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Many players, only one character...

Started by c_stone_bush, October 10, 2003, 03:43:37 PM

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Has anyone though about how (and if) a game would work if all the players were controling the actions of a single main character? I stumbled across this idea when trying to think "outside the box" yesterday. Any ideas on how you could achieve this? Heres a sample of one idea:

One player creates both the main character and setting, and then begins narrating the story to the other players. The narrator controls everything that hapens in the story (the PC, NPC's, etc), until one (or more) of the other players decides that they want something different to happen from what the current narrator has just said. Play then stops as the players discuss what each of them wants to happen at this point in the story. A vote of some kind is taken, and the winner of the vote states what will happen next. But now for a twist, the winner of the vote has to choose someone other then himself/herself to take over as the narrator. Play now picks up again where the last narraor left off, continuing until someone decides to change the story again.

Example: The players are playing a typical fantasy dungeon crawl adventure with a generic fighter as the main character. Player A narrates that after turning left at a fork in the tunnel the fighter is at the opening to a large cave, in which an ogre sits, his back to the fighter, tending a large fire. Player B says "I want to shoot the ogre with our crossbow!", Player C says "Lets carefully sneak in and look around to make sure that there aren't any more ogres around.", and Player D says "I don't like this, lets go down the right fork." After taking a vote Player B wins, stating that the fighter will shoot the ogre with his crossbow. Player B then nominates Player D to continue the story. The narrator (now Player D) tells the group how the bolt hits the ogre in the right shoulder, spinning him into the fire. Roaring in pain the ogre slowly scrabbles out, as more creature begin to emerge from previously unseen openings into the cave. This is obviously not what Player B wanted to have happen.

By not letting the player who won the vote narrate their own decisions, I have hopefully created a sense of the unknown. No one knows exactly where the story will go next, since everyone has different ideas and will interpert everyone elses ideas differently. I am thinking about maybe incorperating a bidding system into this idea. The player who bets the most tokens at decision time chooses what will happen next, and wins all the tokens used in that round of betting (to be used later in an as of now unknown way). The person who bet the fewest tokens however becomes the narrator, carrying the story along until another bidding round happens. What do people think of this idea? Or are there any other takes on the single character/multiple player concept?

Ron Edwards


Here are a couple of threads from days past that you'll find interesting.

Dwayne's Voices
Metagame theory and roles, especially a few posts into the thread

Reminds me that I ought to dust off those rules-notes for "M'iko" and post them some day.


Mike Holmes

In a similar vein, though not quite the same, is The Hero Emergent:

Single protagonist, multiple supporting characters of variable importance.

Chris's idea also bears some to the "Exquisite Corpse" idea, but a democratic version, as opposed to the usuall surprise.

Add in the bidding, and you have something very similar to Universalis in many ways.

Big question. How long does someone have to wait before interrupting the narrator with a "change"? If we decide that a character named Bob goes fishing, and you narrate, "Well, Bob goes fishing, and.." can I interrupt with a change right there? Or before?

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Crud, here I thought I was being original with my "new" idea. Oh well, there is never anything new, just something old looked at in a new way, right? Anyway Mike, I thought a little bit more about the bidding process, and when the interruptions can happen and decided on this:

When the players get to the gaming session, each of them should have at least one 3x5 card on which they have written up basic info about a main character, a setting for that character, and the start of a story involving that character. Also each player should have about 10 tokens (the tokens should be small enough that you can easily conceal several of them in your hand). After each player has presented one story idea to the group, the players decide which story they want to play in the following manner. Each player secretly divides his/her tokens into a number of piles equal to the number of story ideas presented. These piles can contain any number of tokens, including zero. The more tokens you give an idea, the more you want to play out that particular story. After everyone is finished assigning token to a story, you reveal your piles and total the number of tokens that each story idea recieved. The story with the highest number of tokens is the one that will be played. The player who's idea recieved the least number of tokens will start out as the Narrator. Evenly redristribute the tokens again and play begins.

The narrator tells the story, controling everything in the game world, including the main character. When he/she reaches an obvious point in the tale where there are a number of options open to the main character, play stops and a round of bidding starts. Each player secretly decides what they want the main character to do, and conceals a number of tokens in their hand. Then the tokens are revealed all at once, and the winning bidder states what the main character will do, and collects all of the tokens used in that bidding round. The player who bid the least number of tokens then takes over as the narrator.

At any time a player may interrupt the narrator with a change in the story, so long as that change is not directly about the main character. To do this they conceal a number of tokens in their hand, hold it over the table, and state what they want changed. The other players then have the option to do likewise. The tokens are revealed, the player who bid the most has the story changed to fit his/her taste, and the player with the least number of tokens collects all the tokens used in that round. In this case the narrating player continues being the narrator.

In this way the players can influence both the main character, and the game world in different ways. The player who wins the bidding round when deciding on a course of action for the main character will have a larger number of tokens then the other players, and therefore a larger impact on what happens in the game world. However to use this game influencing power, they have to give up their tokens, thus ensuring that no one player will dominate the course of the game.

What do you think? Am I making everything clear?


That actually feels like an interesting inversion of, and related to, something I came up with this summer - my first round entry (and that round's winner) in the Iron Game Designer contest at Origins.  (A fabulous contest, BTW... one hour to design a complete RPG - or as much so as you can - based on a secret ingredient.  I heartily commend it to all here; I'm sure they'll be repeating it next year.)

In this case, my concept had to do with a Renaissance mock-Italian city, a lot of intrigue and betrayal, etc... but the central mechanic was not a success mechanic, it was a personality mechanic.  Each player generated their character twice, once as a hero, once as a villain.  The external appearance and relationships had to be the same, but the motivations were to be completely twisted.  During play, one of the two sides would see play at any given moment, and the key mechanic concerned at what points the world would 'tip' and each character would have a chance of switching personae behind the scenes.

Now, in that case, I was looking at one player playing (essentially) two PCs in one body, but the same kind of techniques might work for your stuff.  Perhaps the core story (protagonist's description, setting and situation, but no moral or ethical content for the protagonist, only occupational/physical layer data allowed) would be established as you suggest, but then each player generates a 'mind' for this PC, using a different - preferably somewhat contradictory, such as might happen if they were drawing adjectives from a common pool - mindset, ethical and moral foundation, and set of goals.  Then the mechanic (triggered, perhaps, at any significant decision point, or per interruption/resource expenditure) would govern who is making the decisions for this person at any given time.

You could also get an interesting double tradeoff if the roles of "GM" (random NPCs and so on) and "PC" both changed hands variously, using different modes.  Or a fascinating story generated by two such multifaceted characters interacting with one another, each trading hands periodically.

Come to think of it, this concept bears a great resemblance to Interactives Ink's absolutely amazing board game Hamlet, where the players guide the actions of the cast of the eponymous play in funny and often startling (and fatal!) directions.  If you're interested in the idea of having multiple players guiding a single character, you could do a whole lot worse than to pick up this game and play it a few times.

- Eric

Mike Holmes

Oh, this is JIST! :-)

I didn't know you were talking about the same thing. The only comment is that I see a lot of potential for players to be dissapointed with the narrator's choices. In fact, being the Narrator seems waaay more powerful than getting to decide the direction.

Director: Cowboy Bob will go to the Corral.

Narrator: Cowboy heads for the edge of town to get a horse from the corral.

Director: wait, wait, I meant the saloon called the Corral, not the actual corral.

I mean, aside from accidents, there's intentional twisting:

Director: at the corral, Bob kicks some ass.

Player: OK, Bob sees a doggy go by, and kicks it meanly. Then some guys come over and kick his ass.

Director: waitaminute!

I mean, how can the other players keep the narrator from basically doing whatever he wants?

In Universalis, we have the Challenge mechanic, something of which might work for you. Basically, if a player doesn't like something narrated, they can Challenge it, and there's a process for determining who is "right". What this does in play, rather than causing constant Challenges, is to inform players that they have to respect the will of the declaring players in order to avoid possible punishment.

Now, that might be a bit too draconian for your vision, but just what does a player with a gripe do? Keep quiet? Or can they pipe up? If they have to keep quiet, I think that you'll see loads of players angling for the narrator position, rather than getting the bids. Hmmm. You could reverse that (low gets to decide, high becomes narrator).

Anyhow, you haven't answered the other post in IGD. Which has some important questions.

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David "Czar Fnord" Artman

QuoteIron Game Designer contest at Origins. (A fabulous contest, BTW... one hour to design a complete RPG - or as much so as you can - based on a secret ingredient.)

Very cool idea... anyone game to try this here? Annouce the game and ingredient in a post, and tell folks what time to start posting submissions. Give 'em a day instead of an hour, though.

What sort of secret ingredients would be appropriate? I should think we wouldn't want a setting element--then any system could be cobbled onto it--but rather an aspect of game play, mechanics, or "metagame" (like this thread's notion of one character, many players).

Off topic, but sounds cool!


On topic, now... I think the bidding is a bit slow, and could be too susceptable to gamist play or become "overdoggy": once a player gets a token advantage, he or she can maintain it too easily.

How about one of these:
* Cut cards: high card takes control, but can't participate in the next cut.
* Rather than accumulating tokens with winning/losing bids, players instead reward tokens to each other for "cool" narration. Tokens are used to bid for control and are lost when bid. And "Experience" rewards could be tokens granted for use during the next session.
* Tarot deck? Cut from the minor arcana to gain control: high cut wins, but use the interpretation of the winning card--upright or reversed--to adjust the desired outcome or guide the narration of the winner. (Sounds like Everway.)
* Bribing: When someone wants to take control, they have to gain a majority vote from all participants, ideally by bribing the others with a vote in their favor later, ordering pizza, getting another round of drinks, whatever. This works particularly well if the game is likely to be something played to pass time at a bar.

Another thing to consider, that has been hinted at with others' posts: time of control.
* Fixed: ten minutes, ten assertions of narrative content, etc.
* Based on success level: a minute or narrative element per token, winning vote, differential between highest and lowest cut card, etc.
* Freeform: using one of the bid systems, if someone jumps in to bid again immediately, a win could be countered immediately... or not countered until a critical stage.

Neat thread! Such a game would be great for "pick up" play, since the character is not relevant, really. A gaming group needn't be concerned if someone can't play a session, since that player would not be complicating an on-going storyline by depriving the game of a character.
If you liked this post, you'll love... GLASS: Generic Live Action Simulation System - System Test Document v1.1(beta)

M. J. Young

There is a recurring Iron Game Design thread; it is strictly limited in how often it can be run, and someone (is it Mike or Ralph or someone else?) is in charge.

It was done over on Gaming Outpost quite a few years back, and revived here last year sometime.

--M. J. Young

Mike Holmes

I'm in charge of Iron Game Chef, MJ. And it's nearing time for a new one. But, in going with some analysis from last game, I'm thinking about dropping the GNS portion of the requirement, and just going with ingredients. Anyhow, the last one had tremendous results:

Keep notes about this in personal mail to myself.

Back to the thread topic. Chris we need your feedback to continue! :-)

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