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Author Topic: [Tragic Dominion ] Gut-punching Fairytales and character authority  (Read 653 times)
Joel P. Shempert
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« on: March 23, 2010, 11:13:02 AM »

I've been laboring over this concept for some time, but just recently had all the wheels click into place in my head. First, the Color pitch:



Tragic Dominion

(Note that I'm kicking around several title ideas; isomething with Dusk perhaps. If I pick a different one it'll be reworked into the text above.)

So how it works in a nutshell is: the game has three player roles--Light Faerie, Dark Faerie, and the Hero/Heroine. You start by narrating the Heroine's mundane circumstances; the Heroine player will describe positive and negative qualities of their character, the Light Faerie describes how a supportive or sympathetic person responds, the Dark Faerie describes how an unsympathetic or abusive person responds.

Then the real shit begins--a Faerie Nemesis takes the stage, taking or threatening something of the Heroine. The character must go into Faerie to complete a quest to get it back, become whole, and so forth. The Dark Faerie will portray the Nemesis and all obstacles and enemies, and the Light Faerie will play Faerie allies the heroine encounters on her journey.

Now, how this all proceeds is, the Nemesis and his Powers, the Allies, and the Heroine's Qualities are all cards on the table with light and dark stones on them. The Heroine encounters obstacles and overcomes them, the stones get shuffled around and used up. When a card runs out of stones, the last player with stones on it decides how that thing is Transformed. And when the stones all run out, whichever stones are on the table last, Light or Dark, tell us respectively whether the Heroine gets to go back home and carry her transformation back to her mundane life, or whether she stays in Faerie forever.

This all looks very smooth in terms of the overall procedure. What I'm still struggling with is narration down in the trenches as it relates to some specific mechanics. The game proceeds in a sort of free play, the Heroine narrating her progress in exploring Faerie, the Light Faerie narrating her Allies' actions and and the Dark Faerie describing what she encounters. This continues until the Dark Faerie introduces an Obstacle, by reaching for Stones off one of his cards--the Nemesis directly or one of his Powers--and introducing some present danger stemming from it. He puts the amount of stones he chose and places them in a bag, and the Heroine answers with a Gift or Flaw and chooses a number of stones from that card to put in the bag. The Heroine player then pulls a stone blindly from the bag; if it's a Light Stone, she assigns it to one of her cards OR to the card the Dark Faerie used, and narrates passing the obstacle beneficially through the use of that card's element. If it's a Dark Stone, the Dark Faerie assigns it to one of his cards OR the card the Heroine used, and narrates her passing the obstacle in a negative way (misdirected, lost, in danger, or otherwise unpleasant) due to that element.

Also, the Light Faerie can have an Ally step in to aid or protect the Heroine, placing THEIR stones in the bag and proceeding in place of the Heroine for that Obstacle.

So the thing is, once you've got Stones piled up on an opposing player's cards, you can pull THEM for Obstacle tests, using that element against its owner. AND when all the stones are gone from a card, it Transforms for good, resolving that element of the story, and whoever had the last stone on it decides HOW.

What I'm wondering about is, there are times when a player narrates what happens based on another player's qualities. In an antagonistic framework. So if a Heroine has a Flaw "Spoiled," say, then she gets to steamroll over opposition at first by pitching fits, manipulating and strongarming others, and the like. But once the Dark Faerie sinks some points into "Spoiled," then he gets to say "your spoiled-ness presents an Obstacle to you, here and now," and describe how.

So what does that look like in the SIS? Do you describe another character's actions directly? "So there's a guardian at the Castle gate and he says his standard 'none shall pass' thing, and you get all up in his face and he gets offended and throws you in a dungeon!" Or describe the result of spoiled-ness already evident? "OK so when you yell and stamp your foot and call the guard nasty names, he gets all offended and throws you in a dungeon!" Or what?

It's even more extreme in the case of Transforming a card. If the Dark Faerie gets to Transform "Spoiled," to "Take-No-Prisoners Bitch" let's say, does he narrate for the Heroine through the whole thing? "So upon escaping the dungeon something snaps inside you. You march right into the Troll King's banquet hall, claim to be a Princess of the Far-Off Land of Pasadena, humiliate the guard and get him punished, and demand recompense from the treasury. You storm off in smug satisfaction." Or do you get the ball rolling and kick it to the Heroine player? "So upon escaping from the dungeon something snaps inside you. What does that look like and what do you do about it?"

I recognize it's a totally valid mode of play to dispense with player-character sanctity, but I haven't done much of it and I want to enter into it extremely advisedly. I wish I had more experience with PTA narration rights. Thoughts?

Peace,
-Joel
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stefoid
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« Reply #1 on: March 23, 2010, 02:38:15 PM »

Well done!

My preference --  if I was playing your game, I would want to be responsible for how my character reacts to things, whether or not it actually turns out that way.  I want to make the decision.

So with the dark stone spoiled thing, in this type of story, the dark fairy observes a weakness it can exploit, and presents a challenge that is designed to illicit that response.  But its a trap, right?  If the heroine falls for it (uses spoiled) she suffers consequences, but if she has learned anything along the journey, she might react to the trap in a different way that will defeat it.

So yeah, I think (somehow) it still has to be the heroines choice as to whether to react in a spoiled way to whatever obstacles present.  but the way I read your summary, the dark faiery just says here is an obstacle and you will use spoiled on it and you will suffer these consequences?

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PeterBB
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« Reply #2 on: March 23, 2010, 04:48:21 PM »

I think you can make a distinction between allowing someone to narrate a character's actions, and simply providing creative constraints for those actions. Couldn't you just say "here's a scene where your spoiled nature leads to a problem", and then leave it to the heroine to roleplay the details of how that happens?
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #3 on: March 24, 2010, 11:15:26 PM »

Stefoid,

Well done!

Thank you!

So with the dark stone spoiled thing, in this type of story, the dark fairy observes a weakness it can exploit, and presents a challenge that is designed to illicit that response.  But its a trap, right?  If the heroine falls for it (uses spoiled) she suffers consequences, but if she has learned anything along the journey, she might react to the trap in a different way that will defeat it.

That's solid gold--thanks! That gives me a lot of possible dimensions for exploiting the Heroine's elements. Right into the game draft it goes!

So yeah, I think (somehow) it still has to be the heroines choice as to whether to react in a spoiled way to whatever obstacles present.  but the way I read your summary, the dark faiery just says here is an obstacle and you will use spoiled on it and you will suffer these consequences?

Oh nonono--the way it works is, the Dark Faerie presents his obstacle (pulling stones from the appropriate card), and the Heroine player chooses which element of hers to meet the challenge with--Spoiled or Clever or whatever. It's only if she then pulls a Dark stone, and THEN only if the Dark Faerie chooses to place the Dark stone on the Heroine's card, that the Dark Faerie will get to say that the Heroine's flaw gets her in trouble. In which case the Flaw was already described in action by the Heroine's player so there should be no trouble figuring out how to describe that trouble

It's only when the Dark Faerie later uses that stone to invoke the Flaw against the Heroine again, that we run into the issue of the Dark Faerie proactively bringing the Heroine's traits in, and how to describe that.

Sorry I wasn't clear. Totally with you on the Heroine choosing how to meet an obstacle.

Peter,

I think you can make a distinction between allowing someone to narrate a character's actions, and simply providing creative constraints for those actions. Couldn't you just say "here's a scene where your spoiled nature leads to a problem", and then leave it to the heroine to roleplay the details of how that happens?
That's a good point--just like with PTA narration rights, one player might initiate a direction but others are free to contribute. So saying "Isabelle pitches a fit in the throne room insisting that the guard be punished, what does that look like?" would be a cool way to handle it.

In face, I played my first game last night, and I totally used this technique when I invoked the Heroine's rage: "The rushing tide of friendly trolls is tossing you playfully in the air, meaning no harm but keeping you from reaching your sister, and it's making you SO ANGRY." then letting Willem, the Heroine's player, take it from there. It felt really smooth and natural. But I also tried other methods for other instances of invoking Rage, such as full descriptive authority: "you're laying into the army of hostile troll something fierce, calling them every name in the book and swinging your fists and screaming and pulverizing them into mud. Finally Josephine collapses in frustration and exhaustion, heart pounding. When you wake up you're seated in a great stone throne and the King of Trolls, admiring your fury, wants to make you his queen."

Then again, I did that AFTER Willem had already chosen to use his Rage to battle the trolls, so that was still him in the driver's seat; I was just taking the wheel for a minute but he had totally chosen the road. So maybe that's not the same thing. I think I only placed one stone on Josephine's Rage in the course of the game, so taking that stone off was the only instance of me "choosing the road" for that quality.

Anyway, it worked out well. We moved back and forth between a lot of descriptive styles and stances throughout the game, with no real issues. SO maybe my fears are unfounded, but further playtesting will tell.

Peace,
Joel

PS I've picked a name and it's The Dreaming Crucible. Look for further threads under that name in the Playtesting forum!
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stefoid
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« Reply #4 on: March 26, 2010, 06:50:09 PM »

I was just thinking that your general theme dosnt have to apply only to a faery setting.  It would probably apply euqally to a number of settings where the general theme of "hero goes on quest, is thwarted along the way, gets through with help of mysterious alies" etc...  For all I know its probably baked into every culture Joseph Cambell style in some way or another. 

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Brendan Day
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« Reply #5 on: March 27, 2010, 10:51:15 AM »

So how it works in a nutshell is: the game has three player roles--Light Faerie, Dark Faerie, and the Hero/Heroine. You start by narrating the Heroine's mundane circumstances; the Heroine player will describe positive and negative qualities of their character, the Light Faerie describes how a supportive or sympathetic person responds, the Dark Faerie describes how an unsympathetic or abusive person responds.

Then the real shit begins--a Faerie Nemesis takes the stage, taking or threatening something of the Heroine. The character must go into Faerie to complete a quest to get it back, become whole, and so forth. The Dark Faerie will portray the Nemesis and all obstacles and enemies, and the Light Faerie will play Faerie allies the heroine encounters on her journey.

Do the light and dark faerie exist as characters in the story, or are they just abstract forces?  I'd prefer to have the dark faerie and the faerie nemesis be one and the same, while the light faerie is the heroine's central ally.  That way, these characters don't just represent abusive or sympathetic forces; they actually abuse the heroine directly, or come to her aid when all seems lost.  The dark faerie could be the Goblin King from Labyrinth or the Lord of Darkness from Legend, while the light faerie could be Glinda from The Wizard of Oz or the faun from Pan's Labyrinth.  It would be up to the players to give them each a personality, and to show how they use their powers to threaten or protect the heroine.
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #6 on: April 01, 2010, 05:28:58 AM »

Stefoid,

I was just thinking that your general theme dosnt have to apply only to a faery setting.  It would probably apply euqally to a number of settings where the general theme of "hero goes on quest, is thwarted along the way, gets through with help of mysterious alies" etc...  For all I know its probably baked into every culture Joseph Cambell style in some way or another.

Sure, I guess. I would say that 1) I'm not interested in doing "just any" story (even just any Campbellian story), I'm interested in doing THIS one, and 2) Faery isn't a "setting," it's a quality. It's a, if you like, spiritual undertone, or if you don't like, thematic motif, that lies at the core of a certain class of stories. So if you did "one of those stories with that theme in a different setting," if it had the quality heart-rending transformation I'm designing toward, it would be a Fairy Tale as far as I'm concerned. See "On Fairy Stories" by J.R.R. Tolkien.

Really, there IS no "setting" in this game. I'm shooting "setting" in the mouth. There's no fleshed-out world with its own cultures and history and population with their own cares and concerns. It's more like a dream, where everything revolves around the hero and reflects his true self back at him.
So how it works in a nutshell is: the game has three player roles--Light Faerie, Dark Faerie, and the Hero/Heroine. You start by narrating the Heroine's mundane circumstances; the Heroine player will describe positive and negative qualities of their character, the Light Faerie describes how a supportive or sympathetic person responds, the Dark Faerie describes how an unsympathetic or abusive person responds.

Then the real shit begins--a Faerie Nemesis takes the stage, taking or threatening something of the Heroine. The character must go into Faerie to complete a quest to get it back, become whole, and so forth. The Dark Faerie will portray the Nemesis and all obstacles and enemies, and the Light Faerie will play Faerie allies the heroine encounters on her journey.

Brendan,

Do the light and dark faerie exist as characters in the story, or are they just abstract forces?

Oh, the Light and Dark Faerie TOTALLY each play a central character. They also play the sympathetic forces in the heroine's normal life before faling into Faerie.

I'm definitely not talking about some abstract, hazy direction like "be all the forces of light in the game." It's more like "You're the forces of light. Play a sympathetic grandmother in one scene. Now play a sympathetic elf for a bunch of scenes. Now play the grandmother for a scene again."

So how it works in a nutshell is: the game has three player roles--Light Faerie, Dark Faerie, and the Hero/Heroine. You start by narrating the Heroine's mundane circumstances; the Heroine player will describe positive and negative qualities of their character, the Light Faerie describes how a supportive or sympathetic person responds, the Dark Faerie describes how an unsympathetic or abusive person responds.

Then the real shit begins--a Faerie Nemesis takes the stage, taking or threatening something of the Heroine. The character must go into Faerie to complete a quest to get it back, become whole, and so forth. The Dark Faerie will portray the Nemesis and all obstacles and enemies, and the Light Faerie will play Faerie allies the heroine encounters on her journey.

or the faun from Pan's Labyrinth.

You and I obviously have very different opinions on the faun's role in that story.

Peace,
-Joel
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Brendan Day
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Posts: 21


« Reply #7 on: April 01, 2010, 09:30:37 AM »

The faun is a pretty ambiguous figure, from what I recall.  It probably qualifies as the Light Faerie, the Dark Faerie, and the Faerie Nemesis all in one.
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Joel P. Shempert
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« Reply #8 on: April 01, 2010, 09:03:39 PM »

Ambiguity is cool. There's a reason I didn't call them "Bad Faerie" and "Good Faerie", or "Evil Faerie" and "Good Faerie." Smiley

For that matter, I don't use the words "success" and "failure" in the game.
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Story by the Throat! Relentlessly pursuing story in roleplaying, art and life.
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