On the whole, my Online Pathways system didn’t work out quite as well as I had hoped, and this had a lot to do with trying to coordinate over 20 players, most of whom had never tried Smallville-style creation before. The web had a tendency to go wide, and without table banter it was hard for everyone to figure out what additions to nodes other players would like and what contradicted their original intentions in non-fun ways. But we did still wind up with a pretty nice web when all was said and done, with some really neat plots put into motion. A good part of this came from THE LIGHTNING ROUND that I set up to keep players busy while I was without internet access. And that system is further expanded below…
Making the Chain
- Seed the map with nodes for player characters and at least one type of significant other node (I’d go with themes, but you could pick NPCs, locations, etc.). You can do a bit of standard Pathways creation first, or just put down the nodes with no connections.
- If you’re in person, go around the table normally. Online, each player can go whenever they want, but they can’t go again until all other players have gone. You might also set a time period (e.g., make one connection a day).
- The GM picks a node to start.
- The next player then chooses a node on the map, draws an arrow from it to the previously selected node, and describes the connection.
- The following player does the same, drawing an arrow and describing the connection to the node chosen by the preceding player.
- And so on.
- There are only a few rules:
- You can’t pick another player’s character as your node choice. You can pick your own player character (and then the next player will draw an arrow from something to your PC, describing how it feels about you).
- Pick a certain (limited) type of node (I recommend Themes). Each node can connect to a maximum of two of these. When one player picks one of these elements, you can invent a new node and immediately connect it. Otherwise, you can’t invent a new node (to keep the number of nodes manageable).
- You can’t make a connection that already exists (though if there’s an arrow from one element to another, you can generally make the connection the other way).
- If the map is being drawn live, the GM may request that you limit the distance and crossover of other lines made by your connections (i.e., limit yourself to connecting nodes that are nearby), as this will make the map easier to read.
- The GM starts the process by picking the Theme, “Knowledge.”
- Player 1 chooses to invent a new Location, “43rd Precinct” and draws an arrow to Knowledge, “The best detectives in the city.”
- Player 2 has to connect something to the Location, and chooses his own PC, Max, drawing an arrow from Max to the location, “Works here as a detective.”
- Player 3 has to connect to Max, and decides to connect her own PC, Lucy, drawing an arrow from Lucy to Max, “Friends before they were on opposite sides of the law.”
- Player 4 can’t resist the urge to bring this full circle, and draws an arrow from 43rd Precinct to Lucy, “Collecting evidence to arrest.”
- The next player can now hook something else to the 43rd precinct, and might choose a second Theme so the next step is to invent another new node and keep the process going…