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Ian O'Rourke
United Kingdom
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The Explicit Premium

I'm a big fan of making things explicit (and coherent and maintaining context, but that's a different set of topics) across most things in my life, be it work or the various interests I have. By and large, I don't see the value in fog, confusion and people not understanding explicit intentions. Fog can foster creativity I hear people cry, indeed, but I'd say the 'creative wrestling with the fog' is guided by some quite explicit principles, intentions or broad outcomes.

Explicit is, in my view, almost always good. As a result, it's not surprising I seek that out in my role-playing games.

How does this manifest? Well, it doesn't turn me into an anal control freak, as I'm perfectly willing to let the social contract deal with many an activity at the table. It can mean I suffer 'minor frustration I can put to one side' when games I play in aren't implicit enough (or coherent, that's a real niggler). It does manifest in that I think some things are best (a) written down on the character sheet and (b) part of the game. As an example, traditionally role-playing games have made certain things explicit, such as combat and skill use while leaving many other things implicit such as who the character is outside of combat and skills (such as relationships and the like). This is why I like Aspects in Fate as they act as clear flags, and encapsulate who the character is relatively neatly and also make that portrait an essential part of the game. This makes who the character is, how he can be protagonised and, most importantly, what everyone at the table can do to push and help that much more explicit. It's left substantially less to complete luck and chance.

One element I've always wrestled with is making character relationships explicit in the game. In a way, Aspects do this. In Thrilling Tales there was a network of relationships born from the shared serials and the resulting Aspects, but there was still a level of obfuscation and it wasn't explicit enough. I'm relatively obsessed with this because I believe a core of any story is the relationship between the protagonists and how those change and develop. Quite often, this happens implicitly, and as a result it's not directly addressed, or it occurs 'with some distance' or purely in one player's head.

This is why I'm interested in the Smallville character creation experiment we have scheduled this week, as the game ensures character relationships are explicit and central to the game. I realise other games do this to different degrees, but they often do it less implicitly and often via relationships with ideas, institutions and people but not fellow player protagonists.

I'm probably not going to run Smallville. We may not even play Smallville. At the same time we tend to take gaming ideas and let them influence or social contract or hardwire them into other gaming experiences to one degree or another. The Buffy spin-off series we ran some years back would have been raised an extra level with some sort of Smallville layer integrated into the experience. In fact, I suspect that merger, without knowing the details, would have been amazing.

I'm specifically interested in how it may influence my future games based on the fact I like character relationships to be such a key part with scenes dedicated to progressing and resolving them.

Since I tend to be quite Fate-focused, let's look at it from that point of view. How hard would it be to make character relationships more explicit in the Fate character generation process? The process already promotes events (shared moments in the history of protagonists) for relationships to form and Aspects which allows the event to be represented in the game. The issue is, sometimes the Aspect doesn't reflect the relationship so it's not explicit. The thorny issue is going to be how to make any relationships more explicit without restricting the outcome of the event to be purely about the relationship. This could be done purely with Aspect wording, but there may be other solutions without radically increasing complexity. Smallville may spur some ideas in this regard.

After all, in Fading Suns, if you have 4-5 people on a ship, reaching out to the darkness between the stars to realise their destinies, you want them (a) to be dealing with issues bigger than themselves and have ties to those things (normal Fate aspects do that), but also (b) have relationships tying them together that are actually addressed.

I'm looking forward to seeing how Smallville works and hangs together....

Permalink | Comments(2) | Posted by: Ian O'Rourke on 19/04/2011 Bookmark and Share
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