Thursday, December 4, 2008

Extra! Extra!

So this really great idea came into existence on RPG.net over the past couple days, and even though it's not mine and I had nothing to do with its development, I want to post about it just to spread the word -- because God knows I'll be using it.

The idea originated with Paka as a result of thinking about what people often cite as SotC's one failing: the lack of an advancement system. He soon came to the realization that when it comes to pulp characters, they don't change themselves -- they change the world. This is essentially the same as having game-wide aspects, with the additional detail that the players are called upon to cough up one aspect apiece as the game begins, with another couple from the GM. Specifically, each of these aspects is a newspaper headline that describes the world, like so:

DINOSAURS DISCOVERED IN SOUTH AMERICA
SCIENTIFIC ADVANCE PROMISES TO REVOLUTIONIZE AIR TRAVEL
WALKING DEAD CAUSE PANIC ON EASTERN SEABOARD
PRESIDENT OPENS DIPLOMATIC RELATIONS WITH INTELLIGENT APES
MYSTERIOUS TRANSMISSION FROM ANTARCTICA BAFFLES SCIENTISTS
BULVERIAN TROOPS MASS ON RUSSIAN BORDER

And so on.

Each player (including the GM) then picks one aspect to be relevant for the story arc, so if we have three players, they all decide that, somehow or other, this story will involve South American dinosaurs (or dinosaurs that live in South America, at any rate), some uppity monkeys, a mysterious radio transmission, and the Bulverian military (and/or Russia). Consider it another way to help the GM set things up.

"But," I hear you shout in your short-sightedness, "I thought this was about advancement!" It is! Just let me finish! Man, you always do this! Why can't you --

Sorry. Anyway.

Now, at the end of the story arc, whoever spent the most Fate Points adds a new headline or changes an existing one. Maybe those intelligent apes aren't so diplomatic anymore. Maybe the Russo-Bulverian war has finally broken out. Or maybe Mole-Men burrowed up from right under the White House lawn.

So over time, you accumulate headlines, effectively -- yes -- changing the world. And the more Fate Points you spend, the more influence you have on the world. It's a sort of long-term narrative control mechanism.

I think it's pretty rad, and Paka, or whoever he is when he isn't on RPG.net (Judd? I don't know the guy), is pretty rad for having thought of it.

Now, some other ideas were floated in that RPG.net thread to which I linked above, such as limiting the power of adding headlines to the GM and and the power of altering them to the players, but personally I like it as-is. I do have a couple other twists for it, though.

The whole thing reminds me a bit of John Wick's Houses of the Blooded, in which descriptive and editorial control for scenes and facets of the world can be shared by the players. That's... a whole other thing that I'm not going to get into here, but the point is that players can add new details ("Lady Windermere collects fans") or add new information to a detail ("But someone's stolen her favorite one"), but can't contradict or delete existing details. However, players can spend Style Points to veto a detail, or the GM can declare a detail "Bad Form" and axe it that way. (As far as I can recall, anyway.) I'd allow the same kind of thing here, but treat it like an escalating compel. That is, if you and I are both players and I'm so opposed to your headline for whatever reason (it's wildly out of tone, obviates a headline I want to do on my turn, etc.), I can spend a Fate Point to veto it -- but you can spend one to keep it -- but I can see your one Fate Point and raise you one -- and so on. I can't see people throwing away a ton of Fate Points on this sort of thing, but it seems fair to me.

Or maybe you can just use your turn during the pre-game headline process to cross out a headline instead of adding your own. I mean, don't be a dick about it, but this too seems fair to me.

Admittedly, this sort of thing works better in genres that actually have, y'know, newspaper headlines -- as I believe someone mentioned in the thread, you could present these as what paperboys on street corners are shouting out -- but there's certainly nothing stopping this from being applied to any game, really. It's just that it won't integrate itself so completely in every time period. I mean, yes, in a medieval-ish setting, you can have heralds for this sort of thing, but they don't really serve the same purpose as paperboys, nor would they technically deliver news in such a classic fashion, but man, that's a pretty minute quibble.
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