Monday, April 9, 2012
Game Idea: Objects of Legend
System: Practically Any
by Tobie Abad
You first sensed the world as her scream filled the void of silence. You felt the tight grip of her fingers around you as she lifted you upwards and plunged you into... him. His flesh slid open to your touch. His blood warmly caressed you as you dove deep within the confines of his chest. His heart kissed you. And then he died.
You transformed that moment. What was once a steel edge, your body transformed into obsidian mirror of a hatred that is not your own. But these emotions swirled within you and became a new stronger passion: Hunger.
You must have another taste. Another heart. You smile. But fall asleep.
You awoke again after a long time. A young man held your body tight with his hands. They were hardened hands, calloused from years of training. "Vengeance," you heard him say and released as you kissed skin once more that the throat you were cleaving was owned by she who first awoke you. You feel the rush of air that once contained words that were to beg for mercy, but the words are lost now.
Your desire rises out like a passion. The young man wielding you becomes powerless to resist. He pulls the blade from her throat and stabs it where you had whispered. And once again, you smile.
So, we play cursed objects?
Excalibur, The One Ring, or even the Wand of Wonder. You play the dark forgotten tales of the Hope Diamond, and the unrecorded encounters of a Crystal Skull. Like the movie Le Violon Rouge (released as The Red Violin), game sessions represent periods when you - the artifact - encounter events and people through out your eventual history. Events can reflect periods in human history, or if the game is set in a fictional world, periods which mark key events in that fictional world's timeline.
What system do I use to represent my powers?
Ultimately, this is best answered with "What game are you using?" A Pathfinder game, for example, already has a system for Intelligent Magical Items. Whereas, the World of Darkness can easily be adapted to give the Artifact appropriate Attribute ratings. Regardless of the system, consider the following things for a game like this:
a) Experience Points do not matter
While you can start the game like a normal one where a weak item eventually grows into a legendary one, unless the object you are portraying is one which gains strength as it kills or something similar in its legend, there is no need to scale the item's advancement. The scaling of power might even best be represented in each story arc. Consider the One Ring. As it goes through a story, it has key people it will try to seduce. As those characters hold on to the ring longer, their capacity to resist the seductions grow weaker. But even from the very beginning, the One Ring's powers are already strong.
b) Dying is irrelevant
Unless you want that to be the key point of the story, these objects should be "impossible to destroy" as far as the story will go. Twists of fate, coincidental moments, unexpected twists should allow for the artifact to escape certain doom. My personal view point is this: While unrealistic that the object always escapes destruction, the point of the story to make the object a legendary or infamous artifact. If it was destroyed sooner, it wouldn't BE a legendary or infamous artifact. This again isn't your usual game where survival is part of the goals. Keeping intact, however, should always feel like a challenge. But outright destruction will probably be evaded with a light dose of Deus ex Machina when necessary, unless you deem it is time for the legend to end.
c) The Cast should be compelling
Since it isn't often that the artifact is as chatty as the Sorting Hat in Harry Potter, or Saba from the Mighty Morphin' Power Rangers, you better make sure each character who the treasures encounter have interesting stories for the player to engage in. The Spear of Destiny falling into the hands of a soldier is fine. But if you reveal the soldier deeply desires to merely go home to his wife, then the player, as the spear, might guide the solider to win the war single-handedly in order to be allowed to be brought home. Or maybe, as the Spear, you fall into the hands of an antique collector who while cleaning you admits he hates his neighbors.. and you realize he isn't the best person to keep you, so you may want to influence him to succeed at something less... moral.
Keep the cast interesting and the players will feel challenged to bring the story forward. Explore moral grounds, human virtues and remind them they are playing an object, not a person. What counts as good and evil may radically be different (and possibly even more fun to explore!)
d) Map out a framework of the legend
If the object is an existing/prewritten legendary object, then you can quickly make a check list of key events and abilities it was rumored/believed to have. These become a quick and easy blueprint of events and experiences to explore in the game.
If it will be a new object of legend, or one you and your players are cooking up to have a story (say, exploring the legendary adventures of the one and only Intelligent and Telepathic Portable Hole) then I recommend this: Ask all your players to list down ten key events/encounters they think would be fun to explore. Examples may include "a massive war" or "vengeance" or stuff as strange as "falling in love with an owner" or even "having a child" and mix all these in a bowl. Then, have each player draw seven, and from these seven build the framework of the object of legend.
Keep in mind the framework is mutable, at least when it comes to the chronological sequence the events transpire. Don't use the framework to limit the fun. Instead, use it as a nice guide to foreshadow certain events, to play with oracles and fated moments, and to give the players more freedom in approaching scenes. You want them to have lots of ideas, not lots of problems. You want them to have fun.
Once the Legend is Established, you've already got the best twist to throw in the next game!
Try being an Object of Legend in your next game. Better even, ask your whole group to all try playing an Object of Legend. Then when that chronicle is over... let your players play a different game as normal.. but then have the said objects (the very objects whose secret histories, vile machinations, selfish goals, and altruistic moments are known to them so dearly) appear.