July 5th, 2009


Advice: add your own

We've been brainstorming advice to players and refs for the science-fiction game we're developing, and I thought I'd dump our current storm on you. Some of it is genre specific and some system specific, but there's some general material in there too. What's your advice to players of your favourite game?

* as a player, accept the mechanics of a scenario as it is presented. the ref might be trying something, or looking to explore an aspect of the game. Let that happen and if necessary address it later.

*life teaches us to be safe. That's good, and it allows our species to continue: look both ways before crossing, diversify your portfolio, etc. In a game, playing safe rarely helps. More than anything else in role-playing, be prepared to take risks with your character. Walk down the alley, make a break for it, take the shot. the more interesting story comes not from being stupid, but from being willing to lose something.

* As a ref, recognize the differences between player strengths and character strengths. Some people play characters who are smarter than they are, or know more about weapons or science or tactics or whatever. That creates an imbalance that is easy to exploit: player limitations impede what the character can do. Work with the player to allow the strengths of their character to come through in a clean story.

* on entering a system, describe the astronomy: the gross view from the slipknot

* then the station, if it exists: vast solar sails? occasional puffs of r-mass? nothing? a thousand vessels? six? is the slipknot speckling with automated traffic?

* on arrival planetside, the sky: PCs I imagine are always looking outwards, so what's in the sky here?

* when an NPC is intended as a force for moving narrative, make sure they pick a PC and talk straight at them, making clear their interests and objectives. If the player likes the NPC, the player will adopt the NPC's motivations. Pleasant conversation is an avenue to making the NPC likeable.

* if there's no conflict, find one: a motivated and focused NPC can make her needs known. If she becomes desperate, maybe she will act desperately. Compel a PC. If no PC has Aspects you can latch on to, maybe stop and talk about revising Aspects. It's okay to break out of the narrative and talk about the progress of the game mid-way.

* before a session, as prep, find one Aspect on a PC with intent to compel it forcefully. Often you won't have to, but it's an ace up your sleeve.

* start the session with at least one secret. Reveal it archly, even melodramatically, so players notice it. Players will seem stupid. They're not -- they just have different motivations and filter input by their interest -- but you might have to treat them as if they are. Subtle narrative doesn't always play.

* when a player is not engaging the scenario, compel them. If you can't find a compel on them, maybe the scenario is the part that needs fixing. Find an Aspect and revise the "facts". Remember that until facts and secrets are revealed, they don't exist -- nothing is true until it's voiced at the table.

* ask for declarations. If a player narrates a fact, they are more likely to be motivated by it. Remember as referee you get to "yes, but..." and "yes, and...".

* as a player, if you're not engaged, find a away to be. Find something that's already going on and become enthusiastic about it. You might have to re-think your character. It's okay to ask for a pause to re-address Aspects and align them with the story.

* alternatively, offer compels to the ref. If you have an Aspect that you want in play and play is moving slow or against your interests, get paid to pull it on track. If you can't find an Aspect you want compelled AND you're bored, then your Aspects are all wrong.

* write Aspects about other characters and NPCs. This will make you more invested in their interests as well as your own, which increases your overall investment in the game -- the ref only has to hit one character's motivation button and the rest can cascade from it.

* don't assume the ref knows what you are thinking.

* if you imagine something about your surroundings that is cool, speak it. If you think it implies a change to the narrative, pay for it with a fate point. Then do something with it.

* if you want a fight, and none seems forthcoming, ask for one. "This needs social combat now; I want to figure out who is sabotaging us with an investigation." Do this instead of speculating out of character -- characters need to find out and they need to act to do so. The mini-games are all about action.