Fuzzy lines and narration trading

November 21, 2010

There’s a concept about narration trading I’ve heard referred to as “The Chopping the World in Half Problem” which is, in games with narration trading, what do you do to stop players from just narrating, “I chop the world in half!”?

Usually, this exaggeration isn’t a real problem, because social contract plays a role in stopping people from trying to wreck the fiction, though certainly where social contract is unclear (new group, con game) or broken, it can crop up.

What’s more of an issue, is where everyone is on the same page with regards to what fits in the game narration-wise, but there’s “gaps” or spaces where you want or need more info in order to not step on each other’s toes.

An example from tonight’s game, was that there was an NPC love interest introduced this session, who we had no background or personality on- which meant, although by the rules we could easily narrate her one-way-or-the-other, because she’s so clearly tied to one of the player’s characters, it doesn’t make sense to just slam in a personality which may not fit.

This was a mild stutter in the flow of play, though one which I think comes up with narration trading games. If you don’t have established ideas/fiction on a character/place/thing, the group has to take a bit of negotiation on handling until a better idea is formed.

In some groups using narration trading play, I’ve seen people use nothing but Push methods, forcing ideas into play because the rules allow it, and expecting anyone to simply Push back if they want something different.

Although this works ok, I find that it’s not totally satisfying, especially since, as a player, it often becomes easier to just cut off your emotional investment in something that someone else has defined very different than what you were hoping for, rather than to go through the effort of trying to stake it out and re-define it after the fact.

What has led to more reliably fun play has been to do some table-talk and negotiate some details before narrating (or even setting Stakes on a conflict) and both of these mean that you’ve dropped back into unstructured negotiation – a bit of work and a fuzzy space to operate in.

I haven’t figured out a procedure for this- deciding when a character -matters- vs. when a character will be a toss-away can be tough sometimes, but I think there probably is a few key questions that could help give direction.

“What do they want?”, “What kind of personality do they have?”, “What do they think about (person/situation)?” might be a way to quickly nab enough information to clear up the fuzzy space.

Again, this is a small hiccup, and one which its important to smooth out without making a procedure be more work than fixing it freeform like we’re doing now.

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