Synanthropes: How much difference can one word make?

So, here I am, working my way from Synanthropes v. 3.1 to 3.2. It’s a bit of a slog. But there’s one change, at least, I’m very excited about: DANGERS are gone. Stricken from the game. OBSTACLES are in.

Oh, there are other tweaks going on… Dice are different, in that you start with more of them but only succeed on sixes. In theory, this will increase the odds of doubles being rolled, and increase the imperative to seek out every opportunity to net an extra die possible, because seeking out every little advantage is very much in character for these little explorers. Will it work, or will it just make you feel too weak, too helpless against this big, scary world? We’ll see.

Clues are being tweaked as well, to keep the game pace rapid. I’m decreasing the number of clues required by two, and doing that by making the answer to one question a clue for the next. Other advantage: this means that the answers to questions will be by necessity spread out a bit… it’s a bit less freedom in the clues you get, but should make the overall flow of the game better. Will it work, or will it make the whole affair seem a bit too stagnant? Time will tell.

There are a few more nips and tucks in the works, but honestly, I think the most important change I’m making from one version to the next is replacing that one word, turning Dangers into Obstacles.

Because I believe in the power of words. A game lives and dies on its terminology. The difference between a successful run of any given game and an unsuccessful one (or even a great run and a merely good run) is in the attitudes that the players bring to the table, and those attitudes are shaped by a million different units of context, making them brave or timid or prone to explore or vindictive or argumentative or straightforward or whatever. The only means I have at my disposal of manipulating the attitudes of players (especially when I’m not at the table, facilitating) is through the appropriate use of words, to tick the right little boxes in that contextual supercomputer that is the brain which activates the subroutines for, in the case of Synanthropes, “I want to explore!” “I want all the stuff!” “I want to argue!” and so on.

For instance, “Artifacts” is a good word for making folks want something. It sounds important! That’s why each floor contains a Human Artifact. If it were called “Human Trash” or “Human Detritus,” then why would anyone care? It’s valuable, because I SAY it’s valuable, but if you keep referring to a thing as trash, over and over, then you begin to think of it as trash, or at least, begin to underestimate its value because it’s being associated with trash. But Artifact? Well, that’s a dead sexy word. Sounds like it belongs in a museum. There’s a hint of magic to it. It conveys in inherent mystery. Human Artifact.

So why are Dangers now called Obstacles?

Simple. A Danger is something you avoid. It’s there to be evaded, worked around, worried about, and, if necessary, faced–but not faced willingly.

An Obstacle is something you OVERCOME. It’s there to be pushed through, to be dealt with, to be faced as a matter of course… you want what’s on the other side of the obstacle, because it’s important! If it weren’t important, why would there be an obstacle in front of it, eh? Eh?

As a player, dangers are scary, obstacles are inviting. As a Narrator, Dangers are vague… they could be put anywhere, be anything, wiggle around uncertainly. Obstacles are concrete: they are between the players and the door, or between the players and the Artifact, or both. Sure, a clever Narrator can and should play around with placement, but when in doubt, “this thing is in front of the door to the stairs” is a never-fail proposition.

Certainly, there are other implications, one of which being that everything on the list of obstacles must be something that stands between the players and the conclusion of their mission. I’ll drop a few of the more argument-based dangers, and add a few more creatures and constructs to stand in everyone’s way. That’s minor. That’s just… busywork, at this stage. The shift in tone and presentation is going to be more relevant, I think, to keeping the game moving the way I want it to.

Will it work? Well… I’ll find out Tuesday, I suppose.

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