28 November, 2009

Game Mechanism of the Week #46: Factionalism

How do you drive story in a game? How do you inject a bit of conflict between characters who would otherwise co-operate? How do you bring a bit of co-operation between characters who might otherwise be constantly at one another's throats?

A simple answer to all of these questions comes in the form of factions, and many games have made use of this idea.

From the clans of Vampire the Masquerade or Legend of the Five Rings, the orders of Magi in Ars Magica, the corporations in assorted cyberpunk games or even the chapters of Space Marines in Warhammer 40,000.

Factions add instant ties between characters, whether those ties come in the form of communion or conflict.

Of course, factions don't always make a game better, in the same way that conflict doesn't always make a story better. Many kung fu movies are great because they bring creative conflict to the screen, but few kung fu movies are considered masterpieces of storytelling.

Like all mechanisms, you need to consider what you want the outcome to be, and how the mechanism plays toward that outcome.

24 November, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #45: Character Peaks

I've had a few ideas over the past couple of weeks, but I keep forgetting to write them down. When I forget to take a note of the fleeting ephemera, I have a hard time trying to capture it in words when I sit down to start writing my blog...it's frustrating and it means that I haven't written a lot of game mechanisms lately.

Working on other projects hasn't really helped in that regard either...but anyway, time for number 45.

In many roleplaying games, a character gradually accumulates experience and becomes more powerful over the course of a story. They learn new things, they discover new tools that make them more effective and they face ever more dangerous foes.

This typically applies within the context of a single story, but often also applies over the course of a series of narratives. Characters simply escalate until they ascend to rival the gods themselves.

Fun (in some situations), but certainly not realistic.

There are a few games over the years that have offered an alternative type of story.

Instead of chronicling a rise into power, they reveal a character's responses to a fading glory. There are plenty of mechanisms that have tried to encapsulate this notion, but they all have a similar pattern to them. Character growth is inverse exponential...it starts fast, then gradually gets slower as a character becomes more set in their ways, or simply finds it harder to learn new things.

On the flipside, character degradation is constant.

As a result a character starts gaining strength at a far faster rate than they lose it. Gradually they reach a peak point where their gaining of new abilities retreats to a level comparable to their losses. Eventually, they find that they are unable to learn things as quickly as their injuries and frailties accumulate.

Such characters have passed their prime and the game now becomes a very different beast.

I've yet to find a game that really focuses on this type of story...not that I've really gone out of my way to look for one.

The closest I've probably seen is the miniatures game Mordheim from Games Workshop, which replicated this arc for the characters within a team even if it didn't really focus on the psychology involved. Many times I had characters who reached a point where thir injuries were just accumulating faster than their new skills and advancements...this became a good time to retire the figures and recruit new members into the team.

It's another of those ideas I'd like to play with, when I get the time.

14 November, 2009

Game Mechanism of the Week #44: Modular Characters

Here's a concept I've played with a couple of times.

It can be applied in a couple of different ways; some of which I've tried, some of which I'd like to try.

The concept is pretty simple, and you could even look at stalwarts of the roleplaying world in this light.

The basic idea is that a character is made up of modular templates.

A bunch of race templates...a bunch of occupation templates. Add one to the other and voila, a character is instantly playable.

Let's try it a different way.

Here's a design I produced for a contest a couple of years back.

This design ended up becoming a part of the foundation for The Eighth Sea, but I'd really like to go back to it at some stage. The idea of a quickly producible character, with everything right there for a player to use in a couple of minutes.

Not sure what else to write on this one.

Of anyone's got comments, please fire away.

01 November, 2009

Game Mechani(sm) of the Week #43: Fluency Play

There seems to be something interesting happening in game design at the moment.

I've noticed it in a few games, and it's something I've been aspiring towards in some of my own games.

Jason Godesky has made a post about it and has referenced the phenomenon as Fluency Play.

It's an amazing concept and something that many boardgames have done effortlessly for years.

I can't write the concept more succinctly than those who have written about it previously, so here's a bunch of links...

Pedagogy of Play
Story Games Thread

I'd love to do this in Quincunx, and Brigaki Djili has this concept directly in mind.

It;s a method to introduce instant immersion, because the players don't feel like they are "playing a game", instead they are sharing an experience.

The first game I've played to implement this in an elegant fashion is "Penny", but I've raved enough about that one. Apparently Jason has implemented a similar concept in his Fifth World game, I'd like to see how that's been done.

For my own implementations of it, I think a Quincunx character generation process that worked like an HR questionnaire for a new recruit coming into the company. The GM would function in the role of a work advisor, or someone introducing the characters into the company, and this would work well as an introduction to the role for them as well. I'm thinking that a series of questions like the Myers-Briggs personality test could be used to fill out a decent chunk of the matrix (and probably assign the character to a role within the company, with it's relevant paths), while a few deeper questions would fill the rest of the paths. This would have the twofold effect of getting players into the headspace of their characters, and also give them a precursor towrd the types of actions they be expecting during play.

Actual play examples of fluency would be a little harder. I had never really considered desighning the game in this way, and it would take some rigorous overhauling to get it functional in this manner. A step in the right direction might be to increase the interactivity of the characters sheet, with small notes scattered across it to jog the memories of players, and perhaps providing a few more "cheat sheets" that help to explain what is necessary in the different phases of the game.

I was aiming toward this anyway...I just wish I'd prepared these in advance for Gencon.

Brigaki Djili is a differenty beast altogether, and I'm really hoping to get a game that's playable on a few levels. Something that's as instinctive and intuitive as using a ouija board, and can be used ina s similar manner to divine the mysteries of the past and the hidden secrets of the stories being told.

I'm hoping for a single page of game mechanisms, written in a way that could be read out to a group as they start play. Then maybe a paragraph of text to be read with the passing of each round of play, expanding the complexity and revealing new depth as the story develops.

In all, no more than two pages of general rules. The rest is the immersive ritual to get people into the right frame of mind for communal storytelling, and guidelines for how to prevent the story deviating into unintended territories, or guides for keeping a consistent theme in a story.

Time to do some further research...