Tuesday, 12 March 2013

Drama Tools: Essential Actions

Megan followed up on my post about her list of NPC motivations with the following comment, in case you missed it:

"I was pulling from the book written by some of Mamet's students on essential actions, which has a checklist.

An essential action must be:
  • physically capable of being done
  • fun to do
  • specific
  • have its test in the other person
  • not be an errand
  • not presuppose any physical or emotional state
  • not be manipulative
  • have a "cap"
  • be in line with the intention of the playwright (or in this case, the GM)
I don't know that I succeeded with all those items all the time, but they were my guiding principles. (See A Practical Handbook for the Actor by Melissa Bruder et al., p.11)"

I highlighted a few of those I think are particularly important in a gaming context.

Megan's mention of essential actions (and Mamet) led me to this article on Practical Aesthetics on Wikipedia. The article says the following about essential actions: "An evocative and relevant description of what the actor wants within the scene. It is essential to understand that what the character is doing and what the actor is doing are separate."

In the gaming context, again, I think the relevant thing to know is that there can and sometimes should be a dichotomy between what the character is doing / wants and what the player is doing / wants. It's entirely appropriate in HTHD games for the player to maneuver their character into choices that aren't meant to be optimal -- they're intended to open up opportunities for drama

A lot of gamers don't like this sort of thing, but I think the only time it's a problem is if you're doing this sort of thing in a group that isn't interested in drama. And chances are, if you're one of those gamers that believes characters should always behave like a SWAT team, moving from one tactical situation to another with as much firepower strapped to their web gear as possible, eliminating characters who make sub-optimal choices with sniper fire and grenades, you aren't reading this blog anyway.

For me, the interesting choice is always better than the optimal one. Boring and effective is still boring.

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