Saturday, October 13, 2018

Ensemble Casts, & Proactive vs. Reactive in Solo RPG's

Ensemble Cast
Since it's October, and Halloween is just around the corner, my thoughts usually turn to Horror this time of year (not that they every really stray too far from it to begin with...).

When my thoughts turn to horror (gaming) I invariably get back around to pondering one of my favorite sub-gene's of horror: The Slasher Movie. I've pondered over how to run one of these as a successful Solo venture before, and have been doing so again as of late.

I'd come up with what I think may be a solution to some of the issues I've foreseen when I got side-tracked last night by Netflix's release of their new series "The Haunting of Hill House" which led me to one of the OTHER sub-genre's I brood over when this mood comes around: The Haunted House, which I'd also like to run.

The ensemble cast of 1963's "The Haunting", the great adaptation of "The Haunting of Hill House"

The solution I've come up with addresses some problems that I now realize BOTH have in common. One is Ensemble Casts. It's a subject I've discussed in the past when trying to figure out to run a "Star Trek" thing. I'll get that in a bit, as it's something I want to discuss at length, all on its own.

But the one that really hit me today when considering both sub-genres alongside each other is THIS: Proactive vs Reactive in Solo RPG's, which is what inspired me to post in the first place. In the past I've discussed a bit about how I thought "mission oriented" RPG's were much easier to run Solo. I realize now what I was struggling to articulate in that view is The Difference Between Proactive and Reactive in RPG's.

That is to say: Proactive would be the so-called "mission oriented" RPG's I mentioned earlier. They give you a goal, someplace to go, and something to do. On the other hand a Reactive one would be one where you wait for things to happen, then you respond accordingly.

The latter of the two are the ones I've struggled with. In order to make Reactive games work you have to have something to react TO. The only way I've ever solved this problem was content generators. Lots and lots of content generators.

It occurs to me as I write this that perhaps the main difference between Proactive and Reactive is the Proactive front-loads all your Random Content, whereas in Reactive you generate as you go, which means you need somewhere to go and something to do until then, since really PROACTIVE becomes REACTIVE to some extent once you start playing, as you roll new terrain, random encounters and so on.

All of this talk of Proactive vs. Reactive might be apropos of nothing, but I do think it is important, and somewhat instructive, to think about which structure the type of game or genre you're thinking of has, so as to look ahead to what some of your needs are going to be.

I think one of the things I've always struggled with in Reactive-type games is: Who is my character? Where am I going? What am I doing? I always likened it to wanting to have no more knowledge than the character. That is to say: the teens in a Slasher Movie don't KNOW they're in a Slasher Movie. The people that move into a Haunted House don't KNOW they're in a Haunted House Movie. Until all the fun starts. I'd like to be as surprised as they are.

I haven't solved that one. Without LOTS of purpose designed random tables (that STILL might produce results that didn't fit well together) the only option I can see right now is deciding what kind of "movie" you're making ahead of time and casting accordingly? At the least you might have to have some kind of random generation of "Who" and "Where" which might suggest (or let something like "Mythic" generate suggestions for you) of the "What" and "Why"?

ANYHOW, the idea that I have is on a way to handle Ensemble Casts, and deal with the Where They're Going and What They're Doing questions to some extent. At least until the "fun" begins.

The idea was inspired by the RPG "The Final Girl". In that game, 3+ players each create 2-4 characters or so, writing them up on index cards, which are put into a "pool". No one owns the characters, but each scene each player picks a character to play for that scene. There are a number of Introduction Scenes where we get to know these characters and establish Connections between them.

I was thinking about how to convert this game to Solo when I had the following idea, for handling scenes with ensemble casts.:

  • CHARACTERS: Write each Characters name on an index card. You are either going to play all the Characters, or have one Main Character and play one of the "NPC's" in scenes that this character is not in, etc. If you choose a Main Character you can then pick one of the NPC's to be your next Character if that one dies, etc.
  • LOCATIONS: Decide if the game is going to take place over a wide area or a isolated location. These are where your scenes are going to take place, and write them down on cards. For example: if you decide your Slasher Movie is going to take place at  Summer Camp, you might write up the main rooms of the Lodge on separate cards (or make a little sub-table of rooms on a card that just says "Lodge"?), Lake, Woods, Council Fire, Boat Dock, Garage, Barn, etc.
  • SITUATION: Write up a number of cards with "Situations" typical to whatever type of "movie" you're playing. Continuing with out Slasher example, let's say: Sex, Drugs, Music, Booze, Dancing, Pranks, Spooky Story, Teasing, Banter, Quarrel, whatever tropes you want.
  • NOW:  each scene draw (X) number of Characters (dice for it or decide, whatever), a Location and a Situation. Your Characters and Location are self explanatory. The "Situation" is something that you introduce during the scene. Choose which character(s) the Situation apply to, and feel free to be as liberal in your interpretation as you like (i.e. if you draw "Sex", maybe you chose two characters who run off somewhere to "do it", maybe it's just innocent flirting, or maybe a Character lusts after someone who isn't even aware of their existence).

So there's the idea in a nutshell. I see it as a way to decide at least who's in the scene, where it takes place, and what their motivation is, until your Game Master Emulator of choice kicks in and the session "gets some legs" and  takes on a life of its own, and things start happening.

1 comment:

  1. I may try this with Grave Robbers from Outer Space. I would need to create the situation cards though.