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Game Dream #5: Cooperative Storytelling

Iíd just like to say that I look forward to each of Docís new Game Dreams every week very, very much. Theyíre challenging, in that they make me think about my favourite hobby, and yet not too much so, as (and I hate to admit this) the Lexicon entries got after a while (probably because I was doing double-duty as player and effective GM). Itís quite fun and illuminating to read othersí responses also. (ahem) Doc credits an article in Dragon magazine for the inspiration for this weekís Game Dream, but I canít help but wonder whether heís been reading my previous posts in the RPG Notes category. Anyway, here we go:
    To what level (if any) do the groups you usually play with encourage communal creation of the game world?
I think itís rather tricky in the games Iíve attempted to run as campaigns so far. When actually planning a campaign, I tend to choose game worlds that are fairly detailed. The Corsairs campaign is a prime example. Itís a Heavy Gear campaign, and I make use of Heavy Gearís extensive background and ongoing story. As such, itís difficult to encourage communal creation of the game world when the game world is by and large pre-existing. Admittedly, itís rather short on local detail; you could probably go crazy on a neighbourhood or Badlands community. The problem is, that community still has to fit into the overall whole, and when my players havenít read the extensive collection of sourcebooks on my shelf (and probably arenít that keen on the idea, really), I can imagine that the idea of working to create an idea might be rather intimidating when it wonít necessarily fit into the greater whole. Thereís also the possibility that there really hasnít been time to do any world-building. Well, actually, with the slow pace the campaign has wound up taking, thereís technically been plenty, but - itís never seemed the time or the place, at least not yet. If world building might be appropriate anywhere, itíll be before/when the team leaves Terra Nova and heads for Caprice. Again, though, we butt up against the problem of the existing material; to establish the framework for building the charactersí world (i.e. the specific elements of the broader world that the PCs would interact with), the players would probably need to read Life on Caprice, the Liberati Sourcebook, the Black Talon Field Guide and/or the CEF Sourcebook. Again, as much as Iím willing to let them do so, I get the feeling it wonít happen any time soon. At least, thatís my opinion. Vickie, Boots, Dan, Gav, Charisse, Dizzy: Does what I just wrote seem right with you?
    Are the players spectators, or do they actually have a say in the plot (moreso that just guiding it by the actions of their characters)?
Good question. I think, the combination of the unsteady schedule and the fact that the team has a few recent comers to the hobby, the players tend to be a little more spectatory in terms of the plot than otherwise Ė there have been times when Iíve asked for input, and the general consensus has been ďKeep doing what youíre doing, itís greatĒ. Then again, the players have given me a few plot hooks in their character backgrounds that Iím yet to make use of, so I think Iím to blame for that. Iíve had an idea for a tool that might facilitate player interaction with the plot, but whether thatíll work with the Corsairs campaign, I donít know. I get the feeling that, to have a world building, or perhaps more specifically, a campaign arena (i.e. the specific chunk of the game world that the PCs will inhabit and interact with)-building exercise that works, you need either a team that has no problem reading a fair chunk of source material, or a game-world thatís high on theme and low on detail, so that the players and GM feel as though they have more room to play. At the same time, I donít think the game world can be too wide open, or else you run the risk of a mish-mash of ideas that donít necessarily work together (or even on their own). I wander back toward the Lexicon game I tried running earlier on; the writing-styles of us individual players didnít really meld, and we wound up straying off-topic quite a bit. The other, successful (and successfully completed) Lexicons Iíve seen are based in existing RPG universes that have strong ground rules while allowing you to play fast-and-loose with the details (i.e. Paranoia, Nobilis). One game that immediately comes to mind is Black9 Ops; it's a small, free game with some background and setting information to set the tone and ground rules, but with most of the specifics left quite open. octaNe and InSpectres might also work, especially as the possibility for game-worlds creation is factored into both their minimal setting information and their narrative control die mechanics (which allow for off-the-cuff world building during the game, not just before and after). Heck I think all sorts of crazy fun could be had coming up with an anime-style school, neighbourhood, teachers and alien races for Teenagers From Outer Space game - and then playing a campaign in it! Cooperative campaign-arena-building is something I'd like to try sometime - and I do think the Lexicon format is great for this - although I think I'd prefer to do so "from scratch", rather with an existing campaign. (But, please, guys, if this reads like something you'd like to do for Heavy Gear, won't you let me know?)
Old Comments

Of course, I read your posts :P

I usually let the topic bubble up from the depths of my brain, and run with it. It's often influenced by things I see on numerous blogs over the previous week (or even month), and then meshed together in my head.

Lexicon looked interesting to me from a writing standpoint. I'll admit I've never played a PBeM or forum-based game. Perhaps I should give it a try and broaden my horizons ;) I've been lucky in that I have a regular group of folks who meet weekly.

I followed the link back to your RPG Notes entry. I like it! I may use the "Please stay tuned for next week's episode, when you'll hear Tork say: `Tork should not have sat on that altar. Tork sorry!`" idea for a future plot hook :)

D

Posted by: Doccus at July 18, 2004 02:46 AM

I am not sure the CEF would be recomended reading. Personally, I would have liked to have gotten some of that info as part of in game info to enhance our roleplaying. Also, recommended reading would also be the area source book from where your character is from. I know it made a huge difference in my character building having the Sun Emerites info on hand.

On Lexicon, I don't think you have a complete handle on how it really works. Your timeline did help people, but it is really about an organized effort. It is something that has to be managed. I am not saying that you didn't try, but it was obvious that it wasn't a primary focus. Plus as you found out sometimes things just happen and players drop out or can't make an entry.

Posted by: Dan at July 19, 2004 04:53 AM
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