Wednesday, 25 June 2014

Chapterhouse

I've been mulling over the way in which stories can be told recently, largely because of the time I'm spending on Storium, and in particular I've been thinking about the degree of authority individuals have in a shared narrative. The game that follows is a result of those thoughts and is designed to divide narration into much larger chunks than normal, so that players take turns to tell chapters of the narrative rather than actions or scenes. It's designed to work as a PbF game, but you could play it as a table-top game instead.



The Basics

The first step is to agree on the sort of story you and your friends want to tell: pitch an idea to your friends if you've got one, but focus on the setting, tone and themes, not a specific plot. Potential plots can certainly be discussed, but they are usually the first thing to be thrown under the bus when the game gets going: play to find out what happens, don't decide it all in advance or try to corral the other payers into sticking within the boundaries of that plot as you perceive them.

Players will take it in turns to be the Author and write a chapter of the story: a chapter should include multiple scenes and actions, covering all the aspects of a particular development in the story, called the drama. Chapter's will likely range in length from 500 to 1,500 words: any shorter may not do the drama justice, any longer may end up monopolising the whole story.

The first Author begins the story with an introductory chapter: this must include at least two main characters and a location, for which the Author has 3 plot points to spend. Plot points are spent to make the following three moves:

  • Reveal: Add information to the story; the Author can spend 1 plot point to add a thread to a character or to add a new location to the story's resources. Whenever you introduce a significant new character into the story, one who will feature in many chapters, you must spend 1 plot point to give them a thread. The first Author will spend their 3 plot points making this move three times, once for each character and location they are obliged to include.
  • Revise: Change the information in the story; the Author can spend 2 plot points to rewrite a thread on a character.
  • Resolve: Reach a conclusion in a character's story, for better or worse; the Author can spend 3 plot points to remove a thread from a character or delete a location from the story's resources.

Character threads are the motivators that drive them, whether as ambitions, duties, burdens, secrets or temptations: anything which motivates a character to act is a thread and each character may have up to three threads at one time. If the Author ever resolves the last thread on any character, they must also write that character out of the narrative.

Locations are the places where key scenes frequently take place: the story can take place almost anywhere, but when a location from the story's resources features in a chapter, the drama of that chapter must relate to or engage with the location. For example, all kinds of scenes can take place in a hospital, but if the hospital has been named in the story's resources and is pre-loaded into a scene (see below for an explanation of pre-loading) then the drama of that chapter must engage with the hospital, such as by focusing on a crucial medical procedure or a battle for control of a department between two residents, etc.

Principles

As Author, you can write what you like in your chapter of the story, as long as you stick to these four principles:
        Be Honest: each chapter is part of an on-going story, so be respectful to what has gone before, don't force things to conform to your vision of the story and don't ignore the contributions that have been made by other players before you.
        Be Entertaining: when you're the Author, the other players are your audience, so write something that will entertain them. Take the ideas from your head and write them out: describe scenes colourfully, have dialogue take place between characters and don't dwell too long on any one thing, keep the story moving along.
        Be Fair: the rules are slight but they are there, so follow them. If you want to change things, you have to pay the plot points to do so and make the moves that allow those changes: you can write a character so that they question their own motives, but you can't change those motives unless you make a move.
        Be Complete: write in whole chapters, not scenes or stages; when you're the Author, finish whatever you started in your chapter, don't set up the action and then leave it for someone else to address it. It's OK to have cliffhangers and on-going plots and for actions taken to go unresolved, but if you write that a character begins an action, you should keep writing to the end of that action, even if the final outcome of it remains unknown for now. For example, if a character breaks into a house to look for clues, don't stop once they're inside, carry on until they actually find something worthwhile.

Moves

The Author will always have from 1 to 3 plot points to spend on each chapter: all plot points must be spent, they cannot be saved, carried over or lost. Plot points are spent to make moves in accordance with the principles above:
        Reveal: the plot itself will reveal all sorts of details as it goes on, but what is important is the way in which the characters react to it. When you pay 1 plot point to reveal a new thread on a character, you're stating what it is that motivates them about the drama that takes place in that chapter: this should be a significant statement, not a trivial one, and it should have potential to motivate them across at least one further chapter.
        You can also reveal information about significant locations in the story: when you do this, you're stating that the daily business of that location is a motivator for several characters in the story and that when chapters are set there, the location is always directly related to the drama. Characters can meet in any bar for a drink, but when they meet in Clancy's Bar (a named location in the story's resources) then the drama has to relate to the bar, such as thugs threatening to burn the place down unless Clancy pays them protection money.
        Revise: character threads can be rewritten when it is appropriate to the fiction, but you can't just replace one thread with a completely different one. For example, a spaceship pilot with the thread 'Get my family home safely' might have it changed to 'Get my ship home safely' or 'Find a new home for my family and myself out here among the stars'; it could even be changed to 'Defeat the Gamorlian Empire', if it was revealed that the Gamorlian Empire was the only threat to the family's safety.
        Character threads protect plot elements, not the other way around: if the drama in your chapter touches upon the threads of a character in the chapter, you must pay to revise their thread in order to take the plot in that direction. If you don't have the plot points to spend, then you can't make that change: for example, if you want to kill off the pilot's family, you have to spend 2 plot points to revise his thread.

        Resolve: when you want a character to achieve resolution of any of their threads, you must pay 3 plot points to do so; as with revising, you must pay the points to take the drama of the chapter in that direction and if you can't pay, you can't do it.
        When you resolve a thread, you get the final say on that aspect of the story: it can't be reintroduced later on, not even in an altered form. A resolution is just that: the thread cannot take any further part in the narrative, though it still remains part of the character's ongoing story; if a character's last thread is resolved, they too are written out of the story and take no further part in it.

Pre-Loading

At the end of each chapter, the Author pre-loads the next chapter by making from 1 to 3 statements about its content: each statement can be a character, location or event.
        Characters: when you pre-load a character, they must be central to the drama in the next chapter, usually meaning that it addresses one of their threads or another character's thread that concerns them, e.g. if they have a mortal enemy with the thread 'I will have my revenge on X.' The author of the next chapter must make at least one move that concerns that character, whether they reveal a new thread on them or revise/resolve an existing thread, or even makes one of these moves on another character relating to a thread which concerns the pre-loaded character.
        You can include any characters you want to in your chapter when you're the Author, but only the characters you include can have moves made on them: if you want to change something about a character, they must be involved in the drama of your chapter. If you've already had one character pre-loaded but you want to make changes to another, you have to either make changes to them both or write the changes you make so that they relate to the pre-loaded character.
        Locations: when you pre-load a location, the majority of the chapter must take place there and it must be engaged in the drama, e.g. if you pre-load 'The Library of the Wizard's Academy' in the next chapter, then the next Author must write the drama of their chapter so that the bulk of it takes place in the library and concerns something that can only be dealt with there or which is only significant when done there, e.g. searching for a lost book or secret door among the shelves.
        If more than one location is pre-loaded into a chapter, then those are the only locations that can be featured in it; if no locations are pre-loaded, then the chapter can take place anywhere, in multiple places, and can use them as the backdrop for the drama, rather than having them engaged in it.
        Events: you can pre-load at most one event into the next chapter at the end of your turn as Author; an event is a statement about what will happen, but it cannot specify who, where, how, why or when. For example, you might make a statement like 'Two characters fight and one of them dies' but you can't specify which characters, even by inference: even stating 'Two soldiers fight and one of them dies' is too specific.
        You can make a negative statement about an event, if you wish, e.g. 'No-one dies in this chapter' but not 'No-one fights and dies', though you could specify 'No-one dies as a result of a fight in this chapter.' Whatever event statement is made, the Author of the next chapter must abide by that statement when writing it and must make that event central to the drama.

At the start of your turn as Author, you get 1 plot point per pre-loaded statement made by the previous Author, e.g. if they pre-load one character and one location, you would get 2 plot points to spend in that chapter, but you would have to make those elements central to the drama of your chapter and make at least one move directly related to the pre-loaded character. You would be free to include whichever other characters you wished and even reveal new characters or locations, as long as you spent the plot points to do so. Remember that you must spend all the plot points you start a scene with, you cannot choose to save them, pass them to other players or ignore them.