Tuesday 12 May 2020

Collaborative Appeal and Challenge

So if you have Electric Bastionland, this post and maybe this one then you have everything you need to start running a game with two players and no conductor. It's a bit like cramming two people onto the driver's seat of a car and having them share the wheel and pedals while taking turns on the gear stick.

It might not be entirely smooth, it might not become the new standard method for driving, but with the right person it will be memorable.

Still, I came out of those posts wanting to explore the idea a bit further.

My Other Collaborative Games

Way back before I started designing Into the Odd, I'd mess around with collaborative games I could play on forums or IRC channels. There were three similar games:

Teen Island: Lord of the Flies meets Breakfast Club as twelve highschoolers are stranded on a desert island. Coordinate them to stay alive and eventually take a raft home.

Booty for Booty: Lead a pirate crew to on the high seas until you get enough Booty for your captain to retire.

Space Team: Go out on a mission in deep space and return with as many surviving crew as possible.

I don't want to share these right now, as I'd like to go through and tidy them up to make them more fit for consumption. Stay tuned.

Now these really weren't RPGs. They were much closer to a solo or cooperative boardgame, but at this time I didn't even realise that sort of game existed. When I played it with a group we'd just take turns in the driver seat or talk through the decisions together and laugh at the results.

The four pillars that all three games had in common were:

  • Tense resource management with harsh consequences for running out of food/fuel/grog.
  • Random starting points. You'd roll up a random crew/group just like an OSR character. You get a bad group? Deal with it. 
  • Lots of random events, usually as d66 tables. Teen Island and Booty for Booty each had three of these, Space Team had a huge mess of nested d6 tables that was actually pretty clunky.
  • A clear victory/failure point. You could have your whole team die, or you did whatever the main objective was (escape the island, retire as a rich pirate king, complete your space mission). 
These games were messy, clumsy, not especially elegant, but they captured something I want to tap into for my collaborative RPG ideas. 

Me and You Against the World

In Teen Island when your Gluttonous islander sneaks out in the night and eats your entire food stash, then the next day a storm hits and tears your camp to pieces, it's funny. Maybe I'm a masochist, but then it's even funnier when you have somebody to share it with.

Likewise, when you finally make it off the island against all odds it felt great. You beat the harsh, uncaring wilderness with a team of useless adolescents now honed into a survival force.

It all comes back to making sure the element of Challenge is there.

I touched on this last time, but to summarise:
Obstacles are supported by Integrity. If all signs point to this place being guarded by well-equipped elites then give them the appropriate mechanical backing. 

This is a fine starting point, but Obstacles and Challenge aren't quite the same thing. Obstacles are usually small-scale, short-term, but a sense of challenge spans across the entire game.

A method I'm messing with to get a real sense of challenge is a shifting of focus. In Electric Bastionland your challenge is "can you make enough money to pay off your debt without dying?". That's designed around going into a location designed by a Conductor and overcoming a series of obstacles, but it doesn't work as well when you don't have a Conductor to place an appropriate amount of obstacles in front of your reward. It's not always that linear, but the Conductor does a lot to give the game a sense of pace and progression that can feel missing in a more collaborative experience.

To consider a new focus I want to identify some of the pitfalls I can see looming.

  • One player slips into being the GM and managing the pacing all by themselves.
  • The players keep their characters' lives too easy and things get boring.
  • Things go too far into resource management and you're playing that game rather than thinking about the situation your characters are in.

So I'm going to try out a new focus, the Journey. It's an Oregon Trail classic for a reason. 

Add the below to your mess of collaborative play rules that I've been putting out, or wait until I eventually turn this into one document, which might be sooner than you think.

The Journey

The group share a single Journey, choosing one from the list below or creating their own. It could be reaching a physical location, or be more abstract in nature. 
  1. Find a truly safe place.
  2. Preemptively destroy an invading force.
  3. Confront the place in your nightmares.
  4. Find the ultimate weapon.
  5. Destroy your evil clone(s).
  6. Discover the lost shrine to peace.
Throughout play you can flesh out the details, such as the nature of your evil clone(s) or why you seek a shrine to peace. 

In addition, each player has their Private Journey, which is kept secret. This is left blank to begin with but should be noted down at some point within the first hour of play. 

  • You track your Progress against each Journey. 
  • Each Journey begins with 0 Progress.
  • Gain d6 Progress when you reach a Milestone and discover where you must go next.
  • Lose 1 Progress when you rest, delay, or otherwise stray from your Journey.
  • No Milestone is straightforward. They can be physical locations or more abstract achievements.


When it feels appropriate, you can move from gaining Progress to Arrival at your Journey’s destination. This the final push, make-or-break. 

When you Arrive, roll d20:
  • If you roll equal or lower to your Progress, then success is in sight. Just one last Milestone to reach.
  • If you roll higher than your Progress, then your Journey ends in failure. There’s no going back. You should consider a new direction for your life. 

1 comment:

  1. I feel like the last step with progress and arrival encourages dilly-dallying, trying to drag out the journey to pump up progress as much as possibly. Maybe if you roll under then you arrive at the Final Stand with all your preparation in place, otherwise you're on the back foot etc.