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Author Topic: [Ingenero] Character creation -- Its hard work.  (Read 1218 times)
stefoid
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« on: August 31, 2011, 05:39:54 PM »

Hi, here my link:

http://ingenero.wordpress.com/downloads/

My game concentrates on character building over world building.  The idea is that given a general premise covering the general types of things the characters will be doing in the game, and how, and a vague setting, the players create this fantastic cast of characters and the GM wings the story in response.

This is all well and good, except for the bolded part.  Its easier said than done. What I have so far are the types of characterization I would like the players to come up with, what and why they are important, and multiple examples of each.  Although not available for download, Ive also come up with a playable canned scenario with pre-generated PCs and NPCs as a complete "this is how I see it" example.

However, even assuming the players understand what the game requires, there is no guarentee they can come up with something good on the spot.  BE CREATIVE NOW! is a little like the 'magic happens' part of the process diagram.  Some players might revel in that kind of thing (like me), while a lot of others will be saying "this is taking for ages, and I cant think of anything!"

I leave the option for the player to fill the "characterization" in as they go along, but because it dosnt have as much direct impact on the play as say, a trait that you can use, it tends to get left at the station.

I have more to say, but Id be interested in peoples thoughts about this.  I guess its a kind of general thing for RPGs but because my game is tagreting characterization so specifically, its a big issue.
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Daniel36
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Posts: 63


« Reply #1 on: September 01, 2011, 12:45:25 PM »

It looks to me as a very free-form sandbox type of improv RPG, and the problem with those types of games is, you need very, very creative people to play with that have a very big "comfort zone" when it comes to opening up. This type of game is something people from theatre school would have a blast with, but your average group of friends will just not get it.

It's not my kind of game either, honestly, even though I do believe myself to be pretty creative, but my group of friends would never ever get this. I would give it a shot if a GM wanted me to, for sure, and I would probably like it after a while, given there would be a nice group to play with. But taking a look at my friends (with whom I am going to play an RPG with soon), one of them never plays anything but "the muscled bad ass who just wants to kick ass and grab loot".

Perhaps you should narrow it down for playability's sake and come up with a (big) list of what they can do and let them pick and choose out of that list instead of forcing them to come up with stuff themselves.

Break it down into categories. "Combative", "Diplomatic" etcetera and give them a maximum of the amount they can take per category. Hope this helps...
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Thriff
Member

Posts: 68


« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2011, 05:29:18 AM »

Hey Stefoid,

I've highlighted (what I think are) positive aspects of your game in this thread (http://www.indie-rpgs.com/forge/index.php?topic=31967.0). Probably best to read there first. Figured the more detailed comments should be reserved for your thread.

Layout. I like that you have side-bars and boxes within the page to aid the eye (which program did you use btw?) and very clear titles for sections. But why don't you have a table of contents? I recall finding your game before and enjoying a few nuggets here and there, but I did, and still do, find it difficult to read from start to finish. Larger sections of "1 Introduction", "2 Character Creation", etc. (numbered as 1.1, 1.2...2.1, 2.2...) would really help break up the text into manageable chunks.

Setting.

Disclaimer: long and personally biased.

As a designer I've given Ingenero many silent nods of respect for its effectiveness and innovation. But a rich detailed setting sells a game for me as a player--and I know I'm not alone in this.

By my definition a game must provide a system and a vehicle for creating a setting, and to the best of my knowledge Ingenero has no more than 1 paragraph to help players acquire their setting. And that paragraph is best summed as: “choose a setting that all players are familiar with and want to RP in, proceed”.

Congratulations are in order because there are a host of rules and suggestions  (particularly Premise and Initial Situation) that do wonders for orienting players once the setting has been established, but such rules are noticeably absent for the setting itself.

Not to be cruel, but I believe Ingenero, in its current form, is best defined as a system (a good one for what it wants), but not a game. And I think Ingenero doesn't yet know this, which is why you and your playtesters are having the issues they are.

Ingenero seems (from my, likely insufficient, purview) to be difficult to play. Not confusing in its rules or challenging in a competitive sense. Just difficult. I think this is because Ingenero doesn’t provide a vehicle for creating a setting. 

I use the term “vehicle” because a setting can be delivered to the players (by the game designer through the game text) in different ways. My experience suggests that there are two extremes on the settings-creation vehicle continuum in rpg games.

(1) Structured Settings- Well-established histories, cultures, nations, current events, species, ecologies, and environments... communicated through well-written fiction and/or organized information about the world.  “DnD”, all “White Wolf” I’ve seen (Exalted, Vampire, Werewolf, mystical-creature #5-7 and #21, WoD/nWoD), “Ars Magica”, “Dogs in the Vineyard” by Vincent Baker, and most games from this site come to mind

When a structured setting fails (to capture players’ excitement) it’s often because the stated setting is vague, self-contradictory, or simply boring. Then again, it’s easier to be inspired (at least to improve!) a boring something than a non-existent nothing!

Do you intend to provide Ingenero with a structured setting?

(2) Emergent Settings- Seem significantly more difficult to define. They must account for their deficiency in an inherent setting by providing players with the means (vehicle) to acquire a setting. Acquisition in this sense becomes either adopt-a-setting or create-a-setting.

*Adopt-a-setting

This route seems simplest: “choose a setting everyone is familiar with and wants to play in and then proceed”. (Ingenero’s course). But such a vehicle is, though simple, not easy.

The potential problems of this vehicle:

(i) What if the players aren’t all familiar with one setting? Then the game has immediately alienated at least 1 player—not good.

(ii) Or perhaps they are all familiar with multiple settings but can’t agree on which they’d like to play (recognize that Ingenero doesn’t insist these decisions be made before people schedule time to meet and play Ingenero!)

(iii) The players choose a setting familiar to them all and all want to play in this setting. Great! Except people begin to nit-pick and bicker over the details and interpretations of the source material. These are all “potential problems” but not the inherent weakness of this vehicle.

The inherent weakness of adopt-a-setting is that it’s wildly unpredictable! Granted, an exception exists for groups of players that are well-versed in multiple settings across many genres and—importantly—are flexible in play preferences and able to make concessions with their interpretation of the source material. Gee, that sounds like a charming group of folks I’d like to meet!

Adopt-a-setting will simply not work for some groups.

*Create-a-setting

This can be done quickly. Perhaps even within seconds. But a detailed procedure must exist to guide the players/GM and the potential problem is that the procedure may be too burdensome to complete. Revisions will fix that.

But depending on the desired degree of simulationist verisimilitude the game may require the entire first session (or a hefty portion of it!) to create a setting. This is the inherent weakness of this vehicle—it takes time and effort (creativity and communication especially). Narratavist drama can demand the same, simply because drama yearns for an environment (NPCs included) that is dynamic, self-consistent, and of concern to the characters. And apparently Gamists aren’t any easier to please in this regard—they’ll want satisfying challenges which are neither too easy nor too hard to master.

This desire for a quick start in conjunction with my preference for rich settings provided a distinct struggle for my game (which, similar to Ingenero, itself skirts the “system” classification). I may not have the “answer” (if, in my game, the create-a-setting route is chosen, the procedure is akin to “choose some words and make a setting collaboratively”) to designing emergent settings but I’ve learned that the rewards of this route will demand effort sooner or later (stupid life lessons :P). Either the designer/GM creates the setting before the session begins or the GM/players create the setting during session one.

Tone and Premise Work excellently once the setting has been acquired.

These are both very important to decide before play. I’ve also added “acceptability standards” in my game (but I think you have that implicitly included in PG or R rating).

I really like how you’ve set up Premise. Aim-Obstacle/Method makes so much sense! And it’s workable.

Proficiencies and Plays Straightforward and effective. Plays are especially cool.

Systems

“Fate” by Fred Hicks and Rob Donoghue and “The Pool” by James V. West were well aware that they had crafted (excellent) systems but not games (read the first line of each) and that acquiring the setting is the players’/GM’s responsibility. Steffan O’Sullivan’s “Fudge” is similar in this regard but doesn’t say it as explicitly.

Summary:

I’m glad I spent the time to decipher Ingenero. With a revised layout and a more detailed account of setting acquisition I’d be interested in playing this game!

I hope to return and devote more energy to reading the resolution rules (execute, target, clash).

Layout- Table of Contents, Sections.

Setting- simply: warn players about the pitfalls of adopting a setting and (perhaps) explicitly state how you want a setting to be created. Or, much more work but potentially worth it, give Ingenero an inherent setting.

Are you intending to give Ingenero an inherent setting?

T
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stefoid
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« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2011, 02:23:37 PM »

Hey Thriff!  Thanks so much for taking the time to look the game over.  Im kind of stunned.

Ill reply in more detail a bit latter, but for now Ill just say Im planning to release the game with between 3 and 5 canned scenarios or 'modules' if you like.

You are correct about the 'barrier to entry'  in getting your head around Ingenero, and it is supposed to be a generic system that you can pick up and readily adapt to the setting of your choice.  So the canned scenarios will be invaluable examples in that regard, both for what a finished character should look like and the type of preparation the GM needs to do.

Briefly that preparation for the GM is something like  very little setting, some consideration of initial situation and the bulk on creating a cast of NPCs. 

There has been a good discussion on Story Games which led me to categorize the prep I advocate as being a sandbox that is predominantly populated with NPCs rather than locations and events, if that makes sense.

I will quote someone from that thread that I think succinctly demonstrates the difference in philosophy concerning the importance of setting (see below).  However, I strongly agree that system by itself is both boring and does nothing to attract attention.  Hence the need for the canned scenarios to inspire people to play.

If you like, I can email you the canned scenario I have completed (not layed out, just draft) Perhaps you would like to play it and provide feedback?  that would be so helpful.

quote fro someone on story games  ""One approach is to place the characters' goals central in the game and draw from the environment as a source of obstacles and evocative detail that brings that character's struggle into relief. Things that happen in the world are only relevant insofar as they impinge on the character and his/her quest. Or another way to say this is the things that happen in their world are presented precisely for the relevance that they have to the character's struggles. Everything else may be background color, but is not really of importance.

Another approach is to place a character in a world and make the interaction with the world central to the game. The character experiences the world and moves through it as an observer/actor. They may or may not have explicit and nuanced aspirations. Or their aspirations may be malleable and opportunistic. Things happen in their world that may or may not have relevance to their struggles. The events that occur in their environment are presented because the world is there for the exploring. And the focus is on the interaction between character and world, rather than the way the world impinges on the character.

So, an example from my early D&D days. We would each create a character. The GM would have a world prepared and we would start, say, in a town. We'd wander through the town talking to people, listening for rumors, looking for a merchant caravan or a noble in need or a damsel in distress. You know, trying to find the adventure. The characters aspirations were a given. We were adventurers. Sometimes it was glossed with a desire to vanquish evil, but really it was about fun and challenge and exploration. Eventually, we'd run into the various NPCs with problems that adventurers could solve and we'd be off to the races.

Contrast that with my recent Burning Wheel games. We create characters together. We create beliefs that drive the characters and pay attention to how those beliefs intersect and how they fit into the overall world we are imagining. The GM, in particular, is looking for ways in which his world is going to challenge those beliefs, what the NPCs want that will have impact on the characters and put the question to the beliefs we have created. There's no notion that there are characters or places "out there" in the world that we need to seek in order to expose the adventure. We are going to be confronted by those things by virtue of pursuing our stated beliefs. Exploring the world for the sake of it would be strange in this setting. The characters have Beliefs they are meant to pursue. Presenting a lot of extraneous events and personages just because they are part of the historical reality would also be a bit odd."
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stefoid
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« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2011, 05:08:11 PM »

Theres so many games out there.  The niche for Ingenero is when you have a setting and probably situation in mind (setting and premise) and you want a system to facilitate play - maybe its a setting from your favourite fiction that doesnt have a game specifically tailored for it.  Maybe its even en existing setting in an RPG with a system you dont like.  Lastly, you just might like the way Ingenero's system works -- it offers a lot of structural support and advice for GM and players, and that could appeal to groups that want to explore the type of play that Ingenero is about.

Its still in draft stage, TOC etc.. will be added. 

On plays (from other thread).  Im removing the requirement to predefine how a play is used.  A play is now defined by its bonus and description only, and application is decided during play.  With execution, counter, etc...  Its probably not as complex in practice as it might seem from a reading. Basically work out what your character wants to happen first, without reference to the system.  Then select a type of play.  It should be obvious from your characters intention which is applicable.

I am unhappy with the social chalenge rules, those will be modified to be more seamlessly integrated with the play mechanics.  Basically I was breaking my own design rule and trying to build specific rules to cater for specific things I wanted to model, when I really dont have to.  Play descriptions have all the flexibility I need. 

I also need to go over the story phase random table - tweak it a bit.  No biggie. 
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stefoid
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« Reply #5 on: September 16, 2011, 05:18:46 PM »

Here is the canned scenario Black Sun, ready to run.

Quote

Ive also added it to the website downloads section (see my sig)
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stefoid
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« Reply #6 on: September 18, 2011, 04:58:13 PM »

From Cedrics own game thread:
Quote
Ingenero:

I read Ingenero, great piece of work and lots of good ideas in there. Where I shall write my feeling on the proper thread, a few words pertaining to what I'd like to achieve with Föld.

- I love the Body and Soul stats, also because one shall distribute a fixed amount of points between the two.
- The Plays and Signature Plays look really nice, I also liked the idea to attach Plays to McGuffins. There might be some space for reuse and for making shallow characters a bit more special (well not too much :p)
- I don't buy the whole concept of letting the PC making suggestions to the GM (e.g. 'the treasure was a hostage and not gold') namely because non-creative PC will be lost.
- I like the split between Story and Challenge phase, but would do it differently. In my system so far, 'challenge' starts as soon as anyone rolls a die. The guy also gains initiative. Suffice to have the GM playing with a die when the story gets hot for putting the PCs on nerve and maybe trigger a conflict in a preventive way...
What I don't like in Ingenero is that dice are rolled when a Goal is near - and when that's a great mechanism for distributing rewards, it forces the GM to deal with 4 to 6 goals for each PC at any time (that's what I understood, I should read again this part probably)
- The Story Seeds table is a Must Have (too bad I don't understand some of them - "Waiting for the other shoe to drop"? - but that's off-topic)

The easy answer - "waiting for the other shoe to drop" simply means waiting for the second event that usually follows the first, like if the person in the flat above you is loudly removing their shoes - you hear one and you are expecting the other to follow before you can regain peace.

Story and challenge phases.  Not suggesting you adopt this, just to explain it.  When you say  "'challenge' starts as soon as anyone rolls a die", the question is, how do you know when to pick up a die?  The structure of Ingenero is designed to answer this question.  Its about pacing and focus.  Be definition, characters care about their goals.  So when they are advancing closely on them, thats when Ingenero switches gears and focuses -- thats when you pick up dice.  Between those decisive moments, the focus is on characters decisions and the consequences and complciations that relate to them.

Quote
"it forces the GM to deal with 4 to 6 goals for each PC at any time"


Yes it does and thats by design and a thing I was looking to achieve.  I mean, not all the time with 4-6 wildly different goals firing constantly, but its quite reasonable for different characters to have individual goals as well as shared ones, and for those individual goals to be acted on occasionally.  A good GM tries to 'share the spotlight' so that no players feel left out or superflouous - tries to make sure the game dwells on what is important to all characters.  So again, its about focus.  By declaring a goal, a player is waving a red flag at the GM and other players saying "my character cares about this", and when that character advances closely on the goal, everyone knows its time for that character to recieve some dramatic spotlight to see if they can achieve it.

Remember that decalring a goal doesnt do anything by itself.  For the spotlight to focus on, a character or characters have to be advancing closely on the goal.  Until then, they are in Story phase, which allows the pace to move realtively quickly because conflict resolution rules arent formally invoked.
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Cedric
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Posts: 28


« Reply #7 on: September 19, 2011, 08:04:49 AM »

Hi Stefoid,

First of all: the comments I made were in the context of my game, so when I wrote 'I don't like that' it means that I don't like that for the given context and not as a general statement ;)
Again, Ingenero is really interesting and catched my interest.

So, some questions / remarks as a reply to your last post on this thread:

- I'm bogged by the need for the GM to remember at any point in time 5 goals per player. On average I play with 4 people, that's 20 goals to remember all the time. Since this is a critical step (and a design goal of Ingenero), do you have experience feedback on this point? Was the GM feeling comfortable with all these things to keep in mind all the time? Studies shows that in average a person can remember lists which do not exceed 7 items; myself I have difficulties with lists which go above 5 items. Do you intend to solve that?
Two (possibly complementary) options would be: 1- shift the burden on the player's shoulders: they have to tell when they think they are moving closer to one of their goals. 2- come-up with 'game helpers' (not sure about the exact term - 'aides de jeu' in french - basically things for helping smoothing-up the game) such as categories or one-word summary for the goals, so that the GM can quickly review them without asking the player: 'what were your goals again? Let me check your character sheet...'.
Or having a priority list, such as: shared goals are assessed first, and each player gets at least the spotlight once per session?

- About your question on 'when do you know when to pick up a die?': just to clarify, here I am not talking about a challenge phase linked to character goals, just about a mechanism for balancing story and action. Warning, this is heavily biased. As a GM, I tend to favour story over action (e.g. dice rolling). Yet I know that the players like to use their skills once in a while. Also, please note that Föld (my game) is really dangerous and that lots of things can easily backfire - another big difference with Ingenero, which is oriented as a system for action movies where the main characters are the heroes. In Föld the player characters are nobodies and will likely be killed for becoming too dangerous. So, my view is to play everything in Story mode. Until a player rolls a die, that is. They can do it anytime they want to do it, but they will pay the consequences. As a rule of thumb, when some action happens, if no die is rolled, then the GM does go on and decides on the outcome. When a die is rolled, the player who rolled it can either use the roll result for countering what the GM just said, or for taking initiative in a starting conflict. Second case, a conflict is about to start, there is tension in the air. Then, the GM picks-up a die but does not necessarily roll it. If the player roll before the GM does, they get initiative - but might have acted too soon...

Two examples:

1- a character is being chased by gangers. He reaches a dead-end where crates are stored. The player decides to climb the crates. The GM tells that he climbs but that the gangers are catching-up. The player rolls a die: he forces the outcome of the climbing action. Either he succeeds the roll, then the climbing does easier and the gangers do not catch-up, or he fails, being now at the mercy of the bad guys...

2- the characters are in a wood, where they hear noises. They suddenly realize that a wolf is in the vicinity. The GM grabs a die. Three possible outcomes:
- one player rolls a die, starting a fight. His character gets initiative against the wolf.
- the GM rolls the die first: the PC were too slow, the wolf noticed them and attacks
- noone throw a die. The wolf fails to notice the PC and slowly goes away

My idea is to keep, as the GM, each outcome as random as possible, in order to fuel the players with paranoia. 'Shall we roll the die? If we don't, maybe the danger will quietly go away, but maybe also they will get the initiative?' or 'the GM rates my characters' success as medium. Shall I force a re-roll? Maybe I'm better off not, but I'm not sure this will end well...'

That's what I wanted to clarify. Again, I don't dismiss the Challenge phase to be triggered by Goals - that's a pretty cool thing - but I'm afraid this gets complex for the GM (who might forget about a player). As for my die rolling mechanism, I won't claim it's working - this is an idea-in-progress which deserves testing. Still I understand that this is a different approach than the one Ingenero is going after.

My two cents,

  Cédric
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stefoid
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« Reply #8 on: September 19, 2011, 10:54:25 PM »

Hi!

Quote
I'm bogged by the need for the GM to remember at any point in time 5 goals per player. On average I play with 4 people, that's 20 goals to remember all the time

Oh I see what you mean...5 goals per player.  I thought you meant 1 goal each from 5 players.  Well, its true that there is a limit of 4 active goals per player, made up of whatever split they would like between long term and short term goals.  In practice, characters might have one or two short term goals active at any given time, and might be close to advancing on one of them, so it doesnt work out that the GM is juggling 20 things in his head.  More like one short term goal from each player, of which there is usually a lot of overlap, with most parties of characters cooperating on some level or another, and thus sharing some goals.

Short answer is I havent found it to be a problem, and nothing that a piece of paper and a pencil in front of the GM couldnt fix.

Quote
- About your question on 'when do you know when to pick up a die?': just to clarify, here I am not talking about a challenge phase linked to character goals, just about a mechanism for balancing story and action. Warning, this is heavily biased. As a GM, I tend to favour story over action (e.g. dice rolling). Yet I know that the players like to use their skills once in a while. Also, please note that Föld (my game) is really dangerous and that lots of things can easily backfire - another big difference with Ingenero, which is oriented as a system for action movies where the main characters are the heroes. In Föld the player characters are nobodies and will likely be killed for becoming too dangerous. So, my view is to play everything in Story mode. Until a player rolls a die, that is. They can do it anytime they want to do it, but they will pay the consequences. As a rule of thumb, when some action happens, if no die is rolled, then the GM does go on and decides on the outcome. When a die is rolled, the player who rolled it can either use the roll result for countering what the GM just said, or for taking initiative in a starting conflict. Second case, a conflict is about to start, there is tension in the air. Then, the GM picks-up a die but does not necessarily roll it. If the player roll before the GM does, they get initiative - but might have acted too soon...

That certainly sounds like an interseting way to do things.  A lot rides on the GM decision of what is going to happen.  How does he decide?
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Thriff
Member

Posts: 68


« Reply #9 on: September 21, 2011, 07:35:57 PM »

Hey Stefoid,

I agree that session design should focus on NPCs over settings/environments.

I like the style of "node-base design" as advocated here: http://thealexandrian.net/creations/misc/node-design/node-design.html.

Perhaps that link might help alleviate the "barrier of entry" by providing an easier way to promote session design.

hope this helps,

T
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