[This post is going to be massive in 2017, when someone else has exactly the same idea]
Once again I find myself thinking of options that might be given to players when defining characters.
If you give players a list of specific ideas that they have to choose from, this implies an automatic flavour in the setting. I've discussed this previously, where a game that gives you a hundred choices for powers and influences related to social intrigue, and four choices for combat options is giving a distinct impression about which type of story is more likely to occur. If you give each of the powers an evocative name relating to the land where such abilities are commonly found, then this says something quite different to a game where each power is named after the person who first developed it (where the first might imply you need to visit such a land to acquire the power or learn it from someone who is a native of that land, which the second may require descent from that person or attendance at a school that they founded). A specific list of choices reigns things in, often subtly, but sometimes overtly.
If you give players the ability to define their own choices, then the opposite effect occurs. Things become less restricted, and the potential for over-the-top/gonzo antics is exponentially increased (that's not to say you can't have over-the-top/gonzo when clearly defined options are presented, but I've just found it more likely when things are more loosely defined).
A lot of my game designs play somewhere between the two extremes...often with a loose description of effect, but a flat mechanical benefit/penalty. Sometimes with clearly defined low level effects but more scope for personalised customisation as higher levels are reached. This applies not only in choices of powers during character generation, but also with regard to choices made during the course of the story unfolding. I probably get a bit of this from "A Penny for my Thoughts", that's one of the places where I first saw the ruling presented in an eloquent manner. I echo this idea in a few different ways in FUBAR.
Naturally, because this is the space I like to play in, I'm thinking that there will be elements in The Familiar's Tale that follow this idea. It adds diversity to a game without needing to add pages and pages of text, and the choices made by players at the table make the game more customised to the specific group playing it. But some kind of element needs to reign things in.
From linguistic and communication studies, I'm looking at the idea of "Offer and Acceptance". This works on the idea that one person deliberately transmits ("offers") a communication, and another person deliberately receives ("accepts") the communication. Without both the offer the acceptance, communication doesn't occur. Traditionally, the offer and acceptance in an RPG are alternately made by the GM/DM/MC and the players. One offers an idea, the other decides whether to run with it, sometimes the offer is filtered through a die roll which may modify the communication in some way, but while it changes the message, the presence of the die roll (or other randomiser) adds gravitas to the communication (thus making it harder to ignore).
Communication can be targeted, with a single person offering their message to a single recipient. It can also be broadcast, with a single message sent in all directions, capable of being accepted by any recipient for whom the communication might be meaningful. I'd like to play with that second idea a bit.
To link the ideas of this post together, ideas are generated through play, they are offered to other people who then have the choice to deny or accept them. But it always takes two people for the communication to occur, one to offer it and one to accept it. The idea is that a person presents ideas that they'd like to see in the story, rather than just ideas that they'd like for themselves. A second person decides if they think that idea is a match for their character, then chooses whether or not to pursue it.
It works a bit like the way standard character generation does in FUBAR, where everyone makes two character sheets. These characters are offered to the centre of the table, and everyone draws out two character sheets, choosing to accept one, and turn the other into a nemesis for the story. But in this instance I'll be using it to generate some quirky powers for the Familiars to pick up, some quests for them to go on, and some other elements of the game.
If I'm playing with the idea of loose intermingling storylines, I'm hoping that this might help to draw the attention of players back into the narrative to hear how their ongoing suggestions are incorporated. Each time a player's narrative "offer" is "accepted" and completed (successfully or otherwise), they gain the opportunity to make a new offering.
All of the familiars have a pair of unusual abilities that they may use to manipulate the world around them. Such abilities are fairly general and vague, prompting imaginative ways to incorporate them into the story, and they all have a specific mechanical effect (they turn a partial success into a full success). Each player writes two of these edges down on a piece of paper then adds the paper to a pile, the pile is shuffled, and two edges are distributed out to the players again (if a player gets both of their papers back, everyone returns the papers for a reshuffle). From the two options, a player picks one edge, then defines a second edge of their own.
Similarly, everyone writes up a few goals (let's say 3 of them at this stage) that may be sought during play. These are also shuffled, but the GM (if there is one) draws from the pile one by one as goals are needed. Familiars may pursue up to two goals at a time, once one is completed or abandoned, another may be picked up. If a goal is abandoned, another familiar may be capable of pursuing it. If a goal is abandoned twice, it is removed from the game.
I still need to think further on this, but it feels like it will work. Now to link it into the flat circle concept.