April 9th, 2009

smirking half-hawk

GameNerd: You keep using that word...

Two GameNerd bits: first, I am guestblogging again over at Mr. Topp and the Big Bad Blog.

Second, I have been thinking about The Princess Bride. It's one of those iconic pieces of fantastic media that gamers of my generation tend to keep in mind when coming up with ideas. It's got pirates, fencing, torture, twoo wuv - all the good stuff.

How can we model The Princess Bride as a game? Let's assume that we have Wesley, Inigo and Fezzick as our players (while Buttercup is important to the story, her lack of agency would imply that she's an NPC).

Inigo's stat niche is his mastery of fencing. His motivation is revenge.
For Fezzick, his stat niche is strength. His motivation is acceptance.
Wesley is harder to deal with, stat-wise - he's good at everything! In a balanced game, how do you end up with a character like Wesley who can beat the master fencer at fencing, out-wrestle the mighty giant, etc.?

Here's my thought - when Inigo and Fezzick fight Wesley, they're dealing with it as a random encounter - a standard amount of effort. For Wesley, this is a throw-everything-at-it kind of quest. My contention is that if Wesley and Inigo fought when something other than Buttercup's life was at stake, then Inigo would win.

How can we make a game mirror that kind of narrative imperative? One idea is having something like "fate points" or "miracle points". Some kind of finite resource that lets a character exceed thier limits temporarily. Wesley's burning through those like crazy. Inigo holds onto his until he meets Count Rugen. Characters use thier resources when the conflict directly impacts thier motivation.

A frequent model for regaining these kind of points is to a) have a character's flaw come into play (as in Nobilis), or b) when something bad happens to a charcter. It's not unreasonable to think of Wesley being tortured to death, and then coming back as severely weakened, as a good reason to refill his fate points.

This kind of thing has definite advantages for introducing a sort of narrative driven uncertainty - and I maintain that uncertainty creates excitement for the players. The down side is that it can lead to focussing the attention of the game onto management of the points, instead of the actual story. This is a criticism that I have seen levelled against Nobilis, for example. If players are using thier points in every battle, and contriving situations to gain back more, their attention may be focussed on gaming the system instead of playing the game.

Still, I like it as a way to have a Princess Bride style game. It's a better explanation than that Wesley's player just rolled better than everyone else, and works better in a game than just having Wesley be better than the other characters at thier specialties.
smirking half-hawk

GameNerd: Consensual Worlds

Yet more GameNerding.

As a player, I love getting involved in the setting of a game. It's one of the things that got me hooked with Amber - character journals, trumps, campaign logs. It all added up to me developing my connection with the setting, and having some influence on how the world looked.

As a GM, I'm a world-builder. I put a lot of time into working out the details of the setting - the politics, the hidden secrets, the cosmic underpinnings, etc. Which is fun for me on its own, but in game, it's pointless unless I can get the players invested in the setting I've built.

I have an idea for a game (I'm thinking fantasy, but it doesn't have to be), with an eye towards getting the players engaged in the setting, and interested in the other PCs.

The plan is, have players come up with some general idea of what they want to play. Then we come up with some kind of order (picking numbers out of a hat, whatever).

The first player introduces thier character. Thier name, where they come from, what they do, why they're adventuring (or whatever). The player invents the answers to all of these from whole cloth, adding as much detail as they like. Name your nation of origin, talk about the government, economics, whatever. The PC does magic? What kind? That sort of thing. Enough to lay down a character concept, without stats at this stage. Depending on the player, this can result in a detailed chunk of world, or just a few broad strokes. Either way works.

The second player does the same thing. This time, though, the player can add on to the stuff the first player presented about the world - if the first player didn't mention their King, the second player can fill that in. The second player has to tie themselves into the first player's story in some way. A connection between the two of them has to be established. Maybe they're both hunting the same evil dragon, maybe they're both from the same village, or they're long-lost twins. Something stronger than both being in the same tavern, anyway.

This progresses through all the players. By the end, a real image of a setting should be starting to form. The last player benefits by having the widest range of thigns to plug into, but has to deal with having a lot more of the setting already defined. The first player doesn't have to try to figure out how their PC fits into the others', but they have to start from scratch. I think this ends up being sufficiently close to fair.

Someone (the GM, or a volunteer), needs to keep notes during all of this. If your group is inclined to use technology (as I am), this would be a great time to set up a wiki that all players can edit. Then the players can fill in thier story and setting details, and the world can grow and develop as the game moves. It also forces the group to assign names to things, which I find tends to deepen player involvement in the setting. The GM will contribute as well, obviously, and sneak in secrets and details of thier own.

My hope with something like this is that it will result in the players being more engaged in the world, in the plot, and in the interaction of PCs as something more than minatures on a battlemap.

I like to think that it could work both in a con game setting (take a long slot, spend the first hour or two on generating characters and setting, then go), and in a face to face campaign.

There are some clear flaws in this idea. The first is that it assumes that everyone wants to be engaged and involved in the setting and the plot. Some people game just to roll dice and kill monsters, and get annoyed when the other stuff gets in the way. This sort of game wouldn't work for them. On the other hand, it means giving up a lot of control for the GM. The GM has to let go of the idea of the setting as thier masterpiece, and embrace the idea of it being "our" world.