Does GM Agenda determine the style of play? Is AW the Right to Dream?

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I'm reading back over Vincent's blog, and come across GM Agenda and this part, where Vincent says:

"Here are mine for a couple of my games, from an earlier thread:

When you create a town in Dogs in the Vineyard, the whole point is to find out what the poor players' poor characters are going to do about it. You create a problematic mess, and you're like "oh lord what on EARTH are they going to do to put THIS mess right?" You don't plan out a solution yourself - that'd be contrary to the point. In play, you don't try to block or guide the players' solutions - that'd be contrary to the point too. You have your NPCs do what they would do, given all that you know about them, and you let the players do the same with their characters, and you play the dice scrupulously, even generously. Anything else and you'd be throwing the question, you'd be invalidating the whole reason you're playing to begin with.

It's very similar in Storming the Wizard's Tower. When you create a monster, the whole point is to find out how the players' characters are going to beat it, and whether they even are. You create a cool, threatening monster, and you're like "sweet! I wonder what they're going to do about THIS!" You don't plan out yourself how or whether they'll beat it - that'd be contrary to the point. In play, you don't try to block or guide them - that'd be contrary to the point too. You have the monster do whatever it'd do, given its nature and circumstances, and you let the players have their characters do whatever they want them to, and you play the dice scrupulously, even generously. Anything else and you'd be throwing the question. Anything else and you might as well not even play!

I think of those two in particular as a story now instance and a step on up instance of the same GM agenda, the same approach to GMing."


In Dogs..., you play to find out how the players are going to handle situation X, in Storming..., you play to find out if the players can overcome X challenge.

In AW, you play to find out what happens and make AW seem real to the players.

I see three separate instances of GM Agenda, and they correlate to three different modes of play.

Does your game's GM Agenda determine how the game is played? Is AW the "right to dream instance" of this approach?

I'm going to say what I've heard said, and what I believe: No game "is" an agenda. There's no "Right to Dream" game or "Story Now" game, but rather, "Right to Dream," "Step on Up," and "Story Now" are agendas that help us understand instances of play over time (I think this is how Vincent phrased it in an interview with Clyde--Theory from the Closet--and it makes a lot of sense to me). So instead of saying "Apocalypse World is Right to Dream," you  might say, "man, we're doing some intense Right to Dream stuff with Apocalypse World right now." Again, the categories discuss instances of play over time, not the games, especially not the people (every time someone says "I'm a narrativist" my nerd hackles raise).

All I know is that, at my table, we're getting some great Story Now out of Apocalypse World. It seems like AW would be well-suited for RTD play, but I still don't even know what the fuck RTD play looks like, so I guess don't take that as gospel.
« Last Edit: August 26, 2010, 05:49:17 PM by Hans Chung-Otterson »

Yeah, I'm specifically speaking of Right to Dream, Story Now and Step On Up in the way Vincent is using them in his quote. A game can certainly promote and foster those kinds of "instances of play."

Clearly, when Vincent describes the GM's Agenda in Storming... he does it with the notion that it will facilitate that mode of play over time.

Does AW? Is the GM's Agenda one of the main components?

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lumpley

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The two crucial considerations when you're analyzing an instance of play for creative agenda are (1) who made decisions at the table, and (2) who the fictional characters were and what they did. A game's design, enacted by the players, contributes powerfully to both; in this way, a game's design contributes to play that fulfills a particular creative agenda.

Apocalypse World's design contributes to play that fulfills a Story Now creative agenda. If you try to play Step On Up or Right To Dream with Apocalypse World, you'll find that you have to fight with the rules all the time, ignore them, recast them, and finally you'll adapt them or throw them out.

Apocalypse World's GM's- and players' jobs (agenda, principles, moves) are a key part of its design, and in that way they, in turn, support Story Now play. What's interesting is that small changes to them could make them support Step On Up play instead. At least, that's the case with Dogs in the Vineyard's GM's- and players' jobs and Storming the Wizard's Tower. I have every reason to believe that it's the case with Apocalypse World's GM's- and players' jobs too.

I'm pretty sure that Story Now and Step On Up play are closer cousins, in this sense, than either are with Right To Dream play. I'm pretty sure that you'd have to adapt Apocalypse World's GM's- and players' jobs substantially to get a game design that contributes to Right To Dream play. I may be wrong about it, but as of this moment, it's my considered belief.

I knew that the Story Now article was part of the game inspirations because it's listed in the book, but at that time didn't understand why the game seems so Right to Dream to me.

Now that I've read the book entirely (and the first impression was reinforced) and now that Vincent insists on the difficulty of playing RTD with Apocalypse World, I'm very confused.

Vincent, could you point to Techniques and groups of Techniques that specifically produce Story Now ?
I see a lot of Right to Dream design, and I am not alone, do you understand why and correct our judgement ?

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lumpley

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Sure!

(1) Apocalypse World's techniques keep decision-making at the table in everybody's hands. No one can seize decision-making from anyone else. Furthermore, the game's rules demand decision-making, they don't let anybody coast by without making decisions.

(2) Apocalypse World's techniques (including especially here its character creation and GM prep techniques) make sure that you have passionate characters in an untenable situation, whose only recourse is to escalate through crisis (after crisis) to resolution. If you haven't seen it before, here's an old post of mine on that subject: 5-2-05: Creating Theme.

The simulationist stuff that you see in the game's design - and you're right! There's lots - isn't related to Right To Dream play at all.

(1) Apocalypse World's techniques keep decision-making at the table in everybody's hands. No one can seize decision-making from anyone else. Furthermore, the game's rules demand decision-making, they don't let anybody coast by without making decisions.
To me, decision-making is a good thing in any game design, for any creative agenda. You want to have decisions to make about which others can say "how smart!" in Gamism, too. No decisions, no prestige in succeeding. And in Simulationism, in my opinion, the decision power is critical too because if your proposals don't get included in the fiction, you're not creating the fictional material, it is creating itself. How can you enjoy the resiliency of the aesthetic package if you're not allowed to add to it ? I don't see why decision-making power in everybody's hands make Narrativism.
(2) Apocalypse World's techniques (including especially here its character creation and GM prep techniques) make sure that you have passionate characters in an untenable situation, whose only recourse is to escalate through crisis (after crisis) to resolution. If you haven't seen it before, here's an old post of mine on that subject: 5-2-05: Creating Theme.
I totally follow you on theme, but the passionate characters in untenable situation make also an interesting situation, even without the theme treatment. And interesting situation makes good Simulationism. Sim is not associated to boring and already seen situation, and in fact no CA is, because such a game would have an awfully dull Exploration. Whatever the CA, I want to Explore exciting scenes in a RPG (not necessarily exciting in the sense of "fast action", a heartwarming romance is exciting in its way). Here again, I can't see how this technique makes only Narrativist play.
The simulationist stuff that you see in the game's design - and you're right! There's lots - isn't related to Right To Dream play at all.
Such a sentence bugs me, because to me, Simulationism is Right To Dream. They are two phrases for the same concept. So in my mind Simulationist techniques are techniques that produce Simulationism play more easily (or Right To Dream play). Where did I miss something ?

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lumpley

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Well, maybe, but whatever. Tell me what simulationism means to you!

Nocker,

This post by Vincent will probably fix your confusion: http://www.lumpley.com/comment.php?entry=443

Vincent, does that policy from your blog apply here too? I think it's a good policy (although, to be honest, I don't think I've ever seen a conversation where talking about GNS made anything clearer or easier).

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lumpley

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Simon! I have lots to say about that but I don't want to go haring off after it. Start a new thread if you want to? In this thread, for now, I want Nocker - and Michael, if Michael comes back - to tell me about simulationism.

Re: Does GM Agenda determine the style of play? Is AW the Right to Dream?
« Reply #10 on: August 30, 2010, 10:11:29 AM »
Ok, I've read the comment on anyway, and understand now your question, Vincent.

To me, a Simulationist Technique is a Technique which tend to produce RTD games. If enough of this Techniques are present and no other Technique oppose them drastically, the game is sure to be RTD without a big hack.
The Simulationism drive (here, I am no longer talking about Ron's CAs) that a player can have is Exploring exciting situation for the sole purpose of Exploring it. A desire to see what happens when no one put their dirty thematic or competitive fingers in the fiction. And this is often associated with a desire to contribute to the development of this situation, so either a huge place given to the characters decisions or a way for the player to go beyond the manacles of the character and say things about the rest of the world.

I feel this desire and Apocalypse World appears to me as a very good way to obtain this kind of play.

I feel a lot of RTD (And Simulationism, as a player drive) in Apocalypse World. I see no mechanism that is here to answer a theme, all appear to me to develop interesting situations. The freedom associated with decision-making (contrary to fixed fiction changes dictated by dice results) enables all players to contribute to the fiction, and point out what they are interested in. All this is RTD, to me.

I think sincerely that Story Now play is as likely to occur with AW as Right To Dream play, because it's a strongly thematic setting, but the rules don't specifically lead the players to answer it. They answer a theme if they want, and nothing prevent them to do so, neither.

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lumpley

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Re: Does GM Agenda determine the style of play? Is AW the Right to Dream?
« Reply #11 on: August 30, 2010, 10:38:58 AM »
Cool! With you so far.

You say you want to explore interesting situations. What makes a situation interesting? Maybe give me an example situation, and tell me what you find interesting about it?

Re: Does GM Agenda determine the style of play? Is AW the Right to Dream?
« Reply #12 on: August 30, 2010, 12:49:38 PM »
In this thread, for now, I want Nocker - and Michael, if Michael comes back - to tell me about simulationism.

I'm back.

Maybe I'm lost on Right to Dream. In fact, after reading your blog on RTD and "badassness" I think there's a serious disconnect between what I considered "sim" or "Right to Dream" (I guess based on Ron's essay) vs. what you're saying it is.

Certainly, under that definition, AW is definitely not RTD (I don't know if any game I've ever played is... not to say it doesn't exist).

Here's where I'm coming from: I'm not playing AW to address a premise or to challenge myself or other players. I'm playing in exploration of the world, situations, characters we develop over time. I'm not too concerned with the outcome of those things (How do the players handle this? or How do the players overcome this?), but rather with the moment-to-moment fiction and development of those things in our exploration. But, within those things, certainly the players will address situation using the tools they have.

The way I'm reading you:

Step On Up - Players are reaffirmed by overcoming challenges that test their abilities (character/player).
Story Now - Players are reaffirmed by resolving situations and learning how the character/player approached that situation.
Right to Dream - Players are reaffirmed by showcasing their role in the fiction.

And, the GM's Agenda should confirm these things. In Storming, I'm developing a challenge for the players. In AW or Dogs, I'm presenting a situation or a situation is unfolding (due to AW's mechanics and MC fronts).

I'm not really sure what a GM Agenda would look like in RTD...

Re: Does GM Agenda determine the style of play? Is AW the Right to Dream?
« Reply #13 on: August 30, 2010, 03:19:01 PM »
Interesting situations :
Inception : the interwinned timelines of the dream levels, with characters having different challenges on different timings.

Matrix Revolution : the car chase on the highway, sometimes driving in the opposite direction. Jumping on and out of cars, fighting in the small space of a cab or on the top of a moving truck, the twins passing through car body.

Capes : a ├╝ber-cool super-hero named Le Duc, with formal suit and cigar getd out of the car stopped in front of a residential house. "The kid, Aaron, he should be here", he says to his driver, looking at a paper with a picture and data. Then his enforcer, a three meters humanoid crashes the door open and enters the house. But the kid's mother, Miss Python, is already in the rear garden with him, and tries to escape with her serpentine agility. An omniscient man, Zimmermann, looks at the situation, reading Le Duc's thoughts to discover his agenda. But Le Duc, supernaturally nifty, shoots in the dark alley where Zimmermann believed to be unseen and seriously hurts him in the shoulder. Aware that the gunfire is attracting unwanted attention from the neighbours, Le Duc takes his cigar out of his mouth, blows the smoke and drops a bit of cinder. When it touches the ground, a spark emerges from it and runs to every lamp post around, shutting it off.

Scion : a scion of Artemis wearing leather and fighting with a scoped hunting rifle, named Selene, is running after a man. She begins to take vertical paths to get to him. She is so fast she seems to walk on the walls, and soon she is set up on the edge of a building roof, and sees the man through crosshairs. He doesn't see her anymore, and thinks he is safe, staggering from breathlessness. But then Selene's finger pull the trigger and in a loud crack, the head of the poor guy is spread on the wall behind him. Selene hook the rifle on her back, and jump from the building, slowly walking away.

Selfless (a game from the Reverse Engineering challenge on Story Games) : a man, kept in a psychiatric hospital, tries to remember his own name. The heartless doctor argues that he is named Sebastian, showing the records, but the depths of his mind, he knows that this is not right. Same that this is not friday but tuesday, contrary to what the assistants maintain. He has counted the days since his arrival. This is a big plot to make him really mad, so that they have a good reason to keep him.

Shock: : a mutant super-hero teenage girl with strong telekinetic powers hunts down some other mutants into the sewer. After several corridors and bends, she arrives in a big drain room, where dozens of mutants held hands in circle. And in the center, a skinny woman with empty eyes sockets who is levitating one meter above the water. She recognizes her mother.

Swashbucklers of the Seven Skies : the ship is boarded by savage men. A Kirin Gifted man, armed with a chain jumps from the high bridge on a rope, runs along it and leaps right in the middle of five savages. He swing his chain, teleports behind a savage who nearly hit him, knocks him out and rush to the next one. In twenty seconds, the five of them are unconscious and the man warps near the captain to protect him.

Tigres Volants (a french pulp science-fiction game, with elves, psis and dog-headed men) : the band organizes a huge improvised concert in an old hangar, gathering in it all the local population. They create a stage and plug their instruments in the outdated sockets. Then the rock music begins! The elf singer jumps into the audience and swims it. The electrokinesist keyboard player has the idea to add colours and sparkles to the show and starts using her psionic abilities. Long lighning bolts of red, blue and yellow electricity ride in the charged atmosphere. Finally, the fuse blows and all the hangar is silent several seconds, before the stampede begins.

I see it as a mix of dynamism (meaning either fast-paced or rich in outcomes), originality, emotionality, maybe skilled characters (or just active characters), with none being mandatory, and one being able to offset the lack of others by being very powerful. So that a very original but less emotional and dynamic scene is interesting, so is a strongly emotional but less original and without dynamism scene.
It's just a guess, because I've never seriously thought about that before.

Re: Does GM Agenda determine the style of play? Is AW the Right to Dream?
« Reply #14 on: August 31, 2010, 08:00:41 AM »
To understand completely my examples selection : I've chosen not to include situations where my interest obviously comes from theme or thematic choices. So I show only situations where the interesting elements are not related to theme, or so I think : you can prove me I'm wrong and all interest comes from theme.