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Author Topic: Shadows in the Fog: New Stuff  (Read 16595 times)
clehrich
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« on: February 21, 2003, 10:59:53 AM »

Session Structure

A number of people have suggested that I put in something about session structure, and this is more or less a sketch of the piece to be inserted.  I want to make it clear that I think this is one extreme end of how Shadows in the Fog could be run, with the opposite extreme being a traditional “party” structure.  I suspect that most games will run somewhere in between, for the most part, as this structure may get a bit bewildering if applied too formalistically.

A more carefully formulated and theorized version of this structure will eventually be posted as an Article, with explanations of where it comes from and what it’s really all about.

Running Plots
There are likely to be five main types of plot:
    [*]Group plots
    [*]Individual plots
    [*]Secret plots
    [*]Exposition plots
    [*]Background plots[/list:u]
    Group plots are your classic RPG party plots.  The gang has a goal, or conflict, or whatever, and they deal with it more or less as a group.

    Individual plots are plots that center around a single PC.  Sometimes such plots will intersect and run in parallel, but the point is that many players’ PCs are not involved.  For such plots, every player should have a GMC to play, whether long-term or short, and these GMCs should have a fairly clear purpose in the plot.  The goals are those of the individual PC and player, and everyone else’s stuff takes a backseat role.

    Secret plots are just individual plots that for some reason the player (with GM approval) thinks should be kept secret from the other players for a while.  Obviously the GMCs are going to have to played by the GM.  This shouldn’t be overused, but there are times in Shadows in the Fog when cool secrets should be revealed relatively late, rather than have everyone pretend not to know what’s going on when in fact they’ve been in on it from the beginning.

    Exposition plots are a way to get setting detail and whatnot on the table.  You introduce major GMCs, show the gang around a new section of London, initiate them into a secret society, whatever.  This sort of plot is usually pretty railroaded, because that’s the quick way to do the exposition.  Consequently, such plots should not dominate play, nor should they necessarily come up every session.

    Background plots are generally run entirely by the GM, as cut-scenes or whatever.  Here’s where you create suspense in the classic Hitchcock sense.  You may recall that he said that if you have a scene with ten people sitting around a table, when suddenly a bomb explodes under the table, you have surprise; if the viewer already knows there’s a bomb, and then you have the people sitting around talking, you have suspense.  So background plots are a way for the GM to show everyone that there’s a bomb ticking.

    Now here’s the trick: all of these are likely to be running concurrently.  Exposition and background plots are thrown in as needed, but every PC has his own plot, and to be sure the Group has a plot.  PC plots do not derail the rest of the game, run as mini-campaigns or whatever, but run in parallel with everything else.

    Plot Arc
    The classic story arc goes something like this: setup, conflict, climax, resolution.  At a broad level, every plot here runs that way as well.  At the session level, every plot ought to have the same sort of structure, but usually without resolution.  In between stages, you cut to the next plot.

    Thus in one plot, we start with Sir Danvers Carew walking down the street (setup).  Cut to other things.  When we get back to it, a loathsome individual comes walking the other way, and Sir Danvers stops to ask him directions; the loathsome individual appears to become filled with rage, for no apparent reason (conflict).  Cut to other things.  When we get back to it, the loathsome individual suddenly flings himself upon Sir Danvers with his cane, raining down a storm of blows with ape-like fury, until the poor man is left a battered corpse upon the empty street (climax).  End of plot for this session.

    Now this example is so simplistic that it doesn’t really work like a real RPG plot, but I’m not going to invent a whole back-story and so forth.  So here’s a quick schematic:

    Setup is the stage in which we remind ourselves of what’s going on (where we left our heroes last session), and indicate what today’s focus is going to be.  In individual plots, this may be largely controlled by the single player, depending on what’s going on, or it may be that the GM or another player (via a GMC) wants to introduce some new thing.  The point is that as soon as everything is clear, which usually happens quickly, the plot will begin moving toward its apparent end-point.  Once you reach the threshold, where it seems like the next thing that will happen is the climactic moment, cut away.

    Conflict delays and complicates the climax.  Some new factor enters the plot just before it can resolve itself simply, and that factor must be dealt with through integration, elimination, or whatever.  This is often the heart of the plot for the session: you have to deal with this problem before you can get the payoff.  As soon as the conflict is resolved, so that things can move on to a climax, cut away.

    Climax is payoff.  Now that the whole situation is clarified, it can be resolved dramatically.  This is commonly where combat scenes occur, though that can also be in the Conflict stage.  Ideally, the climax should be dramatically satisfying and relatively intense.  As soon as the climax itself has been achieved, end the plot for the session.  Don’t go into a long denouement, unless actually the climax is located there.  This is sort of like a cliffhanger.

    An important point here is that the intensity in question is dramatic or emotional, and can really only be judged effectively by the players.  For some groups, this may take practice, as they are naturally inclined to want to move on to the climax rather than cutting away.  The idea, however, is that each stage has its own intensity and “build,” and the players will get increasingly good at squeezing maximal intensity out of setup and conflict, so that the climax is necessarily very intense and satisfying.

    Overlapping Arcs
    Every multi-session plot has its own natural arc, and cannot (or should not) be predetermined.  This means that during any given session, one plot may be reaching its overall climax at the same time as others are in the setup phase.  Ideally, what will happen is that in every session, one plot should be reaching its overall climax; as a rule, the session-setup of that plot should come first, while its session-climax should come last, ending the evening with a bang.  Once that plot has finished, it should shift well into the background until it gathers steam again; thus it goes back into the setup stage, actually searching for a new climactic direction.

    If all goes well, this means that in every session, something is coming to a head; there is never (or very rarely) an entirely expository or slow session from a plot point of view.
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    Chris Lehrich
    clehrich
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    « Reply #1 on: February 21, 2003, 11:14:57 AM »

    Fun With Trumps

    PC Plots and Trumps1
    One way to give direction and focus to individual plots is to mark them with Trumps.  At any point in the setup or conflict phase of your current running plot, you may lay down a Trump, and explain to what object, idea, goal, or person you wish to apply it; this Trump is now called the Guiding Trump for that plot.  Apart from this explanation, however, you may not Interpret the card. This is the only time that you may ever play a Trump without Interpretation. Your entire plot will now develop with this Trump as a guiding principle, to be taken seriously by every player involved (normally all of them, through GMCs).  If non-Acting players Trump, to take control of a scene or a Resolution, they must make reference to the Guiding Trump in their Interpretations.  When an acting player Trumps indirectly, i.e. instead of taking Concessions, he must again Interpret with reference to the Guiding Trump.  When an acting player Trumps directly, i.e. to do magic as a fairly deliberate act on the part of the PC, she does not necessarily need to refer this to the Guiding Trump; the point is that the PCs are not necessarily aware of this Guiding principle.  However, the dominant PC for the plot may, depending on circumstances, be aware of this principle; if so, there is no harm in his relating magical actions to the Guiding Trump, and it may be strongly encouraged.

    A single Trump may only be Guiding one thing at a time.  Once a given Trump is active as a Guide in one plot, it may not be used so in another until the first plot is resolved.  Thus it is not unlikely that four or five Trumps may simultaneously be marking different things.  As a rule of thumb, it is best not to mark the same thing with two different Trumps in different plots, but this is not absolute; if this does happen, it pretty much ensures that two plots are going to link up very closely, perhaps putting the dominant PCs into strong conflict.

    Once a big plot is resolved, the Trump returns to the deck, and is free to be used as a Guide for a new plot.  At this point, the dominant player of the plot, i.e. the one who laid down the Trump in the first place, presents a suggestion about a reward: usually a skill increase, but there are other possibilities.  The rest of the players must approve this, by brief discussion and vote.  As a rule, the player should get what she asks for, but sometimes the group will see that there is a better, more satisfying option, in the sense of one that fits the logic of the plot more smoothly.  If this happens, the player should consider carefully whether this is acceptable, perhaps taking extra time to think about it.  If the player still disagrees, the GM should simply make a ruling.  The point is not an issue of power: one skill increase is more or less equivalent to another, although certainly a player who expects an increase in Shooting People as a reward for a long seduction plot ought to be overruled.  But sometimes one becomes so closely involved with a plot that one cannot see the forest for the trees, and may miss some obvious and effective reward that the others can see from their relatively dispassionate stance.

    Trumps in the Long Term
    The meaning of a Trump becomes permanently tinged with whatever it is affixed to as a Guiding Trump, and with the whole circumstances of the plot in question.  Over the course of a lengthy campaign, most or all of the Trumps will come to have specific connotations and associations for the group.  These connotations become part of the ordinary meaning of the Trump within this campaign.  Thus if The Chariot were used to guide a politician’s rise to a Ministry, the Trump will for ever more have a somewhat political connotation; furthermore, if the politician achieved his success through backdoor politics and chicanery, The Chariot is also tainted by this connection.

    In future Trump plays, of whatever kind, players may draw upon these associations just as they may draw upon stock interpretations.  Given the above example, suppose we now have a scene in which one character wants to gain control of some faction within an occult society.  Another player decides to Trump some scene of this, using the Chariot, and Interpreting it in light of the politician’s story.  This parallelism strongly encourages the character to use somewhat underhanded means to achieve his goal.

    This same effect applies, though to a lesser degree, to every use of any Trump.

    Ideally, in a very long campaign, all the Trumps come to have many intertwined but distinctive meanings and stories associated with them.  In effect, every time a Trump influences the world, that provides the players with data about what the Trump “really means.”  The more this goes on, the more data is provided, and the more subtly and “accurately” the players can manipulate their meanings.  In a sense, the little manuals provided with Tarot decks should be read as the “exoteric” meanings of the cards, where the players are trying to discover, through actual use, their “esoteric” meanings.2

    Assumption
    This is entirely optional, but was a fundamental concept for me in developing this game in the first place.  Note that it blurs the analogy between player and PC to a potentially dangerous degree, on which see below.

    If you’ve read Tim Powers’s Last Call, you know what I’m talking about; Unknown Armies is a less interesting variant.  The idea is that a given person can become the leading representative of an archetype (a Trump) by obeying the rules implicit in that card.  This could be done in Shadows in the Fog by laying down a Trump as a Guide, but applying it to one’s own character.  All magic performed by that character should be harmonically related to the Guide.  At each major stage of the progression, i.e. after the climax of each of that PC’s plots, the other players should decide to what degree the PC has or has not fulfilled the archetype, and award relevant skills.  It seems possible here that a PC who is quite far along the road may have skills above Brilliant, if that seems appropriate to the group; just be sure that the total package is in a sense balanced, i.e. that all the skills which seem relevant to the archetype progress relatively evenly.  Unless a PC really breaks the archetype strongly, the player should be allowed to re-play the Guiding Trump immediately; no other player should try to Assume that Trump, if at all possible.  The ultimate effect of Assumption should be left to the group to figure out, through play; setting it deterministically misses the point.  

    Note that some Assumptions may function as controls, rather than lifestyles, if you will.  For example, to Assume the Tower probably does not mean becoming a walking disaster for yourself and others.  Rather, it might mean having catastrophic powers, powers which cannot be used except to cause disaster.  How exactly one would go about Assuming such a thing is a matter for creative discovery.

    Note that in a game-world where Assumption is possible, the cards have an in-game meaning that may diverge significantly from any traditional reading.  There may be a special set of “correct cards” actually existing in the game-world which greatly improve the possibility of Assumption.3 Most importantly, there may be other people out there trying to Assume cards, some of whom may be quite far along the way.  In fact, they may already have succeeded!  When a PC starts the process of trying to Assume a card, everyone else similarly interested is immediately challenged, and those very knowledgeable about such things (those quite advanced, usually) will detect the challenge.

    I said at the top of this that Assumption blurs the line between player and PC greatly.  For me personally, this was precisely the point, but I don’t think Shadows in the Fog has to be limited to this Premise — and yes, I mean this in a rather strange version of what I think is Ron’s sense.

    The idea, for me, was that the players were bending the universe around them through card play.  Over time, they would begin to realize that the more effectively and gracefully they did this, the more successful they were.  And then it would start to become clear: the characters were actually doing this.  In effect, magic in this particular game-world was the power to shift toward Author/Director Stance in the universe.  So the more knowledgeable and smooth you got about faking it, asserting reality, and doing magic, the more your character was in fact determining the universe by willing it so.  And as he progressed toward Assuming a card, your character would gain more and more power to do this within the confines of that card.

    So there you have it: the underlying notion for Shadows in the Fog.  But I really don’t think you have to do it this way; it’s just something I think is pretty cool.  From a meta-perspective, it’s a weird (though hardly entirely original) shift for RPGs: instead of the players becoming more like their characters, something that scares the bejeezus out of lots of people (the old idea of turning into a sword-slinging nut job because your character is a fighter or whatever), the characters become increasingly like RPG players.  It’s also a sort of reverse of a traditional Sim concept, that ideally no meta-mechanics should be necessary because the “dream” is seamless; here you have the opposite, where the characters are the ones empowered to use meta-mechanics, to introduce cracks in the “dream.”  I have no idea how to read this in straight GNS terms, but it seems like fun to me.

    Notes
    1. This derives partly from Piers Brown’s suggestions, which as it turns out dovetail well with the way I have actually run a version of this game in the past.

    2. I use the terms “exoteric” and “esoteric” in the sense usually employed by Victorian occultists.  The exoteric meaning of something is more or less what can be learned from reading books and studying with the wrong sorts of people (i.e. people other than Our Group).  The esoteric meaning is that Real Truth which is revealed to initiates of Our Group.

    3. I had a special set of cards which used images by William Blake for this purpose (not at all the same as Ed Buryn’s deck).  They had odd names (The Moon became The Long Night, for example) and creepy imagery.  Volume 3 of Shadows in the Fog will include an explanation of this deck and how I used it.  An important point here is that these cards actually existed in the game-world, and had a complex history of invention and dispersal; acquiring these cards, and figuring out who had them (and how they'd gotten them) became a significant plot issue.
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #2 on: February 22, 2003, 04:08:51 PM »

    Bravo.

    I especially like the idea of Assuming the Trump. The idea that a character may be on the edge of transcending himself (or herself) is a wonderful thing to add to the atmosphere. And it seems quite easy to do, and yes, more fluidly done than in Unknown Armies (which I am a big fan of, by the way.)

    The idea of a Trump guiding subplots is another wonderful idea.

    Of course, any samples of play so that we can see this in action would be most welcome.
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #3 on: February 23, 2003, 01:01:33 AM »

    Oh, er, yes.  Samples of play.  Hmm.  At this point, I'd either have to make them up, or re-imagine things I did in the past using the new system.

    What are you looking for?  I mean, what is it that would actually help?
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    Chris Lehrich
    clehrich
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    « Reply #4 on: February 23, 2003, 01:15:50 AM »

    Incidentally, does anyone out there think this Session Structure thing is going to work, or not work, and have reasons for it?  This is something I'm still working on in the abstract, since the game actually isn't finished quite enough for a playtest.  Besides, I don't at the moment have a gaming group around that's likely to give this sort of thing the sort of "college try" that it needs.

    So... any comments?
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #5 on: February 23, 2003, 08:53:02 AM »

    Hey Clehrich,

    Real cool stuff here!

    First a few content related points:

    The "rewards" section doesn't seem to give enough guidance about keeping them in line with the very much 'story structure' intent of the game.

    Is there a planned 'notation mechanism' for 'Trump Tinge?'  With so many cards to play and in play, it may difficult to keep track of all the associations (which are a cool part of the game).

    I think you should make Assumption not optional; it's a great idea.  (It really supports the 'Tinge' idea.)  I'd suggest making 'Trump attachment' the core feature of the game and have participants 'attach' trumps to any 'recognized' game entities, specific plots, characters, stages, or et cetera.

    Who controls each of the plots?  Who keeps the secrets?

    You gave descriptions for setup, conflict, and climax stages, but not the resolution stage.  There isn't a really clear difference between Exposition and Background (expect a vague implication that one is for the characters and the other only for the players).  Can you have Group Plots with fragments of the group?  (Like Holmes and Watson go do this while Jekyll and Rains go do that and Lestrade and Freud don't do anything.)

    Now for some suggestions, take 'em or leave 'em; I'm not going to tell you how to design. ;)

    Intensity and Stages might be better as more important than arcs when it comes to plots.  I'd suggest making plots like a set-theory grouping that implies rough 'endings.'  You assign a plot to an 'overseer,' game elements to that plot (useable in other plots too), and then the plot gets 'picked up' whenever a good scene can be 'Staged' for it.  The Stages always run in order based on 'intensity;' Stages can be repeated so long as they don't 'backpedal' (going from a climactic scene 'backwards' to a conflicting scene).  Climactic scenes build to a 'crescendo' which solves the original conflict, then follows the Resolution scenes (which can double as introductions to other 'arcs').

    This would make having "something [come] to a head" easier than following a script or such.  You wouldn't necessarily know how a plot will turn out or which one will be used to make the next scene, but the rising tension level would be well supported.  You might even consider setting up rewards for clever arrangement of the order of scenes that aren't related (everything concluding 'just right').

    I like what I've seen so far; keep up the good work!

    Fang Langford
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #6 on: February 23, 2003, 06:58:16 PM »

    Quote from: Fang Langford
    The "rewards" section doesn't seem to give enough guidance about keeping them in line with the very much 'story structure' intent of the game.

    I'm not sure what you mean by this.  Could you elaborate?  Which rewards are you referring to, for example, and what sort of guidance would be helpful?

    Quote
    Is there a planned 'notation mechanism' for 'Trump Tinge?' With so many cards to play and in play, it may difficult to keep track of all the associations (which are a cool part of the game).

    Good question.  I think most of it would be a question of memory, but there ought to be some way to keep track a bit.  Perhaps one could provide a little chart with the 22 Trumps and a series of blank spaces, and you'd fill in a brief sketch of the story or plot in question.  The various lines might also have little boxes to check for "skill advancement" and you'd write in the skill, "magical act," and whatnot.  Any suggestions here?

    Quote
    I think you should make Assumption not optional; it's a great idea. (It really supports the 'Tinge' idea.) I'd suggest making 'Trump attachment' the core feature of the game and have participants 'attach' trumps to any 'recognized' game entities, specific plots, characters, stages, or et cetera.

    For me, determining that Assumption is a general principle of the game narrows the range of possibilities.  In particular, I'm afraid that it would imply that Assuming is the point of the game, rather than one sort of activity that can go on.  In addition, it does require that the Tarot cards have a legitimate and important position in Occult London, which I think is hardly necessary.  Furthermore, I am a bit concerned about the character-player blur, although it doesn't look like my readers have this concern.

    Quote
    Who controls each of the plots? Who keeps the secrets?

    I think this is something that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.  At the same time, it's probably worth discussing in the Session Structure section, so that it's clear.  I think some plots and secrets should be controlled by the dominant player in each; at the same time, I am very much in favor of on-the-fly invention of such secrets.  The main thing that a dominant player ought to control is the overall shape of the plot, and the general nature and type of secrets involved; the actual content of such secrets should either be invented as one goes along, or else pre-formed (in some cases) by the GM.  I do think that having a different GM for different plots can work, although I'd make this entirely optional; the disadvantage is that it can lead to incoherence, but the advantage is that everyone gets to play, and everyone who wants to gets to GM.

    Quote
    You gave descriptions for setup, conflict, and climax stages, but not the resolution stage. There isn't a really clear difference between Exposition and Background (expect a vague implication that one is for the characters and the other only for the players). Can you have Group Plots with fragments of the group? (Like Holmes and Watson go do this while Jekyll and Rains go do that and Lestrade and Freud don't do anything.)

    As to resolution, my conception here is that one resolves a given session-plot by going to the next session; as to the overarching plots, a lot of this is handled by things like skill advancement and the search for a new plot in the next setup.  I'm leery of heavy resolution, in some ways, because my experience is that it tends to defuse interest.

    Exposition and Background needn't be all that clearly differentiated, in my opinion.  I conceive of the former as a way for the players to do a classic Sim sort of thing -- Explore the Setting -- without the game being primarily Sim-oriented.  I conceive of Background as a way to give additional shape and drive to running stories, i.e. a GM-situated Narrative push (focused on the shape of the story, and encouraging the premise to be foregrounded).  But I think this is a pretty fluid distinction.

    Certainly Group Plots can be fragmented.  One of the nice things about all those PC plots is that it avoids the usual problem with such fragmentation, which is that this week Lestrade's player is simply bored because the character doesn't do anything.  Here, she might not do anything in the Group Plot for the week, but will get the spotlight in Lestrade's own plot.

    Quote
    Intensity and Stages might be better as more important than arcs when it comes to plots. I'd suggest making plots like a set-theory grouping that implies rough 'endings.' You assign a plot to an 'overseer,' game elements to that plot (useable in other plots too), and then the plot gets 'picked up' whenever a good scene can be 'Staged' for it. The Stages always run in order based on 'intensity;' Stages can be repeated so long as they don't 'backpedal' (going from a climactic scene 'backwards' to a conflicting scene). Climactic scenes build to a 'crescendo' which solves the original conflict, then follows the Resolution scenes (which can double as introductions to other 'arcs').

    Terminologically, I'll have to think about it.  More broadly, I think we're on the same page, except that I'd like to make sure that each plot gets some screen time each session; I'm not sure whether you are saying this or not, but I thought I'd mention it.

    Quote
    This would make having "something [come] to a head" easier than following a script or such. You wouldn't necessarily know how a plot will turn out or which one will be used to make the next scene, but the rising tension level would be well supported. You might even consider setting up rewards for clever arrangement of the order of scenes that aren't related (everything concluding 'just right').

    Agreed.  The way to do this is probably to add a "Best Of" category for Directing (or whatever term you like), making clear that this could be taken as Best GM in a multi-GM ("overseer") version, but in any version should be awarded to someone who by whatever means makes the links and interweavings among plots work exceptionally well.

    Quote
    I like what I've seen so far; keep up the good work!

    Thanks, I appreciate that.
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #7 on: February 23, 2003, 06:59:10 PM »

    A question about terminology:

    As I write up answers to questions, and revise and revise the Session Structure discussion, I'm finding that there are really two essential categories that do not have terms.  I think giving them clear, concise terms will greatly assist application.

    The categories are:

    1. An arc / plot / stage & intensity at the Session level.  So, for example, Lestrade's story this week has such an arc (etc.), as does Jekyll's.

    This is distinct from

    2. An arc / plot / stage & intensity at the multi-Session level.  So, for example, Lestrade's current story spends 3 sessions in setup, 4 in conflict, and 2 in climax (randomly chosen numbers, please!).

    So in the first case we are talking about Lestrade's XXX, and in the second about Lestrade's YYY.

    Ideas?  I want something clear, precise, and relatively quick, not something that needs a lengthy definition of its own.  Just a shorthand, useful once the basic concepts are already clear.
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    Chris Lehrich
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    « Reply #8 on: February 24, 2003, 02:36:03 PM »

    A question about NPC's held by the non-spotlight-owning players: given the fluid nature of scene generation, won't it be hard to fit established NPC's into the setting without a lot of contrivance?  Unless you put them in some sort of box I guess.  Or, how do you define suitable characters on the fly?   What about the risk that a player might "get into" an NPC characterrather than the original character?

    Fang wrote:
    Quote
    Intensity and Stages might be better as more important than arcs when it comes to plots. I'd suggest making plots like a set-theory grouping that implies rough 'endings.' You assign a plot to an 'overseer,' game elements to that plot (useable in other plots too), and then the plot gets 'picked up' whenever a good scene can be 'Staged' for it. The Stages always run in order based on 'intensity;' Stages can be repeated so long as they don't 'backpedal' (going from a climactic scene 'backwards' to a conflicting scene). Climactic scenes build to a 'crescendo' which solves the original conflict, then follows the Resolution scenes (which can double as introductions to other 'arcs').


    In 'picking up', do you mean saying "now we will do a scene for plot X", or, "I am claiming this happening-right-now scene as contributing to and escalating plot X"?
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #9 on: February 24, 2003, 03:52:56 PM »

    Quote from: contracycle
    A question about NPC's held by the non-spotlight-owning players: given the fluid nature of scene generation, won't it be hard to fit established NPC's into the setting without a lot of contrivance? Unless you put them in some sort of box I guess. Or, how do you define suitable characters on the fly? What about the risk that a player might "get into" an NPC characterrather than the original character?

    I would think it will depend a good deal on the particular NPC and his or her relationship to the PCs.  If you have someone who is another member of a secret organization of which one PC is also a member, then that GMC can readily appear pretty much any time the one PC goes to meet with the society.  If you have running GMCs who interact with the party as a group, those will generally be played by the GM anyway.  Most other GMCs either have a clearly defined role, because the story has constructed them so, or else are more or less throwaways, stock characters.

    Most "on the fly" characters should be pretty much stock characters, stereotypes to be simple about it.  Shadows in the Fog leans pretty heavily on the issue of masks and stereotypes, and having lots of bit-part GMCs who are nothing more than such masks is a good way to remind everyone of this basic fact.  For example, "Cockney Thug" is pretty much a type; you don't need a lot more information than that, most of the time.  The same goes for "Dandy," "Wealthy Man-About-Town," "Conservative Doctor / Banker / Solicitor," and lots of others.

    If a player really gets off on some particular GMC, and the group generally thinks it's a more interesting character (or is rapidly becoming so) than the player's original PC, I don't see any problem swapping.  You'd just have to do a little work stitching up the "party," insofar as your particular campaign needs that.

    Does that help?
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    Chris Lehrich
    Walt Freitag
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    « Reply #10 on: February 24, 2003, 05:01:11 PM »

    Quote
    Ideas? I want something clear, precise, and relatively quick, not something that needs a lengthy definition of its own. Just a shorthand, useful once the basic concepts are already clear.


    Consider leveraging terms used for TV series. Lestrade could have, let's see, an "episode arc" on the smallest scale and a "series arc" on the largest, with possibly a "season arc" in between.

    - Walt
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    Wandering in the diasporosphere
    Le Joueur
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    « Reply #11 on: February 24, 2003, 07:58:56 PM »

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Fang Langford
    The "rewards" section doesn't seem to give enough guidance about keeping them in line with the very much 'story structure' intent of the game.

    I'm not sure what you mean by this. Could you elaborate? Which rewards are you referring to, for example, and what sort of guidance would be helpful?

    "A reward: usually a skill increase, but there are other possibilities," doesn't tell me much; in fact, I might go as far as saying "a skill increase" seems unrelated to the idea of a game where the characters become more like the players.  (After all, how is being 'more skilled' more like the players?)  I'm just worried that so traditional a reward was 'just tossed in' because it is usual and that you might want to think very carefully what should be rewarded (that says 'play for this') and how it is rewarded (that says '...and get to this fruitition').

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Fang Langford
    Is there a planned 'notation mechanism' for 'Trump Tinge?' With so many cards to play and in play, it may difficult to keep track of all the associations (which are a cool part of the game).

    Good question...Any suggestions here?

    Sure, have them track plots on index cards; give multiples of each trump so that once played onto the 'tableau' of a plot it just stays there.  That way any future plays of the same trump will be visibly connected to the previous.  It starts to become a card game.

    Have you considered this?  The discussion of NPCs makes it sound like they might be 'cardable' as well.  It's a bit of a conscious storytelling game, how about taking up the trumps and running with the 'presentation as card play' and making it a 'card-based role-playing game?'  So far as I have seen, as such, it's probably the best idea I've seen for that.

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Fang Langford
    I think you should make Assumption not optional; it's a great idea. (It really supports the 'Tinge' idea.) I'd suggest making 'Trump attachment' the core feature of the game and have participants 'attach' trumps to any 'recognized' game entities, specific plots, characters, stages, or et cetera.

    For me, determining that Assumption is a general principle of the game narrows the range of possibilities. In particular, I'm afraid that it would imply that Assuming is the point of the game, rather than one sort of activity that can go on. In addition, it does require that the Tarot cards have a legitimate and important position in Occult London, which I think is hardly necessary. Furthermore, I am a bit concerned about the character-player blur, although it doesn't look like my readers have this concern.

    I was just thinking that this kind of focus (as opposed to 'leaving it open' for other types of play) might be just the tightly focused 'creative agenda' that makes for a 'cool game.'

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Fang Langford
    Who controls each of the plots? Who keeps the secrets?

    I think this is something that has to be determined on a case-by-case basis.

    I like that, I think you should make more note in the body of the rules.

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Fang Langford
    You gave descriptions for setup, conflict, and climax stages, but not the resolution stage. There isn't a really clear difference between Exposition and Background (expect a vague implication that one is for the characters and the other only for the players). Can you have Group Plots with fragments of the group? (Like Holmes and Watson go do this while Jekyll and Rains go do that and Lestrade and Freud don't do anything.)

    As to resolution, my conception here is that one resolves a given session-plot by going to the next session; as to the overarching plots, a lot of this is handled by things like skill advancement and the search for a new plot in the next setup. I'm leery of heavy resolution, in some ways, because my experience is that it tends to defuse interest.

    Making the 'end of the session' a part of the rules could be really cool.  I don't see defused interest, I see closure; resolution should lead to a loss of interest in a plot, it's over, who's going to be interested in it?

    Quote from: clehrich
    Exposition and Background needn't be all that clearly differentiated, in my opinion. I conceive of the former as a way for the players to do a classic Sim sort of thing -- Explore the Setting -- without the game being primarily Sim-oriented. I conceive of Background as a way to give additional shape and drive to running stories, i.e. a GM-situated Narrative push (focused on the shape of the story, and encouraging the premise to be foreground-ed). But I think this is a pretty fluid distinction.

    Okay, then don't give them separate sections; have one 'thing' and say that it can be both/either Exposition and/or Background.

    Quote from: clehrich
    Quote from: Fang Langford
    Intensity and Stages might be better as more important than arcs when it comes to plots. I'd suggest making plots like a set-theory grouping that implies rough 'endings.' You assign a plot to an 'overseer,' game elements to that plot (useable in other plots too), and then the plot gets 'picked up' whenever a good scene can be 'Staged' for it. The Stages always run in order based on 'intensity;' Stages can be repeated so long as they don't 'backpedal' (going from a climactic scene 'backwards' to a conflicting scene). Climactic scenes build to a 'crescendo' which solves the original conflict, then follows the Resolution scenes (which can double as introductions to other 'arcs').

    Terminologically, I'll have to think about it. More broadly, I think we're on the same page, except that I'd like to make sure that each plot gets some screen time each session; I'm not sure whether you are saying this or not, but I thought I'd mention it.

    I should think it would be easier to explain a 'screen time issue' if the plots weren't the central focus; simply say that each plot needs to be Staged at least once a game.

    I hope you seriously consider expanding on the 'card play' idea without getting tangled up in the 'trumps means it has to look like tarot' idea.  I'm imagining a playing area looking like the Illuminati: New World Order but with stories rather than conspiracies.  Keep up the good work!

    Fang Langford

    p. s.  You do know that they're bringing out a movie based on the comic The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, don't you?  Could create an opening for interest in your game, being set in a similar setting.

    p. p. s.
    Quote from: contracycle
    Quote from: Fang
    Intensity and Stages might be better as more important than arcs when it comes to plots. I'd suggest making plots like a set-theory grouping that implies rough 'endings.' You assign a plot to an 'overseer,' game elements to that plot (useable in other plots too), and then the plot gets 'picked up' whenever a good scene can be 'Staged' for it. The Stages always run in order based on 'intensity;' Stages can be repeated so long as they don't 'backpedal' (going from a climactic scene 'backwards' to a conflicting scene). Climactic scenes build to a 'crescendo' which solves the original conflict, then follows the Resolution scenes (which can double as introductions to other 'arcs').

    In 'picking up', do you mean saying "now we will do a scene for plot X", or, "I am claiming this happening-right-now scene as contributing to and escalating plot X"?

    I was hoping for both.
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    clehrich
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    « Reply #12 on: February 24, 2003, 10:03:36 PM »

    Fang, you're what an old pal of mine would call a weird potato -- that's a good thing, by the way.  I read your post, and when I got to the thing about index cards in a tableau, I thought, "No, he's missing the point."  When I got to the part about Illuminati, I thought, "Okay, he's a nutball."  Then I went and did the dishes, and now I'm not so sure.

    Help me think this through, okay?  (You too, Spooky, Piers, and anyone lurking -- this is all weird to me.)

    Materials

    You should have a big stack of 3x5 cards, preferably in two colors; three wouldn’t hurt.  When you write on them, please write clearly: neatness counts.  Everybody also needs a penny or two.

    Part 1: GMCs

    There are a lot of different kinds of GMCs, of course, but the easy ones are the ones you already want to pay attention to: criminal masterminds (Fu Manchu), famous fictional characters you're inserting (Holmes), famous people (Sir Richard F. Burton), and so on.  The most important, though, are really the "bit parts," the walk-ons.  The reason for this is that the GM is going to play most of the big guns.  In traditionally-structured campaigns (where there is a "designated GM"), this is how the GM gets a lot of her play-fun, after all -- she gets to play these extraordinary gentlemen (to coin a phrase).  But the "bit parts" will be played, almost always, by other players.  So each one needs a little write-up.

    Now what you do, for every stock character, is write him or her up on a 3x5 card.  For the stereotypical characters, just print a stock "type" at the top in big letters; if you have a nice, short Holmesian description to add, do so.  Anyone playing one of these stock characters can add a few words if it seems helpful at the time.  Eventually you will have a clear "type" defined.

    For regular GMCs, i.e. ones who may recur as particular people but may be played by people other than the GM, repeat the procedure, but give a name as well as the stock type and the description.  On the back, write the name of each player who runs this GMC.

    For PCs, just write your name and your Holmes description (the one for public consumption).

    Now here's the trick: every time someone trumps to take over a GMC, you write the player's name as usual, but on the front you also write the numeral of the Trump used.  If it's a stock character, you still write the Trump on there: you are creating associations between particular Trumps and particular types of people.

    When a GMC is "in play" in a session, the card should lie face-up on the table in front of the current player.  That way everybody can see who's in play, and also what Trumps are associated with those people (if any).

    Part 2: Arcs

    First, a bit of terminology (with assistance from Walt).  When we’re talking about a story-arc within a given play session, it’s an Episode; when we mean a long-term affair, it’s a Plot.  Every Episode and Plot goes setup - conflict - climax; resolution is an end, as in no more to be said.

    Every Plot gets three cards: Setup, Conflict, and Climax.  Ideally, the Plot cards should not be the same color as the GMC cards, just to keep things clear.  On the back, write your name and the name of the stage (setup, etc.).  Everybody always has three of these things going.  The GM may have more, depending, but at a minimum she has the Group Plot cards.  When anybody starts a new Setup card, she should write on the front a brief but clear note about what the point is.  This gives some direction as things go along, but should not be taken as absolutely binding.

    These three cards are laid in front of the owning player at the start of play, and a penny is placed on the Setup card.  This is a way of keeping track of the Episode Stages.  Every time an Episode Stage is complete, in whatever circumstances, the penny moves along one Stage.  Thus, the first time Fred’s Plot gets screen-time, that is the Episode Setup; once the Setup is complete, the penny moves along to Conflict.

    As the group plays along, these cards may change hands.  The identity on the back doesn’t change - - it’s still Dave’s plot - - but Dave may not currently be involved directly.  The way it works is through Links.  When you are playing a character, including a GMC, you should keep an eye out for legitimate and deep connections to other Plots than the one you’re in now.  Bear in mind the Stage as well.  Don’t just link because there is a character overlap, or a vague idea; if you claim a Link, you’re saying you think the group should have multiple Episode Stages going at once.  And if you Trump that Link (see below), you’re saying that you know how to make it happen in a specific Trump framework.

    Whenever someone playing any character claims a Link to an open Plot card (to where the penny is), she is in effect bidding 0 to have them run simultaneously.  If she wants to Trump, she is willing to run this double-header.  If 0 was bid and the controlling player wishes to bid it back, he may do so by paying for the privilege with an ordinary card.  If any other player (or the GM) wishes to get in on the action, however, or the original bidder wants to beat the controlling player’s card, she must Trump.  The first Trump, at whatever point, wins, unless the controlling player chooses to re-Trump, in which case he wins.  If the controlling player wins, the Link is not forged, and the Stages run independently.  If the Link is forged, the card of the character who made the Link is placed on the Plot card as well.

    When a Linked Stage is complete, the card reverts to its owner, and the penny moves along.  Once a Stage has been Linked, it may not be re-Linked, although a third Stage may be added in to the mix (providing a real train-wreck o’ fun).

    Part 3: Trumps

    Plots may be Marked by the dominant player, i.e. the one whose name appears on the back.  This is a way of indicating that the Plot in question now has a shape consistent with the Trump in question.  You should interpret as usual, but only in a very general sense (you'd like to be better at X, or acquire Y, or whatever, and that fits the Trump).  These Marking Trumps do not revert to the pack at the end of the session, but stay with the Plot; furthermore, they move along with the penny.  Every Trump played on the card must take into account the Marking Trump, as a harmonic.  Using the same Trump, however, can be interpreted as being rather more effective (this isn’t mechanical, just a “feel” thing).

    Every other time a Trump is played, it must be interpreted, and then laid down on the appropriate card.  As soon as you have a minute, you should also write a few words of description of what the interpretation was, and indicate the Trump in question.

    Links should also be marked on Plot cards, at the correct Stage, along with an indication of the Trump interpretation, if any.

    You should also have 22 index cards (of a third color, ideally), one for each Trump.  Every time a Trump is used, the same information that goes on the Plot or Character card also goes onto the Trump card.  These cards should be out and available at all times, for everyone’s reference.  They provide a continuous and expanding file of everything a given Trump has been used for.

    Notes

    This seems rather clunky to me, and potentially tedious.  Sort of like Cards & Catalogs or something.  I’m sure there’s a more elegant way to do it.

    What I have in mind here is that the whole “screen-time” issue becomes everybody’s job.  Furthermore every Plot and significant character rapidly becomes “tinged” with a given Trump.  Thus if someone starts thinking about Assumption, he’s got a good record of where he already stands: if the same Trump keeps coming up, that’s a good indicator.  In addition, that business of using the Marking Trump for extra effect will tend to attract that Trump like a magnet, promoting the Assumption process.

    What do you all think?
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    Chris Lehrich
    Le Joueur
    Member

    Posts: 1367


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    « Reply #13 on: February 25, 2003, 08:12:35 AM »

    Quote from: clehrich
    Fang, you're what an old pal of mine would call a weird potato

    No, no, no, hasn't anyone been following along?  I'm the madman!

    Quote from: clehrich
    Materials

    You should have a big stack of 3x5 cards, preferably in two colors; three wouldn't hurt.  When you write on them, please write clearly: neatness counts.  Everybody also needs a penny or two.

    I'd say bag the pennies and use a stamp, sticker, or art to denote one of the two colors.  Don't start adding more props now....

    Quote from: clehrich
    Part 1: GMCs

    ...For regular GMCs, i.e. ones who may recur as particular people but may be played by people other than the GM, repeat the procedure, but give a name as well as the stock type and the description.  On the back, write the name of each player who runs this GMC.

    That may be a bit confusing, constantly flipping cards.  How would 'titling the cards' be confusing; for plot cards "Jack the Ripper Turns Out to be a Vampyre!" by Fang Langford and then the regular information, for GMC cards, how about Jack the Ripper as portrayed by Fang Langford?

    Quote from: clehrich
    Part 2: Arcs

    ...Every Plot gets three cards: Setup, Conflict, and Climax.  Ideally, the Plot cards should not be the same color as the GMC cards, just to keep things clear.  On the back, write your name and the name of the stage (setup, etc.).  Everybody always has three of these things going.  The GM may have more, depending, but at a minimum she has the Group Plot cards.  When anybody starts a new Setup card, she should write on the front a brief but clear note about what the point is.  This gives some direction as things go along, but should not be taken as absolutely binding.

    I think "Every Plot gets three cards: Setup, Conflict, and Climax," is a bad idea; the arcs alone should clearly have more than three scenes.  (Much less other plots - or am I misunderstanding?)  I think you should be able to play as many scenes as necessary for that plot to 'make the jump' to the next Stage.

    Quote from: clehrich
    These three cards are laid in front of the owning player at the start of play, and a penny is placed on the Setup card.  This is a way of keeping track of the Episode Stages.  Every time an Episode Stage is complete, in whatever circumstances, the penny moves along one Stage.  Thus, the first time Fred's Plot gets screen-time, that is the Episode Setup; once the Setup is complete, the penny moves along to Conflict.

    I'd suggest bagging the pennies and only revealing past or present Stages.  (Let the future remain a mystery....)  Trouble tracking = overlapping; top card is present, undercard reveals (the past) only as much as GMCs in play might know (good mnemonic).

    Like the Climax may be "Jack is not a rabid Vampyre, he has a musket ball in his brain pan; remove it and end the Ripper, not Jack."  This kind of surprise will make for an interesting 'turn over.'  Such could be 'forced' by story movement, making for an interesting mystery.  (Can I force you to reveal your Climax?)

    Quote from: clehrich
    As the group plays along, these cards may change hands.  The identity on the back doesn't change - - it's still Dave's plot - - but Dave may not currently be involved directly.  The way it works is through Links.  When you are playing a character, including a GMC, you should keep an eye out for legitimate and deep connections to other Plots than the one you're in now.  Bear in mind the Stage as well.  Don't just link because there is a character overlap, or a vague idea; if you claim a Link, you're saying you think the group should have multiple Episode Stages going at once.  And if you Trump that Link (see below), you're saying that you know how to make it happen in a specific Trump framework.

    Why does it seem necessary to move these around?  It sounds like it'll only invite confusion.  If it's still "Dave's plot" and he's only involved indirectly, it sounds like he's the 'gamemaster' for it.  Since he won't have any 'links' in play, this will be obvious even if the cards remain before him.

    Quote from: clehrich
    Whenever someone playing any character claims a Link to an open Plot card (to where the penny is), she is in effect bidding 0 to have them run simultaneously.  If she wants to Trump, she is willing to run this double-header.  If 0 was bid and the controlling player wishes to bid it back, he may do so by paying for the privilege with an ordinary card.  If any other player (or the GM) wishes to get in on the action, however, or the original bidder wants to beat the controlling player's card, she must Trump.  The first Trump, at whatever point, wins, unless the controlling player chooses to re-Trump, in which case he wins.  If the controlling player wins, the Link is not forged, and the Stages run independently.  If the Link is forged, the card of the character who made the Link is placed on the Plot card as well.

    Why not use 'bit player' cards for this bidding?  Remember, if you win, you must play all those 'bit players!'

    Quote from: clehrich
    When a Linked Stage is complete, the card reverts to its owner, and the penny moves along.  Once a Stage has been Linked, it may not be re-Linked, although a third Stage may be added in to the mix (providing a real train-wreck o' fun).

    If the Linked Stage doesn't 'move,' then the owner would become the 'gamemaster' for that stage.  If they linked it anyway, their 'character bids' become 'non-player characters.'

    Quote from: clehrich
    Part 3: Trumps

    ...Every other time a Trump is played, it must be interpreted, and then laid down on the appropriate card.  As soon as you have a minute, you should also write a few words of description of what the interpretation was, and indicate the Trump in question.

    Very nice!

    Quote from: clehrich
    Links should also be marked on Plot cards, at the correct Stage, along with an indication of the Trump interpretation, if any.

    Could be confusing; I'll have to think about it.

    Quote from: clehrich
    You should also have 22 index cards (of a third color, ideally), one for each Trump.  Every time a Trump is used, the same information that goes on the Plot or Character card also goes onto the Trump card.  These cards should be out and available at all times, for everyone's reference.  They provide a continuous and expanding file of everything a given Trump has been used for.

    Nah, package these with the game (as a .pdf, Trumps could printed on and cut from cardstock).

    Quote from: clehrich
    Notes

    This seems rather clunky to me, and potentially tedious.  Sort of like Cards & Catalogs or something.  I'm sure there's a more elegant way to do it.

    What I have in mind here is that the whole "screen-time" issue becomes everybody's job.  Furthermore every Plot and significant character rapidly becomes "tinged" with a given Trump.  Thus if someone starts thinking about Assumption, he's got a good record of where he already stands: if the same Trump keeps coming up, that's a good indicator.  In addition, that business of using the Marking Trump for extra effect will tend to attract that Trump like a magnet, promoting the Assumption process.

    What do you all think?

    When can we play?

    Throw in a conflict resolution system (just to keep the 'shared conception' of the game on track) that gives 'muscle' to the player with the most 'bit players' bid in the Stage regardless of whether such work for his goals, or against.

    Perhaps you could incorporate "Stage" as in 'stagecraft' into your terminology.  The theatre was not unpopular and burlesque came into its own.  Instead of Episodes and Plots, how about calling them Scenes and Acts?  Then the whole terminology of 'Stages' can be pulled in as 'Productions' with 'Directors,' 'Actors,' and 'Bit Players.'  You could call Expositions things like Debuts or Introductions.  And et cetera.

    So here's how it sounds like play will go.  Everyone has been playing up to this point, but it's time to 'set the Stage' for a new scene.  Each player places cards relating to plots (past and present overlapping) they think are best played now and say why (tension, interest, spotlight time, or et cetera).  Discussion (or some tie breaker) chooses which plot(s) will be played - these stay in the 'play area.'

    Next, players begin to bid 'bit players,' GMC, and Trumps (instead of pennies) to see who 'the lead' (or 'the heavy') is in the scene.  Whoever 'holds the plot' is the Director, even if they have no characters in play (frequently).  Play proceeds as a role-playing game, conflicts are resolved either as 1) the player speaking says they do, 2) as the director wishes, or 3) according to the resolution system (giving extra leverage to whomever has the most 'bit players' they want to 'wager on it').  Note, numbah three can be evoked to create suspense at any time by anybody; it's third because it should take a back seat to unrevealed climaxes (and could force their revelation).

    When there is a satisfying point of closure, the scene ends and it all starts over again.  Rewards for MVP, best line, good timing, and so on.  Also reward appropriately chosen Stages (no too soon, not too late) that reveal Climaxes in as cool a fashion as possible.  The ultimate reward though would be bringing it all together by connecting the resolutions of every plot to a central plot which resolves simultaneously with the last remaining plots; success here is the reward itself.

    The whole reason I suggested the card play was my basic 'reductionist' approach.  You were already using cards; why not extend them?  The 'bit players' didn't seem that detailed; how better presented than in card form.  That's also why I'm suggesting you scrap the 'pennies' idea; why add another prop when you might be able to milk one you've already got for more 'juice?'

    Heck, I might go as far as suggesting merging pregenerated GMCs with the trumps.  Used one way, they are a trump; used another they are GMC cards.  (With .pdf format, the consumer can print out a new set for every 'play.')  If you want to tailor to form, have 56 archetype 'bit player' card with 22 major arcana Trump GMCs would make a tarot.  (But I don't suggest that - too many people are trying to make 'tarot games;' why not be original?)  Hey, most of the 'bit players' are pretty predictable, why not 'card them?'  A little notespace on each makes them great one-use props and differentiates them from plot cards (plackards?).

    I'm really liking this idea more and more.

    Fang Langford
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    Mike Holmes
    Acts of Evil Playtesters
    Member

    Posts: 10459


    « Reply #14 on: February 25, 2003, 08:20:04 AM »

    I think it sounds good. As long as physical recordkeeping is for good purpose, it can itself spur play. I can see all the plot cards making for wonderfully intertwined plots, for example. Deserves to at least be playtested to see what happens with it.


    On the subject of the Assumption...


    SPOLIER ALERT


    In Over the Edge, this is one of the meta-plots that's proposed. First, the characters just have odd things occur to them like meeting people who seem to know them, but they don't recognize. Things get weirder and weirder lke that. At some point, the characters are supposed to run into a D&D character who refers to things in terms of levels and hit points. Then maybe they meet one of their characters from another game. Then at some point the characters are supposed to find a copy of the OTE rulebook. At some point they are supposed to, like the characters of Heinlein's Number of the Beast, realize that they are characters in an RPG. And then what?

    END SPOILERS

    But that's my point. And then what do the characters do once they realize that they're characters? Doesn't this kinda end the game, like it ends Number of the Beast (the characters go off to fight against some group called the Timelords, hehe). Sure, this asks some metaphysical questions that are interesting to ponder. But does it kill the game? Is it fun to actually play? I've never got to that point, myself.

    Anyone actually gotten to this place in an RPG? Can you relate what it was like?

    Mike
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