23 August 2006

shock: social science fiction by joshua a. c. newman

Yesterday I received my eagerly awaited copy of shock:. Physically it's a startling orange square, with an extremely nice modernist layout. There's some really cool art too.

The game text is bracketed by a piece of fiction based on a game (with marginalia explaining rules stuff here and there). It's a pretty cool story, especially given the source (this is by Ben Lehman, not Newman).

Then there's a short overview, how to create characters and worlds, how to resolve conflicts, advice on being an antagonist and advice about end a protagonist's story. There's also some appendices, including a selection of media and how they might inspire games of shock:.

The game is intended to allow you to play through stories in which real issues are addressed through the lens of science fiction, and it is very strongly focused on this.

In particular, the first thing that players do is build the world. This involves picking some real issues you want to explore and then some 'shocks' (science fiction elements, basically) that are related to the issues. So if I wanted to run a game about mortality (issue), a shock could be anti-aging drugs or replacement clone bodies. These are then added to a grid, with each protagonist (essentially a player character) sitting in one junction. That is, your protagonist is about a particular issue and shock.

The next thing that defines the world is the praxis scales. These are two opposed pairs of ways of acheiving things. These are analogous to stats in most games, in that every conflict you will pick one of these four methods to get your way. Again, the choices reflect on the world (e.g. hope vs despair in one game and lasers vs missiles in another would indicate quite different styles).

Finally a world is defined by minutia. These are any other future details. They have a small mechanical effect, but they're mainly formalised in order to keep track of them, it seems to me.

Issues, shocks and minutia all get an owner when they are created. The owner gets to decide any details about how things in that area work (i.e. the owner of the shock 'anti-aging drugs' would decide all questions about how the drugs work, where they come from, etc).

Now you have your world sorted out, you can make characters. Everyone takes their position on the shock/issue grid and generates a protagonist for that spot. Characters are defined by how where on each praxis scale their 'fulcrum' is and some features and links. The fulcrum is basically where you fall on the scale - is this or that method easier for you? Features are general traits of the character, and give you more dice in conflicts. Links are your important connections, and can beused to try and recover from lost conflicts. Lastly is the story goal - what you want to happen to your protagonist in this story.

Then you make an antagonist, for the person on your left. This is the character or organisation who creates trouble for that protagonist, and is based on a suggestion from that player. You allocate them fulcrums and some features, and give them some credits (these are spent in conflicts, and thus determine the length of the game).

Then the game begins, with players taking turns setting scenes for their protagonist. After the scene is set, you begin roleplaying and the antagonist tries to push on the protagonist's buttons (as indicated by their issue, shock, links, story goal, etc).

Conflicts are mainly interesting in that the parties to a conflict roll separately and their intentions must be compatible, win or lose. I.e. every conflict, everyone can win, everyone can lose, or some combination in between. I'm not sure how this will affect play - I suspect that it will make things more complicated, in general, which is probably good for this sort of story.

The game design seems really solid. It has nothing that isn't integral to what it does, and looks like it does that well. However, the game also has only miminal explanation of how things go. In fact, "the players take turns to start scenes for their protagonists" is implied only - never actually stated in the game. There are a few aspects like that which could probably do with more elaboration, especially as the book is fairly short as it is.

I want to play this as soon as possible, expect an actual play report in the nearish future.
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Luke said...

If you stare at the website for more than 10 seconds everything turns blue. So much orange :)

Sounds like a cool game by the way. Not sure if its my thing but nice to see some sci fi rpg really get what sci fi is about.

The Gamester At Large said...

Warning: the book is even more orange than the website.

Luke said...

Question: The game seems to lack much in the way of bringing the group together other than the central issue established at the start. Is this addressed at all? WGP had a similar structure and I found this was one of the things we had to keep an eye on (and would have appreciated some suggestions in this regard).

The Gamester At Large said...

Shock: is not predicated on the characters being a group at all, so the answer is both 'no' and 'not applicable'.

Everyone sets scenes for their protagonist and then the player who controls their antagonist complicates things. Other protagonists can certainly be involved, but it's completely optional.

Luke said...

Cool. Sounds like WGP.

To clarify, if people choose to have a connection between the protagonists, there is no guidelines how to create or handle this connection?

The Gamester At Large said...

The example story includes protagonists interacting.

There's also a mechanical way to arrange it via "links," in that protagonists may share links and so be drawn to interact that way.

I don't recall any specific discussion of this topic, for the same reason that there is no list of gear - it's not really relevant to what the game is trying to do.

The Gamester At Large said...

Thinking more about this, I realised that you're probably more likely to see the protagonists in conflict with each other (due to machinations by antagonists) than them grouping up to be a team against the world.

Luke said...

Cool. I actually wsn't looking for guidelines about how to group the PCs together in a team. I was more focussed on guidelines on how to manage the fact that you have 4 or 5 protagonists. In PTA, it uses screen time, in Burning Empires you get some scenes individually and some scenes agreed on as a group. I found WGP lacked any real management tools for this and it became quite hard to do so. I was wondering how Shock dealt with this. It sounds like it is a simple round table scene creating mechanism of some kind.

The Gamester At Large said...

Ah, I completely misunderstood. I was thinking your 'group' was the characters, whereas you mean the players. Doh!

In answer to that much easier question - yes, you take turns framing scenes for your protagonist and then your antagonist player adds something to mess it all up.