Month: September 2014

By Your Powers Combined….

In a series of articles written following this post, Mark Filipowich’s articles on Plural Protagonism talk about 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.

They are some pretty good reads so I recommend checking them out. However, there was a point I wanted to focus on as I saw it mentioned in two articles and think it could reference an idea for design that I touched on some in Wrestling with Player Interest.
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From Pulp to Fiction

This post is mostly about putting a lot of different examples out of how to design a storyline and manage a plot and explaining them to try and give people a chance to find what may work for them in design aspects. Or at least pick the traits of each and make their own style.

First off, the Schrodinger’s Gun idea, also mentioned as Schrodinger’s Universe in another source, is the idea that the only part of the universe the players know is constant is that they can observe. Anything outside of direct observation is in every state and no state until your players observe it and get its state. By doing this, you can have your plot in flux for key points and only focus on the parts you need to as they become relevant to the player. This is sort of like Clue, you don’t know the whole story and need to go investigating a possible theory to see if anyone will challenge it.

For example: Baldur’s Gate II has a sidequest where one of your companions returns home to find his sister has been murdered, and an investigation is still in progress. His father is convinced it was a hit from a rival and tells you to kill him in revenge. If you kill the rival, you later find out that he was innocent; if you spare him, he was guilty all along. Source: TVTropes Schrodinger’s Gun

Another example: The Blade Runner Adventure Game by Westwood had several plot points (such as whether characters were replicants or not) decided either at random in each game, or depending on the choices the player made. Source: TVTropes Schrodinger’s Gun (more…)

Test Your Might

I recently started watching Hunter X Hunter anime and it gave me some ideas for a way to add some challenge to an RPG. The first arc was about the character taking the Hunter exam, first proving their worth to even take the exam up to the challenges they are facing. The challenges vary based on the test giver, some testing physical ability while others focus on specific skills or even character of the test taker.

RPGs with testing is not a new idea at all. Dragonlance had the Tower of Sorcery with a test for magic users to prove themselves worthy and able to get powerful magic and AD&D Oriental Adventures talked about doing contests with non-weapon skills like poetry and horseback riding as used to happen in Japan. My I Say Noh post shows the example of how secret tests of character can sometimes even take on a life of their own.

Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Coming of Age was an episode about Wesley Crusher joining Starfleet and thus having various tests. Ender’s Game is a more recent example, where you can see that everything is a test. The Recruit uses this line in it as well, and the amount and sort of tests show a lot of variety. Tests are not all about just the achievement of the task because sometimes it is more the way you achieve the task. (more…)

Extra Credits

Some of you may have seen Extra Credits before. I found it through Penny Arcade TV as a series that explored things that games had done, how they could do them better and things that games had yet to truly even have any real thought put into. It focuses on video games, but in many senses, tabletop roleplaying games are a lot like video games without graphics. Mainly, they’re both an interactive medium that requires getting and keeping player interest, mainly through design and implementation of a detailed and challenging storyline in a fictional environment. Granted, not everything working for one works for the other, but I have found a number of episodes that gave me things to think about in my design and I wanted to share some of them with other people.

I could write posts on each of these, and some I may use as stepping stones for future posts because of the ideas could be useful to talk about in specifics for RPGs. I realize this can be considered a cop out for a post, but I mainly try to get people thinking and these got me thinking. I figure rather than linking one video and posting my thoughts and expansions for the tabletop genre, I’d like to think that, like me, if someone finds an informational source they like, they’ll digest more than just that one scrap given. So, instead of linking one and the reader seeing them all anyway, I figured I’d just give you some examples. They’re all a few minutes each, so I think these can give some ideas to you all as well. All should open in new windows when you click on them as well, and other than a few that are done as a series (Choice and Quest Design), they are general independent episodes that may reference a topic from a previous episode. (more…)

Yield to Temptation

The Dark Knight movie had the quote ‘You either die a hero or live long enough to see yourself become the villain.’ If you look at various stories, you can see how many of them are temptation. Star Wars had the path to the Dark Side for Anakin and Luke, the promises of the various Devil religious symbolism such as Christianity’s Satan and Buddhism’s Mara, or even comics like Spawn and Ghost Rider. Looking at Exalted and World of Darkness, White Wolf really loves this sort of idea, where the temptation of more power can cause people to do things, as well as the keeping of the power they have. One of the best White Wolf examples of this is in the Shadows in Wraith: The Oblivion, where you have players playing wraiths, spirits who have not passed onto the next life. They are split into Psyche and Shadow, with the Psyche being the player while Shadows are intelligent foes, who can communicate, hamper and aid the wraith all in order to fulfill their primary goal of making the wraith serve Oblivion. These are being played by another player, used to tempt a player to have their Psyche do something. It is mainly a matter of what the Shadow wants.

In one of the Spoony Experiment Videos, Spoony talks about his experiences in Ravenloft, where Strahd used his Paladin’s desire to do good as a way to essentially have the Paladin work for him. Either you do what we want or you go against the code you honor so much. You hear about the Hippocratic Oath doctors take about helping those in need, no matter who they are, but every now and then in stories, you see how they put a doctor in a position to be tested. House had ‘The Tyrant’ episode where an African dictator was being treated and the team had to deal with their beliefs in this. (more…)

It’s a Secret To Everybody

The title comes from the original Legend Of Zelda Moblin who would give you money when you find their caves through exploration, and that is what I plan to talk about in this post. Exploration.

To quote Shigeru Miyamoto about where the inspiration for Zelda came from, ‘When I was a child, I went hiking and found a lake. It was quite a surprise for me to stumble upon it. When I traveled around the country without a map, trying to find my way, stumbling on amazing things as I went, I realized how it felt to go on an adventure like this.’ If you look at the reviews of the Zelda game, you see a lot of that, where people had to develop their own maps since the game did not directly come with one like so many games today and it didn’t have any sort of in game journal system to let you know where you were going or what needed to be done, no glowing lines to tell you how to get to your next objective.

Now, I am not saying that those are in and of themselves a bad thing. However, when I play a game like I did with Skyrim I would ignore quest markers and just wander around seeing what I could find and completing quests as I came across them. It felt like I was discovering these things, rather than the story telling me where they were. I could go anywhere and do anything, and the game wouldn’t tell me I didn’t have permission to go somewhere yet. (more…)

Gamemaster Cons

I read, devouring anything I can get my hands on. I have books on various subjects that I draw from when I gamemaster. Topics like Game Design, Philosophy, Writing, Acting all contribute to gaming. You can draw inspiration from anywhere and this is no different. In Guy Ritchie’s movie Revolver, two men, a con man and a chess expert, come up with the Formula, a perfect list of rules to win any game or con. You can see some of the Formula described here in a good Youtube video. I began to think that there are a lot of things that a Gamemaster can learn from con artists.

In simplest terms, a con artist is a performer akin to a stage magician. Their goal is to make you believe something is real that isn’t. In Swordfish, Travolta mentions about how Houdini can make an elephant disappear in front of a studio filled with people through misdirection, because ‘What the eyes see and the ears hear, the mind believes’. A Gamemaster is trying to get their players to believe the story they are telling is true, at least true enough to care for the parties involved and want to take part in it. There are some great literary definitions of the stages of the con that I won’t bother to repeat the specifics here, but you can see by reading the following. (more…)

Wrestling with Player Interest

I am not much of a wrestling fan. I used to watch the WWE (when it was still WWF) as a kid, but I outgrew the interest in it and went on to other things, but there have been some things with it that I have seen lately that have me wanting to talk about it.

When you look at Wrestling, they get their viewers caught up in the storylines of the wrestlers, wanting to know who is going to be getting into a grudge with who and so forth. Back when I used to watch, I remember various partnerships being created, working for a while and then being broken up over some slight or another to further the solo careers or to create a feud that got people interested in the next big event. You can learn more about how it is done, and how the WWE has changed things up in this video by John Wick.

Following the same vein, and expanding it a bit more is this Gnome Stew Article. It talks about how you can use the booking ideas in an RPG, and the comments like the one from Valadil talks about how to build up your villains. I talked a bit on the Evil, Just Do It post, but this goes further and builds on the idea of making it personal. Getting the players interested in seeing this happen because the are captivated with the idea of what is going on. (more…)