1001 Nights and Expressing Interest

edited August 2006 in Story Games
One of the games I got to play at GenCon was 1001 Nights. Actually, I demoed it Thursday with Meguey herself running, and got roped into a demo later with Vincent running it. Friday night I played with a bunch of people.

Now, I tend to get antsy about games that are all freeform-ish with few rules, especially when I don't know the people I'm playing with. And that happened with 1001 Nights, but I got comfortable with it much faster. Someone at the table mentioned trying to figure out what the game was doing. I have a hunch about what's going on.

The core mechanic takes place while telling stories. Players say "I wonder if X will happen", pick a "gem" (die) out of the collective bowl, and put it in front of them. If a player's question is answered, (e.g. "I wonder if the sultana is in love with any of the doctors", and you find out that she isn't) regardless of the outcome, the player gets to roll the die. If it comes out even, the player puts it in her bowl; odd the "GM" puts it in hers. (The GM can't say "I wonder" and pull out gems.) At the end of the story, everybody rolls all the dice in their bowls, and depending on the results they might get closer to achieving their ambitions or freedom.

If in-game-fiction events turn out so that a player's question can't be answered, the die goes back in the center. If the player forgets what question a die was for, the die goes back in the center.

From what I can see, "I wonder X" is just another way of saying "Here is something I find interesting". If other people find it interesting enough to bring it up and answer it, the player gets rewarded! If not, no reward. If the player herself didn't find it interesting enough to remember what it was 10 minutes later, no reward.

So, one of the hard things about playing with strangers is not knowing what they'll find interesting. 1001 Nights lets everybody say it right there! And it's no real biggie, you don't have to have a big discussion up-front or anything.

I'm sure there's some more complicated stuff that goes on outside of the stories, with scene framing and deciding who is telling the story (being the GM) and stuff like that, but since we had a large-ish group, we only got through the one story.


  • What a great Pull mechanic.
  • Holy Cow, Mike, talk about The Revenge of the Discussion Topic that Would Not Die! And on the other hand, you're right. This is about the most clear-cut solid real-world example of "pulling" that I could ever have imagined in a game. Maybe the reason we were stalling and sputtering and spinning on that previous Pull discussion is because at the time of that discussion, there weren't many (any?) games that really had a clear-cut "This, and this alone, is Pull. It is not a Push, it is, in fact, a Pull" rule. One had to emerge.

    Which is really friggin interesting if you think about it. It's like astronomers calculating that a heavenly mass must exist in a certain place because of mathematical/astrophysical deduction... then years later being able to assmble a telescope powerful enough and point to that area to confirm that, yep, there's a star there all right.

  • ...and thats why the game is awesome.

    In addition to shattering gamer cruft like railroading and dice fetishization.

    I was just playing (like two hours ago just playing!) and the transition from "whats up with this game" to "this is a cool game, lets play some more" was veeeery painless, I thought. Having indications of interest showing up right in front of your nose, constantly, makes it totally easy to tell stories.

    Or so I think, at least.
  • As someone who played this with Selene on Friday night (and with some other folks just tonight), let me just say: me too.

    One great thing about this game: whereas in a game like, say, Baron Munchausen you have to prove to each other what sort of story is interesting, in this game you can find out, while playing, what everyone else is interested in.

  • Is it shallow of me to want this game strictly because it uses polyhedral dice as jewels? Man, that touches on one of those old childhood memories of getting my first set of colored, see-through dragon dice and just loving them.
  • Whatever gets you playing, man. I really, really like that aspect myself.
  • Posted By: Jason MorningstarWhatever gets you playing, man. I really, really like that aspect myself.
    Heh. It's a personal tradition for me to read about, ask about, and post about games I already know I'm gonna buy the day or so prior to hitting the paypal account. What I'm hearing about this one is making it rapidly fly up the must-have list.
  • Y'know, I'm generally agnostic on the "pretty dice" thing - my own dice are a motley bunch - but playing 1001 with Chris's shiny orange "gems" made me understand.

  • The thing that was an eye-opener for me was the potential for dice to serve as visual mnemonics - in my demo, a player pulled out a liquid blue d10 to represent the question of whether we would convince the djinni to give us water. I think the ideal dice bowl for 1001 would have a wide range of colors, patterns, sizes, and shapes for this reason.
  • So, Shreyas, Thomas, and I had a big coversation on the way home about Push & Pull and we ended up decided that we had very different but still interesting and fuctional ideas about what it was about. So, I'm gonna leave well enough alone and not tell you why I think 1001 Nights has more Push than Pull (or more thing X than thing Y, because it's quite possible that Mo's standards as WAY different than mine). Another time, perhaps.

    I will say that, in my first game of 1001 Nights (which happened last night, with Dev and Nathan Paoletta), I don't think dice served as a marker of interest. We were only playing a 3 player game and weren't staking a whole lot of dice on things (partially, I think, because staking dice tended to interrupt the storytelling and was hard to organically incorperate into the storytelling process, something I'm currently pondering). In our game, staking dice was a big old "flag," saying "this is something this story needs to consider." I don't think there was EVER an issue that someone staked dice on that wasn't addressed in the next 3-4 minutes, because that was one of the major ways that a player could contribute to the shaping of the narrative, and rejecting their contribution, especially in a group that small and with so few dice staked, would have been kind of a snub.

    Now, one of the things that came out in the car conversation with Shreyas and Thomas is that one of my major peeves as a designer and player is when someone contributes something to the story and the other players reject it. I'm not saying that this is wrong and bad, but it's something that I strongly dislike encountering in my own play. My recent games (Kazekami Kyoko Kills Kublai Khan and Waiting/Tea) are specifically designed to shape player contributions such that they never need to be rejected. So it's possible that having all the staked dice getting immediately addressed was partially the result of my own playstyle, but honestly I think Dev and Nathan were addressing staked issues at least as often as I was.

    So I guess, based on a single session, I have to stay that staked dice, for us, served more to create a roadmap for the story. It'll be interesting to see if this continues to be the case as we get the chance to play it some more.
  • I dunno man. In my head "this is something we need to consider" = "i'm expressing interest in this"

    Tho it's def in my playstyle to immediately address those things. Cuz, like, I'm a lazy GM. Wait until I get to be a player - that rule about not getting to roll dice if you forget what they're staked on? That rule is for me.

    Jason, I hadn't thought about the mnenomic issue, but thats cool! I'm gonna start doing that!
  • edited August 2006
    It was me, Meg, and this young woman who I don't think played many roleplaying games at all. She did that and I was like, *ding!* and started doing it as well.
  • Yeah, there are still different push/pull ideas out there, but I believe there's a fundamental difference here between these options:
    a) I put a token forward and declare, authoritatively, "The King has an affair with the Fool"; and
    b) I put a token forward and say, "What do you think, the King might have an affair with the Fool. Or not. Or maybe we'll never find out."
    I think it's great to have a game that openly, strongly does b), of which we mechanically haven't seen much in RPGs so far (though people do it through making unofficial suggestions, putting up flags, and having out-of-game discussions all the time).
  • Interestingly, the three of us didn't have the opportunity to play 1001 together.

    When I played, the dice served as a vehicle for un(or peripherally)involved parties to offer ideas they didn't have authority over - "I wonder if you have the same idea I do about this..."

    Something I didn't address when we played (with any strong attention) is the economy of Safety and the ambitions -- their presence means that, when you ask a question, you're doing three things: expressing interest in the story, making a plea to the other court members that you can live to see another night, and offering the storyteller a chance to do the same.

    So there's an interesting force behind ignoring a question or making it unanswerable (more strongly the second): it says, "I want you dead." I'm not sure how that ties into the pull thing, but it's important, I think.

  • Speaking of which, where can 1001 Nights be purchased? I couldn't find it on IPR, Key20 etc...

  • edited August 2006

    1001 Nights can be purchased from Night Sky Games' website http://www.nightskygames.com/


  • Posted By: komradebobPosted By: Jason MorningstarWhatever gets you playing, man. I really, really like that aspect myself.
    Heh. It's a personal tradition for me to read about, ask about, and post about games I alreadyknowI'm gonna buy the day or so prior to hitting the paypal account. What I'm hearing about this one is making it rapidly fly up the must-have list.

    Damn my lack of resolve. Four hours later and I broke down. Ah well, life is short and this looks brilliant.
  • the potential for dice to serve as visual mnemonics

    That is so the way to go--I have a tendency to get interested in the story and forget what the heck I just pulled that die out for (even in the short span of the demos I played in). That should make it into the 2nd printing, it's so cool. It flows right into the whole game as sensory experience thing that Meg has going on in 1001.

    On a related note, I found myself breaking down questions into two categories--things that I know will get answered and so don't worry about and things that I'm not sure will get answered, so try to answer as quickly as possible (because otherwise I'll forget the question and I dislike ignoring someone's question). I don't think it has to do simply with what I'm planning to address in the game, either--a good question made me rethink the direction of the story, and so fell right into category 1. And that had very much a 'oh, that is what they are after so let's give it to them' feel.
  • I think there's a slight, but critical difference here from the existing "gift dice" mechanics like Fan Mail, and that is simply who holds the floor and who holds the dice.

    In both cases, a player's contribution is recognised as valuable by other players, but with gift dice, you have a limited pool of "resources" to spend on recognising players who have the floor. The flow is from the "audience" to the "performer".

    With the "I wonder" mechanic, the "audience" holds the dice but the "performer" validates the audience's contribution by activating their die. Also, this costs the performer very little - not a concrete resource, at least. I suspect that there is sometimes a sense of gift dice as a limited resource which people may hesitate to "spend", even though they can't be used for anything else except rewarding others.

    So this is both decentralizing power and attention, and creating a strong gift economy.
  • edited August 2006
      When I played, the dice served as a vehicle for un(or peripherally) involved parties to offer ideas they didn't have authority over - "I wonder if you have the same idea I do about this..."
    Interesting. I think, with only 3 players, that this really didn't happen for us, because we were mostly staking dice on things that our characters did have authority over, except for a little bit of GM stuff. But I can definitely see that happening in a larger game.

    Also, I just realized that my problem with rejecting contributions is what makes 1001 Nights Pushy instead of Pully for me. When Dev throws out a die and says, "I wonder if X happens?" ...to me, that's virtually the exact same thing as saying "X happens," but it means that I (or someone else) has to narrate Dev's suggestion instead of Dev doing it himself. There's some room in there to tweak Dev's suggestion, but I feel like I have to incorperate it in some fashion or I'm not doing a good enough job valuing and encouraging his contributions to the game. So do you see how, if you don't want to ignore what people put forward, dice become not declarations of interest, but dots that need to be connected? Still, I guess this is a personal/social issue and not really anything to do with Meg's game, necessarily.
  • So we were just talking about this and I wanted to throw it out here - there's a crucial difference between questions that can be read with a preferred answer in mind and those without.

    I like the open-ended questions - last time I played, one of the characters was kidnapped, and she asked, "Who is going to save me?" (I read "nobody" as a valid answer for this.) That was great.

  • Jon: I do look forward to playing it more, because I found that my stakings were not as pull-y as I'd done before (and some of that was simply me catching my rhythm).

    For example, in the game with Selene, I think I staked "I wonder if they know that the penalty for fraud is death", which doesn't explain whether they're going to die, but colors in something of their intention and selfawareness. Someone staked "I wonder if the Sultana is in love with Doctor #1", and I, being the Sultana, played around, dropped some hints, started to suggest that I was in love with this Doctor, but then made clear that I no longer felt this way and was in fact pushing the hapless Doctor to his death. I wasn't really rejecting the staked content; rather, the staked stuff invited me to play in this playground, and it worked.

  • edited August 2006
    I demoed 1001 Nights with Meg (was it on Friday? I can't remember.) and promptly bought it.

    As a gamer who is a folklorist who is also a writer, this game appears to be sweet sweet marvelous to me.

    As far as the role of picking gems and expressing intrest, the mechanic as I understand it leaves a lot of room for individual and group interpretation.

    I can pick up a die, ask a question, and if the other players and I are being very competitive in our storytelling, closer to something like the card game Once Upon a Time (where players interrupt one another's narrations in trying to play all of their story cards and resolve with an ending) can completely ignore or actively work to avoid resolving the question I bring up as a way of denying me resources within the game. Would I want to play a game of 1001 Nights like that? Probably not, except maybe with other experienced storytellers, as a strongly (even moreso than default) Meta-Narrative game where we tried to out-clever one another in our spinning of yarns.

    But in general, I view the gem pickup with question as something much closer to something like The Princess Bride, where the levels of narrative come in and out as the observers of the framed narrative, fictional and non, take interest in elements of the story or call for the storytellers to account for some possibility. It's a very collaborative narrative frame to begin with, and I think that the gems only add to that collaboration, as a form of 'hey, what about this?' or 'let's set up a conflict here, because I think it will make the story cool.'

    This also officially the thread that is making me break down and read this (in)famous "Push vs. Pull" article. I may have more to say once that is done.
  • So, I totally wasn't thinking about push/pull when I posted, but that's probably because I let the concept drop off my radar a long time ago. I read the initial article, but then the resulting discussions confused me enough that I decided to ignore it. But Andy's comments way up near the top gave me a little lightbulb moment. So maybe I'll go back and read some of the discussions.

    Shreyas, I really would like to play sometime with more between-story stuff, and see if the "I want you to die, so I'm preventing you from getting an answer to this question" shows up.
  • This thread makes me both happy and sad.

    Sad because it sounds like 1001 Nights is doing everything I wanted to do in Inn at the Edge of Forever, but far more elegantly.

    But wonderfully happy because it sounds like an awesome game! Oh, and the whole question element sounds like a solution to a problem I'm having about revelations in Six Bullets.

    Oh, plus it makes my wallet sad too ... I've just ordered it and will have to get some more pretty pretty dice to play it with!
  • So do you see how, if you don't want to ignore what people put forward, dice become not declarations of interest, but dots that need to be connected?

    I get what you are saying, but it seems that the declaration of interest is one key to coloring the story, to adding an extra layer of depth and texture. For example, 'do they know the penalty for fraud is death?' This can be touched upon very lightly (little more than yes or no) but that touch then colors the rest of the story (are they really sneaky about it because they know they could die or are they a little careless because they don't know the consequences?).

    The penalty itself may never come into play, but is existence and (non)knowledge of its existence *colors* play. The more players can enjoy those subtle tintings, the more the declaration mechanic shines.

    And there is nothing (have I overlooked something?) to prevent someone from narrating with the aim of making their interest a question someone must address if it is *really* important to them, so it ought not be incumbent on other players to take the declarations as pushes. It can also be used for funny little clever bits of narration ('Did they catch the rabbit?' as a declaration of interest--at the end of the tale, after who knows what troubles, flash to the rabbit ducking into its hole, with no other commentary).
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