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275647 Posts in 27717 Topics by 4285 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 161 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: Relationship maps  (Read 21734 times)
james_west
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« on: June 15, 2001, 09:57:00 PM »

I have to preface this by saying that reading Sorceror's Soul made me feel like Saul on the road to Damascus. It solved a fundamental problem I didn't even know I had, in a way that should have been obvious. I feel as though scales have fallen from my eyes .... I've been using them for everything from plotting stories and scenarios to understanding the essence of books, movies, and real-life family dynamics in my social work.

So: there was a thread in another website in which Edwards explained that connections like money were inappropriate links in a relationship map because these were more violations of humanity. He frequently refers to proper links as based on family or sexual ties. However, even in the maps in his book, he occasionally has ties based on loyalty/friendship rather than these two. I suspect then, that what he really means is that the links in a relationship map should be based on motives with a fundamental emotional impact.

These fundamental emotional relationships can, of course, be negative as well. Some lines are based on horrific deeds that someone has committed against another person on the map. This sort of relationship can be just as strong.

It has occurred to me that he sticks to the types of relationships he does because they seem to be cross-culturally universal.

However, it has occurred to me that (1) it is possible to posit that other relationships may imply equally strong emotional ties in other cultures, and (2) that they can be assumed to in alien creatures (such as demons).

Of course, this begs the question of whether a story that is a thematically strong, but only to a culture or species that's unrelated to the people playing the game has any relevance to anything ...

Aside: When I've been drawing maps, I've done the positive relationships in thick green bars, the negative ones in thick red bars (sometimes two people are linked by both bars ...) and I've been hanging the secondary relationships off of the primary ones with thin black bars, with the secondary characters in smaller point type. Frequently, what the PCs are trying to work out is who's central to the web and who isn't, so these secondary characters can seem important to the PCs.

My second point is that the relationship map alone is a wonderful starting point, but probably not all the preparation you need to do to run a strong scenario (which is, perhaps, obvious).

For some time, I've been doing something a little less structured even than the 'set of encounters' method: I've just been writing long sections of description of people and places, and sections of dialog that are for no person or situation in particular. The important part is that these are not anyplace in particular, and the people are not anybody in particular, nor do these places or people even correspond to any particular part of the plot (so this isn't even clever illusionism.) They're just there so that, no matter what the players decide to do, I'll have some well written, detailed descriptions and characters that match the mood of the setting to go along with it. I realize in rereading this that one may think this is a rediscovery of the 'rogue's gallery' phenomenon, but in my mind it's substantially distinct.

(I should provide an example of one of these sets, but a large number of my wife's relatives are here, and the office which contains the computer I normally plan games on has become a bedroom).

Anyway, to my mind, the combination of a relationship map, a set of atmosphere maintaining descriptions that can be used anywhere, and a starting situation is pretty much all you need.

        - James
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joshua neff
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« Reply #1 on: June 16, 2001, 06:12:00 AM »

One of the cool things about the relationship map (that i'm only just getting a handle on) is the idea that the relationships aren't meant to draw the attention of the characters, necessarily, but the players--which is why Ron's so insistent the ties be based on strong relationships (blood & sex, or maybe both). "Wait! That NPC is sleeping with this NPC's husband? & this NPC is the brother of that NPC? Woah!" Is the character intrigued? Probably. Is the player intrigued? Certainly.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #2 on: June 16, 2001, 06:18:00 AM »

Hey James,

...there was a thread...in which Edwards explained that connections like money were inappropriate links in a relationship map because these were more violations of humanity. He frequently refers to proper links as based on family or sexual ties.

I think reason the important relationships to map are those of sex and blood is because those are what's important to the players...not the characters. Knowing that Susie is Mr. Samson's secretary is largely irrelevant to the players, because it just doesn't have any thematic weight. What's significant is who she's sleeping with.

However, it has occurred to me that (1) it is possible to posit that other relationships may imply equally strong emotional ties in other cultures, and (2) that they can be assumed to in alien creatures (such as demons).

Interestingly, I had a recent realization that the contemporary Simulationist approach to making game events important to the player is exactly opposite the relationship map method. The Simulationist approach attempts to make relationships that would be significant to the character significant to the player by prioritizing possessor stance.

But an alien culture does make for an interesting situation. If sex doesn't have emotional context and even incest is casual among the aliens, it still seems to me that you'd map those sexual relationships...because the important context is determined by the players. Perhaps Ron or Dav Harnish have some thoughts on this from Ron's recent Orkworld scenario.

Of course, this begs the question of whether a story that is a thematically strong, but only to a culture or species that's unrelated to the people playing the game has any relevance to anything ...

And here you've hit the nail on the head.

Paul

[ This Message was edited by: Paul Czege on 2001-06-16 10:22 ]
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greyorm
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« Reply #3 on: June 16, 2001, 09:27:00 AM »

Quote

Knowing that Susie is Mr. Samson's secretary is largely irrelevant to the players, because it just doesn't have any thematic weight. What's significant is who she's sleeping with.


No.  What's important is whether or not Susie's boss wants to bang her, and if she's resisting his advances despite needing the raise she'd get for doing it.

If she's sleeping with her husband or her boyfriend, but neither is involved with the story of Susie's work-place troubles, then you have an extraneous relationship line that isn't needed to tell the story.

What's important here is whether Susie going to summon up a slavering beast of a demon, confront her boss and tell him that if he doesn't give her a raise and stop trying to get her in the sack, he's going to be banging her demon instead.

Hey, with a little more background, that's a great start for a sorcerous detective noir game (anyone remember those old HBO movies where magic was used commonly in the pulp-detective era, and this one detective never used magic?  Yeah, yah...love that stuff).
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: June 18, 2001, 06:39:00 AM »

Argh, this again.

The rules o' relationship-maps are as follows.

1) Establish all ties of family relationship and sex/romance first. Raven is right in that irrelevancies like the secretary's boyfriend who has NOTHING to do with the story do not count.

2) Then, if you have people who aren't mapped yet, THEN rely on ties of obligation ("works for," etc). Certain forms of intense friendship count.

And always remember that a map is PART of prep and play, not ALL of it. A list of NPCs and their desires, orientations, and activities is necessary, just as in GMing of any kind. And the basic Sorcerer requirements of back-story, sorcerous technicality, and "ending plans" (which are much looser in the new version, by the way) are needed too.

That oughta do it.

Best,
Ron
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jburneko
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« Reply #5 on: June 18, 2001, 10:29:00 AM »

While we're on it there's something I've been thinking about.  Relationship maps and how they relate to epic campaigns.  All the scenarios provided in the Sorcerer's Soul feel like one-shots to me.

Now since Relationship Maps are for the back-story and do not include the actual PCs I was wondering what a relationship map would look like for the following:

The Whole Babylon 5 Saga.
Assuming you took out Sheridan, Ivonova, Garibaldi, The Doctor whose name I can't remember, Dilenne and maybe one or two others, what would the rest of the story look like?  They're aren't any family or sexual ties, anywhere.  It's all politics, schemes and events but a good campaign none the less.

The D&D Movie.  Bad script and production values aside the core story is a perfectly valid adventure material but not relationship material compatible.

Willow, another great epic fantasy not really relationship map compatible.

So, how do you use relationship maps for epics or large, long and involved campaigns where you're thinking is in terms of events, plans and schemes, such as the Castle Falkenstein plot I outlined out GO, and not really in terms of who's sleeping with who. Or do those of you who use Relationship Maps simply not run this kind of game?

Jesse
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #6 on: June 18, 2001, 12:44:00 PM »

Hi Jesse,

Remember, relationship maps are specifically for stories that address the issues in "Soul" - moral identity, what is Humanity anyway, and the boundaries among transgression, victimization, and exercising power.

Sorcerer is very well suited for role-playing "about" these things, and the relationship map method is one of the best ways to go about it. (My re-write of Sword for the bookstore version will present a coherent alternative, by the way.)

I've also found it tremendously useful for my other role-playing, but bear in mind that I'm into these sorts of issues as a general thing. Thus my Hero Wars game is heavily into personal intrigue and the price as well as privileges of worshipping a particular deity. My Orkworld game was all about a family conflict (which, as it was human, was interpreted interestingly by the ork PCs).

But if it's not appropriate for the TYPE of story/issue you want to explore, bag it. There are lots of other methods, ranging from metaplot to intuitive continuity.

Best,
Ron

P.S. I've found Sorcerer to work well for long-term play, but DEFINITELY in approximately 5-session installments, which usually permit Kickers to be re-written and aspects of the characters to be re-defined in between.
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james_west
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« Reply #7 on: June 18, 2001, 08:29:00 PM »

It's traditional to ignore the artist's interpretation of their own work.
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greyorm
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« Reply #8 on: June 19, 2001, 09:48:00 AM »

It's traditional to ignore tradition.

With a slight grin on my face, and that said, what, exactly, do you mean?  Ignore Ron's stated way to use the relationship map and set it up your own way?  Or what?

I'm not quite connecting with the relevancy, so would you clarify?
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Rev. Ravenscrye Grey Daegmorgan
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james_west
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« Reply #9 on: June 19, 2001, 08:34:00 PM »

Quote

what, exactly, do you mean?  Ignore Ron's stated way to use the relationship map and set it up your own way?  Or what?


Sensei seems to think we don't understand what he meant when he wrote the rules, and so has been clarifying them. I think we do understand what he meant (they were very clearly written in the first place), and are interested in figuring out what else we can do with them.

(Which is not to say that there's anything at all wrong with the way Edwards says we ought to be using them, and I'm pretty sure I understand why he says to use them that way.)

         - James

[ This Message was edited by: james_west on 2001-06-20 00:38 ]
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #10 on: June 20, 2001, 06:33:00 AM »

Double aaarrgh.

James,

Jesse wanted to know about a thing. I told him what I think about the limits of relationship maps regarding that thing.

This isn't a "rule," nor was I telling anyone what they did or didn't understand about the "rules." (Christ! mumbling, mumbling)

In the interests of peace & love & human happiness, I shall now point out some of the potential of relationship maps, as well as make a claim.

The claim first: the very lack of relationship maps in Willow and the D&D movie is what makes these movies weak. Then, the potential: I suggest that epic or large-scale stories benefit a great deal from relationship maps, whether underlying the whole or reinforcing local scenarios. The Lord of the Rings is a good example of the latter.

Prepping for such an approach in role-playing is undiscovered country. I'm working on it with Hero Wars, which turned into a long-term game mainly through player threat, and it turns into a kind of "chapter" effect, one map (or several maps) at a time.

Best,
Ron
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Dav
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« Reply #11 on: June 20, 2001, 06:42:00 AM »

(mumble, mumble)... I *liked* Willow, and I never did manage to get past page 50 of Lord of the Rings.

On the whole, however, I'm with you.

I have a question, however, and one more bent toward the hypothetical (don't kill me).  I have found that in my running of a game, putting "in place" relations between NPCs is often a bad idea.  I like to play off of the character's reactions to NPCs before I even give a thought as to whether or not the person knows other NPCs.  In a recent All Flesh Must Be Eaten (long title) game, I tried the relationship map method of preparation, and while I felt the game ran "okay", it didn't seem to have that zip and punch feel to most of my games.  Part of this I attribute to the game itself (as we were not as familiar with it, and it was only a one-shot), but I think that having things mapped in terms of relationshps slowed me down.  Maybe it is just me and the way I am used to running things, and maybe my players liked the game more than I did... who knows?  It was just an observation of mine.

Dav

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james_west
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« Reply #12 on: June 20, 2001, 07:32:00 AM »

A couple of thoughts that have occurred to me re:relationship maps.

(1) An interesting idea for a one-shot is to prepare pregenerated characters with complex histories (make sure they read them carefully) and have them occupying most, if not all, of the positions in a relationship map. The people within a relationship map are usually only aware of the links that lead to themselves, and may not even be aware of some of those (or who the line leads to ...) Pretend that the point of the scenario is something else, but that something else will have been caused/orchestrated by the main villain in the relationship map, and investigating it will inevitably lead to unraveling of the map.

(2) More loosely, relationship maps are a formal way of preparing a particular type of back-story. However, as has been alluded to above, there exist other types of back story. What are they, and might they be amenable to a more formalized method of preparation ?

The examples mentioned were 'adventure' stories, but this isn't the only type of story that falls outside the relationship map foundation. While some high literature is clearly about puzzling out relationship maps (not just the Noir that Edwards recommends - Ulysses, for instance, is very clearly based on a complex relationship map), other high literature does not seem to be. If that is true, why are they thematically compelling, and can the reasons be adapted to role-playing games?

-----
Dav -

I've occasionally created something akin to relationship maps on the fly, as you suggest, when the players clearly wanted a different person to be the villain than was the villain in my original scenario (I guess this is an example of giving the players strong directorial power without telling them ..) However, I'm not sure it's a good idea; it's hard to make up all the other details on the fly, which will lead to things not meshing very well.

                  - James
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Uncle Dark
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« Reply #13 on: June 26, 2001, 11:52:00 PM »

Quote

On 2001-06-18 16:44, Ron Edwards wrote:
My re-write of Sword for the bookstore version will present a coherent alternative, by the way.


Ron, you are a tease.

I suppose you're going to make us all wait for this, without more than the vaguest of hints, aren't you?

And, does this mean that &Sword is going to show up as a paper supplement like the core rules have gone to press, or are you referring to a section of the new book?

Back to topic...

I thought about relationship maps and epic campaigns.  This is what I came up with (and I admit it's fantasy-specific):

1) Recall that royal families of feudal nations are often inter-related, even incestuous.  Make the map a picture of two or three noble houses or royal lines, and then you've got backstory that will keep plots churning out long after the PCs have figured out the details of who's buggering whom.

2) A relationship map of the gods gives a truly epic story, as legions of mortal followers strive to enact the desires and protect the interests of the dieties.

Lon
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joshua neff
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« Reply #14 on: June 27, 2001, 04:12:00 AM »

lon--

have you read kenneth hite's suppressed transmission? there's an essay about the byzantine emperor justinian supposedly being half-demon & his empress theodora being a sex-magic using diabolist. it just screams sorcerer. i read that essay & started thinking along those same "incestuous royal family" lines.
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--josh

"You can't ignore a rain of toads!"--Mike Holmes
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