Saturday, October 20, 2007

Goal Oriented Stunting

Recently, I saw the epic action masterpiece that is Dead Fantasy. The second totally awesome "EAM" from Monty Oum (the previous being Haloid). If you haven't seen these two movies, you should see them immediately (just click those links), at least if you like video games characters doing very awesome violence to each other.

While watching Dead Fantasy, I got annoyed once again by how movies and action sequences can do outrageously great stunts that just do not work in roleplaying. Some of these are fairly simple to describe, like the in ability to just be fast. In the mind's eye of roleplaying combat, moving fast just isn't anything, timing things correctly just isn't anything awesome either. But these are both techniques exploited to great effect in action movies. With Dead Fantasy, however, I saw a different kind of stunting that we never use in roleplaying, but that really rocked. That is linked stunting where you do something awesome in one action, and that changes the environment and you doing something enabled by that in the next action, and so on. Occasionally, you do get this kind of imaginative synergy, and it is really awesome, but the system is actually driving you away from it.

See, the way it works is that as soon as you know there is going to be combat, you immediately start thinking of stunts to do, once you do them, you don't try to build off the last one because someone else's awesome stunt will probably change the situation enough that if you build stunt to stunt, your idea would just be wiped away. In combat you always have goals (hurt the enemy), but you rarely have a specific moment of time (you have a setting of some sort, but not a bunch of things flying through the air or thing moving or toppling), generally you're stunting in a time vaccuum.

I was discussing this issue with Mike, and I even challenged him to get us to develop a system that explicitly encouraged linked stunting (as I was calling it), but instead Mike made a very interesting suggestion:

One thing that might be interesting to me is if we explored how to use stunts to exert more careful control on the game. What if you tried to stunt loosing a fight? Or maybe stunt a fight in which after 3 rounds, the Zeppelin you're riding crashes into a city building? Or a conversation in which (to nobody's in-character desire) a PC and an NPC fall in love?

Perhaps something like a system in which, at beginning of a conflict, the GM and players try to interest each other in challenges with this more subtile stunt goal system. With the prize being experience maybe if the stunting was good? A system like this might also make it possible to try new stuff - like these linked stunts you're talking about - and see what happens.

I thought this was very interesting. Plus, I was very excited about the possibility of doing some of the things that are more far afield for most roleplaying games (like the PC and NPC falling in love). I was especially excited about getting more stunting going on outside of combat, which I feel is a big hole in our stunting abilities.

So in last Wednesday's game we tried some of these. Only briefly, but I hope we get to continue to work with it, because I think it has a lot of value. Actually re-reading it, I don't think I accurately conveyed Mike's idea to the group, but what we did was interesting nonetheless. We tried a scene in which we stunting getting a lead on finding someone in the city we were in. This worked OK, but we were very unsure of how it was supposed to work. If instead of stunting a nebulous goal, we use the kind of goals that mike was talking about, which are very specific sort of side-goals to the stunting, this work work better... Instead of stunting getting a lead for instance would could stunt finding someone, but causing a riot in the process (causing the riot would be the side-goal side of the stunt). I think this could be a useful tool for getting player buy in for plot elements that the GM wants to introduce...

Needless to say, this kind of stunting I think requires a lot of trust between GM and players (and between players too), but I think we can manage it. Unfortunately with new people joining us, I don't know when we'll be able to get back into this experimentation, but hopefully it won't be too long (we don't want to be trying out new things that we're not comfortable with until the new people get comfortable with our group, goes back to the trust thing).

Anyway. We're playing Bliss Stage tomorrow, and I can't wait to see how that turns out. Children in a world of sleeping adults fight aliens in giant fighting robots comprised of their relationships with other characters! Who could want more!?! Assuming we do play, I'll post something about what happened.


Anonymous said...

As you well know, I never do what you tell me to do.

Your riot stunt seemed pretty similar to what I had in mind - what don't you think you got across to the rest of the crew?

Always good to hear of new gamers entering the fold. Though you'll have to let me know if this is anybody I'm familiar with joining the group.

Ben said...

Yeah, the riot thing would be, but we didn't do that. Instead we just did "stunt finding a lead" that didn't work well. I think mainly because people (myself and keith at least) were nervous about stepping on ghen-ki's GM-related toes. As was pointed out in the game, stunting finding a lead is just sort of normal. But stunting finding a lead while causing a riot, now that could be interesting.

I really want to try this sort of side-goal oriented stunting out, and I'll mention it next game (though perhaps not with Bliss Stage, as I think we're going to have our hands full as is).

And nope, no one you know joining up, though I keep trying to get Josh to try out a session... Really, it remains to be seen if any of the people we've invited actually show :) (they've shown interest, but the proof is in the pudding as it were)