Games Design - [Way of the Agent] Help with tragedies

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 20th 2010

"What did they take from you?"

That's the question I need answering during character creation (your character has been fucked by The Man—maybe that's the mafia, maybe that's the government, maybe that's the hive-minded slaver aliens). To assist with creativity, I'd like to sharpen that question. For example, "who did they take from you?" "what did they destroy" or "what did they shut down?"

Can you help me to compile a list of questions you think would inspire players to come up with interesting personal tragedies? So far, I have things like:

"Who did they take?"
"Who did they kill?"
"Who did they abuse?"
"Who did they corrupt?"


"How did they abuse you?"
"How did they take your job?"
"How did they use you for testing?"
"How did they give you a disease?"

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Aug 20th 2010

I've got a few in the same style as your questions, but you've only given us a little to go on so I'm fumbling a little. Tell us a bit more about the game and what these questions will inform - apart from motivation.

Who did they turn against you?
What did they destroy?
What did they make you destroy?
Who did they make you kill?
Who did they maim/cripple?

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 21st 2010 edited

Hi Andrew,

Thanks for jumping in on this. Way of the Agent is a game about underdogs uniting against oppression.

During character creation, each player chooses a Path (like Way of the Inventor or Way of the Getaway Guy), and from these choices some information is learned about the nature of the Tyranny (the game world and the bad guys). For instance, if a player chooses the Way of the Inventor for his character, the GM and players are asked to introduce oppressive technology into the world). In this way, during character creation, the game world is built in sympathy to player choice.

Afterwards, each player is assigned two random questions (called tragedies) from a kind of oracle table. The answers to these questions will drive the character's purpose (which will be a mechanical tool used in play to gain bonuses and advance story). Purpose, being tied to the tragedies, help to give the character a taste of vengeance.

So, I'm looking for questions to fill out this oracle table. I want the questions to inspire rather than dictate.

Another way to look at this is in reverse: How can someone violate you without killing you?

Murder (a loved one)
Kidnap (a loved one)
Corrupt (a loved one)

Can you help me to fill out this list instead?

Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Aug 22nd 2010

I had a similar idea for character creation in Stitch, where the questions asked where about your involvement in the Apocalypse. I rejected the idea for something else but here are some of the ones I had on my list that haven't already been covered:

Who did you abandon?
What trust did you violate?
How were you selfish?

You could also have things like:

What secret was made public?
How were you embarrassed?

Hope that helps



Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Aug 22nd 2010

Just a brief one to add to your list of things that can be violated:

Memory, in the sense of memories stolen, changed or added.

Posted by: Andrew Kenrick On: Aug 22nd 2010

Also, Iain, as a point of comparison I'd be interested to hear (in a different thread, perhaps) why you were thinking of the same idea and why you eventually shelved it. Plus, any Stitch update is golden too.

Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 23rd 2010 edited

Using your suggestions and a big mind map, I've come up with the following list. Do you think these need to be compartmentalised further, or, inversely, they need to be expanded upon? I'm looking for somethign that will inspire.

As an exercise, let's say you're making "Tanya the sniper" and all you know is that the world is a war-ridden mess. If you roll 1d20 twice and pick two different questions, do you come up with clear answers immediately for this character? are the questions too vague/narrow?

To you
1. They messed with your mind or your memories. What's different?
2. They forced you to do something terrible. Why couldn't you have refused?
3. They forced you to betray a loved one. How did they make you do it?
4. They messed with your body. What can you no longer do?
5. They abused you for years. Why didn't you stand up and fight?
6. They destroyed your friendships. Why can't you go back to the way it was?
7. They destroyed your reputation. What do strangers hate about you the most?
8. They made you feel imprisoned. How did you escape?
9. They stopped you from working ever again. What do you miss being able to do?
10. They broke up your family. Which of your family hates you the most?

To a loved one
11. They broke the mind of someone close to you. How did they do it? Why couldn't you stop them?
12. They forced someone close to you to do something terrible. What was it?
13. They forced someone close to you to betray their cause. What was the cause and how did they coerce them?
14. They forced someone close to you to betray you. How did they coerce them and what did they betray?
15. They corrupted someone close to you. What did they offer them?
16. They mutilated someone close to you. What's wrong with them now?
17. They destroyed someone close to you. Why couldn't you stop them?
18. They abused someone close to you. How long was it until you found out it was going on?
19. Someone close to you was "taken away." Why do you think it was your fault?
20. They imprisoned someone close to you. How did they get away with it?

Posted by: Malcolm Craig On: Aug 23rd 2010

I'd be interested in knowing how much of these you expect to be answered during character creation and how much would be answered in play? I'm assuming its a combination of both? Additionally, some of the tragedies have a two part question (11, 13, 14, etc). Could this be applied to all of the questions in an "Answer this now, answer this in play" format?

Other than that, it seems like a pretty robust set of questions and more than enough scope for wide variations in character motivation. Using you example of Tanya, I rolled a couple of times and got:

15 (They corrupted someone close to you. What did they offer them?) - They offered freedom from pain
2 (They forced you to do something terrible. Why couldn't you have refused?) - They had a gun to my head

16 (They mutilated someone close to you. What's wrong with them now?) - They lost their hands
7 (They destroyed your reputation. What do strangers hate about you the most?) - Apparently, I once killed a child

Having a two part in creation/in play thing would be cool for this. So, for 7 is could be "What did you do?/Did you actually do it?" For 16 it could be "What did they do to them?/How to they feel about you?" and so on and so forth.


Posted by: Sebastian Hickey On: Aug 30th 2010

Hi Malcolm,

I've been thinking about what you've said a lot since this post. Particularly, I love the "Answer this now, answer this in play" issue. It got me thinking about what is going to be decided during play and what is going to be prepared up front. There is a deeper issue here with my design that I have to confront, which is "how will the game tell stories?"

I'll try to explain briefly my conundrum, but I won't be able to give a proper answer yet. Frankly, will the game tell specific stories about characters akin to a narrative from of literary or filmic fiction? That is, am I trying to tell stories like a story game, or am I trying to make something closer to a traditional RPG? Not sure.

For example, Way of the Agent (wota) asks players and the GM to collaboratively generate a linked group of characters in a sympathetically generated game world. It asks players to create characters that are motivated to oppose a greater enemy and it asks the GM to use those motivations to fabricate adversity. Furthermore, wota uses those motivations mechanically to reinforce and reward their inclusion in ongoing play. So, in a synchronistic manner, stories will retrospectively get told as the characters go through challenges and face adversity, all the while plugging their motivations into the game, marking storytelling milestones for the players to remember and stitch together. For example:

PLAYER'S CONTRIBUTION: I play Tanya the Sniper who is protesting against conscription in the ongoing global war. A fellow activist was mutilated and Tanya was blamed, defaming her and her cause. Tanya's motivation is to find the guy who destroyed her friend and to stop the conscription. GM'S CONTRIBUTION: Tanya is a Sniper, so you decide to place the world in war. You decide that the corporation "Mirk Guns" set up the situation which lead to Tanya's tragedy. You also decide that Max Handerbaak is the senator responsible for the deciding vote on the upcoming conscription poll. Or something. These two entities will create adversity for Tanya during play. PLAY: Tanya can introduce either the conscription issue or the mutilation issue into a conflict to gain a bonus. Let's say that, during a raid on a stronghold, she adds the conscription motivation to her sniping effort. "I see Max Handerbaak's secretary talking to the soldiers at the front gate. This has got something to do with the conscription bill!" And gets extra dice.

So, how does this example help to clarify my point? The raid on the stronghold becomes important because I, Tanya's player, add importance. Later, after a session ro two of play, random events and challenges gain significance from the players' decisions. So, in a sense, a story is built by association and the building of patterns. This, like any pocket play RPG, is a good example of that whole synchronicity paradigm—where people must see patterns. However, does it reveal meaning or just story?

That's the challenge that your point offered. When I make a character and I decide what sort of issue that character is going to face during a story, all of the action that relates to that question gains meaning. The story becomes a means to realise an answer. That is, in a way, very much part of the story game/indie game zeitgeist.

I feel that wota does not ask that question yet, and will tend to deliver a narrative without a focused, intended meaning, except when it asks what will your character do in order to seek revenge (promoted by other game mechanics I haven't mentioned yet). Is that too linear a goal, too focused a question? Does it allow enough room for characterisation? If in every game, every character is driven by revenge, would that be dull? That's something I'm not sure I can figure out yet. Maybe I need to ask a new question of the characters, something like what you have raised here Malcolm. I have "why are you out for revenge?" Maybe I now need something along the lines of "what is the cost of revenge?" Or is that something that we can find out from play without prescribing it up-front?

Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Aug 30th 2010

I'll be posting a Stitch update soon Andy, just about done with a new draft. I'll try to remember to talk about the things I have discarded along the way.



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