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Old 02-09-2019, 09:37 PM   #1
JohnPaulB
 
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Default Cards to Generate Story

On the TFT Facebook page, Jeff Vendene was looking for a way to generate random labyrinths:
"Something that allows the solo player to develop a story arc (or even just a sandbox) that provides a structure for the various solo labyrinths that can easily be generated. It seems to me that there ought to be, but I'm not a great game designer, and I seem to constantly fall short. I think cards might possibly be the way to go."

This got me to thinking about using a deck of cards to generate story, though this doesn't quite help him.

Suit
Spade = Central idea = Theme*
Clubs = conflict, struggle =Change
Hearts = lives, people = Characters, Who is involved
Diamonds = reward, wealth, growth =Discovery
2-10 = Intensity of the suit
Jack = Trickster
Queen = Mentor
King = Ruler
Ace = Highest Card – Purity, fidelity, goodness; Lowest Card – Corruption, treachery, evil
Joker = Divine
*Theme
Genre = High Fantasy; Steampunk; Detective, Romance…
The point you are trying to get across: Crime doesn’t pay; Don’t trust your senses; A stitch in time saves nine
Love, war, revenge, betrayal, patriotism, grace, isolation, motherhood, forgiveness, rich versus poor, innocence.


To generate the potential story, Play a poker game. The winning hand is the one you will use for the story.
Example:
8 of hearts, 8 of diamonds, 4 of hearts, King of clubs, 3 of spades.

The cards could translate to:
8 of hearts = There are a lot of people involved OR it heavily involves the health of living things.
8 of diamonds = The monetary rewards will be great OR some involved will be greatly enlightened OR something intense will be discovered.
4 of hearts = A few living beings will be involved OR one person will be affected lightly.
King of clubs = There will be a Big Bad OR a Guild is involved OR a lion is loose OR a PC must fight the urge to go WereWolf.
3 of spades = There will be a tinge of sci-fi in the story OR there is a risk of a small betrayal in the story OR No Pain, No Gain.

Use this to create a rough story involving these concepts.
Either start out the story with this idea and then let it play out as it will OR try to use this as a way to guide the story as it goes.
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Old 02-09-2019, 10:50 PM   #2
JLV
 
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

What I was actually thinking of is something that may have already been done. Gloomhaven supposedly does something along these lines (though frankly, I lack the $$ to pick up a copy of that bad boy), but it seems to be a one-shot play-through game; that is, you can't go back to the start and really start over since too much is already revealed. (I'm not knocking the play value of the game -- from what I've read, you can keep playing that thing for YEARS, which is awesome; but once you've started defining the world, there isn't a lot of "replay" value there.) Mind you, that's just my impression based on the many reviews (almost entirely positive) that I've read on the game.

But what interests me here is the technique of the game. What mechanism do they use to generate the adventures? I'm told there are "city" cards for things that happen in the city and "road" cards for things that happen when traveling, and that even trivial things done with those cards have an impact on the story line -- which sounds like exactly what I've been thinking about -- but I have no idea how it actually works, or what the mechanism is for determining how those effects change the course of the game. One example given in one review is that a "road" card might describe a rock sitting in the middle of the road. Whether you moved it off the road, or left it there, there would be consequences from the act, possibly both good and bad. That sounds brilliant; but HOW does it work? And what if you do something else entirely with the rock?

Despite that description, from what I've been able to gather from the reviews, the system they use is pretty basic (by that, I mean somewhat linear in nature, with not a lot of alternative paths that can be explored), and I suspect a clever game designer (and in my opinion there are few that are more clever than Steve Jackson) should be able to create a system that is capable of doing the same things and that ISN'T limited to a single play-through, but has significant replay value (that is, lots of possible alternate paths).

Hopefully this somewhat clarifies what I was getting at over there on the Facebook page.

(BTW, it's "Vandine") ;-)

P.S. I like your card mechanism, but it's kind of the same problem that I keep seeing in all those "solitaire RPG systems" -- it requires a LOT of interpretation, which tends to remove any sense of surprise of wonder from the game. The biggest dichotomy is that a detailed "randomly generated" adventure often makes no sense in terms of a coherent story, but does let you surprise yourself; while a more vague "randomly generated" story can make a lot of story sense but because it requires so much interpretation removes almost any sense of surprise at events. How do you put the advantages of two contradictory trends like that into the same system and make it work? That's the root of my problem... There are lots of cards out there that can generate random events, random treasures, random characters, even some limited random quests, but none of them work as a unified whole.

Last edited by JLV; 02-09-2019 at 11:00 PM.
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Old 02-13-2019, 08:38 AM   #3
Mallen the dark
 
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

One of the Rolemaster modules used a tarot deck variation for this.
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Old 02-13-2019, 08:50 AM   #4
larsdangly
 
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

Another good option is Dungeon Alphabet and the 2-3 related books out there. Collectively, they provide a ton of fodder for adventure hooks, interesting NPCs and monsters, fresh ideas for locations, etc.
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Old 02-14-2019, 03:30 AM   #5
JLV
 
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

Quote:
Originally Posted by Mallen the dark View Post
One of the Rolemaster modules used a tarot deck variation for this.
Alas, I missed almost everything ICE did with Rolemaster (I had just joined the USAF and spent the next 8 years overseas and in various war zones and thus missed a heck of a lot of cool stuff in the late 80's early 90's). I got the original Iron Wind -- loved those maps -- but never did much with it, and now it's long gone.

Any clever mechanism would work on a fundamental basis; the real issue is maintaining coherency when using random generators and still being able to surprise yourself with unexpected plot twists (that aren't complete nonsequitars to any previous part of the story you are experiencing). Let's face it, all existing random generators are ways for the GM to generate ideas more than anything else, and require extensive input from the GM (or in our case, the solo player) to render coherent -- and if you're effectively "designing" the scenario, then you tend to remove any possibility of "surprise" from the equation -- it becomes more like a movie script than a roleplaying adventure for you at that point... That's why "programmed adventures" work so well for most solo players -- it's still a movie script, but you have some ability to choose paths and you haven't read the script prior to starting. The only problem with them is that generally speaking they are good for one play-through and then, after that, you have to wait a couple of decades so you can forget the details before going through them again! ;-)

The old Master of the Amulets and to a lesser extent OrbQuest microquests were attempts to overcome the "replay issue" to some extent, but were flawed for various other reasons (poor proof-reading and lack of playtesting being a couple of biggies), but I think people were on the right track to a degree with that. And, of course, Barbarian Prince has great re-play value, can be played solo, and will surprise you a LOT, but has a very limited starting scenario. Still, it's the best example I know of something you can play solitaire again and again and have a different adventure every time.
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Old 02-14-2019, 05:01 AM   #6
philreed
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

I’m a fan of using cards in RPGs and have created a few different decks for GM inspiration.

https://www.kickstarter.com/projects...th-many-tablet
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Old 02-14-2019, 10:26 AM   #7
Skarg
 
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

Quote:
Originally Posted by JLV View Post
Any clever mechanism would work on a fundamental basis; the real issue is maintaining coherency when using random generators and still being able to surprise yourself with unexpected plot twists (that aren't complete nonsequitars to any previous part of the story you are experiencing). Let's face it, all existing random generators are ways for the GM to generate ideas more than anything else, and require extensive input from the GM (or in our case, the solo player) to render coherent -- and if you're effectively "designing" the scenario, then you tend to remove any possibility of "surprise" from the equation -- it becomes more like a movie script than a roleplaying adventure for you at that point... That's why "programmed adventures" work so well for most solo players -- it's still a movie script, but you have some ability to choose paths and you haven't read the script prior to starting. The only problem with them is that generally speaking they are good for one play-through and then, after that, you have to wait a couple of decades so you can forget the details before going through them again! ;-)
This is how I relate to random generators too. As a GM, I like input to combine with my intuition, imagination, and my GM-brain's ability to track and chart a coherent game-world situation, and fit in (or reject when nonsense) that input in a way that makes sense. I also like to introduce random encounters at a distance from the party and with a context (i.e. ok you encounter 7 savages but where are they from and what are they doing here at the moment?), and then resolve with the players' actions what actually happens, giving them appropriate chances to detect, avoid detection or conflict, maneuver, etc.

But that seems to be my personal expert GM style, and I gather not all that common. Many GMs would like more input on what to have happen.


Quote:
Originally Posted by JLV View Post
The old Master of the Amulets and to a lesser extent OrbQuest microquests were attempts to overcome the "replay issue" to some extent, but were flawed for various other reasons (poor proof-reading and lack of playtesting being a couple of biggies), but I think people were on the right track to a degree with that.
Yes. I thought that although they provided variety in details, they did not provide a very interesting developing situation - as a player I was too aware that there was just one repeated overall situation with the details of the encounters shuffled fairly meaninglessly with no interesting developing situation other than managing your declining health/equipment and in the case of Master of the Amulets, map position.


I have also tried several modern board games that generate stories and game situations with cards, and several of them have interesting ways of doing that, but they tend to all suffer (for my own tastes, anyway) from being overly "gamey" and so sooner rather than later I tend to see them as the game mechanics they are and so they're not providing me with something I can relate to as the situation they describe, and I become really aware of the deck-of-cards as a deck of cards, etc.


Quote:
Originally Posted by JLV View Post
And, of course, Barbarian Prince has great re-play value, can be played solo, and will surprise you a LOT, but has a very limited starting scenario. Still, it's the best example I know of something you can play solitaire again and again and have a different adventure every time.
Yeah, I think Barbarian Prince does a great job of its limited scenario. I like SPI's more thorough simulation-like approach. Though it's still quite basic in mechanics and random, there is a logical context for most things - there are strong modifiers to the randomness based on the situation, and there are quite a few interesting long-shot possibilities amidst all the dire risk.
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Old 02-14-2019, 11:25 AM   #8
JLV
 
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Default Re: Cards to Generate Story

Yeah, you did a good job of describing both the overall state of the art and clarifying my personal feelings about what's been available to date. Also, your GM-ing style isn't all that uncommon in my experience, and I too use Random Generators the same way you do -- occasional inspiration when I'm suffering sudden brain death, but mostly more for color and added detail than to develop an entire scenario from. Of course, that may be limiting my thinking on some of them too, but I've been thinking about this whole "solo campaign" issue for some time now (about five and a half years now -- ever since I moved 50 miles away from the nearest real town), and I've found nothing (thus far) that provides a satisfactory ROLEPLAYING experience, though I've generated plenty of combat scenarios...
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