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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4283 Members Latest Member: - otto Most online today: 74 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Storylines] First World Creation Playtest  (Read 818 times)
Anders Gabrielsson
Member

Posts: 31


« on: November 21, 2009, 02:45:14 PM »

I apologize in advance if this is a bit disjointed. I need to get to bed soon but I want to post this while I still have everything reasonably fresh in my mind.

During a lull in a day of pretty intense boardgaming I suggested a quick playtest of the game I'm currently thinking of as Storylines. (That's just a placeholder name, but it's the best I've got at the moment.) The other two agreed, so we did a couple of world-creation tests with some discussion inbetween.

This is going to be part rules explanation, part playtest report. I've posted about some of the ideas in the First Thoughts forum, but rather than point back there and explain the differences I'll put the whole thing (which is not very big) here.

Storylines is meant to become a very rules-light storytelling game, somewhere inbetween a diceless, GM-less RPG and Once Upon a Time. The players don't own individual characters; they act more like collaborative writers, taking turns in telling a story and offereing each other new paths for it. I want to keep all rules as simple and unobtrusive as possible.

There are three parts to the game: rough world-creation, detailed character and setting creation and regular play. I won't go into detail on the two latter, partly because they're still very much in flux and partly because they weren't touched upon in this playtest other than as a quick explanation by me.

Currently, rough world-creation works like this:

1) Each player writes down something they want to be important in the game. It could be some type of character, a general theme, a general type of world; pretty much any positive world-defining trait.

2) Players reveal their chosen elements and give a brief explanation.

3) The players try to figure out a way to fit these elements together, starting to create a tentative foundation for the world their stories will take place in.

Steps 1-3 are then repeated, but this time each player writes down something they want to exclude from the world. These two phases are then repeated once more, so that each player has given two positive and two negative elements, with discussions between each phase to keep everyone on the same page.

The goal of this is to give everyone approximately the same say in the design of the world. It could be done without writing things down by taking turns stating preferences, but that will give whoever goes first greater influence. I also think it will make for less interesting worlds as the first one or two statements will set a tone and push those going later into following old patterns instead of bringing up things they're really interested in. Possible variations include starting with a negative statement, or letting each player decide if they want to make a positive or negative statement each phase. Of course, in some cases the lines blur between positive and negative statements: saying you want a world dominated by humans is very similar to saying you don't want non-human races to be of great importance, but that's not a big problem. These are meant to be guidelines that should help the players think about what they want and don't want in their world.

First we did a straight playtest, then one where we tried pulling in different directions, and one we abandoned because things became to weird to keep together. The first worked well, and the second did not, as expected. I'll give details on the first and some general notes on the others.

First playtest

As per above, each of us three players selected one element we wanted to include in the world. These turned out to be "Martial arts", "Lovecraftian horror" and "Benevolent giants".

I was the one who picked martial arts - I just wanted to make sure the stories contained a fair bit of action, and martial arts combat is fun to describe.

S explained his choice of Lovecraftian horror as focusing more on the sense of impending doom and desperate struggles against powerful malicious forces than tentacled monsters and suchlike.

At this point A's benevolent giants (which was something he got from the game of Small World we had played earlier) morphed into humanity's guardians against the evil gods who wanted to destroy the world. I can't recall exactly who came up with which part because there was a lot of back-and-forth (which is how I want it to work, so that was good) but in the end the main idea was that the gods had decided the world was too corrupt to save and they wanted to destroy it and start over, but the giants, the closest things to gods on the mortal plane, wanted to protect the world. However, most people didn't realize what the gods were doing and so continued to worship them, and any attempts to overthrow the existing order would have to be at least partially by subterfuge. Martial arts training (of the cinematic variety) would create warriors who could fight without weapons and also have disciplined minds to resist the corruption of the gods.

The rest of the phases was really just refinement of this basic concept, but I'll write out our selections with some short notes.

For the first negative phase S wrote "tentacles" (explained as shorthand for the type of Lovecraftian horror he specifically didn't want, thus refining the concept), A wrote "technology" and I "advanced technology" - we both wanted things to stay relatively close to traditional fantasy tech-wise.

For the second positive phase A wrote "flying mounts" (mostly on a whim), I wrote "morally ambiguous characters" and S "magic". We went into some details on what kind of magic, ending up at relatively traditional fantasy magic minus the flashy fireballs and that using magic should come with a hefty pricetag.

For the second negative phase I wrote "typical fantasy races" (I wanted the focus to be on humans), S wrote "insanity" (mentioning that most RPGs have crappy insanity rules and, again, wanting to get a very specific type of horror) and A wrote "non-standard races" (explained as that there should be one dominant race with others as fringe elements if they were there at all).

Things to note is that after the very first phase we were very much in synch about what we wanted. The latter three phases didn't really add much to the concept other than minor refinements and modifications to things we had pretty much agreed on already but perhaps not explicitly mentioned. We were all interested in the world we had sketched out - there was strong buy-in from all three of us.

One thing I should mention is that though this worked fine with three players I think the main game will need at least four to work well, but that's something I'll have to explore some other time.

And now I'm too tired to see straight so I'll leave this and maybe add some minor notes tomorrow, and try to answer any questions.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #1 on: November 21, 2009, 06:03:50 PM »

One interesting thing about the "hide and reveal" thing is that it forces players to stand up for their original ideas, good with players who are under-confident, as if they don't fight for their ideas people can encourage them to stick with it; "come on man we need your ideas to to make this work".

I also like the layered positives and negatives; it reminds me of some of the thinking hats creative techniques that people sometimes advocate, but with the important difference that your one includes synthesis, which crazily doesn't seem to be a particular stage in that other model.

I've built large portions of a game concept on the idea of "reveal then piece together", which I might post up later, so I think it has mileage, but how are you envisioning carrying on from here? Say creating the first scenes/characters etc? Will you be continuing to use that method? Giving scenes and characters to different people? Some hybrid?
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Anders Gabrielsson
Member

Posts: 31


« Reply #2 on: November 23, 2009, 05:22:38 AM »

Good point about under-confident players. That's kind of what I was going for, but I hadn't expressed it very well in my own mind yet.

The thinking hats thing looks like a cool concept - not something I'd grab right away for this design, but something to keep in mind.

For the second stage (creation of characters etc) I'll probably go with a more normal round-the-table, turn-taking method. Once the backdrop has been created and the big lines drawn up I think there will be less need to enforce an equal footing, partly because each step will be much smaller (see below) and partly because I think the first stage will help the players get into a space where they are actively trying to work together.

I know what I want as an end-result of stage two: a sheet of paper with the names (or placeholders for names) for the main characters and important members of the supporting cast, common locations and situations, important moods and themes and so on; and a deck of cards or set of tokens (something that can be shuffled or mixed for randomization) with more details about the characters and perhaps more unusual situations etc.

How to get that, I'm not sure. My current thinking is that going around the table with each player in turn adding to the "pool of things" and then dividing them between the sheet (common things that should always be available to the narrator) and cards (more unusual things that aren't available to everyone all the time). I think that would work, but future playtests will tell.

For my next playtest of the first, world-creating stage, I will probably try a slightly more structured system, where the players add/subtract moods and themes separately from more concrete parts of the setting, just to see how that works.
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JoyWriter
Member

Posts: 469

also known as Josh W


« Reply #3 on: December 03, 2009, 03:04:08 PM »

For my next playtest of the first, world-creating stage, I will probably try a slightly more structured system, where the players add/subtract moods and themes separately from more concrete parts of the setting, just to see how that works.
I'm not sure I'd advise that, but feel free to try it. My disinclination is because the beauty of your first system is that it allows people to pick elements by preference first, so you get a sense of people's core interests, whether they are thematic or aesthetic or whatever. The sort of structuring I suspect would work better is a series of prompts for those who are unsure; in other words those categories would act as suggestions of possible categories for each add/subtract operation. That way the people who obey their "rules" will be those who are less passionate about it or feel they need more directing, whereas those who are already more passionate will be able to use them as reminders to avoid missing out obvious areas, and won't get pissed off at arbitrary restriction.

On the other stuff, I sort of feel like I don't want to bias you! If you've got some happy playtesters then just try out whatever! I for one will be interested in what you find out.
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Anders Gabrielsson
Member

Posts: 31


« Reply #4 on: December 04, 2009, 09:25:10 AM »

You make good points, and I will try to make more tests using both systems to see which works better.
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Anders Gabrielsson
Member

Posts: 31


« Reply #5 on: December 07, 2009, 11:01:40 PM »

I didn't mention this earlier because I hadn't quite formulated it in words. One of the reasons I want t try doing themes/moods and concrete stuff separately is that I think there's less risk of an odd-one-out item getting lost that way. If everyone mentions concrete things except for one player, I think there's a risk of his theme piece getting lost while everyone hammers out how the concrete items fit together.
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