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Author Topic: Part II: Whence go the Mechanics  (Read 3273 times)
Le Joueur
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« on: December 27, 2001, 10:45:00 PM »

January 2nd, 2002; Happy New Year! -

At the behest of my friends here on the Forge, I will present Scattershot at the point I have it.  Even though this is a work-in-progress and much of the terminology is in a state of flux, I am not trying to present a diary of the progress.  Expect the lead component of this thread to undergo changes as Scattershot does.  This edition was originally put together on Thursday, December 27th, 2001.  This series of articles will detail strictly the mechanics of Scattershot, articles relating to the techniques of 'how to play' will have to wait until I have more of them centralized and organized.  The third major component of the game, the setting and genre material is will be addressed once I get a new batch of playtesters.

One deliberate feature of Scattershot has to do with how we handle the complexity of the mechanics.  Instead of a long catalog of 'optional' rules, we divided the mechanics into three stages of complexity.

Basic

    These are for beginners, or for 'on the road' (live-action or driving).  This portion will be included with all our 'satellite' products.  It's meant to be simple, basic, and easy.[/list:u]Intermediate (Tournament)

    These mechanics (which incorporate the basics too) are meant for experienced gamers.  Most often played 'at the table,' these mechanics are the expected level of play.[/list:u]Advanced

    This is the set of mechanics for completists and are meant to be played 'in the books.'  They allow for the most specific derivation of the subtle differences between abilities.  This is the esotery not for the minimalists.[/list:u]Certainly people could play 'at only one stage,' but the playtesters not only liked to, but tended to, shift back and forth between these stages as needed by the game they were in.  Because we realized this early on, it was important to make the comparisons between the mechanics' stages as transparently compatible as possible.  This means the advanced mechanics are what we wrote first, keeping in mind that there would be two succeedingly simpler derivations necessary.

    We have also broken the facile use of mechanics into three different 'densities.'  These are relative and normal play shifts between these rather easily.  One of the most common problems we have seen in playtest with beginners (and from our experiences) is the awkward switching between these 'densities.'  Confusion often arises when there is no communication of a 'switch' or when a 'switch' occurs at some point other than an intuitive Breakpoint.

    General Play

    Most things are either resolved as dialogue and description or simply taken as having happened exactly as the speaker says.  All things mechanical are used more as guidelines and almost always only when 'out of the ordinary.'[/list:u]Specific Play

    Mechanics are invoked on a sporadic basis, most often to generate detail; how long did it take, how well did it go, what was the specific result.  Occasionally the mechanics are invoked to preempt any question regarding impartiality, but this tends to be rare within groups who already know each other quite well.[/list:u]Mechanical Play

    This occurs most often when emotions run high or when there is 'a lot on the line.'  Impartiality is the most important feature so this is when 'everybody plays by the rules,' or so it is understood.  The most common time when this occurs historically is during combat.  This does not need to be exclusive, but when you consider dying in those games eliminates you from play, there is clearly 'a lot on the line.'  Also combat is when the entities that players have the most emotional investment in, are at risk; they would hardly stand for subjective or casual destruction of their investment.[/list:u]Since the idea behind Scattershot's mechanics is that they are a
formalization of intuitive play, I should explain how we look at the actual 'flow of play' formally.  One thing to remember, while this is a formal breakdown, nobody is perfect (neither yours truly, nor people playing the games) and so this is not a lot more than an approximation.  Still, from here all Scattershot springs.

Respect the Speaker

    As I said in
the earlier installment, play bounces from person to person in no particular order.  I think this way of looking at play means play is only occurring with the person speaking.  Normally there is only one Speaker at any time, but there are a couple of exceptions I can think of; dialogue and question & answer (an interview style of setting description is an example of this).  When this aspect of gaming breaks down, it's cacophony; the unconscious formalization in natural response to this is one of the central formations of gaming.[/list:u]The Scenic View

    For simplicity's sake, we break all play down into either Scenes, 'Behind the Scenes' (which would be Scenes run 'during' the main Scene), and between sessions (which actually tend to be the bookkeeping done at the beginning and ending of sessions, and the preparatory 'stretching').  I realize this carries a great deal of literary and theatrical baggage with it, but I am open to a better term.

    At the beginning of every Scene, someone must 'Set the Stage,' that is making some kind of introductory speech (we often suggest a soliloquy) that describes basically where, when, and who will be involved in a scene.  While many game systems suggest this is the practice of the gamemaster, we prefer to call the person who does this the
Proprietor so that at times, a player can do it as well.  This is because there are many occasions that the person most familiar with the setting and circumstance may be someone other than the gamemaster (for example, inside the superheroes' base).[/list:u]When Can I Catch a Break?

    The most fundamentally mistaken component of gaming in our experience (outside of
pacing) are the Breakpoints.  Changing tone, Switching 'Densities' (or in Scattershot, changing the Stage of the rules), or any other shifts that occur when there aren’t any kinds of natural (and unfortunately mostly unconscious) Breakpoints, always seems to throw a wrench into the 'flow of play.'  Scattershot goes to some degree talking about the types and uses of Breakpoints (though I am not going to go into too much detail here, because this article is to set up for the mechanics).

The beginnings and endings of scenes are principal Breakpoints (but that doesn't mean to disclude the huge number of other intuitive Breakpoints).  One way that a group can easily mishandle a scene is by choosing its parameters badly.  Start too soon before the 'meat' of the scene and you risk losing the participants' interest before the 'entree.'  End too long after the 'action' and you watch a scene's impact slowly bleed to death.  Scattershot's techniques speak plainly about starting a scene so close to the 'meat' that the start sheds blood.  These techniques also talk about tying off the endings with tourniquet intensity when they have served their purpose.  (It goes hand in hand with most of our advice about pacing and choosing the appropriate stage of mechanics to carry the game forward at the most satisfying rate.)[/list:u]What was the Point, Again?

    This may not need suggesting, but I think it needs to be said; every scene has a goal.  It might be to show a nifty thing about your character; it might be the discovery of some bit of information.  Raising or resolving tension is another goal; so is providing color, atmosphere, warming up and cooling down¹ (two of the most overlooked and important parts of a session), or even 'filler.'  The most important thing about goals, as stated above, is once you have fulfilled the goal (most often supplied by the proprietor of a scene), get out!  If it becomes clear that the goal has become unattainable, do the same.  Letting a scene meander about in search of a goal (while in some rare cases, it can bear fruit) is a recipe for wrecked context and loss of 'flow.'[/list:u]What's My Cut?

    I need to take a moment and return to the issue of
sharing play.  There are a couple of prime issues that need to be addressed, if I am formalizing things.  The first (and possibly foremost) is commitment; commitment to atmosphere, commitment to plot-arch (as in how a noir story just 'goes,' not as in preplanned conclusions), commitment to ambience, and so on, it's all about 'being on the same page.'  If these things are not a shared commitment, it is only a matter of time before things break down.  People almost always think about 'what they get' out of sharing without realizing the importance of 'what they give.'

Another point of sharing we suggest in Scattershot is keeping everyone involved; whether by creating riveting play for those whose characters aren't present, or having those 'uninvolved' get drafted into short-term, supporting, non-player character roles, sharing the game means sharing in as much as possible.  A little conspiracy now and then is good, so is a little mystery, but when the commitment is shared as above, you should expect participants to only use 'player knowledge' as a role-playing game aid.  If you suspect cheating, you are not sharing; you are 'hording.'  (Mystery good; secrecy bad.)[/list:u]One of the reasons I put all these clusters together is because they will be referred to frequently at many subsequent levels.  Unlike many games I have read or played, I think it is important to cover the implications of using basic mechanics during mechanical play of a event not including combat.  (This means discussing each new layer of Scattershot's mechanics in terms of how each of these clusters apply.)  I think it is important to consider where and when you expect to use a game's mechanics in order to write the mechanics that are necessary to support those situations and I think so is the shared commitment to using them that way.

Next up the nuts and bolts.

Fang Langford

¹ What we frequently, incorrectly call denouement.
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Le Joueur
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« Reply #1 on: December 31, 2001, 10:33:00 PM »

Sorry about this, but I just found one of the missing pages of my notes.  The whole section on formalization of 'flow of play' comes from there and is new.

Hope you like it.

Fang Langford
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joshua neff
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« Reply #2 on: January 02, 2002, 07:33:00 AM »

Fang--

That's some good stuff there, especially the stuff about taking breaks & respecting the speaker. That's stuff that should be mentioned in RPGs & isn't. As Ron said, "solid".
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
Le Joueur
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« Reply #3 on: January 02, 2002, 09:46:00 AM »

Quote
joshua neff wrote:

That's some good stuff there, especially the stuff about taking breaks & respecting the speaker. That's stuff that should be mentioned in RPGs & isn't. As Ron said, "solid".
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joshua neff
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« Reply #4 on: January 02, 2002, 09:53:00 AM »

You know, I did think that. But I don't know why, because that's not really what I meant. I mean, what I liked was the whole idea of "breakpoints" as you described them. But somehow between reading it, thinking about it, & then writing my post, it got mutated in my brain as "taking breaks". Maybe a different name is needed. (Or more ginko for my brain.)

That being said, I do think that one of the most neglected things in RPG rulebooks is how to run a single session--particularly the structure of the session, including when & why to take breaks from the game. Sorcerer & Sword has some good stuff about structuring both the narrative as a whole series of sessions & the individual sessions themselves, which has really helped me focus on what I'm trying to do with my next game (which is, oddly enough, Sorcerer, sans swords). But I'm also thinking about the thread in Actual Play in which we all talked about when to take breaks from the game, & how to work that into the structure of the session. I think that's good stuff for people just getting into RPGs to think about.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
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