Is Disneyland A Sandbox?

I was watching a video from GDC where the speaker was using Disneyland as an example for video game design, about how everything was used to tell a story, from the macro world design of entering the park to the medium level design of the various themed lands and then to the experience of being on the attractions  the micro specific moment or scene that they are experiencing. This was being done for video games, but I figure we can use it for roleplaying games too.

In a video game, you power the game up and enter the world, usually through a narrative cut-scene to set the story for you and then after the story settles and you begin your level, you will usually see how things are crafted for the story they want to tell, the experience they want you to have and tailored almost like one tells a movie with specific choices of camera placements, pre-designed events staged in a certain pattern for you to encounter and so forth.

When designing it for a tabletop RPG the players have freedom to go wherever they want and the GM is the one that gets them there. So, in a sandbox environment, you would start the players on the small scale events and give them larger ones to build onto, things they would see coming as they progress and can plan for, like a theme park goer who walks into the park will make plans for the Roller coaster and then the flume ride and then onto another smaller adventure in this big sandbox to play in.

There are two ways.people will talk about designing game worlds, be it sandbox or not and that is inside out or outside in. Both design approaches have merit, but for Disneyland they went Outside in, focusing on the theme park first then to the different lands then to the attractions in the lands and then even down to the specific minute to minute experience the park goes had.. Using this world to land to attraction to experience is comparable to looking at your game in a world to level to experience viewpoint. You build the map, then you populate it with encounters for the player to take part in then you build their minute by minute adventure as you lead them through it. Extra Credits did a good talk about sandbox design here and goes into some ideas of how to incorporate things.

When designing a sandbox, a good writer will try and bring in some foreshadowing giving ideas of some things that might be previously encountered. like the posters in Bioshock giving an idea of how the plasmids will power you up, but some of it can be done in simpler ways like the Half Life 1 Tram Ride showing off different bits of the area. This may seem harder to do in a roleplaying scenario, but you can put a little focus on various points like if you plan to have part of your story take place in or on a volcano you could make mention to a ritual being done where some animals or treasure are sacrificed to appease the gods or in re-enactment of some great battle taking place there. If you want a specific landmass to be important find a way to emphasis it, perhaps something as obvious as “Everything the light touches” moment from the Lion King or as subtle as a mention about having there be a patrol going out to the area and later in the game make mention they were not heard from.

Walt Disney did invent the idea of Weenies, which are called Weenies after the idea of leading a dog from point to point by holding out a hot dog wiener for them. In Disneyland the rides, the castle and many other things are these weenies, as they are points of reference drawing you to them and helping you find your bearings by them. Think of it like the cartography in Miasmata where you actually need to take triangulation to figure out location of landmarks and to complete your map. Makes the game seem like that much more of a grand adventure to me. Might be harder to do in a game, but you can give your players a description of it and if you really want to be evil, have them have to figure out where they are going if they have no map and get lost.

One big thing you’ll realize in Disneyland is that not everything needs to be an E-Ticket high attraction exhibit, sometimes you need a moment to break and rest. Using the idea of Interest Curves, as discussed here at Extra Ctedits, you see that by letting things build and fall  you let your audience relax after having things built high.or you won’t be giving them a proper feel for your work. In other words, give your players a little quiet time before throwing events at them. Now,feel free to have one thing be a major drama high time thing with a countdown timer as they try and solve something but then give them some time in and out of game to relax and get back to a baseline.

Be sure to reward your players with something at every encounter they take.It doesn’t have to be a statistical bonus, it could just be an event that furthers their understanding of the world like stumbling on a treasure and then a pirate demanding you give them back their treasure, or perhaps a stone carving of native artwork explaining some of the history. By putting specific key points that the player will encounter without being able to see that it is a plant is economic storytelling, you are putting something in place to tell a story and then another piece in a second area, such as running into a key character before a battle in a fortress and then after the battle meeting with them again and all it is is just placing these two encounters and not having to measure what happened to the character during the battle since the players never got to see it.

To see the sort of ideas in work, the film talks about the Indy queue for waiting for the event. There is lots of foreshadowing — snake imagery telling you what danger you’ll encounter later, which makes your mind wonder what the danger will be, creates anticipation. Anyone who watches horror will know that expectation enhances surprise as you are waiting for things to happen so you are on edge. Once inside the queue, all kinds of minigames, puzzles and storytelling to keep the players interested as they are waiting. The examples they use are hieroglyphs and coded messages, but you can do anything with it. These puzzles aren’t gating devices, they’re story elements. Also, since the idea is not to directly endanger the ride-goer, Disney has tons of implied threats, skulls, easter eggs and interactivity like yank-rope with a collapsing ceiling, great to show players possible danger and keep them on edge without directly challenging them.

Some idle points to help in designing areas in general based on the details given in this video. First, a good juxtaposition of interior and exterior spaces to keep things changing and giving players some differences. As well, narrow areas have danger, wide areas are for exploration. There are also some great game design tricks for getting players to choose certain areas and paths that you can use to help in your roleplaying, my favorite descriptions of them coming from Leverage and Youtube channels Extra Credits and Game Maker’s Toolkit.Some of these are visual tricks, sure, but you can come up with similar tricks for verbal storytelling.

Gamers of the World: Unite

A discussion I had recently was with someone had meandered into how they feeling like people were going to alienate them for their lack or knowledge of a game system. I can understand that feeling of being like you would be cast to the outside as I grew up as one of those outcasts in school, the kid who was too unfit to be a jock, too nerdy to be preppy while being too socially adjusted to be a stereotypical nerd, even wore second hand clothes well before the practice was acceptable. I just had my clique of friends I hung out with and was made fun off by the kids in my class. So I know all about alienation.

However, one place none of us should be alienated is at the gaming table. I know we all had experienced some sort of experience where we felt like the outsider, maybe not the same way as I have but there is always that view of being a little different, a little stranger than all the others. I don’t think we should have to feel that from the group of players of a game we enjoy. These days, RPGs are a lot more acceptable than they were in the eighties and nineties when I was growing up and interested in them. I think part of this is because of the advance of video games, like Baldur’s Gate, Dungeons and Dragons Online, Elder Scrolls, and so forth getting people interested in roleplaying games and having some explore the source material. Also it could be due to some of the famous people bringing the hobby into a much better light than it was a generation ago.
You will see Vin Diesel talking about his D&D character, even having it be part of the inspiration to the Witch Hunter movie and writing the foreward of the book 30 Years of Adventure: A Celebration of Dungeons & Dragons. We have Wil Wheaton having a channel on Youtube where he gets to play games weekly and introduce them to people (not to mention the weekly RPG broadcast he did, and others done on the same channel). I would have loved to sit at a table with Robin Williams,  if he put some of the zany energy of his standup into his characters. All walks of life including porn stars like Sasha Grey and basketball player Tim Duncan.


Teldore #2: Electric Stone Boogaloo  

So, it seems like the Goblin is now a member of our group fully. He had his mana clear removed after Boris felt he earned it in saving his life and he is showing his value… however I am wondering about exactly what the townspeople will think after all that has happened with Goblins there are bound to be some racial moments where he is judged by what he is rather than who.

I have been doing a lot of soul searching this night, attempting to prove my commitment to the Great Mother, more to myself than to the Mother I think. When we discovered the magician’s laboratory it felt good to be out of the sewers and then finding people after the skeletons…. it was a definite sign things were changing. I just wish I knew how much they would be changing.


Tell Me More about Teldore #1

This is from a Roll20 campaign, some in-character thoughts and observations. Basically a mental character journal for the events of this campaign and maybe some bluebook storytelling. GM, feel free to make use of anything.

So, I have been with this group for a while and we’ve done well, or so I thought. This morning’s fight shows I will need to run the group through the same drills that my combat teachers taught me as… well, they got their asses handed to them like soft fleshies tend to do. Reckless positioning, no use of cover, not even support maneuvers. Thank the Great Mother that we managed to come out of it alive, with her watching over her servant in a time of need.

Of course, Boris decided to keep one of the Goblins as a… pet? I seriously don’t know if that is a good idea, but it does two things. It keeps Boris busy and it keeps a Goblin out of trouble. I just will have to keep an eye open to make sure that the Goblin, according to Boris hereby known as Jeffrey, stays safe and well treated.

When returning back to town we investigated a map we found after our fight which brought us to the Blue Tower, a tower which the guards took over from a magician and apparently will hold more secrets than they know. We now have a goal, but to get inside without hurting anyone who doesn’t deserve it may be a problem.


The Name Game

I’ve talked about Fallen London before, but they recently brought back some content that I think is worth talking about as a new focus. Seeking the Name. “It doesn’t sound like much, but it’s one of the most interesting, disturbing quests you’ll ever regret taking on.” to quote Rock, Paper, Shotgun article here. I mean, the whole next paragraph is as follows:

Seeking The Name is the exact opposite of most RPG quests. You can argue it has an element of fighting for justice to it, but that’s not really the point. Really, from the point of view of your Fallen London character, it’s less a quest than it is a curse – a voracious hunger, an unstoppable drive that strips them of everything they have and promises nothing in return. One of the standard Fallen London slogans is “All will be well and all manner of things shall be well.” Seeking The Name is so far removed from that, the game itself regularly breaks character to tell you that you are making a mistake, that you should turn back, and that nothing awaits but pain, suffering and more pain. Pain like losing half your stats in a single click. Pain like throwing away your Destiny. Pain like sacrificing your hardest earned possessions just for a chance of progressing.

Normally, in Fallen London, you build up your character by doing storylines. Usually most are repeatable mini-quests, following iterations of a few choice forks like a choose your own adventure book. You do them, build up stats and resources and further yourself into stories deeper and deeper. This one is instead one that you will be broken on, as mentioned above. A lot of the in game backstory is discussed in places like this, a Fallen London tumblr discussion page and it is quite an interesting story, but I mostly like it for the idea of how it is giving the players literally enough rope to hang themselves and then the freedom to do it. Something that, as Rock Paper Shotgun says, you don’t see enough of in games. An actual ‘Hey, go do this thing that will literally make your game harder, because it’s different’.


Whatever Doesn’t Kill Me…

In trying to find some inspiration for adventures and plots, I find myself revisiting classics to try and find new ideas and new twists to throw in. In a Shadowrun game, I had my players do a strike on a drug lab after watching Robocop 2, which is a pretty basic example of inspiration but for something more complex, after watching the first Mission Impossible movie, I had the idea of what if there was a second team that was already on site. Granted, I took some liberties with the idea and turned it into a story where the second team was already infiltrating the facility the characters were going to, but it kept the players on their toes, especially when the guard caught one of the characters surveilling the building and thought it was part of the other team and tried to catch him.

So, as you can see by the above and may know after reading this blog,  one big thing that I believe in is that players don’t win all the time, and it may not be the belief of many GMs out there. I don’t directly stack the deck against them ad obvious as that example may seem, but I got the idea as a twist on the ‘Stealing the Pinch’ bit from Oceans Eleven where after an off-camera steal of the item they have to rescue their collegue who went in after them and got noticed.


Don’t Play Video Games

The title of this might sound weird for this blog, especially given as how I have talked about video games in some of the most recent posts. However, I was re-reading “Listen Up You Primitive Screwheads” which is the writers from R. Talsorian Games giving advice to the players on ways to run better games. This was one of the articles under their Dirty Tricks for using on players and it got me thinking about how it basically says a lot of what I felt like saying and very succinctly, and its title was ‘Don’t Play Video Games’. (more…)

Character, I Do Not Choose You

In “By Your Powers Combined….”, I talked about the idea of how in a JRPG game the player plays as a party of heroes, and each of these characters are unique entities and the story is all about how these people came together to achieve a goal, while in a Western RPG it is a tale of ‘The One’ hero who is out to save the world. Elder Scrolls, The Witcher, and so forth borrow from the idea of there being ‘The One’, one special person selected to make things right. But here’s a thought…. What happens when The One isn’t you?

You see it in movies a lot, where you have a viewpoint character and then there’s the real protagonist. The key is that the protagonist is the one who the story revolves around and usually is changed by the experience, and sometimes you don’t get to see that right away. Star Wars prequels didn’t introduce Anakin Skywalker until about halfway through the first film, and the prequels and the original trilogy could be said to be about the rise, fall and redemption of Anakin Skywalker, in his quest to bring balance to the Force.


The Power Of One

To the tune of The Power of Love – by Huey Lewis

The power of one is a curious thing
Make a one man weep, make another man sing
Polymorphed to a little white dove
More than a failure that’s the power of one.

Tougher than diamonds, make you scream
Screw you harder than a teenager’s dream
Make a bad one good make a wrong one right
Power of one that makes you lose the fight

Chorus 1:
It’s just not funny, more quite lame
Don’t need know the odds to play this game
It’s strong and it’s sudden and it’s cruel sometimes
And it might just take your life
That’s the power of one
That’s the power of one

First time you feel it, it might make you sad
Next time you feel it it might make you mad
But you’ll be glad baby when you’ve found
That’s the power makes the world go’round

Chorus 2:
And It’s just not funny, more quite lame
Don’t need no math degree to play this game
It’s strong and it’s sudden it can be cruel sometimes
And it might just take your life

They say that all the dice are fair
Yeah, but you don’t care
But you know what to do
When it gets rolled by you
Ask for a little help from above
You feel the power of one
You feel the power of one

Can you feel it?


Chorus 3:
It’s just not funny, more quite lame
Don’t tell me the odds to play this game
Tougher than diamonds and you can’t appeal
You won’t feel nothin’ till you feel
You feel the power, just the power of one
That’s the power, that’s the power of one
You feel the power of one
You feel the power of one
Feel the power of one

Hard Facts About Soft-RP

I talk a lot about improv in some of my blog posts. The reason is because roleplaying is as much, if not more, an improv than it is a story writing. Still, so many people fall into the trap that they want to tell interesting stories, and they feel when they write stories that don’t seem to go anywhere they are failing. Just look at this writer’s advice blog entry as an example, as these could be reasons that people could do an RP scene in a game.

I do play in persistent worlds, worlds that have people from all around the globe on so there could be a story told at 2AM or 8PM or whatever, so you could find people interested in a scene but not interested in a full adventure. This is a godsend for those who like to get into their characters and react to scenes, as you can find scenes you can play from time. You’ll need to study some improv, especially the scene building bits like this, and they should help give you some ideas. The book Play Unsafe is a book about how to incorporate improv into the roleplaying game.