mordicai caeli (mordicai) wrote,
mordicai caeli

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Dungeon Master Satori.

While I was walking to the Kris Kuksi art show I had what I thought was a pretty insightful realization about being the Narrator in a roleplaying game-- Dungeon Master, Game Master, Storyteller, whatever-- or at least, it was pithy enough that I had Terra email it to me on her smart phone in case I forgot it. In a nutshell: "No, but..." In context-- well, all of us gamers have probably heard the improvisational comedy mantra, "yes, and..." right? The idea that no matter what the other person throws at you, you say "yes," & then you keep the ball going. You can divert it, escalate it, or just move it along chronologically, but you say "yes," first, & then you say "and..." & you keep on going with it. This is a decent philosophy in gaming, but sometimes it can spiral out of control. When an improv skit goes out of control, that is funny, & you can always end it when things get too silly or inaccessible...but gaming has a serial nature that means too much spinning out of control can lead to unfortunate circumstances. That being said, the core philosophy behind "yes, and" is a good one; you want to play along. Be game for anything; like I said the other night: being a sport is crucial. Still, the function of a Narrator is to keep the story coherent; to keep the Players on some kind of track, while allowing them the freedom to get off it. To shape the world & then to allow it to change through the Players' actions. Sometimes, this means saying no. The Player wants to know if they can buy a blunderbuss in your dark age setting. The Player wants to know if they can have a pet monkey in a setting you've decided there aren't any primates in, because humans didn't evolve there. The Player wants to know if there are fireflies, because they want to collect them in a jar, but you don't think fireflies are weird enough, or they aren't in season, or whatever. Which is why I think that part of the Narrator mantra should be "No, but..." As in, "are there fireflies I can catch?" "No, but there are carnivorous butterflies here." Or "can I have a monkey for a familiar?" "No, but there are tree dwelling crocodiles & large fox-bats, & other stuff. Pitch me something else?" That sort of thing. When you can't say yes, just offer options that you can say yes to. That way you don't shut them down, but you still get to refuse them. You can advance the story while clipping off a dead-end. Pruning! I realize that this is probably obvious to a lot of people, & that we've all been doing it for ages, but it was the first time I'd really articulated the thought. Because I have a strong vision for Oubliette that is also relatively organic, I often need to say no, but I'm also open to a certain brand of insanity. My ideas about plausibility are idiosyncratic, I know-- alchemy over science, the occult over magic, anthropology over history. That means having tools to dialogue with my Players-- tools like "yes, and" & "no, but"-- are essential. Oh, & other clever notes I had texted to myself? Black mass; not as a witch's ritual, but as a Satanic atomic number. The supernatural measure of a particle, of an molecule or a monad.
Tags: ideology, oubliette, rpgs

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