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2017 - week 13

Two major topics this week that kind of went hand in hand.

How Do You Describe a Specific Setting During Sessions?

Make the players take advantage of the environment by create bonuses around certain areas or objects, or doing as OSR and kill them unless they crack a smart plan to fight the monster - often by using the environment to their advantage. It's possible to divide up a combat area in different zones with different environmental advantages or behaviors. You could also do as in Feng Shui and have a pre-written list of things that could happen or be used during a fight and start describing them before a fight starts. If the players doesn't use the props, let the opponents use them. And also, in real life, people can and often will intervene if two people gets to fight. Remember that in the next bar brawl.

Don't just use visual descriptions, but sound, smell, how people are like, and even feelings. It's more rewarding to use literary descriptions, “He reeked of 20% sweat and 80% desperation”, or “She looms over you with a heavy impression” rather than describing how a person is tall. Focusing on objects and describing every single detail makes the players passive, but giving vague descriptions make them active while they are trying to paint the picture in their heads.

Finally, have a list of descriptive words that you constantly reuse to set the setting. If you got different areas in a castle, town, or space ship, write a summary of impressions of those places and focus on describing the differences when they are moving from one area to another. “As you reach the downtown, the number of lights has significantly decreased”. It's also important to get everyone on the same page, and we talked a little bit of what could happen if players' expectations of a setting or reality clashed with the game master.

Roll Before You Describe

We also discussed fortune-in-the-middle, it's advantages as well as the disadvantages. Fortune in the Middle is basically giving the player a choice to affect the outcome, whether it comes in mechanics or by deciding how the roll affects the fiction.

  • In Feng Shui, the players gets to describe whatever they like, but unless the setting is clear for all the players, killing someone can be described as shooting someone or kicking them to the moon.
  • After a while, at least in Feng Shui, describing can become superficial. It doesn't matter what they describe if the mechanics are the important part of the outcome.
  • Describing can become repetitive, and after seven rounds, the descriptions are usually fading, and the players more focus on the mechanics (“I did 13 in damage”).
  • Using bonuses can take away the fun of describing, and should be avoided, but could work as a starting point to make the players get the grasp. However, this can be done with techniques as well.

While it might seem like Fortune in the Middle can be used with most roleplaying game systems, there are some pitfalls to avoid. The American way is to solve this with mechanics, like picking stuff from a list in Apocalypse World or giving mechanical decisions, like in Burning Wheels. The Swedish way is to challenge the players with banana descriptions. How do they fight, using a banana? Entering a space ship, using a banana? Surviving a fall, using a banana?

Another pitfall is to use descriptive mechanics, like Lock Pick, or using a sword in a fight. Lock Pick tells the player exactly what happens, and therefor put restrictions on the imagination. Imagine instead attacking someone with love, like how works in Psychodrame - where people fights verbally within a dysfunctional family. Beside using a feeling, Psychodrame also affects how the conversation is done by imposing a way of communicating, like “avoidance” or “manipulation”.

  • No more unfruitful descriptions. In Fortune in the End - like how most trad games work - a player can do a description but then the whole description is cancelled by a failed roll.
  • Naturally creates more details with the rolls. Imagine a superhero game, where the characters fails. Sure, it can happen but how about instead describing how something unexpected in the environment made the hero fail? So the hero isn't bad, it's just a bad moment or tough luck. For ordinary characters, the wall was too steep - that's why the character failed. Also, if using banana descriptions, each roll will tell more and more about the character.
  • Letting the players describe takes some of the burden off the game master.
  • Bonuses matters. If you get a +2 on a roll, and the roll fails, then the bonus was useless. If the bonus instead is added after the roll to make the roll succeed, then applying the bonus is always fruitful.

All in all, Fortune in the Middle and Fortune in the End are probably basically the same thing in most groups, but the terms are there to make people aware of different describing techniques.

2017_-_week_13.txt · Last modified: 2017/03/31 06:02 by rickard

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