Got a chance to talk RPGs a bit with Ogre tonite, yay!
One thing that came up was this: as an old-school gamer I can tend to feel that systems that try to enforce / encourage “good play” (and we where specifically talking about dramatic interactions between PCs) come off as heavy-handed, because good play, and anything that makes the game more fun, should be a goal of players in and of itself. Ogre rightly pointed out that this doesn’t always work, and in particular it doesn’t work in more modern / grown-up gaming-related social situations. I no longer see the players I game with every day, no longer have lunch hour and / or the bus ride to and from school to discuss the campaign, etc.
The issue for me is that rewarding social / dramatic play also indirectly but very effectively discourages any such play that doesn’t earn that reward. Even just the expectation of this reward can have this effect, and so players who have played games with mechanical rewards / effects for this kind of play can be discouraged from pursuing it outside of those games.
One workable solution is just to embrace this – if you want drama, play a game that embraces drama. But there we come to a problem (or at least I perceive it as one): these games tend to put the decision of what dramatic goals / themes to pursue strictly in the “pre-play” / character-creation stage of the game. And while that makes sense in terms of being able to set up important dramatic events, there are a lot of moments of (at least) minor / momentary drama that you are pretty much telling the players not to explore.
I like the idea of keys (an example that Ogre brought up), but they also seem very limited / limiting. I think that’s part of the point of them: to keep the character focused on what matters, and to establish what is going to matter to the game. But I feel like I want more room to actually explore what makes these characters tick at the table, not have that all established beforehand.
Does that make sense? Or am I over-analyzing / misinterpreting this? I think what I want is in a sense something like “minor keys”, that you could whip out for a single scene. Not so much to say “this is important to my character” / “this is who my character is”, but “this might be important to my character”, and then play it out and see how things develop.