Design Diary: GENERATIONAL STORYTELLING

heraldry
from the Pendragon 5th Edition RPG.
  Lo there do I see my father; Lo there do I see my mother and my sisters and my brothers; Lo there do I see the line of my people, back to the beginning. Lo, they do call me, they bid me take my place among them, in the halls of Valhalla, where the brave may live forever.” --13th Warrior   “Galahad, you have been long enough with your father Lancelot, therefore leave that ship and start upon this horse, and go on the quest of the Holy Grail.' So Galahad went to his father and kissed him, saying, 'Fair sweet father, I know not if I shall see you more till I have beheld the Holy Grail.' Then they heard a voice which said, 'The one shall never see the other till the day of doom.' 'Now, Galahad,' said Lancelot, 'since we are to bid farewell for ever now, I pray to the great Father to preserve me and you both.' 'Sir,' answered Galahad, I no prayer availeth so much as yours.” --The Quest of the Holy Grail   “Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.” --Inigo Montoya, The Princess Bride   Brittanis is an explicitly Arthurian game-- it’s in the name, in the story and history of our shared world. We’re not bound to any particular version of the legends, but there are many recurring themes that travel through nearly every iteration of the Arthurian story. One in particular I’m talking about today, and the beginning of our plan to accomplish those story themes. In short, Brittanis Chapter 1 ends in Winter 2017. From that ending,  Chapter 2 will begin Spring 2018, telling the story of a new generation of Heroes as they are called to defend Brittanis.

Don’t freak out.

Breathe.

It’s gonna be okay. In fact, it’s gonna be AWESOME.

Why Chapter Two?

If you haven’t read through the rest of the Design Diaries, I recommend you do so before continuing forward. (NOTE: the game acknowledges the inherently sexist nature of the source material. Our examples from the legends may be misogynist, but the LARP we run most certainly is not. Ask around among our players if it concerns you.)  

The Arthurian Cycle

What you’ll notice throughout all those blog posts--other than “Jason loves bullet points”-- is that our game design strives to look back toward our source material; this is no different. The Arthurian tales are a generation-spanning series of myths and tales. It is literally an epic legend that, despite the name, is vastly larger than just the personal tales of King Arthur. From a purely chronological tale, it starts with his father King Uther and continues through Arthur’s lifetime and into that of (depending on version) his son and sometimes beyond. It spans at least 3 generations, and in many tales 4 generations. If an average human generation is about 20 years, that’s at least 50 years of in game time, far more than that if we assume periods where things just aren’t happening. Bottom line: many of us would be dead if we intended on playing through our version of Arthurian legends year by year. We’ll never make it to the end. Assuming the game itself would last for 50 real world seasons is nice to consider, but impossible. However, breaking up our version of the Arthurian Cycle into discrete pieces that cover the most dramatically pivotal years of the tale breaks the story up into smaller, much more manageable pieces both logistically and thematically. The idea is to break up the entire Arthurian narrative into several Chapters of 5ish years each, then make a clean break and tell the next Chapter of the Story with the next generation of Heroes called to defend Brittanis, and eventually Camelot as well. As I write this, we are sitting at the beginning of Season 3, which if you count our Playtest Season 0, is actually our 4th year of playing through this Chapter. We’re approaching the end of Chapter 1. Everything is beginning to come to a climax and then the spotlight will go out on these Heroes and the next Story will be told.  

Long-Range Storytelling

 In the source material, over and over again a protagonist tries at a task... and fails. Sometimes they are completely unable to complete a goal, but far more often they are able to fulfill part of the quest but not complete it fully. Perhaps they don’t have the right magic item, but their son manages to find it and complete his father’s quest. Or the father isn’t worthy--but his son is. Or the grandfather made a deal with a faerie that binds his children down to the 7th generation, and so forth. Progressing into generational stories allows the game to live and breathe these kind of stories. To be clear: there are going to be a lot of un-resolved story threads in Chapter 1. This is deliberate, so that many quests and heroic journeys become themes that follow that Heroic Lineage through the entire Story. It also lets us not be forced into contrived timelines that don’t make sense for the Story itself.  

Address Power Creep

Long term gamers, especially tabletop and LARP, understand that phrase intimately. Any time you have a rule set that allows for character improvement, the characters who have been in-game and earning that advancement steadily will eventually overshadow new characters to the point that there is a significant power gap, and ultimately a “Fun Gap” as well restricting the ability of new players to really plug into the game and community. The Chapter break addresses this in an even-handed and clean way. Every character is retired, and every player starts anew on equal footing with everybody else. Resetting the game in this way also allows the “new player” and “old guard” dynamics to shift and change over time, instead of stratifying the player culture in a way that causes resentment and stagnation. Note that the plan IS NOT to kill off all the characters; rather, their time in the spotlight of history comes to an end and they retire from the world-shaking events of history.  

See LARP In A New Way 

This is something new among LARP--especially in the USA. Generational storytelling emphasizes a whole different kind of game culture, decision making, and perspective than any other game. Will your decisions change knowing your descendants will carry your name, for good or ill? What stories will be told of your deeds when your children and grandchildren are the ones recounting those deeds round the Y Seeth Perry fire? Will it affect your goals, your priorities, your choices in the critical moment? It should--and that allows players to participate in storytelling that is different in feel, theme, and scale than any other.  

What’s the Plan?

Keep in mind this is a very macro scale post. We’re working on the details, and we want to get this right, so I’m going to be talking in very broad strokes here and not getting nitty-gritty.

You're Setting Up Chapter 2 Right Now 

We’ve got two years of Chapter 1 still left, and a TON of the way Chapter 2 functions will depend on how the last 2 years of Chapter 1 play out. Staff genuinely doesn’t know what’s gonna happen too far in the future, but we do know that some Chapter 1 themes are going to influence how Chapter 1 ends, and the situation of the world as Chapter 2 opens many years later.
  • The Chosen One: who wins the race for the Treasures? What are the circumstances of the Summoning? Who accomplishes it? Which Treasures are used? Who tries to stop it from happening at all, and are they successful?
  • The Fomorian Invasion
  • The Silurian War
  • Religious Unrest
All these things and many more will influence Chapter 2. However, regardless of where these plotlines are developed at in 2017, when that Season ends, so does Chapter 1. We’re working on an organized way for players to be able to continue the quests of the Ancestor Heroes, and this all ties together. What a Chapter 1 Hero cannot accomplish, her descendant may be able to continue or complete in Chapter 2. The greatest glory may take more than one lifetime to achieve.

Ancestor and Legacy Heroes

 Again-- breathe. Don’t freak out. These are big ideas-- we’re working on the details and won’t be releasing a lot of data on until next season. For now, however, here are some concepts we’re working on:
  • The Basics: midway through 2017, all existing Heroes will be asked to write a Heroic Legacy for their character--basically a short bio including identifying information about their Chapter 1 hero, quests the hero was pursuing, major character traits, favored weapons/fighting style, etc. This ALSO includes deceased/inactive Heroes. The Heroic Legacies will be listed, along with pictures of the hero in kit where able, on the website.
  • All players will generate new starting Heroes using the Brittanis 2.0 rules (more about that in another blog post) for Chapter 2. All CP totals, Reserve Points, etc start over equally. Everybody begins as a new Hero, telling a new piece of the Story.
  • In Chapter 2 and beyond, players are encouraged and incentivized to play the descendant of a Chapter 1 Hero. Depending on how far we decide to advance the world’s timeline, descendant could include any of the following:
    • Child/grandchild/other genetic descendant
    • Adopted, niece/nephew, cousin, other familial relationship
    • mentor/student relationship
    • heard tales of the Chapter 1 Hero and strives to emulate their “ancestor”
    • Other options are possible, but the most important part of the Legacy Hero is that they take up the unfinished quests and business of their ancestor.
  • Chapter 2 Heroes will be required to be significantly different from their Ancestor. Emulation is great, but outright copying the previous character will be forbidden.
  • Playing the Legacy of a different player’s Hero will be a statistically-advantageous option to playing the Legacy of your own Chapter 1 Hero.
  • Signature Items can be passed down from Ancestor to Legacy Hero, with a possible option for the Ancestor to add a power to the item that symbolizes/represents their own influence on the magic of the Signature Item.
  • Ancestor Heroes will all go through a random “how the intervening years treated you” process, and the players of Ancestors who survive into the timeline of Chapter 2 will, as dictated by plot needs of current players, come onscreen in the role of their Ancestor Hero aged appropriately to the new timeline.  Special Ancestor Events may even be possible as a kind of “flashback” to previously-undiscovered chronicles of the Heroes’ deeds are discovered that influence the current Chapter’s action.
 

What Do I Do Now?

BREATHE. Calm down a bit. Resist freaking out, let the adrenaline subside, and then breathe some more. It’s gonna be okay.

You Are Already An Ancestor

 Start thinking of your character as the next generation’s Ancestor--because they very well may be. What short term goals does your character have? What about long term goals? It’s important to remember that many of the long term goals might not be complete-able before the end of the Chapter, but making progress on those goals is always possible. Perhaps Lancelot couldn’t claim the Grail, but he located the castle and understood what was required to achieve it, and passed that knowledge on. King Uther fought to unite all Britain under his rule, but ultimately only his son could finish the job. Even Merlin couldn’t accompany Arthur through his entire kingship, and passed the responsibility on to a host of other magical advisors (depending on your version of the tale).  

You Don’t Have To Do It All 

Generational gaming means that not everything is going to get finished by the time the curtain closes on Chapter 1. It means plot threads are going to be left hanging, and that is explicitly intentional in the design. It means there will be disappointments to go along with the triumph, as well as joy to accompany the sorrow. It means there will be evil left unvanquished, deeds left undone, and valor left unclaimed, and that’s okay. It means your descendants will be busy. It also means you have the chance to focus and really shine a light on what you want to accomplish in the short and long term.  

Family, Relationships, and the Future 

This is vitally important for Generational Storytelling. Does your character have a lover or spouse, whether they are onscreen or not? Children already? Brothers, sisters, nieces and nephews? What is your view of them? If not, are you seeking to pass on your family name yourself, through your House or Clan, or in some other way? How will you build your Allegiance so it survives till Chapter 2 and beyond.  

Pass It On 

Take notes. Record your adventures, both the success and failure. Write to your descendants NOW. Write down your thoughts, and discoveries; let not the memory of your deeds pass into the night, but keep them shining in the hearts of your descendants. Think about what quests and advice you want to pass on to your descendants, and WRITE IT DOWN.   That’s all for now; more next time on the Brittanis 2.0 rule set!