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Author Topic: [Final Hour of a Storied Age] Supporting characters' subplots in Epic Fantasy  (Read 1532 times)
Dan Maruschak
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« on: December 22, 2009, 02:27:08 PM »

My game is Final Hour of a Storied Age: A Roleplaying Game of Epic Fantasy. A PDF of the current rules can be downloaded from here. For context, you can listen to actual play audio recordings of my first two playtest sessions on my podcast: Designer vs. Reality. If you'd prefer text to audio, I have text synopses of those sessions on my blog here and here.

In my design, I am trying to have gameplay that creates stories like those in Epic Fantasy literature (Lord of the Rings, Wheel of Time, etc.). To do that, I have the players create the setting and situation around a plot structure. To start out, players are randomly given a number of words, which they then arrange in a way that inspires them to write an evocative sentence (the kind of thing you would put into an In A Wicked Age oracle), which I call a "seed". There's a mechanic which selects one of these seeds to be the Protagonist and one to be the Antagonist. You then determine the plot by figuring out what Community the Protagonist represents, how the Antagonist is threatening that community with fundamental negative change, and what the Protagonist needs to do to prevent that from happening. (If we were analyzing the Lord of the Rings, the Community for the protagonist Frodo would be The Shire, the antagonist Sauron is trying to militarily dominate the world including The Shire, and Frodo must destroy the ring in order to stop him).

I think the main plot axis between the Protagonist and Antagonist is working pretty well. However, in addition to the Protagonist and Antagonist, every other player plays a Supporting Character. These characters each get subplots of their own (for example, in Lord of the Rings, Gandalf would have "unite the Free Peoples of the West" and Aragorn would have "become king of Gondor"). The idea is that these subplots should intersect with the main plot some way, but right now they are not hooked in as strongly to the plot as the Protagonist and Antagonist are. Sometimes it seems like they are just off on their own, pursuing their own parallel story rather than being part of the story that the Protagonist and Antagonist are playing out. In some ways it's working like a multiple-protagonist story, which isn't what I was going for. I can emphasize more in the rules that the Supporting Characters' plots should interact with the primary plot, but I would prefer to give stronger guidance for how to do that, if I can. Does anyone have any suggestions or ideas for how to do that, either from a game mechanics point of view or from a literature point of view?
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pells
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Posts: 192


« Reply #1 on: December 22, 2009, 04:22:54 PM »

Hi !!! Good stuff there. It reminds me, somehow of dungeoneer or the CCG of the LoTR.

Okay, here I go, about your problem of introducing supporting characters and taking them into the big picture (based on your free rules).
There is one thing that I can see that I think could really help you.
You've got three originals and important elements :
- a theme "map"
- a map of the region
- relationship between characters that you follow using a "track". Here, I would propose to use a relationship map instead, that would do the same job. Put there PCs, NPCs and supporting characters.

Now, use this three elements as a single map, with three dimensions : theme, location and relation. Thus, each time you enter a character (be it whatever its "status"), state those three elements and put him/her on this 3D map.
By doing so, I don't think you can generate "separated" subplots : on what theme he/she is related to, what is the location and how he/she is related to antagonist/protagonist (it might be in three degrees, but still, you would need to state it somehow) ?

Hey, I guess this would be elegant !!!
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dindenver
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« Reply #2 on: December 22, 2009, 05:58:53 PM »

Dan,
  I think the Supporting characters might have more oomph, if the antagonists/protagonists relied on their progress. Like maybe its the supporting characters that control the chapter pacing? Or possibly, the decision if the antagonists/protagonists win, is determined by whether the supporting character got their goal and who they support?
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Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
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Dan Maruschak
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Posts: 41


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« Reply #3 on: December 23, 2009, 03:29:25 PM »

- relationship between characters that you follow using a "track". Here, I would propose to use a relationship map instead, that would do the same job. Put there PCs, NPCs and supporting characters.
I think that a full-blown relationship map would push the game more toward "character centric" rather than "plot centric" style of story, but thanks for reminding me about the "friendship track" on characters. In the current design it's only used for NPCs, but thinking about it in this context gave me some ideas for how to use it with Supporting Characters. Rather than being able to set their scales arbitrarily, I'm thinking of requiring that Supporting Characters interact with either the Protagonist or Antagonist in a chapter to adjust their track. This could at least encourage the players to put their characters into scenes with each other, which they don't seem particularly interested in doing right now.

I'm thinking that I probably also need to let the Supporting Characters have a mechanical impact on the Protagonist or Antagonist plot somehow. Right now, I think people may be overcompensating for my warnings about not making their subplots mutually exclusive with other plots -- the easiest way to do that is to just make them completely independent, and there's no mechanical guidance or pressure to push them back together.

I think the Supporting characters might have more oomph, if the antagonists/protagonists relied on their progress. Like maybe its the supporting characters that control the chapter pacing? Or possibly, the decision if the antagonists/protagonists win, is determined by whether the supporting character got their goal and who they support?
That seems like it would be de-protagonizing for the Protagonist. I am not trying to give the supporting characters "more oomph", I'm trying to figure out how to keep the oomph they have well-aligned with the stories my game is trying to tell.

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Catelf
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Posts: 146


« Reply #4 on: December 24, 2009, 03:18:58 AM »

Quote
That seems like it would be de-protagonizing for the Protagonist. I am not trying to give the supporting characters "more oomph", I'm trying to figure out how to keep the oomph they have well-aligned with the stories my game is trying to tell.
As far as i see it, there are only two main ways to manage this, and it is:
 * Pre-plan some Major Events, that simply is neccesary for at least some of the Supporting cast to get "drawn to", somehow.
Of course, those Events will include the Antagonist and/or Protagonist.
 * Good or great imagination and improvisation, doing virtually the same thing, but "on the fly".

Cat
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dindenver
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« Reply #5 on: December 24, 2009, 09:05:41 AM »

Dan,
  Well, I wasn't trying to suggest that you de-protagonize anyone. The idea was that if the Protagonist and Antagonist both depended on the Support Characters more, then there would be more incentive to narrate them into the scene and include their side plots in their story arcs.
  Right now, the Side Plots of the Supporting Characters are independent and separate from the main conflict. And in one sense, that is a good thing. But from a mechanical perspective, there is no incentive to include Support Characters or to support or resist their Side Plots. So, in my mind, it seems ideal if you can, some how, add a dependency on Support Characters.
  I guess what I was trying to say (and not very well apparently) was not to make the game about the Support Characters, but to have their support be the tie breaker, or maybe even the difference between a marginal victory and a normal victory.
  Maybe one mechanic that might help you with getting the Supporting Roles and their story arcs more satisfying (if that is the right word) might be to look at the Transcendence mechanic in Shadow of Yesterday/Solar System. It is a way for a single character to have a meaningful impact on the setting/story, with a good pacing mechanic, but without it depending heavily on other characters or the GM.
  I am not sure if that is the feel you are going for, but even if it isn't, it still might inspire a mechanic that is right for you.
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Dave M
Author of Legends of Lanasia RPG (Still in beta)
My blog
Free Demo
Dan Maruschak
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Posts: 41


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« Reply #6 on: January 01, 2010, 10:42:27 AM »

I updated the rules with a few tweaks (get rev 0.5 from my downloads page). I put in a few changes to address the issues I mentioned in this thread, but I'm not sure it goes far enough yet. Now, a Supporting Character must mechanically adjust his Friendship Track in order to declare their "fact about the world" at the end of the game. They're only allowed to adjust their track if they have their characters "meaningfully interact" during a chapter (there's mechanical guidance for how to evaluate that). I also updated the explanation for how to create the subplot in the first place:
Quote
Supporting characters get a single-stage subplot. If completed it should either complicate or simplify one (or more) of the plot segments of either the Protagonist or Antagonist. The plots should interact, but shouldn't be interdependent. Since you can't predict the order that the plots will completed, you shouldn't make subplots dependent on events that will happen in the plot segments of the Protagonist or Antagonist, or vice versa. For example, if the Antagonist has a plot segment that involves waging war, a Supporting Character's subplot of being crowned king could complicate that plot by giving him control over the kingdom's army.
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