Sunday, May 24, 2009

Building On A Framework

That is a GIANT SPACE TELESCOPE! on TwitpicSo I had the very great pleasure of attending the first-ever GIANT SPACE TELESCOPE CON up at the Algonquin Radio Observatory last weekend. It was tremendous fun, even if the weather wasn't entirely favourable. But as you can see, there was definitely a GIANT SPACE TELESCOPE present.

Anyway, for this event, Stuart and I decided to try combining our respective GM brains and run a game together. The plan was to run a multiple-session one-shot over the weekend based on Stuart's theories around Battlestar Galactica and its Mormon theological basis. Stuart and I have discussed our GMing styles and approaches many times over the years, and I've been playing in a game of his for over a year now, so I have a good idea of how he puts together a game, but it was still fascinating to watch it happen "behind the scenes", as it were.

While we have many similarities in our aesthetics when it comes to games, our approach is fundamentally different. I come up with some ideas about genre, and a few interesting personalities, and then add the PCs and see what happens. Stuart, on the other hand, comes up with a framework -- a sort of ideological construct that will hold up the game, and provide a decision-making tool for the GM so that the events in the game come together in a thematically coherent fashion. It works as a set of metaphors, and as the game proceeds, the GM makes decisions using the metaphorical understanding of the game.

It's hard to explain. Here's how it operated in our game:

We knew we were doing a Battlestar Galactica game. This implies certain things -- the world is about to end, humanity has ascended to godhood and thus is about to be destroyed by its creations, "all this has happened before yada yada yada". In addition to that, we decided to apply a metaphor of Greek gods. Now this didn't get applied too rigorously, but we had the game start on Saturn's moon of Titan, the original creators of the gods (who were then the creators of humanity, who are the creators of the Cylons). On Titan they discovered evidence of a vanished extra-planetary civilization that had been overthrown and destroyed. There was reference to Phaeton, the charioteer of the gods, and a nod to the Phaeton Hypothesis that the asteroids were the remnants of a planet. In our framework, it meant that the asteroids had been destroyed in the cataclysm that had exterminated the Olympians and left the solar system in the hands of the humans.

In theory, had the players figured out the framework, they could have made predictions about the game based on their understanding of that framework.

We also used the Biblical plagues as a sign the world was coming to an end. This worked a little more straightforwardly, and we simply translated the plagues into a futuristic setting. The plague of insects was an attack by a super-intelligent hive of termites, the rain of fire was a swarm of cybernetic cruise missiles that looked like dragons, and so on. This framework DID provide the players with predictability -- they were able to look for and predict incoming plagues and try to take steps to survive them.

It was a great deal of fun, and from a GM's point of view enormously satisfying. Stuart and I are definitely planning to repeat the experiment -- we didn't get to use half the stuff we came up with for this game!