2005-11-14 : Long and Short


What would you see as being the relative strengths and weakness of long games versus short games and ongoing versus defined ending?

I'm going to start with and focus on long and short, but I'll touch ongoing vs. ending too, a little.

One of the much-discussed features and/or bugs of these Forge games is that they play quick. Dogs in the Vineyard will play for 8-10 sessions, but probably not 12. Primetime Adventures, 6 or 12 (or whatever precisely the long season is). Polaris, what, 4-6? My Life with Master and the Mountain Witch are best in more than 1 session, I understand, but 5 seems like too many to me. Breaking the Ice, 1. Under the Bed, 1.

They fail the campaign ideal.


On the one hand, you’ve got these brutally clear algorithms which immediately snap everyone’s attention to This Interaction and These Stakes, around which are sedimented the signifiers of the other world which let you grab hold and run: guns and coats and Olde West townes; ice swords and mythic demons; pitch sessions and seasonal character arcs. And on the other, you’ve got the sediment itself: accreting another world bit by bit and mediated interaction by negotiated creation, that’s bigger and wilder and weirder and woolier and more real than anything you could come up with on your own, and while the process is certainly governed by rules unspoken or not, the rules themselves are secondary to the point.

...But it seems to me that in chasing that imminently worthy goal, something ineffable is lost: we’ve got all these gorgeous, intensely beautiful single episodes of singular types, and what I want is never-ending epic.

Oh, but it’s not that at all, either, since, exception proving rule, there’s no reason at all not to swing with Prime Time Adventures, say, for multiple seasons. Maybe it’s as simple as the difference between taking a pattern and building a world around it, and building a world and finding patterns within it?

As I read you, Kip, you're not talking about length but focus, with length implicated only in that productive unfocus requires time.

Everybody? "Productive unfocus," for discussion. Is there such a thing? I think there is - but if we're going to admire unfocus, it sure as hell better not be just plain unproductive unfocus.


would you agree that htere are forms of depth that develop over time that require that time to develop? Doesn't mean there isn't depth in some one shots, just means there is something that a long runnning game can do that a short game can't. Do long running games really possess no virtues that can't be equalled in a one shot? Nothing that can be done in a 2000 page novel that can't be done equally well in a short story? Nothing that can develop in a 20 year relationship that can't be created equally well in a one night stand?

He's asking someone else but here's my answer: of course long running games and novels can develop depth that short games (let's leave one shots aside for now) and short stories can't. We make decisions about which particular form we use, per case, based on what they can potentially deliver. A long game can have depth where a short game can have punch, say. But the reason I play isn't how deep or punchy the game is. I play for how powerful the game is, how engaging, how artistically fulfilling. Depth and punch are routes to fulfillment. I'd rather read a good short story than a crappy novel, a good novel than a crappy short story; who wouldn't?

Now, is a long game or a short game more likely to live up to its potential? I put it at even odds myself, but I'd say further that it depends overwhelmingly on the tools you have at your disposal. Into the conversation about what each form can offer, long games vs short, we absolutely have to include what it takes to fulfill each form's promise.


I think it's like short story v. ten-book-series. You can get something great about getting to know characters if the series is really good (like GRRM's); but short stories or single book stories give you closure on a more specific topic.

We were talking about ending games a little while back, me, Meg and Emily. Meg complained that she has a history of games that didn't end well, just piddled out - and I was like, not just you! Look at Buffy, Farscape, the X-Files...

The campaign ideal isn't about a long, long, long work. It's about a work that has no ending. Not The Lord of the Rings or the Mars Trilogy - those end, eventually - not even a TEN book series. Instead an INFINITE book series.

Problem is, stories end. So what do you do? Do you put off the ending artificially until you've killed the tension and squandered everything you've built, or do you, y'know, end? This isn't a matter of strengths and weaknesses, it's the simple mathematics of story. A game that goes past or puts off its own ending will suck for it.

(This is not news to Charles and Kip. Their "ongoing" game, I happen to know, is made of overlapping and interconnected - but ending - stories.)

And let's finish with Charles again:

I imagine that this is part of the recent explosion of decent quality short games, as a huge amount of effort gets devoted to crafting games that can manage to make a good short story. The time is devoted to the game structure independent of the game session, so the individual session benefits from far more time than players would be willing to devote to creating a one shot for themselves.

I believe that's so. But like I say, it's not just time, it's time and tools. Under the Bed or Breaking the Ice - the two genuine one shot games I know - give you one session that's not just punchy, it's punchy and affecting. It's a good short story, compared to a vast number of crappy novels.

Show me tools for making good long-term play, I'm the first in line.

1. On 2005-11-14, Troy_Costisick said:


I think all of my games so far for the Ronny awards are very brief games.

-Cutthroat is probably 1 or 2.
-Hierarchy is probably just 1 now, but the revision will put it at exactly five (or so I think it will).
-Stand Off! is definately a 1 night event.  Heck, it can probably be played in less than an hour (which was the point).

I too enjoy the Epic style game.  But right now in my development as a designer, I'm trying to master a more basic form of game design.  Or at least, it seems more basic to me.  It is my hope that in the future I'll be able to make something more long-term.  Because, indeed, it is a lot of fun.




2. On 2005-11-14, Matt Snyder said:

What is the demarcation of long and short play? Is it more than 12 sessions? Is it measured in sessions? Is it measured in "we played that game for a year" (or more)?

I don't think there's bound to be a single answer, obviously. But, in your examples, you point to Dogs as good for, say, 10 sessions. That's reasonably long (medium?), as it's probably 10 weeks or more of real life passing by. But, does that real life gauge matter? I dunno.

I'm also REALLY interested in this question: What are the ways in which a group recognizes this game ends here or there? In many games, they are explicit and unavoidable MLwM comes to mind, naturally.

For example, Nine Worlds is intended for ... um, let's call it medium length play. I'd ROUGHLY estimate 12-20 sessions as ideal. But, in my original edition, there was no means to end story arcs. They spiraled upward until ... no one cared any more. Ron's group did exactly that. They never really ended their game, because they just couldn't see where to close it. Ron and I talked a lot about that, and that's why I revised the game with the Aristeia rules—a character end game.

Ron's group reaching that "Um, what do we do now?" point is very interesting to me. They ended the game not necessrily because it was, they agreed, over. They ended it because they couldn't agree how to end it "properly."


direct link

This makes...
BR go "I just finished a game my players defined as "medium" length...."*
MS go "Wow!"*
BR go "The other game they're playing is ongoing for 4 years..."*

*click in for more

3. On 2005-11-14, Mark W said:

Branches. Nodes. Places to hang the Next Chapter on. Ways to transfer currency between points-of-significance. I haven't seen enough of it in Actual Play yet, but I immediately think of Burning Wheel's Circles as a mechanic that facilitates long-term play - it gives players a big fat chance to set up the next arc, the next protagonist, the next significant setting element. I think for me the key to long-term play in the past has been the willingness to see when one protagonist's story was done combined with having other characters and stories waiting in the wings to bring to center stage.


4. On 2005-11-14, Vincent said:

Burning Wheel: yes! Luke, how many sessions-per-game did you have in mind for Burning Wheel? A lot, I'll bet. But I also have it on excellent authority that Burning Wheel makes a mean convention one-shot.


direct link

This makes...
JK go "BW is good for long-term."*
luke go "BW = Longterm play"*

*click in for more

5. On 2005-11-14, Emily said:

Didn't you talk about resolving one dynamic situation into another with respect to conflict resolution? Long term play would just take that to the logical extension for situation.

And ideally, in my book, would have kick-ass support for collaborative development of setting.


6. On 2005-11-14, Emily said:

And also:

yes, burning wheel. What about Sorcerer? The Shadow of Yesterday?  Both of these latter two have the conflict-to-conflict resolve: kickers, keys, et al.


direct link

This makes...
WMW go "Sorcerers burn out or quit."*
JK go "Sorcerer & TSoY"*

*click in for more

7. On 2005-11-14, Troy_Costisick said:


Emily Wrote: Didn't you talk about resolving one dynamic situation into another with respect to conflict resolution? Long term play would just take that to the logical extension for situation.

Whenever I've done something similar, I've always run into a problem of escalation.  Basically, the conflicts get so gigantic and so over-charged, that it destroys the suspension of disbelief.  The players stop caring because the stakes are irrational, redundant, or just plain silly.  Does anyone else have experience with something similar?




direct link

This makes...
BR go "Depends on where you start"*
SDM go "Yeah, but"*

*click in for more

8. On 2005-11-14, Vincent said:

Well, we've been playing our not Ars Magica game for, what Em, 6 years now? And we've escalated from the very personal and very short term all the way up to the regional and year-spanning. We could play for another 6 years before our conflicts spanned Europe and decades, and another 20 before we'd be saving the world.

Escalate measuredly, is the answer.


direct link

This makes...
JBR go "Nicely scaled setting"*
ecb go "Different is the main thing."*
MDS go "Is there a need?"*
VB go "what's necessary is escalation..."*
BR go "There is something about reward cycles, however."*
VB go "that seems right to me, Brand."
MDS go "I can see that"*

*click in for more

9. On 2005-11-14, Vincent said:

...Wait, yeah, there's one more thing I need to say.

A story is the same thing as a character under pressure. How long a story can last = how long its characters can last.

So consider the difference between a game that systematically applies pressure to its characters and one that doesn't.


direct link

This reminds...
WM of "A story is the same thing as a character under pressure. How long a story can last = how long its characters can last."

This makes...
BR go "Type of preasure can be important too."*
WM go "A story is the same thing as a character under pressure..."*

*click in for more

10. On 2005-11-14, Matt Wilson said:

Man, what an excellent topic.

The best way I can think of doing an endless campaign would be having a series of stories, like you say, within a greater, more expansive setting. And you focus on the character stories, not so much the setting stories.

So check it out. What if you roll randomly to determine what your character's lifespan is as a PC in the game? So my guy has 9 sessions of play. Yours has 14. Everyone pays attention to those numbers to make sure you have something like a spotlight right around your final game session. Then you retire your character and replace him/her/it with a character that has a significant connection. You play the character's sibling, or boss, or killer, or victim.

It's kind of like PTA as an ongoing soap. Characters leave the show, and they join it, and so on...


direct link

This reminds...
JBR of Tony's thread Fuel for Story at Forge
jrs of of my very first post at the Forge.
JBR of Preparation as fuel for Story (with URL this time)

This makes...
ecb go "that is very cool."*
JB go "Death's Door uses that"*
ecb go "I wonder how long Dead Inside goes?"*

*click in for more

11. On 2005-11-14, Joshua BishopRoby said:

One of the prime reasons you see a lot of "short" games at the Forge is because they have a much shorter production cycle once you take playtesting into account.  I mean, if you want a long-term game capable of playing for years on end, and you want it playtested before publication, you're going to have to be in production for years on end.  This is also why experience and advancement systems are so often broken—they almost can't be adequately tested, given the realities of the RPG market.


direct link

This makes...
JK go "Assumptions."*
BR go "This could be why Burning Wheel works for long term."*
JBR go "Long-Term Play Generally Uses House Rules"*
BR go "Depends on the game, Josh"*
Tim go "Not quite..."*
TC go "Sorta-maybe..."*
JBR go "Then how?"*
MW go "I sorta agree with JBR"*
luke go "yes, but"*
JBR go "Playtest Good, Not Necessary"*
luke go "you're killing me"*
JBR go "No Explaining the Magic Tricks?"

*click in for more

12. On 2005-11-15, Ben Lehman said:

I'm unimaginative right now, but just to answer your question about Polaris.

The lifespan of a Polaris character is 3-12 sessions, depending on how conservative the Heart is about experience, and whether the Mistaken is doing her job right.  But the lifespan of a Polaris character is not the lifespan of the Polaris game.  My vision of the game involves long-term play—when your character turns or dies, you pick up a new knight and continue the war.

The world doesn't stop ending.  If you end the game when your character ends, you might start to think that you = the world.



13. On 2005-11-15, Kip Manley said:

Hmm. Long and short. —Maybe little and big, instead? (Not so loaded as you might be thinking. Or rather, loaded in another way.)

Some empiricals: it's an Ars Magica spinoff. Campaigns are anchored by covenants, of which we've seen four in play. When we began in the summer of 1991, the game-year was 420; it's now 425. (Don't goggle your eyes yet. There were some long fallow periods in there.) —The progression-in-time isn't so smooth as that, though: one took place in 420 - 422 or so; two took or are taking or wioll having taken place "now," only one of 'em is the game we're playing at the moment, and the other was a campaign that ended, what, two years ago? And one was an attempt to do an historical covenant, but really none of this is either here or there.

What's important: since we started taking (extensiveish) session notes while playing, back on 16 January this year, we've played 18 sessions. The first two of this run were list-making, anchor-setting, kick-ideas-around sessions with little to no actual play; then there's a run of 15 sessions, from 13 February to 30 October, that cover 4 "major" plots (the Salmon Festival; the Day of Passion; the capture and execution of the Monkeys; the visit of the Manu Tenereans—though these are all highly interrelated, I'm making arbitrary distinctions, and Charles for one would probably disagree with number and break-points), and cover (counts) 11 days of game time.

The most recent session, last night, we had another list-making, anchor-setting, kick-ideas-around run. It aimed at skipping almost three months ahead, to move us from high summer to deep autumn, but we seem to have managed "skipping" only about a month before dipping back into "play."

(Skip and play are very bad words for the distinction that needs to be drawn, because skip is where we hard-core pull out and set up the fruits of creative unfocus that then let us go play.)

Other differences, or rather the big one: there's a very comprehensive structure for the magi of this Order. Basically, we know a little bit about every single mage, thanks to some heroic labor and a love of genealogies on the part of someone who isn't currently playing. —So anyone can "create" an important node with confidence, and see how it relates to other important nodes, without worrying overly about assumption clashes. (We play, quite literally, with a net.)

Talk of escalating conflict from peonic to world-shattering doesn't resonate with me. Ars Magica already has a built-in no, not mechanism, but metaphor for dousing flames and lighting new ones: your magi go into Twilight as they get older and more powerful, guttering out before they can shake foundation stones; apprentices graduate to magehood, and you get to yank the rug out from under yourself all over again. Soap operas or comic books—persistant fictional worlds. —Stories end all the time, sure, but the world just keeps on going. Done with this bit, here? That person, yonder? Pick up someone else. Move over there. Keep going. (Comics being rather apt, actually: the platonic ideal, or one of the glimpses of a platonic ideal that we've bandied about, hearkens back to the short-run Champions campaigns run by a friend back in college, which had overlapping casts of characters: a natural thing to do with superheroes, sure, but the sense that even though Story Y ended with Campaign Y, Character Y is still in the world, leading their life, and we can check up on 'em if we like, that's heady world-building stuff.)

I know I'm not using jargon to transfer currency from one point of significance to the next, but my purpose in these sorts of things is rarely to speak with clarity. And for all I know I'm rehashing age-old discussions without realizing it; me = noob. But if I were to try to itemize the tools we have that lets us do the long-term voodoo we do, I'd list, what?

  • A strong explicit framework for creating the nodes that are our ostensible focus in play (the magi), giving everyone a solid floor for collaborative creation;
  • A loose grasp of Everything Else, allowing us to hold on lightly and give everyone room for coming up with stuff collaboratively;
  • An implicit trust in and knowledge of each other on the part of most of the players, with, yes, the unwritten dysfunctionality that that implies;
  • A love of the quotidian and a patience that perhaps borders on the pathological but nonetheless keeps us from eating up the world in a gulp.

Thinking of a story's longevity as one might think of a character under pressure? An interesting approach, but I'd balk at ever attempting to systematize it thusly. And I can't emphasize the third point in that list above enough: everything else stems from the fact that a great many of us have been playing together for a very long time (then, we've got two brand new players who aren't having problems adjusting, as far as I know, but then, again, the water's already there for them to swim in, so). I guess one of the things you get by playing a game for such a long time is the sort of game you can play for such a long time.

I dunno. Use short games as pilots? Test each other, build a core group that can dig in once it knows it wants to dig in? (There's nothing wrong with not digging in, of course. It's not the only end; I don't even think it's much of an end at all.) Only I was suggesting little and big, instead of long and short. Except thinking about it, the games we've played just seem big; really, they've all been very, very little. Elias, the mage I was playing in the very first game almost 15 years ago, just finished writing his first book; he's been a mage for five years all this time, and he's still hissing like Keanu Reeves in Much Ado. Not static, no, there's been growth, but it's slow and little. And it's a hoot and a half knowing he's out there somewhere, but I've moved on to other things, so I'll visit from time to time, but I'm not moving there again.

So. Powerful? Yes, but not every single night. Fulfilling? Well, hell, we're all very much still here; we came back, many of us, who went away.

Good things? Bad things? To be actively sought and built?


direct link

This makes...
ecb go "yay! more about your freeform's system!"*

*click in for more

14. On 2005-11-15, Vincent said:

Kip: Thinking of a story's longevity as one might think of a character under pressure? An interesting approach, but I'd balk at ever attempting to systematize it thusly.

Why? Really?

That is, every story is, ultimately, about a character under pressure. I'm sure that you do systematize it thusly ... or else you get bored with the character and move on, or else you get bored with the character and fail somehow to move on.

When I played with you, every character was either under intense pressure, or else supporting cast for someone who was, or else dull to watch. I don't have any in mind for this last; what I remember overwhelmingly is characters under really-quite-intense pressure.


15. On 2005-11-15, Kip Manley said:

I must remember to breadcrumb my antecedents better, Vince, since that wasn't what I meant at all.

For "systematize it," I meant "creating a system howsomever formalized with the express goal of taking up a story and subjecting it to pressure."

I have no problem whatsoever with loading shotguns and handing them to other people so that they might point them at me. I have no qualms at all about systematizing that to whatever extent.

But the story that results for me is always the center of the burning wheel. It's radioactive. It's also only and always where you find it. Systematizing your approach to story necessarily excludes all the ways of approaching story that aren't in your system, and I go over all heebie-jeebie at the idea.

I realize I'm splitting hairs, and probably couldn't even point to the hairs I'm splitting: shades of the old story is character, character is setting, setting is plot debates, oy. All's I know is you've got systems for putting characters immediately under intense pressure, for which bully; you gestured vaguely toward the possibility of an idea of treating story the same way; and my knee jerked, my bones ached, and my weather-eye went all squinty. Nossir. Don't like it. (Thinking of story as analogous to a character under pressure in this manner as a way of conceptualizing or starting to how some start and some stop and some fizzle, that I have no problem with, because story is character, and character is plot, and.)


direct link

This makes...
VB go "ah, aha, aha."*
KM go "Swoosh!"*

*click in for more

16. On 2005-11-15, Ninja Monkey J said:

I've been promised an AP post about the first ever multi-session game of Under the Bed. I'm very, very curious about the outcome.

Shock:, of course, is designed for large-scale play. It also makes you decide to end your character's story, even end your character, but still have things take place in the world you've created; you can have new stories, new characters, and new themes, without losing your ever-developing metaphor.

Joshua, you're 90% incorrect about the development cycle of Forge-gestated games forcing short-term play. It's just that they get to the point, already, unlike so many others, and they recognize their limitations.

GURPS is a good example of a game that doesn't recognize this limitation. When your character gets to be about 250 points (that number could be wrong; I don't remember what I noticed exactly), the only time a die roll matters is when you roll a critical failure or success: 4% of the time, if I recall. It's a similar problem to Dogs, where the characters get too powerful for the statistics of the game to really matter. But in Dogs, you have a way out. You can leave your character behind, start with some free dice for stats, and make a new dude. The rules encourage that. Your protagonist's story ends, so the story ends, so you get a new protag and a new story.

Burning Wheel, Polaris, Shock:, PTA, they all support long-term play, but a) the rules of these games are efficient enough that they're not hard to learn, so b) it's easy to jump to a new story because c) the last one has ended in a satisfying way.


17. On 2005-11-15, Victor Gijsbers said:

There is a standard piece of advice given to all aspiring writers: start with short stories. Once you've mastered those, try longer stories. Then do a novella. If you feel you can do a novella, try a novel. And then, perhaps, you're ready to embark on that decades-spanning series a la Tolkien or, well, Proust.

We have just started learning how to make roleplaying games. Of course we start with small games, because they are probably the easiest to get right. Once we've mastered those, we may be ready to take on long games. But that might take while yet.


direct link

This makes...
go "Except."*
KM go "Um. That’s me, up there. If the annoying strikethroughs didn’t give it away."

*click in for more

18. On 2005-11-15, Vincent said:

The next person who talks about what each form offers and can do - that person just better talk about what it takes to accomplish it.


19. On 2005-11-15, Roger said:

This reminds me of that bit about my great-grandfather's axe, which has had its head replaced 5 times and the handle replaced 8 times.

I don't want to mischaracterize anyone, but it seems slightly disingenious to say "Running an arbitrarily-long game is easy!  Just switch all the characters and settings every six months!"  I know no one is actually saying that, but it seems like the logical conclusion of some of these lines of thought.

Of course, there are bodies of fiction which run on and on and on.  I think their key attribute is that their stories are fundamentally episodic—at the end of each episode, nothing has changed.

So, what does it take to build a truly endless RPG?  In my opinion, the system must enforce exactly that rule:  nothing changes.  I'd like to be able to point at an extant RPG as an example, but I'm not aware of any which actually do this.  GURPS is probably the closest, in the sense that, in the general case, characters advance at such a glacial rate that they may as well be static.

But I'm up to a challenge, so here's the deal: the next RPG that I write will be my attempt at this.  There will be no character advancement.  If you start the game as Sherlock Holmes or Doc Savage or James Bond, you'll end the game the same.

If there is an extant example out there, I'd sure like to hear about it.

Hopefully this is still well on-topic for "long and short games."


direct link

This makes...
VB go "thanks, Roger!"*
KM go "Except."*
JL go "Conservation of Change?"*
Isk go "Solomon Kane and Conan"*
VB go "it's a myth that characters change anyway."*
BR go "When he let Frodo leave him."*
TI go "Character change"*

*click in for more

20. On 2005-11-15, timfire said:

If I may rant for a minute, a good focused game is hard as hell to write. It is a misconception to think of them as easy or somehow lessor than "long" games, whatever that may mean. Both take the same amount of effort, playtesting, development, and production. They just require different design goals. [/rant]

I believe a focused design puts the designer in the position of being responsible for things like situation in ways that a broader (aka "longer") game doesn't. A focused game requires that the designer knows how to "wind up" play, so that things can be moving from the get go.

Honestly, I don't know about broader games. Right now I'm struggling to design a "medium-length" game. With a broader game, I can leave certain aspects of situation up to the players. Actually, I think I have to leave certain things up to the players. A broader game must have room for different types of situations. But I need to figure out how to control pacing over the long run. (My goal is to have an over-arching plot that develops with the game.)


direct link

This makes...
KM go "Yup!"
JBR go "Same Effort =!= Same Time"*
BL go "Joshua, stop"*
BR go "I don't fully agree with Josh, but I do see what he is getting at."*

*click in for more

21. On 2005-11-15, Chris said:

Long running media doesn't always involve non-changing characters.  But that aside- it's true- episodic structure is utterly necessary.

Soap operas run 3-5 storylines simultaneously- working in a round-robin style so they always overlap and never all wrap up at the same time.  Comic books tend to work best with short story arcs.  Chain books are self contained as books.  Sagas and epics are usually lots of smaller stories within a larger one- usually "built" outside-in, not serially.

I think historically we've seen long games as "easier" to design, simply because NOT designing structural endpoints (and leaving it in the hands of the group) is always easier than designing something.

The reason a lot of the Forge stuff has endgame and closure mechanics is that it's easier to apply pressure and figure out climax points when you have an ending point.


direct link

This makes...
TC go "This Resonates..."*
Chris go "Thing is..."*

*click in for more

22. On 2005-11-15, Judd said:

Primetime Adventures, I think, could be a very long-running game in that it would break the mega-campaign into season long chunks of 5 or 9 and I think that would absolutely work and make long term play quite do-able for me, whereas long-long term play usually bothers me.


direct link

This makes...
MW go "Dude, totally."*
JK go "Yeah, its all there in the rules..."*

*click in for more

23. On 2005-11-15, xenopulse said:


You're right about never-ending stories, and sadly about the fate of most of those stories as well, in that they tend to fade away or be discarded at some point when all the interest is drained out. In fact, I've kept on running games even when the steam was mostly gone, just because of the momentum involved.

I'd like to have a game system designed specifically for longer-term play, but as others have mentioned, with subdivisions, story arcs, introduction and resignation of characters, etc. Someone should go design that. Someone else, with time and talent, that is :)

- Christian


24. On 2005-11-15, timfire said:

Hey Chris,

Sagas and epics are usually lots of smaller stories within a larger one- usually "built" outside-in, not serially.

Would mind elaborating on that, particularly the "built outside-in" bit? Maybe give an example?



direct link

This makes...
Chris go "Sure..."*
CS go "intriguingly similar to metaplot"*
TC go "I'm not sure..."*
WMW go "Impossible Thing?"*
CS go "canonical limit problems"*
CS go "Outside"*
Chris go "Uh, guys, take 5 steps back..."*
Chris go "Oh, and..."*

*click in for more

25. On 2005-11-16, Neel said:

The two epics I know best are the Illiad and the Mahabharata. Like Chris says, the way they work is that they're made of LOTS of stories, with a vast cast of characters, and the art in them is that you use the stories in them to create parallels and echos that comment on each other and interrogate and question each others' themes. An epic, unlike a story, does not have a unitary theme, but each of the stories in it address the same set of questions, answering them in different ways.

If you take the Illiad, you can pull out a strand of it and tell a story about the humanization of Achilles, where his pride and conflict with Agammenon leads to the death of Patroclus, and his rage drives him to murder Hector and desecrate his corpse, and then his meeting with Priam leads him to realize that his love for Patroclus is not unique and that he has caused caused grief for other human beings. His repentance puts him in a state of grace, so that his death, ordained by Zeus, becomes a sacrifice which restores the moral balance of the world.

Or you can take out the thread of Hector. Now you've got a man who honors and respects the gods, loving to his wife and family, and courageous in battle—and none of it matters. The gods' trivial games lead to Paris and Helen eloping;  his loyalty to his family means he cannot sacrifice Paris to the Achaens; and his courage in battle is delusional, for he does not strike the blow that fells Patroclus and yet he dies a dog's death against Achilles. This is a cosmically bleak vision of the world, arguing that the morality that we prize is nothing but an illusion.

But both of those stories—and the other stories you can draw out of the Illiad—are about the moral values of the Homeric Greeks. The analogy I think of is that if you think of a story as an argument, then you can think of the epic as a critical tradition.


26. On 2005-11-16, Chris said:

My whole point with the epic comment is this:

Epics are strongly built on structure.  Most games that have presumed long term play are not.

The odds of simply "improvising" a coherent epic or novel without any thought to structure is akin to the million monkeys with a million typewriters pushing out classic literature.  Except you only have 3-6 monkeys playing together- and one typewriter (the game).  And you add dice into the mix.

In the same sense, if we want to see long term play produce coherent narratives, there needs to be a focus on structure.  There also has to be a way of making solid episodes within the structure.  You can't expect to write a novel if you can't even do a coherent sentence...


direct link

This makes...
KM go "Except."*
luke go "i agree"*
Chris go "Uh-huh"*
NK go "Can you guys put long responses in full comments?"
MW go "Chris: Yes!"*
KM go "Pace; structure."*
NinJ go "Right on, Chris."*

*click in for more

27. On 2005-11-16, Matt Snyder said:

I think we're missing some fundamental concerns about this topic by concentrating on the games and the designs and so on.

I think one of the primary explanations of why we're seeing far more "short term" games is about the practical nature of social organzation and available time.

My observation is that the vast majority of designers, particularly the "Forge designers" are professional adults with active lives. Some raise children. Most work full time, and many pursue rigorous academics.

This means they don't have TIME for long term games. Shorter games work better with their schedules, and with the vagaries of keeping a group of active adults together as a social group.

Now, obviously, there are groups who make longer games happen—Vincent's group is a good example. My own example stands in contrast, however. Even despite repeated demands for a long term game among my old group, inevitably we came around to new games and new ideas. Shorter games seemed to be the rule, not because of the games or designs or ideas, but because of the erosion of interest, and especially the circumstances of scheduling and time. That is, it wasn't the games themselves or the designs, it was the real-life people playing them, and their (in)ability to make long term play practical.

I see reports of similar patterns in other actual play posts and so on. I think it's fundamental to the discussion here.

Who are we designing these games for? Are we on target? Do we hit the target "accidentally" because we are designing for ourselves, and people like us catch on? Do others HAVE TIME to play our games? Are longer term games harder to make time for?

Oh, if others HAVE mentioned "social practicality" issue above and I missed it, my apologies.


direct link

This makes...
Tim go "Good Point"
TC go "Yup..."*
JK go "Thanks"*
NinJ go "Of course we design for ourselves."*

*click in for more

28. On 2005-11-16, Tom said:


This is actually a really good thread for me.  The game I'm working on now is actually situated to run in the medium to long time frame.

Normally, I prefer shorter games.  I think it's easier to do 6-12 sessions and be done rather than try to keep up a regular game night week after week.  You get in, do your thing and get out.  The other big advantage is that you can try a whole bunch of different things in a short period of time.  Which is a big plus in my book...and it keeps a steady demand for new stuff out there, which is good for designers.

But for this particular game I'm building, I'm asking players to think about the choices they make to balance short-term and long-term goals.  It's also looking at how characters grow and change when the resources and abilities they've grown dependant on, shift from under them.  All of that stuff requires that you have time to explore things.

So.  How am I addressing this to sustain long-term play?  It's a *very* tough question.  I'm working hard to hash it out.  But basically, I'm going to provide options to follow two of the main solutions outlined above:

1.)  Invasion of the Body Snatchers—when a PC dies, reaches a satisfying endpoint, or simply ceases to be interesting, I want to encourage players to simply look around the cast of NPCs and grab someone who's more relevant.  The old PC pushes back to NPC status and over time, may make a re-appearance.

2.)  Story arcs—Generally speaking, PCs face Problems (e.g. "I need to lift that rock", "We need to outrun those guys", "Our town's only well has run dry".)  These problems (currently) are qualified in terms of Size (small, medium, large) and Scale (individual, group, community).  So you can have a small personal problem ("ow, I stubbed my toe!") or a large group problems ("that gang of bandits in the hills") or a medium community problem ("our town government is shot through with nepotism").

As you might expect, a single PC can deal with an Individual problem, a group of PCs can probably deal with a Group Problem, and the PCs working with a large number of NPCs can probably handle a community problem.  The thing is, those Community problems, even the small ones are just enormous, and they can spawn other problems.  So if you go to fight the Town's nepotism with an election, that might spawn a Large Group problem in the form of the election commission being made up of family members with ties to the government.

So the idea is that you attack the community problems piecemeal to spawn off sub-problems that you and the other PCs can handle and work to get the community behind you so you can finally finsh off the Community problem.

Great.  That takes care of the medium-length play.  To transition to a longer-term game, resolving those Community problems creates changes in the community.  Some of those changes are good, some are bad (a la Underground).  Things that get worse become a rich field of potential Community Problems.  Decide which one(s) you want to go after and you can start the whole process all over again.

Admittedly, I'm glossing over a lot of stuff here, in part, because I don't have a complete end-to-end model just yet.  But I'm pretty sure there's a solution in there.


29. On 2005-11-16, Matt Snyder said:

I have another angle I just thought of over a lovely burrito lunch.

I believe it is possible that "shorter" games are getting a lot of attention because they're very much aimed at "retraining" people on what role-playing is, how it works, and how it can be enjoyable.

In short, are we taking baby steps as we re-learn and/or redefine our hobby?

I'm not sure I know one way or the other, but I find the idea plausible.


direct link

This makes...
MW go "mmm... burrito..."*
MS go "Ahhhh"*
MS go "Say it ain't so!"*
CS go "Serenity spoiler above"*
NinJ go "Interesting."*

*click in for more

RSS feed: new comments to this thread