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TOPIC: What does the ref­eree do now…?

What does the ref­eree do now…? 9 years 9 months ago #103

  • IanP.
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Greet­ings all.

A few years ago I brought up the sub­ject of player-​driven story with a ref­eree who had only ever run referee-​driven story with a tra­di­tional RPG. At the end of the spiel he said, quite sim­ply — “Why would I want to run a game like that? All I’d get to do is arbi­trate the results of your dice rolls…

So my ques­tion to you is this: how do you make the pitch to your ref­eree that they’ll actu­ally have more fun play­ing Blade than they do play­ing a tra­di­tional RPG where they own the game world and con­trol the story?

Regards,
Ian P.
Fama nihil est celerius
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Last Edit: 9 years 8 months ago by IanP..
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What does trhe ref­eree do now…? 9 years 9 months ago #105

  • Sly­moon
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Very good sub­ject Ian.

As the pri­mary GM/​DM/​Referee for my group I have often asked myself this very ques­tion. As I have stated in the past, my gam­ing group seems to be not of the ‘nor­mal’ kind. As in, I typ­i­cally have a pri­mary story arc that I per­son­ally am inter­ested about explor­ing. (lets face it the GM/​Ref­eree wants to have fun too.)
Get­ting to the pri­mary story arc involves cus­tom writ­ten minor story arcs and sce­nar­ios writ­ten directly from the char­ac­ters back­grounds and in game char­ac­ter devel­op­ment that comes up. I typ­i­cally write one to two sce­nar­ios ahead, flesh­ing out the specifics as we get closer to that sce­nario.

In light of the idea behind player dri­ven story, it actu­ally makes me very unsure as to my role in the game. It also makes me unsure of my ‘respon­si­bil­i­ties’, after all if the play­ers can opt to side track wher­ever they wish, I have to be a mas­ter ‘on the fly’ sce­nario crafts­man. NPCs with per­son­al­i­ties and back­grounds have to be swirling at my fin­ger­tips as well as locals, cities, land­scape or what­ever else may be needed to make the scene feel real to the play­ers.
The thought of all of that is daunt­ing and leads me to think I need to some­how find a magic income font so I can run Blade full time as a Job!

Now real­is­ti­cally I know that sim­ply can not be true.

My add-​on ques­tion to Ian is: how do I make the pitch to myself about ref­er­ee­ing such a sys­tem.

Another item I am really look­ing for­ward to dig­ging into.
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What does trhe ref­eree do now…? 9 years 9 months ago #106

Is the dichotomy between player-​driven and referee-​driven games really just about being able to rail­road your play­ers? Peo­ple don’t like player-​driven games because they can’t rail­road their play­ers into a pre­pared plot arc? They think it’s hard work react­ing to player choices dur­ing play?

Rail­road­ing is just bad role­play­ing (though not nec­es­sar­ily bad gam­ing). The GM spends loads of cre­ative energy imag­in­ing the deci­sions his play­ers will make and plan­ning for every pos­si­ble out­come just to lead the story in a cer­tain direc­tion that prob­a­bly wasn’t their first choice any­way. He lit­er­ally dic­tates player deci­sions through plot devices. The game becomes rollplay­ing because every rp sit­u­a­tion is really just a Hobson’s choice or a stat-​based dice roll between pre­pared options. Even worse is when the GM reads off pre­pared descrip­tions of peo­ple straight from a note­card. That’s about as immers­ing as a power-​point pre­sen­ta­tion. Or, if he has some per­for­mance skill, it’s about as immers­ing as a library sto­ry­book hour.

Player-​driven sto­ries force the GM to work on prepar­ing the mate­r­ial that mat­ters. The stuff that makes role­play­ing fun.

1. Design­ing NPCs. Devel­op­ing plot-​important NPCs to such detail that the GM can use their per­son­al­ity, tools, and motives to react flu­idly to events in the story is impor­tant. Play­ers already do just that with their char­ac­ters. I always hear GM’s say, “OH NO! My play­ers did some­thing cre­ative I wasn’t expect­ing! My encounter with the bad guy is totally ruined!” Why the hell can’t YOU do some­thing cre­ative they weren’t expect­ing right back?.… Why is the GM the least cre­ative per­son in your group?!

2. Learn­ing sto­ry­telling tech­niques. When some­thing unex­pected hap­pens (read: when­ever your play­ers do any­thing), the GM needs to react quickly and cre­atively. New GMs or peo­ple who only play DND cam­paign books have no clue how to do this and pee them­selves like lit­tle girls. Expe­ri­enced GMs usu­ally have plenty of ideas. Though most expe­ri­enced GMs can’t explain why they don’t pee them­selves every time they have to bull­shit through an entire ses­sion, it usu­ally has to do with hav­ing picked up some sto­ry­telling skill. Which, if noth­ing else, means recy­cling tropes ( tvtropes​.org/​p​m​w​i​k​i​/​p​m​w​i​k​i​.​p​h​p​/​M​a​i​n​/​H​o​m​e​P​a​g​e ) and hav­ing plenty of fun-​to-​play char­ac­ters (www.enginepublishing.com/masks-1000-memo…any-roleplaying-game) to fall back on. Because most GMs are ama­teur (or think they’re pro­fes­sional) writ­ers, it shouldn’t be too hard to fig­ure out what kind of plot twists you like to fall back on when the group needs you to shout AND THEN SOME­THING HAP­PENS! So many GMs say, “But they want to go some­where I didn’t plan for!” …why do you care so much where the story goes? Or are you spend­ing all your free time writ­ing an ama­teur fan­tasy story that you expect your lit­tle pup­pets to play along with instead of prepar­ing a role­play?

3. Join­ing in. When you sit behind the screen with ten pages of pre­pared notes, a map and are busy ana­lyz­ing how your play­ers’ deci­sions affect your care­fully designed plot, you aren’t immers­ing your­self in the role­play. The play­ers are talk­ing among them­selves, hope­fully with poorly affected accents and histri­onic voices, really car­ing about what they are doing and what deci­sions they make. What the hell are you doing? Watch­ing? Wait­ing for a deci­sion? Review­ing the next planned encounter? You aren’t play­ing the same game. When all you have is your wits, your char­ac­ter out­lines, your under­stand­ing of dra­matic devices and a bunch of funny voices, you really join in on the game. Your play­ers are only play­ing one char­ac­ter. You may have to play ten. And since you don’t know what you’re get­ting into, you have to rely on those char­ac­ters to tell you what hap­pens next. GMs say, “My group never focuses! We never get any­where! They just order pizza and talk!” …Why is the per­son least immersed in the game bitch­ing about a lack of focus? If the GM role­played as much as the play­ers, the game would catch fire.

Or I might be mis­un­der­stand­ing what you mean by referee-​driven games. But there are plenty of bad GMs out there. They will nat­u­rally drift towards player-​driven sto­ry­telling regard­less of rule­set if they try to improve their sto­ry­telling. Or they will stew in medi­oc­rity and even­tu­ally their group will fall apart.
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What does the ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #109

  • Michael
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IanP. wrote:
So my ques­tion to you is this: how do you make the pitch to your ref­eree that they’ll actu­ally have more fun play­ing Blade than they do play­ing a tra­di­tional RPG where they own the game world and con­trol the story?
How often have you come to the gam­ing table, had the open­ing scene of a pre­pared sce­nario placed before you by the ref­eree, and asked your­self „And why would my guy do this?“, or told your­self “But swal­low­ing the sce­nario bait just wouldn’t feel right for my guy”.

How often have you come to the gam­ing table and found your char­ac­ter dragged into a sce­nario that wouldn’t oth­er­wise inter­est you and him by hav­ing your guy forced into the sce­nar­ion by means of him being black­mailed, or cap­tured, or threat­ened?

In short, how often have you played through sce­nar­ios that didn’t feel right for your guy and you were not really inter­ested in, but went along any­how, because that was what the ref­eree had pre­pared for the evening, and not going along would have meant destroy­ing the evening’s intended enter­tain­ment?

Player-​driven sce­nar­ios do away with all this, by a very sim­ple process, quite sim­i­lar to what Sly­moon describes above: The play­ers tell the ref­eree what they are inter­ested in and what not. They don’t do this on the spot, but ahead of time, so that the ref­eree has time to pre­pare a sce­nario that pushes the play­ers’ but­tons by giv­ing them things to do they are really inter­ested in. Into these sce­nar­ios, the ref­eree does also work cer­tain open­ings and places the oppor­tu­nity to pur­sue those open­ings in the near future before the char­ac­ters. The play­ers then tell the ref­eree which open­ings they are going to pur­sue and which not.

Now this “telling” could indeed by per­formed by sim­ple telling. But Blade, like TRoS before it, uses a mechanic to this end, the Pas­sion Attrib­utes. We con­sider this a supe­rior approach as it cre­ates a feed­back loop: Player cre­ates and com­mu­ni­cates PAs – ref­eree cre­ates sce­nar­ios engag­ing the PAs – player receives rewards for engag­ing with the sce­nario.

This is how I’d pitch it to play­ers and ref­er­ees alike. And if the ref­eree still needs addi­tional entice­ment, I’ll pitch it to him as in the fol­low­ing post.
Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-​colored sun
Of secret worlds incred­i­ble, and take
Their trail­ing skies for vest­ment when I soar.

Clark Ash­ton Smith, The Hashish Eater or The Apoc­a­lypse of Evil
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What does trhe ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #110

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Sly­moon wrote:
In light of the idea behind player dri­ven story, it actu­ally makes me very unsure as to my role in the game. It also makes me unsure of my ‘respon­si­bil­i­ties’, after all if the play­ers can opt to side track wher­ever they wish, I have to be a mas­ter ‘on the fly’ sce­nario crafts­man. NPCs with per­son­al­i­ties and back­grounds have to be swirling at my fin­ger­tips as well as locals, cities, land­scape or what­ever else may be needed to make the scene feel real to the play­ers.

My add-​on ques­tion to Ian is: how do I make the pitch to myself about ref­er­ee­ing such a system.

For what it’s worth, defin­ing the play­ers’ and the referee’s respon­si­bil­i­ties explic­itly might be a good idea. In Blade, you would state before any gam­ing stuff occurs, e.g. that:

– In this game, the play­ers are to come up with Pas­sions that inter­est them­selves and the oth­ers in the group, and proac­tively drive the game (character’s actions) towards these goals.

– In this game, the ref­eree comes up with inter­est­ing mate­r­ial related to the Pas­sions, mean­ing back­ground infor­ma­tion and in-​game sit­u­a­tion. The ref­eree does not dic­tate how the sit­u­a­tion is resolved (result­ing in story), this is the play­ers’ task, and may involve Blade’s rules. After the group resolves a sit­u­a­tion, the ref­eree comes up with a new sit­u­a­tion based on the out­come of the pre­vi­ous sit­u­a­tions and the back­ground mate­r­ial.

Prep­ping mate­r­ial for such a game is dif­fer­ent from what you describe is typ­i­cal for your games, but not too much. The ref­eree still pre­pares (and “owns”) the loca­tions, NPCs with per­son­al­i­ties and back­grounds, reli­gions and oppos­ing forces and such. Any­thing which is a Pas­sion deserves some mate­r­ial. What is dif­fer­ent, is how the ref­eree goes from there. I think you have crafted the start­ing sit­u­a­tion in your games, but you also have thought of pos­si­ble out­comes, and pre­pared some follow-​up sit­u­a­tions. You may even want to force some out­come dur­ing play, maybe because you have bet­ter mate­r­ial for follow-​up, or you want to make sure the story goes into a par­tic­u­lar way (e.g. towards some big clash with the vil­lain).

Not in player-​driven story. The ref­eree presents inter­est­ing start­ing sit­u­a­tion, and lets it unfold with­out invest­ment towards any spe­cific out­come. Then he picks suit­able pieces from the pre­pared mate­r­ial, or comes up with new stuff on the fly, and sets up a new sit­u­a­tion. See, the ref­eree only con­trols what are the deci­sion mak­ing spots, but the play­ers make all the impor­tant deci­sions? And if you as a group spec­ify these respon­si­bil­i­ties before game hap­pens, there should be much less con­fu­sion about how the game is sup­posed to be run.

Bot­tom line: prep­ping for this kind of game is more enjoy­able, and also eas­ier, as the ref­eree only pre­pares situation(s) and not the out­come. It is not fun for the same per­son to both cre­ate adver­sity, and the solu­tion for it. If you let the play­ers to do some of the work, you’ll get bet­ter sto­ries as the group has much more col­lab­o­ra­tive imag­i­na­tion than the ref­eree him­self. I do think this approach deserves its own dis­cus­sion here on this forum, even though there is so much mate­r­ial at the orig­i­nal TROS Forge forum and also at trosfans.
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What does the ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #111

  • Michael
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Above I’ve spo­ken about how player-​driven sce­nar­ios do away with list­less and bored play­ers – I know you’ve encoun­tered those as ref­er­ees, and have have not enjoyed the expe­ri­ence, right? But apart from remov­ing this source of frus­tra­tion for the ref­eree, player-​driven sce­nar­ios make gam­ing out­right more fun for the ref­eree. In this more free-​wheeling style of play, the ref­eree is fre­quently being sur­prised by the course his pre­pared sce­nar­ios fol­lows. And these sur­prises are enter­taing for the ref­eree in a way just watch­ing which of his pre­vi­sioned avenues the char­ac­ters are going to go down.

Allow me to quote one of our playtesters, from a post of his over at tros­fans. In it, Aubur­ney writes about his expe­ri­ence as a reeree run­ning the same basic setup (sce­nario) of a ruined tem­ple with loot in it with two dif­fer­ent playtest­ing groups:

Aubur­ney wrote:
I GM’d two playtest­ing groups, and both started out with iden­ti­cal pre­misses, adven­ture hooks, set­ting descrip­tion, GM advise, and intro scene. By the end of the third ses­sion, both had gone in com­pletely dif­fer­ent direc­tions!

In one party, the story evolved to loot­ing an aban­doned old tem­ple for riches and sell­ing them for the high­est pos­si­ble profit, all the while try­ing not to be caught be the author­i­ties (fas­cist pasha regime, ori­en­tal themed) and also escap­ing rivals and a curse one of them was under. In the other party, the whole thing became about aid­ing the can­ni­bal tribe pro­tect­ing said tem­ple in their resis­tance against the afore­men­tioned sul­tan regime, and bring­ing that same regime down by infil­tra­tion and assas­si­na­tion…

So it’s not just like, one party found the map to the secret tun­nel, the other didn’t and there­fore had to kill more palace guards instead. It’s really a com­pletely dif­fer­ent theme and direc­tion by now. It’s hon­estly like noth­ing I’ve ever seen hap­pen before

That’s what the ref­eree is get­ting out of player-​driven play. :)
Bow down: I am the emperor of dreams;
I crown me with the million-​colored sun
Of secret worlds incred­i­ble, and take
Their trail­ing skies for vest­ment when I soar.

Clark Ash­ton Smith, The Hashish Eater or The Apoc­a­lypse of Evil
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What does the ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #113

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Mafia_​Puppet wrote:
Is the dichotomy between player-​driven and referee-​driven games really just about being able to rail­road your players?

No, it isn’t.

In tra­di­tional RPGs — any RPG cre­ated before the mid-​90s — the only option was referee-​driven story. There were no mechan­ics pub­lished that sup­ported any other style of play. So any­one who played an RPG within the first twenty (?) years of their exis­tence played under referee-​driven story mode. The social con­tract between play­ers and ref­eree was sim­ple — if I spend hours and hours prepar­ing a sce­nario for your enjoy­ment you agree to play the mate­r­ial (even if it wasn’t quite what you were after).

If the play­ers are not free to do what­ever they want — includ­ing ignore all of the mate­r­ial pre­pared by the ref­eree for the gam­ing ses­sion — does this mean that they are being rail­roaded? No, it doesn’t — most play­ers under­stand the social con­tract that is in place. They under­stand that under referee-​driven story, the player’s respon­si­bil­ity is to unravel the puz­zle that the ref­eree presents, sort the red her­rings from the plot points, and get to the final scene in time to resolve the sce­nario suc­cess­fully. That is just the way the game works and it is a suc­cess­ful model. Most gamers today play this way.

IMO, the notion of rail­road­ing is an irrelevence — it is the same as sug­gest­ing that the char­ac­ters in a book are being rail­roaded towards a par­tic­u­lar end­ing. Of course they are — but it is inher­ent in the model.

Regards,
Ian P.
Fama nihil est celerius
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What does trhe ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #114

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Sly­moon wrote:
In light of the idea behind player dri­ven story, it actu­ally makes me very unsure as to my role in the game. It also makes me unsure of my ‘respon­si­bil­i­ties’, after all if the play­ers can opt to side track wher­ever they wish, I have to be a mas­ter ‘on the fly’ sce­nario crafts­man. NPCs with per­son­al­i­ties and back­grounds have to be swirling at my fin­ger­tips as well as locals, cities, land­scape or what­ever else may be needed to make the scene feel real to the players.

This is quite a dif­fer­ent point (com­pared to the orig­i­nal topic). But it is a very good point, one that needs to be addressed so it might as well be done here. :)

I have expe­ri­enced push-​back from ref­er­ees who say some­thing along the lines of, “Well, my play­ers actu­ally pre­fer it if I do the story.” But when you scratch the sur­face you soon find that there is noth­ing within the game sys­tem being used that allows the ref­eree to receive feed­back like that through the game, and when asked how the play­ers have expressed that sen­ti­ment directly it turns out that they haven’t — the ref­eree has just assumed that because the play­ers keep com­ing back they must like the game the way it is. Unfor­tu­nately that isn’t nec­es­sar­ily true as many peo­ple use the game as a mech­a­nism for catch­ing up socially — so they’d come to watch a video of a game of chess if that meant they could share beers and pizza with their old mates once a fort­night.

One thing I note from what you say is the sheer vol­ume of detail you would like to have at your fin­ger­tips before you would be com­fort­able run­ning a game. I say this just from the point of view of being impressed. So I’ll say it. Wow!

First thing I want to say is that the play­ers can­not “…side track wher­ever they wish.” That would be a break in the social con­tract. The play­ers are free to fol­low their Pas­sion Attrib­utes. In Blade, the social con­tract between the mem­bers of the group is very sim­ple. Each player agrees to define, through their character’s Pas­sion Attrib­utes, what they want the game to be about. Each player agrees that if the ref­eree pre­pares mate­r­ial revolv­ing around their Pas­sion Attrib­utes that they will engage with that mate­r­ial. The ref­eree agrees to cre­ate sce­nario mate­r­ial around the player’s Pas­sion Attrib­utes — and also agrees to reward play­ers who engage with the mate­r­ial pre­sented by allow­ing their Pas­sion Attrib­utes to fire in the appro­pri­ate scenes and to hand out points for those PAs at the scene’s con­clu­sion.

Hav­ing said that, under player-​driven story the ref­eree does have to give up cre­ative con­trol over the story. Whether that cre­ative con­trol is seen as a bur­den or a joy will depend on the ref­eree in ques­tion, and their cur­rent sit­u­a­tion, but I would say that under referee-​driven story the ref­er­ees who like run­ning the game are the ones who like hav­ing cre­ative con­trol over the world and the sce­nario. It just stands to rea­son that the will­ing­ness to spend hour after hour doing it comes from enjoy­ing that process.

But in return for giv­ing up a mea­sure of that cre­ative con­trol (for it isn’t given up entirely, the ref­eree goes from hav­ing total con­trol to hav­ing an equal share of con­trol) the ref­eree receives a far higher level of engage­ment with the play­ers. This, though, can be prob­lem­atic ini­tially. For play­ers raised on a diet of referee-​driven story often have just as much trou­ble grasp­ing their respon­si­bil­i­ties under player-​driven story as the ref­eree. Their nat­ural instinct is to react to the story that the ref­eree unfolds. When the ref­eree is wait­ing for the play­ers to drive the scene exits, and the play­ers are wait­ing for the neon sign marked Scene Exit, you can have bro­ken play with the ref­eree nat­u­rally revert­ing towards pro­vid­ing the scene exit just to main­tain some kind of scene pac­ing.

Nev­er­the­less, it is worth per­se­ver­ing — because once the play­ers are com­fort­able with hav­ing an equal share of the cre­ative respon­si­bil­ity the ref­eree is able to sit back and focus on their real task — cre­at­ing com­pli­ca­tions for the play­ers and turn­ing up the heat on their char­ac­ters.

I think most of the anx­i­ety sur­round­ing chang­ing the way we play goes away once our respon­si­bil­i­ties, expec­ta­tions, and goals are defined clearly. So maybe that’s the next step…?

Regards,
Ian P.
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What does the ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #116

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Michael wrote:
Above I’ve spo­ken about how player-​driven sce­nar­ios do away with list­less and bored play­ers – I know you’ve encoun­tered those as ref­er­ees, and have have not enjoyed the expe­ri­ence, right? But apart from remov­ing this source of frus­tra­tion for the ref­eree, player-​driven sce­nar­ios make gam­ing out­right more <em>fun</em> for the ref­eree. In this more free-​wheeling style of play, the ref­eree is fre­quently being sur­prised by the course his pre­pared sce­nar­ios fol­lows. And these sur­prises are enter­taing for the ref­eree in a way just watch­ing which of his pre­vi­sioned avenues the char­ac­ters are going to go down…

I’m not sure that this is an easy sell to some­one that hasn’t expe­ri­enced it.

You see when the story is referee-​driven, the ref­eree is able to pre-​prepare to what­ever degree they feel com­fort­able. This actu­ally caters for a wide vari­ety of per­son­al­ity types. The cre­ative, con­fi­dent ref­eree can do very lit­tle prep and fly through the ses­sion by the seat of their pants. The detail freak can micro­man­age every lit­tle detail, and run the ses­sion safe in the knowl­edge that no mat­ter what the play­ers do, what ques­tion they ask — he’ll havethe answer prepped and ready to go.

In addi­tion, for a group where nobody has ever played an RPG before, a referee-​driven story is eas­ier to do suc­cess­fully because the prepa­ra­tion is done, allow­ing the ref­eree to spare more thought for the rules (which, later, will be second-​nature to every­body).

So how do we pitch Blade to ref­er­ees who are used to referee-​driven story and are com­fort­able with it? How do we pitch Blade to play­ers who are used to com­ing to the gam­ing table and largely switch­ing off as the ref­eree han­dles the vast bulk of the cre­ative work? But specif­i­cally, how do we pitch Blade to ref­er­ees who see the bulk of what they enjoyed about RPing dis­ap­pear when they are no longer respon­si­ble for cre­at­ing the story?
Ian P.
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What does the ref­eree do now…? 9 years 8 months ago #118

Can you give an exam­ple of how the ref­eree isn’t still cre­at­ing the story in a player-​driven game?
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