I've been playing a rather interesting game recently with a few posters from this forum (I'll let you identify yourselves, should you wish to do so!).
Tales of Entropy is a GMless RPG in a classic "Forge" style (to my eyes, at least), and features strong protagonists in a rather vague or quickly-drawn setting interacting in conflict with each other in a succession of punchy, conflict-oriented scenes.
One very interesting feature it has, however, is that each character has a Flame and a Shadow. These are simply numbers, but they represent a number of related concepts.
Flame - in my interpretation - represents "how brightly your character burns" while "on screen". A high Flame character is a true protagonist, pursuing their goals and passions, entertaining and evocative, and can choose to burn brightly (powerful, passionate, generally means they get their way!) or to burn slowly (and last longer than others in the story, with less chance of "burning out").
I always think of the Blade Runner quote:
"The light that burns twice as bright burns half as long..."
Shadow, on the other hand, only grows as the game goes on. It represents a character's dark side, animalistic impulses, a desire for immoral deeds, lust for power - things like that.
Shadow gives you power when you tap into it, but makes it more and more likely that your final outcome will not be a happy one (via the epilogue rules), and increases your chances of "folding" out of the story earlier than the others. The more you use it, the more it tends to "grow".
Most interestingly, they are independent: either can be high or low, completely independent of the other. In our game, for instance, we have a rather villainous character (with a very high Shadow rating) but who nevertheless has a lot of Flame, as well.
Another unique feature of the game, however, is that the two traits aren't really defined in any clear way: it falls to the group to judge what they mean as the game goes along. Although the player has a say as to the starting value of each trait, once the game starts, your Flame and Shadow increase based on what the other players think of your character.
Here's my question:
What are the most fruitful ways of handling this uncertainty in play?
In a long-term game, eventually a shared understanding of some sort emerges about what such vague concepts might mean. However, Tales of Entropy isn't a particularly long-term game: although it generally wouldn't be easy to play in a one-shot, it's possible for a character to "fold" out of the story by their third of fourth scene.
In our group, we've been handling the awarding of Shadow and Flame points as a nearly silent procedure: we vote and a assign the points. Although over time an understanding of why and how may emerge, we don't discuss this much at all overtly.
However, I've heard that some other people will have open discussions about the nature of Flame and Shadow, to explain why they might vote a certain way, and what about the characters or their choices made them decide a certain way.
A simple vote has the advantage of speed (which the game often needs!) but I like the implications of a group discussion about these elements as we play, in the same way that it often happens with Entropy's other Traits. In addition, since these elements are effectively up to the other players to decide about your character, it can be very interesting to get that kind of feedback more directly. (What if another player isn't giving you Flame because they find that you always underplay your Burdens, for example?)
What are some good ways to do this, and which way seems preferable? What are some useful techniques or favourite ways to have this kind of conversation? Do you like to make a big deal of these moments and discussions, or prefer to leave the implications for the players to work out themselves?