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[Iä! Iä! Ph'iles] Twisting the plot

Started by Christoph Boeckle, September 24, 2006, 09:43:38 AM

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Christoph Boeckle


This is an idea submitted by my friend Julien for my game The Iä! iä! Ph'iles, a game of prep- and GM-less investigation with an attempt to include dramatic characters. There's a playtest report you may consult if you wish to get an idea of the game.

So, here is the idea (influenced by Thomas Robertson's posts about editing and plot twists):

Knowing that player characters receive Traits defining their sociological and psychological aspects in the initial stage of play and that these Traits will lead to suspicions about their role in the mystery to be resolved, Julien suggested that Traits may be swapped at a later stage between characters, so as to lead to surprising revelations ("Patchett wasn't the chief criminal after all, Smith was the one pulling the strings!"), perhaps even plot twists.

On one hand, I'm a bit anxious that this will break character credibility, since previous stages build up off of each other and that this might make a jarring transition to which no player was prepared during the fiction.

On the other hand, the whole game relies heavily on hypotheses and the exact meaning of new material introduced is only validated at a later stage, making this game quite open to "editing".

I'm looking for some useful information to add this option as smoothly as possible in my next playtest. Are there any games that do similar things and for which this has worked out well? Is there something that fundamentally make this idea promising or unworkable that we might have missed due to being too deep into the stuff?

Thanks in advance!


Hi Christoph !!!

Glad to see you work on your own game !!! That said, here's my two cents ...

When you read a novel, watch a movie, whatever, if you have a plot twist, you want a good one ... a bad one is worst than having no plot twist !!

Just like it is mentionned in the article you mentionned above, goods plot twist are based on a couple of things. Here's two, I believe, you can manage to incorporate into your game :
- it needs to be defined in advance. Meaning, in the early stage of the narration, you need some tracks, some clues, that might reveal the twist (which, of course, you "see" when you reread/rewatch).
- it needs to be plausible. Could you believe it or is just "out of the hat" ?

So, just a couple of ideas I'm throwing around, use them as you see fit (as you know, I'm not good at designing rules, so I'll let you have the trouble) :
- how about allowing the players to choose a secret trait at the beginning of the session. To take your example, you're the chief officier, but have, as a secret trait, psychopath or lord crime (you're the one pulling out the string) ? I believe it allows the players to say way ahead.
- Given this secret trait, how about allowing the players to, either do the swap with another player who has the same trait, or just switch to this trait, but only under certain circumstances. I don't really see how ... maybe you need to have done something before, in earlier scene. That way, your secret trait may or may not be revealed during the session. This prevents some kinds of automatic swap. For example, the psychopat officier might be the killer, or not. Maybe he's still a psychopath, but not the one the players are chasing in the current scenario. Maybe even give some kind of veto to the other players ... That way, you make sure the plot twist is believable.

Thinking about this secret trait, I believe you can use it for other things ... what exactly, I'm not sure.

Hope this could help !!!
Sébastien Pelletier
And you thought plot was in the way ?
Current project Avalanche

Christoph Boeckle

Hello Sébastien!

You're absolutely right about the two things plot twists have to be based on. Since this game generates a certain amount of red herrings and under-used stuff, I will see if there's a nice way to tie those left-behind elements as a requisite component of creating a plot-twist, which should be a good step towards fulfilling those criteria.

I took good note of your secret-trait suggestion, but for the while being at least, it seems counter productive to the transparency of character and mystery creation I want to instill into the game. I'll see what comes of it in upcoming playtests.

Thanks for your time and ideas!


As I mentioned to you via PM, I'm working on a similar project right now, so I've been thinking down similar lines.  Something that I have floating around in my design idea is the Big Secret which, when revealed, changes everything.  So, for example, in Chandler's novel The Lady in the Lake, getting the proper identification of the body in the lake is the "snap" moment which alters everything else.  My thinking currently is that this will allow some rewriting of previously established information that is otherwise sacrosanct.  However, I do think that the use of the Big Secret needs to be limited to once or twice per game maximum.

So, perhaps there's a way in your game for a player to earn the right to do a reveal like you're discussing.  Make it an expensive option, but a viable one.  So (just skimming the rules of the game), maybe that's something that you can spend Investigation points on.  Then ramp up the cost for the next Big Secret to make it harder for the next person.

This may not work for your game.  I'm coming at the detective genre from a different angle than the strict mystery angle, so this may not work for you.  But, since you're sharing with me, I wanted to return the favor.
Seth Ben-Ezra
Dark Omen Games
producing Legends of Alyria, Dirty Secrets, A Flower for Mara
coming soon: Showdown

Christoph Boeckle

Hello Seth,

Yes, there will definitely be a cost associated to this. I was thinking that this would be an option to be used during Revelation, spending Drama points (or donating those to the guy who you're stealing the Trait from, shifting the ability to narrate the character's outcome from you to him).

I'll be replying to your PM in a minute, thanks!