[Feng Shui] Stumbling into Narrativism

Started by Chris_Chinn, November 18, 2011, 02:06:37 AM

Previous topic - Next topic


Spinning off from Ron's thread: [Obsidian, Champs, Babylon Project] Incipient Narrativism and its discontents.

Back in 1996-1998, I ended up running a campaign for several friends using Feng Shui.  We were all at the end of high school, and able to play on short notice pretty often.  Some of the players were familiar with rolelplaying, some not.  We had a shared love of Hong Kong movies, anime, and hiphop.

No one was familiar with Feng Shui as a rule set, much less the setting (or the Shadowfist CCG it was based on).  I had decided to start the game by telling everyone that it was a classic Hong Kong triads vs. police kind of game, without telling them that it involved magic and time travel.  I'm not totally sure, but I vaguely recall the in-game adventure being presented along similar fashion with a wizard at the end as the surprise "gotcha!".

Anyway, by the second or third session, the situation had gotten the player characters tied up into "The Netherworld" - the in-between world that exists outside of the normal timeline, and, is where you have to go in order to jump to different times.  The setting provided 4 rulers who were fighting amongst each other there, and the players quickly got enmeshed in the drama.

I can't recall the reason, but basically they had decided they needed to steal something out of one of the rulers' fortresses.  A player decided he would distract her by fighting her alone while the other players carried out their theft.  He was planning on fighting a losing battle and running.

Thing is, Feng Shui's rules allow for unlimited exploding dice mechanics.  And the player rolled so high that he killed her on the spot.

This set up a really interesting choice for me as a GM.   I could have tried to fudge it, which is the usual GM move when these things happen, but, at least on some level I knew that would be bullshit and really destroy the trust of our group.   So I let it go through.

Feng Shui's advice is all pretty classic Illusionism, so I basically had about 3 more sessions of prep which was immediately and instantly flushed down the toilet.  One of the Major NPCs was dead, and the political structure in the setting is now completely warped.   The only thing I could figure out to wing it was to try to treat every NPC as you would a PC- improvise based on their motivations and personality.

After doing that for a few sessions, I got to the point where I felt comfortable enough to also kick out the timeline rules which Feng Shui uses - which keeps everyone from really enduring a lot of time paradoxes by keeping the time periods you can jump to several hundreds of years apart.  In fact, I started deliberately overlapping the time paradox issues which only served to further highlight to the players that they were the primary agents in the game, not any plot which I had in mind.

That said, even though I had good improv tools to work with, over the course of the campaign, we'd swing from hitting good thematic material to ho-hum bad-guy of the week, kind of play, depending on what the focus was. 

Usually our best play came out of the players' ability to significantly alter the setting- being able to assure certain timelines existed, or were wiped out, made for some serious choices along the way.

After the end of that campaign, a lot of us had moved for college, and I spent the next 4-5 years trying to hunt down ways to reproduce the best of that campaign.  Unfortunately, I wasn't able to fully identify the techniques I was using, nor communicate it to the many other groups I ended up playing with.  Jumping around exposed me to a lot of different playstyles, but ultimately a lot of frustration and seeing a lot of things that just "weren't it".



Cool! That reminds me a lot of my early experiences with D&D and Exalted (and attempting to pursue a Narrativist agenda without realizing it).

In my opinion these limitations happen because some games do not set you up well to give the players "real" creative choices - play advice encourages the fudging of dice rolls, the resolution of conflict and crisis is entirely in the GM's hands (as opposed to mere resolution of component tasks related to handling conflicts), and mechanics do not encourage focus on the actual "zing" of play - - the thematic tension, the rough moral/emotional decisions, the importance of relationships...
It sounds like your "stumbling" involved giving the players the room to make the "big choices" of play - if there's a decisive battle, they're in it; if there's a life-and-death dilemma, they must solve it; and so on. Giving them more control over time travel was exactly the right choice to empower them (sounds like it, anyway - from what little I know of Feng Shui, being able to control [and struggle with] time travel would let players really drive in the play-direction they want).
Mask of the Emperor rules, admittedly a work in progress - http://abbysgamerbasement.blogspot.com/