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46709 Posts in 5588 Topics by 13299 Members Latest Member: - Jason DAngelo Most online today: 68 - most online ever: 429 (November 03, 2007, 04:35:43 AM)
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Author Topic: [Space Adventures] Making the larger reward cycle work  (Read 2761 times)
Frank Tarcikowski

Posts: 387

a.k.a. Frank T

« on: January 11, 2011, 07:16:05 AM »

I was going to contribute to the Solitaire Challenge but then I decided to spend the time on my current “serious” project instead. You can take a look at what I’ve got here, but it’s some 80 pages in German. (You need to be registered at tanelorn.net to download it which, if you speak German, you should be anyway.)

Space Adventures is a working title. It’s a pretty lame, generic one but it also says pretty accurately what the game is about. It’s about lighthearted, non-too-serious collaborative action adventure storytelling. A runner-up title would be “Legacy of the Star Empress”, but the German translation (“Das Vermächtnis der Sternenkaiserin”) is too long and too much of a tongue-breaker. I described the play experience I’m after in this actual play report. The game has the fiction leading strongly, with the rules following. It’s got a few simple descriptive stats for characters, and a quick-but-fun combat/chase subsystem which, as one play-tester put it after the first play-test, “already does what it’s supposed to do surprisingly well.” Yay!

I’ve also got some neat types of dramatic scenes, where the group determines the severity of what’s going on and how strictly the rules will be enforced, and also, whether player characters can die. The rules overall and the dramatic scenes in particular are supposed to be “convention building”, as I strongly believe in the necessity of an individual group developing their individual play style for a given game to get the most out of it, and I’m pretty excited about rules that leave calculated gaps for players to fill. Not so much up-front gauges to discuss and decide before you begin, but rather room for interpretation, for developing group conventions as you play, and bringing the game to life. Some of you may remember Chris Lehrich posting about this kind of thing, way back.

I’m also doing a Space Opera setting, though I haven’t written down much more than the introduction yet. It will have a tad more detail than the original TSoY setting description, with some more detailed examples and some more actual names added into the bargain. With the setting I’m trying to re-invoke the initial Star Wars feel, as if only “A New Hope” and nothing else existed. Plus, I’ve got people who say “God save the King”, space ships with gun decks and actual figureheads, Jack Sparrow-style pirates, Indiana Jones-style archeologists, and loads of other fun stuff that’s not new but hopefully thrown together in a way that’s fun and not entirely lame.

Moreover, I’m trying to provide some more in-depth explanation and advice on authored role-playing, and struggling hard to keep from sounding too patronizing and squeezing just about everything I believe to know about role-playing in there. I believe in the value of texts like this,  simple, well written prose with no rules, no setting information, just advice on what to do to make the activity fun. I’ve written some of that stuff in Barbaren!, too, and a lot online, which overall was received pretty well. I’m thinking about this particular text also as a sort of closure to more than eight years of participation in the online “scene”.

So much for background. What I really want to talk about, here, is reward cycles.

For Space Adventures, I have a session-length reward cycle based on a Currency called “Daring”, which is awarded basically for doing things Harrison Ford would approve of, and which can be spent for a number of momentary Effectiveness increases that we’ve all seen before. I’m already pretty happy with how it’s tuned with the rest of the system (like supporting some Participationist techniques) and with a little refining through play-testing it’ll be fine.

But I also want a larger reward cycle. Something that works at a multi-session scale. I want this game to be seriously rewarding in good old “campaign” mode, where you take your time, build up slowly, give characters time to grow. The game already does fine in a one-shot or a couple of sessions and I don’t think I need anything else to spice it up in the short run. I am talking about 10, 20 sessions, maybe more. I want it to be subtle, nothing as straight as Keys for example. In my experience, Keys are fantastic for some 5 sessions or so but tend to get repetitive in the long run. This thing I want, it doesn’t have to be present at all times. In fact, you wouldn’t even bother with it for a one-shot. It’s supposed to be the larger story-arc, something of a red line or leitmotiv.

My idea was to tie it to stat increases, as characters have few stats and the range is only 1-4, so raising stats should not be something that happens every session anyway. My first shot was something called Destiny, which was however not received so well by the play-testers so far. Maybe because they did not yet get into long-term play, but I also feel Destiny could use some refining.

How it currently works

You pick one or two Destinies at character creation. If you have only one, you can pick a second in play, inspired by the fiction. Destinies are currently divided into three categories:

* Love, e.g. “marry a high lord’s daughter”, “redeem my love Vivienne who is now the lover of infamous pirate captain Brax Murdock”, or “meet my true love and then loose her forever”.
* Belief, e.g. “the Tkaer must be driven from our home space, by any means”, “salvation lies only in God”, or “live by your own rules, bow to nobody”.
*  Calling, e.g. “become the best space pilot in the entire Royal Fleet”, “retrieve one of the Regalia of Enor”, or “redeem my tribe’s honor”.

Now, you gain XP (called “advancement points”) by taking a significant step towards fulfilling your destiny. This should be of some dramatic impact. You also gain XP by struggling against your destiny. GM and player share a responsibility to allow this sort of development in play, but not necessarily every session. Pacing is also a matter of group conventions, but I have currently recommended an average 1 XP per session, where you will need some 2-5 XP to raise a stat.

You can abandon a destiny if you so choose, which requires some sort of key scene. You can also fulfill a destiny. In that case you can either make a new character, or continue playing until fulfilling or abandoning your second destiny. The new character will enter the saga but you will continue playing the old one, only no longer as a main protagonist. I’m pretty fond of this concept.


The following concerns arose in play-testing so far:

* Belief is kind of broken, how do you “advance” or “fulfill” a belief? (Well, I do have some notions but they are somewhat awkward.) Should I simply drop it? Or can it be fixed? What could take its place? Or should I drop the categories altogether and just make it “pick your destiny, period”?
* “Significant step” may be too vague. It has been suggested that I might define “stages” or “thresholds” for advancing towards your destiny, but then again, I haven’t come up with a convenient “ladder” yet and I also fear such a ladder might be too formulaic. This is not the “creative constraints boost creativity” game, it’s the “perfect tool for unconstrained creativity” game.

I’ll be starting a long term play-test some time soon, and since long term play-tests are so precious, I would like to refine the destiny rules before I, well, test them. Any comments, questions and suggestions are welcome.

- Frank

BARBAREN! - The Ultimate Macho Role Playing Game - finally available in English
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