Space Opera Q5: Gaming

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There are three questions, but I thought I'd put them in the same thread.

1. Comedy
How do you do comedy in games? There have been other comedy games (Paranoia, Toon, Inspectres) but comedy is regarded as being hard. How can you do it? Have you successfully run a deliberately funny game?

2. Art
There have been attempts to do music-based games, and performance art based games (Til Dawn, Umlaut, World Wide Wrestling), but they're all based around competitive performance and beating the opposition. But a lot of the struggle in Space Opera is about writing the song. Similarly, in The Disposessed, the struggle is with Shivek creating his theory. How can we represent this artistic struggle in games, and make it compelling for the players?

3. Non-violence
Related to the question above, a lot of RPGs have conflict and vioience as key parts of the narrative. How can we bring more variety into our games? How can we make the exploration of new settings fun, or base games around co-operation and understanding?

Comments

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    I can answer that, as the author of a non-violent music RPG. I wrote it as a black comedy game, and have always run it as such, but there is nothing mandating comedy, as I believe there is nothing more guaranteed to ruin comedy than mandating it.

    1. I handle comedy very lightly. It comes from the players, not the GM, and from the situation the characters find themselves in. All comedy is a mixture of two components - Absurdity and Timing - and in order to work, these need to be balanced properly for the situation. I once set up a game - with the players, mind! - where the PCs were an ostensibly criminal gang who were trying to overthrow a brutal authoritarian regime in a stark, darker than dark morality play. When play opened in the first session, one of the PCs walks into the gang hideout holding a bunch of surveillance cameras by the cable. "Hey!" he says. "Look what I found! Nobody was watching 'em!" and that is how we rolled!

    2. Your list of Music RPGs does not include mine. In that one there is no competition. The play revolves around the strong centrifugal force that wants bands to fly apart - Life - and the Hope that keeps them working together. Hope is the currency of the game, and there is a win condition - Making It. Most bands will lose Hope break up spectacularly before they Make It. Only once in the many games I have run did a band Make It. But all the tension is internal - other bands are your friends!

    3. I have written several non-violent games. Conflict is non-violent. Sports. Dealing with others who are closer than family. Life. When I run other of my games, violence is an option, and not necessarily the best.

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    1. In my experience, comedy in games comes naturally through play and improvisation. In one recent session of our game, one of the players (a military corporal) was given orders to accomplish a difficult task by another player (his commanding officer) and the dialogue that followed as he first tried to negotiate and discuss with various PCs and NPCs without betraying his mission, then later woke up his superior officer to report on his success (only to realize as he was reporting that he had forgotten to perform the entirety of the task) was very funny. This kind of thing emerges in the dialogue.

    Randomizing dice rolls can also lead to funny events or situations occurring. And I often like to introduce odd situations or NPCs with funny quirks. The latter are the gaming equivalent of 'sight gags'.

    1. Clash wrote High(ly) Strung, a rock-and-roll rpg, which I ran successfully at a con. In fact, I put the action on a space station with the PCs in the position of trying to attract the attention of a talent scout for the Galaxy's Got Gusto music competition. So, in terms of set up, its not so different from this book. Only humanity wasn't at stake, and we didn't introduce aliens (though I suppose we might have).

    I'm not sure why Clash says that 'there's no competition' in that game - there's a whole section devoted to running Battle of the Bands scenarios - in fact, this seemed like a core mechanic to me. And there are mechanics by which the bandmates suck hope from one another by tripping them up on stage, pulling their plugs out of the amps, and so on. So there was also competition between the bandmates.

    1. Most games, in my experience, do not have violence as 'part of the narrative', but give you the tools to deal with it should it arise. Whether it arises or not is largely a function of the players at the table. Seeing every 'encounter' as a combat is mainly a D&Dism and I left that behind a long time ago.

    I've played a lot of games, or sessions in a campaign, that had no violence/fisticuffs during the session. They I've run or played very little where violence wasn't possible in the setting, and never played anything without conflict, that I'm aware of.

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    @Apocryphal said:
    I'm not sure why Clash says that 'there's no competition' in that game - there's a whole section devoted to running Battle of the Bands scenarios - in fact, this seemed like a core mechanic to me. And there are mechanics by which the bandmates suck hope from one another by tripping them up on stage, pulling their plugs out of the amps, and so on. So there was also competition between the bandmates.

    The Battle of the Bands is not a core mechanic. The only time I ever used it was playtesting it. Generally speaking, the other bands are your friends while your own band mates are trying to suck up all the Hope, so the competition is from bandmates. Since Hope is needed just to survive, putting Hope into songs is an investment, since songs are the only way to Make It. There is always a chronic shortage of Hope.

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    1. Comedy
      For me, comedy in RPGs is either emergent, based on serious situations, or characters reacting to absurd situations that are serious to them. Any RPG session I run has an element of comedy, even if serious over all. The players bring that. It's also sometimes a release from tension, or a sign of nerves; I've seen the latter in horror games.

    The absurd situations element pops up in explicitly comedy RPGs. Comedy RPGs aren't usually my thing, but I really enjoyed running The Dying Earth RPG, which has both absurd situations and absurd vice-filled characters with petty goals - but the situations are serious to them, and even if absurd can be deadly or tragic (as, I suppose, eliminating competitors was in Space Opera).

    1. Art/Music
      The players probably aren't artists, scientists making cutting edge discoveries, or musicians. But in any case, isn't the literary take really about characters? In Space Opera the music creation process is about the two remaining band members reconciling and overcoming their inner demons. In the Dispossessed, it's about Shevek's isolation when creating the theory, and reactions to him and to different societies afterwards. So it can be happily personality-driven.

    2. Conflict/Violence
      I'm not sure I want to equate no conflict with no violence - or for that matter no violence with no combat, which is what is often meant in RPG world. A police procedural investigating brutal murders probably features no combat, but I wouldn't say no violence. Similarly investigative horror tends to have violence but little or no combat (my Cthulhu Apocalypse game went on for 13 sessions and had I think 4 fights, though there were other action scenes; I think the Final Revelation which I also ran had no combat over 8 sessions). My cyberpunkish game in development had no combat in the playtest, though there was running away and planting bombs; again, violence but no combat.

    No violence? I played Tales from the Loop fairly recently and I loved it. Exploration, solving mysteries, no violence. High Strung and Til Dawn look like they would be immense fun in play, and those I've read and not yet played. I'm more into the music angle than sports, but there's another angle. In these, there's a competition element, but again, satisfying play is going to be all about personalities.

    Then there's possibilities of rescue operations after a disaster. A friend of mine used Mindjammer to run a game with that premise...

    I should do more. Combat is a default in most RPGs, which is fine, and usually works as a dose of excitement, but variety is good. It's just not the only mode of play, and running more in the non-violent mode appeals at the moment.

    I guess there are others such as Smallville, The Tavern, The Quiet Year, and various other indie games.

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    I agree that game humor depends on the characters being serious about their situation. Very much!

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    Enjoying the debate, nothing to contribute here!
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    For me, comedy in games relies upon shared narrative control. The GM's jokes will always fall flat. The player's, however...

    I've GMed Uranium Chef (Fate World based on an intergalactic cookery contest) and it was funny. It was funny because the players came up with increasingly outre dishes, and embraced and mocked the tropes of the competitive cookery format.

    This morning, I GMed Punkapocalyptic, and the PCs sneaking into a pre-apocalypse amusement park by dressing up as Disney characters (and then combining into a Disney Mecha) was funny, because that came from them. If I had stated the same ideas, they wouldn't have been.

    The non-violence question is interesting. I do think conflict is essential for games as a part of fiction. I'd add as a side note that Mouse Guard is almost entirely about co-operation, from setting to system. There's some violence, sure, but it's just one form of Conflict (and uses the same system as Negotiation or Journeying)

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    @BurnAfterRunning said:

    The non-violence question is interesting. I do think conflict is essential for games as a part of fiction. I'd add as a side note that Mouse Guard is almost entirely about co-operation, from setting to system. There's some violence, sure, but it's just one form of Conflict (and uses the same system as Negotiation or Journeying)

    I'm running a Mouse Guard game at the moment, so... The game emphasises that all the PCs are in one team, cooperating with each other to do good. It also makes you think about obstacles that aren't just about violence and fighting (such as negotiating or travelling). But it's not unique in those respects: there are many games that don't offer fighting as the only solution, and have a unified resolution system for all arenas of conflict.

    A game like Golden Sky Stories is further from the D&D model. That's a game that generally revolves around getting people to understand each other and hence create or repair friendships. Where there are "conflicts", I don't they the involve fighting at all. There may be some "man vs man" type conflicts about persuasion, but I think rules are more often engaged to resolve "man vs nature" or "man vs self" situations.

    Is that the issue? How should we make those kinds of conflicts more interesting in games?

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    Just temporarily thinking about board games as opposed to role playing, has anyone in the group played pandemic - I played it a few times a couple of years ago, rather before it became topical, and it was the first game I'd come across which was explicitly cooperative.

    For those who haven't come across it, each person in the group takes a character with particular skills or equipment, and you have to work together to try to prevent a hypothetical disease from killing off the world population. But the choices you can make are very constrained compared to a role playing game.
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    edited October 11

    I have released two games which are explicitly non-violent - or rather, there are no rules which apply to violence, and if you want violence in these games you have to supply the rules yourself or go without. They are extremely focused on a single thing, they are explicitly team-oriented, and are not meant to be general RPGs. And that ties in with Richard's point:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    Just temporarily thinking about board games as opposed to role playing, has anyone in the group played pandemic - I played it a few times a couple of years ago, rather before it became topical, and it was the first game I'd come across which was explicitly cooperative. For those who haven't come across it, each person in the group takes a character with particular skills or equipment, and you have to work together to try to prevent a hypothetical disease from killing off the world population. But the choices you can make are very constrained compared to a role playing game.

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Have you successfully run a deliberately funny game?

    How can we represent this artistic struggle in games, and make it compelling for the players?

    How can we make the exploration of new settings fun, or base games around co-operation and understanding?

    I thought I'd circle back to these because I find them interesting. For my part, the answer to the first question is probably 'no', but it's not that simple. I did run a funny game of High Strung. I did expect it to be funny, so in a sense it was deliberate. The rules themselves don't deal with comedy one way or another - what was deliberate on my part was the brief setting sketch I provided, which was full of puns and quirky cultural references. These signalled that this scenario was not to be taken seriously, and when we made characters and the events of the scenario started to unfold, a lot of comedy was generated. So I think you can be deliberate in establishing that the game itself is intended to be funny. But whether it actually is or not depends on your players - so much of comedy is spontaneity - which I guess is why we have sayings like "you had to be there".

    To the question of how to make artistic struggle compelling... I'm not sure I have an answer. I think you could argue that Ars Magica - which for the mages at least, is all about magic as art and the struggle for the freedom to practice and perfect it - is a game designed with this in mind. But is that really what is meant by the question?

    The last question seems easiest to me, and the rash of recent games geared to kids probably show it's not that difficult to solve. I have a game on my shelf (inaccessible at the moment, so forgive me if I flub the title) called Adventures in Oz, which is very much about exploration and problem solving. Mechanically, it builds on the idea of cooperation - players draw on their friends and contacts for resources, rather than relying on combat to accrue wealth and standing.

  • 0
    > @NeilNjae said:
    > 2. Art
    > ... How can we represent this artistic struggle in games, and make it compelling for the players?
    >

    We had a loosely similar situation when family games of the various "Railways of the World" series were played. Some of us (myself included) argued that there should be credit for "style points" - some agreed measure of the aesthetic value of a railway network, to do with pleasing connectivity, challenges of achieving the route, hypothetical views that a passenger would see, etc.

    Others (including my son, who won more often than the rest of us) argued that there was no such thing as a style point, and that the only scoring system was the one specified in the game rules (which is based on what goods are carried, how far, and by what kind of engine).

    The debate was unresolved, with unwarranted accusations that it was simply a way to try to redeem an already-lost position...
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    edited October 12

    I almost never win certain board games because I get fascinated with an evolving esthetic rather than thinking about points. Games like the railroad games, CV, Settlers of Catan, Civilization, and the like. My son and my wife are viciously tactical players who win 9/10s of these games, and when I do win, it is due to some crazy run of luck. Civ on the computer as well! I don't care about points, and often play for things there are no rules for but are rewarding to me.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Just temporarily thinking about board games as opposed to role playing, has anyone in the group played pandemic - I played it a few times a couple of years ago, rather before it became topical, and it was the first game I'd come across which was explicitly cooperative.

    I've played it a lot, and really like it. The Legacy games are even better, and well worth picking up.

    Relating it back to RPGs, many RPGs assume party-based play, where the PCs cooperate to achieve joint goals. What violence there is (physical, emotional, etc.) is typically directed outwards from the party, or suffered by the party.

    If we widen the definition of "violence" to include things like emotional abuse, then actions like the standard Intimidation check become violence: it's the imposition of my will on your actions. How could we make a game where progress is only made through co-operation and collaboration with other people? Would such a game be fun to play?

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    @RichardAbbott said:

    @NeilNjae said:
    2. Art
    ... How can we represent this artistic struggle in games, and make it compelling for the players?

    We had a loosely similar situation when family games of the various "Railways of the World" series were played. Some of us (myself included) argued that there should be credit for "style points" - some agreed measure of the aesthetic value of a railway network, to do with pleasing connectivity, challenges of achieving the route, hypothetical views that a passenger would see, etc.

    Interesting. Can you make objective criteria for aesthetic judgements?

    As for aesthetics in board games, one that springs to mind is Kingdomino. You have to arrange dominoes, making large contiguous areas. You get bonus points for "pleasing" arrangements: completely filling a 5×5 area and no more, or having the starting tile in the middle of the area.

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    @clash_bowley said:
    I almost never win certain board games because I get fascinated with an evolving esthetic rather than thinking about points. Games like the railroad games, CV, Settlers of Catan, Civilization, and the like. My son and my wife are viciously tactical players who win 9/10s of these games, and when I do win, it is due to some crazy run of luck. Civ on the computer as well! I don't care about points, and often play for things there are no rules for but are rewarding to me.

    Yup, I can identify with all of that...

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    @NeilNjae said:
    Relating it back to RPGs, many RPGs assume party-based play, where the PCs cooperate to achieve joint goals. What violence there is (physical, emotional, etc.) is typically directed outwards from the party, or suffered by the party.

    Yes, that's a fair point, which I hadn't really thought about. Which set me wondering why I think of Pandemic as qualitatively different? I suppose it's partly because it is a board game, which (as a rule, and excluding things like Diplomacy where you know from the start that any alliance will eventually end in tears) pits each player against the others. And partly because the enemy is a virus or similar, with which I don't feel the same kind of biological kinship as other people or creatures! Which is, I suppose, very species-ist of me :) but is nevertheless the case.

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    @NeilNjae said:

    @RichardAbbott said:
    We had a loosely similar situation when family games of the various "Railways of the World" series were played. Some of us (myself included) argued that there should be credit for "style points" - some agreed measure of the aesthetic value of a railway network, to do with pleasing connectivity, challenges of achieving the route, hypothetical views that a passenger would see, etc.

    Interesting. Can you make objective criteria for aesthetic judgements?

    No, and that was the problem. Those of us who thought in such terms generally agreed what kind of construction deserved "style points", while those who were, as @clash_bowley put it "viciously tactical players who win 9/10s of these games" denied that there ever could be a proper measure for this, and that there certainly wasn't one in the rules as they stood.

    As for aesthetics in board games, one that springs to mind is Kingdomino. You have to arrange dominoes, making large contiguous areas. You get bonus points for "pleasing" arrangements: completely filling a 5×5 area and no more, or having the starting tile in the middle of the area.

    That's interesting, I hadn't come across that.

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