A Game about Exploration

edited June 2009 in Game Design Help
So, since finding that the flaws in The Fifth World went all the way down to the roots and starting my efforts over again from zero, I've had some time to ask bigger questions. I have one such here:

How would you design a game about exploring a setting?

Comments

  • Exploring a setting in a geographical or literary-analysis sense?

    Assuming the former, I'd say ask yourself why people find exploration and discovery so exciting, interesting, and universal. What is it that made real people into real explorers? The rush of novelty; the glory of being "first"; the wealth that comes with new goods/places/products; the opportunity to experience new environments; the learning of previously-unknown information; the ability -- both in travel, and in an alien/hostile environment -- to test new equipment/inventions/philosophies; the ability to escape the restraints of stable/civil society.

    Then, once you have your list of what makes exploring fun, go about making game systems that trigger the same responses in players. How do you make players hunt the keys of freedom, discovery, glory? How do you make them feel some semblance of what it must actually be like to set foot where nobody else ever has? How do you simulate the despair that the map will soon have no secrets, and elation of the discovery of a new frontier?
  • More exploration in the "literary-analysis" sense, I suppose. Not playing explorers, but playing characters in a story that, first and foremost, explores the setting. In this case, I'd probably identify the major drawing points as wonder, the thrill of discovering unsuspected awesomeness, the thrill of seeing the world from a different perspective that suddenly makes the mundane magical.

    But I suppose, more to the point, what kind of game would you have if, instead of dealing with conflicts, it dealt with discovery?
  • Well if instead of dealing with conflicts you dealt with discovery...you'd have to find a source of tension. Most people go with conflict because it's easy: conflict by its nature generates tension. Tension is fun, and without it you aren't really playing a game so much as collaboratively storytelling or something.

    I imagine that in such a game, it would be important to set it somewhere unfamiliar both to the players and the characters. Since there shouldn't be much if any conflict, make the NPCs friendly or at least ambivalent. If someone isn't doing what you want, I'd think you'd probably be more likely to go do a fetch quest or trading sequence (to use video game terms) rather than fight them. The tension could perhaps come from time, i.e. the players need to get somewhere/find something/escape before the sun sets/the king dies/the door to the realm of nightmares is shut forever.

    Or maybe the players rather than going on a traditional "adventure" are somewhere to build something. For example, perhaps the players have discovered a new and resource filled world, and now they have to explore, colonize, and use the resources of the place to build a thriving civilization. Plenty of inherent tension there with no actual conflict.

    Anyways, good luck with whatever you end up doing. I think exploration is a really under-used genre in RPGs, it deserves more attention.
  • Talk to Joshua A. C. Newman about Xenon:. In this game you both explore literally, and in the lit anal way you're talking about (I feel).
  • Posted By: whiteknifeWell if instead of dealing with conflicts you dealt with discovery...you'd have to find a source of tension. Most people go with conflict because it's easy: conflict by its nature generates tension. Tension is fun, and without it you aren't really playing a game so much as collaboratively storytelling or something.
    I linked in the OP to this post, where I linked to this thread here, where Simon starts things off with this quote from Ursula Le Guin:
    Ursula Le GuinModernist manuals of writing often conflate story with conflict. This reductionism reflects a culture that inflates aggression and competition while cultivating ignorance of other behavioral options. No narrative of any complexity can be built on or reduced to a single element. Conflict is one kind of behavior. There are others, equally important in any human life, such as relating, finding, losing, bearing, discovering, parting, changing.
    I think she has it right, and I got a lot from that thread. Yes, I agree, tension seems pretty critical to storytelling, but it says something more about us than story that we seem compelled to try to reframe all tension in terms of conflict. For instance, you could turn it around and frame all conflict in terms of exploration. I think many martial artists would certainly recognize a model of combat as two people exploring each other's strengths and weaknesses. Exploration, like conflict, has tension. In a conflict, the tension comes from the question, "Who will prevail?" In exploration, the tension comes from the question, "What will you discover?" and "What will you miss?" and maybe even "Will you find it in time?"

    I don't mean to preclude conflict by this; rather, recast it. Instead of putting everything, including discovery, in terms of conflict, maybe turning that around, and putting everything, including conflict, in terms of discovery.
  • Are you making up the setting yourself, prepping some beforehand and then as you go along, or are you riffing off some kind of established setting or specific guidelines? Because there are different techniques that work better for one but not the other.
  • I'm really big on collaborative setting design right now, so my instinct would suggest something that allows players to add details as you expand the setting, like a Cool Matrix (I'm guessing, since I've not actually used that specific mechanic) or like the setting design phase in Microscope, but expanded to be richer, somehow.
  • I signed up to playtest Microscope, and have started to read through the rules, but haven't gotten to play quite yet.

    I'm hoping that I can find something that really has room for expansion. I have in mind an open source setting--think collaborative setting creation writ large. You can start from what's in the wiki and expand from that, and then you can add what you created back into the wiki.

    I'm really wondering if you could somehow make a game that's all about adding details to the setting. It would have to have a strong mechanic for verisimilitude, I think.
  • edited June 2009

    Sure, Jason! Here's Xenon: Alien Science Fiction.

    I'd be happy to field questions about it, too, here or in another thread.

    Mechanics are all about exploration both of characters and the setting, growing it from existing pieces to retain verisimilitude.

  • edited June 2009
    Maybe I'm missing something on that page, but I just see the logo and the mediography. I still don't really know anything about it. Could you give me a summary of how those mechanics work, and how it achieves those goals?
  • edited June 2009
    You could also check out Emily Care's "Sign in Stranger", there's a playtest-version linked from the page; judging by the blurb text it looks like Xenon is (perhaps, assuming it follows the Shock: model) a generalized version of the same premise.

    SiS -- or at least, the last version I read -- explores the situation/setting on a practical level by having players create questions about the environment (and the place of the PCs in it) and then answering those questions through play. The scope of the game (and therefore, the sort of things you can ask questions about) expands over time, using the questions as a pacing mechanic. At first you can only ask questions about the PCs' immediate environment, but eventually you expand the scope to include questions about local politics, the entire alien civilization, planets, and eventually the entire universe. The characters also develop but I can't remember how those mechanics work off the top of my head.

    Edit: And hey, Quickstart rules I hadn't seen before! Maybe I'll run this at GoPlayNW.
  • No problem. I'm hangin' with family and didn't have time to write it out before.

    Like Shock: Xenon: relies heavily on carefully assigned authority. There is a single GM-style player called the World Player. It's that player's responsibility to play the world, describing what they see in their mind's eye at every opportunity. They play the background characters, creatures, the weather, and everything but the select sapient journeyers played by the remaining players. The World Player builds the world starting from a seed given by the players, systematically expanding the horizon as it's approached such that places and people share characteristics with the things they're close to, and fewer and fewer characteristics with things they're farther from.

    The remaining players give some seeds to create their home people and thereafter are responsible for their characters alone, voyagers in a big world. Whenever they look at something, the World Player tells them what they see. When they do more than look, they grab the dice in order to dominate, socialize, or learn. Success in any of these has specific, concrete fictional effects.

    Likewise, the World Player can pick up dice to throw in order to hurt, trap, or reveal the traveler. Again, there are specific fictional effects of these.

    Almost all results of the resolution system are fictional. You get dice for the people who you befriend, the things you learn, the capabilities you gain. If your traveler loses, they can't help anyone else until the fictional constraints under which they're working are relieved. That might healing, it might be being freed from a cell, it might be learning something. The circumstances are dictated by the fictional circumstances.

    The longstanding logjam of this game was broken by Jared Sorenson who recommended using an ecological relationship map. That's become the primary tool of the World Player. As the explorers reach nodes, new ones are implied through their interactions. Those are added to the map. I've been using it as an actual map, with up being North, so physically close peoples have trade relations and speak similar languages.

    Does that make sense?

  • Ooh, Joshua, what if dominate and hurt were really just dominate and hurt and not physically dominate and physically hurt?
  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanLikewise, the World Player can pick up dice to throw in order to hurt, trap, or reveal the traveler. Again, there are specific fictional effects of these.
    I hope there's more than that for the world player to do, because that's a pretty good example of the problem of conflating conflict with story that is prompting a redesign of The Fifth World. I do think the structure of having a gamemaster (or "world player") is a good way to go, so that it is world exploration, not world building creating the illusion of exploration.

    For Jason (and anyone else):

    How about, not struggle without, but struggle within? I built an exploration game a while back (called Bandele: Born Away From Home) that involved characters having traits defined by emotions (represented by suits on cards) relating to a subject. Minor traits were built from one emotion, while major ones were built from two. As characters changed, they struggled with themselves to rewrite their traits (both in description and in card suits) for best advantage. Each change required some time to work through, rendering the trait unavailable until the struggle was over.

    The thing about this is that the character is his or her own opposition in the struggle, freeing the character to choose to engage in non-conflicts with the world. Depending on how much influence traits have over character behaviour, and how much influence the world has on that struggle, becoming friendly is potentially as much a struggle as being unfriendly.

    If the traits are rooted in cultural practice, then adopting a new culture is another possible form of internal struggle, one particularly appropriate to exploration.

    Yes, I know this is a bit of a cheat, that it really hides the conflict within the character, but it does allow the flexibility in story that you desire. There is often a need for mechanics to both change existing traits and gain new ones. Taken in a different direction, if traits were disadvantages (or mixed advantages/disadvantages), then an mechanic to abandon such passions can reflect Le Guin's taoist character development. I tried this in a game called Coils of the Orinoco.
  • Rob:

    "Dominate" has to be physical so you can fight the weather. You can already socially dominate through charm or threats.

    "Hurt", on the other hand, can work any way the WP feels like it, frankly. It doesn't have to be physical.

    The effects are probably to be refined thusly:

    • If you're hurt, you can't help anyone until you're healed.
    • If you're trapped, you can't leave the situation until you're rescued or escape. Sometimes, the situation is long-term (like being kicked out of your home at the beginning) and sometimes it's short-term, like forcing you to hand over your Roku beads so you're broke.
    • If you've been revealed, the consequences are, I think, immediate and obvious — your hiding place has been found, your secret is known, whatever.

    These consequences mirror the "Master of... / Friend of... / Knows..." bennies that the travelers can get, which is something that was obviously an omission before.

    Graham:

    I hope there's more than that for the world player to do, because that's a pretty good example of the problem of conflating conflict with story that is prompting a redesign of The Fifth World.

    The travelers can dominate, socialize, and learn. it's the world that wants to hurt, trap, and reveal them.

    How about, not struggle without, but struggle within? I built an exploration game a while back (called Bandele: Born Away From Home) that involved characters having traits defined by emotions (represented by suits on cards) relating to a subject. Minor traits were built from one emotion, while major ones were built from two. As characters changed, they struggled with themselves to rewrite their traits (both in description and in card suits) for best advantage. Each change required some time to work through, rendering the trait unavailable until the struggle was over.

    Internal stuff is absolutely the purview of the players who represent the travelers. They are given absolute authorial control in the interest of exploring and revealing them over time. Traits have weak control over character behavior. Character behavior has a potent effect on traits, however.

    The thing about this is that the character is his or her own opposition in the struggle, freeing the character to choose to engage in non-conflicts with the world. Depending on how much influence traits have over character behaviour, and how much influence the world has on that struggle, becoming friendly is potentially as much a struggle as being unfriendly.

    This is a matter of situation generation, not resolution. Generation is a matter of the WP listening and generating according to what's coming up. Resolution is not the total of a system.

    There is often a need for mechanics to both change existing traits and gain new ones. Taken in a different direction, if traits were disadvantages (or mixed advantages/disadvantages), then an mechanic to abandon such passions can reflect Le Guin's taoist character development. I tried this in a game called Coils of the Orinoco.

    That's an interesting point. Consider it considered.

  • edited June 2009
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanInternal stuff is absolutely the purview of the players who represent the travelers. They are given absolute authorial control in the interest of exploring and revealing them over time. Traits have weak control over character behavior. Character behavior has a potent effect on traits, however....
    The section you're referring to and all that followed was really meant to be suggestions for Jason, rather than about Xenon (my mistake for not making that clear), but anyone is free to take ideas from it. I edited it to make it clearer after reading your response.
  • I think there was spmething powerful in The Fifth World's transformation of a modern landscape into a post-urban one. It's like that old Talking Heads song: "Here was a parking lot; now it's all covered with daisies." Make that a part of play: lay out a roadmap of the place you'd like to see transformed and have one output of play be alterations to the modern landscape. Another output of play then becomes integrating these newly defined zones into the post-urban politico-spiritual economy. The trick in play becomes avoiding the tragedy of the commons, which is where the neat prisoner's dilemma mechanic could be reintroduced in a more pointed way.
  • edited June 2009

    You got it. You got it.

    The key is, I think, not only making sure that the effects of the mechanics are meaningful in the fiction, but also that the fiction affects the mechanics. Mechanics that only affect mechanics, or mechanics that affect and are affected by the fiction more weakly than the mechanics affect the mechanics themselves are pretty doomed to dissatisfaction if it's all about experiencing a world or characters in a visceral way.

    We want to make sure that the mechanics make things fair and that unexpected events can result. We don't want to make them the reason to play. We want to make them support the reason to play.

    Graham, I think the point remains. If you want to explore a character from the inside, the fiction — the visceral imagination — has to be engaged.

  • Daniel: Good suggestion. I read over the quickstart rules, and I really like the whole questions thing. It's definitely something to think about.

    Joshua: Thanks for your description; it sounds like an interesting game, and I look forward to playing it sometime. Your use of the word "horizon," and how the World Player plays, really set off some bells in my head, especially right after Daniel bringing up Sign In Stranger and its expanding scope of questions. That may be a way of defining the scene that really brings some interesting implications. It's given me something good to think about.

    You said that it had rules for controlling verisimilitude. It sounds like the main control lies in having a single World Player. Does it have anything else for that, that I just missed?

    So far as mechanics and fiction—or, as Vincent might put it, clouds and boxes—I don't know if I agree. I really like the work of an anthropologist named Tim Ingold. He's made a career breaking down Cartesian duality. Cartesian duality runs deep in our thinking, and has some really surprising implications. He never looked at RPG's, but I think I have to thank him for giving me so many examples that I think like this now. I think the distinction of mechanics and fiction follows from our own dualistic ideas. If anything, I'd rather focus on breaking down the distinction between mechanics and fiction at all.

    Graham: That sounds like a pretty interesting mechanic, though I have to agree, so far as making a game about something other than conflict, it does seem like a bit of a cheat. I like it in your game! I just don't know about putting it in mine.
    Posted By: madunkiegI do think the structure of having a gamemaster (or "world player") is a good way to go, so that it is world exploration, not world building creating the illusion of exploration.
    I have a fascination with questions of perspective and engagement (which might also tell you something of why a game where discovery takes center stage would have so much interest for me). The idea of creating the world by perceiving and engaging with it holds a certain appeal to me all on its own, so I don't know if I'd necessarily place the illusion in the game mechanics, or in the perception of the fictional characters. Call me a dirty post-modern hippie.

    Bill: Yes! That transformation, that chance to see the familiar world become unfamiliar, cool, even magical, keeps coming up for me, too, as one of the things I really like about this project. I think you've got it, I need to push that front and center. Maybe instead of abstract land types like I have done, I need to have players start with locations they actually know, and proceed from there.
    Posted By: Bill_WhiteThe trick in play becomes avoiding the tragedy of the commons, which is where the neat prisoner's dilemma mechanic could be reintroduced in a more pointed way.
    I don't know if I understand what you mean by that. Could you elaborate?
  • Posted By: madunkiegI hope there's more than that for the world player to do,
    I don't know, I think describing everything anyone sees anytime they look at something is a pretty big job.
  • You said that it had rules for controlling verisimilitude. It sounds like the main control lies in having a single World Player. Does it have anything else for that, that I just missed?

    Yeah, the deal is, you start with several aesthetic themes for the home people. An action, a thing, an idea, a texture, a color, a number, and five syllables. As you stray farther from those people, you use fewer and fewer of these, creating new ones. Likewise, their neighbors share some things in common but have new elements added.

    I don't know, I think describing everything anyone sees anytime they look at something is a pretty big job.

    It is. It's also a really fun one.

    especially right after Daniel bringing up Sign In Stranger and its expanding scope of questions.

    SiS is a substantially different game. It starts off with total surreal disorientation and you scrape your way toward understanding. In Xenon: you start off comfortable, where your character thinks they know how the world works, but constantly learn that the world is bigger than they know. A time will come, though, where the character (and the players) have a really good, effectively whole model. That's probably where the game ends in both Xenon: and SiS.

    If anything, I'd rather focus on breaking down the distinction between mechanics and fiction at all.

    On it.

    Seriously, that's what the synthesized cloud:box feedback loop is. Part of the deal is making sure that the aesthetics of the mechanics match the aesthetics of the fiction. Part of it is making it so there's as little transition as possible. Polaris and Thou Art But a Warrior turn the very process of describing the action and negotiating outcomes into the mechanics themselves. In fact, I'd suggest wholeheartedly that you play the shit out of those games and digest what they do.

  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanSiS is a substantially different game.
    Yes, I can see that, I didn't mean to say otherwise, only that considering them side-by-side, what you said about "systematically expanding the horizon as it's approached" and Sign In Stranger's expanding scope of questions gave me some ideas.
    Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanPolarisandThou Art But a Warriorturn the very process of describing the action and negotiating outcomes into the mechanics themselves. In fact, I'd suggest wholeheartedly that you play the shit out of those games and digest what they do.
    Good to know I've been on the right track, then! I haven't played any Thou Art But a Warrior, but I've played Polaris more than a few times. I really like that game.
  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanIt is. It's also a really fun one.
    Yeah, it was totally what stood out for me from that whole description. It's almost disappointing to hear that the player also has to worry about all that hurting, trapping, revealing stuff. I think I will have to hack your game in advance of its actual existence, and redistribute those duties to the other players in order to allow the world player to focus entirely on sensory description.
  • You're going to wind up with a game about exploring the manipulative and abusive relationships between the travelers, since hurting, trapping, and revealing are all coercive.

    I quote myself:

    This is a matter of situation generation, not resolution. Generation is a matter of the WP listening and generating according to what's coming up. Resolution is not the total of a system.

    I'm gonna put this in big letters.

    RESOLUTION IS NOT THE TOTAL OF A SYSTEM

    The WP has the tools to describe things. Without describing things in visceral detail, not only is the WP not doing their job, not only are they not writing things down in the little spaces they have to write things into, but they can't even figure out how to affect or be affected by the voyagers.

    Incidentally, travelers can conflict with each other. I'm not convinced of the efficacy of the system yet so I won't go into it in detail. Suffice to say, they don't have to get along, and the nature of their relationship is completely between the players in question, not mediated by the WP.

  • Posted By: jasonBill: Yes! That transformation, that chance to see the familiar world become unfamiliar, cool, even magical, keeps coming up for me, too, as one of the things I really like about this project. I think you've got it, I need to push that front and center. Maybe instead of abstract land types like I have done, I need to have players start with locations they actually know, and proceed from there.

    Posted By: Bill_WhiteThe trick in play becomes avoiding the tragedy of the commons, which is where the neat prisoner's dilemma mechanic could be reintroduced in a more pointed way.
    I don't know if I understand what you mean by that. Could you elaborate?

    First, let's envision the basic process of play. At the level of game mechanics, the game proceeds as players "transform" zones on the real-world map. Imagine you've agreed to play on a map of Pittsburgh, and someone gets to decide that play begins in what used to be Heinz Field. What does it look like now? Maybe just a semi-circular concrete spiral on the riverfront surrounding a few acres of garden-plots that the women of the tribe tend when their travels bring them there. Right now, that's all we as players know about the world.

    At the level of the fiction, though, that's not necessarily the case, right? The characters we're playing are nomads; maybe they've been up and down the river all their lives, or have been hearing stories about what granduncle Raven found when he journeyed over the mountains to the east. At this point, you need to make a decision: do you expand the "at-start" fictional universe to include all those zones that the characters might reasonably be expected to be familiar with, so that any zones that are "revealed in play" (to the players) are also "discovered in-game" by the characters? Or is it the case that we as players may open up a new zone for us that in the fiction our characters already have some knowledge of?

    Either option can be implemented in a bunch of ways. You can decide that there's a GM who determines the transformations for the entire map prior to play and reveals the ones that characters should know of to the players, or that the first session amounts to a world-burning session in which particular transformations are made in order to create the world of the characters, and that anything not defined is "terra incognita." You can begin play in the ruins of Heinz Field and make part of the process of play a determination about whether characters are visiting a known or previously unknown location.

    Regardless of how you implement the "discovery" process, it's going to be the case that you've got assumptions about "the known" and "the unknown" such that, in the socio-political economy of the people, known locations as resources are going to be in a kind of homeostasis with respect to the people: "Here we gather berries in summer. Here we honor our dead. Here we initiate boys into manhood. Thus has it ever been." And as long as everyone cooperates, thus shall it ever be.

    But when new locations are discovered and explored, the interesting question that emerges is how they will be integrated into the "life-world" of the tribe, and to what extent that integration throws off the sociocultural homeostasis of the people. "Since the young men discovered the new berry patches on the far side of the mountain, only the old women now remain to tend the gardens of Highness Field."

    And an interesting way to implement that is through the prisoners' dilemma mechanic you had been using, except where "open" (cooperate) and "closed" (defect) now mean "stick to tradition" and "take advantage of the resources in the new zone," respectively. If everyone opens, things remain essentially how they were, despite the presence of the new. If only one person closes, he or she gains a resource advantage of some sort but also social enmity. If everyone (or even only most) people close, dramatic changes in the culture and society of the tribe occur -- that is, must be implemented in play.

    The "tragedy of the commons" occurs when too many folks take advantage of a common or shared resource. So another implication of a lot of closure (defection, tradition-breaking) is to reduce the amount of potential resources available in the future, regardless of how much wealth has been generated. So it's ultimately not sustainable without further exploration and exploitation -- unless everyone refrains from breaking tradition in the first place.

    Ultimately, it may be the case that The Fifth World won't be about quote-unquote "exploration" at all; rather, it'll be about experiencing the sort of post-urban society you're imagining. So what players are doing is gradually articulating a post-urban society, and that's what needs to be built into the mechanics.
  • The Tragedy of the Commons is actually that he who takes the most of it, gets the rest of it. If five of us are raising our sheep on a plot of land, and one of us is taking 25% of the commons, that one (BILL I'm looking at YOU), that person will be making more money from their sheep and can afford to buy more sheep, and next year finds himself with 30% of the commons. Everyone else has to now split 70%. The next year, maybe they have to split 55%. Then 40%. Then Bill, I mean, that person, starts buying their sheep outright because it's no longer profitable to be a shepherd for anyone but Bill. I mean, that guy.

  • Posted By: Joshua A.C. NewmanThe Tragedy of the Commons is actually that he who takes the most of it, gets the rest of it. If five of us are raising our sheep on a plot of land, and one of us is taking 25% of the commons, that one (BILL I'm looking at YOU), that person will be making more money from their sheep and can afford to buy more sheep, and next year finds himself with 30% of the commons. Everyone else has to now split 70%. The next year, maybe they have to split 55%. Then 40%. Then Bill, I mean, that person, starts buying their sheep outright because it's no longer profitable to be a shepherd for anyone but Bill. I mean, that guy.
    I stand corrected. Thanks, Joshua. The larger point remains. In the world of the fiction, the "discovery" of new things means that there's a (new) common resource that can be taken advantage of equitably or inequitably, and some kind of dynamic imbalance occurs unless everyone takes advantage of it equitably (and possibly even then, as a scarce resource is depleted, but that's not the tragedy of the commons, as Joshua points out). Minimally, if the rest of you suckers want to keep raising sheep, you've got to find more land, because I'm using this piece here.
  • Also, your mom is a tragedy of the commons.

  • Ah, I see what you mean.
    Posted By: Bill_WhiteUltimately, it may be the case thatThe Fifth Worldwon't be about quote-unquote "exploration" at all; rather, it'll be aboutexperiencingthe sort of post-urban society you're imagining.
    Yes--I think I had in mind more that the players explore the setting, rather than the characters explore the world. That does make a critical difference.
  • Posted By: jasonYes--I think I had in mind more that the players explore the setting, rather than the characters explore the world. That does make a critical difference.
    Right. So you want the system itself to support the setting, so that players are rewarded for behaving the way the setting expects them to. It's funny that Joshua used sheep-herding in his example; that reminded me of the scene in Red Mars where John Boone tells his ultra-religious shipmate Phyllis that sheep-herding societies tended to produce patriarchal, monotheistic belief systems; later in the book, there's a lot of discussion of "eco-economics" and "gift economies" as alternatives to the corporate capitalism of Earth. So imagine that instead of the tragedy of the commons (where you are advantaged for taking more than your fair share of a common resource), you had a farce of the commons (where taking more than your fair share obligated you in some way to those around you): a "gift economy" predicated on a notion of communal obligations rather than individual property rights. In play, this means that when I go out on my vision quest, other players will be motivated to have their characters help me: give me things they've made, or found, or learned. But accepting their help obligates me, so now everything I possess is a burden of sorts that gives others the right to call on me for help, or hospitality, or shelter, and so forth.

    Which maybe I want to have happen, since that lets me step on up and potlach my way to high social status in the tribe. Is that the game?
  • I think it is! That sounds like exactly the kind of thing I'd love to see happen at the table.

    You mentioned Red Mars. Those kinds of allusions don't surprise me; besides his well-known Mars trilogy, Kim Stanley Robinson has done more than a little bit of the ecotopian fiction that I've gotten some of the inspiration from. Heh, from Ursula Le Guin to Kim Stanley Robinson--probably a sign I'm on the right track!
  • Yes--I think I had in mind more that the players explore the setting, rather than the characters explore the world. That does make a critical difference.

    Neat distinction.

    Heh, from Ursula Le Guin to Kim Stanley Robinson--probably a sign I'm on the right track!

    At least in my book!

    you had a farce of the commons (where taking more than your fair share obligated you in some way to those around you)

    There's a Celtic thing about gifts being status symbols, so the more you give, the more you're paid homage. Not giving goodies to someone who gives stuff away is obviously dumb. Giving stuff to them makes you big. Receiving stuff obligates you to them.

    It's not Celtic, but Beowulf takes the treasure he's been given in Heorot and gives it all to his king back in Geatland because it shows just how awesome he is.

    So, yeah, a set of mechanics about that, and perhaps different mechanics for alternate economies the players will discover, will be a neat thing. You'll most likely wind up with "Manhattan for a string of beads" kinds of situations where economic systems clash. (Ignore the ahistoricity of my example, please.)

    But I'm not sure if that's what you want the game to be about.

  • Oh yes--it's more than just ancient Celtic. As you pointed out with the Beowulf example, you have it in Germanic culture, too. In fact, for the first 99.9% of the time humans have lived on earth, it was the way gifts everywhere worked, sometimes called a gift economy or a reciprocity economy. Only after the Agricultural Revolution did you see anything different: first redistribution economies (chiefs), and then market economies (states).

    Since the Fifth World is about a future wherein humanity returns to that baseline of complexity, I'd really love to have the game promote that kind of exchange.
  • Posted By: jason
    Since the Fifth World is about a future wherein humanity returns to that baseline of complexity, I'd really love to have the game promote that kind of exchange.
    Well, have something like "Give away something useful/of value: Gain karma/status.".

    That's the obvious solution - I'm sure you can come up with something far more clever.
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