08 November, 2016

Say No, and Roll the Damn Dice

In a private post on G+, +Jesse Burneko made a point that relates tangentially to something that has been festering in my head for a few days. In my recent post entitled "Another Perspective", I indicated that I thought something was really missing from the perspective provided in the accompanying video, and I feel that Jesse's words provide another part to the puzzle.

The idea is that there was a seizmic shift in independent gaming, where a lot of designers deliberately added improvisational stuff into their games through the mantra of "Say Yes, or roll the dice". This deviated into the concepts of "Yes, and... / Yes, but..." where anything that is said in a game basically becomes an irrefutable fact, but it can be augmented or diminished through further explanation that comes later. The whole idea here is to produce an environment where everyone feels they are contributing to the unfolding narrative in a meaningful way, rather than simply having the GM describe things and the dice modify how the outcome of those things unfolds. The point goes on to say that this isn't always the best solution...sometimes, to avoid things completely derailing, someone needs to work with the premise of "Say No, and Roll the Damn Dice". It's a very different style of play, and probably better suited to investigations and pre-defined stories. Even in the cases where a pre-defined story is only loosely defined, there can be a benefit to preventing the characters from wandering too far off course, it can help to focus the players on the core intentions of the story.

It basically plays into what I've been thinking with this Mage story game concept, especially if we're going to be delving into non-linear narrative structures.

I'll also point out here that I don't consider "Say No, and Roll the Damn Dice" to be an opposite to the notion of "Say Yes, or Roll the Dice", instead I consider it a complement to the rule. I like players to have a bit of leeway in their actions, providing them with personal choices that might gradually move them to a satisfying story conclusion, but conversely if those actions are running directly counter to the story or deliberately away from a narrative that other players on the table are enjoying, sometimes you just have to say no. Saying "Yes" allows the vector of the story to continue unimpeded, saying "No" means that a node is presented, the story will not continue in an unimpeded path but depending on the roll, it may get completely deviated in another direction (possibly nudged back toward the GM's prepared plot, possibly another direction altogether, possibly halted temporarily as the players have to reassess their situation).

When working with a non-linear story framework, it will sometimes be necessary to say "No" if a player decides they want their character, a certain member of the supporting cast, or a macguffin to end up in a different location to where the previously established scenes have indicated. That which has been defined through the course of play becomes set in stone, and attempts to disrupt such "fixed points in time" result in paradox. This becomes even more important in a GM-less game where there might not be a central authority to rein in the storyline, which happens to be a direction I was considering for this game.
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