Getting the game off to a good start

(I posted this in a different form on the Forge. But, hey, I figure that my loyal blog readers might have some ideas too. I win both ways!)

I’m still working on A Flower for Mara, and I’ve run into a possible issue. While A Flower for Mara isn’t GMless, it does not have GM prep. (Again, a running theme of my design.) This worked out fine in our playtest back in December; my group is pretty skilled at locating some point of conflict and running with it. However, I don’t want to rely on “good players” to make the game work. Rather, I want to make sure that I’m giving the players the necessary tools to get things moving.

Here’s my current thought.

Each player writes down three statements about his character: one about his Work, one about his Family, one about his Faith. Then, for each of these, the player does Y-Cubed. In other words, for each statement, ask the question “Why?”. Write down this statement. Ask “Why?” about that statement. Do this until you have three additional statements under Work, Family, and Faith. (This is a brainstorming technique used for screenwriting and such.) Then someone (either the player or the Director) chooses one of these columns to be the primary area of stress for this character in the story.

Example:

Caleb, Mara’s husband

Work: I’m a photographer

Why: It’s something that I enjoy doing, and it pays the bills.
Why: I like photography because I have a good eye for pictures.
Why: I tend to withdraw myself from a situation and see it like a photograph anyways.

Family: I’m an only child

Why: My parents were too busy for a family.
Why: My father was always traveling for business, and my mother was involved with the church.
Why: Being busy was their definition of success.

Faith: I’m Episcopalian

Why: My parents were Episcopalian.
Why: It fit their social class, and that was important to them.
Why: They were brought up to “know their place”, and they passed that down to me.

Area of stress: Family

I think that there’s something here, but it needs to be refined. Or maybe the whole thing needs to be scrapped, because there’s something better out there.

My concern with it is manifold. First, I don’t want this to turn into “playing before playing”. Second, it can be hard to get that third “Why?” without setting up for it or going far afield from the character. Finally, I might end up dictating character details about another player’s character. Oddly enough, I’m okay with this happening in play, because I have procedures to work it through there, but I’m a little leery about doing that at the prep stage.

The rest of the game structure works well, as far as I can currently tell, but this needs help.

Thoughts?

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