Monday, December 27, 2010

Joey Johnny Tommy Dee Dee

I want to talk about this comment on my last post:

"I like the elements you mention the players needing to earn in D&D - plot, personality, differentiation, cinematicness, meaning, destiny, and players having Narrative Control - to exist right from the start in my games so I as the GM feel like I'm playing with the players and not at them. I like the idea that the New School approach is often more collaborative."

-Barking Alien

So, leaving aside
leaving aside
Leaving. Aside. (got it?)...

...the question of whether any of this is true, and whether players want narrative control (Mandy just DMed her first game last night and I can tell you I was ecstatic not to have to be the DM) or meaning or personality or destiny or what-all, I want to simply talk about the concept of "collaborative creativity".

So:

Case One (The Bad Kind of Collaborative Creativity)

Those of us who write books and draw pictures for a living have an association with the phrase "collaborative creativity" that maybe other people don't. That is: you write something or draw something, and then some Creative Director insists on bringing in 99 other people to give "input" and Jim shoots Fred down and Fred shoots Jack down and Tom shoots Dick down and the project suddenly becomes not the sum of its parts, but the lowest common denominator--the thing every creative head at the table can agree on. Or you're supposed to be in a big happy communal group art show and you come together and bitch at each other for 5 days and, at the last minute, grab a hammer and a paint roller, do what you can, and when people look at it and notice that, all together, it pretty much looks worse than anything any one participant could've done alone, you just shrug and sigh and smile like Fozzie Bear.

This is how sitcoms get written. This is how Hollywood movies with 9 screenwriting credits get written. This is how shitty murals get painted. This is how every single crappy mass-produced thing with any element of "design" in it--from cars to tv commercials to websites--gets produced. We hate this. We think we are good enough to make things, and we like what we make, or try to, and the process of hybridizing our ideas is essentially just chopping away things we like and other people don't. Or: making it less unique.

A brief look at the history of painting or writing will show you that too many cooks does seem to spoil the recipe. How many masterpieces in these fields have more than one author? Some, sure, maybe even the Oddyssey and the Iliad, but not most by a long shot. People posting their favorite exceptions in the comments will be mocked for being so eager to display their education that they've missed the point.

I don't think this is really how games--old or new school--get played. I only mention this example because it points up something that I often think when RPGs are presented as "essentially just collaborative storytelling" (not to say that Barking Alien is doing that, just that sometimes people say that). I think: If that were all there was to it, I wouldn't play the game. I got enough collaborative storytelling in art school and I'm pleased to be out of it. And if I wasn't, I'd call up some of my pals and we collaboratively create a goddamn story rather than order pizza and pretend to be gnomes.


Case Two (The Good Kind of Collaborative Creativity)

There are creative fields where collaborative creativity has a fantastic track record--especially in the last 100 years--and they're easy to talk about because they're very familiar to everybody: music and movies.

There's a very clear illustration of why this works in a documentary someone did about Metallica recording a terrible album called "Some Kind of Monster".

Before we go on, let's reiterate what all goodhearted people are born knowing: once upon a time, Metallica rocked, and now, sadly, they do not.

Anyway, the documentary shows us, in excruciating detail, why. Each member used to just come in with something, they'd throw lyrics on top, Lars would drum under it, and there was a song. They'd play it and change bits until it was right. Now, instead, they democratically focus group it--every lyric, solo, and riff goes up for a vote. Sucking occurs.

Bands and movies work (when they work) because it isn't just everybody being creative all over everyone else, they work because everybody has a domain and, within it, they have control, and then they unite in the center and shoot the robot-lion-heads and kill Robeasts. Hold on, mixed the metaphor, sorry, it's early--example is better:

-So you have the lead singer, the lead singer in a band is like the lead actor in a movie (I know you want to say the lead singer is like the director, but bear with me). Without a good lead singer, any band with a singer will suck. Without good acting (or at least interesting acting) in the lead role, a movie will suck. Neither good singing nor good acting guarantees good, but a lack of it guarantees bad.

The GM is the lead singer/actor. Not because s/he's the star, but because if s/he is bad the game will suck. Now, note I don't mean technically bad: Mandy last night was by far the worst DM, technically, that I've ever seen or heard of, largely due to it's her first time--but she was creative, conscientious, charismatic, and fair and so we all had a blast. (Seriously, I was doing all the thing I hate when players do like going "OhmygodOhmygodDowegetexperience now? How much?" So fun. Play report soon.) If a DM isn't those things, the people they're playing with, the players, even if they like each other and the game and are having fun, will realize they're having less fun than they could without the GM GMing.

A very important note about the singer (I was the singer in most bands I was in): the singer/lead actor/GM often asks for things from the other people in the band/on the set/at the table and gets them. The singer goes "Can we do this sort of like....?" and the rest of the guys go "Yeah, sure". This can easily delude the singer or actor or GM into thinking they are the true creative engine at the table. They are not. The others are not agreeing because they have no ideas of their own, they are agreeing because they are so busy doing their own job (the point of which is often obscure and arcane to the lead) that they are happy to let someone else make whatever decision this is that the lead thinks is so important. While Mick was saying "Hey, can we do a song inspired by The Master and Margarita where you guys just go 'Woo-woo' over and over?" Charlie Watts said "Sure, Mick, whatever you want." and went back to trying to get the high-hat to sound right. Likewise, I'm sure all you DMs have the experience of going "Well I have a sort of wilderness thing with Howardian overtones and also a sort of more political/swashbuckling adventure with a hint of Ashton Smith..." and your players just go "Whatever you want, man! Let's go!" and go back to figuring out whether they want their guy to have a halberd or a bec-de-corbin.

What happens when the Lead forgets that s/he's not the only one at the table with brains and thinks they can do it all themselves? Sting's solo career. Bridges of Madison County. That is to say: atrocities.

-The guitarist is the director and is also the player with the strongest personality.The guitarist is characterized by four characteristics:
-the guitarist is convinced that s/he's the one who's really in charge,
-the guitarist has poor communications skills,
-the guitarist is happy to let the Lead think they're in charge since communicating with other people is so exhausting.
-the guitarist has the goofiest ideas in the world.
The guitarist makes things rock. Without the guitarist, nobody is dueling with the lead, nobody is making sparks fly, nobody is ensuring that the conflicts created by the lead have any resonance for anyone else. When the DM goes to great lengths to establish the intimidating and fearsome Major NPCness of Duke of Horribilia, the guitarist is the player who slaps the Duke with a glove and calls him a coward and goes "Alright, we're taking this prick out.".

Without someone like that, the Singer really would be better off just writing their own story. The game or the film or the band is a unique art form because the lead is not left alone with his or her ideas, but has them challenged in an interesting way. The failure of the DMs vision to be just one thing is why a story produced alone and the exact same story produced by playing a game are completely different experiences in all important ways.

-The drummer is a lot of people on a movie set, and is the one at the game table who just wants to playyyyy. The drummer is the unconditionally enthusiastic one. Animal in the Electric Mayhem. In movies, the drummer is the producer or art director or director of photography or whatever anonymous person that the other guys thank during the Oscar ceremony because "We couldn't have done it without you." The drummer is unconcerned with the philosophical pretensions of the guitarist and lead singer but therefore rarely has those "artistic" moments where actually making it all happen seems just too complicated to bother. Let's play let's play, let's do it, let's go! I wanna kill owlbears! Come on you guys, get it together,get in the van, let's go!

Mayyyyybe the game would be fun without the drummer, but you'd probably never play it. In a game, the drummer is extremely happy to do whatever it is "playing the game" is supposed to do. Somebody needs to guard the door? No problem, guys, I'll guard the door!

The drummer is the most convinced that the whole endeavor is in itself worth it--they know playing a game is fun, being in a band is fun, making a movie is fun. Because the drummer has initiative and remembers the whole point is the fun, the drummer sets the pace. The drummer likes fun, and if its not fun, the drummer speeds things up. Everybody's interest can come and go, but when the drummer's interest fades, the project is dead.

-Ahh, the bass player. The bass player is the screenwriter is the player in the corner who boils away with dreams s/he dare not speak aloud. The bass player is sensitive and observant but lacks confidence. The bass player is the one who keeps saying "No, really, I really do like playing" because it's hard to tell. Like the screenwriter, the bass player is full of ideas, but doesn't necessarily want to throw them out there with their name on them. Especially with the singer and the guitarist prowling around growling at each other.

The bass player always shows up, though, and is reliable, and is invested and is paying attention. And the bass player is capable of surprising everyone because people forget the bass player is even there. And when there's a problem, the bass player generally knows exactly why because s/he can see stuff everybody else is too wrapped up in their own thing to be able to see.

Once in a while a bass player will get total control of a band (or become DM)(or direct a movie after years of screenwriting) and you get a kind of full-bore confident genre-defining creativity that singers and guitarists are too busy "experimenting" to put together and that only someone who's sat around thinking "Why am I even playing this game?" for years on end could've come up with. Motorhead, Late Floyd, Bootsy, etc.

__________________________________

Which is all a very roundabout way of saying that "collaborative creativity" doesn't necessarily mean the Lead singer or DM going "Hey you guys, what should we do today? Gimme input!" and then singing a quartet. It can mean letting people be creative in the way that they want to be creative, (or, more often, rotate around) and having the way a game is put together support that.

Just because everyone doesn't have the same job producing the game does not mean they aren't all being "collaboratively creative". And I don't think it's a coincidence that the two media--film and music--that have figured out how to give the creative people involved different jobs rather than giving them all the same job have managed to consistently produce good collaborative work, and the ones where nobody's sure which person in a collaboration is supposed to do what--art and writing--have not.

Only a DM would be dumb enough to think that just because the DM gets to make the kind of decisions DMs like making that the DM is in "control" of the game.

67 comments:

  1. Not really an exception, because I think you're largely correct, but I wonder what Hegel thought of the "too many cooks" proverb?

    Also, you write a lot of very clever posts, but this is one of the funniest you've done in a while.

    ReplyDelete
  2. So what about the keyboardist? Somewhere between the bassist and the guitarist, I'm guessing?

    ReplyDelete
  3. @Knightsky: The record company didn't think the inclusion of a keyboardist would take the band in the "right direction", so they were sacked.

    But they do still get performance credits on tracks 9 and 11...

    ReplyDelete
  4. What I find really interesting here is the initial example you give. Your at absolutely, 100% correct when it comes to making movies, TV shows, commerical art, cars and fast food hamburgers. None of which we will be making at our game table.

    No, see we want to play a game, much as you do. We want to enjoy this and have fun. And basically, the GM is basically your Creative Director, Movie Director, Editor-In-Chief (which we actually used to call the GM in some of our high school Superhero RPG games).

    So when a Player mentions a basic element of their starship that wasn't mentioned before ("When the captain calls me I'm in the Library Section of our Research Lab Deck. Yes, we do have a number of actual hardcopy print books. We replicated them."), its up to the GM to say, "Awesome! Print it!" or "Cut. I don't think that works for the series."

    I too am mixing my metaphors...

    The point being there seems to be this misunderstanding about how its done. We don't sit in a 5 hour meeting over coffee and donuts and discuss every element of our tale from the first adventure to its conclusion (if it even has one).

    What we (and I as GM) do is allow each player some say in who there character is, what they know and don't, where they're from, what the people there are like and why they would bother leaving there (home) to come here (villain filled death trap).

    Just yesterday I was talking with one of my players who mentioned how he dislikes that in many old games he was in it was like his character materialized out of thin air mere minutes before the start of the first adventure like some damn MMO. "Poof" - First Level Fighter appears. Came from nowhere. Knows nothing. Doesn't matter if he dies. Prepare to die. Hit. Killed. Dead.

    Want to play again?

    Some people will. Determination, stubborness, a hope for something better next time or nothing else to do.

    Me, my players, not so much.

    ReplyDelete
  5. @ Barking:

    "Some people will. Determination, stubborness, a hope for something better next time or nothing else to do."

    I don't think that's fair at all, and I'm saying this as a semi-new school gamer.

    The major difference I see between game styles is simple - how invested are you expected to be in the individual character, right from the get go. The (very) old school treats characters like checker pieces - I don't cry in my beer when I lose a checker piece. I've got more and if I lose all of them we can just play again. It isn't some kind of grim ethic that makes me do it - I'm enjoying it.

    But Zak said to leave that aside.

    The collaborative creativity question: As DM, GM or what-say-you, I've always felt like the experience is a collaborative one, to a degree. The players bring a lot to the table, certainly, but I provide the framework for it. If I were to assign a metaphor, it would be political: I'm no monarch, but it's no true democracy either. A republic, perhaps, wherein I'm listening to their input and sometimes forced this way or that by their vote.

    ReplyDelete
  6. @Zak: awesome post.

    @Barking Alien: I don't think this kind of giving people say in who their character is needs to be at odds with what Zak is talking about as earning it. If anything, high PC death rate lets you do it more often: as a player each time my guy dies I get to make up a new story about the replacement. But even in games where PC survival is virtually guaranteed, you still have to earn it: when that doesn't happen you have the classic case of all those lengthy character backgrounds that exist on the page but haven't earned existence at the table because they're not put out there for other players to challenge and reincorporate.

    Personally I think prestige classes, epic destinies, etc. are unearned in this sense: it's awesome for one player that their guy is a Drunken Master now, but since that interaction happened solely between them and the rulebooks in the alone-time character-sheet-updating part of the game, it's hard for other players to care about this development (especially since the challenges they've overcome to reach this prestige class are also part of the alone-time, filling pre-reqs and the like; although Drunken Master requires you to also roleplay surviving a night of revelry with an existing drunken master, which rocks). Old-school play largely does away with this kind of alone-time, and as a result I find it much more compelling to see characters grow into themselves.
    - Tavis

    ReplyDelete
  7. Anyone here play Dresden Files? It's a fine example of collaborative play, narrative control, etc. The collaboration that takes place during char gen is amazing. Basically, the players sit around and develop their individual and group history. Through the creation of Aspects, characters are linked mechanically and thematically. It's a damn fine system and an example of how collaboration in the, "Let's sit around and make a group." sense works extremely well.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @barking

    i'm not saying what you actually do in your game is bad or wrong or even something i wouldn't, but i do think defending new school tactics on the grounds that

    "I as the GM feel like I'm playing with the players and not at them."

    rubbed me the wrong way.

    so i wrote about the subject.

    ReplyDelete
  9. @Muleabides- I don't either. That is, I think both are valid play styles. I am telling people what I and my players enjoy. We want to care when our characters die because we like the character. We know them. We crafted them ourselves, each player in a fashion making their own small work of art.

    Chris Lowrance hit the nail on the head. Most of the time the old school characters felt like checker pieces. Larger because, in my experience at least, they were treated as checker pieces by the DM. *My friend Dave is on the phone and he agrees - lol*. I don't want to play checkers when I play an RPG. I want to RP.

    Besides, if the GM is going to complicate your PC's life, isn't is cool if he has a life to complicate? I think so. So do my players. That's all I need.

    ReplyDelete
  10. @Zak - Well I'm sorry about that as I certainly didn't intend to direct that toward you specifically.

    I would be lying however if I said I didn't see it happen many, many times. I got a lot of my current players because they were creative guys who felt stiffled by the old school style of play.

    My buddy Dave game the example of the 150 some odd year old Elf who, at first level, doesn't recognize a druidic circle because he's first level and not a druid.

    He's an Elf. He's 150. It's possible he might have seen one.

    All too often he and I have seen it where just because he's 1st level he can't know anything, hasn't been anywhere or done anything. Again, like he appeared out of the blue one day with an "I am Level 1" sign around his neck.

    That just isn't our style is all. Quoting Dave one last time, "I want to give a shit about my guy. I like giving a shit." It takes a story to enable us to give...well you get the idea.

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well I'm against it
    I'm against it
    I don't like politics
    I don't like communists
    I don't like games and fun
    I don't like anyone
    And I'm against...
    I don't like Jesus freaks
    I don't like circus geeks
    I don't like summer and spring
    I don't like anything
    I don't like sex and drugs
    I don't like waterbugs
    I don't care about poverty
    All I care about is me
    And I'm against...
    I don't like playing ping pong
    I don't like the Viet Cong
    I don't like Burger King
    I don't like anything
    And I'm against...
    Well I'm against it
    I'm against it

    ReplyDelete
  12. A Fucking Men. This post and the previous.

    I've found I give much more of a shit about a scrub fighter I played in RuneQuest last summer, who was no one until he killed white-eye and became the king of the newt people, than any superhero or mage whose powers and origin I'd worked out ahead of time.

    I made him a 'named man' through the adventure. I think I was the guitarist, although I might have been the drummer.

    ReplyDelete
  13. There's an old chestnut in writing: show don't tell. From my experience, players wanting to have fully fleshed out characters at the start of play wish to have characters that are incredibly interesting and/or bad ass by telling me how incredibly interesting and/or bad ass they are.

    My thinking is: show me by the things you do in my world.

    Also, I think I'm the bassist. And congrats to Mandy! Curious if it was the fairy forest she was thinking of way back.

    ReplyDelete
  14. @Telecanter - Again there is that perception of fully fleshed out. Where is it coming from?

    There are degrees of things.

    Example for my fave game: Star Trek...

    Lt. Barrett is known to have served for 3 years on the USS Okinawa. During that time he recieved a Commendation.(Mechanics of Character Creation).

    Ah yes, the Commendation was for putting myself in danger to assist a Vulcan Ambassador and his Daughter when the Klingons boarded their ship. I'll take the advantage Contact: The Ambassador(Player creating background).

    Months later,

    As you enter the lounge you see that the Vulcan Ambassador in standing with two very lovely women. One is Lt. Cmdr. Perez, your old flame from the Okinawa. The other is...can it be? It seems the Ambassador's daughter is all grown up...(GM using that background).

    ReplyDelete
  15. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  16. (previous comment snipped because of some really awful spelling)

    @Barking Alien

    I think I'm really missing your point, because when you say:

    "Ah yes, the Commendation was for putting myself in danger to assist a Vulcan Ambassador and his Daughter when the Klingons boarded their ship. I'll take the advantage Contact: The Ambassador(Player creating background)."

    Why wouldn't that same future re-connection with the Ambassador, the girl that got away and the hottie Vulcan daughter have even MORE resonance if the character had *played* the game where he received the commendation, instead of "everybody lets all agree that it happened off stage"?

    By making those experiences a feature of the character as created,isn't the player just basically filling out a menu of what they expect their character to do at some future point?

    It would seem that *actually* having a played history with a returning set of NPCs (as one might in the examples that we're looking at of *earned* character experience in Old School styled games) would seem a lot more satisfying when they turned up later. This is simply the way that I see it, and specifically related to the example you gave, but I don't think that the example really makes your point.

    ReplyDelete
  17. Zak, your brain is a good thing. Most of our regular group are musos and that analogy is excellent.

    I think that regardless of the game system/style semantics that seem to be clinging to these discussions, This post holds true. Some people may expand the DM/Vox analogy if they run a more story driven campaign etc, but particularly in the case of the player styles, this is good.

    I think whats implied here, since it isnt explicitly covered in the post, is that the story isnt anyones responsibility. Which I think is entirely accurate. The DM/whatev arrives with some idea about some stuff, some fun or interesting scenario/setting/event, the players all arrive with their own motivations and characters and through the process of playing the game, challenging everyones creativity and problem solving a story emerges.

    In the same way that when you go out with a bunch of people and get wasted. No-one has a story planned. Someone (the DM) calls some people and says hey I want to go see this band or that party, everyone brings themselves and their character and as the evening progresses a story emerges. Then you call/text each other the next day and discuss how good/bad/ugly it was. Is it strange that we do that with our games sometimes? Whatever.

    I hope thats in line with your theory Zak?

    ReplyDelete
  18. I'll try to be clearer.

    Because I (the GM) don't make up everything for the campaign all by myself and I can't see the future. I don't make up every adventure we're ever going to have right before the first session we play. So players get to think up cool plot hooks so they can be included in the adventures I will be making.

    You (the player) get to add stuff. You get a say. You don't want a say? Fine. No say for you.

    I (the GM) get inspired by what you say though. I make game subplots about it. Now we have the adventure ideas I have and one more. The one you made.

    Some people like that. Some people don't. Moving on?

    (Slinks back to the indie game sites...)

    ReplyDelete
  19. (apologies if its a double post, the first doesnt seem to be showing up... friggin interjerk)

    Zak, your brain is a good thing. Most of our regular group are musos and that analogy is excellent.

    I think that regardless of the game system/style semantics that seem to be clinging to these discussions, This post holds true. Some people may expand the DM/Vox analogy if they run a more story driven campaign etc, but particularly in the case of the player styles, this is good.

    I think whats implied here, since it isnt explicitly covered in the post, is that the story isnt anyones responsibility. Which I think is entirely accurate. The DM/whatev arrives with some idea about some stuff, some fun or interesting scenario/setting/event, the players all arrive with their own motivations and characters and through the process of playing the game, challenging everyones creativity and problem solving a story emerges.

    In the same way that when you go out with a bunch of people and get wasted. No-one has a story planned. Someone (the DM) calls some people and says hey I want to go see this band or that party, everyone brings themselves and their character and as the evening progresses a story emerges. Then you call/text each other the next day and discuss how good/bad/ugly it was. Is it strange that we do that with our games sometimes? Whatever.

    I hope thats in line with your theory Zak?

    ReplyDelete
  20. @barkingalien
    @people misunderstanding barking alien

    Don't take the other side to extremes. It's silly and not helpful.

    There are many times an Old School DM will say your first level 150-year old elf knows what a druid circle looks like.

    There are many times an Old School DM will have some randomly inserted player-generated backstory elements in the character and no, this is not a problem or even anti-fun.

    I am 100% all of you are clever enough to realize that this is true, so don't pretend you're not.

    These posts are about how a Old Schoolers have good reasons for doing what they do, NOT about assuming nobody else does.

    You like pizza, I like macaroni, fine. People saying "You like macaroni? But it's always covered in cheese! How can you like cheese!" are completely missing the point and making the same mistake that I'm trying to clear up.

    ReplyDelete
  21. I have, during the course of a campaign, started with a character who was both the bodyguard and the weapons trainer of a boy king who's devotion to the king was unwavering, both he and the king had been in exile on a small farm outside of the kingdom before I'd even sat at the table.

    Upon this warriors death, the next character was a halfling rogue who popped in to existence, his only back story being that he'd just walked round the corner and met the party. Both characters were a blast to play.

    Both characters started from very different positions, but ultimately my fondest memories are about the havoc they raised while in my control.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Holy shit, this is so true my brain almost exploded.

    - Also: Video Games. Case One is bad and mostly the case in the industry (large reason why I'm out). Case Two is good and exceptional.
    - Also: Military Science. Something I was quoting recently for my martial arts class: "Napoleon increased the speed of his army by loosening up the structure, allowing for more chaos in the decision-making process, and unleashing the creativity in his marshals." http://www.powerseductionandwar.com/archives/ooda_and_you.phtml
    - Also: Music Again. One advantage of a band, I think, is small size: vicinity of 2-5 people usually. Network effects are small. The process feels generally manageable, and that individuals can make a noticeable, real difference.

    I've got a saying from my video game days, "Let the person who cares do it." i.e., If anyone on the team has the faintest whisper of an opinion or caring about a specific topic (domain, as you say), then I recommend giving them the whole kit-and-kaboodle and not nay-saying them after the fact. Very rare that I could get people on board with that in a corporate setting.

    ReplyDelete
  23. @Feystar- Absolutely true. I've done both myself and to tell you the truth, I personally create little to no background for my guys when I start. I tend to develop it over the course of play. I don't play PCs often but when I do its more of the old school way. Surprise, surprise right?

    The thing is, we're all gaming. I say again, playing games. How you have fun is relevant only to you and your group.

    I enjoy and appreciate the commentary and discussions of different approaches. That's why I read blogs, that's what I have a blog.

    I advocate a different approach is all. I prefer it. That's all. My last major RPG campaign at the Compleat Strategist in NY had 10 players at the table each sessions. It just works for us.

    ReplyDelete
  24. Holy shit, this is so true my head almost exploded.

    - Also: Video Games. Case One is very bad and the norm for most of the industry (which is why I'm out of it now). Case Two is very good and exceptional.
    - Also: Military Science. Something I was quoting recently for my martial arts class: "Napoleon increased the speed of his army by loosening up the structure, allowing for more chaos in the decision-making process, and unleashing the creativity in his marshals." http://www.powerseductionandwar.com/archives/ooda_and_you.phtml
    - Also: Music Again. I think the size of most bands is advantageous, around 2-5 people. Network effects are low. The overall project seems manageable, and individuals can make a noticeable difference in direction.

    I've got a saying from my video game days, "Let the person cares do it." i.e., if anyone shows the faintest whisper of an opinion or caring about a given topic (domain, in your terms), give them that task and avoid nay-saying them afterward. Very rare I could get people in a corporate environment to get on board with that.

    ReplyDelete
  25. Although I must admit that a lot of these debates come down to "Yes, I like starting at 0 XP", vs. "No, I like starting at 10000 XP". And I get kind of cranky slogging through it over and over again.

    ReplyDelete
  26. BA> "...they were creative guys who felt stiffled by the old school style of play..."

    How about, "they were creative guys who felt stifled by some guy/gal running a 1EAD&D game who wouldn't let them have any say about their character or what they do."

    Just like I don't draw the brush that all new school play is XYZ, I don't think it's a fair comparison that all old school play is dictatorial in style.

    Maybe the plot-driven, railroad, serial style of game - but the open-ended, creative, let the players set the plot style of sandbox game certain, at my table, is not dictatorial.

    I set the pieces. What the players do from that point, within the mechanics of the game and the structure of the world, is their business.

    ReplyDelete
  27. I've been contemplating a cross-medium theory like this for the better part of the past 8 years. I guess I have to turn my mind to other pursuits because uh, you finished it flawlessly. Cannot even express how awesome this article is.

    ReplyDelete
  28. @BarkingAlien: hey since you're in NYC let's get together and play; eating cheese is much better than talking about cheese, and may help us develop a vocabulary for discussing intra-cheese differences to the benefit of all. I'm running OD&D with New York Red Box on 12/30 and 31, and Delta and I are both doing stuff at Recess on 1/15 and 16, and if your games are open to drop-ins I'd love to check it out. Other folks in the area are welcome too!

    @those who know about bands: How does the experience of getting together to play with other musicians compare to a pick-up RPG game like at a convention? I can see that a long-term gaming group develops a shared expertise like a band does but, knowing nothing, it seems to me like RPGers have an easier time playing with strangers than musicians do.
    - Tavis

    ReplyDelete
  29. @Zak S:

    How would you define Gygaxian Democracy? It certainly seems to be a form of creative collaboration, but it also looks like it doesn't fit in either of the categories you provided.

    ReplyDelete
  30. Also, when are you going to be posting a play report on the game Mandy ran? Was it that forest thing she was talking about way back?

    ReplyDelete
  31. @ muleabides

    Convention-style pick-up RPG gameplay, in my experience, is a lot like a pick up jam session after a night where a few different bands have played. Some people just putting what they do out there and seeing how it all mashes up together. There's very little invested, and it's not being "saved for anything" so you get some fun character moments that are a lot like somebody taking a 12 bar solo before it gets passed over to someone else while the bass and drums keep things held together.

    That being said, I've been in convention style games that were like the worst kind of Bataan Death March when the GM in question had railroaded things past the point of playability and shot down character "solo" moments. In fact, it's those kind of con games that has kept me away from them for a while.

    ReplyDelete
  32. @C'nor

    1-Gygaxian democray is a completely textbook example of what i'm talking about. each person has total control of the bit they contribute.

    2-I don't know.

    3-Yes.

    ReplyDelete
  33. Oh. I guess I was confused by the musical metaphors.

    ReplyDelete
  34. Cool post Zak, really entertaining stuff.

    Congrats to Mandy!

    But, why on earth are all these comments sounding like nobody reads the other guy, or at least understand what he is saying?

    Comical or sad, I just can't decide.

    ReplyDelete
  35. muleabides: "How does the experience of getting together to play with other musicians compare to a pick-up RPG game like at a convention?"

    I'd say in the same ballpark, but you may be on to something that the RPG skews advantageously because at least there's a prior agreement on who the lead/DM and game system is. There's at some chance with absolutely random musicians that you can't agree who the "lead" is.

    Although in either case it's uncommon to be in a situation totally cold -- usually get some kind of vetting through friends or reading/hearing their stuff before getting into that situation. Or if a guys says in advance "we're playing these songs I've been working on" then you've got similar buy-in. (IMO)

    ReplyDelete
  36. I will likely be at Recess on Sat., the 15th. I am looking forward to Dorje's BASH RPG adventure based on The Incredibles and E.T. Smith's Starships & Spacemen adventure. Perhaps I will see you there.

    ReplyDelete
  37. I really wanted to jump into this, to show how - for example - an extended Prelude prior to starting a supernatural chronicle in the World of Darkness can lead to satisfying character development that simply cannot be achieved in D&D.

    I also thought about explaining how a system like FATE allows a player to seize narrative control from the GM and also from the other players in order to skew the play in a certain, more dramatic, direction that highlights the strength of collaborative play.

    I also wanted to give examples of how people in this thread do - in fact - employ a top down, heavy DM style. Or at the very least they adopt an air of old school crank, I know this because I've read their blogs for months.

    But man, what's the point? While Zak did state all of this was IMHO, the tone of the discussion definitely became, "The Old School is superior in regards to character development and story telling potential to the New School." And I just don't see how that is even remotely the case when designers have spent a great deal of time writing games that are specifically about character development, narrative control and collaboration - all in a good way.

    Eh, game on and all that.

    ReplyDelete
  38. @Christian

    None of the following is IMHO. It's all fact:

    If ANYONE ON EITHER SIDE thinks they can prove "x game is superior to y game in its ability to z" they are wrong.

    The only constant in RPGs is the fact that different people play the same games in different ways.

    If anyone's saying "I like X game because I feel I can y" with it, they are automatically right.

    If anyone's saying "X game never results in y" you are automatically wrong.

    And let me add that I have no idea who is saying what here or if any of you are saying any of that.

    ReplyDelete
  39. An excellent post, Zak.

    The problem with old school is the perception that gamers of that school are rather like the characters from Knights of the Dinner Table... who are absolutely hilarious because they are EXTREME examples of the worst elements old school gaming had to offer! In an actual game, these characters are not funny. (Some personal experience on that...)

    As far as creative collaboration, it's really down to the players and GM in the group. What makes games memorable is when a player suddenly has an idea that inserts a fresh new element into the game. You can get this no matter what rules system you use. Old school seems to do this better, though.

    For example, in old school gaming, traps were often intellectual puzzles for the PLAYER to solve, not the character. The player would need to think of the right questions to ask to even get a die roll to maybe discern part of the puzzle.

    In contrast, new school gaming keeps most challenges for the character alone so that the player just rolls a die to get past the obstacle. Boring? Maybe. That's up to the players and GM to decide what kind of game they want. If you have a player in tears saying "Can't I just ROLL something?" or you're constantly prompting them with the next logical action, you may be expecting too much.

    Then there's the real problem player with creative collaboration... the stumps. Characterized as follows:

    - Sit there quietly
    - No background material on their characters, just name and race
    - Wait to be spoon-fed adventure hooks
    - Rolls dice when prompted in combat, rarely otherwise
    - Has a look rather like he's saying "Entertain me"

    They're worse than a rules-lawyer, multi-page character background creator or a back-stabbing player killer. At least those guys are involved and doing SOMETHING.

    ReplyDelete
  40. Having said that nobody in these comment seem to understand the other I suddenly against my better judgment feel like I have to jump in and sai something again.

    Come on.

    This is not a great debate about the virtue of new or old school.

    In all games there is a take and give interaction between all the players, GM included.

    Looking at, say, the first fantasy campaign, there was a lot of world creation done by both players and DM. In many games, whatever the game system, players shape the world and the setting and "plot" by their actions. Sometimes just by tossing out wild ideas at the table which the GM grabs and runs with. This is all shared creation.

    Some games have codified all these procedures, given the players an explicit power to do just some parts, but not others. To empower the players this way, to build the social contract into the rules, is just one way to take control of it and make sure it happens at every game.

    Having this implicit or not have nothing at all to do with challenging players versus characters or whose style of game is better.

    God knows if that clears anything up, or makes any difference. But, what the heck...

    ReplyDelete
  41. Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Oh and that other stuff I said before, with the drinking analogy, but mostly: Fuck macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ingredients are the ideas that the gamers provide. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    ReplyDelete
  42. Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Oh and that other stuff I said before, with the drinking analogy, but mostly: Fuck macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ingredients are the ideas that the gamers provide. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    ReplyDelete
  43. Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Oh and that other stuff I said before, with the drinking analogy, but mostly: Fuck macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ingredients are the ideas that the gamers provide. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    ReplyDelete
  44. Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Oh and that other stuff I said before, with the drinking analogy, but mostly: Fuck macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ingredients are the ideas that the gamers provide. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    (ps having some trouble posting...)

    ReplyDelete
  45. But, why on earth are all these comments sounding like nobody reads the other guy, or at least understand what he is saying?

    Behold... the internet!

    ReplyDelete
  46. Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Oh and that other stuff I said before, with the drinking analogy, but mostly: Fuck macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ingredients are the ideas that the gamers provide. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    (ps having some trouble posting...)

    ReplyDelete
  47. (ps having some trouble posting...)

    Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ideas (provided by the gamers) are the ingredients. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    ReplyDelete
  48. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  49. (ps having some trouble posting...)

    Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about.

    People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ideas (provided by the gamers) are the ingredients. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    ReplyDelete
  50. (ps having some trouble posting...)

    Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about. (more to follow... stupid internet)...

    ReplyDelete
  51. (ps having some trouble posting...)

    Yeah but I don't think anyone here is really considering how crap macaroni is. I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself and as such we should probably not be be pursuing most of what we are currently in a frenzy about. (more to follow...)

    ReplyDelete
  52. People arguing about chargen are somewhat missing the point, I think, in that however you generate your character (and what you decide he/she brings into the game) is your contribution to the creative process and thus is entirely up to you. System/School is irrelevant.

    So! I shall return to my previous angle: I think that, (hopefully) in line with Zaks theory, the story is actually a product of the gaming experience, rather than an ingredient or input. The ideas (provided by the gamers) are the ingredients. It's a lot like making macaroni except for fuck macaroni.

    ReplyDelete
  53. Zak:
    I just wanted to make sure everyone knows that I am firmly in the camp of Fuck Macaroni.


    The only sane position, indeed.

    Kelvin & Zak

    Also: Astute readers will note that the comment that inspired this post has very little to do with the content of the post itself

    Which of course makes the conversation what it is. Internet it is. :)

    ReplyDelete
  54. During the war, we used to shoot collaborators.

    ReplyDelete
  55. Really? We used to feed them to Kzin. Sounds like you were a bit kinder. Then again you didn't say where or how many times you shot them...

    ReplyDelete
  56. I should say, as is often the case with these kinds of things, my comment wasn't fair to Barking Alien because I was really addressing players from my past. So, sorry about that.

    For what its worth, I'm straining my neurons trying to engage players in innovative ways. Maybe the systems Christian mentions have some good ideas along those lines, I'll check them out if I get the chance.

    And yes, I think it's more a continuum than two sides. Both for how much creative work each party involved is doing and when the work is happening. I might try exploring this more on my blog.

    ReplyDelete
  57. 2 things:

    One, having been raised by musicians, and my father a drummer, I want to say that the stereo type works well for many drummers, but also many bass players. Likewise the Bass description works from many drummers. (Including the genre-defining creativity you see from drummers like Cyro Baptista or Aesop Dekker.) I would think of them as rhythm type I and rhythm type II (to make them more like demons...)

    Two, even the original "story telling" games (white wolf) that may have ushered in the "new school," weren't exactly pampering. A new vampire under old masquerade rules was, sure, powerful... in relation to the average limp-dick mother fucker wandering the subway at night. But that is like saying that the barbarian you rolled up is powerful in relation to the squirrels and whatnot that populate the frozen forests he hunts. The rules of that game were savage, combat was rough, and I never felt my hand was held when I played. In fact it was the most stressful game I ever played at that point, because I had been in mostly juvenile monty-hall d&d campaigns up until that point. Vampire treated me way more "old-school" than old-school had. And I liked it. The achievements meant something because they weren't a given (In that game, with those people.)

    ReplyDelete
  58. endless bickering aside,
    I am disappointed no one recognized the Ramone's Lyrics I posted
    that set the tone for these comments ; - )

    ReplyDelete
  59. Great comments so far! I personally am an Old Schooler, and so my players have been. I find Christian's(the second respondent of that name) comment odd, though, especially in reference to 'collaborative gaming': some newer system "allows a player to SEIZE narrative CONTROL FROM the GM and ALSO FROM the OTHER PLAYERS in order to SKEW THE PLAY IN A CERTAIN, more dramatic, DIRECTION that highlights the strength of collaborative play."(Emphasis added.) The rest about WOD's preludes, and such being superior is highly subjective: it seems to boil down to game designers now are better cuz ya know it's now, not later.(I.E. games 'evolve'[change would be a better term IMHO], often implying older is worse.) This is strange to me 'cuz my local gaming scene is more porous, don't often hear much in the way of Old School Sucks or New School is for Pussies. Most peple here will play pretty much anything once or twice, even Palladium RPG, World of Synnibarr, Dream Park RPG, White Wolf's criminally overlooked Street Fighter RPG, Underground, Universalis(the ultimate colloborative RPG, to my mind), 3:16, etc..(I even heard tell of Puppetland once!)

    ReplyDelete
  60. @Clovis: I caught it, but my Ramones pick would be thus:

    Yeah, I wanna game well, I wanna game well!
    I wanna be I want I want I want I want I want I want!

    Yeah, I wanna game well, I wanna game well!
    I wanna be I want I want I want I want I want I want!

    I want my own RPG, golly gee, WotC, wowie!
    Your system is broke, holy smoke!
    The OSR's future is bleak, ain't it neat?

    Yeah, I wanna game well, I wanna game well...

    ReplyDelete
  61. Hey zak; loved the post in an itchy itchy sort of way. Mainly becuase it highlighted my own issues with why my last campaign blew apart - and it was because I decided to write solo albums with the band. Crap crap crap. "yeah, whatever guys, this is going to be a campaign about this; it's a really cool idea I have. Period" Substiute album as needed, y'know......I'm Sting or roger Waters.

    ReplyDelete
  62. This comment has been removed by the author.

    ReplyDelete
  63. Trying again with correct out-of-context quotes

    And, oh yes. Just to further obfuscate rational discussion, I'd like to point out the following comments from above:

    "Most of the time the old school characters felt like checker pieces. Larger because, in my experience at least, they were treated as checker pieces by the DM."

    "Just yesterday I was talking with one of my players who mentioned how he dislikes that in many old games he was in it was like his character materialized out of thin air mere minutes before the start of the first adventure like some damn MMO. "Poof" - First Level Fighter appears. Came from nowhere. Knows nothing. Doesn't matter if he dies. Prepare to die. Hit. Killed. Dead.

    "The (very) old school treats characters like checker pieces - I don't cry in my beer when I lose a checker piece. I've got more and if I lose all of them we can just play again. It isn't some kind of grim ethic that makes me do it - I'm enjoying it."

    This is utter, utter bullshit. Where in the hell did this come from ? I mean, other than your hat ? "Most of the time" ? Crap and retardedness. Look, I was there. Maybe you have mistaken the miniatures wargaming and gamers that did use checkers because that's what they are, with the RPG players because that where we all came from. Maybe. But look here sherlock, the overlap between D&D ('cause thats all RPGs were) and Minis was far from complete,; why ? Because the gamers who didn't give two damns about character, backstory,campaign or fantasy literature, or even god forbid, roleplaying, didn't play. Get that ? The first generation was self selected for caring about that crap. We were the hippy trippy weirdo character playing fringies of mini gaming. Characters and all the above mattered, and the idea that most or all games used up characters like cannon fodder is idiotic -miniature wargames set in dungeons or campaigns, perhaps, but not in the vast majority of D&D games in the "O" days.

    Why we have become stereotyped as boring non-gaming farts is beyond me. Possibly we have, as a group become bitter at finding ourselves stereotyped by a new wave of gamers, some vocal few of which don't seem to be able to make a contribution stand on its own without knocking someone else down to use as a prop (I dig confusing mixed metaphors). Perhaps its some kind of unresolved rebellion against parents crap, prompted by the fact that most of us are parents -or at least look like them. Whatever. Just Stop It. Now. Or you're going to be grounded this semester, kids.

    Okay, rant over. Perhaps yelling at me on my blog will be better than doing it here if I've pissed you off. I bet Zak, if no-one else, will appreciate it if you do.
    http://docgrognard.blogspot.com/

    ReplyDelete
  64. One for the road -- I get the impression that comedy writing also works well in a collaborative, round-table situation.

    Note that's a situation where people are trying to "punch up" individual discrete jokes, and can usually identify whose joke in a work was Alice's vs. Bob's. Example interesting article in New Yorker 7/5/10 (headline re: Steve Carell, but really about the larger Bucket Brigade circle of comedy actor/ writer/ directors).

    ReplyDelete
  65. Whenever I hear aspects of inexperienced/immature play ascribed to the “old school” and aspects of experienced/mature old school play described as “new school”, I can’t help but thinking that these new systems—be they “rules first” or “story first”—are seeking to fix problems that aren’t fixed by systems.

    When you play your first piece of music on a new instrument, and it sounds like crap, you don’t think that the instrument needs to be fixed. You know that you just need more practice.

    (And, by the way, I’m totally pointing the finger right at myself when it comes to looking for systematic fixes to things that aren’t really broken. I can’t claim insight into any of the rest of you. Just thinking out loud about the insight into myself your words may help me find.)

    ReplyDelete
  66. A really good article, though while I was reading the part about singing "woo-woo" over and over, a Bosley commercial came on TV and on it was using a song where people were singing "woo-woo" over and over and I thought I was having a psychotic break.

    ReplyDelete