Sunday, June 5, 2011

Never split the group! Maybe you should...

I have had the fortune to be invited to a Unknown Armies game. The gamemaster is one of my dear readers, and he have done some quite cool things with the set-up for the game I wanted to talk about.

As everyone who have wondered about ecology in the dungeon, or "naturalism", knows there are a few things you just can't explain or have make sense without some major thinking ahead. Personally I lean far enough into the gonzo side of things, but if you want it all to make sense, one thing to watch out for it why the party adventure together.

In Call of Cthulhu there is one attempt to create a narrative structure, Delta Green. It's quite successfull. In our UA game we have The Band.

The band is called Unpeace, and was the greatest of them all. Well, it was riding the wave of death metal, mixing in some symphonic influences and a healthy dose of showmanship. After releasing one album the band was dissolved, but it's legacy and memory is very much alive. Now there will be a documentary, and a lot of memories are being brought to the surface. Naturally the player characters are the members of this band.

So, what's so cool about this?

Well. One thing I find interesting is how our game master have handled the fact that all PCs have a gigantic ego and loves to be in the spotlight all the time. Considering that, I think the solution is both neat and obvious when you think of it. We all met at a bar to talk to the film crew, and when the bar fight erupted and somebody's wife calls them to pick up the kids, we went in our different directions.

We split the party. It just made sense.

Now, to just idle and do nothing is the main cause for boredom when splitting the party, so naturally you have to keep the individual segments short and too the point. There is another trick in the bag, though. Since we have all played a few of those new fangled forge style games, we are quite confortable with the idea of shared narrative. This is used to good effect.

When my character, high on cocaine, runs into an alley after having hit somebody with his car, he finds somebody. The GM just said to me it was, I think, someone whom I had been missing lately. I could have said it was one of the other PCs, and suddenly the player sitting by my side would have been in that scene. Naturally, the other players could chip in their suggestions as well. I thought that was cool. While nothing really revolutionary, it was a good example of how the ideas of kibitzing and shared narrative can help make the split party less of a problem.

Let's think more of how the narrative structure helped the game along.

We all knew, from the first short conversations with some NPCs that we had arranged to start filming tomorrow. Thus we had a structure to the game, and could goof off until we were bored and it was tomorrow.

That also made it easy to split the party, running off doing wild things, since we could all participate to some extent.

I have often muttered about how the holy grail of sandboxing demands pro-active players. In this case we all knew that we had a Story, the film. If we wanted something to happen, we could just do something related to the film, like fight about whether we should play some songs, if we should film individually or as a group. I foresee lots of opportunities when the GM as the crew asks us about filming a scene about when "Frank fell off the stage". Guess if the possibilities of shared narrative are going to be utilized then!

To have an organization that gives you missions is one good way to keep the party together. Having some shared history like the Band creates natural conflicts, and some natural allies. Having the film being done is a good way to drag the PCs together again if we split up. Having the ability to chip in helps everyone to be involved. I think this set-up is great.

Can this be done in your vanilla D&D style fantasy game? Well, there's always the DragonQuest solution, with the Guild of Adventurers and their contract [sic!] spelled out in the rules!
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