So I was talking with Eric last night about my (totally bolloxed) first cut at a situation generator
, and he said this really brilliant
thing: He pointed out that in Burning Empires
, there is a spotlight NPC for each phase of the infection, and that he had found that he knew in advance
how the phases we hadn't yet played would feel, because he knew who their spotlight NPC was going to be.
Our Usurpation phase was going to be with a big, bluff chowderhead of a general named Sigfried, and so we knew that it was going to be grav-tanks and flags flapping in the breeze and scarred men in heavy armor blowing things up real good. Awesome! Our Invasion phase was going to be with a broken, vicious, pacifistic (but violent!) Inquisitor who believed that there was nothing worse in the universe than war, and so we knew that it was going to be a nasty, dirty business of fighting against the church and its hierarchy in order to do the right thing, when the right thing looks incredibly wrong
... and that we'd have highlights of the lives destroyed and families displaced by the conflict, and we'd be dragging that moral weight the whole way through.
The NPCs defined
the situation in a way that was immediately easy to read, and inspiring. As human beings we are interested in nothing
so much as another human being. Saying "The world is going to be a Sigfried-world" is a powerful way of leveraging that interest in order to inspire and motivate a GM and players to get on the same page about the situation in the same way they can (easily) get on the same page about a character.
Once he pointed this out to me, I immediately realized that many, many manga and anime are structured exactly the same way. Ranma 1/2
has Ranma and Akane as protagonists ... but each episode centers around the ways that a third party shapes their world, and how Ranma and Akane work within that world. The ever-growing ensemble of supporting characters provide a series of differently focussed and distorted mirrors
, and Ranma and Akane see new things in themselves and each other in each one. Fruits Basket
is even more straightforward: The story is nothing more than a series of episodes in which Tohru Honda (the lone protagonist) meets members of the Sohma family and comes to understand them, learning or deciding something about herself in the process. That's literally all there is to the story ... it's quite formulaic.
this formula. I think it works very well ... it's immediately inspiring, and gets people thinking about stories they can do ("Oh, we totally need to do an episode that's informed by Tao Ren's
father ... get into the whole twisted world of the Tao family, and give the kid a chance to finally confront those demons"). It also works to produce an ensemble of deep characters for future play: The NPC you centered around last session is still present
in the next session (even if it's informed by some other NPC), and the PCs have gotten a better picture of that person, and made strong statements about themselves relative to her.
The problem is ... I have no idea
what steps a GM would actually take in order to make a character's personality and ... uh ... essence ... pervade the world and the situation. I can sort of wave my hands in the general direction, and give examples of how I see it happening in games and media, but ... what are the STEPS? It's formulaic ... what's the actual formula?