Thursday 9 June 2016

These Long-Lost People

Rhadamanthes the Pacifist, who gets a write-up in Cosmic Memory.
It has been an interesting week. 

Yesterday I discovered that my local games shop is going to be doing a demonstration game of Chariot next week, and that they'd been planning it for ages and I didn't even realise. I was quite pleased by that. 

And in the last five days, I posted my three most-read posts in the history of this blog, one of which has elsewhere received a some thoughtful and interesting critique and a lot of hilariously dumb comment (on a par with having people trying to argue with you about what shade of pink grass is, a level on which it's literally impossible to engage with), one which has inspired some thoughtful reflection in several quarters about how to make things better for people who write and publish games... aaaand one which had people interested in how my money got spent.

Because who doesn't like open accounts, am I right?

Anyway, if you're still reading because you picked up on one of those posts, hi, this blog is mainly to support the ongoing development of a game called Chariot, which is a game about me growing up with an obsession for Tarot and the occult Atlantis and a way to reconcile theosophical myth with post-colonial concerns.

Hi. It's good to see you.

Coincidentally, Chariot's black and white print version became available today. If you want a hardcopy and don't want to dig so deep for the $36 colour version, even though the colour version is beautiful, this may be your man. Buy it here.

Backer copies are en route. And hey, you should totally tell people about Chariot. Post about it on forums (yeah, even that one). Review it (if you want a review copy, you know where I am).

In the meantime, Chariot's first supplement, Cosmic Memory, is on its way to being written by my friend and colleague Malcolm Sheppard, one of a very few people who I trust with my baby.

Here's an extract from the draft  introduction to the book. I asked him to write this particularly because he and I both have this concern about universal conflict systems, especially ones where you use the game for social conflict. In the real world you can't for example make someone change their feelings or opinions instantly using conversational moves. 

People aren't, notwithstanding what some people seem to think, software you can program or hack. And when you start dealing with relationships of the heart it can quickly get icky. In talking with some friends, one recounted the tale of a game of one very popular semi-generic system where another player did a successful roll against their character in a conflict and was all, "Right, now your character is in love with mine," and the games master backed it up, and that's kind of a violation. 

Sure, in Chariot's relationships system you can decide who loves you, but those relationships are long-standing. You knew these people already. You're not changing them, you're saying how things already are.
Anyway, enough of me. Over to Malcolm.

These Long-Lost People

I don’t know how you’ll meet these people. There are too many stories to tell, and they belong to you, not me. I can make educated guesses and drop hooks to build your interest, but most of all you should understand that even though Chariot ​tells your story, the tale of the Fated and the last days, none of it matters unless you treat the people you meet like they existed. It’s an illusion, but unless you support it you won’t have empathy for them. They won’t matter to the Fated, and to you, and by extension the Catastrophe won’t matter.

When they grip your arms like true friends, remember that this might be the last time they ever do it, before the world trades their flesh for Akâshic memory. When they raise blades against you, the enemy, know that to them, it’s heroic defiance against the end of everything. Treat that like it matters, and the game comes alive. It’s up to you. 

When you invoke a relationship, you draw them into the epic of the Fated, and together you’re recorded in the last testament ofthis world.

The rest is housekeeping. Let’s get to that.

Conflict Versus Story

Chariot​’s system tackles simple questions of ability and dramatic conflict, but when it comes to swaying characters to your interests, it’s easy to confuse these mechanisms for the natureof the world.

Let’s be straight: You don’t make people love you. You don’t overwhelm people with your force of personality. The winner isn’t the one who yells the loudest or lies the best. Relationships aren’t even about winners or losers, most of the time. Yes, you can use the dramatic conflict system to make people do things, but as with all else in Chariot​, you need a process that can be described in the world, and that might not follow a conflict-­based model, even when that’s the most appropriate system. 

If you’re bargaining with Gomyn the Man-­Farmer for the freedom of someone he’s caught, you might Stake Cups + People against his Pentacles + Will, but that’s only the seed of a story: a set of themes and topics.

Cups is about harmony and fresh possibilities. People represents the social sphere. You’re not beating the shit out of Gomyn with your knowledge of human nature or raw charm. You’re offering the “Man­-Farmer” a new perspective on how to relate to people. How do you make a slaver look at his victims differently?

Gomyn’s Pentacles are about toughing things out; Will concerns his sense of self. The question for him isn’t, “How do I win at keeping my captive?” Those are practical stakes, as far as the plot is concerned, but the choice of traits represent Gomyn’s true objective: to maintain his sense of self in the wake of temptations and moral challenges. Can you find a way to make it impossible to ignore the suffering he causes? Can you preserve his ego by finding a better way? 

Those questions define this moment of the story. It’s nothing like violence, and while the stakes define a winner, the story is about your efforts to save someone from an evil cynical man, by drawing forth some faint moral spark he can understand. Not all conflicts are so ­­— you could have threatened Gomyn into giving his captive up —­­ but remember that even though conflict settles stakes that rise in the plot, it doesn’t mean all stakes are based on antagonism.