It must be 'con season, beacuse there are a lot of really interesting posts around the place about writing 'con games. I particularly enjoyed Jacinta's post about the kind of people you might encounter in your 'con game. This is of particular interest to me because I'm working on some advice about overcoming some of the more common player-initiated problems that can cause games to de-rail. I've also been interested to follow Luke's progress on preparing his own 'con game 'Tears of Vykyris', particularly the idea that he will use 3 images instead of a traditional text blurb. Then there's DrBunnyHops who is detailing her thoughts about 'White Rabbit' a game which mixes sci-fi and parenting which obviously struck a chord with the punters, as all 9 player slots filled up in record time.
I'm about to pick up the pen and have a shot at writing my offering for Fright Night, which I also plan on running at Kapcon. I thought I'd try and detail my own thoughts about this process - albeit in a general rather than specific sense (I'd hate to spoil anything for potential players).
For me 'con games are about memorable scenes. Scenes where the players are fully engaged, living in the skin of their characters, confronted by challenges, with sufficient ownership to actually feel the ramifications of their decisions and interactions. My job (as GM or writer) is to secure that ownership, create the context, and then frame the challenge. Finally I need to be able to troubleshoot, tweak, extend, sharpen or otherwise tailor the scenario as it plays out, so that it delivers the desired experience.
So when I think about the game, I ask what kind of scenes are these? I don't mean specifically what scenes - unless I want to force a railroad I won't get to actually script a complete scene where meaningful encounters occur. That's the realm of directors and authors - but I can get a sense of the kind of events that might lead up to these scenes, the backdrop if you will. However, I also know that no matter how impressive my backdrop (players are never going to be impressed with settings for very long), the real action has to be played out by the characters, so along with a general idea of the scenes I want, I need to think about the protagonsists - the characters - their motivations, ambitions and circumstances.
As an example: in one of my Council of Champion's games there was an extremely memorable scene was aboard a transport plane en route to a lighter-than-air weapons platform controlled by a villain. But that wasn't important. What was important was that the 8-year-old son of two of the heroes had just picked up a firearm (borrowed from a gun-slinging hero) and this caused a massive confrontation between the parents about the kind of life their son should have. It was epic, and went to the heart of the real story - not the villains - but the way that heroes balance real concerns with their dangerous jobs. The responsibility of the team to be role models. The ethics of having a child in a dangerous situation. The very nature of being a superhero in a team with others. I couldn't have scripted that scene, and I couldn't have imagined that it would take place in the belly of a transport aircraft which was entirely unimportant to the plot. But I could decide that the role of the child in the team could be a major catalyst for action. I could shape the characters to be in conflict, and exacerbate this by involving more of the team than just the parents. I could script a plot where the characters were put under relentless pressure, and be ready for it to errupt. The players did the rest.
So, now I have a general idea about some of the scenes, and the characters who want to fill them, I need to do the hard yards. I need to get the characters into a position they can deliver the drama. Characters aren't ready to go from minute one - there's no context - their actions lack meaning. I need to let the characters develop - shape themselves - explore their repsonses and develop a group dynamic. To do this they need details, small challenges, tests, encounters where they can establish these traits. The more of these details I can bring, the more the players have become immersed in their characters, and immersed in the setting. We need a lot of detail, but we only need to apply it when necessary. Colours, smells, metaphors, lot's of descriptive elements and NPC's, people to help the players moderate their characters - benchmark their behaviour.
Next I need to think about how the scenes are going to play out. Players can spend hours just hanging out - but I don't have that kind of time. I've got 3 hours. If I'm running any kind of action, that's going to take time - I need a lot of detail. Each player needs an explicit opportunity to act, probably several, and I need to keep a track of their actions, reinforced through recap and narration, so I need to factor that in. Introduction scenes also take a lot of time - especially if you're encouraging the players to add their own descriptive elements. A first scene of a game often runs for a full hour after all the introductions/setting/rules stuff has been done. So I need to decide the key scenes are. how will the game end? Is it a climax? In which case, what are the scenes that will lead up to that climax? How will I communicate the ascending importance of these scenes? How much ability for I want to allow the players to improvise, or create their own scenes? What about small scenes - travelling, or just passing time. Players need space to breathe and characters need an opportunity to interact with each other.
Now I should have a skeleton. An outline of the scenario I'd like to run/write along with an idea of some of the characters and details that will populate it.
To be continued...