I went on a walk today and invented an idea for an RPG. When I say “invented”, I’m partly concerned someone else has thought of it and my subconscious has presented memory as inspiration. Anyway, it’s not an idea I have any time to pursue, so feel free to run with it yourself.

So the idea is “Fractal RPG”. At the start of the game you’re given your start point (kid in a village) and your end point (you’ve just slain the Arch Demon of Hate or something). The game is about filling in the middle. Given any defined points in the story, you create a point in the middle of them and have an adventure at that level. You get important loot, find an ally and maybe determine some of the story. The whole game is chronologically consistent, so if you play a later adventure where you needed the Sweet Sword of Skillfulness, you have to go and do the appropriate quest earlier on to get it.

In a way this could make it both an RPG locally and some sort of strategic puzzle game globally. The story isn’t over if you have dangling or inconsistent plot points. So you might be halfway through an adventure, realize you needed something, then jump out to the timeline, do another adventure where you grab that item, then go back where you were and complete that adventure. Maybe you can replay an adventure to choose a different path, which may violate later story points, so you have to unravel them too.

Once you fractally fill in all the required story, the game publishes your story for your friends to see. What’s neat is that this is all the meat and bones of an RPG, without the usual flab of RPG grind. The area between points in the story can be considered the “grind”.

It’d be a bizarre game to write. Your dialogue would intentionally have to be of the worst kind of exposition –  “But Fred, you’ve just come from the Caverns of Doom and defeated the Skull Lord there, you can’t expect us to go back!” – but it’d be almost required. You might get some mileage out of intentionally making the some of the most egregious mistakes for an RPG (expository dialogue, fill-in-the-blanks quests), but all in service of the fractal storyline. It’d also be a good way to take the “make important choices” selling point of an RPG, and dial it up to 11.

I’d love to see a game like this. Someone make it!

Trackback

3 comments until now

  1. An interesting idea, and if you do find time to pursue it I’d be happy to do some playtesting ;)

    I’ve tried a couple of RPGs that mess with time lines and non-linear progression with varying degrees of success. From a player’s perspective it looked like a lot of work for the writer/GM to either cover all the bases in advance or be able to ad-lib well enough to avoid introducing inconsistencies.

    The known start point and end point concepts strikes me as similar to a game I played back with MURPS (Monash Uni Roleplayers) which a friend of mine wrote in the vein of Men in Black. The story started out fairly normally, but all of a sudden you were thrust into the conclusion with no memory of what had happened in between. Most of the adventure was an investigation into what you’d actually done, but forgotten.

    I suppose what I’m getting at is that the fact that I remember this game 10 years on is testament to the fact that a novel concept and good execution can produce something really special. So if someone does make a game like this, sign me up too.

  2. Hmm. So you can drop into your story at any point and change things. When you start the game, if you flick forward to yourself battling the lord of doom, then your character at that point is level 1 and itemless.

    The problem is if you defeat lesser boss #2, then go back and change the past so that you no longer got the itrem that defeated lesser boss #2, then the game would have to be able to say ok, since you did that lesser boss #2 is now no longer defeated.

    As you always wind up facing the lord of doom, you can’t make this a combat game where the character dies. A text adventure is more the thing.

    Saaaaay – how about aiming it at the ladies? Making it a romance novel? The Lord of Doom is actually Christian Grey, and the goal is to engineer a personal history that means you aren’t sucked into his madness, but are both sexy and submissive enough to attract him, while also being a strong enough woman to marry and divorce his ass and take half his stuff?

    Part of the game involves telling the correct lies to eliminate the other girls, so that you are the one that he picks for a fling.

  3. @Paul In my admittedly very vague conception of this, the endpoint (and some midpoints) will require some item, but in that scene it is given to you. You don’t try to take on the Lord of Doom literally level 1 and itemless. You have the artifact of anti-doom and are level 128, but to “finish” the game, you need to justify getting that artifact etc etc

    It’s a weird sort of deconstruction of RPG plots. I like the idea of shifting the theme elsewhere. I wouldn’t touch 50 Shades of Gray with a 50ft pole, but some Comedy of Manners-style game would be good. Especially if the central conceit was you retelling the story of how you met your husband to your friend (Scheherazade-style) and them continually interrupting the story and getting you to justify some plot point (leading to the fractal approach).

    David’s comments got me thinking about framing the central fractal gameplay as a time-travelling conceit. Or maybe as an Inception-style cyberpunk mind-hacker game where you know a guy up to today, and you want him to think he’s at some point in the future, so you jump into his brain and implant memories. It has to hang together coherently for the target to believe the story.