those last couple of lines. You don't have to do everything at the same time. If all the players were constantly in author mode, then, yeah, it would be pretty tough to roleplay. But you can have different modes of play in the same game.
In this made-up dialogue, there's some kind of distinction between the collaborative PC authoring scenes and the "in-character scenes". And the collaborative authoring scenes don't have to have strong ownership, even if a character is always played by the same player.
This is actually pretty close to the pattern I saw when playing deep in-character; you'd have minimal second or third-person during the formal session, and then afterwards everyone went to dinner together and talked and talked and talked about the game. Dinner was what made the game work, because characters got refined and our assumptions about the setting and the antagonists got harmonized there. It was really a part of the game, only in a different mode.
Now that I think about it, every game that has a character creation system already does multi-modal play. You play one in one mode at the start, and then play in another mode for the rest. (And the people who do worldbuilding or scenario prep have another kind of game, which could also benefit from being opened up.)
Matt S go "right on!"
VB go "how about this..."*
Drop the boundaries question -- like I said, it's not important.
As Vincent implied, Everway's relevant here -- especially in character creation, where all players get their fingers deep into all the characters, asking questions (or making suggestions) that deepen -- or even change -- other player's characters. In play, the lines are sharper (except, of course, that the GM's narration power is absolute, cutting across character boundaries on conflict resolution if the social contract allows it), but the modal play allows for certain things to have been negotiated before-hand. (Everway arguably has at least three modes -- "discuss your concept", "negotiate your mechanics" and "play")
Perhaps there's a point to returning to formal character creation mode or something like it occasionally -- not just because it gives a place to change things that aren't working, but also because it gives a way to work out ideas without breaking immersion-in-play, etc.
It looks like we're talking about a phase in the game where everyone stops and takes a look at each others characters.
Something that I know I do anyway in a game.
Kat thinks after the game session, "Mike mentioned an estranged Wife for his character Pete. Wouldn't it be cool if she suddenly arrived while he's on his Dream walk? She'd be really pissed thinking that he left Sophie alone all this time."
Adding a Colaborative Phase allows eveyone to voice these thoughts, which could be really really cool. Then Kat would get to share Her idea for Mike's character and hear idea's about Kat's character that would really twist the knife delightful.
My only reservation is that I need more than just the collaborative phase, I need to have in character play too.
I think the relationship between immersion and shared character ownership is not a trivial one, and is not covered either by "You're already playing with shared ownership (by definition), so obviously playing with more explicit and extensive shared ownership won't interfere with immersion" or by "The currently typical level of shared character ownership that is called single player-character ownership is the only type of character ownership that can support type X of immersion."
I think it requires more thought to work out the relationships between character ownership and immersion, and what aspects and styles of character ownership relate to supporting or hindering immersion for which styles of players. Which probably means more varieties of explicit and even formalized shared character ownership being developed in games as a method of exploring the question.
My own guess would be that the criteria for immersion that you have mentioned before are relevant here again. To the extent that shared character ownership supports player confidence in their ownership of a character, and their confidence in their ability to author the story/world, and their belief in the coherence of the world, explicit shared character ownership will support immersion.
There's a very interesting thing in there: in order for shared character ownership to support immersion in a character, shared character ownership needs to support player confidence in the individual player's ownership of the characters (or of a single character), such that they can act with confidence and certainty for any of the characters they want to immerse in. Perhaps that confidence in ownership needs only to last as long as the immersion does?
Initially, that seems like a contradiction, but it is certainly part of why a system of shared ownership that strongly deemphasizes the shared ownership aspect is the most common play style for people who are heavily invested in immersion (if the other players are given few validated methods to express their shared ownership effectively, they are less likely to undercut my control of my character). However, I agree that although that may represent the most obvious locally optimum solution, it doesn't mean that it is necessarily the over-all best solution, or that there aren't other local maxima that will also provide other benefits.
For one thing, the "mine, all mine" style of character ownership takes a very paranoid position on the effects of other players: since they could do something bad with my character if I gave them more extensive (or explicit) shared ownership rights, I'm going to cripple their ability to do something interesting with my character, just to be safe.
The common alternate methods of separating out active alteration of characters by anyone but the primary owners into separate (usually post-game) sessions, and the method of giving the primary owning player nominal veto rights over any suggestion are two ways of ameliorating the paranoid mode of nominal single ownership (which have been mentioned here by several people), but I agree that they aren't necessarily the only way to go.
However, I think there are certainly ways of handling shared character ownership that will decrease immersion in character, although they may compensate for it by providing other sorts of immersion. For instance, I expect that very strong shared character ownership to the point where player-character assignments are incidental and transitory could produce excellent story immersion, but weak character immersion. Many people's descriptions of playing Universalis seem to show this happening (and Universalis does seem to be capable of handling as fully and explicitly shared ownership of characters as you could possibly want).
On the other hand, surely "You don't know if your character is the antagonist or the protagonist, or if you are a supporting character" and "There is just one protagonist" aren't really that radical of play styles, are they? They don't even seem in the same category as shared ownership (except in the sense of ownership = "investment in", rather than ownership = "control over", which I guess is part of what you mean).
Actually, I think what you are asking for is games in which the shared ownership is explicit and formalized, but remains a subtle and nuanced relative of standard implicit and informal shared ownership. The extreme forms of shared ownership already exist (Universalis, Matrix Games and possibly even Capes), but they strip out the confidence in speaking from a specific character to a degree that undercuts immersion in character.
Everway is an excellent example of what I'm talking about.
During the character creation process, the other players offer all kinds of suggestions to the owner of the character, which he has the power to accept or reject.
I don't think you can argue that this is not true!
You want to take away that power. You want to give back the power to do the same thing to another person's character. My response is that what you want to give back isn't as valuable to me as what you're taking away because I don't own that other person's character.
"Here, I'm going to take away the remote control for the TV in your house, and I'm going to use it from outside your house to change your channels when I want to. Since I'm such a nice guy, I'm going to hand you the remote for the TV in my house. See? Fair exchange."
Fair, probably, but not an exchange I'm interested in. My remote is more important to me than yours.
And your arguments about the remote not being mine? I'm not convinced. I'm in a couple of IRC games with some of you guys... show me in Mike Holmes's HQ game or LX's Everway game or the new Skype Nine Worlds game that I'm wrong.
Now if the characters are created, at the beginning, as a collective, where everyone contributes a bit to each character, and where the responsibility for deciding what the character does is likewise shared and/or competed over, this power sharing is less of a problem; instead of sitting in my house defending my TV remote, we're a gang of kids who've stolen all the remotes, clicking channels through the windows as a group. That model doesn't have the power sharing problems that I'm talking about.
1) Can you show some actual play in which what Vincent is talking about has led to fictional characters losing continuity and being "a bit more schizophrenic"? Or are you just assuming that this would be the case in such a game?
2) Continuity of character is an illusion that the audience creates. I can point to scads of fictional characters who behave differently from scene to scene, episode to episode. Some characters have been written by the same author, some written by a variety of authors. Different people in the audience will say "That character is really solid and believable!" while others will say "That character is really contradictory in behavior!" and still others will say "Huh? Who cares? The character is cool! Who cares if the character has continuity?" Do James Bond, Batman, Doctor Who, Tarzan have "continuity"?
3) Given that in many RPGs, the characters will change through play--sometimes dramatically, sometimes subtly--why would "continuity" of character even be a concern in RPGs?
4) Here's a wild thought: not all RPGs are for all people. If you're really that concerned about other players being able to change your character without your veto power, maybe that kind of RPG just isn't for you. Is that any reason to abandon the idea?
Fred, try it with me. We're both players in an Everway game.
You say: My guy is angry.
I say: No he's not. He's happy.
You say: Dude, he's my guy. He's angry.
I say: Nope.
You say: Angry.
I say: No. He's happy.
You say: Angry or I walk.
I say: Happy, or walk then.
You say: You're an asshole.
In the face of my dissent, you have no power to make your guy be angry. He can be happy or the game can end, that's the choice you have the power to make. You must appease me - me and the GM and every player - at every moment of play. Roleplaying is exclusively a process of making your own vision to accomodate everyone else's.
Similarly, the thing where I offer suggestions which you have the power to reject? That power is something we pretend you have. I can crash that process just as easily, simply by insisting that you take my suggestions.
Now, this is the underlying fact of the matter. Upon this, we build structures - and character ownership is a structure we build, just like GM ownership of the world. Useful for what it's useful for, but not fundamental, not true.
So there's the theory answer, and it's just the dumb Lumpley Principle, the stupidest, most obvious insight in the history of obviousness.
You demand a practical answer as well!
"The problem THAT model has is that the character portrayals lose continuity. They start being a bit more schizophrenic, a bit scattered. Now if that's what you're after, great."
I have no reason to believe that this is true. It's to all of our benefit, mine very much included, for me to support, not undermine, character continuity.
Buffy's writers got the characters right enough, consistent enough. We can.
Now, it's fun getting you conservatives all riled up, but here's a less hardline example of what I'm talking about. This is an example rule from a while ago. Imagine a roleplaying game where...
You can declare that your PC's fate and another PC's fate are "married." The PCs don't have to have any particular relationship or even know one another at all. Once per scene, you can pull a die from the other player's pool and include it in your roll. If your roll's a win, return the die to the other player's pool; if it's a loss, throw the die away!
If you like, instead of "you don't own your characters" you can read me as saying "we should explore further entangling the players' resources."
In Weapons of the Gods, the players can spend character points to buy into "loresheets," setting bits that include both history and future possibilities. So, you can spend points to make your character's destiny "To find the Five Devils Sword." Now, it's my understanding (I don't own nor have I read the game yet) that you can spend your points to buy into loresheets for other PCs. So I could, say, spend points so that Vincent's character is destined to find the Five Devils Sword, regardless of whether Vincent was planning on that or not.
Is that an example of what you're talking about, Vincent?
JK go "Not WotG"*
jmn go "Really?"*
SS go "Mm."*
JN go ""Sorta""*
Vincent, I wrote up a little thing here thats along those lines. I have no idea if its close to what you're talking about.
Fred, remember that PtA game last year? And after the first couple sessions I mentioned that one of Damien's connexions was really weak, and you were all "yah, I was thinking you should change that?" If you had the system power to just change it at the beginning, I wouldn't have gotten all bent, I would have been like "thats cool, thanks."
As we see over and over again, other people having ideas about your input can be very, very good.
Can we separate the question of influence (or rather, power) and portrayal?
In the control (trad style, whatever; it's a useful example), I think shared ownership is largely a matter of veto, in the same way that player-campaign ownership is largely veto.
But how much can/should you separate out control of a character from portraying it? On the one hand, the tradition of the player portraying a character also having the lion's share of control over it makes for an immediacy of decision and helps avoid the character doing or thinking things the player is not comfortable or capable of portraying. On the other, it artificially limits the ability of players to collaberate on the story, as well as potentially reducing immersion in styles of characters that rely on controlling other characters (espers, persuasive types, etc).
I'm playing PTA these days, and this discussion got me thinking that perhaps it'd be fun to try out a game where players set stakes for each others' characters. Something like this:
A: "...so I run over to her and try to tell her I love her anyway!"
B: "If you win, she loves you too - but somehow you feel she shouldn't."
C: "If you lose, you're lying, and she can see it in your eyes."
Vincent wrote: "Matt: Easy; Wolfboy is totally lusting after Jeanette Grey. Neel, add that to your character sheet." The same? Different?
Correct me if I'm wrong, but the question you're asking is something like "Does the distribution of authority differ in some fundamental way here?" I'd say: no, it doesn't. (But whether my example or yours would work better as a procedure in real play is something only playtest could decide.)
The reason is that the particular distribution of power/responsibility I was thinking of in my example was: each player is fully responsible for making the whole game as good as it can be. That means that as a player, 1) you need to suggest the best ideas you can for every character, 2) if someone comes up with a better idea, then you need to integrate it immediately and with good grace, 3) if you and another player disagree and can't come to a synthesis, you both need to passionately and respectfully advocate your ideas, and then accept defeat gracefully when a decision is made.
The rules are like Robert's rules of order; following them should ensure that everyone gets heard, facilitate creative collaboration, and resolve fundamental disagreements in some manner that everyone agrees is fair. Let me give an example that puts disagreement over Neel's PC between Matt and Vincent, to show off what I'm trying to get at.
Matt: Easy; Wolfboy is totally in love with Jeanette Grey. Neel, add that to your character sheet.
Neel: I'll challenge that -- Wolfboy is too emotionally stunted to really feel love, yet. He can be lusting after her, though.
Matt: I think we definitely need some real emotion, now and not in the future.
Neel: I think the time isn't ripe yet -- Vincent, what do you think?
Vincent: He's in love, for the first time ever in his life, and doesn't realize or understand that he's in love.
Neel: That's good -- I'll adopt that proposal.
Matt: It's still too weak for me. Vincent, let's hold an author auction to find out if he knows he's in love.
[mechanics go here]
Vincent: You win, Matt. Wolfboy is in love, and knows it! Put that on your sheet, Neel.
Neel: Right. I want a scene where he's been watching Casablanca and is trying to keep people from finding out that it made him cry....
From the beginning:
1. Matt identifies a problem with Neel's PC.
2. Neel agrees, asks for a solution.
3. Matt advances a solution.
4. Neel disagrees, and suggests a different solution.
5. Vincent advances a third solution.
6. Neel adopts Vincent's solution.
7. Matt disagrees with Vincent's solution.
8. Vincent and Matt use some dispute resolution procedure.
9. Matt wins, and Neel adopts Matt's solution.
JK go "Is this core narrativism?"*
NK go "It's at right angles..."*
Neel, it's cool, but: Why the "author auction"? Why not "he's in love with her, deal with it?"
In traditional RPGs (playing functionally...), I have absolute authority to say at any time what my character is feeling, thinking, and trying to do; people can object to any of it and try to change my mind (insert Lumpley Principle boilerplate here), but the written rules and even the "oral tradition" of gaming don't give anyone but me the right to describe internal states or intent for my character.
Why not flip that? Give me absolute authority to say at any time what your character is thinking, feeling, and trying to do.
Hm. After telling Josh that I felt about the same way as in the example with the remote, and that the kind of game Vincent is describing is the kind that I'd probably play once or twice, at conventions, or as a one-off, but never as a regular thing, I came up with an example of something that does fit was he's talking about.
This is The Letter Game. Okay, in many varieties, each person technically has one PC, but part of the point is that each player is, to be technical, Making Up Shit about the other players' PCs. E.g.:
"So, tell me about that mini-tornado you created today."
(Actual example, and the player in question had no problem with someone else deciding her character had done that.)
Or, "Today, I saw Robert, that boy you're in love with, kissing another woman. Cousin, what shall we do?"
Okay, so the player to whose character this is addressed now knows:
"My" PC has a cousin, who's writing the letter (or sending the email, or whatever), someone the cousin at least thinks the PC is in love with, and this guy or someone whom the cousin could mistake for this guy was kissing someone else.
Side note: This feels to me Completely Different from a lot of other examples of what Vincent is talking about, and fits into Lisa's Definition of RPGs in ways that other games don't. This does say more about me than about RPGs, and is noted here primarily as a data point.
Quoth Sydney: Why not "He's in love with her, deal with it"?
It's probably a good idea to have at least some rules for settling disagreements about which way the story is going to go. Otherwise, you punt it to the social contract level, and arguments on the order of "That idea is crap, and if you don't come up with something better I'm going to go play WoW instead" aren't much fun.
Functional improv troupes have more rules than "Don't block," too, in the same way that System includes things none of the players have ever consciously articulated.
Yeah, "deal with it" isn't a functional System. I'll try to refine this thought-experiment a little, inverting (not discarding) as many precepts the traditional RPG "my character" model as I can manage within a consistent mirror-image structure and see where that leads.
So keep "I, as a player, have a single fictional person I'm primarily responsible for portraying." But then:
Traditional: I create my character's backstory.
Inverted: Everyone at the table but me collaborates on my character's backstory.
Which is, in a weird way, realistic: I, as a real person, didn't choose my own parents, my native culture, my (pre-college) education.
Traditional: I alone decide what my character feels.
Inverted: Anyone at the table except me can say what my character feels.
Which is, again, weirdly realistic: Last time I checked, I had very little control over my emotional reactions to things.
Traditional: I can say what I'm trying to do, but I have to submit to the dice and/or GM fiat to see if I succeed.
Inverted (sorta): I can say what I'm doing. It succeeds.
Which isn't realistic at all, except in the mundane-but-crucial stuff of life where I know full well I can do the laundry or get the crying baby instead of letting my wife do it, or alternatively, I know I can eat the cookies when I'm supposed to be on a diet; the question is whether I will do it.
Hmmm. So "deal with it" is a game about taking the influences life gives you, and the wants and needs you have in spite of yourself, and deciding how you go about fulfilling, sublimating, or denying them. Obviously this is hardly functional at this stage, but it seems like something worth designing.
NK go "Reminds me of acting..."*
SLB go "That *does* sound interesting, Sydney."*
SF go "More like LARPing..."*
I think he was refering to the character he created when he said "my." It looks like you've latched on to a semantics problem. And as for all the characters being Non-Player Characters, I don't see that at all. Instead, they are APCs- All Player Characters. That is, if I'm understanding what Vincent has said correctly.
I'm not getting hung up on the "my" bit. I view its usage to indicate "the character through whom I make my primary, but not only, input into the game."
Here's what interests me about this (IMPORTANT: This is not the total of what Vincent's getting at; it's the part I'm really excited about right now) ...
Distributing player control in this way opens up the potential that when we play, we don't know who the protagonists will be. Or, perhaps more likely, we don't know which character's story we'll like best.
Why is that cool? Because it's exciting not to know where the game will lead. Because we can happily choose what the finest story-strand at the table is and reinforce it with our input (on other players' characters, presumaby).
Yes, this can happen in a more traditional set-up. But, I think it places reinforcement around the table in a new and very interesting way. It is a different emphasis, and will indeed shake up the hobby. Just think about how much assumption goes in to role-players and their player characters! It's a sacred cow of creative ownership in the hobby.
I am aware of at least one, if not two or three, game designs-in-progress that will make this happen. Based on a cursory reading, I think Ron's SPIONE does this. I have hopes my next design, 44, will do this. I can't wait!
TC go "Agreed..."*
RC go "Aria?"*
SLB go "Not Aria, or at least I don't remember it."
Dang. Teach me not to religiously follow the Blogs. Now I'm posting stuff down in the seventies, and who knows if anyone will read it. Ah well ... such is the deserved suffering of my vanity.
I think there's a lot of ground hidden in here that people are conflating. I'll try to split out just one thing that I'm working on in Misery Bubblegum.
Say I'm playing Josie. She's a rock-star.
There's: "Who decides what Josie does?", and that question can be answered in many ways.
There's: "Who decides what Josie intends when she does something?", and that question can be answered in many ways.
Let's assume a game where decisions still follow the outside-the-skin rule, but intended-outcomes do not. Say that, for instance, Bob (fellow player) is holding the card labelled "Josie's Temper." Josie's having a set-to with her agent. The stakes are whether she gets creative control. I decide (as is my right) that she just completely loses it, and yells that she'll walk out over the issue.
And then I turn to Bob to find out what this does to the stakes (does the agent fold, or does Josie walk out into the cold, hard world without any representation?) Indirectly, this helps to tell me why Josie got angry. If her temper is established as consistently working against her then we have to start considering whether she's being self-destructive ... who is she really angry at? Is yelling at her agent really her secret way of hurting herself?
And here's the real kicker ... what if Bob's used temper against me the last five times. Do I moderate Josie's behavior on the sixth? What's more important to me, Josie getting what she wants or Josie being who she is? And if I don't get angry on the one time that Bob would have had it be helpful, what does that get him thinking?
Tony, wouldn't that be "mostly" outside-the-skin? With Bob having one small line inside for Josie? But it sounds like you are saying that when we start talking about multiple input into the characters, we also need to start talking about multiple input into outcomes & ramifications of player actions. That seems like a natural extension of moving out of the character box to me.
Also, has Under the Bed already been raised? All the players are explicitly co-controlling a single character, the child. Though through the distancing technique of being the kid's toys. The goal of everyone is to play a story, and the goal is actually to "own" the character--or rather to determine what set of characteristics the character will own after the game ends. This also leads to group ownership of minor characters.
Well, I don't know. What is more important to "playing the character"? Is it choosing what things that the character does in the story? Or is it using the character as an avatar to impact the many parts of the story that are outside the skin of all protagonists? I mean, that's exactly my question.
If you think that playing a character is "mostly" saying what they say, and only a little bit having any other impact, then my example is "mostly" outside-the-skin. If you think that playing a character is "mostly" about the impacts they have, and only a little about the specific way that they do it, then my example is "mostly" inside-the-skin.
Does the distinction between those two make sense? I'll point out that (IMO) those are only two of many things that players are doing, all tangled up with each other, when they talk about "playing the character." Loads of territory to explore.
Like, another for-instance, in many games some player reaps the rewards for character success and the penalties for character failure. Doesn't have to be the same player that makes the decisions that lead to success or failure though.
Joshua K.: "Can we separate the question of influence (or rather, power) and portrayal?
In the control (trad style, whatever; it's a useful example), I think shared ownership is largely a matter of veto, in the same way that player-campaign ownership is largely veto.
But how much can/should you separate out control of a character from portraying it? ..."
Separating power and portrayal, yes!
Who portrays the character is pretty much just a side note on what I'm really talking about here. Far more important - and I think Tony'll agree with me - is: who's deriving power to make things happen in the game from the character? And then, who's making decisions about what kind of power one can derive from the character?
Imagine that you get to portray your character, same as always. But imagine that I get to say what your character's Spiritual Attributes are, and when they go up and down, and when they change.
BL go "Huh?"*
NK go "Me, too, maybe...."*
VB go "yeah, yeah, portrayal is power."*
Actually, I'm not prepared to say that any of these things are "more important" than the other.
Right now I'm trying to limit myself to pointing out that there is one god-awful tangle of things, all connected to each other and influencing each other, all called "playing your character" ... and that right now we don't have much sense of how to isolate them, or what they do in isolation.
Like, traditional GM-roles: we know about providing adversity to other players. We can look straight at that and say "This is what that looks like, completely divorced from the question of who has control of the world, completely divorced from the question of where the buck stops on the rules, completely divorced from the question of who has the most resources to establish story."
Personally I can't, yet, look at "Who makes decisions for the character?" and easily divorce it from things like "Who narrates how the character does what they do?" They're clearly (to my mind) different things, but all my past experience is in games where they were always aligned. I've got no experience of what it would be any other way.
I want to ask about this and make a comment:
Vincent said: Imagine that you get to portray your character, same as always. But imagine that I get to say what your character's Spiritual Attributes are, and when they go up and down, and when they change.
I'm currently running a game which is half my own invention grafted onto another system. Basically the bit I have invented consists of a character having psychic powers: telepathy, clairvoyance etc, which they can ativate and use pretty much as they wish. The flipside is that as they open their consciousness out to the world to psychically sense others, the world + dog seeps back into their now open mind.
They way I'm trying to make this happen in play is that the player portrays their character but other players can dictate to them what emotions their character is starting to feel.
Currently I as GM am simply stating what I feel is an apropriate emotion, however I want to formalise this into some kind of system to the extent that all other players can input what the character is experiencing from without. It's still up to the player who "owns" that character to choose how to portray it of course. Now this also has an effect on the character's mechanical ability to effect change in the game world, as the other players can cause the affected character to have bonuses/penalties based on feeling angry/scared/pained whatever.
It's not quite someone else changing your Spiritual Attributes, but once formalised it should be more like the ability to give someone a scene length temporary instinct or trait in BW.
I'm wondering if this is getting near to what you are talking about?
Slight tangent alert. Looking over this, and speaking for myself, I think I recoil more from the idea of other players telling my character (and, by proxy, me) what I *feel* than I do from the idea of other players merely twiddling numbers on my character's sheet.
It's probably one of those things that serves at a litmus test for players. If you don't care if other players mess with your character's emotions, as long as they keep their hands off your stats, you're in one bin. If it's the opposite, you're in the other.
Not quite stopping at the skin -- maybe stopping at the heart?
Roger, actually, you're describing exactly 'stop at the skin' play. I'll quote the relevant part of the essay in Death's Door (which I should have done in the first damn place, oops) to provide context for the phrase. It's from the sidebar "Who Gets to Say What?"
So where???s the line? Every group is going to be different, and the only real way to learn where the line is for your group will be to play the game. There are two ???lines??? that are worth mentioning, though: Stop at the Skin and Dive Right In. Stop at the Skin is shorthand for saying that the antagonist isn???t allowed to say what the protagonist is thinking or feeling: only the protagonist is allowed to dictate those sorts of things. Dive right in is a style of play where either of you can say thoughts and feelings. As an example, if the antagonist gave a complication ???You wad the legal will kit up and hurl it against the wall in frustration, overwhelmed by how unfair it all seems???, that would be totally legit in Dive Right In play, but definitely crossing the line for Stop at the Skin.
Twiddling numbers, on the other hand, has a long and glorious past in traditional RPGS. "I hit, take 4 points of damage." being the simplest case.
The example doesn't really show what I'm trying to get at, though. I don't have any problem at all with the "You wad the legal will kit up and hurl it against the wall" part. What I object to is the "overwhelming frustration" part.
It's similar, and maybe (or maybe not) related, to the authorial point-of-view called "third person objective" (in contrast to "omniscient".) Might even be related to show, don't tell.
To think of it, even grand-daddy D&D has almost exactly what Vincent is describing. It's called "Charm Person."
Roger: Slight tangent alert. Looking over this, and speaking for myself, I think I recoil more from the idea of other players telling my character (and, by proxy, me) what I *feel* than I do from the idea of other players merely twiddling numbers on my character's sheet.
See the culprit in there? It's the "and, by proxy, me."
Why must telling you what your character feels mean telling you what you feel?
That's only the case if we all expect you to feel what your character feels - which is true for many games, but need not be true for any given game.
To look at BL's comment first -- portrayal is -one- form of power --
it's a form of narrating power, if nothing else. But note the acting
comment above -- at it's least, the player portraying a character might
have to recite others' lines, take others' direction on actions and even
have to redo a scene until a "director" was satisfied with it. I don't
know how far one wants to push this -- in general, local control is very
important, so the player portraying a character should have power over
the character's internal state and diorected actions; doing so is simply
more efficient and effective. But it's possible.
I'm going to take a tangent off this, however, to lay out some ideas.
Rather than simply reverse sacred cows (as Sidney suggested), I'd rather
get rid of them entirely -- determining control via an entirely
different mechanism than traditional gaming uses, but in a way that can
(but doesn't have to) even result in the power division seen in
traditional gaming...but doesn't have to.