Monday, April 23, 2007

Seeking Games Without Frontiers?

I am preparing to run a game of Scion, the new offering from White Wolf. The premise is about as 'up my street' as you could possibly get. The Elder Gods have left this plane, leaving behind their children (the titular Scions) in their wake. The Titans have escaped their Underworld prison and are now trying to invade the Overworld via their children the Titanspawn. All that stands between humanity and the decimation at the hands of these monsters are - The Scions! Magically enhanced beings who twist fate and perform legendary deeds. Sounds rather super doesn't it? Well, it is - it draws from everything that gets me hot under the collar - modern urban fantasy, mythic storytelling, mythology and pantheons in general, pseudo-superheroes and OTT action.

So whats the issue?

Well, and after that above paragraph, it seems silly to say this - it all seems a little ... dry? Basic? Ill-defined? When I look at the character generation, it seems rather one dimensional. You have a demigod. He or she has great power. They are the Scion of a Deity. They have skills and a human life. They are drawn by Fate into the battle. But??

In Scion I have seen where my gaming 'voyage' over these years has taken me. I don't want a game where cookie-cutter PCs come up against cookie-cutter plots with cookie-cutter villains and cookie-cutter monsters. I don't want a game where the players engage with a GM-generated plot to thwart a GM-generated nemesis. It just doesn't seem right anymore.

I want a game where vital and active characters come up against personal and dangerous plots with relevant bad guys and epic monsters. I want the players and the GM to engage with a plot that weaves them all together - forestory and backstory - against a common foe. I want the game to reflect the desires of the players rather than the ego of the GM. Rather than saying 'I will entertain you, this is how, enjoy!' I want to say 'How do we want to be entertained? Cool - right, we can all help make this happen, lets go!'

This is the design brief I have used when I have created Omniverse and MI:666 and I have realised that it is the design features that make games like Burning Empires (moreso than Burning Wheel imo), Spirit of the Century and Primetime Adventures seem so appealing to me.

It's also what makes the initial presentation of Scion look so damned bland. Which leaves me in a dilema - well, actually it doesn't. The dilema would be what to do as I like to play games 'out of the box' on first showing. However, that sort of thing is going to have to go by the wayside now as I am going to have to do some more extensive campaign 'creation' with the players to satisfy my need for a more modern approach to the games we play.

So, Scion - awesome idea, well executed but really, 1998 is calling and they would like their model of roleplay design back please!



Anonymous said...

My god, are we defining ourself as a "Post-Modernist" RP-er now?

Label alert! Label Alert! hehe!

I must say; We're playing the Great Pendragon Campaign! I mean, how bloody world setting heavy can you get? :-)

So it's obvious we can all have good fun in a world which ISN'T one of those collabrative world building experiences where you make the characters that you want to play first and then wrap the world and setting around those "hero's".

Effectively, if Scion is "so last decade" then a whole slew of other games are too, including D&D, Pendragon, hell, most *published* games you'll find in the average games store.

I have to ask, and please feel free to kick me for this :-) but, with your recent excursions into game design and the "indie" games of SoTC and so forth, and the general (rather good) philiosophy we take towards character generation in most games.... Are we getting towards a level of intellectual gaming snobbery?

Or potentially, has your experiences of game design and the subsequent discussions actually changed the way you view and examine these games? Rather like a painter who looks at the way a painting was put together, than appreciating the whole picture. Or a novelist who reads a book and critiques the tension building usage without being able appriciate the sensation as a reader anymore.

I suppose though, at the end of the day, the most cruical thing is to have a game the GM wants to run and has a passion for. Certainly it sounds like Scion is not that for you.


Anonymous said...

I think he's suggesting, that without some further work, Scion may go the way of Werewolf.


Anonymous said...

And also, while we play Pendragon, Neil isn't running Pendragon. The only game that wasn't 'wrapped around the heroes' to one degree or another was...errr...Werewolf. And possible the second Crescent Sea.

Hmmmm...we know where they went.

So I suspect his post is saying he needs to wrap the game around the heroes for it to work, and while that doesn't have to be supported mechanically, it's handy if it is, but even if it isn't, he needs it anyway.

Hence the more work he suggests he'd have to do with Scion.


Vodkashok said...

Spot on Ian. Played out of the box, I can see that Scion would have that same disconnection that plagued Werewolf. Forewarned is forearmed.

In more, point to point answer to Dave.

Normally I would kneejerk against any, albeit joking, labelling. Indeed, my aversion to labels even as a small child lead to some rather awkward scenes when fashion items with logos were all the rage and I simply wouldn't touch them. However, it might serve to unpack my intent a little in this post and others, and that could well lead to a 'label' of sorts. And for once I see no problem with that. I want to explore how things are done and how they can be improved and when exploring that I want to recognise when things can be pilfered to make other things better.

Thats one of the reasons why I have tried turning my hand to game design - I am at a point where I, personally, have a clarity of vision when it comes to what I want from a game. Now whether my neophyte design skills can recreate my intent in actuality - thats another matter altogether!!

Another matter that has been raised before by Ian is that I tend to have almost bipolar expectations as a player and as a GM. Whilst this might explain how I can be so enthusiastic about such a traditional game such as Pendragon and TGPC and yet preach 'post modernist' practice on my blog, I think that is a diservice on Nigel and his ability to construct a player-centric game within a strong setting. TGPC is all about the players, the plots are driven by the players and the intrigues are created by the players. Nigel looks down his ye olde list of player generated plot hooks and explodes a couple each week. Thats pretty cool for me.

My criticism of Scion is not a criticism of the concept or the realisation of the setting - thats actually VERY cool and has me enthused on a number of levels. Rather it is the inability of White Wolf to move one inch from their tried and tested safe zone regarding the 'storyteller system'. We've discussed before about White Wolf's failings to take a cool idea and create a premise that compels adventure and conflict - the various games which end in 'So, what does character X actually do with all of these cool abilities and powers?'. As Ben has suggested on the message board, this traditional approach to their own design paradigm is hardly surprising, but it clashes with the way my head is set at the moment.

Thus 'setting' and concept gets a strong A-, system gets a sturdy B but inspirational ooomph DIRECT from the book gets a rather tawdry C- (could definitely do better). To stretch the analogy painfully thin, I believe the 'student' could do with some guidance counselling from some players with active imaginations to fire it up!

I think you have missed something in your examples of possible 'gaming snobbery' or other such matters. It's not a black and white matter, and it's certainly not snobbery. Nor is it an inability to have fun at the table because of a constant need to examine the game 'under the hood'.

Rather it's a recognition that I think, as a GM, I can deliver a BETTER game by using some of the tools that I have seen, read and experienced over the past couple of years. There are things that we organically introduced into Crescent Sea (the collaborative world building and player driven plotlines) that were simply outside of my previous experience but enhanced the game magnificently. In Buffy, we worked far more on player plotlines - although not to a greater extent. In Pulsars and Privateers we used both extensively and delved into player authored scenes. In Pendragon we have explored the implications of Lonely Fun and we have looked at conduct at the table and yet more plotline authoring. The chargen for SotC and D&D (for CottageCon) has revealed a new way of generating backstory that has been very compelling. The idea of novels (or modules as we called them for D&D) worked really well.

Like a golf swing, I don't think that roleplaying is or should be something that you just settle into and never attempt to improve. It has always been a developing hobby and probably always will. However, I personally believe that you should carry a toolbox of techniques that can be applied to ANY game, rather than just those that are deemed 'story' or 'indie' or whatever.

Which leads us back to Scion. Do I want to run it? Of course I do - generously salaried I am, able to throw away £20 on a whim I cannot! Am I passionate about it? The subject matter...yes. The system...less so (hehe, me passionate about a system? As if!). What I -NEED- is to sit down with my players and throw around ideas and gain some sort of context for the game, some sort of seeds that become what we want. Thats far FAR more exciting to me than creating an adventure and hoping that your characters fit into it - or worse still, nudging you so that your characters fit into the game I want to play. It's OUR game, not mine.

Hope that explains it a bit better. Now get back to your bloody PhD!!!! /grin


Vodkashok said...

btw. Wall of TEXT crits you for 4500.


Anonymous said...

I will respond to Neil's post by saying that what he has said above, has been my agenda since the group formed way back in 2000/1.

I came out of my four years not playing or DM'ing with a clear idea of what I wanted from a game in terms of actually playing, and what I wanted from a game in terms of system (though this was probably slightly more vague).

From my perspective, I don't see anything that is happening in the gaming group now as any form of dramatic, revolutionary shift. We've been working towards it for four years or whatever. We've had numerous discussions throughout all the games we've played, even the ones that didn't work, about how to improve what we are doing.

It's always been about improving the process, making the game better and discussing how we can make the game better. Everything can be improved, refined and made more enjoyage, what sometimes amazes me about the role-playing community at large, is the core of people who seem to think discussing games on this bases ruins the magic.

As for systems, I don't see it as a label thing, I just see it as finding the tools, techniques and rules you like in a system. It's taken a while, I knew I'd been disatisfied with a lot of the games on the shelves for some time. I wanted games that told you things about the character beyond what skills they have and what they are good at, and provided a mechanism to bring that to the table. It's only now those games are coming along that have those features while keeping the traditional features I like.

It's been an interesting 8 year journey (including the 4 years not gaming) and I'm sure it will continue.

At the end of the day though, it's a series of tweaks, not some great revolutionary change.

Anonymous said...

In fact, I revise my comment above, this is journey that started when I actually started gaming..refining and improving has always been part of it.

From modelling a genre/property well, in our Star Wars games, and making our Star Trek series very TV show like - episodes, cliffhangers, sweeps weak back when I was 22 or something.

The improvement process is a solid part of the hobby for me.


Anonymous said...

Can I just say that I really want to fight the cookie-cutter monster.