26 September, 2012

Walkabout: Tying Mechanisms to Story

Character generation in Walkabout is simple (whether those characters are wayfarers controlled by the players or the other survivors they interact with), spirit generation is also simple. While spirits and survivors are incredibly different beings, their creation methods follow the same basic structure.

Each consists of three core traits.

For survivors (and Wayfarers), these traits are:

For spirits, these traits are:
Manifestation (analogous to People)
Affinity (analogous to Edge)
Agenda (analogous to Dance)

Beyond these core traits, individuals have a range of positive and negative non-core traits that modify the chances of success in various situations. No numbers, just descriptive terminology, strategic modifiers and in-game items that tie into the story as it's being told.

I've blogged about the core mechanism of the game before...you basically draw three coloured tokens from a bag and allocate them to three categories: success, sacrifice and story. If you can link one (or more) of your core traits into the action, you can draw an additional token for each useful trait and then discard down to three tokens before allocating them. It makes someone more likely to succeed (and less likely to suffer) at things where they are more proficient.

But this is just a resolution mechanism, it's not a complete game.

What do players do in the game? What do the wayfarers do? What does the GM do?

The players work together to resolve a story. They use their characters within the game to explore the world, uncover the issues disrupting the balance while considering the ramifications that their character's actions have on the outside world and conversely the way their character's change in response to the world. Walkabout is a two way street, the characters need to change the world, or humanity is lost...but the characters will be changed by their world. Sometimes they will need to make sacrifices to restore the balance; those sacrifices may need to be made in order to achieve a degree of success, or a degree of success may be needed to reveal the nature of greater sacrifices that need to be confronted.

The wayfarers research the inner workings connecting the physical and spiritual worlds.

The GM constructs a mystery and a setting in which it resolves. There is no point getting into too much specific detail for this setting, the wayfarers are nomads, they are just passing through. More important than the descriptions of the scenery are the relationships of the people involved (whether survivor or spirit) and their connections to the issues surrounding the imbalance.

I've been doing some more thinking about the game. To pull the right elements together, I think a few inspirational sources need to be mixed together.

Grimm - A TV series in which the last descendent of the Brother's Grimm is a private detective, investigating a world of supernatural beings who can't be seen in their true form by the rest of the world. The supernatural beings in this TV series are linked to the stories of myth-lore, with each race revealed in subtle hints by the old tales recorded by the Grimm brothers in centuries past.

Once Upon a Time - A TV series where the characters of folklore have been transported to a typical American town. In this series, all of the traditional characters have forgotten their history in the fairy tale realm, but they tend to fall into roles like those of their pasts. Many of the episodes revolve around the resolution of a fairy tale story by working out who a character was before they arrived in our world, Cinderella might have to meet up with Prince Charming, Red Riding Hood might have to confront the wolf. And since the big bad wolf is a part of so many traditional stories, he has links to a lot of characters and becomes a significant figure in town.

Supernatural - This one's pretty obvious. But in Supernatural (especially the early seasons), it seems that everything unearthly is a demon and must be destroyed. It's only in later episodes that the actual nature of the hunter's attitude is touched upon, and some elements of the supernatural are actually good. I don't want the supernatural to be evil in Walkabout, it should more often be good, or at least a part of the natural order of things.

These concepts work well in a place like Australia, where the game is predominantly set. Different parts of the country were settled by different cultures, the Barossa Valley (known for it's wines) had a strong culture of German settlers, who brought the tales from their homelands. The Snowy Mountains hydro-electric scheme in the late 1940's through to the 1960's brought immigrants from all over the world to complete the project. There are ghettoes of citizens from all over the world in pockets across the cities and small towns; each with it's own myth-lore and unresolved stories, each overlaying something unacknowledged about the aboriginal spirituality that existed here for untold millennia.

Every session of Walkabout needs to be about the correction of the balance, and the restoration of spirits to their natural places within the cycle. The variety comes from the various cultures associated with the spirits and places encountered. Every session follows the cycle of the hero, as investigation takes our wayfarers into the deepest depths of the unknown, while the corrections and restoration process leads them along specific paths until they bring balance back to the land.

This isn't your typical game where characters can simply turn tail and run away when things get too tough. They have been charged with a sacred duty, and to turn their back on that duty is to resign a fragment of the world to oblivion. A character who sacrifices themselves for a cause gains more honour and prestige among the community of wayfarers than a character who puts their self preservation above the balance of the world.

It's almost a "Doctor Who" type of story. You know that things will work out in the end, but you know that sacrifices will have to be made. It's just a case of hoping that the value of the sacrifices doesn't outweigh the value of the restoration. Throughout the course of the story, the characters learn what actions will have the greatest effect, then they try to execute those actions to the best of their ability. If there is any deficit between what has been accomplished and what needs to be accomplished, the characters end up paying for this in deeply personal ways (loss of allies, personal injuries, geases to spirits, enforced taboos).

If these sacrifices aren't accepted (or the issues haven't been resolved), then the imbalance remains. The mission has failed.

I think it's time to start describing how the GM writes up an imbalanced setting for the game. That's where we'll head next.
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