Saturday, December 19, 2009

Cool Ideas

In my last post, Willem suggested something really cool. In Dogs in the Vineyard, you create towns ripe with moral quandaries for the Dogs to judge (and thus, suck them into one moral dilemma after another). You do this by using a step-by-step template that plays along with the Christian view of sin: all sin begins with Pride, Pride leads to Injustice, etc. For each step, you introduce the problem. So, what Pride lies at the root of this problem? What Injustice did it lead to? And so on.

You have an animist equivalent: all problems begin with unmet obligations. Unmet obligations lead to people feeling taken advantage of. People feeling taken advantage of leads to withdrawing their help. Withdrawing help leads to mutual resentment, and mutual resentment might lead to violence. So, for example, some hunters take 21 deer, when they agreed to only take 20. The deer feel taken advantage of, so they withdraw their help. The people go hungry, so they begin to resent the deer. How long will this go before the humans and the deer start escalating their resentment to violence?

The poem offers a really good framework for this, too. What obligation has someone failed to meet? An obligation between persons? Between families? Between villages? Between peoples (as in the preceding example, between the human people and the deer people)? Then, just like Dogs, we escalate: how does the other group feel taken advantage of? What help do they withdraw? We can do this around the table, so we all have a hand in escalating the situation.

Now, I think players only have so much patience for "set up" time, so I think this option might mean eliminating the cycles by which we'd previously created characters from places. But we could introduce characters quickly, who we flesh out in play, and they get to unravel this whole mess. Just like Dogs, you've escalated past the point where simple measures would solve the problem. You've got mutual resentment and all kinds of unrecognized obligations. How do you fix that situation?

I also looked at John Harper's Lady Blackbird again recently. My brother ran Spirit of the Season last week, and it has me really excited about FATE. It reminded me of how simple and fun the game played. Lady Blackbird seems even faster and simpler. It made me wonder about simply designing The Fifth World as a simplified FATE game. I've heard good things about Chronica Feudalis lately, too, and it does much the same thing. That idea especially appealed; perhaps, instead of my misunderstanding of the term "roleplaying poem," I could follow John Harper's lead, and simply design a single-page, front and back, beautifully laid-out game.

And yet, I ultimately came back around to the ideas I'd started with, with coins for power and players pursuing their ambitions. I share these as unequivocally cool ideas—but I think this will work better. I told myself years ago that I'd know I finally had a good system when I stopped bouncing around all the time, and when the ideas I came up with started to focus on details instead of the most basic elements of gameplay. Dare I hope that I've finally reached that point?