Creative Actions

So, how do we go about describing the actions that characters take while trying to come up with ideas?  The first step is to think about the talents and abilities that characters will have scores in. We’re going to want different ones from most role-playing games, because our emphasis is different, and we probably don’t want a talent for creativity, because it would end up being too central. Everyone would want it to be as high as possible.

The talents should be general, so that they can be used for ideas in any field. The abilities, on the other hand, should be quite specific. A really creative classical composer might have some advantage when it comes to dreaming up the concept for a novel, but not that much of one. Again, to make any progress here we are going to need to be specific, so let’s go back to the artistic example.

A potential first talent is Empathy, the ability to understand the emotions and motivations of others. This is obviously important when trying to improve the Resonance of an idea; if you don’t understand what people feel, it will be harder to create an idea that inspires emotions. Another benefit is that it can clearly be applied to other fields. If I extend the game towards interactions with people (which I would like to do; creating most things requires interacting with others), this talent will be very useful.

Next, let’s think about how we might increase the Transparency of an idea. Part of this, at least, is the ability to put the elements of an idea together in a pattern that can quickly be realised in a concrete work of art. We could call this Synthesis, the ability to put diverse elements together in a new way. This is a talent that also has broad application. It’s clear how it could be used in creating scientific theories, for example, and also in solving mysteries.

That leaves the Originality. Here, it might actually be a good idea to just call the talent Creativity. It only applies to one aspect of coming up with ideas, so players are unlikely to over-emphasise it. It’s also obviously applicable to other fields and other stages of creating something.

At this point, each talent is linked to one of the three statistics of an idea. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as long as we are careful about the way the abilities apply. It helps players to understand what the talents actually do, which can be quite important. As long as, in the final game, they are useful for multiple activities, I don’t think a bit of matching up here is a large problem.

So, what about the abilities? Here, I think it’s best to talk about the general structure of the abilities, rather than about specific examples, as the goal is to have different abilities for every genre of artistic production. (In the game, the genres would be defined by having their own abilities, neatly resolving an issue that’s quite difficult in the real world.)

A first ability is knowledge of previously existing works in the field. (Creating an entirely new genre is something that the rules should, ultimately, cover, but it’s also something that should be a bit more difficult than just creating a work of art in a genre that doesn’t exist yet.) This would, logically, work with all three talents. It is easier to be original if you know a field well, because you have a broader sense of possibilities, and, obviously, a knowledge of the field means that you know how certain ideas have been realised, which helps with Transparency. Finally, it gives you knowledge of a range of emotionally effective elements, so it should also help Resonance.

However, this is a bad idea. It means that you only need one ability to come up with an idea, which means that there’s no point having any other abilities. Structurally, it would be better to have three abilities, each of which can apply to two of the idea statistics. That way, each character needs two of the abilities, but can choose which two, and also choose which aspect of creating ideas to be best at. This allows for differences between characters, which is important if there’s going to be a group.

The pairs are Originality and Resonance, Originality and Transparency, and Resonance and Transparency. Simple knowledge of existing work in the field is best applied to Resonance and Transparency, since the connections are most direct in those cases.

Originality and Resonance is, perhaps, best linked to knowledge of what you are trying to portray. If you are trying to write a novel about Chinese peasants, knowing a lot about Chinese peasants will make it easier for you to find new things to say, and to find things to say that will inspire people to feel the way you want. Obviously, this won’t work for art forms that don’t have content of this sort, like purely abstract painting. However, that’s a relatively small section of art, so we can, if necessary, come up with a different ability there.

What about Originality and Transparency? Again, we want to make this specific to the project, not an ability that you can always use. This one is a bit difficult, since the two obvious options have already been used. However, we can narrow things down a bit.

We’re still at the stage of coming up with the idea, so it’s a bit hard to see what it can be, and still be specific, if it isn’t knowledge of something. Making it knowledge is also consistent with the others, which is a good thing. So, knowledge of what?

It needs to both suggest new things to say, and ways to say them. That suggests that knowledge of a related genre will be suitable. If you are trying to write a Serious Literary Novel, then knowledge of Romance, Science Fiction, or Epic Fantasy would help. These other genres may contain ideas that haven’t yet been applied in the genre you are working with, thus helping Originality, while also providing worked examples of how to apply those ideas, thus helping Transparency. This won’t be a unique ability, and it does mean that if you know two related genres well, you can produce anything in either. However, given the incidental knowledge you would gain by studying both genres, that’s not unconvincing.

So, the talents and abilities for increasing the statistics of an artistic idea are Empathy, Synthesis, and Creativity, while the abilities are knowledge of the genre, of the subject matter, and of a related genre.

We still haven’t addressed the question of how you describe what your character is doing, although assigning talents and abilities does help with that. Trying to come up with an idea is basically a matter of sitting around and thinking about it, which has the potential to become this game’s equivalent of “I swing at it”.

Since the abilities involved at this point are knowledges of some sort, a good way to describe the action would be to say what bit of the knowledge you are drawing on, and use the applicable talent to say how you are doing so. So, for example, you might say “I try to think of cases in Epic Fantasy where the main character is shown betraying his ideals, without becoming a villain”, in an attempt to increase the Transparency of an idea. As with descriptions of the results, this should give bonus dice: 1 for a simple description like the example, and 2 or 3 for a more exciting description.

It might also be appropriate to add something like the combat manoeuvres you find in other games, but I think we’re too early in development to look at that sort of complication just yet. I need to make sure I have a properly functioning framework before I start adding bells and whistles.

Another reason for not looking at complications yet is that I’ve still not talked about the actions appropriate for reducing difficulties or increasing dice pools. Those will be the topics of the next two posts.

Posted in Game Design.

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