Narrating the complex EP setting

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DamionW DamionW's picture
Narrating the complex EP setting

Hello everyone. As a wet-behind-the-ears EP game master, I'm finding it difficult to translate the exceedingly rich and vibrant setting of EP into a narrative as I run my adventures. It is particularly true in the application of the rules mechanics. What I'm finding is that the setting seems an amazing backdrop for short stories or flash fiction, but as I try and make it interactive with a group of five other casual gamers, the depth of the experience leaves me feeling like I've thinned things out too much.

Take networking on the mesh. The PCs are trying to track down information on a target. They roll their Autonomist-networking skill check and get a success (or failure, either way). I now want to give them their next breadcrumb to send them on their way, but in terms of the setting a complex interaction has just occurred. They reached into their entoptic displays, worked out an internal dialogue with their muse and had probably 10-20 rapid fire mesh exchanges with their social network to try and locate an individual with access to the knowledge they want. For expediency sake, I want to just say: "Okay, after a bit of snooping around, you found out X information," but then I feel I'm selling the game experience flat by not creating an ad hoc description of the types of interactions they just went through.

Does anyone here have some strong success stories or techniques for establishing and maintaining the mystique of a transhuman lifestyle while keeping the game action moving? It's especially difficult because the group I'm involved in are all casual Sunday gamers and aren't playing out of excitement towards the setting. They just want to roll some dice and have fun. They're not digging through the text themselves to immerse themselves in the environment, so I can't rely on their knowledge of EP to be that in-depth. I want to be adaptable and not bury them with exposition, but also avoid making what should be a wondrous environment blasé. I appreciate any inputs. Thanks!

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
Remember that the characters

Remember that the characters are not feeling their own lives to be full of mystique - it is just ordinary life. Doing EVAs, networking with online adhocracies, printing weapons and resleeving is fairly standard as long as they do not move away from their home culture (those *other* cultures and systems are weird!)

What I try to do as GM is to add nuggets of description to decorate the game mechanics. Somebody looks up something online: "Ok, you succeed. Your muse brings up a data cluster in your display, with an easy to read executive summary. There are some nodes blinking in red: it thinks you might want to take a look at those." Somebody does an Infosec roll: "Your scanner software notices an old exploit, apparently a piece of pre-Fall code that never got upgraded. You're in!" Somebody prints something out: "The printer opens its vacuum cover with a sucking noise and you feel the smell of newly printed equipment. The scaffolding material pulls back as you touch the warm ceramics and it imprints on you as its owner." In many ways it is just normal evocative storytelling ("You hit, making 4 points of damage" vs "Your broadsword glances off a muscle, drawing blood but not stopping the snarling orc"), but here with setting and tech.

Finding out information is probably where I would want to inject more variation and roleplaying. Just having a table of random names, factions and modes of interactions works wonder for bringing things to life. It should never be that you just succeed with networking rolls - you should feel that your character has been asking old friends, online acquaintances, characters in shady bars or encountering weird traders. Ideally some can be re-used: professor/dr/mr/mrs Ramirez is ubiquitous in my campaign (being a multi fork-banyan) and the go-to guy for academic networking (but he is hopeless with secrecy); those creepy slavers from the first adventure will likely show up as unwanted gatekeepers of something the PCs want sooner or later.

Perhaps the best way of getting the weirdness across is to base a story on some core concept. "Help! Somebody killed me and my latest backup is *months* old! What the heck happened, I always make backups every night!"

Extropian

DamionW DamionW's picture
Those are good examples. As

Those are good examples. As I mentioned in the vignette thread, I'm running your Think Before Asking plot (thanks again for the hard work). All of the tracks they've had to follow to get to Fornjot have flown by, because I had a hard time figuring out how to role-play the various networking checks to peel back each layer of the onion as TCEU made their way through Phelan's. They did a check, I gave them another clue, another check, another clue. When they got to the Mechame storage unit, things got more dramatic as they tried to break into it instead of just asking if the Mechame's knew about the shipment. But otherwise, I ran into the trouble on narrating research and networking tests without having ideas ahead of time on who they were talking to in order to get their clues. It's just easier for me to write evocative fiction then narrate it "on the fly."

I think describing the mess left after the Oracle broke out should be a little easier, because I already have it framed in my head. My one worry is they'll never connect the dots back to Naos unless I throw in Toshihiro as a deus ex machina, spilling the whole deal. But that doesn't make sense, given that the forks there were pruned for plausible deniability.

Quincey Forder Quincey Forder's picture
for descriptions, anime are your friends!

Seriously, I mean it!
and not just the japanese animation stuff mind you!
for Mesh and AR, my visual bibles are Production IG's Accel World and Disney's Tron Uprising
look at the display they use.
for the hacking, Tron Uprising has great examples, like in episode 12, when the Renegades hacks Tesler's tanks. how he sneaks in the code and recombines the routines of the tank's canon. you can almost take it 'verbatim' and use it in your game.
Dito for the psychosurgery, when in episode 7 when Paige edits Ada's disks, or episode 17 when the one eyed hacker forges false memories

for Tacnets, check out Psycho Pass (on Funimation.com or crunchy roll, you should be able to find it). the Dominator interface provides a good inspration.
if you feel adventurous and in a McGuyvery mood, you could device a whole hab where the whole rep economy/dynamic is based on the stress value and lucidity. the criminal ratio would be calculated like this current SV*current trauma. still trying to find a way to game systemize the hue value of the psycho pass itself, tho.
For the Muse take a look at Robotic Notes. While the series is a bit too childish for my taste (had the same problem with Fractale) it does provide great inspiration for a muse. actualy I use Geiji as visual model for Nonny is my Ego Hunter run.

Q U I N C E Y ^_*_^ F O R D E R

Remember The Cant!

Noble Pigeon Noble Pigeon's picture
Since this doesn't really

Since this doesn't really warrant its own thread...

So tomorrow in the game I'm running, the players have resleeved at Elysium. I have a basic description of Elysium and a short history of Mars (since most of the group is new to Eclipse Phase) written out that they're going to read, and while I didn't make it terribly monotonous, I was wondering if anyone can help provide a more colorful description? Elysium is basically the Las Vegas of the setting, and since the players are probably going to be staying for a while I want to leave a great initial impression.

"Don't believe everything you read on the Internet.”
-Abraham Lincoln, State of the Union address

NewtonPulsifer NewtonPulsifer's picture
There's this you've already

There's this you've already read, right?

The best way to get a good set of details is to get into the player's point of view. The GM point of view is narrative, for players it is often choice points. Try to figure out the choice points and detail those.

Examples:

1. Players want to get from point A to point B in Elysium. Do they call an air taxi or ground car? Take the train? Is the air car/ground taxi piloted by an AI, an Infomorph, what? Is there a passed out partier, but the poor Infomorph cabbie can't get them out and asks the PCs to help toss them onto the nearest park bench? Do they take the subway, and is there a 9 year old boy begging for the cash to get a case morph for his mother, who's begging along with him as an AR? Or maybe mom is using a holographic projection interface to get past people with aggressive AR filters?

Next choice point - PCs find a dead/dying guy laying on the street. *Nobody* sees him because of an extremely sophisticated AR illusion except for a buddhist priest (who is wholly unaugmented - and probably any PCs with good Infosec scores) He's trying to get people's attention. Do the PCs call the police or an ambulance? Who/what shows up first? Is it a Guardian Angel drone (EDIT: from the above link "Most of their patrols are in flying cars or on bicycles.")? Does an ambulance show up? Is it an air van? Do they call the guys time of death? Do they sever his head and drop it in a cooling tank? Or is having an untouched crime scene more important than saving his life (he can resleeve, right? No biggie). Or do the emergency medtechs say "do not resuscitate - last backup was 2 hours ago encoded into his nanotats - verified with his backup provider"? Are the EMTs Synthmorphs (the Elysium entry mentions Synthmorphs are relatively rare in Elysium except in jobs where they invite a "fantasy of clinical sterility".

Anyway, set aside your narrative and concentrate on player decision points. That's where they'll be spending much of their time (even if it turns out to later have little narrative worth), so concentrate on the ambiance the most there.

"I fear all we have done is to awaken a sleeping giant and fill him with a terrible resolve."- Isoroku Yamamoto

Justin Alexander Justin Alexander's picture
DamionW wrote:Does anyone

DamionW wrote:
Does anyone here have some strong success stories or techniques for establishing and maintaining the mystique of a transhuman lifestyle while keeping the game action moving?

In the specific case of mesh research, I use a technique similar to Gather Information checks in D&D: Summarize the approach, make the key moment distinct, and contextualize the information.

For example, in a fantasy campaign I might want to deliver a chunk of information like, "There are a lot of stories suggesting a long-running feud between Sheva Callaster and the Vladaams." First, I say something like, "You start hitting up your contacts in all the dives location around the Docks." (Summarize the approach.) Then I identify the key moment that they information is discovered: "In the Inn of the Lost Sailor your old sailing partner One-Eyed Pete lost in the haze of his grit addiction." Finally, I contextualize the information: "Pete warns you that you'd be better off staying well clear of the Vladaams. People who mess with them tend to disappear. Only person that doesn't seem to be true for is a lady by the name of Sheva Callister: He once saw her get jumped by three Vladaam thugs and she chased them off as if she were brushing dust from her shoulder."

You can take the same approach with a Research test in Eclipse Phase. Say you want to deliver a chunk of information like, "Achjima worked for Dolma Gope's resleeving clinic." First, summarize the approach: "You start rooting through the corporate recruiting boards." Second, find the key moment: "You strike gold when you find a recent resume list Achjima as a reference." Third, contextualize the information: "You hit the girl up. She's turned pure infomorph when her body was 'forcibly reclaimed' by the local triads and she couldn't afford the replacement. She's eager to accept a few creds towards the new body fund and tells you all about her college days with Achjima. Sounds like Achjima has always been a radical interested in singularity seeking. She's pretty sure Achjima is working for a woman named Dolma Gope now: Achjima was bitching about her the last time they talked."

If you find it difficult to improvise this stuff off the cuff, take a couple moments and prep two or three contacts for each of the PCs. (Or have the players prep them for you.) You don't need a lot here: Just a name and one sentence describing them. Something like, "One-Eyed Pete: Grit addict that he used to sail with on the Abandoned Mermaid." When they make a Research test, grab one of these contacts and figure out how they would know (or could point them at) the information they want.

The other thing I've been doing is specifically prepping a list of augmented senses for my PCs and specifically making a point of evoking them: Can one of them see into the UV? Everybody's watching the local AR. Et cetera.

I'm still in the early stages of "training" myself for running Eclipse Phase: The trick is to pick one aspect (pervasive mesh access, augmented sensory inputs, etc.) and really focus on incorporating it into the session. Once you've done that for 1-2 sessions, you can pick the next topic to focus on (while allowing the previous topic to just become part of your pervasive toolkit).

jasonbrisbane jasonbrisbane's picture
Thanks Justin!

Thanks Justin!

I love the idea of having a few contacts for each PC with whom you can create a virtual repitoire (sp?) with. It not only allows you to give info the PC's but also when a contact gives them info more often, they become a bigger part of that pcs life and they might be able to ofer jobs, take jobs, meet them in "real life", etc.

And a future source of adventures!

Regards
Jason B

Regards,

Jason Brisbane

DamionW DamionW's picture
Awesome reply Justin. Just

Awesome reply Justin. Just the kind of post I was looking for. Anyone else have similar strategies that work for them?

jackgraham jackgraham's picture
This thread gave me a thought

This thread gave me a thought. I want to find out what my real world Networking scores are.

I think there are ways of devising an experiment to put scores on them. For example, if I targeted a number of figures from various walks of life, and, experimentally, tried to use the people on my Facebook to make contact with them, could I do it?

My rate of success would translate into a score.

J A C K   G R A H A M :: Hooray for Earth!
  http://eclipsephase.com :: twitter @jackgraham @faketsr :: Google+Jack Graham

Arenamontanus Arenamontanus's picture
I love that idea!

I love that idea!

One could imagine a set of tasks (like getting somebody to recommend you to a friend, asking for a short term loan, getting a solution for a physics problem, or anything else) and see how many of them are achieved. Of course, some tasks are bigger and harder than others, so one could imagine getting more points for the tricky ones. This would be more like a measure of one's rep, of course. Or rather, rep times networking skill.

Extropian

Thampsan Thampsan's picture
Hey there Damion, great to

Hey there Damion, great to see a new GM on the forums.

Running Eclipse Phase with people who know very little of the setting or genre is difficult, even players familiar with cyberpunk settings generally struggle a bit with understanding post-Singularity societies. Of course if your players are familiar with genre fiction like that written by Richard K Morgan, Greg Egan, Charlie Stross, etc then you're not going to need to put as much effort into explaining - you will be able to reference these authors and their works and the rich techno-diverse setting should click for them.

I find when dealing with people who have very little experience that one should base games around themes (much like Arenamontanus suggested with backups that are months out of date, etc), but it's not just big name concepts like that we're also talking:
* Everyday life; what are the NPCs doing work work/fun/etc, what are living arrangements like, how about cultural events and celebrations?
* Food; in microgravity eating crumbly or wet food is probably going to be right out so get used to eating meals in gel or paste form - make it interesting and different.
* Unusual living environments; emphasize what it's like to live in microgravity where architecture doesn't need to obey regular 1G laws, where you might see flying cars, jetpacks, etc. Alternatively what is it like to live at >600'C on the surface of Venus in a Quartz morph. Or in a vacuum at near absolute zero temperatures able to communicate solely via mesh.
* Mesh Life; speaking of the Mesh, what sort of social networks might your characters participate in, what is their default avatar, what does their online voice sound like, how open or closed are they in their participation online.
* Social Security; When trouble breaks out in an anarchist hab for your PCs, who do they call? #SecurityInterestGroup with a write up of the infraction might round up nearby anarchist who have their own interests for turning up to help you solve a problem. Remember it's mob justice so the person who can spin the best story, plant or find enough evidence is probably going to be the mob favourite - the loser risks dings to his rep or worse (depending on the violation of personal liberty) being de-stacked.
* Travel; when going long distances think time and effort, it's instantaneous to travel without a body, but if you want kit and kaboodle you're going to need to get that shipped - which takes time. Want to get from Mars to Uranus, better prep for about a year of travel time depending on where both planets are in relation to one another.
* Gatecrashing and aliens; emphasize the strange, the way the gate hurts your eyes/brain when it's in operation by the sheer strangeness of it's technology, that new worlds are death traps where anything could happen because it's not mapped out, build up a good list of different environment types, hazards, etc and randomly combine them to make planets that will surprise your PCs and drive home the danger and excitement.
* Existential themes; loneliness, anomie, intensity, frivolity, etc. Communicate the concepts that secretly motivate/drive NPCs in Eclipse Phase. Now that death is a thing of the past and you have infinity, how much are the characters willing to stare into infinity and change themselves accordingly or risk madness by attempting to clutch onto stasis and stagnation. When committing suicide or undertaking suicidal risks are some of the many ways people keep excited to be living, what plans do the PCs have for the future, the deep, distant future, or do they just want to live in the moment and what extremes are they willing to go to to stave off boredom and depression?

I have been running games since the books released and I am still educating my groups of players into the themes and concepts behind Eclipse Phase. My latest campaign is themed around outer-system Habs and Gatecrashing. The campaign before this was Inner System (Martian) corporate politics, intrigue and conspiracies. Mixed throughout are little touches of the dark, exsurgent and factor hints, Firewall and Ozuma lurking in the background.

You should be willing to look back and say 'Well that game wasn't perfect, and there are concepts I should have stressed more, but we'll address them in the next campaign'. I know i'm still having trouble remembering to track and work in the importance of Stress checks and managing your Stress levels even after all this time.

Once you've got a few players (assuming over time your group gains and loses players) your old veterans will be able to communicate the core concepts as effectively as you to your newer players and when you and those older players are so comfortable with the setting - the way most people are with older RPG settings like those in D&D then your games will run incredibly smoothly. Until then expect to feel a little flustered.

Oh and a good tip I like to use is to brainstorm with my group. I am not a computer scientist, or a biologist, but I have people in my group that are so when I need help defining computer systems or security, or coming up with alien biology I ask my group "How would you do it?" or "How would this alien life form work?". This applies equally to setting related things; impromptu name generation, architectural styles, etc.

Hope this post helped you a little.