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  • Stages

    This question came to me as I was contemplating GMS's most recent article.

    What are stages?

    I know what they are, but what do they become? In other words, once a stage is run, what do you do with it? In a single stage game, this is a simple enough matter - you run the stage from time-to-time for the fun of it, kind of like monopoly: same board, different game every time.

    But to use Arcana as an example, GMS has stated that he will likely create a game of stages. But to have a story in this style of gaming, I would suspect that some level on continuity needs to exist. If you have continuity of story, how could you repeat the stage? My initial solution, were I designing Arcana and not Qigung, would be to create stages around nodes of evil - gates to hell, if you will, where evil periodically erupts and to which players must return again and again to stem the tide. This would help build a player base, giving characters somewhere to flex their gaming muscles and improve their characters. Other, more important stages would drive the larger plot and would only be played once, and by invitation only.

    In Qigung, I want to offer the same thing, or something similar. My stages will likely take two forms - generic quests or patrols that can be played over and over by different groups of players, and single event stages where some major plot point is resolved.

    My question, if I have a question, is - is this how stages are intended to be used? If you have other ideas, I'd like to hear them.

  • #2
    I like the idea but it seems that the standard stages for generic quests and patrolls is kinda redundant. I think that its necisary to have a place to build your character but I wish that it wasnt necisary. In books you dont read about the story members going on the same patrol over and over again unless they have discussions which advance the plot. In rl this probobly happens all the time but were not here for another dose of rl, vidio games are a form of entertainment. Do your best, Im sure it will be great.

    Keep in touch, PM me with yahoo messneger. My ID is Fizgot. (and tell me who you are in CM so that I can know who Im talking to)


    • #3
      I have a few questions about stages also, especially in regard to how they interact with Grand Theaters and Worlds.

      I've read elsewhere, in reference to Paranoia, that StoryBuilders may want to start with doing stages, and then move up to connecting them with a Grand Theater "Hub". How will this work? Will adding a Stage just be like adding an area to the Grand Theater, and you control its availability?

      How flexible is this? Can I make the connection something absolutely bizarre, like if a character completes a certain ritual she is moved into a certain Stage? Can I attach the entrances of Stages to objects, like a sword, so they can be carried around? If I have a player who is playing a Bard, and he begins telling a story to an audience, can I have certain words of that story act as a trigger to move all the players in the same room with him into a separate Stage, which is the "story" she was telling?

      Can I tally events in a stage, say the number of deaths, and then use that tally in a script that changes a portion of the Grand Theater? So, something like:

      If deaths > 10, then a particular room description in the GT goes from cheery to kind of creepy. I assume I can do this manually, but if I have "Permanant Stages" set up, like Jeff's "Gates of Hell" example, it would be cool if they could have some kind of continuing effect on the GT at large - maybe the more the poor Arcana fight in a given stage, the more "violent energy" is stirred up, affecting the normal parts of their world in an adverse way over time. This concept is central to a game I've been designing for the past year.

      Finally, if stages really are more than just contained areas of a larger world, can they run under separate systems? Lets say I want my Grand Theater to run under the Dueling System of Castle Marrach, but I want related Stages to be either excessively violent or excessively peaceful - can they allow full PvP combat or none at all? What if I want the characters in my Grand Theater to wake up in the Stage as a someone different, either a role I have created, or as the process of a nested character creation system - in other words, a player creates a character for the Grand Theater, and then enters another character creation process as he enters a stage; when the stage is done, the player finds himself back in his original character in the GT?

      Okay, I guess that's enough for one post.

      Thanks for your time, and happy building!



      • #4
        Another question... (looks sheepish)

        Can I give players in my game StoryPlotter status to only one stage, but not to the rest of the game at large?

        As an example:

        Bob the wizard has discovered a secret in my game that allows him to create a sort of "demi-plane of Bob". He proceeds with the intricate ritual, and since his player is a mature player with good design and storytelling skills, I "ok" the success. Bob then has his own Stage permanently connected to my game, "demi-plane of Bob", over which he has Storyplotter control - the rest of my Grand Theater, however, is safe from Bob's evil Tillywarts.



        • #5
          The questions you folks have been asking about Stages are *excellent* ones. To be honest, I don't know exactly what the answers are going to be because we're still working on figuring them out ourself .

          Stages are unique in that they're small and short-term with definite endings in mind.

          That's easy enough.

          Building a Stage and then later incorporating it into a full game should be pretty easy too. We're really just saying that you can reuse the background that you've constructed: the people, places, things, etc.

          But, We also envision that Stages should be linked to games in some way (if the StoryBuilder so desires). You should be able to take a player out of a game and put him into a Stage and let him do things in that Stage and then come back changed. Likewise, what occurs in a Stage should be able to effect the overall game.

          I *think* this is all going to be doable in the slightly longer term and hopefully it'll be fairly transparent.

          Right now we're working hard on Galactic Emperor: Succession. It's going to be our second game and it's really going to tell us how running multiple games simultaneously will work.

          After that we'll be able to design the Stage-game interface a little better and we'll tell you how things are going ....



          • #6
            As I see it there are several types of Stages, each with a different design method.

            The first design type I call a Setting a Situational Conflict. First, you have to have a Setting (a mansion, a trailer park, a zoo, a train, etc.), then you have to have people in that setting (the mansion owner, his wife, his friendly neighbor, the maid, the butler, the gardener, the police detective).

            Each of these people will be created by the StoryBuilder with some initial background and motivations "You have been retired for three of years, and are beginning to get bored of the life of leisure and golf." The StoryBuilder will also give each a number of memories "Joe is your gardener -- he has been with your family for many years, but is getting old and forgetful".

            Next comes the conflict - this is from either through the initial conditions of motivations and memories, or through an event that happens very early on in the game. An example could be a murder, making it a murder mystery, but could be a spy plot, a horror plot, etc.

            Last come the resolution events -- what must happen for the game to end, and in most cases, who ends the game with a win or gained advantage. Ending events can be as simple as time (4 hours) to someone is arrested for the murder, or when the house is burned down, etc. Win/Advantage is different for each character, but should not be too ambiguous.

            The "Setting a Situation Conflict" is most parallel to the murder mystery style of LARP. One of the particular advantages of this technique is that it need not be 'player versus player' -- it could be quite possible that all the conflict is against the situation, rather then against each other. Another advantage is that this type of Stage does not need as much work in 'game balance' as the fun is more in resolving situation then just winning. Additionally, this design style allows for more accommodation of different players abilities to roleplay -- the role of the captain of the Titanic may only be given to a more experience roleplayer, whereas the young man shoveling coal can probably be played by anyone with or without much roleplaying skill.

            A disadvantage is that this Stage design style might not scale well for a larger number of people, and that if information leaks out the Stage's replay value is easily hurt by people that only play to win. Another disadvantage is that this design style doesn't scale well -- the more people involved, the more difficult it is to keep everyone involved in the situation and the setting. Another difficulty is that this design style often requires more StoryBuilder moderation; say to play the murder victim (as few people want to play someone who will die in the first 1/2 hour), or to resolve the conflict (play the judge or chief of police.)

            A second Stage design approach I call Free Form Situational in that the players design their own characters and decide on their own motivations. The setting and situational aspects of this design style much like the 'Setting a Situational Conflict'. In many ways this design style resembles tabletop gaming and like that form is somewhat StoryBuilder intensive -- the StoryBuilder can provide a situation, but to do so may have to play many of the characters in order to drive the conflict. Our game Castle Marrach is somewhat of this design style.

            An advantage of this Stage design style is that it can handle more players. Also, since the StoryBuilder is not creating characters, they can concentrate on more elaborate setting and or situation/story arc. It also is often less time limited -- Castle Marrach can be played for years.

            A disadvantage of this design style is that you have to find more ways to manage conflict, as sometimes the players will have too much of it, or more likely, not enough conflict for the game to succeed. It also requires more skilled role players for everyone to have equal enjoyment of the game, and if there are too many people in the game the players will have to find ways to act through plots that they have created alone.

            The third Stage design type is a little more complicated, and I call it a Conflict Matrix. Each player in the Stage is given a set of goals to achieve. Some are aligned with those of other players, some are opposed, and others are orthogonal. In a well-written Stage, the goals and affiliations are also dynamic -- shifting during the course of play as old alliances disintegrate and new ones emerge. The dramatic momentum of the Stage is largely determined by the interaction and evolution of the players' goals and affiliations.

            Information sharing is an important catalyst of affinity transformation. Such information may be expressed as abstract knowledge (knowledge about the queen's sexual proclivities), in concrete objects (a flange knurl for the ship's dilithium crystal), a recipe (cotton, nitric acid, and saltpeter make an explosive) or in some form of currency. Canny distribution of crucially interlocked news and objects (secret shares) insures that players cannot assemble the intelligence and/or widgets needed to achieve their goals without actively engaging other players.

            The relationship between a character's goals and the other characters can be represented as a matrix of cooperative affiliations. Each player in an n-player game would have n affinity matrices, specifying the relationship of each of their goals to every other character. For instance, each player could have 3 goals, and each goal could be associated with 3 other players who may cooperate with player's goal, either positively, negatively, or just be neutral to that goal. A tightly interlocked game with this matrix would support 9 people, or a more loose interlocking can support up to 27 people.

            For example, the Colonel and the Lawyer are both likely to cooperate in finding the ransom note, but the Lawyer is a little more likely than the Colonel. The Butler and the Maid aren't inclined to be helpful, especially the Butler (perhaps he wrote the note). The Librarian doesn't seem to care one way or the other. However, all of the players are amenable to killing the Lawyer, except for the Cop and Lawyer, who are seriously opposed.

            The advantage of the "Conflict Matrix" Stage design style is that can handle larger numbers of people. I know of LARPs that have used this approach that have had 100+ players. It also has more replay value -- with good game balance all the facts of the initial state of the game could leak to the players and it might not necessarily hurt the fun of the game - our forthcoming "Galactic Emperor: Succession" Stage can be played many different times even by the same people and be fun and different each game. Also, as the setting and situation is less important, it requires less intervention of the StoryBuilder. Additionally, differing level of roleplaying skills of each player is less important in this form then the others -- everyone has something to offer each other even if their roleplaying skills are inferior.

            A disadvantage of this Stage design style is that the play is fundamentally player versus player conflict oriented, and that creating "game balance" is much more important as success in a player's goals is valued more then participating in the situation. Another disadvantage is that without careful game design, bottlenecks of information and/or resources can occur if someone drops out of the game with a critical component.

            I'm sure that there are some other design styles for Stages then the three described above, and it also possible to combine the design styles in different ways. Also, if multiple Stages are created over time, I suspect that some meta-design patterns of sequential stages may emerge.

            -- Christopher Allen


            • #7
              Originally posted by ChristopherA:
              Each player in an n-player game would have n affinity matrices, specifying the relationship of each of their goals to every other character. For instance, each player could have 3 goals, and each goal could be associated with 3 other players who may cooperate with player's goal, either positively, negatively, or just be neutral to that goal. A tightly interlocked game with this matrix would support 9 people
              Wouldn't each player in an n-player game have n-1 affinities? You can't count the player's affinity to himself. Or do you? A tightly interlocked game would support 10 people.

              Just nitpicking.