Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Loot #5: Solipsist

I've finished reading Mordant's Need just in time to start on the first book I got for Christmas, a roleplaying game called Solipsist. (Why do I always want to misspell that the way I mispronounce it, Solopsist?)

It's a slim little volume of 96 half-sized pages, but the game it describes is rather hard to wrap my mind around. My worry is that it'll be yet another game I never get to play, both because I don't know if my group will be interested, and because I don't know how to convey it to them: it's hard to sum up. And I don't see any way to get players ready to play other than having them read the book too; it'd be hard to boil down the idea to "just what players need to know" that would be shorter than the whole book. So if I have trouble getting them to decide they like it, I have even more trouble if they have to read 50 pages to start playing. (Not to mention that I don't have five copies of the book to spare, and there's no "player version", only a preview.)

The best thing I can think of to describe the game is this. You know how some games have a very limited, and often "tacked on", method of letting the players take over the job of narrator and decide what happens? For instance, spending "fate points" to cause odd coincidences, or decide something happens, or just change what just happened to their characters? In Solipsist, that is the game. It's the central, in fact the only, mechanic.

The premise is that reality is essentially a shared consensual illusion made manifest. The world around you is literally shaped by the will of you and other people near you. But the vast majority of us have very weak wills that are shaped by consensus and can't make small individual changes. We only contribute to large-scale ones; for instance, if people start believing there are terrorists everywhere, pretty soon, there are terrorists everywhere, but if you start believing there's a terrorist in the pantry, you individually probably can't make that happen. You're limited by your weak will and the consensus of everyone else around you.

Some people have a very strong will, however, and can shape reality. Most of those, however, promptly tear themselves out of our reality into a world of their own devising. All we see is a madman in an institution, left behind because our consensus reality requires that people don't just vanish, so we create a madman to replace the now-departed Solipsist.

A small handful of people are poised in balance between these. They have a strong enough will to Change Reality, but they are also Grounded by their own Limitations and Obsessions, things that keep them from Ascending to their own world because they are still connected to this one. So they can stay in it, but they can also have an impact on it. Every time they change reality, though, this can strengthen their obsessions and limitations, possibly draw them closer to ascending. (There's more, but I'm trying to be brief.)

This is not a game where you have one or several scores you want to increase. Everything that makes you able to do more stuff in one way drags against you in another. There's actually a mechanic that handles your character between adventures losing some of what they gained in the previous adventure, so he doesn't Ascend too soon.

As I read through this, I'm finding it still a bit slippery. I'm not sure what, as a GM, I would set up for the characters to do. The mechanic, simple as it is, has enough unfamiliar moving parts that I'd have to go through it the first few times step by step.

But the amazingly innovative differentness makes me itch to try it. Hopefully by the time I read more of the examples (there are still more on the author's website) it'll coalesce for me.

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