R: "Can we do it this other way that we can do according to the book or there's these other rule options, or maybe the GM uses a rule and says well this guy's got an Obfuscate of such-and-such and I rolled and that was his success, and I'm kinda like, well yea but that wasn't fun so why can't you not do that?" I don't think I've ever seen that Golden Rule applied as I just described. It, in application, means "things go my way if I'm the GM". That's what it means in application. So effectively what you have is this notion not of story creation through the processes of communication during play, the processes of procedure, of activities that you carry out at the table with each other communicating - no, you will, IF you get a story, it's because the GM felt like making one up, had one in his head beforehand, or makes it up as he goes along as you play. And that's what story comes from. Now that's the confusion in many cases - that story is product. You talk to a group like that, they say "oh but we *did* make a story, it was a great story!" and you're kinda saying "well yea but I watched you play, I'm maybe even playing in the group with you, and I didn't see you actually make story. I saw a story get imposed upon play." It's different. I'm not talking about product, I'm talking about process.
When somebody's making up a story, there is a point in the history of time when the story does not exist. I don't care if this is right before his first rough draft, I don't care if this is right before his final cut, I don't care where it comes in that particular person's process but there will come a point where there wasn't a story and now there is. What happens in that person's mind is a matter of some debate - you can talk to creative people all you want to and you're going to just run into days of debate - what I do know is that those things can also occur at the group level of discussion and it's not just freeform consensus until everybody agrees and moves onto the next scene. It is, in fact, a procedure, a dynamic interaction that generates results that no one person could possibly have predicted or imposed. That's what I mean when I say "story now". It means that the process of actually making the damn thing is occuring here, during play, the processes of play. That's opposed to what I like to call "story before" which is where somebody sits down in play fully aware of the story in mind, as much as saying, well then they're going to confront this villain at the end of, well you know we're going to be playing for about four or five hours, I figure with one hour left they're going to confront the villain around then. And I used to run my games like that, I used to sit down and play Champions and I'd have that in mind, and I was improvisational enough, you know, and I had enough stuff going on in the game that I could kind of stall them a little bit in the first round of play and throw them a few clues, and play the NPCs, and maybe had a revelation they could find out along the way, but roundabout an hour to go I was set. And then, ok, you find him. So where'd the story come from, effectively speaking? It came from me.
And then you have "story after" where *nothing* really happens at the time, it's all a big mess, but people go back in their heads, or perhaps one person in prepping for the next session sort of dissects a bunch of stuff that you can cobble together to make into that story with the rising action, narration, and stuff and treats it that way, so that's kinda "story after". The processes of play really didn't produce one that was enjoyed as a story at the time. So does that clarify a little bit about the story before, story after, story now?
I: Actually, tons compared to what little I had grasped of it so far.
R: Excellent. So let's move to getting to your real question, which is this business about the brain damage. What I am saying is that people have aesthetic interests in role-playing, a lot of us really would like to have this "story now" experience and actually be authors and audience at the same time, get all the best of both worlds in that regard, the same way that musicians playing music get the best of both worlds, of being both creators and audience to the music at the same time. Musicians do that. Not *everybody* wants that, and I don't even want it all the time. You know, I played cut-throat today! "Story now" my ass, I was there to become the top dog in that cut-throat motorcycle band and we were going to have a great time just playing dominating, going on raids, sending our girlfriends to go and winkle out each other's secrets, and you know, you play opposition to other people's conflicts and so you try and come up with conflicts that would be humiliating if they lost so that way they'd be hampered in the bragging rights competition in the next phase - you know, it's competitive. That's a blast if that's what we're all for. There's many different approaches and as you know I think they can be categorised fairly easily into distinctive things, creative agendas, at the table with the group.
What I'm saying is that let's take whatever subset of teenagers who were hit by this pack of games, the White wolf games and their ilk, which is to say a wide variety of games that were a very strong attempt to be just like them..
I: Games with attribute/skill..?
R: Not just attribute and skill, but the whole idea of this dark edgy outsider, you know..
R: Smooth blend of the X-files and Nightmare on Elm Street perhaps.
I: You're talking more about the feeling than the rules.
R: I am, and so that's very attractive - I mean, I didn't even really mean that derisively, you know, if you want to say "X-Files and Nightmare on Elm Street" I'll say well that sounds kinda fun, I could do that.
I: They're both cool.
R: But the issue is, you get a bunch of people who see that, that's the medium of play is that imaginative context right there that I've just described, and they are also totally into it because of all the teen effects that I've talked about before and now they're convinced - some of them, some of them just blaze over all that reading stuff that had to do with story this and story that, they just want to make badass vampires and kick butt, that's fine - others, you know, they wanna dress up. They love Anne Rice, they wanna dress up like an Anne Rice character and act like an Anne Rice character and that's good too, especially if you can do it at the table then go off and do it at the LARP and maybe get laid that night. Whatever. But the deal is that neither of those are the only things that people would want out of Vampire. Some people reading those texts, of what amazing epic thematically significant stories were going to emerge from all this - and that's high art - they were impressed! And well they should be, if someone promised me something like that, I would jump at it! I get to do that with role-playing? Yea, baby! They sit down, they try to play it and what do they encounter? They never encounter that. They encounter at most story before and story after.
Well, I was a determined teen, I read everything imaginable - RuneQuest and Champions - with this determination of this particular kind of desire. And I read everything you could imagine of those games and many others, trying to cobble together some way to get that "story now" thing going. And occasionally succeeding. There actually are some secondary texts in both games that really are very inspiring and fully of really great instructions for that - and then there's a bunch of other instructions that are about other things.. but, the issue is that the game never told me that it was gonna do that. I was just determined to do it. Here, the game *is* telling you. So what's going to be the perfectly reasonable and rational response - especially if you're looking at people who are effectively the equivalent of young filmmakers and young musicians, and if it doesn't work out the first time, what reasonably and rationally are they going to try to do tomorrow? They're gonna try again. They're gonna try again, harder. They're going to buy into it *more*. And in the case of the White Wolf games, I mean "buy into it more" very literally, because of the extremely cynical supplement model those games were working with especially in the mid nineties.
And at that time, think about people in their teens who are struggling to do this, the more it doesn't work, and the more they find ways of arriving at story in some ways that really aren't all that fun, the harder and harder and harder they're going to glom onto their difficult solutions. Here's one of those difficult solutions: effectively sitting down and talking at one another - not knowing when to roll the dice at all, and that's where you get these anecdotes, the one I'm thinking about is where they spent 45 minutes with a vampire trying to operate a copy machine because they didn't have the skills for it and they were trying to use the dice to have this happen and they were just really frustrated because they didn't even really know when to roll dice and when not to, and so they're saying well we're gonna talk most of the time and then sometimes when we're supposed to we're going to roll these things. And that doesn't work out very well - what's the "sometimes"? When do you roll the dice? There's no reward system to go to, either. There's no way to look and say well, what is my payoff for playing, when are we going to get that epic story? Well, then you have another form of vampire play, which is the highly metaplot based one, which many many many of the supplements do that, and you read the supplements and they effectively just order the players to do this and that. You know. "Then the ghouls attack. After you kill the ghouls..."; this is the old D&D style of supplement making - "when the ghouls attack... after the players have killed them off they'll pursue the leader of the ghouls". It's very locked in, what the players are going to do. And in those groups you get this kind of obedience thing where they all become very very good at sort of opening their mouths like baby birds for the GM to drop in the next thing that they're supposed to do, and then they bust out their combat mechanics and stuff and dutifully fight the ghouls and nobody really seems to worry about whether somebody's going to go down or not because they never do - of course they'll get their asses kicked by the big NPC who comes along and teaches them a lesson once in a while. But that's the other form which is, effectively speaking, the group - or the people in the group who are inclined in that direction - just give up on the "story now" thing. Others take over and find dysfunctional ways, like for example somebody who says "well we are going to have a story here dammit, I'm going to basically emotionally and socially dominate these people until they accept my story!" And you find that - people who all insist about how Stan is the most amazing GM, he makes the best stories.