Monday 4 May 2020

Collaborative Exploration - Asking the Stars

Beyond messing around with this and doing a whole lot of reading I've not delved too far into collaborative RPGs, but so far the two biggest elements I enjoy that feel under-supported are Exploration and Challenge.

It's tough, because I've spent so long trying to work out how best to support those elements in a traditional one-GM many-players structure, so I've always felt they were innately tied together.

Maybe they don't have to be. With things like Ironsworn I'm certainly seeing a growth of support for these two areas.

So how would I encourage a feeling of exploration in a collaborative game?

The games where I've felt a real sense of exploration have had a few things in common:

  1. Mystery: What's around that corner? Can I get into that tower on the horizon? Why is this town abandoned?
  2. Obstacles: You can't just decide you want to go into a dungeon and hit a button. Maybe you have to ask around, maybe they're all hidden, maybe they only open at certain times of day.
  3. Spectacle: Seeing things that you couldn't have imagined yourself. 

See, when you have a dedicated GM it's easy, right? For Mystery they have the answers all hidden away, for Obstacles their entire job is to challenge you just enough, and for Spectacle they spent all week prepping this awesome place for you to explore or bought a pre-made adventure with amazing artwork.

But I think we can get a taste of that if we throw ourselves fully into the ideas of Fate,  Integrity, and Co-Deduction.

Let's revisit those three ingredients that support Exploration.

  1. Mystery is supported by Fate. We're going to rely on random chance to at least give us the spark of ideas or answer key questions. Playing with minimal rolling is great, but use the dice rolls at your disposal to let things go in unexpected directions. 
  2. 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. Deep down, do you think the diplomat will fall for your ruse? Sure, you can roll, but maybe it's just a bad idea and you need to think of something smarter.
  3. Spectacle is supported by Co-Deduction. If you bounce an idea back and forth enough times you'll come up with something that neither of you would have created alone. 

A key thing to remember is that this isn't about simulating what it's like to play with a GM. It's a different type of play that maintains some of the same feeling.

So if you're playing a collaborative game with two players, see if this is useful.

The Watcher (secrets/truth)

The Unknown

When you enter an unknown situation, you will co-create new truths using one or two methods, or a combination of both.

Pursue the Truth
  • Ask the other player a Deductive Question about the current situation. See below for what makes a Deductive Question.
  • Instead of answering yourself you can roll a single d20 and Ask the Stars for an answer.
  • Continue back and forth until the truth begins to take form. The players use these truths to explain the situation.

Deductive Questions
  • Closed: with “yes or no” answers.
  • Exploratory: not trying to reach an immediate conclusion.
  • Interesting: Both yes and no lead to interesting places.

Ask the Stars
  • Each player rolls a d20, the brighter die for the Symbol and the darker die for its Position
  • A die may also be rolled for a more straightforward yes/no answer.
  • This may create more questions than answers, so players can choose to Pursue the Truth to hone down the results.

Recording Truths
  • When a truth is agreed on it should be recorded. This may be on a character sheet, map, or general notes.
  • Some truths are recorded as seeds before they fully develop when the time is right.
  • Truths are not permanent and can be rewritten as they change.

Symbols and Positions
  • Symbols and Positions are used by the stars to communicate truths.
  • Their meanings depend entirely on the context and no interpretation is incorrect if it feels right.
  • Literal interpretations are just as valid as symbolic, so a blade can represent division, but also “just a blade"



The Reptile
The Hawk
(the past/patience)
The Lost
The Painter
(the present/calm)
The Statue
The Glutton
The Enemy

The Mask
The Flock

The Blade

The Voyager

The Watcher

The Elder

The Child
The Spear
The Council
The Speaker
The Legion
The Hand
The Mind

The Elder (wisdom/manipulation)

Sample Readings

Reading a Character
  • The Lost (chance/travel), Veiled (ignorance/acceptance)
  • We lean into the combination of chance and acceptance, somebody who completely submits to the whims of fate.
  • A wanderer without a ship, hitch-hiking their way at the whims of strangers.

Reading a Location
  • The Glutton (pleasure/excess), Bright (honesty/pride).
  • Excess and pride suggest a flaunting of wealth. A glutton with no shame.
  • Maybe a grand mansion-style orbital station where visitors are welcome to bask, but not indulge.

Reading an Attack
  • The Reptile (instinct/fear), Open (faith/trust)
  • Let’s take these images very literally, an open set of crocodile-like jaws. 
  • The attacker lunges and grabs you, dragging you down into the mud below. They pull a blade and try to press it against your throat, their weight pressing the air from your lungs. 
  • You can stray from the standard type of reading as you grow more confident.

Chaining Details
  • Here we’ll use the Answer and Position columns to ask, “Is this Outpost abandoned?” 
  • We get Yes, Feasting (plenty/decay)
  • It’s abandoned, and both sides of Feasting fit well. Let’s repeat with the question “Has it been abandoned for long?” this time with a Symbol to help. 
  • We get No, The Spear (direction/desire)
  • The outpost was abandoned suddenly and urgently, taking only the bare minimum with them. There are plentiful supplies, but why were they in such a hurry? Let’s roll one more Symbol/Position combination for a clue. 
  • We get The Flock (freedom/nature), Shadowed (intimacy/dependency).
  • Checking through the ship’s logs, some sort of parasite was spreading through the population, and leaving was the only option.

The Child (innocence/learning)

Obviously there's a long history of RPGs using Tarot cards as an oracle for generating ideas, but here the use of a table to generate combinations is deliberate. You certainly use two decks of cards for this, but I still feel like the act of throwing the bones feels more appropriate here. 

You could straight-up replace the symbols and positions with tarot cards if that's your thing, but I found some of them too focused, some of them too vague. A lot of their meanings are centred around seeking advice, and felt like it was worth creating a distinct set of sparks for the specific purpose of generating game content. 

1 comment:

  1. I often feel like the answers that aren't Yes/No often give the most detail. Have you considered "Yes And - Yes - Yes But - No But - No - No And" for use? I really like the Symbol and Position options, especially when they give so much control to the players deciding which table to ask, while still being random and applicable. Great stuff!