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General Forge Forums => First Thoughts => Topic started by: Vulpinoid on September 27, 2009, 02:15:48 AM

Title: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Vulpinoid on September 27, 2009, 02:15:48 AM
Brigaki Djili is a romani/gypsy term meaning "Sorrow Songs".

I'm using it as a name for a new project in which players take on the role of Gypsy seers who reveal the past through communal storytelling.

Each player takes on the role of one of these gypsy seers, while the GM takes on the role of someone who has asked the seers to reveal a hidden story of the past. Each seer takes on the twin roles of narrating the story and playing out the actions of characters within the story, the GM purely acts as a prompt in case the narrative related by the players starts to slow down, or needs a new impetus.

The basic mechanism of the game involves something I've been toying with for a while, drawing beads from a bag.

Each player has a bag and a dozen or so tokens of a specific colour (each player's colour is different). There is also a pile of threat tokens representing the difficulty of different stories being pursued by the characters.

At the start of a session of storytelling, each player may place their tokens into their own bag, or into someone else's bag. They also apply threat tokens into their own bag. The more threat tokens, the more chance of failure, the bigger the risk for the character, but the bigger the pay-off if they succeed. The character who applies the most threat tokens to their own bag and who survives their story earns some kind of reward at the end of the round.

The play of storytelling follows the draw of tokens from the bag...

At the beginning of a story a single token is drawn to set the tone of the narrative.

Own Token followed byÖ
The player who controls the character begins by narrating how their character explores the world around them, using the skills at their characterís disposal to avoid problems or complications. Nothing beneficial or detrimental occurs to the character through the narrative. Before the next token is drawn, the character must be faced with some kind of a critical story point

Otherís Token followed byÖ
The player whose token is drawn begins the narrative, they may choose to describe events that occur in the characterís favour, or may describe events that cause problems for the character. explaining

Threat Token followed byÖ
The player who controls the character begins by narrating how their character has immediately encountered a problem, arriving at a situation where their skills werenít appropriate or where they simply failed miserably. Nothing majorly wrong happens to the character, but from the outset they are on the back foot and must react defensively to the next token draw.

Once the initial scene has been set up, a second token is drawn. Further scenes are described through a combination of the last two tokens drawn.

Own Token followed by Own Token followed byÖ
The current narrator continues with their scene, showing how their character has successfully resolved the issue they have just faced. They show how the character gets another step closer to their goal, or how the character overcomes a setback they have suffered. The scene is concluded by setting up another issue where the character could face a turning point.   

Own Token followed by Threat Token followed by...
The current narrator shows how their character has faced their issue unsuccessfully, and how things have put them on the defensive. They must now describe how the character faces up to the issues at hand and tries to get things moving forward again. They narrate a new turning point that might allow the character to take destiny back into their own hands.

Own Token followed by Otherís Token followed byÖ
The narration duties pass to the player whose token has been drawn. This new player now describes a twist in the events, a way in which the scene has changed away from the current characterís intended plans. Not necessarily for the worse, but certainly deviating the characters path. The characterís player gets the chance to react to the changing circumstances, offering a course of action to be determined by the next drawn token.

Otherís Token followed by Own Token followed by...
The narration duties are resumed by the player who controls the character. The character doesnít specifically get an advantage from the situation, but they are able to get things back onto the right track.

Otherís Token followed by Threat Token followed by...
The narration duties continue being held by the player whose token had been drawn last. The twist in the storyline has led the character into trouble. The character suffers a setback due to this unexpected change of circumstances, if they wish to continue a sacrifice will need to be made on the characterís part.

Otherís Token followed by Otherís Token followed by...
The narration duties continue being held by the same player. The characterís actions have in some way advanced the agenda of that playerís character (they may be present in the scene, or the actions may be helping in a more obscure fashion). The character may or may not realise what they are doing to further these goals.

Otherís Token followed by a different Otherís Token followed by...
The narration duties move from the former player to the new player whose token was drawn. Another new twist has developed, and the characterís path has turned in yet another new direction. Once again, the character doesnít specifically suffer a setback due to their change of circumstances, but they do find things shifting around them in such a way that they probably havenít anticipated. 

Threat Token followed by Own Token followed by...
No matter who may have been narrating the events leading up to the drawing of the threat token, the characterís player resumes the narration duties and describes how the character has overcome the issues at hand and has resumed control of their destiny. They may now narrate a new critical point to drive the story forward.

Threat Token followed by Threat Token followed by...
Narration duties do not change, the same player continues to describe the events as they get worse. The setback previously suffered has escalated and has now dealt a permanent injury to the character involved. In most cases, the characters story draws to a temporary conclusion unless they are able to draw upon a specific strength or special ability which helps them in the immediate situation.

Threat Token followed by Otherís Token followed by...
The player whose token was drawn takes over the narrative and may describe how the character has failed in their attempt to overcome the threat, or they may describe a new complication that has the potential to make things even worse for the character.
I'm working on some ideas for incorporating character abilities into the system (if a character has a special ability the player gets to redraw certain tokens, upgrade threat tokens to other's tokens to own tokens, if they have a weakness then they might be forced to redraw successful tokens).

But first I'm just seeing that this core concept makes sense.

Ask as many questions as you want, I'm still trying to work through this in my mind and any queries that other people have might help me to really get it clear...


Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: JoyWriter on September 28, 2009, 04:44:43 PM
If there's one thing I've learned from running rustbelt, it is that you can always justify difficulty created according to an abstract pattern. If you scale animosity to character strength (in fact as D&D sort of does) or story dynamics, then abilities become guides to the scale of narration; they don't need to alter any of the probabilities. What the threat is can be decided by their ability to meet it, and what them trying to meet it does to the story.

If you take that idea and extreme-ify it, then a character who can "charm" any women with his speech meets a strange spirit who cannot be charmed, perhaps even a ghost of a betrayed women who distrusts his easy grace. But the character who cannot speak finds a chance to show his regard for his cousin's friend, and she warms to his kindness but she cannot overcome her discomfort about his speechlessness.

The same situation; an attempt to get the favour of an admired women, but the tone changes dramatically because of the characteristics of those involved.

Now the problem here is one that the current drawing system has; it only covers characters in isolation. The more arbitrary the pair of threat and ability for each character, I suspect the more tricky it will be to integrate them. If you consider the two examples above, how can they be made to interact? Are the incompatible?

That's why I suggest you put some thought particularly into how you want to do these interactions and links. This doesn't seem to me to be a game about opposed rolls, but about showing someone how to play your character in a way you can respect. I suspect if you can merge the idea of abilities-as-narration-guides with some way of making those abilities link the characters together, you may really be onto something.

On the mechanical end, I find it interesting that you can "tune" your bag to make different stories, and I imagine that could produce a lot of fruitful playtesting of what it does to the narrative form when you do different configurations. Perhaps the fruit of this procedure would form the equivalent of GMs pacing advice, but for the players.

One rule I might make is that if you have no chips left, then everyone puts a randomly chosen token into your bag, and then you draw from them. I'm not sure what this would do to the probabilities, but it would stop the simple rules-hole of the empty bag.

I quite like the idea of the narrator as an outsider who has come to hear the stories of the gypsies, like those folk story collectors of the nineteenth century, perhaps he can only ask questions?

Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Vulpinoid on September 28, 2009, 06:29:21 PM
I quite like the idea of the narrator as an outsider who has come to hear the stories of the gypsies, like those folk story collectors of the nineteenth century, perhaps he can only ask questions?

That's good...and yes, the idea was that the visitor/GM comes to the group asking for a specific tale to reveal a certain series of events in the past. They would get a limited number of their own tokens which they could use to clarify events through further questions...

"But surely the spirit was more powerful than that, what else did he do to truly overcome it?" [Downgrades a successful scene into a new complication]

"But I have seen her scratches on a path marking stone, how did she reach the target if you say that she was frightened off by a pack of wolves?" [Upgrades a failure into a new complication].

I don't think the GM should be allowed to turn scenes into automatic successes or automatic failures, instead they bring new uncertainties into the situation and offer new impetus for the story.

As for truly defining the characters who's tales are revealed...I'm still bouncing a few ideas through my mind.

Idea 1: Five card tarot spread wrapped in a character sheet or scarf.

Place a major arcana card (or a note indicating one) in the centre of a large square scarf or bandana. Fold the four corners of a large scarf into the centre, concealing this inner card. Roughly halfway between the centre and the new outer corners, place four more cards (or notes), these outer cards will be minor arcana. Fold the outer corners in to the centre again, concealing the five card spread.

If a character finds things going their way, they may deliberately choose to unfold one of the corners to reveal the minor arcana card. They voluntarily redraw a success, within the narrative they suffer a penalty linked to the reverse aspect of the card. At any later time, if their card is exposed, they may redraw one of their failed tokens, within the narrative the character gains a benefit based on the regular meaning of the card.

As the game continues, cards are concealed and revealed at different times giving each character a more unique flavour rather than just a token drawing mechanic. If a character has exposed all of their minor arcana cards, they may expose the central card for some truly special story moments...

So far it's just an idea that needs a bit more refining.


Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Simon C on September 28, 2009, 11:40:03 PM
Magical mysterious gypsies?  Really?

Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Vulpinoid on September 29, 2009, 01:17:26 AM
The beauty of using stereotypes and tropes is that you can cut through a lot of the crap when developing a setting.

So if you know that you're doing this (and can give a nod and a wink to your audience), then you can eliminate a dozen pages of cultural descriptions with a single word.

Of course, the core of the game isn't necessarily about the gypsies, they are just the vehicle for the storytelling. And whether a troupe's tales are lies or truth is purely in the hands of the players as they answer the question posed to them by their visitor.

I'll be the first to admit that the use of Tarot cards is playing to the stereotypes of gypsies, but I'll be including notes throughout the game about how other groups of storytellers from a more Nordic bent might use the symbolism inherent in rune-stones, while other groups might use the traditional mystic resonances of gemstones or anything else that might offer a distinct cultural slant.


Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Simon C on September 29, 2009, 10:38:09 AM
The problem isn't that it's a stereotype, it's that it's a racist stereotype.

Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: JoyWriter on September 29, 2009, 03:00:53 PM
I can't follow that categorisation myself; as least as far as "mysterious and magical" goes, it's a stereotype (at least in my mind) that categorises people as embodying traits of their mythology. If people think that Celts like me are a mysterious and passionate group always going off on quests into the lands of fairies, I'll just laugh and not mind. If I do mind, it's because it's a stereotype (if an obscure and never used one!), not because it is more racist than other stereotypes!

If anything it is more positive than many, because it shows an interest in the differences between people in a cultural sense, not directly focused on material competition or war. You are assigning a group metaphorical power on the basis of their culture, a stance that contains a certain amount of respect for that reason, although it can be turned like any stereotype to racism, through means I'm sure you can imagine.

So that's where I was coming from, taking interest in the potential for mythological complexity among a group with links across my continent, and the potential for interesting story from a group with traditionally strong family ties mixed with the active spirit-world stuff I've come across in their mythology before.

V I'm not currently feeling the "tarot" idea. Whether it does have toxic associations or not, I can't see that working in physical play; you've got a real physical dynamic going on with the bags, and I like how they enable you to play anywhere; no one needs a flat surface of any kind! If everyone has scarves and cards and stuff in front of them that weakens that simplicity. Also if you are going to do some unveiling like that, I think something closer to texas hold-em would be better, in that whatever is revealed in the centre of the table influences everyone.

That links in to my first concern; you've got a good starting system for deciding the fate of one character, but I really think this needs an infusion of interdependency or mutual cultural effect, building links and metaphorical bridges between the characters, so it's not just them and their success, but their relationships.

I get the feeling I'm not communicating this well, but I wonder whether this simple system you have already satisfactorally covers whether people do well or not, full stop, and what it needs is some kind of positioning or flagging mechanic or whatever you call it, a way of players actually messaging to each other what parts of this story they are interested in seeing, and helping them stay on tone with each other, or at least closer to their expected concepts, so surprises stay "ooh" not "wtf". To make it easier to conceptualise, and to kill two birds with one stone, you could mix that into character differentiation. Equally it could be built into pre-set game settings like the norse thing, putting the synchronising before the game.

Now if you want to go more mechanical with this one, adding the equivalent of rerolls and stuff for this lovely new mechanic you've invented, fair enough, but I reckon this mechanic has enough flavour in it served without preparation!

Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Vulpinoid on September 29, 2009, 06:47:52 PM
Alright, lets pull any histrionics or cultural dialogue out of this thread...

I'm purely asking about notions of game mechanisms in this instance.

If anyone would like to further discuss the nature of racism within roleplaying, we can always start up a new topic.

I've seen dozens of blog articles about the issue, and I'm sure there have been quite a few posts both here and at other forums. Some have been quite insightful and thought provoking, others have just been inflammatory...

"Hey you're racist"
"No, I'm not and here's a logical rationale behind my comments..."
"But you're still racist"

Let's get back to the mechanism under scrutiny...

If you played "A Penny for my Thoughts", you'll probably instantly get the point here...if not; go and play it, it's a really clever game.

Each character gets a chance in the spotlight, telling a fragment of a larger tale. These stories may be lone adventures, they may involve two or more characters working with one another, or they may involve a conflict.

Players begin the game with a very small number of tokens to add to their bags. They may choose to add any number of threat tokens, depending on how much adversity they wish to face.They draw tokens and the communal groups tells a story about this character depending on the tokens drawn (as indicated at the head of the post). Once the storytellers have drawn enough positive tokens to make a number of positive steps equal to the threat tokens in the bag, this immediate part of the tale is overcome with a "happy" ending. If the storytellers drawn too many threat tokens, the character may be taken out with a "sad" ending. If the tokens ever run out, then the story is left hanging...perhaps the players can narrate events into other people's stories that might fulfill their agendas.

Players will rarely come into direct conflict with one another...consider one player telling the tale from Snow White's perspective, while another player tells the story from the perspective of her evil stepmother. Their actions often infringe on one another's stories, but (depending on the version) they rarely actually meet one another and recognise one another for who they really are.

Like I said, I'm still really trying to work my head through the specifics. I can see some great potential in the ideas, but it's going to take some hefty playtesting and experimentation to get it right .


Title: Re: [Brigaki Djili] A Core Mechanism for Communal Storytelling
Post by: Anders Gabrielsson on October 01, 2009, 11:27:33 AM
While the idea about the tarot cards seems cool, I think that in this case it is both an unnecessary complication and a mechanic that won't come to its rights. The beads and bags should be enough to keep the story going, and they may overshadow the tarot card mechanic.

I'd love to see a game that used that as the main mechanic, but I don't think this is the game where it fits best.