20 April, 2012

Keeping All the Characters Linked


One of the valuable lessons from Dead and FUBAR'd was a fundamental success. It's something I was planning to incorporate in greater detail in the player's guide "A Lowlife's Guide to FUBAR", so seeing it work quite well was a great thing to see.

The core FUBAR game embodies the artistic concepts of dadaism at a fundamental level.

Players are all pulling at the narrative in different directions.
Protagonists aren't linked except through a communal story origin.
The rules provide random input into the storyline.

This is all well and good for a sandbox style of play where anything goes; but when a coherent narrative is desired, these elements could be considered distractions.

A simple ruling that links the protagonists in some way has done a lot to pull the narrative into focus.

Following the standard FUBAR mechanism of rolling three dice and allocating them between categories gave the players an idea of how the dice work before play formally began.

Relationship - 1-2: Vague Relationship (0), 3-4: Close Relationship (1), 5-6: Intimate Relationship (2).
Nature - 1-2: You describe the link, 3-4: You both negotiate the link, 5-6: They describe the link.
Balance - 1-2: You owe them a favour, 3-4: No favours owed, 5-6: They owe you a favour.

The "Relationship" basically describes how well two protagonists know one another. This provides a distinct new mechanism that was a bit vague in the basic play rules. It tells us What happens when two characters want to assist or conflict with one another. With a vague relationship, the two individuals don't know much about one another so no bonuses apply. A close relationship means that the two characters know some of idiosyncracies of one another, they may be friendly or antagonistic (it doesn't really matter); when they work together one character can assist the other with a bonus positive trait (on top of anything else they provide), and when they work against one another they may strip a core die. Intimate relationships show that the characters really know one another well, the may apply two levels orth of traits to their associates roll.

The "Nature" basically fulfils the role of the "story" category during the course of play...either you get to describe the details, or the other party gets to describe the details. It may seem like a bit of a throwaway category at first, but the nature of how a group links together can be very important over the course of a story. Two lovers will share a very different relation dynamic to a pair of workmates. During the course of Eye-Con we saw relationships coming in the form of "flatmates", "spouses", "siblings", "gang members", "parents/kids", "step-parents/step-kids", "doctors/patients", "drug addicts/sponsors" and many others. It was really interesting to see how these relationships work into the narrative of play, even when other things seemed to be going haywire. It added humanity to the game.

The "Balance" is the nasty aspect of the relationship...or at least it could have been. The way this played out was deliberately vague. There was no mechanism for how a favour might get paid off, I guess you could say that it was a fruitful void with an agenda. In some games played, a favour might have been paid off by a single action. In other games, the favour was continually used as a gode between the two parties. I'm going to have to go back over the rules I've written up for this aspect of relationships, there is some storytelling gold hidden within this characterisation tool.

I didn't really get much further with descritpions of relationships between protagonists and antagonists during the course of play. I wish I had, but the players were having fun with the system and adding too many more relationships to a freeform narrative starts to add extra constraints. Good in some situations, bad in an "anything-goes" surreal dadaist nightmare. I'd still love to push the FUBAR envelope toward a dramatic story with darkness and angst, this might be a great way to do it.

We'll see.
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