Stories within stories

June 30, 2015

Arabian-mech.indd I just spent the last hour or so trying to figure out how I ended up becoming fascinated by the 1001 Arabian Nights stories many, many years ago. I'm pretty sure it was to impress a girl. Well, technically I started reading the works of Jorge Luis Borges to impress a girl, and that lead me to the 1001 Nights. By the way, Borges is an absolutely legit writer and you should check out some of his stories if given the chance, even if there are no girls to impress with them. His works are both literary and completely mind-blowing, kind of like an Argentinian Vonnegut. He had some really cool ideas about infinity and parallel universes. Anyway, Arabian Nights...yeah, those stories were a big influence on Borges and they were the original conception of the idea of stories within stories. Right? Like a story of a person telling a story about a person telling a story. Um, it's more interesting than it sounds. So for a while I've been struggling with how to get more of the atmosphere and setting of Gloomhaven across to the players - to build a theme that is more than just hitting demons and giant snakes with big swords. Each scenario has accompanying story text that propels the action, but getting across information about the workings of the town and its history has been harder to do. Players needed more stories within the story to interact with and absorb, so I decided to create a deck of "Town Event" cards that players could draw from whenever they return to town after an adventure. It would give them a greater chance to experience the town of Gloomhaven. Because I liken Gloomhaven to a "Choose Your Own Adventure" game, these town events needed to have choices, as well. Choices are what life is all about after all. So while the adventurers are hanging out in their down-time, shopping or drinking at a bar, they'll encounter some event and have to make a choice about what to do, then find out the consequences of their choice. scoundrel Mechanically, the consequences could be that they lose money, gain experience, increase the town's prosperity or find a long-lost artifact. They could also increase or decrease their reputation - a new metric I'm developing that will affect things like shop prices, unlocking hero classes or special scenarios, and how the town events themselves play out. With this feedback loop of town event decisions affecting a party's reputation and the party's reputation affecting how the town events play out, I'm hoping that a party will develop it's own narrative over time. Admittedly, this system does sound a little similar to the crossroad cards in Dead of Winter or the recent Kickstarter game Above and Below, but I'm hoping that the persistent nature of the game and the impact of things like reputation and town prosperity give the story beats more of an impact in the overall player experience. Players are going to inhabit this town and its characters for a while, and I hope to give more meaning to their interactions, such that going into a dungeon and chopping up bad guys is only a piece of a larger whole. A game within a game, if you will. I'm also toying with the idea of "Road Events." I've been running into a bit of a problem with story continuity and players going back to town after each scenario even when doing so makes no thematic sense - say, after the first part of a two-part dungeon. Obviously with town events there is now more incentive to travel back to town, but doing so should also incur some cost from a thematic perspective, and the "Town Event" system could easily be expanded to incorporate this issue. So the more you travel back to town, the more often you will draw "Road Event" cards, which also offer you choices, but more often than not incur some small penalty to the party as a result (say, starting the next scenario down a few hit points because you had to fight a few wolves beforehand). Nothing too harsh, but just a bit of a negative tone to relate the sense that there is a cost to going back to town. Just like in the old Baldur's Gate video games where travelling anywhere took time. Time was largely meaningless - I didn't really matter if you beat the game in 5 days of game time versus 5 weeks - but some base part of your brain was always reluctant to travel around all willy-nilly because you didn't want to waste time. I don't know, maybe that was just me. Having these event decks also opens up a lot more cool aspects of persistent storytelling. Completing certain scenarios might cause you to shuffle new cards into the deck - repercussions of actions that will only shake out much later down the line (sort of similar to some of the events in Robinson Crusoe). Certain world-changing events might even cause the players to switch out the event deck for an entirely new deck of cards. So many possibilities. Of course production costs are always an issue. Every new mechanic means new costs and more box weight, but I think adding another deck or two of these event cards will add a whole new dimension to the game and really bring forward the intricacies of the world that the players are inhabiting.

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