Monday, August 27, 2012

Why Turn Structure's Important

So, Saturday night all my friends and I get together, and my roommate (known to y'all as Sparky) declares he wants to run a short one-shot for all of us. Eager to play for once in the last few months and help my roommate out with getting started at one of the most difficult but rewarding hobbies there is (GMing), I jump up to the challenge. We were told to make any character we wanted in a modern setting, so I decided to make "Dexter Morgan", the infamous serial-killer-vigilante.  Now, as you can tell, I'm a rather chatty guy. I'm so extroverted it's actually a bit of a disadvantage sometimes.... like when you're playing an RPG with a bunch of introverted people.


Fortunately, Dexter took a head-shot about half-way through  the game session and died on the spot, allowing the quieter people to step up and actually get in a word edge-wise. Now, it wasn't just because I was a hog, mind you. I did try to step down. The problem, however, was that once someone steps up to lead a certain part of the session everyone sort of assumes that they'll continue to do so. And in a narrative-based game that means that one person leads the narrative.

This is not OK.

One person should NOT dominate game sessions, and I say that as someone who accidentally did! So what should be done? Each player should have a set of priorities that, when it's his turn (and there should be actual turns, a person, once done with a certain amount of actions should step down and the next person should be allowed to go), allow him to start sorting out the problem of the session in his own way, or to strike out on his own and figure out his own thing, and alter the story in... it's... own... direction...



  1. Er, what level are you talking about here? Because enforcing a turn structure for all actions is markedly different from enforcing an initiative order in combat...and I think it's a kinda silly idea to say that you always must limit players like that. I'm pretty sure Burning Wheel doesn't do that...

    I'm of the school of thought that on one level, this is a GM problem. If some players aren't stepping up, the GM should be putting them on the spot.

    In this case, it sounds like getting a concrete directive (it doesn't get more concrete than character death...) was what did the trick for the players.

    Mind you, it's a really interesting idea to use turn structure for a game...but to claim that it's essential? I'm not seeing it. I've lead a Risus session with no such initiative order, and we wound up having players going off of one another readily.

    I'd also add--the inverse problem is a threat, if you're requiring a turn order. Not everyone has great ideas for what to do when it's "their turn". Not having a turn order lets them jump in whenever they get the good idea.

    [Melancholic exit, stage left]

  2. Burning Wheel doesn't openly do it, but when you look at Luke's other games, such as Burning Empires and Mouseguard, he most certainly does think that there should be some sort of structure. Burning Wheel having an open structure does not mean that a structure is not implied and even demanded for it! BITs strongly enforce the style of players' turns, and the Adventure Burner practically screams for it at certain points, and even has suggestions for it (focus on two characters per session usually, with people jumping in as necessary).

    And, in my experience, it's essential to have a turn structure, even if it's implied. You will always have someone who will hog the show, someone who needs a little bit of help stepping back if necessary , and vice versa. Sometimes the players will go off each other readily, it's true, but that's a one in a million session for a one and a million group. Eventually someone's going to be tired, or crabby, or needing to vent, and that structure needs to be there to catch them.

    I'm willing to bet you five bucks and a pizza that the BITs were designed by Luke so that way everyone could contribute on a regular basis in a turn structure that was supposed to be discovered intuitively, over time.

    Burning Wheel allows you to make a structure on your own, while Burning Empires and Mouseguard has one programmed in. Five bucks and a pizza, Andy.