This is long. Bear with me. I think I eventually get to a point.
So…I’m currently designing a game centered on something I call Twists. These are the game’s term for a list of statements each player has access to that inject meta-narrative facts/outcomes into the story. They require a limited resource in order to use them. I created one Twist that would be given to all the “classes” (the rest of the Twists are unique to their class.)
YOU PROCLAIM A TRUE FACT ABOUT THE WORLD THAT DOESN'T CONFLICT WITH THE ESTABLISHED FICTION. TELL US HOW YOU KNOW THAT.
The intent behind this Twist was to allow the characters the limited ability to create lore about the game world. Clever PCs could use it to suddenly remember, “Oh yeah! Dragons are known to be vulnerable to voidsteel! It’s one of the only things that can pierce their scales! I learned that from a book I read at Wizard College,” in a situation where they had earlier found a sword made of voidsteel. This was the intent. A cool tool (of limited usage) for players to world-build and perhaps give themselves an advantage in certain situations. The second clause about explaining how you learned it is to introduce more color into the world and serve as a soft restriction on what kinds of facts the player is allowed to introduce.
As I thought about it more, though, I realized this could be interpreted as some kind of uber-Twist. There is nothing in the descriptive text that forbids the following:
“I just so happen to have a healing potion on me. I learned that when I packed it back in town.”
“I’m not actually hurt. I learned that when the dagger bounced off my chainmail.”
“That ogre is dead. I learned that when I watched the spear I just threw pierce his cranium!”
My problem with the first example is only that it ends up subsuming a Twist I had just for the Rogue playbook that said you have “just the right object” with you. This isn’t a major problem, it just means I have to re-examine the Rogue Twist and its relation to this Twist…It’s not my main worry. I might even like that the TWIST everyone gets allows for this sort of thing…
Now, one could argue that the last two could be interpreted as “conflicting with the established fiction,” depending on how the GM presented the set up. If the DM said, “the dagger slams into, embedding itself into your chest and knocking you to the ground. Take damage,” then the player’s statement about the dagger bouncing off would be conflicting with the fiction established by the DM’s statement.
But this opens up space for a lot of debates during play. Imagine if the DM just says, “The dagger slams into you,” and pauses for a moment to think of a cool description. The player might be able to interpret this as a chance to speak and inject his twist into that space. This leads to the game rewarding constantly trying to interrupt other people’s descriptions, which I certainly don’t want. I could write a formal procedure to control when someone has the right to interject facts during the conversation and all, but one of my goals in my design is to simple and easy to pick up and this makes things way too complicated and strays too far from the normal rules of casual conversation. I don’t want that.
Same thing with the ogre example, but worse. In that case, I can see a hundred situations where the GM finishes his description and hands it over to the player-
“An ogre bursts into the room, carrying a spiked club the size of a hitching post. It growls and comes running at you. What do you?”
Which gives the player full permission to mark their Twist and declare the Ogre dead. Nobody has established that they didn’t throw a spear.
So I came up with this as an alternative:
YOU PROCLAIM A TRUE FACT ABOUT THE WORLD THAT YOU LEARNED BEFORE PLAY STARTED THAT DOESN’T CONFLICT WITH THE ESTABLISHED FICTION. TELL US HOW YOU LEARNED THAT.
This stops people from being able to create facts about current situation (life and death of characters, the existence of physical objects in the room they’ve never entered before, etc.) while still giving characters limited power over the lore of the game world.
Now obviously, “Before Play Started” is a little nebulous, but in the rulebook I can expand on exactly what that means, and maybe even give the group the power to decide if that means “before tonight’s session started” or “before we began this campaign.” Or I can reword it so it’s clearer (once I decide exactly what I want “before play” to mean).
This is not my issue.
I have to ask myself – Why do I have a problem with the first iteration of the twist?
I’m trying to design an improvisational narrative game where the goal is to tell a story together. Every single rule in the game is written with the goal of allowing characters to add and change the flow of the narrative. The rules are there to:
A. Provide equity of narrative authority between players.
B. Provide constraints over the players’ choices in order to inspire creativity. (I believe the best improvisation is produced by creating parameters to work within.)
The first iteration doesn’t really conflict with either of these two goals. It’s a power that requires a resource to use (a constraint) and since all the players have access to it, all the PCs have equal narrative authority.
So why not use the first iteration of the Twist?
Am I just so conditioned by years of traditional RPGs that I’m subconsciously inclined to judge rules by whether they’re “over-powered” and I’m just falling victim to old-school metrics that shouldn’t apply to my game?
Am I just concerned that the first iteration of the Twist basically subsumes every single other Twist in my game, and my original idea of “everyone gets a different list of cool stuff they can do” becomes obsolete, making it more coherent and efficient to give everyone only that one same twist that they can use over and over again? Is my problem one-part stubbornness to keep my original design and another part desire for character niche-protection/mechanical diversity? Should I amend my original goals to make niche-protection and mechanical diversity part of my design goals?
Or am I, at heart, not actually trying to create a Narrative game? Is my reaction to the first iteration as, “No, you can’t do that! It makes everything too easy!” a sign of the fact that I’m actually designing for challenge-based play?
Have I been falsely labeling the game’s goal as “To Spin a Yarn Together,” when in fact, the actual goal I’m working towards is, “See if you can get your character to “win” (see: create a positive outcome for themselves or complete a in-story goal) while working in the restraints of the narrative powers given to them?
Is what I’m working towards no different than a game where you are using character-design expertise, or tactical ability, or in-fiction problem solving (puzzles and such) in order to overcome a challenge? Except in this case the challenge is “Can you use the meta-narrative Director-stance tools given to you to affect the narrative in a way that leads to a desired outcome for your character?”
Is that just a description of all traditional challenge-based play? Or is there a difference?
I’m certainly seem to be using “Traditional Techniques” for what I was thinking of as a “Hippy” game.
Information separation – maybe not this one? Mostly because it’s a No-Myth game and so there is no information that exists outside of the shared fiction. Or maybe everyone has access to information about the GameState others don’t because each player has the ability to introduce setting elements and automatic resolution to situations. So either there’s no information separation or everyone holds information about the setting that others don’t have.
Resolution mechanics – Yup. Definitely there. Dice-based general risk resolution and the Twist mechanic in itself is a resolution mechanic.
Each player character is only being run by one player each – Yes.
Identifying stance – Yes? Sometimes?
GM plays world - Yes, but this can be superseded by players marking Twists that gives players limited ability to have control over the world outside their character’s actions.
But the goal is not to “experience” the world, nor is it to “solve a mystery” or use the facts about the fictional environment to allow one’s character to succeed. It instead relies on the PCs using their personal cleverness and mastery of the rules to achieve a goal (whatever ends up becoming the goal of the characters within the narrative).
So the point is to both “win” and create a dramatically satisfying narrative about how the characters “win”. The general post-Forge consensus is that it’s not possible. Even if one disregards GNS theory and goes with something more modern, like RISS, is this Impronitfol or Skillfrotz?
Is the idea behind this design incoherent? Can you be both trying to tell a story (and using narrative tools to do so?) and seek to “win” for your character?
Is it revolutionary? (probably not)
Is the idea that a game based on creating dramatically-satisfying story requires the players to sometimes consciously decide to make suboptimal choices for their character a hard truth? Can you instead hard-bake techniques into the rules in order to produce guaranteed dramatic conflict, beyond the carrot-technique found in Fudge and others (i.e. do something that’s bad for your character and I’ll give you a point!)
Does it have any bearing on the thread about Narrativism vs. Trad Techniques debate currently raging at Storygames? Are traditional techniques able to produce a challenge-based game that still assumes a No-Myth stance on the GameState and relies on Director Stance-based mechanics?