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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 167 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: (philosophical SF RPG) Help brainstorming Story Tracks  (Read 1186 times)
baron samedi

Posts: 137

« on: May 12, 2008, 10:26:22 AM »


I've been trying for some time to construct a few "generic" story-design models for creating scenarios in relation to a specific theme, in order to draw a resource-management system for the GM to base the opposition's numbers on. This is intented for the 3rd re-writing of a philosophical dystopian "robot RPG" about Lies, Faith and Science in the spirit of Philip K. Dick's and I. Asimov's works, which isn't yet to my tastes. My ideas, backstory-wise, are quite advanced (the 2nd rewriting was almost done 3 years ago), but I'm re-writing the system from scratch as it didn't help much in the way of supporting narration-focused story design.

I'm trying to find a way to construct Story Tracks for a SF-genre game where the players would choose by auction-voting from a sample of global Crisis (each tied to a Story Tracks) the one that fits best the Premise they want to explore; they'd follow a general model where the themes would be explored as a "problem to be adressed" in each scene, but though the Story Map would write the story's general progression in terms of tension and climat, the actual content and events would be determined during actual play.

My attempt at exploring philosophy in action through RPGs being something new, I've looked at story mapping and mind mapping models in litterature, but they're too lacking in details or too linear and essentially useless. .

Regardin the game proper; this model-in-building is for the game 4891 Enigmatika , which is briefly summarised at the link behind the lower right icon on the welcome page at www.silenceindigo.org , with a small description inspired by the Big Three and the Power 19 questions and sample artwork. The "SF" and Robot aspects of the game are merely a way of disconnecting these ethical issues from their context, to see ethical dilemmas in a different, stylised light.

In this game, 4891 Enigmatika, the PC are sentient Androids who have started to break free from their programming (3 laws of Robotics) by realising they have been committing atrocities unknowingly (e.g. genocide planning, genetic experimentation, terraforming inhabited zones, etc.) These would be latent as "inner demons". Their  actual Agendas (or Beliefs, or Ideals) would be their actual "hit points": damage would manifest as sinister events that destroy the realisation of their ideals, causing their "inner demons" dominate them. Characters without Agendas are out of the story, whether dead, brainwashed or simply having renounced and accepted tyranny. (Think of Winston in the novel 1984, after he was crushed in Room 101: "He loved Big Brother".)

The issue was that, using a traditional RPG scenario structure, my players tended to be very GM-dependent and lacking involvement in the story. So I want to build a scenario design model that involves pre-game formal player input (through an auction system), with the key questions for each Act are decided before hand, and the system determines the results. Options for escalation, ethical choices and repercussion assessing will be part of that.

Now, in terms of "best practices from litterature", the best example I could come up with is Arkam Horror (boardgame), which has a Terror Track and a Doom Track that tell when specific events in the story (e.g. Allies discarded, specific places shutdown, monsters arrive on the scene, Endgame happens...). In a way, such a model also appears (albeit less formaly)  in Burning Empires's campaign system ("meta-stakes for chapters"), the Mountain Witch, My Life With Master's general mechanics towards Endgame, Polaris' Veteran phases and DITV's Sin Progression system, but I've not managed yet to build something consistent and satysfing for a SF genre RPG.

But what Arkam Horror does for Lovecraftian horror is specifically what I want to design : "When the Story Track reaches X points, X happens; narrate how it affects you." The steps to get there are my writers' block.

For an example, here's an example of a subsetting premise (a Crisis) for the game in the Jupiter setting - all subsettings are planet-based, reflecting a specific SF genre such as cyberpunk, military SF, religious SF, etc.) :

* * *

"This story is about Asimov-type robots rebelling from Man's commands in a lunar colony, wheras men ordered the robots to enslave and exploit human-animal hybrids (Chimeras) to develop a cure for an epidemic. Yet these Chimeras are partly human genetically, and while the cure will save humankind, the Chimeras' genocide is morally controversial. How can robots save humanity as benevolent servents, without serving as instruments for exploitation?"

The stake of each Act would aim at forcing the players to take a stand on these issues. The Story Track steps could be perhaps something like (inspired from Planet of the Apes) :

Premise: "Is the torture and genocide of the Chimeras acceptable for finding a cure for humanity's plague?"
Act One (Stake): (Dreadful Realisation: a terrible information forces the Androids to question their beliefs)" Plague outbreaks force an acceleration of Chimera experimentation. The PCs find proof of human DNA in the Chimeras, and see signs they may be sentient. Does Law of Robotics no.1 apply to partly human beings?"
- If PCs win: Their course of action brings them hope (Agenda "hit points" rise)
- If PCs lose: Their course of action has disastrous repercussions (Agenda "hit points" lower)

Act Two (Stake): (Twist: Something unexpected challenges what was thought originally) "The Chimeras rebel and slaughter human researchers and innocents, damaging the survival systems. Through the chaos, the PCs come to acquire evidence that the stations' humans, too, are Chimera. The station must be evacuated, but the pods are too few for everyone. Orders from Command are to stock the escape pods with as much cure as possible, expending all personel."
- If PCs win: Their course of action brings them hope (ex. "The PCs refuse, and realise the cure is no cure at all, but an advanced derivate of heroin: their employer serves the mob!")
- If PCs lose: Their course of action has disastrous repercussions (ex. "The PCs refuse, launching the pods with a mix of Chimeras and "humans", to realise the station's personel are infected: the plague spread from vats during the chaos.")

Act Three (Stake): (Ultimate Choice: the dilemma reaches a point where a decision will be critical for humanity)
- ... (I'm at loss for ideas here...)

* * *

Now that's perhaps of a basis for a generic model for "Investigation" stories, but schematically, I want to design such maps for the following themes and I'm at loss:

- Warfront tragedy (e.g. "What would you sacrifice for victory?")
- Psychosis (e.g. "When reality collapses, how will you know the truth?")
- Revolution (e.g. "What price is acceptable for freedom?")
- Ordeal of faith ( writer's block here too).

Anyone could help me to improve my reflections on building drama-focused story models for these kinds of issues?



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