Setup Procedures and Design In Story Games

edited May 2017 in Story Games
What Story Games have quick, elegant and effective procedures for setting up character relationships and scenarios that set the stage for the story. An example of a game that I think does a great job of this is Fiasco. What other games do you think do this well? How do they accomplish this? How have you accomplished this in your own designs? Thanks :-)

Comments

  • Still struggling with this. Fiasco has been an excellent guide; one of the keys seems to introduce a mechanic that establishes an immediate bond that PCs can't block, which is done superbly by just suggesting an interesting one through the random tables of the setup. The other is to add a mechanic that introduces some sort of conflict that is mostly done indirectly: each PC ends up with two powerful drives related to two other characters. The moment a player starts to move, it does things that drag the others into action either if they like it or not.

    Loaded questions can work too but it's tricky to make good ones, and usually you will end up with too few good ones to help the game's replayability. Also, they feel like a heavy imposition for the player. Even if the player gets to chose from a list it always feels more like "choosing your own poison". I mean, well, players can totally go for it once they are on the right frame of mind about the game but it's a bit counterintuitive. Nobody gears their own challenges too well.

    Can't recall exactly but I think Shinobigami does it in a simpler way. It has these fronts that are at war at each other, Players don't know who belong to each front as their characters keep these allegiance in secret. Their characters are friends or have other relationship to the players sitting next to them. Their fronts give them common objectives and as scenes progress they discover each other's hidden identity and must choose between friendship or their duty to their front.
  • Lasers and Feelings
  • KARMA does this in a very clean and quick way.
  • I'm very fond of Fiasco's setup. In a Wicked Age... is a gold standard classic for this, as well.

    While the World Ends allows you to do it as you play, which is really, really cool.
    The other is to add a mechanic that introduces some sort of conflict that is mostly done indirectly: each PC ends up with two powerful drives related to two other characters.
    I'm curious about how you do this. I understand this in principle, but, in practice, every time I've played Fiasco (and I also use a Fiasco playset for Monsterhearts games), we've struggled to make that work.

    Needs often feel too general without something else to attach them to (unless we're really conscious about remembering them and figuring out what they mean *later*), and Locations and Objects sometimes fail to produce enough of a driver by themselves.
  • edited May 2017
    Its maybe part an issue with the setup and part a problem with the players mindframe, though I can't be sure. I mean, it's easier to get inspiration from relationships as these inspire emotional bonds. The key with objects and locations is to add an emotional bond between those and the characters, otherwise, I agree with you, nothing comes up from rolling those.

    So, if you rolled "your father's watch" you should think of it as butch's watch in Pulp Fiction: it's something that gave you an emotional scar and yet you keep it because it's the last connection you have with your father. If you roll a fancy car, you go at it like Clint Easwood in Gran Torino: the car means a lot to you in many more ways than just how much it cost you; you did something to get it and feel like you really deserve it. Or maybe it's such a big part of your identity that you're nothing without that car. That's when objects and locations really click and become Drives, though there's not much in the game to explain you how that part works.
  • edited May 2017
    I don't know what a story game is but Bonds in Dungeon World and their equivalent in AW2 seem to work well to tie people together quickly and simply. They also strongly imply backstory that an attention-paying GM will grab and use.

    Authoring what setting elements are Owned in Archipelago is a wonderful way to very quickly inform everyone what the game is about. If nobody Owns water, we do not care about water. If somebody Owns it, water is hugely important to our game.

    I think Needs in Fiasco are more central than any other relationship piece - answering the why's of a Need usually describes the session's entire arc.
  • I don't know what a story game is but
    I saw what you did there.
  • edited May 2017
    I don't know what a story game is...
    I know your not a fan of using these imprecise terms, but I find the term "Story Games" to be a valuable distinction. I define Story Games the same way Ben Robbins does; you can read his definition here if you are unaware or interested:
    http://arsludi.lamemage.com/index.php/460/defining-story-games/
    Sometimes I foolishly think everyone understands what I mean by Story Games on this forum because I've talked about it at length...of course, this is silly. I'm very interested in the rest of your comment, as well as others, but have to go to work right now and will respond later. I'm especially interested in your ideas regarding Needs and thoughts about expanding there interpreting them more widely in set up; I've been experimenting with a similar idea, in a game I'm creating, which is inspired by them. Anyway, thank you for all of your valuable input. :smile: It is always appreciated. :smile: I always pay special attention to what you and Ben Robbins say because I think you are incredibly talented designers. :smile: Thankyou for you willingness to engage with us :smile:
  • edited May 2017
    The way I accomplished relationship setups in my game [House of Spiders] is the following:

    (I want to stress that these procedures have elements of, and are inspired by, Fiasco and Follow. In my publication I will state this and I will recommend that gamers purchase these great games. If Ben and Jason would like me to modify any of the procedures I will be glad to do so. Also, these ideas are being developed with play testing so they will likely change).

    Here is how the setup works:

    Players share Relationships, these are shared with the players to the left into the right of them. They also add a complication to these relationships based on their characters Desires. These are made up by the players. The characters don't necessarily have to know each other. Here are how Desires work and examples:

    The players have a secret that could affect the players' standing in society or in an important fraction of society such as an important organization or faction. They want to keep this secret hidden:

    The brother and sister are incest and this is a secret.

    The players are frenemies, who don't trust each other, and are part of an alliance that secretly betrayed the king.

    (The societal secrets can be at cross purposes and the players do not have to know each other, as long as there is the potential of social fall out if either of the players are discovered). For example:

    Two spies who are spying for one another's opposite and competing houses.


    The players have competing desires:

    The players are in love with the same woman.

    The players both want to be king.

    The players both want to seek revenge on the same person.

    The players desire something from one another:

    One player wants to reclaim their family's heirloom sword that it's been passed down for generations. One player wants to revenge his fathers death, which was ordered by the other player.

    One player wants to earn the others respect. One player wants to sabotage the other player.

    The players desire the same thing:

    Both players want to steal the King's Jewels.

    Both players want to flip the member of rival house, to spy for their house and to advance their houses agenda.

    I would be happy to hear any feedback about these procedures and how effective you all think they would be. Thank you so much :smile:


  • edited May 2017

    Authoring what setting elements are Owned in Archipelago is a wonderful way to very quickly inform everyone what the game is about. If nobody Owns water, we do not care about water. If somebody Owns it, water is hugely important to our game.
    This is very interesting. I've only played Archipelago once, and I'm not sure if I thought of the elements as exclusionary, at least not to the same extent. Maybe I didn't read the rules closely enough :smile: It definitely gives the elements a lot of import and something to focus and guide the story. It's a very cool and useful way of looking at them. I'm also interested in your Archipelago based games; I still need to read them to see how you adapted Archipelago to fit the different needs of each game. Thanks :smile:
  • Archipelago
    If nobody Owns water, we do not care about water.
    In my understanding it could also mean just the opposite: Water is too important to the narration or at the center of attention to just leave it to one player's discretion.
  • Intrepid starts by players co-creating a flowchart that defines characters, locations, factions etc.

    Works really well
  • With Archipelago, coming to consensus on what elements will be owned (which elements are going to be someone's individual responsibility during each play session) means clearly articulating the top things the group wants to be important in the game. It isn't exclusionary. If FAMILY is not central to the game (and therefore not scrawled on an index card, ready for someone to pay attention to) you can still have problems with your mom. But if FAMILY is on one of those cards and somebody Owns it, we're collectively deciding that family relationships will constantly come up and be a part of the game's fabric. Imagine post-apocalyptic games where TECHNOLOGY is Owned, and again where it is not - very different color.

    @BeePeeGee if water is important it should be a setting element. Nothing is too important to be left to a player's discretion because we all love and trust each other, and the setting elements change hands each session anyway.
  • It isn't exclusionary. If FAMILY is not central to the game (and therefore not scrawled on an index card, ready for someone to pay attention to) you can still have problems with your mom. But if FAMILY is on one of those cards and somebody Owns it, we're collectively deciding that family relationships will constantly come up and be a part of the game's fabric.
    Ahh, got it. It really is a super elegant way to bring a focus to certain constituents of the story. :smile:
  • I posted this on another thread the other day, it isn't a full game but can be used to start one. My apologies for the Fiasco hack, Jason, but it's such a good inspiration I couldn't resist. However I'll delete this from my blog immediately if you find it infringes in any way your license (tried my best not to but you never know for sure)
  • Jason's points about Archipelago setting elements are really good, I think. I don't think there's a question of anything being "exclusionary"; it's just that the choice not to include something as a "setting element" sends a pretty strong message. It shows us - collectively - that this element isn't central or important; it shows us that we are willing to handle it however we like, but it's not a linchpin of any importance in our story.

    Jeff, I can't quite make heads or tails of what your actual process or procedure is from your description, but I really like the way it's heading. It's possible that it's front-loading a little too much (depending on how the game itself plays out, it may be too far much!), but the overlapping levels of secrets, desires, and conflicting goals sound really well suited to a game of intrigue. It's an excellent approach.

    I wouldn't worry so much about asking other designers for permission: it's a well-established practice to "borrow" and build upon ideas from other games (that's how game design moves forward!), and usually a thank you and/or credit is more than sufficient. I'm sure they'll be happy to see a new game which draws on some of their ideas (and, perhaps, improves upon them). It's courtesy, in other words, which is well appreciated, but not an obligation.

    I look forward to hearing more about House of Spiders; it's an exciting and ambitious project.



  • edited May 2017
    @Paul_T

    Jeff, I can't quite make heads or tails of what your actual process or procedure is from your description, but I really like the way it's heading. It's possible that it's front-loading a little too much (depending on how the game itself plays out, it may be too far much!), but the overlapping levels of secrets, desires, and conflicting goals sound really well suited to a game of intrigue. It's an excellent approach.
    Yeah, I haven't exactly put it in the best words, and have made it sound more complicated than it is. I think, as of now, it very likely is overkill as you say; but, this is a House of Spiders we're talking about, so this is why I probably over did it :smile:—with that said, I have also suspected it was overkill and have already come up with simple adjustment I can make during the playtesting process, to remedy this, which I will discuss below. Basically, it involves reducing the number of complicating desires you have with other players' characters. You do this by sharing a complicating desire with just one other player's character instead of two. If this doesn't make sense don't worry, I will explain it more below.

    As of now, every character has a complication in their relationships with two other characters. The character to the left of the player and the character to the right of the player. These complications are based on desires, goals, secrets etc, as you say (fundamentally they are just different types of conflicting or mutual desires, or desires at more subtle cross-purposes). So pretend I'm a player and during setup I'm choosing the types of complicated desires my character has with the characters to the left and the right of me, and we decide the following as players:

    I am the brother of the character to my right; the character to the right is my sister. We are incest and desire to keep this a secret.

    &

    The character to the left and I are strangers. I killed that character father and possess his magnificently well-crafted, heirloom sword, my desire is to keep the sword of my greatest enemy and to perhaps hand it down to my own son one day. The character to my right, who's father was killed by my character has been searching for this sword his whole life so that he could recognize the man who killed his father and avenge his death.

    In my post above, I was trying to list the types of desire complications (though not exhaustively) that are chosen by different characters, because characters must choose category types of desires. For example, one character would have to choose a mutual desire the with the other character; another character whould have to choose a competing desire with the other; one group would have to choose to desire something from one another; and so on. In the above post, I tried to list some of these categories of desire; but again, not exhaustively.

    I hope the explanation above gives you a better understanding of how this phase of the setup works. Please let me know if you would like further qualifications. Thanks :smile:

    I wouldn't worry so much about asking other designers for permission: it's a well-established practice to "borrow" and build upon ideas from other games (that's how game design moves forward!), and usually a thank you and/or credit is more than sufficient. I'm sure they'll be happy to see a new game which draws on some of their ideas (and, perhaps, improves upon them). It's courtesy, in other words, which is well appreciated, but not an obligation.
    Yeah, it was a bit overkill, :smile: but I think you can never be to polite and appreciative about these things when you are inspired by and building upon others ideas. Plus the last thing I want is not to communicate and have some type of bad feelings arise, especially when I have deep respect for the other parties and would like their friendship and support :smile:
    I look forward to hearing more about House of Spiders; it's an exciting and ambitious project.
    I appreciate your support :smile: I am going to adjust it and spend a lot of time on playtesting to do my best to make it an excellent game :smile:

  • Sounds fantastic, Jeff! I think your categories are spot-on.
  • @Jason_Morningstar : thanks for the clarification. I've re-read the Archipelago ownership part. It is indeed about ensuring integrity of central elements of the setting, not having complete narrative authority as a single player.
  • What I find in Archipelago play is that the whole table is clued into the various setting elements (and angling toward their inclusion) so it becomes natural to turn to the guy who currently owns technology when we need to see, hear and feel a weird robot, and when we need to know how that robot works.

    ME: I guess you fall in the pit, and of course there is a weird robot in the bottom.

    [ALL EYES TURN TO JOEL]

    JOEL: Uh...
  • edited May 2017
    Thanks, that's a great example. At the same time, there seems to be the possibility to say:
    Archipelago player: Hold on, Stuart, I imagine robots behaving differently...

    A hard framing game like i.e. Microscope that gives players full authority would be more like:
    Microscope Stuart: Sorry folks, this is how it's going down with the robot...
  • @Jeff_B_Slater

    I'm very interested in this secrets and competing desires portion of the House of Spiders setup. I have a game idea I've been tinkering with that has just such an element, though its about other stuff too. I'm interested to see how it works and if its really good, stealing it :wink:
  • edited June 2017
    While the World Ends has already been mentioned.

    Psychodrame sets up a dysfunctional group that lays ground for arguments. I just wish someone would translate it into English.

    Alienór has questions to be asked while going around the table. A really nifty way of setting up secrets and take the characters in different directions.

    Nerver av Stål (Eng. Nerves of Steel) sets up relationships during the session by having the other people injecting their character into the protagonist's storyline. Inspired slightly by Psychodrame and the same creator as ...

    Svart av kval, vit av lust (Eng. Black of Despair, White of Lust) creates a relationship map were the participants are encourage to create relationships in form of triangles on the map. We had a lot of theorizing on the biggest Swedish RPG forum about relationship maps and how to set them up, as an effect of the fish tank structure.

    I haven't played It's Complicated (yet), but when I talked to people about the game, it seems like a good game for having relationships and secrets crash into each other. (God, I just discovered the creator's homepage. Guess I have a lot of reading to do this weekend.)
  • I think the world of Fiasco, but I think this particular aspect of it is its least supported spot. Certainly, having all that juicy content makes things a lot easier to come up with something good, but when all the cards are down, there's quite a lot of information to synthesize. I've seen groups split between active suggesters and the rest going, "I dunno.."

    I really, really like The Quiet Year's iterative building process. It's really good at sharing out the act of being the creator, which seems to help everyone get invested in the setting.
  • edited June 2017
    @Jeff_B_Slater
    I'm very interested in this secrets and competing desires portion of the House of Spiders setup. I have a game idea I've been tinkering with that has just such an element, though its about other stuff too. I'm interested to see how it works and if its really good, stealing it :wink:
    Hey Kenny, I nearly have the initial design of House of Spiders where I want it and the main open playtesting phase is about three to six months away. If you're interested in using it for your own personal use, you can message me and I'd be glad to send you some more details :smile: On the off chance, you end up wanting to use the procedures in a game you intend to publish, I would prefer that you wait to do so until after House of Spiders' publication. I know that this sounds a little bit silly and even paranoid—at best needlessly cautious—but I'm working very hard on the game and I feel the game has the potential to be innovative in a lot of ways. I want the game to be excellent and I'm doing everything in my power to make sure that it is; because of this, play testing is going to take a very, very long time. I want to own House of Spiders, whether it is a success or failure. In other words, I take this stuff way too seriously, haha. :smile: Once it's published, I would be very happy, as well as unusually fortunate, to see it influence other games; and of course, flattered and proud to have other designers use it in the games they publish. Anyway, I'm ranting and this is likely much ado about nothing.:smile: Send me a message and I'll gladly hook you up :smile:
  • No worries I totally get it! And that's a non-issue in terms of publishing or even posting as I have zero-written down about the idea of mine, just some mental notes. But yeah it would be very odd in general to use something someone else worked up and told you in private, that would be actual stealing, as apposed to "wink wink I'm totally joking about stealing, I would feel terrible."
  • The setup for my game Blade Bind is inspired by Fiasco and Cortex Plus Dramatic. The game is card-based, so there are a bunch of "draw" tables in the book or you can use the custom deck I made that contains all the "quickdraw" prompts already on the cards.

    First each player draws a card for their concept/personality. Value indicates general archetype (Neophyte, Wanderer, Leader, Fool...), and suit indicates approach (Caring, Professional, Selfish, Volatile).

    Then, everyone gets a second card that indicates a relationship they have with one other character. Again, value indicates type (Acquaintances, Colleagues, Rivals, Friends, Relatives...) and suit indicates the mood (as above). You pick another player and make sure they're cool with that relationship, and then the group collaboratively works out how everyone fits together (including further relationships that are implied by the card-based setup). It creates an asymmetrical relationship map, but guarantees that everyone will be connected to at least one other character.

    Next, everyone defines something that their character cares deeply about. This might be an important NPC, an item, or even a place or organisation. You can draw for these as well, or just make them up. These are basically the things people will be fighting about.

    Once those are established, everyone defines three goals that connect to other characters or those important elements defined in the previous step. Because of the way the rest of the system leverages them, goals are pretty mechanistic and have to fit into a specific form rather than being freeform. By their nature (mostly being to do with controlling or destroying stuff), you tend to end up with a tangled web of conflicting goals.

    Lastly, you randomly find out which other character's magic sword your magic sword will try to destroy if it ever manages to gain control over you. I put this last so that the choice of Blade enmity won't influence your character's choice of rivals and enemies, but rather will tend to arbitrarily cut across the characters' relationships and alliances. If you're lucky you might end up with your Blade hating your worst enemy, but it's just as likely it'll try to make you kill your ally, best friend, or parent.
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