Saturday, February 19, 2011

Player Choice

It's been almost a week without me nattering on about game design, so I want to return to the matter of player choice. First, one of the things we debated one afternoon at Last Unicorn Games was the nomenclature we'd use in our games. "Players" rolled dice; "characters" did not. "Characters" possess skills and abilities; "players" do not. Just to be clear on what I'm talking about when I say "Player choice."

I alluded in a previous post that a player's character has basically three types of response to the setting. The idea came to me while reading my friend Greg Christopher's blog In one post, he talks about the ACE Morality Model. The system alternates between "adherence", "concensus", and "efficiency". Don't worry, I'm not actually going to employ that model too closely, other than to note that this triggered an idea.

When players sit down to create their characters, the face a tripartite choice. They may or may not be aware that they are making this decision at the time they create their characters; that is to say, they may simply create a warrior, and give no thought to the character's relationship to the setting until play starts. Or they might; a player who chooses to create a Paladin is making a decision about his character's relationship to the world -- he's choosing to uphold "good" (however "good" is defined by the setting). That choice is: Adherence, Noncompliance, and Digression.

Adherence: The player wants his character to adhere to the main storyline. He wants to fight the Dragonriders, bring down the Empire, or drop the magic ring into Mount Doom. He's on-board with the central conflict presented by the setting. Generally, he enthusiastically follows the plot laid out by the gamemaster, and contributes enthusiastically.

Noncompliance: The player doesn't care about the central conflict presented by the gamemaster. He's not engaged by the story,  but wants to play nonetheless. At best, he goes along with the group and finds stuff to do. In fact, such as character can add some depth to the game, if played well ("Tell me again why we're walking into Moria?"). He's the reluctant hero. At worst, you have to wonder why the character is involved at all. This is the guy who creates an anti-paladin or a necromancer while everyone else is making elves and druids.

Digression: This is the Han Solo type of character. They kinda sorta care about the central conflict. He's the thief who goes along with the rest of the group because there might be something valuable to steal. He's the warrior who'll fight the evil sorcerer because it lets him kill orcs. He won't mind dropping the One Ring into Mount Doom, so long as they stop along the way to pick up some Halfling leaf to sell in town. In other words, the character isn't centrally focused on the main conflict, but isn't opposed to it either.

As an example of what I'm talking about, when I sat down to play Fallout 3, I made a conscious decision to ignore the main storyline. I'd played Betheda Softworks games before, and knew they rewarded players who just wandered around. I went on some of the tangential missions -- I helped the Vampires in the Metro system, and I helped that town on the overpass. But mostly I just wandered around and stumbled onto some pretty fun stuff. I collected nuka cola. I liked shooting slavers. I found a cache of military weapons in an abandoned convoy. I was Noncompliance. But I had fun.

This would have been difficult had I been playing with a group. It's kind of hard to hunt rad-roaches while the rest of the group is trying to stop the oppressive fascists. The best way to do this, I suppose, would be to integrate one with the other. While you're hunting rad roaches, you happen upon a patrol of oppressive fascists.

In the end, I think the best setting is one that accomodates all three types of interaction. There's stuff for to please the warrior, thief, and cleric in the group. Of course, this depends entirely upon the gamemaster, and how closely scripted his campaign is.

No comments:

Post a Comment