Mary Sue Thinking

So, I’ve had surprisingly little feedback about Mary Sue… Or, well, surprising is really the wrong word. I didn’t expect volumes of feedback, but I thought I might get some, “You’re dumb” letters at least…

Anyway — in the spirit of blogging — I will bull ahead. I want to cover a few small design notes with Mary Sue, a little bit of my non-design, personal thoughts about what I made, something I left out and knew I left out, and finally, something I left out that was proposed to me by a face-to-face comment I received that I still am not sure how I feel about (the part I left out, not the comment).

A Few Design Notes
First — as is immediately obvious to anyone reading the game, it is a bit more of a lark than a serious writing effort. Don’t get me wrong, it is a playable game with some distinct design choices and expectations, but it is also still something I wrote with a wink and a smile…

Second — The gambling mechanic, that is, using a “pot” is something I’ve been kicking around for a long time but never figured out how to make it work the way I’d like for a SERIOUS game. I’m willing to admit that I don’t know exactly how to define a serious game, but, I know it when I see one (paraphrased…). The idea is that everything a character in the Mary Sue game does is directly influenced by the story… That is, how many times have you read a story where the unarmed protagonist, wearing no protective gear, and not being a “superninja” still manages to somehow defeat superior opponents? Of course they win. They have to win or the story suffers. Various games have attempted to address this in a myriad of ways over the years – some more or less successful – but ultimately it all comes back to, “The heroes should be able to win.” But the downside must exist or there’s no conflict to make it the “game” part.

My solution is to make success entirely dependent on being willing to expend the only resource your character has to achieve success – and that’s how much drama you’ve built up in the story. You have to have bad things happen to your character in order to be able to do positive things. Doesn’t matter if you are an ex-Navy leader of a massive underwater research organization, a powerful necromancer in love with a vampire AND a werewolf AND a wereleopard… or you’re just a little teenage girl in love with just a vampire and a werewolf – you can still succeed when you need to succeed — if you’ve built up the drama necessary to success – by letting the universe work against you.

And failure is thus entirely in your own hands. I like this choice – I think it’s appropriate, and it’s strangely freeing to me, when I think about it.

What I Left Out and Knew I Left Out
I’m getting out of order here, but the thing I left out fits in nicely at this point so I’m going to just mention it now. I left out the idea of getting Drama Resolution Points for your character by purposefully introducing plot elements that make Drama for your character. If you choose to be grounded, or wounded, or have an EPIC FAIL, then your Storykeeper can choose to award you some DRP (and should). I realize that FATE systems have a similar mechanic to this – but it’s so much more “mechanistic” that I just wanted to cut out the middle-man (aspects and stuff) and just get right to the point – if you cause your life to be filled with drama you get more leeway at some other point in the story.

I think this rule is not for every group though. It requires even more trust on the part of the SK and the players. The game works perfectly well without it, but I think it will work better with it – provided everyone is working together at the table, not just playing the angles.

A Little Bit Of My Own Stuff
As I mentioned just above, I know that this game is not groundbreaking, and it bears a resemblance – however slight – to games of the FATE style of play. But I was thinking a lot more about Amber DRPG when I was making this than I was FATE. I wanted a Diceless game that achieved something similar to the “Good Stuff/Zero Stuff/Bad Stuff” that was so brilliant in Mr. Wujcick’s game. While I’m still a long way off from that level of awesome – I’m still happy with the result.

Second, this game is kind of my response to the Indie Style. Many people tend to associate “indie” with “rules-light.” But have you picked up Spirit of the Century or Houses of the Blooded. They’re beasts. Houses has Rules for Everything – even hooking up. I know the rules are thematic (and often interesting) but I really prefer to just kick out the middleman altogether.

I know one of the adages (which I’m probably mangling) of the Indie Set tends to be “the rules should reflect the kinds of actions you want players to take” but I see that equally saying – “the rules should enforce a style of play.” Not what I want. Of course, I may not have their meaning right, I accept that, but when I look at the games I named above, it’s certainly reinforces my perceptions.

What I Left Out That I Just Genuinely Didn’t Even Consider
Finally, an omission was pointed out to me by a friend, something I hadn’t even considered when working on the game at all – and it says more about me as a gamer than it does about anything else. I included no method whatsoever to govern PvP.

Now, I HATE PvP. It’s one of the top three reasons I don’t LARP or play MMOs. I’ll actually say it again, “I HATE PvP.” PvP ruins games. If I want to compete against my friends we’ll play a war game. And even then I prefer cooperative board games!

But even without “fighting” there might well come a time when two players need to strive for the same goal and I have not provided the method for doing so… I have two thoughts running around in my head for how I’d like to resolve this – and I think my next post will be all about those…

Until then, thanks for reading, and if you looked at the game – let me know what you think.

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2 responses

  1. I just imagined that there would be some form of bidding war for the right to be the Mariest Sue at the ball~

  2. A bidding war could work – tie-breakers could be a little tricky (say both have the same amount of DRP and are willing to spend it all), but doable.

    I have no idea how it would work – but I can’t get the idea of two Mary Sue’s battling over the cute guy in a ‘Name That Tune’ type bidding system:

    “I bet I could make the cute boy fall in love with me with 3 Dramatic Actions.”
    “Well, I could do it, and have him dump his current girlfriend with 2 Dramatic Actions.”
    “I could make him fall in love with me, dump his girlfriend, and ask me to prom with 1 Dramatic Action.”
    “Alright, spend the DRP and prove it.”

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