On Tunnels; A Repost.

The following post is taken from this post on the Forge, originally titled [Cranium Rats] On Flags Alone?, I refer to this post earlier on the blog, but it’s not really a Blinder, but a Constraint. I also need this post in order for our next Component post, the one regarding “Flags”.

There had been some discussion on the Forge post, you may want to head over there and peruse it. If you have any new comments though, please post them here.


So, I’m going to continue talking about what I call Blinders, and when it is discussed in terms of games or game-play is often called Constraints. This topic is about games in general, but I am posting this as a question regarding and using as an example, my own game, Cranium Rats, like the post about Codification of Session Length.So, let’s talk about Flags. Flags are there to attract attention to what the players want to focus on, what they want their characters to do. Flags are all about jumping up and down and pointing to the interesting bits.
But, no one enforces Flags in most cases, there is nothing that forces you to create a story involving them, especially in games where you have an omnipresent GM. Perhaps this is how people like it, but perhaps it is not.

In The Shadow of Yesterday your characters have Keys, the way to get XP is by following the character’s Goals. You also have Flags in the form of the abilities on your character-sheet. If you list Diplomacy or Spear-Fighting, then obviously you want these abilities to play a part in the game-play. There is no onus on the GM to provide scenes where either your abilities or your Keys come into play.
The issue of Keys is a step-up from previous designs, where you merely had Goals with no mechanical effects though, like the Abilities.

In Nine Worlds your characters have Muses, which double up as both your Goals and which provide a bonus when you perform an act which follows them. You have narration rights as a player, so you can be pretty sure that your Muses will come into play, this is already some refining of the Flags issue, as you can bring your own Muses in.

In Cranium Rats, I took this a couple steps forward, and probably a couple of steps backwards as well. I have taken the Flags and more or less turned them into “Tunnels”, where you can only narrate new Scenes relating to your Goals. Your character sheet is also quite empty compared to most games, and thus the Goals act as the only Flags.

Now, the question is, how do you feel about this? Do you think you should have Flags and also non-Flags story(taking into consideration Flags may or may not get addressed at all, depending on game and GM fiat), or do you want a game where Flags happen, but not only do they happen, they’re the only thing story is going to address/spring from?

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2 comments on “On Tunnels; A Repost.

  1. Matt Snyder says:

    Here’s my take on tunnels.

    First off, there’s nothing inherently wrong with limiting a player’s scene framing authority to his specific goals. It’s a perfectly fine constraint that will focus play.

    The only catch I can foresee is that players should have the means to alter or add new goals in some way. Otherwise, I suspect play will tend to be short and front-loaded.

    I haven’t found it necessary to do this. I don’t see players getting involved in “non-Flag” scenes very often. When I see this, it tends to be by players who have a very strong group tradition of how to play RPGs. That is, they haven’t yet figured out yet they can bust out of their shells a little bit and try something new.

    I think of Flags vs. Tunnels as the Carrot and the Stick. Flags — like Muses — are a big, juicy carrot. Players will go after them, and thus avoid “non-flag-story”. Contrariwise, Tunnels act as a big stick, whacking players when they veer from the path. So, you can decide which of those you want to use to make players play your game. To date, this has been mostly carrots, but a few sticks. And, probably, a mixture of the two.

  2. Guy Shalev says:

    The only catch I can foresee is that players should have the means to alter or add new goals in some way. Otherwise, I suspect play will tend to be short and front-loaded.

    Definitely. The only way I can see Goals not something you can change is if the game’s topic was discussed beforehands and game-play is short. Like a two hour session on “Valor in War”.

    think of Flags vs. Tunnels as the Carrot and the Stick. Flags — like Muses — are a big, juicy carrot. Players will go after them, and thus avoid “non-flag-story”. Contrariwise, Tunnels act as a big stick, whacking players when they veer from the path. So, you can decide which of those you want to use to make players play your game. To date, this has been mostly carrots, but a few sticks. And, probably, a mixture of the two.

    Very interesting, as a player, how would Tunnels make you feel that someone is basically “Bringing a stick” out at you?

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