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RPG sheet music?

Started by contracycle, October 20, 2004, 05:47:34 AM

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I had an interesting thought while going over my previous ideas on Sitation & Tension.

The general direction in which I was trying to head was toward constructing a tool that operated as an aide to play.  That served in some sense to organise what you did when, to resolve some of the contradictions inherent to pre-play planning an in-play fluidity and improvisation.  In general terms the idea I came up with is that the structure of a given game seeks to highlight certain issues, identified as Tensions, that reside inherently as live topics in the game space.  Thus we would be informed of "where to go next" in a general sense without pre-specifying actual content of action.

But I have now realised that a stripped and rotated version of this model offers something quite different indeed, although still along the lines of a play aide.

Something of a diversion: unfortunately I can't find what I believe to be the original version of this quote:  "In Act 1, Get your characters up a tree; in Act 2, throw stones at them; and in Act 3, get them down again." - George M. Cohan.  The version I recall ends "alive if a comedy, dead if not."  This is pretty stock advice given to aspirant authors along with other such truisms as rising tension.

If we graphed the simplest possible story's tension we would see it start climbing from beginning to end.  The 3-act play structure makes it hit a couple of pseudo-peaks before driving toward an even larger crisis.  But these generalisations are not actualities, in that the overall tension in a piece does not climb consistently, it merely climbs over all.  Incident to incident, the tension can be moved up and down typ create specific effects.  That is, we might lower tension in order to provide a space say for a chunk of character exposition, or similar.

Back on track.  The multiple tension model I proposed took the general case of rising tension as a given and proposed differing venues in which tension could arise, these venues being the topical themes arising from setting and driving NPC actions.  But now it seems to me that in terms of constructing an actual play experience having multiple themes is probably a bad idea and what is much more interesting is to explore the variously rising and falling level of tension specific to a particular theme.  There may still be a case for multiple-tensions stories but the central idea behind the graphic display in the first place is better represented by concentrating on the movement of tension within a particular topic.

So over in the Situation & Tension thread John K. kindly built for me a display of what I was visualising - a vertical table, time running top to bottom, and columns being the various tensions/topics exhibited in the game space.  In this construction, the dots indicating a play event which escalated a specific tension were marked in the table cells.

But if, as I now think, it is too early to look at multiple tensions/topics, and we should rather be viewing the level of tension present in a given topic, then the table can be substantially altered.  The multiple tensions are stripped out and replaced with columns representing the degree of tension; then the whole thing can be rotated 90 degrees anticlockwise so time travels left to right instead of top to bottom.  And the dots that appear in cells become instances of play in which a particular degree of tension is exhibited in actual play.

In other words, it would look a hell of a lot like this:

The more I think about it the more it makes sense.  This is a notational convention for a perfomance art.  Its purpose is not to teach the entirety of content but to provide sopmething similar to a mnemonic, a device that  guides the performance in real time.  This is more cheat sheet than scenario.

I hope this serves somewhat to clarify the aim I had in the situation and tension post, which does not express the concept very well.  It seems to me that something like sheet music is an appropriate model for the publication of RPG material in a way that obviates much of the concern about over-specification of plot and railroading.  In both cases the purchaser takes the product to their own home and plays it with their own instruments.  The actuall experience is very much owned by its actual performers, but the author is also able to speak into the process of play more purposefully than just establishing situation and less dictatorially than establishing content.  I think there is a serious possibility that for-consumption scenarios could be written and published in a form something like sheet music.

Once again, any comments appreciated.
Impeach the bomber boys:

"He who loves practice without theory is like the sailor who boards ship without a rudder and compass and never knows where he may cast."
- Leonardo da Vinci