Archive for the ‘Cranium Rats’ Category

I thought this might interest others as well. I decided to think again of Cranium Rats while in class today, and jotted down several pages of notes.
Of particular interest to most people might be sections 5-7, which explore currency, story, competition, and their interaction. This obviously references Cranium Rats, and its re-design which had been slightly explored in the previous posts on this blog, but I feel like it is more broadly applicable. Feel free to tell me if it is indeed so.

This is also the first post made here, after migrating from LJ.

  1. Creating a generic system of rules, which had “Sliders” which can be adjusted, and to clearly say, “If you do X and you gain 3 dice, it will cause people to initiate more conflicts, but if performing X only gains you one die then less conflicts will be initiated.” For instance, how many dice/points it costs to initiate a conflict, or how many free dice the defender receives.
  2. Even if such a semi-generic system does not come to pass independently, and it is released from the get-go with a setting, with specific rules; then it is possible to release different settings, and if you change the values of different variables then it should change the behaviour (from the players).
  3. Release should include a setting world or two, or at least “Moods” and “Themes” along with the game, along with adjusted systems.
  4. There will be several different types of playtesting required. Both the general system as a whole, which will include how currency is transferred, and for each sub-setting, to see if the values decided upon deliver the expected and desired results.
    1. It will be easier to check the specific systems after checking the general one, because supposedly you will only need to check the effect of changing singular values.
    2. But of course, you cannot check the general system, because each time you test, there will be specific values inserted into the different variables. At best you could check “directions”: “If we will increase X’s reward then…” and less focus on specific values’ effects.
  5. It seems as if the game will require people to think of the currency, or at least understand it on some conscious level. Just like in a board-game you play differently the second time, after you understand better how things work and what yields are expected and desired. What actually works. The thought-patterns of board-games and strategy. A different thought-pattern, nearly tactical/strategic.
  6. Unlimited competition and the creation of a joint story; these have a difficulty coexisting peacefully. In this version it will be necessary to change their levels until they could coexist, and maybe even give up on the desire for it to be a CSI Game (Competitive, Story Interactive Game), merely to have it as a working game.
    1. When the game has an end, and at this end a victory or a loss, then that is the goal.
      1. If the story is the ultimate goal, then victory could not be something you aim for seriously and without limits.
      2. If victory is the ultimate goal, then the manner in which you can tell a story is constrained.
        1. The largest problem is when “everyone wins”, when one focuses on story and another on victory. Because then the victory may feel hollow, as it’s not against someone who was even competing, it was not earned.
        2. The contribution to the story by the one who focuses on victory could be marginal, minimal, and all over the place. It sometimes work in a game where you have random elements that throw you off in various directions, but intent matters, and when another player does it simply because they don’t care? It is not meaningless in the context of the game table. More-over, with the random and hijinks mindset, everyone is geared towards it.
  7. So there is need to make some change, in the manner the story is told, the competition, or in the manner these two elements interact.
    1. Story.
      1. You can see in competitive games what you can do with stories, for instance in computer games (albeit those are usually solo games), and then for a large number of people the story does not matter. We need to assume that whoever plays story-games is interested in the story, even if we cannot leave the creation of story to lay completely within their minds – as that goes against my design sensibilities. So we need to assume there is some interest. Whoever watches Blizzard’s games’ video cutscenes as opposed to those who skip them.
      2. Of course, if there are simply things “on screen” then we will add story, because a large part of every story or perhaps even its majority (and especially “messages”) occurs in our own minds. But we do want there to be a story created together, but what is a story which is created as a joint effort, is there some sort of message and can we get it over? We can try, but the other side has to “pick it up” on their end, because otherwise the message will not be transmitted, and in a like manner it is hard to discern how many stories are told around one table. As the number of characters, as the number of players, a multiplier?*
      3. But it seems I do not want to give up on story, on story-gaming, where the thing is creating scenes, situations, where there are often characters. This is also why my CSI Games project focuses on stories and not characters. Even though characters are another method of story, as explored in 7.1.1, identification, not immersion, but viewer-identification with a character in a book or a movie.
      4. I don’t want to give up on this type of story, even if unrelated to characters, and so I know that I can’t get too far from what there already is in the realm, the genre –  so I need to focus either on changing within the realm of competition, or the interaction; there is not a lot of wiggle room here.
    2. Competition.
      1. It is possible of course to let go of competition, so it will not exist at all, or that it would be merely nominal, but if so it will be a completely different type of design, even though this is also an option. **
      2. Right now I think of changing the extension or the realm over which competition extends itself.
      3. In the joint realm (of story), competition can obviously revolve around story, over its direction, over controlling it, etc.
      4. I find this option or at least its presentation as unfulfilling and insufficient, because every competition which occurs within a game of this sort will affect the story. Either directly, or by its control via currency which is exchanged between the players who will later use it in order to succeed within the game or to modify it on the player level directly. And so, even though it is an option, it could be said that every solution that will be given will already perform this, so there is no need to talk of it as a separate option at this stage.
      5. The change that currently attracts me is changing the point of “victory”, from a final point towards which all strive, where smaller points act as stepping points that get you closer there. The suggested change is to lower the final ending point, and to make the competition one that revolves over the specific, the particular, where there is a certain level of resources that can be transferred between the players, but everyone still have enough in order to influence things. The competition is over the resources which will enable more control within the game-world later. The competition is in order to gain more chances of control when you desire it.
  8. There are different resources, and you can probably exchange in various ways one type of currency for another; even if it’s the same currency! For example, if the same resource can give you 2 dice in one situation and 3 dice in another, and you can also earn 2 in one way and 3 in another, then you could say that you can exchange 2 of “resource X used in Y scenario” for 3 of “resource X used in Z scenario”.
    1. From board games I’ve noticed that too much choice can not only liberate but also paralyse (analysis-paralysis). If each type of currency can only be used in certain places, then in those places it is more likely that you will use these resources, as opposed to wanting to save them for a later date when they are universal. However, when they aren’t universal, you may use them more while they are in your possession, but you may shy from obtaining them, because they are both more narrow in their application and because the other players will know what you are aiming for. This is less of an issue in a less-adversarial mind-set.
      1. Issues of scarcity obviously play a part here, that is, how easy and how often you can regain and refresh different resources.
    2. The resources must renew and replenish, the ones which players use again and again to compete between themselves and to drive the story and the action forward, for the game to not be stagnant. These are temporary resources.
    3. There are also more permanent resources, of which there is a closed economy, the “16” points distributed amongst three players. It is important that they will not dictate the whole game, so players could not lose too many, or gain too many! And yet they must be significant. 5 per player, and a 16th that can be had? This requires more thought as the game is re-tooled from the ground-up.

* Robert Donoghue just wrote today on his blog about “Sub-plots“, which I’ve read after writing this. I think that even if the number of stories is vast, and they are different stories, then it is possible all participants would count the same number of plots and sub-plots, and even point at them. This is pretty wild.
Also, it’s unclear what exactly story is, at this point, even after all I’ve spoken of it before. We know it when we see it.

** It will be a different game either way, but this way I can at least feel as though it bears the same spirit.

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I’ve talked recently about what I’m going to do with Cranium Rats.

I am going to create the Cranium Rats Chassis which will be character generation, Aspect generation, the interaction between Aspects and Resolution. I will put that content under Creative Commons, allowing other people to meddle with the game and make it explore areas of their choice.

I will give examples of Aspects triads to be chosen, and will further give rules for regaining resources for at least one Set of Aspects. This won’t be under Creative Commons.
What comprises the Aspects (Male, Female, Genderless; Water, Dirt, Rat; etc), and what generates resources (and will thus get further exploration during play) will be left for designers to design, and will give the game played its mood and themes. This content will be owned by the person(s) who will create it. I am day-dreaming of it being not unlike the Sorcerer mini-supplement situation.

Your feedback will be most appreciated.

I had understood what the “problem” with Cranium Rats was a while ago, but I needed to let it sit and stew for a while more.

First, I’d like to thank Filip, who tried to break the system as hard as he could, and showed me the gravity of the problem.

So, the problem is this: There’s friction between Story and Competition, and it is such that one not only comes at the cost of another for you, it can come at the cost of the other for everyone. If you choose winning, mechanically, you may make choices that will make less sense to the story, or will make for a weaker story, and I wish the story to be significant at the same time as there being unrestrained competitionl. But I guess the lesson is that you can’t have both.

I will now explore similar cases in other RPGs that sadly do not apply to my case, but I want to show that I am looking at other cases, and if someone manages to solve this issue, I would be there, ready to jump and grab it.
Capes: Capes doesn’t have an end-point, which limits the competition; there’s always a next time. Nothing is finite. Another possibility is when competition is not really there, you want to “Win” for Resource A, and he wants to “Lose” for Resource B. In CR there’s an end point, there’s a definite winner, and so, definite losers.
The Shab-al-hiri Roach: In the Roach you have a roadmap, it’s very much like a boardgame in that respect. You know where you’re going, you have a limited number of stops on the way, and you get there. It requires the game to be built in a specific manner, which I didn’t choose for CR.

So, what can be made of Cranium Rats?
One option is to remove Story, and have it as a board game, or nearly one, but this option is the least appealing to me.
Another option is to remove competition, to make it a game about Choice and what makes a Human. Heady stuff. If I go down this route, I’ll also be able to take out much of the current system, which is complex and fiddly, because the system is there to regulate the resource flow and ensure no one is “Downspiraled” to a point of insignificance. This is an option I think I will pursue, and that will lead to an interesting result.

If you people have any ideas of how to mate competition and story successfully, please share.
Or if you have thoughts/ideas/feedback/suggestions or whatever regarding the above, especially option #2.