: Push and pull aside, co-ownership
Ann and Ben are players, Chris is the GM. Ann's and Ben's characters are pirates on a pirate ship. They have no established backstory - according to the rules, they'll create their backstories in play, in flashback. Chris is playing the part of the Royal Navy gunship that's moving in for a broadside.
According to the rules of the game, a) you get the die resources you need for dealing with the Royal Navy gunship by having flashback scenes; b) it matters whether it's a flashback scene with a rival, a comrade, or an enemy; c) you decide who your flashback scene will be with, including which relationship the characters have; but d) their player frames the flashback.
Ann: I need a flashback with a rival. So, Ben! Your guy and mine, rivals, at least in the flashback. Set the scene for us!
Ben: Uh, okay. Let's say we're in Jamaica, a year ago. You're climbing up into the balcony at your lover's window. I'm coming out!
Ann: Ooh, you BASTARD. That SLUT.
If you MUST talk about the push and pull in this example, okay, but don't miss my real point, which is that the players are creating one another's characters.
1. On 2006-01-13, Brand Robins wrote:
I like it.
And NO I am not talking about push and pull, at least for one day. Jebus.
I think that the concept would be hard for a lot of immersive "in the head" players to deal with -- as you have to build your head as you go. However, for my "from the story" type of play this is a brilliant idea about how to build things through co-ownership.
Many games have already covered the "build the character like you would a character in a very long novel you are writing" angle of things. However, I often like to build the character the way you experience a character through watching a movie. The character is (often) introduced to you here and now, with backstory being done through either flashbacks, confessionals, or explication. So you start with the behaviors, and then build the blocks in around it in the background.
Now, I know a lot of people who already do this in games. What I really dig about this example is that it isn't just you building your character as you go -- it is the group. It puts the audience participation back into the storytelling angle of things, while at the same time destroying the audience/author divide that haunts so much modern storytelling.
I know players that I think would dance around a creation method like this with great glee.
I *also* know players that I think would give it the 1000-yard stare, and walk away in revulsion.
...Which is interesting. I need to find one of the players that would be repelled, and see if I can find out if I'm right, and if I am, why they would walk away like that. Because I expect I'd see them doing it, but I can't figure out why.
Levi said: I *also* know players that I think would give it the 1000-yard stare, and walk away in revulsion.
Brand Said: I think that the concept would be hard for a lot of immersive "in the head" players to deal with -- as you have to build your head as you go.
For both of these I think the genre/cliche of "pirates" will go a long way in helping. It allows a context to start in.
If you can think of the chronology of the character as a series of elements: ABCDEFGHIJKLM, what the character's starting point is in a trad RPG is AB, or ABCD, or dysfunctionally, ABCDEFGHIJKLM. In the scenario you posit, the character begins with G. Wheras the traditional mode of play would say that you only work forward, your model suggests to me that it works forwards and backwards (which is a neato concept, and one we've played with in our Nar games extemorariously).
A couple of points:
If you're interested (you may or may not be) in engaging those folks who would stare blankly or are "in the head", I think it would be easier to starting with FGH rather than just G. These players need a place to start from: a homunculus to invest in. It instills a sense of assurance that you can know what to do when you get there, no matter how basic, and allows these folks a faster transition to fun, rather than that dread floundering feeling.
Would there be a scenario where the character in play could be: ***GHL? (I.e. where the flashbacks would happen that chronologically occur between the onset of game and the present of game? I'd assume that would be possible because Ann could pull a flashback scene in which Ben could create:
"After the Excelsior opened fire on the Black Pearl, and Ann had been rolled off her feet by the impact, what actually happened before we saw her again was: on the way down to the drink, she grabbed a rope and let the weight of her body release the dingy that had been hiding the very Queen's Jewels that the Exelsior is looking to recover. Old Sack Jack the first mate has been rowing ever since, so now that the Captain Welsford has taken us over, his men can't find what they're looking for. Er.... Arg."
and also, would there be times when ***GI**L is established and the flashback scene is re-writing "I" rather than inserting "C" or "J" (I.e. the flashback has not inserted a new element in the fiction, it has replaced an existing element already established in the fiction)?
I know that this doesn't sound like I'm getting the way you're stressing the point of co-ownership instead of chronology. I do like the dynamic that you're proposing in that realm, but I'm just trying, (probably badly) to illustrate that lucid play in a co-owned system may become rapidly more difficult when you introduce other socially challenging dynamics in a game at the same time.
MB go "ABC = very clear. Thanks."
RC go "Traveller"*
SLB go "But Trav goes only forward anyway."
Okay, a quick check with a 1000-yard stare player says this:
1) Yes, it would bug them.
2) Because they don't have enough to play on. And.
3) They aren't interested in having the end result of the play as a foregone conclusion... though they were a bit less solid on this one when reminded that it wasn't, exactly, since it was the source of an as-yet unknown trait.
Mo already suggested a solution to (2) with the "homunculus" comment. Good stuff.
Solving (3) might be trickier; I think it might be largely about presentation.
It does depend on presentation, it also depends on the emphasis in play.
If it goes like this:
1.) enter into the conflict
2.) create a flashback to get die resources
3.) get the die resources
4.) play the conflict out
5.) use the die resources in resolution
Then it really doesn't feel like a forgone conclusion at all, the flashback is an additive to the play, not the sum total of the play. The flashback serves to enhance the present both for story interest and mechanically rather than to replace or predetermine the play.
This is in answer to Mo's and Levi's marginalia a couple comments up. This is interesting stuff, the frustration we each feel; I think I'm getting a handle on it and I may make a post about it soon, hopefully a more considered post than the two of me one.
But for now.
Mo, you've done an excellent thing: you've taken my illustrative sliver and imagined for it a whole-game context in which it's fun and functional. That's perfect. That's requisite to discussion.
Everybody who's here and participating needs to do exactly that. It doesn't matter whether you imagine the same whole-game context that I do, or Levi does, or anybody does; what matters is that we each think about it and talk about it as fun and functional.
Contrast this with invoking the player who wouldn't like it and won't try it. We can all do that too - we all know that player - but invoking her won't help us explore an idea's potential or understand its ramifications.
In general, an example like this needs enough of an imaginary context for me to imagine it actually playing out before I can weigh it. When I try to do that, hitting problems because of the imaginary players in my head just happens.
Thus, I often need to solve some of those problems - in effect, design a bit of the surrounding architecture of the nonexistent game in order to appreciate the example.
In that context, it *became* helpful to me, personally, to reference that player, but not until after I actually got hold of them and asked them what their objection would be.
So... Uh, I'm not sure what the logical result of this line of thought is.
LBK go "Uh, this was a respose to Vincent. Sorry about the placement."
VB go "I dig!"*
LBK go "Deal."*
Mo, in marginalia: So the deliniation is: there's a conceptual game and you can feel free to design concepts and context to aid your discussion of theory, but there's no actual game, so there is no constraint on the example but that which you impose on it for the sake of discussion? "Don't tell me that Joe Gamer can't/won't/doesn't, tell me ways to apply it so Joe Gamer could?"
Yes. Very yes.
Only, "tell me ways to apply it" is to say, go design a game. Bring me a whole game design! And that's not what I'm after in this thread, in any thread on my blog.
So instead, leave the game design work aside for now, and step this way: "Assume that, yes, there are any number of ways to apply it so that Joe Gamer would dig it, we can design those games if we're inspired. Yes. Now, what does that say about roleplaying? What does it say about our designs, individually, AND taken as a body, AND as a craft? What does it say about Joe Gamer?"
MT go "Hmm. Oh. OK."*
LP go "Differing Modes"*
Mo: Do you want to see the process through design to get to what it says about our individual and collective designs, the craft and the target? Or do you just want to see what it says about those things?
I'm totally comfy leaving that to your judgement.
"You could do it this way" leaves me going, sure, you could, and...?
But "if you do it this way, that'd mean..." makes me go, hot dang!
I played my first session of Prime Time Adventures this week, and I loved it, and I really enjoyed the "we're all brainstorming for each other's characters" part. But there were also times when I would say to a fellow player, "This cool thing you said about your character -- therefore this other cool thing! Please, please, do it!"....and they wouldn't do it. (At least not all at once). And I would be sitting there, smoking with pent-up excitement, wanting some mechanical way to make them do it, or at least to bribe them to do it.
(Part of this is my habituation as one of the world's two most experienced Capes players beside the designer, and I mean literally beside him, as in at the same gaming table).
The co-creating each other's character thing -- we already do that all the time. Vincent's said as much. Even the "okay, so back in Jamaica, when my character knew this girl..." "Yeah, and my guy slept with her!" "Ouch! I like it!" happens all the time. We're not trying to invent that here.
What we're trying to do is create mechanical systems -- especially (as Ron always repeats) reward systems --that make this kind of co-creation easy and natural.
MSW go "PTA bribes"*
LP go "Side point"*
What you're positing with this line of thinking would be great rules for collaborative writing (as well as roleplaying).
I can't help but think..at least partially...so what for roleplaying?
As sydney points out, at least in his experience with Capes, there alaready are games out there that do this (some, better than others).
So, is what you're noodling here an attempt to get folks thinking about ways to apportion out character-authority (making a maybe false distinction between this and story-authority, I'm not convinced there is a distinction) in the same way that lots of indie-games have cut up story-authority?
This just sounds like a micro-cut of the lumpley principle - just a logical extension that's already happening organically in design...
I will say, however, that combining your dangerous idea with the various discussions of push/pull, yin/yang, proposal/judgement have catalyzed some specific design elements for me, so it's all good.
Hmmm. Both the pirates example, and the 'flashback' technique are SO DARN close to something I've been pondering...
I've been working on something called ConquistaPunk(Jammer) - it's a medly of stuff I love and am enthusiastic about - mainly cartology and spelljammer, but other interesting bits thrown in. (I'm also looking for 'maps', an RPG-in-design, but I forget from whom... if I can't find me, can someone refer me?).
What I'm trying to create is an (end of traditional) age-of-exploration speljammery rpg to the moon, mars and venus. Players would draw both the maps they'd "discovering", as well as their interpersonal and personal internal maps - together. Lots of stuff going on, but I was thinking that something revealed on the map would parallel something revealed about a character (or relationship).
Character creation would be A*C*EF********* (or some other combination of 'early' letters in the string, to give at least some departure point, some recognition/identification for each player, and an intitial vector - a bit more than 'pirates') after that, the group would explore both the new worlds, as well as the internals and history of each character together - these flashback scenes may be a nice method of co-ownership.
A thing I'll note about your example - you limit the description by B of A to A's location, time, a simple action (scene entry, really) and 1 person A has a relationship with. No dialogue, no thoughts... was this on purpose?
This (perhaps inevitably) seems to be leading towards a great big involved discussion about just what ownership means in this context. Which might not be a bad discussion to have, somewhere, sometime; for the moment, I'll just try to fake it.
In the most general case, I think Ann may still own her character backstory. More specifically, I don't think I know enough about their System to say one way or the other.
The biggest piece of evidence that I can think of to support the notion that there are lots of people who don't believe creation equals ownership is all those thousands of pages of fan fiction.
Or consider the hue and cry raised when Doyle tried to kill off Sherlock Holmes.
I'm not trying to convince anyone that these views are correct or accurate when it comes to creation and ownership. I'm just trying to convey that there is a wide range of opinions on the subject.
Of course, one may fairly say that I totally wussed out on actually answering Vincent's question. My own personal opinion is that Ann owns her character's backstory, even though Ben created it, because Ben has implicitly given it to Ann as a gift. But I'm well-aware that Ann and Ben may well have different opinions on the subject.
"The biggest piece of evidence that I can think of to support the notion that there are lots of people who don't believe creation equals ownership is all those thousands of pages of fan fiction."
Depends how you mean "own", and which segment of the (divisive) fan-fic community you're talking about.
Legally own? Certainly not, and most will put big statements of "don't sue me" up front and center.
However, in some parts of the community there is more going on than just "I want to do this thing that someone else owns." There is a degree to which many fan-fic writers do write their stories in order to feel some degree of ownership over a beloved character -- even if it is a transitory ownership that will have respect only in a limited community.
There are also, on some of the harder-core LJ narrative game and fan-fic lists, social prestige "ownerships" of characters based on the person whose fan fic is seen as being the best or most insightful by the community. Those who have shown a mastery of the material of the character can exert sway over those trying to come to the group with new material, and it can lead to fights nearly as catty as those that used to happen around my gaming table.
Then there is the other side of the equation: the TT trad ownership of chracter. Recently in a HeroQuest game I was playing one of the PCs lost a contest, and because of it got something added (by me as GM) to his backstory. One of the other players (who is new to the whole Nar thing) stopped the game to ask how and why that was okay, looking a little panicked about the issue.
In all the games he had played in the past, over at least 12 years of actual play time, the rights to character backstory were sacrosanct to the player of that character. As were the emotions and thoughts of the character. (Outside system mandated things for genre purposes: Sanity in CoC being the only specific example I know he's played.) So to him, the simple on the face of Vincent's idea would be a step towards group ownership of characters.
Now, lets take the gender-fuck that could be going on in Vincent's example (Ann and Ben sharing a lover) and push it forward. What if Ben's player is male, Ann's is female (no reason to assume this ??? just for the sake of argument here), and Ann had declared that the lover was male as well. Up to that point Ben had been thinking his character was straight, but now we know he's had at least one homosexual affair in the past ??? and was betrayed when his lover screwed a woman who is now on the ship with him. All of this is Ann's doing, and it pretty powerfully screws with what Ben (and the whole group) think of the character as being.
And what, oh what, if Ann had made the conflict be about how she and Ben's character fought the first day they were onboard the ship, with the loser having to become the pegboy?
I don't know that Vincent's example goes all the way to "full co-ownership" ??? but I think it does deliver some powerful possibilities.
BR go "Son of a bitch."*
SLB go "Don't use em-dashes."*
MT go "Just like fan Mu**s..."*
SDL go "My gut response:"*
Roger said: "This (perhaps inevitably) seems to be leading towards a great big involved discussion about just what ownership means in this context."
I have a feeling that the question of "ownership" is a red herring. Like Emily Care said in a previous thread it's really about who get's to say what about which character. But like the breaking up of the GM and redistribution of his/her power, we need to be aware of which parts of player power are being redistributed.
I think "ownership" is something we invest in the character rather than a definable state. I can think of examples of play where aspects of creation/control have been taken away from me. Only one results in my feeling like I'd lost "ownership"
As a result I'm coming to think that "ownership" really begins and ends with "sole portrayal rights" Not who gets to change what...
Let's look at these different aspects of character control we've been breaking down. Issues like:
Who can create/change a character's backstory?
Who can create/change a character's traits/skills/personality?
Who can portray a character in the game?
There are probably more examples.
Anyway, thinking back I've played many games where I've been handed a pre generated character, personality, backstory, skills and all, but because I was then given free reign to portray this character, I came to emotionally invest some notion of "this is mine" in it. So I had no creation rights over the character, but I still felt like I "owned" it.
Examples: Convention play with pre genned characters. Freeform LARPs of the style "here's a list of characters involved, pick one and play it".
I've played games where I was informed during play by the GM that my backstory was radically different than I'd previously conceptualised it. This changed the character immensely, but again because I still got to choose how to portray him, I still think of him as "mine". Anyone who's played a character with no memory or similar and left it up to the GM to "reveal" it has done this. So the GM had control over my backstory which had things added to it a number of times during play, and by extention he could change my character's personality and motives, but the character was still "mine": I portrayed him and no one else. And I had control over how to portray him.
The only time I feel like I don't "own" a character I portray is when playing NPC roles in LARPs. I don't create the character, I can't make changes to the character, but that's not the reason I don't own it. The reason is that I can be told, and often am told by a GM how to portray the character. And somehow to me that means it's not "mine" any more. This situation could of course happen in a table top game, but it is rare I think. In LARPs over here in the UK it is very commmon for players to take turns being NPCs directed by the GMs.
This is interesting to me because it suggests the following:
You can give other players the right to make changes to a character. But so long as only one player gets to portray the character then they will probably feel like they own it. To really break the "ownership" thing you need to allow any player to portray any character.
Possible definition of "portray": have the right to make meaningful decisions about the character's actions in the game. (?)
However, I'd suggest that each player needs, at base, the right to "portray" something.
Side note: Imagine a game where one player can change any aspect of backstory or traits for any character, but cannot make decisions regarding their actions within the game. The other players have sole responsibilty for portraying these characters, but cannot change any aspects of their backstory or traits. How would that play out? Would the one player with no character feel divorced from the game? Kind of like a scientist changing variables in a computer simulation, who then just sits back and watches as the results play out?
I have a general question about co/multi-ownership characters. Say there's a GM in the game system. Does he also have partial ownership of the characters? Can he take over one for a moment and decide something he/she does or has?
VAX go "Depends on the game"*
BR go "In the old days...."*
I'm not sure that portrayal is enough. I know that for me, being handed a pregenerated character in whose creation I have had no hand doesn't thrill me much. I mean, if that's what I wanted, I'd have gone into the theater instead of RPG's.
It's probably a matter of personal taste.
I'm back to the old question of "What's in it for me?"
Now in the Skype Nine Worlds game (which unfortunately has only had character generation so far) we were each told that one of our muses would be made up, collaboratively, by the other players. The other players, thankfully, looked at the foundation I had laid for my character, and gave him a muse that I was not only comfortable with, but I had been considering putting in anyways. When I helped with other players muses, I tried to steer them in directions that would provide interactions with my character, either as allies or rivals, rather than direct enemies. I used the opportunity to try to shift the game in the direction I wanted to see.
I'd be curious to hear what other people require, in order to feel that they "own" the character.
I think the pregen character example is a little misleading, or at least not totally relevent. I think it's important to note that the player who's handed a pregen at a Con or whatever, from the moment they take the character sheet, has total control over the character. The influence of the GM or who wrote the character stops.
In contrast, with the type of thing Vincent is suggesting, the influence of the other players continue throughout the game. I'm not trying to say this is good or bad, just that it's different from the pregen example.
BR go "In addition"*
dhs_rr go "I agree the pre gen example is different, however..."*
For myself, with regard to the fanfic ownership question: I think that, if I write about Harry Potter, I've created my own Harry Potter that I own. Rowling owns hers, I own mine.
So I'm clearly talking about some sort of creative ownership here, not legal ownership. That's okay - I'm not sure how we'd even begin to consider who owns what, legally, in a face-to-face roleplaying game.
RIF go "Ann says, "Chris, I want to sue Ben!""
Okay, so I'm late to the thread, and trying to put my head where it needs to be on this. Coupla questions:
- So, Ben frames the scene, but then Ann takes over and narrates, including the narration/application of whatever trait she's trying to get to deal with the Navy gunship, yes? Or does she have to make something work/win a conflict in the flashback itself to get the trait going for her? If the first, she's going to have as much co-ownership opportunity when she narrates confronting the lover who proceeds to spurn Ben's character's prowess, right? If the second, what if she needs some new traits to win that: do we go into flashback-within-a-flashback?
- Do (you imagine that) Ben's character gets anything out of Ann's narration of the rival trait? Or, alternatively, Can he return to the same flashback but show it from his point of view in order to show a trait he got out of it?
- Does Ann give Ben any clues about what trait she's going for before he frames the scene, other than the fact that they are rivals? Or does she even know beforehand? Is she planning on getting a certain trait or does she have to make the most of the opportunities given by Ben's sceneframe to come up with traits that will help her in the coming naval battle?
I know. I KNOW. There's no game. But I think the questions I'm asking are about the way the co-ownership could work, not just about the non-game in everyone's heads.
If you have a flashback with a rival:
-Add 2 dice to your pool.
If the scene includes a conflict roll:
-If you win the roll, get +1 Steel.
-If you lose the roll, get +1 Fire.
If it includes more than one conflict roll:
-You choose which single one is the significant one.
So, maybe Ann's going for the two dice plus the +1 Fire, but she's risking getting two dice plus +1 Steel, or just two dice, depending on how the scene actually plays out.
Ben will get two dice out of it too, plus the opposite stat bonus - or no stat bonus if there's no roll.
Brand's twist to Vincent's example happened last night in a Conspiracy of Shadows one-shot game:
Ryan, straight, playing Zygmund, whose wife has just died. Alexander (me), gay, playing Gregori, his best friend, who (unbeknowst to Ryan or Zygmund, killed the wife).
Ryan spent a destiny point to say that Gregori was having an affair with the dead wife.
This screwed with my head. I knew Gregori had killed her under orders, but he'd been her lover? Ow! No wonder he was hitting the bottle so damn hard he was drowning. It immediately occured to me why the wife wanted her husband's best friend, and he'd betrayed her (apart from the character's descriptor "There's a reason they call me 'The Blade'").
Alexander almost immediately spent a destiny point to say that the affair was because Zygmund likes Gregori, not his late wife.
This was almost an awkard moment, but turned out just fine. On one level, having the homo in the room make one of the other player's character be in big gay love with his character could have been weird. It wasn't: kudos to Ryan, I think. On another, I think it would have been very different if it was six months into a game, not thirty minutes. We were both getting a handle on pregens and inhabiting the fuckups Keith provided for us, so the shift was easier.
But there was a big old shift for both of us, and it worked just fine.
I find that shift thrilling, where everything makes one sort of sense in my head, but then someone says one unexpected thing, and everything is unsettled for an instant, but then it suddenly makes a whole new sort of sense.
That I am totally out of control for that unsettled instant is a big part of the thrill. Learning to trust that everything will make sense afterward is what makes it thrilling, not bad.