Monday, 8 December 2014

Althean Story Dolls (ruleset)

I'm involved with a big Melbourne larp combat group called Swordcraft (300-400+ players per week). They have weekend events called Quests in a land they call Althea.

Before the last Quest, somebody said they wanted to run a 4th ed D&D game in the tavern at some stage.

I advised maybe using a different system, maybe one that Altheans may have created. What kind of roleplaying system might be created by people of a medieval fantasy world, and what would the culture around it be like? And how can we make it without compromising the immersion of the Quest environment?

Here's my suggestion.

Althean Story Dolls

Though chess is a popular game throughout much of the world, bards have found another use for the pieces. About fifty years ago, a mediocre bard called Syrus the Storyteller realised that his memory was too poor to memorise the great epics popular at the time and sought for a way to tell quick tales with little study. Realising that audience-participation made his work even easier, he grabbed some chess pieces and invented an improvised process now called Storyplaying.

A Storygame comprises one Storyteller, and from one to four players (though more is not uncommon). Each player has a piece (either a rook, bishop or knight) in one of the three popular chess colours (red, white or black). Both the type of piece and its colour determine certain characteristics of the piece in question.

Players follow the adventures of the characters symbolised by their pieces (or “dolls”) as they cross a chess board. Each rank determines an aspect of the story (such as Call to Adventure in the second rank, the River (an obstacle dividing the middle of the board and story) or the Confrontation (second last rank). The Storyteller helps guide the tale, and sometimes adds pawns, queens or other pieces to the board to symbolise important story elements.

Rules tend to be simple, though some very complex varieties exist, and though most games last no more than 90mins, marathon sessions have been known to occur. Some keen players sculpt their own painted and decorated pieces and an attractive doll is usually the sign of an experienced Storygamer.

As a rule, Bishops symbolise learned people, Knights are warriors, and Rooks are pillars of their community. White characters stive for noble ideals, red dolls are wild at heart, and black figures are outcasts (touched by darkness). A black bishop may be a sorcerer hunted by demonic forces, while a red knight may be a dangerous barbarian. A white rook may be a wise king or a skilled smith, but a red rook might be a pirate captain, while a black rook may be a famed and dreaded executioner.

Figures tend to move across ranks of the board as the story dictates.

·         Rank 1: Meeting. The players introduce their characters to each other and find common reason to be together. The Storyteller establishes a common location.
·         Rank 2: Call to Adventure. The Storyteller introduces a plot device to begin the tale. Once each of the characters have accepted the Call, they move onto this rank.
·         Rank 3: The Bond. Each character explains why the adventure is important for them or what they hope to achieve. This can result in oaths, agreements or deals.
·         Rank 4: The Journey. The characters travel and learn of the world around them and the danger to come. A small difficulty, easily resolved, may be included.
·         Middle line of board: The River. A perilous obstacle hindering the characters from reaching the other side of the board. It may not actually be a river, but a mountain range, or rickety bridge, or a guardian. The characters must overcome the River to proceed and it should be obvious that there is no coming back. The River is the first major conflict and some characters may not proceed further, though this is uncommon.
·         Rank 5: the Trial. The second major conflict. This event always establishes the nature of the Foe.
·         Rank 6: the Burden. The characters suffer loss, disability or suffering. This symbolises what they are sacrificing to complete their task. Crises of faith, greivous wounds or moral conflict are common examples.
·         Rank 7: the Foe. The major conflict of the story. Success must be justified and the Storyteller never makes it easy. Sometimes the longest part of the story and always intended to be the most dramatic.
·         Rank 8: Reward. The characters gain from their endeavours, accentuated by their Bond and following experiences.
·         Removal from board: Homecoming. The story ends. Usually very short, though the Storyteller may use license.

Some Storytellers use coins, dice or even darts to adjudicate succesful tasks and others use whim. Every Storyteller is different and adusts the rules to suit their preferred playstyle. Some Storytellers run multiple games over months or years progressing their tales.

Storygamers enjoy bringing their dolls from one game to another and many are dedicated to a few different characters. The personal journeys of their dolls can bring them great delight.

Convention states that the players keep the Storyteller’s cup full throughout the game. At the end of the game the players always reward a Storyteller with drinks or coin as befits their pleasure with the tale.