Sunday, March 17, 2013

Dallas of the Gods (also: Dealing with Sandestins)

Scenes from Jason and the Argonauts (1963)
I obtained these images from this blog, which may be of interest to the reader.

Dallas: The Television Role-Playing Game differs from “traditional” RPGs in several respects.  In this post, we ask if these differences can be employed suitably for settings other than a television soap opera.

In most RPGs intended for campaign play, player characters do not usually compete with one another.  The general assumption is that player characters (as well as the players) will work together towards a common goal; there is no definite winner.  In Dallas, each major character has explicit victory conditions.  Although the victory conditions are not mutually exclusive, they prompt the players to vie with one another to acquire specific resources (i.e., minor characters and plot devices).  In Dallas, therefore, the essential conflict is not between the player characters and an external force, the conflict is among the player characters.

Each Dallas 'Script' is a self-contained episode; each session is a 'one-shot.'  There is no campaign play, no continuing storyline.  For an 'entry level' RPG – what Dallas was intended to be – this is acceptable (and perhaps preferable).  At any rate, it can be difficult to maintain a campaign where the primary motive for player characters is conflict among themselves; difficult, but not impossible.  Wujcik's Amber is an excellent example of a game where the player characters are their own adversaries in a campaign story arc.  Dallas, however, would not be an appropriate rules set to emulate the adventures of Corwin and his kin given that Dallas does not address physical combat.

Other than player-to-player negotiation and plot devices, conflict resolution in Dallas is limited to Persuasion, Coercion, Seduction, and Investigation.  (Instead of 'Investigation,' let us use the genre-neutral term 'Intrigue.')  The lack of emphasis on violence makes a player-vs-player campaign more feasible; character elimination is practically impossible – shooting J.R. causes only a temporary inconvenience.

With Dallas, we have players opposed to one another in an effort to gain specified resources.  Aside from resource acquisition, we have resource management.  In Dallas, there is a currency of 'Power' – it can be used to modify Affect attempts and it can also be traded.  Other than Power, there is time to be managed.  Each player gets only three 'actions' per Scene.  When should you make a critical move?  When the opportunity presents itself?  Or at the last possible moment so you won't have defend what you gain?  Due to the nature of Victory Conditions in Dallas, there must be a set end-point when those conditions are determined.  I suppose Dallas could be played so that any given Episode ends as soon as any player achieves his or her Victory Conditions.  I think the set end-point would probably be the more entertaining of the two options.  Regardless, in a campaign, there would need to be an advantage conferred by 'winning' an Episode that could be employed in future Episodes.  More Power?  Improved attribute Values?  The ability to determine turn order during the Conflict Phase?  Perhaps retaining the Victory Condition resources would be sufficient reward.

The essential features of the Dallas rules set are (1) players as adversaries and (2) influence-based/non-combat conflict resolution.  What setting would be appropriate?  I envision a game where players assume the roles of the Greek gods.  Instead of J.R. and Sue Ellen, we would have Zeus and Hera.  Instead of oil companies and secretaries as resources, we would have heroes and monsters, cities and armies.  Yes, the resources could fight and kill one another, but the gods would not resort to physical violence among themselves.  Also, they wouldn't directly destroy resources – it wouldn't be sporting.  Gods would provide aid to their own heroes and attempt to thwart their opponents' heroes.  Victory Conditions could include the Golden Fleece and the rescue of Andromeda.  But why be limited to the Olympian pantheon?  There are plenty of mythologies.  Why not a 'mix and match' pantheon?  We could have Loki and Isis conspiring against Themis and Ishtar.

In less lofty spheres, I can see the Dallas rules used to simulate the interactions of 21st Aeon arch-magicians as portrayed in Jack Vance's Rhialto the Marvellous.  Yes, The Dying Earth Role Playing Game covers this milieu but the Dallas rules might offer a more structured alternative.  Among the minor characters would be the sandestins that the magicians use to carry out their spells.  In “Fader's Waft,” a sandestin's loyalty could be altered by Persuasion or Coercion.  Other resources would be spells and various magical “adjuncts” such as the highly coveted IOUN stones.

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