Monday, 27 October 2008

Don't Lose Your Head

Some various ideas occurred to me recently about setting hacks for Don't Rest Your Head. It might be more accurate to say that some of these are just different contexts for the DRYH rules, but that's just semantics. The interesting part is play.

Don't Lose Your Head
Yes, this is the Highlander setting. Although the setting is quite old (at least 22 years old, by my reckoning) it is still quite evocative and has potential for some great roleplaying.

Exhaustion becomes... Bloodthirst
For those who remember the first movie (we don't talk about the other thing that was allegedly a sequel) there is a remark made about the Kurgen that “all the killing has driven him mad.” This is a real phenomenon for soldiers, or anyone else who has to wield a firearm for money, and I think that there is plenty of scope for this to be part of the struggle for the Immortal. This is a human variant that is driven to kill in order to become all that it can be. The urge to seek each other out and battle to the last is instinct, and I think that this would be an interesting characteristic to keep in check throughout the story.

Madness becomes... Quickening
This stuff can do anything, and takes the place of a good plot wildcard. Does the Immortal need to run like the stag? Can do. Perform some crazy acrobatics while dodging a sword cut? Can do. Meditate to find another Immortal? Can do. Use it too much and the Immortal will gain permanent Quickening, meaning that a little of their humanity (Discipline) is lost and they are one more step removed from mortality. Lose enough discipline and the Immortal is a dangerous NPC with no humanity left, but with plenty of Quickening.

The only system hack that I would suggest is the starting number of Quickening boxes and the acquisition of more. Start the new Immortal with only two or three boxes, representing the limited control that they have over it. There are two ways in which this could increase: mentorship and taking the head of another Immortal. A mentor can increase it by only one box, no matter how long is spent under instruction. Taking the head of another Immortal, however, would add another box of temporary madness that the Immortal can use. As an example, Willam Mcleod starts out with two boxes when he meets his cousin/uncle Connor. After some training, William goes up to three temporary boxes that he can bring to any conflict. After taking the heads of two other Immortals, this goes up to five. So, for each conflict, he can bring up to five temporary dice of Quickening.

Saturday, 11 October 2008

The Gaming Group as an Ensemble Cast

One of the common methods used to explain or teach a roleplaying game to someone is to liken it to a movie. It begins by asking the new gamer to remember her favourite movie and then to ask her to imagine herself as the protagonist of that story, making decisions as that character would decide. Unfortunately, this is a flawed model of story-making for all gaming groups. That kind of story has one or two protagonists, along with a cast of dozens of interested parties and even more people who might never know the story but who depend on the protagonists.

The gaming group is more like the kind of movie that has an ensemble cast. There are more than one or two main characters and as the audience of the story we are meant to be interested in all of them. So, as a game master, it is important to understand the differences between the popular story-form that has only one or two protagonists and the story-form that has many characters. For the former, the story is about those characters. It is about their struggle and their triumph (or failure). Those kinds of stories are best suited to games with only one or two players.

Conversely, the larger gaming group is the ensemble cast. The story is rarely about those characters but is more often about a theme that connects them. Take the movie Higher Learning as an example. This is a movie with an ensemble cast, with several smaller stories that interweave and ultimately meet in a tragic end. However, the movie is not about the story of any one of them. Rather, it is a story about racism and acceptance. The key to the story is the theme and not the narrative of the individuals.

So what kinds of themes are present in our games? What is the theme of the adventuring party in the fantasy setting? Perhaps it is nothing more than adventure itself. How about the cyberpunk setting? Rebellion against the domination of corporations and government. So, as GMs, we need to ensure that our stories are about putting those characters in to those themes and situations, and about giving opportunities to explore those themes. Without paying attention to these themes we are left only with the many variations on the level-me-up games.


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