Saturday, July 23, 2005

Mindless, zombie-like agreement


Friday, July 22, 2005

[Chorus] Maps

I love maps.

Love'em, love'em, love'em. Both real-world maps and fantasy maps, for me. It's something I get from my father, who has drawers and drawers of good ol' US Topo, puts them up on the walls as decoration, recuts and resassembles them to make his own map for every step he takes.

But fantasy maps suck.

I mean, of course, that they suck for my purposes.

First of all, some of them simply suck. The old "rectangular continent" trick is just ridiculous. They may or may not have any regard for real geography. They probably have no regard for real economics or politics, drawing country lines in easy square boxes like America's empty corridor states. These maps are simply sucky.

But there can also be awesome maps that just suck for my purposes. Because, you see, I am a role-player.

Maps are system.

"You can't get there in two days! It's over 100 miles away!"
"There's no way this is empty wilderness. We marked a city right here on the map."
"How could there be a lake here? We're in the middle of a desert."

Maps can destroy creative input just as much as they encourage it.

Chorus, as a text, is not probably going to have a system so much as it is going to tell you "I've used Sorcerer and Riddle of Steel for this sort of scenario, and this is how I did it" or "when playing D&D, I used a feat that looked like this" And, as such, it seems silly to me to have a Map of the sort that one usually sees in fantasy books and fantasy games. Against the point of the book.

But I love maps. And I want maps in the book.

But we reach another stumbling block.

The world around Chorus has no real geography. Each time I draw it, it looks different. Sometimes it looks like Europe, somethimes like East Asia, sometimes like Africa upside down, and once it was an island chain. This presents a certain problem in establishing where everything is, because I don't know. Omelas is a particularly bad offender, winking in and out of existence, moving along the western coast and sometimes as south as Thalia. How can you map this?

Problem solved

[Chorus] Creation Myths

DexCon follow-up #2

Luke and Tony(?) talked at DexCon about setting material in games, and how arbitrarily lame and useless it is that every single (note: hyperbole) book starts with the world's creation myth, which is usually:
1) held as fact
2) less interesting than any existing creation myth
3) doesn't come up in actual play at all

And, really, that is so worthless. In terms of a setting appreciation book, it's okay but a little cliche. In terms of role-playing games, we need setting for play, and this isn't providing it.

And yet I really shouldn't throw stones. Chorus will have a creation myth or two in the book. Indeed, the mythology and cosmology of the World from Chorus is one of its most important points.

For a certain sort of protagonist, the game is exactly about enacting and creating myths. And so the book will be full of myths. Bursting with stories, I hope, about the red-hatted girl and the wolf the saved her, about the king who hunted his own people, about the woman who married a cow, about the man who loved the sea, about the king who made war on death, about the slave-queen of Omelas and the lady of the North, about love, death, politics, the devil, the sun, that famine where your brother died, the lord of light blessed-be-he, and the deep blue sea. And, yes, it will have a creation myth. It starts like this.

Once, long ago, before the world began, before what began the world began, and just as what began to begin the world began, a man and a woman lived together in a little house at the edge of the mind, and they loved each other very much. The woman's name was Original Darkness and the man's name was Flash of Insight.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

[Polaris] Notes from a Four Hour Demo

How the characters ended up:

Trapped as the Guardian of the Dead in the land of the dead.

Alone on a field of ice, surrounded by the blood and bodies of those he killed to resurrect his love, abandoned by said love.

Returned back into her original body at long last, at the price of the one man she loved.

Finally crowned king of the demons in order to save a woman who now hates him.

This is less than half-way through a standard story-arc.

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

The Wheel, the Web, and the Net

DexCon follow-up #1

We're looking, as we often are at the start of an RPG theory article, at a group of people playing a role-playing game. Who says what when? Who reacts to whose actions? Whose reactions serve as confirmation of whose actions?

If Alice's actions are confirmed and reacted to by Bob, and Bob's actions are confirmed and reacted to by Carol, but Carol's actions aren't confirmed and reacted to by Alice, we have a structure that looks like this.

Alice ----- Bob ----- Carol

Let's say that Bob is a gamemaster. Bob's main role in play is to react to and confirm the contributions of the other players. The other players' main role is to react to and confirm Bob's contributions. Our structure of reaction / confirmation looks like this.

Alice -- Bob -- Carol

Of course there is minor interactions between the players, but the primary react/confirm relationship is with the GM. For example, if I say, "I throw a fireball," the person I am looking to to confirm that action is the GM, not so much the other players, although they provide lots of other useful social functions. The responsibility structure looks like the spokes of a wheel, with the GM at the center and the players on the rim.

Okay, now let's look at some totally pervy GMless game, where there is no GMing structure whatsoever and all players say and react whenever. I can't draw a nifty picture of this, because I lack the graphical capability, but each player is connected to each other player, with no exceptions. It is the responsibility of every player to react to and confirm each other player's input. We can image this sort of complicated interconnection as a net.

Now let's imagine a game where, say, each player GMs for the player on their left, in terms of the responsibilities that we're talking about, which is to say reacting to and confirming a player's input. We have a structure that looks like this:

Alice -> Bob
^ |
| v
Carol <- Dan

Where the arrow represents "is responsible for reacting to and confirming contributions to the game." Although the last version didn't much look like one, I call this structure "the web" in my head because, like the net, it is decentralized, but it isn't totally unstructured.

As far as I'm concerned, those are the three primary types of structures of responsibility in terms of input in the game. If others have other structures to propose, that'd be awesome.

Now, I'm not particularly going to say that one of these structures is the best, or that one of them is the best for a particular creative agenda, or anything else silly and provocative like that. It is patently obvious that they are good for different things. The primary difference between them, at first glance, is where the social pressure is applied. They all suck in different ways: The wheel can be enormous and frustrating pressure on the GM, the net can be annoyingly slow to respond and quash originality, and the web can result in highly disjointed content. I'm sure that, if we try hard, we can come up with other ways that they suck.

But here's the really cool bit. It's about Capes and With Great Power...

Both Capes and With Great Power... are superhero games, and they are both straight-up Narrativist superhero games, but they are very different. Fundamentally, the premise of Capes is about the relationship of the superhero and his powers to society as a whole (are you worthy of your power, in terms of your role in the world), and With Great Power... is about the relationship of the superhero to her own powers and inhumanness. Tony (the author of Capes) would call these the DC story and the Marvel Story, respectively, and I think he's pretty much right about that. Compare Superman, which is all about his role in society and as an ideal, to the X-Men, who don't crime fight or do civic good at all, and whose struggles are mostly with accepting themselves and finding a social group that will accept them.

Here's the kicker -- With Great Power... which is devoted to the internal world of the hero, is solidly a Wheel sort of game. Capes, which is devoted to the hero in the world, is a Net sort of game.

Chew on that.

No, I'm not sure what it means yet. But these three structures are of much deeper importance than just distributing the tasks of GMing. Different task structures result, somehow, in solidly different Premises, SIS contents, Challenges, etc.