Jamie's game thread: road trip movie game

Started by jdfristrom, September 11, 2010, 05:25:33 PM

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Cities and deserts and journeys make me think:

*The Sure Thing*, *LIttle Miss Sunshine*, *Easy Rider*, *Thelma & Louise*, *Priscilla: Queen of the Desert*, *Fanboys*, maybe, sorta, *The Wizard of Oz*

I'm thinking about these movies and it occurs to me they're all "The Point of the Journey is Not To Arrive" deals.  They always have some ostensible goal or McGuffin, but when they get there they realize what they think they want isn't what they need.  (Zombieland:  they think they want to go to an amusement park, but really they want family.)  So the heart of this game is ostensible/superficial goals vs. real/important goals.

So - what RPG's already exist that do something like that?  I haven't seen one - usually you play a character whose goals really are their goals.  The closest I can think is TSOY, encouraging you to change your goal when you get there.

Here's the really nutty idea:  in these movies, the character never knows what their real need is.  Everyone else seems to - the audience knows John Cusack & Daphne Zuniga are going to get together, even the truck driver knows ("What's wrong with her?").  So - what if - the other players pick your goal for you, and its a secret *from* you?  You'd be immersed in that character.

A perfect idealized example:  you've set your superficial ("skin" - there I got it in...and it's a double entendre in the Sure Thing.  He wants skin and its a superficial want.) goal: to get laid.  The other players have set your Real Need as to commit to a relationship with one of the other PC's.  You don't know this, and in play maybe you're hostile to that PC, and they nod knowingly and think "Your character's hostile because deep down he really wants her" or maybe you're nice to that PC and they nod knowingly and think "Your character's being sweet because he really wants her" or maybe you're indifferent and they think "A little *too* indifferent, if you ask me."

Once you figure out what your real goal is, that's your epiphany.  Ideally all the players have their epiphanies shortly before the climax, and they all achieve their real goals, but their ostensible goal...maybe they hit it (*Fanboys*) and realize it wasn't about that, maybe the could hit it and choose not to (*Sure Thing*), or maybe they die fulfilled (*Thelma & Louise*).

And here's where I get stuck: how do you find out what your real goal is?  I'm thinking the other players drop hints, by framing you in scenes with your real goal, by having their character say things like, "Why were you looking at her like that?" or "You guys have been friends since first grade" or (for a come-out-of-the-closet Real Need) "Why were these beefcake mags in your backpack?"  But how to keep that balanced, so it's not immediately obvious, so your epiphany is near the end.

A more practical problem:  there's no way for me to playtest this before the deadline...I can write a ruleset but actually trying it?  Maybe I can do a 2-player one (hey, Easy Rider / Thelma & Louise) with my wife but...this is my first time trying Iron Chef, how much playtesting do these games usually get before they're submitted?


Hmm...thinking about it more...maybe Sorcerer...the demon is your skin goal, the humanity is your real need.

Darla Shockley

First, let me say that I like this epiphany about what the journey is really about thing, I think it's a really cool aspect or design goal.

However, I'm kind of wary of the idea that this is completely controlled by another player, assuming this is the kind of game where each player has very strong control over a single character. The main reason for this is that there are a lot of "epiphanies" that people might choose, which would piss me off, or at least make the story seem really hollow for me.  I mean, how many stories are out there where the girl finds out in the end that she's actually in love with the dorky guy?  A lot... and typically I think those stories are stupid and overdone (not because it's stupid to fall in love with dorky guys, but, really, that is why she is an interesting character in this story???), but maybe someone else thinks they are cool.  Which, you know, is fine, until they impose that story onto something I feel ownership over, without me even getting to fight back against it (it's not like I lost a conflict of some sort and had to take that as a consequence--they just decided!). 

Anyway, I have no idea how you are actually implementing this in terms of mechanics (I don't even know if players will have that strong ownership of characters I am talking about!), so maybe this comment is not even relevant.  And maybe most people don't have an issue with it (and I can certainly see arguments for why it is ok)... I'm only suggesting it as something to think about. 

Also, what is "secret" to the character doesn't necessarily need to be "secret" to the player--the player could be fully aware that there is this mental struggle between the stated goal, and the real goal (which the character doesn't know at all), and there could be a mechanic representing that struggle (for example).  Another idea is for the players to have the option to in some way reject a "real" goal once they learn it.

Another thing to consider is how long you expect the game to last... if it's the sort of thing that's over in one session, this ownership over character thing is less of an issue, since I don't have a lot of time to get attached to my character, and I can say what I want to say through my influence over other characters' epiphanies.

Jonathan Walton

Jamie, in my experience, often times games aren't playtested at all before they're submitted.  So if you do any playtesting at all, you're stepping up your game, definitely.  The playoffs, instituted for the first time this year, are partially a crude attempt on my part to ensure the best games actually get played.

In other news... are you aware of Joe Macdonald's game Ribbon Drive?  It's a very loose, basic structure for running road trip stories, using player-created mixtapes as an inspiration and pacing technique.  Sounds like a very different approach from what you're going for (which is more like a road trip with a mission, rather than something more exploratory), but might be worth checking out if you have time.

Jason Pitre

Love the idea, with some echoes of "A Penny for my Thoughts".    The one concern is that with a single "real need", it is likely to be too obvious for an astute player.  Perhaps if there were two possible destinations?  Each of the other players may have their own preference for that character's "Real need" and that conflict might lead to more interesting stories.  At the very least it would be harder to guess, especially if you have multiple pc's involved in the same scene.
Genesis of Legend Publishing
Telling New Stories around the Digital Fire


Oof - hadn't seen Ribbon Drive.  Looking at some of the AP, how can I compete with that?  I can try to be as different as possible, I guess - go for comedy, etc.


Ok, I have a draft, amended after the results of one "playtest" with my 6-year old daughter.  (It worked surprisingly well, considering she's really too young to try to frame situations for me.)


I kept the nutty idea, since that to me is what makes this unique, but did try to consider your criticism. 

Darla:  I encourage the players to set limits so they don't get saddled with a Real Need they don't like;  and I point out that if you do get a Real Need you don't like, you can still play the story where you doggedly pursue your Skin Goal only to be mysteriously unfulfilled.

Jason:  Yes, it will be pretty easy to guess your real need, (though neither my daughter or I guessed each other's in our playtest - I think that's because she was too young to drop hints and too young to make good guesses) but you'll only have a few chances to officially guess before the game is over - that's probably good in a game with a lot of people, it will give a sort of two or three act structure to each player's story arc:  pursue the skin goal, have the epiphany, pursue the real need.  If I can get in another playtest and it's too short I'll do your idea.

Does anybody have an idea for a better title?  "Road Trip" is too generic, and there was already a movie called that.


Got a real playtest in tonight!  Woo!  We played about half a game - far enough for one of us to have an epiphany.  Worries about guessing your Real Need being too easy were unfounded - we had to start dropping really unsubtle hints to make it obvious.  We had a lot of fun.  The core mechanic of not knowing your own real need is kind of broken by itself, but it has neat side effects - it makes us introduce characters and dialog that wouldn't have been there otherwise.


So I can make some real improvements tomorrow.