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Ideal to Application: Turning an Example into System [Long]

Started by Le Joueur, May 09, 2002, 10:28:05 PM

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Le Joueur

In the spirit of presenting 'ideal play' situations to bring rules up to par with, I'd like to present this little vignette.  While I was reviewing some of my favorites from our collection of video and I found one of my more inspiring favorites.  It numbers amongst the list of things I say 'changed the way I game forever,' hence the reason for using it as an 'ideal session.'

What I am presenting here is a transcription of the dialogue from the anime, translated as The Big O, that ran for a short time on the cartoon network (and only a single season in Japan).  I have added the necessary interactions between the imaginary 'actual players' to turn it into an 'ideal' play session.

The epiphany it provided was a simple one.  For a long time I have been working on jargon to talk about 'things the players are not meant to know (at first)' in order to create Techniques in Scattershot.  I want to show what you can do when you cut this to the absolute minimum and allow a lot more Gamemasterful sharing.  So far I have settled on calling it 'Mystique,' but I might be able to come up with a better term.  For the gamemaster, Mystique is the Gordian Knot that is present in the game into which the players are invited to plunge.  (A great deal of Mystique Technique revolves around 'advertising' it; making 'untying' this knot a most 'attractive' route for play.)  Outside of that, in Gamemasterful sharing, players are free to make up what they want as needed by their approach to play.

Oh yeah, 'what was the epiphany?'  What if a player had their own Mystique?  This would be something they keep just as secret as some things a gamemaster would (like the identity of the murderer in a 'murder mystery' Genre Expectation).  No one but the player knows what it is and they practice the same Techniques used by the gamemaster to 'seduce' the other participants into, if not discovering the secret, at least giving it a fair amount of enjoyable narrative 'attention.'

Anyway, using Scattershot's Genre Fusion Technique, this is a Noir Game (I don't have my list of tropes handy, but this hits most of the highlights) primarily, except it is set forty years after some 'event' that left this one city as the sole remainder of an entire civilization.  (There is heavy implication that the 'event' was a biblical style apocalypse, largely because no one remembers anything from before it and so few survived.)  Oh, and one more thing, every major action takes place using giant robots ala the Japanese anime standard.  (Id est; Noir first, but don't forget to have giant robots in every 'episode.')

This means that, while advanced technology exists (and occasionally turns up), most people use only an ambiguous mix of items ranging from the 20s to the 70s.  More specifically, the game functions as a modern-to-slightly-outdated setting, but all the Mystiques that drive the narrative stem from either the 'event' or the presence of advanced technology (and result in significant giant robot action for the climaxes).  One of the themes underscored by the rarity of advanced technology is how parts of the city are domed, separating the haves (thus corrupt) from the have-nots (thus down-trodden), offering even 'class war' themes.

The Cast:
    R. Dorothy Waynewright - the 'R' stands for robot; Dorothy is an android of rare wit, best described as having her youthful, pale beauty eclipsed by an eternally dour expression (that results from being more 'human' than many of the other characters in the game and how that seems to grate on her situation).  Her character has at least one Mystique that has not been revealed to the group (not even the gamemaster).

    Roger Smith – A military police officer turned wealthy playboy by his incredible talent for negotiating (and the exorbitant fees, think about it; freelancers
negotiate their own price right?)  He operates and maintains his own secret giant robot (in typical Bruce Wayne, millionaire playboy, style) and protects 'the little people' from similar threats.  Dorothy's counterpart when it comes to 'exploring humanness' (she's a very 'human' android; he's a near 'inhuman' bon vivant), Roger is the nexus of the game.

Norman Berg - Roger's battle-scarred butler (in typical comic book style, he plays a one-eyed Alfred Pennyworth to Roger's Bruce Wayne), he plays the 'trickster' to the above relationship, 'helping' things fall into romantic 'place.' (He is the major non-persona character.)

All other characters are the gamemaster's set pieces.[/list:u]Prior to this insert, Dorothy had just arrived demanding Roger's services for protection!  During that meeting the gamemaster interrupted (the scene was obviously headed nowhere) with a 'visit' from Roger's former commander.  After brief pleasantries, it was revealed that the ransom Roger delivered (thus receiving Dorothy as hostage) was for a daughter that did not exist (probably why the client, Miguel Saldano, was less than satisfied with the result).  This is the heart of the Mystique for that episode.  The Commander also delivered a threat regarding 'going around the law' when pursuing kidnapping cases (the scene would have failed the Noir Genre Expectation without such a familiar device).

With this we open play:

Roger's player: I guess I'll have to go see Saldano then.

Dorothy's player: Oh!  Let me Set the Scene; 'Down in his private garage, Roger Smith drops into the plush seats of his dark car, the Griffin.  He starts it, but as he throws it into gear, Dorothy slips into the seat beside him.'
    Dorothy: You're going to Saldano's factory, aren't you?

    Roger: Do I have to make you get out?

    Dorothy: You may try, but I'm doubtful that a mere human would have the strength.[/list:u]
Roger's player: Frowning, I speed out of the garage.

If it weren't such an establishing scene, the gamemaster probably would have rewarded an experience die or two.  You can't really do that because these early scenes 'set the bar' after which things can be more adequately judged.  This Genre Expectation is in respect of the underlying romance between detective and client in so many Noir stories.  Thus such verbal banter is otherwise to be rewarded.
    Roger: Why did you come to me instead of going straight to Saldano?  I mean after all he's, well, he
is sort of your parent.

Dorothy: Parent?

Roger: That poses an interesting question.  I'm stumped on this; what would an android call its creator?[/list:u]This kind of interaction was an agreed-upon part of the Sine Qua Non of the Dorothy persona.  It substantiates her persona's reason for the eternal dour expression.  Wouldn't you be insulted if, while trying to 'become human,' someone kept 'reminding you' that you weren't in so casual a fashion?

Dorothy's player: Dorothy glaringly ignores him.
    Roger: Dorothy?[/list:u]
Gamemaster: (Nicely played, have an Instant Reward, Dorothy.)  The Griffin pulls up to Saldano's factory; it's an impressive building, gigantic by any scale.  It looks very much like those buildings they use to assemble the Space Shuttle.  Cautiously, the two of you go inside and are surprised to find a similarly gigantic hole ripped out of the floor of the facility.
    Roger: What is this?  What happened here?  Do you know?[/list:u]Roger's player is obviously prompting Dorothy's player for clues relating to
her Mystique since he knows it's related.  None is forthcoming:

Dorothy's player: Dorothy gives Roger one of those dour, long-suffering looks, but says nothing.

Gamemaster: Continuing the search, you do a double take as you realize that you aren't standing near a wall, but actually a tremendous, vertical assembly platform, in the shape of a cross.


At this point the group takes a short break, partly because they're hungry, but mostly to let the events sink in a bit (sometimes stepping away is the best way to heighten Mystique).  The break also allows the players (who at this point are still working out their personas' relationships) to figure out how they will proceed.  New games can be kind of rough that way; extra time aids in early characterization and persona adjustment.

Later:

Roger's player: After locating the control room, I look for clues

What do you expect?  This kind of play is a bit new for this player.

Gamemaster: Let's Cut to the Chase; upon getting to the door of the control room, you see the supine form of Miguel Saldano amidst the broken glass and wrecked control panels.

This might seem like railroading at first, but in this Genre Expectation, there are only a few possibilities for an abandoned scene.  (Excluding finding nothing, which would have been handled by the Gamemaster Flashing Forward a new scene.)  In order for the scene to move the plot forward, something very significant must be here.  Also the Genre Expectation includes the fact that searches rarely happen, it is quite common for clues to pretty much 'jump out at you.'

Notice how the player makes a correct assumption right out of the Genre Expectations regarding Saldano's fate:
    Roger: Saldano!  
[I run into the control booth!]  Saldano.  [I prop up the dying man in my arms.]

Saldano: [Weakly:] I never wanted to build it.  Not for people like that.

Roger: What did you build?

Saldano: [He notices Dorothy, standing behind you.] Ah, my other Dorothy, the second, you came back.  You are the one who's my real daughter.

Dorothy: He assembled me using blueprints, nothing more.  It's just the deranged ranting of a dying man.

Roger: That's enough; you shouldn't talk like that.  [I almost said, 'about your father.']

Saldano: It's all right, nightingale.

Roger: What?!?[/list:u]Gamemaster: Saldano slips into the big sleep without so much as a whisper.

Having 'delivered the goods,' now the gamemaster is thinking about how to close the scene.  Based on his ideas of where the story is in terms of the Tension Spiral, he decides that a little more action is required (likely because he felt that the death didn't carry enough 'psychological weight' on par with the current 'Dramatic Velocity').

Gamemaster: Outside, sinister goings-on are afoot.  Two heavies have arrived, 'to finish the job.'  Standing by their car, one of them is aiming a bazooka at the control booth.  Looks like they're trying to dispose of the evidence (and a pair of witnesses they don't even know about).

Roger's player: I lay Saldano out respectfully and adopt a 'respectful pose' while I try to listen for the killer.  I just realized be might still be hiding nearby.


Though he doesn't explain it, Roger's player is retroactively acting relative to what the gamemaster is doing.  He reasons that his persona has made this realization and that in doing so would try not to act to let any observer know what he's doing.  He also knows something about his persona's equipment, a Mystique that he shares with the gamemaster; the Griffin (and his watch) are meant to be a wealth of advanced-technology-based deus ex machina.  He knows the gamemaster won't kill him outright, or probably even injure him, so early in the Tension Spiral.
    Dorothy: What are you doing?  Praying?

    Roger: Sh![/list:u]
Gamemaster: Roger's watch beeps and the indicator tells him that a missile has 'lock on' for his position.
    Roger: Run!  Hurry![/list:u]
Gamemaster: Both of you leap from the exploding control room, shards of hot debris pelting you from behind.  You land on a catwalk high above the construction floor.
    Dorothy: Aren't you going to return fire?

    Roger: With what pray tell? It's not like I don't pack a lunchbox full of missiles when I go to work.[/list:u]
Gamemaster: The heavies spot you and pull out their guns.  [Switching to Mechanical play...]  That'll pretty much take up Thug One's turn, Thug Two will reload the bazooka; what do you do?

Roger's player: You know what?  I bet the Griffin
does have a hidden missile rack.  [He tosses a couple of Experience Dice.]  Yeah!  And I'll use the watch to target them on the killers' car.
    Roger: Since you're no mere human, would you...?

    Dorothy: You want me to decoy their fire?

    Roger: Bingo![/list:u]
Roger's Player: I give Dorothy a shove getting her started and activate the missiles (that's two actions).  Next turn, I can target and fire them.

Dorothy's player: Since I am too agile to trip, I may as well start running.  Don't you think an android could run faster than a human?

Gamemaster: Definitely (please pay your Experience die now), it fits in with your 'superhuman' Sine Qua Non; I like it.  Such unusual behavior definitely gets the heavies attention.  Machinegun fire begins to pepper the catwalk behind you as you speed away down it.
 [The gamemaster, figuring both the range and speed are quite high, assumes that a hit is unlikely and aborts rolling.]  Thug two fires a second missile after Dorothy, it picks her out as the target automatically without lock-on.  It's very fast, but Dorothy nearly outruns it; the explosion destroys the catwalk behind her and it collapses from under her.

Dorothy's player:  Dorothy raises her hand even before she begins to fall and catches some exposed tubing as she plummets towards the ground below.  (This forfeits my next action.)

Roger's player:  My turn!  It's kind of hard to do this with a watch, so I aim (that's one action) and fire the missiles (that's the other).

Gamemaster: There's a tremendous explosion.
[Realizing he doesn't really care to do a 'mop up' scene, the gamemaster Cuts to the Chase.]  After the dust settles, you both return to the Griffin.
    Dorothy: You're a louse, Roger smith

    Roger: Well, that's a first, I'm used to human women saying that to me.[/list:u]Sensing an opportune moment:

Gamemaster: (Ooh, nice.  Here's an Instant Reward Roger.)  The console in Roger's car beeps.

Since a lot of what 'drives' a Noir Genre Expectation with a 'usual' amount of Self-Consciousness of narrative, has to do with colorful portrayal of 'character' via well-delivered lines, many of the Instant Rewards go for just that.  What the players probably didn't realize was that Dorothy's usual deadpan delivery creates an unconscious avoidance of granting her the same.  Fortunately, as the game wears on, she begins capitalizing on the situation this puts her in, using it to sharply focus the emotions she does evidence.  (I especially like the part, at the piano, when the near motionless android playing says, 'sometimes everyone feels like playing the blues.')

Roger's player: [feeling quite in persona right now] I casually lean down and grab the microphone from its hidden caddy.  A small TV screen crackles to life.

Gamemaster: (That'll cost you another Experience Dice,
this time.)

Roger's player tosses it over as casually as his persona answers 'the call.'
    Roger: Yes Norman?

    Norman [played to the hilt by the gamemaster]: Master Roger, in west dome number five, there's a report of a giant robot.  At the moment it's attacking the Mint Bureau Building.  What do you intend to do sir?

    Roger: Norman, isn't it obvious?  Dorothy, I think we just found your big sister.[/list:u]Roger's player believes he has resolved the Mystique and right on time for the big confrontation.  A wink from the gamemaster tells him his suspicion about the 'giant cross' and the hole are correct.  After all, he uses the underground to transport Big O, why shouldn't anyone else?

    You might think that an Instant Reward (or a later one maybe) is deserved here; it is not.  'Solving the mystery' is reward in and of itself; no dice are needed.  Besides the sudden occurrence of this next, pretty much strips the Mystique bare.

Dorothy's player: On the way to the dome, in the plush red (?) interior of the Griffin (a nod from Roger's player)...
    Dorothy: What will you do?

    Roger: What I'm paid to do.  According to my contract I have to return your sister.

    Dorothy: But your client is dead, why bother?

    Roger: I have a contract to fulfill.  They're living, they're dead; it doesn't matter.  That's how I work and....

    Dorothy: And what?

    Roger: You've now got a contract with me as my new client.[/list:u]Here it is Dorothy's player's turn to validate Roger's Sine Qua Non, specifically the part about his honor system.  Roger's player is exploring the idea whether, while he is the 'humanness opposite' of Dorothy, a strict code of honor (also being 'mechanical') is 'good enough' to be 'the good guy.'

    This little interchange also formalizes (at least in the short term) the relationship between the two of them, spontaneously too.

Roger's player: Here Dorothy, take this Instant Reward.

Dorothy's player: What for?

Roger's player: I liked the way you helped me illuminate my persona.
 [Roger's player is having and especially lucid moment, because I don't care to write out how I really see this interchange going.]

Gamemaster: (Good point.  Here, let me Replace that one.)  On the way into the dome, you encounter a roadblock.

Dorothy's player: Can we play this out a bit?

Gamemaster: Okay, a military police officer pulls you over.
    Cop: Huh?  Hold it!  This dome is cordoned off, hotshot. Let me see your ID.

    Roger: You're a rookie?  Be smart and remember my face next time, okay?[/list:u]
Roger's player: Whoops.  I claim a Coup!  You forgot that I was well-known in the military police.

Gamemaster: Yep, you're right.  Here, how about one Experience Dice?
    (Make that:) Rookie: Hey!  Wait![/list:u]
Dorothy's player: As the car speeds away from the stop, Dorothy notices something.
    Dorothy: My Father!

    Rookie: Stop!  Come back here![/list:u]
Gamemaster: Bringing the Griffin in as close as you can, you see both the giant robot snaking its tentacles into the Mint Bureau Building and the military police being able to do just about nothing.
    Roger: (We get out of the car.)  All of it fits.  That thing is what Soldano was creating on the sly.

    Dorothy: Dorothy one!

    Roger: I can understand why the kidnappers thought you were useless to them.[/list:u]That basically closes this Mystique (yet creating a few others), and now play switches to archetypical giant robot battle for the climax (this replaces the 'shoot out' common in Noir).  Roger's player and the gamemaster prepare to switch approaches to playing the Joueur to see exactly what becomes of the other robot.  Don't worry about Dorothy's player (remember this is bound into
her Mystique), so she'll have a huge impact on the battle without even 'suiting up.'
    Roger: Now Big O, it's show time.

    Dorothy: [Looking hauntedly up at the monolithic robot:] Stop it...father.[/list:u]Roger's player chose, as part of his input into the Genre Expectations, to have his character 'shout' that 'activation phrase.'  Dorothy's player agreed to it (not letting anyone know she plans on making snide comments about it all the time).  The gamemaster pointed out that it seemed about right, but only a clear dedication to the source material will keep it from turning into running slapstick.  All agreed.

    One of the challenges with the creation of this game is that Dorothy does not and will not have a giant robot.  It was plain that some other way would be necessary for her to take part in all the robot battles, so that's where the idea of her player having a robot character came from.  Her indirect participation in these battles therefore forms the crux of her Sine Qua Non.

This ends the example.

Now, there are a number of things I am still trying to work out here for Scattershot's Techniques.  Most people are pretty familiar with 'Set the Scene,' 'Cut to the Chase,' and 'Flash Forward' from all the discussions of 'scene framing.'  What I am having trouble with here is how to express these in terms of player-enablement.  Any suggestions?

I suppose I shouldn't be surprised that even this example was mired in Sine Qua Non and Genre Expectation issues.  Have I revealed anything here that I badly portrayed down in the Emergent Techniques threads on Sine Qua Non and Genre Expectations?  Not having much feedback, I don't know how well I expressed those.

The major piece debuting here is the whole meta-game reward system and how it is used to reinforce and support the intention of a specific game and it's Genre Expectations.  Is it clear, from this example, how to use Experience Dice, Instant Rewards, Coups, and Replacements?  I know I haven't got much experience in writing examples, but are there any applications of such that you have questions about?

What do you think of the idea of Mystiques; I plan to address this down in the Scattershot forum later.  The same goes for the techniques for Dramatic Velocity, Pacing, and the Tension Spiral; are they useful?

I'm looking forward to your responses.

Fang Langford
Fang Langford is the creator of Scattershot presents: Universe 6 - The World of the Modern Fantastic.  Please stop by and help!