18 thoughts on “Adventures of Redneck Luke ‘n Genocidal Leia”

  1. I think there are two key factors in this particular game that generated such a positive experience:

    1. Familiarity: the Star Wars franchise is so well-known and well-loved, especially within the gaming community, that players have a deep-seated investment in their characters. Each player (probably) has an intimate understanding of what Luke, Leia, Han, Chewy, Obi-Wan and Darth are all about. This helps the players quickly and effectively identify their characters’ motives and methods. The players are able to play their characters passionately, and are able to play off others really well – because each player has a very good understanding of HOW the characters should play off one another.

    2. Unfamiliarity: But you weren’t playing in the Star Wars universe, you were playin in one of it’s twisted mirrors. (Did Luke have a goatee?). This allowed the players to keep those elements of each character that were familiar and useful for roleplaying, but also gave the freedom to stretch the characters in unique directions in order to put a very singular stamp on the game.

    This same kind of intimacy with the source material is difficult to reproduce with most other settings. I think that Amber is an exception, but I can’t think of any others off-hand. In most games, it’s hard to reach the kind of instinctive consensus regarding “what is this game ABOUT?” that one can get riffing off of Star Wars. Most players will have disparate imagery in their heads about the setting, which can cause roleplaying dissonance.

    I find that Shock: does one thing better that its peers: it consistently ensures that the players at the table arrive at a functional understanding of the shared imaginative space, so that the play that follows resonates.

  2. Familiarity/Unfamiliarity: You’re exactly right, David, and that’s precisely what I had in mind when I planned the game. And it worked like a charm! I think you’ve identified pretty well the factors that prevent this from working so well in a “normal game.” So how to solve it?

    Let’s unpack things a little. We’re looking for a game with:

    1) High stakes and high excitement–players lay all their cards on the table, aren’t afraid to take risks with their characters, and act in bold strokes.

    2) Characters are driven, with passionate motivations aimed at other characters, and dropped into situations where they must act, urgently.

    So given those parameters, what are some basic steps we can take to get that in long- or at least medium-term play, and overcome the “roleplaying dissonance” problem?

    I think you’re right about Shock: addressing the latter issue well. It makes discussing the various aspects and hotbutton issues of the setting and story a part of play. Are there any qualities of Shock: that you see facilitating this aside from explicitly telling players to discuss it in the first place?

  3. I’m looking at two obstacles here.

    1) Players are confused about direction, and so clash when they strive in opposite directions or sit apathetically, afraid to develop. Initially, it seems that a long-term game would work past these problems… but I say nay.

    I think that almost any long-term game actually shifts directions *Frequently*. Players strive for different things, both on the surface and underneath, every session or multiple times a session. This is the only thing that can prevent a long-term game from becoming stale, and I think that in most cases, skilled gamers do it naturally or avoid long-term games.

    So, whether in a short or a long-term game, the way that the players resolve questions of individual and group direction is a big question. If you want that high-excitement and those old strokes, then what you’re looking for is a good understanding of direction among all the players from the moment you begin play.

    2) The other obstacle is investment. What do we know about investment?

    We know that Investment = Risk, at least a lot of the time. We also know that Risk and Investment are Exciting! But what is Risk?

    Risk obviously means that there’s a chance that you will lose something. In a story game, what is there for you to lose? Of course, parts or all of your character. When you take stunts and do sweet stuff, you lay your very character on the table as the ante, and bet with her life.

    That’s what we want! That’s exciting! But what happens when you lose?

    Tricky issue. In many games, losing here is a very bad thing. Not only do you suffer for it to whatever level you were emotionally invested in your character (not necessarily a bad thing, if that’s part of the narrative experience), but you’re also *punished* for it by mechanics that kick you out of the game, or that make you *work* for hours creating a new character, etc. No wonder we think of losing in an RPG as an experience to avoid. No wonder we’re so afraid to take real risks.

    So what happens when we reward players for succeeding at risks (we already do that), reward players for taking risks (sometimes we do that), but then also find ways to reward them for failing at risks (do we have any games that inherently do that?)? I’ll leave the discussion there for now.

  4. *Those BOLD strokes, that is.

    And not just when you begin play, but when group direction changes, players must immediately adapt appropriately in order to avoid losing that dramatic momentum. *We’re telling a NEW story, now.*

  5. RE: Shock – No, other than setting up the grid I don’t think Shock: does anything specifically to encourage resonant play. There are some elements of Shock: that fall short (IMO), namely that Features and Links have little or no signifcance in the mechanics of play.

    RE: Rewarding Failure – There is a discussion happening on rpg.net about Burning Wheel, and one of the points raised is that advancement in BW pretty much requires failure. In order to improve one’s skills, one has to push one’s skills HARD. This means that the character is constantly trying things that are beyond her capacity, which will often result in failure.

    I think the key to promoting resonate play in a long-term game is to spend the time to collectively define the world with one’s players. Perhaps a la Shock:, or perhaps via some other method. The important thing is to define the desired feel and mood, the themes that should be central to the game, the types of big-picture conflicts that should rear up, the nature of the participants in those potential conflicts, etc. (I take back what I said earlier – Shock:’s Praxis are awesome for focusing how conflicts are waged).

    Shock:’s grid, plus BITs from BW or Keys from Solar System would be a good backbone on which to build.

  6. So, in the main games I’ve been working on lately (Tinkers, Stuntmen, and Shamans), a basic “Support” or “Trait” mechanic is used, ie DitV.

    I wonder what would happen if there was a Story Drive support that applied to the whole group, maybe even worth +2 or something, that could be applied to conflicts when players were striving in line with that Drive.

    I already have some rules around motivations; I could possibly use the same system for players completing, failing, or switching the Story Drive support.

    That, or similar mechanics in other games, might help make “resonate play” explicit and reward it mechanically.

    Just thinking outloud here, but maybe Story Drive doesn’t have to be a quest or drive for the characters. It could be a narrative goal for the players. For example, “Build up character relationships to create powerful payoff when characters must choose to betray or die.” might be a narrative goal, or theme, of the group. Maybe when any player is explicitly working towards this outcome, they can apply this as a “Trait”.

    Thoughts?

  7. Wow, a lot of awesome stuff. First, Julian:

    “I think that almost any long-term game actually shifts directions *Frequently*. Players strive for different things, both on the surface and underneath, every session or multiple times a session.”

    You’re on to something there. A willingness to be flexible, to shift directions dramatically and often, to ride that flow rather than fight it. That’s an invaluable trait in a player of this kind of game.

    “Risk obviously means that there’s a chance that you will lose something. In a story game, what is there for you to lose? Of course, parts or all of your character. When you take stunts and do sweet stuff, you lay your very character on the table as the ante, and bet with her life.”

    One key to facilitating this is make failure safe–not in terms of fictional consequences, but rather safe for participation and enjoyment of play. In other words, fictional failure doesn’t mean sitting out this session, and/or losing your investment in your character–unless you’re ready for that. So I don’t necessarily think of risking death as essential, but rather risking pain. I like games like Heroquest, Solar System, or Dogs in the Vineyard, that largely take death off the table except as deliberate choice, and push the explicit introduction of pain, suffering and loss as risks in a conflict.

    More to come!

  8. David:

    Shock:’s Praxis are awesome for focusing how conflicts are waged.

    Hell yeah! That’s a brilliant little nugget in Shock: that’s nestled snugly beneath the star players, the Shocks and Issues. By naming two pairs of opposites and saying “these four things are how people get things done in this setting,” you say TONS about what kind of story you’re telling and how play will proceed. I suspect that goes a long way toward lending consistency to long-term play while also ensuring it doesn’t stagnate–after all, you’ve got these obvious references for conflict points built into your resolution system!

  9. “A willingness to be flexible, to shift directions dramatically and often, to ride that flow rather than fight it. That’s an invaluable trait in a player of this kind of game.”

    I’m not seeing this as willingness, per se. Most of the time, players are willing to do the best that they know how to do, given the environment. Most games we make provide clues to what players should be doing. We call that tone, or themes, or setting… however we can improve our communication to players what goals are motivating them and their characters.

    “One key to facilitating this is make failure safe–not in terms of fictional consequences, but rather safe for participation and enjoyment of play. In other words, fictional failure doesn’t mean sitting out this session, and/or losing your investment in your character–unless you’re ready for that. So I don’t necessarily think of risking death as essential, but rather risking pain. I like games like Heroquest, Solar System, or Dogs in the Vineyard, that largely take death off the table except as deliberate choice, and push the explicit introduction of pain, suffering and loss as risks in a conflict.”

    Regardless of whether we’re talking suffering, death, loss, etc, I think that what we’re really talking about is putting something on the table and losing the bet. Now, what I want is for taking these risks to be exciting, but at the same time for failing at these risks, as well as succeeding at them, to be rewarding. Can we meet both of those goals? Can we have real players who are really excited about what they perceive as “risks”, who at the same time actually receive a sense of well-being or excitement when they fail at these same risks?

  10. Should one receive a sense of well-being and excitement from failure? High-stakes poker players are fond of saying “the only thing more intense than winning a big pot is losing one.” Part of being invested in one’s character is taking that hit when one “loses.” It’s what makes “winning” so sweet.

    I think what were after are players willing to ride the rollercoaster of succeed-fail-succeed-fail and to revel in the peaks and suffer through the valleys. So much of risk-averse play fills in the valleys and, unfortunately, flattens the peaks. I question whether it is a fruitful design goal to provide a constant positive “winning” experience.

    NOTE: I use the terms “winning” and “losing” very loosely, because I personally don’t think RPGs can be “won” or “lost”, sensu stricto.

  11. I think there are different values of “fun,” “exciting,” “satisfying,” etc. when it comes to losing and failure. Wanting to win yet accepting loss is a tricky thing. We want failure to be felt–that’s the “hit me, I can take it!” aspect of Story by the Throat!–while still allowing robust participation.

    So failure isn’t an end state. . .it’s a painful blow that registers as negative purely because we care about the emotions and experiences of our fictional characters. That was missing in our Star Wars game. There was little emotional investment and thus heinous acts and horrible fates were met with glee. I think emotional investment and vulnerability is what long-term play brings to the party, and the key to coupling it with the passion of the short-term is ensuring that failure is not game over. In fact, it occurs to me that it’s precisely in having to forge on in the face of fictional grief and suffering that creates the emotional resonance we’re seeking.

  12. I think that it’s possible for “failure” in an RPG to be rewarding, to be exciting, for the player. Many of my best experiences in RPGs have involved characters who I am emotionally invested in failing in some kickass way. My worst experiences in RPGs have involved characters who I am emotionally invested in failing in a way that was not rewarding. If the group is structured constructively, then I expect to find that the players naturally enjoy both their successes and failures. We’re just not used to thinking of actually trying to make a game that rewards failures, even though we casually discuss how awesome thrilling fails are.

  13. And I don’t think think that having thrilling failures detracts from having thrilling successes either, nor from emotional vulnerability and connection with one’s character.

  14. Notice–I totally meant to link the games I was talking about above–most notably Stafford and Laws’ Heroquest! They’re linkified now. Mike Holmes’ Heroquest dissertation on how to get dynamic, high-investment, dramatically-structured play in a long-term play environment is particularly apt. He’s talks there about making failure interesting, and expands on the concept in a further essay. His points are a major source of my thoughts on the subject. I’ll try to expand on that a bit when I have time.

  15. Greetings!
    saw your posts recently. i am the creator of the Skywalker Paradigm. the site’s been down as the content has been severely revamped – i had tried to make a cable access show about it and there has been an ongoing attempt at a novelization. the idea is that there are no plot holes, that you need nothing else but the movies themselves to see a seemingly hidden story that is not hidden at all. i’ve given public lectures mostly in portland (there’s an informal one being hosted on jan 8th). feel free to contact me to discuss any aspect of the paradigm (trying to get it back online, promise)
    -jack,
    thelivinggodammonra
    at
    gmail

  16. Jack, that’s wonderful to hear! In my enthusiasm I’ve managed to gather a small but enthusiastic band of Skywalker Paradigm affectionados, and we’ve all been heartbroken to see the Paradigm disappear from the web. I’ll email you about the Jan. 8 gathering; I’d love to come. Alternatively, if you don’t mind posting the info here, I’m sore several of my readers would like to come too!

    I’m not sure if you’ve seen this forum thread, but it explores the Skywalker Paradigm itself in a bit more depth than this blog post. I daresay it’s currently the best summary of the Paradigm available on the internet. 🙂

    By the way, I am totally down with your premise that the Paradigm interpretation is a picture of the story that’s entirely present in the movies as is. That said, roleplaying requires a bit more freedom of action, and I hope you find our reimagined story to your liking! We certainly enjoyed ourselves! I think of it not as altering the Paradigm’s interpretation, but accelerating it.

    Peace,
    -Joel

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