Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

A Realization & Explicit Social Contract

So, I’m starting to read Keith Johnstone’s Impro, as per the recommendations of several folks (including our own Paul Tevis).  I’m only around a quarter of the way in, but a seriously thought has occurred above all others:  I need to rethink not my mechanics (well, maybe that too, but still), but I need to rethink what I’m not telling the players.  In other words, I’m telling people the mechanics of the game but not how to actually interact with each other in the roles of Amnesiac & Chorus.  It’s like I’m building this vehicle that works dramatically differently from a car, and I’m telling people that the foot pedal is the stereo volume control and the nose pedal is the pitch, but I’m not telling you how to actually drive the vehicle as a functional motorist alongside others driving the same type of vehicle.

I’m handing people a hovercraft with a manual on what the things on it do, but without lessons on how to co-operate.  Or something like that.  In any case, what this means is that some of the pressure of the game should be places of explicit social contract for this weird little game of mine rather than attempt to come up with some 100% mechanical solution.

This is something I’m going to chew on for the next playtest.  Previously, I was less comfortable with this idea because it felt like I was telling people how to role-play or some ivory tower crap, as if I’m some expert.  Now, I’m seeing it as a necessary element to achieve something closer to the effect I want — especially if that makes the game work.


November 7, 2007 - Posted by | Know Thyself


  1. I’m lost in your analogies: can you give a specific example of what’s missing?

    Comment by robertbohl | November 7, 2007 | Reply

  2. There’s nothing like overusing analogies to demonstrate I don’t actually know what I’m talking about.

    The standard psychological scene (a.k.a. “dream scene”) is as such: [Chorus player A talking] Okay, Amnesiac, you’re still playing you. We’re in a (draws card) Hospital, and (plays card on Chorus B) you’re a Dragon. [Chorus B plays a card on A] And I’m a cheerleader. Go!

    That’s all the setup — set location & initial character. My untested attempts to solve this involve added an action, either as a goal or as an initial element, such as: [adding to previous example] (draws card) And, you need to escape from the hospital.

    I’m not sure if that’s really enough, because it’s still a weird space. But this doesn’t explain my post or answer your question. I’ll be back later as I collect those thoughts.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | November 7, 2007 | Reply

  3. Ryan, what can the Amnesiac player get in a dream scene? Anything s/he can’t get elsewhere?

    Comment by misuba | November 8, 2007 | Reply

  4. Ryan,

    I totally get where you going. Largely from my experience as an ace allegorical hovercraft pilot. But in all seriousness, I think you have hit on a major problem I am seeing from a lot of the ashcan games.

    I get all these mechanics and different tropes and stuff and I have NO idea how to play the game. I don’t get how everything works together or how the game is to be played.

    I think you have hit on something here we run into as game designers because as I think about it does D&D really have a howto play or do we just play the way we were taught. And don’t we approach other games in the same way?

    I feel like a lot of story games miss exactly what you are talking about Ryan. You don’t need to feel ivory tower. You’re not explaining how to roleplaying, you’re setting expectations on how to play the game which is very appropriate for the rules.

    Comment by commondialog | November 9, 2007 | Reply

  5. Mike: I’m not sure what you’re asking. Those sorts of scenes make up 90% of the play. Does that help at all?

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | November 9, 2007 | Reply

  6. They make up 90% of play, but you can’t say what we’re playing them to get? No wonder they feel undirected.

    Comment by misuba | November 11, 2007 | Reply

  7. Oh, you’re talking about the character? They’re playing these scenes to get the power to break out about have a memory.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | November 11, 2007 | Reply

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