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Author Topic: Your experiences with Story Engine?  (Read 2022 times)
Morrius
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Posts: 18


« on: August 09, 2004, 05:52:05 AM »

A while back I tried running a l'il homebrewed setting using the late Hubris Games Story Engine.  I found it to be a bit of a mixed bag.  My group isn't used to the dynamic of having the players dictate the results of a scene, so after a few botched attempts I took over, and it worked out okay.  Not spectactular, but okay.  The players tended to hoard their Descriptors throughout the entire game, and most of them went unspent.

What have been your experiences with Maelstrom / Story Engine, and what games have you run with them?
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Tim C Koppang
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Posts: 356


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« Reply #1 on: August 09, 2004, 06:28:04 AM »

Morrius,

What types of games have you and your group played before?  The first time I ran SE, I had limited myself to games common in the 90s: stuff like Shadowrun, GURPS, and Fading Suns.  These all share a common resolution mechanic insofar as only very specific points of conflict are determined after the dice hit the table.  SE takes a different approach, allowing entire scenes to happen with only one roll.  Moreover, it's what's called Fortune in the Middle and, as you say, the player and the GM have to work out the finer details, the actual actions that characters take, after the roll.

Needless to say, this can take some adjustment.  There was a period running SE where, as you did, I ran the game like any other I'd played up to that point.  However, I assure, you the strength of the game really shines when you and your players finally get the hang of the resolution mechanic.

I'm a huge fan of the game, if only because I feel as if it opened my eyes to new possibilities.  Do you have any specific questions that I may be able to help out with?

Until then I might recommend checking out the backlog of the now mostly dormant Yahoo! Group.  I also wrote up a Fading Suns to SE conversion you may find helpful.
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Morrius
Member

Posts: 18


« Reply #2 on: August 09, 2004, 08:17:06 AM »

Yeah, I contributed some of the stuff in the Yahoo! groups archives.  I've got rules for ritual magic and cybernetics banging around in my head that I just haven't yet put to computer.

Our group was, and is, heavy into D&D, so I guess there certainly was some culture shock there.  You don't see many SE-type games out there, which is a shame.
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Bill Cook
Member

Posts: 501


« Reply #3 on: August 09, 2004, 08:55:30 PM »

I love Story Engine. I ran a three-shot with it back in 2000 for a group of five players. It was a story about a Necromancer trying to wrest control of a kingdom from his brother, the king (unbeknownst to him), so he could ressurect his father to be with him again. The characters were commissioned to investigate a cult growing up around the Necromancer, reportedly responsible for a number of attacks: disruption of diamond mining in the North, a raid on a border patrol fort to the south, refusal to pay tribute or taxation in the lands East of the delta, etc.

I started with the back-story. Then I asked each character to create a concept, a number of descriptors, a special power and a special purpose. One player refused the exercise ("Just make up something for me, and I'll play it") and another blew it off entirely. Another created the same character he always played, according to SE rules; I assigned a purpose to his character. Another player really got into the freedom of it. He didn't have a compelling purpose, but he totally invested in his power (lycanthropy of the bear nature). The player who seemed to fit the process hand-in-glove asked to take revenge on a military captain who had betrayed his company and that his power should allow him to return from the grave should he fail in life to avenge his wrongly murdered brothers-in-arms.

Not surprisingly, players that didn't click with chargen struggled with everything else. Some highlights:

    [*]Unanimous agreement on the best scene in the campaign: the characters entered a beer hall in an Eastern Delta town, infested with cultists; characters wandered one by one to the brothel where they made their way upstairs by various means to an orgy for the Necromancer's war general and recruiter.
    [*]First brush with lethality: one character took a sword wound in the first session that he carried to the final scene.
    [*]A tomb raid for a weapon to destroy the walking dead, protected by nothing more than mechanical traps and hordes of pests a la Indiana Jones.
    [*]The Scarlet Rider revealled her identity as the king's daughter in the final battle as he lay dying at her feet.
    [/list:u]

    I learned sooo much from reading SE and running this campaign. I spent $1k to convert my mom's living room into a haunted house setting. My workers and I created tarps out of plastic garbage sacks to mask all modern props. I bought a costume and make-up kit to become the Necromancer. I had a walking staff, a lantern, cosmetic contacts and a live crow. I spoke in character more often than not.  During breaks, my brother refused to be in the same room with me, saying I was "too evil." I rented a dry-ice fogger, installed a curtain divider and masked the windows with corrugated boxes. I bought handfuls of dice and placed them in clear glass bowls beween huge, red candles on the players' table. I created my own three-tiered GM screen, spray-painted black, of course. It was a helluva thing.

    Regarding system, narrating results of events was difficult to train. There came a time when I made a player redo it three times in a row, each time getting better, and from then on out, everybody got it.

    Getting used to a "the dice have spoken" model was particularly frustrating for one player. He kept trying to explain how his approach made sense or was reasonable. And I finally broke him in by explaining that I, personally, followed what he was saying, but his roll still didn't exceed the difficulty, so I still needed him to explain how he failed.


    I struggled with the power of scene framing. (And I still do, to some extent.) So sometimes, sure, we'd cut forward, but what then? Yikes! I wasn't sure. And I realized that it was my habit in D&D to make things up while the players droned on and on about their marching order, order of watches, what shit they want to buy at market, etc. With SE, you have to be more nimble and snappy.

    One player was extremely irritated that things didn't move along, for god's sake. And I suffered terribly trying to address her boredom. And except for everyone's favorite scene, I pretty much failed her. Another player got drunk and tried to get laid . . . the whole game long. Neither of these two saw the point in attending the last session.

    I also must confess, for complex conflict, we went with round-based. We probably just sold ourselves short on the system, but it was too much of a stretch for old-hand D&D gamers on first attempt.  Even so, what an experience! Every GM that cares about understanding what their players are really saying should read SE for its emphasis on player intent alone.
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    Ron Edwards
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    « Reply #4 on: August 10, 2004, 04:51:28 AM »

    Hello,

    Here's my rather dated Maelstrom/Story Engine review.

    My experiences with the game have their downside. The main one is that characters enter a serious death spiral, which matches your players' reluctance to put their Descriptors at risk. Another difficulty is that conflicts and actions ultimately aren't very nuanced in terms of system; one person, can't recall who, once stated that playing Story Engine meant hitting any possible situation in play with the same fluffy hammer. It's like playing The Pool if the dice pools are always the same, except if they dropped due to damage. Not very compelling - like playing catch with a ball that slowly leaks its air.

    To my surprise, Extreme Vengeance ends up being a stronger game, as it handles Scene, Conflict, Exchange within conflict, Action, and Effects as very distinct layers, with a very clear further distinction between renewable and non-renewable resources. It's hard to parse all this out from the text, which does its best to obscure how good the system is, but once you play it a couple of times, it really shines.

    Story Engine does have its good side; I think it's a great "break one's assumptions" experience and it was way ahead of its time as a design phenomenon. The how-to-play text in Maelstrom ranks at the very top of the heap for Narrativist thinking; you can see how I quote it all the time in my Narrativism essay.

    Best,
    Ron
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