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Author Topic: [Supers Chess] story elements in a mechaically focused game  (Read 3929 times)
FetusCommander
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« on: October 16, 2010, 02:25:37 PM »

Supers Chess has seen about 6 playtesting sessions now, and I have some concerns about how it's shaping up.

The chess mechanics, central to the conflict resolution of the game, have been performing... interestingly, and I'm seeing a lot of the creativity and gamist competitive trickery that I want to see.  I decided on chess originally because I wanted conflicts between PC supers to be strategic and scheming- the mechanics have definitely facilitated that in play. 

Let me just try and give a brief example of what I mean by "scheming."

Just a brief on the setting: it's a depressed, nearly deserted agrarian community in a country that might be Communist China.  Most of the supers are government agents working for the regime.

One of the first resolutions of the game involved one of these agents, "The Boogey Man" (my character- an invisble-stalker/abortionist upholder of the country's One Child Policy), being sent after a girl who was suspected of conceiving illegally.  After a little gumshoeing, he tracked her down at one of the local schools and made an attempt at taking her into custody.  He was thwarted by The Redactor, H's character, a government (?) spook who specializes in time and space manipulation. 

The Redactor's powers involve "redacting" people and things from reality and sticking them into a parallel universe.  Long (about 30 minutes of board resolution time) story short, The Redactor wound up poofing the girl out of existence during a fight with Boogey Man, causing him to wonder just why the hell he had come to the school in the first place.  The effect at the table was very surreal, to say the least.

It's a little difficult to explain how this was accomplished on the chess board.  Basically, The Redactor's trademark power is attached to a Queen, and when he captures a piece with it, the entire board resets to its initial set up without the piece that was captured.  In the game, H used this to redact the piece representing the girl before I could get to it.

Anyway, this is the type of scheming that I mean.  The whole resolution really smacked of deviousness, and everyone was left with that feeling without feeling like anyone really got fucked in an out of game sense.  It also didn't feel (and indeed wasn't) "set up" in any way.

Something that's been bothering me, however, is the lack of two things: "meaningful" roleplay, and "long term" story structure. 

On the "meaningful" roleplay end, I'm not quite sure what I mean by that- maybe tension in non-combat character interactions, maybe characters that feel like they develop... maybe a little of both?  There's definitely been in character banter in the sessions I've run, but I'd like to introduce mechanics that add something more; something where characters' goals and personalities are explored in more depth.  On the long term story front, I think what the game is missing is the feeling of a narrative that arcs.  Now granted, the game has a rotating GM, but I know there must be other RPGs that use "pass the stick" narrative structures.

These are the two biggest problems I've had with the game so far.  Without knowing much about the game, what are some of the techniques you've seen in other games that might help deal with this?  Am I being unrealistic by considering trying to integrate these things into a game with such a strong mechanical focus?
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Rudy Johnson
Callan S.
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« Reply #1 on: October 16, 2010, 04:53:56 PM »

Hi,

On the first, an idea is for players to list things that would hurt or upset their character if it happened. Doesn't have to be big things - could just be plain old pain. Or as complex as doesn't like to see fine art broken.

Then when it comes to the battle, as GM simply attach some moves they can currently make as having one of these things happen. Other moves it doesn't.

This adds a quick layer of 'what are you prepared to lose?' onto the battle you ran.

And no, none of the things above have a currency value/tactical value if they happen. It's merely the narrations effect and the characters apparent choice to let it happen anyway, for whatever reasons the character has.
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SamuelRiv
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« Reply #2 on: October 19, 2010, 12:05:47 PM »

I thought (reading the other thread) that that (meaning deep in-character conflict) was the point of the King - that losing the King is a meaningful character change depending on the intensity of the situation.

One thing that may help speed up superpower conflicts is using restricted board size, fewer pieces, and a short timer, especially for critical events. Just do as much damage as possible in the limited time you have before your enemy speeds away. Maybe with short timing, the conflict resolution stays short and pre- and post- game narration dominates. I'm not sure how one can keep narration up in a thought-intensive game. Our first and so-far-only session of Freemarket was severely hindered due to stumbling over the conflict-resolution rules.

Now I'm definitely not a chess player, but I really like the concept here, and think it can be best for someone like me if you can limit the major chess players' advantage as much as possible, save for a full-board game. Thus exotic board shapes, "special" pieces with odd moves, and small other oddities would be interesting.
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Callan S.
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« Reply #3 on: October 19, 2010, 02:02:28 PM »

I thought (reading the other thread) that that (meaning deep in-character conflict) was the point of the King - that losing the King is a meaningful character change depending on the intensity of the situation.
Good question - what piece represented the girl? The king, or some other piece?
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FetusCommander
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« Reply #4 on: October 19, 2010, 03:02:08 PM »

First off, thanks for the replies.  I like the idea of adding a "what are you prepared to lose" type of deal to the game, Callan.

To answer your question though, the girl was represented by a pawn (I believe).  She wasn't a major character, and she was played by the GM of the area (in the game, GM rights are divided up by "properties" representing parts of the city, which are purchased in an auction during the first session).  The situation was major largely due to the strategic commitment of the player (myself), which was largely thwarted by player H.

To touch on something you mentioned Samuel- the game does allow for different board sizes (there's the standard 64 space board, which can be bisected with push pins and a larger one for big resolutions).  In play, I've found that Chess-knowledge isn't really too much of a factor because of the ability to customize and add new moves, but that was initially a concern of mine as well.
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Rudy Johnson
Callan S.
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« Reply #5 on: October 22, 2010, 04:39:10 PM »

Well, I'm thinking that the girl should have been made the king, or if that's not possible, that the emotional focus of play had slipped off of whoever was the king? Kind of going counterwise to your own system?
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FetusCommander
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« Reply #6 on: October 22, 2010, 07:56:38 PM »

I'm not sure i clearly communicated the rules.

The King is always representative of the PC super when its in play.  Every player gets a King (it's effective X-way chess, where X is the number of players- in this game, there were 4 kings on the board at once).

I sort of understand what you mean though; in this example, my character's king wasn't really the focus of "what was at stake", as the players weren't targeting it.  I never really saw that as a problem though. 

What i see as a problem is how disjointed the roleplay feels.  Individual board actions are fun, but i'd like to see them tied more into "something bigger"- like some bigger overall goal the characters have, or a bigger storyline narrative that sucks everyone in.  Like technically, the conflict with the girl could've spawned an entire sub-narrative by itself, but it didn't because there are no mechanics to focus the narrative that way.
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Rudy Johnson
Callan S.
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« Reply #7 on: October 25, 2010, 03:54:32 PM »

Quote
I sort of understand what you mean though; in this example, my character's king wasn't really the focus of "what was at stake", as the players weren't targeting it.  I never really saw that as a problem though.

What i see as a problem is how disjointed the roleplay feels.  Individual board actions are fun, but i'd like to see them tied more into "something bigger"- like some bigger overall goal the characters have, or a bigger storyline narrative that sucks everyone in.  Like technically, the conflict with the girl could've spawned an entire sub-narrative by itself, but it didn't because there are no mechanics to focus the narrative that way.
Well, perhaps it isn't a problem that they weren't targeting your characters king. But I really think your feeling how because of that the mechanics were aimed in completely the wrong direction from the direction your play was going?

Would it be possible to change the king to be the girl? OR change the mechanic to a 'to get to her you have to go through me first!' way, so they have to attack your characters king in order to get to the girl? Does taking the king kill the character, or just defeat him and send him sprawling (and thus creating more story elements and keeping him around for further character examination)?
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FetusCommander
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« Reply #8 on: October 30, 2010, 11:47:06 AM »

Sorry for the delay responding, I was thinking on what you said and pondering some changes to the system.

Checkmating someone more "defeats someone and sends them sprawling."  Basically, if you checkmate a King, you can narrate some major change to that character. 

But here's something else I was devising to help put in an element of "what do you care about":

Quote
Sacrifice

Whenever your King is put into checkmate, you have a choice.  You can escape checkmate if you are willing to sacrifice something you care about to the party putting you in checkmate.  Discuss what the sacrifice will be, whether its a compromise in your morals, temporary service to the checkmating party, or watching a loved one get hurt.  Discuss how this will be played out, and either end the resolution with your King in tact, OR re-place your King somewhere else on the board and narrate some fluke (related to the sacrifice in some tangential way) that gets you out of immediate danger.

Lets say, for example, that Batman had "The Girl" as one of his things he cares about.  His player chooses to sacrifice The Girl to get out of a checkmate so that he can bag the Joker.  His player might say: "I narrowly escape the Joker's thugs and duck into the alley, battered and bruised," while at the same time coming to an agreement with the Joker's player that those same thugs Batman just evaded are headed towards Wayne Manor to trash it and harm The Girl.

If you choose not to sacrifice, the checkmating party has full control over what happens to you.  They may narrate a permanent change to your character, but they may not involve any of the things you care about in the change; those are protected until you sacrifice them.

I think that might edge people a little more towards targeting Kings as well, since there's some tangible part of their character at stake now.  Any thoughts?
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Rudy Johnson
FetusCommander
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« Reply #9 on: December 07, 2010, 01:33:48 PM »

As per the requirements of this forum, here's a link to the humble Super's Chess Design Document.  A significant portion of it (starting with the Sacrifice mechanics and ending with the Examples) is untested in play, but it should give a general idea of rules things I'll mention in this thread.
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Rudy Johnson
Holywar
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« Reply #10 on: December 07, 2010, 06:44:51 PM »

Wow. Wow about using Chess as a system for managing character actions. Its interesting but it requires a certain level of patience and attention to detail in character development that many players may lack. Not doubting the ability of your players, i would probably be among their number haha. Though i'm definitely attracted to the idea of abstracting choices in the form of game. I didn't read the primer you linked because i just joined up today, and for some reason it won't give me access. I must lack the requisite cool points.

Quote
Now I'm definitely not a chess player, but I really like the concept here, and think it can be best for someone like me if you can limit the major chess players' advantage as much as possible, save for a full-board game. Thus exotic board shapes, "special" pieces with odd moves, and small other oddities would be interesting.

Agreed. These limited board set ups could involve as few as 5 or 8 pieces, and certain characters, such as villains who might represent a particular emotion/theme may also have a serious of fairly predictable actions, but have tremendously powerful and overwhelming positions at the start of the "chess" game. Perhaps with a queen already having a king in check, and start the game with the players action. The player can use information gained earlier in the game in a simple role playing session to figure out what the antagonists moves will be, and then counter them before he acts. thus you can link the players interpretation of events with the in-game mechanics, and there buy commit them to not just think about the game in term of chess mechanics, but in terms of character psychology. The players are not as strong as the enemy (because the enemy has better position/pieces available), but they understand the enemy better, enabling them to outmaneuver and defeat them. This adds to the drama, makes the stakes higher, and introduces a narrative element into the game, all without detracting from the rules you probably spent days writing and testing. Its not GM knows best, its an inevitable consequence of the characters personality(both player and NPC)

In all honesty, when you say the game is mechanically focused, i think a chess based system has the ability to be a narrative system in its extreme if employed properly, and if you consider actions to be almost like choices. I think the concept in general is absolutely brilliant, and while i won't use it to resolve combats or anything like that, i shall definitely crib this idea into my lexicon of awesome for use when dealing with things like demonic possession, mind control games, dreams ect. Its an excellent way to represent and abstract conflict, and to illustrate the complexity of something like a parallel universe without resorting to a skill check.



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