I’m gonna make you awesome

This week I found a very interesting short article on a story games site, in a list of tips on how to add more story gaming to your roleplay game (I’m still not sure on the difference they see between the two, but let’s leave that aside for now):

A tradition borrowed from improvisational theater, one of the central tenets to playing an ad-libbed scene is it is your core responsibility to make your fellow actors look good. If you are getting more laughs than they are, you are doing it wrong. If you are actively looking for ways to snub the other performers to make yourself look even better, then you’re doing it very wrong. Your efforts have to be about supporting the production as a whole, not just making yourself look good. It reduces the pressure of performing a lot if everyone knows they’ve got support, that they can rely on their fellow actors to catch any dumb-ass moves they make, turn it around, and make them into something fantastic instead.

So far, so good. When you play a roleplay game, you’re primarily focused on, well, playing your character, both actively and in response to the world, the npc’s and the other players. You’re definitely trying to keep the story going, but you’re not actively trying to make the other characters look good, cause that’s their job. Right?

But maybe it’s more fun if you do, and more fun if other people do it for you, as well. You may want to portray how your character’s mystical ramblings confuse people to no end, you may want to portray how your character is always there for a friend in need or you may want to portray your character as comic relief who always end up on the short side of a joke. It’d be pretty awesome if you could get a setup to show the things you as a player enjoy showing and could do the same for others.

Also, it puts the focus more coöperation. Say one player enjoys her character having strict moral values. If you actively work together to create a scene where her character catches your character doing something unlawful, you can (potentially) give exposition to both characters (‘you’ll totally get to explain why the law is so important’, ‘and you’ll totally get to express why your character is stealing in the first place’) and resolve it in the same spirit. Not reporting your fellow character to the cops might then just be a nice scene resolution instead of a grave character modification.

The article tries to set this mechanic up in a way that I don’t really like:

So engage in a round of I’m Gonna Make You Awesome before beginning play at your next tabletop roleplaying session. Go around the table and tell every player – including the GM, if there is one – what you, as a player, are going to do to make them awesome that evening. And then follow through. Maybe you are going to relentlessly hit their Flags and Keys. Maybe you are going to back up their plays like a lunatic henchman. Maybe you are going to realize an amazing moment for their character. I really have no idea what constitutes awesomeness to you and your friends, but you do, so make your commitment to them explicit and up front. As an added bonus this ought to get everyone both really excited about playing and in the mood for agreement and mutual support.

I don’t like it because it feels pretty contrived. That’s not the kind of thing that’s going to generate spontaneous cooperation. The principle is sound, but it need a better implementation. It can just be something everyone keeps in the forefront of their mind during play. But the additional problem is that I dont always know what other players are looking for specifically. In story games, maybe everyone’s traits and weaknesses are on the table, but they aren’t in a long-running campaign where character exposition is done slowly.

One solution might be to create play notes to your character for the other players. Those might convey out-of-character hints to the things you’re interested in exploring in this playthrough with this character. What could be in your play notes?

1. What’s your story?

Roleplay characters evolve during the story, both in skill and character. Some players decide what their story will be when they make their character, others only discover their story during play. When people know what story you are going for, they can contribute to it in various ways.

If my character’s story is ‘A person with a disability discovers she can be a hero’, that tells the other players their characters can, for instance, be dismissive of my character in the first part, make use of her in the second part, and acknowledge her abilities in the last part. Or they can be part of what makes this change, by seeing her abilities in the first act when others can’t and fostering that growth. Or they can stay dismissive right up to the end. They can all contribute to telling that story instead of staying neutral to it.

Examples

My story is that of a distrusting woman learning to trust in people again.
My  story is that of a coward learning to fight for what is right
My story is a coming-of-age story of a girl slowly taking on adult responsabilites

2. Which of your characteristics do you want to show?

A lot of character traits you can portray actively. Still, it can be far more establishing if other characters actively notice them, point them, or perhaps contrast them with their own traits. Other traits are harder to portray, say a character who’s stoic. His stoicism will only stand out in extreme situations, and even then it’s usually the job of the DM to point it out.

Dm: The cold weather has you all shivering and chattering your teeth, only John the Barbarian seems unaffected.
Players: We’re getting out of the damm cold

Contrast with:

Jake the Rogue: Damm, I’m freezing my balls off here, and you don’t even have your cloak on. Are you made of stone or what?
John the Barbarian: This cold is nothing compared to the things I endured during my training as a young boy.
Jake the Rogue: Really?
John the Barbarian: I clearly remember the first time we crossed the blizzard of..

The second seems more fun, right? Not only does the DM have a gazillion things to track and is usually to busy to remember your stoic superpowers, it’s also a lot more fun when your players interact with you.

It also gives player permission to remark on those things. Perhaps women make your character uneasy, but you are succesfully working hard to keep this hidden. It’ll be glaring if other characters bring it up. Even if you don’t mind, players might not bring it up unless they have a go-ahead sign. If you write it down and share it, they know they can bring it up.

Examples

I would like to portray my character’s stoicism, my positive thinking under duress, my negativity, my traditional values, my oldfashionedness, my agorafobia, my ocd, my emotional outbursts, my mysticism etc.

3. What scenes do you like to play?

Certain scenes might set your heart on fire more than others, you may need some scenes to reach the evolution needed for your story. Some scenes might just be a lot of fun. Is there any harm in letting your fellow players know what you like to play? Especially if you as a player like different things than your character does, or if you enjoy playing your character in not so flattering circumstances. Perhaps you are looking for opportunities you wouldn’t normally get.

If you let it be known you want a few scenes where your character can show how caring anf friendly she is, perhaps another player will let you bump into their character when they’re clearly in need of a shoulder to cry on. Something they wouldn’t do if you hadn’t made it clear what you were looking for. If you like to play your character as comic relief, other players might feel more free to do that when they explicitly know you enjoy it.

Examples

I enjoy scenes where my character can confound people with my mysterious one-liners
I enjoy scenes where my character can build trust with other characters
I enjoy scenes where my character can show he has a temper
I enjoy scenes where my character’s compulsive lying is found out
I enjoy scenes where my character can resolve a fight
I enjoy scenes where my character can indulge his flirtateous nature

I don’t know, I think guidelines like these might make a difference in trust and enjoyment while playing. Under the right circumstances they could (paradoxically) promote both character flexibility (‘eventhough my character is too polite to ask questions, in this scene I’ll ask about the mysterious background this player wants to talk about) and character depth.

I can also see it going wrong very badly (“I’ve already given you three opportunities to showcase your kind nature and you haven’t remarked upon my stoicism even once!”), or can see people feeling it’s too contrived and such things should happen spontaneously or just flow out of play. But i’m kind of curious what a game would be like if it was at the forefront of every game, if every thing in the game became a tool to make another character awesome.

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11 Responses to I’m gonna make you awesome

  1. Richard says:

    I like the idea of Making Awesome, but I see a few problems/issues when adapting it to our existing concept of roleplay.
    First of all, the Making Awesome (and in my idea, the improv method) does not have a lot of room for a DM. The focus is on players setting up stages for other players, and player equality. In putting a lot of focus on the stages of character development/character deepening, it might easily take focus away from the story itself.
    I think the story already does have focus on the character quirks, and a good story tries to already use the Making Awesome technique (I consider it part of the DM’s job). If players do a lot of MA scenes, it might take away opportunities for the story to use these scenes for its benefit as well.
    Secondly, although I think the list is a good idea, it runs the risk of becoming a check-list. In preparation a player may look at the lists, and decide every session needs to be a character-development session. “Last session was for Jacob, this session must be Bernadette’s session.” In a long-term campaign this might become impossible to keep up (and keep meaningful). Besides, I’d find it tricky to think of a list myself. I don’t have a clear-cut path thought out for my character, and most changes come from unexpected things in the story. Perhaps a too clearly defined path from the start will take away flexibility? Make the character development all about progress, and not about change?

    In any case, I like the concept behind the MA. I’d like to experiment with it, even. But I’m still unsure how to incorporate it into a long-term story-driven roleplay campaign.

    • juliainleuven says:

      I don’t know really know either, maybe it’s enough to just keep it in mind, I don’t know.

      You can change the path throughout the game though, so it doesn’t have to be too rigid, it can change over time. And it doesn’t have to be about what your character wants, it’s mostly about what the player wants. If you want more party cohesion, you can (possibly) set up some opportunities for the kind of cohesion you want to see happen (i.e. an opportunity to keep a secret, help someone out, be supportive, or whatever). Those scenes can be mailplay ones as well, so they don’t bother the DM.

      It doesn’t just have to be character deepening, it can also be story deepening. I had a little mailplay with tâm placed the day before Satomi’s wedding which was actually just to get one question answered, but really just showcased rather comically how busy Satomi was getting her wedding organised. I almost didn’t start the mailplay because I figured Satomi was too busy then, not thinking about how it would be a cool opportunity for tâm to show just how busy Satomi was.

      • Tam says:

        On the mailplay: yes, it was fun! I also regularly tried to do this for other players, but it was sometimes very hard to determine whether it was seen and used as an opportunity, or as a hassle.

        E.g. (this is not a complaint btw) sometimes what was intended as an opportunity for another character to share his/her reactions/feelings resulted in him/her mostly showing ‘I’m a pretty stoic person and I’m able to be extremely silent about what I feel/think.’ Without a list like the one you describe, it was pretty hard to say whether they enjoyed the opportunity to show this aspect of the character, or just wanted to get rid of another boring mailplay asap.

        Therefore, the list you propose seems like a good instrument to me. Everyone remains free to be as specific or as vague as they want, so those who enjoy a greater (or smaller) shrewd of mystery around their character shouldn’t be hindered by the list.

        I also tend to get more character deepening from my co-PC’s than from the story, e.g. I got most of my MA scenes with Yuudai, which is logical imo as a PC is more fleshed out than an NPC (and mailplaying one character is more doable than 100). Plus, PC’s evolve a lot more, which makes for more gradual shifts from dislike to like. NPC’s usually take a stance early on and only change it because of big spectacular acts, PC friendships are more gradual (I stated often enough that I like them to result in ‘true friendship’ after a time, and I know that some other players look for other things, but the idea could be transposed to, e.g. ‘moral compass’ or ‘good collegue’ as well). And as he was rather receptive to MA-opportunities from my side, I think (hope) that the enjoyment was mutual. So i’m all for as many co-PC-driven MA’s as possible. And the list seems like a good instrument for the cases where it doesn’t work as well as it did in that case.

        (and I think I’ve got some other things I’d like to say, but must go eat!)

      • Tam says:

        In fact there isn’t much I’d like to add which hasn’t been said by someone else already. I think it’s a brilliant idea.

        Of course there are always risks that come with each experiment, but I think that this risk is rather limited in comparison to the potential gains (and the risks that are cancelled because of this approach – e.g. the worst misunderstandings are very likely to be avoided).

        I also agree with Kris’s remark that characters who have travelled together for months probably know each other’s good and bad buttons a bit better than the players know each other’s characters, and this would be a way to counter that difference.

        So well, I’d like to try this. But I don’t think it would be very useful/effective if one or several players don’t want to do it. Maybe we can bring it up tomorrow, during or after the PM aftertalk.

  2. Kris says:

    (Ik ga dit gewoon in het Nederlands schrijven. Babelfish vertaalt het ongetwijfeld perfect).

    Ik zie een aantal interessante zaken, maar wat me persoonlijk interesseert is effectief het informeren van de andere spelers. Richard zegt het goed wanneer hij opmerkt dat de GM al probeert om spelers “awesome” te maken, maar voor de GM is het ook eenvoudiger want hij kent zo goed als alle quirks van elk character. Ik denk dat onze groep altijd wel deze zaken probeert te doen maar dat spelers soms opportuniteiten laten liggen net omdat ze niet 100% het begrip hebben van elkaars “knopjes” – een begrip dat de personages veel meer zouden hebben, indien ze effectief zoveel tijd met elkaar zouden doorbrengen.

    Ik ben er niet zeker van of dit niet te artificieel zou zijn, zo’n lijstje geven, maar misschien (zeker voor de start van Galatea) moeten we iets zoeken om de kennis over te brengen die je automatisch oploopt na een aantal dagen in iemand’s gezelschap te zitten.

    Sowieso zou ik (L5R of misschien mijn volgende campaign) graag nog iets meer de narratieve kant op wensen te gaan, waar we niet meer spreken van Game Master en (Game) Player maar eerder Main Narrator en Personal Narrator -> waar het de GM is die beslist of een actie lukt of niet, maar de speler het verhaalt. Om maar een voorbeeld te geven: de speler zegt dat hij de evil NPC aanvalt, de GM geeft aan dat hier een succesverhaal van gegeven mag worden (thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways voor een partial success), en dan verhaalt de speler aan de andere spelers (en de GM) wat hij juist doet.

    (I go this ordinary in Dutch writing. Babelfish translate it undoubtedly perfectly). I see a number of interesting matter, but what interests me personally is effectively the information of the other players. Richard say well when he notices that the GM try already for players ” awesome” to make, but for the GM it is also simple because he knows as well as all quirks of each character. I think that our group tries always, however, this do matter but to that to players sometimes opportunisms let lie exactly because them not 100% have the term of each other’s ” knopjes” – a term that the characters much more, if they would spend effectively so much time with each other. I am not of it certainly if this would be not too artificial, zo’ n gives lijstje, but perhaps (certainly for the start of Galatea) we must zoeken something to transmit knowledge which you incur automatically after a number of days in iemand’ s companionship to sit.

    I (L5R or perhaps my following campaign) gladly the more narrative side still something on wishes, would go where we no longer speak of Game master and (Game) Player but more earlier Main Narrator and Personal Narrator – > where it is the GM that definitely or an action does not succeed or, but the player recovers it. But to give an example: the player says that he attacks the evil NPC, the GM give to that here a success tale of data can become (thumbs up, thumbs down, thumbs sideways for partial success), and then recover the player to the other players (and the GM) what he does correctly.

    • juliainleuven says:

      Oooh, toffe ideeën!

    • Tam says:

      Ja, klinkt goed! 🙂

    • Marijke says:

      Ik ben niet zo’n fan van player narration (voorbij wat je personage doet), omdat hoe/waarom hetgeen mijn personage probeert faalt/slaagt iets is wat voor mij onderdeel is van de uitdaging (de DM vertelt me waarom iets faalt, ik ga proberen een methode te bedenken om daaromheen te komen). Zaken die niet in de directe controle van mijn personage liggen bedenk ik liever niet, maar zie ik als een reactie van de wereld (gegeven door de DM) op de acties van mijn personage en zijn voor mij onderdeel van de “immersion”.
      Dat betekend niet dat ik het niet wil proberen. Maar ik denk niet dat het mijn favoriete stijl van roleplay gaat worden.

  3. Jan says:

    I have tried to already drop some hints as to what I like to play. But of course there is not a set list, it’s something that evolves. It’s a combination of what you, the player, likes to do and what you, your character, likes to do.

    And sometimes something that you, the player, likes to play is ofcourse something that your character doesn’t like at all. But it’s often fun to play your character in a situation where he is not comfortable at all. Or at least, I think so, your mileage may vary.

    A recent very fun RP moment for me was with Chihiro when she was asking about the Tao of Shinsei. Inane zen babbling was one of my character concepts, but it’s often hard to play out and even harder to have other PC’s still keep you seriously at the same time as well. So when she opened up that conversation, I was very gratefull, cause it gave an oppertunity to shed some light on that aspect of the character again.

    I think it does help if the other players have little pointers as to what sort of thing you like playing out. Sometimes you may shy away from a subject cause youi think a character wouldn’t want to talk about it, but sometimes the player does, or the conversation itself gives a chance to shed some light on the reasoning behind it.

    So I think it has potential to enrich the inter-character interactions. Not that it should replace the story in any way, but it’s cool if you get something in front of you and you can actually say: you know, I think I should take this up with Bob, he likes that sort of thing!

  4. Marijke says:

    Your example about the barbarian and the cold, in my opinion doesn’t need to be a contrast or mutually exclusive. The way I see this happening (and what I think often happens in our games) is one being a result of the other. The DM pointing out John’s cold-resistance:

    “Dm: The cold weather has you all shivering and chattering your teeth, only John the Barbarian seems unaffected.”

    Leading to the Jake the rogue’s player saying: “Damm, I’m freezing my balls off here, and you don’t even have your cloak on. Are you made of stone or what?”

    I think I like it better if there is actually some prompting from the DM or from the player who plays John in this case, because they will know better how John will react to the cold than you.

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