22 July, 2013

A thought experiment in foreshadowing

The foreshadowing idea from my last post seems to have drawn a bit of interest, but it needs a little clarification and fine-tuning. Here's a pair of play examples to put some of the concepts into a working context. One example uses a generic d20 fantasy system, the other example uses Walkabout; both examples use 4 players and a GM.

The specific wording for foreshadowing in Walkabout is...

The Foreshadow

Time means little in the quantum world of the spirits. Traditionally in the physical world, memories echo events; but in the dreamtime of the spirits, memories can precede events, effect can precede cause. As beings who live with both spirits and survivors, Wayfarers often learn to identify the subtle nuances that echo forward in time before their significant events have occurred.
As a story unfolds, a player may highlight a specific descriptive element. Such a descriptive element may be a comment made in passing by the Oracle, or it might be the success or sacrifice result narrated at the outcome of a challenge. Each player may claim a single foreshadowed element during a story.
Any time a player declares a highlighted element they may choose to foreshadow a dramatic twist in the story, or add significance to an existing dramatic twist. If they create a new dramatic twist, they should write the words “Dramatic Twist” on a piece of paper, accompanied by their Wayfarer’s name. Otherwise they add their wayfarer’s name to an existing piece of “Dramatic Twist” page (along with any existing names on that page).    
In this way a single twist might have been foreseen by a single member of the circle, or by many. A player doesn’t have to be the active player to highlight an element, but their Wayfarer must be in the scene where the element occurs. The declaring player draws a single token from the communal pool and indicates its colour on the page next to their Wayfarer’s name. As a part of this process, the player should note the highlighted element, maybe theorise something about the twist and how their drawn token might interact with it. All Wayfarers with their name on a certain “Dramatic Twist” page are considered to have a stake in that twist.

In the future, the Oracle may claim that a dramatic twist occurs. This may be done as long as everyone with a stake in the twist is present in the scene. The Oracle should try to draw on all the highlighted elements associated with the twist. All Wayfarer’s with a stake in the twist must make a challenge in response to the description given by the Oracle. For each Wayfarer, the colour of token on the sheet is automatically a part of this challenge result. The Wayfarer’s glimpse of the future has defined something about their part in the way events unfold around this twist. 

...now for the examples.

Example 1: d20 fantasy

Joe is running a game for Mike, Neil, Olivia and Penny. It's a typical dungeonbash, but Joe wants a bit more player input than he might normally get from the game. Joe has heard of games where the players roll a few dice and allocate their results to help tell the story, in his current campaign he could easily see the game working by rolling  two d20s instead of one d20...a player could allocate one die result to see whether they succeeded in their action, while allocating the other die result to see if they had to give anything up in the process. Joe doesn't think his players are ready for that yet, but he wants to get them more involved in the storytelling side of things.

He vaguely divides the next session into 3 stages; entrance/introduction, central-passages/build-up, and inner-sanctum/climax. He explains the foreshadowing system to the players. Joe also states that in the climax, the characters will need five successes to accomplish something dramatic or else they'll have a major fight to face, every failure leads to a more complicated combat.

During the introduction, Mike and Penny claim foreshadowed elements. Mike's thief is about to pick a lock and he asks the GM for information about it, when Joe describes intricate filigree work depicting a goat, Mike claims this as a foreshadowed element. He writes "dramatic twist" on a page, adds his character's name to it, then rolls a d20 and writes the result (6) next to the name. Penny's fighter has just killed a giant beetle that was hiding in a pile of rubbish, when Joe randomly rolls on a table to see what valuables might have been in the rubbish pile. Penny is alerted to something simple, a scrap of canvas with a fragment of painting on it, she claims this as a new foreshadowed element. Penny writes "dramatic twist 2" on a page, adds her character's name to it, then rolls a d20 and writes the result (17) next to the name.

Later in the session, Joe describes an abandoned mess hall with food, plates and cups scattered everywhere. Neil asks if there is spilled wine on the tables; when Joe says that this sounds reasonable, Neil declares this as a foreshadowed element. He adds his character's name to the first dramatic twist page, he hypothesizes that wine and goats foreshadow the presence of a satyr or something else related to Dionysus, then he rolls the d20 and writes the result on the page (14).

Olivia's cleric is flicking through her holy book in the quiet corridors when Neil describes a ticking sound. Olivia thinks this would make a good foreshadowed element and wonders if this would make a strange twist for the Dionysus theory, if it could be applied to Penny's artwork foreshadowing, or whether it might make a better foreshadowing of a new event. Too many foreshadowed events can get confusing and spoil the concept, so she adds her element to Penny's page by writing her character's name and a die result (2).

As the climax approaches, Joe has has time to think about the various foreshadowed elements, he likes the idea of wine and goats linking to some kind of Dionysian cult, and maybe having something a bit steam-punk clockwork referenced through a ripped painting. He thinks about other options that could throw in a pair of twists, then decides that all four elements might work as a single twist; a damaged Antikythera mechanism missing a single cog as depicted on the picture, and needed for a calculation to solve a riddle.

Joe describes the damaged device, and asks the players what they are doing...their previous die results will be used for each of their actions in this climactic scene. He asks how many action's they'll try to take for this climax scene, the players agree on two each (more actions means more time spent, and possibly more failures leading to a tougher fight). The first round of actions are resolved using the foreshadowed rolls.

Penny's character looks for the missing cog, she's had the canvas for a while and knows what it looks like. Her foreshadowed roll of 17 makes it easy to find.

Mike's thief tries to put in the missing cog, but his foreshadowed roll of 6 isn't good enough and the fine cog breaks.

Olivia's cleric tries to glean the mystery behind the machine and how it links to the riddle, but her knowledge of foreign religions is abysmal (as reflected by her roll of 2).

Neil's character tries to manually turn the machine without the cog, it's hard work and he's not sure if the roll of 14 will be good enough. It is...two successes, and two failures.

The characters have one roll each to accomplish three successes, otherwise they can hear the revelry of a wild hunt coming their way.

Example 2

Anne is running a game of Walkabout for Ben, Claire, Dave and Eric. Walkabout is already divided into acts and scenes, so Anne doesn't need to worry about applying narrative structure onto the game system. In this game, all players draw 3 (or more) coloured tokens when they resolve an action. The tokens drawn flavour the outcome of the action results (Black = success, White = failure, Coloured = depends on the action).

Early in the game Dave's character sees a burning car and claims this as his foreshadowed element. He writes up a "dramatic twist" sheet, adds his name to it and draws a token (green). Dave ponders how something could grow, or be beneficial, when it comes to a burning car.

A little later, Eric's character finds a broken mask; he thinks this seems suitably symbolic, so he claims it as his foreshadowed element. He adds his character's name to the existing "dramatic twist" sheet and draws a token (black).

Claire claims her character's foreshadowed element when a single pure white rose is seen growing in a field of brambles and thorns...in the past this might have been a beautiful garden, but it would have gone unnoticed it if weren't for the delicate beauty of this flower. She adds her character's name to the same page and draws a token (white).

Ben's character sees a crying child and he thinks that this might make a good element. He decides to write this on a new page, and draws a red token to go with it.

As the climax draws near, Anne tries to think of a way to tie the elements together in a poignant way that makes sense within the story so far. She could easily use Ben's foreshadowing, but decides that the crying child might have more impact in a later session, she'll let that one build up a bit more over future sessions. The other page will be resolved in this session.

Anne thinks of the roadside memorials common on Australian country roads. Trees marked with the names of drivers who have passed away nearby, often tied with bouquets of flowers by the deceased's loved ones. This ties together the car, the broken face and the flower (she could have linked the child into this, but it seems a bit contrived to her).

The characters meet a ghost somehow related to the spiritual imbalance in the area, not a pivotal part of the issues, but with a cursory insight that may help the characters if they play the situation correctly.

Dave goes first, now he understands how the green token will help. He wants to improve the relationship between this spirit and the characters. He draws his tokens and applies the foreshadowed green token to the "success" category. The spirit is listening.

Claire goes next, but her character hasn't had the best of luck with the spirits of the dead. She tries to console the spirit, but since the white token will have to be applied somewhere, this makes things harder for her. She uses it as a "story" category token, allowing Anne to narrate the scene.

Eric goes last in this story twist, his red token typically bring destruction to a scene, so at first he thinks it's not really going to help in the way things have unfolded. Eric says that most spirits of the dead are bound to a location, unable to move on. He'll use his red token to damage the thing that is binding the spirit to this area, so that the spirit may pass on peacefully. Anne thins this makes a suitable piece of closure for the ghost's storyline and allows the red token to be used as a "success" in this situation.

Epilogue

You could probably push this foreshadowing system even further in a game, perhaps even designing a whole game around it; but the way it stands at the moment, it's just designed to give a bit of extra flavour. I hope these play descriptions give you a better idea of how the concept works in my mind. There will be more examples of it in the Walkabout comic which contains play examples of all rules in the game.
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