madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
[personal profile] madunkieg
My friend Rob Paterson has analyzed and created a breakdown of good storytelling here. Since games often incorporate stories, I'd like to show how it applies to good game design, and how even better characters can come from it. Let's look at Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard (DitV).

DitV is a very structured tabletop role-playing game about holy justice-bringers in the wild west. It's based loosely upon the Mormon religion, exaggerating the violence.The characters travel from town to town, rooting out and fighting heretics and demons. Effectively, DitV is a story about establishing and maintaining order (#8 on Reiss' list). This is the level that Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) operates at, too, although I suspect that D&D is more accumulating something (called "12. Saving" on Reiss' list) than creating order.

The thing that differentiates DitV from D&D is that,in DitV, the plot isn't the core question around which the story revolves. There's a struggle between ethics, as shown by the code of conduct developed by the players, and morality, as shown by the individual character. Is it okay to root out evil? To what degree will you punish sinners? The story is actually about self-actualization. The difficulty of creating a game around self-actualization is that it needs a certain amount of flexibility.

Premade scenarios, like those created for D&D, assume that characters have had certain encounters and those encounters resulted in certain conclusions (such as victory, or at least survival). DitV seeks to allow characters, and, by extension, their players, to explore those self-actualization questions without assuming any particular answer. In return, the gamemaster's job is to create scenarios that respond to and challenge the previous answers that each player character came up with.

Yes, this is all possible in D&D, but DitV focuses upon this morality/ethical struggle. The twist is that the code of conduct in DitV, the ethics, were designed collectively by the players and rewarded by the rules, while moral codes are handled individually and punished by the rules. Add onto this the usual individual desires and subplots. Because the story is about self-actualization, a good gamemaster can use those to artificially conflate desires with sin. After all, desires are individual, and DitV punishes individuality.

This layered approach to generating a meaningful story is a good one, but I wouldn't want to make it any more complex than this. Additional layers would just make it confusing.

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madunkieg: The Fool from the tarot deck (Default)
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