Premade Setting/situation/characters+Distanced Stances+GM-less play?

I'm trying to work through something in my head and I'm having a hard time describing it and organizing it.

I'm also looking for examples of similar things which already exist in some form.

It starts with a core set up that already exists. The setting, situation, characters, and their web of tensions is already in place. There is a kickoff event ( or several possible kick off events) also already in place, to start to upset that web of tensions, and set things in motion.

All of the participants have open access to all of this stuff. There aren't any secrets at the real people players level.

As an example, imagine that the organizing player handed out copies of some old Vampire the Masquerade [City] by Night book to all the participants. Everyone is told that this will be the basis of the play, but no characters are going to be made in the traditional fashion. The group will just be using the NPCs and their schemes as the basis of play.

Use your imagination and pretend that all of the participants actually read and absorb that info.

The actual play of the game has these elements:
GM-less.
Scene based, with rotating scene setting.
Non-monogamous character play ( no direct player:character tie).
More distanced stances are preferred ( author and director).
Participants choose which elements/characters/events the want to focus on out of the body of source material.
Play is meant to be self-contained one-shot ( although a few short sessions count as a one-shot). Sequels, reboots, or re-visits are possible, but this isn't meant to be an on-going, open-ended form of play. Participants are made to understand this is the case.

So, okay, that's where my basic concept is right now.

Does something like this already exist?

I've seen stuff that has some broad similarities, although I haven't yet seen anything that has such a strong pre-made set up/situation/character web aspect with open knowledge.

The floor is open. Comments? Thoughts? Questions?

Help me work this thing out, creative folks.

Comments

  • edited August 2015
    I like this concept but playing from such an unconnected way (not owning a character) usually feels for most players unappealing like playing golf when you really want go carts.
    My slant on why this could be is,
    Playing with things that interest e.g magic fighting thieving.
    Moving interest is what your after.
    I personally would be very interested in all aspects of a story game as you propose.

    Oh! Microscope comes to mind as a game which fits this type of play.
  • > Does something like this already exist?

    Yes. I've done this a lot of times by using my framework.
    You can find it here.
    http://story-games.com/forums/discussion/20320/a-framework-for-interactive-storytelling-and-roleplaying-games

    You may have predefined settings / situations or generate them "on the fly".
    In terms of the framework there's no difference. They're both constraints to the narration that can be done.
    Rob
  • It smells of Montsegur 1244. That has multiple characters per player, but it does do exclusive character ownership.
  • edited August 2015
    Non-monogamous character play ( no direct player:character tie).
    If we disregard this one, you basically described half of @Simon_Pettersson's games. They are unfortunately in Swedish. One is described in this thread.

    I can only think of one game that has non-monogamous character play, and that's one of my narrative games. Oh, and the card game Once Upon a Time and the narrative game Baron Münchhausen.
  • Microscope maybe.
  • edited August 2015
    Yeah, I thought about Microscope, and the Fiasco playsets as well, especially the suggested jumpstart combos for some of those Fiasco playsets.

    Both games are good about nailing the fun of more removed stances. OTOH, a lot of the fun of both games is also in developing the set up and setting/situation.

    What I'm thinking about is something a bit like a Braunstein set up, or the set up for one of those big multi-player scenario LARPs.

    But we're getting rid of the competition by individual players as their character, and we're playing with only say 4-5 players.( All of the characters with their web of tensions are still there, however, not just 4-5 of them)

    Basically flipping that kind of set up from being an Adventure Game to a Story Game, as those terms are used in this Ars Ludi post:
    http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/460/defining-story-games/

    In practical terms, one of the main things I'm trying to figure out is how the heck do I present all of that info to participants?

    My first thought is that there's going to be a mechanical shift from Adventure Game supportive mechanics to more Story Game supportive mechanics ( again, see above link for jargon use in this sentence) so that does simplify some of the info dump immediately.

    ( There are more things I'd like suggestions on, but let's start with that one...)
  • I like this concept but playing from such an unconnected way (not owning a character) usually feels for most players unappealing like playing golf when you really want go carts.
    This was the very first thought that came to mind when I read the OP, but perhaps not everyone has the same commitment to character advancement/development (as I do, for instance). It would be a different kind of game than I'm used to, certainly. That doesn't mean it's not worth doing.

    My question from the original post is this. Are there actual characters generated, or do the players just rotate playing the NPC of the source material?
  • edited August 2015
    Hopeless Wanderer:
    Think of it a bit like being distanced from the characters the way GMs are distanced from their NPCs, except everyone is in that mode. Also, see that link in my last post. So yes, there are kinds of play where success and advancement of an individual character created and played by one person isn't the big emphasis, and are a bit of a different sort of fun.

    The other question: No, you play pre-existing characters. I mean, if you need some random nobody, like a clerk for a walkon one line role, sure. But no generation in the normal sense.

    Part of that is due to the one-shot nature of the thing.

    also: here's a link on stances:
    https://bankuei.wordpress.com/2011/08/31/stances-101/

    Author or director are closer to what I'm going for...

  • How about the Greek Gods view?
    Each God has control in their area of expertise e.g. Venus Love or Aries war.
    Basically being the authority in an area of the game.
    This could be randomly determined per scene or set before play.
    Having total freedom of author or director stance could be another step up from character or God like aspects of play.
    Similar to Microscope but focusing on player stance.
    Would that be interesting? Being awarded a random stance?





  • I homebrewed a game a lot like this using Fate as the basis. No central GM and a deck of cards to seed aspects for scenes, which we'd then interpret however we wanted. In the most successful version of it, we still "owned" our characters and basically acted as GMs/NPCs for each other. It worked surprisingly well.

    The best part, probably, was how much our deck of scene aspects influenced play. We all contributed cards to it, so we had themes in mind, but they'd inevitably pop up in unexpected ways that made interpreting them exciting.
  • How about the Greek Gods view?
    Each God has control in their area of expertise e.g. Venus Love or Aries war.
    Basically being the authority in an area of the game.
    This could be randomly determined per scene or set before play.
    Having total freedom of author or director stance could be another step up from character or God like aspects of play.
    Similar to Microscope but focusing on player stance.
    Would that be interesting? Being awarded a random stance?
    I've thought about something like that before, but never really developed it, regarding the players-are-the-gods concept. I could see it working for the right scenario. I usually try to explain it as the players are a writing team for a TV Show pilot or film, where they've simply been dumped something like an initial 'series bible' and told to produce something usable.
    I homebrewed a game a lot like this using Fate as the basis. No central GM and a deck of cards to seed aspects for scenes, which we'd then interpret however we wanted. In the most successful version of it, we still "owned" our characters and basically acted as GMs/NPCs for each other. It worked surprisingly well.

    The best part, probably, was how much our deck of scene aspects influenced play. We all contributed cards to it, so we had themes in mind, but they'd inevitably pop up in unexpected ways that made interpreting them exciting.
    Can you tell me a bit more about this card aspect? I tend to be kind of a junkie for use of cards as an organizing tool for info already.

    As for ownership of characters, I'm assuming that certain players will inherently groove on certain characters and want to play and portray them by preference. It's just not a direct "monogamous" tie.

    For example, if there are two dozen characters and four players, well, each player will surely develop a fondness and connection to one character each, just naturally. And probably one or two less central characters as well. But there need not be as direct a tie as in a more traditional game, and some of the 1-3 characters they tend to portray from simple preference may well be at odds with one another in-fiction.

    With less players than characters, sometimes switching around or loaning or your stable of characters would most likely become inevitable ( I think. I might be wrong on that one).

  • Can you tell me a bit more about this card aspect? I tend to be kind of a junkie for use of cards as an organizing tool for info already.

    As for ownership of characters, I'm assuming that certain players will inherently groove on certain characters and want to play and portray them by preference. It's just not a direct "monogamous" tie.

    For example, if there are two dozen characters and four players, well, each player will surely develop a fondness and connection to one character each, just naturally. And probably one or two less central characters as well. But there need not be as direct a tie as in a more traditional game, and some of the 1-3 characters they tend to portray from simple preference may well be at odds with one another in-fiction.

    With less players than characters, sometimes switching around or loaning or your stable of characters would most likely become inevitable ( I think. I might be wrong on that one).
    The card system is really simple. We made three decks. General, Specific, and Danger. Those three were appropriate for our supernatural mystery action thriller type game, but you could totally use different decks. A high drama game might use Secret instead of Danger. I actually used roll20 to handle these for online games, but index cards would be ideal, obviously. We didn't look at the aspects other players contributed, we just let them surprise us.

    For every scene, we'd draw one from each deck to create scene aspects and sort of free-form negotiate what they meant in concrete terms in context of what else was happening in the fiction. Unless one or more of us were not active agents in the scene - then those inactive players took on the roles of NPCs and/or GMs, who would then take over interpreting the aspects and could provide a little mystery for the active players.

    Depending on the group, authoring and interpreting aspects that are thematically consistent and appropriate for their deck type could be a problem, but my group harmonized with it right out of the gate and it made play exciting and surprisingly cohesive. One really fun thing is gradually incorporating specific things from the evolving fiction as you make new aspect cards each session.
  • edited August 2015
    Hmm. That seems to offer some real possibilities. A couple quick follow-up questions:

    1) Do you have a link to a couple of those lists, broken down by category? Or even just 2-3 examples of each General/Specific/Danger? I really just want to get a better handle on what would have appeared on the card decks initially.

    2) Did it seem to naturally occur that one person ( presumably naturally rotating ) would end up being the "environment" player- GM/minor NPC control each scene? For what I've been working at, I was going to make that more of a formal thing, but if it seems to work just naturally, I'd probably be much happier.

    3) Could you tell me a bit more about how the card decks evolved each new session? I very much like that idea. Was there any formality to it, or open discussion? Were some old cards removed each time?


    Anyone got ideas for making the info-dump easier? That's one tripping me up right now.

    And really, t's not that broad of an info dump. The setting and situation are largely easy.
    It's a list of a couple dozen characters and their motivation/want/skills that is hitting me as tricky. And I mean, this may be very short entries for each one ( a sentence or two), but still a lot of info overall when split between only 3-5 players.
  • edited August 2015
    Hmm. That seems to offer some real possibilities. A couple quick follow-up questions:

    1) Do you have a link to a couple of those lists, broken down by category? Or even just 2-3 examples of each General/Specific/Danger? I really just want to get a better handle on what would have appeared on the card decks initially.

    2) Did it seem to naturally occur that one person ( presumably naturally rotating ) would end up being the "environment" player- GM/minor NPC control each scene? For what I've been working at, I was going to make that more of a formal thing, but if it seems to work just naturally, I'd probably be much happier.

    3) Could you tell me a bit more about how the card decks evolved each new session? I very much like that idea. Was there any formality to it, or open discussion? Were some old cards removed each time?
    Sure, I almost included examples last post, but didn't have time to scrounge it up at the time.

    For the game in question, we all played characters who were part of a team - early Cold War government agents who were basically booted out on the street together from their suddenly-shut-down supernatural investigation agency. Because of that, we were often together in scenes and the GM duties would rotate organically. So when another player character interacted with an NPC, I'd let my character step back a little and take on that NPC. And if it seemed appropriate for my character to step up and interact with that same NPC in the same scene, one of the other players would tag in. I'm a more experienced GM than those other players, so if I was temp GM, I made it a routine to actively consult other inactive players and also "set them up" to be NPC characters who made sudden appearances. This got everybody engaged and it wasn't long before we simply read the situation and jumped in when it felt right.

    Also, we never reused any aspect cards. All drawn cards disappeared from the game. I'm sure you could reuse them in a game with very vague aspects that kind of guide scene tone more than content, but that's something I haven't experimented with. When we began, we all made aspects (I can't recall the exact number, but that will likely change to suit a game) and then did the same to fill up the stock depending on how many we used each session.
    My original intention was to have each player contribute based on Fate's Refresh mechanic, so that some players had more influence than others. That worked (and ended up heavily influencing the first session), but sometimes a player forgot to prep new aspects and it didn't really matter, we just went with what we had and it stopped being so formal.

    Here are some of the aspects we used that are still logged in roll20.
    General: The Old Man Has a Plan, Something Smells Fishy, Another One Bites the Dust, The Scene of a Crime, Movers and Shakers, No Time to Explain, Welcome to the Jungle, A Haunting Presence
    Specific: A Damsel Causing Distress, News of a Rimefang (a fantasy race), Stolen Right From Under Our Noses, A God with a Dark Cloak and Scythe, Very Unseasonable Weather, A Family Reunion, Mr. Brown's Been Busy (an established character), Sordid Revelry
    Danger: A Wolf in Sheep's Clothing, Not Your Everyday Cult, Gadgets Gone Haywire, God-Eater, Falling Down Around Our Ears, Altar of Sacrifice, Repo Men, No Rest for the Wicked

    You can see that Mr. Brown's Been Busy is one we wrote for a session after Mr. Brown and his contextual fiction was established. I believe the same is true of The Altar of Sacrifice, Gadgets Gone Haywire, and A Haunting Presence, just off the top of my head. We didn't discuss these, we just made them separately, shuffled the decks, and let it be a surprise.
  • That sounds like it would work pretty well for what I want to do actually.

    I'm not entirely sure I grok it completely, at least not quite enough for my purposes.

    Mind if I put forward a rough scenario I was working on, and maybe you can help me work through it a bit, in terms of creating at least the initial card mix ( or part of it)?

    A Very Fishy Halloween, Scooby Doo!
    The little coastal town of Innswich is having a Halloween Bash. The town is of course famous for a rather gruesome, supposedly ficticious, story written about its inhabitants and their mutant fishman ancestry decades ago. Town boosters are hoping the big Halloween Bash will bring back tourists and rejuvenate the town's economy. But is there something more sinister in the offing? The townie inhabitants whose families were named in the old story hate the whole affair and the gentrification attempt, and are protesting the festival. Are all of those costumes really costumes? And why does that big statue of Cthulhu at the middle of the town square look quite so life-like?

    The game begins with the gang pulling into town mid-afternoon on Halloween, just as festivities are starting to get underway.

    That's roughly what I have. There's some more, a few key locations, a few sketched NPCs, but that's the gist of it.

    What I'm thinking in terms of what you're telling me about is starting the decks with a few key ideas I've come up with ( say 4-6 per deck) and then having the other players come up with one or two per deck after hearing the main set up and any info-dump from me.

    Session one is played ( or one scene per player present say), then more cards are added to the decks created by the players. As the presenter, I'd only really add cards at this stage as a back up plan if truly necessary, since as the scenario set up creator, I've already had a pretty big influence.

    How would you approach this, given your experience?

    What I want is something where ( as one-shot scenario designer) have a great deal of initial influence, but then the thing goes wherever it goes. That way I get to participate too and be surprised.
  • edited September 2015
    It sounds like you're on the right path already. You might only ask for players to make aspects for the decks after the first session is complete or maybe during downtime after some opening hook scene.

    In the case of a Scooby Doo mystery, there are a couple techniques I'd lean on...

    First, wait to reveal a Danger card until later in the scene or sometimes not at all. If a bunch of stuff is already going on and the players are pursuing something that has plenty of narrative bite to it, you can wait to draw a Specific and/or Danger card later in the scene as a sort of twist. And even then, that card doesn't have to suddenly become the focus. It can represent some looming issue that is revealed to have been influential or possibly ends one scene and begins another. So, if there's a chase going on, drawing "Wheels Within Wheels" could mean, interpreted literally, that the suspect they're chasing has an accomplice in a getaway truck. But it could also mean that this chase was a set-up orchestrated by someone not even in the scene.

    Second, as the players discuss events and do sleuthy things while they aren't under serious pressure/danger, that would be a great time to author and add new contributions to the decks. As host, you could simply listen to them and turn their speculations into aspects, but allowing them to author their own allows them to push and pull each other in secret. Say one player, Alfred, has a theory about what's going on: the now elderly author originally wrote the story because he knew and hated the founder of Innswich and wanted to ruin the town's reputation. So now he's responsible for scare tactics and even murders to prevent its rejuvenation. Another player, Sarah, can cook up some aspects that steer away from that a bit. Just one that would help is a specific aspect: "Innswich's Ancient Origins Revealed." When that one comes out, it's easily (although not necessarily) interpreted to mean that we discover the story about Innswich's relatively recent founding was false. Hmm...why would the librarian lie about that?

    Another thing you can do to help guarantee thematic consistency is have players write those aspects using the top half of a card, which they cover up and pass to another player, who writes an aspect on the bottom half. That way, every card has two aspects and you can choose which one is best for the scene.

    This obviously works even if you aren't using Fate, but whether or not those aspects have a similar mechanical impact in another system is something for you to figure out.

    Also, think of conflicts like Dungeon World. I have unfortunately misplaced the exact rules I wrote, but every person at the table can be in control of a character (so that there's no central GM) and combat still works because NPC combatants effectively hit back when the PCs roll poorly. Again, this is going to depend heavily on the system you're using in the first place.
  • It sounds like you're on the right path already. You might only ask for players to make aspects for the decks after the first session is complete or maybe during downtime after some opening hook scene.
    My general plan was to play this sort of thing in 3 parts, with a kibbitzing/brainstorming/snack break between each part.

    I've been assuming that Part 1 would take the longest, as people start to feel their way through the whole process, and if that needs to be its own session, that's fine.

    Part 2 is when the players need to start making things converge, and Part 3 is simply supposed to be a big blow out ( almost a single running scene where it all comes together with lots of action and hen resolves). I'd like to do Parts 2&3 and any post game wrap up techniques as a single session.

    ( I'd really like to do t all as one session, but that may be an advanced set up for after my pals have a bit of experience with this type of play.)

    So, somewhere in that there should be a chance to let players write up new cards and add them to the mix. I'm also wondering if there should be a reveal of the unused initial cards, and possible deletion of some of the cards by consensus.

    BTW, when I originally started putting that scenario together, I'd written it up on trifolds ( like a take out menu). One panel was what I was calling the "Idea Toybox". It was nothing but bullet point ideas to give inspiration for scenes/events. I'm now trying to figure out how to back engineer that stuff to this card idea.

    My stumbling block isn't the Danger Cards, it's trying to wrap my head around the General and Specific cards. How are they defined and how are they different?

    I think I may be looking at them in the wrong way.

    Right now, I'm thinking in these terms:

    General: Places and Events
    Specific: People up to No-Good and Mysterious Clues
    Danger: The Action Sequence Seeds

    Assuming that I generally kept what was written on each card flexible, do you think this is a viable breakdown, or am I badly off on how those cards are used?
    First, wait to reveal a Danger card until later in the scene or sometimes not at all. If a bunch of stuff is already going on and the players are pursuing something that has plenty of narrative bite to it, you can wait to draw a Specific and/or Danger card later in the scene as a sort of twist...
    More generally, could the scene set up start with a draw of any one type of card, then other cards are only drawn if/when players want more inspiration?
    Another thing you can do to help guarantee thematic consistency is have players write those aspects using the top half of a card, which they cover up and pass to another player, who writes an aspect on the bottom half. That way, every card has two aspects and you can choose which one is best for the scene.
    I like that idea! It reminds me a bit of the Destiny Points creation in Archipelago.

    I suppose I could also just re-use the pre-made cards if I made sure to leave enough space on the bottom of each for later use. That might also have another bonus in that, as scenario set up designer, there's still that influence in there, but the other participants have the opportunity to get their own ideas into the mix, especially in Parts 2&3.

    As to your questions about system, mostly I was thinking some very basic freeform with a list of possible tools in some sort of handout. Probably a mashup of Archipelago's ritual phrases and Itras By Cards and some very generic, simple die-rolls ( probably stolen from Cthulhu Dark).
  • edited September 2015
    My approach to these decks, at the most functional level, is to give us something to work with and interpret - it makes story happen not only at the table, but it also engages players' active minds and forces them to take ownership.

    On a conceptual level, my use of aspects is poetic (a lot of people don't play Fate this way, but it's the only way that works for me). General aspects are just things that can be more vague and open to wide interpretation - often this aspect is more about tone than anything. The problem with making the general deck about places and events is that it's weird to have someone pursuing something specific and now you have cards about other places popping up. It turns all interpretation into solving a problem: "How is this specific place related to this other thing they're doing?" instead of something more proactively creative. That's why my preference is pretty much always to draw a general card.
    Specific aspects are firmer and, while you can interpret them, they usually bring something specific into the game. They don't necessarily trigger clues or specific people, but they're specific enough that it's a real presence in the scene. Working off of your ideas, I'd say these will often contain character archetypes/behaviors and events. These are more optional and players' reactions to them will often cause danger all on their own, which is why danger is the least necessary draw.

    Speaking of which, danger, in my mind, doesn't have to be action. It just needs to provide a threat and then the players create the action. If they avoid action, that can be fascinating, too.

    In general, it seems that my approach is more painterly, while you're thinking about a way to program scripts. I think that could be a good system, but at that point, I wonder why not just be a fixed, active GM?
  • edited September 2015
    In general, it seems that my approach is more painterly, while you're thinking about a way to program scripts. I think that could be a good system, but at that point, I wonder why not just be a fixed, active GM?
    I want to design the scenario set up/situation, but also be able to play in it rather than being stuck GMing it.

    Your method seemed like a more directed/focussed version of what I've done with Mythic GM Emulator in thee past successfully.

    Edited to add, after some thinking on this:
    I see what you mean by making things a bit broader and how this invites more interpretation.

    Trying to hybridize this a bit more from where you're approaching this from and where I'm approaching this from, I'm thinking of something like having a more broad kind of thing, but with 3-4 suggestions beneath the main heading.

    Drawn by clues to a spooky old place
    Lighthouse Island, The Marsh Mansion, Dagon Hall, The Old Wharf

    Rivals make life difficult
    Britney Marsh, Olga Gilman, The Frat Brothers, The Eaton Street Gang

    ( In the original thingie I wrote up, there were about 8 total NPCs/ NPC groups, some of whom had noted rivalries of sorts with various Scooby Gang members).

    Festival Event Disrupted
    The [Blank] Eating Contest, The Mayor's Speech, Trick-or-Treating, The Dance and Costume Contest



    Also, to clarify a bit more, part of the reasoning for this is that I really am looking for something that's a one-shot, self-contained type thing that last no more than one or two sessions, and really would be even better just as one session. So I'm trying to keep things relatively constrained without being entirely iron-fisted.

Sign In or Register to comment.