11 comments on “Collaborative Roleplaying “Games”

  1. Pingback: Push: New Thinking About Roleplaying » Blog Archive » Initial GenCon Notes

  2. Michael,

    I’m here from Jon’s link over on the Push site, so I’ve got a bit of bias coming into things… Still…

    The question that often arises in my mind when these sorts of discussions come up, especially when people cite the sort of things that you have as reasons that GM control of some sort is good (and I’m not disagreeing), is this: what do you get out of GMing?

    It seems clear that you feel that your players are at their happiest when they get to perform ‘honest and truthful characterization of their respective characters’, and when they get some amount of creative input. What is it that you get out of GMing? I ask because you seem to indicate that it can’t be the same thing, since considering metagame issues precludes the most honest/truthful characterizations.

    If your fun is coming from creative control, or something like that, then it seems (well, ‘selfish’ is too strong a word, but I’ll use it anyway) selfish to deny them that fun and stick them with some other fun (the characterization stuff) as a substitute.

    It is, of course, possible that they simply prefer characterization-fun and you prefer other-fun, or that all of you prefer characterization-fun, but someone has to take one for the team and run the game. How does all of this match up with your own experience in play?


  3. Thomas,

    Awesome questions! And I don’t mind being called selfish at all. In a way I agree with you about the ‘label’ but it is a gray area because I also feel in some ways it is self-less.

    What do I get out of GMing? Much the same thing as I get out of directing. I’ll explain that shortly. Let me just state up front I prefer directing film – which, admittedly – provides more creative control to the director than the actor; stage directing I think gives more creative control to the actor. However, I also love directing for the stage so it’s kind of like enjoying two different desserts. Pie you like for one reason. But cake for another.

    Anyway, when I direct and, by extension, when I GM, what I most enjoy is crafting the overall picture. Watching this tale unfold (I’m a big advocate of open-ended storylines – meaning I never script out a story but do know or focus varying elements in order for the players (actors) to engage) is what excites me and I find creatively fulfilling.

    That said, with your question about ‘denying them some other fun’, I completely agree. It DOES deny the players/actors this aspect – to a certain extent.(1) However, in my experience, during the game, just as with acting, they shouldn’t be worried about this. And if they want to they’re completely welcome to GM something themselves.

    As I mentioned in the article, I’ve seen the collaborative thing first hand. I’ve seen it only once in a gaming situation (it was a disaster.) I don’t deny that’s limited experience, and I’m certain there are probably folks out there who could make it work, I’ve just never seen it. In the long run, it’s like the old saying ‘too many cooks spoil the broth.’ If everyone is worried about cooking it, no one every gets the experience and enjoyment of eating it.

    Now, collaboration BEFORE the game begins? That’s a whole other issue. I have aboslutely no problem with that sort of input. For example, I’ll often say “I’m going to run a fanasy game” and then ask the players, “What do you guys want to do with it?” In this part of the process we banter and neogitation, creating what I think a good deal of the collaborative points Emily was trying to make in her article. I’m all for that. In fact, the game would be a mere shadow of itself without this (for the record, I do this with my actors during a production as well). I just feel that once the game starts, we need one chef/chief in order for the process to be enjoyed at its best by everyone.

    Now that was entirely too long winded and I hope I didn’t bore you. Thanks for stopping by and by all means, let’s continue the debate. I’m actually more and more intrigued by this stuff as I read stuff from Jonathan’s site (he’s my looking glass into the cutting edge for this ol’ grognard.)

    (1) In my experience, I’ve found that during the game players don’t get to enjoy this element of gaming, but afterwards, as they reflect back on how the game went and they talk to each other about it, they then DO take part in it because they can see how the story unfolded – it just doesn’t happen DURING the game.

  4. Michael,

    Awesome answers, and some possible context. I’ve met most of Emily’s playing group, and most of them want what you want out of a game. They’re the type of people who prefer to direct rather than act. My own local group is mostly the same way.

    Basically, if we were to have just a single GM and everyone else had to play ‘just’ their character (especially if they weren’t ‘allowed’ to think about and utilize meta-stuff during play), then everyone but the GM would feel somewhat robbed. They would be acting so that someone could direct, even though they’d all rather be directing.

    Not all groups are like this. In fact, the ‘traditional’ group seems to be built around a single director and a party of actors. Though it’s somewhat unclear whether this is based on actual desires for play, or simple cultural pressure, at least some significant number of groups are extremely happy with this paradigm.

    As you say, such players are free to start their own game, but organizing a game is actually more than just the directing. My theater experience isn’t all that great, but being the GM is sort of like being the director and the producer and the company manager all at once. What if you just want to direct, but not do any of that other stuff? The current ‘traditional’ model makes that awfully difficult.

    So, what about your own group? Do you see any players who might be good ‘directors’? Or even players who might, if given the chance, love to direct, but feel that that’s not their job?


  5. Well, my own group. I’ll speak mostly about past groups as the current group has been in such a state of flux that it wouldn’t be fair to at least one of them who I haven’t gamed with long enough.

    To be perfectly blunt and forthright, I think over the past years of gaming there haven’t been many that I think would make good GMs. They didn’t have the … expansionist vision (that’s sounds terribly pretentious but I can’t think of another way to describe it right now) that a director/GM needs. There’s usually, however, been one in every group (at least) who has the potential, but more often then not, when pressed (or encouraged) they never liked doing it. Currently, I’d say that Jonathan (although he’s now gone to bigger things in MA :P) had that potential. As I mentioned before, I was trying to get him to run a Nobilis game (I have it, read it, read it again and still had tons of questions but LOVED some of the ideas). But he wimped out and ran like a dog.

    You’re definitely right about the organizing. I hate that part myself. If I had a player who would take that on and gather everyone together, it make life much more enjoyable but, alas, as you pointed out, that generally falls to the GM. But now that you brought it up, I may actually push this issue at the next session. Maybe even do a round robin sort of thing. I did this once for a while with a long runing VtM game. I assigned one player each session to record (diary or whatever form) the session and then posted it to the website. One of the players loved that and wrote wonderful synopsis. Another liked having it done, and even enjoyed reading his own, but it was like pulling teeth to get him to do it. The third hated doing it at all. It varied but it was an experiment. I won’t actually do that specifically again, as it didn’t go over exceptionally well. But I’ve also decided that I won’t write synopsis for the players either. If they don’t take their own notes, and they forget something it’s not my job to remind them or correct them if they remember it wrong. If they want to be more immersed, their welcome to do it but you can only hold-hands so far.

    Funny, the above makes it sound like I’ve got a lot of lazy players. And in a sense, it is true. I think most players, much like most ‘actors’ are lazy. They don’t want to ‘work’ to make the game better. They’d much rather just show up, hang out, roll some dice, interact a bit and then go home. I envy Emily’s group in one way, they’re all dynamically motivated to make the game better. I would love to have more players who get involved (and believe me, I encourage it a lot, it’s not for lack of ‘not feeling it’s their job’ or ‘not knowing they could do that.’

    With Emily’s group as a model, how do things actually get played? With everyone trying to ‘direct’ or wanting to and feeling unfulfilled if they don’t, how do decisison get made? I think more time would be spent discussing how to do something (when there is decension) than actually playing. This is my own expereince at least. I’m curious how they handle these situations. As a GM, if a rule discussion or a plot development discussion happens, I prefer it be before or after the game. We can debate it as much or as little as preferred. In game, though, I’ll take some suggestions during, but I don’t dwell very long before making a decision and moving on. That way, we play, we don’t metagame.

    You can tell I’m not a metagame fan. I absolutely see how some people would love it – reading Jonathan’s blogs always makes me wonder how he could stand being around me ;)) but I still think it lends to more debate and not playing.

    Whew, you keep getting me all longwinded. Hope that’s coherent.

  6. Michael,

    I was trying to figure out something that might help, and all I could come up with is this.

    That’s a 2-hour recording of a playtest of Ben Lehman’s forthcoming game The Drifter’s Escape that we played at Gen Con. It’s sort of GM-less. It’s a long listen, and it’s got some aggravating background noise, but I think it’s probably much more useful than me trying to explain how this stuff works…


  7. Excelllent, Thomas!

    I’ll give the first one a listen tonight at home.

    When you’ve got a link for the other, send it my way and I’ll have a go at it as well.


  8. Michael,

    At the moment, the only other recordings I have on-hand are one from the game of Agon we played at the con, which is significantly more traditional in design and play, and a pair of recordings from our local Capes game which I don’t have permission to share publicly (yet).

    That said, I’m totally willing to discuss the recording above…

    Oh, and if you’re curious, here’s the recording of our Agon game.


  9. Hey T,

    Took me a bit longer than expected but I listend to drifter’s escape recording from Gen Con.

    Funny thing, this reminded me a lot of ‘table talk’ when I direct a play. To clarify, when I direct, I tend t have individual meetings with my actors to discuss their character and the relationship to the ‘world’ they’re in. Then the first week of rehearsal is spent sitting around a table, reading therough the play, and hashing out all sorts of details that flesh out the backgrounds of everyone in relation to everyone else. That sort of thing.

    I think this is a wonderful tool and it creates a strong base from which the actor can leap when the full blown rehearsals launch.

    For gaming, I’ve tried various methods to do this in the past (i.e. profiles that ask explicit questions, etc.) I very rarely get players that will take it to heart and run with it. I’ve tried it as well on the first session of a game, much like what it sounds like in this recording, that seems to work best and usually entails some very intersting stuff.

    I will say one thing about the recording. Judging by the sounds of everyone and the input (and I know I wasn’t there so this is an incomplete assumption at best) it seems to me that all of these people love CREATING the game more than PLAYING the game.

    Not that there is anything wrong with that at all. As I said, that’s actually why I love GMing and directing more so than playing and acting.

    A questions, if this is the case (and we’re going with an assumption not a truth here) do these games last long or generally do the people get to a point where they would rather go back and start creating again and the game itself gets put to the wayside?

  10. No problem on the delay, I had a grueling weekend anyway, and wouldn’t have seen this 🙂

    I think we’re running into a terminology clash at a fundamental level here. When you say ‘it seems to me that all of these people love CREATING the game more than PLAYING the game’, all I can do is scratch my head… Here’s why:

    Here’s my breakdown of what play was like:

    First 5~10 minutes, basic rules explanation. From there to about 0:35 or so is scenario setup (which, in most games, is done as GM prep). From there out? That’s what I call play. For us, at that table, that’s what playing is. This means that I’m a bit unsure what distinction you’re making between ‘creating’ and ‘playing’ here. (Also, it’s worth noting that the ‘prep’ stuff is really a part of play too…)

    So, could you clarify the difference you’re getting at?

    As for length, many of these games are designed for ‘short-term’ play. Something on the order of 6 to 30 hours of total play from start to finish. That said, I’ve seen them run significantly longer (multiple hundreds of hours).

    Assuming I’m correctly understanding the ‘creating/playing’ distinction you’re trying to make (which I’m not at all sure I am), then because play always sounds like this, there’s no need to start a new game to ‘get back to it’.


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