Monday, April 21, 2008

The Dying of the Light

We played a great game last night. Ok, so I'm biased, especially since I ran the game, but I thought it went well in any case. But first things first; the title of the game was "The Dying of the Light". Which you should recognize as a quote from a famous poem, right?!? 4 intelligent players last night, and not one of them were familiar with Dylan Thomas' famous poem! Anyway, I will refrain from continuing to rail against my player's erudition.

The basic idea for the game was that we lived in the final stages of the universe. Somehow Humanity has survived the trillions of years necessary, and but a whisper remains of both the universe and the human civilization that spanned it. The sky is dark, because all of the stars have burned themselves out. The final members of humanity huddle in their Dyson Sphere huddled around the last stars. The remaining stars have been frozen in time, and strung in a line. The death of the old star is used to power the un-freezing of the next star, and we join the PCs at this change over.

Of course, given the title of the game, there was no way that star was actually starting up. And in fact, humanity gave all of their remaining stored energy (it was essentially a golden age post-singularity civilization, so the only thing you could lack for was energy) in a useless attempt to help the new star restart. Instead the PCs followed a crazy guy into the new star, armed with devices he claimed would transport them back in time to fix the issue (there was some evidence that the star had been sabotaged billions of years ago).

So they travel back, and emerge at the birth of the star they went into. As it turns out I had already made a big deal that the Final War had started right after the last star was born. So, of course, this star was that last star born and they emerged to see an entire dyson sphere of humanity watching the last starbirth. As they emerged from the star, the Final War between the nihilists and the continueists began. Giant planetoid warships rampaged across the stars. Also, the PCs gained the power to time travel in any way they wished.

Well... That was basically the setup for the game, I'm sure you can agree that it was quite epic. But that doesn't really give you the scale of things. Soon the villain of the piece (who I made the mistake of making understandable and a little sympathetic) was flying around in a literal Starship (with a star completely inside of it!) and causes galaxies to collide so that they would tear each other apart and deny their energy to the end times. After the PCs saved the milky way, we upped the ante to all the galaxies smashing together and eventually to trying to rob the big bang of its energy. This was great for the most part, extremely epic and awesome.

So, that was great, but I've begun to worry that we're getting into a rut of just stunt after stunt, without any real character interaction. Stunting is very good and fun, but I've begun to feel that our games are becoming just stunt strings with nothing else. There needs to be character interaction and acting-roleplaying, or at least my heart of hearts things that. I sorta think we've really explored the whole epic side of adventures, which I've had issues with in the past, but it may be time to turn the games inwards and see what kind of roleplaying will result from that.


Buffalo said...

I definitely would have picked up on your fancy literary reference there. So feel better!

I would definitely say it is possible to get too involved with stunting and have that be to the detriment of the overall game.

With regard to turning inward...well I think this is a rich area to explore. But it has it's landmines too.

In particular, I think there's a risk when you start focusing on character interactions of thinking that more emotional = more depressing = better and end up in games where most character power is taken away, in order to further stress everybody out. This may be a brilliant idea as far as I know, but I historically had serious issues with this type of game (i.e. Little Fears). That's my personal damage or whatever, but it is one of the rare ways games can end up not being fun for me and tempt me to work and cross-purposes with my GM which is bad for the whole group.

Now that I've had my little rant, I have a few other thoughts.

Games like Mountain Witch have tried to model player relationships, but I wonder if these are partly working against things because they tend to encourge players to "bond together" for mechanical benefit which is something our groups tend to do anyway.

You have a variety of games that tend to mechanically force your character along a particular "road to madness" so to speak - Hero's banner for example. They tend to be not so cinematic in style and at least encourage some interesting stuff sometimes.

I think I'm not quite 100% sure what you mean when you say "inner" games. Would non-cinematic, highly elaborated emotional characters, be the goal - or does there have to be some deeper intra-party action?

Ok, that's what I've come up with for now.

Ben said...

Hmm... What I meant by "inner" games is just a less epic focus. Less calling upon the powers of the universe, and more looking to yourself and your friends. In some ways a lower power level, but in actuality what I mean is more of a focus on the characters. I feel like the continual crazy stunting mean that differences in character fall by the wayside.

I want players to feel like their characters matter, that it matters what kind of person they are and how they approach life. Now Persona in particular isn't very good at this, since all roads lead to fragments and roll bonuses. But I feel like epic level stunting emphasizes this loss of individuality.

What I'm definitely not suggesting is that we focus on dark / depressing / helpless games. I mean, I love them, but I know that others don't like them as much as me. But moreover, I think its possible to have a fun character focused game that isn't depressing, why shouldn't it be?

Buffalo said...

Yeah no argument there. Lots of great games for me have fallen into this category, and I agree that one of the downsides of persona is that we don't have seperate power paths to model.

Tim C Koppang said...


Your epic games always sound so awesomly devistating. My first question was going to be what system you were using, but I gather from the comments that it was Persona. Instead, I'll ask, why did you choose Persona? Do you think its mechanics encourages stunting? Or, to put it another way, do you think the Persona mechanics discourage the inner game you're after?

Ultimately, I'm wondering what sort of mechanics do you think you'd need to support or at least allow for the type of lower level personal focus you're after?

Tim C Koppang said...

Buffalo, is that you Mike?

Anyway, I'm not sure what you mean by separate "power paths," but I'm also not sure if that would provide the type of game that Ben is pondering.

If I'm reading Ben correctly, then power paths would still result in increasingly powerful stunt strings. They may be different for each character, but would ultimately result in the same sort of game.

Do you disagree? Can you clarify what you mean by power paths?

Ben said...

BTW, yes, Buffalo == Mike

I think Persona rules, especially the way we've been playing with them recently (which is quite a bit differently than in college) are definitely very stunt-enocuraging. And I wouldn't necessarily say that they push you away from character relevance. I mean, they enocurage you to define things about your character, and then figure out ways of making those pieces fit into every subsequent roll.

I think its less about the persona mechanics inhibiting the kind of gameplay I'm talking about, and more about the settings and stunt setups losing the personal touch. When galaxies are colliding it just doesn't matter if you have a bad relationship with your mother. Sure, you may be looking for ways to stunt your relationship into helping you, but you're not going to reveal new interesting things about your relationship... (Well, thats not entirely true...)

I know Persona can do these kinds of games... I recently ran a game called "My Soul to Keep" based off an XKCD comic... The idea being that each character had a unachievable dream that they wanted more than anything to have come true, so they would reverse the positions of the dreaming world and reality to force their dream lives to become true. This definitely had both a fairly big scale (though much smaller than "The Dying of the Light") and also had some really great character moments.

I think you both have a piece of what I'm talking about, though... Mike definitely has a point that unlike crunchier systems (but like a lot of indie games), the path to character-power is really unimportant. It is difficult, other than in stunt flavor, to differentiate yourself from the others. I think contributing to this is that the current form of Persona is basically "always stunt in all of your fragments" so as long as you can do that, you don't have to worry about what fragments you're choosing.

Power paths don't have to only be routes to stunts, I mean if you had to sacrifice different things based on the power path you pursued, then you've got some character development...

Tim C Koppang said...


I'm not attacking Persona. You know I love the game, but I also think that it is essentially reactive. What I mean is that the type of fragments a player will purchase for his character is heavily dependent on the type of conflicts that the GM creates for the player or group. Of course the fragment list also dictates the type of characters that will result because the list determines a players options.

What I'm trying to do is look at things in reverse. If you know that you want a certain type of feel to your game, then you could, as GM, try to create scenes that focus on that feel. However, because of the built-in openness of the Persona system, it's very easy for thing to get off track (off track does not equal bad per se, but it's certainly different from what you set off to accomplish).

Also working against you is the fact that Persona is ultimately geared toward a type of leveling up. Character inevitably become more powerful, which results in an arms race, which results in epic level conflicts. Again, this isn't bad, it's just what I see the game encouraging.

No game is a swiss army knife. By placing different sorts of limits through mechanics you can encourage or support a certain style of play.

So what I'm asking is what sort of mechanics to you think would help achieve the type of "inner game" that you describe? Your comment about forcing the characters to sacrifice one thing to achieve another type of power is extremely interesting for example. I'm not sure that would necessarily bring things down to earth, but it certainly has the possibility to make the game more about what a character chooses and less about how big the universe is or how cool the character's stunts are.

Am I missing the point?

Tim C Koppang said...

Oh, and by the way, if galaxies are colliding, it totally matters what type of relationship you have with your mother. :-)

I definitely want to play in that game.

I envision a Bliss Stage/Battlestar Galactica mash-up.