Saturday, November 21, 2009

In Media Res

A thread started on Story Games about starting games in media res, or, "in the middle of things." This has particular interest for me, because I've tried to design the Fifth World to tell bioregional epics. The Wikipedia entry on "epic poetry" provides a list of criteria you'll find, more or less, in any discussion of what an epic means. I have my praepositio and invocation at the beginning. Like John Milton in Paradise Lost who turned the Greek Muse into the Christian Holy Spirit, I use the invocation to ground the epic by identifying the muse as the Spirit of the Place. The use of epithets requires a little more thought, but at present, I think having to invoke your name to start using the mechanics helps bring that element in. I'll admit, I still don't have a good idea on how to bring in more enumeratio. But for the moment, I have the problem of starting in media res more in mind.

From the playtests so far, I feel confident that the basic approach to story structure does work. Fluency play means introducing each rules element, one at a time. As an extension of that, you can control the pacing of the story by introducing rules elements in a deliberate order. I definitely need to tweak that order, but I feel confident now in the basic premise. Specifically, we consistently found that the coin-flipping mechanics came up too late in play. Many of the ritual phrases and so forth refer to that implicitly by costing coins, but without the coins in use early on, you have little idea of what kind of price you pay.

What if the very first scene had you confronting Trouble and flipping coins? You could begin in media res. Later, when we introduce the Memory mechanics, you can use those to establish how we got to this point. This would introduce the coin-flipping mechanics at the very beginning, and add the other ritual phrases later on.

I think this would definitely change the tone of the stories, too. It would make the stories fundamentally about confronting Trouble. I think I like that emphasis, since it also gives more room for players to cooperate. The current framework sometimes allows for the game to end in some clever consensus, which works especially well when characters end up with what they wanted, but not in the way they expected to get it. This approach, though, does seem to give gameplay an essentially player-versus-player quality. I think beginning in media res, with Trouble mechanics, would make gameplay essentially cooperative, about our heroes working together to solve the Trouble facing their people. I think that dynamic could work very well. I'll need to whip up a version of the poem that does that, and see how it plays.


Willem said...

Always a joy to read these updates. Things look fantastic. Please keep posting ideas and experiments.

Also, these folks appreciated a mythweavers episode apparently, and gotten the fluency bug:

Jason Godesky said...

Neat. Thanks for linking me over there! But ... I can't read a word of it!