Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Finding Your Way Back

If I'd had a bit more foresight, or done a bit more planning, I'd have saved "Coming Home" until now, to keep the pattern of "Theory, Application, Next phase." But I didn't, so for the re-incorporation phase, I'll have to refer you back to that article for the theory behind it, since I have little new to add to it just eight days later in terms of theory. Today, in keeping with the pattern so far and wrapping up this discussion of "The Storyjammer's Journey," I want to discuss some of the ways in which we might tackle the problem of using those ideas to design an endgame for the Fifth World.

Most groups will stick around to discuss their game after they've finished. In lieu of any real support, players re-incorporate as a matter of social convention. The challenge lies in formalizing that, and making this formalized game relevant to players who might not appreciate the importance of the activity. Like warm-ups, saavy players may recognize immediately what they help achieve, but other players may not appreciate how much they shape a storyjam until they've experienced them firsthand. Besides, it seems like simple good design to weave these elements ever more closely together. You'll recall that we integrated warm-up games into character and setting creation, tasks that the game needs to begin with anyway. By completing those tasks with warm-up games, we can weave them into regular play. So, what tasks do we need to accomplish at the end of a game session anyway, that we could turn into re-incorporation?

Perhaps, first and most obviously, the game could support an "epilogue" round. Like the "previews" from the end of a game of Primetime Adventures—a game which, as Giuli observed, does have some mechanics for a reflective endgame (though admittedly weak), a final round of short scenes without the usual restrictions could allow characters to wrap up any final threads and bring their storylines to a satisfying close.

At the end of the story, the main task we face involves what other games might refer to as "awarding experience." How do we quantify and apply the ways that the game session has changed the setting and the characters? Often, this involves no more than a tally of points, but the very nature of the task seems to invite us to expand it to achieve the task of re-incorporation: bringing us back to ordinary reality, reflecting upon and thus integrating our experience in the story.

Others have noted before that character creation generally takes the action of what happens in a game and condenses it into a much faster process, so looking back at character creation may offer some hints. Initiations can create connections, add new features, and introduce new places. Did a character act strongly in accordance with the theme of another place? Perhaps that justifies shifting a character's home. Or, it might justify establishing a new connection between that place and the character's home.

In an earlier version of the game, I used a "questions" mechanic to establish themes. It broke immersion entirely, yanking players violently out of the game, so I scrapped it. But here, where we want to pull out of the story's liminal space to observe and interpret, it may fit well. Perhaps a series of questions could guide some discussion about the game, by which the group would award appropriate options to change the setting and the characters.

Perhaps we should go back to the land once again—each place could have not only a stanza of poetry to prompt a creation story, and a list of themes to choose from, but a list of questions, as well. Each player can ask one question associated with her home at the end of the game, pertaining to that story; the table answers the question, and that answer decides what kind of change happens.

I have my weakest mechanical ideas on this front, but I see it as largely unexplored territory, so that doesn't intimidate me too much. I'll open it up for discussion: what kinds of mechanics do you see for re-incorporation?


Willem said...

Color me a HUGE fan of unanswered, open-ended questions (aka 'puzzles' in the temperature check facilitation game).

If you remember, I tried this with our Howl game with some success, as it also diagnoses where the players stand in relation to their storylines.

You could dovetail the 'questions of the land' with the simple, open-ended, unanswered asking by a player, at the end of every session.

Also, look at the Montsegur 1244 character cards for some cool applications of this "question" idea. I think you can download them from

Willem said...

I don't know if I made my point clearly; I think the value of questions lies in either leaving them open-ended, and "answering" them through play (though never verbally, showing instead of telling), or always making sure that the "answer" to a question creates a new question.

This open-ended, ongoing inquiry aspect matters a lot, however you can fit it in, in my mind.

Jason Godesky said...

Yes! Excellent idea! You do know I will flagrantly steal all of these, right?

(Don't worry, you and the College of Mythic Cartography will receive much printed praise in any Fifth World book that eventually comes out of all this.)

Willem said...

the mayans call human people "the holy thieves".


I just feel glad I could help. :)

Let me also note what happened in our Montsegur game at GS11; one totally new player I'd never met before, asked "Hey, did everyone answer their character questions, and if so, how?".

I laughed inside at this fantastic out-of-the-blue reflection opportunity. We went around the table, discovered that some folks purposely went out of their way to answer the questions (with explosive cool results), and others just allowed the questions to lead them through the story, not really knowing if they actually answered them or not.

In both cases, the questions had a powerful effect, and created two dramatically different and equally important outcomes. You might think of this as two different possibilities to prepare for in the design of the fifth world; some players will see questions as a concrete goal, and others as a white stage to chase, getting lost in the journey itself.

Jason Godesky said...

I swear, I didn't know I'd ripped off Burning Wheel so badly on this score. I just got to the part in Mouse Guard about stuff like this. I had no idea. I guess that makes it a good idea to run with, huh?