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Title: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: chris_moore on April 18, 2006, 04:59:31 AM
Hi, I'm designing a game called (for now) "In the Pit", a game where people are trapped together and forced to make terrible decisions in order to escape.  the Power 19 of the game is here:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18986.0

Following the advice of someone I respect, I've decided to write a specific setting into the game, instead of players creating the setting as part of play.  Protagonists could be soldiers in the trenches, people forced into gladiatorial combat, members of a gang, survivors of a shipwreck/plane crash, etc. 

What setting would be the best fit for stories about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?

Thanks for the help,

Chris Moore


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 18, 2006, 05:03:09 AM
There was this computer game whose name I forgot, where someone was put in this maze and all the criminals are after him. Very gory, caused much sensationalism. I'd use that.

Take a group, put them in a setting where they're a minority and everyone is against them. Semi futuristic/post apocalyptic.
Zombie flicks also present a good alternative, provided there is some "Safe haven", unless you're willing to note that the running is continual and all refuge is temporal.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: TonyLB on April 18, 2006, 05:10:40 AM
What setting would be the best fit for stories about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?

High school.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: David "Czar Fnord" Artman on April 18, 2006, 05:20:08 AM
What about going with a more abstract "setting," like in The Cube? Mysterious controllers (or not?), unlimited ways to arrange rooms and their challenges (and, thus, easy ways to gauge repetition and "punishes repetitive choices"), a (somewhat) plausible reason to have many sorts of areas to survive. Maybe come up with something like a holodeck meets The Cube, to have "exterior" spaces to survive as well as the interior maze of the space itself?

It might help some to know what importance the setting(s) could have on the mechanics of the game. Is the game going to involve a lot of resource management (seems like it from Power 19, but there aren't many rules in that post)? What resources: the in-game-world stuff that could be found and employed (AKA MacGyver); the "group-character" emotional resources (AKA willpower v. ethics)? Is this a game about playing out cleverness and cooperation, or about the torture of these characters until their moral "structure" (i.e. in-game stats and such) changes, for good or ill?

I think those questions would let us decide what (if any) elements of a setting are actually relevant to the gameplay. Once a sort of "metasetting" is worked out, I think you will find that (a) your original idea of letting setting creation be a prep element of play is best or (b) there is a clear historical or fantastic environment and situation that would best suit the thematic goals of play.

HTH;
David


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Chad on April 18, 2006, 05:43:21 AM
Hi Chris,

Have you seen a movie called Cube? here is a short write-up (http://www.ram.org/ramblings/movies/cube.html). Its about these people who wake up inside this giant Rubik's cube type device. They are all different types; ones a cop, one autistic, another a doctor etc. The rooms move around and are booby trapped 'n stuff. They have to solve puzzles to get out of each room - or die! Apparently the whole film was shot in one room. Its really a character drama, about people trying to figure out why they have been chosen to be in the cube, because each person has a purpose.You might find it interesting.

Also, from what you describe, you already have a setting. "stories...about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?". It might be nice to not have an overly explicit setting, so that groups have the story equipment to create their own survival story - be it a plane crash, or trapped in an elevator, or  hunted by zombies. Unless, obviously, if you have uber-cool idea for a specific environment like, say, Cube.

Cheers,
Chad


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: chris_moore on April 18, 2006, 06:00:23 AM
Quote
Is this a game about playing out cleverness and cooperation, or about the torture of these characters until their moral "structure" (i.e. in-game stats and such) changes, for good or ill?

It's definitely the second, David.  Protagonists start out with a set of traits/descriptors, and the only reason for choosing them is because they can be interestingly warped through the game.  They have absolutely no bearing on effectiveness whatsoever.  

So, the setting I choose has to be one that the players actually want to escape.  During one rough playtest, we played soldiers at Abhu Garib (sp)...

Keep it comin',

Chris  


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 18, 2006, 06:03:22 AM
The game I was referring to is Manhunt (http://www.gamespot.com/pc/action/manhunt/index.html?q=Manhunt).


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Paul Czege on April 18, 2006, 06:04:32 AM
Hey Chris,

I think an abstract "death game" setting with mysterious puppeteers might kneecap the game's dramatic potential by impersonalizing the tormentors. My recommendation, not having seen the rules, would be to dial up the emotional intensity of the situation as high as you can go, and beyond the point controversy. Did you mention Abu Ghraib during our conversation? Maybe that's why it's sticking in my head. If so, you should trust your instincts. The player characters are non-terrorists among the prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Paul


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Thunder_God on April 18, 2006, 06:07:22 AM
And to riff off of Paul's recent post about what MLWM is a metaphor for(I don't know if I can play this game any longer...) as a really squeaky inducing play, have the setting be one where your parent develops alzheimer, becomes neurotic and overbearing, one of them dies and the other stops functioning...

As to why you're there? You're still teenagers.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Mikael on April 18, 2006, 06:17:15 AM
(Tony, what is it with you and high school? I knew it was your suggestion even before I saw your name on the small screen of my mobile. And it did not take a lot of knowing.)

A passenger liner crashed on an alien planet, with most of the competent crew killed.

Caught in the middle of a burning city/lava flows from a volcano.

A group of tourists forced to play an exotic card game with very shady locals in a far-off land.

People possessed, in control of themselves for only 80% of the time - and always losing control just when they are about get help or some answers.

Speed: caught on a bus with an explosive.

Pushed hard and then harder when applying for military extra super special forces, contemporary or futuristic.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Clyde L. Rhoer on April 18, 2006, 06:38:08 AM
Hey Chris,

Can you have more than one setting? Could you have rules that help the GM, or the GM and players, set up the setting? Could you have a couple settings already included?

I'd also like to suggest checking out the movie, "The Saw." Oh wait... better yet the movie, "Season 7: The Contenders", modify the game they play a bit and that could be an interesting idea. If you haven't seen either of those movies, do yourself a favor and don't read their blurbs and just rent them blind. It's much better that way. Unless you don't have a developed satire bone, then skip the second.

As for official ideas:
  • An alien prison where no player speaks the language.
  • On a meteor that is hurtling towards the Sun.
  • Inside a Dreamland of someone with multiple personalties and only the personality that escapes is real.
  • Teddy Roosevelt's journey to try to find the headwaters of the Amazon.
  • Auschwitz.
  • A Slayer show.
  • France. (kidding)



Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: David "Czar Fnord" Artman on April 18, 2006, 06:48:20 AM
..."stories...about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?"

This struck me as the most important element to reinforce within the situation (and, thus, setting). Specifically, your group-character is going to be built from individuals whose traits MUST be tested and, ultimately, selectively sacrificed to survive. The setting does the testing (and killing) and "completion" comes when the group-character gets free of enough setting constraints through self-sacrifice (and "winning" is determined by how much of the original trait network is still standing). Right there, I see a close coupling: each group-character trait must have a corresponding/contrasting setting constraint, otherwise they will not be tested (or, worse, they could be so effective that they "solve" multiple constraints).

Now, you already have your attribute system in place. This leads me to believe that you have a notion of what traits you want to "test" and, thus, what overall themes may (will) be served. I think THAT is what makes you want a setting more than want a setting generator; the close coupling above all-but-prescribes it. If you are certain of your traits, then perhaps this whole thread could be re-purposed to something like, "What setting has sufficiently threatening elements to seriously test Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart?" (As an aside, I doubt high school works, here, as the Tears are usually melodrama, the Blood is rarely more than a scrape, all the Beasts are just sad little bullies, and there isn't a whole lot of Heart around in general.)

If, however, you left traits as more of something players select by [insert mechanic here] and provided directly coupled constraints, the setting situations could be quickly generated (kind of like a relationship map or town creation). And I would bet that players would quickly find a specific setting that appeals to them which echoes those chosen situations and relations between traits and constraints. If you were still thinking of making this game a process for the players, rather than a (possibly static) run-through of a single setting with various combinations of traits (i.e. different group-characters, same setting). That's what you're down to, right? One setting, many g-cs; one g-c, many settings; many g-cs, many settings (no correlation); and many g-cs, many settings (closely coupled).

By the way, I'll drop the suggestions that relate to multiple/varied settings, if you are going to firmly assert that "there can be only one." As you don't yet have The One True Setting that serves your game notion (hence this thread), I feel obliged to advise for more flexability in game setup, so that it can serve more varied cathartic goals.

David


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: chris_moore on April 18, 2006, 07:09:56 AM
Paul wrote:
Quote
an abstract "death game" setting with mysterious puppeteers might kneecap the game's dramatic potential by impersonalizing the tormentors.

I agree.  The game is about some people becoming monsters because of their circumstances.  The "pit bosses", for lack of a beter term, need to be plausible to be really horrifying.

David wrote:
Quote
What setting has sufficiently threatening elements to seriously test Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart?

Damn, yes.  Maybe even "What setting has sufficient elements to seriously *evoke* Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart.  That's what I need. 

Chris


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: TroyLovesRPG on April 18, 2006, 08:48:53 AM
A camp for juvenile criminals. Its set in an area where the nearest civilization is miles away. Escape always results in being brought back and placed under close surveillance. The counselors actually care about the boys and do whatever it takes to keep them there and rehabilitate them. The facility responds quickly to threat of escape or danger: electronic locks, sonic deterrants at the fence, forks replaced with spoons, etc. Maybe one counselor is not so sympathetic, but never endangers the lives of the children. The children cannot over-power the counselors (there are too many). There are bullies and gangs who pose constant threats of humiliation and minor brutality. A new group of boys arrives and rumor has it that one of them is a ruthless murderer planning revenge on one of you.

Each child has the normal adolescent set of skills, but also has one related to their crime: pick pocket, creating firebombs, forgery, hotwire vehicles, berserk strength, intimidation, persuasion, artful lying, computer hacking, quickness, very small (can crawl through ducts), etc. Each also has a dark secret regarding their family, friend, personal problem, ideal, etc. This weakness can be exploited or create an opportunity for emotional bonding. Each wants to get out and its important that they work together. But whom of you are really valuable and which ones can be sacrificed? They are just children yet can be cruel without remorse.

Your goal may be to break free of the camp, kill the murderer, become a snitch, appeal to the counselors (will they believe you), contact a parent for them to take you (do they care) or just turn the other cheek. Regardless of your actions, your fate seems locked.

It has the elements of Tears, Blood, Beast and Heart. Reminds me of Lord of the Flies in a controlled setting.

Troy


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: chris_moore on April 18, 2006, 09:11:43 AM
Thanks for the ideas, everyone.  I'll be mulling this over.  Later today I'll be opening a thread about conflict resolution. 

grateful Chris


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: David "Czar Fnord" Artman on April 18, 2006, 09:17:34 AM
"What setting has sufficient elements to seriously *evoke* Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart.  That's what I need.

Now we can run with it a bit:
Element   Common symptoms   Common causes   
TearsGuilt, loss, and sorrowBetrayal of or by another, self-loathing, harm to or by others
BloodPain and debilitationAttacks, torture, traps, "enemy"
BeastAppetite and selfishnessDeprivation, scarcity, hunger, power structure
HeartAffection, altruism, and courageLove, loyalty, pragmatism, efficiency

Why make such a chart? Well, on the one hand, it can be a sort of checklist (if accurate and complete enough). A setting must have all the causes above, to be thoroughly evocative. Further, the system should have real mechanical "hooks" into the symptoms (but that is Another Story). But most importantly to me (and I only now see it) those Big Four are actually highly interrelated:
Beast and Heart are two sides of a coin; what's the coin itself? I'd say "social reinforcement" or perhaps "successful cooperative experiences". Thus, it would seem the group-characters MUST know each other or at least be closely enough "aligned" in a social arena that they are inclined to cooperation and even altruism. Otherwise, the first challenge of the form of a prisoner's dilemma will decimate the group right off the bat: amongst strangers, someone ALWAYS will go with appetite (Beast) and will ruin the shared boost for their own solo windfall.
Blood and Tears quite often go hand-in-hand. But let's disregard the trivial equivalence (most bloodletting leads to tears) and focus on the internal v. external nature of that pairing. Blood is active pain delivered unto others; Tears is reactive pain taken upon oneself.
...But there's MORE....
Beast and Blood are pretty much roommates: there aren't many beastly solutions that don't involve spilling a bit of the problem's blood.
Heart and Tears are likewise closely coupled. My own failure of Heart leads to Tears (for ME).

It's a strange swirl, you have here. Beastliness leads to blood, which our hearts tell us is wrong via tears. The setting must "derail" that causal chain and, in effect, constantly encourage the beast--and yet it must ALSO reinforce the heart, otherwise the choice to "go feral" isn't a choice, it's merely pragmatic.

That tells me more still about The One True Setting: it can not free the group-characters from responsibility. Thus, prison torturing-for-torturing's-sake falls down (I suspect) because there is no means to choose otherwise: you're a prisoner and there's no "guilt" or "innocence" to assume. Now, the USE of torture as a means to force betrayals (true or false) IS a strong hook in that it becomes a choice: suffer the blood from the beasts (and thus enhearten all others at your cost, though they might also suffer tears); or become the beast, sell-out your friends, spare yourself blood, but suffer your own tears of guilt from your stifled heart.

I know I am rambling, but this is how I think about these sorts of things: as relationships between components. That's what I was groping at in my post above; each element needs its own hooks into the situation and setting to make them hang properly, otherwise one will bubble up as merely the smartest result to pursue given a set of prescribed losses, and the game become something more like chess than RPing.

And let us consider how your Big Four are, in fact, two Big Twos: one set of opposed "modes" of relating to a group, and one set of two "results" for that behavior. What will make meaningful (dramatic?) decisions for the g-cs in the first two, and how will the second two feed back onto the next such decision? What is lost at each choice, and how does that loss mechanically constrain (or exacerbate the consequences of) subsequent choices? That leads me to think the situation and setting must provide (a) a sequence of goals, not just one, and (b) multiple means to attain those goals. "A" makes the cost of tough decisions relevant while "B" makes the actual decision relevant. Thus, we can't build a mere "escape" setting because it is obvious that one would want to escape, and there's probably only one way to do so (leave the area). Unless "escape through death" is considered a valid option....

I'll stop the canoe here, because I am paddling out to sea and I want to know if I have gotten the core ideas straight. My Grand Point is merely that the way you build the relationships between elements WILL lead you to building aspects of setting. That, in turn, could make you find The One True Setting; or it could help you to see a great way to build a "mapping system" that lets the players develop their own setting alongside the group-characters and based on themes they want to explore.

David


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: chris_moore on April 18, 2006, 09:37:06 AM
Thanks again, so much.  The feedback here has really given me a push in the right direction.

Hope to see some of you in subsequent posts!

Chris


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: pells on April 19, 2006, 09:57:02 AM
Sorry to jump in, but I'd like to second David...

I believe there are many perfect settings for in the pit. From what I understand from the game, you don't play the same character for a long time, you either succeed or fail. So two things :
1. Maybe you should provide more than one setting with your product. I can glady see people say oh, we're playing in the pit, but in what in setting ?, since some would be present time (trench, prison), other SF (alien), other in the past (gladiators). Mechanic stay the same, ressources, context are different. Anyway, each of your setting shouldn't be too long...
2. Your premises are very strong. You should think of a way to present, define a setting for in the pit. Something like towns for dogs. It should be short, but some elements should always be present. That way, not only do you present numerous settings as examples, but you also provide a way to create them.

I'll go with one suggestion. It has to do with high school, but in an extreme way : royal battle.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: sean2099 on April 20, 2006, 05:20:46 PM
Another what-if?  What if players are stuck in horrible situition X but they are in some position of authority?  What if they have to be "hardcases" to maintain order?  They maintain order for the short term but it makes the situition worse in the long term.  If they try to be "soft", then it is a gamble, it might help the situition or make it explode in their face?

Of course, it would a place/time/scenerio where they can't leave either.  i.e. guards or trustees at bleak prison, sanitarioum (sp), etc.

Just a thought.

Sean


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: shadowcourt on May 25, 2006, 08:18:19 AM
I know this thread has been dormant for a while, but having just read it, I'd weigh in with a hearty stylistic recommendation of Harlan Ellison's science fiction classic "I Have No Mouth And I Must Scream." It's yet another "no win" scenario, and certainly looms large in my mind, the way "The Cube" does for others.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Castlin on May 25, 2006, 09:43:08 AM
Would it be too obvious or against your wishes to have "the pit" be "The Pit"? As in, Abaddon, Hell, etc. Of course the characters (and maybe not the players) don't know they're in such a place, it looks and acts just like the real world, except nothing ever seems to go right for some reason. If you took the more modern view that people make their own hells, then you have two nice pieces to work with. The first is that everyone has something horrible in their past (at least by their definition). Also, the characters must have some kind of history together, even if they don't know it, or it would be very unlikely they would have a place in each other's hells.

As to what the setting appears to be, any of the previous suggestions sound great, though I agree with the notion you probably want to include more than one option with the game. Here's my suggestion; the characters are prisoners being kept illegally and used for medical experimentation. It's pretty much dehumanizing from all perspectives; you have no rights, no freedoms, nobody acknowledges your identity, and you are only valued for your body, which exists only as something to be tortured and destroyed.

It might not be hell yet, but maybe the characters are already dead and teetering on the brink; riding a very slippery slope into damnation and this is their last chance at redemption.

Maybe the hell idea is more supernatural than you wanted. Another horrific, pit-like setting would be a group of people burried alive together (either by accident or on purpose).


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: chris_moore on May 25, 2006, 10:55:09 AM
Here are some of the basic parameters that are Necessary for creating an "In the Pit" setting:

1.  The characters are bound or trapped together...usually physically.  Since each scene gets one conflict resolution roll, and all players negotiate which character takes what fallout, they have to be together. Or, like quarks, must be affected as a group regardless of distance, or something. (I am attempting to take the phenomenon of the PC "amoeba" and use it for good.)

2.  The characters have an end goal that they must reach to gain their freedom.  Survive the gladiatorial finals match, make it to the pick-up point, kill all 5 politicians, etc. 

3.  The environment that the characters inhabit, and the supporting cast they interact with, MUST force survival-type decisions.  The question of the game is "What are parts of you are most worthy of survival?  Your body?  Your morals? Your inner peace?

I'm interested in any suggestions that meet these criteria!  Chris


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: amicitia on May 26, 2006, 06:14:03 PM
First reading this thread I was reminded of a few sessions of Paranoia I ran some time ago...

A number of survivalist horror films and computer games come to mind e.g. Aliens, 28 Days, Doom etc. These scenarios tend to encourage cooperation at least initially on the part of the participants, but there can be plenty of opportunities for them to save themselves at the expense of the group. For instance if the group consists of five individuals and there are only three antidotes to a virus they have all been exposed to. Or your hand is bitten by an infected 'opponent'  - do you cut off the affected limb before your whole body is infected and how do your companions react? The pit setting can easily be a military operation gone wrong or a passenger liner suddenly overcome by something sinister. A sense of isolation and menace seem to be key here. NPCs can be used initially as 'examples' of how bad things can get to set the tone of the game e.g. star trek red shirts :-)

Each character could have detailed backgrounds with conflicting goals and may possess secret information e.g. a ships pilot who knows where the 'single' escape pod is; the scientist who created the virus; codes for certain 'safe' areas etc. The corporation 'man' in Aliens is a perfect example of this type of conflicting goals. This should begin to erode the trust characters may have towards one another at the beginning of their ordeal.

Anyhow, I hope this is not too off track, but I agree with some of the other writers in encouraging you to pick a setting. The rest will flow from there.


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: dindenver on May 26, 2006, 09:26:16 PM
Hi!
  The scene that jumps to my mind immediately, is the scene from The Stand where the Walking Dude finds one of his lieutenants in a prison.
  Its a desperate situation. The prison is locked down, you can't get out, and you have to survive. If there was more than one survivor, it would be even more tense...
  And of course there is always lord of the flies...


Title: Re: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?
Post by: Nick on June 10, 2006, 05:35:18 PM
Just wanted to throw out a couple texts that have explored this theme that might prove helpful for you:

No Exit- an existentialist story in which a few characters are trapped together in a small room in hell.

Stage Coach- an old western in which a number of very different people are forced together in a long ride that is beset by the law, indian attacks, and internal social pressures.

House of Leaves- though not quite as literal an interpretation of your theme, this book does have some very good sections of people lost in an enclosed space and their true colors emerging. It also shows some good techniques for raising tension amongst a group of people trapped together.

Hope this was helpful,
Nick