Saturday, July 17, 2010

Player Mini-Games III

Continuing an investigation into simples ways to get players creating at the table. I looked at letter constraints, word constraints and today look at:

Concept Constraints

Alien Concepts

Interact with something that completely lacks a common concept. I feel I couldn't put this better than noisms of Monsters and Manuals does in two of his posts. Here, looking at human universals and the play possibilities if creatures didn't share them. And here, exploring the idea of what it might be like for demi-humans to have different conceptions of law.

Now, I'm not sure how this might work as a mini-game. Maybe your alien Xxrrph have no sense of "Past," and the players want to know what happened a month ago when the last caravan disappeared. . . . Umm, I'm having a hard time myself imagining how the creature would interact with past events without a concept of past. Would the past be like a different place, or would it be like people who lack long term memory, trapped in the present moment?

"Do you know what a caravan is?"
"Yes. It isn't here"
"I know, but a month ago one should have come through, what happened to it?"
"Sometimes one comes through, must not be today though."
" . . . Have you seen a caravan?"
"I must have, they come through here some times."


Interact with a creature while avoiding a forbidden topic. Taboos aren't just words, but whole topics. The key here would be to find a topic that the avoidance of would cause enough problems for players as to make it game-like and require creativity to get around. Perhaps violence/aggression is a no-no and players have to explain why they need money from the tribal chief to outfit themselves. Or maybe the local dwarf fortress is astounded at how your pale, weakly mage took out a whole swarm of stirge because magic is taboo.

"Ahh, yes, stirge are a difficult adversary, yes"
"How did you defeat them?"
"I took my staff, I started swinging like this . . ."

Taboo and Alien concepts seem more like roleplaying situations than mini-games. I there something more like the goblin opposite talk that got me started on this topic? You might reverse it and come up with:

Truth Telling

Everyone tells the exact truth. Even with experienced, honest roleplayers I don't think this would work quite as well as opposite talk. You might just tend to avoid plans of action that would cause problems if you confessed them. In the worst case scenario this mini-game would make play more boring! But if the players were in a situation where they didn't feel really threatened you might construct an amusing situation. Perhaps a disgruntled local mage spiked the punch at the Baron's party. Everyone has to say what they are really thinking. Put some interesting and annoying npcs into the mix and you have an old-school cocktail party.

"I know you are a mage, but I find I'm not intimidated by you because you are so short"
"Hmm, I'm not sure what you just said because I was looking at your friend's bulging purse"

Yes, I'm feeling that at this level of granularity the mini-games blend into roleplaying situations, basically the game of make believe itself. It looks like Zak picked the most useful one, opposite talk is easy to understand and perform, doesn't require players to reveal anything they don't want to, and works in a setting that can be equally bizarro, i.e. walking on ceilings.

The only thing coming to mind outside of my letter/word/concept schema is pantomime or crafty stuff like drawing. While the first might work if you asked players to just use their hands to try and communicate with a creature that doesn't speak the same language, I would be worried that it and any kind of drawing/singing/sculpting would be getting too far into the performance category. I'm trying to think of things that might engage shy, new players, not scare them off.

Help me out here, is there anything you've done or seen done in a session that got players sitting up and eager to take part of what was happening at the table?


  1. Great series of posts. I wrote up a magic item for Knockspell #3 last year that had some similar elements - The Truth Telling Pig. Regrettably, I haven't gotten anyone to eat one yet.

    Among other things, if one ate it...

    1: No Effect
    2. Consumer can only tell lies forever after.
    3. Consumer must answer any direct questions and always truthfully.
    4. Consumer alternately tells the truth and then lies, every other sentence.
    5. Consumer can speak the truth, but always loudly snorts afterward.
    6. Consumer gains the ability to Detect Lie (as per the spell) once per day.

    It'd be fun to have a whole party sit down and eat this thing, especially at a country fair of some kind with a bunch of others.

  2. Regarding concepts of time -- I think you're correct that a being with no sense of past would be utterly inscrutable. You might try to draw an analogy from Abbott's Flatland but I don't know exactly how. Just as a point can only move forward or back on a line, we move forward (or rarely back!) along a line of time, but what if a being could move from timeline to timeline on a plane of time, as we can move from line to line on a physical plane. Among other things he'd see our ideas about there being "one" past pretty naive! "The caravan? Oh, well in some pasts they passed by here already, and in others they have not yet been, and in others they never pass here...let me see, which line am I on now?"

    However, the issue reminds me of a very insightful thing I heard the late Douglas Adams say on some nature show or other about rhinos and how their reliance on smell would lead them to perceive a very different world than we do, since smells persist much longer than sounds or sights... he may have adapted it into a story somewhere.

  3. Crap, I forgot about that pig, thanks Bulette!

    Mike, great comment, yeah I can almost imagine the world with different levels of fading scents, it would lead to a skewed sense of time (from our perspective anyway). Flatland has a sequel with a four dimensional creature visiting a 3D world (I'm pretty sure, it's been a while).