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Stéphane Bura – Cúchulainn 10 Minute Pitch

March 21, 2009

Stephane Bura is another game designer I know from Project Horseshoe. I was thinking about Horseshoe this morning, in fact. I brought some games with me, and in mentioning on to someone on Twitter last night, I had a very strong desire to play Pandemic. At Horseshoe, there were four tables full of game designers playing non-digital games. It was as geeky a geekfest as you’re likely to see.

What has always fascinated me in the story of Cu Chulainn is the dramatic power of geasa. If I’m not mistaken, they’re why he killed his son (I couldn’t confirm this in under 5 minutes. 😉

I’d love to see a game in which characters receive or accept geasa that create apparently unsolvable problems. Breaking a geis would have dire consequences, so it would be a very effective way of creating narrative tension. The game would have to be about honor and fate. You wouldn’t defeat your enemies by force, but by influencing their lives so that they’d have to break their geasa, playing out their own prophesied demise.

A more ambitious design would let you from time to time control a crone or minor deity and place geasa on characters yourself.

It would probably be an adventure game with enough world interaction to allow for various ways of resolving conflicts, with very little emphasis on combat except as a pre-ordained dramatic climax.


11 Comments leave one →
  1. March 21, 2009 8:11 pm

    This sounds like a great concept for a tabletop RPG, actually (human GM moderation would help this greatly, I suspect). Accept any number of geasa during character creation, with each giving you additional points to spend on your attributes and traits… with the understanding that eventually the GM is going to find a way to make your geasa as painful as possible (but if you don’t take them, then you’ll have so few attribute points that you’d be essentially useless as a hero).

  2. March 25, 2009 5:34 pm

    I would ditch the notion of it being gamist play, in terms of design. Playing the game would be about making art and operating the game system would be like operating a paintbrush – not something you do to win, yet it still requires skill.

    Gamist play can inspire people to artistic heights, but it always comes second to the real priority: winning. And as such, it’s very unreliable for generating art/story, no matter the effort you put into design.

  3. March 26, 2009 10:39 am

    Fascinating to hear all these suggestions for a Cúchulainn game. In fact, its something that we are currently working on ourselves. HOUND will be a feature film and game telling our version of the Cúchulainn legend. Films being our background, we are currently meeting with various game developers and publishers. The project is supported by the major Irish film funding bodies, Irish Film Board and Northern Ireland Screen. Have a look at our website to see more about our take on the story as it develops:

    • March 26, 2009 11:31 pm

      Wonderful to hear it! I look forward to hearing more information about it.

  4. March 29, 2009 12:41 pm

    I totally agree with you on this point. I believe that storytelling is the perfect subject for a mainstream game that doesn’t rely on competition. It could still have victory conditions if cooperative play was required.
    The concept of of geasa and prophecies fit very well into this, since they naturally provide the storytelling challenges for the players: how can the group tell a story that respects the active geasa and prophecies. Like an advanced version of “Happy Ever After” cards in the “Once Upon A Time” card game.

    Good luck with the movie. It sounds pretty cool.
    And now, you have your pick of designers if you want to promote it with a game 😉

  5. March 29, 2009 5:20 pm

    Ohh, I’d avoid the term ‘victory conditions’ if it’s a set of artistic tools. ‘Conditions for story making to end and the story is complete’ or something like that. Something that makes the game end if the conditions are met, rather than mutual agreement to end – since that can drag on and often mutual agreement makes for a bit of a ‘yes man’ story, that ends conveniently just before anything really nasty or morally challenging happens.

    I’m not sure about ‘respecting’ the active geasa. I guess there’s two ways as I see it
    A: Such things are simply an artistic resource that as a story maker you may or may not draw upon. They are simply part of your palette for the activity.
    B: Something you have to respect in terms of making a story, at all times.

    B is sort of working within the idea of geasa, while A is working from outside of the idea and drawing upon it when the artist decides, rather than when the idea of geasa decides it. If you take it that to respect the idea of geasa is to let the idea of it decide when it’s part of the story, rather than decide yourself.

  6. March 29, 2009 5:46 pm

    Goals help players structure their story, that’s why I mentioned OUaT. Not everybody can seamlessly weave a interesting story with other storytellers – and it’s a shame that this skill is not taught outside of experimental tabletop RPGs.

    Quick and dirty design to answer you remark:
    – “Active” geasa are existing constraints for a character. Players can play a geas [card] on story characters if the conditions are right (birth, character introduction, plot turning point, special action, etc.)
    – Each geas can be broken if the story forces the character to do so and if the player plays a “dreadful consequence” action.
    – Dreadful consequences help or hinder the fulfillment of prophesies.
    – Prophecies must be fulfilled to reach a satisfying ending.

    So, it would be mostly option “B” but with the opportunity to switch to “A” if the story benefits from it and the player can pull it off.

    Like with all storytelling games, the biggest design problem is to decide what kind of influence the rules have on the story’s structure. It can be minimal (in OUaT, inexperienced storytellers sometimes turn their stories into a shopping list: “…and he met a prince, who was cursed, by a merchant, who lived in a dungeon…”) or, as in this example, bigger.
    However, I have no knowledge of an existing storytelling game that goes beyond controlling the acts of the plot. Do you?

  7. March 29, 2009 10:29 pm

    I don’t own them (I’m not used to ordering overseas), but it’d be worth looking at my life with master, dogs in the vineyard, 3:16, spione or sorcerer.

    Other than that I think I work with really different paradigms. Ie, the story isn’t something that exists outside of rules and then rules prod at it somehow. Instead hard mechanics moves are made and story is an inspiration of those mechanical interactions. A not very accurate but quite quick example is “”. That always inspires the startup of a story for me, but it’s a purely mechanical interaction (w/ no player input in this case).

    In this paradigm there is mechanics use first and story inspiration from it, rather than inventing a story first and being inspired by the story to roll dice every so often.

    Also I tend to view B as being like war recreationists – they work within the idea of old battles, and as such don’t invent new battles themselves.

  8. March 30, 2009 1:32 pm

    I didn’t know about 3:16 and Spione. Cool ideas there! Thanks for the pointers.

    I believe that mechanisms can improve storytelling during play (even some random ones) and lead to new stories. It all depends on the amount of freedom of interpretation is given to the players. Look at Everway, for instance, if you want to see a precise system in which each action resolution can lead to a change in the story controlled by the acting player (it uses a tarot deck and “draws” can be freely interpreted).

  9. March 30, 2009 9:41 pm

    I think with mechanics first its different – no matter how you interpret the events, you can’t make them go back in the box. Like, take a character walking five squares then making an attack where the attack roll hits.

    There are lots of ways that can be woven into a small story event. But no matter how you weave them, you can’t put the base mechanical events back in the box. You have to work from them.

    But when you draw a card that can be interpreted? It’s quite easy (and more to the point, possible) to interpret any card into either A: nothing really or B: make it do what you would have done if you hadn’t drawn a card at all (“Oh, see the death card can also mean rebirth…”). I don’t think those methods have any definate effect on the developing of the story, except where the person wants them to. And they could have done that without cards (I’ll grant the cards can give suggestive ideas that might not have come to their mind otherwise, but even if they come to mind, they still have to decide to use them). I know my ‘they fight crime’ example is like that, but that’s why I was careful to say it inspires just the start up of a story – after that, it has no further effect except that which you want it to.

  10. April 1, 2009 9:28 pm

    It’s true that very mechanistic RPGs like D&D have this problem. In others, the mechanisms help give the players more control over the story. Think about Hero or Fate points: players wouldn’t attempt crazy stunts if there was not some mechanism that tilted the odds in their favor.
    Or the Whimsy Cards and their derivatives, where the players are encouraged to steer the story in a given direction so that they can use a card that generates an important change.
    We’ve just scratched the surface of how game mechanisms can promote shared story ownership.

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