Friday, April 4, 2014

The John Doe Era: a group story building idea

I came up with an idea the other day for a Savage World game, and thought it could be used in several other games as well.

Savage Worlds has this mechanic that happens during down times(like if the group is camping for the night, or staying in a motel between cities, etc) where you invoke an "Interlude".  In the Interlude, a character is given a chance to expand their character's story and personal life out of the context of the game.  A trend that started in the Happy Jack's podcast circle of friends was that the GM would get an Interlude out of someone without them realizing they were Interluded.  Speaking from experience, it is hard to get an Interlude going without people realizing, and without that, the Interlude can feel artificial and out of place at times.

My ideas lead to me doing directed and cooperative Interludes.  I would pick something that happened in the last session and ask the player to talk about it with the group in character.  Maybe the character had questions about why someone did this or that, or why someone could not do this or that, this leads to some pretty good discussions.

The new idea, though, is something I feel is one of the best I've come up with in a while.  When explaining it, I used the name John Doe, so that's why its called the John Doe era.  I was watching The Walking Dead the other week, and in it the group skips ahead about 9 months.  You are not specifically told what happened in those 9 months aside from the fact that the group because more like a family to each other, and a whole lot of surviving happened.

I thought to myself "what if I skipped ahead a certain amount of time, and told my players that someone had joined the group and now is not a part of the group anymore".  This was the era of John.  At the interludes I would ask the person something about that time.  "its nights like this that remind of why you liked John, maybe you want to tell the group a good memory"  or "one time you saved John's life, why did you never tell the group, and what happened that day?" and after the character of John is built, I pull out the big one, "why is John not with the group any longer".  It is completely up to the players to build this character that they never played with.  It is up to the players to give him personality without the GM judging or coercing.  John could be good, he could be an asshole, he could have left over a disagreement, he could have been killed, its up to the group.

Its collaborative story telling that is out of the hands of the GM, and a lull in the action, during an Interlude or another such time in other games would be a perfect time to let the GM have a break, and to let the group control things a bit.

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