Session Zero

design

Take 'em, or leave 'em.

  1. Materially different media make different emotional, psychological and semiotic effects possible.

  2. It is possible to simulate the effects of one medium in another, e.g. to create a “cinematic” effect in a novel or tabletop game.

  3. But the effects that have the greatest impact will tend to be those most characteristic of the media in which a given work was produced.

  4. The modern conception of heroic action has been so thoroughly shaped by movies and novels that we tend to imagine heroism in the idioms of those media.

  5. The conventions most characteristic of any game media will be those constructed around play.

  6. Thus, when designing games, err on the side of features that emphasize play, over those that simulate cinematic or literary effects.

#design #theory #cinema #literature

For all the novelty of its elaborate setting, maybe the aspect of Ultraviolet Grasslands that has done the most to keep our interest are its skills — particularly those that seem more tongue in cheek than practical.

For example: In our most recent session, our caravan returned to a storehouse where they had previously discovered some contraband, only to find some strangers rooting around in the goods. To size up their rivals, one of the players attempted to sneak within eavesdropping range. To hedge his bet, he applied his Contortionist skill, which allowed him to weave deftly through the shadows. Or would have, anyway, had he not failed his dice roll. Instead, he knocked over a large ewer outside the door. Out rushed the strangers, weapons drawn, demanding to know who was skulking about.

Here, quite obviously, was an opportunity for combat. Yet combat was probably the least interesting possibility. Besides, the odds were a bit uncertain: While three party-members could still strike from hiding, the other was essentially cornered, and their enemies were comparatively high level. So instead of rushing out, guns blazing, the players hatched another plan: Step 1: Lead the polybodies on a wild goose chase. Step 2: Pack up the contraband in their absence. Step 3: Disappear into the night.

To pull this off, they again relied on their least adventurous skills. In addition to Contortionist, the trapped player had chosen Comedy as a skill, and he used that now to defuse the situation. I could see how that might backfire, so we put it to a roll: Success! We decided that his prior attempt at acrobatic stealth had ended in a headstand, and that he was still holding that position when he answered his interrogators: “Just looking for my dog!” At first, their laughter was sardonic, but it quickly turned into genuine astonishment when another player character quietly nudged their steppe puppy out into the alleyway. The puppy scampered away, the PC and his challengers chased after, and the rest of the party went to work loading the contraband into their wagon.

This was all unscripted, so it could have ended there, but I decided there was still some risk that the polybodies might return before they finished. There was probably a more exciting way to play out that possibility, but I was thinking on my feet, so I put it to another roll. To consolidate the action, I had the players designate one character as foreman while the other concentrated on brute labor. They'd roll against strength to get the contraband loaded up before the polybodies returned, but the foreman had a relevant skill that could help tilt the balance: Packing! (Even so, he rolled one measly point short of the target number. That could have been disastrous were it not for UVG's “heroic dice” mechanic, which let him roll a spare d6, nudging the total up to a save.)

Most role-playing games are built around exploration and combat — solid adventure tropes. The skills prescribed by their rules reflect that focus. By contrast, contortionism, comedy and packing are unusual skills, and UVG offers them up without much in the way of explanation or justification. It's left up to the players and GM to make them useful. From a design perspective, the point here is just that, if a game provides options like these, astute players will look for ways to use them. That requires creativity, and flexing creative muscle is half the fun

#uvg #design