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10 August 2008 @ 07:43 pm
Understanding Athelind's Argot: "Penguin Plotting".  
In the 1965 Batman tale, "Partners in Plunder" (Batman #169, February 1965), the Caped Crusader had to deal with that Felonious Fowl, The Penguin, in the second Silver Age Appearance of said scurrilous scofflaw.

The Dishonorable Mister Cobblepott, you see, had just been released from prison... again... and had the villain's equivalent of writer's block. He simply could not come up with a sufficiently flamboyant plot to be worthy of his attention -- and that of the Dynamic Duo.

What? Go straight? and give up the game?? Nonsense!!

Instead, in a flash of Genre Savvy inspiration, he came up with a plan to have Batman and Robin plan his next caper for him. He set up a seemingly-honest front selling his trademark umbrellas, and then pulled entirely random umbrella-related stunts around Gotham City: exploding umbrellas, giant, radio-controlled umbrellas, and more.

At one point, Batman and Robin show up in the umbrella shop to warn him that they're onto him, but, of course, they have no real proof. After they leave, Robin notes in puzzlement that Cobblepott was wearing his monocle on the wrong eye.

He plants a radio transmitter in one of the errant bumbershoots, and, when Batman and Robin have it in their hands, he cheerfully listens in as they piece together the "clues" he's left, figure out the "target" he plans to steal, and thoroughly detail the way they think he's going to pull it off.

He chortles, and goes through with exactly that crime, exactly the way they described it. He does tweak a few things, but to no avail; he winds up in their clutches anyway.

He doesn't care, though. Why not? Well, for one, the World's Greatest Detectives never figure out that they planned the job for him.

For another... they're still scratching their heads over the significance of the monocle.

And he reveals, to the reader alone... there was no significance. He put it in the wrong eye just to fuck with them.

This was later adapted into Burgess Meredith's two-part debut as The Penguin in the Adam West Batman TV show: "Fine Feathered Finks"/"The Penguin's a Jinx".

Reading this tale a few months back pretty much cemented Oswald's status as My Favorite Bat-Villain.

It also describes My GMing style -- or my most successful one, that is -- which is why it merits the Argot entry.

As a Game Host, the approach that works best to me is to have a general framework in mind, but be willing to change things on the fly -- and to be willing to take good suggestions from the player, whether they intended them as suggestions or not.

(The obvious extension of this, of course, is the Monocle Mystery: Always leave a loose end or two to mess with their heads.)

As an example:

In the first big adventure of the legacy2020 game, Robin rattled off this entirely reasonable chain of "villain profiling" logic that ended with, "so, obviously, Squid's hideout must be HERE."

I stopped, blinked, and realized that what Robin's player had come up with was far better than anything I'd thought of myself. So... there it was. Penguin Plotting prevailed!

eggshellhammer contrasts this with pixelbitching, "Like in the old adventure games, where you had to click just... the right... pixel... And it looked like every... other... pixel..."

I feel: geekygeeky
Jordan Greywolfjordangreywolf on August 15th, 2008 02:04 pm (UTC)
Your style sounds like a somewhat more nuanced version of the style of the first (competent) GM that I ran into, in college, who ran several Champions/Hero System campaigns and one-shots, using original settings for each one. He'd go through a great deal of trouble to find out what things interested the players, and then make a setting to appeal to each of them. He also had a philosophy that could be summarized as, "If the players spend too much time staring at a crack in the wall, convinced that it's important ... then, by gum, it's IMPORTANT!"

At first, it made for a very compelling illusion: Somehow, I, as a player, felt incredibly lucky and uncharacteristically brilliant. How could I be *right* so often? That is, unless someone else disagreed with me, and then I knew there was a good chance I was wrong.... Anyway, it definitely kept things rolling, in that it seemed that wherever we went, that's where we were supposed to be for the next plot development. The trouble was, I think it went overboard. Some of the players seemed to catch on that whatever they did, the plot would rewrite itself around them, so they'd just "game the system" - and things got weird.

In my own campaigns, I would have problems where some players would seem reluctant to discuss things with other players in front of me, for fear that if they expressed fear of a danger, *it would come true*. If they spent too much time trying to account for the cleverness of their opposition, it would just make the opposition that much more clever. I've tried to dispel such notions in my players. There HAVE been times when I've necessarily switched things in my plots because, upon overhearing the players discuss things, I've suddenly realized that I've made a really stupid mistake. However, I try very hard to make sure that the universe isn't going to get an edge on the players because The Vengeful Gods Are Listening. I guess I've just got a group where, if they thought I was pulling a stunt like that, they'd see that as "cheating."

Not unless it's part of the campaign setting, that is! I did that once - a virtual environment that re-molded itself based on PC expectations - but that was an exception to the rule. A large part of the adventure was their eventual realization of this, and the opportunity they had to legitimately "game the system" in their own favor.