Literary RPG Techniques: End-Game Story

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Literary RPG Techniques: End-Game Story

Postby vbwyrde on Fri Mar 15, 2013 7:27 am

I started working on the Elthos ODS in 2006 when I began running the Literary Role Playing Game Society. We wanted a light weight rules system to be able to test out GMing ideas innocuously in a pub setting. So, one of the drivers behind the ODS is the idea of being able to use Role Playing Games to create actual stories with traditional literary conventions, such as Character development, Beginning - Middle - End plot sequence, and so on.

These objectives however, I have found out via my game tests, tends to run into conflict with the traditional sandbox game mode of play where the GM creates the world with back story and items and places, and then lets the Players explore it as they will. The problem is often that the Players don't necessarily follow what we might consider a true story arc. They tend instead to wander semi-aimlessly from adventure to adventure, hunting for treasure, killing monsters, and basically creating havoc in the world without much rhyme or reason. The reason for this is simply that RPGs evolved from two quite divergent sources - Tolkien's World and Chainmail the tactical war game. The fusion of these two gave us Dungeons & Dragons.

And so, Players are there to be entertained by a fantasy story... while playing a game. It's a great concept. The tendency, however, is for game aspect to collide to varying degrees with the story aspect. This is simply because of the framework of the thing, and the result is that the story tends to become window dressing for the game. For many players and GMs this is fine and fun and dandy and they have no problem with that setup, and result. But some people would like to see more focus on the story aspect, and have the game result in a good story. This turns out to be a challenge. Because of this there is now an entire genre of Role Playing Games devoted to the purpose of creating Stories out of RPGs, and these are generally called Story Games. They have completely different rules than most traditional RPGs, and those rules are focused on creating Stories, rather than exclusively on playing a game. Some go so far as to eliminate the Gamesmaster, and play a kind of Let's Pretend with some rules. Others are more elaborate with specific settings, and story-oriented game mechanics.

My objective is to balance these two approaches and merge them into a unified system by crafting a methodology for producing good stories, while minimizing alterations of the game aspect. So over the years I've been working on various techniques to help me achieve that objective. It is not necessarily easy, but I believe it can be done. I'm working on it.

One problem, and maybe the biggest, that comes from this intrinsic conflict between Story and Game is focused on the End-Story. There may be, from the Game point of view, just too much 'Chance' involved to allow for a satisfying End-Game Story. For example, at the climax of the game, there are some bad die rolls, and the climactic battle ends with one of the main protagonists being wounded near to death, while their opponents are also wounded, and so there's a kind of stalemate. Or a bad die roll means at a critical moment a fumble occurs that makes the Story aspect read later as "WTF?"... the reliance on dice is great fun in relation to the game aspect, but when it comes to the End-Game Story it is definitely a big risk, and can pretty much spoil things. Completely. In fact, from the story point of view, about half the time when you rely on the dice, the end story either drags on interminably, or comes out pretty awful. Because it's random. That's why. Stories don't like random endings.

So, to address this, one technique I'm considering today is what I will call "Campaign End-Gaming".

Very simply the way this could work is that at a certain point at the end of the Campaign the game switches to "End-Game Mode" and the Players are asked to create End-Stories and allocate Fate or Destiny points to influencing their End-Story for their Characters. These points can be accumulated throughout the game for deeds their characters may do that have substantially driven the story forward. Lets say each player character accumulated 4 Destiny Points. During the End-Story phase of the Campaign they come up with three End Story cases for each of their Characters: Worst, Middle and Best.

Worst case would be something like "He dies tragically while trying to rescue his sister".
Middle might be "He does not rescue his sister, but lives unhappily ever after as the servant of her captor".
The Best case might be "He rescues his sister, kills the captor, and obtains his vast treasure, living happily ever after".

After everyone decides their three cases (and remember, some Characters' cases may be dependent on the outcome of each others) (and also it is possible that Players will have more than one Character, and each Character may have different objectives) we roll dice to determine the outcomes. The rolling order can be determined by Initiative Rolls where each player rolls to determine who gets to Achieve Their Destiny first. High Rolls win. Ties re-roll. Destiny points can be applied as bonuses to the rolls, or as minuses to other Character's rolls in the case where Characters might have been rivals or had animosities. Modifiers would be allotted before the Player rolls their Destiny. Perhaps a Critical NPC might also participate in the same process along side the Player Characters, as well, giving the GM a chance to muck things up with tragic endings, or Final Vengeance or what-have-you. This gives the heroes and villains all a fair shot at a desired, and interesting ending. The Gamesmaster would do the same for one of the Antagonists in the story, perhaps.

This is an idea. It's not fleshed out, but is the basis for what might be an interesting way to derive a good End-Game story from what otherwise might turn into a randomized mish-mash. I like the idea of Players having their own input on the end story, keeping it still risky with chance involved, and using Destiny points accumulated during the game to influence the outcome which adds a bit of strategy. And maybe it just might work.

Thoughts?
Last edited by vbwyrde on Sun Mar 17, 2013 8:15 pm, edited 10 times in total.
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Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/LRPGSW

Elthos RPG Website: http://www.elthos.com

Elthos RPG Blog: http://ElthosRPG.blogspot.com
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Re: Literary RPG Techniques: End-Game Story

Postby vbwyrde on Mon Mar 18, 2013 8:07 am

I also see this as a turn based system, with the addition that the players and GM roll for initiative. I would like to bring the tarot deck into it, too, just for fun and as an End-Story mechanic so that the scenes are clearly distinguished from the die-roll mechanics of the rest of the game. I don't mind rolling dice along the way during the End-Story Phase but it would be great to fit the tarot into it, too. Perhaps as Cards of Destiny. The cards each represent one deity in my world, who themselves are manifestations of the 12 Alignments, but with an Elder and Younger set of deities (to mimic the Titans and Olympians). So the Tarot deck as fused Astrology and the Jungian Archetypes. Like the traditional tarot each card is numbered 0 (the fool) to 23 (the world). The back face card is:

Image


In any case, what I am thinking is that each player sets up a Best, Middle, Worst Case for their Character(s). They each get 4 Destiny Points (this game, but in the future they will be assigned during the game for story related achievements). We all roll for Initiative, and our turns are in that order (ties are broken with rerolls).

In this case I have three Players. Two of them have several Characters. One of them has only one Character (they decided that for themselves - I gave them the option of up to 3 Characters each in this game test). So lets say Player 1 has 3 Characters, Player 2 has 2 Characters and Player 1 has 1 Character. The GM has 2 main NPCs who have a stake in the outcome.

The order of the rolls, lets say was:
1. Player 2 Character 1
2. Player 1 Character 3
3. Player 1 Character 1
4. GM Character 2
5. Player 3 Character 1
6. Player 1 Character 2
7. GM Character 1
8. Player 2 Character 2

1. Player 2 puts 2 Destiny Points on Character 1 to achieve his Best outcome, which is to Fulfill the Quest for the Sun Stone.

2. Player 1 puts 1 Destiny Point on Character 3 to get his Best outcome.

... Everyone decides their Destiny allocations.

Then we draw Tarot Cards in initiative order until their are no Major Arcana cards left. In this case we now have 3 Tarot Cards each. The cards are numbered 0 to 23.

Player 2 Draws Card 0 (The Fool), Card 2 (The High Priestess), etc...

Player 1 Draws three cards, etc. and so on.

Now, again in Initiative order we now play our cards and discover the outcomes. Players place whatever cards they want, in Initiative order, on their Character Sheets. As we go along Players, or the GM, can use Destiny Points to subtract from another Player Character's Score by putting their Card upside down on the Character Sheet. As each Card is put down the Player narrates a story that explains something about what happened. So an counter-opposing move the Player, or GM, might say "The Influence of Law and Evil (the Emperor Card) brings misfortune to the Character... as he tried to reach for the Sun Disk, he was opposed by the Emperor's Guardian, a Black Lamasu". This gave Player 2 Character 1 a -4 (the Emperor Card is 4).

Etc. We go around the circle giving cards and telling End-Stories.

Here's the question... what would be a good resolution mechanism for this setup? Or is this too confusing with the Tarot Card points? I like the concept of using the Tarot Cards as part of the End-Story Mechanic. I like the turns based point assigning. I like the story telling. Just not sure about how to put the finishing blow on it mechanically. How do the dice and/or number values determine whether or not Characters get their Best, Medium or Worst Fates?

Thanks for any thoughts you may have! :)
Last edited by vbwyrde on Mon Mar 18, 2013 8:08 am, edited 1 time in total.
* Aspire to Inspire *

Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/LRPGSW

Elthos RPG Website: http://www.elthos.com

Elthos RPG Blog: http://ElthosRPG.blogspot.com
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Re: Literary RPG Techniques: End-Game Story

Postby vbwyrde on Fri Mar 22, 2013 6:43 pm

Additional suggestions:

1. Players do not vote for their own characters but do vote for other characters.

2. Select tarot card randomly and use Bill Butler's Tarot book for interpretation.

3. Picking Tarot Cards during the course of the game you get a Destiny Point.
Last edited by vbwyrde on Fri Mar 22, 2013 6:48 pm, edited 2 times in total.
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Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/LRPGSW

Elthos RPG Website: http://www.elthos.com

Elthos RPG Blog: http://ElthosRPG.blogspot.com
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Re: Literary RPG Techniques: End-Game Story

Postby vbwyrde on Fri May 03, 2013 10:26 am

Results:

We didn't actually use the system as a game mechanic. We did however compile for every major character (PC and NPC) their Best, Worst, and Middle Case Story-Endings. That list turned out to be very useful to me as the GM during the final scenes of the game. It gave me the ability to quickly wrap-up story lines with very few die rolls. Overall, the mechanic as described above is interesting, but probably too cumbersome unless the Players are really into the idea of a separate mechanic for story-end gaming. Even then, kinks would need to be worked out.

Upshot: create a list for every major character that gives their Best, Worst and Middle Case Story-Endings somewhere towards the end of the Campaign in order to help in the wrap-up as the story concludes. It was very helpful for me.
* Aspire to Inspire *

Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester: http://games.groups.yahoo.com/group/LRPGSW

Elthos RPG Website: http://www.elthos.com

Elthos RPG Blog: http://ElthosRPG.blogspot.com
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