[SS] I need some help with Keys

Started by Rocco, December 23, 2010, 09:42:06 AM

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my name is Rocco and I have recently bought SS. I'm also waiting for my copy of Near to come to Italy.
I have started a game with my wife and two friends and the play is going well (I'm very happy of SS). However I'm experiencing some problem with the creation of new Keys, and therefore I ask for your help on this matter:

Here there are the three keys that I built for my players:

Key of Success:
    1xp: you gain a success over someone else.
    2xp: you suffer some difficulties to obtains success.
    5xp: you obtain success sacrificing someone else.

This is the key I created for the highborn maldorite player, heir to a noble house.

Key of the Vengeance on Males:
    1xp: you best a man.
    2xp: you best a man with some difficulties.
    5xp: to best a man you sacrifice someone else.

This is the key I created for the lowborn maldorite player, apothecary and fortune-teller.

Key of the Unselfishness.:
    1xp: you help someone.
    2xp: you you help someone suffering for your action.
    5xp: you you help someone making someone else suffer for your action.

This is the key I created for the lowborn maldorite player, healer and magician.

As you can see I'm not that creative in this regard, as all the keys look quite similar. I'm not sure also of having built them the proper way.
Moreover I find really difficult to create new keys. Can you please give me some advice on key-building?

Another Issue is also that I would like to let my player understand that keys can (should?) be added and changed over time, but I seem unable to explain this properly. I wuold like to show them how to do, not just tell them. And my inability to produce good keys is not helping in this regard.

I add that we just played 2 sessions and that I think that with other 2 or 3 session this "adventure" will be over.

Thank you very much for your help


Eero Tuovinen

Hi Rocco, and thanks for your recent purchase - I understand that the World of Near is under way at this writing; it'll arrive before the year's end, I expect. Hopefully you'll like it as well.

Regarding Keys, you're right in saying that your Keys are a bit to the flat side. I'll try to pick apart what I mean... it's like, when you write the individual Key conditions, you should already have in mind a sort of proto-scene that would fulfill the Key condition. Not a preplanned plot by any means, but you need to be able to imagine one potential way for the issue represented by the Key to progress dramatically. Then you loan just a bit of color and specificity from this idea you had and write that down as a requirement of the Key. It does not matter later whether the game develops at all in the sort of direction you first imagined, and you've already forgotten that first idea anyway as you play; the important thing is that the play interprets and perhaps refutes the initial nature you imagined the Key to have.

Hmm, I don't know if the above is exactly useful - this is a tricky thing to teach. Perhaps an example, here's how I'd do the Key of Success:

Key of Success
The character fears losing, and has in fact never learned to lose. He believes that the world is divided into winners and losers, and intends to be one of the former at any price.
1xp: The character flaunts his success.
2xp: The character wins something.
5xp: The character betrays somebody or something for success.
Buyoff: The character loses.

Another shot at explaining, based on the above: what I did was, I recognized a literary "theme of success" and wrote down the dramatic arc as it is often narrated in stories that deal with masculine competition, fear of failure and strive to excel. Specifically, I was thinking of the Oliver Stone movie Wall Street that I saw recently, and other similar narratives: the issue of ambition is that while it may drive you to great deeds, it also causes you to lose perspective on your values, which ultimately leads to you becoming a monster in service of mere success at any cost. As you see, the theme or message does not need to be original and it can be trite; at this point you're not deciding what your game will be about, but simply just what this individual Key will be - by making it simple and trite and clearly biased ideologically towards a given sort of story you make it easier for the player to make statements concerning it: in which situations will the player use the Key, when will he buy it off? Of this are the actual stories made.

(Wall Street and other similar moralistic stories about success, in case you're not familiar with the genre, start with a young, ambitious and somewhat idealistic white-collar worker, who decides that he is willing to break the rules to get ahead, to win at any cost. Later on he realizes that he does not want to be the sort of asshole who is willing to win no matter the cost - he learns to lose, in other words, which ultimately becomes a victory for him. John Grisham and such suspence authors write these sorts of novels.)

Incidentally, I think that this is a very good theme for a noble-born Maldorite character to chew on.

Let's try another one to see if the method is working:

Key of Vengeance on Males
The character has become bitter about the arbitrary limits and small (or large) wrongs that have been permitted towards her by the male chauvinist society.
1xp: Scorn manfolk.
2xp: Prove superiority towards a man or men.
5xp: Refuse to work with a man despite your best interests.
Buyoff: Accept the help of a man.

Again, a very nice Key for a female character in Maldor. As you can see, I again recognized the underlying thematic arc here, which in this case is about the sort of bitter extreme feminism that used to be in the vogue in popular culture when the idea was new and fresh - it's actually a chauvinist (or at least more level-headed) story format in that the underlying lesson is that the woman's anger is misdirected, and she should understand that only bad me are worthy of her ire. Again, what a player makes of it is different thing entirely. The actual "steps" of the Key are easy to write once you know the sort of story that Key implies: first you name an event that recurs over time and reminds everybody about the Key's existence, then you name a developing element that changes something in the situation where it occurs, and then you name a dramatic turning-point. The Buyoff represents the conclusion of the particular story, like when James Bond finally convinces the Evil Lesbian that she should join Bond against her former master.

I should note at this point that it's not a bad idea at all to simply pick a set of premade Keys and tell the players that those are the ones that are available here. This is especially reasonable for a Story Guide who likes to prep ahead, as by knowing the Keys in advance you'll be able to prepare Key-relevant material for play, too. I myself have a habit of playing the way you apparently do here, allowing the players to basically invent their own Keys freely; I'm not sure if this is a very good method overall, the game would probably work more reliably and with less effort on everybody's part if you just told the players that this campaign has these twelve Keys and only these, do whatever you want with them.

As for changing the Keys over time, I wouldn't worry about it too much. You basically get three sorts of players when playing this game: there are the ones who are annoyed that their characters are straightjacketed by the Keys, to which you can explain that the Key requires no particular action whatsoever from them; then there are the ones who fear to act against their Keys, which you should remind case-to-case during play that they can and perhaps should be brave and break away from Keys that do not serve the character any more; finally you have the ones who game the Keys with excitement and optimize their characters for xp gain, regarding which you don't really need to do anything except make sure that they earn the xp they gain honestly.

In your case, where the players do not want to play against their Keys and they are hesitant to change, your problem is minor in that the game actually works from moment to moment quite fine even if the players do not want to change the Keys. The only thing you need to do here is to remind them periodically about their options. What I do myself is, I am in constant dialogue with the players about their game-mechanical options: "you could make an Effect here you know", or "how about you trade in that Key if you're never going to act according to it anyway", or "remember that you don't have to do that just because your Key says so". Over time this sort of dialogue enables the players to use the game's system themselves proactively, and meanwhile you're making sure that nobody gets actually entrapped by their Keys.

Of course it's the job of the Story Guide to challenge the characters thematically, which often means that you're going to be looking at the Keys in their own terms: what sort of situations I can give to this player so that he gets more xp out of this Key? Now that he's hooked on the Key, how will I give him situations where he doesn't want to take the course that gives him xp? Now that the Key is clearly in the focus of the story, how do I convince him to give it up? Never plan in this way in the spirit of forcing events, but rather use these questions to figure out how to give the players relevant, challenging situations. For example, the Key of Success pretty much requires you to give the player opportunities where he can win something easily by being an asshole; plan those and see whether the player's ready to win at any cost.

Hopefully something in that helps, be sure to ask more questions if anything comes up.
Blogging at Game Design is about Structure.
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Hi Eero

yes, I hope that the World of Near can come before the end of the year, because we are planning to play on New Year Eve.....

Ok, your explanation is really clear, and your example helped me a lot to figure out what Key building is. Considering your argument my Keys look really flat, but I think that with your advice and more experience under my belt, I will improve.

Now I need to ask you something else, but still related to the keys. My idea for the campaign was to set it in a Dukedom capital, with the old Duke dying and his two sons warring for power. That was the underline theme. I was interested to see which one of the two brother my player will end up to help (considering also that they can choose to not support them). They have also an older sister, still waiting to marry that may represent a third party in the power race.

I used to play D&D with my old group, usually being the GM. And I'm scared of railroading them into doing what I want and not what they would like to do.
I let them decide the course of the action of their PC, and I just set up the scene and play the secondary characters. Now to the point: in the above situation and considering your new key of success, I should create a situation (an initial scene), in which the noble maldorite can obtain some kind of success easily, if he acts like an asshole. Is that right?
And another one in which the lowborn fortune teller is "obliged" to work with man, always linked with the above situation.

Am I getting it right?

Thank you



Hi Eero

if I understood correctly your indication about key building than i can rephrase the Key of Unselfishness this way:

Key of Pure Unselfishness:
The character is interested in helping other people no matter the personal cost
1xp: the character helps someone
2xp: the character suffer inconvenience for helping someone
5xp: the character risks deaths or major injuries to help someone
Buyoff: you refuse to help

Key of Unwanted Unselfishness:
The character is interested in helping other people no matter what they think about it
1xp: the character helps someone
2xp: the character helps someone even if requested not to
5xp: helping the needings the character make them suffer worse consequences
Buyoff: you realize that help cannot be forced upon others

This are just two examples of a myriad of possible ways of expresse the theme of Unselfishness that I thought of.
Are they built better this time?

Thanks a lot

5xp: the character risks deaths or major injuries to help someone
Buyoff: you refuse to help