Tuesday, 12 June 2007

Pentasystem: Evolution towards revolution

I was, at one point, going to say that the Pentasystem was only innovative from a distance; up close, each individual thing in it has been done before.

That's still sort of true, but the distance at which it's true is changing. As far as I know, the kind of co-evolution of the setting and characters that I'm currently envisaging hasn't been done before (oh - maybe in Verge). It will predispose the game to work well in settings where things are in a state of change, and where there are a number of handles that characters can grasp to attempt to direct that change - which describes Underground Railroad pretty well.

So, I'm thinking that consequences may also apply to setting as well as character. You get into a conflict, and there are things you're trying to change in the setting, but you're risking change to your character as a side effect. But there may be unintended consequences to the setting too...

Also, perhaps consequences are - at least sometimes, maybe at the highest level of escalation - a little bit like Chad Underkoffler's PDQ, where (if I recall correctly, though I can't find it at the moment) getting certain kinds of consequences mean that you then get a complication to your story and have to sort out another issue before you can proceed with your main goal. That would fit with things I've already put in place about how one kind of story can flow into another via subplot or sideplot, and make it into mechanics rather than just advice.

Sydney Freedberg, whose grasp of setting I respect, and Joshua BishopRoby, whose game designing I respect, suggested on Story-Games that instead of doing something highly front-loaded I set up a simple core of things that are important and build from there in the course of play - kind of what I was planning with the characters anyway, with their attributes being elucidated through play. So you take maybe 5 (to pick a familiar number) attributes upfront - most of which will have multiple derived attributes, for richness - and something similar for the setting and situation, and then bring out more depth as you play. All of a sudden it's a lot closer to Risus (quick build on the basis of a few cliches) than it is to GURPS (extended agonizing point-buy).

So what I need now is a mechanic for introducing new attributes to the setting and characters at points where they'll be useful. I'm not talking, here, about the way in which the characters act on the setting to change it (which is a separate problem to solve, and which I have at least a general idea of how to handle); I'm talking about how to introduce new details that have "always already been there" and have only just been mentioned as far as the fiction is concerned, but as far as the game is concerned have just got invented on the spot. There are some reasonably well-explored ways of doing this in the story-games space. The simplest, but to me the least satisfying, is to leave one person playing the whole of "the world" and solely the gatekeeper for what is "real". Then there are point-buys, like Universalis, or vote systems like Verge (last time I looked at Verge, anyway). And then there's the Shock: method of giving parts of the world to each player to administer, which is what I'm currently leaning towards; distributed GMing (like with the Tenan role in Errantry, but not rotating).

I'll probably retain the Opposition player, though, to hold the setting elements and parts of the situation that all the main characters are invested in and to do some of the traditional GM things like provide surprises.

No comments: