[In the Lab] A Situation for Rulers - Hunger Game of Thrones?


So the big problem with the Rulers universe is that it's a potent setting, but hard to come up with a crystal-clear scenario that creates focused play and touches on all the cool aspects of the setting. I call this the Shadowrun problem. So much of Shadowrun's awesome comes from the melange of fantasy and cyberpunk, yet the focus of play is on a teeny, tiny aspect of the universe: dungeon-crawling.

Folks on Story-Games came up with a lot of interesting scenarios. I eventually settled on a Prince Zuko scenario: Royal exiles in the DMZ. The king's sons and daughters are suddenly exiled, cut off from the line of succession, and cast out into the unruled zone between kingdoms.

That's fine, but it still doesn't give characters a real purpose. I like it when there's one thing everyone knows they're supposed to be doing, even if the story deviates from that over time. There's still a central lane players know they're supposed to walk. (For example: Pilgrims help people and get into trouble.)

So, I'm considering an extra wrinkle in the basic exile scenario: It's televised. The whole exile scenario is like a Rumpsringa. Royal exiles proving their worth individually while being forced to stick together by external pressures.

Mechanically, you could pull stuff from the "First Contact" scenario of Split Decision, where optimal actions could negatively impact public approval and vice versa. Minor betryals might get a pass once or twice, but a fickle audience will only put up with so much.

I suppose I should just get down to writing this thing into a playable beta at some point, eh?

6 comments:

  1. So, you have this fantastic externally facing structure, but I think part of the formlessness your encountering is that there's no internal traction. That is to say, there is no window into what it is rulers want.

    The trick is that, outside of cartoons, no one just wants power. There is _something_ they really believe in which is usually tightly tied to themself. That is to say, the tyrant wants power to rule, but he also sees himself as the BEST POSSIBLE PERSON for the job. Yes, there's an element of self delusion to that, but it's a critically important element of self delusion for those who really pursue power. Whatever self-serving lens they put it through, winners perceive that they do it in service of _something_ , be it God or the good of their nation, tribe, people, family or other group they identify with.

    (Yes, you do have the occasional one who wants power because they deserve or are entitled to it, but such individuals usually represent the end of a dynasty, since those are the ones who get knocked off their thrones by someone with more will to power.)

    All of which is to say that so far you have a neat model for power without agenda, but that's a recipe for frustration, and the reality TV idea points to the why of it. See, it's a really fun, playable idea - royalty in exile scoring points on each other on reality TV? Totally gameable. But it could just as easily be the kids of a billionaire or similar - it doesn't speak to the much more interesting premise of rules and laws that you've laid down.

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  2. Hm! I like mechanizing those kinds of internal motivations, even if only a little bit. Any thoughts on how to make those motivations mechanically relevant? Aspects? Do-style Banner/Avatar?

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  3. That is a huge question, bigger than can probably be answered all at once, but I think the important thing is that the question is raised more than the specific implementation.

    To raise an example, consider if each character must answer the question of where there authority comes from in their own mind - by what right do they rule?

    There are a few categories of answers, all potentially fruitful for mechanical hooks, but they are mostly either internal or external.

    External reasons would be things like ruling by right of law (I'm the firstborn!) or because it's the Will of God. Both of these are powerful reasons, but it also intrinsically ties a character to the structures they suggest. If a king rules by divine right then turns his back on the church or the evident will of God (think Saul or Henry VIII) they undermine their own power.

    Internal reasons tend to be "Because I am..." and can be things like "The strongest", "Well loved" and so on, and they in turn raise questions when the character's primacy in that sphere is challenged. If you deserve to rule because you're the strongest, how do you respond to someone who might be stronger?

    This challenge to the internal pillar of authority is a huge driver in fiction, and if hooked into power, could also probably drive play.

    -Rob D.

    PS - Oh, one other thought - consider the change between "Rules originate from rulers" and "Rules exist and can be shaped by rulers". Doesn't change how things much under an active ruler, but it does allow old rules to linger on based ont heir own strength, which in turn provides the necessary seeds for conflict and dissent.

    It also raises an interesting resonance between rules and laws, since if rules exist (like laws) then the difference between rule and law becomes more meaty, summed up in the simple sentiment that a law is a rule that hasn't been broken _yet_.

    (also allows for the critically important differing rules to exist, allowing factionalism, which is somewhat critical to this kind of flavor, since you may use one set of rules to protect yourself from another, forcing conflict or compromise - consider church vs. civil law as a mundane example of this).

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  4. Daniel's brilliance enhanced and spiced with Rob's brilliance? Yeah, this needed to happen a long time ago. Make this game, please.

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  5. Man, like I need another game on my plate. :P Oh well, I've probably written enough content to flesh out a small setting document anyway.

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  6. Also, Power is usually a means to an end. I want power to make "x" happen. X is the motivation and the key to personality.

    I want to be Queen so I can restore my mother's homelands back into the fold of the Empire as they should be.

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Daniel Solis
Art Director by Day. Game Designer by Night.