My daughter is only six, and is still a sore loser. I've given up trying to play Sorry! with her ... taking one of her pawns in chess can incite her to sweep all the pieces off the board ... etcetera.
Role-playing games can really bring out the sore loser in people. You spend a lot of time crafting a character, and then that character gets killed. Maybe it's by the rules, maybe you think the GM didn't give you a fair chance. Computer RPG's have savegames - you die, you go back, you pretend it didn't happen. With tabletop RPGs I've seen teenaged boys throw temper tantrums, and I've seen grown men turn to whiny bitches after a stray fireball takes their character out.
So you'd think role-playing with my daughter would be out of the question, but we can play Archipelago and it's fine. Why? Because of "Try A Different Way." Anything happens she doesn't like, she can just veto it. I have to come up with something else.
If you're a gamer, you're probably thinking: but that's cheating!
And if you're an improv actor, you're probably thinking: that's shooting down someone else's contribution. That's not cool.
I know, right? That's why we have rules. So we can agree ahead of time on what we're okay with. If we discover we're not okay as we thought we'd be, well, that's interesting. Better luck next time.
Here's the thing, though: role-playing games really are separate beasts from board games. They're stories and they can go places that we don't want them to go. In rare cases we need some kind of safety to protect us. Ron Edwards called them "lines and veils" - sometimes you need to draw a line, say, "I don't want to go there." Sometimes you need to "pull a veil over it" - do it off-camera.
Games need these safety valves whether they're written explicitly into the rules or not. (If they're not, and you don't want to allow a safety valve, your safety valve will probably be somebody quitting.)
So as long as we have this valve, why not put it explicitly into the rules? A protocol for drawing a line or veil, that tries to be fair.
And then why not let people use it for everything, so they can make the game into the kind of game they want it to be, on the fly?
Traditional role-players don't like it when someone else controls their character. But role-playing rookies new to GM-less games don't see the divide and have no problem with it. With TADW, the traditional role-player can say, "Hey, hands off my character," while everyone else enjoys what comes naturally to them.
But isn't there potential for it to be abused? You're supposed to use it when it would muck up the game for you. If you use it too often, it'll kill the momentum. If somebody's a jerk, or if they're playing to win, they could use it to deadlock the game. Well, so far in my playtests - blind or not - that hasn't happened.
BUT it's very complicated to explain. Sometimes you can push back against another player's contribution 'in-game': "I cut your hand off" "No, I pull my hand out of the way!" - and sometimes 'out-of-game': "I kill you dead" "Try a different way! I don't want my character to die just yet." Trying to explain the difference and keep the rules light is a serious challenge.
I think the answer I'm going to go with is to borrow from In a Wicked Age. With IAWA, you can say, "Wait, no, that doesn't happen" - but then you roll some dice. And you can lose. But then you can choose - do I give in and let the other player have what they want, or do I exhaust a limited resource which will result in me having less narrative authority and possibly my character's death?
In other words - although your character could always die with In a Wicked Age, nothing else will happen unless you're okay with it: "The soldier rapes you." "No he doesn't." (Dice roll - the king's player wins, but the loser narrates.) "He threatens me with his sword - I run - he slashes at me and I get hurt - but I'm not raped."
There's one kind of line/veil that, at first, this doesn't seem to cover: what if something you can't stand happens to someone else's character? You have recourse there as well. "The soldier rapes him." "No he doesn't - I rush to his aid and stop the soldier."
So ... that's where I'm going with the next draft of That's Drama. You have a hand of cards and you can trump to get your way - but you can also expend a card permanently if you really don't like where the story is going. The worst that'll happen is you use up all your cards, and your character will have to exit the story. (I'm softening In a Wicked Age still more by saying they 'exit the story' rather than 'they die' - maybe they leave town or something.)
When I'm reading a role-playing book, nothing makes my eyes glaze over quicker than seeing a big pile of setting material. "These vampires don't like these other vampires, and these vampires are white-skinned, and these vampires like to cook..."
Setting material in the form of lists (here's all the characters you can be; here's a random list of monsters you might meet) are okay, because you aren't expected to know them, they're just reference, but still - if it's not a setting I'm interested in, I'm still going to be alienated. There might be a lot of good fantasy games out there that aren't D&D, but I'm done with fantasy, so it's a hard sell.
I wish I could find the quote I keep quoting: we love our children more than anyone else's, and that's particularly true when the children are ideas. Involve me in the setting creation, or let me and my friends create the setting completely!
Every game of In a Wicked Age I play, we sit down and create a little sketch of our bronze age fantasy environment. It's probably poorly drawn and rudimentary, but I love those worlds more than almost any other fantasy kingdom. (Middle Earth still wins.) Because those worlds are our children.
Of course, if you're a big company trying to make money, what are you going to do? You want to own some IP. You want a world you can set not only your games in, but you probably want to branch out into comics and novels and hopefully tv shows and movies.
Not to mention, you ask someone what draws them to a particular game, they're probably going to say: The Setting. "I like Vampire because it has vampires."
But for me, it's almost a no-brainer. I want to let people play in whatever setting they want. I don't want to own some IP; I want as many people playing it as possible. If someone's turned off by vampires and someone else is turned off by space opera and someone else is turned off by cop shows ... I still want them to be willing to try my game.
But how do I sell that? It's easy to say, "Hey, this game has vampires." It's hard to say, "This game has whatever you want." Because, honestly, if you really want a vampire game, a game that's first and foremost meant to be about vampires is probably going to do it better. So how?
I first got the idea of Motivation cards after playing a game of In a Wicked Age that didn't quite pop. In a Wicked Age, a bit like Paranoia and The Mountain Witch before it, is very much driven by the characters having goals that they're avidly pursuing - goals that are incompatible with each other. A pregnant situation is created, and something's got to give. You don't need an adventure for the characters to go through - in fact, such a thing is just a distraction, because the characters have their own plans.
Unfortunately, it's easy to screw up the goal-setting - (IaWA calls them 'best interests') - and end up with a game where the players goals aren't all that incompatible. Worst case, each player has a goal that doesn't interact with any of the other players, and it's like each of them are playing their own little two-player game with the GM.
I also think there's a certain fear of pissing other players off when people sit down to play a game of In a Wicked Age. Maybe they're strangers, or maybe they're used to D&D where you're (usually) all supposed to cooperate towards a common goal ... they're just not that likely to get involved in, say, a love triangle, one of the staples of drama.
Since, IMO, the best interests are the most important part of In a Wicked Age - more important than the Oracles, the method it uses to randomly choose story elements, which tell you what the game is about, but won't necessarily drive play - it seemed to me we should have some kind of "Best Interest" Oracle.
Which is something like The Mountain Witch - where everyone draws a Dark Fate card, and that guides their play - but the players all know each other's fates. And it's something like Fiasco, where some needs get randomly generated and shared between the players.
So I posted this idea on Story Games, and they refined it. I was particularly excited about Jason Morningstar's Shab Al Hiri Roach mechanic, where the motivations go in a circle: everyone loves the character on their right and hates the character on their left. Why not do that with these Motivation cards, I thought: all the characters will have issues that involve the character on their right, and be involved with the issue of the character on their left.
Less flexible than In a Wicked Age, sure - but it'll create an untenable situation every time.
Since I came up with the idea, I've been watching shows, movies, and reading books - and always asking myself, "What is this character's motivation? What is this character's motivation?" And trying to make sure that whatever it was, it could be expressed by one of the That's Drama Motivation cards.
Turns out there usually is not a lot of variety in motivations. Love and revenge are the most common. I ran out of ideas after eighteen cards, and since then haven't seen a motivation where I said, "Oh, I need to put that in the game."
That said, there are some 'tricky motivations' that are hard to game - any motivation about self-actualization or self-realization, for example, like Bill Murray seeking enlightenment in The Razor's Edge.
To keep some flexibility, for that rpg veteran who likes more control over their character's ambition, I added wild cards: invent your own motivation, as long as it involves the character on your right. Because I thought vets would want it. Interestingly, in playtesting, I've only seen a wild card used once. Some have suggested I take them out. I'm left them in, for now, because I don't see how they hurt anything. But it's a neat data point - it makes me feel like I'm really onto something with these motivation cards that seem constraining at first but really just let people express themselves.
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