Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Thematic Batteries

I'm a big fan of Paul Tevis's gaming podcast Have Games, Will Travel. Paul has shown real support for independent role-playing games, and I always feel that there are a lot of similarities between his play style and mine.

Recently, I listened to his interview with Joshua BishopRoby, the designer of Full Light, Full Steam. Based on their discussion, I desperately want to get my hands on this game.

In particular, their discussion of the game's thematic batteries really piqued my interest. I think this is a powerful, general concept that could be used in a wide range of games. Mind you, I've only heard descriptions of these rules, I haven't read them or tried them in play.

Basically, these are player-defined descriptors for the character. A thematic battery must have both positive and negative aspects. During play, you gain points every time the bad side is invoked. You can then use these points to give yourself appropriate in-game advantages later on.

For example, you might take "Youth" as a thematic battery. During play, you will struggle with being young. People won't take you seriously, or listen to your ideas. They won't trust you to do things on your own. You're looked down on, and talked down to. However, having suffered all this, you can then use your youth to your advantage--perhaps convincing the guard that you're just a lost child who needs help finding his way home.

This hits several big issues for me. Players are encouraged to create a strong, core concept for their character. Players are also encouraged to build conflict into their character, and they're rewarded for playing out these conflicts at the table.

However, the really interesting thing is that thematic batteries seem to incorporate other players in building and maintaining your characters core concept. As I understand it, the other players should introduce conflicts for your character based on your thematic batteries.

But here's my question, how far does this go? If I'm playing a character with a "Veteran" thematic battery, can someone else decide that I have a limp from an old war wound? Does that limp then become a permanent part of my character's description?

Typically, I consider character concepts inviolate. I resent any actions by other players or the GM that alters my character in any way. But, I must admit, I am intrigued by this idea of communal character building.

There are a couple reasons I think this might work. First, since the alteration is based on my thematic battery, it should (more or less) fit within my character concept. Secondly, since that aspect of my character is created at the table, during a dramatic moment, it is more likely to be remembered. It is therefor more likely to become a vital part of the ongoing story. Finally, I see this working somewhat like improvisational jazz. I trust the other players to listen to the tune I'm trying to create for my character, then improvise a riff that harmonizes with my groove. Basically, they should try to help me bring my character idea to life--not use the rules to screw me over or score a cheap laugh.

So, if anyone's actually read the rules (or played) for Full Light, Full Steam, or if you've seen similar mechanics in action, please let me know. This is an area I'm interested in exploring more fully.




Blogger VBWyrde said...

Ok First - I really like your blog. Thanks.

2) On Thematic Batteries. I feel the same way you do by instinct. I don't want other Players or the GM to be able to Add or Delete my Stuff from my Characters. What I would not mind, though, is a minor adjustment to the rule which would make it all perfectly cool with me: Other Players and the GM can Suggest ideas for my Character's background, which I can either accept or Veto. Without that, however, I fear the abuse of this rule. People power is nice, until they start running amok. :)

3) You might be interested in checking out the 'Literary Role Playing Game Society of Westchester' (LRPGSW) on Yahoo Groups. We discuss very similar themes to where you seem to be going. Our focus is on building more Literary Quality RPG Worlds.

Thanks again for a thoughtful blog!

3:50 AM  
Blogger Rich said...

Thanks for the comments.

I'm really torn about giving up control of my characters. I've had too many character concepts ruined just in normal play by GMs that either use bad rolls as an opportunity for cheap laughs at my character's expense, or GMs who completely ignore all the story flags I've built into my character, so I never get a chance to pursue the issues I was really interested in.

Having said that, I do think the thematic batteries idea might work, since the character's additions are limited to the themes that I have already defined. So I'm not giving them free reign.

I also think it's a matter of trust. I see similar issues with diceless roleplaying. In many ways, dice and rules are ways of making the players feel that they have more control over their characters. It's largely imaginary. The GM can abuse any system, but somehow having dice make the players feel more in control.

I've had a lot of success with diceless roleplaying when the players have sufficient trust in each other. I suspect something like thematic batteries (as I described them--remember, I haven't read the actual rules, and I don't know how they are actually implemented).

11:22 PM  

Post a Comment

<< Home