Before entering into today's topic, I would like to inform my readers that Raven has recently left a comment on an old post asking if anyone has played the new Synnibarr. I haven't had an opportunity to look at the new version of the game, but feel free to comment about it.
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There are philistines who wonder if Dallas should be considered a “real” role-playing game. Certainly, there are no rules for combat and playing a halfling is not an option, but it is a role-playing game nonetheless. Dallas does not precisely conform to the 'traditional' RPG paradigm, but one must remember that the 'tradition' was still being formalized when Dallas was made. Dallas was ahead of the curve when it emphasized flexibility of rules and dramatic tension instead of encounter tables and wandering monsters. Had the setting been more palatable to gamers, Dallas could have contributed significantly to the paradigm.
Some people liken Dallas to How to Host a Murder type games. Dallas came first, so it may have of influenced the 'mystery genre' of games, but I think Dallas is closer in nature to Braunstein games. Each player (other than the Director) controls one or more of the nine major characters: J.R., Jock, Pam, Cliff, Bobby, Miss Ellie, Sue Ellen, Lucy, and Ray Krebbs. (Sadly, there is no Jenna Wade.) Fewer characters could be used, but care must be taken to avoid unbalancing the Script. Each major character has his or her own Victory Conditions for any given Episode. Of course, major characters tend to have contrary Victory Conditions; after all, this is the basis of conflict in the game. The absence of certain characters might remove antagonistic motivation for the remaining characters.
The game provides a character sheet for each of the aforementioned major characters. There isn't much difference among the sheets; every sheet has a table that lists the “Values” (i.e., attributes) for all of the major characters. (The order in which the characters are listed differs, with a given character's Values at the top on his or her own sheet.) The back of each sheet is a uniform Player's Rules Outline. (The actual rules only take up four pages.) The front also has a standard graphic on “How to Read the Character Cards.” Otherwise, there is a summary of the character's 'Personal Victory Conditions' for the three Scripts provided with the game, a paragraph of biographical information, and three paragraphs of advice on how to play the character. Even the advice is partially generalized; every male has the same 'male character' paragraph and every female has the same 'female character' paragraph.
The one thing missing from the character sheet is a listing of the “Bonus Point Awards” that are constant regardless of the Script being used. As indicated above, each character has Victory Conditions for each Episode, “usually expressed in terms of particular characters and/or plot devices that must be controlled...” Any character that has met his or her Victory Conditions at the end of the Episode is a winner. To establish relative rankings among multiple winners, each character's Victory Points must be determined. Unlike Victory Conditions, Victory Points are awarded the same way in any Episode. Major characters receive Victory Points based upon the number of characters and plot devices they control and the Power Values of the controlled characters. Major characters also obtain Victory Points as a result of sending other major characters to jail. (We'll discuss this in a later post.) Lastly, there are “Bonus Point Awards” that are unique to each character. Let's look at some!
Bobby receives one Bonus Point for each additional Power Marker Pam has at the end of the Episode.Lucy seems to be the only major character who is not entitled to Bonus Points. Oh well, Lucy is the weakest character of the lot and the easiest to write out of a Script (just like what happened to Lucy in the series). Lucy's role in any of the three Scripts included with the game seems sort of contrived anyway.
Cliff receives three Bonus Points for each Power Marker J.R. has lost by the end of the Episode.
Ray receives two Bonus Points for each woman he has seduced by the end of the Episode (multiple seductions of the same woman do not count).
While some of the Victory Conditions and Victory Point awards certainly reflect the antagonistic relations among certain characters, some of these conditions and awards have been crafted to promote alliances among certain other characters. Thus the game manages to translate accurately the dynamics of character interaction from the show and implement those social politics into play.