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Tragedy in games?

   
Tragedy in games?

This article demonstrates an interesting case for tragedy.

How do you think someone could GM such games based around that theme (that aren't call of cthulhu, where players know they're going to die, and the focus is basically horror)?

Ah, tragedies. One of my favorite "I wonder if I could do this" topics.

A successful tragedy is a powerful thing. But it's nigh-impossible to do properly in tabletop games, because it relies so much on very particular factors working together. With a good group it can be more doable, but tragedy works best when the character tries their best to prevent it but fails, and the audience knows they're going to fail. Thing is, the character and the audience are the same, so you have to have the player know that the game is a tragedy more than anything, and just go with it. The addition of more PCs also makes things more difficult, since tragedies are nigh universally focused around single characters, which detracts from the spotlight of everyone else and can lead to slight resentment.

There are, of course, systems that try to emulate the tragedy genre, often giving the possibility of winning as well. Becoming is one game that comes to mind.

Edit: There's also a lot more about the structure of classical tragedies that just don't fit tabletop games very well, but that is a bit longer of an issue than I'm willing to go into right now. Let's just say that you need a very good GM to provide proper catharsis for the players.

Quote:
Originally Posted by KenL View Post
Near impossible due to the nature of the medium.
But that makes it all the more fascinating as a concept. It's only near impossible, not fully impossible. It's not easy, but it might be possible to do.

The thing about tragedy is that the player of the tragic character (or the entire party if it's a grand tragedy) has to be in on it. Tragedy is really about seeing a thing's -- a person, a nation, a military company -- downfall and not changing it. The paladin who picks up a sword and is instantly possessed by a demon -- that's not tragedy, that's a bad roll. A paladin who knowingly picks up a demon-sword and uses the demon's powers, being slowly corrupted by it all the while, that's tragic. And it requires the paladin's player to willingly corrupt their character all the while.

That's a difficult proposition because the player is invested in their character -- presumably invested in how they are, not what they will be when they have been destroyed. That calls for a specific kind of player, and it's not in every one to see/play that sort of thing.

Than again you can always derive tragedy from the rest of your work and not just the players. Just because the tragedy is not happening right now and to the players does not mean they can't experience it as an unfolding tragic tale.

Like for example have them fight a big bad and his evil empire over and over again and slowly piece together that actually he was once a hero like them who slowly got corrupted by the very power he wielded to defeat the last big bad. Than as a plot twist hand that power to the players as an option for defeating him because I am like that.

Plus, you can have plenty of ways to write a tragic tale even without having it be a classic character tragedy that is common in literature. Like look at say Dark Souls where your entire quest is not to save the world but to simply prolong the existing period of terminal decay for a bit longer. I would certainly call the protagonists of that game tragic even if they don't fall into the greek archetypes.

You still have to have player buy-in at the very start that there are terrible things happening, basically as the foundational bedrock of the fictional universe. Terrible things that they can't change or even begin to effect. A certain number of players are going to look at Dark Souls and want to fix the basic problem with the universe and are not going to want to be happy when they can't.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Actana View Post
Ah, tragedies. One of my favorite "I wonder if I could do this" topics.

A successful tragedy is a powerful thing. But it's nigh-impossible to do properly in tabletop games, because it relies so much on very particular factors working together. With a good group it can be more doable, but tragedy works best when the character tries their best to prevent it but fails, and the audience knows they're going to fail. Thing is, the character and the audience are the same, so you have to have the player know that the game is a tragedy more than anything, and just go with it. The addition of more PCs also makes things more difficult, since tragedies are nigh universally focused around single characters, which detracts from the spotlight of everyone else and can lead to slight resentment.

There are, of course, systems that try to emulate the tragedy genre, often giving the possibility of winning as well. Becoming is one game that comes to mind.

Edit: There's also a lot more about the structure of classical tragedies that just don't fit tabletop games very well, but that is a bit longer of an issue than I'm willing to go into right now. Let's just say that you need a very good GM to provide proper catharsis for the players.
Not so much intending a 'failure is inevitable', as more the idea of running a challenging game that could have exterior choices lead up to inevitable failure (though other choices could be made to avoid the inevitable failure/reduce the odds of failure). And if failure happens, it still feels like they were part a good story, or a proper tragedy. If they win, then they beat the odds (the good good ending), or they narrowly survived (the non-100% completion good ending).

And of course, there's always a place for sacrificial decisions. Particularly in a game I'm thinking of, where players are rulers of a kingdom. I imagine leaders have to make a lot of sacrifices just to stay in power. Already, in that game, players aren't good guys, since they haven't the freedom (for lack of a better word) to do nothing but moral things, though they are free to try their darndest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raveled
A certain number of players are going to look at Dark Souls and want to fix the basic problem with the universe and are not going to want to be happy when they can't.
It's just up to me to filter out those players, I suppose?

It's more that there needs to be player buy in.

'Horror' based games are notoriously bad in this. There's little if any terror outside of mechanics, only grotesque description with a vintage flavor. As GM, it's difficult to maintain a scary atmosphere that doesn't devolve into good natured fun.

Tragedies require an emotional connection to the world if you want to have an actual running theme. Otherwise, it's simply a setting that's just tragic.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Raveled View Post
You still have to have player buy-in at the very start that there are terrible things happening, basically as the foundational bedrock of the fictional universe. Terrible things that they can't change or even begin to effect. A certain number of players are going to look at Dark Souls and want to fix the basic problem with the universe and are not going to want to be happy when they can't.
I newer said they wouldn't. I am merely arguing that there are ways to do that without resorting to spoiling the story.




 

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