Wednesday, 20 April 2011

A "Game of Thrones": Game structure

For my players.

Context: we tried playing a rip-off of Game of Thrones in high school. (To me) It was tremendously fun, but not because of anything we were consciously doing, it just happened.

What follows is me trying to:
a) explicitly spell out the structures that made it work, so we can achieve the same type of fun on purpose rather than by accident
b) take it a bit further in certain directions, crossing some lines of how we usually play; these points could be iffy and are not really necessary, but I think they would enhance the overall experience

These are mostly high-concept assumptions: not something we should follow by-the-letter in play but rather something that calibrates our aims when we sit down to play.

1. Expectations: Why we play?
-We don't primarily play to have our skills challenged (characters are not gamepieces to pit against foes) and we don't primarily play just to pretend (characters are not our fantasy surrogates).
-We primarily play because we want drama: sticky situations, tension, murder, sex, emotions.
-Zen moment: It's not our job to make drama, our job is to play the characters as coherent, consistent & human in a coherent and consistent world that makes sense. Drama is our goal that will be emergent from doing our job. Never the other way around.
-In other words: Things should never happen to characters "just for drama", but drama will happen from what the characters do.
-We need interesting, flawed characters, characters with problems, motivations, goals. Characters who want to get out of a situation or characters who want to protect their threatened situation. Characters that take risks. Safe, unmotivated characters are not interesting and we put them aside or make them interesting.
-We play to find out what happens. We don't know, nobody knows. We play to ask questions and see them answered in play.

2. Strong OOC/IC divide.
For example:
-If something in the game bothers you, the player, we deal with it on a player level. If you find my character annoying, don't use your character to harass mine without ingame motivation.
-When I'm doing mean stuff to your character I (my character) is doing it to him, not you. If I'm doing it, it's because I expect that we are both enjoying seeing bad stuff happening to him. Not to simply see him suffer but to see how he deals with it, how it changes him, how he overcomes it.
-As above: Don't have your character act on OOC knowledge. If you (the player) know my character is plotting against yours, but your character doesn't, don't make him suddenly turn suspicious of my character for no reason.
-We talk about the game OOC *a lot*, before and after. But when there's IC it should be strong.

3. GM & Players
-I will keep most of the traditional GM duties at the beginning (world, NPCs) but a lot of the responsibility will be distributed around.
-In any case I'm the Moderator or Facilitator. Last time we played this all I had to do was sit back and let you do your stuff, same here. I cut scenes, ease things along, ask the right questions, suggest stuff. You play your characters to the hilt, like consistent human beings. (from time to time caricatures and comedy relief characters would be acceptable to)
-There is no "GM plot", not one iota of it. We're all in it together.
-I'm not there to challenge or even less fuck over. I'm a fan and a roadie for you and the characters, but also someone who provides adversity, because that's interesting.

4. Characters
-Players probably get their "main" characters, but it doesn't stop there. You can play secondary characters. I will often ask you to play NPCs if your character is not in the scene. We have a large cast, all over the world. Many threads eventually coming together (like the books).
-Characters are focused around their name, social status, looks, allegiance, motivations, personality. Stats will come in later, when we find out what we need.
-We decide OOC on character ownership (if it's needed). Like "Only player X can play character Y, and only she can say what happens to him.". Other characters are up for grabs. Characters can get promoted or demoted from the Main status (explicitly or implicitly), depending on whether we grow bored of them or begin to find them interesting.
-My suggestion is: We try not to get too attached or enforce our visions too much; characters have their own lives with their own logic. They will do stuff we don't want them to and they will sometimes fade away into the background or die.

5. How we play
-We set stakes by asking questions, maybe three or four in an evening (some can remain for a while). We ask questions because we want to find out (because we don't know, nobody knows). We find out the answers by playing. Like: "I wonder if the councilor will convince the king to invade?". We answer by assigning characters and playing it out. We ask because we're interested, because it needs resolution for the story to advance, because we simply want to know.
-It's "free play" and RP until we hit on a conflict. IaWA calls it "Oh no you fucking don't", Archipelago II calls it "I don't think it will be that easy", Polaris has its "But only if..." and "That shall not come to pass.". If that happens we go to resolution. I guess Ghost/Echo (Otherkind dice) is a place to start, we'll see. Ideas are brewing.
-Fast, focused play in chunks. See my old "a session is not an evening" post.
-So, "system" is: how we agree what happens in the game, but also the source of the unexpected. If everything that happens in the game comes from our agreement, it's boring. The unexpected comes from a) everyone having a say, I don't know what fucking crazy idea you're going to pull next and b) objective mechanical resolution outside our control.
-We should be allowed to rewind, edit and cut if something turns out to be unsatisfying. Or at least say something like "That scene that we just played - that didn't actually happen, it's just the story Evelin told Harlan about what happened." or whatever.

6. Other stuff on the table
-We make loads of drawings (characters, locations) and maps (castle, overland, country, world), when necessary. Rough sketches, leave stuff to imagination, but strengthen the (consistent) fiction.
-A growing deck of characters on index cards, possibly colour-coded by player and/or location.
-Dice or cards for those special occasions.


Some tangential commentary:

P.S.: To be honest: A lot of the above is ripped wholesale from Apocalypse World and the "structured freeform Ars Magica" post on anyway. If you want to get all theoretical it's RGFA Simulationism with Forge Story Now.

P.P.S.: I talk about fun by design/on purpose vs fun by accident. It's a point I raised back in my "behind the curtain" series of posts and something I should probably talk a bit more about sometime.

P.P.P.S: I have talked about "aims" in roleplaying before. Aim is "why", which should be supported by "how". If players are all going for the why, with a fitting system (the "how", the MO, the techniques), then play is satisfying. Our current ongoing Pathfinder game satisfies one of the possible aims very well, which is why it's so fun.

This GoT game would have an entirely different "why", with a fitting "how", which should make it fun.

But as I said before, if you're playing a game and it's not fun, there are two possibilities: you're playing it wrong (how), getting the wrong/mismatched result/effect/experience (why), or you're playing it right (how), but you don't find the experience it produces (why) fun in the first place.

So while I know what my aim is (why) and I'm pretty sure I know how to make it work (how), the question remains whether my group finds the aim fun in the first place.

P.P.P.P.S.: Please don't suggest the GoT RPG or Primetime Adventures or Smallville or an AW hack or whatever, I know all those games and I'm not looking for a ruleset right now. That's for another discussion.

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