How much Color is needed to create the shared imagined space in a Tabletop RPG?

Let me explain:

Right now i'm making a game about Insurgents overthrowing the actual statu quo by defeating it, to distribute the Power they kept to themselves.

So, i have this premise, this bunch of cool mechanics, all nice and clean, but...

This is a game. This has to be about fiction, right?

So, i need to fill this game, from the start, with something that makes everyone get it. What is this world? What is this Authority? What is the Power in this case? Plus, the way the things are feeling in the setting are important too.

Then i'm faced with a important question: How much is too much?

Spark RPG does this by an extensive setting creation, with factions, NPCs, and lots of worldbuilding.

On the lower range of the spectrum you have Sorcerer, where you have a few questions in order to make sense of what are you playing.

The question here is: With this Premise, the creation of the Pillars that reinforce the Authority, the feel and look of Power and the basics of the world (Is it steampunk, is it futuristic...?) should be enough to make a character and play?

What is the minimum Color in order to create the shared imagined space? In other words, how much do we have to create in order to establish this shared consent about what is there, and what isnt?

Comments

  • I'd like to point a small diference in my personal interpretation of color. Color may be another one of those words that get a fuzzy definition in our hobby. Like, we all know what's color about, but from color arises all the subjects that form the structure of the story that will take place in the fiction. And all this happens in play, the players will take decisions based on the elements of color that seem more important for them.

    In one game, the Broken Arrow orc faction will become a major source of opposition and motivaton for the PCs, while in other it will be just a random encounter.

    Then it transpires that what you need is enough color to spark your players interest, and then a bit more to make the world come alive (I was about to write make the world not feel empty or incomplete but those are actually valid feelings for a setting if you want to play a post-apocalyptic place like that)

    For my game I boiled it down to 6 questions/steps:

    -A Map of the place: either have one player draw the borders and the rest add one important/interesting landmark, or prep your own map. You would rarely need more than five locations for one session and you can always add more things on the go. The important thing here is that players will need this amount of info to make a shared mental map of the fictional place. Two locations define a travel (even if they are in the same town) but it will feel a bit railroaded. Three will give the players options, and more will spark their imagination with the possibilities. But it's rare if you get to properly explore more than 5 places on a game session. Arranging those locations in a single page also gives the players the idea of hw much time/effort would take to go from one place to another and help them decide in which order they could visit these places, among other things.

    -The setting's technology:. This single thing works wonders to define a lot of preconceptions on the player's minds. Technology is directly related to culture (to particular cultures in some cases, like steampunk and victorian, etc) and indirectly to economy, but I prefer to separate those two as together they define what matters the most for a society and what are they doing to get it. I also like to roll a die to see if this technology is on the rise or becoming obsolete in the place.

    -The setting's Economy and Population:. These two go well coupled to define what does people do and if it's a thriving business. In fact, just seeing the number of people in a region, knowing what's their main business and matching this to technology can tell you if the place is in the brink of a war, if they are on the apex of their civilization or just become the victims of a plague, etc. Also it will point you in a good direction about what does this people want/need and good or bad twists the situtation could take.

    -Fronts: you would need two, maybe three for a single session, any more would be color to spark future conflicts or alliances. The deal about them is to give the players either an authority their characters must avoid/answer to, an opposition to keep them busy, an identity as a culture or a combination of those. (personal comment: I've got the impression that without a visible authority in the fiction you risk players going murderhobo, which is what happens to common people -yes, us- in the absense of authority in the real world. We've got our ethics, principles, common sense, empathy, conscience and culture to fight this, but also a tendency to relax those bindings in the absence of authority. There are studies about this but please, take it as my opinion, not as a fact)

    The most important things you need to define for each front is a Theme to give them an identity and spark ideas about their resources. If the front will have an active role in the story then you also need a motivation (either in their past, present or in their principles) a goal and a plan to achieve it, as well as define in which of the last steps of the plan they are right now.

    -Dangers and Hopes. I stole this one so long ago I honestly have forgotten from where, sorry, but it remains an excellent tool to put everyone in the same page about what expectations do we share about the game. It's all about picking ideas from all the previous questions to get an agreement about what are we risking here to happen and what can be done to avert it.

    -What does the group do and why? This last one is also needed to get the party organized and help them define the reasons their characters will embark in the adventure as a collective. You've got character creation to define personal motivations and goals but this step is important to prevent meaningless PvP.

    The benefits of these questions besides the ones stated are that:

    -They produce enough material to spark player's interest and keep them focused.

    -Having the players answer as many of these as possible helps them to get invested in the game, as things are built over their answers.

    -Once players are done with the questions everyone is in the same page about the setting and the path their characters will take.

    -First questions may be answered playfully and without stressing the players for quality content, half of them could use a random table and the latter will just require the group to join the dots. It creates conflict, avoids czege principle and blank page syndrome.

    -I always make sure the players know from the start of the game that this is what their characters know about the world and it may or may not be entirely true; so it's up to them to find out and decide what to do about it. This disclaimer gives me freedom to edit things a bit and reintroduces the wonder of discovery back into the game. Besides, map will have enough blank spots for me to fill to keep players interested. Everyone wants to enjoy discovery as long as it's related to their expectations, which you will know about by now if you read their answers and character sheets carefully.

    -Players expectations are respected and brought up to the group. Betraying player's expectations is a bigger deal when it comes to the system, but it's better to make also a good work about it for the setting.

    -The whole process takes less than 20 minutes.

    -The GM can walk in with no prep and/or fit in some prep like bangs, kickers, scenarios, monsters, other places, npcs, etc.

    -The GM can walk out full of ideas and consequences to build upon if they want the game to continue.

    That said, it's not the only method nor the best for everyone, as GMs have different ways to order things in their heads and different questions will spark more or less ideas on their heads. Also, you will need some specific sets of questions for other genres like mistery and horror, where the less information there is the more engaging the game becomes.
  • Well, setting aside the troublesome question of "How do you ever know if you've created a shared imaginary space?" (My answer: You don't, you only find out when it fails) the answer to this is still not super helpful. Here's my two cents though:

    The amount of "color" that a group "requires" to reach an at-least-mostly-shared imagined space will vary according to the group and probably other factors. Maybe they're all really in tune and intuitively on the same page. Maybe they are really familiar with a shared Fantasy world, but everyone's brain runs off in a different direction if it's a "modern day" setting. Whatever. We'll just call the amount of Color required for a given group and a given setting C.

    C is, actually, probably, a constant. If the rules text doesn't give an amount of Color >= C, then the group will have to fill in the difference. Some groups are better at this than others. Some people really expect/want their published materials to have All The Information ("Where is this faction based? Who is their leader? How many members do they have? What's their secret handshake? How many ranks are there? What are they?") whereas others are very comfortable filling in blanks ("Whatever, just tell me what their goals are and maybe something about the personality of their leader."). But if a text has an amount of color that is TOO MUCH greater than C, you risk people getting annoyed.

    I don't have any good information on "how much is enough" (I mean, how do you even measure "how much color"?) but there's probably a bell curve with handfuls of people who like TONS or VERY LITTLE color in their games on the end, and a bigger blob of folks who are willing to make up some-but-not-all and who don't want to read an encyclopedic tome in the middle.

    Another thing to keep in mind though, is that the more color you provide, the closer most people's (most, because some are gonna get annoyed and skip/ignore stuff) games are going to be to YOUR specific vision of that SIS. So if you really want your games to be played in a "canon" space, you probably want to provide more color rather than less.

    And that is a lot of words that say very little. Go me.
  • Specifically about your game I believe it could be reduced to:

    -What's the best thing in your world? What do you stand for?
    -They have taken it from you. Can you get it back? Take revenge? Stop them from doing it again? (you can add a few more motivations and make it a random table or list to choose from)
    -Everyone is afraid of them. Why? What do they do to those who resist?

    You can either have the players answer these or present them with options or even just have the GM answer this. It can be developed into something a bit more complex but I'd say that the general idea is to get the players to build the motivations for their characters and at the same time give power and resources to the Authority, present them as the opposition and let the players make them detestable.

    What else would you need the players/gm to create define before the game?
  • This is an interesting question, and a very theoretical one. Classic Forgite rpg theory.

    Before going into the question in general, I'll note that you're mischaracterizing Sorcerer here: it actually has very front-loaded Color development. The game text itself is pretty clinical, but the GM is supposed to develop a visceral campaign premise with a bit of strong imagery even before the character creation, and the character creation process itself has several steps that are as explicitly Color-oriented as could be. There are games that start actual play with less Color work than others, but I don't think that Sorcerer's a particularly good example.

    That aside, the theoretical question:

    I would say that a shared imagined space can occur with any amount of Color, but that space may not be useful for what you're trying to do unless the process of play and the engagement of the players communicates enough of the right sort of Color. Thus, the answer depends on what we're planning to do with the shared imagined space.

    To clarify this proposition, consider an extremely simple shared imagined space that has a very simple function: let's say that I am asking you to imagine a three-dimensional ball with radius R, and a cube of width R, which I then ask you to overlap such that they are centered on the same point in (imaginary) space. Imagine what that would look like, assuming that the ball and the cube are both transparent so that you can see both despite their overlap. We are engaging in this exercise so that you can, by observing the imaginary structure, realize that the cube is necessarily greater in volume than the ball. This is probably some sort of math exercise we're doing here, sounds a lot like it.

    The point is, the above is a legit example of us establishing a shared imagined space, absurdly simplified as it is. I would also argue that it does not really require any Color at all: the way I delivered it does contain Color, but only because it is arguably impossible to communicate with none. The Color, however, is not necessary for the exercise; it is incidental.

    Proper roleplaying games are much more complex cases of utilizing a shared imagined space, and the act of Exploration in them is generally rather reliant on established Color. It is likely that your game requires Color to function as well, and it's likely that it utilizes slightly different types of Color in different stages of play. Saying something more specific would require taking a closer look at what the game does, precisely, but often there's stuff like connecting players to a literary inter-text early into the game, or providing a basis for arbitrary decision-making, or whatnot.

    Practical advice: try your game out and pay attention to what manner of stuff actually needs to be established before the game "clicks" emotionally - what it takes for the group to stop just going through the motions and start caring about the shared imagined space. As an experienced roleplayer you will likely manage to start up the game on your own no matter how little Color work the game prescribes; the purpose of the test is to observe this player-originating process and find out what you actually do to make the game go. Once you know that, you can determine whether there are ways for game design to make that process easier and quicker and more reliable.
  • edited September 2018
    Thanks for the comments. Replying to both of you:

    @Airk , that's more than great, that's awesome. The idea of a bell curve between too much and too little is just something very intuitive, cause people usually behaves in a certain way, and that's quantifiable. Thing is, i don't have a specific setting to use. My game's concept focus on the Authorithy, the Power, and the Insurgent (hence the name, Insurgence). That's why this is not a huge tome about setting and stuff. What i wanted, asking that, is to find the right spot in order to create a "Setting" without being it too concise (meaning no blanks) nor too freeform (meaning no definition at all).


    @WarriorMonk That's really interesting. You really nailed that questions, indeed. For my game, there are 3 central aspects:

    - The Authority, meaning this opressive force retaining the Power and ruling society. It comes with the Pillars, meaning the way the Authority takes root into this world, justifying it's actions on the eyes of Society. Right now there are 3:

    * Fear (Meaning, what will happen to you if you dont comply?)
    * Common Enemy (Meaning, what is the common enemy we all have that this Authority uses as leverage?)
    * Status (Meaning, how this Authority manages "rank climbing" or in essence, rewards their citizens when they comply?). These right now are ideas.

    Thing is, this Authority is here because of something, it is powerful and rooted into the world.

    - The Power, meaning this resource that has been used, caged and corrupted by the authority. It's nature is neutral, or even pure, but now it's use corrupts the people that uses it.

    - The Corruption, meaning the act of getting closer to the Authority. This happens via using the Power, now exclusive of it. Whenever you use the Power, you use it the way the Authority has transformed it, ergo you get closer to it.

    Then it comes to the Character creation, in which there are 3 main concepts:

    - Relationships, that help this characters fight the Corruption. From them emerges Faction Leaders, Companions that join the Insurgency, and even Keys, which are fiction triggers that gives you mechanical benefits when you make things in a given course of action.

    - Ideals, which tells us who is this character and why he fights. 3 Ideals, built in character creation via answering a given question:

    * Rebellion (What happened to become an Insurgent?)
    * Duty (What weight do you carry on your back that makes impossible to look back?)
    * Hope (What do you hope to get from this fight? )

    Each of that Ideals are connected to the Corruption Resistance, not gonna enter in that.

    - Corruption, again, this meaning the way the characters use this resource that is now exclusive to the Authority. It will go up, it can be fought but its unavoidable to the character and the movement to use it in order to fight the Authority.


    Hence, the questions the game asks. Will you be able to destroy the Authority? Will you be able to avoid getting yourself or your cause corrupted? At the end, will you set the Power free, or imprison it again, this time for your cause only?


    Hope this is not too much info at once.

  • @Eero_Tuovinen man, that suggestion right there, about playtesting and see what makes people get emotionally involved is hell fucking good.

    Also, i don't know if you remember me but i told you years ago that i would translate Solar System to spanish. Well, that was the start of this game. It was a crazy evolution, now it has nothing to do with Solar System but thanks to that little system, i started to design. Thanks!
  • edited September 2018
    The questions you are looking for are in Misspent Youth.
  • I get your point with Robert Bohl's game, but, even if this game is about some similar points, this is not about young people taking the authority and screwing them, and just that. It's about people ingrained in the system and that worked in it, being insurgent now that something has happened for them to do it. And the journey they go across the world to overthrown the corrupted system by using it's own tools to fight it. It's a tale about corruption, creating awareness about this corrupted system and the journey of change and continous struggle this insurgents develop and even create themselves because of their actions. It's not about being young and rebel. This is about being tired of tirany, and doing something about it, even when you have people you care on the line.

  • Great! I'd say that all you need now is to redact provocative questions whose answers will became the pillars, add color and ignite the player motivations.
  • edited September 2018
    The procedures in your game outline an 'invisible' dynamic system. You definitely need to define thelat in fictinal terms. Everything else is 'just' color for me.

    Responding to @Airk: I like this C thing. My experience is that the people who like way more color than C are 'theoretical roleplayers' so to speak. They are interested in buying game books, world building, and daydreaming about playing them, but they rarely actually run games. I know I'm a bit biased here but would you agree with me?
  • Here's a question for you:

    Is this a design decision (what does my game need to be functional?) or a marketing decision (what format might be most appealing to people buying my game)?

    I really like what you've outlined about the design of the game, incidentally - although, of course, the details of the implementation will matter more than anything, that basic framework sounds both solid and engaging. I will definitely be interested in checking this out if you make some of the rules available.
  • edited September 2018
    My take on the theoretical question:
    • The amount of fictional detail required to constitute an imagined space in which a character can act is small: what one person needs to orient themselves.
    • For a shared imagined space, the required information expands into what multiple people need to orient themselves and agree upon.
    • For a specific game, group, and fictional situation, the content that everyone needs to agree upon depends on what's at stake and (as per how those stakes get addressed) what's of interest.
      • In a D&D combat, what's at stake might be victory/defeat and resources expended; and the way we pursue victory and resource efficiency might be by rules mastery and fictional spatial positioning; so in this case it would be vital to agree upon who and what is exactly where in the imagined physical space. That information is what I believe you are referring to as the minimum required color.
      • In a Primetime Adventures romantic scene, what's at stake might be whether the NPC returns the PCs affections; and the way we pursue this romantic connection might be by engaging the sympathies of the other players to earn their fanmail; so in this case it would be vital to agree upon what these characters are doing to convince us that we want them to be together. The minimum required color includes zero spatial positioning, but a lot of speech, inflection, expression, and/or body language as per the players' expressive choices.
    As for the specific game in question:
    With this Premise, the creation of the Pillars that reinforce the Authority, the feel and look of Power and the basics of the world (Is it steampunk, is it futuristic...?) should be enough to make a character and play?
    . . .
    how much do we have to create in order to establish this shared consent about what is there, and what isnt?
    During set-up, once people have whatever basic orientation your game already provides, ask people what they definitely want to include, what they definitely want to exclude, and what they'd rather address when it comes up.

    Then address stuff when it comes up.

    "Exclude" preferences trump "include" preferences.

    I know this is kind of a "well, duh" answer, but it works! It works best with a facilitator who has played before (or a printed guide informed by lots of play) who can provide good examples of things people might want to include/exclude/address later.

  • Responding to @Airk: I like this C thing. My experience is that the people who like way more color than C are 'theoretical roleplayers' so to speak. They are interested in buying game books, world building, and daydreaming about playing them, but they rarely actually run games. I know I'm a bit biased here but would you agree with me?
    @hamnacb -- Yes, definitely. There is very much a market for RPG books as "coffee table books" essentially, where lush illustrations and tons of details about the world are provided, but in my (albeit somewhat limited) experience, those books are seldom used for actual play purposes.

    That said, I do feel like each GROUP has their own C and that it can vary with setting as well. So I guess what I really mean is: Every game, where game is a combination of rules, setting and PEOPLE, has a constant C that is 'how much color does this need'. If the published material does not provide enough color to reach this level, the group will fill it in themselves. There's probably also an E, which is the amount of effort the group (mostly the GM in traditional games, but not exclusively, even in trad games) is willing to put in in order to reach C.
  • I get your point with Robert Bohl's game, but, even if this game is about some similar points, this is not about young people taking the authority and screwing them, and just that. It's about people ingrained in the system and that worked in it, being insurgent now that something has happened for them to do it. And the journey they go across the world to overthrown the corrupted system by using it's own tools to fight it. It's a tale about corruption, creating awareness about this corrupted system and the journey of change and continous struggle this insurgents develop and even create themselves because of their actions. It's not about being young and rebel. This is about being tired of tirany, and doing something about it, even when you have people you care on the line.
    I'd argue that Misspent Youth isn't about being young and rebellious. It's about how idealism is worn down by the compromises of responsibility. Being young and rebellious is Situation.

    I mean, look at India's Daughters in Sell Out With Me. It doesn't actually matter that the young women in that scenario are young.

    "People ingrained in the system" --> Systems of Control
    "By using its own tools to fight it" --> Exploits
    "Doing something about it" --> "Who will step up?"

    I'm sure you have more to say about insurgency than Misspent Youth does, so keep on keeping on, but definitely take a closer look at MY for ideas!
  • @Airk: What happens when E is not enough to fill in the gaps of C? And what happens with E when the game gives you way too much lore than your C?

    The way Apocalypse World works is pretty tricky. There is no canon/lore in the traditional sense but the game provokes you to fill in details to start the game (the psychic maelstrom, scarcities, etc). The game is purposfully less than any possible C, still, most of the times it needs only a little E and its motivating to spend it!
  • edited September 2018
    I'm gonna make up some more letters.

    P is the amount of "published" color.
    R is the amount of color people a given person is willing to READ.

    So if P>C, then in theory, no effort is required to create the shared shared imaginary space. I don't think that's right though. Partly because A) C'mon, you never have EVERYONE read all the source material (Different R's) and B) Because I think there's probably a sort of C1, which is the amount of color that can be provided by the text. And that's always smaller than than C. No matter how amazing the text is, the group still needs to decide "Okay, this game is going to begin on September 22nd in the year 1401 of the Shire Reckoning, and the first scene will be..." I mean, I guess you could write that in your game. Some games do that. (Lady Blackbird springs to mind, as does the Blades in the Dark 'starter' scenario) But eventually (or immediately) people will start to ignore that bit of color and fill in their own instead.

    Similarly, if P>R, it doesn't really matter how much color you put in the book, since the audience won't read it all.

    I'm not sure what happens to the extra E if C~P. Maybe people invest it in the game in other ways, or maybe they just write on the internet how easy it was to get a game going in your system. ;)

    Actually, think about it more, there's probably some correlation between E and R. Namely, that reading consumes some of the effort people are willing to put in. That's why it's not necessarily "easier" to run a game with a huge book of lore in it even though that should help build the shared imaginative space. So maybe we're down to two different types of "Effort" -- reading effort and improvising effort.

    Man. People are complicated.
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