Saturday, 11 June 2011

Minus level characters

We've seen some intense rolling discussions this past week. For anyone not following events in the D&D OSR, Stuart has a summary up here.

The topics were shields, nihilism, heroism, gory art, oddly familiar art and level zero characters.

For the last of these I have a small suggestion to make, hopefully useful in more than one OSR.

But first a late entry for last week's Saturday Centus at Jenny Matlock's blog, 25 words plus the phrase the end. It was hard to resist writing it then and the theme seems to fit now.

It is never the end, never the beginning. The story has no pages. There is no book. Perhaps there is retelling. And thus we may live on.

That could be an approach. Level zero is an interesting concept, and ckutalik looked at it here at Hill Cantons a while back. The trigger now is the Dungeon Crawl Classics Beta Rules release from Goodman Games. Starting characters are weak; it's worth learning names, but you might not need to remember long with these guys.

So what to do if you love the level zero idea, but not the execution so to speak? One thing we've been reminded this week is that gaming can be a very different thing to each of us; we may be at the table for very different reasons. That said, I'd guess many of us are there for a shared fiction, a story collaboratively created.

A story of course is usually a piece of the possible cut out and marked as complete enough to tell. Away from those apparently shapeless possibilities, the story seems to have a form, a linearity, a point, and the events will naturally seem to be leading to that.

This is sounding familiar to the fundamental laws idea, right? Well, yes.

I'm not talking railroad, but expectations. If a friend, parent, master or associate is killed another friend, child, pupil or associate may act.  He or she may seek revenge, or see succession. There may be unfinished business, or myth calling. A sense of honour, or maybe a deal waiting to be done, a power vacuum, a tipping point close, a revolution to be set in motion, nothing left to lose. A powerful purpose, reason to jump in.

How about each level zero character having a simple ability, one-off or not? A destiny, an intimation of greatness, a push or a pull. Play it at a critical moment to barely scrape through, fulfil those expectations, reflect that framing. It may just be enough.

If it isn't, have the NPC standing alongside raise the standard, or see a once-in-a-lifetime chance appear ahead, or have something click in a character out of shot, as yet unmet. There's the next guy you roll up. No emotional investment need be fully lost. The world can keep turning, the fire burning, perhaps only on new ground, with new fuel.

Why not in wargames too? The last member of unit has a lot on his or her shoulders. And think of the auxiliaries, trainees, support staff, friends and family, passersby.

I'm not saying this is how you should do it - of course - or even that it needs to be done. There are good reasons for a high attrition rate in a gaming. We all have our own cups of tea, even if made with the same essential liquid. There are many implementations, more elegance. This is just an option, another experiment in fun, more of that exploration.


Trey said...

I can see the appeal in the "high attrition rate" idea--dungeoncrawling as a sort of horror story (where people purposely put themselves into the horror) akin to some Western novels (Blood Meridian, or In Rogue Blood) or some cautionary tales of the outlaw life--where all participants are marked men whether at the outside or later (like The Assassination of Billy the Kid).

I think that's a pretty different feel from the inspirations of Appendix N--or indeed any sort of fantasy literature in existence--but in a way I think that makes it seem more worth exploring.

Bartender said...

He who seeks revenge must dig two graves.

Porky said...

@ Trey - I agree. I think there is value in the approach, and the more so the more the game involves roleplaying, where the relationship between players and characters guided is much stronger. Horror seems a good word.

@ Bartender - Reasonable reflection. You might want to look back over those posts mentioned at the beginning. You can probably get to most if not all through Trey's and Stuart's blogroll, or through the top blogroll and roleplaying blogroll here.

Chris Kutalik said...

One thing that annoys me about this medium is the demanding immediacy of it all; my brain just doesn't work that way sometimes.

I read this post and have been ruminating on it since you posted it, but haven't quite put it together. I like your direction here, I like the idea of playing more than a single character but something more like ripples in a pond from that character.

Porky said...

I find things I read can percolate for days, and who knows when or how some of the thoughts emerge again?

This is for me one of those 'sensed whole' posts, where there's something much deeper just beyond perception. Like you, I feel the idea is playing less a standard entity, in this case a single character, and playing more a region or aspect of the game world, or theme in the larger polycosmos. The ripples image is a good one.