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Author Topic: a one-sheet for The World, the Flesh, and the Devil  (Read 19252 times)
Paul Czege
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« on: May 28, 2002, 12:03:20 PM »

Some of you are aware that I've been ramping up to run http://www.123.net/~czege/WFD.html">The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, and that the greatest initial obstacle for me has been determining how much, and what kind of information to provide to the players prior to character creation. If the players write the Trials, what keeps them from being wildly disparate in terms of genre, seriousness, assumptions about setting, etc.?

By way of answering those questions, this is the one-sheet document I created for my forthcoming run:

++--+-+++--+-++--+-+++--+-+-+

Immortal River

The world headquarters of the Maccyx-Roho Corporation is four modest buildings, in a community you'd call "suburban" if the nearest city wasn't an ocean away. The nondescript community, Leslie Pointe, with its golf course, high school, bank, city hall, community theater, and quaint residential neighborhoods, is surrounded almost entirely by dense jungle.

Fifteen years ago, with the permission of the international community, Maccyx-Roho bored massive holes through the Antarctic ice, and deep into the Earth, to release the planet's geothermal energy. That effort melted away the ice and exposed 900 sq. miles of great, primal river valley, an unspoiled landscape with a climate like Uganda, and almost constant cloud cover. The project plan was to cultivate the barren, isolated site with hundreds of genetically engineered plant species and microorganisms, testing a packaged ecology that Maccyx-Roho planned to ultimately sell to the world for terraforming Mars.

The valley is now home to many thousands of permanent residents and hundreds of animal species. And the company doesn't actually know how they all got there.

In the jungle is an entrenched aboriginal population, and a black market antiquities trade. There is active illegal diamond smuggling, largely controlled by a native mafia, and an "authentic" African vacation lodge doing good business to wealthy tourists interested in seeing wild game, and sport climbers with plans for the treacherous, towering ice cliffs that surround the valley.

Leslie Pointe, with its sprinkler-fed yards and Range Rovers in attached garages, is buffered somewhat from the jungle by a perimeter of larger, ranch-style plantation homes widely spaced throughout the rolling, grassy hills that half-encircle it. Although not technically a suburb, the area is commonly called Farmhills. And the Leslie Pointe police typically don't patrol into the jungle beyond it.

It is suggested that players create their Trials by imagining a very subjective perspective a character might have on one of the conflicts embedded in the setting. It should be a conflict that spans the interests of the jungle community, and the Leslie Point/Maccyx-Roho community. It can be fairly surreal, if the player wishes. It is the Annotations that humanize the conflict and make it personal.

++--+-+++--+-++--+-+++--+-+-+


Note the absence of Premise. "Encroachment" is not a Premise. All the one-sheet does is sketch out a conflict situation. And it's not even an immediate situation. It's more of a proto-situation. So if the game is going to be Narrativist in execution, somewhere among Trial, Annotations, and dice mechanics needs to be Premise and immediate Kicker-esque situation.

That's a tall order for the players, isn't it? I'm surprised they haven't staked me to an ant hill, covered in honey.

Paul
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #1 on: May 28, 2002, 01:06:17 PM »

Hi Paul,

Given the design of TWTFATD, I think you have already placed the obligation of Premise (that is, if it is an obligation, which is questionable) on the players. Or to put it differently, if there is to be a Premise, it's going to be generated by the players, mainly through the Trials.

That's the way the game is written. "The player writes the Trial." Your own example has the player inventing the entire existence of Nottingham and its sheriff.  

Seems to me that you're seeing exactly what you wanted at the time of writing. Perhaps the trouble, if there is any, is that you're not a player ... and hence are stuck with the job (ie not "doing Premise") that someone has to be stuck with. You wrote a game that firmly places Premise in the players' grubby hands, insofar as they want one (or more). Now you're kind of struck that ... it's in their grubby hands, and not yours.

But wait a minute. I think your one-sheet does the job beautifully. It's only purpose is to provide some "meat" for Premise purposes and a geography that brings characters into the same arena, and that's what it does. No, it doesn't provide a totally explicit Premise, but it's full of conflict of interest - which generates opinion, side-taking, and with a touch of creativity, crises and passions; that is, Premise is "almost there." All set. I like it.

Best,
Ron
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Henry Fitch
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« Reply #2 on: May 28, 2002, 06:39:18 PM »

Hmm. I think I'm missing something fundamental about TWTFTD here, but this seems a bit odd. Let's say one player's conflict is that jungle beasts are stealing babies, another's is that a rare species is on the verge of extinction due to X, and another's is that there's a class-action suit against Maccyx-Roho. Does all that get stuffed into one game?
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #3 on: May 28, 2002, 06:54:03 PM »

Heh.

What Paul's not telling everyone is that we actually did make our characters, just last night, in fact.

We went into it with a lot of apprehension.  We had debated Trials, and what they mean.  We had argued about how much Situation and how much Premise should be explicitly apparent in a Trial.  We had wondered what would be substantially different about writing Trials first, as opposed to characters, or whether there would be any difference at all.  Amazingly, it went well.  Writing Trials and creating characters was both brisk and fun (food from the grill and dessert, compliments of Danielle and her mom, didn't hurt).

Ultimately, we made a decision.  We were allowed to include as much Situation and Setting in our Trial as we wanted, but we were required to write at least one sentence exposing an underlying conflict or moral assertion (our Premise).  All that remains now is to see if any of this stuff can be brought together to form a coherent story.

I sure hope so, but sheesh, it might not be easy.  Consider that we're all working off different Premises, and that we injected a whole lot of content by way of our Trials into the Setting... things like:

- A hollow world beneath the antarctic ice, teaming with strange life, some of it apparently very hostile to the residents of Leslie Pointe.

- A nasty designer drug, harvested in part from a species of spider native to the jungles near Leslie Pointe, that when used in quantity induces a necrotic reaction in tissue (basically leprosy).

- A strange sort of ennui has overcome the employees of Maccyx-Roho, a sort of mass apathy that threatens the continued wellbeing of the community and the corporation.

- A group of eccentric separatists, entirely separate from the river valley, whose frigid Utopia is threatened by Maccyx-Roho.

And that's just the stuff we got out of our Trials; I haven't even mentioned Annotations yet.  We'll see how it comes together.

- Scott
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hardcoremoose
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« Reply #4 on: May 28, 2002, 06:56:31 PM »

Henry,

We were cross-posting, but I think I may have answered your question.  In short, yes.  And yeah, I'm wondering how it'll come together.  But what the hell...with all that stuff going on, it should be fun.

- Scott
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #5 on: May 29, 2002, 05:30:30 AM »

Henry,

I think that Paul wrote the game specifically such that players do have this sort of power. It's all in the line, "The player writes the Trial." Once you know what a Trial is, in this system, that shuts the case - the GM is basically now the overseer for a potentially vast diversity of individual stories.

Those who've been following various discussions about this game over the last months know that this very issue has been the center of my concern with it. Not "Oh no, 'the group' isn't going to be cohesive," but rather, "What unifies (even by contrasting) the various Trials?"

My first thought was that Paul should consider providing a fixed setting for the game. My second was that he should consider providing a defined Premise through whatever means. My third, given the choices that he's made through the discussion, is exactly what he's doing - provide a very sketchy setting with potential conflicts in it, and simply live with the diversity of the characters' Trials - which turns into a wide diversity of concerns during play.

If a GM isn't willing to do this, then he or she shouldn't be playing a game which includes the words, "The player writes the Trial."

Best,
Ron
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #6 on: May 29, 2002, 09:41:37 AM »

Hey Henry,

Let's say one player's conflict is that jungle beasts are stealing babies, another's is that a rare species is on the verge of extinction due to X, and another's is that there's a class-action suit against Maccyx-Roho. Does all that get stuffed into one game?

The short answer, as Scott has written, is yes. Let me see if I can deliver a coherent version of the long answer. Those with delicate constitutions should take heed, we'll be treading deep here into the raw underbelly of game design and playtesting, and it ain't so neat and pretty.

The major issue confronting me as I made plans to run a playtest of The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, was where the Premise would come from. And my initial answer to the question was different than what you're seeing in the one-sheet.

For quite some time, inspired by the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard, and others, I've wanted to design a game where a sort of psychological entropy problematizes the identities of the player characters. So I developed psychological entropy mechanics for The World, the Flesh, and the Devil that would gradually inject stray memories (i.e. Annotations) into the characters and put pressure on when they could use their original Annotations for re-rolls. The Immortal River one-sheet originally ended with:

We'll be using my entropy rules extensions to The World, the Flesh, and the Devil, so expect the characters to take on the memories and traits of NPC's and other characters over the course of the game. That alone will probably make for some fairly surreal game sequences.

The Premise: How does one deal with encroachment? Is a man defined by his thoughts, or his actions?


I was thinking at the time that the Trials players wrote would be mostly Situation, on top of a proto-situation I'd write up in the one-sheet, and that the Premise would be delivered by the entropy mechanics. But for good or ill, I decided to playtest the game out-of-the-box, rather than using rules customized by additional mechanics. The entropy rules seemed to make the game a one trick pony, and I guess I was wanting insight into the core mechanics from playtesting before deciding on the entropy stuff.

But in some ways, that decision made things a lot harder for the players. It's been revealed that writing Trials is very difficult. It makes a lot of sense from a Narrativist design perspective to have players create something like a Trial before creating characters, if the goal is to undermine instincts a player might have to create beautiful, fully realized, but essentially static characters. Creating a character on top of a Trial-like-thing is like situating a mobile home http://www.missouritrailertrash.com/stilts.jpg">on a stack of cinder blocks; you're bound to see some fairly dynamic movement from it as things progress. So play becomes less an exercise in exemplifying what the character is, and more one of burning off potential energy. But as it turns out, disregarding a history of creating character first proves to be immensely difficult. And when you top it off by requiring a little Premise in the Trial along with the Situation, and then you vacillate regarding your design convictions, because it's the first playtest and everything in your head is up in the air, it's amazing that your players are still talking to you after character creation.

Scott's first Trial was:

A group of tourists - all of them wealthy socialites - have failed to return from a routine jungle hike. They've left behind family members at the Lodge, who are becoming increasingly distraught as authorities fail to locate their loved ones, and because they refuse to shut down the tourist hikes.  A potential PR scandal looms for Maccyx-Roho.  (this is Jaws, only in the jungle).

And I read that, in light of the lack of entropy mechanics to deliver Premise, and my desire to use http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forum/viewtopic.php?p=14553#14553">ideas from Dramatica in my handling of NPC's, as Situation without enough Premise. It didn't feel like enough that I'd know how to handle the NPC's.

So I wrote a response, explaining that my current thinking on Trials was that they should speak generally of the conflict underlying a situation the player might be imagining, without revealing much of the specifics of the situation itself, that they should be a statement that reaches out to the presumed human nature of the person who might be reading it, almost an appeal to common fears and values. And that they should be present tense, not past tense.

I suggested that I might rewrite the trial as follows:

People need to be able to place their trust in each other, even when they sometimes have doubts. But there's nothing more painful than being the survivor who discovers a loved one's trust was fatally misplaced.

I explained that the stuff about tourists and PR consequences would be developed through the Annotations he'd write. It was detail more specific to situation than I thought needed to be in the Trial. The challenge for the player, I suggested, was to shoehorn references to situational stuff he thought was cool into the personal context of the Trial, relating it to specific words.

And I ended by saying that my "trust" conflict was in no way definitive, that he could easily have written a Trial about stereotyping, or the fear of appearances being untrustworthy for the same situational stuff.

And after a few more email, and Tom sending around an example Trial, one that included more situation than my rewrite of Scott's Trial, I kind-of changed my mind. I wrote about my concerns:  

The Immortal River one-sheet doesn't contain a Premise. "Encroachment" is not a Premise. All the one-sheet does is sketch out a conflict situation. And it's not even an immediate situation. It's more of a proto-situation. So if the game is going to be Narrativist in execution, somewhere among Trial, Annotations, and dice mechanics needs to be Premise and immediate Kicker-esque situation.

I wrote about being conflicted:

One of my conflicted lines of thinking:

I think it's possible for subjectively asserted values to function as Premise. The question is implied. Either the opinion will ultimately be confirmed, or disproven, or harbored despite evidence of its invalidity. So that's what I was focusing on with my re-write of Scott's Trial, a subjective value statement the audience would be interested in seeing confirmed, disproven, or harbored despite its invalidity. In retrospect, looking at the Trial Tom wrote, I'm thinking I erred in excising too much situation, too much immediate Kicker-esque situation. The Trial should be more than just picking a Premise. It should be a collapsing of immediate conflict/situation, and subjectively asserted values. And the Annotations should create the potential of protagonism for the character by being the things that link the character to the issue. I don't think the character necessarily needs to be the one who harbors the opinions of the Trial. Imagine a "Kids these days don't understand what it means to pay their dues" Trial where the character depicted in the Annotations is a young employee for a diamond importer who has a sick mother.

My other conflicted line of thinking:

The Trial should be a hook that's a lot like what publishers put in larger, colored type at the top of the back of a paperback novel:

"Two co-eds and a sex education professor! When the jungle embraces you there just might not be a chance for romance."

"Lost but not forgotten...when you've lost a loved one, maybe the only thing worse than not knowing what happened is knowing."

And then the game would rely on the Annotations and the dice mechanics to deliver protagonism.


We discussed it a lot on Monday before character creation, and ended up with the players creating what I think are fantastic Trials. They're a little bit Situation and a little bit Premise. But it was real work, like rewiring your brain by hand almost, and the side-effect, as Ron has described, is that there's no real integration of Premise across them. We'll see if that's frustratingly chaotic in play. There was some discussion among a couple of the players about integrating their Trials, essentially starting from the same Trial and just annotating them differently. And that, the idea of the player group writing a Trial collectively, along with the entropy mechanics, is cool stuff I'm strongly considering for the future of The World, the Flesh, and the Devil. But currently, the game might be the most pervy Narrativist system in the whole Forge library. It might be too pervy for me.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
lumpley
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« Reply #7 on: May 29, 2002, 10:44:23 AM »

Hey!  How come you didn't just all informally decide on a premise while you were chatting, like 'is friendship worth the danger?' or 'does wilderness have inalienable rights?' and write your trials to that premise?  You can have a sole premise and still have all the players write their own Trials.

When my crew played the World, the Flesh, and the Devil, we tried once with me writing a Trial and the other players Annotating it, and it was dull.  We never played those characters.  The second time, we all wrote our own Trials, and it was way cool.  Particularly, tossing ideas around about what would make an interesting premise, agreeing to one, and then seeing it reflected in everybody's (otherwise rather disparate) Trials and Annotations.

Seems to me that it should work like this: the one-sheet sets up meaty (as you say) proto-conflicts, which suggest likely premises.  The group chats about the proto-conflicts until premises start to gel, then chooses one they like.  (It takes maybe ten minutes, in my albeit limited experience.)  Everybody writes a Trial that points to that premise, and away you go.

Or am I drifting your game?

Either way I'd rather you add a formal make-a-premise stage than take away player-written Trials.

-Vincent
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #8 on: May 29, 2002, 10:46:21 AM »

Hey Vincent,

Or am I drifting your game?

No. That's exactly what I'm leaning toward for the future.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
Jared A. Sorensen
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« Reply #9 on: May 29, 2002, 10:52:18 AM »

Quote from: Paul Czege
For quite some time, inspired by the fiction of Thomas Pynchon, J.G. Ballard, and others


Definitely has a Ballard feel...kinda like Vermillion Sands (which was part of the inspiration for idoru). I would totally play/buy this game, man.
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Paul Czege
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« Reply #10 on: May 29, 2002, 11:04:16 AM »

Hey Jared,

I'm glad you like it. Honestly, inventing the setting and the conflict was an amazingly difficult creative effort for me. It was all I could do to avoid simming out the setting, using pseudoscience to explain how the valley could have been created so quickly, writing out a timeline, etc. I kept telling myself, "Jared's cars are intelligent in OctaNe, and he doesn't explain how or why. It's not important." So the one-sheet you're seeing is actually my third draft, with all the sim removed. And I'm glad I was persistent, because I'm pretty darn happy with how it came together.

Paul
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My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans
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