[Now Experiencing] [RPG]
Craig over at Project Perko recently made this post. I made some comments, as it's a topic I'm interested in, and now some events have been set in motion. Basically, what we were discussing was:
a) There's no inherent need in a tabletop RPG for the storyteller/plotmaster to be the same player as the world coordinator/dispute resolver.
b) There's no inherent need to have a predetermined plot for an RPG, or even have creating the plot be the job of a sole player.
c) All players are not created equal; some people are just naturally more outspoken or given to creating narrative and taking leadership roles. That creates problems for including the less vocal players.
Well, Craig took a move that I think I'll be thanking him for for quite some time, and happened to mention that we're not alone in considering these issues. Apparently they've been dealt with very nicely, thank you very much, in a fantastic little RPG called Primetime Adventures.
Well, with cries of "Huzzah!" and "It must be mine!" I instantly wandered over to the publisher's site and shelled out a few bucks for the PDF download (they were all out of hardcopy), and let me tell you, this looks like one hell of a game.
The premise is that players cooperate to create one (or more) episodes of an ongoing TV show. One player takes the role of producer, and controls the atagonists and some elements of the world at large. Everyone else gets one key cast member of the show. The producer doesn't necessarily bring a story to the table; instead, players pitch show concepts to each other until something results in a bunch of nodding heads. Once a concept gets the vote of approval, the specifics are hammered out, including agreeing on a Tone - will it be humourous, violent, dark, realistic, supernatural, romantic? Players are expected to play to the tone.
Character creation is done as a group, rather than as individuals. Everyone needs to end up with someone they're happy playing, but it's also important that there's variety across the cast. Not everyone can be an antisocial loner with a chip on his shoulder.
Then a 5 to 9 episode season is plotted out, and each character is assigned a screen presence for each episode. That's right - from the start of the game, it's agreed how many sessions there'll be, and who'll be the "heroes" of each session. Screen presence is assigned through a bidding-type system, where essentially you only get to the be the "star" of one session, and then have varying levels of importance in the other sessions.
Screen presence translates through into the rules mechanics - the star, or "spotlight character" of each session is simply better and more capable than everyone else for that session. Problems are more likely to require the intercession of that protagonist to solve, and the world as a whole is more malleable to the spotlight character's wishes. The season-plotting system means everyone gets a turn to be the lead character.
The other great thing about the season plotting is that you specify each character's issues for each episode in advance. For example, if you're going to be dealing with your tragic past in episode 4, you know that that's coming up way back in episode 1, and everyone concerned can foreshadow it. At the same time, because you know that the time for that plot point will come, you don't have to try and drag the story around to it to make sure that it gets resolved, and can take the first three episodes as they come.
Every character has "edges" - the things that they can do exceptionally, or that no one else can do. A character is the primary agent in plot points involving their edge. They have "connections", which are essentially supporting cast members that enter the plot through that character's agency. They may also at their discretion have a nemesis or arch-rival, for no game advantage other than the fun of having one.
Plot creation is by consensual brainstorming - the lead character of the scene sets the pace, with suggestions from everyone else, but players can mix things up by spending "fan mail", which essentially works similar to drama dice in 7th Sea or void points in Legend of the Five Rings, with a sort of bidding system going on - one fan mail equals one plot change.
The rules also include special rules for pilot episodes, two part episodes, and a whole host of great examples to get your imagination working. It's very story focused, with practical help for making coherent plots, having meaningful and constructive conflict, and for creating a series that grows and gets better over time - essentially how to move past a killer first session and into a quality ongoing campaign.
If you, like me, have moved from D&D to World of Darkness, and on to L5R and 7th Sea, and are now looking for the next evolution in story-driven tabletop roleplaying, this might just be your thing. I'm armed with the rules, and looking to run at the very first opportunity, so bail me up at Conflux or elsewhere to get in on the ground floor!