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Fate - Miskatonic Mayhem - Flashbacks in Gaming

Started by iago, July 29, 2003, 12:33:24 AM

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I'm running a Fate game called Miskatonic Mayhem, basically a Buffy game set in Arkham at Miskatonic University, where the Mythos and the Buffyverse have been on a collision course over the run of the campaign (which finishes up with the next session).

I've been trying my hand at stretching my GM's muscles a fair bit with this game -- we've done musical montages, an episode where all but one of the PCs was off-screen (with the majority of players playing one-time NPCs), and each session has been deliberately structured like a television episode (teaser, credits, build up, showdown, denoument, closing credits).  I do a lot of third-person narration, and describe the movement of the camera explicitly, which has been quite nice for keeping the game firmly in the authorial/directorial segment of play.  The players are responsible for their own PCs, but they are also there as an audience for the "show" as a whole (my group doesn't suffer from IC/OOC separation issues).  Overally, I'm a sucker for trying to do things with a game that "you can't do".

This last session, I wanted to do something that I'd seen on a show before, but hadn't really experienced in play, either as a GM or player.  I wanted one of those "flashback episodes", where the characters know what they're doing and have been exploring the "story" linearly, but the viewers (who are the players and the GM here) don't entirely know what's going on until a series of informative flashbacks reveal what has been planned and plotted "off screen" up until "now".  Very tricky, but here's how I did it (or at least tried to).  There's very little about it that was Fate-specific, so you could probably adapt it to your own system however you like.

Fate uses (among other things) a metagame currency called "Fate Points", which are basically result-nudgers and coincidence-arrangers that the players can spend to take minor control of the story.  In order to emphasize a high churn and spend rate with Fate Points, I've house ruled in Mayhem that all FPs go away at the end of each session -- you get what you can build up over the course of the game, and it's use-or-lose from there.

In this session, I gave each person a single Fate Point at the start and told them it was all they were getting.  Once the game got started, a few rules were in effect:

* Whenever things were in the "present", no dialogue could occur.  They could describe actions and so forth, but explanations and interaction, really, could only happen in retrospect, during a flashback.

* Each player would get several opportunities to set up circumstances for future flashbacks while in the "present", where they should hint at putting something together, but not explicitly reveal what that was.

* As the game progressed, each player could spend their FP to "call for a flashback", in which they took over narration/the camera and went back to something that had been onscreen before, but went unexplained.  During a flashback, they could talk to other PCs and introduce NPCs, resources, and the like.

Thus, as the game moved forward, and complications arose in the storyline, they could "call for a flashback" and introduce something in the "past" that was "part of the plan all along", which would then show up in the "present".

Ultimately, though it had a few awkward skips and false starts, this idea played out pretty well.  There were at least a couple "okay, wait, let's summarize what's been revealed so far" or "okay, thing X that was said before has to be changed to Y, because that doesn't work with how things have played out now" -- but those were pretty scarce and largely front-loaded in the session.

Some favorite bits that came out of this:

* Conversations between the Slayer and her vampire ex-Slayer nemesis, the Lady, where in one flashback it was revealed that they were going to join up to attack an island in the middle of the river -- and another flashback where the Slayer dropped a stick of lit dynamite into the Lady's lap, just because she could (part of the same conversation -- interestingly, the dynamite bit was flashbacked before the joining up bit -- very Pulp Fiction in a way).

* Our "Zeppo" character hooking up with, for all intents and purposes, the town's version of the grizzled old shark hunter from Jaws and his two sons -- he kept spending his flashbacks to treat these guys as his aces in the hole for a number of plot points -- including acquisition of speedboats, underwater spear guns, and a "I've got your back" moment right before the cliffhanger at the end.

* Everyone loading up a bunch of boxes into the Goth character's hearse, mainly so they could pull whatever they needed to out of the boxes through carefully timed flashbacks over the course of the game.  This included broadcasting webcams on the backs of little remote control submarines, which used a flash attachment to blind the fish-men during an underwater fight, and inflating pontoons on the hearse that allowed them to drive it across the river to the island.

Overall, this method also allowed everyone's characters to look like they were cool and smart and "thought of things" in ways that you see characters do on TV shows and movies, but which is awful difficult for players themselves to pull off in tabletop gaming.  It was a bit brain-bending, though, and I wouldn't have tried it with "just any" play group, and it's definitely not a way to run every game session, unless you're real eager to try to pull off Memento: The RPG (which, some day, I might be, as it's one of those Impossible Things that I want to try to do).

Mike Holmes

Heh, we did something similar in a Universalis demo at GenCon. The scene started out on a battlefield post battle with a sole character trudging through the snow. After some stuff got established, someone decided to do a flashback mini-scene to establish what the battle had been about. That closed, and we continued with the original scene, again advancing things a bit. Then another player re-opened the mini-scene, and advanced the flashback a bit. Then close, back to the present to advance some more.

Well, play got to my turn in the present finally, and I saw that we could tell the entire story like this for the demo. So I did the same thing, and suggested that we keep doing so. I think we did a total of five flashbacks in the course of establishing the story in total.

So, not quite the "flashback episode" but definitely that sort of presentation that you occasinally see, like in CSI where the prior story is unveiled as the present story progresses. Fun stuff. I can only recommend it.

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joshua neff

If you recall, Mike, we also did something like that with Universalis here in Milwaukee when we did that two-session Universalis game that began with the last scene (where my character was shot through the head & died) & then flashed back to explain how my character & Julie's met & what led to my character dying.

That sounds really interesting, iago. Thanks for posting that.

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes


Quote from: joshua neffIf you recall, Mike, we also did something like that with Universalis here in Milwaukee when we did that two-session Universalis game that began with the last scene (where my character was shot through the head & died) & then flashed back to explain how my character & Julie's met & what led to my character dying.

That sounds really interesting, iago. Thanks for posting that.

My pleasure.  Same back atcha; I like the whole "Your character is dead. Now figure out why." gig.