19 January, 2011

Vector Theory 2011 - Lexicon

Converging Story – A story with a fixed end point. The GM has a specific idea of where they would like the story to go, and even though the path may be twisted and erratic, the story will end up there regardless of the actions undertaken along the way.

Real Play Example: A story has a tyrannical despot as the core antagonist, he is gradually gaining power and there is no way out of the land except to face him. Regardless of what the characters do the despot will gain power and eventually he will have to be confronted (either on his terms or the character’s terms).

Diverging Story – A story with a fixed starting point. The GM specifically sets the opening scene to put events into motion. The events that occur later within the story are commonly derived from this particular opening moment, or from a fixed series of events that lead to that moment.

Real Play Example: A story begins with the characters stranded somewhere, they don’t know why, they don’t know how. Events leading up to the stranding are fixed (but they might be explored in flashbacks, and these might give new perspective to later events); events after the stranding are purely left in the hands of the players and their characters. The story could go anywhere.

Event Node – The point at which a Narraton changes due to events imposed on it, such events could be choices provided within the story, reactions to outside forces, results of specific game mechanisms, real-world time constraints or anything else that might affect the way the story is being told. An event node can change Story Vectors (Heading or Velocity of the Narraton) by adding or resolving Tensions. An event node can change a Narraton’s Intensity by applying bonuses or penalties to the characters or the situations around them. An event node can change a Narraton’s Wavelength by playing with the Narraton’s specific tendencies within the story.

Real Play Example: Any time the players roll the dice or make some kind of choice that affects the ongoing story or their effectiveness in it, that’s an event node.

Field – A field is a wide ranging effect that might gradually change the velocity, heading, intensity or wavelength spectrum of all Narratons that encounter it. Unlike a mirror, lens, filter or other event node, it doesn’t make a sudden change to the Narraton, instead it gradually subverts the Narraton over a period of time.

Real Play Example: An example of a field effect might be the social dynamic in a bandit town. Everyone distrusts the characters, and it takes specific actions to gain their trust. But over the course of time, if you don’t keep up those actions to maintain that trust, they level of distrust gradually builds back up again. Another example of a field effect might be the concept of “natural healing” where characters simply improve their state of being over time (gradually restoring their wavelength spectrum to its optimum state).

Filter – Filters change things that pass through them; polarising filters align the oscillations of light along a certain axis, coloured filters prevent certain wavelengths of light from passing through them and thus they change the colour of the filtered light. We don’t use an analogue for the polarisation of Narratons (there’s enough complexity in the theory as it currently stands), so Filters in Vector Theory merely manipulate the wavelength of a Narraton. In the real world, filters only remove (remove the randomness of oscillations, remove parts of the spectrum passing through them); in Vector theory, filters may also add to the Narratons passing through them

Real Play Example: . Any event that reduces the effectiveness of a Narraton is considered a subtractive filter, where examples include characters taking injuries, a loss of status, suffering from a curse or developing a bad reputation. Any event that increases the effectiveness of a Narraton is considered an additive filter, where examples include finding a magical sword, acquiring useful information, gaining status, finding a new ally or being bestowed with a beneficial enchantment. Some filters neither add nor subtract, they merely change effectiveness; examples include trading in a favour for a specific material possession or paying money for the services of a henchman.

Heading – A Narraton’s Heading is a general overview of where the story seems to be going if things continue on their current course and the players make no changes to their actions. Heading may be altered in two ways, blatant and subtle. A blatant heading change is a specific event node described to the characters and prompting a response. An example might be a damsel in distress (change heading to follow the story into a series of scenes about rescuing the damsel, or continue straight ahead and avoid the diversion). Another example might be the death of a loved one (many choices: mourn the passing, fall into depression, avenge the death, avoid the topic and gradually become jaded/cynical, every choice has consequences and the chance to lead to new story opportunities).

Real Play Example: A GM might have a general idea about how consequences of certain actions will lead to different changes in the environment. If the players indulge in violent actions, the people around them will react more violently; conversely if they take a low key conversational approach, intrigue might become the order of the day. These two extremes could be plotted on one axis (let’s say the vertical). A second axis might simply measure degree of success within the story (in this case the horizontal; left = failure, right = success). If players are progressing through violence, their heading is up and to the right. If their violence is leading to problems that are preventing them from proceeding, they are heading up and to the left. If they are succeeding through political intrigue, they are heading down and to the right…etc. The GM could set up certain trigger scenes to occur when the Narraton’s heading takes it to a specific part of the chart. For example, in the lower left of the chart, there might be a scene with a political figure who gives them a boost in the right direction. If the players have been too violent, their heading won’t lead them to him. If the players are too successful, they won’t need his help so there’s no point introducing him. Entire campaigns could be plotted out in this way, perhaps using three or more axes for multi-dimensional charts.

Intensity – A Narraton’s Intensity is a measure of player agency, the ability of the player controlling that Narraton to alter the events around them, make choices for themselves, or overcome the obstacles in their path. A Narraton with low intensity is subject to the whims of the event nodes they encounter, in some games they might have a severely reduced ability to introduce event nodes of their own into the story. A Narraton with high intensity is more able to confront event nodes on their own terms, in game where players may introduce their own twists into the story, a high intensity Narraton may indicate an ability to impact the story’s flow (trading some of that intensity for a shift in heading or a change in velocity).

Real Play Example: In a traditional game like D&D, intensity could be easily identified by a character’s “level”, the higher the level the more effectively the character will be able to overcome adversity. In games without levels, intensity becomes harder to gauge as it requires combining all the relevant data and individual abilities. In certain situations, Mr Blue might be more powerful than Mr Grey, but when you average out their chances in a wide variety of circumstances they might have an even chance of beating one another.

Lens – Lenses are capable of converging beams of light into points or spreading them into diffusions. Similarly, the event nodes referred to as Lenses in Vector Theory are points capable of converging the paths of Narratons into single stories, or diverge a single Narraton’s path into a range of possible options. Convergent lenses don’t offer new choices, instead they simplify the possibilities, collapsing waveforms into predetermined states. Divergent lenses open a world of possibilities. The use of these two types of event node are often used to determine whether a GM is considered to be “railroading” a story to a predetermined outcome, or allowing the story to evolve naturally from player decisions. This is especially true if players are allowed to introduce their own lenses into a play session.

Real Play Example: Pre-written modules often have decision paths that will lead players along a different series of scenes depending on the choices they make. At the most abstract extreme, consider a “Choose Your Own Adventure” book; any time a page offers you a choice of “Do you perform action A? If so, go to page X. Do you perform action B? If so, go to page Y.”…that’s a diverging lens. It gives you options. Converging lenses sometimes exist in these books too, but they are harder to pick up. If two different pages both direct the reader to a single page further in the story, the twin storylines merge and a converging lens has occurred.

Mirror – In a perfect world, a mirror deflects a beam without changing its speed, wavelength or intensity; in the real world, a beam of light becomes a little dimmer as parts of its wavelength are absorbed by the mirror while the remainder are deflected. By this same logic, in Vector Theory a mirror is an event node that deflects the path of a Narraton in a new direction.

Real Play Example: The players have been fighting their way through armed guards on their way into the halls of the corrupt sorcerer. Near the inner sanctum they find a note written by one of the sorcerer’s henchmen; the note describes a plan to use naïve outsiders to kill off the last of the loyalist guards, thus allowing the sorcerer’s revolution to occur with minimal resistance. The story suddenly changes from a sequence of fights into something a bit more sinister and political; the actions of the characters are seen in a new light and the story shifts direction.

Mixed Event Node – Many event nodes seem to have multiple functions, they might deviate the narraton’s path along variable vectors while changing the Narratons wavelength. In virtually all cases, these mixed event nodes can be broken down into specific Event Nodes with small Story Vectors between them; combining their incremental effects into the mixed overall effect. But for the purposes of brevity it is often easier to simply combine the smaller Event Nodes into a gestalt entity.

Real Play Example – A discussion with a local priest is a mixed event node, if things go well the characters will be blessed (resulting in an improvement to a certain part of the Narraton’s wavelength) and will gain access to a few key story scenes (directing the story in a specific heading)…if things go badly, the characters might be cursed (resulting in a deterioration to a certain part of the Narraton’s wavelength) and will require facing a different set of story scenes (directing the story along a different heading).

For simplicity, when mapping out the story, a single decision point might be used.

When analysing it more deeply, there might be a few decision points.

You’ll note that in each case, the story still alternates between simple event nodes (in grey) and short story vectors (described in the blue boxes). The entire sequence of event nodes defines the procedure of this particular scene within the story.

Narraton – An imagined particle of roleplaying experience. A Narraton can change its heading according to the direction in which the story is proceeding. A Narraton can change its velocity depending on the pacing requirements of the story. A Narraton can change its intensity depending on the degree of player agency within the story. A Narraton can change its wavelength depending on the tactical options available to it.

Real Play Example: This one is hard to give a real play example for. The manifestation of the Narraton is the instance of play, where things are heading, how they are getting there, and why. The Narraton might be perceived by different participants in different ways. One player might be looking at the specific journey of their character through the events of the session, another player might be looking at the movement of a Narraton cluster as the overall journey is chronicled. The path and the effects of the Narraton are far easier to analyse than the Narraton itself.

Story Vector – The heading of a Narraton between Event Nodes. A Story Vector has no changes in heading, velocity, intensity or wavelength without encountering an Event Node, it simply proceeds in a straight line infinitely until it encounters a new node or loses relevance. As an example, a “Happily Ever After” Vector might lead away from a story in a generally positive direction but it doesn’t prompt new story events. Another example might be a “Conversation” Vector, where an event node might prompt the conversation to start, while the conversation itself will lead to a new event node where the players must either make a new decision or react to a new change in circumstances.

Real Play Example: If you know the general tropes of Kung Fu movies, you’ll know that many sessions of roleplaying games follow the same principles (and virtually all computer roleplaying games also). A fight scene occurs, jam-packed with all sorts of action, stunts, manifestation of powers learnt along the way…then once the fight scene is over the fallout of that scene is described, often leading to a new scene of revenge (by the protagonists or the antagonists), or a movement to a new location where a new menace can be faced in a fight scene. The fight scenes are clusters of event nodes, the atmospheric scenes and dialogue in this genre are the story vectors (no choices in themselves, they just lead to new fights or critical moments).

Tension – Tensions are motivations pulling on a character, aiming to draw the character’s narraton into certain types of stories or pull them toward specific end goals. Caricature characters and stereotypes might only have a single tension pulling on them, while complex characters might have dozens of tensions pulling at them for different reasons. Tensions may be integrated into the rules, but often they exist as personal concepts written on notepads separate to the character sheet, or as vague ideas within the head of a player. The magnitude of a tension will often change due to the circumstances of a story; sometimes new tensions will manifest during the course of a story while others will vanish completely if they lose relevance.

Real Play Example: A tension might be static, simply pulling them in a single direction regardless of the events in the story; this might be the case when a character has a simple goal like “Accumulate Wealth” or “Defend the Church”. It might pull in different direction but always toward a certain point; such a tension might be to maintain the balance between different factions depending on who has the balance of power the character will be forced to confront different people using different tactics, but they are always trying to pull everything back to a central balance point regardless of where their story may have taken them. In many more interesting stories, a tension will be dynamic, transforming as the events around them change; such a tension might link a character’s story to that of another character, or it might pull them in a cycle doomed to be repeated until some specific event occurs.

Velocity – A Narraton’s Velocity determines how quickly proceedings are undertaken. When a Narraton moves slowly, elaborate and copious details are provided, there may be numerous twists and turns between major event nodes with players getting the opportunity to meander and explore the setting though minor event nodes that have little impact on the overall story. When a Narraton moves quickly, only the most significant facts are divulged and in many cases the Narraton simply skips over time (and minor event nodes) until the next major event node is encountered.

Real Play Example: In many games, a Narraton’s velocity speeds up during rest periods (where many hours might be skipped over in a minute or two) while it slows right down during combat sequences (where a matter of seconds might be described over the course of minutes or even hours).

Wavelength – A Narraton’s Wavelength is a complex thing that links specifically to the game mechanisms of the system being used. In a traditional game with attributes, skills and saving throws, the various parts of the wavelength represent which attributes are stronger than others, which skills have better capability and which saving throws have the best chance of avoiding outside influences. In a game where everything is measured by traits, each trait might be a specific point of energy along the wavelength. In general, Wavelength is probably better described as colour (but this has some slightly different predefined connotations in Forge Theory so I’m leaving it as Wavelength), it can be viewed as a spectrum with various degrees of energy radiating from different areas.

Real Play Example: If you’ve played with any image manipulation software, you’ll know that a monitor uses Red, Green and Blue in varying degrees to create the full range of colours displayed. As an example; Red might be equated with “Combat Prowess”, Green with “Social Influence” and Blue with “Mystic Insight”; a warrior’s wavelength in this simple scheme might be “75% Red, 20% Green, 5% Blue”, while a priest’s might be “5% Red, 40% Green, 55% Blue”. The average capacity of the character to influence the world around them is dictated by their Narraton’s Intensity, but their specific chance of gaining positive result depends of which part of their wavelength they choose to exert on a specific situation. This is probably one of the more complex parts of Vector Theory.

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