Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Building Towards an Endgame

At the beginning of the game, you declare your goal, and tell us about the obstacles in your way. When you work towards your goal, you cast coins. Heads advance your goal, so you take some coins away. Tails mean you encounter a setback, some complication that puts a new obstacle in your way, so you put another coin on the stack. While you can get lucky, this system alone doesn't get you anywhere. You have as much a chance to get heads as tails, so you could sit there forever, the stack of coins fluctuating but never reaching zero.

In the episode of Storyjammers that Mike & I published yesterday, I made the claim that you really want your mechanics to do one of two things:
  1. Bring the story closer to its conclusion.
  2. Introduce a new twist or complication, or, move the story further from its conclusion.
This fits in nicely if you want to drive a story arc by the rules available at any given moment. At the start, you'll have as many setbacks as successes; later on, you introduce rules that can bias play towards success, so only then will you make any real progress. That gives us some satisfying twists, but as we get to the end of the story, we start to get that satisfying rhythm of tying up more threads than we start up.

I have two ideas on rules that might do that, but I'd like some input about them.
  1. Helping. Other characters help you by casting their coins when you cast yours, but instead of counting heads and tails normally, the tails cast by people who help you don't do anything, while each head they cast cancels out one of your tails. Basically, this would mean that helping means more that you watch out for a character's mistakes than really push the agenda forward yourself. Does this really fit? Or should people helping just magnify the effect: all the heads count as successes, and all the tails count as setbacks, so you might get closer to your goal, but you'll have more complications, too? Or (this occurs to me as I write), you count up the sum of all the heads cast, but only the largest number of tails cast by any one person?
  2. Setbacks. Keep track of how many of the coins on a goal came from setbacks—perhaps by keeping them in a separate pile. You can use each one once to cancel out a setback. So, the more setbacks you suffered early on, the fewer you suffer now—like learning from your mistakes.

1 comment:

Alan Post said...

I like the first option, helping best. It seems to fit better with the theme of the game by because it reinforces the idea of debt to the land and other characters in the game.

It is also one less thing to keep track of, which appeals to my personal aesthetic.

The problem I see with using it exclusively is that the helping mechanic works best with medium-sized groups. I have a little trouble imagining it working well in a two-player game. Why wasn't the player helping so much earlier?

I also wonder in this, what mechanism triggers the help to be useful? Would help be uniformly available while playing (everyone rendering as much aide as possible) and effectively act as a modifier to the coins you cast? Would help too early move the story too quickly?

It seems that setbacks would be a more reliable way to control pacing, as the pacing is built into that mechanic. How important is this?