Connecting the Present to the Premise

2011 Apr 18

Vincent says some really smart things in this comment over on Anyway, about the importance of connecting what a player is doing now to what the overall premise of the game is. This is something that I felt was really missing from a lot of the games I grew up playing, even ones I really enjoyed.

How does what you do in Rifts connect to the idea of resisting an oppressive neo-Nazi regime or eking out a living in a post-apocalyptic world (if that’s even what that game is about)? How does what you do in In Nomine relate to guiding humanity towards their glorious destiny or dark fate (if that’s even what the game is about)? In some of those games, part of the problem is that the aboutness of the game is never really entirely clear, or even a set of different premises that you could choose from, despite some solid efforts at clarification by the writers (talking about tone and such). In other cases, even if the premise is clear, the connection between premise and player actions isn’t clear (as is notoriously the case in Nobilis, the “what do we do now?” problem).

Definitely something to keep in mind, especially for some of my weirder ideas like Firmament, where the connection between premise and “what we do now” seems a bit vague.

2 Responses to “Connecting the Present to the Premise”

  1. Kit Says:

    Interesting. This is related to something Austin has talked about, Unity of Effect. But it’s about unity of effect at the table in play, rather than in the artifact you create as a game designer. I like it.

  2. Zac in Virginia Says:

    Oh, god, I never knew what we were supposed to be doing in Vampire! We did the best we could, but… :)
    I’ve been thinking about this wrt Apocalyse World and Polaris.
    Rather, I’ve been thinking about the theme that’s kind of lurking *next to* the fiction-stuff: that meta-level where the reward cycles also encourage a particular approach to creating the fiction.
    That is, basically, “Play along, try out other people’s ideas. We shall do the same!”
    In Polaris, if you use It Shall Not Come to Pass, you roll Experience and end the conflict. That’s kind of negative reinforcement – don’t put up too much resistance to your Mistaken’s ideas or you’ll be dead!
    In AW, highlighted stats, Hx, and the Seduce/Manipulate move all encourage players to either check each other out or follow along with what others are suggesting. Hx is more subtle in this – it’s more like “Get to know the person you want to do stuff to”, kinda, while highlighted stats are pretty obviously other people’s ideas about what your character should be doing.
    It’s not the same as the “meat”/fiction of the game, but it’s a thing.
    It’s like the opposite of having a game that focuses a lot, mechanically, on deciding who gets to narrate what – such a game, like several early 00’s indie games, is all about clarity of one’s personal vision, and taking turns sharing your own, singular ideas with the table.
    I think history (and AP) have proved that group creativity can be a lot more fruitful, but it’s interesting to see how these different approaches can create very different play experiences.

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