Thursday, 9 March 2017

Across the Endless Sea: Mechanics and Playbooks (#3)

(Across the Endless Sea is a storygame I’m writing, blogging the process here to entertain and hopefully get some advice/feedback. For the introductory post that lays out the design goals of the project, look here.)

I’ve had a week to think about last week’s draft for a resolution mechanic for Across the Endless Sea.

In that time, I’ve reread my Patreon preview of Vincent Baker’s The King is Dead. I’ve reread my copy of Jason Morningstar’s Skeletons. I’ve rewatched some of Adam Koebel’s games of A Sundered Land.

On Monday at work I sat with a bunch of kids making up stories: about their characters, about the campaigns, about key NPCs they admire. After a particularly beloved mentor died of old age, one kid very sincerely told me that “nothing happens to me, because I’ve died of a broken heart”.

Seeing the strength of the narrative moments that can be generated just through using commonsense/fairness and asking provocative questions, I’ve come to a decision:

There will be no randomization or dice in Across the Endless Sea.

They just feel unnecessary. There’s an existing body of storygames that demonstrate that diceless non-random games can be done, and done well.

I want Across the Endless Sea to have something of the feel of traditional storytelling, to lean into Vincent Baker’s model of “roleplaying as conversation”. I want, as I mentioned in my design goals, for the mechanics of this game to seem invisible.

I also want this to be a game that requires and teaches trust of the other players at the table.
(Trust in their integrity, trust in their creativity, trust in their support as you imagine and improvise.)

So, with all that in mind here’s another attempt at that core resolution mechanic, and one that I am much happier with:

Time passes, triggering an encounter. A random encounter prompt is drawn.

The group determines which Threat the encounter belongs to. The Threat player gets to answer some questions and maybe ask some leading questions to flesh out their vision of the encounter.

They then give an initial description of the encounter.

The rest of the group determines which Aspect player will meet the encounter.

The Aspect player gets to interrogate the fiction of the encounter before they resolve it. Each playbook gives them a list of questions to choose from; this lets the player signal what about the encounter interests them. It also lets them steer the encounter a little: creating openings or weaknesses.

The Aspect player then begins the encounter.

They choose (from a playbook list) how the People meet the encounter, and then draw on their earlier questions and the established resources of the People to describe what that looks like.

The Aspect player asks the Threat player if their course of action works. There are no mechanics for this; the Threat player considers what was described and what they know about the encounter and answers according to what seems fair and truthful.

IF the course of action works completely, the People win something.

IF the course of action works at a cost, the People win something and lose something.

IF the course of action doesn’t work, the People lose something and then the Aspect player has to choose a new course of action.

Whenever things are won or lost, the Aspect players gets another player to choose them;  (either off a playbook list or from scratch, as that player chooses).

So, there it is!

We now have five basic moves that are going to part of every Aspect playbook-
  • One that determines the investigative questions you can ask
  • One that determines the courses of actions you can take for resolution
  • One that determines what may have been lost
  • One that determines what may have been won
  • One that establishes some fictional resources the People have access to through this Aspect

and then choices that design the encounter that occurs when the People reach their destination.

There needs to be a clear trigger for what sets off the encounter at the destination: at this point, I’m thinking that the game happens over the course of an in-fiction year.

Each month, there may be one or two encounters (at the players’ discretion) and once they come to the twelfth month the next encounter involves their destination and what happens there rather than the normal deck of prompts.

I loved the chapter on little cultural details that John Harper wrote for Blades in the Dark, so I might do something similar with the months and their traditions of the main rules sheet.

That’s about all for today, I think.

I’m currently halfway through drafting the Aspect playbooks, and things are looking promising. I’ll probably post some of that next time around, along with some thoughts about what the template of the Threat playbooks should be.

And then there’s the question of the encounter prompts…

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