an instance of Step On Up

  • 34 Replies
  • 22781 Views
*

lumpley

  • 1293
an instance of Step On Up
« on: September 19, 2010, 09:23:23 AM »
For Simon C!

It's a couple of years ago. Sebastian, then 11, is running Storming the Wizard's Tower for me and Elliot, then 8. We're trying out the Scary Monsters rules, in a modern-day setting. My character is a wizard/librarian and Elliot's is a fighter/cop. There's something that's been attacking municipal sewer workers and their representative contacts us for help.

Sebastian's created these slightly heinous undead rat things, serving a boss-necromancer of some sewery sort. He throws the first one at us and, like, crap, man. It takes a chunk out of Elliot's guy. We manage to beat it but Sebastian and I both see that I've used up too much of my spell casting resources, and Elliot's used up too much of his not-bleeding-out resources. We might be able to take another one, mmmaybe two more of these things.

"What do you do?" Sebastian says.

"Pff," I say. "We've got some tricks left up our sleeves. Let's go deeper in, yeah, Elliot?"

"Yeah!" Elliot says. "Bring it on!"

We don't really have any tricks left up our sleeves. I play the dice just as hard as I can, but Sebastian's no slouch at that himself. The next encounter is three rat-zombies working together and that gives them access to some tactical plays we just can't deal with. Elliot and I try to concentrate our fire - Elliot's guy's gunfire, my guy's magical backup - but we can't concentrate our fire AND protect my vulnerable low-endurance butt, so the end result is that they swarm us.

Elliot's guy drags my guy out of the sewers. I'm alive, the game's forgiving that way, but I'm going to be playing a different character next session while this guy recovers in the hospital.

"Oh man, I'm really sorry," Sebastian says. "I didn't know I'd just own you like that. You never even saw the sewer necromancer!"

Sebastian loves to win, but worries that he'll gloat, so apologizes instead. "There's no apologizing in Storming the Wizard's Tower!" I say.

"Oh, right. I'm not sorry! But I'm sorry."

The end.

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #1 on: September 20, 2010, 02:17:21 AM »
Hi!

Like I said in the other thread: I buy it. As in, I can relate to that experience of play. It sounds like play I've experienced myself, more or less, and I'm not thinking "hey, you're leaving out the important bits!" or anything. The important bits are right there.

But!

The next encounter is three rat-zombies working together and that gives them access to some tactical plays we just can't deal with. Elliot and I try to concentrate our fire - Elliot's guy's gunfire, my guy's magical backup - but we can't concentrate our fire AND protect my vulnerable low-endurance butt, so the end result is that they swarm us.

Elliot's guy drags my guy out of the sewers. I'm alive, the game's forgiving that way, but I'm going to be playing a different character next session while this guy recovers in the hospital.

There are some choices happening here, right? Like, Elliot could have been like "screw your vulnerable butt, I'm outta here!" It would be highly unusual, and probably would never actually happen in the scope of normal play, but it's an allowable thing in the rules (I'm going by an old playtest version of the rules here, so I don't know this for sure). The game doesn't hit you over the head with a big "You lose" here either, right? You just keep on playing? You're choosing, as characters and as players, to stick by each other and support each other against this threat.

The choice isn't exactly a "live" option. If you choose not to stand up to the challenge, you're basically choosing not to engage with the game. But it is a choice. It's what I'd call "Phatic". We go through the motions of it being a choice, even though we all know that it's not really. Does that sound accurate?


*

Chris

  • 342
Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #2 on: September 20, 2010, 08:09:07 AM »
The game doesn't hit you over the head with a big "You lose" here either, right? You just keep on playing? You're choosing, as characters and as players, to stick by each other and support each other against this threat.

The choice isn't exactly a "live" option. If you choose not to stand up to the challenge, you're basically choosing not to engage with the game.

Sure, but if that is a consistent mode of play for the players, if they keep making that choice not to engage the game on its own terms, then yes, you get a "You lose" moment. Because that's what the game does well and choosing not to play the game in the areas that the game does well is a CA problem. And it drags games out and makes them less enjoyable.
A player of mine playing a gunlugger - "So now that I took infinite knives, I'm setting up a knife store." Me - "....what?" Him - "Yeah, I figure with no overhead, I'm gonna make a pretty nice profit." Me - "......"

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #3 on: September 20, 2010, 09:27:19 AM »
We don't really have any tricks left up our sleeves. I play the dice just as hard as I can...

Yeah. I've never seen D&D played this way. Not unless there's something to lose by pushing on.

In most instances, the players will evaluate their resources. If they feel like they have enough to go on, they will. If they're depleted of "tricks" as you call them, they won't (this is where the complaint of the '15-minute workday' comes in for a lot of D&D games - we fight till our resources are depleted, sometimes in an encounter or two, then we rest and sometimes that takes about 15 minutes). 

Unless... unless there's a motivation to go on. "The mayor's daughter was taken by the necromancer! Unless we get there by midnight, she'll be turned into a demon rat!"

So, in that instance, it's a choice of "risk vs. reward".

But, pushing on just to push on, with no resources and letting the dice determine the outcome. Never seen that.

Is this what you'd consider Step On Up play? Challenging yourself despite the lack of resources to take on challenges? I guess it could depend on the system too.

*

lumpley

  • 1293
Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #4 on: September 20, 2010, 10:00:39 AM »
Michael: Oh, yeah, no. In this case, it's more like there's nothing to lose by pushing on. The game's designed to reward you when you take chances, not punish you into conservative play. We're better off fighting on until we're truly beaten than ditching out as soon as it turns against us. I can say more about that if you like.

Simon: I wouldn't say either of those things, no.

Elliot's character might have abandoned mine, but that would have constituted a worse loss than we suffered. Under some circumstances, he would have been forced to abandon me; under others, he'd have had to make a cost-reward decision about it, but neither of those happened. The way things turned out, it would have been poor play, straightforwardly, for his character to abandon mine, like if he'd failed to collect rent from someone who landed on his hotel. If he chooses to do that, it's like choosing to come to poker night without bringing any nickels: it's choosing not to play at all.

Same with choosing not to go into the sewers in the first place. There's literally no other game than "we go into the sewers to fight these rat things." We can undertake prep and stuff beforehand, of course, but if I say, "no, my character has a date tonight" or whatever, that's identical to saying "I don't want to play after all." If I do that, we put the dice and character sheets away and find something else to do with our afternoon.

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #5 on: September 20, 2010, 10:02:56 AM »
Michael: Oh, yeah, no. In this case, it's more like there's nothing to lose by pushing on. The game's designed to reward you when you take chances, not punish you into conservative play. We're better off fighting on until we're truly beaten than ditching out as soon as it turns against us. I can say more about that if you like.

That suffices. It's a difference in system and not Step On Up play. And, honestly, it's a big design flaw I see in D&D. I like that you're taking the approach that pushing on is rewarding vs. D&D's approach.

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #6 on: September 20, 2010, 10:29:18 AM »
Quote
We're better off fighting on until we're truly beaten than ditching out as soon as it turns against us. I can say more about that if you like.

Actually, I would kind of like to hear the rationale behind this.  Don't get me wrong -- I think it's great, honestly! -- I'm probably just not putting two and two together, but I'm just mainly curious what (stated or unstated) design goal that decision serves.

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #7 on: September 20, 2010, 04:09:15 PM »
The way things turned out, it would have been poor play, straightforwardly, for his character to abandon mine, like if he'd failed to collect rent from someone who landed on his hotel. If he chooses to do that, it's like choosing to come to poker night without bringing any nickels: it's choosing not to play at all.

Huh. Ok. That is very different to D&D play I've experienced, where "press on or go home" is a pretty big part of the decisionmaking (and the game would be less fun if it wasn't). The way you're describing it does sound like it's not the same as the way I play D&D.

So, in actuality, you can't choose just to go back home. In the fiction you can though right? I mean, we imagine our characters as having that choice, we just never take it?

Also! Why is it a loss to play a different character next session? Same chance of winning, right?

*

lumpley

  • 1293
Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #8 on: September 20, 2010, 04:56:25 PM »
It's a loss to play a different character next session because now I'm spreading my experience points thinner. My new character doesn't benefit from this session's play, and this character doesn't benefit from next session's. On the other hand, it's a gain to play a different character next session because maybe THAT character will have a higher endurance, or otherwise be better suited to taking on this particular problem.

Now! Elliot and I choosing together to press on, or to ditch out and go home, THAT was a choice we made. You can see it in my writeup. After that first encounter, we could have been like, "okay Sebastian, you win round 1, but we're going to go make a better plan and find a third player and get some new tricks up our sleeves and THEN we'll see." That's a risk-vs-reward decision that we made.

However, notice that then it's still all about fighting the monster, and Sebastian, our GM, is under no obligation to give us anything else to do. He'd be like, "okay, make your plan, find a third player, spend your XP and your gold, I'll be here waiting." If I'm like, "my character goes on a date," Sebastian shrugs and says "okay. Let me know when you go back into the sewers." Even if we play out the date, for whatever reason, and let my character have relationships and passions and crap like that, in the back of both our heads we're calculating how this is going to change my character's performance vs the rat zombies and future monsters.

So even when we do enact a narrative, it's only a backdrop to the actual event. The actual event is the contest, Sebastian and his monsters vs me, Elliot, and our characters. Absent that contest, there's no event at all. The narrative doesn't bring us to the table; without the contest, we don't play and the narrative evaporates.

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #9 on: September 20, 2010, 04:58:26 PM »
What if Sebastian has the monster snatch up your new girlfriend? :) That's what I'd do.

*

lumpley

  • 1293
Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #10 on: September 20, 2010, 05:05:11 PM »
He can do that if he wants, but I'm not playing obstructively so he's under no pressure to. If I'm drawing play out to avoid, y'know, playing, then I suck and he should call me on it.

Grabbing my character's girlfriend would be a tactical move, to change the tactical landscape, not to do any bullshit like testing my loyalties or whatever.

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #11 on: September 20, 2010, 05:46:22 PM »
He can do that if he wants, but I'm not playing obstructively so he's under no pressure to. If I'm drawing play out to avoid, y'know, playing, then I suck and he should call me on it.

Grabbing my character's girlfriend would be a tactical move, to change the tactical landscape, not to do any bullshit like testing my loyalties or whatever.

Lol oh yeah!

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #12 on: September 21, 2010, 12:52:18 AM »
So even when we do enact a narrative, it's only a backdrop to the actual event. The actual event is the contest, Sebastian and his monsters vs me, Elliot, and our characters. Absent that contest, there's no event at all. The narrative doesn't bring us to the table; without the contest, we don't play and the narrative evaporates.

Cool. Yup. I buy that. Why does the game need a backdrop? Why does that make play more fun? How does that make play more fun?

Possibly related, what are the three GM agendas for Storming the Wizard's tower?

Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #13 on: September 21, 2010, 09:24:02 AM »
And, sure enough, duh on me.  :P  Makes sense.

*

lumpley

  • 1293
Re: an instance of Step On Up
« Reply #14 on: September 21, 2010, 10:15:00 AM »
Jim, if you have any questions left about Storming the Wizard's Tower, pop up to the "other games" forum and ask away, I'll be happy to answer them.

Simon, a backdrop of narrative stuff - passions, conflicts - doesn't make this kind of play more fun at all, UNLESS it adds tactical complexity. When it does add tactical complexity to play, THEN it's fun (and that's how it's fun). Otherwise it's intrusive non-play. You can imagine me talking about my character's girlfriend instead of playing the game, and Seb and Elliot are rolling their eyes, or packing up, or going on without me.

Here's the GM's job in Storming the Wizard's Tower:
Quote
The GM preps for each session of play. Choose someone who’ll commit to creating things for the game in her free time, when you aren’t playing.

The GM is the referee. The GM has to know the rules pretty well and has to be impartial in applying them. Choose someone who’ll learn the rules and who has a strong sense of fair play.

The GM doesn’t get to control and play a single character, but has to be all the non-characters and monsters in the game. Choose someone who doesn’t mind letting other people take the spotlight.

The GM has to make sure that everyone gets a turn and that everyone’s ideas get heard, and then has to challenge everyone. Choose someone who can hold everyone’s attention when that’s what has to happen.