Inscrit le: 19 Sep 2009
Sam 17 Oct - 15:15 (2009)
This section is intended to help GMs adapt to running a game like this, and to help players understand how they can be more involved.
This isn’t entitled the “GM Advice” chapter, because we believe that players can benefit from what’s here too. From general advice on how to handle Twists and Themes to some specific things the Transcendentals might say, this chapter is useful for everyone who plays the game.
Tools, Tricks, and Techniques
This section contains advice for a GM facing various problems in the game. You’ll find that our advice will occasionally be along the lines of “this isn’t really a problem; we intended things to work that way.” If you want your game to work differently, you may have to make some adjustments to the rules themselves.
Improvisation is an important skill for S.A. game masters. If you’re not the kind of person who enjoys thinking on your feet, here are a few good ways to fake it.
The most important thing to do is to write “bits” beforehand. These bits could be anything: an NPC, a building description, a bit of technology you thought up, a hand-written “newspaper” or rumor sheet, a doodle of some cool thing, pretty much anything. The bit doesn’t need to have a lot of detail in it, just enough to remind you of what the person is like, what the building contains, and so forth. Every bit should have a “hook” that connects it to the main themes of your game. Keep your bits in a folder or binder, and bring it with you when you run your game.
When you’re stuck in a situation for which you weren’t prepared, or when the players sidetrack you, dig into your folder full of bits. If someone wants to hear some relevant rumors, you already have them written down. If someone’s using Empathy (Making Friends) to find a kindly soul in town, you have an NPC pre-made. If someone uses Plot Immunity (Run & Hide) to get away from a threat, you know something about the building they’re in.
Best of all, if you design them right at the beginning, these bits tie into your scenario, bringing the characters into the thick of the story even as they take a breather. In this way you can build your world without having to create one massive storyline that probably wouldn’t survive the first Twist of the game.
Dealing With A Bizarre Universe
It is often said that writers need to include some element of the familiar in what they write, to give readers a reference point. It certainly seems true that those sci-fi settings with greater connection to everyday modern life or well-known mythology are the more popular ones — Star Wars being the primary example. Under all those blasters and starships lies a pretty standard fantasy setting, with swords and magic. It’s the kind of story that all of us are familiar with. Technology has not really changed the world. In the Foundation series, it is only the later books in the series that truly explore the effects of advanced science, and psychohistory becomes a plot device that is only interesting when it breaks down. The technology is a backdrop, not the core of the story.
In Sufficiently Advanced, the social and physical landscape are often altered to the point of unrecognizability. Can any of us truly conceive of growing up in the Cognitive Union? Of hiding and altering our identity the way a Masquerader does? Of joining or leaving a group mind? Of civilizations like the Roamers, who have decided to retain their current level of technology rather than advancing? As far as we in the 21st century have come beyond the cavemen, that is nothing compared to what the Stardwellers have achieved, and just as the very idea of a worldwide culture would be incomprehensible to a Cro-Magnon, there are no doubt concepts found in the world of S.A. that are beyond us right now.
Because of this, it may help to have one character in the party play “the outsider.” A Disciple of the Void, Old-Worlder, Cargo Cultist, or other member of a relatively low-tech civilization can be of great use to both game masters and other players in explaining the world of the future. It provides the players with an anchor, someone or something that is a piece of their world dropped into an unfamiliar landscape. When the player controlling the Union member has to explain how his civilization works to a confused Cargo Cultist, it helps them both understand the game better.
“Invented setting,” where players create details about their characters’ civilizations and societies, is also something worth encouraging. Rather than trying to dump a ton of information on everyone at once, let each person fill in a detail here and there. It’ll help bring out the information more gradually, and also give the players a greater sense of “ownership” in the game.
There are a few things in the setting of S.A. that are truly and utterly bizarre, beyond the comprehension of any human being in that universe. The Aia and WorldWeb come to mind. When dealing with such things, the GM should plan for players and their characters not to understand — and for the possibility that one of them might pull out their Comprehension score and find out what’s going on anyway. Themes transcend human ability, after all, and what is incomprehensible to a hundred trillion other human beings might make perfect sense to one special person.
Advice from the Playtests
In the process of writing this book we did a reasonable amount of playtesting. This section collects some advice from the GMs and players in those games. Each paragraph is its own little recommendation from someone who’s played or run the game before.
Sufficiently Advanced is a game that eats plot. Compared to other games, a few well placed Twists and the intelligent application of godlike abilities can let the players chew through two or three sessions worth of plot in about five hours. Moreover, with Twists, players can change the plot, excising whole chapters of the story and replacing them with new, ifferent chapters.
Whatever you do, don’t fall in love with your plot. Some GMs like mystery-heavy games, some combat-heavy, some politics-heavy, and so on. If the players don’t want to play that game, they’ll spend a Twist or two, and the untenable mystery is solved, the impossible combat resolved, and the convoluted politics untangled. You’re going to be playing the kind of game the players are interested in for 90% of the time. Roll with it. Make new plots and new stories. And hold onto the ideas of the old ones, since even a Twist used without Complications creates some plot.
Know how your various actors (NPCs, villains, societies, events) will react to different situations, especially those in your Story Triggers. A good practice is to mentally run through many different scenarios and figure out how the actors would behave in each one. None of the scenarios will necessarily occur — the vagaries of the players will see to that — but because you’ve done this, everyone will stay incharacter and react intelligently to the new situations when the players throw you a long series of curve balls.
Along the same lines, the most important information you can have for an NPC is their Core Values. NPCs don’t get Twists, and you can guess their Capabilities from their society and their Professions from their actual profession. Any time you make an NPC which will have more than one interaction with the players, you should pick at least one Core Value to help define her. Its a really quick way to give an NPC depth of character.
I strongly recommend collecting Twists as often as possible. In my mind, the quality of a session can often be judged by the number of Twists spent. To make it even more visceral, I give each player a physical representation of their Twist, literally collecting them (and keeping them in a pile in front of me) over the session.
The key to creating a memorable character is to give them a unique personality with enough depth that the players can understand where they are coming from even if (and especially when) they don’t agree with them. If your cast is getting too large, I recommend writing a few sentences from the character’s perspective, in their own words, concerning whatever they feel is important. It will help getting back into character later. The key to creating a memorable planet is much the same. A good world has a shtick (or preferably several intertwined). A good world also has details and history, so the players can see where that shtick came from, and where it is going.
Once you have that truly memorable character or planet, give it a really good death scene. If the players save it — which, given Twists, can happen no matter what you plan — they’ll really appreciate their success. If they can’t, they’ll really feel the loss. Either way, plot!
Laugh maniacally when describing the results of conflict.
On group size:
In most roleplaying games, a good rule of thumb is to have no more than five players. This is partially because it becomes very difficult to give everyone the time they deserve, and partially because all of the major archetypes get filled leaving little for new PCs to excel at.
In Sufficiently Advanced, there is another reason to keep the parties relatively small: Twists. Every PC brings one Twist with them every session. With too many players, each trying to do something but getting too little attention individually, the desire to simply Twist away every major bit of plot becomes too strong.
Interestingly, Twists also turn the pace of the game on its head. A large group of players who are tired and don’t want to think today can slice through plot many times faster than a small group of extremely skilled and engaged players. So, once again, keep the team size small. It’s better to have a really amazing game for four players than a mediocre one for seven. You can always add more players as you become more comfortable with the game.
Don’t fear Complications! Their purpose is to enhance your enjoyment of the game, not to detract from it. Think about it: for the cost of one Twist, you get to change the plot to suit you twice! Sure, you may be screwing your characters over, but in the words of Kurt Vonnegut: “Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them — in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
Make sure you’re at the very least bending the laws of physics. Don’t let the basic laws that determine how the universe works get in your way. Bend them. Twist them. Pervert them. When you’re done with that, come up with an explanation on why you should get away with it that uses big words and probably time travel. It’ll be more fun that way. Sure, sci-fi needs to make at least some sense, but never forget the fiction part. Make science your straight man and play as many witty tricks on him as you can think of. The universe of S.A. can only be simple if you allow it.
Always do your best to keep an open mind. Everything has multiple solutions to it, and especially so in a game like S.A.. You can almost always find a way to turn your characters strengths, or even the bad-stuff you take to your advantage in the long run. It definately isn’t a game of linear thinking so much as finding the bounds of the box, and then working your way in to the core problem.
Really play-act your character, give it some personality, that’s where most of the fun is.
When building your character, don’t tailor your character to the types of situations you think you’ll be in, because you’ll be in a thousand different kinds of situations. Tailor your character to what you feel like playing/acting like.
Take risks, because even the longest shots yield results of some kind.