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Author Topic: Storypunk - Reviving the One Party System  (Read 5802 times)
Jonathan Walton
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« on: February 09, 2003, 12:08:10 PM »

This is a attempt at distilling a long-running project that started out as something called "Quixote & Coyote" and ended up as something called "Storypunk."  The original threads are linked below, for those interested, but they aren't necessary to understanding this new thread.

Quote from: In previous material, I

The game might be described as something like "cyberpunky Universalis with PCs": the characters are "story hackers," people who travel between the various stories that make up a kind of story-dreamworld and then alter them as they see fit.  Originally, it was also an allegory for roleplaying itself, with a strong focus on themes of alienation-from-reality and escapism.  Whether or not those will actually make it into the final version... I don't know.

Concepts I Am Committed to:

1. The Troupe -- a mandatory One Party System where the characters are forced to stay together at all times for their own good, similar to Nobilis' families of Nobles or Continuum's spanner corners.

2. No Individual Quantification -- all story hackers have the exact same powers and abilities; they are different people with different interests, skills, and desires, but none of these are quantified as part of the game mechanics.  As such, there are no character sheets or individual stats.  Everyone just gets a sheet explaining what all story hackers can do.

3. Group Quantification -- besides the common sheet, the Troupe itself is quantified as a whole, similar to the way shared Imperators and Chancels work in Nobilis.  These traits are owned collectively by the group.  If additional abilities are gained, everyone has equal access to them.  If limitations or bad things happen to the Troupe, they affect all members equally.  This encourages group unity and responsibility, but it's also tied into the fabric of the game.  Characters lack all power outside of the Troupe; only together can they hack stories.

4. GM-less Play -- as in Universalis, no single player has sole control over the stories that make up the setting; instead there is a rotation where each character (and their player) gets to narrate what occurs.  This's because the characters have entered a story and taken over total control of it.  I'm currently developing the mechanics to support this, so I can't explain it too much yet.

5. A Moderator -- while there is no GM, one of the characters takes on a role as leader of the Troupe.  This moderating role is quite distinct from the GM because it is entirely IC, much like the paladin who might lead a traditional party of heroes.  However, the Troupe is not organized on the lines of a traditional party, but more like a military unit or business.  The leader knows what has to get done and makes sure that people either volunteer to fulfill certain tasks or are delegated that responsibility.  The Troupe Leader's player also moderates the OOC rotation of narration rights, in the current model, though that responsibility could be given to another character (the Secretary-General?).

6. "Occupations" of Responsibilties -- each character has a set of responsibilites to fulfill as a part of the Troupe; if you've read the recent discussions on character roles in a party, this should be pretty familiar.  However, there are no default positions within a given Troupe (aside from the moderator role).  The Troupe members are free to divide up responsibilites however they want, but there will be a list of duties that are traditionally a part of a Troupe.  A character could then volunteer for/get assigned a certain number of responsibilities that together form their role.  For example, if Susan gets assigned Female Leads, Environmental Conditions, and Large Conflicts, she might be dubbed the "Storm Mother" of the Troupe, either by herself or the other members.  Of course, these responsibilities can rotate, be reassigned at any time, be abandoned or traded in the middle of a story, or juggled however the Troupe wishes.  Responsibility then, is ultimately collective, not individual, despite the fact that it often seems that way, from the characters perspective.

So, what I'm basically doing is what Deng Xiaoping and Jiang Zemin did in China: taking a One Party System and injecting it with a ton of ideas that come from a more diverse perspective, to the point that it doesn't really resemble an arbitrary, contrived, and planned system anymore.  Any thoughts, concerns, or ideas would be very helpful, since I'm trying to prep this game for a con playtest in March.
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #1 on: February 10, 2003, 04:28:10 AM »

Empowerment through Community? Is this where the game is heading? Enforced community (even if willing it is still enforced) should not be an issue, since otherwise why did you sit down to play in the first place? My main question is where is the conflict? Clearly you can have a game where people are not trying to kill each other, but where does Conflict arise in the game? Through competing Story Changers? Through the ire of those whose stories have been changed?  Is it akin to Sliders, where they travel from story to story and those IN the stories have no concept of the Force that is coming through and changing them? Does the environment fight or struggle against the change? Why are the characters here? Is it punishment? Is it instinct, i.e. are they here because it is in their nature to be Troupe and thus seek to change the dynamics of the Story/Worlds?

Its a very nifty concept and I am very curious to see how it works..

Sean
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Jonathan Walton
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« Reply #2 on: February 10, 2003, 12:08:33 PM »

I wrote a big long response to this, but then tried to copy it and save it as a Word file and ended up accidentally losing the whole thing.  Damn.  Here's the short and sweet version...

What I hear you asking, Sean, is "what's the premise?"  What do the characters do?  Why would we want to play them?  In trying to figure out how to answer your question properly, I took my own advice and read through all the old posts about this concept, all the way back to when it was "Quixote & Coyote."  That helped SO MUCH, I can't even begin to descibe it.  It's got me really jazzed about what I'm doing here and the themes I'm playing with.  Here's what I (re)discovered:

Design Premise/Intention: How can you get ALL the players to take responsibility for the game/story?

Narrative/Game Premise: What story would you create for yourself?  What are you willing to do (or give up) to see it realized?

Themes: Escapism, Power Fantasies, You Can't Go Home Again, Social/Collective Responsibility, the Hero with a Thousand Faces, Building a Community/Family, Life is What You Make It, You Are What You Eat, Selfishness vs. Selflessness, Conservation vs. Development, the Unity of All Things, Why We Roleplay, Are We Merely the Sum of Our Experiences?

Philosophy: Individuals are ultimately selfish, doing things for their own benefit.  Communities work because, through working together, individuals can achieve goals that are impossible or much more difficult on their own.  Communities opperate through compromise and trade: you give up some of your freedom for the assistance of others, helping them so that they will, in turn, help you.  It's all about the social contract, basically.

Conflict: The important conflicts are the internal ones, either internal to an individual or to a group.  You care about yourself and your community more than you care about outsiders, so obviously those conflicts are more personal.  Key points of conflict have to do with collective responsibility and how everyone works for the good of everyone else.  This is both character internal ("Am I pulling my own weight?  Why can't I just do what I want?") and group internal ("Why do we always have to bale him out?  Why does he always boss me around?").  External conflict should serve to reinforce internal conflicts.  Attacks by outside forces disrupt the normal balance of responsibility, as individuals bear the brunt of the attack, are temporarily disabled, and others have to step up to the plate.  Afterwards, the group has to re-designate responsibility, which is bound to cause conflicts.  Imagine "The Real World" with a bunch of semi-literary characters traveling through the streams of Story.

Addressing the Design Premise/Intention: Already talked about that in the opening post of this thread.

Addressing the Narrative/Game Premise: This is what I was really thinking about today, trying to work in all my original ideas about escapism into my new concepts about responsibility.  Escapism, after all, is ultimately about avoiding responsibility for your life, but it never works.  Life always comes back to bite you, and the game should reflect this.  We address this with the Premise: "What story would you create for yourself?" implying that you have responsibility for the story that you're in, and, given a chance to escape to another story, now have responsibility for the story you've chosen.  Also, the story you choose should affect you in clear and recognisable ways, otherwise you bear no responsibility for it.  To support this, here's some new ideas about how individuals are described in this very group-based design scheme...

Building Personal Themes

I think I was wrong before when I said that individuals wouldn't be quantified in any way.  Obviously, the group is important, but if the game is about group-individual conflict, the individual has to have something at stake too, which isn't emphasized in the current model. So...

One of my original concepts was that players in Storypunk would play themselves; THEY would be the ones trying to escape from their life by playing Storypunk and traveling the streams of Story.  This makes the allegory with roleplaying more obvious and creates some interesting opportunities for meaningful roleplaying that tells you a lot about yourself and others.  Whether people want that or not is a fair question, but I'm going to assume that some people do, because that's certainly the case for me.  I wish roleplaying was more focused on telling stories that were useful and insightful as well as being fun.

However, it's also important to have some distance between player and character, and Storypunk provides an easy way to do this.  During the course of the game, the players will hack into various stories and take on responsibility for story elements (characters, setting bits, enviromental conditions, different types of conflicts, certain kinds of plots, etc.) and, in doing this, they literally BECOME these things, if just for a while.  And this merging of self with story element affects them on some basic, measurable level.  After all, if you play Hamlet in several performances, the great Dane is bound to have some influence on you as a person.  Storypunk works the same way.

So, what players can do is start building Personal Themes, based on their own experiences and their experiences in the game.  So, if you have a lot of anger towards the world and your character keeps getting roles as angy characters, or storms, or violent conflicts, or killer diseases, you might want to claim the Personal Theme of "Destruction."  You are begining to be intimate with Destruction; you are almost to the point of BECOMING Destruction.  Your eyes might gain a dangerous wild look.  Your hair might slowly change to be the color of fire.  Fragile objects might shatter whenever they are in your general area.  Your character has stopped being a mirror of yourself and become an avatar of You+Destruction.

In this way, characters really are "the Player+All the Roles They've Played" as part of the game.  You're not only building a story for you to be in, but your building yourself into the person you (hopefully) want to be.  When you look at an experienced Story Hacker, you can see a representation of all the people and things they've ever been.  Those who specialize in villians might be dark and brooding character actors, while those who often play bits of the setting might have leaves in their hair and smell of cement, super-plastics, and tree sap.

Sound fun?
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ADGBoss
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« Reply #3 on: February 11, 2003, 06:26:41 PM »

More then fun it sounds like quite a challange as a player and from a design stand point.  I think its very clever to focus primary conflict on the group and group vs individual model then group vs nature.  To my knowledge I have never seen that used before in a game I have been a part of in any way.

Sean
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Spooky Fanboy
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« Reply #4 on: February 11, 2003, 10:42:39 PM »

It's like that film, Waking Life, only all the characters we meet are struggling to take control of the stream of narrative flow instead of just letting it slosh along.

I think.  

Cool. Surreal. Different.
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