The World Has Folded in Your Heart

“Author Stance” is a term I hear bandied around the indie-sphere. Based on this article, I’m not completely positive I’m using it correctly, but in my head it’s the kind of RP summarized in the Smallville examples of play: the players talk about their characters in third person and are free to hand wave and summarize things that don’t seem germane to the narrative. “‘You’re such an idiot!’ Sam says to Trevor, and then proceeds to lay into him about his drinking.” Someone correct me if I’m over summarizing or getting it wrong.

Regardless of whether I’m using the terminology correctly, it’s something I seem to recall seeing pretty frequently in examples of play in various indie-spectrum games. And I can never tell whether it’s an accurate example of how that game would play at the table, or whether it’s a simplification to make it easier to explain the game’s concepts clearly and in the space allotted. None of my gaming groups have ever really played that way: “I hit it with my axe” is far more common than “My character hits it with his axe” and it’s pretty unusual not to roleplay out the entirety of any important conversation. If my character and Harbinger’s character are at odds, you can bet that there’s going to be a fully in character argument at the table. Hopefully fully in character, at least.

I say all that to point out that I believe that my group’s experience with the game is probably not indicative of actual flaws in the system. It may be indicative that the designers took for granted that players would automatically be in Author Stance for the game. The game really might have benefited from having a big disclaimer at the front saying something along the lines of, “This game will make your character hate other player characters a lot of the time, so you should try to describe your actions in such a way that you’re not necessarily truly immersed in your character’s feelings. And a play contract for how far you’re willing to stymie one another might be a good idea.” Or we might be atypical and most groups have no problem keeping their in character actions from bleeding OOC.

All that said, I absolutely love that the game is a salvo of pure innovation shot directly into the mass market. The sheer courage involved in letting respected indie designers have an option to put some of their ideas into a slickly produced book obviously designed to reach gamers (and non gamers) that follow a popular show is commendable. Even if you don’t want to play it as written, there are a bunch of concepts that can be usefully grafted into other games. Perhaps the most obvious of these is the character creation system, which is likely to see play in pretty much any game I run from now on.

So even though my group had some difficulties with the system, I can suggest that yours might not if you go into prepared with a play contract and/or a comfortable distance between you and your character’s emotions. And, even if you can’t overcome these issues, the system is modular and doesn’t obfuscate any of it’s design: you could take it down for parts or just fix what doesn’t work for you really easily.

I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in modern game design: even if you’re not going to play it, you owe it to yourself to be aware of what it’s doing and why.