So, how would you "hack" Fall of Magic to add more punch to the freeform scenes?

I love the idea of playing fall of magic. I love the simplicity. I love the beautiful map and box and I love the tokens. I love how easy it is to start and to introduce new people to the game.

I love emergent character creation and emergent story, with just enough focus to get going and keep you on track.

What I cannot handle so well is the unstructured freeform of the scenes.
I would say that about 1/3 of the time we have trouble focusing, introducing credible opposition (because we know we can just solve it narratively?) and in general we linger on too long in the scenes.

Another problem is the nature of the Magus… either someone goes in too strong, defining too much too early… or we are all so respectful that we tiptoe around the issue and the Magus never gets really defined…

The game itself assigns the definition and resolution of a scene to a single player, encouraging cooperation and player input, but giving ultimate decision power to that player. This allows to overlay any kind of procedure or system to the scene without technically even “hacking” the system :slight_smile:

So the question is: how would you add more punch to the scenes?

It could be a matter of somehow forcing shorter scenes, maybe banning in-character talk and telling the story in past-tense and third person to encourage some faster less detailed narration.

Maybe all you need to do is to add cards with dangling questions, characters and mysteries from previous scenes.

Maybe the author of the scene can decide to play in-character and ask all the other players to act as GMs of that scene (Wizard’s Grimoire style).

Maybe whenever you want to introduce a danger you should use a procedure such as “Think of an immediate and present danger threatening the life or possession of at least one character. Define the threat in such a way that even in your secret heart the character cannot escape the danger with the resources at hand. Leave it to the other players to come up with a solution”

So, how would you go about it?

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Mainly replying to follow since it’s an interesting question. I think one option is a mindset change to focus less on conflict and its resolution for gameplay or story beats but rather on enjoying the beautiful and enthralling that someone creates? That said I’ve only seen live plays of the game and haven’t played it myself yet, even though I really want to.

I’m curious how to translate narratives that doesn’t resolve around conflict (like “slice of life” stories) to games. Most people used to playing RPG’s are so used to conflict that just imagining a pretty bridge and what it’s reflection shows can’t in itself be valuable or enjoyable without a need for it to mean something or be some kind of story telling device used to show a deeper secret or be an omen to a following event or something like that. I wonder about that. For now though, just following… good question!

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Excellent question, indeed.

I like the suggestion to move away from the “punch” of conflict and to focus on character development. The “plot” in this game isn’t really a question: we know where the characters will go next and more or less what they will do.

Instead, seek to reveal character and learn things about each other.

This is a good principle, of course.

It could also be approached through game design, to put something else at stake (e.g. does your character end the story as a “good guy” or a “bad guy”).

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Character development and slice of life scenes worked for a while, then somehow we felt pressure to move the story forward, either through some conflictual situations or knowing more about the magus.

Our last game actually started out amazing, with lots of rich world building, with lots of blanks that got filled by other characters, but then at one point things started going kind of flat.

Maybe I can give some examples.

1/ One character was visiting the market… then was probably stuck with ideas and asked me to play the role of a market merchant. I was not expecting it and also I was not sure about where to aim or what was the point of the interaction and the scene felt a bit awkward.

2/ No one was really taking responsibility for describing the magus, yet we could not ignore that the magus was there and did not know how to handle some danger scene… would the magus simply solve the situation using magic? we didn’t know. And nobody made the first move, so the magus was always somewhere else…

3/ At one point we were exploring the hills outside barleytown, where there were some ancient burial mounds and we visited some underground space, where we all knew that something bad was going to happen… but what? and how bad? again, nobody seemed to know or willing to make up the obstacle… so it ended up with us escaping some unseen enemy. This could be ok, but again it felt awkward at the table.

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Another point… how do you do character development in a more procedural (less stressful) way? Do you do it by asking questions about the character and then playing a scene to answer them?

Because I totally see how conflict could be just an excuse to show an aspect of the character rather than being focused on resolution.

Sometimes I really just wanted a card like in A Quiet Year saying “Show how you unearth an ancient treasure, which character knew about it? why?” or something like that…

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Yeah, I feel that. These are major challenges of freeform play, and one of the reasons I’m not a huge fan of it. Some groups are really good at letting one person take the lead, and others follow, but it can be very awkward socially if that dynamic isn’t there. In a game like this, the “system” is basically the social dynamic between the players in the group.

One thing you could try is to give the person whose turn it is full “control” over the scene, and let them cede it when they feel the need, for a while, and see how it goes, then gradually loosen up as a dynamic gets built over time.

It’s a difficult one! Not easy to solve.

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I wouldn’t hack it, but you could graft Ryu Utama’s travel resources game on it and rename it Seasons of Magic ?

In the examples you give, the game peters out when you go past the first rank of prompts from the game. Having a bunch of “second rank” prompts, taken from other games as you suggest, is a good solution. It’s like playing a campaign with multiple games, only within the same session. FoM frames the travel, and something else frames the encounters. Maybe you will have to pick from different games or random generators (all you need is the prompts) : one for city stories, other for wilderness stories, and another for magical stories. Or any sort of configuration you like (by playbook, by mood, by moment of the day, etc.)

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Answering to both @Paul_T and @DeReel here.

The scene rules of FoM allow enough freedom that yes, you can graft anything on top without technically hacking the game.

This is the basic procedure core (I left bits out for simplicity):

  • use the Story Prompt to add an additional element into your description of the Scene.
  • when you are done, pass the turn.
    good ideas:
    – Start with a physical description of the place
    – Leave plenty of space for quieter players to speak
    – Speak in character.
    – Ask someone to play a part of your scene
    – Describe a brief moment in detail
    – Skip ahead to the part that interests you.
    – Ask for ideas.

It allows you lots of freedom and there are many tools that could be used. I even compiled a small list, but then when I am at the table and I have to decide what technique to use everything falls apart because… too many decisions. That’s why I would like a simpler mechanism, from which all the other ones emerge, or some more explicit creative support / sharing of responsibility with the other players

Maybe the second rank prompts could be generated by characters during the previous scenes, and when you frame a scene you pick 2 or 3 for inspiration. Or maybe you could ask explicitly at the beginning of the scene… but whatever procedure you use, it should be enshrined in a game ritual, some physical token or on character sheets, or I notice that it gets watered down or forgotten

I was thinking something prepared in advance, a deck of index cards with prompts (there are loads of them on the Internet), but players can add and shuffle during play too.
Then, when one goes to the market and wants more from it, the player facing them draws a card from the city story deck and plays adversarial GM for that storyline. Or some similar arrangement.

A thing I like to use to make easy decisions and which I’ve seen come back in solo-play engines is the d6 roll You roll a dice and interpret the result. 1: No, and 2: No 3: No, but 4, Yes, but 5: yes 6: Yes, and. When stuck ask a question and roll these dice to see the results. Yes/No questions work best for this.

For example: “Piccolo goes to the rose-garden and discovers beauty there. Is the beauty his own (or someone else’s)?” Roll d6
1: No, and what’s worse, it seems like everything around him is more beautiful than he is!
2: No, no it’s not him. The gardens are the beauty.
3: No, but he does see beauty in one of his traveling companions that are there.
4: Yes, but he lets it go to his head (either resolve it now, or let it come up later)
5: Yes, he finds beauty in himself, reflecting on how much he is like a rose.
6: Yes, and what’s more, someone else thinks so too. (play out a scene of friendship, romance or whatever else fits here. I can imagine a song being sim to or about him, an animal taking a liking to him and following him around, etc.

This mechanic is easy and useful and I use it in practically every game I make to play with kids in class.

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A really easy “free play” technique is as follows - it’s worth trying it out for any freeform roleplaying game:

  1. Speak briefly, adding some meaningful content to the description, scene, or in terms of character action. Keep it brief and get to the point.

  2. As you wrap up, ask another player a question, and stop talking. That player now answers your question, making their own input/statement, and then asks their own questions.

And so on.

In traditional roleplaying, this tends to look like this:

  1. “I pull out my pistol, and I fire it at the monster!”

  2. “What happens? Did I hit it? Does it die?”

The GM responds:

  1. “Roll the die […] Ok, you hit it in the chest! It falls backwards, screaming!”

  2. “But the doors are closing really fast, and there’s not enough time to get out of here unless you leave someone behind. What do you do?”

In more casual storytelling, it’s great to ask oblique questions or about apparently unimportant details.

  1. “The garden is still wet with dew, the flowers opening up as the sun comes over the horizon.”

  2. “Tell me, Johanna, what do the flowers smell like to you? What do they remind you of?”

Johanna responds:

  1. “The scent is intoxicating, sickly sweet. I think of the last time I smelled it, at the palace of Vizier: his courtesans wore this scent before going to his bedchamber.”

  2. “Tell me, Lucius, what rumours have we heard about the Vizier, and his supposed dealings with foreigners?”

When the players are good at asking interesting questions, this format works nicely on its own as a way of fleshing out a situation or generating dialogue between players.

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These techniques are really interesting. Where did you pick them up?

I wonder if they can be formalized in a way that they can be picked up immediately and move the action forward. A bit like the “what do you do?” and “how do you do it?” from PbtA.

That’s a funny story. I was stuck on a long car ride with two children who were notoriously difficult. I had to invent a game for us to play, I decided, to help everyone pass the time.

I ended up writing a very simple game which was basically the above (plus a semi-random mechanic for occasional turning points), and playing it with them for the entire 4-hr ride. Since then, I’ve explored it a little. It’s quite effective, though it requires some skill to ask good questions!

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That would have been my next question… which is “How do you pick interesting questions?”

Well, you could probably write a whole book about that, right?

But you know what it’s like from regular conversation:

  • Be genuinely curious, and follow your curiosity.
  • Ask questions that are slightly askew, not the obvious and expected thing - approach things obliquely or from different directions. (e.g. “The mighty warrior stands in front of you!” “Uh, ok, how strong is he?” -> too direct.)
  • Ask questions that lead the answerer in a strong direction (give them something to work with), but that are still open-ended (and can be answered in many different ways).
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