Thursday, April 1, 2010


[yes, I am on a tear...prepare to have your minds blown]

SO…the other idea that’s been bouncing around in my head (NOT Space Cowboy-wise) is this:


I don’t suppose any of my readers are familiar with the game InSpectres?

Well, we’ll get to that in a moment. The problem with getting all my thoughts out on this blog is that I have so many of ‘em jumbled in my head, and they make sense to ME, but striving to put them in a coherent format can be tough…especially when I’ve been out o the blog-o-sphere for a few days and thus out-o-practice. But I’ll try.

Earlier I mentioned that I was looking for a different way to award XP in my B/X Space Opera game. There’s a very good reason for this…I want the game to emulate the episodic adventure series Star Wars and yet still have “levels” and “experience points” to mimic growth and character development. Since the game isn’t about looting the local lair, it doesn’t make sense to base the XP system on treasure acquisition (like our beloved B/X). Likewise, there’s a lot of non-fighting that goes on in those Star Wars movies and several major characters/protagonists that…while certainly fight-worthy…are NOT extreme ass-kickers. I want those people to advance, too, and so need them to get XP from something other than shooting stormtroopers.

A lot of people commented on that post, proposing suggestions like XP for participation or for completing objectives/goals/missions (I wrote about why I didn’t like that here). Others said I should base it on treasure acquisition using credits instead of treasure…but this just doesn’t ring true to me. Of all the characters in all the Star Wars movies, the only two that seem “in it for the money” are Han Solo (who later becomes altruistic) and Boba Fett. Well, and that little bloated stirge-looking guy on Tatooine in Episode I, but I’d hardly call him “adventurer material.”

So then after writing about Michael Jai White and Black Dynamite, I wrote a bit about the idea of adding a system that rewards players for incorporating Star Wars tropes into their game play. Of course, as of right now I have no idea what that would look like, so it would appear to be more a pipe dream than anything else.

Okay, all that was just buttering up my readers for the following idea. I know, I know…it takes a long time for me to meander to a point.

One thing about Star Wars is that it is an adventure series. And “adventure” might as well be a pseudonym for action. How would one define “action/adventure,” anyway?

Well, I suppose one could say that it is direct physical activity taken to overcome an obstacle that presents a dramatic barrier.

“Physical activity” is key. You don’t call a movie an “action-adventure” if obstacles are overcome simply through discussion, negotiation, and diplomacy. That might be effective in real life, but for a film (which is nothing more nor less than “a story told with pictures”) PHYSICAL activity is important for a visual impact. And while gaming in an RPG certainly involves a substantial amount of TALKING, it is talking towards the end of describing physical activity in the mind’s eye.

After all, that’s one of The Great Fun Things about RPGs…they give us a chance to be and do things that we could never think or hope to accomplish in real life. I’m a 36 year old office worker with a decided lack of musculature and an iffy right knee. The chance of me doing a successful back-flip is about .0001% (maybe with a gale-force wind and with a little luck). My chances of taking on Michael Jai White or his equivalent in a kung fu throw-down are slim-to-none. But in my imagination (and with the proper game system and three or four “levels”) I can kick some imaginary ass. I might never go into space in this lifetime, but in an RPG I can fly a spacecraft at FTL speeds and dog fight with bad guys…should I play the right game for that.

Fun, huh?

SO…overcoming physical obstacles is a decided part of action-adventure and should probably be rewarded in some way, traditionally with an increase of game effectiveness (i.e. “leveling up”) which allows the over-coming of more obstacles.

HOWEVER, non-stop action-adventure is BORING if that’s all it is. How many folks have seen an action movie that had plenty of action and little else and was fairly non-satisfying? I know I have…more than once. And so the good action adventure films balance the “action-adventure” parts with something else…call ‘em “interludes.”

American Heritage Dictionary poses several definitions of the term, all of which work for me, but I especially like this one:

“An entertainment between the acts of a play.”

An interlude is a pacing mechanism that helps break up the action to tell a more coherent story…it also (in action films) provide moments of respite that allow for exposition, character development, plot development, and the introduction of new characters and plot elements.

Now I’ve already said I’m not wild about the idea of linear plots in RPG adventures…I like my adventures to be a bit more improve: here’s the scenario, now we’ll see what happens based on the character’s actions. A climactic battle with a Big Bad Boss need not be a given in a particular adventure. So if adding interludes to an RPG (yes, that’s what this whole post is proposing), we’ll leave out any version of the interlude that deals with “plot.”

Likewise, let’s leave out “exposition” and “character introduction.” While these are necessary parts of a film, they are generally not applicable to an RPG. The PCs know each other (or the GM/group comes up with some flimsy reason for the players to meet up). NPCs get introduced as needed (often at the start of a fight), and exposition is generally entirely un-necessary EXCEPT at the beginning of the adventure (“so your party has been on the road for three days searching for the Lost Tomb of Blah-Blah-Blah…”).

Is anything left over for an RPG interlude? Yeah…character development.

Here are some rather important non-action scenes from the Star Wars films:

- Obi-Wan and Luke discussing his father

- Obi-Wan and Luke after his family’s been killed

- Obi-Wan, Luke, and Han discussing the Force

- Luke and Leia discussing Obi-Wan’s death

- Leia and Han in ice bunkers of Hoth

- Luke, Leia, and Han in the recovery/clinic of Hoth (after the wampa attack)

- Leia and Han smooching in the Falcon

- Luka and Yoda training in the swamps

- Luke and Vader talking about his possible redemption

- Anakin and Padme talking about “space angels”

- Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan discussing Anakin

- Qui-Gon talking with Anakin about the Force

- Anakin and Padme “getting to know each other” as adults

- Anakin and Padme smooching

- Anakin and Padme getting secretly married

- Obi-Wan and Anakin reminiscing about adventures

- Obi-Wan and Anakin discussing the latter’s usual BS

- Obi-Wan and Padme discussing Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side

- Most any scene involving the droids (R2 and 3P0)

In all of these instances, we have some things in common:

- All take place in non-action situations (no mortal danger)

- Almost all take place between “PC” equivalents (rather than NPCs or PC and NPCs)

- The only “exposition” is exposition about one’s own character (“I was once a Jedi Knight…” “I went into public service at the age of…” etc.)

- All deepen the relationship between the characters in the scene, helping to tie them closer together, either in friendship, romance, mentor/student roles, etc.

THIS form of interlude is something I’d like to incorporate into the game, specifically with regard to the reward/advancement system.

Now, back to my first question: anyone here familiar with InSpectres?

For those who aren’t: InSpectres is a very cool little Indie game I picked up some time ago. It is fun, funny, easy to play, and definitely in the “story light” category of Narratavist-facilitated RPGs. My nephews enjoyed it a lot, and it was the first RPG I used to introduce them to the concept of table-top RPGs.

The game is a cross between Ghost Busters, Scooby-Doo, any average reality TV show, and a starter company. Basically, all the players are part of an “InSpectres Franchise,” a licensed Ghost-Busters like outfit that deals with paranormal occurrences. Players and GM share narrative responsibilities based on the outcome of dice rolls (I believe GMs narrate failure and players narrate success, but I may be remembering that backwards). Together, players and GMs collaborate to develop and unravel a particular mystery/crime with hilarious hijinx along the way.

However, the important part for MY purpose is the use of the spotlight mechanic. At any time during play, a player may call for a "spotlight moment"…basically a time-out while he or she sits in the spotlight chair and describes something that has not-yet-occurred-in-play. This is the equivalent of a Real World or Big Brother or Jersey Shore moment when one of the cast members get a segue/close-up in a green room and says something like, “little did we know J-Bone was going to go apeshit over the hottub incident” and then the TV show editors cut to a scene of J-Bone going apeshit.

The spotlight gives players the chance to wrest control of the narrative away for a moment in order to introduce something to the plot that then must be addressed in play by all the participants. Fun and simple with a little practice.

Now B/X is NOT a narrative game and I am not advocating giving narrative control in heaping amounts to players in an adventure RPG of its type. Here’s what I AM considering:

1) Allow players (not the GM) to choose when to have a character interlude.

2) Character interludes can only involve the character of the player calling for it and an established NPC or another PC with that PC player’s agreement.

3) Interludes must come at appropriate “break-points” between action-adventure sequences (basically, there has to be an empty space to fill with an interlude; you can’t have one in the middle of combat or a chase for example).

4) There can be no physical obstacles that need to be overcome during the interlude (no dice rolls get made); if a player wants a scene with someone on their death bed, the death bed character is already dying (failed their saving throws or whatnot)

5) The player calling for the interlude chooses the time and place of the scene and it must be reasonable to what is going on in the adventure.

6) The interlude cannot involve an adversary without express permission of the GM

7) Exposition scenes set-up by the GM do NOT count as “interludes” for any reason, being (hopefully) necessary to the adventure at hand (For example: Count Dooku interrogating Obi-Wan on Geonosis or Palpatine taunting Luke on the second Death Star do NOT count as interludes).

Here are the boundaries I’m still toying with/considering:

1) How much is an interlude worth XP-wise?

2) What is the limit on the number of interludes a player can have (one per session? More than one if all other players have had one? Level dependent somehow?)?

3) Is there a maximum time allowed for the interlude…in other words, how long until the GM gets to cut to the next scene?

These things all need to be defined within the game rules if I’m going to include interludes at all.

The one thing I’m still completely un-decided about is this: how much input does the player calling for the interlude have over the substance/subject matter of the scene? How much input do the other players (including the DM) have over the subject matter of the scene? Does ANYONE have ANY control over the subject matter of the interlude or is it complete improvisation?

For example: in The Empire Strikes Back, Han Solo and Princess Leia have a touching moment in the Millennium Falcon, involving even some smooching (until 3P0 pokes his snout in and interrupts the scene). If this were my B/X RPG with the “interlude rule,” how could this work?

A) Leia’s player calls for an interlude scene: “I want my character to have an interlude with Han in the engine room while working on the Falcon,” OR

B) Leia’s player calls for an interlude scene: “I want my character to have a ROMANTIC interlude with Han in the engine room while working on the Falcon,” OR

C) Han’s player calls for an interlude scene: “I want my character to have a romantic interlude with Leia in the engine room, where at first she doesn’t like me but warms up to my scoundrel ways,” OR

D) 3P0’s player calls for an interlude scene: “I want HAN and LEIA to have a ROMANTIC MOMENT in the engine room while fixing the Falcon, and I come in and interrupt it!”

The first option seems a bit too undefined…just saying, “I want an interlude,” doesn’t structure the scene enough, leading to a meandering of improve between players. Meanwhile options C and D seem to be TOO defined: in Option C, Han’s player is providing information about how PC Leia feels, something best left to Leia’s player to decide. And in Option D, 3P0’s player is only slightly setting up an interlude for himself…mainly he’s setting an interlude for the other PCs so that he can be the punchline of the joke (which doesn’t seem right).

But is Option B too much? What if Han’s player doesn’t want to have “a romantic interlude” with PC Leia…or with anyone for that matter?

Maybe some interludes need permission of other PCs that are involved. Maybe interludes can only have goals (e.g. “a romantic moment”) that may or may not occur in the timeframe allotted.

But how about THIS: what if LEIA is an NPC in whom both Luke and Han (PCs) are interested? Han calls for a romantic interlude…leaving Luke high and dry? Of course, he already had his smooch back in the hospital wing so I guess it’s all good. I suppose that at some point a GM will have to put on his referee hat and…well, make a judgment call.

Anyway…what do you folks think of this idea?

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