This week’s topic comes courtesy of Sean DMR (@flying_grizzly and www.flyinggrizzly.net) who tagged me into an interesting thread on twitter looking at role-playing game frameworks through the lens of Lecoq territories. My graduate training at Pig Iron School was rooted in Lecoq, so I’m familiar with the territories through both an academic and a creative lens, but I hadn’t considered applying them to tabletop games. I’m delighted that Sean put this idea on my desk.
Alright, so what’s a territory? Simply put, the territories are different dramatic categories of theatre; the main ones we explore at Pig Iron are melodrama, commedia, bouffon, tragic chorus, and clown. As Sean points out, they are not the same as genre and you could make a commedia piece that is sci-fi just as easily as a western, for example. They’re also not the same as style. The territories may lead us towards specific style choices like slapstick or archetype, but the core identity of a territory comes from a dynamic drive that is amplified by the relationship between the characters and the world of the play.
Beyond styles or genres, we seek to discover the motors of play which are at work in each territory, so that it might inspire creative work. And this creative work must always be of our time….......Our method is to approach the ‘territories of drama’ as if theatre were still to be invented.
I’m happy to report that our pilot episode of Questo was a success! We took our audience of about a dozen people on a fun little adventure game and received some very helpful feedback on their experience. I’d like to start with a quick thanks to the wonderful folks who came out; it was such a treat to present this new game for you and to see the inventive solutions you came up with during the story.
The audience wants more!
Our players responded well to the item cards as props and took to the basic mechanic of turning one in with a description of how they would use it. I was surprised to learn that people have just as much fun hearing the solutions of the other teams as they do coming up with their own. The structure proved to be accessible for people and allowed them to learn the game as they played it. At the end of the evening, folks wanted to know when we’ll be doing the next one.
What did we learn?
Questo is a great machine for lateral, out-of-the-box thinking. Over the course of the game, players identify the goal to create the best story and learn that Jeff and I are rewarding big, risky, creative choices. At the same time, their toolkit is getting smaller, so they’re nudged to use things they wouldn’t reach for at first. We witnessed teams getting playfully inventive, not only in the way they used the items, but in expressing their characters and taking advantage of the opportunity to tell a story. By the end of the adventure, tables were combining their efforts, putting their heads and their inventories together to figure out the best way to get past the encounters.
We got good feedback on the characters that we added to the world, and people enjoyed having them performed. This isn’t a surprise, but it’s a fun invitation to get deeper into the characters we're creating. I noticed the parts the players enjoy aren’t always what they find important. Several folks said that they enjoyed seeing us play characters in the world, but when given the opportunity to interact with them in the game, each team chose to do a clever stunt instead.
Based on this one test, it seems players prioritize participating in the story we invite rather than taking control of the narrative. In encounters where we’d give a direct option or an alternative to change the scenario, teams chose the direct option most of the time. Even in the final moments, when we told them that the direct option would most certainly end in tragic death, the entire room decided to fall on the sword. They don’t mind that we’ve already written the story as long as they get to tell their version of it.
What questions do we have?
The main decision we need to make is how much Questo is a competition between the teams and how much is it a collaborative story game? In the feedback, we heard support for both. Some players wanted more clarity about the results of their decisions and who was ahead. Other players loved collaborating between tables and wanted more of that sooner. During the pilot, collaboration was working and driving the action in the room. Either we need to improve on the clarity of the competitive elements or we should cut it out altogether. An interesting lesson to observe is that the competitive part of the game, which was the most objective part for Jeff and I had the biggest sense of being arbitrary to the players.
I’m also very curious to explore what it means to make the game a recurring, serial story. We have questions to answer around scaling the narrative and making sure the core game is fun to replay. I wonder whether it can support players returning with the same characters or having an opportunity to carry over something from the previous episode.
Honestly, the response from the pilot tells me that the piece is more ready than I expected. We have some work ahead of us to get it to its final form but I’m looking forward to running this again. This fall we’ll dive deeper into the performance and set up a run of a few games in a row to look at how it behaves over multiple episodes. If you’d like to find out when the next iteration is going to happen, there’s a google form at the end of this post. Following Matt Colville’s example, I will email you only once the next game of Questo is open.