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Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Design Issues: Character Development (Source Code)

Ok, this one thing has been bugging me. I haven’t been able to nail it down and it has been a major brake on the development of Source Code. I had some weird plot-clock combined with the get XP for failing twist, but none of this gave me what I wanted, which was characters that grew in complexity and not necessarily power.

Then thanks to a discussion on Story Games and Jonathan Walton I found the solution. And at the same time solving another little nut; how to game mechanically support the Want that is so integral to driving the protagonists of a Source Code story.

Source Code: Protag Strings and Links.

Each protag(onist) has a want. This is that unarticulated need, or drive that propels the protag into action. Hir Protag String (also called chain by J. Walton) is all about this want. It takes the following form:
String [protag] [name (a short line describing the string)]
The name is a short line that describes a theme fitting to the Want. The Want becomes the theme that runs through all the Links that follow within the String.

Example: Julie, a protag, has the Want: Fame. Her string may look like this:
String [Julie] [Coming up]

Now a protag may have many Strings before hir Want is resolved, but until it does it is the theme of the strings. The red thread that ties all the protag’s actions together.

A string is in itself made up by a series of Links that provide scene context for the protag moment from moment in play. It is a sort of macro describing what the player of the protag wants hir protag’s story to be about now. They look like this:
Link [theme/issue/setting]
pressure: [vulnerabilities]
exits: [links available after the Link is resolved]
A protag needs to have a Link active to be put into a scene. The other players are required to apply pressure across the protag’s active Link.

Links are a theme, an issue or a setting based element that the protag needs to need with right now. They are linked together in a Link web via their exits and each Link brings a different sort of pressure to the protag. The pressures define what the protag resources that are fair game to the other players, this is important for the narrator to hit hard but fairly.

A player may change, resolve, a Link after sie has had the protag in one conflict pertaining to this Link. Sie may change the Link after the outcome of the conflict has been decided, and the exit chosen is noted and communicated to the other players. A player does not need to resolve a Link until sie has achieved what sie wanted for the protag. But to resolve it there must be at least one conflict. And this may be a Relationship Flashback Conflict.

A string is completed when it contains a set of thematic Links as defined by the narrator and the genre. A player need not resolve a complete String, nor does a player have to complete a String to resolve it. And only the player of the protag may decide when to resolve or change the protag’s Want, given that sie has completed the first Link of the String.

Resolving a Complete String gives the protag a memory, a relationship (with an NPC featured in actual play during the course of the String) or a Release. Player choice. If the String was incomplete when resolved the player gets the same choice, but this time the memory, relationship or release is damaged/corrupted.

That is it so far, I can’t wait to see how this works in actual play. The jury is still out on the benefit of many, contra few links, and I suspect I need to find a reward to pursue links contra Strings, but right now this is where I stand.

Oh and a big up to Joshua Newman for influencing the written style of Source Code.


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