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Brainstorming - some help would be appreciated...

Started by Ivoire, January 13, 2009, 07:36:09 AM

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Hello everyone.
Recently I had a vague inspiration for an rpg. I dreamed -literally, the idea came to me in a dream!- of a setting where some young chosen are sent to a quest in order to reawaken as godly beings, and I decided to try and create something out of it.
Imagine a world reminiscent of that crossing of cultures that was the Silk Road in the XVI century, deserts and vast landscapes, people dressed in what seems a cross between middle age arabian and indian clothes, imagine the smell of cinnamom and saffron.
Now think of people as living a predestined life, a religion centered on fate. Call it Kismet, call it Karma...
Among the people who live in cities, villages and caravans, 16 people for every generation receive an unique prophecy during their Naming Day, and are sent by the priests to a quest that will fulfill their destiny and bring something to the world. Perhaps that fulfillment will bring an era of peace, or maybe it will preserve the equilibrium of all things in the world...
The basic idea of the game is that the character sheet should be modular and fourfold. Four is going to be an obsessively recurring number -so much that I am going to only use D4's. I don't know why, but it's a number I feel very attached to. However, I'm not very good at "visualizing" rules. The reason why the character sheet should be fourfold is that the quest characters embark into is also fourfold. Each of the four parts will "unblock" one of the four sections in which the character sheet is divided. I like this idea, but I don't seem to be able to decide whether each "unblocked" section should grant some unique power or just grant some bonus to dice rolls.
My aim is to do a narrativist game, with a "with teeth" setting-out. The aim of character is to resolve the four quests, after which they will be able to enter the Labyrinth, where the meaning of their whole quest will become clear to them, and they will Awaken into something that is beyond the human. The Labyrinth is not a physical place, rather a condition of the mind. I have the luck to know a person who did his university's graduation paper on the subject, so I'm going to borrow from him to have further insight.

So far I decided to link each of the four section of the character sheet to a "glyph", something akin to a tarot, which gives purpose and mood to that relative quest which will "unblock" that section. So in order to make sense, each of the four sections should have some value as "blocked" as well as "unblocked". I love D.Vincent Baker's In a Wicked Age setting-up for values, assigning dice depending on how the character acts, if with violence or with love, but I wouldn't dare to plagiarize his work for my values.

Any help, hint, brainstorming that may help me in deciding the game mechanics that should realize what in abstracto is what I want the game to do, would be extremely welcome and precious to me.
Thanks in advance for any insight. Or if you have questions, please ask! That might bring me to focus my objective as well...


  It's a fascinating idea.
  One thing that jumped out at me, from a practical standpoint, is that if you don't unlock a quadrant of your char sheet until you finish a quarter of your journey. Then you have no character sheet at chargen.
  In other words, if there are four parts to your character sheet and each part is unlocked after you finish each of four quests on your journey, then, for the first quest, you have no character sheet.

  Also, I am not 100% on kismet. But for Karma, it doesn't work like that. Essentially, Karma is the theory of conservation of energy taken to the extreme. If you are nice, an exactly equally nice thing will happen to you in this life or the next. If you are mean, an equally mean thing thing will happen to you in this life or the next. So, I am not sure how that translates into having a chosen destiny to change the world.
  I am pretty sure kismet is more like a spiritual serendipity, but I could be wrong on that count.

  That is just minutia, sorry. I think it is a great idea though. I wonder if the contents of the quadrants should not be left up to the players (with some kind of guidelines, but not rigid rules). The idea being that if players put big things in a quadrant, then the quest will be big. And if they put little things in there then the quest will be little.

  And a brainstorming-esque note, what if the game was about after the character has done all this. So chargen is describing the 4 quests and their experience in the labyrinth and the game starts with them having done all that and now they have to change the world in their new state of being..? I know its an idea that sort of derails your OP, but I just wanted to throw it out there and see if it stuck.

  I wonder if you might want to use ...In Spaaace! as a model. In this game, you get story tokens. You bid them against other players when there is a conflict. The winner gets to narrate, and the loser gets the tokens. In this way, it sort of guarantees that every player will have a spotlight scene in which they get to narrate. Because sooner or later they will have all the tokens. Maybe do a twist on that and have each player start with 4d4. And when they win, they get what they wanted from a conflict, but have to give one of their d4 to the losing side of the conflict?
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


Thank you for your appreciation and reply.

Well, actually having all four parts of the sheet "blocked" won't mean that the characters are shapeless until they start "unblocking" them. Otherwise there would be no criteria to determine whether they pass the first test. I was thinking about distributing values between basic characteristics or traits, which might also be related to each of the four sections, so that they are enhanced upon unblocking, for instance. I'm not sure whether this would work or not. What I have yet to figure out are, sadly, the basics of rules...

From what I could see, Kismet is a concept of destiny in which the knowledge of future is unknown to man and known to God, and that makes it real, as for God to think something is to make it real. As such, it has something that reminds of the Norns or the Fates, and is strongly connoted with a concept of predestination, which in some way fits the concept -the characters are chosen- but in other ways, contradicts it -the very idea of "with teeth" rules.
Karma is just as you described it, and indeed doesn't fit the idea of being chosen, but karma is also imbued with the illusion of cause and effect. Once you get rid of that illusion, you also get rid of your karma and Enlighten. It's the illusion of cause and effect applied to the soul rather than the mind. Aw... this makes things even more complicated, but this can be set aside for now. I might even make up a word that doesn't contradict too much this game idea (how about Tyche?).
It's not minutia, however, it could be a rather basic concept that permeates the game.

The content of the quadrants is only partly left to the player, as the glyphs become guidelines on how to determine what the quest will be. I'd leave it to players to create details on quests, but probably I should have them avoid small quests, as the point of the characters is that through these tests they gain grandeur.

Your idea is good, but not exactly the point of this game. Maybe in the future a supplement for characters that have walked the Labyrinth could be a cool idea, and I'll surely keep that in mind. Thanks for the suggestion!

Story tokens... hmmm... what if the dice become story tokens? And as such becoming expendable in order to gain benefits on the level of narration... that's something I'm definitely going to keep in mind. It could even have a meaning, as the character are gradually abandoning their identity as "self" in order to gain godhood...

Elements are already gradually building up. I can't wait to hear other comments. Thank you very much for yours!

Jason M Dockins

To add to the idea of a predestined fate you could use playing cards.  This will do a couple of things.

There are four suits, which tie into the idea of connecting things to the number four.  You could associate a siut to each quadtrent of the character sheet and perhaps give them a relative value to one another.

For each quest you could have a number of tests or conflicts that need to be achived.  To give an arbitrary number let us say 5.  To bolster the notion of predetermination the GM or what have you would lay out five cards face down.  As each test or conflict is met a card is revealed.  While this maintains a level of randomness it also creates a "predetermined" outcome for the test or conflict with the card already being drawn.  Because of the multiple amount of information that can be taken from a playing card (suit, color, value, its relation to the other suits, perhaps even it relation to the previous cards revieled) the outcome os a test or conflict does not have to be pass/fail but could be shaded to a number of possible happenings.


If each quest has a number of tests or conflicts to be passed in the manner described above that is an odd number greater than 4 there will inevitably be a suit that dominates the entire arch of the challenges for the quest.  This information could then me used to color the outcome of the entire quest.

Hope this gets some of your creative juices flowing.


  Cool, sounds like it is really shaping up.
  So, it sounds like the Char sheet will be 5 sections, then, right? One for each Quest, plus the beginning data.
  What about a 6th section? Maybe what you get for finishing the labyrinth...

  Er, what I meant by small, was small in the sense of the mechanical bonus they are seeking. Like maybe they do want to save the world, but in that block of their character sheet, all they want to put is that their character will always have food and shelter from the grateful people they saved. In other words, it makes sense from a story perspective and its a cool benefit, but it may not give them a mechanical advantage in the next quest, right?
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


Quote from: Jason M Dockins on January 13, 2009, 04:04:45 PM
To add to the idea of a predestined fate you could use playing cards.  This will do a couple of things.

The idea is intriguing, especially for what pertains point 2).. I wonder if it's possible to do something similar without the need for cards. Although indeed that would become a splendid mechanic, my problem is that poker cards are tied to a specific culture, the european one, and that could ruin the Color of this game.

Let us see.
As Dindenver says, indeed the sheet becomes fivefold, although the central part is a basis on which the other four develop, so it's to be considered on a different level.
Let us see. The four sections could be the four seasons. Each season could be tied to a passion or mindset, like Winter -> Rational and Contemplative or Autumn -> Introvert and Passionate (mere examples). Each value could be tied to a number of dice the character rolls for each test. I agree that a single quest should be also divided into further sub-quests, possibly with interludes that help the character focus on its background and characterization, thus helping defining him or her.
The central part of the sheet would thus give us basic traits and descriptions on who the character is and what he expects to become or discover once the Labyrinth path is completed.

When I think about Conflicts, I can see the following issues that need be properly addressed:

What kind of conflicts should there be?
What is the result of the resolution of a conflict?
What stance does the GM have in a conflict?

I was speaking of my intention to create a narrative game with teeth. The characters should thus have a means to escalate a conflict raising both risks and benefits. My paragon here inevitably becomes Dogs in the Vineyard. But there the logics of poker are so evident, and that is not what I'm aiming to. Don't Rest Your Head is another good reference, but in my most humble opinion, it belongs more to gamism than narrativism. It is with teeth for sure, though...
So what starts a conflict?
That is easy, whenever a player wants the narration to take a turn and an external force -be it another player or the GM- does not want that turn of events, there a conflict arises.
When we address the "with teeth" logic, we need the risk to be worth the prize. My problem is that when a character's aim is to pass the fourfold tests, it could be too easy for the player to decide taking all risks. Unless they are risking their very life. So this takes us to the conclusion that a conflict should become potentially fatal to the character only if he or she wishes so, that is, through escalation.
Ok, we're still on a very vague level, but at least I'm finding some details that help composing the puzzle.

The result of winning a conflict should go beyond the mere prize. Would it be that senseless if each of the four quests were divided in conflicts that give a sort of XP, and when the character pools up a certain amount of XP, the quest is passed? I don't know why, but for some reason it feels kinda cold... even banal. But what if each passed conflict were part of an escalation itself, thus increasing risks and gains until the final prize of that test is gained?

What is the stance of the GM and, indeed, who is the GM in this game? Does he play the role of Fate? That could be. This gives more power than a mere NPC-manager, as he would also create the quests with the glyphs as basis. I don't mind giving authority to the GM, so let us say Fate...

Detail after detail, I hope I'll find a way to complete this puzzle... thank you very much for your help!

David C

QuoteThe Labyrinth is not a physical place, rather a condition of the mind. I have the luck to know a person who did his university's graduation paper on the subject, so I'm going to borrow from him to have further insight.

I just grabbed onto this when I read your summary.  To me, this seems the most interesting bit, and I want to throw something out there.  Awhile back, I read somewhere about D&D being used to help therapy with mental disorders.  It basically showed that a person can act out their frustrations in a fantasy context, with no repercussions, so that they could discover and confront problems they were having.

What if you wrote your game from the perspective that, the character you're playing is a doppelganger of yourself, in another world. It is your job, as a player, to help them "escape" out of the labyrinth, using your own experiences, which only you have personal insight on? 

Anyways, I like your "first thoughts."
...but enjoying the scenery.


  There are a couple of games that give you narrative power in unique and different ways:
1) ...In Spaaace! I already mentioned that
2) Otherkind - In this game you roll 4 dice adn then assign each die to one of 4 conflict components: Offense, Defense, Progress towards Stakes and Narration rights. Both players do this and you compare values
3) Trollbabe - The interesting thing about TB, is its a one stat/one roll system. but if you fail a roll, you can give up something you care about in order to win. and I think something "like" this would be best, a journey to fulfill your destiny suggests to me a lot of sacrifice, you know?
4) Donjon and others - Where instead of rolling to see if you win or rolling to see if your character knows what the GM already knows, instead you roll to add to the SIS. in Donjon, if you roll to spot a hidden door and succeed, then there is a hidden door. Even if its not on the map.

  I don't know DRYH, but you are right about ditv. It might lean towards gamism in the sense that the mechanics don't care if there is a theme behind the roll or not and is more about challenging the players.
  As far as pure narrativism, I think TB comes closest. that the roll can be influenced by the narrative theme of the character(s).
  Maybe it might help to settle on a mechanic, if we knew what kind of quests you had in mind. I mean, a quest to show a village elder the error of their ways might suggest different mechanics than defeating a river dragon in a deep sea cave.
  Also, how many conflicts are you anticipating per session? How much handling time do you want per conflict? I think these will inform any suggestions someone might make and get us to a point where we are all on the same page.
Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo


Hi Ivoire

You always talk about a single character. Is it an unconscious thought or are you thinking about something like polaris with only one main character?

I add just a random thought. If the GM has the role of the Fate, it means he can choose what the character have to do. It's a strange twist, isn't it? I mean, if the players could have some control on the story, why the GM cannot have some control on the PC acts (and the PC can fell how heavy is the weight of the fate)... well just my two cents


And here an excellent point comes out. What are these quests supposed to be?

I've been thinking about this all this time, as well as working on the rules themselves, but I think this comes first, and you're perfectly right.
Let us say that the four parts of the sheet that are influenced by quests and their resolution, are identified through the mutual interaction of four themes, that might be divided into opposites, two by two. One would have, for instance, passion vs rationality, interior vs external.
Each pairing (like interior passion or exterior rationality) identifies each of the four quadrants of the sheet.
I'm going to use tarots as an example, so if you have "the fool", a tarot linked to voyages and trips assigned to your rationality+interior quadrant, your quest will become an interior trip inside your mind.

So to answer your questions, I want the game to have a wide arrange of possible quests, depending on the interaction card - quadrant. But it want each quest to have an intimate value about it. So no "destroying a nation" or "killing the monster that terrorizes a region". Rather "save a person from the madness that is destroying his mind" or "find a rare flower". Characters are no saviors of humanity, only entities predestined to Ascension.
Each quest has the aim to let you come closer to the level of understanding that is necessary to walk the Labyrinth. It's not necessarily an ascetic way. There are many gods, each different from his peers. One might gain understanding through excesses, too. But the ultimate goal of each quest is to unblock something whithin the character, elevating him or her. Not to settle disputes, to judge evil or to fight it.

As per how many conflicts per session, I think that the best way is to have each session contain an interlude and a quest. The quest may be very long, though. My concern is here the interaction between players. If the game allowed for one quest per session, it would be rather dull. Character should be able to cooperate. Their goal is not to become gods while leaving a trail of corpses behind, including their own co-predestined brethren. I'm expecting two to four conflicts per quest, and I want them to be of a maximum handling time of below 10 minutes. Otherwise there would be no time for free narration if you have four players and each session allows for each player's quest to be fulfilled. I'm always thinking about a 2-3 hours gaming time.

And during the path, the character might also have to fight other predestined ones who did not fulfill their destiny, and became lost whithin the Labyrinth. I think that would add some spice. Also risking to become one of these lost predestined ones for players, too... wouldn't that be cool? Imagine the group splitting in two, and then the clash that follows. I like the idea, wouldnt you too?
Here also fits the "with teeth" part. "are you ready to die, or worse become a lost one, in order to succeed?"


Quote from: fealoro on January 15, 2009, 01:15:17 PM
Hi Ivoire

You always talk about a single character. Is it an unconscious thought or are you thinking about something like polaris with only one main character?

I add just a random thought. If the GM has the role of the Fate, it means he can choose what the character have to do. It's a strange twist, isn't it? I mean, if the players could have some control on the story, why the GM cannot have some control on the PC acts (and the PC can fell how heavy is the weight of the fate)... well just my two cents

Hello there my friend!! It's nice to hear from you.

Actually no. Fate does not judge. In a traditional rpg, you have a judging figure for the GM. He judges whether what characters want to do can be done or not, and most games even go as far as to put him above rules. So players end up needing his "seal of approval" for just anything. Fate is what puts things in their place and determine consequences. At least in ancient greek culture, and that is where the notion of hybris is born from, too.
Also, fate means "what has been said" (and cannot be undone). Characters in this game are predestined to grandeur. And that cannot be undone. I think a GM as Fate is pretty limited in front of the choices of players, because he cannot impede them to do what they want to do, he can only determine the consequences, which works well for a "with teeth" game, or so I think, at least...


Well well.
Thanks to you all, I've come to visualize some game mechanics that should do the trick. There are some refinements, details to be adjusted, but I finally managed to get a general view of how they should become in the end.
Thanks to you all!


I suggest the possibility that a part of each quadrant is exposed at the start. If you want to think about it as a a square divided into 4 squares, then the exposed part might be in the center corners. This may end up looking like 5 sections so maybe this will not appeal, but the basic 4 quadrants then the Labyrinth is already 5 items.

To further the idea, part of the Labyrinth could be exposed, only to be completely revealed when the other four quandrants are. The idea here is that each quest and the finaly Labyrinth has something known to shape character and story play along the way. A simple example would be a Virtue that the character especially embodies, or has to come to embody, which that quandrants quest would be about. Meanwhile the seed of the quest is there for play all along, potentially generating events to look back upon, or have affect the related quest when it comes up. EG the person you helped, the prince you judged, the village you guided somehow can come into play when you want to resolve this quest.

Also the mention of Glyphs combined with this one item exposed others hidden brought to mind the Kabbalism useage of letters as both copncepts and numbers, where the letters can then be used to spell a word, or words with the same mathematical values are somehow related in the Divine sense. Probably waaaaaay too complicated to put into a game, but I do like the idea that the four quandrant quests combine to create the Labyrinth.


Hello there,
In fact that is something I had in mind, to have a "central" part of the sheet, maybe a descriptive one (sort of, describe your character's background in sentences that become game traits).
And your idea about the Labyrinth sounds interesting. I know I have been very vague so far -so are my thoughts as of now- but could you make an example of what you mean by having the labyrinth partly exposed from the beginning? If things are too vague to do that, don't worry, by the way.
Kabbalism is not something I had in mind as I am very ignorant on the subject, but now that you tell me about it, I might look into it for further inspiration. Thank you for the suggestion.
Allright, I think I have enough elements to start seriously fleshing out what rules should be like and where they should take you.
Thanks everyone for their kind support! It's greatly appreciated.


Oddly, this reminds me a lot of a board game design I came up with once, with an ex and some friends of his (at a party, upstairs in the host's bedroom, when we could have been downstairs socializing ^_^).

We called it Tower of the Prince(ss), and the (ss) was an attempt to both leave that figure's gender wide open as well as implying some androgyny. In any case, the board was going to be divided a lot like your character sheet: four sections around a central space. In this case, however, the four major sections were highly thematic worlds, ones that connected through the titular Tower: there was the green world of high-tech, the purple world of magic and mysticism, the blue world of Atlantean wars, and the red world of ruthless high-society. Each world involved fulfilling quests to pick up the vehicle, weapon, and seal of that world; each of these was useful in three of the worlds, and useless in a fourth.

For example, greenworld's weapon, the Silver Arsenal (a bunch of bombs and guns) just fizzled out in blueworld's ocean-scape. Blueworld's vehicle, the Sea Sprites, failed to find any water to convey the character across in the cavern-based redworld.

Once the players, collectively, had acquired the four world-seals, the Tower in the center went from being a crossroads to a new, fifth world in its own right, a sort of grey-world where the players had to duke it out with their weapons and vehicles to be the last one standing, and then that player's character would be chosen by the Prince(ss) as hir champion for some, admittedly, undefined purpose.

I was thinking that the kinds of quests in your game could somehow reflect the playing card suits respectively, or the tarot card suits. In the case of playing cards, you could have a relationship, a labor, a battle, and a mystical experience (that's heart, spade, club, and diamond, respectively). I dunno if that would be too pat, but I suppose it's something to think about. Keep in mind that each quest's content is only mapped by the type of conflict to the extent that it provides the premise; i.e. just because a battle's going on doesn't mean the character has to fight, and just because a relationship is being explored doesn't mean it's romantic or peaceful. Maybe players could select their "chosen suits" and that could inform what kind of approach they take, what sorts of quests they undergo.

As far as the char. sheet is concerned, why not have only the most minimal access to a particular kind of character-detail until that section opens up? Looking over my D&D sheet, for instance, I'm coming up with: 1 - a natural talent I possess (stats), 2 - something I've learned to be very good at (skills), 3 - a trick I have up my sleeve (feats), 4 - something weird I can do (powers). These would be the center-corners of the four quadrants, giving a very rough picture of the character, and finishing quests would provide a lot more options and color in a particular arena.

Maybe a well-balanced druid, for example, only elects to use her Wisdom score initially, but once she completes the "stat-quest", she can show off how smart and physically tough she is, too. Up until she does, those other things just wouldn't come up, and I suppose the stat-quest itself would have to take that into account. It would also demand teamwork, and encourage party roles and division of labor among the PCs, given that individuals are limited in their efficacy to just a certain realm or approach (until they've completed this quest, of course).
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress -