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Author Topic: [The Dynasty/La Famiglia] Concept and early changes  (Read 3451 times)
Adam Kleizer

Posts: 12

« on: May 12, 2006, 03:38:20 AM »

Hello everybody!

I participated in this year's Game Chef with a game named The Dynasty. The game is a GMless competitive storytelling game with a bidding system.

A brief summary of the version submitted to Game Chef (http://www.1km1kt.net/rpg/The_Dynasty.php):
This version was about a Dynasty with no setting included. A campaign consists of three times three hours. Each session has a ruling character and players try to win enough Authority points to become the ruler in the next session. They can achieve this by winning Battles - through bidding style points (Steel, Law or Team). They can narrate by bidding Authority points for narrating a Story. The winner of the session can narrate the loosing character's removal from the campaign (the current ruling character or the character closest to the ruling character can loose by being second). Each ending has a style associated (Steel, Law or Team you know) and the game mechanics try to achieve that each session has another type of ending.
Check it out to fully understand it, it's only 7 or so pages long.

I received some nice reviews with suggestions from other people participating in Game Chef. I'm still waiting for all the submitted reviews, but it seems the lack of an interesting setting was selected as the basic problem of the game. Graham Walmsley also came up with some examples for good settings: "medieval China or the Mafia". The idea of a game around becoming the Godfather really caught me, so I thought of the game from that time as "La Famiglia" set into some place and some time where the Mafia operates.
(First questions: Do you know any games in a Mafia setting? If yes, did you play any? If yes, which one do you think is the best - if no, would you play any?)

From now on I will share some thoughts with you that changed the game to be playable in the new setting and possible solutions for problems spotted after the first playtest with my friends. (This playtest was also the first time we played a storytelling game, a competitive RPG and a GMless RPG.)

The Dynasty had some flaws in the system I already spotted:
- It had no tools or rules to make narration easier. Because of this, you had to invest time in the game before the session.
- Taking narration from a player wasn't possible.

These problems were (and still are) the results of my inexperience with storytelling and GMless games. I tried to eliminate them with introducing new rules or changing existing ones so they all fit the new setting.

Family creation was one of the things I thought would help narration and make the game more fun, so I inserted a new phase before character creation. So before everybody creates his character, we'll draw a family tree together.
On the first playtest it was like this: my friend Gábor won the first phase by virtually drawing the first King from the deck of cards - we had no cards, so he was the first to roll 12 with a d12 but that's not important here. So he started family creation with drawing a rectangle on a blank sheet of paper and writing "Giorgio" inside. He added then "Salvano" to the upper part of the sheet, so "Giorgio Salvano" was the first character, head of the Salvano family, the Godfather through session one. He spoke a sentence about this guy and then he grabbed a token from a shared pool.
Then the player to the left had 5 seconds to start speaking about another character and drawing a new box on the sheet of paper, connecting boxes with elements of a family tree. Actually it was me with something like "Julie is the wife of Giorgio. She's from France and they've met each other on the french Riviera ca. 30 years ago" while I drew a new box with Julie inside and connected it to Giorgio with a pair of rings.
Whenever someone made up a character he got a token, if someone didn't start to make a character in five seconds, the next player had the turn. This went on until we found we had enough characters. After this, we selected characters. The one with the most tokens should select the first and so on.
It didn't work... While the family creation was actually a lot of fun and we created 16 characters in no time, the 5 seconds and token parts were broken. After 4-5 characters we stopped counting the 5 seconds, it just didn't seem right, and at the end almost everybody had the same number of tokens. Fortunately there was no problem selecting the characters.

The conclusion was: drawing the family tree is fun and should be in the game, but the rule to select characters should be changed.
I think it should be like: you can select any free character (not a PC of another player) from the family tree as your PC before you draw a new character inside the tree. If everybody selected a character, family creation is over.
This means that you'll be able to select any character made before, but you'll only be able to select the character you've made next time it's your turn. Does this make sense?

Through the session the family tree didn't help narration as much as I thought it should. It certainly did it's job by boosting creativity though and roleplaying was easier with all the little things we knew about every character before even actual play begun.

So everybody made his character. I reduced the amount of initial Authority points (10 and 13) to emphasize the price of facts (which didn't turn out right at the end). Style points were named: Violence, Intelligence and Social.

One new element was the families shared goal. Before actual play we drew a card (rolled 2 on d12), and the players decided about a goal which should be achieved by the family through this session. So the difficulty of achieving this goal was 2 (amount rolled), and we decided we'll have an alcohol prohibition in the game (despite we played in the '50s North America) and the goal is to secure the shipment of liquor and guns our family is about to receive. Whenever someone won a Battle he had the right to subtract a number of Authority points from his profit and add it to the families achievements. If the family achieves it's goal, all people get 2 extra points they can spend on facts in the beginning of the next session.
Actually it worked the way I wanted it: the session was all about this story element. We realized another family was about to receive a shipment and had to do something about it, get more information about them etc.

We still realized the reward of this sucks. No one would ever put 12 Authority points (drawing a King you know) inside the shared pool for 2 extra points for facts. The reward should be adjusted by the difficulty of the goal. It's not easy to come up with a solution: the difficulty is that in a competitive game, giving something to everybody is like not giving anything at all. I'm still thinking about the reward for shared efforts and I'm open for any suggestion except to drop the shared goal 'cause I like that.

One other thing newly added was a system to grab narration. At any point you could say you want to grab narration. You invest a number of Authority points (1-3), and then the narrator draws a card. If the card had an amount high enough, the narrator could continue the Story and the challenger lost his points. If he drew not high enough, the challenger can narrate but still lost his points.
This didn't work. No one tried to grab narration through the session. One of the reasons is most likely the fact that I reduced the amount of initial Authority points. Authority points were just too valuable to risk loosing some of them without a profit.

The system I think I'll include is the idea of my playtesters: narration will be turn based. You don't have to bid Authority for narration, insteed every player has 30 minutes to narrate. If someone else wants to narrate, he has to invest a number of Authority points equal to the minutes he wants to narrate up to a maximum of 5 points (or minutes). I have no experience with GMless play, so what do you think, will this work?

Now that was it, that's all. I have still some things to say about the playtest so expect to see a new topic in the Playtesting forums in the near future.
Graham W

Posts: 437

« Reply #1 on: May 17, 2006, 08:59:47 AM »

Hi Adam!

I'm glad you're pushing forward with this. I liked The Dynasty.

That family tree is fantastic. From what you're saying, it sounds as though it was fun to draw up, but didn't affect play that much.

As a random idea, had you thought of combining some relationship map techniques into the family tree? Even if, say, each line in the family tree was marked with an emotional connection - "hates", "is jealous of", "loves" and so on - that might make the family tree more of a useful tool.

Look forward to the Playtesting report.

Adam Kleizer

Posts: 12

« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2006, 03:34:51 AM »

Hi Graham!

As a random idea, had you thought of combining some relationship map techniques into the family tree? Even if, say, each line in the family tree was marked with an emotional connection - "hates", "is jealous of", "loves" and so on - that might make the family tree more of a useful tool.

First I thought about adding two "properties" to everyone on the tree, you know things that are unique to the character. Marking relationships sounds like a better idea though. I'm trying to leave this one as a simple mini-game, so I'll not overcomplicate it.

Now you only have to draw a rectangle and one line for every character. Drawing new lines with emotional relationships could make the family tree really complex. You know like grandpa likes Mary, Mary is jealous of Mark etc, and they all already have their kinship on the paper. I'll think about a way to make it easier to draw all kind of kinships and emotional relationships on the paper and still understand it all on first sight. If it's too complex, I'll have to drop that idea though.

As for the playtest report, we'll have another session tomorrow, hopefully I'll find the time to make a post about that one.
Oscar Evans

Posts: 31

« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2006, 02:21:28 PM »

On the broad and general idea of a family game (Sorry if this is tangential)
Ive always loved the idea of telling the story of a family or dynasty over a long period, rather than that of one specific character. You could have each game be an 'epoch', with players playing the children of their characters in the first game. There is still that connection to the events and characters, but it opens it up to more possibilities (Character death) and allows for a really rich, evolving, expanding storyline. This is something ive wanted to do myself for a long time but ive had trouble finding players who are willing to give up their 1-1 emotional attachement to their characters.

If you want to go for a more traditional setting, these would work perfectly:
Expanding on the Italian theme:
Ceasar. Swaying the senate in your favour, distinguishing yourself in military victories.

Holy Roman Emperor. Fighting for the favour of the kings nobles and Pope under the ever watchful and wary eye of Byzantium. Crusades in the name of christendom. When you run out of pagans- just start fighting other christians.

The Papacy during the Renaissance. Different families vying for power in the catholic church. Borgias style. Lots of illegitimate heirs. Very similiar to the mafia, though more historical.

For a more generic setting, you could have heirs to a throne (Historical of fantasy). Start the game with each player controlling a single heir. Have them build families, marry off their heirs for connections (Curry favour with Foriegn powers), distinguish themselves in battle (Curry favour with the Nobles), as just rulers (Favour with the peasantry) or as religious figures (Favour with the church).

Just some ideas.

On the System in general
I think the system has potential. I really dont like the time thing though. I dont know if it worked for you, but i would hate working to such restrictions.

On the family tree
Why not draw a card for each character? Since your points are 10-13 anyway, this first perfectly.
For example:
  • Each player picks # (say 5) cards from a deck, one at a time.1
  • The first player to pick a king and choose to play it (Rather than keep it in their hand) creates and also plays the Head of the Family.2
  • Once every player has a full hand (Other than the Head, who will have 4 and 1 in play) play goes clockwise from the Head of the Family.
  • Each player places a card down and connects it to another character (The Head to begin with, as the only character). The players can place whichever value cards they like in any order they choose.3
  • When a player wishes to create their own character, they place the card face down. The value of the card is their initial Authority. Naturally they will choose their best card for this.
  • When every player has created their character, this phase ends.4

Optional rules:
  • 1Discard, to prevent a really bad hand.
  • 2Aces and The Head
      a. The Head gets +# Authority points.
  • b.OR The Ace is an Elder, and thus has more authority than even the leader. They do not have a direct leadership role (At least, at the start of the game), but everyone respects them.
  • c. AND The Ace can only be an NPC.
[li]3Non-Player Character Cards
    a. The player gets to play every single character that is created with their cards. They have some sort of limited access to those characters Authority. [/li]
  • b. OR The player starts with the NPC's he creates 'On side' and has limited access to their Authority. For example, they could 'borrow' use the authority to assume leadership at the end game.
  • c. AND The loyalty of NPC's/Characters can be 'Stolen' through Battles or other methods.
  • d. AND/OR When a Character dies, the player may choose another of the characters he created at the start. This determines his initial Authority.
  • e. AND/OR The Authority of NPC's is spent giving them 'facts' (Perhaps at twice or three times the price or with a cap, to prevent NPC's with 10 in drive-by-shootings etc).
  • f. AND/OR An NPC's 'Facts' can be used by the player to resolve battles if he can narrate how that characte assists him.
  • g. OR The Authority of NPC's is merely an aid to roleplaying. They have no actual authority.
[li]4The phase only ends when the characters have played all their cards.[/li]

On Shared Goals
Hrrm. Option 1: The cost is 6 authority. Players may put their profit into the shared goal if they can narrate how the battle helped the goal. The player who puts the FINAL points into the goal 'gets all the credit' for it and thus gets the full value of those authority points to spend the next game on facts (6). Other players gets 50% (3) points if they contributed at all towards the goal, and 1 if they didnt contribute at all. Thus spending 1 point early on on the goal means you are sure to get at least half the goals value, even if its a difficulty 12 and you only spent a single point towards it.

As the goal reaches completion there will be a rush to spend the last few points and take all the credit. Obviously though, contributing 6 points on your own to achieve the goal right at the start gives you no net gain and gives the other players 1 point each, so achieving the goal entirely on your own is stupid.

Alternatively you can have the player who contributed the most towards the goal get the full value, rather than the one who contributed last.

Option 2:
The players get back twice the amount of the Authority they invested into the goal. If the goal isnt completed, they get nothing. This isnt as good as it sounds, as they only get that authority if/when the goal is completed. If the difficulty is particularly steep on this one, the goal might be a huge waste of Authority.

Hidden Character Traits
Having the players veto a fact when it is used in game rather than when it is created will lead to players having to re-write their character a fair bit mid game, wont it?

One would think a family would know one anothers strengths well. Keeping some of the information (Authority, stats) secret is important to the concept. But i think 'facts' should probably be public so that there isnt constant revision of characters. Perhaps you could buy secret facts ('Police informer' etc) at increased price, if they really need to be secret.

Battles (Conflicts? Disputes? Battles gives a physical connotation)

The bidding system has a lot of potential. However, wont the winning players be hemmoraging style points relatively quickly? Since the profit is not actually related to their bid (Its just 'agreement') a high stakes bidding war could end with a measley profit. I can certainly see players deliberately placing high bids on a 0 profit Battle just so they can try and make the other player overbid and waste points. Especially if the player wants to achieve something specific with the storyline- other players might oppose him just to make him hemmorage as many style points as possible to get control. I suppose this increases the amount of spent points he has at the end, but this only determines the Style of the end (IE, its not an advantage to the player) unless they are Team points (Which people might want to spend as many as possibly, even when nobody is bidding against them). This brings up another problem: Playes might deliberately take no 'facts' that give them an advantage in 'team' situations because in such a situation, they are more than happy to spend as many points on Team Battles as they possibly can.

Perhaps authority points could be spent during the battle (Excercising your authority) in order to increase chances of success. Winner gets all, like poker, or perhaps a portion or something...

End Game
At the end, the players are 'Loaning' points TO one another, and 'Borrowing' points FROM one another. You cannot 'Borrow' points TO someone. (Sorry, its just confused the hell out of me).

Team Conflicts seem disproportionately more important than other forms of conflict. I suppose if you overthrow the leader using your team conflicts, the next game everyone will have fewer team points- so saving your team points up can be a factor. But it does make them an awfully important stat. Perhaps you could give the others some sort of purpose or bonus?

Some alternatives to turn based narration:
The winner of the last battle narrates until the next battle.
Another pool of seperate 'Narration' points.
Narrator gets some other bonus to make up for the authority points he spends (+1 to all authority he earns in battles, a few extra to his stats, etc).
Adam Kleizer

Posts: 12

« Reply #4 on: May 21, 2006, 02:50:55 AM »

Ooh, these are some nice ideas.

On the broad and general idea of a family game
Thanks for the setting ideas. I like the mafia one because it fits so good with the idea of the game: everyone wants to do the best for the family, that's why everyone wants to get hold of the power. Even though I really want to add color to the game with the help of this setting, it will always be playable in other settings, maybe I'll even suggest other settings to play in.

On the family tree
Good ideas! I didn't thought about using the cards here. Preventing that someone draws a bad hand is a major concern in this case though.

About NPCs: at the first playtest we had a little discussion about NPCs. At a point the police was showing up in the casino we were spending our cash at and someone mentioned that there is no way you could battle with an NPC. At first this seemed a major concern for the party (you know we only played Vampire, DnD3.5 and other d20 stuffs before), but I argued that this isn't a game about that kind of conflicts. There's no way you can get into disadvantage in this game because some NPC did something with your character. Story must always be formed in a way that ensures you'll suffer no drawback, so if you get hit by a policeman it's because the narrator wants to tell the story in an interresting way.

On Shared Goals
Option1 (or a variant of it) seems to be the most viable.

Hidden Character Traits
As with every competitive game, there's a risk of cheating. I didn't mention it, but I'm thinking about adding rules for bluffing, so that if you want to do something dirty tricks you'll have the option built in the game and you don't have to use illegal moves.

That's exactly how the system works. I told my friends about the system as we played the game: "Don't risk to win!"
You'll have players who will push the bid higher and higher, and at some point they'll win, while they just wanted the other player to loose more style points. If you're too pushy in a family, it'll have consequences. You get authority but you loose power.

Battles of Violence were in the playtest definitely the less used ones, and Social wasn't overused either. The issue with Battles of Violence is: you don't get to use it directly against other characters (would be kind of silly to start shooting at each other) but against NPCs like "I'll shoot him!" "No, I'll shoot him! Battle!". It's hard to come up with situations where you can use Battles of Violence, and that's a problem. We'll have another playtest, where we'll see if that's learnable (do people come up with nice battles after some experience with the game?) or not.

End Game
Yes, I just didn't get that "borrow and lend" part of the english language, sorry for confusing you (and others as well).
I feel too I'll have to make Team a bit weaker. My intent with this rule was to make it more attractive for players - it just turned out too good.

We'll use the turn-based rules for now and see how it turns out. Narration points was something I considered but I didn't want to use another resource for this.

Posts: 206

« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2006, 12:18:12 PM »

Nice and thorough analysis, Oscar.

Here´s one more genre-appropriate idea:

After the family tree is drawn, the player who created the Don says: "Either you are with the Family or you are against the Family." Everyone stabs with their stilettos, piercing the character they want to play. If you are short on stilettos, a pen will do, and you don´t really need to pierce through the paper either. Draw the family tree reasonaby small so that it gets crowded above the paper.

If two or more players hit the same character, the one closest to first letter of the first name wins. Losers take another round of stabbing, until everyone has a character.

Hmm. Might want to make a copy of the family tree before trying this out.

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