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Drraagh
Not sure if this is the place for it, but I felt a little like waxing poetic and this would help relate it to game mastering. it may be a tl;dr post for some, but I tried to make it interesting for those who chose to read it.

I was talking with a friend about literary concepts and how they are used in fiction. One of the prime examples is Chekhov's Gun, which is simply 'One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it'. It makes a lot of sense when you look at it from the aspect of a Tv show/movie/book/play/etc where you only have a set amount of time to cover anything, and thus it makes the time that you spend covering things important and, in the idea of pacing and scene development, everying included must make sense to either further the plot or explain the character, otherwise it is a waste of time. Thus why you have people get into the car and then cut to the destination, unless something happens in the ride that is important.

Roleplaying games, at least in my world, tend to break that sort of rule. An example being how you give your players the setting, have some various clues here and there for your metaplot, and your players go in a completely different direction. You could set all sorts of little things you expect to go off, but freeform RP is unlike a console/computer roleplaying game, where the world is unchanging and you have to meet with the proper NPCs and do the proper things to unlock the plot and be able to move further along. In a tabletop game, GMs have three options; railroad the players to follow your plot, make all roads the players take lead back to your plot, or let the players run wild and see where it takes them. All three options can work, depending on how willing you are to embrace them.

If you railroad the players, you can make it obvious, "You say no to the J and start to walk away before his muscle puts a syringe to your neck and presses the plunger. 'You've now been injected with an experimental chemical that will eat your body inside out within fourty eight hours. I have the cure, and will give it to you if you do the job for me', says the Johnson.", or your railroading could be a little more discrete. "You try and get yourself out of the city, but the airplanes are grounded due to a terrorist threat (that you covered in the opening) which resulted in blowing up of the only road out of town and the moutains are too steep to climb out, so the runners have no choice but remaining in your city.

If you have everything lead back to your plot, you need to be able to find some ways to shift the details. Your runners are seeking some criminal and they didn't get the good rolls from their contacts or they didn't put the little clues together that you gave them; then you have a player overhear from two thugs about how that guy is offering some work and that he's hiding out at this factory. Then they are able to hunt them down.

If you're willing to let your players run wild, then you must be willing to improvise. This normally tends to be the most freeform, where the players tell the story and the GM is along to shape the world around them. The story is crafted by the players, which mahy not directly work under the Shadowrun 'Create a run and follow it' methodology, but it works with something more dealing with a character telling their story. Looking at this, I can see this working well with one, maybe two players, unless the whole group shares similar connections. Think about the SNES and Genesis Shadowrun games as an example of this, where the PC was living his way. Kind of hard to create any fore-planning in this, unless you can create it on the fly and find some way to tie it all together. Some movies are good at that, coming up with all these little threads that you don't think amounted to anything and tying them all together in a neat little package at the end. The only one I can think of right now is the Ocean's Eleven series of movies and similar type con movies, where each little action means something larger.

If you read TV Tropes, you probably see a lot of the different literary terms and how they apply to story telling beyond just Chekhov's Gun, such as Chandler's Law. Chandler's Law is a concise but evocative piece of advice for writers who have somehow painted themselves into a corner, plotwise. In short, the addition of a new opponent or complication, usually amidst a burst of violence, can free a protagonist from where he has become mired in the current plot. Or, in its short form, "When in doubt, have a man come through a door with a gun in his hand."

It is like most action movies, which are most of the the sort of games are based on, sometimes based on horror which follows the same sort of formula. Anytime things start to get quiet, throw in a gunfight or some sort of combat. Equilibrium comes to mind as I try and think about how many fights there were interspaced with the plot pieces.

The Law of Bruce, "Any story where you have good guys versus bad guys can only be as smart as the intelligence of your baddest guy." And one of the perfect examples I can think of is David Xanatos from Gargoyles. For those who have already read TVTropes, you know Xanatos has a whole section to himself about planning and out-thinking the protagonists, Xanatos Planned This

I know I kind of rambled on this, but I am wondering if anyone else sort of thought in this manner. I once looked at how runs would fit within Freytag's Dramatic Structure and try and figure how runs fit in that so they could be arranged like TV shows. nyahnyah.gif
pbangarth
Though I haven't read much of the literature pertinent to this issue, I have for a long time thought that in creating drama in general, if you start with really fleshed out characters the story writes itself. This idea came to me from my ex-wife, an author. You allude to this idea in your post, and it is reiterated in a followup link for Lajos Egri in your link to Freytag's Dramatic Structure.

There is a structure and a goal, but good characters usually rewrite the story to a large degree. I have tended in the past few years to run games based on this principle, and have spent more and more time in developing my own characters when I play. I see the function of the GM at the start of a game as providing the seed that prompts action from the characters. This could turn out to be analogous to the 'inciting moment' the GM expected, or something else entirely.
MikeKozar
QUOTE (Drraagh @ Oct 18 2009, 02:40 PM) *
I was talking with a friend about literary concepts and how they are used in fiction. One of the prime examples is Chekhov's Gun, which is simply 'One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it'.


I'm not sure if I have this backwards or if I'm thinking of another trope, but I thought the implication was that if you're going to shoot a guy with a gun in Act 3, it has to have been on the stage in Act 1. Meaning that it's rude to blind-side the heroes (and the audience) with a deux ex machina that isn't at least foreshadowed earlier.

For example, if the final showdown between the session's bad guy and the heroes is down to a negotiation regarding whether or not he knows too much to be killed, and the place is suddenly surrounded by Lone Star trying to take down the bad guy for killing a bunch of cops earlier, the characters will feel less blindsided if they knew there was a massive manhunt for this guy as a copkiller.

This can be hard to pull off in an RPG where the players decide what information they find, but it can be pretty satisfying if used properly.

Just adding my two nuyen to a good post.
Drraagh
QUOTE (MikeKozar @ Oct 18 2009, 07:28 PM) *
I'm not sure if I have this backwards or if I'm thinking of another trope, but I thought the implication was that if you're going to shoot a guy with a gun in Act 3, it has to have been on the stage in Act 1. Meaning that it's rude to blind-side the heroes (and the audience) with a deux ex machina that isn't at least foreshadowed earlier.

For example, if the final showdown between the session's bad guy and the heroes is down to a negotiation regarding whether or not he knows too much to be killed, and the place is suddenly surrounded by Lone Star trying to take down the bad guy for killing a bunch of cops earlier, the characters will feel less blindsided if they knew there was a massive manhunt for this guy as a copkiller.

This can be hard to pull off in an RPG where the players decide what information they find, but it can be pretty satisfying if used properly.

Just adding my two nuyen to a good post.


The same trope is written in so many ways. To steal the references from Wikipedia:

* "One must not put a loaded rifle on the stage if no one is thinking of firing it." Chekhov, letter to Aleksandr Semenovich Lazarev (pseudonym of A. S. Gruzinsky), 1 November 1889.
* "If in the first act you have hung a pistol on the wall, then in the following one it should be fired. Otherwise don't put it there." From Gurlyand's Reminiscences of A. P. Chekhov, in Teatr i iskusstvo 1904, No. 28, 11 July, p. 521.
* "If you say in the first chapter that there is a rifle hanging on the wall, in the second or third chapter it absolutely must go off. If it's not going to be fired, it shouldn't be hanging there." From S. Shchukin, Memoirs (1911)

And I agree, having a solution pop out from nowhere is what made me first think about this. I read How Not To Write and they had this entry in there:

The Rug Jerk

Any gratuitous plot or character twist tossed in solely to jerk the rug out from under the reader for the sake of surprise or shock, without sufficient foundation, foreshadowing or justification (retroactive or otherwise). Essentially any story twist that violates Chekhov's principles: "If you fire a gun in Act III, it must be seen on the wall in Act I; and if you show a gun on the wall in Act I, it must be fired in Act III." The Rug Jerk fires the gun without showing it first or explaining where it came from afterwards. [suggested by Stephen J. Barringer]

But the idea of Chekhov's Gun is like you said, it is hard to make sure they find all the information unless you railroad them or make sure they somehow stumble over all the information. But the question is do they put it all together? If you don't spell it out for people, can they figure it out? You could do an Infodump, but in the end, you're then leading your players by the noses, sort of making it like Sherlock Holmes explaining everything to Watson.

The post began with Chekhov's Gun because it can be the hardest one to pull off successfully in an RPG unless you're able to manipulate your players into working your plot line. In a non-directed scenario, it's hard to do. You could litter little bits through your campaign, but what if your players don't work the way you wanted? I mean, I have been watching La Femme Nikita and Macgyver lately, and in LFN, there are times where the story is 'How can we spin things on its head, make the characters wonder which side is up', and if the player takes a different path, rather than the one you wanted, then they may not always work out to find out everything you wanted to tell them. With Macgyver, its basically A to B to C, with a few trip ups along the way, but Macgyver always knows he's doing good work, and is a good guy who doesn't question that fact. The runners may question who they're working for, will they make more money or survive longer if they do this for someone else rather than working for the J, etc.

A lot of GMs don't really think about these sort of things, like pacing, dramatic effects, things like that. But this is storytelling, so we do need to worry about those things in some ways to make our story out to be the best it can be, I think.
Kagetenshi
It should be noted that despite the quote suggesting that Chekhov's Gun implies its converse, it does nothing of the kind; the shot in Act III requiring the unveil in Act I, though valid in some cases, is completely unrelated.

I would argue that Chekhov's Gun is ultimately inapplicable to a traditional RPG. Beyond the objections of requiring excessive contortions on the part of the GM, we must also note that the place of red herrings is much more prominent than in standard fiction; a strong adherence to Chekhov's Gun essentially hands players a stack of successful Perception, Investigation, or possibly even Precognition rolls due to the required implication that if it is seen or described, it is important. The converse multiplies that, requiring that anything that will be important first be seen. This still leaves a certain element of deciding how to respond to the situations as given, but eliminates any pretense at determining what the situation is in the first place.

~J
TeknoDragon
QUOTE (MikeKozar @ Oct 18 2009, 07:28 PM) *
I'm not sure if I have this backwards or if I'm thinking of another trope, but I thought the implication was that if you're going to shoot a guy with a gun in Act 3, it has to have been on the stage in Act 1. Meaning that it's rude to blind-side the heroes (and the audience) with a deux ex machina that isn't at least foreshadowed earlier.

For example, if the final showdown between the session's bad guy and the heroes is down to a negotiation regarding whether or not he knows too much to be killed, and the place is suddenly surrounded by Lone Star trying to take down the bad guy for killing a bunch of cops earlier, the characters will feel less blindsided if they knew there was a massive manhunt for this guy as a copkiller.

This can be hard to pull off in an RPG where the players decide what information they find, but it can be pretty satisfying if used properly.

Just adding my two nuyen to a good post.



I agree with implementing that sort of thing-- I'm getting sick of one GM who will give information the characters would have known about before, say, engaging in combat, to the players too late to do anything with it. Or putting arbitrary limits on character abilities, that are not rules-as-written.
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