Making it Real

As anyone who has ever created something knows, getting the idea, while essential, is not the hardest part, or at least not the part that requires the most work. Turning an idea into an actual creation is a major undertaking, and something that should also be central to this game. Actually, in some cases there is a further stage: music and dance needs to be performed, while industrial prototypes need to be put into production. However, this isn’t always the case. While a novel, for example, does need to be distributed, the distribution stage is entirely mechanical, and not really an interesting topic for the game. (Marketing is a different matter, and one that, again, applies to everything.) However, in all cases there is a step of turning the idea into something concrete, so I need to provide rules for that. Again, I’ll talk about art works to make things concrete, but the same basic structure should apply to scientific theories or inventions.

These rules should determine the quality of the final product, because when the activity they represent is finished, so is the product. The quality of the initial idea should influence the quality of the final product, and should do so quite strongly. However, the quality of execution also affects the final quality. Both aspects influence the final quality in all cases. A brilliant idea, poorly executed, is generally not a good work of art, although it does have redeeming features, and so is not as bad as a poor idea, poorly executed. This means that both aspects of quality must be reflected in the final result. For example, using the quality of the idea to limit the quality of the product will not quite work. The idea would not redeem a poorly-executed work.

However, there is a structure that could work for this. If we convert the qualities into dice, the execution could provide a dice pool, while the idea provides the number of dice you keep. This feels right to me; poor execution of a brilliant idea tends to have a lot more going for it than brilliant execution of a poor idea. It also allows works of art to be a bit unpredictable in how they affect people, because that would be determined by rolling the dice.

We could just use the quality as the number of dice, but that’s likely to produce an excessively large dice pool. If we divide it, however, we create thresholds in the difficulty range. Suppose that we divide by three, rounding up. In that case, a quality of 6 is no better than a quality of 4, as both give you two dice. The question is, is this a problem?

I think it may not be. If you have a statistic on 6, then it is probably worth trying to boost it, even if your chances of getting it up by 1 are very small. On the other hand, if the statistic is on 7, it might be sensible to give up. We can make this difference accessible to the characters, by saying that they can tell when something is very nearly working, so the decision can be in character. This will add a bit of tension, when characters try to gather as many bonuses as they can to get just one more point of quality, before the resistance of the idea increases and makes it truly impossible.

Another advantage of doing things this way is that it allows us to treat the execution of the idea as mechanically independent of the quality of the idea, which allows us to simply reproduce the basic structure of the mechanics for coming up with an idea. This is a good thing; as I’ve said before, using the same mechanical structure repeatedly tends to make a game easier to play.

There is one point of difference. I have to find a way to incorporate the Transparency of an idea into the process of execution. It’s supposed to be easier for a higher Transparency, so I can’t use the Transparency as a difficulty or resistance. I can, however, use it as a pool of points that can be subtracted from the resistance of various statistics during the execution process. The players can only use the points once, but they can split them between as many different cases as they like, or not use them at all on some rolls. They should probably only be allowed to reduce resistances, not the difficulties resulting from high qualities, but even so a high Transparency would allow you to boost the statistics of the execution quite substantially.

So, what are those statistics going to be?

A first, obvious, candidate is Accessibility, which measures how easy it is to get into the artwork. The Harry Potter books are very accessible, James Joyce’s Ulysses is not. Most people would say that the Harry Potter books are better, because high accessibility increases the number of people who can appreciate your work. However, that doesn’t mean that the Harry Potter books are, in fact, superior. (Having read both, I’d like to reserve judgement; they’re not exactly easy to compare. Yes, that does mean that I don’t think that Ulysses is obviously better.)

Another possibility is Embedding. This would measure how much the work refers to and draws on a wider culture. The more you do this, the more you can draw out the idea, but the less accessible the work tends to become. If someone has to understand the references to understand the work, the size of the potential audience drops substantially. If you do it well, however, you can do it without sacrificing accessibility, and make the work richer.

Those two statistics both refer to the content of the work. Let’s call the last one Technique, referring to how well the work is executed on a purely technical level. For a novel, this covers grammar, pacing, and characterisation, among other things.

If we go with this proposal, a completed work of art has five statistics: Originality and Resonance, for the idea, and Accessibility, Embedding, and Technique, for the execution. The Transparency is no longer important once the idea has been executed.

How would they work together for, let’s say, a novel?

Accessibility + Resonance could determine how appealing the book is on first reading, and thus how well it sells to start with. Accessibility + Originality determines whether people quickly think it’s a new thing, or whether it is shelved as derivative. On the other hand, Embedding + Resonance would be a good way to determine how engaging the book is on repeated readings, because the cultural embedding gives the emotional hooks more depth. The embedding allows the readers to discover more about the book every time they read it. Embedding + Originality could be used to determine how original the book seems on considered reading, against the whole cultural backdrop. Technique, on the other hand, might be used when the book is trying to defend itself against criticism. If your technique is good, it is harder for a hostile critic to tear the book apart.

This little exercise makes me think that the best way to come up with the statistics for a creation is going to be to look at how it is going to be used in the wider game, and then provide the statistics necessary for that. You may have noticed that some of the pairings above were a bit strained, but in a game that’s all about establishing a literary reputation in a hostile circle (say, a game set at the court of Heian Japan), the role of Technique might be very important.

In any case, I think they are good enough to serve as a worked example. The next step is to assign talents and abilities to the execution process, and that will be the task of the next post.

Posted in Game Design.

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