Back Off, Man; I'm a Game Designer

Okay, finally got a working operating system (no offense to Linux, but all I program in these days is DHTML and I don't really have time to learn the most flexible, open-system, operating system in the world). So, back to the grind (only kidding).

We'll start with chapter one of an exploration of 'How to Handle Complications.' I do my best thinking working out an example we have in common. Remember how I first demonstrated introducing a complication, which was both a surprise and completely within the expected, that didn't railroad the players or take away their power to direct where the game was going (through the actions of their Personae) using Raiders of the Lost Ark? (You know, the climax hadn't happened - ya gotta have one in the cliffhanger/serial Genre Expectation - the heroes had the Ark on a boat headed home, so a u-boat shows up.) Or the Star Wars example where I described how to use 'moving clue' gamemastering to keep to the arch-Sequence without railroading (especially how the 'myth of reality' - where the gamemaster gets caught up in the idea that things that the players don't know are actually in the game - wasn't in effect)? Well, for this one, let's use Ghostbusters (a movie I don't need to review to get the Sequence right).

The point in this exercise is to lay out the movie as though it was a game with Venkman, Stantz, and Spengler played by Murray, Ackroyd, and Ramis. The ending is not known; this is an important thing to keep in mind. The four players (don't forget the gamemaster) don't know how it will end; they've never seen the movie. There are two vanities here: 1) it goes terrifically (coming out just like the movie) and 2) the group doesn't encounter any problems or distractions. (And no, I don't harbor any belief that script-writing goes like this; it's just a convenient, common example.) As the man said, "This is an exhibition, not a competition; please no wagering!"

Scene One - Introductions

The game opens and the gamemaster wisely chooses to open with a Persona Dis/Advantage. He prompts Murray to 'set the Scene' with one of his weaknesses (specifically) and plans to debut a Tell-Tale of the major Complication (which the gamemaster doesn't know the full extent of). Bill decides he's running an experiment having students pick Rhine cards and flirting with the cute ones by making them believe they are psychic. Harold (who's Persona hasn't been mentioned) tosses in a Complication Die and assumes the role of (minor) Antagonist, the geek with the gum. Not to be outdone, Bill tosses a couple of Dice (the first rolled low) to turn it into 'using electric shock to study ESP potential.'

While they ham it up (an attempt to earn Keepers), the gamemaster takes Dan aside and they cook up an interesting haunting (Dan knows that the 'whole point of the game' is catching ghosts); he gets to introduce it. Bill gets Gimmes because (as written) his flirtation is thwarted again. The introduction of the next Complication signals the end of the Scene. And it's off to the library.

Scene Two - The First Job

The second Complication pretty much comes right out of the Genre Expectations; they hunt ghosts. You'll note 'evidence' Tags offered by the gamemaster (he's running out the Mystique of 'what haunts the library;' which was hardly a surprise, a librarian's ghost) and how the 'party dynamic' grows up around the players spending the most time evidencing their Dis/Advantages (a good place to start any game); Venkman is sarcastic, Stantz is ebullient, and Spengler is cold and detached.

After mincing around with Tags (and playing with the 'humor' Running Gag) for the Mystique, the gamemaster decides that it is time to 'cut to the chase.' They encounter the ghost. Not even the gamemaster knew how it would go (that would actually have 'hurt' the portrayal of Stantz's 'excitable' personality). Someone calls for a fear check and pretty quickly the players are all hamming it up as a Catastrophic Failure (with a couple of Complication Dice to make sure - you always get Payback for that).

Scene Three - A Twist of Events

Noting a little too much 'excitement' for the second Scene of the game, the gamemaster starts the next Scene with a 'bridge' to offer a bit of denouement. ("Y-You've earned it," Venkman admits.) The players decide it's well game enough to start their 'powerbase.' (It was previously decided that the invention of the proton chargers would be the in-game turn of events.) The gamemaster decides that's plenty of notice to throw the game's first curve; they get kicked out of the University. The players spontaneously create both a trailing Scene ("...Go into business for ourselves.") and a drop-Scene (number four) at the bank.

Now, it might be a little hard to make out, but the whole three-part Scene dealt with only one Complication; they must start their own business. The gamemaster hadn't planned to sever them from the University so soon, but they seemed ready. But all parts dealt with it in different ways. Part one has them deferring the Complication as to prepare for it, part two has it escalated, and part three defers it once again so that they can plan for it.

The Game So Far

One thing of good note is how the third Scene very much overshadows and eliminates the second. It also really sets the pace for the whole major Complication. Another possibility had been that they'd 'gear up' and go back; this would change to a more 'weird science' tone and slower pace that the game doesn't go for.

Also to note (and clearly later we see that the gamemaster picked up on this) Murray's Persona is quickly becoming the center of this game. Ramis' continues to flatten his Persona's 'place' in the game and Ackroyd's Persona's exuberance renders his more of a Complication itself rather than the drive of his 'place.' This started with probably Bill having the most unusual Sine Qua Non of the group (being the 'square peg' or the 'squeaky wheel' is the best way to grab that role); had either of the others included something internally inconsistent with their archetype, they mighta had a shot.

Until Next Time

I almost have to say, at this point in the movie, it really looks like their session broke at this point. And so shall I; see you next time for chapter two of 'How to Handle Complications.'

Fang Langford

p. s. I love the nights where I get to play 'good cop' when we put the children to bed.


Posted by: Fang Langford on Apr 21, 03 | 9:23 pm | Profile


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