19 Questions: Stranger Things

Sunday, February 05, 2006

These questions are courtesy of Troy Costisick, and his blog.

1.) What is your game about?
Supernatural action-adventure featuring bigotry, hatred, understanding and compassion.

2.) What do the characters do?
They have prophetic dreams about people in crisis, seek out those people, and resolve the crisis (for better or worse).

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
Players: Create a half-human, half-demon Stranger and choose the elements of his or her Dream. Confront the elements of the prophetic dream in the world. Judge the situation, and act to create change in the lives of the people in crisis.
Directors: Flesh-out the dream elements into characters and situations. Reveal the dream in play.
Everyone playing may change roles from Player to Director during or between sessions, depending on group preference.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is the sprawling, gothic City of Forgotten Gods. Humans and Demons must live in close proximity in the City, which is the last haven against the Wild. The City creates a pressure-cooker situation in which the two peoples must confront each other -- with hatred and fear, or compassion and understanding. As hybrids of the two peoples, the Strangers are caught in the middle.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
During character creation, all the participants map out (by consensus) which traits are considered "human" and which are considered "demonic." This creates a stereotype for each people, which are then challenged or reinforced through play.

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward?
The game rewards thematic play, with a focus on Color, Character, and Situation. It provides a constant cycle of traded narration, so off-the-cuff creative descriptions are expected. It also rewards good flagging and flag-framing by Players and Directors.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
The game ties the reward cycle to the resolution of the dream crisis. The Stranger must confront the dream, and in doing so must confront the human/demon crisis in the city. This confrontation and resolution of the crisis results in empathy for the Stranger, who then changes as a result.
PCs are rewarded through Relationships (which grant more effectiveness and additional author power) and through Empathy (which are bonus traits that grant effectiveness). PCs also change and shift along the human/demon spectrum as play goes on.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Players have ultimate authority over their Stranger and her relationships. They also choose the elements of the prophetic dream that will then make up the Stranger's new crisis situation. Players narrate all failed rolls for their Stranger.
Directors have ultimate authority over the NPCs. They create the crisis situations (and NPCs) using the dream elements chosen by the players. They frame, start, and end scenes. The Director narrates all successful rolls.

9.) What does your game do to command the players' attention, engagement, and participation?
The players choose the elements for the situation that their Strangers will confront. Since they had a hand in its creation, they are engaged in its outcome from the start. All players are always participating, either controlling a Stranger, Directing a scene, or contributing suggestions and Color as audience.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
A conflict can be called by any player. A conflict resolves stakes created and agreed upon by all participants. The player who calls the conflict names a trait of one Stranger that will be tested by the conflict. Then a d10 is rolled and compared to the Stranger's Number (2-9). For human traits, the d10 must roll above the number for success. For demon traits, the d10 must roll below the number for success.
There are additional mechanics for multi-roll conflicts, re-rolls, and injury.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
The human/demon split is part of every roll. Assigning traits to human or demon sterotypes during pre-play helps the players create the atmosphere of ignorance and misconceptions that exists in the City when the game starts. Strangers must resolve their prophetic dreams. Dreams don't resolve until the people in crisis have confronted their fears and desires. They can only confront their fears and desires via conflict rolls, and only Strangers can make conflict rolls. So by necessity of the resolution system, all the crisis must funnel through the Strangers.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Strangers gain effectiveness via Empathy and Relationships. The Number can also shift as a result of play, moving towards human (lower number), demon (higher number) or a midpoint.

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
As the Stranger gains empathy, traits are added to a special re-roll pool that is neither solely human nor demon based, but a blend of the two. Relationships also grant re-rolls. A character with empathy for his fellow people, with connections to those around him, is more effective than a detached loner.

14.) What sort of effect do you want your game to produce for the players?
Creepiness (it's a game of supernatural and occult trappings, after all).
A sense of pride in taking the flags offered by another player and creating something they really enjoy.
The thrill of important stakes riding on the bounce of a die and the resources spent to win it.
Some understanding of fear, ignorance, bigotry, and compassion as it relates to the real world.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
Names and places, particularly in the form of the illustrated map tiles that make up the City. Why? Because these things are used as a menu of Flags for players to choose from when presenting material for the Director to run with.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
The map tiles. They are instant, powerful Color for the game, and are a great resource for Flags.
The human/demon split for traits and how they relate to a Stranger's Number. Also, the idea of a changing Number and Empathy traits to reflect the events of play.
The Dream Sheet, which is like a character sheet for the Director to use for creating situations on the fly.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
I think this game addresses bigotry and compassion very directly. Not sure if another game has done that, exactly (though it does share some thematic similarities with Polaris, Dogs, and Trollbabe).

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
POD books via Lulu, hopefully sometime in March or April.

19.) Who is your target audience?
The indie gamer scene and people interested in RPGs who are just starting out. Hellboy fans. Andy Kitkowski.

Well... that took way too long. But it's a pretty good questionnaire. I can see some things in a better light now. Also, I can see that my game is pretty much doing what I want it to do now, which is a nice feeling.

What do you think? Anything up there pushing your buttons, one way or the other?

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14 Comments:

Anonymous Judd says:  

You've got my money.

Stop fucking with me.

C'mon now.



Anonymous Anonymous says:  

When was the move made from blood/fire/shadow to human/demon/*compromise*? In all of the AP I've read, you use the TB fighting/magic/social split still.

It seems like a wise choice- I wasn't sure how the demonic gifts in various character descriptions would have been used otherwise... and it plays to your thematics of bigotry.

Some questions-

Do all the Strangers in play share the same Dream? Or does the GM tie these dreams together... beyond those connections which would arise in play through player choice?

Without the fighting/magic methodology split in conflicts, how is Action Type applied? A Human might fight with sword and shield, a Demon with claw and fang... I'm having trouble conceptualizing how this split works, as both types can be used in the same types of conflicts... or are you removing the concept of action type completely? Does choice of human or demon relate to the way the Dream is resolved? Does addressing certain elements of the Dream demand a Human or a Demonic approach?

I’m quite looking forward to this- consider me another sale.

-Ben



Blogger Ed says:  

Wow! Stranger Things is getting even cooler!



Anonymous Anders says:  

If I weren't excited about this game already, all eager to buy and play it, reading this would definitely have triggered my interest.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Judd: Suck it up, nancy.

Ben: Good questions. Blood, Flame, and Shadow are still part of the game. They are now re-roll types. Each Stranger starts with one re-roll in each (supernatural strength, strange aura, spirit sight), and can create three additional. Blood re-rolls are for physical stuff, Flame is for social/charisma, and Shadow is subtlety and deception. Demonic gifts can be taken as part of your three extra re-rolls, or they can just be Color.

There are 18 traits (action types), 6 in each of the three broad categories (Blood, Flame, Shadow). Each item in a group of six gets assigned as human or demon by the players in pre-play.

So, for Blood, you have these action types, which could be assigned this way:
- Brutal (human)
- Graceful (demon)
- Powerful (demon)
- Precise (human)
- Swift (demon)
- Tough (human)

When a conflict is called, the action type is specified by the person calling the conflict, like this: "I think we have a conflict. You'd have to be pretty Brutal to beat up a defenseless person for information."

So it's a test of Brutality, which has been set as a human trait, so the player needs to roll over her number to succeed.

Brutal is a Blood trait, so the player has her Blood re-rolls available for this conflict (and relationship and empathy re-rolls as well).

Here's a link to the current draft of the character sheet, so you can see what I mean about traits and such:

New Stranger Sheet (PDF 93kb)

Each Stranger has its own Dream. The player fills out part of the Dream sheet, then hands it to the Director, who fleshes out the NPCs. Imagine creating a town in Dogs if the players chose the Sin progression and some imagery first, then handed it off to the GM to finish.

You can play with a single Director who manages all the dreams, or (like we did in the last playtest) you simply hand your dream sheet to the player on your right, who will Direct your Stranger's scenes. Then everyone switches roles each turn, from Director to Player to Audience.

Ed, Anders: Glad to hear you're excited. Me too. These changes have really made me happy about the game again.



Anonymous Anonymous says:  

Deeply Awesome- I can see now what you mean by this evoloving from its roots as a Trollbabe minisup into a game which stands alone mechanically and thematically.

The dream sheets strike me as something players could fill out and get into the GM in the week before the game, so as to give him time to really cook them... or, if you're groud is more experimental, you can 'pass it left' and your compadre can wing it... I dig both styles of play, but game with people who would prefer one way over the other.

Catagories of rerolls- a groovy concept. Is this one medium for advancement? Can characters gain additional reroll through experience, or is this an aspect of Empathy/Relationship formation?

I love the idea of assigning Traits as either Human or Demonic- you define the esential human/demon conflict this way... I can see as a GM using these choices to color the world... if 'Brutal' is human in your world, then I can see describing brutal treatment of freaks and mutants and demons and such in passing- using it as color in fleshing out scenes.

I really can't wait to try this out... anything some random guy on the web can do to help things along?

-Ben



Blogger Troy_Costisick says:  

Heya,

Two things. First, I'm totally into your game now. I only casually followed it before. Now I can't wait for its release.

Second, this is one of the best example yet of someone answering the Power 19. I hope you don't mind if I link it from my Blog. You did a very nice job.

Peace,

-Troy



Blogger John Harper says:  

Sure thing, Troy. Link away. And thanks for the questions.



Blogger Clinton R. Nixon says:  

John,

Man, this went from good to awesome. I want to play now, massively. In fact, this may be the very next thing I run with my group (depending on when you get it ready.)

I will play from playtest notes and scribbles.



Blogger John Harper says:  

Sweet! I'll send you some rough notes on the new game procedures, but you probably already picked most of them up from the notes here and there.



Anonymous SDL says:  

#5 is awesome!

Setting up what the two sides are like during chargen is so cool.
That lets the players invest what they care about into the setting right from the get go, and gets them right to pulling it out.

I am so totally stealing this.



Blogger joshua m. neff says:  

John, I have seriously not been this excited about an RPG in a long, long time. I think it looks spectacularly keen. I'm very much looking forward to its release.



Anonymous Anonymous says:  

Honestly, this looks awesome. Do you need any...no, scratch that, I have enough on my plate as it is. Just please tie this game up nice and neat as soon as you can. Thank you.



Blogger Mark Causey says:  

What's your status on this, John? :)



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