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Author Topic: [Distant Horizons] Character concept  (Read 4713 times)
Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« on: August 18, 2006, 01:04:55 PM »

Distant Horizons is a game that have been brewing in the back of my mind for some time, but I could never find some way to get started on it. Recently I began to think about the different concepts a character could consist of in this game, and that gave me a starting point.

Before I explain the character concept, I will go through the "big three" so you know what this game is about.

What is your game about?
The game is about telling the story of the characters. And it is about how the characters change as they experience the world (Nar version). Or it is about exploring a characters as the character explore the world (Sim version).

What do the characters do?
The characters are people that have left their home (or what they call home) for some reason, and decided to go out and see the world. On their journey they will experience interesting adventures, and possible in the end find a new place they can call home. (I know this sound cliche, but that is the whole idea)

What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
I have not decided on the exact roles of the GM and the players yet. But they should decide what scenes the character(s) should be a part of, and set up conflicts that decide how these scenes changes the character(s).


Character Concept

A character is defined by three groups of concepts:

The Past: Is what the character was before, but more importantly, it is what the character has left behind unresolved.

The Present: This is how the character defines himself now. This is the principles he base his life on, and this is what the character have (which are not only things, but also relations to people and groups of people).

The Future: This is what the character want. This is longterm goals, but it is also what motivates the character here and now.

There is a dynamic between these three groups of concepts. An element in the game can move from the future to the present, and from there to the past. For instance if the character has the following concepts on the sheet: "What I want", "What I have" and "What I left behind", a story element can go through these concepts like this:

The character is interested in a girl, so he write "I want a romantic relationship with this girl" under "What I want". Later in the game he gets a relationship with the girl, and because of this she is moved into The Present under "What I have" as "Romantic involved with this girl". Later he have to leave this girl, but can not bear to tell her face to face, so he just leave without telling her. Because of this she moves to The Past under "What I left behind" as "Never said goodbye".

Two thing that should be noted:
* An element does not have to move this way from future to present to past. It can in some cases stay in the future forever, or it can move from future directly to past (The relationship was never fully formed when he turned his back on her), or it could move to the present and stay there forever. And there are properly some other possibilities. But it is very unlikely that an element moves the other way; from past towards the future.
* Everything that are in the category "What I left behind", can come back to the character later. This does not necessary have to be something unpleasant, but in many cases it is. The character does not have any control over this (though the player may) unless he actively seeks it; it is put on his "What I want" list.


Another important concept of The Present is the character's principles. this can be something like "I do not trust authorities" or "I will always make a plan before doing anything". I would like to tie this into the same dynamic of Future -> Present -> Past, so the character's principles can change because of some future events the character is seeking. I am not exactly sure how this should be done, though.


I do not have any idea for a mechanic that support these concepts, and my thoughts are in general very incoherent. So any suggestion, ideas, critique etc. are very welcome.

 - Anders
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #1 on: August 18, 2006, 01:14:10 PM »

This sounds very intriguing, Anders.

Am I reading this right that Future are character-defined goals (flags), while Past are player-defined front-loaded conflicts (flags)?  And then Present is the resources available at the time to acheive Future goals or confront Past-spawned conflicts?
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Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« Reply #2 on: August 18, 2006, 02:33:05 PM »

Quote
Am I reading this right that Future are character-defined goals (flags), while Past are player-defined front-loaded conflicts (flags)?  And then Present is the resources available at the time to acheive Future goals or confront Past-spawned conflicts?

The short answer is "yes".

But it is not only a structured way to define flags, it is also a way to describe how flags evolve.

For instance if a character have the principle "Will not allow authorities to misuse their power", and he hears about a lord that mistreat his subjects. The player then writes down under Future "I want to tell the lord that has to behave properly". This is of curse a clear flag to the GM. When the character actually manage to get a opportunity to speak with the lord, there will be a conflict about how this will evolve. Possible outcome could be:

* The character convince the lord, and the character may get a "Friendship with the lord" under Present.
* The lord will convince the character, and the character have to change his principle.
* The conflict escalate and the character kills the lord. He manage to escape, but have left behind an unresolved issue "Is wanted for killing the lord", which is of course something the GM can use against the character later.

And yes, the Present describe what the character have of resources right now. The player can also specify element in the Past, when the character is created, as flag to the GM. Ex: "Everyone back home called me a demon child, but I never figured out why", which the GM then can build on, or maybe the player can ask for scenes and events that are related to it.

I'm sorry if this is had to follow, I am getting the ideas while I an writing.

 - Anders
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #3 on: August 21, 2006, 10:20:29 AM »

It would be interesting if the conflict resolution always and only worked off of the flags -- taking Future and Past entries as 'input' and spitting out different Future, Present, and Past entries as 'output'
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Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« Reply #4 on: August 21, 2006, 03:24:46 PM »

I have tried to think about a resolution system for this game. Here is some of the ideas I have.

What I am trying to work with is that when a conflict arise where the character can change (the element in Future, Present and Past change and move around), the player and the GM set up different possibilities for how the character can change (as example see the possible outcome in my last post). So there are not only one direction if you win the conflict and another if you lose, but there are a number of directions the character can go. The player can then 'weight' the directions, so the directions he would like his character to go get a high probability, and the directions he don't want his character to go get a very low probability. Some dice roll is then made based on these probabilities to determined the actual direction.

The output of this resolution system will result in new flags, but I am not sure how flags can be used as direct input.

The problem is that this kind of multi directional outcome will properly only work in some situations. And because it will change the character (sometime drastically) it should only be done at points in the story that are important to the character.

This is still some very early ideas, so if anyone have something more interesting I could really use the input.

 - Anders
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #5 on: August 21, 2006, 08:20:09 PM »

I suspect everything would run smoother with binary resolution  -- this outcome or that outcome -- but I would love you to prove me wrong.  Multiple-outcome resolution would be neat to see.

The output of this resolution system will result in new flags, but I am not sure how flags can be used as direct input.

You've already got it, you just don't realize it.

I have Future:Elected President, Present:Senator of New York, and Past: Reputation as Bitchy First Lady.

I can set up the conflict "Overcome my reputation" -- on one side, I might sponsor a popular bill and will lose my Past: Reputation and gain Present:Respected Legislator; on another side, the bill turns sour and I lose Present:Senator of New York cause I'm not re-elected; on yet another side, it explodes in a scandal, I lose Future:Elected President and gain Past:Scandal.

The flags that you've already got on your character sheet will shape the kinds of conflicts that you get into.  In fact, I can see an argument that they will both shape the conflicts and can be used as resources to make your preferred outcomes more likely (and your opposition can use other flags on your sheet against you...).
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Eric J. Boyd
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Posts: 114


« Reply #6 on: August 22, 2006, 09:03:45 AM »

Anders,

This is fascinating stuff. I love the fluid nature of the past, present, and future as the character moves through play and meets challenges. The concepts seem related to some of the things I see going on in Hero's Banner, a game where characters are choosing between three potential paths for thier lives; you should look at that design for possible inspiration.

Tying the principles explicitly to the initial past, present, and future of the character seems like a natural way to go - maybe requring one priniciple be tied to each (making one a lesson learned, one a current deep belief, and one an ideal to guide the character forward). Then as the past, present, and future change, you could allow the player the chance to redefine the principle that is tied to that aspect if they desire.

I look forward to hearing more about this design.

Cheers,

Eric

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Anders Larsen
Member

Posts: 270


« Reply #7 on: August 22, 2006, 04:22:20 PM »

Some more thoughts about the game:

While the setting is important for this game, it does not really matter what genre the setting is. It can be fantasy, science fiction, middle age etc. it just have to be a setting the character can explore (I would properly go for a fairytale/fantasy like setting). The exploring of the setting is not what the game is about, but it is a way to get the game going. Just like killing the witch is not really what "The Mountain Witch" is about.

When the character starts they will be very bare bone. They have some principles (Present), and some things left unresolved (past). The character should not have anything in the Future yet - they are just out to explore the world. The GM's job is to present the characters with small adventures ("Help, my daughter is kidnapped by the fairies" and other things like that) that are based on the characters principles. The players can then tie their characters into what happen around them by making motivations (ex. "I will try to befriend the fairies"), and when they stand face to face with what they were after the flags on their character sheets will change.

I also see the players to have the main responsibility to bring their Past into the game. It can be done by introducing events or NPCs that are related to the past or that bear some clues about the past. In this way the GM's primary job is to make the moment to moment stories, and it is the players's job to build the long-running story around their characters.


Joshua,
The idea of multi-directional resolution come from an idea that when the story reach a important point it can move in many directions, and the character can change in many directions, and there may be more than two of these outcome that can be interesting. I have no idea if this will work, and right now it is just an abstract concept, but I will try to put it through play-test (If it survives that long) and then see what happen.

And yes, you are right, I do already use the flags as input to the resolution mechanic.

Eric,
I have heard a lot of interesting stuff about Hero's Banner, so I should properly take a look at it.

 - Anders
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #8 on: August 22, 2006, 06:04:08 PM »

The character should not have anything in the Future yet - they are just out to explore the world.

What about "Future: I will explore the world because of X" or the like?  I really think it's important to "seed" the characters, and in turn the situations and conflicts, or else it will be hard to get the game moving.

Also, keep in mind that "binary conflict resolution" isn't really binary.  It starts with stakes-setting, in which all those possibilities for where the story might go are all out on the table to be picked over.  It's just that the players (through whatever process) pick two of them to roll dice over.  Binary CR isn't as simple as it sounds. ;)
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Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« Reply #9 on: August 24, 2006, 04:41:52 AM »

Quote
What about "Future: I will explore the world because of X" or the like?  I really think it's important to "seed" the characters, and in turn the situations and conflicts, or else it will be hard to get the game moving.

"Exploring the world" should be the default behaviour of the characters so I am thinking about making a additional mechanic to handle that.

The idea is to have a stat or a pool called 'spirit'. Spirit can be invested in relationships and other thing that are in the Present, which will give the characters an advantage in conflicts, but will also bind them to a certain place (bind them to the people there). They can "raise the Spirit" by go out and explore some more, and thereby leaving this place behind.

Likewise I am thinking about having a 'Fatigue' pool that indicate the physical fatigue. This pool starts at zero and rises when the characters exhausts them self. This pool can be brought back to zero by relaxing. I have not figured out the mechanic behind this jet, so again, this is just ideas.

It is possible that there should be a more concrete goal for the characters when the game start like "I want to see the great sea". This will also give the GM some ideas to the setting. And, of course, there should be a personal reason for why they want to explore the world.

 - Anders
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Josh Roby
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« Reply #10 on: August 24, 2006, 07:56:25 AM »

It is possible that there should be a more concrete goal for the characters when the game start like "I want to see the great sea". This will also give the GM some ideas to the setting. And, of course, there should be a personal reason for why they want to explore the world.

That was my thinking -- something to seed the game with, and provide some initial impetus for stuff happening.
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David Artman
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« Reply #11 on: August 24, 2006, 08:39:45 AM »

What about "borrowing" the general notion of Merits and Flaws from other games?

Each Flawed Fate you accept (past, present, future) gives you a Merit for use in things that are resolving for the same time period.
Past: Mysterious Birth v. Untapped Potential
Present: Hunted by the Empire v. Backed by the Rebellion
Future: Become a Jedi Knight, like my father v. Luke, *I* am your father!


As the story we all know (and still mostly love) goes, that Past is the first thing triggered, in the first major scene for this character, which is also a Present revelation scene: The Rebellion Backing him is in the former of an old hermit watcher, who knows his Untapped Potential and begins to... er... tap it. It moves out of Past into Present as:
Present: Force Powers v. Seduction of the Dark Side
...BUT the original Past element is not yet struck-out: there is still mystery, and there will be until the original Future element resolves and moves into the Present, for good or ill.

SO the story moves along, and scene by scene, the Rebellion Backing continues to grow in parallel with the Hunted, until the GM rules (or the system dictates) that a new Present is formed:
Present: Team of Cohorts v. Recognized Criminal
...and in even more time (i.e. end of Episode IV) it might eventually include:
Present: Major Rebellion Leader v. Identified by the Sith

And by the end of Ep V, we see the concatenation of the Past and Future, what some authors call "coming full circle" when feeling lazy. Mysterious Birth and *I* Am Your Father merge into a new Present, just as Untapped Potential dissolves into Jedi Master. Both elements are struck-out, and maybe a new Present AND Future is revealed, as Merit/Flaw pairs:
Present: Jedi Master v. Hunted by the Sith
Future: Free Father from Dark Side v. Join the Sith and Despoil the Galaxy

I guess I am just trying out a form of Actual Play, using a known evocative plotline, to see how many sorts of interrelations and interplays you might need to model. I think it is pretty clear that a Past -> Future thing should happen; and when something "triggers," it needn't even be in the Present.

Hmmm... and what about flashback scenes, used to re-engage a Past and, perhaps, adjust it (like the shift from scarring to sentimental feelings that some folks might have about, say, high school)? What about foreshadowing scenes, used to begin to introduce a Future while in the Present, without defining it fully (lacking the Flaw or Merit half of the pair, to start)? Perhaps that could be how new Futures are pushed into the narrative: foreshadow to let the player choose one half of the pair, and the other players (or GM or system) chooses the other half of the pair when the first is triggered. Or something.

...

OK, I know what spitballing and rambling sounds like. I hope this ejecta doesn't stain or anything... it was given freely out of love.
(ewwww...)
David
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Roy Batty
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« Reply #12 on: August 24, 2006, 12:09:45 PM »

   Cool thread…very interesting ideas.  You've probably heard of this, but in case not, have you ever read The Hero with a Thousand Faces by Joseph Campbell?  (It was mined heavily by Lucas in the writing of Star Wars).  I hope this isn’t too off topic, but what you’re discussing reminds me a lot of his discussion of the hero’s journey in general terms, i.e. what elements are common to hero stories in all cultures.    Here’s a decent summary of the stages:

http://monomyth.org/index.php?module=article&view=7

   While using the diagram exactly, repeatedly would obviously become repetitive, using it as a general guide might help either the GM or the players to generate ideas as to how they could go about pursuing their goals.
   
Hope that helps!
   
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"Pretend to be good always, and even God will be fooled."  --Vonnegut
Anders Larsen
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Posts: 270


« Reply #13 on: August 24, 2006, 02:25:32 PM »

David,
I was actually beginning to go through stories I wanted to tell with his game to see how they fit into this structure, so your example with star wars is very inspiring. I just think you have slidely misunderstood the point of view. I want the Future, Present and Past to be seen from the character's point of view (What he want, what he believe and what he left behind unresolved) and not so much from the story's point of view (What is going to happen, what is the threat now and what went before). But I should properly look on how the overall story can fit into such a scheme; it may become useful. And I can see how flashback (what went before) and foreshadowing (what is going to happen) can be interesting tool to use to tell the story in this way.

Roy,
I recently read about the monomyth on wikipedia and it did strike me how close it resembles the stories I want to tell with this game. But I guess that it is no surprise because I want this game to tell the archetypical adventure story, with that addition that the story should reflect into the character.   

Many of these exploring and adventuring stories can become very fragmented in a role-playing game, because it is hard to make a continuous story when the character keep moving from place to place. So I want to put the continuation onto the character sheet, so it is how the character changes that tells the real story. Another thing is that I want it to be the players responsibility to create the larger threads in the story, so the GM just have to focus on the moment to moment challenges. The players can do this by bringing in elements from their past.

 - Anders
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David Artman
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« Reply #14 on: August 25, 2006, 09:32:56 AM »

I dig your point about character focus, rather than story focus. I think you'd get that out of (most of) my examples of shifts, just with rewriting.
Ex) Mysterious Upbringing = Doesn't Know His Origins

Further, it might be tough to keep my notion of Fate Pairs (merit+flaw) if each half of the pair has to be character-focused.
Ex) "I Am Your Father" can't be made into a character focus, unless it's "Learn Truth About Father"--but that might be odd, given that the *player* wouldn't know that he doesn't know the truth, yet, right? Or would he, but the *character* doesn't? That might be an important core point: are these Fates something that is player knowledge but not character knowledge? Or unknown to both (i.e. character exploration and surprise developments)?

As always, keep what you like and send the rest down the line. Glad to help the brainstorming;
David
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