Archives for posts with tag: my life with master

“Snuggle Up and Get Real Sad, Up-Ins”
It’s a thing my friends and I say, specifically in response to the The Tales of Ba-Sing-Se episode of “Avatar: The Last Airbender.” That episode will make you bawl and if it doesn’t, everyone is entitled to question whether or not you are — in fact — a Cyberman. It has evolved since then as a catch-all response to an episode or situation we expect to be emotionally taxing. It has been used to describe episodes of “Battlestar Galactica” and more recently “Being Human.” To a degree, it’s a phrase that gets used when we know we’re going to see a lot of intra-character drama… not exclusively, perhaps, but we expect that for the most part we’re going to have character’s exposing their hearts to one another and revealing their internal strife. This is fine and dandy and highly effective (in my opinion) when presenting a narrative to an audience. There is a question to raise here, though: how does this practice — of revealing internal drama to other characters for the benefit of the audience — jive with tabletop role-playing?

Illusion of the First Time
It’s a thing my girlfriend the Theatre Major/actor/director/stage manager has brought up before when discussing actors’ performances. The phrase is apparently associated with William Gillette according to a quick and dirty Google search, but I can’t guarantee that — it has to do with, no matter how many times you stage a scene, it should always appear to be the first time that your character is making discoveries. This can become tricky immediately in role-playing games. Infamous scenes come to mind — scenes of a split party reunited, and since the entire party was at the table when events happened they simply gloss over the story to told. Not necessarily a problem, unless one of the characters is supposedly learning some pressing information from this.

That said, the exact opposite is equally possible — I’m sure many Game Masters and players out there can whip up impressive stories of emotional bombs dropped and revelations had: the villain was your father all along, you’ve been concealing your real class/race/identity from the party all along, and so forth. I’m sure they work and are fun for everyone. I can specifically recall, from my own experience, a stretch of Dungeons & Dragons in which I played a Monk whom everyone regarded as a monk. He was primarily a pacifist, and the game did not last long enough to warrant the complete unhinged fury of Flurry of Blows… but my point is made, I think. Secrets are fun. Reveals are fun.

Aristotle had plenty to say on the subject: basically, we feel really clever when we think we’ve figured something out or when we think we’re understanding.

No Such Thing As Filler
So, what am I trying to get at: the idea of the game-as-conversation or conversation-as-game; having something to talk about when you sit down at the table and sit down into character. The great and forever-lovable Apocalypse World specifically refers to the event of role-playing as “conversation,” with the players’ and Game Master’s duty being to speak when it is his or her own turn. It even considers most of the Game Master’s job to be as “simple” as preparing interesting things to say.

On the surface, this is a simple idea: do your prep work and you’re ready to go. What does this mean? Have your dungeon maps so you can talk about positioning; your aesthetic, so you can talk about pungent mildew collecting on skulls; your stat blocks, so you can talk about claws and venom; your sketches, so you can reference claws and venom sacs; have your NPCs ready, so they can say things that matter. This all seems to be on the Referee though… what about the players?

Well, theoretically: players should be ready to detail the super awesome stylings of their characters. That is, they should be ready to rogue it up as the Zorro-in-residence or hack up some baddies in a truly wizard Conan impression, etc. They should be ready to play their characters… shouldn’t they? Just as players would probably feel a little disheartened by a Ref who scrawled the night’s dungeon on a Cheetos-stained napkin, shouldn’t a Ref be entitled to feeling blue about players who don’t care about playing up their character? Or is that unfair and inappropriate? Or, worse, is it automatically indicative of the Ref’s own failings? I don’t really think it is… I believe a shoddy Ref can put a damper on anyone getting deep into the story and having things they want to say, but I don’t think players without interested in characterization scenes are automatically a result of a bad Ref.

I would hazard a guess that people get really into their characters when they believe they have something to say… by extension, I would assume people do not get into their characters if they believe they have nothing to say. Characters in vacuum receive less characterization than those in a context, I think.

Distill this down: The “problem” — if there is a problem, and I don’t know that there is — is that these scenes of downtime, these scenes of conversation, these scenes of personality bubbling up from beneath your character’s mechanics are what separate the role-playing game from the board game or the war game. Without characterization, you seem to be playing from fight scene to fight scene with nothing of any worth, story-wise, to sink your teeth into.

Cue Characterization Scene: I Apologize
To clarify, I’m not saying this model of moving from fight scene to fight scene or what have you is bad or doesn’t produce good stories; I’m wondering how to give teeth, to give really gravitas to personal scenes of individual discovery or interpersonal exploration, or quiet moments spent together. Is that impossible? Is this idea simply contrary to the constraints of the medium that is “Cooperative Mechanized Fiction,” or whatever title with which you want to saddle role-playing games? Well, I can think of a few that I hold in high regards because of the intelligence that has gone into giving “quiet moments” a real place.

My Life With Master stands out specifically in the way it mechanizes “things to talk about” through a back and forth, escalating dice mechanic. More simply put (because that sentence, in retrospect, looks tedious): MLWM will give you bonus dice of increasing size if you, in order, bring up physical or intimate contact – emotional overtures – true, genuine sincerity. The intrinsic message is “You will have the chance to roll more successfully if you have characterization right now.” Pull on someone’s lapels, discuss a meal, appreciate music, weep uncontrollably, and so forth. Here is your bonus die.

I suppose Primetime Adventures is worth mentioning, given that its mechanics are simplistic and applicable enough to elevate even casual conversation to hyper-relevance. I blush from its inclusion however, in that it specifically wants every scene to be a conflict — this is good for it. It is emulating television and that is good design, but it disallows the “quiet moments” or scenes of which I’m talking. Breathing room. Emotional space.

What about my current one and only, Apocalypse World? Surely it must no I’m going to stop this sentence right here, no it doesn’t. It offers legitimate mechanical incentive to get to know one another, yes I will admit — but this has actually only offered headaches to my group, as they rarely feel they have learned about one another. The only times they feel like their intimacy has changed have been: meeting the new PC in a bar fight, and attempts on one another’s followers’ lives. They have shared scenes before, they have shared agendas before… but by and large, conversation is not a thing that happens. Sitting and sipping seagull wine on the fence is not a scene. The players don’t need to make scenes to report information to one another, because all too often they’ve been sitting at the table the whole time and it feels silly.

(The easy response here is “invent bad news for one player to give to another!” but I feel that falls to closely on the “ref is at fault” mentality that I don’t think is fair in discussing quiet moments in gaming).

My friend has a hack of AW that is coming together, called The Boy and the Girl, which is relevant to this discussion at least slightly. It is a two-player game meant to emulate Person A saves Person B and is on the run fiction… your Princess Brides and your ICOs. In the game, the relationship between the characters can become strained, and for the most part it takes these kinds of quiet moments I’m talking about to calm it down and keep it manageable.

Monsterhearts
Most recently, in playing Joe McDaldno’s fantastic Monsterhearts, the moments of ‘relationship talk’ have been prevalent… and I would hope so, as that is the aim of this product: to create interpersonal moments for characters to be involved in and react to. I’ve observed a couple of really interesting things about the way it handles this. For one, within the mechanics, one can stick other characters with Conditions that can be used to great benefit when rolling against someone — and that can be automatically removed when actions have been taken to deal with them. There are no mechanics behind this rule specifically; the removal of Conditions is completely up in the air, with specific cases for when other mechanics bring it up.

Okay why does this matter: because it suddenly gives teeth to the pep talk, to crying it out, to getting a make-over, to getting a haircut, to going on a date, to going on a camping trip, to watching the sun rise, to … all of these are questionable scenes. Some gamers would scoff at spending time on them when “nothing is happening,” while others would play them to their heart’s content knowing that, honestly, nothing is happening. In Monsterhearts, if I have the Condition “Workaholic” then I want to narrate that social scene that reveals to the players no, I’m not, see? By design or not, quiet moments have impressive power to transform the advantages and disadvantages facing your character.

Before I forget, this sort of thing extends also to Healing in the game. You can heal one point of Harm simply by saying so (and probably by explaining how it happens). However, you can heal an extra point of Harm but only through the tender, intimate care of another person… possibly with sensual subtext. I read that as someone patching you up with no regard for you doesn’t particularly count; I read that as you need someone who treats you emotionally as well as physically. I especially read it as a small challenge to the player-in-question, in that the Ref can offer an extra point of healing on a string if the character accepts/reciprocates their healer’s advances/innocent interest.

Quiet moments with teeth. The moments in your book, TV show, or movie where suddenly, instantly, its become about a real person with quirks and decision-making and fallibility whom you care about. It isn’t just movement and action anymore. It’s that and more.

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Let’s skim past how bad I am at keeping a blog, shall we?

Hey Look I’m Talking About RPGs
Pre-built adventure modules, a popular idea at one point are — if you believe the word on the internet — basically a cash-sink and not profitable enough to form any part of a sustainable business model.

This is what Green Ronin typically says in response to fans of Mutants & Masterminds when they start asking for more iterations of the Time module series (featuring the two fantastic adventures Time of Vengeance and Time of Crisis). I’ve also heard this as an explanation of why pre-built adventure sets are less common, if not rare, in the modern age of Dungeons & Dragons. If it for some reason actually needed disclosure, here it is: I don’t know how true these claims are, but I’ve heard it from the source itself in terms of GR, and I could certainly believe it in regards to D&D based on what I’ve seen at my local game store. If all of this is true — that pre-built adventures are not a sustainable business practice — what does this really mean? It should be a simple answer, but I personally don’t think it is.

What is meant by pre-built adventure? Or Adventure module? I guess what I mean is a document, book, or file containing the overarching notes or beats of an adventure, with necessary rules to implement any new “moving parts” the module is introducing. It should also include information detailing the important non-player characters of the adventure. Simply, it should provide the people, places, and things you will be interacting with — and the best adventure modules detail them sparsely enough that you may redetail them as necessary for your group.

A 4e D&D adventure I’ve purchased fits these specifications. It has NPCs mentioned in passing, with names and details. It has enemies and rules for them. Rules for how to work the MacGuffin, a new moving part for my game. It gives me the overarching beats of the adventure… the parts that have the plot relevant details in them. Okay.

And Here’s The Point
I also just described My Life with Master — it doesn’t name its NPCs, but it gives you a fantastic almost literary analysis of the major one (the Master) and mentions the use of Innocent NPCs in your game. Similarly, a very in-depth breakdown of beats, set pieces, and NPCs is given for Bliss Stage by Ben Lehman — again, the exact details are up to the GM to nail down, but the broad strokes are there. I’m going to include Poison’d too for its very specific story of piratical drama.

And this interests me. Full games that are focused on specific scenes; specific stories to tell. And what interests me more is the idea that adventure modules are not a sustainable enterprise — while a significant number of indie games are built on the premise of telling highly specific stories. It honestly feels a lot like purchasing theatre exercises, or Roman closet plays… or something of that sort. Picking up a particular type of story to tell, gathering the friends and seeing what characters people would like to see get up to what kind of shenanigans tonight. It’s very Commedia dell’arte, with our particular masks and beats to hit in different ways every time. Yeah, that is actually exactly what it feels like!

And I think that’s really cool.

Just thinking out loud in this one. Nothing ground-breaking. Not dissecting anything, and I haven’t in a while so I probably will soon! I’ve been bad at maintaining this blog as the summer got busy and I got very burnt out on lots of gaming stuff. Just a whole lot of work and feeling like I kept hitting walls – but I’m back to work and getting into the groove of things again. Current things in the pipeline to find their way to this blog:

  • Let’s Talka game of awkward confessions and coffee-colored dice, a silly idea cooked up over my plethora of mocha-colored dice.
  • More information about my martial arts/sci-fi game [preston], a game of underworld heroes and nature spirits.
  • Some actual progress on Children who Play With Monsters (Yay!), my game of children runaway to a fantasy land with their monstrous best friends.
  • An announcement about an additional blog (because really… I need another given I’m bad at keeping up with this one?) meant specifically to house actual play reports, short fiction, gaming anecdotes… a place for things that aren’t quite design-oriented.
  • Maybe photos from my production of Of Dice and Men — if my director lets me!

Apparently tomorrow is kind of a cool day! It snuck up on me, but the time has come for Free RPG Day. That’s all well and good of course — you’ll never find me saying no to free games or a holiday revolving around that idea — but I sadly don’t have any nearby store that is participating, so it looks like I’ll have to sit this one out. A shame! Of course, it doesn’t help my involvement any that I am already 100% occupied tomorrow.

The Dark Knight Rises is shooting downtown y’see, and I do believe I’ll be down there messing around and probably taking pictures for my own amusement! They’re casting Extras and I don’t suspect they’ll choose me by any long-shot, but I might as well get out there and take a look at things, yeah? Besides, I’ll bring a bag, some materials, and I’ll spend the 8 hours I’m waiting working on gaming stuff in the lobby of a glitzy hotel! Sounds pretty cool to me. I could go for a change of scenery at this point.

Work Work Work
It’s really surprising how quickly this idea of mine went from “I love games!” to “Wow, games are work!” but I think I’ve lucked out in one particular regard: I’ve been having fun. There’s really no other way to put it, honestly. Despite all of the writing, despite all of the complaining to myself about mathematics, probabilities, genres, themes, “the promise of premise” and more — I’ve been having a blast being hip deep in this work. And I think that is incredibly to my own benefit. I’ve been writing a lot more and that is always a blast for me — I’ve been blogging here, and I’ve been getting my creative juices flowing in the PBP game of My Life With Master I’m Narrating for; hell, I’ve also gotten to enjoy the narrative spoils of testing out Vendetta although I’ve recently slacked on that. Add to that the chance I have to talk about Houses of the Blooded as the chance to play that crops up frequently with my friend Adam, and that he and I took a break from Wick’s incredible game of ven tragedy to give Remember Tomorrow a try… you’ll see I’ve been having the time of any dice-chucker’s life this past month.

I’ve played unfamiliar board games, alien card games, and experimented with ways to manipulate storytelling more recently than ever before. My head has been pounding with ideas, with concepts, with a metric ton of things I constantly feel the desperate need to get down on paper lest I lose them. I’ve been following game designers on twitter, which lead directly to me discovering a really fantastic humanitarian effort — and when I haven’t been doing that, I’ve been scanning blogs, reading design diaries, talking to people. I’ve been specializing, I guess, and so my knowledge and perspective have deepened and spread like roots. It’s been amazing, is what it’s been. I don’t really have any other way of putting it. It’s transformed a lot of ways I’ve been thinking about things — or expanded it at the very least.

Nothing super special to say today, honestly. Just a day spent looking back and being really happy.

Also, I have a present for all of you out there. Stay tuned!


Time for some more mechanical dump about Children Who Play With Monsters! And some further general musings! However, this post got immensely out of my control and can best be described by the Thinking Out-Loud tag I keep using. Thoughts were spawned while typing out things that I considered pretty solid thoughts, and now a lot more work needs to be done. But, it is presented here as they came to me, with the brain blasts italicized for your convenience.

Character Creation version 1

  • Write out your Child’s Name
  • Write out your Child’s Profile
  • Write out your Child’s Problem at Home
  • Write out your Child’s Problem at School
  • Write out your Monster’s Name
  • Write out your Monster’s Blurb
  • Describe your Monster’s Wish-Fulfillment
  • Select your Monster’s No-nos
  • Select your Monster’s Allowances

The Resolution System (maybe!)
So currently I’m looking at a pretty straight-forward system of conflict resolution. Since I’ve gotten out of Dungeons & Dragons (does Wizards of the Coast really need me to link to them?), and honestly drifted more than a little from d20 System in general, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to more straight-forward resolution systems. Besides a game of Blue Rose that I have going on, Dust Devils and My Life With Master come to mind as possibly the most “crunchy” games I’m interested in at the moment. This may change later, but for now I’m going to stick to some simplistic mechanics and see how far it can take me; it will take the form of a simple d12 or d8 roll against a static number to determine success, failure, or a worsening of the situation. Read on for more.

I’ve selected a d12 for a couple reasons. The first is that, honestly, the d12 is an awkward, strange, misplaced, unique little die. Often overlooked, often unused. Its weird, and I imagine it might have provoked a raised eyebrow or a bit of intrigue when I mentioned it in the above paragraph. That is why I picked it — not for the weird value itself, but for what it can represent. Because the d12 represents the Monsters efforts to accomplish something for himself or on the behalf of the Child, and I feel like the mechanical metaphor was too good to overlook. Especially given the second point supporting the d12: the difference between the d12 and the d8 is about appropriate to represent the discrepancy between the Child and the Monster in terms of capabilities — if I set the difficulty of accomplishment at, for example, 6: the Monster is likely, half of the time, to accomplish what it sets out to do. Similarly, this places the Child in fairly dire straits on his own, and introduces the opportunity for trouble and complications. d12 and d10 feel too close; d10 and d8 feel too close. So, for now, d12 and d8. We’ll see what happens with that!

So what sorts of things will this resolution system deal with in the game? I already know two things it should generally not have to interact with: whatever the player has selected as the Monster’s Allowance will happen without any sort of roll to see if it can happen, although a roll may occur to determine the success of the attempt under certain conditions; additionally, any action that would contravene the Monster’s No-Nos will similar not even be given a roll should the Monster be attempting it, although a roll is still possible by the Child alone. I figure that a Conflict roll will occur whenever:

  • the Child attempts something that is not covered  by the Monster’s allowances.
  • the players or characters need to resolve a difference of opinion in how the story should progress
  • the Child is specifically opposed by an antagonistic force
  • Possibly if a situation would involve the Child’s Problem at Home (I need to think more on this! Possibly a way to tie this all together more tightly!)
  • the player interacts with an unused entry in the Fable (see below)

TANGENT: And at this exact moment as I type this, the idea occurs to me of having some way of keeping track specifically of the relationship with the Monster, and when attempting an Allowance: You pool the dice of the Child and the Monster; when attempting something Not covered by the Allowance, you roll those dice against one another; when attempting something that is in fact a No-No, you roll only the Child’s dice with no opposition. I’d have to look at this, but this is intriguing to me automatically, especially if the die used by the Monster corresponds to the strength of the bond between it and the Child — meaning a higher die size as the bond grows, improving the Child’s efforts so long as the Monster agrees, and a smaller die size if the bond wanes and an easier time defying the Monster… I’d have to really emphasize the benefit/detriment balance of a strong/weak bond with the Monster, and determine a method of changing the die size in relation to events in the story.

TANGENT: Continuing along this now stream-of-consciousness post (I apologize formally if this has stopped making sense, and will work to clarify things in the end), I could see the relationship die size juggling becoming a focus of play if it improves or impairs a given effort of the Child — or rather, an ends of play whose means include pursuing challenges and getting into trouble. Consider a situation wherein a player was counting on a high die type to accomplish something, only to suddenly be reduced to a less appealing size. They then voluntarily place themselves in the way of danger or story-telling complications to restore the die size. This could in fact work well with an idea I’ve been struggling with and calling “The Fable,” a listing in the form of ‘storybook sentences’ of story elements introduced into the game by players — in so far as, drawing from this list of potentially relevant conflicts-in-waiting to introduce complications voluntarily. A few things worth thinking more in-depth about, certainly!

Getting into Trouble
Inheriting the noble tradition of ‘critical failures’ of bygone games, Children Who Play With Monsters calls rolling a 1 “Getting into trouble” and considers it an opportunity to introduce additional difficulties into the lives of the Children and their Best Friends, push the game and story forward, and potentially flesh out their fantasy land. In the above section, I described a conceit called The Fable used to keep track of what beings, places, and happenings enliven the fantasy world and make it more than normal — and a conceit that is used when a Child Gets into Trouble, as they will add a new entry describing a new section of the world, or revise an older entry to reflect their current involvement with it.

Trouble doesn’t end there, however, as rolling the highest possible value on the die signifies an outstanding, smashing success — and that kind of thing can’t go on for too long without drawing the ire of fairy tale irony; rolling the highest value on a die in a conflict is still a success, but raises the Trouble Threshold by 1 (from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, etc) — meaning rolling anywhere within this window will trigger “Getting into Trouble” now. This Trouble threshold needs some way of being reduced, I imagine. I conceive currently that such a reduction can be called for, but it requires the player’s next scene to take place as a flashback to their life at home or at school, somewhere in the real world! The Child goes to sleep, and we are treated to a scene of the life before and we get to understand them a little bit better.

TANGENT: And another brain blast as I sit here writing this right now — I consider the possibility of treating Trouble instead as a static value determined at the start of play when making the Child. From then on, rolling within this Threshold triggers “Getting into Trouble” as described above; related, an interlude as described above can only ever reset Trouble back to this initial value. This divorces Trouble from the dice and places it on the protagonist him- or herself, which I think is another attractive metaphor worth establishing. From here, it’s worth considering that reducing the Trouble rating to Zero could be the/an objective of play — possibly that the Flashback scenes to positive, fulfilling moments of the Child’s life are listed on the character sheet in a section that, once completed, signifies the end of the Child’s adventures. That’d make the objective: Get Trouble to Zero, with “Awaken Fulfilling Memories” the incremental steps towards this objective. If that were the case, then the flashbacks really shouldn’t be simply summoned by players when their Trouble Threshold rises during play — and maybe Trouble Threshold rising shouldn’t then be a matter of maxed out die rolls. Possibly some sort of seesaw relationship between Trouble and the Relationship idea as mentioned in the earlier italicized stream-of-conscious paragraphs — that maybe they should interact, in determining how the campaign ends for the Child.

Tilting the Odds
Remember the Wish-Fulfillment and Blurb settled on when creating the Monster? They come into play in the form of giving the player some help in accomplishing the things they want to do. I imagine players can, in a Conflict, add an additional d8 to their efforts if the object of the Wish-Fulfillment would help them. A Child living a life without the money to buy new shoes will find their Monster the possessor of a vast wealth, and anytime those doubloons would help out: the player receives a bonus for it. Similarly, additional d12s are granted for every word of the Monster’s Blurb that would be beneficial in a situation! If it does not benefit or if it impedes, it is simply discounted or may serve as a story complication at the player’s and the GM’s discretion. And should any part of the Blurb impede the Monster in a conflict between it and the Child? Those  bonus d12s go to the Child! How the tables have turned!

In Summary (of the not stream-of-consciousness sections)

  • Conflicts occur whenever
    • Children attempt something outside the bounds of Allowances
    • Children attempt something that involves their Problem at Home
    • Children are opposed by an antagonistic force
    • Children interact with an unused entry in the “Fable”
    • Players cannot settle a disagreement regarding the direction of the story
  •  The dice used in this game are d12s and d8s
    • Players earn a single additional d8 whenever their Child’s efforts would be improved by Wish-Fulfillment in a Conflict
    • Players earn additional d12s in a 1:1 ratio whenever the Monster’s Blurb words improves their efforts to succeed in a Conflict within the Monster’s Allowances
    • Players earn additional d12s in a 1:1 ratio whenever the Monster’s Blurb words improve the Child’s efforts to resist the Monster when attempting something outside the Monster’s Allowances
  • Conflicts are versus a static difficulty of 6
    • Multiple dice do not stack; instead, players select which rolled value to use
  • Rolls within the bounds of the Trouble Threshold trigger “Getting into Trouble…” and players must add to the “Fable” and describe the nature of this trouble
    • The Trouble Threshold starts at 1
    • Rolling the highest possible value on even one die in a Conflict increases the Trouble Threshold by 1
    • The Trouble Threshold can be reset to 1 by a Child going to sleep
    • When the Child sleeps, the Player narrates a meaningful scene from their previous life

Seriously, you’ll just have to read the stream of consciousness sections. I think they may be FAR more interesting than what I had going into this post. I envision an immense overhaul of this in the days to come, almost without a doubt in my mind. I am really intrigued by the idea of a fluctuating die size/die pool based on strength of the relationship with the Monster and its relation to a static measure of the Trouble your Child is in, emotionally and physically; I’m intrigued by the idea of collecting a score of meaningful snapshots of the Child’s home — a sort of homesickness picture album — serving as the road to completing the game and seeing how your Child’s life turns out; I’m intrigued at tying the Fable in more tightly to the rest of these alternative ideas — Maybe! The Fable representing a sort of fantasy land alternative to the homesickness picture album idea? That it is the opposing system tethering the Child to the fantasy land?

I don’t know! A LOT of ideas, a LOT of stream of conscious! Leave your thoughts below on this jumbled mess, if you so dare! I’d love to hear what anyone reading this thinks, honestly. If your response has to do with number crunching, or story aesthetic, or really anything relevant, let me know. I have a lot to think on at this point, and the only thing that will help me is feedback.

As always, I can be reached at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.

I’ll come up with something, I suppose!


“End-Game?” Where’s the Rest of It?
Possibly the weirdest post I could have gone with to start talking about Children Who Play With Monsters, considering that I’m still working out the kinks of the system; yet, here I am, beginning with the end. My reasoning is that a really huge part of me thinks that I really just shouldn’t bother with the rest of the project if I can’t get the ending to work correctly — what could be worse than sessions and sessions of build up, and suddenly no payoff right when it matters the most? I imagine players don’t enjoy being Blue Diced — and I know for a fact that in the past I’ve felt taken out of the moment, or like I had missed a great opportunity when the resolution of a game I’d been playing in simply seemed tacked on. It wasn’t fulfilling.

So what counts as fulfilling ending? A fulfilling ending, in general, needs to:

  1. Make Sense. An ending apropos of nothing does not work, unless the prevailing thread throughout the story being told itself is “Apropos Of Nothing.” (which isn’t necessarily an unworkable theme, honestly)
  2. Come from the protagonist’s action (not his inaction). The protagonist needs to have gotten himself here, if not actually “pull the trigger” that ends the story (and I think that might be a necessity too).
  3. Resolve something relevant to the character who is experiencing his ending. In the case of Children Who Play With Monsters, this would be the understanding reached regarding the flaws of the parents/flaws of the world and the Child’s personal desires (ie, the real summary of NeverEnding Story is that Bastion learns that his imagination is all that can save the world, but he shouldn’t rub it in his Dad’s face for hassling him about hard work — remember, the Nothing was powered by everyone disregarding Fantasia and imagination)

Looking at these, what work is there for me to do?

Number 1, I have no control over – that is up to the player groups and is really all about them having fun. Moving right along.

Number 2, “Come from the protagonist’s action” is straight-forward enough — players are the sole arbiters of their individual story’s conclusion, and their story should not be considered resolved without their input, and especially their action to bring about a resolution. Do I really need to do anything here? Are there really any rulings to fashion? I imagine that a framework could be put up, one which helps keep things on a “proper timetable” for when the protagonist should go ahead and resolve things. Some sort of system to ensure that endings can only happen during “endings” and not during beginnings. A sort of plot immunity concept? This doesn’t quite have the ring to it that I want, though — honestly, I think this sort of thing is best left solely of the hands of the players; nothing in the final project needs to hold up, protect, spotlight, or highlight the ruling of “YOU ARE THE SOLE ARBITER OF YOUR PERSONAL NARRATIVE’S CONCLUSION,” except maybe a line that says exactly that.

That said, a form of this could be said to exist in Paul Czege’s excellent (from what I’ve read) My Life With Master. Throughout the game, your character’s scores fluctuate based on the outcomes of several scenes until a certain threshold is reached and the finale is entered into and one of several endings is determined — again, based on how your scores compare to one another. This idea right here has a lot going for it that might be worth looking into further, to see what can be gleaned from how it works and how it interacts with MLWM, and what it would require of Children Who Play With Monsters to make it work — the idea of tracking the Child’s interaction with the fantasy world around him, how he is affected by his journeys, and then the final resolution. It’s worth dissecting.

My Life With Master has 6 possible conclusions for each player character involved – they can integrate with society, be killed, eliminate themselves, wander still in the mindset of a minion, seek out a new Master, or become a Master themselves. These conclusions themselves function, in a way, as Number 3 above: They will resolve something relevant to the character and the player… in this case, just what happens to your abused Minion when everything is said and done? Were there a similar set-up with Children Who Play With Monsters, regarding possible endings/the most relevant theme of the game, it would have to revolve around what I explicitly stated above: the understanding of the flaws of the world around you, your individual maturity, and coming to terms with your Hang-Up or Issue (more on these concepts later). And honestly, when I think about it, there are only ever two ways this kind of story can reach its conclusion, a point made clear enough by others already — maybe not so literally, but in the genre it is definitely a question of innocence or maturity. So, I see it as playing and wondering throughout play whether your character will experience the Death of Innocence or the Birth of Maturity.

The distinction here between Death of Innocence or Birth of Maturity is possibly too slim worth considering — though, actually, I personally do not believe that. I see Death of Innocence as what happens when you grow up into a possibly scarred, or more typically just a scrooge of a person, or otherwise stunted. Birth of Maturity would be considered in fantasy story-telling terms as mastering two worlds — you’re not the problem-riddled child you were, but you haven’t lost that defiant spark.

Death of Innocence is what you see in, say, BioShock 2 (really just a very dark game of Children Who Play With Monsters) when Delta harvests a Little Sister… Birth of Maturity would be saving them. Very straight forward, very blunt — but a fairly apt examination of the most truly literal way of interpreting these conclusions, although more loose definitions of these endings are absolutely viable.

In Hook, the sequences where the Captain has been brainwashing Robin Williams’ son, are effectively the type of play to be supported by this game (as long as you ignore the terrifying kidnapping overtones, which are not present in the game). The idea being: Your Child is in a fantasy land, they have everything they absolutely desire, and they have a best friend. Never-Never Land? Check. He’s being groomed to be a pirate captain and he has his own baseball team? Check. Pretend Captain Hook is in a Lion suit or something, and you have a Monstrous Best Friend. The son is reveling in childhood now, but he will HAVE to grow up. That is the point of Children Who Play With Monsters stories — its whether he will develop stunted, or fully formed. And when the time comes, and enough adventures had been had, and the player acts on it, something may be in place to determine the son’s ending. (At first I wondered about how to handle a grown-up like Hook being so very childish; then I remembered in this example he is actually a Monstrous friend, and it only makes sense for him to be an overly zealous child. Interesting idea, the final confrontation being to get away from your friend who just wants to never stop playing)

Maybe track scenes in which the Child’s Hang-Up comes into play, and score it whenever the player succeeds/fails — eventually, having failed so many times involving their Hang-Up, the only possible ending would be Death of Innocence, or vice versa depending on how things develop? To start, I’d have to clearly delineate what I mean by these two options, what is encompassed by them, find some examples of what I’m talking about — and link them to parts of the character creation/character play process. And then, it’s just a matter of the play test grind, I suppose.

Please, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below! Just a general musing this time over some possible ideas, some thoughts I’ve been having. How about you? What do you think of the Death of Innocence/Birth of Maturity dichotomy? Can you think of any books or movies that have an applicable scene or characters worth looking at?

As always, I can be reached directly at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.