What Do You Call Wholesome Slice of Life Relationship Drama, and How Do You Make It a Game?

A few weeks back I got caught up on the webcomic Questionable Content and I was struck by how, well, wholesome it is, using the word in the way that was fashionable a couple of years ago.

The characters - and it has a huge cast, built over many years - are nearly universally good people. Even the ones who started out as selfish or intentionally disruptive have mellowed out or realised they have issues they need to work on. The drama comes almost entirely from the characters’ internal conflicts: Someone is attracted to someone else and don’t know if they feel the same way, someone has an issue that prevents them from enjoying their life and they’re trying to work through it, someone is feeling insecure about something and their friends help them try to get over it.

It’s all very… benign, would be a word for it, I guess. Sure, there are one-off characters who are jerks, but they’re less malicious than clueless or superficial.

Now this may be a genre that’s huge and I’ve just never come across it before, but it feels very refreshing to me. I guess it’s the relationship drama counterpart to pastoral fantasy, kind of? Pastoral drama?

Anyway, I’m trying to figure out a way to turn it into a game that has stakes and such, because while I love the high drama of Pasiones or other drama-focused games I could use some purely positive relationship gaming as well.

Any thoughts?

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Regardless of the stakes being slaying a dragon or trying to survive your first day of college, the actual drama of a story is “will this character succeed despite what’s in their way?” What’s “in their way” could be themselves (morals, flaws, beliefs) or it could be external (enemies, lack of resources, distance, danger, etc).

The job of the game designer is to create a system that provides metrics for character and challenges keyed to what kind of story you want to tell. DnD has stats for monsters, weapons, and magic. Shadowrun has stats for guns, robots, and hacking. A theoretical relationship drama game would have stats for character beliefs, flaws, relationships, and perhaps “curios”. I’m thinking of something like Lady Blackbird where a character would have vague backstory briefs like “lost an important friend” that the player can expand upon and calcify into something new when their character solidifies or radically changes and aspect of themselves.

Conflict resolution (or game resource management) will need to be keyed to the kind of stakes involved in the story. You need some way to collapse the possibility space of big events in the story (will this character rush to stop their love at the airport or decide to find a new love?) What resolution system you use is up to personal preference.

I feel like I’ve heard of multiple games that deliver what you’re looking for but I can’t remember any specific names. I know there’s one about reproducing a sitcom. There’s a couple that do harlequin romance. There’s one for simulating wrestling.

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To me, what you’re describing sounds closest to the “honobono” genre, so I immediately think of games like Golden Sky Stories. Is that the kind of thing you’re talking about?

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There was a move in the video game world toward cozy games, which similar to what you are seeking if not exactly the same. I found this post useful in making games in this sort of space: https://lostgarden.home.blog/2018/01/24/cozy-games/amp/

There are a few games that hit a similar tone, where everyone is a decent person trying their best. Golden Sky Stories, Space Post, A Cozy Den, and The Queen of Cups all live in that sort of space. Or I could see running something like that in a low-stakes version of Dramasystem. But there definitely is room for more wholesome slice of life games of this sort.

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Ah, the mention of “cozy” reminded me there was “Short Rest” a bit ago, a “cozy game jam” for tabletop games. A lot of cool stuff there, including Gauntleteer submissions! https://itch.io/jam/short-rest/entries

The jam description also links to a whitepaper about cozy games, but I think it’s basically the same as the blog post linked previously.

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Yes, honobono/cozy games sounds exactly right. I’ve heard of Golden Sky Stories but never investigated it closely so I guess I should do that now!

Thanks for the links!

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Chuubo’s ? You don’t even need to have a conflict in play.
Imagine ?

I don’t know more about Chuubo’s than that it exists, and not even that much about Imagine so I couldn’t say.

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Yeah, Chuubo’s Marvelous Wish-granting Engine was pretty much built for this, one of the main modes of play is just called ‘pastoral’ . It’s pretty much exactly what you’re talking about, generally decent people experiencing life together, in a setting filled with nice people with low-key supernatural elements (Fortitude, the area of the setting designed for Pastoral play, is a lovely place full of subtle detail).

Play is heavily based around quest cards, which are small stories or bits of story. You get XP for playing your character and hitting broad conditions set out on the card, when you have enough XP invested in it you can finish the quest and complete that bit of story. Quests can be more dramatic or magical (like investigating something supernatural), or subtle and low-key (like fixing up a house).

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In my Smallville game (Cortex Prime), a TON of the game is the players diving into their personal relationships. It’s essentially Hour Long TV Drama: The RPG. Skinning it to anything else is trivial.

Challenging their Values and Relationships (growing as people and in their personal relationships) is a huge part of the game.

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I submit that Chuubo’s is possible the most complex way you could set about making this sort of play into a game that I can imagine. Reading that book was struggle.

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I’m fairly familiar with Smallville, but while it is indeed focused on relationships it’s also all about character conflict which is… not the exact opposite of what I’m looking for, but almost.

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Chuubo’s in mundane mode is hardly Cyborg Commando; it’s more that it’s an unfamiliar way to play than really very complex. Doing stuff just comes down to adding Will from your limited pool to another relevant trait. Everything else is just ways of getting XP for your quests, and Issues that track something specific your character is dealing with.

I don’t play with the Miraculous arcs, because I think they are a bit complex and prescriptive, and get in the way of the beauty of the setting.

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I’d define Chuubo as play by post inspired RPG where you collect badges. These badges mark dramatical turning points in the character story arch. Like 1. your voice cracks, you seem over enthusiast 2. someone sees you sighing in secret 3. tell them your secret of loss and hope.
Imagine by Rickard Elimaa asks players to collectively and mentally picture moments in the life of (people. Adding up and branching… I don’t remember the end condition. It’s a quiet game that uses silent signs for narrative coordination.

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When an Arc of quests finishes, you generally manage to complete something significant in the story, and get an appropriate Perk or power-up from it. If you think of it as a levelling system, where your level is ‘where you are in your current story’, that’s pretty close.

It does have some influence from PbP and other narrative-focused games, but it needs speeding up to actually use for PbP. Dropping Quest XP costs to 2/5ths or 3/5ths of the standard really helps.

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I would consider Do: The Temple of Flying Pilgrims. Solving a conflict through violence is frowned upon, the “adventures” are literally letters making a request of any kind with an interesting bead conflict resolution. The only catch is that it is more of a joint writing game than an rpg

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https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kitchen_sink_realism - often has “French” in front of it.

I strongly suggest that you run Psychodrame (pdf) through google translate. It’s based around a kicker that starts something off, like “The father returns after years of absence to his family”, where the other characters are foils of each other. If one is a cop, another is a pot smoking anarchist. But it should be played in a slow way. A scene could be the dad is sitting sighing, watching a photograph. It didn’t sound fun to me, but it connected to me in a way no other game have done.

The social resolution system is based off Dogs in the Vineyard, but uses hidden cards (instead of open dice) and you draw cards from your stats - moods and emotions - which guides how the conversation/argument is played out. More roleplaying game designers should check out that system, actually.

If you get around to GothCon, LinCon or NordCon in Sweden, you can probably find people willing to play it in the indie room.

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Interesting! I do go to GothCon most years that aren’t plague years.

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I’m assuming that Golden Sky Stories are following kishotenketsu, which is an Easter Asian narrative structure that may have, but doesn’t have to resolve around, conflict. The Memories of Murder is an example, where the police officer doesn’t solve the crime (conflict!), but we get instead to follow and get an insight in the officer’s thoughts and emotions. It presents you with a perspective, and possibly makes you think. The Man from Earth is another brilliant example - that movie brought me hours of contemplation.

I based Imagine on kishotenketsu when I wanted to create a game without conflicts. It’s not what you’re after because Imagine is a storytelling game more than a roleplaying game - people narrate together without playing any roles.

I know that The Mountain Witch is based upon kishoteketsu as well, but the witch killing samurais are having their own goals as well. I never read or played it myself, sadly.

Something I really liked the basic idea in Bad Family—which is basically Simpsons/Family Guy the RPG—is that each character take on an everyday task, and continues to fail with that until the game tell you that you can succeed (simply put). Like, taking out the trash, helping your sister with her homework, or writing a letter. There will always be things that hinders you from completing the task.

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Thank you! A lot of that is very relevant.

The Memories of Murder sounds a bit like an idea for a game I was kicking around in my head a couple of years ago but never did anything with, inspired by the baggage mechanism from the Android boardgame, about weighing solving the case against your family and other relationship obligations.

(I generally don’t distinguish between roleplaying games and storytelling games unless there’s a specific reason for it and I tend to use roleplaying games as the bigger category, so that’s fine.)

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