GM-Free Scenarios

Why do characters come into conflict with personae? Because the characters want things that differ from what the personae want, or because the personae want things from the characters that the characters are not immediately willing to give. That, of course, is the in-game reason. The meta-game reason is that conflict with characters is one of the things that drives the story, and makes the game exciting. For the same reason, creation and discovery are difficult, and personae might fail, or at least have to accept something that does not quite live up to their hopes.

For creation, the players can decide what their personae are trying to create, and then use the rules to see whether they succeed. For discovery, the die rolls determine how useful the information is, and the available elements shape its content. For interaction, I think I can do something similar, which leads me to a conclusion about the fundamental structure of the game.

I am going to try to make it work without a GM.

However, my default position will be that the players are working from an existing scenario. This scenario might have been written by one of the players, or might be something that they have purchased. At least one of the players needs to be familiar with the rules of the game and the structure of the scenario, and things would probably go most smoothly if all the players were. However, in play, every player has a persona, and every player is working towards resolving the scenario in the way the personae want.

This means that a scenario needs to be playable by someone who has read it. For conventional RPG scenarios, this is not possible, because if you have read the scenario, you know everything that is going to happen. However, a lot of recent narrativist games do away with this assumption, and I’m going to follow in their footsteps. Kannagara will have scenarios that work better if everyone has read them, and reading a scenario should make you want to play it.

One way that Kannagara differs from most recent narrativist games, however, is in the level of rules. I don’t think it’s as complex as it initially looks, but it is a complex game. This means that the scenario will have to provide the elements necessary to support these complex rules. I suspect that, slightly counter-intuitively, this will actually make the game easier to play. Players will not have to decide what their personae do from an infinite menu of possibilities. Rather, at each point there will be a list of options to choose from. Players who are familiar and comfortable with the setting will, of course, be able to choose elements of their own, but that won’t be required. Creativity is hard, which is why I think it would be fun to play at succeeding, and why the game needs to make it easier to create in the game than to do it for real.

Of course, if the scenario is just a list of choices, people will not be inspired to use it. Motivation to play will come from the goals offered in the scenario. This might be possible transformations of the personae, discoveries about the world, or the creation of a great jinja. It could also be forming a good relationship with a kami, or resolving deep=seated conflict between characters.

In order for the game to be interesting, however, the scenario must also offer obstacles and conflicts. The rules for creation and discovery provide obstacles already; if a particular creation is defined as being difficult, then the personae need to find elements and improve their abilities before they can complete it. Characters are another source of conflict and obstacles. They might directly oppose the personae, but more often they have goals of their own that create an indirect obstacle. For example, the personae might want a character to do something she is unwilling to do, or a character might want to do something that will, incidentally, cause problems for the personae.

A character’s role in the scenario, then, is defined by what the personae can do for her, or how she gets in the personae’s way. That is not everything about the character, of course, but the rest can be defined by the players in the course of portraying her. The rest of the character can even have game mechanical effects, by defining what the personae need to do to win the character over. This is one way in which the scenario will be unpredictable, even to people who have read it.

While mechanics will be involved with the all aspects of the personality of characters, they are essential to describing them as obstacles, and that is the issue I will look at in the next post.






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