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Author Topic: Fingerprints  (Read 2468 times)
Allan
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Posts: 85

May Contain Monkeys


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« on: August 28, 2005, 10:24:08 PM »

Talking Shock and superheroes with Joshua of the glyphmonkey reminded me of this game setting I've been sitting on for a while, because I didn't know how to approach it.   And then reading Breaking the Ice showed me how.  This is also heavily influenced by playing Under the Bed and PTA, but most of it is inspired directly by Breaking the Ice.   

Premise:  Players collaborateively build a world, a future timeline, and discuss personal, political, and environmental consequences of superpowers, high technology and individual agendas.  Players discover the world together, and are surprised by their discoveries. 

Setting:  Contemporary world.  Antarctic expedition recently discovered abandoned laborartory tower and dead bodies of giant aliens (Loa) who may have created life on earth.  Research on alien technology and biology are causing rapid revolutions in all sciences, but direct benefits are still confined to wealthy industrial nations.  Developing nations claim they deserve equal measures of the precious bodies of the Loa, as sacred remains of our creators.  People exposed to Loa Blood (alien matter) mutate according to their subconscious thought at the moment of contact.

Characters:  Anyone whose life has been affected by the Loa discovery, new technology, or mutation into a superbeing (Touched).  Characters may have been directly affected (mutated) or indirectly affected.

Character Creation:  Collectively agree on a scale for the game.  Draw a rough map of the world, the country, the city, or the building the characters share.  For now, the rougher the better.  Draw each character on the map, and draw something they are opposed to or interested in on another part of the map. 

On a blank sheet of paper, in winding, branching, fluid lines, write a few words about who your character was before being Touched.  If they were not Touched (mutated) write a few words about how the Loa discovery has affected them.  The fluid lines on the character sheet should begin to resemble a fingerprint, but most of the sheet should still be blank. 

If the character was Touched, decide how they came into contact with Loa Blood, and write down what they were thinking at that moment.  Pass the fingerprint sheet around, and each other player writes a few words free associating from that thought.  Once every player has written something, collectively look at the phrases on the sheet, and agree on a mutation/superpower, which physically changes either the character or the world around them according to the key thought.  Once everyone is clear on what the mutation/power does, write down a few words about it on the fingerprint.  Pass the fingerprint around again, and each other player writes a few words about the physical effects of the mutation/power, addressing one of the following questions; "how does it work?" or "what does it mean?".  Once every player has written something, the character is ready.  The Touched character's fingerprint is already a lot bigger than the unTouched character. 

Basic resolution
Any player may choose to act as their character, or as any other agency in the world (NPCs, organizations, weather, etc.).  Any new agency in the world should be drawn on the map.  The player narrates any action, which automatically succeeds (unless it would kill a player character, or remove a map element, or violates the agreed-on limits of the character's power or lack therof).  Each other player may declare that the stated action affects their own character, or any map element (and may create new map elements at this time).  For each character or agengy (map element) affected by the action, the active player is given 1d6.  It may be helpfull for each player to give a different colored die. 

The player rolls their handfull of d6s, either on their fingerprint (if they were acting in character) or on the map (if they were acting as an agency of the world).  The number on the dice determines the scale of effect.  1, internal and personal.  2, physical or social.  3, city wide.  4, nation wide.  5, international.  6, global.  The location of the dice on the fingerprint, or the map, determines which words, concepts, characters or story elements must be used to narrate the consequences of the action. 

The active player narrates each domino effect of their action (or the other characters may narrate the effect on their own die, I'm not sure).  Narration should include the characters or agencies which were called in as affected by the action, the word the die landed on, and the scale of effect rolled on the die. 

Write a few words about each domino effect on the appropriate fingerprints, on the map, or both.  New phrases should spread from the point where the dice landed.  (if dice land on a blank spot of the page, the player may "step" the die down towards the nearest word.  The die can can take a number of "steps" equal to the value rolled, and affects the narration at a reduced scale (which is not reduced effect).  UnTouched characters with a lot of space on the page go through more internal personal changes, while Touched with complex powers are more likely to affect the global culture and environment.   

After all effects have been recorded, play passes to the next player, who may choose to narrate their action as their character, or as any other agency on the map.

As play progresses, the character fingerprints and the map grow and spread, making more possible outcomes of rolls, and making more large scale effects (as dice take fewer "steps" from blank areas).

The basics worked well in a short playtest with my Sweet Dreams regulars (one called it a game of cause and effect).  I'll post specific examples from that playtest, which may help to make the system clearer, and highlight what is missing.

I'm specifically wondering where dice come from, and how narrative rights / turn progression are determined.  There should be no GM.  There should be some dice economy, some reason to conserve your dice, and not throw in effect dice on every action.  There should be some way to limit or block another character's effect on yours, but there should also be some way to narrate effects of other characters' actions. 

Any of this look familar?  Anything I should be reading?
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The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
Playing:  PTA, Shock
TonyLB
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« Reply #1 on: August 29, 2005, 04:53:18 AM »

The Qualification rules in Conquer the Horizon might be worth a gander, as a means of keeping all players actively in play during all turns.  I also think that a variant might work well to handle your dice economy.  For instance, you could say that players can only take back one die of each number, so if they roll three 1s then they can only take back one of them.  But then, other players may add Qualifications to their roll and give them extra dice.  If they make a Qualification then they get to write something linking it in on their own Fingerprint.

Hrm... I may steal that dice-matching attrition for Misery Bubblegum, actually.  But, anyway, something like that, where there is a drain on dice scaled to how much you spend, but a source of dice scaled to how much you let other players goof your ideas around.  I think it would make for an interesting creative dynamic.
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Mikael
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Posts: 206


« Reply #2 on: August 29, 2005, 08:36:16 AM »

This is a really, really cool system. It really makes me want to try it out right away. And the setting is intriguing and relatively original as well - not overly defined, but I guess that fits your mechanic just fine.

I hope I will have something more constructive to say at some point, but right now I just wanted to encourage you to keep up the good work.

Cheers,
+ Mikael
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Graham W
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« Reply #3 on: August 29, 2005, 10:50:25 AM »

Allan,

I'm sure you know this, but just in case: the premise of the Loa in Antartica is very close to a couple of H P Lovecraft's stories, specifically "At The Mountains Of Madness".

About narration order: is there a possibility that the characters that were affected by the last action get preference to narrate next? So you could say that the narration goes to the character whose die rolled highest in the last roll. (Given that each character affected by the action gave a die to be rolled).

And for a trivial question: if a die lands so far from any word that it can't reach anything by "stepping", what happens? Does nothing happen or does it default to internal, personal changes?

Graham
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M Jason Parent
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« Reply #4 on: August 29, 2005, 12:13:24 PM »

I'm not the biggest fan of narrativist roleplaying, but like all the best narrativist games, this makes me REALLY want to try it out. It is compelling to me because I've been reading a lot of transhumanist sci-fi lately, and this lends itself greatly to such a game style - although I can see the game rapidly spreading off-planet as certain mutations occur and organizations spread their wings. Would you incorporate new maps, figure out how to link the maps to the one in play, or use some other method to imply the expansion of these agencies or persons beyond the scope of the planet proper?

I -love- the fingerprint mechanic, btw.

I would have the players narrate the effects on their onw die as you suggested, as it keeps all the players actively involved in the narration process throughout the game, keeping everyone in a more active stance throughout.

The limitations of this game are painfully those of education and world knowledge. A player without much knowledge of social dynamics, global politics and so on will provide narration that could be significantly different in tone and believability than one with such a grounding. It could degenrate into a sort of one-upmanship as some players use the game to show how much they know about the real world, at least until the world proper has mutated significantly from the effects of the earlier turns of game play.
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M Jason Parent
(not really an Indie publisher, but I like to pretend)

Junk Dreams Design Journal (an archive of old Junk Dreams posts)
Allan
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Posts: 85

May Contain Monkeys


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« Reply #5 on: August 31, 2005, 12:44:03 AM »

Thanks a lot for the interest!  I'm really excited about this game.  First playtest over here in Actual Play.

The Qualification rules in Conquer the Horizon might be worth a gander, as a means of keeping all players actively in play during all turns.


That does look nice.  But I think being able to declare a character or agency affected by an action, and narrating the effect of that roll, will keep all players engaged at all times.

And the setting is ... not overly defined, but I guess that fits your mechanic just fine.

Thanks Mikael!  There is a little more detail to the setting than that, but not much.  It's intended as a starting place. 

I do have a more detailed sample setting worked out, that I intend to include as an optional alternative to the default setting of our contemporary world.  The setting will get its own thread after the mechanics are tighter. 

Graham, the reference to "At The Mountains Of Madness" is intentional, although the gameplay shouldn't have much to do with this story, or with Lovecraft's tone.  The important thing is the god-like power of the aliens, and what they suggest about our own insignificance.

Thanks for the suggestion about narration order, but i think I'd give the player who wasn't ffected by the last action go next.  That way, all players stay involved, and there's a reason not to throw a die in on every action - you can either claim to be affected, or you can have the first chance to react. 

I'm still torn over dice that land too far away to be stepped.  In the first playtest we defaulted to internal, personal changes, which works, but there may be room here for more complexity. 

I can see the game rapidly spreading off-planet as certain mutations occur and organizations spread their wings. Would you incorporate new maps, figure out how to link the maps to the one in play, or use some other method to imply the expansion of these agencies or persons beyond the scope of the planet proper?

So far, we've been writing anything outside the city on the edges of the city map.  The same could work for the world map.  I'd encourage players to redraw a new map, incorpoarting all relevant elements of the old map, whenever the story changes scale. 

I see play mostly staying on-planet.  One of the signs that the story is over is when one of the characters leaves the planet (like Dr. Manhattan at the end of Watchmen).  But there is definite potential to play on an interplanetary scale. 

And yeah, players narrate the effects of their own dice.

The limitations of this game are painfully those of education and world knowledge. A player without much knowledge of social dynamics, global politics and so on will provide narration that could be significantly different in tone and believability than one with such a grounding. It could degenrate into a sort of one-upmanship as some players use the game to show how much they know about the real world, at least until the world proper has mutated significantly from the effects of the earlier turns of game play.

That's a great point, and something I really want to focus on.  I'm glad the game comes off that way, because I want it to encourage players to think about the real scientific and political implications of their actions as superpowered beings (or just as empowered beings).  But other tones are always possible. 

Would it help the one-upmanship for players to award each other with dice for narrating something plausible, true to life (like PTA fanmail), or for accepting suggestions from each other (like Breaking the Ice)? 

The optional setting is intended to help with this problem.  The default setting is our contemporary world, as accurately as your play group can handle.  The optional setting has simplified, analagous nations, racial tensions, religions, etc., with suggestions on how they might respond to the revelations of the Loa and the existence of superbeings. 

Since you start play by drawing a map, and placing each character in relation to another agency on the map, you could give the places any names you want, or set it in any world.  Say the discovery in the antarctic was made by longship barbarians or colonial explorers if it evens the playing field for your play group.  Hopefully the process of describing effects on map elements at various scales will lead to discussing real issues anyway. 

I plan to include some sample effects of common actions at different scales, and simple guidelines to thinking of realistic effects (if some people benefit from the action, others will want the benefit as well).  Any suggestions in that direction would be cool.

Thanks for the comments, it all helped. 
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Sweet Dreams - Romance, Espionage, and Horror in High School
The Big Night - children's game with puppets

In Progress:  Fingerprints
Playing:  PTA, Shock
M Jason Parent
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Posts: 50

Junk Dreamer


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« Reply #6 on: August 31, 2005, 05:17:45 AM »

Quote
I see play mostly staying on-planet.  One of the signs that the story is over is when one of the characters leaves the planet (like Dr. Manhattan at the end of Watchmen).  But there is definite potential to play on an interplanetary scale.

Having just read a few awesome transhuman novels and RPGs, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if the play group I would use for this game pulled this game into off-planet colonization / exile within a few turns of the game beginning.

Quote
Thanks for the suggestion about narration order, but i think I'd give the player who wasn't ffected by the last action go next.  That way, all players stay involved, and there's a reason not to throw a die in on every action - you can either claim to be affected, or you can have the first chance to react.

I definitely like that system.

Quote
Would it help the one-upmanship for players to award each other with dice for narrating something plausible, true to life (like PTA fanmail), or for accepting suggestions from each other (like Breaking the Ice)?

No, and Yes. The first (awarding players for plausibility) would potentially increase the problem. The second, however, would likely encourage players to help each other out with their knowledge instead of showing off their knowledge. This is important if you are to run this game with a varied group - like with my teenage daughter -and- my two PhD math-geek friends, and Mr Punk Rock.

Quote
The optional setting has simplified, analagous nations, racial tensions, religions, etc., with suggestions on how they might respond to the revelations of the Loa and the existence of superbeings.

That, on the other hand, has a lot of potential, especially when gaming with my teenage daughter.

Reminds me of the novel I love to hate... one of the Rama novels (I can't remember which one), where Clark takes these great stories of alien intelligence and writes a novel instead about human ignorance and a thinly veiled analogy to AIDS. I hate the novel, but I could see it as a great version of what you are doing. In fact, it would also force a very sealed game environment, because game play would be hard pressed to move beyond the ecology presented to the human ship passengers. (rambling, sorry)

Love the responses, Allan, and I look forward to seeing the finalized version of this.
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M Jason Parent
(not really an Indie publisher, but I like to pretend)

Junk Dreams Design Journal (an archive of old Junk Dreams posts)
Mikael
Member

Posts: 206


« Reply #7 on: August 31, 2005, 08:33:12 PM »

Ok, we'll give this a try. Your requirements are (or at least were):

  • The active player narrates each domino effect of their action (or the other characters may narrate the effect on their own die, I'm not sure).
  • Where dice come from.
  • How narrative rights / turn progression are determined.
  • There should be no GM.
  • There should be some dice economy
  • Some reason to conserve your dice, and not throw in effect dice on every action.
  • There should be some way to limit or block another character's effect on yours.
  • There should also be some way to narrate effects of other characters' actions.

Trying to keep this as simple as possible:
  • Players have some distinctive dice.
  • Players get an initial pool of tokens, 3-5 tokens each (needs to be playtested).
  • Action dice cost one token each.
  • Players narrate their own dice.
  • Players have control over their character, and can veto any input.
  • The vetoed player gets their die back.
  • ... but they can offer another die to keep the input in game.
  • ... which can only be vetoed by the character's owner by offering another die in return.
  • After everything has been narrated, all the action dice are rolled again, and players get tokens based on the result.*

* Depending on the number of players, you assign numbers for each player. For example, if you have three players, 1-2 means 1st player gets a token, 3-4 token goes to the 2nd player, 5-6 3rd player.

I think this covers all the requirements listed above and adds some risk without adding a conflict resolution system. And the number of tokens in play stays constant. What do you think?

Cheers,
+ Mikael

(Note: the offer of a token and another in return is clearly a modified rip from Balance of Power.)
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