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[At the Threshold] Formalizing the Community

Started by Bailywolf, February 17, 2006, 01:49:44 PM

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For Threshold, all the action takes place in or around (either literally or thematically) the shared Community that all the player characters serve and inhabit.  I wanted a different word to describe it, but in the end 'community' is to perfect a fit, as it can represent any interrelation of people on any scale (though, in my imaginings, I keep thinking about fairly small scale stuff- a bar, a town, a high school).  How much ground the Community covers is really neither here nor there- it would contribute to AP but doesn't need any mechanics to represent it really.  What's important is how the character relate and connect to the community, how they serve it, how it serves them, and how it can be threatened to drive play.

The Community encompasses all the individual characters Relationships (their powerful mortal ties) and  their Patrons and Arcana (their supernatural ties).  It also includes the NPC's the GM sees fit to add to the setting to flesh it out, the significant places- magical and mundane- and anyone or any place that figures into a characters Initiation or Background.

Ideally, when the campaign is first presented, the GM generally outlines the Community- and sketches in the larger setting.  Assuming everyone is agreeable to this, during the first session of character generation, the Community sheet is filled out as well.  Elements of the community are jotted onto the sheet on one side of the Veil or the other- in the World or the Otherworld.  This includes the characters themselves- they are noted on the sheet based on which of their scores is higher. 

The Gulfs is the metaphysical distance between the World and Otherworld.  The World isn't aware of the Otherworld, but can affect it inadvertently.  The Otherworld is intensely aware of the World, but can't directly affect it (in most cases).  Superstition, folk magic, religion... these are all ways to manipulate the Otherworld without knowing you're doing it.  Coincidence, dreams, possessions, alerted states of consciousness... through the opened window of the mind the things of the Otherworld find an indirect way to influence events.  As the Gulfs decrease, the two worlds come into closer proximity- more of the Otherworld bleeds into the perceptions of normal people, and creatures and events of the Otherworld are better able to act directly on the World.   

If the Gulfs collapse, the worlds collide and the Community dies- consumed in a chaos as the two worlds violently annihilate each other.  The ragged gaps in the dichotomous worlds this leaves gradually fill with new reality- scarred and thickened.  Such scars are unhealthy and unhappy places, but at least they don't bleed. 

In other words- this is a Bad Thing.

A Crisis happens when things of the world and otherworld become entangled- such as when a character calls across the Gulfs for power- but it can also happen spontaneously, as part of the nature of things. 

Conceptually, I have a pretty good grasp on things... I just need to formalize the mechanics of the Community a bit.

I was considering giving each player a certain number of points with which to define the Community- adding people, places, or things to either side of the Gulfs- and then collectively, deciding how those things relate to each other.  This would be in addition to elements added because of the character's Traits or Wonders. 

These relationships would be noted graphically on the sheet- with lines. 

And this got me thinking that perhaps I need to rethink how characters are stated out.  Rather than include 'relationship' as part of their Identity description, perhaps I need another kind of Trait and need to make Relationships something explicitly a function of the Community, and the map of relationships which will evolve from it. 

I also need some mechanical way to precipitate Crisis beyond letting it be purely player induced. 

Here's the thing- do you think removing Relationship from the basic character definition side of things and making it a part of the Community is the way to go?

Letting players add elements to the community and add links between those elements...  as a formal part of campaign startup. 

The more I think about this, the more it seems like the way to go.  It would really support the 'village intercessors' thematic stuff... and tie the character into the setting really tightly- and perhaps help invest the players in the setting by giving them a sense of ownership over it.  Oh, see my Neocon game design.


Arturo G.

Hi, Ben!

I think you are going in the right direction.
I did something very similar to what you are describing in my October Ronnies entry Disaster! I used inspiration from "The Legends of Alyria" to introduce the creation of a community-map by the players. The characters do not have relationship traits, but everyone has the community-map to know what the relationships are. I recommend you to have a look at Legends of Alyria.

For me it was very easy to derive the mechanics I needed from the comunity-map, counting the number of direct or indirect connections. For your objectives you should elaborate more than I did. Perhaps you can use distance in the relationship map and a kind of weight (associated to whatever you want to value: powers/world) to deduce some mechanical effects.



I have some more concrete clarifications on the Community and on how characters are defined.

The Community is framed by the GM, who sketches it in general terms. 

Each player can then add seven things to the Community- a number of things in the World equal to their Identity, and a number of things in the Otherworld equal to their Mystery.  People, places, and things.  By the nature of these being chosen by the players, they become the pivot points, anchors, and linchpins of the game- the players say what and who they want the game to be about.

The PC's go onto the sheet as well, on whichever side reflects their higher score.

All these things get written onto the Community sheet.

Next, the players get to define the relationships between all these people, places, and things.  This needs to be a collaborative process, and ideally a cooperative one.  Each player has seven links which they can draw and define on the Community sheet which defines how two elements relate to each other.  It is perfectly permissible- and indeed encouraged- to link the PCs to other elements on the community.  PC's can be linked across the Gulfs without upsetting the balance between reality- they are, after all, on the threshold between the Worlds.  Characters can move and operate in both Worlds, and only create conflict when they deliberately bring the worlds crashing together with their powers.  So long as they deal with the magical magically, and the ordinary ordinarily, they create no Trouble. 

Finally, the GM adds 7 elements and 7 links however he likes- including creating links across the Threshold.  These will form the basis for the opening conflicts in the Community. 

When all the elements and links are defined, this gives you the basic 'lay of the land' when play begins- the two Worlds are separate, and normal life continues until something happens to screw up the balance between the Worlds.

The Scale of a conflict determines along how many links the consequences will resonate- up to affecting one of the Worlds in its entirety, or even the whole community.  Links can be destroyed, created, or redefined by the outcome of a Conflict.  Crisis which bring the worlds into conflict have greater risks- unless resolved with finesse and care, they can magnify one world at the expense of the other, or worse, cause a kind of mutual annihilation- destroying elements of both worlds. 

At the start of each session (or adventure or whatever), the GM rolls 1d6, and can modify or create this many new Links- establishing instability in the framework of relationships, or defining how the worlds have come into conflict.  For example, things could open with a PC's marriage becoming shaky (a redefinition of that link), and of his daughter's imaginary friend becoming real (a new cross-threshold link).  Conflicts can either fix things (letting the player change the link with his wife back to its former happy state, and letting him keep his daughter from succumbing to the Otherworld), or it could make things worse (destroying the link between he and his wife, or further defining it into resentment or hate, and losing his daughter to the Otherworld... at its worse, she might be eaten by the imaginary friend, or they might both vanish together). 

More to come later today.


Arturo G.

QuoteNext, the players get to define the relationships between all these people, places, and things.  This needs to be a collaborative process, and ideally a cooperative one.

I ruled in Disaster! that players should go through several rounds adding one relationship each time. Of course, each addition may be discussed by all the players, or a player who hesitates may ask and receive suggestions from other players . This provides a feeling of collaborative creation, where players are reacting to what other players are adding to the map detail after detail. In playtesting it worked pretty fluid and it was helping people with few ideas. The resulting maps have a strong core of related and coherent stuff, with some divergent details. I think going round by round is better than every player adding all her details as a whole.
I think it may also work well for you. If you decide to follow this round by round procedure, you may rule the type of detail which should be added on each round. But I think it may be better to let the creativity of the players decide the type of detail they want to add on each round (of course from the ones a given player has still available).

I didn't need it for Disaster! but I was also thinking on letting the GM include some details. It seems you are thinking on the GM adding her details at the end, when all the other players have finished. I would suggest you to consider including the GM in the round by round system as any other player. This will give the players some possibility of response to the GM ideas, as well as those coming from any other player.  The result will be more collaborative and all the players will be happier.

And I would also suggest you to try to keep the mechanics associated to the distances in the map very simple. Playtesting Disaster! we have found that something so simple as mentally tracking your first and second level relationships from a very small set is sometimes a little bit annoying.

I'm not sure if I like the idea of the GM modifying links at the start of each session. You may consider to give him the right to do it (to introduce inestability) but during normal play. It would be much easier for him to introduce and justify the changes, and for the players to accept and react to the changes in the shared-imagined-space.

Hope this helps you,


I imagined the community evolving from the starting point in a way similar to the r-map of a TV show might change episode to episode session to session- external forces (measured here by the GM mucking up the community's links and elements) applies pressure to the characters to react to it, fix it, change to accommodate it, or whatever.  I said 'each session' but perhaps I should have said 'each episode' or 'whenever he likes' as the point of this is to stir things up and create conflict.  If the players aren't creating enough, of course.

The GM's final modifications to the community were to enable him to shift things from 'resting state' into 'active program'- by creating some instabilities, adding some unknown or unsuspected elements, or otherwise doing the "GM as Setting Manager" thing- tidying stuff up, getting things rolling, or what have you. 

Players will get the chance to forge new relationships, change existing ones, or break ones they don't like using the conflict rules... since NPC's don't operate this way, the GM uses his 'free pics' to do this- keeping the setting vital and changing in small but significant (and measurable) ways.

Now, I'm talking without any playtest for this underway, so this is very much subject to change if it fails to perform as I want it to.

Links get a descriptor, and are defined generally as positive (noted with a '+') or negative (noted with a '-').  Neutral links (represented with a '0') represent a connection, but one not especially strong or emotionally charged.    If a conflict would harm someone with whom you share a negative relationship, you get 2 bonus dice.  If it would help them, you take -2 penalty dice.  Flip it around, if it would help someone you have a positive link with (or they are helping you), take 2 bonus dice.  Likewise, if your conflict would harm someone with whom you have a positive link, take -2 dice.  Secondary links ("friend of a friend") work to the tune of +1 or -1 dice based on the net polarity of the connection... a positive connection to a friend who has a positive connection to a family member would get you a +1 in a beneficial conflict or a -1 in a negative one. 

This may be too complex- I may simply ditch the +/-/0 thing, but it does serve another purpose when it comes to tracking changes in links... the consequences of a conflict could shift links, changing their polarity by a step for good or ill.  Push things too far, and either they break or redefine. 

When I can actually see how complex the Community becomes when a four-player group riffs off a total of 28 elements and 28 links, I might be looking to refine some of this stuff.

And thanks for the help Arturo- it sounds like you know exactly what I'm trying to do here.


Arturo G.

Good. Your explanations sound pretty reasonable. I also agree your better chances are to playtest it and see what happens. If the community-map becomes an unbearable beast you may easily find a way to simplify it. I don't think you may need to lose any detail now.

Don't forget to report about how it works. When I was written Disaster! I had only 24 hours, but afterwards I was thinking more on what I did and what could be done to actively exploit the r-maps on explicit mechanics. You are pressing hard on it, I really want to know how far can it be squeezed.

Meanwhile I'm trying to finish some details and deliver a playtesting version of Disaster! Although being completely different projects we are sharing a common inspiration which I think may produce interesting games.



  Maybe the relationships define the stats. If you char has a relationship with a blacksmith, maybe they are strong. and if they have a relationship with alibrarian, they are booksmart, etc.
  You can setup certain Community archetypes that when a relationship is established by the player, the character's stats are influenced.
  Just a thought, but it might be a way to get casual gamers more emotionally involved in the community building process...
Dave M
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Quote from: dindenver on February 20, 2006, 01:21:10 PM
  Maybe the relationships define the stats. If you char has a relationship with a blacksmith, maybe they are strong. and if they have a relationship with alibrarian, they are booksmart, etc.
  You can setup certain Community archetypes that when a relationship is established by the player, the character's stats are influenced.
  Just a thought, but it might be a way to get casual gamers more emotionally involved in the community building process...

I'm going to stick with some character-specific 'internal' definitions beyond relationships- thought mechanically, knowing a librarian can help you in several ways- when you work to preserve the friendship, you get bonus dice, when you call in help on a problem (say, research) you get bonus dice- basically, you can draw on your relationships for direct aid from the linked element, or you can use the link as motivation when working for or against the linked individual.   

The downside to calling on links this way is that by injecting them into the conflict, you essentially risk them- they give you a greater chance of getting the result you want, but raise the stakes of failure.