Wednesday, 2 July 2014

Pontebrevis: a Long-View Game on Storium

Following up on both of my last two blog posts, I'm still scratching my story-telling itch on Storium by starting two more games, but it's the second of these I really want to talk about, because I built it to play on the strengths of Storium as I've learned them.

Another idea I've been toying with for a while is a game where each player is a faction vying for dominance in a medieval fantasy city and the game plays out over the course of decades or centuries rather than the days and weeks of a typical RPG campaign. I've thought about doing this in a number of ways (including as yet another PbtA game) but after suggesting the Chapterhouse game in my previous post, something clicked in the back of my head and I was inspired to use Storium as the delivery system.

Important Note to Self #3: More is more: long posts get more done than short posts and to get the most out of Storium, you have to put as much as you can into your moves.

This is where I think the major strength of Storium lies: since narrative authority is more or less evenly distributed, and since there is typically a long wait between moves, it's in every players' best interest to put as much detail, colour and flavour into their posts as they can. This goes for Narrators as much as everybody else: basically, always cut to the action and provide a challenge, as time spent just asking the players what they do next or setting up the action to follow is pretty much time wasted. Storium is more than just a game, its a collaborative story-telling exercise: don't just aim to present and overcome challenges, think about how the story reads to the other players. If there are 5 players and a Narrator, then your input is only going to be about 1/6 of the game content: if that input consists of stating "I do X" and playing some cards, then it's likely that everyone else is going to scroll right past your contribution. Make your posts significant, revealing and above all entertaining.

With this in mind, the premise of my newest game, City & Guilds, is focused on the founding and subsequent history of Pontebrevis, a frontier town settled in the wake of a war between the God-like Titans which has scoured human civilisation from the map and forced the survivors into the role of refugees and scavengers. Instead of characters, we have factions like the college of wizards, the church, the military academy, a founding family and so on; the challenges they face are issues that the fledging colony must face, such as famine, plague, fire, war, but also significant events like receiving ambassadors from a foreign nation for the first time, passing judgement on a powerful & respected elder who has nevertheless committed a heinous crime and deciding how best to spend an unexpected surplus in the city's budget.

Each chapter will span decades, with approximately 3 scenes in each chapter more or less evenly spaced across that time period: therefore, whatever the players do, they need to make the most of it, because the story will likely never come back to that detail. For example, if you name the head of your faction, then you'd better flesh them out as much as you can in their scenes, because poof, they'll be a footnote in the history books by the end of the chapter.

Important Note to Self #4: Slow down.

The temptation is to post as soon as you can: you've started the game, you're all fired up to play, you've got some characters and the first scene begins... whooosh!!! Suddenly everyone's posting and commenting and you've all dived feet first into the fiction... apart from one player, who's been left behind because they weren't sitting at their keyboard at the same time as everyone else and is now playing catch-up with that wall of text. This continues as the game goes on: unlike facing a table of gamers, there's no obvious way of telling who's being left out except by scrolling back through everything that's been posted and seeing who has posted least and when they last contributed.

To really enjoy the unfolding narrative, take your time and ensure you leave space for all the players: don't rush ahead and don't expect everyone else to be posting at the same rate as the fastest player. Once you've made a move, try not to post again until everyone else has; even if you're engaged in an exciting dialogue with another character, try to confine it to one move apiece, don't keep trying to one-up each other or bat the narrative back and forth between you without giving anyone else a look in. Take your time with your posts and make them count, don't just rattle off a quick response that you need to keep coming back to and expanding upon: you have the narrative driving seat when you post, so take the story where you want it, then get out and stretch your legs. Next, give someone else a turn behind the steering wheel while you enjoy the view out the windows as a passenger for a while.

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