Sunday, 14 June 2015

The Grand Freeform Discussion: Post Zero

So I'm blowing the dust of the Gaming Knack blog. At Pheno just gone, Mister Smith got to talking with some folk, and kicked off a discussion at the RPG Opinions Facebook group. Facebook is great for discussions, but blogs are great for records and the ongoing existence thing. Besides: freeforming is something that happens at Aussie cons that doesn't really have an equivalent elsewhere. And we like that.

The plan is to record the discussion starter posts, and then put up a summary of discussion. I've no objection to people chatting here, but I'm deliberately lagging behind the FB discussion so as not to - ha! - split the party. 

So this is the summary of the plan: Post Zero, by the Intrepid Mr Smith.


Freeforming 0
Andrew's notes from Pheno 2015 post-con drinkies, and some groundrules for the discussion.
At Pheno this year I became interested in this premise: that freeform writers present the games they want to play in themselves. I thought to test this over soothing beverages at post-con drinkies, and discovered that I talked to too few people, and there was waaay more to talk about than could be accomplished in one evening. I did take notes.

So what I hope to do here is to supply my notes (with minimal reformatting), and propose that we go through the sections at a rate of one per week. Hopefully this will help keep things mostly on-topic — and if the discussion looks to touch on topics that will come up later, keep them till that week.
Three other suggestions. Firstly, I want to talk about freeforms, and specifically the pre-written characters, short-run ones that we do at cons, rather than tabletops or other forms of game. I did have a note about campaign freeforms, so I'm happy to see them referenced or used as contrast, but they are not the primary subject.

Secondly, everybody I talked to was passionate about the form. This is awesome. People were passionate about different bits, and had quite different preferences. I suspect we have an elephant problem here, and we don't even know if we have just one elephant. So I am not looking to find a One True Way towards con freeforms: it may even be an imaginary elephant. I would be immensely happy for this discussion to lead to a set of perceptions and tools that will help all of us build better freeforms, in some format or other.

Thirdly, I'm happy to add notes/points to the sections, and if you have a really good idea for a section, to add sections.

Rich world vs shared improv creation
Interact with world vs closed box
Open-ended vs defined end-point
Internal consistency, establishing setting conventions
PC actions impact on setting
Established settings vs new ones
Established: select engaged players, shared tropes/roles, but differing interpretations
New: freedom from unwelcome expectations but difficulty of consensus, sharing 'enough' info
Variant established - best of all worlds?

Styles of play
Families/factions/teams - the rule of 4: self, enemy, friend, mystery
Politics/intrigue vs relationships vs investigation vs the world
Romance can be tricky
"In the deep end" - the big decision: GM ends the world
On rails vs open ending
Con vs ongoing/campaign
Full immersion

Specific settings
'Hard' SF: unplayable?
Star Trek
Space opera: Dune, Fading Suns, Jupiter Ascending, 40K
Star Wars
Fantasy - modern, 'historical' (e.g. Gaslight, 7th Sea), high fantasy,
Actual period - regency, musketeers, Imperial Rome
Horror (as opposed to dark fantasy) - contemporary/normality
Military - ship crews

Game systems
Resources: circulation vs sink
Implied vs gamified
Dealing with PvP and PvE
Death and other sanctions
Sim/Strategic management
How many GMs?

Character sheets
Making things obvious to the player - clear role (e.g. head/diplo/mil)
BUT just enough detail
Using language to depict the world and suggest character
Where is the fun?
What do you care about? Goals/objectives, opinions, questions
Links to other characters: like vs need
Reactive vs proactive character choices
Golden bridge of retreat - no lose face
Models for characters being less appropriate literary models (hero, villain, chorus)
Problem characters: the guy everyone hates, the assassin, the not-what-it-says-on-the-tin
"Significant-other friendly" characters
"Deception" character sheet (cover sheet?)

Playing the game
Own your character
Adding to the fun of others
Secrets and resources
GM shopping
Mechanics - you (and everyone else) are allowed to use the system

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