thread: 2009-12-18 : Seed content

On 2009-12-23, Joel wrote:

Regarding the "worse problem," I think I'll look at my own design, since that's been the fruitful way to approach Anyway posts these days:

In Spectre of the Beast, you play Champions whose ambitions will change the course of history, throughout successive Epochs—play a Champion in one epoch, achieve your ambition or don't, see how that affects your culture's development, play a Champion in the next epoch, achieve your ambition or don't, etc.

So how does SotB handle the issue of treating its content concretely? Well, at the outset it's pretty dismal: a "create a setting, any sort of setting you want!" kinda deal, reminiscent of PTA and such. I do recall at the time of Game Chef somebody in feedback asked me why you couldn't set some dials for your Culture, make this Culture strong in science and that one strong in warfare, and so on. I resisted it then and still resist it now, because I don't want to get too fiddly with the background material. I'm fairly confident that this is compensated by the rules for Champions, who DO have different strengths along those lines, and who will affect the Cultures' values by their actions. Still, creation of Cultures and the world they exist in, i.e. the "setting," isn't "handled concretely" by the rules, and it's always the roughest, most floundering part of play.

Things look better after that. Everyone plays scenes with their guy with a single roll to see if they achieve their goal, but! that goal is defined as "a step toward achieving their ambition." So yes, it does mean that "shooting an elk to feed the tribe" is mechanically equivalent to "landing on the moon," that one constraint means that "things related to achieving an ambition" are mechanically differentiated from "things not related to achieving an ambition."

The other but! about that roll is that it tweaks a lot of variables beyond simple PASS/FAIL. It tells you what terrible cost (if any) violence in the pursuit of ambition incurred. It tells you what cultural undercurrents are developing for and against your Champion's ideals. And it tells you how much the overall conflict over the Ambition is escalating, and in whose favor.

Yeah, I'm pretty happy with that.

The other major system of the game comes inbetween the Epochs and in the Endgame (where the fate of the world—armageddon or utopia—will be decided). Here's where all those cultural undercurrents, suffering from violence, and specific aftereffects of Ambitions will chart the course for the next Epoch. I'd say content is pretty squarely rooted in concrete system here. There're different cultural development areas and they advance either complimentary to or in opposition to the Ambitions, while hopefully generating some Hope in opposition to the Beast points all that suffering generates. All this gives you prompts for developing your setting without prescribing specific content.

So! By self-diagnosis I'd say your precept maps pretty well to the area of my design that's been weakest in play. Once play gets rolling downhill content seems to be no problem, but that initial push is a bitch. I'd be curious to know your thoughts Vincent, at least inasmuch as you can say from my overview here.



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