Thursday, December 12, 2013

Avatar World: MC Principles and Moves, Take 2

Been listening to OCRemix's new Temporal Duality album lately, which is remixes from Sonic CD, both the JP and US soundtracks. It's actually full of funk and hip-hop, which was an interesting direction to go with it.
But this? This is solid classic Stardust Speedway US action. I've mentioned before (in, what, October last year?) that the US Stardust Speedway is easily my favorite, and nothing's changed. Seeing djpretzel himself do it is just extra on top. The album has two, as well as a couple Stardust Speedway JP ones for all you regular people - the one with vocals, Time Traveller's Delight, is crazy and good. Also all the Sonic Boom mixes and You Can Do Anything mixes!

So I have this weird relationship with the principles and moves I wrote for Avatar World. First off, I as an MC don't use them much, at least not as lists. I mean, I've never felt particularly beholden to using them as strict guides, especially since the ApW ones are mostly just stuff I do naturally, even in other games (despite what I'm saying about their theoretical importance in the Hacking ME / ApW thread on S-G; you should check that out, I'm doing cool design discussion that's not being replicated here, including about things relevant to hacking in general). Maybe it's because I began through D&D, which is ultimately also a post-apocalyptic setting in a way, but mostly it just meshes well with me. But even ignoring that I don't usually bind myself to them, with AvW in particular I don't need a list because this is my game, when I MC I know what I want things to be like. If Principles govern how the world functions around the PCs, I have a thought about that already, I don't need the list. Because I don't use the list, my games are not a great indicator of how good they are.
I think they're good because, uh, because they're ApW with a couple modifications. Take from that what you will. Especially in light of recent conversation though I'm realizing just how genre'd much of ApW really is in those lists, at least to me, so I don't want to just replicate. I also feel like the ApW list is a bit large - my first thoughts when I was first reading up about how to MC were "holy shit, this is a ton of stuff to try to remember in the middle of a session - even on the hand-out, that's a lot to keep in mind when determining how things go." Heck, that slow-down is actually counter-intuitive to the goal of ApW if the wait while you remember your rules bumps people out of the fiction.
Now, everything in the list is important to ApW. But I wondered if there was a way to condense some principles into single entities, or other small changes to streamline it.

Here's the old list (also we're not screwing with Always Say or the Agendas, those are pretty stable):
* Expose the spirits of the world.
* Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
* Be a fan of the players' characters.
* Put players in the middle of competing factions.
* Make your move, but misdirect.
* Make your move, but never speak its name.
* Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
* Think offscreen too.
* Sometimes, disclaim decision making.
* Treat everyone equally - without kid gloves, like people.
* Give everyone a motive.
* Be melodramatic.
* Fights are never started for violence's sake.

* Isolate someone.
* Inflict harm, as established.
* Challenge their oaths.
* Take away their stuff.
* Tell them the possible consequences and ask.
* Put someone in a spot.
* Reveal who's really in control.
* Announce off-screen badness.
* Announce future badness.
* Make them promise.
* Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
* Expose the harshness of the environment.
* Bring forth the magic of the world.
    And after every move:"What Do You Do?"
That's 13 Principles and13 Moves. That's a lot to me!

But how about these principles? Some are familiar, some are a little different, all are rewritten as I will include in the text.


* Build a mystical world but ground it in the mundane.
Probably the most important part of the MC's job in Avatar World is fill up the spaces in the world that the players leave open with the incredible things like what they've seen in Avatar and Korra and all the other stuff that this game can model. A great trick to do that is to take the magical and strange and bind it to the everyday lives of people. Animals aren't just animals, they're hybrids of two real-world animals, and that's normal. People can bend fire and stone and sea to their will, and that's just a part of their everyday lives making a living and being a part of their community. Sometimes the magical is especially weird, even to denizens of Avatar World, such as the great spirits often are, but the key to making the world feel mystical is to infuse the supernatural into the everyday animals, people, and landscapes and to treat it as just normal.

* Address yourself to the characters, not the players.
When you call someone by their real name, it moves them out of the fiction and brings them back to the table they're sitting at. Calling people by their characters' names even when addressing questions or if people are talking in the third person about their characters' actions helps to hold everyone in that space where they connect with and respond naturally with their characters.

* Be a fan of the players' characters.
The MC is there to introduce complication into characters' lives, and to make their moves when prompted to do so. However, your agenda is to make their lives interesting, and that means that the best move is often not the worst thing the MC can do right then. You want them to win, and your real job is to put things in the way so that those successes feel real.

* Treat everyone equally - without kid gloves, like people.
Your NPCs aren't your precious creations to be protected and preserved, they're the tools you use to make characters' lives interesting, and that often means standing by as the players overcome them. Let go of them easily, but don't just throw them away for nothing.

* Give everyone a motive. Fights are never started for violence's sake.
Not everyone needs a name, sometimes the henchmen are just that unimportant. But even those henchmen need a reason to oppose the players, and that makes their actions more real. Even if the reasons are simple, without them they cease to be characters and just become obstacles in the players' paths.
No one fights just because. Violence is always about something more than just violence. Of course, once combat has started it's usually just the will to stay alive, but starting fights is always more complicated than that.

* Be melodramatic.
Don't just go halfway on this. Be real when you must, but whenever possible, be theatrical. Gesture, overact, and ham it up a bit. And in narration too, nut just dialogue.

* Ask provocative questions and build on the answers.
That should be self-explanatory, but ask questions all the time about relationships, about methods, about histories, and reincorporate what the players say later on. Ask an especially large number of questions when introducing characters at the first session. And whenver you ask questions, try as best you can to use the answers they give, or slightly altered forms of those answers.

* Think ahead, and offscreen too.
Whenever things are happening, always try to keep in mind how that can be used again in the future. Like building on the answers, but but in a more long-term sense. Be careful not to predetermine anything though, you're playing to find out what happens, so don't get attached to any of the ideas you've got. But you should always be thinking up ideas for how things can go wrong or get interesting.
Just because the characters are off at the mountain investigating the air temple doesn't mean the revolutionaries at the city stop fighting. Your MC Plots will remind you how things are marching along elsewhere, but it's a good idea to keep track of what's happening outside of the PC's immediate line of sight. And knowing what else has been moving around lets you drop clues and build up to events, rather than just springing them suddenly.

* Sometimes, disclaim decision making.
The players are the largest resource of ideas you have available to you, so sometimes tap into that well of enthusiasm and have them answer the questions that come up. What IS that statue a figure of? Where WOULD a tiger-bear be found? What IS needed to appease the ghost of the overthrown king? If you don't have any ideas at hand, check if anyone else has any; it deepens their investment in the world and lets them add elements they want to see if the story. Of course, don't do it all the time, you're here to keep their lives interesting and there's little less interesting than determining all the objectives and solutions themselves, but as an occasional tool it is an excellent one.

There. And now let's look at moves!


Making Moves: There are four rules to follow when making moves.
First, regarding the nature of moves, it should follow first from the fiction rather than from some mechanical abstraction, just like the players' moves do. In order for the MC move to happen, it has to happen just as much in the narrative of the story.
Second, you also have triggers for your moves, but it's not unique to each move. You get to make a move whenever the players fail a roll, or when they look at you with expectation in their eyes. And when triggered, you HAVE to make a move - even if it's not all that bad, push things forward in the story. It's just as big a deal as if the players' moves were triggered and they didn't roll anything.
Third, you don't want it to seem like you're using moves! Don't say the name of the moves you're using, and don't call out that you're making a move, just keep acting as if the result was the of-course perfectly-natural next step in the story. Everyone will know you're making moves when they fail, of course, but it breaks everyone's focus a bit when you jump out and make it obvious that you're using your mechanics.
Last, but perhaps most important, make your move as hard as you like, which doesn't always mean as hard as you can. You're a fan of the PCs, you're not bent on ending the game for them, and you're there to make their lives interesting. If you're regularly too hard, it can discourage them from even wanting to make moves at all, and that's certainly no fun for anyone. Especially if they didn't fail their roll, it's okay to go a bit soft on them. When the time comes though, remember: you're treating everyone equal, without kid gloves. That includes the PCs, so give 'em hell.

* Challenge their oaths.
Drive hard to stick a wedge between a character and the other PCs, the NPCs, or even their own goals. Make abandoning goals seem lucrative in the short term, and present conflicts of interest associated with their goals.

* Put someone in a spot.
The most versatile move available to you, use it to put them where they don't want to be. Pull them away from friends, pair them up with someone they'd rather not be with, leave them somewhere vulnerable, or anything else that involves getting them into a troublesome situation. Don't just have the bad stuff come immediately though, at least most of the time. Give them a chance to react and interact and prepare for the upcoming awfulness.

* Expose the big picture.
Reveal what's happening off-screen somewhere, or what's been set in motion that will come down in the future, or whos' really in control of a situation. This is among the softest moves in your control, and is great for those times when the players look to you to set things in motion.

* Make them promise.
A lot of folks are willing to do a lot of things if they feel assured that they can get something out of it. Remember that all their promises go down as Oaths on the players' sheets.

* Offer an opportunity, with or without a cost.
Sometimes it's nice to show the players just what they want, and maybe even give it to them! More often, show them what they want, and then tell them what they'll need to do or give to reach it.

* Inflict harm, as established.
The simplest move in your arsenal, jsut deal harm to them. "As established" means that things deal their appropriate amounts of harm, rather than you just declaring an arbitrary amount of harm. Beware frequent use of this - while it's a good way to make their fights into a struggle, they can't take too much Harm, so it can be easy to be too hard on them.

* Bring the world itself down on them.
The world is scary. It's big, and uncaring, and for all of its wonder, it's ultimately a dangerous place out there in the wild. Angry spirits manifest in the forgotten places, wild beasts roam just off the beaten path, and Fate moves the environment whichever way on a whim. When at rest you make the players marvel at how amazing and strange everything is - but when things start to go bad, show just what the world is capable of.

And after every move you make, ask the players: "What Do You Do?"

There. That's the moves. 9 Principles, 7 Moves, with a small number of the old principles folded into a section written about making moves.
Let's analyze that list again for a second. The first principle is vaguely related to Barf forth apocalyptica, but not exactly. It takes the same role of throwing genre all over everything. I really do think that making things real and making the world seems special means putting the magic in the everyday, not just in the events and spectacles. Address yourself to characters and being a fan of characters didn't quite fit into "making moves" but are super super important, but not genre at all. Same with asking questions and throwing around decision-making, though my explanation isn't quite as in-depth as the one in ApW. Treating everyone equally is the same as before, because I think it's a good way to handle NPCs. Giving everyone a motive now encompasses violence being for other reasons - the latter part just wasn't distinct enough to stay its own thing. Be melodramatic is short and pithy and perfect. Think ahead is a careful one, but I think I explained what I meant.

For the moves, Put Someone In A Spot and Expose The Big Picture swallowed a bunch of others, as did Bring The World Down On Them (which is better wording than either of its old component moves). My biggest concern about the old list's size was that generic-ish things like isolating and taking away their stuff and announcing future badness, while important, were taking away from the genre ones simply by their volume over the genre ones. I mean, I literally halved the list by dragging similar-ish non-genre'd ones under single headers, and now reading it it's all about Avatar all the time. The only thing that remains kinda not that interesting is Inflict Harm, As Established, and I think that's important to have anyway.
Now, this is a tiny as hell list. Even Sagas has 9 moves. My biggest concern is that I tucked some stuff into Put Them In A Spot that should've stayed loose. Not because they don't fit, but because special attention should be paid to them compared to other elements of putting people in spots, which is a very versatile move.

Oh well. What do you think? Do you like the new lists? Am I crazy and down the wrong path?

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