17 January 2014

Becoming: A Game of Heroism and Sacrifice

Becoming, by Brian Engard of Dangerous Games, is a unique storytelling game about a hero and their struggles against adversity and what they are willing to sacrifice while attempting to accomplish their goal.

The basic setup of this game is for exactly four players, no GM. One of them will portray the Hero that is on a Quest. The other three players are the Fates, and they are out to make the Hero's life interesting. By which I mean terrible.

This is already a setup that appeals to me quite a bit and offers a very rare asymmetrical semi-cooperative storytelling experience. Most GMless games give each participant the same narrative powers and control - it makes the experience freewheeling and collaborative. That doesn't work for all groups that need something beyond the structure provided those games. What they are missing are some very specific objectives and roles to fulfill (Our Last Best Hope happens to offer these as well - highly recommended).

Each of the Fates is a distinctive aspect of the scenario and portrays a particular flavor of adversity for the Hero to encounter. Also, each of the Fates has a unique way that they can interact with the mechanics of the scenario which work to reinforce the nature of that Fate. The Hero has only what they bring with them, which the Fates will do their very best to turn against them, and the ability to choose.

As noted above, this game isn't fully cooperative: each participant is working to earn points. At the end of the game, once it has been established in the final scene if the Hero succeeds in their quest, the player with the most points will narrate the epilogue to the story. The Hero earns points by facing adversity and emerging triumphant. The Fates earn points by taking away that which matters most to the Hero. For some groups, this could be brilliant, while for others, this could just be Diplomacy in a new format.

The basic format of a game involves selecting a scenario and establishing the Virtues, Strengths and Allies of the Hero. These are their Assets and all that they are bringing with them. The other three players will each pick one of the Fates for that scenario which will detail their special ability and how they go about ruining everything.

The scenario itself is a series nine scenes, each with a setup and elements to establish the scene, and a threat to be dealt with by the Hero. One Fate will be "running" the scene and portraying the threat. The other two Fates will be playing a character of their choice in the scene acting as their avatar and tempting the Hero.

While the Hero may be able to triumph over the early scenes without sacrifice, it will not take long before the odds begin to stack against them and they must weigh the cost of failure against the bargains offered by the Tempters. The currency Tempters have to negotiate with are their dice. They can be traded to the Hero for their Assets. If the Hero rejects a Tempter's deal, their dice go to the threat instead.

The mechanics are simple, but become gut-wrenching before long. Do you sacrifice your friendship to save the kingdom? Are you willing to compromise your faith to keep going?

A number of different basic scenarios are presented with increasing complexity, from a quest to save the kingdom from a merciless despot, to the last hope of humanity to colonize a new world, or survivors in an emerging zombie apocalypse. These provide some cues on how to develop your own scenarios, particularly with multiple different examples of Fate special abilities and how they reinforce the themes of the scenario.

It is the following chapters which are particularly notable. After a discussion of how to use what has been shown to build your own quests, the text starts to take the structure apart and show significantly different ways that it can be reassembled. Examples of how this can be done include a three person scenario of a musician resisting against Selling Out and Settling Down, or a four person scenario with two Heroes that follows a relationship and how it deals with Dependency and Resentment.

There are not many games out there that offer that level of transparency in the mechanics and support in making the game your own. At the end, an offer can be found for the author to host any quests that you develop.

The competitive nature may not be for everyone, but it serves to drive forward the narrative and force the hard decisions. It is less about winning the game and more about earning the epilogue that you want. This part game, part toolkit and offers a distinctly fresh way of looking at a GMless gaming experience.