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Author Topic: Court of 9 Chambers: new description mechanics  (Read 3824 times)
talysman
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« on: November 24, 2002, 11:19:49 PM »

I've been working on the next version of "The Court of 9 Chambers", something a little more robust while still maintaining that flexible minimalist feel of the first version. the first "Court of 9 Chambers" was definitely Gamist, but this version will be more flexible; I think it will be easy enough to drift away from Gamism by simply de-emphasizing the transcendence goal of the original, making it just one of the possible Noösphere actions instead of a prize; also, I have added two new die rolls which will make the game either Narrativist or Sim Exploration of System and Color, depending on how they are used. that's what this post is about.

the original details of the game are located here: part one and part two. but here is the game description in brief, followed by the two new mechanics and my question about the effectiveness of those mechanics.

PREMISE:

"what would you do for your art?" (Narrativist) or,
"what would it be like if your dreams and ideas had a vivid reality all their own? what if exploring the imagery that drifts through your mind could reveal the secrets of existence?" (Simulationist)

CONCEPT:

In "The Court of 9 Chambers", YOU are an artist, gifted with an understanding of a shared dreamscape known as the Noösphere. players take on the roles of surrealist and symbolist artists in the mid 20th century who have turned to neoplatonic mysticism; they explore this mystical realm through Ideal Forms called Motifs.

CHARGEN:

Co9C chargen is minimalist; there are only three permanent numerical values: Essence, Extrovert, and Introvert. the very first step in chargen is to name the artist; in contrast to other games, names in Co9C are crucial. the next step is to create a monogram from the artist's initials, then convert this to a number, the Essence of the character. afterwards, assign a number between 1 and 9 to Extrovert, then set Introvert equal to (9 - Extrovert). round out the artist's description by writing a few short sentences about what the artist looks like, favorite place to be, and so on.

what truly distinguishes one artist from another is a combination of secondary characteristics and the decisions made to acquire them. the bulk of character description -- possessions, relationships, motifs used in art, talents -- are all treated almost identically in the game mechanics. artists can begin the game with no secondary characteristics at all or with specific kinds of characteristics; the original Co9C presentation suggested beginning with three motifs and one tool, but the choice is really part of the social contract.

the secondary characteristics are all rated in terms of intensity and Essence. the characteristic's Essence is a derived numerological value, like the artist's Essence. intensity is the number of dice a characteristic can potentially add to the player's dice pool, if used.

REWARDS:

in Narrativist play, the real reward would be the narrative itself, but this is constructed from the artist actions when seeking new motifs and using them in paintings or in the Noösphere. general character improvement in Co9C means acquiring motifs, allies, tools, and other secondary characteristics. there is no such thing as experience points or any kind of expendable metagame resource; you improve your chances of success by acquiring new secondary characteristics.

likewise, reduced effectiveness is indicated by temporary secondary characteristics, such as a Wound rating, instead of a permanent value. the abstract Distance value in the original version of Co9C is now generalized to cover travel, concealment, wounds, fatigue, and anything else with a temporary value; essentially, Distance translates into the total number of successes needed to achieve some goal, a general indication of how long it will take to complete the action.

MECHANICS:

players take turns calling for scenes (or optionally, a GM calls for scenes) and describe what they are doing. actions that don't change anything or challenge anyone else do not require rolls; the default assumption for Co9C is "whatever the artist tries to do, succeeds". dice rolls resolve conflicts, determine degree of success, or determine how long it takes to finish an action.

the dice roll uses a dice poll technique. the general format for resolving a conflict is:

[list=1]
   [*] decide which secondary characteristics the artist wishes to use and whether these will add any dice to the pool;
   [*] note the target numbers for the roll, based on the artist's Essence and the Essence of secondary characteristics uses;
   [*] roll a number of dice equal to Extrovert (for actions affecting the real world or other people) or Introvert (for actions affecting the ideal world or the artist's inner self,) including any extra dice;
   [*] count any die results matching any target numbers in play to determine the number of successes;
   [*] if the action is opposed, also count any die results matching the target number(s) of the opposition; whoever has more successes wins the conflict, with the difference between the two being the degree of success.
[/list:o]

the main die rolling techniques are the simple roll, the opposed roll, and the extended roll (where a series of rolls are used to increase or decrease an abstract Distance number.) the two new mechanics are:

    [*] Dramatic Rolls: used when an artist needs to boost success for another roll. any otherwise ordinary action (one which normally would not require a roll) can be described as preparation for another action; any successes rolled count as successes in the final action.
       [*] Color Rolls: used by a player to affect a scene in which that player's artist does not appear. on a color roll, the goal is insert random Motifs into someone else's scene to add interest. the Motifs added do not help or hinder any artist in any way; they are simply color. color rolls are Introvert rolls, but the dice can match the target number of any of the artist's Motifs; any Motifs matched may be added to the scene.
    [/list:u]

    here is an example of play to illustrate the new mechanics:

    Alf, Beth, and Siggy are playing GMless Co9C. Alf's character is André Loup (Essence 4, Extrovert 4, Introvert 5); Beth's character is Bouffe Noël (Essence 7, Extrovert 3, Introvert 6); Siggy's character is Saul Vidor (Essence 5, Extrovert 5, Introvert 4).

    Alf wants to recruit a model for a painting André is doing (and to add a new Motif) but doubts he can do it in a single action, so he decides to build up to it. Alf says, "André visits his favorite coffee shop, his mind pre-occupied momentarily with ideas about his next painting, when he spots a dark-skinned woman wearing a red headscarf and dark, rough clothing. he strikes up a conversation with her." normally, Alf would not roll for this action, but he chooses to make a dramatic Extrovert roll and gets (7, 6, 4, 9) for one success.

    still not satisfied, Alf says "André buys the woman a cup of coffee and finds out her name is Tatyana Schiff. he finds out more about her background, discovering she's a member of the visiting german ballet company." this nets him (4, 5, 4, 3) for two more successes. he then asks her to model for him as a ballerina in his next painting and rolls (5, 6, 1, 9) -- no successes, but he built up three successes previously, so Tatyana becomes a model.

    Alf wants to do another scene later... he's going for a walk in the park with Tatyana to look for a good location for the painting. before he rolls, however, Beth says, "I want to add some color to your walk in the park" and rolls (1, 7, 5, 9, 7, 8). consulting her list of motifs, Beth notices she has "green parrot" under Essence 7 and marble statue under Essence 1, so she adds "while walking through the park, you notice two green parrots sitting on a marble statue. one of the parrots squawks as you approach and flies away." this adds details to the scene, but doesn't directly affect Alf's actions. Alf then rolls a dramatic roll for his walk in the park and gets (4, 3, 6, 6) for one success. he will add that success to his roll to paint Tatyana's portrait later.

    my question is this: do the dramatic roll and color roll mechanics sound like they will encourage more description in play, or will players tend to ignore them? if you were playing Co9C and had the color mechanic, would you use it to add details to someone else's scene, or would you dismiss it as a useless frill?
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    John Laviolette
    (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
    rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
    Emily Care
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    Posts: 1126


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    « Reply #1 on: November 25, 2002, 01:49:52 PM »

    Quote from: talysman
    my question is this: do the dramatic roll and color roll mechanics sound like they will encourage more description in play, or will players tend to ignore them? if you were playing Co9C and had the color mechanic, would you use it to add details to someone else's scene, or would you dismiss it as a useless frill?


    Hey John,

    The motifs and color rolls fit very well with the artistic focus of the game, as do the surreal or breaking-the-fourth-wall aspects they could add.  I can see playing this game to be reminiscent of being a character in one of Peter Greenaway's films (Painting by Numbers, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, etc) or the Red-White-Blue Trilogy by Kristoph Kieslowski (still gotta see Red, White was okay, but Blue was an amazing film that supported the emotional content and themes of the film by interjecting the color blue...)  

    So, if I was playing the game, I think I would enjoy making color rolls to emulate that sort of text.  However, if there's no discernable effect, I might forget to do it, and other folks who aren't aesthetically so inclined, might see no point to it at all.  Is there any noosphere connection that you'll make?  The introduction implies that Motifs will be important.  I'd recommend having the color introduced have some effect, otherwise it might be a bit too much like Greenaway's films can get, all artifice and no meaning.  

    This reminds me somewhat of themes and painted stages in Themechaser as described in this thread.  

    Good luck.  Looks good.  Glad to hear more about Co9C!
    --Emily Care
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    Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

    Black & Green Games
    talysman
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    « Reply #2 on: November 26, 2002, 12:01:47 AM »

    Quote from: Emily Care

    The motifs and color rolls fit very well with the artistic focus of the game, as do the surreal or breaking-the-fourth-wall aspects they could add.  I can see playing this game to be reminiscent of being a character in one of Peter Greenaway's films (Painting by Numbers, The Cook, the Thief, his Wife and her Lover, etc) or the Red-White-Blue Trilogy by Kristoph Kieslowski (still gotta see Red, White was okay, but Blue was an amazing film that supported the emotional content and themes of the film by interjecting the color blue...)  

    So, if I was playing the game, I think I would enjoy making color rolls to emulate that sort of text.  However, if there's no discernable effect, I might forget to do it, and other folks who aren't aesthetically so inclined, might see no point to it at all.  Is there any noosphere connection that you'll make?  The introduction implies that Motifs will be important.  I'd recommend having the color introduced have some effect, otherwise it might be a bit too much like Greenaway's films can get, all artifice and no meaning.  


    thanks, Emily. this was exactly the problem I was worried about. the dramatic rolls have a built-in reward for using them, but the color rolls don't... and yet, I do want players to feel a part of scenes they are not "in"; I also want play to be very descriptive.

    part of the problem is that, after noticing how the current version of the game has very little in the way of metagame mechanics (except relating to the social contract,) I decided I really liked that approach. I want the character reward system to be "in play", without experience points, metagame resources that allow rerolls, or similar rules.

    so my first idea is to make color rolls have an in-game reward, but then it sounds like a magic system. I'm trying to keep the "straight" version of Co9C from being a magical game. despite all the mystical talk in the game, if you assume that the shared dreamscape of the Noösphere is "all in the artists' heads" or just a metaphor for what artists say to each other in their paintings, then Co9C doesn't look like a fantasy at all. (there will be variant rules in the final product, however, to allow players to push the game in either the "totally realistic" or "synchronicity magic" directions.)

    there are some other issues I've noticed. when I wrote the game example above, I noticed that the color roll seems like an interruption, not a legitimate part of play. also, I thought about the way players declare which tools/motifs/secondary characteristics to use for a roll, then roll, then try to match the Essence numbers to the die roll, and it seems a little too complicated.

    I think I have some ideas that might salvage color rolls as well as simplifying the mechanics. first, get rid of the rule about declaring specific secondary characteristics; instead, the player describes what the basic action is, rolls the dice, and looks up the die rolls on the character sheet. for an opposed roll, the opponent looks up the player's results as well. artists (and opponents) can use one appropriate secondary characteristic for each number matched. that seems a heck of a lot simpler, and practically turns every roll into a color roll, if the player describes how the matched secondary characteristics weave into the action.

    second, rather than have other players interrupt a scene with color rolls, maybe they should play incidental characters in the scene. Beth could temporarily speak for Tatyana, for example, supplying dialogue and actions (without actually interfering with Alf's purpose in the scene, since it's his scene. Siggy could be a waiter or a guitar player in the corner, interjecting atmosphere descriptions. the color roll, then, would be a way to brainstorm unusual imagery to insert into the scene, moving the gameplay more towards "creating a french or swedish artfilm" (unfortunately, just about my only experience in the artfilm genre...)

    third, maybe a roll of 0 (which doesn't match any of the Essence numbers) could indicate that all the players need to make color rolls, forcing random elements into the scene.

    the Noösphere works a little differently, since Motifs added to a Noösphere scene can actually be used as a kind of "magic". color rolls would mainly show up during random exploration of the Void areas of the Noösphere, or on a rolled 0.

    I think the game is starting to sound like more fun and less work!
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    John Laviolette
    (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
    rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
    Valamir
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    « Reply #3 on: November 26, 2002, 07:39:33 AM »

    You've mentioned that there is no experience point system per se.  But what if inserting the motif into someone elses scene earns you a check in that motif which enables you to increase that motif at some point.  In otherwords having periodic imagery of green parrots floating around ties the character more strongly to the green parrot motif.

    Its also fertile ground for a metagame mechanic but you seem to be avoiding those.
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    Emily Care
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    « Reply #4 on: November 26, 2002, 10:28:07 AM »

    Quote from: talysman
    first, get rid of the rule about declaring specific secondary characteristics; instead, the player describes what the basic action is, rolls the dice, and looks up the die rolls on the character sheet. for an opposed roll, the opponent looks up the player's results as well.

    How does this work? What is it they are looking up?

    Quote from: talysman
    second, rather than have other players interrupt a scene with color rolls, maybe they should play incidental characters in the scene....moving the gameplay more towards "creating a french or swedish artfilm" (unfortunately, just about my only experience in the artfilm genre...)
     

    That is a good way to keep the other players engaged in the action.  Or else you could do something like in Sorcerer where in the initial development there is emphasis on developing storylines that will be of interest to the other players as audience.  You might even want to consider having the players agree to some aesthetic everyone wants to see in the game--either one for the group as a whole or individual ones represented by motifs, which each player could be explicitly asked to support in each other's scenes.  Though that is backwards from what you have now, where everyone paints their own motifs into a given scene.  

    I think that folks interested in playing this game will get something out of the color mechanics, they just have to be vested in the visual outcome somehow.

    Quote from: talysman
    third, maybe a roll of 0 (which doesn't match any of the Essence numbers) could indicate that all the players need to make color rolls, forcing random elements into the scene.


    I like the other ideas better. The more integrated it is, the more enjoyable it will be to play.  I see the players looking for opportunities to introduce motifs, rather than having to "come up with something".

    Quote
    the Noösphere works a little differently, since Motifs added to a Noösphere scene can actually be used as a kind of "magic". color rolls would mainly show up during random exploration of the Void areas of the Noösphere, or on a rolled 0.


    Neat.  What will the characters use the magic for?


    --Emily Care
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    Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

    Black & Green Games
    Emily Care
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    « Reply #5 on: November 27, 2002, 10:25:45 AM »

    In this thread
    Quote from: talysman
    the whole point of the game is "Art Combat" and the ability to weave Motifs into paintings and dreams


    Art combat?  Why didn't you say so?  If there is a competitive element to it, then that seems like a fine incentive.

    --Emily Care
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    Koti ei ole koti ilman saunaa.

    Black & Green Games
    talysman
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    Posts: 675


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    « Reply #6 on: November 29, 2002, 09:46:14 PM »

    there will be a competitive element to Game Variant One, although that competition can be de-emphasized in the other variants. the assumption is that someone is challenging the artists' use of motifs, but that does not necessarily have to be another player-controlled artist; it could be another group with a different spin on what is truly meaningful and what isn't... or it could just be "the world at large".

    one of the ideas I'm working on is a way to get those color rolls to invoke rival groups. for example, I once read one surrealist's description of her encounter with the SS during the nazi occupation of prague. she and her companions were scared shitless because their passports showed that they had been in spain during the civil war there, and they had connections to anarchist and communist groups there; the nazis started asking probing questions about what this "surrealism" was all about and eventually (fortunately) came to the conclusion that it was an art movement.

    I would really like these kinds of challenges to rise up during play, even in GMless play, and I see a variation of the color roll as a way to do that. this is why I suggested the three changes I did. incidentally, I was thinking of these changes as a combination rather than a list of alternatives; I was a little surprised that change #3 didn't go over very well.

    change number one: roll the dice and look up the results... this might make more sense if compared to the character sheet. I dug up the old link I posted in the Iron Game Chef thread:

    Co9C character sheet

    you will notice that I have a box for each of the nine chambers running in a wide column along the right side of the sheet. I plan on making changes to the sheet, but this column is pretty much here to stay. when a player rolls 4 dice and gets (7, 3, 1, 5) the player would look up each of those numbers and select something from each appropriate chamber. if the player rolls two 7s, the player can select two items from the 7th chamber. the limitation is that, depending on the artist's action or situation, certain kinds of secondary characteristics are not appropriate: for example, motifs can be used in the shared dreamscape and in color rolls, but not for hiring servants, physical combat, or other real-world actions.

    change number two: playing incidental characters... I think this is a better way for other players to introduce color rolls into the scene than simply interrupting someone else's narration.

    change number three: automatic color rolls on a roll of zero... this is the beginnings of the technique I suggested above. maybe I won't actually ask for a color roll, but instead say that for every zero rolled, the scene is changed in one way. the other numbers rolled can be compared to everyone's character sheet to see if something useful can be selected. I was planning to introduce nazis and dadaists and other groups by alllowing people to take an Enemy secondary characteristic (not as a "disadvantage", but as an embellishment to make play more interesting.) on a roll of 5, if someone has Nazi listed as an Enemy, Nazis could show up as a complication.

    as for magic: no magic in standard play, but the way artists manipulate the dreamscape could be described as magical. I don't mean to imply that they can affect the real world at all, although this will be described as a play option. even in that case, I woul encourage players to keep the magic "coincidental" in flavor. these are artists, not superheros or wizards.
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    John Laviolette
    (aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
    rpg projects: http://www.globalsurrealism.com/rpg
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