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working idrama systems

> Or, to put it more bluntclearly: If you know how interactive
> drama is going to work, then please build a working system.

I have built a half-working system.  It is called "freeform PBEM RPG" and is
done only with humans and e-mail.  I say I "built" it because my first tries
at it certainly didn't work.  There are specific skills that a Gamemaster
must amass.  In pursuing many games with the goal of realizing dramatic
objectives, as oppposed to gathering loot or killing each other, I've
learned some things about what makes it work and what the remaining problems

- There should be no more than 3 independent centers of action.  With only 1
center, the writers get stuck as to what happens next.  With 2 centers, the
ping-pong is predictable.  With 3 centers, enough intersting, unexpected,
but continuous things happen to sustain the improvisation.  With 4 centers,
plot, pace, and purpose start to diverge.  I call this "The Rule Of Three."

- you shouldn't have more people than can support The Rule Of Three.

- you need people who will actually write a lot.  If they're good writers,
that's even better.

- The Gamemaster is responsible for keeping the strategic storytelling
objectives firmly in mind, and marshalling the other writers to proceed
towards the ultimate goals of the story.  This GM *must* understand the
craft of writing in conventional linear works.  Somebody has to be capable
of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel, and to evaluate/chop out
episodic distractions.

- Stories always peter out after 1 month, because volunteers can/will only
do so much.  I've yet to bring one of these improvs to anything resembling
narrative completion.  Several of the improvs have amounted to not much more
than false starts.

- Overplanning of the narrative structure will not improve the productivity.
There has to be an ultmate strategic structure for the story.  But if you
try to plot out specific characters, plot points, pinch points, what's going
to happen by timeframe X, etc., you will bore your players and use up all of
their creative energy on the preplanning.  An improvisation needs to be
improvised to be successful.

My current hope is that by repositing improvisational gameplay into the
Erasmatron, and coupling it with a source control database, I will be able
to sustain a game beyond the one month timeframe.  And hopefully then, some
kinds of narrative completion will be reached.

Cheers,                                     www.3DProgrammer.com
Brandon Van Every                           Seattle, WA

For plot and pace, writers use words; game designers use numbers.
Anything understood over time has plot and pace.