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Storypunk: "Do you think you can tell?"

Started by Jonathan Walton, November 01, 2002, 07:49:54 PM

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Jonathan Walton

More good comments to respond to...

Quote from: talysmanI don't see what the problem is... combine them! drop everything from Q&C except that motivation to escape the mundane and put it into Storypunk, which needs a motivation to drive the game.

I guess my concern here is how to put the "escapism" theme into Storypunk any still have it be as meaningful as it was in Q&C.  To do this, I would have to limit characters to being people from the "real world" (or at least the story disguised as the real world).  I guess I may be clinging on to the "characters from story and myth" idea a little too strongly, but it was part of what drew me to Storypunk in the first place.  I suppose one solution might be to emphasize the character's ability to create roles for themselves within the stories they escape to.  This could be reoccuring roles that they could regain, as long as they were able to find the same (or a similar) story again.  That, for all intents and purposed, the character could secretly BE the Count of Monte Cristo's cousin Rembrandt, exiled in the "real world" when he felt that his home was really off in storyland.  It was just that no one else would believe him...

Quote from: Matt SnyderEach "story" or realm or whatever, has preconceived conflicts. By their own hacking (or the hacking of others, villains or otherwise), those conflicts might get thrown off. So, right there we've got the notion that a character has to deal with the conflict, or deal with the ramifications in that and subsequent "story worlds" if he doesn't.

I think you may have unintentially stumbled upon something rather cool here.  Get this:

Hacking stories damages them, making them more likely to "crash."

If the characters don't hack there way into stories, they will be forced to deal with the horrors of their real lives, or will be merely pushed to the periphery of a tale without being able to affect it in any way or really even take part in the action.  However, it is the hacking itself that damages stories.  After all, who wants to hear about the adventures of the Count of Monte Cristo's cousin Rembrandt?  No one.  By making yourself a part of the story you love, you are (in a Haroun-ian sense) polluting the story, destroying many of the things you love about it.

This would lead to both some interesting internal conflicts and some interesting social conditions among story hackers.  Also, as in Continuum, maybe the hackers native to a particular story would resist your attempts to make yourself the focal point of it.  Say if Captain Nemo hacked his way into your life and started taking over things and reshaping it as he saw fit, wouldn't you try to stop him?  After all, he'd be destroying YOUR story.

Maybe it would also be possible, with a ton of work, to hack a story to make it focus on yourself, and then stabalize it so it would continue to exist.  Maybe if the adventures of cousin Rembrandt ARE more interesting than the adventures of the Count, the story will still have enough strength to survive.  Maybe, in fact, the Count is not even the original hero of the story, but he hacked his way in just like you did.  You might even try to find the original hero and put him back into the story, unpolluting it and restoring it to its original glory.

Quote from: four willows weepingWhat if the characters ran around the web of stories, not just to keep themselves entertained, but because if they didn't keep them moving, the stories died? [snip] What happens when stories deeper down in your chain collapse?

Good question.  Personally, I envision story hacking not as a chain but as a tunnel.  You hack into one story, find a story within it, and then hack into that one.  It's like those cartoons where they keep opening doors to find more doors inside.

I can imagine what might happen if the story you were in crashed.  You'd fall back through all the stories you passed through and try to resolve them on the way out.  Think about the way 1001 Nights is structured.  Each of Shaharizaad's stories informs the story outside of it.  The lesson from one is applied to the meta-story situation.  So you'd basically be closing the doors, each in turn, as you fell out of the stories and back towards "reality."

Quote from: EXAMPLE0. You are studying for a Shakespeare final and enter King Lear.

1. Inside King Lear, the Fool tells you a story about another jester, Hop-Frog (an Edgar Allen Poe story).  You enter it.

2. To escape watching the horrific ending of Hop-Frog, you tell your own tale of a beach in Hawaii.  You enter it.

3. You dawdle too long on the Hawaiian beach, entranced by its warmth & beauty.  The story (being merely of your own creation) looses its strength and crashes.

-2. You fall back into Hop-Frog, witness the King and his ministers being burned alive and stay until the story ends.

-1. Lear's Fool finishes his tale and he is hanged.  Whatever role you have taken in the story is slaughtered.

0. Since your role has died, you are forced back into the reality of studying for your Shakespeare final, hopefully having learned something about Lear, but still missing the warmth of the beach.

However, I'm not sure what would happen if any of the middle doors closed before you could get out.  What if Hop-Frog's story was attacked while you were still at the beach?  Maybe that would force you back into the story that was collapsing, so that a longer story tunnel would leave you more open to being attack (since there would be more places to attack you).  Maybe a chief way of getting you "out of someone else's story" would be to attack a story lower on your chain/tunnel, to pull you back down the tube.

Just some thoughts.  What do people think?

QuoteAre the really skilled story-hackers, like Shaharizaad, traditionally adept at something in particular, like embedding stories deeply, or linking them together with patterns of inference and implied causality that makes all the stories in the pattern behave like one?

I'm not sure exactly what you mean by this.  Maybe my example will help clear up what I had in mind.  Are you suggesting that the connected stories might have a stronger influence on each other, to the point where they might be hacked together to become a larger story or have common elements?  I like the notion of hacking stories together to make new stories or a larger connected group, which might somehow provide more strength.  Still, this kinda goes against the hacking=pollution/damage theme I was developing earlier, unless only certain kinds of hacking damage stories.  Maybe arrogantly forcing the story to focus on you might be damaging, but subtly weaving the stories and connecting them together could actually have a positive effect.

QuoteWhat is to tell the hackers the expected longevity of a story?

I guess my original intention was to make this universally obvious as a metastory trait (i.e. "You can tell that the story you're in has enough strength to last for the next 15 minutes.").  Still, you're right that there ought to be more poetic ways of showing this.  Most stories would naturally have a beginning and an end, but if the characters didn't know the story very well, they wouldn't be likely to know what part of the story they had hacked into.  You might be able to tell just from the feel of events.  Was this this climax?  Did there seem to be a rising of tension?  Was everything being resolved as if things were nearing the conclusion?  I think the characters would have to discover these things by context.

Now if the story was crashing because they'd polluted/disrupted it through hacking, I the story might rush towards conclusion/collapse in a much different way.  In a Greek epic, there could be omens (a flock of crows gathers, a calf is born with 3 legs, etc).  In a suspense story, the characters might find themselves seperated from each other, easy prey for dark forces.  Again, most clues would be contextual, that bad things were soon to happen that would destroy the story and/or the characters roles within it.

QuoteHow much does the story impinge on the hacker?  How much of the hacker has to be defined?  I imagine that only what the hacker has defined for himself is what is constant - Rapunzel's hair was long, but what colour was it?  The Emperor had no clothes, but I guess everyone else did, or the story wouldn't be very clever...

Not much, truth be told.  The character's role only needs to be described so much as it matters to the story.  Additional detail could be added in play as it becomes relevant.  Actually, there could be some interesting mechanics like: "whatever traits the character introduces will eventually have some relevance to the story."  For instance, if the character notes that his role only has one eye, the background on how he lost that eye is sure to come up.  Makes for good story logic.

QuoteIs every cheap slasher flick a distinct story, or are they all the same story, with points where they branch and rejoin like poorly spun yarn?  What is a story like?  From outside it, can you smell it, taste it, touch it?  Is there a Sea of Stories?  What does it feel like when you step from one story to another?

Does this really need to be pre-determined?  I would think these kind of things could be developed as color, flavor fiction, or left in the hands of GMs and Players to develop themselves.  Maybe one group would want to explore the genre of slasher flicks in detail, calling to mind the subtle differences between them.  However, to another group that seems to travek only between larger genres, there might be a single slasher story that they revisit over and over again.  In fact, those kind of distinctions are most a matter of perspective in storydom.  If you focus very closely on a story, you can see the various threads that make it up and step into any one of them, but if you only focus on the big picture, you only see the main streams.

QuoteAre story hackers creatures of the Realm, or escapees themselves?

I don't think there are any creatures native to Story itself.  It would like being native to a place between Canada and the United States.  There is no such place.  You're either in one or the other.  In this sense, there is no external place called "Story," there are only the various tales that make it up.

Whoo!  A whole ton of good stuff there.  Keep it coming!  I really like the directions this project may be headed in.




Yep, it's me again with more random thoughts. I guess I am more fond o the Origin reality and stories as escape aspect. So, another idea I had, somewhat influenced by too many ST holodeck episodes, is that maybe powerful Storyhackers are able to take on the LEAD roles of stories. That is they have the power to take on the role of the Count Of Monte Cristo, or Sherlock Holmes, etc. Thus claiming a StoryRealm for themselves.

The advantage of this being that they have access to the entire story setting reality, and they have all the timespace not shown in the stories to do with as they please. I'm reminded of my favorite qoute from Rosencrantz And Guildenstern Are Dead. "An exit from one stage is an entrance on another."

Which brings up another point, maybe story hackers can take the character beyond what has been shown, the known story as it were. This is a VERY popular theme in SF/Fantasy writing. What happens to the character after his known story is done? This idea would tie into the Taking over a story by becoming the lead role of it, much like shown in lots of ST holodeck episodes.

So I guess you need to really narrow your focus and settle upon the nature of the Storypunk reality. It would seem there are many many "parallel" ideas with regards to stories and existing in stories and such. Perhaps you should create a number of parallel games, perhaps like Aetherco did with Continuum/Narcissist.

Anyway, I guess I will have to hear what you decide upon as the focus of the game, as there are many many different things ideas going on in the thread currently. Like I said, too many beginnings, not enough endings.

It is certainly a very rich idea for an RPG.

I look forward to hear what you decide.


Rob Muadib --  Kwisatz Haderach Of Wild Muse Games --   
"But How Can This Be? For He Is the Kwisatz Haderach!" --Alyia - Dune (The Movie - 1980)

Jonathan Walton

I'll respond to your suggestion in a minute Rob, but let me get out an idea that just hit me in the back of the head.  I always want my games to do too much, and this may be an instance of that, but anyway...

Vikings & Parole Officers

So, what if I make Storypunk GM-less, as well as Fortune-less?

No, don't run away.  Don't tear out your hair.  It could work.  Do you know about Robin Law's game Rune?  In it, players basically take turns being a kind of Dungeon Master, in the old-school D&D sense.  They spend points to construct obstacles and hazards for the group of Viking PCs.  Then, the Vikings run through the obstacle, with the DMing player's character taking a support role.  Then, the next player pulls out his obstacle, takes his turn as DM, and the Vikings splatter their way through that one.

Here's the kicker: DM's get bonus points if they succeed in thwarting the PCs.  We're talking GM advancement rules, here.  Revolutionary stuff, but in a very old-school hack-n-slash fashion.

So what does this have to do with Storypunk?

The core mechanic of Rune's GM-less turn-taking system is giving players an incentive to make life miserable for the other players, thus creating conflict that works.  Both sides gain advantages from the conflict, so neither side complains too much.

So, what if, in Storypunk, the players take turns acting as "parole officers" for each other?  Here's how this might work: the characters ride a train of stories until it crashes hard.  They fall back through storydom and into their Origins/reality.  Now, as per a predetermined, rotating order, each player is assigned to be the "parole officer" (new term needed) for another player's character.


To simplify things, let's say me and Shreyas are playing a two player game.  I serve as the PO for Shreyas' character, Daniel (a homeless man living on the streets of Boston), and he serves as the PO for my character, Kong Xun (one of the nameless peasants from "The Romance of Three Kingdoms").  My job, as Daniel's PO, is to give him hell.  Likewise, Shreyas will do the same for Kong Xun.

Shreyas has Daniel awaken in an alleyway.  I immediately declare that some punks have come by and decided to rough up Daniel for whatever he's got.  When a police officer happens by, the punks run off (having already taken everything) and the unsympathetic officer tells Daniel to "go get a job."  Basically, in this case, I'm acting as the GM for Shreyas, giving him crap to encourage him to want to leave his story as fast as he can.  Why do I do this?  Because the faster Shreyas can get Daniel out of his story, the sooner all the characters can get back into describing their adventures through storydom.

Once Daniel gets out, Shreyas becomes the PO for Kong Xun.  Turns out a battle was fought in his rice fields, destroying the young plants completely and spoiling the harvest.  Also, some warriors carried off the daughters of one of his cousins, who comes to Kong Xun asking for help.  And the village tax collector is getting impatient and threatening to report him to the county head.  Kong Xun better get the hell out of Dodge.


A game with a larger group would be even more fun.  It might be possible for the rest of the players to ALL serve as PO's for you, while you take your turn struggling in your Origin story.  Or you might just take turns, with players breaking off in pairs to deal with the "downtime" between hacking runs through story.

Again, there would be rewards for both sides in this conflict.  The characters would be struggling against the horrible story they want so badly to escape from, gaining something from defeating the forces and escaping, and the POs woud be rewarded if they make the characters want to leave ASAP, since the group portion of the game would resume more quickly.

This is a VERY rough system, since I just came up with the idea minutes ago.  Does it sounds workable?


Bob McNamee

Remind me of the "Beasts" (I forget the actual term used)
in Robert Heinlein's "The Number of the Beast"- which was about fictional characters meeting traveling to other stories etc...all while being pushed by some kind of heartless maniacal author
Bob McNamee
Indie-netgaming- Out of the ordinary on-line gaming!


If Jonathan doesn't mind ripping off the proto-Mondo 2000 (cyberpunk) magazine, he can call the game "Reality Hackers."

Mark Withers

StoryPunk sounds absolutely incredible! I really think you've hit on a very nice concept here, it's accessible but still very different.

I'm not sure that I have anything contructive to say, only that I'd love you to keep working on and updating the game.

I'm working on writing my own game at the moment, but as soon as StoryPunk gets fully playable I will grab some friends, give it a playtest and write an Actual Play report.

Keep it up!

P.S. I think it works better with a GM. Vikings and Parole Officers might be a little bit competitive for my liking.

Jonathan Walton

Quote from: RobMuadibSo, another idea I had, somewhat influenced by too many ST holodeck episodes, is that maybe powerful Storyhackers are able to take on the LEAD roles of stories. That is they have the power to take on the role of the Count Of Monte Cristo, or Sherlock Holmes, etc. Thus claiming a StoryRealm for themselves.

So, I've been spending a serious amount of time considering Rob's suggestion, because his point, I think, is a very valid one.  In truth, there's really two different ways of handling how characters manage to intrude into stories:

1.  Characters enter a new story as themselves, and have to create new roles within the boundaries of the story.

2.  Characters enter a new story by "possessing" existing characters, instantly becoming a part of the ongoing action.

Now, I could allow one specific type, or I could make them options.  However, this brings up other questions about the nature of story in Storypunk and how maleable stories are.  Here're a series of options:

A.  Stories are fixed entities.  Changing them results in polluting, damaging, or even destroying them.

B.  Stories are flexible, but fragile.  You can bend them slowly, making small changes to shift the story in another direction.  However, making large changes will cause effects similar to #A.

C.  Stories are tough and resiliant.  Any changes you make will most often get woven into the story itself, without causing any undo damage to the story.

D.  Stories are difficult to change, like a strong river of narrative flowing forcefully in a single direction.  However, once you impede the river's path, it can flow wildly out of control, going places you least expect.

E.  Stories are as changable and ephemeral as dreams.  So what if you completely alter a specific tale?  Someone else will simply come along later and alter it further.  Change is the natural way of things.

F.  Stories are fragile but infinite in number and variation.  So what if you destroy one version of Hamlet?  There are still hundreds of millions of versions out there, and you can't possibly destroy them all.  You can make all the small scale changes you want, but the big picture remains the same.

G.  Stories are.  Who cares if you walk into Hamlet and screw everything up?  Look inside your own memory.  Is the Hamlet there screwed up?  Well then, what are you whining about?  Stories are greater than any one person, and can't be harmed that easily.

Basically, both these questions have to do with how much players should be allowed to alter existing stories and what this means for stories in general.  Anyone want to share any thoughts on this subject?  Should I use a mixture of A-G, with major stories leaning towards G or F, with minor stories more resembling A, B, or E?  Once I figure that out, it should be easier to determine what roles characters should be allowed to take, since their degree of influence will be defined.

Also, not that many people seem excited about the "Parole Officer" idea.  Would it be better then to give players an incentive to take Author/Director stance and invent problems for their characters to deal with?  That might be more fair than giving temporary GM-like powers to other players.  Not sure how the mechanics for that might work, but it would probably involve Chains and a Torchbearer-like way of putting them into Crisis in order to alter them or advance as a character or get back to story hacking sooner.

Hopefully, I'll find some time to write up Storypunk v0.1 and get it on a webpage in the near future.  Until them, some continued discussion to help me nail down some of the remaining problems would be great.



I may not be suggesting anything new here... maybe it is taking Q&C and tacking it onto Storypunk, but...

What if you just loosened the use of "story" as a term?

If the "real world" is another story, aren't there an infinite number of potential stories that vary only slightly from the real world? Why not allow characters to hack into them?

There could be two types of transitions between stories: the Mundane and the Fantastic. In a Mundane transition, it isn't necessarily apparent that the story has changed. The change might be to a new story different from the old one only in theme or the introduction of a new character or event vaguely appropriate to the old setting. A Fantastic transition would involve shifting to a story wholly incompatible with what it was before (which could include a change in setting or a new character or event that is completely incompatible with the former story).

Frex, a character is from a story much like our own and gets thrown in jail. Afraid that this story will end poorly for him, he could shift into a Prison Break story. This would be a Mundane shift. Alternately, he could access the prison library and shift into a Fairy Tale that he read in a book there. If the Fairy Tale became uncomfortable, then he could perform a Mundane shift from it to a more pleasant version of it...

Basically, the mundane shifts would function much like Q&C. The Fantastic shifts would be more difficult (and possibly dangerous) in some way. The twist is that the mundane shifts could occur relative to ANY story... not depending upon one story being Real.

My very own">game design journal.

Jonathan Walton

Interesting suggestion.  That almost makes Storydom more like Shadow in Amber, where the travel of the Amberites allows for seamless shifting between the infinite possibilities embodied there.  It would be obvious to them that some parts of the story had changed, but to the natives of the various stories, their influence would be inperceptable because they'd simply be moving between different stories.  This would, most likely, make it harder to play on the idea of "polluting" or "damaging" stories, because the changes would only take place inside the travelers' perception.

As for your distiction between Mundane & Fantastic, it sounds vaguely similar to the distinction between Coincidental & Vulgar magick in Mage.  It would be possible for a dark crime drama to shift into a heroic jailbreak story, but less likely for it to turn into a Biblical parable.  I don't think the distiction is so much fantastical as having to do with suspension of disbelief.  People start reading a story with certain expectations, and, if you decide to diverge wildly, you break those expectations, to the point that you might as well be beginning a seperate story.  Not a bad issue to bring up.  The only concern I have with that kind of thing is that it would seem to allow characters control over their Origin story, which gives them fewer reasons to want to escape that story and go wander about Storydom.

Hmm, definitely some good points to consider.  I'm going to have so many options to play with when I try to finally nail this thing down :)  I'm excited, but somewhat intimidated by the desire to incorperate ALL of these suggestions.  Keep them coming, though!



Hmmm... hadn't thought of the Mage parallel (which is odd since I'm going to be playing it in a few hours).

What if it were Mage turned on its head, though? Instead of vulgar changes being the ones that backfire, the coincidental changes affect the story, but the story pushes back? (Vulgar changes wouldn't arouse such responses because they would involve new stories - not changes to old ones.)

Maybe it pushes the character out of the story - and into storydom? This could provide some motivation.

So... the time a character stays in any single story could be limited by the amount he monkeys with it. He might only be able to return to his home story for brief periods (or longer if he doesn't edit anything).

My very own">game design journal.

Jonathan Walton

What if we invert your suggestion yet again and say: instead of pushing you out of the story, making mundane changes draws you into the story, causing you to get caught up in the ongoing narrative.  This means, the more your influence a particular story, the harder it is to break out of that story later on (and you have to break out of the story into order to make any BIG changes).  So if you just want to hang on the periphery and hop from story to story, that's not too hard, but if you actually want to change the specifics and have interesting adventures (which is presumably why you've escaped from your Origin in the first place), you have to put some investment into the story itself.

This would be true in the character's Origin as well.  The more effort they put into changing their lives, the more investment they'd have in it and the harder it would be to escape.  This is almost the opposite of the "Chains" concept I was playing with earlier, but is somewhat similar in theme.



Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Quote from: RobMuadibSo, another idea I had, somewhat influenced by too many ST holodeck episodes, is that maybe powerful Storyhackers are able to take on the LEAD roles of stories. That is they have the power to take on the role of the Count Of Monte Cristo, or Sherlock Holmes, etc. Thus claiming a StoryRealm for themselves.

So, I've been spending a serious amount of time considering Rob's suggestion, because his point, I think, is a very valid one.  In truth, there's really two different ways of handling how characters manage to intrude into stories:

1.  Characters enter a new story as themselves, and have to create new roles within the boundaries of the story.

2.  Characters enter a new story by "possessing" existing characters, instantly becoming a part of the ongoing action.

Now, I could allow one specific type, or I could make them options.  

how about: character must enter a story first as themselves, then either make a major change to the story (creating a role for themselves) or find an existing role and merging with it, becoming the other character. you could make it easier for a character to change the story as one of the existing characters, but all the changes must be Mundane ones, to use slizard's idea. Fantastic changes are only available to characters who are "story outsiders".

I would also say that option G for story malleability is the best one. entering a story really doesn't affect the original story, it creates a duplicate that has the same inertia as the original. you then attempt to mold it to fit your needs... but if you damage this proto-story, it cannot exist as a story, and it crashes. it's like writing: you can draw inspiration from any story you wish, but if your alterations are done artlessly, your version cannot stand alone and will have no impact on culture as a whole.

as for the Parole officer idea, I think it relies on the concept of a "real" world, although you could assume that real worlds are relative to the character. it might be more interesting if "crashing" a story cuts characters loose into the void and they land in a random story. maybe the player to your left names your final destination and the player to your right specifies which "outsider role" you get stuck in?
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:

Jonathan Walton

Quote from: talysmanA character must enter a story first as themselves, then either make a major change to the story...

:)  I can see myself now, stealing Nobilis mechanics...

-- Lesser Changes of Story can yadda yadda
-- Major Changes of Story can yadda yadda

Seriously, the idea rocks, but I might refine it a bit.  Check this out:

Actor Stance (to be easily confused with the GNS term of the same name)

The character merges with an existing role in the story.  This has the following dangers and benefits:
    - Mixing of identity/loss of self to Role
    - Harder to get out of the Story
    - Actions limited by Story/Role norms (mundane changes)
    + Little danger of harming Story
    + A part of the Action!  You can affect the Story from the inside
    + Possibility of character advancement/change

Author Stance (also to be easily confused with the GNS term of the same name)

The character has no role in the story, existing only on the periphery.  This has the following dangers and benefits:
    - Can't really interact with the Story
    - Your "alien" actions damage the Story
    - No possibility of character advancement/change
    + You can alter the story in dramatic ways (non-mundane)
    + Easy to leave the Story, hopping to another one
    + You are safe from being caught up in or altered by the Story

And I suppose that puts the GM in Director Stance... :)  Funny how that works out.  Maybe I can have a core part of the mechanics be the characters switching back and forth from taking various Stances.

QuoteI would also say that option G for story malleability is the best one.

That's the one I was leaning to as well.  It came to me at the very end and was really an "all of the above" choice.  I like the idea of story variants always crashing, because they lack the strength of the original.  That makes the stories themselves permanent while still making any story you're in very fragile.

As for how to deal with "downtime," I'm still pondering that one.  In many ways, it depends on just how GM-less and Fortune-less I decide to make the game.  Hopefully, that stuff will become clearer as I begin to nail down concepts and mechanics.

The haze is definitely getting clearer...