Enter the Antagonist: CRC week 2, day 4

Challenge: Make a dream based rpg.

Making a system with a rotating narrator (which was one of our original goals) has created some unique problems. How do you drive an antagonist (or any real conflict) when you aren't pitting players against each other? In most games, a narrator is trying to throw up obstacles in front of the other players to impede their progress through the quest. Most of the tension comes from this dichotomy of GM and player. But if any player could be the narrator at any time, what incentive do they have to put up meaningful obstacles?

My answer in Big Bad was automation. The Hero is autonomous. None of his movements or actions are left up to the players. He just scoots his little butt along and slays your monsters. The players has to play around this. They have to learn to anticipate his moves. This works because he moves in a predictable and mechanical way.

Do the same concepts work in a narrative-driven game? This game is shaping up to be all about how you narrate your way out of a hole. It isn't so much about "winning" (although there is a set of win conditions) as it is about telling an interesting story. So if we want to automate our antagonist, he has to be on a sort of narrative autopilot, but one that makes for interesting and unique storytelling opportunities. How the heck do you do that?

We need a little more mechanical set up before I can tell you how our solution to this problem works. First off, I need to make a slight change to the way the NP pools are handled. Yesterday I talked about NP going into 2 different kinds of pools; the individual player pools and the world pool. We need to adjust how that works. The world pool is not going to change. It is still a unified finite resource shared between all players and the antagonist. You still get a bit back when you absolutely fail at something and it is still used to power the reality altering dream shifts.

The player pools are different now. You still accrue points into them for every 1 that you roll. This now represents your understanding of the nature of this particular dream the you acquire by observing how more forks are created. Let's call them understanding points (UP). As you accrue more UP, you are allowed to make some kinds of shifts for free. Any shifts that you wish to make that cost the same or below your UP level is now free. So if you have 3 UP, you can do any shift that would cost 3 NP or less for free. UP is not consumed when you do this.

Another fun thing that UP does is drive the narrator changes! Every time a 5th point is accrued collectively (I got 1, Tim got 2, then I got another, then Tommy got 1), the person who got the 5th point becomes the narrator. In the lore, every dream needs a dreamer. Somewhere in every dream, at all times, there is at least 1 visiting sleeper (which is a soul from another reality, remember) who is dreaming that dream. The players, who will officially collectively be known as the Norns, use this fact to their advantage. Whenever they go into a dream together to stop an antagonist, one of them takes on the role of the dreamer for that dream. As the other players make shifts and come to a greater understanding of the world and the surrounding branches of Yggdrasil, they might have an insight that makes them the new dreamer. And so it passes from Norn to Norn. The role of narrator in our game is now called the dreamer.  

Shifts in reality now have defined levels of magnitude. Our terminology isn't fixed yet, but here is the basic idea. There are 5 levels of magnitude. As the level of magnitude increases, the cost, number of dice, and threshold all increase. It breaks down like this:

The level of magnitude is simply the number 1-5. The NP cost is the cost for attempting the shift (which may be mitigated depending on the outcome). The threshold is the number that you have to roll above to get a "success" on one of the lines from yesterday. The # of dice rolled is just that.

The "type of magnitude" is a bit tricky and here is where our terminology isn't quite done, but I will explain it anyway. A magnitude 1 or self shift only effects you and only you observe it. It is the coffee cup appearing in your hand when no one is looking. A magnitude 2 or observed shift only effects a small group of people who also observe the change. It is when you make the coffee cup appear in a crowded coffee shop when a few people are looking at you. Only the people that saw it appear question its existance. A magnitude 3 or temporary shift effects all people in a given area, but only for a certain amount of time. It is when you make all of the chairs in the coffee place disappear. Everyone there notices, but in a week it is only a story people tell. Think of it as temporary in the sense that the effect won't be noticed or cared about for very long. A magnitude 4 or permanent shift effects everyone in a given area and will keep on effecting them indefinitely. It is warping the coffee shop across the country with everyone in it. Now the old town has no coffee (or a good bit of its people) and the new town has a brand new coffee shop. These are big, pretty permanent change that effects lots of people. A 5 or fundamental shift changes the nature of the world that you are in. Up is down, black is white, people are cats, that sort of thing. 

So what does all of this have to do with the antagonist? Well, at the beginning of the game the antagonist is going to be assigned 2 random personal traits. These traits will help to define them as a character, they will give them motivation and meaning. They also give you your "win" conditions for stopping the antagonist before they go to far. They ALSO give you an outline for the kinds of shifts that they will perform during the game.

The world pool will start off every game with 100 NP in it. At certain trigger points (specifically <100, <75, <50, <30, <15, and <0), the antagonist will make a specific kind of shift, just like you are able to do. These shifts increase in magnitude as the pool gets lower and lower, accelerating the drain on the pool. The current dreamer will be free to describe other actions that the antagonist will take at other times, but at these trigger values, they have to make the special story shifts. These shifts will not be explicitly described by the traits, merely guided by them. That is how we are going to automate our antagonist.

I think that is pretty neat! We managed to make a system which helps to guide good narration and still automates the antagonist enough that they won't become boring or an easy adversary. Tomorrow we are going to flesh out the traits and grid completely, and have our first real full play test. I hope Tommy is ready for what we are going to spring on him...