6. Roleplaying

1

Could you see yourself using any of this book's elements in your own roleplaying? I can definitely see myself using the Mayan pantheon as revealed here, and even the conceit of having to travel from place to place to retrieve parts of Hum-Kamé's body. The set pieces work for me as encounters, too. I became very aware of this in the encounter with the Uay Chivo. I could see a party coming up against him, and it just clicked.

What do you think?

Comments

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    I would be more interested in doing something more SF, influenced by this... Or perhaps an urban fantasy game...

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    Yes, very much could use some of the characters, or the pantheon. The trip to Xibalba, and even the theme of liminality in the book is really interesting. I;m curious how this book relates to The Hero's Journey - @NeilNjae often has good insights with respect to that work.

    I'm also really curious what @dr_mitch and @RichardAbbott have to say about liminality in this book and their own works!

    And to take a page from @clash_bowley , I think you could take the novel more or less wholesale and turn it into an SF scenario in which the gods are aspects of the ship's split-personality AI and the journey is taken through a big old space-ship (a generation ship?).

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    Well, who doesn't like liminality :)

    I think the author here was exploring how the edge of the psyche (for example Casiopeia and Michael's descent into and contest in Xibalba) and the edge of geography (Casiopeia moving away from home towards the ocean and the US - two very different ways to represent lack of restraint) run together.

    I was doing something similar, using the geography of the edge of the solar system alongside exploration of personal and interpersonal encounters. There are, I think, very few common features in her story and mine, but the basic combination of inward and outward states is something we share. But so do lots of other stories - it seems to me that some sort of parallel courses of action are almost inevitable in a book, unless the author wishes to present a pure action-driven tale with no real impact on the characters and their internal world. We expect characters inner world to change because of choices made in the outer one.

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    @RichardAbbott said:
    Well, who doesn't like liminality :)

    Snort!

    I was doing something similar, using the geography of the edge of the solar system alongside exploration of personal and interpersonal encounters. There are, I think, very few common features in her story and mine, but the basic combination of inward and outward states is something we share. But so do lots of other stories - it seems to me that some sort of parallel courses of action are almost inevitable in a book, unless the author wishes to present a pure action-driven tale with no real impact on the characters and their internal world. We expect characters inner world to change because of choices made in the outer one.

    And vice versa. In both stories, the viewpoint character - a woman - is trying to become part of another culture through sheer determination and inner conviction, and that liminality unfolds within them, transforming them into what they long to be. Now there are a lot of extraneous doo-dads they don't share, but that core arc is the same.

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    > @clash_bowley said:
    > And vice versa. In both stories, the viewpoint character - a woman - is trying to become part of another culture through sheer determination and inner conviction, and that liminality unfolds within them, transforming them into what they long to be. Now there are a lot of extraneous doo-dads they don't share, but that core arc is the same.

    One key difference is the age of the protagonist. Casiopeia is a coming-of-age young woman who has had difficulties in her upbringing, but is feisty and broadly optimistic about the future.

    Nina is considerably older - I don't think I'm explicit in the story, but my own timeline has her around 50. As such, she's had to face and manage many of the disappointments that life has thrown at her. She has goals and aspirations, but is acutely aware that things often don't work out. I guess I'm more interested in writing about mature protagonists than young adult ones :)
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    I could see this in play. Is there a CoC sourcebook for Mexico? That would fit the era. There's plenty of background in the area that could be used as the basis for a game, including the different cultures in Yucatan and how they do (and don't) live together. That's before bringing in the magic!

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    @NeilNjae said:
    I could see this in play. Is there a CoC sourcebook for Mexico? That would fit the era.

    The Mysteries of Mesoamerica

    https://arkhambazaar.com/games/the-mysteries-of-mesoamerica-cofc-sourcebook/

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    Another question about roleplaying: how to handle the character change during the story? Casiopeia changes from a downtrodden dreamer to a confident young person; Hun-Kamé changes from a callous god of death to one that shows compassion; Martin's bravado cracks to show the weakness beneath.

    What's the best way to model or encourage these changes at the table?

    One approach is to just leave it down to portrayal. Another is to have statements written about a character's beliefs (Smallville, Burning Wheel). A third is to have them implied by things like Fate Aspects or Fates from Tenra Bansho Zero. When the belief-like things are explicit, there are often mechanics where PCs get rewards from bringing the beliefs into play, and challenging/changing them.

    Are there other ways of handling or encouraging these character changes? How about systems that require change to the characters as the game progresses? Or, should these things be outside the domain of mechanics and down to character portrayal?

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    One system from Trail of Cthulhu is to have anchor beliefs, which are written down as statements that essentially guide how the character is role played. The character can elect to change their anchor belief in order to offset or reverse a change in their ‘stability’ (or ‘sanity’ or ‘hope’) score. So in Trail, your sanity is eroded to the point where you must do something about it. To try and make sense of this, you change one of your anchor beliefs, which means changing how the character sees the world, and consequently how the character is role played.

    Pendragon, Mythras, and now Runequest Glorantha are all using passion scores these days, so that’s another option, though maybe not quite as directed as the above.
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    The mention of passion scores helped crystallise what I was meaning. Passions reflect how the character is portrayed. As you mention with ToC, there are systems that allow you to rewrite beliefs, perhaps in reaction to stress.

    But if we'e interested in RPG systems that replicate the sort of character arcs we see in fiction like this, how do we ensure that characters change through and arc?

    The closest I can think of is Primetime Adventures, where each character has a central Issue. In the character's spotlight episode (everyone has one), play revolves around that Issue. After the episode, the player has the option of rewriting the Issue; even then, the change isn't required.

    There are other systems (Smallville, Tenra Bansho Zero) where the experience system is connected to belief statements, and changing beliefs is how to affect the numbers on the character sheet.

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    In Tales from the Loop, each character starts between 10 and 15 years old. has the same number of Luck points and Attribute points combined. A younger character has more Luck points than Attribute points. On the character’s birthday, one Luck point is lost and one Attribute point is gained. That simulates the character gaining knowledge or abilities as it gets older. (And I suppose the Luck points are thrown in to keep the older characters from being much more powerful than the younger characters. This is something I don’t really care about, as I think low-power PC’s and high-power PC’s can be in the same party easily.)

    What if, instead of at a character’s birthday, the plot’s decision tree would do something like this? You wouldn’t even have to railroad the character through the plot. Maybe these locations on the decision tree would directly relate to the character’s belief or passion or whatever you decide to call it.

    “Okay, character, if you act according to your Belief, your companion will be harmed. What do you do?”
    “I save my companion.”
    “Okay, the strength of your Belief has weakened by 1 and has now hit zero. It’s time to write a new Belief that takes into account your most recent action.”

    This doesn’t completely hold water for me, but it gets me thinking about how to get it to work.

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    Yes, that's similar to the approach of Pendragon's Passions system. You have ratings for beliefs, emotional drives, and the like. Every once in a while, you take stock of what's happened in play and adjust the ratings accordingly.

    But I was thinking more along the lines of compelled revision of beliefs. So Martin might start with the belief "I'm important and I will force people to respect me," and that get portrayed at the table. At some point in the game, we take stock. As part of that, Martin's player is required to revise that belief to demonstrate the character growth.

    It occurred to me that another way of doing this is via the Growing Up moves from Monsterhearts. The basic moves are the sorts of things that petulant children do, like lashing out and isolating themselves and others. The growing up moves allow more mature interactions. For instance, a standard move is Turn Someone On: that's how you interact with people. The grown-up version is Tell Someone They're Beautiful: you can support someone without making it about you and your desires.

    By giving the players these extra tools to use, they can portray characters that are more mature. It's a typical arc of many coming-of-age stories.

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    I like the idea of using a pool of points as a meter for the change, because I feel the change should have a catalyst. So, for example, let’s say you have a finite pool of fate points. Because You only tend to use fate points when it really matters, these are the kinds of thing you use in traumatic situations. When the pool is empty, you have nothing left to give - the world has worn you down. But, if you could add to your pool by invoking a change in your personality, you probably would, and this would mainly happen when change is most likely - during or just after a tense situation.
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    I’m thinking of requiring a character to revise their belief in the context of railroading or sandboxong our characters. Maybe something in between requiring and allowing.

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    I think that's what I just described... :-)

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    @WildCard said:
    I’m thinking of requiring a character to revise their belief in the context of railroading or sandboxong our characters. Maybe something in between requiring and allowing.

    I'm not saying that requiring belief change is always a good thing. But it's a key feature of some kinds of stories, so I thought it was interesting to think about how to structure that kind of story in a game.

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    I love the Mayan underworld, and the theme of clashing gods drawing mortals into their dispute. There are definitely themes in common with Liminal (indeed the whole thing is very small l liminal).

    And the Mexican 1920s setting is also very cool - and makes me want to run something in 1920s Mexico. So yes - there's lots that's gameable for me here, and which eventually will be gamed.

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    edited July 20

    @dr_mitch said:
    I love the Mayan underworld, and the theme of clashing gods drawing mortals into their dispute. There are definitely themes in common with Liminal (indeed the whole thing is very small l liminal).

    And the Mexican 1920s setting is also very cool - and makes me want to run something in 1920s Mexico. So yes - there's lots that's gameable for me here, and which eventually will be gamed.

    Thank you, Dr. Mitch - folks sorta got lost in various mechanical ways to force change, losing sight of the discussion point, which was "Could you see yourself using any of this book's elements in your own roleplaying?". Nothing in this book's elements requires mechanically forced change.

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    @clash_bowley said:

    Thank you, Dr. Mitch - folks sorta got lost in various mechanical ways to force change, losing sight of the discussion point, which was "Could you see yourself using any of this book's elements in your own roleplaying?". Nothing in this book's elements requires mechanically forced change.

    Thanks. I guess the change aspect isn't what I want to especially emphasise - no more than character change isn't already embedded into most RPGs in any case. In crude terms, isn't the protagonist just rapidly earning experience points?

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    @dr_mitch said:

    @clash_bowley said:

    Thank you, Dr. Mitch - folks sorta got lost in various mechanical ways to force change, losing sight of the discussion point, which was "Could you see yourself using any of this book's elements in your own roleplaying?". Nothing in this book's elements requires mechanically forced change.

    Thanks. I guess the change aspect isn't what I want to especially emphasise - no more than character change isn't already embedded into most RPGs in any case. In crude terms, isn't the protagonist just rapidly earning experience points?

    Certainly a valid point of view! :D

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    @clash_bowley said:

    @dr_mitch said:
    And the Mexican 1920s setting is also very cool - and makes me want to run something in 1920s Mexico. So yes - there's lots that's gameable for me here, and which eventually will be gamed.

    Thank you, Dr. Mitch - folks sorta got lost in various mechanical ways to force change, losing sight of the discussion point, which was "Could you see yourself using any of this book's elements in your own roleplaying?". Nothing in this book's elements requires mechanically forced change.

    I started on the "change" element because I thought the discussion of the setting had petered out.

    But 1920s Mexico is an interesting time. The country has come out of 40 years of dictatorship followed by 5–10 years of revolution and anarchy. The country and the world is modernising. US interests are trying to influence things, while Mexico is trying to assert its independence. There's a lot changing in the setting with things up for grabs, and it seems there are a lot of contrasts close by.

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