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Started by Jared A. Sorensen, May 07, 2001, 12:52:00 AM

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Jared A. Sorensen

I was thinking (always a dangerous prospect).

Watching Sopranos tonight I was thinking of how things turn out in the these twists and turns are do-able in an RPG, but a story has the benefit of being written in advance.  The story is known, so elements can be added to explain how a thing happens, rather than having a thing happen and then the result remains a mystery for awhile...

So I wondered to myself..."Self?  Why not try playing a game backwards?"  Start with the last scene of the game and work backwards, scene-by-scene.

This works in films and books.  Can it work in an RPG?

jared a. sorensen /
indie game design from beyond the grave

[ This Message was edited by: Jared A. Sorensen on 2001-05-07 00:53 ]
jared a. sorensen /


I find that amusing, particularly given your online alias.  I'm referring, of course, to a clever little film currently out in theatres called Memento, which plays out exactly that way.  It starts with the very last scene, and chronologically tells its story forward towards the beginning in fifteen minute increments (this is done because the main character suffers from anterior retrograde amnesia, which prevents him from forming long term memories; he can only remember the last fifteen minutes of his life at any time, so the movie works backwards, allowing the audience to know only so much as he does at any one time).  It's a good flick...everyone check it out if you haven't done so already.

I definitely think literary devices such as flashback, foreshadowing, allusion, metaphor, etc. are underused in gaming.  White Wolf, and a few other "progressive" games, have made valiant attempts to correct that problem, but they're seldom essential to the successful playing of the game itself.  A game that hinged on these concepts would be sweet.

Jared A. Sorensen

Oh, man...Memento was an amazing film. :smile:

I don't think that it would be that hard to do, really.  I're still asking questions in order to decide what happens next.  But in this case, you'd start at the end and ask yourself, "Okay, how would this have happened?"

The resolution mechanic would be insane.  Rather than roll dice or whatever to figure out what happens next, it would be...I dunno.  Figuring out what already happened?

Eek.  How would a backwards system work?  Any bright ideas?

jared a. sorensen /


Oh, I dunno...what if backwards element extended not so much into the game mechanic itself, but into the way we're used to doing things in a game.  You could let the players decide how difficult the tasks they attempt are and the GM rolls to see if they were successful (players could make things really easy for themselves, but maybe they wouldn't get as many "experience points" or whatever).  Or maybe the players or GM describes all outcomes of attempted actions first, and then decide how difficult things would have been to reach that outcome...if the players don't possess the abilities to achieve that outcome, then the next scene (chronologically occurring before the current one) will have them at a disadvantage (ideally in such a way that would explain how they over reached themselves in this scene).

I'm just brainstorming here...I'm not sure how practical any of these ideas are, although they sound interesting.

BTW, I thought Memento was pretty sweet as well.

Ron Edwards

Please don't discuss Memento here - I haven't seen it yet.

As for role-playing backwards,

I discuss one possibility in the last chapter of Sorcerer. The "unit" is a whole run or story - you play out a scenario set in, say, the present day, in the usual, full role-playing way. Part of the scenario is learning about some back-story from, say, WWII.

Okay, the next story to run is set in WWII, with some of the PCs being some of the characters referred to already. There's a constraint everyone's operating under now - the circumstances experienced by the players (in the past real-time, in the future game-time) have to be established now through play. However, as many an excellent film or novel has shown us, the REAL story of what happened in the past is probably much more tricky and interesting than what the later-people understood. So there's still a lot of room for creativity.

Then do it again, bumping back to Victorian times. And again, bumping back to Napoleonic ... and again ...

As long as the integrity of "the future" is maintained, things probably will become more constrained. I'd like to see how that plays out - when everyone is satisfied that the "whole story" is known and there's no need left to role-play a previous era.

Scene and event resolution already relies on reverse-versy thinking in the best Narrativist games - in fact, system-wise, I think this is the defining feature of Narrativist systems as opposed to Simulationist (see my comments on the Phylogeny thread).

I went into this in some detail in my Hero Wars review, which should be posted in the Forge reviews (hmmm ... isn't it?). Good games to check out for this are Story Engine (or Maelstrom), Everway, and Hero Wars.


Zak Arntson

I can see an adventure which begins at a bizarre conclusion, and then there's a bunch of little gaming vignettes, where the players get beaucoup experience if they approach the conclusion in some way.

Of course, you'd have to have MAJOR xp bonuses for getting to the conclusion by surprising the GM and possibly the other players ...

Hmm ... now I've gotta write something like this and run it.  There is no end to player ingenuity ... no we can make it work FOR the GM! :)

Ron Edwards


Check out Paul's Czege's discussion of his recent Theatrix experiences, in the Actual Play forum, for a great example of what you're talking about.

Minor quibble - it interests me that you refer to players helping the GM ... it seems to me that effective play (for Narrativist purposes) requires co-contributions, of different kinds to be sure, rather than "helping" in just one direction. Or maybe I'm thinking too much about a minor sentence which I pretty much agree with anyway.


Jared A. Sorensen

Ron, I would never dream of spoiling the movie for you!

Also, the "backwards" idea is more of a backwards scenes within one game session rather than a backwards history (which is a great idea), each historical game being a new game session.

The challenge with a backwards game would be trying to figure out how your character got to where s/he is -- a situation I could only deal with using a Narrativist game mechanic and Author-stance!  Any other ideas on how it could work?

Time, space and identity...the keystones of really good science fiction stories (ie: Dick or Ballard!).

time what is time
i wish i knew how to tell you why
it hurts to know
aren't we machines
time what is time
unlock the door
and see the truth
then time is time again

Totally unrelated, I recently saw Ghost in the Shell again (for the third time).  I like it a bit more each time (originally I thought it was only fair).  And Akira is being re-release in theatres...!!!  Happy day.
jared a. sorensen /

Paul Czege

Hey Jared,

A science fiction game inspired by Memento-esque scene structure would be awesome!

Since we're quoting lyrics:

And you may find yourself living in a shotgun shack
And you may find yourself in another part of the world
And you may find yourself behind the wheel of a large automobile
And you may find yourself in a beautiful house, with a beautiful wife
And you may ask yourself-Well...How did I get here?

How about something like this:

Player characters have the power of time travel, which they can use to make any change in the environment or give themselves any piece of knowledge they wish. They can place a gun in the glove compartment, know the location of the villain's limousine at a key moment, or have the villain's girlfriend help them out of the death trap. However, they cannot change the effect of any dice roll, or give themself knowledge directly related to a failed dice roll after the fact. So, for instance, they couldn't say they know the combination after failing to pick the lock.

The caveat is that after the climactic scene, the game flashes back in time and they have to account for all the causality they manipulated in the previous sequence. They have to put that gun where it's found or arrange for it to be there. They have to learn where that limo is going to be at that key moment. They have to have an encounter with the villain's girlfriend that sets her up to want to help them out of the death trap later. The key here is that they're progressing toward the situation being the way it was at the beginning of the game. It must be exactly that way. If they were driving a red Datsun to the scene of a crime, they must be driving a red Datsun at the end of this sequence. If not, they have to use their power to change the environment to orchestrate it. If they can end this sequence without having used their power to change the environment, then it's the end of the scenario, or at least the flashback is over and they flash forward chronologically to sometime after the climactic scene of the previous session. If they used their power, then they flash back again and need to account for what they did.

And the whole damn thing starts over again.

Each time, of course, the GM creates an opening situation that's dramatically intense and difficult to rationalize.

And you may ask yourself -- What is that beautiful house?
And you may ask yourself -- Where does that highway go?
And you may ask yourself-- Am I right?...Am I wrong?
And you may tell yourself

And of course they'll use the power during the very first sequence, because they won't know why they're in the situation they're in, or what they're trying to accomplish unless they do.

Whaddya think?


P.S. I drove some distance to see Ghost in the Shell in U.S. theatrical release, and also thought it was just okay. What gets better the second and third time through? Send private message?

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans

Jared A. Sorensen

I'm a bit leery of concepts like time travel.  I'd just have the narrative run backwards, as an effect/experiment.
jared a. sorensen /


I've always been fascinated with time travel.  I think Continuum is a great concept (if somewhat difficult, mechanics-wise) and I have always been interested in running a game (besides, the president of Aetherco is a CFP -- solidarity).

Anyway, I think the idea has merit, though I do agree with Jared in that it does present some mechanical/continuity problems.  Non-linear plot lines for games and movies have always been good in theory to me, just poor in execution (speaking from personal experience, not speaking to direct systems or games).  I'm a sucker for this stuff though.



I don't know why I'm publicly admitting this, but I just realized that the name for this topic was not meaningless gibberish....

Dav (the not-so observant)