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Combined Techniques: Experience Dice and Genre Expectations

Started by Le Joueur, September 24, 2002, 04:55:18 AM

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Le Joueur

Pieces Parts

There are four primary components to any GenEx, Central Concept, Metaphor, Motif, and Running Gag (well, Running Gag is what we call it).  The Central Concept is the maxim around which everything else in the game fits.  The Metaphor is how all the elements in the game connect to each other and relate the 'big picture' of the Central Concept; this can be a very indirect or mostly symbolic resemblance sometimes, but usually doesn't need to be.  The Motif represents the practice of identifying what's relevant to the game with the application of narrowly defined 'style' (or the practice of applying that very same style to everything).  A Running Gag is something that 'colors' most things, but doesn't signify the things the way a Motif does.

As long as the Central Concept stays straightforward and the Metaphor is a powerful or evocative one, they can stay relatively in the background.  Their main use is in development or invention of material in the game.  The Motif and Running Gags are things that most everyone subscribes to, practically unconsciously.

Central Casting

Central Concept is one thing that does get varied a little from game to game and it can range in 'depth,' but you should only pick ones that you feel comfortable with.  It is most important to make sure that this, above everything else in the game, appeals to all the members of the group.  If everyone doesn't 'buy in' on it (or at least 'sign off' on it), the game will fall apart pretty much as soon as it 'becomes obvious.'

There's lots of different ways to use Central Concepts depending on how you Approach it.  If you're into the whole 'story now' thing, you can examine some of the deeper philosophical concepts like the familiar Premises of Ron Edward's invention.  On the other hand, if your group gets into 'being' dark heroes bent on vengeance, you might pick a looser Central Concept like examining 'what makes you human?' (For those 'inhuman monster' type heroes.)  If you just like beating up the bad guys you could do the traditional 'Good versus Evil' or anything that is built on the most basic of conflicts will do.  Furthermore, if you 'just wanna have fun,' the Central Concept can more model the types of sources your game is going to be similar to; for example, 'Secretly Protecting Mankind from Evil Mutants,' 'Defend the Planet Against Extraterrestrial Foes,' and so on.

The Central Concept may or may not be related to deeper more thematic statements.  If you feel really Amibitious, you can make your game more about the statements that the Metaphors (not just the characters) make on the Central Concept.  On the other hand you could just pick a good adversary for your game and just play 'cat and mouse.'  How you want to handle this dictates a lot of your potential choices for your Central Concept.  One thing to remember is the Central Concept usually can't be chosen 'in a vacuum.'  You really need to come up with it and the rest of the primary aspects of your game at the same time (and, like I said before, usually with whole group together) or perhaps, last.

Metaphorically Speaking

The reason a GenEx separates Metaphor from Central Concept has to do with how the Central Concept changes while most Metaphors remain the same game after game.  Now if this were literature, these two parts would probably be inseparable; this isn't literature.  Between the Central Concept and the Metaphor, you should get a feel for what is relevant or isn't.

The Metaphor of the game is a simple 'way of relating things' to the Central Concept.  Attention to this Metaphor need not turn the game into an exercise in thematic analysis of 'the plight of man.'  Not even close.

Metaphor is also good direction for inventing stuff 'in a pinch.'  A good Metaphor acts as both a guide and a filter, being as deep or as superficial as your Approach.  It keeps things on track and offers a recipe of how to increase the feeling of relevance of any item or concept within the game.  You want something to seem more relevant?  Build it more out of the Metaphor than anything else.

It has That Certain Motif

A Motif is the thing that most superficially makes up a GenEx.  They're usually pretty simple and get stretched to some far extremes.  One important difference between Motifs and Running Gags is that few significant things happen as a result of or using a Running Gag.  Motifs are almost always evidence of significant occurrences in a game.  A good Running Gag gets used everywhere, a Motif only comes up when something 'needs to get done' or it 'matters.'

There is one important parallel to the Motif.  It's sometimes called a theme or occasionally a premise; however, we just call it the Running Gag.  For example, let's say you have a group of elementary-school-aged superheroines; a good Running Gag would be 'kid issues.'  These would be things like making new friends, bullies, dealing with the babysitter, curfews, and stuff like that.  Every session (or two) would be built around one of these Running Gags, mostly superficially.  This is one simple way to create a feeling of unity without having to resort to a more intrusive Central Concept.  However there is nothing that says that 'kid issues' couldn't form the Central Concept, nor is there anything that says you should have a Running Gag, it's just something you might consider.

Once you've chosen your GenEx and the Central Concept, understand the Metaphor and Motif, you're gonna use 'em right?  How?  I'm glad you asked.

So, How Do You Use Genre Expectations Already?

A good GenEx lists pretty much all the things that you want in the game you're going to play.  Sometimes they even list the things that play will want to avoid.  With this 'list' in hand (or at least in the back of your mind), you play a Scattershot game; it both affects and directs how you play, but it also offers some useful tools towards being able to orchestrate play yourself, whether you're a player or a gamemaster.  What many games barely supply as 'color' becomes the linchpin of how you play a Scattershot game.

A GenEx's main job is formalizing what the group expects from the game and making it explicit.  It also promotes keeping to the genre and focusing where the game starts.  With the clear and present intentions spelled out in the GenEx, play can concentrate on the Mystique of the singular expression of the genre, instead of flailing about not knowing the 'boundaries' to operate within.  This benefits consistency and focus and offers a better chance to explore the more interesting Circumstances¹ created within the game.

The GenEx also defines the roles of the players within the game.  Participating in the choice of the GenEx builds a special commitment to what is being played; it really sets out the atmosphere that play works in.  This way the players aren't just members or supporters of the game, but its 'paid' enforcers as well.  Because the players are involved in the ownership of the choice of the GenEx, they participate in its development beyond the starting point, really being 'a part of it' on every level.

The principal fuel to making a GenEx go is the Experience Dice.  By playing according to different parts of the GenEx you rack them up (just like playing upon certain parts of your Persona's¹ design).  You can even get them by 'nudging' the play of others back towards the GenEx.  What do you use them for?  Why, to do anything you really want to.  Therefore the more you participate in the GenEx, the more you can affect the rest of the play of the game (whether to guide the story, win the battle, change a detail, or whatever) in any way.

How the Mechanix 'Run the Show'

In Scattershot, a GenEx works in three ways.  First, it gives everyone playing a rock-solid idea of what to expect.  Second, it offers direction when all else is chaos.  And third, it forms the basis of how and why you get the rewards in the game (that'd be the Experience Dice).

Whenever you 'get lost,' misstep, or lose momentum, you can always look at the GenEx to 'find your way.'  Taking the Sequences¹ as examples, being able to grab Exemplars or Props¹ on the fly, delving into the relevant Relationships¹ or Circumstances¹, having everyone present actively interested in the parts, these are the ways that GenEx give you direction when you want it.

The main purpose for Experience Dice is to have fun.  That's why you can use them for whatever you want at any time.  The two main ways Experience Dice come into play is when the player uses them to direct the game where they want it to go and to develop their interests in the game (like Persona¹ Write-Up).

The 'Nuts and Bolts' of It

Scattershot play and Genre Expectations are all about the ebb and flow of Experience Dice.  The basic structure resembles how Persona¹ Advantages and Disadvantage work; at an Advantage you get a bit more, being 'dumped on' yields rewards for later.

The first kind of Experience Dice you get with a GenEx are called Keepers.  These are instant rewards you get when you do either of two things.  First of all, if someone, anyone, thinks you did something really cool they give you a die or two as a reward.  If it suits the GenEx then the gamemaster is compelled to replace such a reward.  (The gamemaster is encouraged to make these rewards too, but gets nothing back.)

A second type of Keeper you get for 'going with the flow' of the Sequences¹.  When you go out of your way to have your Persona¹ do something that follows these patterns, the gamemaster rewards it.

The next kind of Experience Dice you get are called Gimmes.  They are rewards you prompt through the things you do with the game.  During initial Development, you may give your Persona¹ Disadvantages; whenever circumstances dictate that the Persona¹ suffers from these, you get Gimmes, even when you contrive it to happen.

The same goes for the GenEx; if your Persona¹ 'ought' to have bad things happen because of the GenEx and it does, you get Gimmes.  We also use a special kind of 'personal' GenEx, like a destiny, that applies to a single Persona¹ but works just the same.  The fun part is getting Gimmes for helping someone else with their personal GenEx.

You also get Gimmes whenever you 'catch' the gamemaster making a mistake using the GenEx (and even more as Payback, if you fix it 'in character' using your Experience Dice); this is called 'counting coup.'  Likewise, if you happen to notice pacing turning into a problem for the group, you can pull an "Anyway...."  By 'cutting to the chase,' and helping play keep to a certain pace, you get more Gimmes.

Another important kind of Experience Dice you can get is called a Loaner.  You can get Loaners anytime you want (but you have to roll them right away); many people tend to get them only when they run out of 'regular' Experience Dice, but you don't have to.  They're available at any time.  No matter what situation you roll Loaners into, whoever is on the 'other side' (the gamemaster in uncontested rolls) has to keep them and use them in a fashion that 'goes against' your character (this has to happen the same session or they're lost, but you can get Keepers - just like Payback - for playing on the Genre Expectations well).

Freebies are the next kind of Experience Dice you can get.  When you get your Persona¹ into a position where they are at an Advantage (as listed in their Persona¹ Write-Up), you get Freebies.  With Advantages (similarly to Disadvantages), the number of Freebies is based on how closely your Persona's¹ Advantage matches the situation limited by how many points you spent on it.  For the Action that the Persona¹ is at an Advantage for, the player may (if they want) roll the Freebies into their roll (just like Loaners without 'owing them'); if they aren't used, the Freebies are lost.

A GenEx yields Freebies the same way.  When you do something that 'ought to happen' based on the GenEx, you can roll Freebies into it, if you want.  This is often called 'aspiring' to the GenEx.  This is often how a character 'catches their second wind' or 'snatches victory from the jaws of defeat.'  When doing this with a GenEx the important thing to remember, only the Speaker (that's the person currently talking; it's their show at that instant after all) can choose to do so.

So what happens if you have to spend Experience Dice to get the above to happen?  If it works, on top of getting the listed rewards, you also get these spent Experience Dice back.  This is called Payback.  For example, if you use a Plot Device or Deus Ex Machina to get Keepers, you get the Experience Dice spent on the plot contrivance back with the Keepers.

You can also get Payback for undoing things that stray outside the GenEx.  If someone else puts the game into a position where it begs a 'question that must not be asked' and then you find a way to 'undo it,' you get Payback the same way you would get Keepers for following a Sequence¹.

Lastly, you can use the Mechanix of Persona¹ Development to yield a few Experience Dice; this is called Buy Back.  All you need to do is contrive some situation (like a Plot Device or Deus Ex Machina) where your Persona¹ loses some characteristic from their Write-Up.  For every Development Point 'lost' when this happens, you get 1 Experience Dice.  Vanquish your arch-enemy and get those 'points back.'  Overcome your phobia and get those 'points back.'  Just remember, those Advantages and Disadvantages will no longer be around to use to get Freebies and Gimmes anymore.

The important thing implied by these GenEx Mechanix is that at any time, you as a player have a choice between 'doing what is expected' and doing what you want.  The GenEx are what's expected and there's nothing that says you have to follow them.  We call deliberately going after Gimmes to build up enough for some future purpose 'pumping up your Experience Dice.'

Fang Langford

¹ There are a number of elements that make up every Scattershot game you play.  A published GenEx presents these by example, but each has basic applications within the concept of Genre Expectations.  They are:
      These are the characters portrayed by the players. It's important to think beyond 'this is me'
    sometimes, because there's a small matter of having the other players interested in who your Persona is and what they're up to.  Without that, schisms and boredom ensue.[/list:u]
      These are what make the other characters interesting.  Characters that aren't Personae and who don't 'connect' to anything else in the game are either Background or Plot Devices.[/list:u]
      Call 'em arch-plots, subplots, 'plotlets,' or plot fragments, these are vague one-thing-after-another abstract series-of-events descriptions.  They don't tell you what to do; they tell you what 'has been done' in similar situations to suggest direction.[/list:u]
      This is the 'what is going on' of the game.  It's the orchestration of all the Props, Relationships, Personae, and Background that is the relevant 'playing area' of the game.  Play always addresses the Circumstances even if tangentially.[/list:u]
      In many ways the 'setting' of the game, this includes history and characters who have no relevant Relationships (the 'extras').[/list:u]
      These are game-relevant things that offer a character increased ability.[/list:u]
      Anything in 'da rules' that delineates what can be done within the specific Genre Expectation.[/list:u][/list:u][Edited to add emphases and an anchor.]
    Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!