Saturday, 25 April 2015

3 Models in Application

Building on my last gaming blog, about the three structures games, Mission, Epic and Chronicle, can adhere to, I've decided to apply the models to a single game to see what we get.

I've chosen to use Werewolf the Forsaken, which is my favourite 'New' World of Darkness game (at
about ten years old I'm not sure if its appropriate to keep the New part but it seems to have stuck). If you don't know it, think urban fantasy/horror with werewolves (Uratha in the game's lexicon) protecting their territory against rampaging spirits, a cult like group of 'pure' werewolves and other supernatural horrors. At the game's heart is the 'neighbourhood threat' style of gaming, you have a territory and you defend it. This creates a somewhat static set up, good for all three of the models.

So how do we get them to work with the game?

To begin with let's lay down the ground rules. The group are playing newly changed Uratha who are being given a neglected territory in the south of London. The territory is neglected because the pack that defended it disappeared and the other packs in the city had to take up the slack. Consequently the area has been less well defended than it should have been and unwelcome guests have moved in. The PCs are given a mentor and a 'Green Box', basically a lock up with some resources bound up in it; a small armory, some books about the territory and a chest full of things that could be maguffins.

This automatically suggests a mode of play, small adventures that allow the players, and their characters, to explore the territory and establish the locations and characters within it. Mission based play in other words. What makes it work is that there are shades of Chronicle play here, the adventures are connected and there's a common goal; to establish the condition of the domain. The distinction here though, is that there's no single enemy to work against, but a series of threats ranging from a serial killer urged by murder spirits, a market of spirits trading essence with each other and extending their reach into the real world and a mad cat spirit that's running wild.

With a couple of diversions for games down the road in the form of a brush with a pack of Pure that are hunting for a relic sword (which has ended up in the PC's lock up) and the growing realisation that behind the small threats is a much larger one; the Beshilu, a host of rat spirits who want to tear down the wall between the material and spiritual worlds and unleash an army of spirits onto the unsuspecting mortal populace some sort of world building gets done too. Using
appropriate foreshadowing and just dropping hints the rats can become an ongoing motif for the busyness of the city, the idea that there's no real peace just the illusion of it. This can also reinforce the idea that they're everywhere and aren't just a one off threat, even if it is something you need to balance carefully so that you don't get pushed into your big reveal too early.

The fly in the ointment is making sure that players can guide the game, which I hope would be possible by letting them decide which of the various plots around the territory to focus on (so basically coming up with enough one line plots that are easy to expand later on), as well as engaging with them as people. What they want as people being likely to coincide with what drives their characters, because that will always be more important; your buttkicker player will always enjoy combat, the method actor will always want to be true to her character and so on.

This also sets up the second arc, a more Chronicle based game where the PCs have to deal with the Beshilu permanently. At this point all the plots start to feed into the one goal, setting up the PCs to find and destroy the various nests, allies and other points of power and influence the Beshilu have set up in the domain. Eventually things need to come to a head and this would need to be quite a varied arc to keep things interesting, but keeping the focus on one enemy gives it a single identity which the first 'finding your feet' adventures lack. This is in many ways a simple reversal of the first set of plots; you're only tweaking the structure and its emphasis. It's the ongoing nature of the plot that makes it a Chronicle rather than just a bunch of interlinked Missions.

What you're doing of course is using a central spine and then putting adventures together that feed into it. The showdown under a cinema reveals the nest's plan to rip the spirit wall down on Wimbledon Common; a body the Uratha find after that fight reveals that the owner of a local casino is in the Beshilu's pocket; his safe reveals the main nest and the Rat King that controls the local host are hidden in the sewage works down by the Thames. You take disparate pieces and treat them like  a jigsaw puzzle, building up the picture until it is complete.

So these two arcs cover different structures, even if they are in many ways reflections of each other. They also build on each other, providing the players with the tools they need for each part. The contacts, allies and so on they establish on the first arc will inform the second.

Where then do we fit in the Epic? The game's tied to a specific location and the way the New World
of Darkness is set up is often not given to the running huge stories. Arguably the war with the Beshilu is pretty epic in scope and could even be split into a number of small arcs as the pack make progress. If we break away from the pre-existing plot and tie an epic plot to the Pure, who having got their magic sword are gunning to annihilate the Forsaken werewolves in London. Higher stakes, more dramatic gaming and a more epic set of things to play for. This is a general truism, if you want an Epic game, you almost always have to go large. To make it work here, let's take a step away from the relatively down to earth world of a group of werewolves fighting things on South London streets and assume that in order to conquer the city the Pure need something big and nasty out of the spirit world to bolster their efforts.

So the player characters get put to the forefront of the resistance, a springboard straight into the action, a quest to stop the Pure at any cost.  This issue here is finding a way not to just end up with a long slog through blood soaked combat after blood soaked combat as the PCs fight wave after wave of Fire Touched Demented Little Dupes. There are other angles to consider, the internal politics of the other packs, the spirit world aspects where the characters can go to thwart the Pure's attempts to get a powerful spirit on side and the quest can become quite diverse and work, as long as the PCs are kept in the middle of it. This might take them out of the city, it might even take them out of the country, allowing the GM to introduce travel plots or to entangle them in other cities' affairs (or in the politics of mages or vampires). As a result the game folds variation into its structure even when the quest is one that seems like a straight path.

Where it differs from the Chronicle is that you're dealing with one story, not using smaller narratives to build up a spine. Again, its a matter of focus, and arguably hair splitting, but it reflects the experience of gaming and of planning the game. If I'm planning an Epic then I'm starting with the big goal of 'the Pure try to bring a really big horrible spirit to earth to kill lots of other werewolves and take over the city' and treating that as my story. In a Chronicle, I'm setting my sights lower and breaking it into more moving parts, which includes places where the Pure can fail.

In closing, I hope this has demonstrated more of what I see in the three structures and how they are built, how they mutate, interchange and even nest within each other.