Greg and I had our first try of the Mythic GM Emulator ( http://www.mythic.wordpr.com/page14/page9/page9.html ) last night. This is a meta-scenario or scene generator for role-playing games. It does not actually handle the mechanics of the game, though it crudely can. Instead it is a method for generating random events or changes within a game. The claim is that, with some sympathetic handling, you can run a GMless game.
So how did it work?
We chose a Wild Wild West setting: a steampunk western as this seemed to offer a rich source of cliches that we could both act to.
In brief: we were Pinkerton agents sent to recapture a renegade scientist who had developed a super-weapon for us during the war but had since defected to the remaining Southern guerilla fighters who were still terrorising the land. The action included drnking an unlikely Austrian spy under the table at a wayside station, investigating a bizarre arson and murder of a newcomer to the town and following the trial of his attackers, being employed by a woman seeking her husband, who turned out to be the scientist, who turned out to be devloping a device to help crops grow but – through the simple process of switching the polarity on the machine – could be made into a death ray. We found their lair as an old mine shaft that had been widened to accept whole trains, that had a massive gun fortification built above it that dominated the plain and controlled a vital pass. We gained entrance to the place after rescuing beautiful femme-fatale Celeste from a mountain lion (moments before, we later figured out, she was about to assassinate us), were betrayed by Celeste to the guards, chemicals smashed and fires broke out. Confronting Hyram the scientist we discovered the truth, made our escape in a cable car, only to have the cable break and we tumbled to land in the seats of a conveniently passing stage coach.
It was cliche all the way. But unexpected cliches while we were playing. There was, by definition, nothing in there that we did not think of ourselves. Logically there were no surprises. Every event appeared like a welcome old friend. But I was constantly surprised, and often thrilled and titilated.
Celeste was working for us. And it was we who had perverted the original design to be a weapon.
We played out 6 scenes and this seemed to be a satisfying quantity. The game lasted for around three hours. We both found ancillary rules unnecessary, but we are both very comfortable with free-form.
The system is dependant on sympathetic play. If we had wanted to sit there and react and be told a story then it would have failed spectacularly. I observed that we fell into a rhythm. Greg would take the lead for a while and describe what was happening, and then I’d question him as if he was GM. He would answer a couple of things, then by unspoken agreement we would pose a question to the charts. This was often a trivial or obvious question, but it introduced punctuation into our conversation. With those few questions answered I’d lead for a while and act as GM for Greg. In this way we both built the scenario, each having the chance to delight and surprise each other.
We looked forward to random events like they were christmas. As a criticsm, since doubles are not that common, we ignored the requirement of the roll being less than the current Chaos factor to get the event. We seized on the chance to generate a random event every time, and even created one when we were both stuck.
In the end we did not do anything much that would require a spearate set of rules to handle such things as shooting and jumping because our guns never left our holsters. Ooops, not true. We shot at a mountain lion. In any case, that feeling of solidity under this system would probably help to give us an anchor, I think.
So the first test gave a positive result. I am unsure whether I’d want to use this as a campaign system because I think I would run out of cliches in time. It works for me as a one-off: a chance to try out many different genres and settings. A chance to play a role-playing game with like-minded friends. This is, in short, the first time I have found a collaborative story-telling system that actually works. I think we will play this again.