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The New World Update #29: Factional Choice & Consequence
Development Info - posted by Infinitron on Mon 6 August 2018, 00:15:54Tags: Colony Ship: A Post-Earth Role Playing Game; Iron Tower Studio; Mark Yohalem; Vince D. Weller
This month's development update for The New World is a bit different than the usual. Basically, it's an examination of what it takes to create engaging faction-centric choice & consequence scenarios. It's a topic that has apparently weighed heavily on Vault Dweller's mind. The Age of Decadence's choice & consequence was impressive, but he believes there's much to improve and has been consulting with the esteemed Mark Yohalem to achieve that goal. Mark wrote a big chunk of the update - an analysis of a particular scenario in which the player needs to convince a mercenary to side with one faction or the other. Here's an excerpt from that:
At the outset of my conversation with Vince about the mechanics of the dialogue, I gave him my thoughts on what I understood the dialogue’s themes to be. (That’s because Lajos Egri’s The Art of Dramatic Writing persuaded me that when the writer knows what thematic significance a dialogue has, it helps him keep the dialogue lean and focused.) Now, with a little bit of editing, I share my thematic assessment with you.
- The struggle over the Pit is, like in Deadwood, basically a story about frontier independence being swept away by powerful forces from back in “civilization.” Also, as with the overrunning of Greece by Rome (or any other of a hundred historical examples), it's about how the shortsightedness of internal factions in inviting outside powers leads to all the insiders losing their stature.
- This struggle is taking place against the backdrop of a failing colony ship, so there’s also an undercurrent that as the world breaks down, power can perversely become consolidated into a few factions’ hands because the middle-class prosperity and law-and-order that maintain individual freedom are lost.
- Jonas is a stalwart of the frontier/insider old guard: a rough and ugly man, but ultimately an exemplar of rugged/ruthless independence. Braxton represents the more sophisticated, more cultured, more connected, more powerful, more modern outside/civilized strength.
- Being a Badass Lady, Mercy already starts halfway off third base in terms of player sympathy. She values her Word, her God, and her Gun, which is to say, she's an All-American Hero. Given that she's an All-American Hero, she's naturally on the side of rugged independence, which is where we find her.
- The effort to flip Mercy to Braxton is thus about the prostitution of Lady Liberty to wealth and power, no? It's Arthur Miller’s Death of a Gunswoman in one short act. (Ironic that her prostitution should entail abandoning a pimp in favor of a churchman, but life is rich with such little ironies.)
- Conversely, the mirror interaction with Mercy is a matter of saving her from such prostitution.
- Because a huge part of AOD's appeal, and I think TNW's appeal, is the squalid bargaining the player is tricked(? enticed? invited?) into carrying out, it's excellent that the interloping powerful faction should be in many ways more appealing than the local independence faction because that lets the player think, for a while, that he's doing the Right Thing when helping Braxton and the Wrong Thing in helping Jonas. And in neither case does he come off clean, since it's not like Jonas is George Washington and of course Braxton is a straight-up warlord.
So, with this set-up in mind, helping Braxton to subvert Mercy’s loyalty to Jonas should be about humiliating Mercy and/or undermining the values that are important to her. It’s about getting her to trade her code of ethics for blood money, cheap status, or personal safety. Logically, helping Jonas to keep her loyal should be about the flipside, but in order to make it work within the bleak message of AOD/TNW, Braxton’s men should have an opportunity to point out what kind of scum Jonas is. Ultimately, the proviso to “fight for the American dream” given by The New World is “on behalf of an aging pimp who beats his whores and slits kids’ throats.” The game is set at a point where the gangrene has gone too far—mutilation, death, or mutilation followed by death are the three options for the colony ship. There’s neither a Flood nor a Redeemer coming.
- If I'm right on these themes, I think the dialogue could use just a little bit more length (probably one more node's worth) so that you have more room for Mercy to waver and falter. And rather than having her persuaded in a way that makes her decision seem increasingly reasonable and confident, I would do it in a way that makes her seem increasingly weak and fearful, or at least compromised. My suggestion would be that the two roleplaying paths you’re offering the player (other than just fighting Mercy) are:
(1) You establish an awful Et tu, Mercy? in which you show that even the steely-eyed, gang-leading, gun-slinging, hand-over-the-quickdraw-holster, views-the-scripture-like-Sam-Jackson-in-Pulp-Fiction-before-he-goes-soft lady can be bent and broken by the shabby corruptions of the world.
(2) You carry out the grim work of convincing a good woman to lend her gun to a petty pimp so that he can keep the Pit as his fief, which is really another way of saying that we are doomed to have at best the devil we know. And, of course, having bumped off the Protectors and having lost a good swath of his own gunmen in the process, Jonas has simply exposed the Pit to domination by some other outside faction down the road.
(3) You might also offer a “player is also naive” path in which he persuades Mercy to side with Braxton because he’s a Good and Noble Man in contrast to Jonas, leading to the inevitable discovery that actually Braxton is simply a better class of bully bastard.
Ultimately, I think this early quest will pull of the neat trick of simultaneously establishing that the player is a free agent capable of tilting the balances of power in a world of deadlocked factional struggles and establishing that there isn’t really room in this setting for a “good guy with a gun” to drive out the bad guys. After all, Mercy is the good guy with a gun, and at the end of the day, she’s just a trigger lady for one or another of the bad guys.
- The meddling carpetbaggers are defeated, the Pit remains independent ... but virtually defenseless. Now that the Regulators are gone, the Brotherhood might will surely come knocking on their door again.
- The Regulators take over, bringing much needed law & order. Being a realist, Braxton knows that he must make an alliance with a major faction. The question is which one but we can leave it up to you. It will be relatively easy to make a deal with the Protectors of the Mission, the hardest with the Church as you'd have to convince Braxton to make amends and do some groveling for the greater good.
- Lord's Mercy takes over. Maybe now is a good time to tell you she's an Old Testament kinda woman. Her God is a vengeful God and said so Himself in the Good Book. He's all fire and brimstone to His enemies, never thinking twice when it came to righteous retribution. If that’s what her name means, Mercy does her best to live up to it.