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Author Topic: [In the Pit] Best setting for breaking characters?  (Read 5775 times)
chris_moore
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« on: April 18, 2006, 04:59:31 AM »

Hi, I'm designing a game called (for now) "In the Pit", a game where people are trapped together and forced to make terrible decisions in order to escape.  the Power 19 of the game is here:
http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/index.php?topic=18986.0

Following the advice of someone I respect, I've decided to write a specific setting into the game, instead of players creating the setting as part of play.  Protagonists could be soldiers in the trenches, people forced into gladiatorial combat, members of a gang, survivors of a shipwreck/plane crash, etc. 

What setting would be the best fit for stories about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?

Thanks for the help,

Chris Moore
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #1 on: April 18, 2006, 05:03:09 AM »

There was this computer game whose name I forgot, where someone was put in this maze and all the criminals are after him. Very gory, caused much sensationalism. I'd use that.

Take a group, put them in a setting where they're a minority and everyone is against them. Semi futuristic/post apocalyptic.
Zombie flicks also present a good alternative, provided there is some "Safe haven", unless you're willing to note that the running is continual and all refuge is temporal.
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Guy Shalev.

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TonyLB
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« Reply #2 on: April 18, 2006, 05:10:40 AM »

What setting would be the best fit for stories about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?

High school.
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David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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« Reply #3 on: April 18, 2006, 05:20:08 AM »

What about going with a more abstract "setting," like in The Cube? Mysterious controllers (or not?), unlimited ways to arrange rooms and their challenges (and, thus, easy ways to gauge repetition and "punishes repetitive choices"), a (somewhat) plausible reason to have many sorts of areas to survive. Maybe come up with something like a holodeck meets The Cube, to have "exterior" spaces to survive as well as the interior maze of the space itself?

It might help some to know what importance the setting(s) could have on the mechanics of the game. Is the game going to involve a lot of resource management (seems like it from Power 19, but there aren't many rules in that post)? What resources: the in-game-world stuff that could be found and employed (AKA MacGyver); the "group-character" emotional resources (AKA willpower v. ethics)? Is this a game about playing out cleverness and cooperation, or about the torture of these characters until their moral "structure" (i.e. in-game stats and such) changes, for good or ill?

I think those questions would let us decide what (if any) elements of a setting are actually relevant to the gameplay. Once a sort of "metasetting" is worked out, I think you will find that (a) your original idea of letting setting creation be a prep element of play is best or (b) there is a clear historical or fantastic environment and situation that would best suit the thematic goals of play.

HTH;
David
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Chad
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« Reply #4 on: April 18, 2006, 05:43:21 AM »

Hi Chris,

Have you seen a movie called Cube? here is a short write-up (http://www.ram.org/ramblings/movies/cube.html). Its about these people who wake up inside this giant Rubik's cube type device. They are all different types; ones a cop, one autistic, another a doctor etc. The rooms move around and are booby trapped 'n stuff. They have to solve puzzles to get out of each room - or die! Apparently the whole film was shot in one room. Its really a character drama, about people trying to figure out why they have been chosen to be in the cube, because each person has a purpose.You might find it interesting.

Also, from what you describe, you already have a setting. "stories...about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?". It might be nice to not have an overly explicit setting, so that groups have the story equipment to create their own survival story - be it a plane crash, or trapped in an elevator, or  hunted by zombies. Unless, obviously, if you have uber-cool idea for a specific environment like, say, Cube.

Cheers,
Chad
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chris_moore
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« Reply #5 on: April 18, 2006, 06:00:23 AM »

Quote
Is this a game about playing out cleverness and cooperation, or about the torture of these characters until their moral "structure" (i.e. in-game stats and such) changes, for good or ill?

It's definitely the second, David.  Protagonists start out with a set of traits/descriptors, and the only reason for choosing them is because they can be interestingly warped through the game.  They have absolutely no bearing on effectiveness whatsoever.  

So, the setting I choose has to be one that the players actually want to escape.  During one rough playtest, we played soldiers at Abhu Garib (sp)...

Keep it comin',

Chris  
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #6 on: April 18, 2006, 06:03:22 AM »

The game I was referring to is Manhunt.
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Guy Shalev.

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Paul Czege
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« Reply #7 on: April 18, 2006, 06:04:32 AM »

Hey Chris,

I think an abstract "death game" setting with mysterious puppeteers might kneecap the game's dramatic potential by impersonalizing the tormentors. My recommendation, not having seen the rules, would be to dial up the emotional intensity of the situation as high as you can go, and beyond the point controversy. Did you mention Abu Ghraib during our conversation? Maybe that's why it's sticking in my head. If so, you should trust your instincts. The player characters are non-terrorists among the prisoners in Abu Ghraib.

Paul
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Thunder_God
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« Reply #8 on: April 18, 2006, 06:07:22 AM »

And to riff off of Paul's recent post about what MLWM is a metaphor for(I don't know if I can play this game any longer...) as a really squeaky inducing play, have the setting be one where your parent develops alzheimer, becomes neurotic and overbearing, one of them dies and the other stops functioning...

As to why you're there? You're still teenagers.
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Mikael
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« Reply #9 on: April 18, 2006, 06:17:15 AM »

(Tony, what is it with you and high school? I knew it was your suggestion even before I saw your name on the small screen of my mobile. And it did not take a lot of knowing.)

A passenger liner crashed on an alien planet, with most of the competent crew killed.

Caught in the middle of a burning city/lava flows from a volcano.

A group of tourists forced to play an exotic card game with very shady locals in a far-off land.

People possessed, in control of themselves for only 80% of the time - and always losing control just when they are about get help or some answers.

Speed: caught on a bus with an explosive.

Pushed hard and then harder when applying for military extra super special forces, contemporary or futuristic.
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Clyde L. Rhoer
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« Reply #10 on: April 18, 2006, 06:38:08 AM »

Hey Chris,

Can you have more than one setting? Could you have rules that help the GM, or the GM and players, set up the setting? Could you have a couple settings already included?

I'd also like to suggest checking out the movie, "The Saw." Oh wait... better yet the movie, "Season 7: The Contenders", modify the game they play a bit and that could be an interesting idea. If you haven't seen either of those movies, do yourself a favor and don't read their blurbs and just rent them blind. It's much better that way. Unless you don't have a developed satire bone, then skip the second.

As for official ideas:
  • An alien prison where no player speaks the language.
  • On a meteor that is hurtling towards the Sun.
  • Inside a Dreamland of someone with multiple personalties and only the personality that escapes is real.
  • Teddy Roosevelt's journey to try to find the headwaters of the Amazon.
  • Auschwitz.
  • A Slayer show.
  • France. (kidding)

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David "Czar Fnord" Artman
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« Reply #11 on: April 18, 2006, 06:48:20 AM »

..."stories...about people put into situations they are completely unprepared for, where they must choose between survival and their own sense of self?"

This struck me as the most important element to reinforce within the situation (and, thus, setting). Specifically, your group-character is going to be built from individuals whose traits MUST be tested and, ultimately, selectively sacrificed to survive. The setting does the testing (and killing) and "completion" comes when the group-character gets free of enough setting constraints through self-sacrifice (and "winning" is determined by how much of the original trait network is still standing). Right there, I see a close coupling: each group-character trait must have a corresponding/contrasting setting constraint, otherwise they will not be tested (or, worse, they could be so effective that they "solve" multiple constraints).

Now, you already have your attribute system in place. This leads me to believe that you have a notion of what traits you want to "test" and, thus, what overall themes may (will) be served. I think THAT is what makes you want a setting more than want a setting generator; the close coupling above all-but-prescribes it. If you are certain of your traits, then perhaps this whole thread could be re-purposed to something like, "What setting has sufficiently threatening elements to seriously test Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart?" (As an aside, I doubt high school works, here, as the Tears are usually melodrama, the Blood is rarely more than a scrape, all the Beasts are just sad little bullies, and there isn't a whole lot of Heart around in general.)

If, however, you left traits as more of something players select by [insert mechanic here] and provided directly coupled constraints, the setting situations could be quickly generated (kind of like a relationship map or town creation). And I would bet that players would quickly find a specific setting that appeals to them which echoes those chosen situations and relations between traits and constraints. If you were still thinking of making this game a process for the players, rather than a (possibly static) run-through of a single setting with various combinations of traits (i.e. different group-characters, same setting). That's what you're down to, right? One setting, many g-cs; one g-c, many settings; many g-cs, many settings (no correlation); and many g-cs, many settings (closely coupled).

By the way, I'll drop the suggestions that relate to multiple/varied settings, if you are going to firmly assert that "there can be only one." As you don't yet have The One True Setting that serves your game notion (hence this thread), I feel obliged to advise for more flexability in game setup, so that it can serve more varied cathartic goals.

David
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chris_moore
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« Reply #12 on: April 18, 2006, 07:09:56 AM »

Paul wrote:
Quote
an abstract "death game" setting with mysterious puppeteers might kneecap the game's dramatic potential by impersonalizing the tormentors.

I agree.  The game is about some people becoming monsters because of their circumstances.  The "pit bosses", for lack of a beter term, need to be plausible to be really horrifying.

David wrote:
Quote
What setting has sufficiently threatening elements to seriously test Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart?

Damn, yes.  Maybe even "What setting has sufficient elements to seriously *evoke* Tears, Blood, Beast, or Heart.  That's what I need. 

Chris
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TroyLovesRPG
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« Reply #13 on: April 18, 2006, 08:48:53 AM »

A camp for juvenile criminals. Its set in an area where the nearest civilization is miles away. Escape always results in being brought back and placed under close surveillance. The counselors actually care about the boys and do whatever it takes to keep them there and rehabilitate them. The facility responds quickly to threat of escape or danger: electronic locks, sonic deterrants at the fence, forks replaced with spoons, etc. Maybe one counselor is not so sympathetic, but never endangers the lives of the children. The children cannot over-power the counselors (there are too many). There are bullies and gangs who pose constant threats of humiliation and minor brutality. A new group of boys arrives and rumor has it that one of them is a ruthless murderer planning revenge on one of you.

Each child has the normal adolescent set of skills, but also has one related to their crime: pick pocket, creating firebombs, forgery, hotwire vehicles, berserk strength, intimidation, persuasion, artful lying, computer hacking, quickness, very small (can crawl through ducts), etc. Each also has a dark secret regarding their family, friend, personal problem, ideal, etc. This weakness can be exploited or create an opportunity for emotional bonding. Each wants to get out and its important that they work together. But whom of you are really valuable and which ones can be sacrificed? They are just children yet can be cruel without remorse.

Your goal may be to break free of the camp, kill the murderer, become a snitch, appeal to the counselors (will they believe you), contact a parent for them to take you (do they care) or just turn the other cheek. Regardless of your actions, your fate seems locked.

It has the elements of Tears, Blood, Beast and Heart. Reminds me of Lord of the Flies in a controlled setting.

Troy
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chris_moore
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« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2006, 09:11:43 AM »

Thanks for the ideas, everyone.  I'll be mulling this over.  Later today I'll be opening a thread about conflict resolution. 

grateful Chris
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