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Author Topic: Galactic - space adventure fortified with narrativism!  (Read 2795 times)
Matt Wilson
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« on: November 18, 2004, 06:51:51 AM »

I'm really inspired right now by Clinton's unparalleled enthusiasm with his new game, so I'm gathering up all these ideas I've left lying around and starting work on a new game.

I actually wanted to make this game a few years ago, but it accidentally turned into Primetime Adventures. Not that I'm complaining, but it's time to finish what I started.

Anyway, this game is intended to be an epic space opera. My latest working title (of many) is Galactic. Short and sweet.

I did a lot of thinking about what "epic" means, and how it would apply to a roleplaying game. How I intend to apply it is that the characters' actions happen on a grand scale, and they have effects on a grand scale.

So how do you do that? My idea is that there's two levels of play in the game: the level where the characters are having their nifty adventures, and the level where this makes big changes in the setting. Imagine that you discover mysterious alien technology on Planet Bob, and you deliver it to Faction Z, for much prestige and honor. Switch to grand scale where you as player now have points, where you say "I want Faction Z to use their new technology to expand their territory and grow in power."

Cool? I think that sounds epic. Hey, my guy just changed the galaxy!

Yeah, sure, neat, but where's the narrativism, right? How do I get Ron and Vincent and Raven to want to play?

Oh, I give 'em really hard choices. There's galactic repercussions, and there's also personal ones. In this setting, humankind is factionalized, distrustful, fragmented into clans that are weak on their own, weak against this big mysterious threat. Your character intends to stop this threat, and it's going to be hard. It might require sacrifices.

I was thinking about sacrifices about a year and a half ago on this thread, and I think I know how to do it.

The idea is this: how badly do you want to win any given conflict? Let's say you're trying to convince some alien to join your cause, and you bombed the roll. So you fail. Ah, but you don't have to fail, as long as you're willing to give something else up for it. Cross that nifty item off your list. Or damage a relationship with someone else.

Or... I'm still thinking about this one... you can accept repercussions later on. I think to make this a hard choice vs. sacrifice, the repercussions are You win small but lose big somewhere else. Is it worth it to win big later?

So in this game, as long as a player at some point fails a roll, he or she will make a thematic statement. The GM's job, then, is to make sure the system gets used enough so that there is eventually a failure that's important to the player.

I have two questions at the moment:

1) does an epic need an endgame? I'm thinking that this game might need some kind of triggering event that says "this is it, the bad guys are here," which puts more pressure on players to succeed at those rolls.

2) Are there any other good epic qualities that I'm missing?

Thanks for any and all feedback, and of course ask away if you want more info.
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JamesDJIII
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« Reply #1 on: November 18, 2004, 07:09:39 AM »

I don't know about them other guys... but I sure want to play!

With regards to the end game, and the pressure on making those final, critical roles: I've been thinking about 2 lines in particular from Star Wars, both given by the antagonists at critical "end game" moments.

Do you remember the one where Luke is confronting the Emporer in ROTJ, and he thinks he's got all the cards out on the table, and basically his gamble is that Vader will turn good and the rebels will prevail by shutting down the shield, etc, etc. The Emporer laughs! And he says somethign about Luke being mistaken "... about a great... many... things!"

Also, in the "second" movie where the bad guy says to Yoda, "Oh no, this is just the beginning!" and gets away.

I really thought that despite how much I didn't like the rest of each of those movies, those lines made up for a lot of lost ground, as if there was somethign going on beyond what we were shown and it was deeper than we suspected.

Given a situation like that, is that what you meant by failing the rolls? I mean, in one case, the good guys do triumph, but not without sacrifice. In the second case, the good guys fail (the bad guy esacpes to create more havoc and ruin) if only to prevent the same sacrifice (or a worse one?).

I would love to see an epic game where these kind of situations, revelations, tough decisions, and galactic scale conflicts can be played with and in. Keep going!

Also, do you need playtesters? I'd like to help out, provide feedback, and so on. When is this thing gonna be birthed?
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #2 on: November 18, 2004, 07:37:52 AM »

First, I'm psyched by the idea.  I can't wait to see how this turns out.

As for your questions;

I'm of the opinion that a good, epic RPG series needs an Endgame.  Not one, but many Endgames.  I know I may be confounding the vocabulary here by saying that, and I'm sure you know what I mean, but lemmie see if I can be more clear;

I think there should be several chapters to a good epic, each with their own endgame.  Each having their own specific sense of victory or defeat.  Each of these chapters should be linked together by theme and flavor to form the epic.  The final chapter being the real endgame, where all the little endgames have a direct and tangable effect on the outcome.

For instance:
In chapter one, we, the protagonists, will attempt to gain the assistance of Alien Race A.  In chapter two, we will front an attack on Enemy Base B.  In chapter 3, the Endgame, we will confront the Enemy on their own ground.  If we have been successful in chapter one, we have the assistance of Race A, otherwise the enemy does.  If we have succeeded in chapter two, we have the resources of Base B, ortherwise the enemy does.

The only epic quality that I didn't see in your post that I'd like to see incorporated into such a game is the Perennial Antagonist.  I think that, right from the beginning, the players should have a feel for whom they're being opposed by, and should find themselves confronting that antagonist in every chapter through the course of the epic.

Anywho,

I'll be keeping a close eye on how this is turning out.  I'm usually more of a lurkie than a postie, but I imagine this might change all that.  

Me want Nar space epic!

-Eric
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Valamir
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« Reply #3 on: November 18, 2004, 08:17:29 AM »

One way of delivering repurcussions is with the Epic Points.  You've described earning these Epic points which you can use later to change the universe by accomplishing things with your character.

So when it comes down to how badly you want to win you can spend those Epic Points (earned or unearned).  They don't go away...they just change to the dark side.  Perhaps the GM, or perhaps "the player on the left" now gets to spend those points to alter the universe in a way where there are definite negative side effects.  So you got the alien technology...but now you "discover" that Empire Z is using the technology to mutate children into super soldier killing machines in order to expand their territory.
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Alan
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« Reply #4 on: November 18, 2004, 08:21:10 AM »

Matt,

Put me on the list of play-testers!

I've been playing with the idea of conflict resolution where the twists and turns of a conflict are determined by series of dice rolls, with a resource system that allows rerolls (a la Trollbabe, of course).  Any time a roll fails, the player decides whether to accept a personal consequence or put the consequence on a related NPC.  

Accepting the personal consequence (aka "wound) accepts a setback in the conflict and and may impair the PC's performance - but it banks a reroll ("insight") for a future conflict.

Rejecting the personal consequence gains an immediate reroll but banks a consequence that must be applied to an NPC person or group that the player cares about.  (There might be a mechanice for making such a list.)

Let me expand this for epic consequences.  If the banked consequence is applied before the end of the conflict scene, it's scope is restricted (eg, one NPC is sorely wounded).  If the consequence isn't applied in the scene, it grows in size over time: next scene, next act, next session, next chapter, etc. (eg. the Revel fleet is destroyed.)

How about that?
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Matt Wilson
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« Reply #5 on: November 18, 2004, 10:45:37 AM »

James:

Quote
Given a situation like that, is that what you meant by failing the rolls?


That's pretty close. I don't want to get too heavily into the current rules, but let's say you're in a conflict where you want Shemp, the leader of a band of space pirates, to ally with you. It's a tough roll, and you don't quite make it.

Your first option is to accept the failure.

Second option is a personal sacrifice. Something on the character sheet. Maybe a relationship, or an item. Take a look at Trollbabe and With Great Power for a couple influences. Maybe in order to convince Shemp you have to give him the relic plasma blaster you found in the ruins of Dynos V. Maybe you have to strain your relationship with another influential group.

Or, you accept repercussions in order to take the victory. The repercussions would be based on how much you would have failed by, and they'd have to be related to the present conflict. Maybe because Shemp joins up with you, they don't go off on a mission where they would have stopped something terrible from happening. That could suck for you, or for another character. I think it's the GM's whim at the moment, so when you make this choice you have to accept that you're giving up some important control.

Eric:

Quote
I'm of the opinion that a good, epic RPG series needs an Endgame. Not one, but many Endgames. I know I may be confounding the vocabulary here by saying that, and I'm sure you know what I mean, but lemmie see if I can be more clear;

I think there should be several chapters to a good epic, each with their own endgame. Each having their own specific sense of victory or defeat. Each of these chapters should be linked together by theme and flavor to form the epic. The final chapter being the real endgame, where all the little endgames have a direct and tangable effect on the outcome.


Interesting idea. Mini endgames that lead up to a big endgame? I know John Harper is considering a sort of progress meter for Danger Patrol that  works kind of like that. I'm hesitating a bit, mostly because I haven't played in any games that've lasted longer than five sessions in a really long time, and the chapter idea implies a pretty long-term game. I'll think about it, though.

Alan and Ralph:

Thanks for the rules suggestions, but for now, I'm looking for thoughts on 1) endgame and 2) what makes something epic.
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Eric Provost
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« Reply #6 on: November 18, 2004, 11:00:42 AM »

Well, I guess I'm not sure what you're looking for in the realm of the Endgame right now, so I've skipped on over to dictionary.com for the definition of epic;

Quote from: Dictionary.com
ep·ic
n.
An extended narrative poem in elevated or dignified language, celebrating the feats of a legendary or traditional hero.
A literary or dramatic composition that resembles an extended narrative poem celebrating heroic feats.
A series of events considered appropriate to an epic: the epic of the Old West.

adj.
Of, constituting, having to do with, or suggestive of a literary epic: an epic poem.
Surpassing the usual or ordinary, particularly in scope or size: “A vast musical panorama... it requires an epic musical understanding to do it justice” (Tim Page).
Heroic and impressive in quality: “Here in the courtroom... there was more of that epic atmosphere, the extra amperage of a special moment” (Scott Turow).


Held up against this,

Quote from: Matt
I'm hesitating a bit, mostly because I haven't played in any games that've lasted longer than five sessions in a really long time, and the chapter idea implies a pretty long-term game.


So, my question to you, Matt is this;  Do you think that an epic game can be a short-term game?  One that lasts only a handful of sessions?  I always assumed that epic included the adjective of 'long'.    Am I just wrong, or should an epic game always be a lengthy game?  (more than just a handful of sessions)

-Eric
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Alan
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« Reply #7 on: November 18, 2004, 11:04:04 AM »

Matt,

I think you've already nailed what makes a story epic - the actions of the protagonists determine fate at the highest level.  But an epic story has a huge, world-shaking climax where the biggest conflicts are put to rest.  

So I would say that the endgame is itself the missing bit you're looking for.

Engame is _required_.  The only question is how to achieve it?  Does each episode have a "conflict scale" setting similiar to PTA's screen presence settings?  Or do some rules change in the endgame?  (See Charnel Gods' Harbinger rules, for example.)

Using my mechanic of rerolls and consequences, some condition would activate endgame.  At that point, all consequences would be amplified.  Perhaps players would lose the ability to earn further rerolls and have only those they have banked up to that point.  At the end of the story arc, a "denoument" phase would resolve any unresolved consequences.
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- Alan

A Writer's Blog: http://www.alanbarclay.com
Ben Lehman
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« Reply #8 on: November 18, 2004, 11:18:57 AM »

I've been dealing a lot with mitigation of failure mechanics in Polaris recently, and I'd just like to suggest that:

1) There is a lot more to success and failure than just a target number, or even making sacrifices to get there.
2) This is a rich, meaty, unexplored vein in RPG design.

Let me expand on 1) a bit.  

We have all these different types of ways to mitigate failure:

1) Success at cost.
2) Mitigation of personal consequences at cost.
3) Mitigation of long-reaching consequences at cost.
4) Ability to join the other team.
5) Chance to retry, at higher stakes.

And probably more.

Further, we have all sorts of different costs:

1) Personal cost, in terms of stress or injury.
2) Relational cost, in terms of friends, family and allies
3) Tactical and strategic costs, in terms of damaging alliances and worsening situations.
4) Global cost, in terms of large groups of people you don't know
5) Personal cost in terms of moral decline.

And certainly more.  We can also imagine corresponding benefits, which one could use a margin of success for.

These combine, alchemically, in all sorts of interesting of interesting ways, which do not necessarily have to do with changing your success / failure binary.  Imagine, for a moment, the ability to mitigate the personal cost (1) of defeat in exchange for raising the relational cost (2).  Or how about the other way around?

yrs--
--Ben
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Sydney Freedberg
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« Reply #9 on: November 18, 2004, 11:46:45 AM »

Quote from: Ben Lehman
There is a lot more to success and failure than just a target number, or even making sacrifices to get there.....We have all these different types of ways to mitigate failure...


TonyLB's Capes and Shreyas Shampat's notional "house of flying daggers" mechanic both deal with this by breaking a complex conflict apart into multiple Things At Stake, giving players the choice to sacrifice some goals in order to achieve others, up to and including putting something you care about on the line as a sacrificial lamb to absorb your opponent's efforts while you take care of business elsewhere. This is the most satisfying approach I've seen so far, although it can get mechanically complex.

As far as published games, Dogs in the Vineyard has a really cool "fallout" system, which I've not played yet, but which seems massively Drama-driven -- players basically pick their fallout from a pretty wide-open list.

Other ideas I've been playing with:

For sacrifice: "trait fission" -- assuming you have some kind of points-buy character generation, allow players to take a character trait (ability, prized possession, reputatio, relationship, whatever) and break it open like a piggybank, turning those character points into a short-term bonus -- at some agonizing rate of exchange, of course. Maybe offer players a better rate of exchange if they let the GM choose which trait gets broken this way, although it's general Forge wisdom that players are usually much meaner to themselves than GMs dare to be.

For repercussions: "succeeding on credit" -- let players say "I want a +X modifier, please." Give it to them, as long as they describe their extraordinary effort. But the GM gets to slam a -X modifier to them at some crucial point later on, presumably on something logically related. E.g. you defeated the Nasty Aliens thanks to your +10 modifier, but your brutal tactics offended the Neutral Aliens, so you get a -10 modifier on their subsequent attempts to ally with them. (This is basically running Capes's "Inspiration" system in reverse).

As for endgame and epic -- which you explicitly said were the topic, sorry -- I agree that "epic" can be simply a matter of scale, not length. As for expressing macro-level effects mechanically, well, we're struggling with that very issue in the more recent threads of the GroupDesign project. My preferred solution is narrativist: establish certain cosmic values or principles or Good Things and see if the players' individual decisions on the micro level advance or undermine these values, then mirror those changes on the macro level. But if you figure out a good way to implement this, let us know so we can steal it.
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TonyLB
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« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2004, 12:18:32 PM »

Oh hey!  I can disagree with Sydney!  A rarity not to be missed.

I think you could theoretically do an epic scale game in a few sessions.  But practically speaking... no.

Why?  Because you need to do all of the following (IMHO):
    [*]Introduce a world-spanning conflict, in a mode where it is beyond the ability of the characters to control[*]Have the characters develop their abilities, in the context of that conflict[*]Have a "coming of age" where it becomes clear that the characters are now capable of effecting that conflict[*]Have the characters' actions determine the outcome of the conflict.[/list:u]None of those stages can be shortened or skipped, IMHO.  And I just don't think you can, practically speaking, do any one of them in less than two sessions without feeling the pinch of it.

    If you skip the time when the characters are powerless in the face of greater events then you don't have what I (purely in my personal opinion) would call an Epic.  What you have is a standard story with consistently high stakes.

    I do think that you could have a tremendous amount of fun building a rules system that really works to represent the slow burgeoning of characters into galaxy-influencing people.  Maybe the first time they get a single point of Macro-plot it's a huge big deal.  Then, many sessions later, they're accustomed to get ten or twenty such points every session... but it's happened by such gradual stages that they hardly realize how far they've come.
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    Sydney Freedberg
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    « Reply #11 on: November 18, 2004, 04:49:27 PM »

    Quote from: TonyLB
    Oh hey!  I can disagree with Sydney!


    Quote from: Luke Skywalker
    No... no.... that's impossible....


    Actually, I think you could plausibly do each of Tony's four stages in a session apiece. You just need a resolution system that's quick and clean and lets you cover a lot of ground in 3-4 hours of play (i.e. not D20, but we knew that).

    EDIT: And you probably need an explicit "story arc" mechanic (as in With Great Power...) to push the pacing along, so that each session has a clear plot & character development purpose in the ramping-up process.
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    Psuedopod
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    « Reply #12 on: November 18, 2004, 08:04:31 PM »

    NICE. With this kind of mechanic, I think epic space opera could be really helped by this idea. It sounds a bit... wargamey, but who cares...
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    daMoose_Neo
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    « Reply #13 on: November 18, 2004, 09:50:54 PM »

    Well...all this talk, just look at the epic we're drawing on- Star Wars, the original trilogy. 90% of it is referenced in backstory and we're thrust into the middle of everything: The big-bad Empire is attacking the little ship- quick resolution and the princess gets the droid and plans away by sacrificing herself.
    As fate would have it, the droids end up in the hands of a farm-boy with big dreams. The farmboy fails several times in suceeding his aunt and uncle to let him go but succeeds in going on a 'mini-adventure' with the droid and meeting the strange wizard in the hills. Not fighting the Empire, but hey. BUT, lo and behold, the old wizard has a few tricks up his sleeve. Next thing he knows, he has the chance to leave the planet, which he wants to take. Yup, succeeds...at the cost of the lives of his loved ones.

    And so on and so forth. I easily think a few sessions could cover the bulk of the original Trilogy, right up through Lukes confrontation of the Empororer. Six might do better, two per with the nice cliff hangers of "Will we save the princess?", "Destruction of the Death Star", "Whats going to happen to Han & Leia?", "Rescuing Luke", "Are the Rebels defeated on Endor?" and "Defeating the Emporer".
    Move it swiftly, keep the action going, explore the character through action rather than exposition- notice most actions/epics have fewer "character" moments outside of action, the character's actions/inactions speak of their character, beliefs etc.
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    Nate Petersen / daMoose
    Neo Productions Unlimited! Publisher of Final Twilight card game, Imp Game RPG, and more titles to come!
    greedo1379
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    « Reply #14 on: November 18, 2004, 10:46:00 PM »

    Quote from: Valamir
    So when it comes down to how badly you want to win you can spend those Epic Points (earned or unearned). They don't go away...they just change to the dark side. Perhaps the GM, or perhaps "the player on the left" now gets to spend those points to alter the universe in a way where there are definite negative side effects. So you got the alien technology...but now you "discover" that Empire Z is using the technology to mutate children into super soldier killing machines in order to expand their territory.


    This is an awesome idea.  I've been toying with a "dueling civilizations" type game and this will fit in perfectly.


    Quote from: Sydney Freedberg
    For sacrifice: "trait fission" -- assuming you have some kind of points-buy character generation, allow players to take a character trait (ability, prized possession, reputatio, relationship, whatever) and break it open like a piggybank, turning those character points into a short-term bonus -- at some agonizing rate of exchange, of course. Maybe offer players a better rate of exchange if they let the GM choose which trait gets broken this way, although it's general Forge wisdom that players are usually much meaner to themselves than GMs dare to be.


    This is a cool mechanic too.  I would especially like it with a multi generational type game where you play the hero as he rises and falls.  Something like gaming Egil's Saga.  For the first 10 sessions you build up your power and then with the last ten you spend it all away until your a doubled over old man and your watching your kids do it.  On the other hand, that sounds kind of depressing.
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