Sin Aesthetics

In which Mo explores the social pathology of roleplaying and begins to experiment with game design.

Friday, January 13, 2006

Saurashtra - Actual Pull Play Examples

So. Actual Play.

For the moment I'm going to stick with one particular game, because it's a Nar game, even if it didn't use a good system to support it's Nar (Brand found it a pain in the ass, but frankly, I think it made us innovate), and because, well it's full of examples, and I'm a lazy ass.

Part the first: Kika

There's the (apparently) infamous one that Brand talked about on The Forge, and that is written up here in more story-like style. In this discussion, I'm going to talk about one critical pull transaction, but it will be important later in the blog to discussions about using pull techniques to create satisfying and functional immersion play in Nar games. So if I've referred you here from the future, this is the example I mean. If you're reading this in the present, the previous sentence has nothing to do with the droids you're looking for.

The critical pull, is, of course, the moment that I had Kika set aside her weapons and charms and put herself at the mercy of Jerzom. Over on 20x20 when we were talking about it today, Brand helped to explain that we were in what Polaris calls "freeplay" when I did these things. Brand was all expecting a war, either physical or manipulation-verbal. I did not need a conflict for Jerzom to come to me, I knew he was coming. Brand wasn't sure what I wanted and so he asked what I was trying to accomplish, and I pulled.

In that moment, Kika was the hero I'd always hoped she'd be. I was happy with what she'd become, and nothing that Jerzom did to her was going to change that. I had complete trust in Brand, in the group, and in the story we'd made together. I opened up the space for Brand to fill up. It wasn't a passive move, it wasn't that I didn't care, wasn't engaged or was being passive aggressive. I'd brought it hard in this game for two years. I'd addressed the premise of the game to the fullest extent every step of the way and in the last moment I put her and everything I worked for on the table to be judged, for Brand to come in and tell me what it was that I'd accomplished, to agree with me that this is what the story was all about, and fill up the space I'd given him with everything he wanted Kika and Jerzom and their story, and the story at large to say.

Part the second: Taree

This one is not my character, its one of other players in the game, who played the flawed hero striving to live past his flaw to become a truly noble scion. By this point he had faced off against his family, against the Realm, against himself a lot. Throughout the game, Taree's player pushed and pushed and pushed. He pushed exceedingly well from within the system - he killed everything that came in his way. He told a great story, and this was the end of it:

In his last scene, he faced off against his cousin, possessed by Malefeus, the biggest Yozi of them all. He pushed and pushed, speaking with the Yozi inside his cousin, and it was all really heartbreaking. Finally, he used knives that could suck the souls of their victims driving one into her gut and one into his own. Doing so, he trapped both himself and the Yozi within his body, and at last, he spoke the Rune of Unconquerable Self which, when invoked, kills the user instantly, ending both his life and the Yozi's with him.

Sound like push play? It is. What came next wasn't. Brand pulled Taree's player. He asked him to roll his virtues and gave him the opportunity, for each success he earned, to describe the legacy that his life had brought to the world. Taree's player accepted this, and described several, but what Brand offered him was a wealth of opportunity and a little overwhelming. Rather than just laming off the extras he couldn't think up, or putting anything less than the game deserved, he turned to me and the other player and said: "You tell me. What kind of person has he been? What good or ill has he brought to the world?" and invited us to make strong, lasting statements about what he'd given to the story. He pulled his fellow players to have the last word on who his character had been.

There's a couple.

I'm sure I'll do more as I think of them, but I wanted to get something out.

One more note: I can't say if this has anything to do with the pull examples above, but I think it has a lot to do with the pullish kind of social dynamics that we'd encouraged around the table over the entire duration of the game. Even if it's irrelevant, it's a cool success story about a former Sim junkie in her first Nar game, so I think you'll like it:

The third player played Dae, a barbarian warrior woman who becomes the protector of the civilization she once despised. Her player had real trouble initially in the game with some of the concepts of Nar. She had problems authoring directly to the fiction, thinking of the story in terms of premise, and she had real trouble asserting desires or demands to the GM. At one point in the beginning, she even had brought some notes in on a piece of paper that she gave to Brand with some things she wanted because it made her so uncomfortable to tell him about it, and Taree's player, (her husband) had told her that she must ask for it when they were discussing the previous episode. She even at one point pretended to lose the sheet to stall in giving it to him (though this may have been done comically). She's definitely never been a particularly push player.

In her last scene, she realized in a fight with the Ebon Dragon, that she couldn't kill him, and he couldn't kill her, and that they couldn't exhaust each other. The fight would be endless, her life filled with nothing but the endless, un-winnable war. In the entire two years of the campaign, the character had never walked away from a fight. She had only ever lost two fights, and those were when she was beaten so badly she really had no choice. She had to choose between letting him go free or giving up any chance at happiness, or a life. She chose life.

At the end of the game, all of our final scenes had ended, it had been brutal and beautiful and brilliant. Brand said "I think that's it, unless there's something else you need?" and (which, come to think of it, can be seen as a pull, considering where we were and how open it was, and what came of it.) Dae's player, who had had such a problem asserting narrative desire, nevermind narrative control didn't tell Brand what she wanted, she just started to narrate, giving the story the denouement that she needed it to have, that frankly, we all needed it to have and that none of us, Taree's player, Brand or I could have given at that time.

Neat huh?

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Pull Clarification and Promises! Promises!

Brand said something in the post over on anyway that I'm really rather thankful for:

For now, let me say that one of the things I think is going on is that everyone in the discussion is talking about pull/push on different levels. Mo was talking about it at the social level, as a rhetorical stance that people take towards the power dynamic of game. It then quickly moved into discussion of techniques and ephemera that enable such a stance, and from there into the underlying logic of game theory.

This is absolutely true. I see now where I might have contributed to the confusion between the elements up there. You see, I'm not used to talking to y'all. When something pours out of my head at Brand, where they always invariably go, he gets it, and I don't have to make strict delineations. I see why the bigger forum needs them. I might not always use your lingo, cause quite frankly it's hard to get a hold of. From what I've seen there's a lot of internal debate about the naming of things too, you can just imagine what it's like when you're just looking in the window. I hope that doesn't make you walk away - after all, just because somebody speaks a different language doesn't mean they don't have good ideas.

For the record, I am interested in a lot of things about pull:

1.) I am interested in it at the social level as a viable alternative to, or married partner of push.
2.) I am interested in (some, not all) pull techniques as viable immersionist methods -- both mechanical and social level -- that may create better harmony, by providing more active, less immersion-destructive forms of authoring characters to meet the needs of the story, game or social contract.
3.) I am interested in examining current games to identify mechanics that support pull or push play, and see how using those mechanics feel different from each other.
4.) I would like to see more mechanics that support pull play in games in general to create a better balance, support those who prefer it over, or like it along with their push play. I am interested in talking about ways to accomplish this.
5.) I'm curious about the concept of seeing if an all-pull game is possible, and finding out if I'd like it or not (I suspect it would probably be not, but not as much as I would an all-push) Note: I'm not at all claiming to have the foggiest idea what an all-pull game would look like or contain, so don't rag me on it until I give some indication that I think I do.

In the previous post, I was introducing #1 in the hopes of moving toward #2 in my next post and hopefully #3-5, down the line if people were interested. - well, I think I got my answer there.

So, to that end, I'm going to start fresh tomorrow after work, and see if I can get down my next intended post that will discuss some Actual Play examples that I think are indicative of the potential of pull and talk about their effects on the games they were in.

In the meantime, go check out Brand's post: Brand Pushes and Pulls and Blows Himself Down. That should keep the discussion rolling along.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Push vs. Pull

I think it's called Indian Wrestling, at least I'm pretty sure that's what we called it as kids. You face your opponent, right leg forward, left leg back, your inside right foot touching your opponent's inside right foot. You clasp your right hands together like you are about to arm wrestle, and count off. At go, you try your damnedest to throw the other person off balance. The player still standing at the end is the winner.

That game, minus the winning or losing bit, summarizes my internal picture of the process of playing an RPG. Mostly I am referring to the process between the player and the GM. Instead of the winning, the point of the game is to throw or tug each other as off balance as possible without making anybody fall down. The up and down and side-to-side, near fall and save is the story. The harder we both work to drive each other off balance but still keep each other safe and on our feet, the better the story will be. So. That movement, dynamic, fluid, always connected, in endless struggle, rife with moments of certain failure and gasps of almost victory, is how I feel about RPGs when they are at their very best.

Are you with me? Good.

Now, some people are better at the game than others. My cousin who introduced me to the game seemed like the King of Indian Wrestling. He was three years older, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier than I was. For two or three consecutive years he whupped my ass at it. Because we lived nowhere near each other but have cottages on the same street, we only ever got to play it in the summer. Every year he was still three years older, a foot taller, and twenty pounds heavier than me. Every game ran through the same process: he gloated his advantage, let me have a full swing at trying to push him off kilter, him neatly resisting my charge, him rubbing it in verbally, and then slowly, exerting his superior strength to force me backwards, out of my field of gravity, and on to the floor.

I was a stubborn and optimistic kid. I never gave up. Eventually I figured out the knack. It's easy to look at that game and think that strength and power is the road to victory, but as I got older and my body coordination and lateral thinking skills improved, I realized that if I couldn't out-force my opponent, I could try and outbalance him. Over the course of the next summer, I probably didn't take his King's crown away from him, but I enjoyed the game hell of a lot more once the playing field evened out. He would wait, I would wait, he would nudge, I would nudge, he would push I would push, he would push, I would drop my centre of gravity and pull, taking him to the floor. It was a lesson years later that I would be re-taught in Judo.

It's a lesson that over the years I applied to a lot of things. Push never has been my thing. When Brand first started "going on" about Narrativism, I was very worried. I had finally managed to import my very own GM from California, and had just gotten him to a place where I could command he do my bidding, when he started talking about something that really didn't sound like fun. The GM's whole job is to push, he said, and players push back, and as a result of all that pushing, conflict, choices and stories come to be! To me, it sounded a whole lot like schoolyard bullies and football field chest thumping - frankly, it sounded stressful. So I went to the Forge, and I read a lot, and could understand why the Narrativism Brand was talking about had grown out of it. Even when just talking about the ideas of Narrativism, people on the Forge love to push each other around.

Now, I'm not saying the Forge is a bad, terrible place that no one should bother with. If you're a pusher, you'll probably find your niche there. I'm not a pusher, I 'm a puller, and that means that the style of discourse on the Forge, and the style of discourse in many Nar games is really not for me. I'm not Forge diaspora adrift in the blogsphere, I'm just a girl that thought she could open the discussion a little wider, and couldn't find her place at the Forge.

So what is pull? It's the act of creating space that something can fall into. It's the act of pulling yourself back to allow another to step in. It's collaborative play rather than competitive play.

Lets take a look at both:

Dust Devils and Nine Worlds (not to pick on Matt Snyder here, it's just that I have been thinking about Nine Worlds since our not-so-successful experiment this past weekend) are very much Push games. A mechanic in them that illustrates this very neatly is that when you win a conflict you win narration rights, which give you the authority to push anything in the game.

GM: You're going to the Saturn Palace to retrieve the Oracle of Poseidon, but you know the chimera is in the area and hunting for you.
Player: I can deal with the chimera, I want a conflict to overcome it.
GM: OK, Let's go.
(Cards are pulled, Player wins the conflict.)
Player: The chimera does spot us, and attacks, but I use the magical words that Hecate taught me to bind the chimera to my will, so that when we get to the palace, it fights with us.

That's a push conflict. The player has taken it from the GM's conceived scene of a Han Solo on the Death Star variety and pushed it by enforcing his will on the game. Lots of people, such as Brand, love push conflicts, which is why so many games have these kind of mechanics. There's nothing wrong with push conflicts… unless you're a puller and not comfortable with them.

In contrast, Breaking the Ice has many pull elements:

In Breaking the Ice, you must please the other player, rather than beat the other character to get bonus dice to make attraction happen. You must be willing and open to step back and let another player please you so you can grant the dice because your granting dice allows the other player to try to and attract you. It's collaborative. An especially good example of a pull is the mechanic for Complication:

Player 1: OK, my dice hate me.
Player 2: I guess I do too.
Player 1: No, lets see here, it's the end of the night, things have been going only fairly and Mark has walked you to your door. He tries to tell you he had a good time, but the words just stammer out. He flushes deeply red in a hot embarrassment and turns to go, but at the last moment, screws his courage to the sticking place and kisses you.
Player 2: That's sweet! You get a re-roll.

Rather by making yourself more aggressive, you make yourself more fallible to win. You don't get to push on the rule. You can't make the other player give you the re-roll, you can only please them enough to make them want to give it to you. Similarly, the other player can tempt you to let them contribute to your story by making suggestions and offering bonus dice, but they can't force it to happen. They have to pull you to pull them to put your ideas in play.

The first is like a boxing match, the second like a ballroom dance.

I think it's important to notice that the first game is created by a male designer and the second by a female designer. I'm not saying that one game is male domain and one is female. That'd be a stupid thing to say. I can't help but think though that this fact has some relevance based on the different ways that boys and girls are socialized. What we are talking about here is the ways in which we are skilled in dealing with conflict resolution. I'm a very strong woman who was raised by a very strong woman who taught me to stand up and represent myself when the situation called for it, and as Brand can attest, when aggression is called for (heh, when push comes to shove), I can call it on in spades. But my preferred method of approaching conflict resolution is by negotiation, approach and collaborative effort. I was taught that, most girls I know were too.

This doesn't mean that there aren't women out there who love to get their push on. Of course there are, and perhaps that too is a reaction against - a pushing past - socialization. Conversely, there are guys out there that would land in the middle of a primary pull game and relax for the first time ever because pushing is not really their thing. Neither is weak or strong, neither is good or bad, neither is only for men or only for women, they are just preferences, or skills, or safe space in playing a game.

Maybe, just maybe (positing not declaring here) push vs. pull is (one of) the answer(s) to the age old question: why don't more girls game? I do think that it is one of the primary reasons most girls don't come to the Forge.

Anyway, enough for tonight.

Next up: Pull in Practical Application.
p.s. Read this to Brand and he reminded me: Please don't mistake Pulling for passive or aimless play. It is a conscious, deliberate act on my part to encourage the story to become more dynamic and create more drama. I'll get into the hows of it later.

Sunday, January 08, 2006

Stance Crap and Authorial Intent.

I'm going to say something very unpopular. Ready?

Actor stance and Author Stance are different names for what are two streams of the same authorial act and only really exist to explain and define each other. They are NOT different things.

OK. Disclaimer time. I am talking the only way that anybody can with any degree of certainty: out the framework of my own experience. While my experience is varied and diverse, it is decidedly west of the pond. I know that there are freeform LARPers and experimental gamers that will fight me tooth and nail on this - and perhaps rightly so. I'm willing to admit that I don't know what that is like and so can not really test the idea. I let y'all fight it out among yourselves.

With that in mind, I think this is the way, and the only way that Actor stance exists: In an old 7th Sea campaign. I had a character Livia who had fallen in love with two different men. She was extremely conflicted about it, and when it came down to having to make a decision, had a terrible time choosing between them. All the while, I as a player, knew that she was going to end up with Fortuno, because damn it, he's one mofo sexy rogue, and me? I'm a complete sucker for a mofo sexy rogue. The latter is, of course my author stance and the former my actor stance.

That statement up there about Livia feeling conflicted is something that I have made up, because the character is fictional. I've come to the statement through a very different process than the statement about the mofo sexy rogue, but it's still something that I have constructed, made decisions about and chosen. Giving it the name Actor Stance only helps delineate it as a parallel thought process that is occurring in my head beside the one about the sexy mofo rogue. The terms "Actor Stance" and "Author Stance" is a tool that helps me clarify to the listener that I feel or think two divisive things about one situation.

Now, say in the same situation, I did not think or feel two divisive things. Say, Livia, my character was just as clear about choosing of Fortuno at the time as I, Mo, was about what she should do. Then the terms "Actor Stance" and Author Stance" is used, again, as a tool to illustrate something: of course being that there is no disparity between the thought processes

The problem arises when we talk about Actor Stance and Author Stance as if they are not related, or as not products of one single source (my brain). Actor Stance does not exist separately from me, it is a product of me, just like Author Stance is. If I talk about what Livia thinks as if it is divorced from my self, then I am creating a fallacy. I created the character, I have made choices about the way she has pushed and pulled on the world and about how these events have changed her. I own her, and her process is a part of me.

Still with me, even if you do or don't like it? Good… I'm going somewhere.

There's an old argument that's been going on between Nar GM's and Players that have come to Nar games (particularly Immersionists), that says that the Players don't Author, and that is destructive to the story. The converse is often thrown back that Nar games destroy the immersion process (or socket character enjoyment ) by either demanding authorship and bring the immersionist out of the immersive seat or meddling with the "integrity" of the character. Neither of these statements is necessarily true.

Here's the situation:

It's a super heroes game. The Player has expressed a strong, Author Stance desire to meet Superman, but has never expressed such a desire in Actor Stance. The GM is putting the opportunity on the table.

GM: OK, So you hear that Superman is in Metropolis.
Player: OK.
GM: Are you going to go?
Player: No.
GM: But you want to see him meet Superman, right?
Player: Yeah, but John has no reason to go to Metropolis.
GM: Come on, just make him go. You never author your character!!

Everybody's frustrated.

Here's what's happening. There are three Author Stance statements that the Player is saying. Only one is articulated in a way the GM is understanding.

1.) I think it would be cool for the character to meet Superman, (for whatever reason) and I would like that to happen. The GM has obviously heard this quite clearly.
2.) It is important to me for the character to feel "organic", or play naturally. This may have been an articulated statement at one time, but it's not clear to the GM at the moment, or is not valued by the GM at all.
3.) Because of 2, I need you to give me reason in game to go and fulfill my desire.

There are also a few things the player is misunderstanding:

1.) "Authoring your character" in this case has relatively little to do with authoring or with author stance. The player has authored, and employed author stance by declaring a desire to meet Superman. What the GM is actually saying is: "It's not my job to change your Actor Stance to meet your Author Stance. This is a Narrativist Game. Employ your Director Stance to insert a reason to go to Metropolis.
2.) In many games, the "organic" declaration is stated frequently by the Player, but is not heard by the GM as an Authoring Statement. Instead it's heard best as a statement of enjoyment of the game, at worst, an episode of MyGuyism. All too frequently it's just ignored, which makes the player feel like the statement has been made and accepted, and therefore should be respected.

How do you fix it? Social Contract of course. If there is a strong, crystal clear directive at the beginning of the game, everyone has expectations down: "There may be times for you in the game to change the way your character thinks or feels or acts for the good of the story. If that situation arises you are responsible to change those things in a direction more friendly to the game, and to find your own means of accomplishing this, either by simply changing your character's mind or by employing your Director Stance in a way that is acceptable to the GM." Players with any experience in trad games at all have been enculturated to:

1.) Express all desires in Actor Stance,
2.) Abandon any hope of control over the setting,
3.) Just enjoy the ride via the character and
4.) STFU Newb, I'm the GM.

Therefore, if the social contract does not expressly re-negotiate it, this will end up as the unexamined default, and everything will run amok..

Up next: Push vs. Pull

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Agenda Affirmation

I saw this over on Deep in the Game and thought it was a really useful exercise, so I yoinked it. Thanks Chris!

• I like it when people approach the game with a commitment to social responsibility.
• I like it when players make firm emotional commitments to game and allow themselves to move and be moved by the game, by the story, by their characters and/or by each other.
• I like it when everybody around the table is adult enough, sensitive enough and friendly enough to be able to have games where strong, brutal situations can happen and we can be affect by but not destroyed by the impacts.
• I like to make falliable characters who can sometimes make bad choices without the other players assuming that I am stupid because I am not making the "correct" strategic choice.
• I like to make strong opinionated moves in character that say much about my character without the people around the table assuming that the choices my character is making are the choices that I personally believe are right. (Eg. I might have a Dog that believes in capital punishment for capital crimes, and I don't want the players to assume Mo feels the same way. I know that I am making a statement about religion and capital punishment, but it doesn't mean that it would be my real life choice because I am not in the situation nor of the religion.)
• I like to play with folks who I genuinely like out of game too.
• I like playing with folks who have a similar sense of cultural reference.

• I like to have the freedom and support to go *way* outside of the box.
• I must be able to immerse to fully enjoy any long term game.
• I must be able to make characters that are dynamic and able to change with the support of the system.
• I like to explore the psychology of characters.
• I like powerful conflicted characters that clash head to head with other powerful conflicted characters often with elements of romance, sexuality, politics or strong, unique visions of the world.

Overall, I'd say I'm pretty Vanilla:
• I like games that let me learn as we go rather than having to "take a course" up front.
• I don't like games that have a lot of modifiers, reference charts or lots of pre-determined or group determined difficulties and conditions.
• I don't like to have to fiddle with a lot of crunchy math.
• I like it when games nest task resolution inside conflict resolution (i.e. Dogs) rather than being all one or all the other.
• I like being able to throw rules out the window when they impede the dramatic quality of the game.
• I like optional mechanics that allow me and others in the game to be able to tailor to the style and comfort of individuals at the table. (1000 Stories aims to do this)
• I am stressed by systems that require me to perform a lot of resource management (e.g. Nobilis, extended contests in Heroquest).
• I like games that reward players for being socially responsible and supportive to each other.
• I don't like hidden target numbers. I especially hate it where death is involved. I like knowing death is on the line and choosing to go there if I want to.
• I don't like (what Bankuei refers to as) "bunk choices" (things that look like choices but aren't really choices at all).
• I like multiple paths to success.
• I don't like mechanics that interfere with the process of play, because they interfere with my ability to immerse.
• I like my rewards as instant reinforcement (Fan mail in PtA, Hero Points in Truth & Justice, Drama points in Buffy or 7th Sea, Bonus Dice in BtI)

• I have real problems with mind control or possession plots that usurp my sense of protagonism. (I.e. Polaris might be OK because I still play my character when she is posessed, but "You are now a Nazi" is not fun for me).
• I don't want my personal plot to be in competition with the group's goal (I often don't like big group goals anymore). I would like my personal plot to affect the game, but not in a way that undesirably puts me at odds with another player(s) , unless it happens by agreement between the players.
• I like having rich and colourful settings that serve as backdrops to the story.
• I do not want to have to keep track of time, logistics, and other Simmy details, especially where they conflict with our ability to concentrate on the story or on character interaction.
• Although I like strong, dynamic stories, I do not like to push, push, push endlessly towards conclusion. I need to have interludes of reflection and interaction to keep sane and to make a more "literary" sense of pace.
• I am not so interested in one shots, as they don't allow me to immerse and so don't let me plug in and get what I like of game.
• I HATE when games just die without resolving. I like campaigns long, or mid length, but with good, satisfying conclusions.
• I really like solo games.
• I like kewl powers and colourful abilities when they serve to enhance the human drama, and generally lose interest in them when the focus is on them in and of themselves.
• I can be entirely happy playing real human non-metanormal characters so long as they are set up in a suitably dramatic fashion.
• I like either a certain degree of fantasy wish fulfillment or strong feelings of dramatic catharsis, and when they come together it rocks my socks.
• I am fetishistic about character sheets and handouts. I love good art that helps to illustrate characters and places in very visual, beautiful ways. I keep all my character sheets in a binder (a.k.a. "the menagerie") which has come to look like a gallery of my gaming exploits over the years. I love to draw my characters and the other PC's or NPC's in the game. Note: its not that I fetishize the numbers on the sheet. Instead, graphic design, visual image and layout on the sheets is almost like a ritual for me that allows me to express the character on multiple levels. Dogs would still be Dogs in Times New Roman on a stapled pack of 8.5 x 11 white bond, but there's something between the funky Dog's coat picture on the front, through the dimestore novel, bibletext-font finished final product that makes it come much more alive to me. Same goes with my character sheets. (If you are interested, look at Amalkau, Ravi, Deja Vu, Eva, Morgan, Katya, or Liz. )

Feel free to comment on mine, or share your own.

Holiday Blues, Chargen, and Contextualization

So, at the end of all of this vacation, still no post. I'm a dork.

The holidays have been very strange and draggy for me. I've spent the time dreading going back to work. This is, of course entirely fruitless, I know, but telling myself that hasn't worked very well to correct the behaviour. I've been back into masking a little, which is a good thing. I think I needed to do some physical creation and creativity. It helps me avoid thinking myself into circles - which is something work keeps dragging me into - it's not the funnest time in telco these days.

So, what of the immersion posts, the MBTI follow-up, an up-to-the-minute update that 1000 Stories has advanced and is ready for playtest? Nope, none of that, my gift to y'all this holiday season is bupkis, I'm afraid. The only game-related things Brand and I have been up to this season is to be playing - one superlong, ring in the new year marathon session of Unbreakable (a sorta Unknown Armies campaign that's inspired by the movie Unbreakable) that went really quite well, even if I still have not mastered the art of GMing combat, and several sessions of T&J that were very good and hit me right in my gaming "F", so to speak.

I do have a couple of notes, though. Brand's got in his copy of Nine Worlds and convinced me to give it a solo run. The character I've created is a departure for me. After all the MBTI talk last month, I connected some dots about my characters and used the typing system and the revelations to go somewhere new. The character is more like a character that Brand would be likely to play. She's an Aether Ship Captain of Saturn's resistance who is coming to the end of her hope that the war can be won. She doesn't have any kind of vision of how the world could be made right, and is despairing that it can't be done. She doesn't so much have a sense of duty as she has a sense of inertia. She's a character with a pragmatic past who can't see a place for her pragmatacism to take her, so she's flailing at the world and those few people she has left to force the world to act so that she continues to react.

In short, she's an ISFP where I usually play notorious ENTJ's. We'll see how it goes.

I think I came to a realization because I made the character after reading Meg's thread over on Fair Game and Vincent's thread at the Forge. It's that I can now understand why some folks strongly think that immersion is mostly a Sim activity (Not that Vincent or Meg are saying this, the reference to those posts is not entirely germane, they are just all the points on which my brain started musing). As an immersionist, I require a certain amount of world contextualization that is very easily mistaken for a simulationist agenda. This was really clear in the chargen for Nine Worlds. I haven't read the book - haven't even skimmed it. Brand had, of course, and described it as "a graphic novelesque mystic science fantasy game with aether ships and greek gods and cool stuff".

We ran into some trouble along the way because I did not have a contextual sense of the world. Brand used a technique to bring me to chargen that he had seen work very successfully before (in our T&J game) - he gave me a folder of images that *could* be integrated into the game - some characters I could play, some NPC's that might exist, some cities, some buildings, some items. It didn't work this time and we both got very frustrated. The difference between T&J's chargen and this was that T&J came with a set of assumptions that I could make about the world: it was going to be classic comic book style game, the world would be based on a world just to the left of our modern day earth, my backstory could be compiled out of real-life situations, blah... blah... blah.

So when we looked at images, they promoted strong, fast, loose chargen because they evoked emotionality that drew strings across the assumptions to make stories - I could see backwards and forwards from the picture to where the character had come from, and to where the character could go. The result was a quick, painless chargen that created a character that was on the brink of action, could fulfill the premise of the game, and that was ripe for me to immerse into.

In Nine Worlds, all the technique gave me was possibility out of the blue. Without a set of assumptions to put it in context, nothing was evoked by the images but a general sense of aesthetic appreciation for the pictures themselves. I kept asking how the world worked and what the world had in it, and sounding very much like I was begging for a Sim game, all the while frustrating the hell out of Brand, who was all ready to bravely adventure off into Nar land and make choices that no one ever made before!

But the truth is, I wasn't asking for a Sim game. I wasn't resisting the system or the game or Brand's agenda, I just had no context with which to arrive at a character. I needed enough information to inform me in chargen so that the character I created could have a sense of depth to me as a player and be defined enough to have an immersion seat I could climb into. My enjoyment of the game comes from my engagement with the character's emotional involvement (or alienation as the case may be) with the world around her, and in order for that emotionality to have any relevence or power at all, I need to have a context to apply it in.

Eventually we got to this cool character by having Brand give me verbal "splats" about each of the nine worlds, letting me pick the most interesting to me, hearing a brief synopsis of the state of the world and how it's come about, and then returning to the images to let the emotionality flow. Even then, before we started playing, I needed to ask a good two dozen questions about how the world worked before I could feel right about entering play with the character. Granted, he didn't end up answering them all - many we decided jointly - I just needed them to be answered before we sat down to play.

I know that there are some Nar games that do (loosely) this same kind of process (world idea, character idea, world detail, character detail) as part of chargen (Brand assures me that Burning Wheel is a good example here) and some that don't. Ones that don't often have ways to get around this. Dogs and Dust Devils have western associations that readily provide a jumping off place that facilitate getting to the action. Where the worlds have less direct or less cliche (I'm meaning cliche in a very good way here) cultural associations, like Nine Worlds that strives to have a cool melding of different feels in order to create a dynamic universe - there isn't a quick way to get into the action - you practically have to read the whole book, or have enough splatted at you to be able to start.

So I guess this is all just to say: if you want to jump right to the premise with folks like me (that might mean most immersionists, it might not) then you should be prepared to begin with a little cliche or build a common ground to grease the wheels. Chargen is a way to get down a set of co-ordinates which are intended to deliniate your way to interact with the system, but it is also a ritual designed to get you psychologically positioned to play the game. If you are reving towards game and someone is asking a lot of questions about the way the world works, you may not have an agenda clash on your hands, you may just have a player or three that have not received enough information to feel comfortable and positioned to start. Starting without acheiving that comfort will lead to their dysfunction in, or non-enjoyment of the game.

Hey wow, whaddya know... Maybe I did get a post done while still on vacation. ;)