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Story Games Seattle Message Board Everything Else › Should we ban GMed games? Monsterhearts?

Should we ban GMed games? Monsterhearts?

A former member
Post #: 55
Note: Ben has indicated that this decision is his to make, and that no compromise where GMed games are played is possible. So this discussion may turn out to be moot. But I think it's still valuable to gather thoughts on this, so if you've got any thoughts about it please do comment anyway.




In the last couple months, there's been some talk about banning GMed games. I thought it would be a good idea to talk this over openly. A lot of discussion has been about Monsterhearts, since it's our most commonly pitched GMed game.

I think the pro-ban argument is what Ben says in "Our Table is Round and Our Ground is Level". Basically, in games where all players have the same narrative power, there's a feeling that everyone's ideas are of equal value and that everyone's stake in the game is the same. On the other hand, if one person has final authority, they're elevated over the other players, who may not be as comfortable contributing. This could be especially true for people who are newer or just quiet. So we're more welcoming if we don't play games where one person has final authority. (If you think I've got the argument wrong, please correct me and I'll edit this.)

The argument against the ban is:
1) Many of us have had good experiences with GMed games in meetups, and want to keep having them. We don't want to tell other people what they are and aren't allowed to do, unless we have a very good reason for it. Being told that the games you like are banned does not feel like having your ideas equally valued, and tends to lead to conflict.
2) Even before we started banning things, we didn't play GMed games all that often. Based on our roll call, about once a month. We also didn't have any trouble attracting new people and integrating them into the community during that time. Several people even came to meetup for the first time specifically hoping to play Monsterhearts. So it seems like we don't have a GMed game problem for the ban to solve.
3) Not all games with a GM even have the kind of "final authority" that we're talking about. Monsterhearts doesn't- the MC is primarily reactive and the PCs author fiction very freely. Even when we play GMed games, our community is quite good at playing them with a round table.

So, let us know what you think! I'm going to list what I see as the options, but I also just want to know in general how you feel about all of this. Answer at whatever length you want- even one sentence helps us know where everyone stands.
Hard Ban all GMed games.
Soft Ban GMed games in general, but allow exceptions for particular games we think are fine.
No Ban on anything.
Or something other than that?


Progress Summary
All right, so we've had some discussion, and I thought I'd put a quick summary out here so that people new to the thread don't have to slog through everything before contributing. So far...

Ben is in favor of a hard ban, and is "not interested in owning or being ultimately responsible for" any meetup in which GMed games are allowed.
Tim is in favor of GMed games only at specifically designated meetups as a compromise.
Dani doesn't have a preference.
Manu is in favor of a hard ban, and also of forming a new community in which GMed games are allowed.
Jason, Sam, Jay, Sev, Jasmine, and myself apparently prefer that we exclude some games and include others, though several of us feel that the GMed/GMless distinction is not the best way to do that, and we should specify what we really mean.

We have talked about some ways of defining the games we want to have at meetups:
*no-prep/single session. I think this is the same as requiring all games to be "Play to Find Out" but I might be missing something.
*no games which place one player in authority over the others, which is the spirit of Ben's no-GM rule. But not all GMed games have that property.
*narrative authority is not limited to your personal character, and is apportioned fairly.

We've also discussed possibilities that compromise between banning and not banning, such as allowing GMed games at some meetups but not others, and allowing GMed games to be requested but not to be pitched.

So, if you're reading this, please do join in, and don't worry if you don't have time to read everything. If you agree with or disagree with what I've said here, I'd really like to know.
Ben R.
thatsabigrobot
Group Organizer
Seattle, WA
Post #: 419
I've been behind in addressing this. Martin beat me to the punch today but I'm going to be posting about it soon.
Dani L.
user 87036972
Seattle, WA
Post #: 27
There are strong arguments on both sides. There are some wonderful story games out there that have a GM/MC/(fill in the blank) and it would add a lot of variety to our collective repertoire. People are wiling to run and play in them.

But I do see Ben's point about the kind of dynamic it can create and the issues it may pose for someone brand-new to roleplaying. In all honesty, the simplest option would be to say "no GMed games," the way we've been operating for a little bit. The GMless, prepless stance is easy to find here so it doesn't have to come as a surprise to anyone. Plus the line would be hard to draw if we allowed only certain games. Why would this GMed game be okay but not this other one? What criteria would need to be met?

I would be fine with whatever decision is made and will do my best to contribute to the group's continued well-being.
Sam Kabo A.
user 30231972
Honolulu, HI
Post #: 51
I'll understand whatever people are in favour of, but my personal preference is very much Soft Ban. I am in favour of fuzzy boundaries and cluster-concepts, and don't think that using them undermines the category itself. And I'm not super-invested in figuring out the boundary of what exactly a GM is. ('But that makes it hard to explain.' Enh. You just explain some typical examples and let people figure the rest out.)

As a potential intermediary position - there are probably big flaws with this that I'm not seeing, but worth suggesting - we could ban pitching GM'd games, but allow them by request.
A former member
Post #: 9
Argh. This is hard.

On the one hand, there are a set of really good reasons why having a player who is presumed to have more authority than the others creates really weird social dynamics. Ben laid those out really well in the essay Martin linked, along with the problems when someone comes into the game with a lot of pre-existing investment in parts of it.

On the other hand, there are particular games that seem to be constructed to mitigate that effect. AW and its derivatives definitely come to mind, and my limited Actual Play Experience with them has felt, for lack of a better term, "story-game-y."

I want to say I'm in favor of a hard ban on games where someone brings prepared material to "run through," but even that gets messy - when does a Fiasco playset cross the line into a "boxed adventure," to use the D&D parlance?

The GMed line feels even messier to me; I just don't really know what makes a game GMed. I can certainly see Monsterhearts as being GMed, but my play experiences with it have felt less reliant on the GM's whims than my experiences with Shock; MH knows that it's putting a lot of presumed narrative authority in one place and builds rules for re-distributing it back into the play group. Shock just kind of presumes that your Antagonist will exercise their creative authority well.

I want to say that we need to disallow the roots:

  • No playing the game before you play the game - that is, if you're pushing parts of the story you're going to have at the meetup around ahead of time, that's a sign that you're Doing It Wrong. If you think you know where a game's going to go ahead of time, and you get invested in that, stop it.
  • No denying someone else's contribution unless you're calling a Veil. This one's tougher. Some games don't give most players enough room to contribute. (Sorry, D&D; I'm looking at you here.) But if the rules are set up so that each player can wield significant narrative force, and players who have veto authority are expected to say yes a lot, I think some games that look GMed can pass this test. (Fringe benefit: stating it this way really helps keep the "GMed problems" from creeping into games with a rotating GM role; merely handing the role around does not absolve the person holding it of this responsibility.)


I suspect that looks like a blanket ban of certain games, and a dubious look at others. "Have you played Monsterhearts before? Have you played it here? We take the part about the MC's role being reactive seriously, because the price for wide-reaching narrative authority is that you don't also get wide-reaching discretion about when to employ it." This is messy and hard. On the other hand, it seems like we've successfully done it sometimes? (But we might not have done it other times, and I wasn't there.)

Or maybe we agree that there's a time and place we set aside for those kinds of games, and we keep them there. I'd be way more into a blanket ban on GMed games if I knew there was a place and time I could go to play them while still sticking with the inclusive tenets of our community.

Whatever we do, I think the main priority is to stay as inclusive and respectful as we are. The community is awesome, and teaches its standards well, and I don't want to lose that. If the price of that is no Monsterhearts, I'm sad but I'll live.
Jay L.
Coxcomb333
Bellevue, WA
Post #: 23
I wrote about a thousand words about this, but I think instead of posting that I'll try to keep it short and simple.

GM/GMless is a useless categorization, as it doesn't really describe player empowerment or social dynamics of play. It is slightly less silly than, say, banning all games that use dice, but not much.

If you look at the story game playing community, such as at Fabricated Realities or Go Play NW, you find a group that embraces both GMed and GMless games. To ban games because they have a centralized moderator is to needlessly fracture an already small community.

My experience has been that it is people, not games, that ruin experiences for me, whether those people are peer players or GMs.

I feel strongly that no ban based on GM/GMless is appropriate, but that finding a rational dividing line between games that are enjoyed by the story games community broadly and games enjoyed by more traditional roleplaying communities is useful for defining the meetup group. The presence of a GM is not that rational dividing line.

I suggest something more useful like no games that don't play to find out.

Also, if people are not letting others contribute to the game in meaningful, narrative ways, they need a conversation with a host regardless of whether they are playing a GMed game.
sev (.
sevoo
Seattle, WA
Post #: 45
My experience parallels Jay's -- the dynamic around narrative control has more to do with whether the people at the table respect each other's contributions than whether there's a player at the table whose authority is apportioned differently from others by the game text.

As soon as you move beyond Microscope and Fiasco you're looking at a lot of games that give different players different kinds of authority at the table. Polaris and Shock have antagonist roles; Dog Eat Dog and Serpent's Tooth explicitly and intentionally play with lopsided authority. GM/GMless loses its usefulness as a categorizational tool in the pool of games we've been playing.

"Play to find out" is a good ruler, though it may require context for people who haven't encountered the concept before. "No prep" is useful. "Contribute beyond your single character" and "respect other players' contributions" may also help get the point across. And maybe, "if you're new and/or haven't seen it played here before, check with the host before you pitch it."
Sam Kabo A.
user 30231972
Honolulu, HI
Post #: 52
The more I'm thinking about it, the more I'd rather have a list of preferred system features, something vaguely like

"The games we play typically involve some combination of:

  • GM-less
  • Non-competitive
  • Motivated by creating narrative, rather than in-character success
  • Mechanics-light
  • Designed primarily for one-shot play
  • Require no prior preparation
  • Comfortable with big differences in motivation and knowledge between a player and their character
  • Encourage player authority to extend beyond 'this is my character and I decide what they do'
  • Not heavily focused on combat or physical heroics
  • (probably some other significant aspects I'm forgetting about)

"Games that have few or none of these features are probably not suitable for this group. Games that lack more than one of these features should be presented with warnings."
A former member
Post #: 24
IMHO, what I most object to is the lack of a clear rule, so I'd be most opposed to a soft ban. A little while ago a new SGS member wanted to pitch a GMed story game, but was told he could not. The very next session, someone pitched Monsterhearts. This sent a bit of an ugly message, something like "It's OK for one of US to pitch a GMed game, but not for you." So my main point is that whatever the rule is, it needs to be clear, easily understood, and easily expressed. So I'm a bit uneasy about anything nebulous that requires interpretation which might lead to different decisions based on who's facilitating that day.

I think I have to respectfully disagree with Jay's claim that GMed vs. GMless is not a useful distinction. While most definitions are fuzzy to some extent and will blur at the extremes, they nonetheless can be useful across a wide range of application, and I think that's true in this case. Even in a game like Monsterhearts the fact is that only the MC can make a Hard Move, and is the one solely responsible for keeping track of menaces, threats, and so on (most of the world other than the PCs). Contrast it with Monsterheartless to see whether it makes sense to say the MC doesn't have unequal authority.

Given the fact that Monsterheartless and similar strategies exist, and that those of us who'd like to play a GMed game can meet another time - say, alternate Saturdays - maybe it makes sense to preserve this group for GMless games? That's what I'm leaning towards right now...

Best Wishes, Manu
A former member
Post #: 56
I just want to clarify about Monsterhearts and why it is an ambiguous case:

We don't use the (optional) rules for Menaces or Threats when we play Monsterhearts at Meetups. They only apply to multisession games, because they require prep work. Only the MC can make Hard Moves, but only the PCs can make any other type of move, and the MC has no right at all to override the fiction PCs create. It's extremely explicit that the MC doesn't decide the plot, and is really just supposed to ask questions and provide provocative prompts when things get slow or when the dice dictate a plot twist. Otherwise, all decisions are completely in the hands of the other players.

So I don't think this is really all that hard of a line- MH has different roles for different players, but you'd have to squint pretty hard to see the MC as the power role with final authority over the other players in the D&D mode. We could certainly make that distinction more explicit when we explain the game, I think. But the goal isn't to avoid games with variable player roles- that would rule out Polaris and Dreaming Crucible, e.g. It's to rule out games where one player is in authority, and GMed/GMless doesn't break down neatly along that line.

But Manu, I do agree clear policy is absolutely needed. Any kind of soft ban solution would need to use fair rules for deciding what is in. Your suggestion, having some meetings where GMed games are allowed and others where they are not, is a pretty good one.
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