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[Sudden Light] Competitive Narrative Complications

Started by Paul S, June 21, 2006, 09:42:51 PM

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Paul S

Today, in my improv. class we worked with a few exercises concerning narrative.  For our first exercise, one writer identified three themes or actions relevant to the story they were working on.  They presented these actions or themes to the group without elaboration.  Another writer then took these themes and/or actions and incorporated them into a tale.

I was surprised as to the quality of the stories that emerged from such bare-bones narrative elements.  Each player began from radically different positions and bent their narratives and the conditions to creatively hit each theme or action from radically different angles.  There was a great vibe of creative competition, each writer incorporating the baseline expectations through different frameworks

I also observed how many players "bent" the offers in mischievous ways that fulfilled the letter of the conditions, but altered their trajectories in order to tell the tale they wanted.  Obviousness for fulfilling the conditions was anathema, and many players took the required narrative elements has challenges for creativity.  For instance, in my tale, the writer's condition that I was working with was that the main character "took a girl home."  Other players had been making the main character out to be quite a sleazy guy and had framed this particular element as a sexual encounter.  To show a different possibility of the character, in my mind, I framed the main character as a kind-hearted do-gooder who found a 12-year old girl lost on the street and concerned, took her home to make sure nothing happed to her while he called the authorities.  I hit the literal condition of the main character "taking a girl home," while bending the narrative to figure an alternative vision of the main character.  Other actors did with same with other conditions for other stories as well, taking these three elements as challenges and happily re-interpreting them to fit their narrative vision.
This exercise inspires some thoughts for game mechanics in my mind.  My game in progress, Sudden Light, is structured around two GM's in competition, as sort of an angel and devil on shoulder of the Protagonist.  Each GM alternates framing scenes.  As I've conceived of it, the GM who frames the scene has the most narrative control and interacts almost exclusively with the player of the Protagonist.  However, given the exercise above, I think it might be useful to allow the Passive GM an opportunity to set conditions for the Active GM to "hit" during scene.  I'll call these introduced conditions Complications.

   After the Active Guide (my name for the traditional GM role) has framed the scene, the Passive Guide may bid 5 Influence Tokens to introduce a Complication.  The Passive Guide must identify a theme or action for the Active Guide to weave into the narrative of the scene.  The introduced Complication must be possible for the Protagonist to experience, must not break setting conditions previously established by the Truth, the Lie, and the Machine (for example, it would be impossible for a Guide to hit the action "repair a space station" in a game set in 16th Century Germany), and it must be possible for the Complication to occur within the bounds of the framed scene.  If the Active Guide challenges the possibility of incorporating the Complication into the scene, the Protagonist player may accept or reject the Complication.  If the Protagonist player rejects the Complication, the Passive Guide loses all bid Influence Tokens.

If the Active Guide and the Protagonist player accepts the Complication, the scene plays out as normal.  If the Active Guide is able to incorporate the theme or action of the Complication into the scene (the Protagonist player determines if and when this has occurred),  the Active Guide gains a number of Influence tokens equal to the sum of any two of the Guide's Aspects.  If the Active Guide fulfills the conditions of the Complication in a way judged by the Protagonist to be especially cleaver or inventive, the Active Guide may raise any the rating of one Aspects by 1 point for free, so long as the Active Guide can explain how fulfilling the Complication caused the Protagonist to care more deeply for the raised Aspect.

If the Active Player cannot or does not incorporate the Complication before the end of the scene, the Passive Guide gains a number of Influence of tokens equal to the sum of all her Aspect ratings.

The Active Guide may fulfill the conditions in resolving narration of a successful conflict.  Fulfilling the conditions of Complication this way gains the Active Guide a number of Influence Tokens equal to one Aspect rating.  The Active Guide may never automatically raise an Aspect rating through this method.


Questions for Consideration:  Without knowing the basic mechanics (I'm still polishing them up a bit before I post them), does the concept of introducing narrative conditions to be achieved during scenes make sense?  What other games might have a similar system and how did they work in actual play?  If a player who is in competition with the other player assigns these Complications might this system be open to abuse?  Do you see any glaring problems with this basic system or what tweaks might you suggest?