Lessons in Type B
I do tons of session reconstruction in my head for a day or so after a game. I am becoming totally convinced of a session strategy that I call “Type B.”
Type A play is where nobody talks about character internals, or where character internals are a secret. The idea is that since we aren’t mind-readers, we shouldn’t be aware of such things. All we can see are actions. So we try to express what’s going on inside the character through outward actions.
Type B play is where there is extensive discussion about character internals. We lay open our character’s heart and mind for public inspection. Hopes and fears, beliefs and goals. Action is secondary – we’ll get to the action part after we have thoroughly hashed out where everyone is coming from and where they want to go.
By way of example, the following is summarized from Strand Gamers podcasts of their Mouse Guard sessions. While deciding whether to take a route from Lockhaven that goes through Ivydale or Shaleburrow, one of the PCs keeps making the (seemingly odd) push for Shaleburrow, even though it’s a bit more out of the way. The other PCs react with puzzlement. Why do you want us to take the longer route? It doesn’t make any sense.
This is Type A play. The apparently obstinate PC has something going on inside, but he keeps it in and tries to convey it solely through action.
Then he opens up. He is a young mouse, and his parents, both deceased, are buried in Ivydale, and the sorrow of it is still too near. That was exposition, not dialogue. All he did was convey to the other players what was going on in his character’s head. Even though he had explained his history to the other characters during character creation, they weren’t able to make the connection with his in-character behavior.
This will be my first axiom: Type A signals are too subtle to pick up. Even when you have sufficient information to put the pieces together, you probably won’t. And you don’t usually have all the data.
After that PC’s internals were on the table, the internals of other PCs were revealed as well. One of the other mice had a great swell of compassion for him, and so her motivation turned to emotional shelter and support. They still went through Ivydale, only instead of a quick stop with one of the party “acting weird” it was an emotional challenge. They wrestled with things like whether to visit the grave site, and working up the courage to do so, or avoiding it entirely (with its own attendant set of feelings).
By putting it out in the open, everyone got to participate in a meaningful event. If it had been kept inside none of it would have happened at all. Worse, the player of the young orphaned character might decide that these elements of his character are unimportant. Who cares if he has feelings about his dead parents if it won’t be allowed screen time during a session?
Second axiom: Type B play rewards rich characterization with screen time. As a corollary, everyone, especially the GM, has to be dedicated to carving out screen time for internals.
Third axiom: Revelation begets revelation. As soon as one character’s internals are open, other characters’ reactions to them flow into play smoothly and naturally – maybe with motives and feelings you didn’t know were there before. Everyone wins if anyone does it, and if one does it, more do it.