Narrative Control – Episode 74 – Hierarchies

Welcome back to Narrative Control, season 3. This season we’re taking calls from listeners and offering up what advice we can about their gaming conundrums. This week we talked to Austin Smith about hierarchies in game settings.

Hosts: Sean Nittner, Eric Fattig, and Lenny Balsera

Guest Caller: Austin Smith

Length: 52:26

Show Notes

[00:26] Introduction to the show. Brining back Austin Smith from Episode 70.
[01:20] Austin’s games. Built into the game setting was a hierarchy. Problems presented by power.
[03:24] Using hierarchy to reinforce an aspect of the setting. Embrace what it tells you about setting.
[04:43] How we deal with question of hierarchy in fiction is very different from the way we deal with it in life.
[07:25] If someone is pulling rank to get what they want, lots of other things have gone wrong.
[08:21] Orders vs. strong personal convictions. Good hierarchy drama!
[09:10] When we talk about hierarchies in a RPG, we are most often talking about them as they are portrayed in fiction.
[09:50] Authority allow a GM to present different ranked characters with different challenges.
[11:09] Make sure the players are using these potential conflicts to maximize drama between characters.
[11:56] Firefly game – NPC captain who was ignored and wasn’t developed. Another Firefly game, agreed to run without a captain.
[14:59] One way to handle an authority figure NPC. Pass the character around to the players.
[16:35] Ashen Stars handles the issue by giving the captain authority only while on the ship, but authority stops there.
[18:33] Werewolf does the same thing, where each pack member is in charge of their own niche.
[18:51] Authority is contextual. In TNG Picard is always deferring to other people.
[19:34] Difference between rank and status. Improv technique form Keith Johnstone’s Impro: Improvisation and the Theatre.
[21:17] We learn interesting things about character when high ranking characters have low status.
[22:57] In L5R rank was circumvented by having each character be a member of different clans.
[24:13] Hierarchies were avoided in games. Why was this? Avoiding being set up to fail.
[25:35] Dichotomy of wanting strict hierarchies in the setting but not wanting it to affect the game.
[27:18] Choosing how much hierarchy we want to enforce in our setting.
[28:28] Example of how this is handled in a setting. Worf kills Duras. Gets a stern talking to.
[30:23] Authority is best used with discretion in a game. Will it make for an interesting consequence to invoke authority?
[34:01] Lenny’s death haiku “Dude, you really suck.”
[34:17] Difficult to find the balance between actual consequences and making look like there are consequences.
[35:37] Different play styles made it difficult to get a consensus on how an authority figure should act.
[36:00] Example of our Blue Gene game that we have had to stop the game in play to question an action before it happens when it would threaten our ability to justify its acceptance in the setting.
[37:59] Player leader as antagonist? Discuss.
[39:40] System also effects this. Does the system let you force someone to do something, or does it just allow you to put pressure on them?
[41:22] Recap. Discussing the buy into to the authority. How would law enforcement work if mutants existed (ala X-men). How real is realistic?
[42:44] Ask what questions are meaningful in the story. How would normal people deal with having amazing powers? How do you respond to unknowable threats around you?
[44:59] Authority in the face of the unknown. Nobody has the answers. Authority in those cases just means you have a bigger gun to shoot yourself in the foot with.
[46:00] To ask questions, you need to give yourself permission to talk to about these things on a player level.
[47:36] Rich storytelling options to be mined. High ranking characters don’t have the opportunities to see things you can at a lower level.
[48:52] Have NPCs skip levels and not play the game right to cause intrigue.
[50:22] Some examples of mechanics for using authority form Apocalypse World: Leadership and Pack Alpha.

The converstaion continues…Here

Direct download: NC_Episode_074.mp3