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Author Topic: Ever-After: Back on the Front Burner  (Read 3157 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« on: July 27, 2003, 12:50:33 PM »

Been working on the playtest version of Argonauts, but Ever-After keeps jumping to my frontal lobes and demanding attention.  If you want info on the project's development so far check out http://1001.indie-rpgs.com/ever-after.html, which has links to all the previous threads.  You shouldn't need it though, if you're just skimming.

New Conceptualization

The PCs of Ever-After are called "Masquers."  A group of Masquers is called a "Troupe."  Together, a Troupe tells stories.

The Masquers have no identity outside of the roles they create for themselves in stories.  These roles are called "Masks."  Without any Masks, a Masquer is simply a blank slate, a chunk of unformed primordial clay.  Or, at least, that's what most people would have you believe.

Most (if not all) Masquers have a Primary Mask that defines their identity and names them.  For instance, the example Troupe is made up of Scheherazade, Monkey, Persephone, and Anansi.  Those are simply the Primary Masks that give the Masquers some sort of basic identity.  Even outside of the stories they tell, most Masquers find it most comfortable to have Primary Masks between them.  So Scheherazade is still Scheherazade whether she's in a story or not.

Or course, most Masquers are likely to have at least another half-dozen additional Masks in addition to their Primary one.  Scheherazade, for instance, might have the Masks "Muse," "A Mystery Beneath the Surface," "Baghdad," "Bloody Tears," and "Journey by Night."  These Masks are given Secondary or Tertiary status, but as long as she carries them around with her, they too help form the basis of her identity.

Additionally, while Masquers are involved in storymaking, they will likely take on up to a dozen temporary Masks that only last for the length of the story.  After all, they may have to become spacemen or enchanted forests or gumshoe detectives or hurricanes in order to tell the stories they want to.

In between stories, Masquers have the ability to "juggle" their Masks, changing their identity by switching temporary Masks with Secondary or Tertiary ones, or even (in extreme cases) switching their Primary Masks with a Secondary one.  In this way, the core of who a Masqer is changes over time, reflecting who they've been and the roles they've played.

Mechanical Conceptualization

The currency of storymaking is measured in "Drops."  Drops of what?  Blood, sweat, and tears.  The yearning of the Masquer to become something.  Masquers are artists and storytellers.  If you weren't willing to give up Drops of your being in order for stories to come alive, you wouldn't have become a Masquer.

Nothing exists without sacrifice.  A Mask is defined as anything that has been invested with Drops.  If an idea or concept has at least one Drop devoted to it, it's a Mask.  Mechanically, this is simple.  While any Masquer can say, "There is a Princess in the land of Syria," no one can become that character until someone writes Princess of Syria on a notecard and puts one or more Drops on it (represented by stones).  Once they do that, a Mask has been created and anyone who posesses is the Princess of Syria (in addition to whatever other identities they posess).  This holds true for all Masks.

Anything with Drops is a Mask, but the Mask is only a channel through which the liquid of story is poured.  Drops invested in a Mask are spent to use that Mask in storymaking.  However, Masquers should be careful about spending the last Drop on a Mask, for that will end in the Mask's destruction.  The same Mask can not be recreated once it has been destroyed.  Similar ideas can arise, but never totally replace what was lost.

Spent Drops return to the common pool that the Troupe must share.  In this way, creating story feeds the futher creation of story, as it should be.  Different Troups have different methods of redistributing Drops to be reinvested.  Several time-tested methods will be given, but Troupes are always encouraged to experiment and find a solution that suits them.

Permanent Masks, such as the Primary, Secondary, and Tertiary ones that form the PCs identities, are always a constant drain on the Troupe's resources.  Since at least one Drop has to be kept invested in each permanent Mask, more Permanent Masks means less Drops in the common pool (and therefore less Drops moving around to create story).  However, as the Troupe tells more and more stories, they will slowly increase their allotment of Drops, allowing more complex stories and more complex personal identities to develop.  However, mismanagement and botched stories can also loose the Troupe Drops.

Thoughts?

That's the direction I've been heading lately.  It's a little simpler and more open-ended than previous incarnations, but I like it.  It allows people who like simplicity to keep the game very basic, but long-running, experienced Troupes can come up with complex relationships, characters, and stories that create a more involved experience.  Those of you who were familiar with the Masks, Themes, Duties, and Names of previous incarnations will find that they are all Masks now.  This is a lesson I learned from Shreyas, perhaps.  Things that are mechanically the same can be conceptually the same.  I didn't really talk about the issue of how a given Mask's effectiveness is determined, but I'll tackle that in a minute.  Anybody see any red flags so far?
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permacultureguerilla
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« Reply #1 on: July 27, 2003, 02:34:10 PM »

This is pretty amazing. I have some tiny qualms already, though. (1) The word Troupe sounds too militant to me. Anything more mystical? Flamboyant?
If you've grown attached to the word, I won't pry.

I still don't quite understand the redistrobution of Drops. When a Mask breaks, does it kind of explode with its drops into the pool? And each Masquer has a different way of syphoning Drops from the pool? "Nothing comes without Sacrifice" that sounds like a perfect phrase you should use in your game.

I also didn't quite get down identity. Does the Masks I wear get affected by identity? Because it feels more interesting if I'm somehow an element of the game that isn't commonly reproduced. Like, for a time, I can create any Mask, but it has to do with nature. Or even something more elaborate. Call it a "negative" Drop or something.

I am trying to make a system I call a word based game, and this is giving me some amazing ideas already. Because I'm trying to form a bunch of words that act as the mechanic. Like Merits & Flaws by itself. Instead of giving character a status of questions to answer, a character would buy "strong punch" or buy "quick leaping" and gain money back with flaws, naturally. I also wanted to add things like "forest" and "canyon" for producing the game. In terms of Masques a character could actually buy "forest" or "canyon" in addition. I'm naturally using a regular character party scenario, just drawing a parallel.

And what makes the Masquer motivated to succeed at something in the story it creates? Does achieving Valor give you a drop to put Valor elsewhere? Does it automatically melt into a generic Drop, or is it difficult to "boil" Drops and sometimes better to use it on something similar?

I think that's where you were describing difference between Primary and temporary. I may be a little lost, so I hope I haven't asked what you've already answered.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #2 on: July 27, 2003, 03:11:00 PM »

Thanks for your thoughts.  Let me see if I can clarify a bit.

Our buddy Webster gives the definition of troupe as being "COMPANY, TROOP; especially : a group of theatrical performers."  And it's the latter definition that I was going for, as in a theatrical troupe.  But I also wanted the military connotations, because a Troupe is, in a sense, a unit that has to depend on each other and work together whether they like each other or not.  More like a family or business relationship or, indeed, a military unit.

Quote
I still don't quite understand the redistrobution of Drops. When a Mask breaks, does it kind of explode with its drops into the pool? And each Masquer has a different way of syphoning Drops from the pool?


I guess I didn't really summerize that well.  Masks are only destroyed when the last Drop on them is spent.  So when they "break," there are no longer any Drops to go back into the pool.  Spent Drops, however, do go into the pool and are distributed back to the players using one of several methods.  Commonly, one player is put in charge of redistribution and, every so often, scoops up the pool and deals the Drops back out, going around in a circle.  The players then reinvest those Drops in their Masks.  So you spend a whole bunch of Drops to do things, and then they get distributed back to you so you never run out.  The redistribution, however, makes sure that any one person doesn't dominate the game.  If you spend a bunch of Drops real quick, you'll probably only get a few back.  Quiet players will slowly gain a large number of Drops, prompting them to do something.

Quote
I also didn't quite get down identity.


Another place I wasn't clear.  There is no real "thing" that is designated as the PC's identity.  All the Masks that a PC carries at any moment make up who they are.  It's simply that the ones s/he's carried longer are more critical to their being than the ones they just picked up for a brief story.  I haven't quite gotten the whole "juggling" thing down in stone yet, where some Masks are designated Primary/Secondary/Tertiary and the rest are just Peripheral Masks.

Quote
And what makes the Masquer motivated to succeed at something in the story it creates?


Nothing.  They don't necessarily want to "succeed" if that's not what makes the best story.  Motivation is in staying true to your Masks and creating the tales that you want to create.  See Universalis for more of this type of thing.  Also, the chief motivation in Ever-After is that, by being involved in stories, you develop who you are.  By taking on these Masks, you can make them a part of yourself.

Hope that clear some stuff up.  I'll be glad to offer thoughts on your game concept too, but I'm kinda running out the door right now.  Maybe later tonight.
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #3 on: July 28, 2003, 11:38:09 AM »

I worry that you've gone through so many major revisions. I mean, I'm impressed that you can crank this stuff out, but so many core elements change on each iteration, that I wonder if you're ever going to settle on something. Is this it? Is this the one that's going to make it (after some fine tuning)? I'm really hoping so.

Mike
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #4 on: July 28, 2003, 02:14:48 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
Is this it? Is this the one that's going to make it (after some fine tuning)? I'm really hoping so.


Honestly, I'm hoping so too, and I think it fares a much better chance than previous incarnations.  Unlike Argonauts and Vespertine, which are fun projects but not things that I'm going to let sit around for too long, Ever-After is my baby and I want to do it right.  So far, that's meant letting it seep for a while.  Still, every incarnation has moved it closer towards what I've always wanted it to be.  It's like the stonecutter chipping away everything that isn't the sculpture.  But I feel close.  Really close.  Like "I'll-hand-you-a-hardcopy-at-GenCon-next-year" kind of close.  Once I get the playtest version of Argonauts done, I'm planning to write up all the mechanics of Ever-After so that it can be playtested too.  Eventually, I want to do the rules in a narrative format, but that can wait for a bit.  But I feel pretty clearly now that I need to get Argonauts, Ever-After, and a revised/expanded version of Vespertine out the door before taking on any other projects.  So the endless revisions are going to stop soon.  Does that answer your concerns, Mike?
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Mike Holmes
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« Reply #5 on: July 29, 2003, 08:05:21 AM »

Quote from: Jonathan Walton
Does that answer your concerns, Mike?
Yes, very much so. What's the next step here?

Mike
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #6 on: July 29, 2003, 02:56:26 PM »

I'd like to know a little bit more about Masks, actually.  It seems that if you're conflating Duties with rights over descriptive elements, then you're implying a Universalis-like Gimmick mechanic where a twist in the rules can be defined as a Mask, and Drops can be spent invoking it.  This isn't bad, but it's significantly different from the other uses of Masks, and you'll want to consider its scope carefully.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #7 on: July 29, 2003, 03:54:07 PM »

Quote from: Mike Holmes
What's the next step here?


Well, a couple things need a bit more development.  Recently, I've be considering how to have players organize their Masks and what this means mechanically and conceptionally.  Should there be a limit to the number of Masks (or Permanent Masks) that players can carry?  Or should it just be limited by the Troupe's resources (more Drops means the potential for more Masks)?  If a player has "Scheherazade" as his primary Mask, does that mean it should be mechanically easier for them to be Scheherazade in the story?  Perhaps you could utilize Primary Masks for free, without spending Drops?

Quote from: Shreyas Sampat
I'd like to know a little bit more about Masks, actually.


Masks represent a little bit of control over the game.  This can be in-story or out-of-story control, or even both.  Masks can potentially do anything, limited only by the social contract.  Think of them sorta like Estates in Nobilis, which totally vary based on how broadly and creatively they are interpreted.  For instance, the player holding the Mask of "Storms" might suggest that she has the authority to resolve inter-player disputes, since they are "storms" in the players relationships.  Whether the other players allow her to exercise this control is another matter.

I'm trying to decide the point in the game process where the exact scope of a given Mask is negotiated, but I'm not sure yet.  Temporary Masks, I think, are fine just as they are, since even abusive ones will be gone by the end of the story and the players can agree not to make similar ones later on.  But Masks that keep showing up will need to have their scope adjusted, perhaps multiple times, until people are comfortable and some kind of balance seems to exist.  I guess if a player decides to keep a temporary Mask, the scope can be discussed then, before the next story starts.

What do you think?  Does that make sense?  Is it too abstract for players to grasp, even with examples?
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MathiasJack
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« Reply #8 on: August 02, 2003, 03:01:18 AM »

Since I read threads haphazardly at work in the middle of the night, I can best be at times rather thick. But in having read previous incarnations of Ever-After, and agreeing with you that this present manifestation feels closer to what you have been grokking for, I have a question.

Have you comprized masks, duties, and themes all into one thing now, Masks?

If yes, as I grasp it, this works in a brilliantly simplistic way. If not, then I reiterate the word thick.

I like the idea of Primary Masks leaking through to what ever role you are playing at the moment. It is like any character you are playing becomes an Avatar for the Primary Mask. This would definitely work mechanically if Primary Masks were utilized for free. Maybe a Primary Mask happens over time with an investment of Drops, possibly using a democratic mechanic to ensure that Primary Masks are supported by the Troupe as a whole.

Question then on Masks: If I have, say, a Mask of George, as my Primary Mask, what traits/abilities/whathaveyou does that give me? Following Estates from Nobolis, I could themetically see that I have some type of "power" over all people named George; stretch that to having some type of say in challenges, combat and stories dealing with Dragons; include Georgie Porgie, and you have some ability in being an effeminate ladie's man, maybe having some say in love triangles and wooing. Wow, I actually think I came up with some good ideas on a Mask I thought would be bland.

But for what I was attempting, a Primary Mask with a very limited interpretation, would I want to trade it in for a Primary Mask with broader scope? Or could Masks develop descriptors over play? I think you see the entire Masker reinterpreted with each and every mask they have and use. But could a Permanent Mask also develop, say, Titles, rather than take on a whole new mask?

I get excited each time you give us an update. Thanks for the inspiration, Jonathan.
Jack
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Mathias the Jack
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #9 on: August 02, 2003, 11:10:15 AM »

Quote from: MathiasJack
Have you comprized masks, duties, and themes all into one thing now, Masks?


Yes.

Quote
Maybe a Primary Mask happens over time with an investment of Drops...


This was actually something I was considering.  Maybe permanent Drops require an additional investment.  For instance, maybe your Primary Mask can never drop below 3 Drops, without losing its Primary status.  So certain Masks could be given certain special traits (like Primary Masks being used for free), but they'd also tie up additional Drops and keep them from circulating.  More on this as it develops.

Quote
If I have, say, a Mask of George, as my Primary Mask, what traits/abilities/whathaveyou does that give me?


I don't think "George" is really enough information for a Mask.  You need a little bit more like "St. George" or "King George" or "George the Butcher."  Names like "Monkey" and "Scheherazade" can be enough if they represent characters or archetypes that are well-known.  If "George" started out being a temporary Mask that was created for a specific story, you'd already know a ton about George.  Maybe he's a swashbuckling pirate.  Maybe he died at the hands of his youngest sister.  Whatever.  In fact, I'm thinking that all Masks have to be aquired through play, so no Mask is simply going to appear without connotations.  They all start out as fragments of a story that are pieced together to form the identity of a Masquer.  So you really do pick and choose the bits of story you like to form your own story.

Quote
Or could Masks develop descriptors over play?


Good question.  I think there are three possible options here.  Tell me which ones sound more appealing.

1. Masks can evolve into broader or more specific instances of themselves (very much like Words in In Nomine). The Mask of Torches could become the Mask of Fire or the Mask of the Olympic Torch.

2. Masks don't change, only people's interpretations of them.  So, the Mask of Torches could influence all fires, but it would still be the Mask of Torches.  Perhaps this means that all fires controlled by the Mask take on torch-like qualities.  Who knows.

3. Masks and interpretations don't change.  You have to ditch old Masks for new ones, shedding your identity like a snake or butterfly, transforming.

Personally, I'm more inclined to go with 2 or 3 rather than 1.  I especially like 3, I think, because these are Masks, concrete representations.  Estates (in Nobilis) and Words (in In Nomine) are abstract concepts, so it makes sense that they are fluid.  Masks, on the other hand, may have to be replaced and not altered.  Does that make sense?
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MathiasJack
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« Reply #10 on: August 07, 2003, 09:14:10 AM »

I agree that option 3 makes the most sense when thinking of sleek mechanics. My only questions are, if I started out with the rather bland Mask of George in a specific story with it's very specific interpretation - what's to limit from immediately taking on broader interpretetations when playing?

And/or when the masquer wishes for the Mask to change, say from generic Mask of George to Mask of St. George, does the masquer simply state so and apply the apporopiate mechanic, or does the themes of St. George need to occur in-game before the Mask of George can be let go?

Hopefully those questions are clear :)
Jack
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Mathias the Jack
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Shreyas Sampat
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« Reply #11 on: August 07, 2003, 09:58:08 AM »

Second vote for 3, with the caveat that interpretations are going to change every time a Mask influences play; there is no way around that. But it makes more sense to replace a mask that has changed significantly than it does to try and 'convert' an old mask, in my mind.
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #12 on: August 07, 2003, 02:51:13 PM »

Quote from: MathiasJack
My only questions are, if I started out with the rather bland Mask of George in a specific story with it's very specific interpretation - what's to limit from immediately taking on broader interpretetations when playing?


Shreyas is right that a Mask's intrerpretation will naturally develop with the story.

EX:

Once upon a time there was a guy named Bob.

You have the Mask, BOB, and interpret BOB to be equivilent to "some guy."

Bob had a sister named Gertrude.

Now you might have two Masks, BOB and GERTRUDE. Or maybe Gertrude is just part of BOB's interpretation, such that BOB is now the equivilent of "some guy with a sister named Gertrude."

/EX

You're only talking about a new Mask when interpretations of a Mask become self-contradictory.  For instance, if you want to use GEORGE (who we know to be a mild-mannered accountant) to pick up a sword and fight dragons, you're really overstepping the limits of what GEORGE is able to do, based on what he's previously been defined to be.  You need a new Mask called ST. GEORGE, which is actually completely different from GEORGE, the only similarity being their names.  Just imagine if GEORGE were named MATT.  Would you try to use MATT to fight dragons?  Probably not.  However, if the group had come to the understanding that GEORGE was shorthand for "the archetype of St. George, which happens to manifest oddly as a mild mannered accountant sometimes" you'd be home free.

Part of what this gets at, I think, is the nature of Masks.  When broadly interpreted, Masks represent themes in the narrative.  "People named George" is not really a proper theme, whereas "angry young men" is a theme.  As far as we know, George the Accountant and George the Dragon-Killer have nothing in common, thematically.  Does that make things clearer?  It was a stream-of-consciousness reply, but I hope it helped.

Quote
And/or when the masquer wishes for the Mask to change, say from generic Mask of George to Mask of St. George, does the masquer simply state so and apply the apporopiate mechanic, or does the themes of St. George need to occur in-game before the Mask of George can be let go?


Aha!  A chicken-and-egg question about Masks and manifestations of Masks!  Here's two examples that are both possible:

Instance-Before-Mask
Step 1A. Someone narrates, "In a building in Soho lives George the mild-mannered accountant."
Step 1B.  A player invests some Drops in George, creating the Mask, GEORGE.

Mask-Before-Instance
Step 1B. A player invests some Drops to create the Mask, GEORGE THE ACCOUNTANT.
Step 2B. The same player spends some George-flavored Drops (the ones that were just invested in GEORGE) to make George do something within the narrative (say something, drive to work, take another character out to dinner, whatever).

Quote from: Shreyas Sampat
But it makes more sense to replace a mask that has changed significantly than it does to try and 'convert' an old mask, in my mind.


So do you think the self-contradiction and theme guidelines that I gave above make it clear when you need a new Mask and when you're just expanding on what you know of an existing one?
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