Experiments in Ontological Relativism

and Other Brain Farts

Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Rules (First Draft)

Posted by Jason on April 10, 2012

In a previous post, I discussed my thought process and inspirations for designing an asynchronous, collaborative, semi-competitive worldbuilding game played using a wiki. Now it’s time to get down to the delicious crunchy bits and actually lay down some rules.

But first, fun with caveats! This is my first draft of these rules. They haven’t been playtested or reviewed. They’re probably full of holes and bits that don’t work as well in real life as they do in my head. Also, though I’m a long-time avid gamer, and rules make me squeal with boyish delight, this is my first attempt at writing a game of my own. Parts of it may not make sense to you and may need further refinements, but that’s what the comments box is for, right? Last, I also tend to over-caveat everything. Uh… hm. Maybe I should have put that one first. Anyway…

Setup

1. Accumulate a group of players.

You don’t want too large a group, as things will quickly become difficult to keep track of, but more players means more opportunities to build on. I’m going to guess you need at least 3, and probably no more than 10.

2. Set up a wiki.

This isn’t terribly difficult, and there are lots of good instructions around the interwebs. If you don’t have your own hosting site, there are a number of very good free wiki hosts (e.g., PBWorks, Wikia, Wikkii).

3. Decide on a genre and general theme.

I was tempted here to steal adapt Microscope‘s palette creation rules here, but I’m not sure that something that formal is necessary. If you are familiar with Microscope and wish to use those rules, please feel free! The important thing, though, is that the group collectively decides on a genre for the game — for example, science fiction, high fantasy, Lovecraftian horror, space opera, pulp, noir, spy thriller, and so on.

If there are any specific elements that anyone would or would not like to see included, note those too. I’d also recommend choosing a general theme or mood for the game, whether that be serious, silly, gritty, tongue-in-cheek, dispassionate, or some combination thereof. This gives everyone an idea of what to expect and can probably help avoid problems later on. This may also affect whether you…

4. Choose In-Character or Encyclopedic style.

See below for more information on these two styles of play. I had originally envisioned the Encyclopedic option as being the default, with In-Character as an optional rule. But the more I considered it, the more I realized that there is a lot of fun to be had either way, and it’s largely a matter of preference. Choose as a group which one you will pursue. Alternately, if some players strongly prefer one and others strongly the other, it is possible to mix and match with some players writing in one style and others in the other. Again, it’s up to group consensus as to whether this is allowed.

5. Generate the seed text.

The seed text is a sentence (or a few sentences) which gives a jumping-off point for the players to begin writing. Let’s look a little bit more at that…

The Seed Text

The seed text is the first text that will appear as the root of your game, and which will ultimately act as the root of all other text that’s generated. The seed text must contain at least as many hooks as there are players, though it is perfectly acceptable for there to be more. A hook is a link to an article does not yet exist. It is an empty space, a place for the players to fill in (and thus create further hooks, and so on…).

How you generate the seed text is up to you; you may have one person write it, you may have everyone contribute ideas, or you may just borrow a line from somewhere else. A good seed text should have plenty of interesting names, allusions, or ideas for players to use as hooks.

Here are some examples (with hooks indicated in double-brackets):

  • It is widely agreed that the [[Second Age]] of the  [[Enigmatic Order]] of [[Trikendaron]] began at the coronation of [[Empress Felingarth]] and lasted until the [[death of the last dragon]].
  • The [[United Terran States]] is the newest member of the [[Galactic Synod]]. Its membership was sponsored by the [[N’Gark Collective]] following the Terrans’ first successful deployment of [[enhanced quantum tunneling technology]] and approved despite the vehement objections of the [[Divine Order of the Sapient Nova]].
  • The invention of the [[cogitation apparatus]] by [[Professor von der Schampenfurk]], a [[philocrat]] from [[New Gearshaft]], revolutionized the [[numismatic zeppelin]] industry almost overnight.

If your group has opted for an In-Character style of writing, you may also choose to have your seed text be a sort of overview or summation of a “collected writings” on given topic:

  • This volume collects the writings of the [[Archeochtonic sages]] of [[Orthopolis]] on the subjects of the [[Stellar Pantheon]], [[Lepidopteric Morality]], [[Cosmogenic Ephemera]], and related topics.
  • Contained herein are the known fragments of the [[Dark Revelations]] of the [[Cult of the Bloody Scepter]], the [[Blasphemous Devotions]] of the disciples of the [[Mad God Lingathotep]], and the only surviving account of the incident at the [[Temple of the Ancient Ones]].

Note that it is not necessary to have any idea whatsoever what these hooks refer to — in fact, it’s better if you don’t! The idea is to come up with hooks that sound evocative and interesting, but which allow for multiple interpretations. They’re starting points to inspire creativity, not to dictate a given path.

Also, note that any word or words within the seed text are fair game, not just the ones originally designated as hooks. For example, a player may decide that he or she wants to write about the coronation ceremony of the empresses in that first example, and so can make the word “coronation” a new hook. Alternately, maybe he or she specifically wants to write the story of the Coronation of Empress Felingarth, and so makes coronation point to that instead.

Alternative Methods

  1. Instead of writing your seed text as a sentence (or sentences), you may instead elect to simply have a list of hooks without any narrative context. This has the advantages of being easier to generate and of being less creatively constraining. The disadvantage, though, is that having a narrative context can be more helpful to some players than having only a name and an empty page.
  2. As a variation of the above, start with an empty list. Each player adds one hook, which he or she then uses as his or her first article. This is essentially starting ex nihilo, without any set seed text. The advantages are that no one has to generate a seed text, and no one’s creativity is limited by what’s written there. The disadvantages are that, again, this “blank page” approach can be intimidating to some players, and it can also lead to less unified naming and thematic conventions (though this last may or may not be a problem, depending on your view).
  3. Start with a set of pre-written articles. One player (or a group of players) writes a few starter articles, possibly interlinked, each with their own set of hooks. This can help establish a more concrete setting initially, and also gives players the option to tag posts (see below) and earn story points on their first turn. It can also lead to one player being perceived (correctly or incorrectly) as being “in charge of” the setting, which could lend that player more authority than the others. Note that this may or may not be a bad thing, depending on how your group operates–it could, for example, give one player more of a traditional GameMaster role.

In Character vs. Encyclopedic Style

There are two styles your group can choose to write the actual text of your articles, which I call “in character” and “encyclopedic.”

Encyclopedic style means that articles are written matter-of-factly, as you would find in an encyclopedia or textbook. Articles are generally consistent, concise, and as free from bias as possible. Think of Wikipedia entries, for example, or the “setting” sections of most RPG books. This is not to say that they have to be dry or boring, but they should largely be free from editorializing or opinions. Of course, you’re free to “quote” people’s opinions or summarize “popular reactions” or “scholarly disagreements” on the topic! In fact, you can choose to incorporate some elements of In Character style through the use of quotes, references, and faux-documents.

For In Character style, each player adopts a persona to use in their writing. Players write articles as if they were a character in the world that is being built. In this case, players can feel free (and are encouraged!) to express their character’s views, opinions, thoughts–even responses to other articles or characters. For example, perhaps the players are scholars debating a topic, pundits trying to make their points, journalists chronicling an ongoing situation, or celebrity commentators giving their views.

Your group may restrict each player to one character, or you may allow a player to have multiple characters. While having one character per player is simpler, there are times when having multiple characters can be an advantage: for example, your setting might span multiple eras, and you want to be able to write “documents” from each. When allowing multiple characters, though, it’s probably better (and more fun!) to have a small number of well-established characters than a hodgepodge of one-use ones.

The tone can range from professional journal to gossip tract to half-mad rambling, or any combination thereof. Your group may choose a tone you’d like to use ahead of time, or allow it to develop naturally through play. Also, don’t be afraid to allow the tone to change in the course of play! For example, a genteel scholarly exchange may degenerate into petty barbs and sniping exchanges, or Lovecraftian investigators may start out calm and collected and end up raving madmen.

Writing Articles

The majority of the gameplay (and the fun!) involves the players writing articles based on the hooks provided by other players. In general, players should feel free to be creative and write as much or as little as they like. Don’t be afraid to come up with interesting new elements, or to spin things in a completely different and counterintuitive direction. It’s a pretty great feeling when you can make the other players say, “Wow! Where did he/she come up with that?

There are a few restrictions on what you can write, though, in order to keep things fun and fair. As always, it’s up to your group to decide exactly how strongly to enforce these rules (or even whether to toss some of them out completely). I’ve included some notes on why each rule is included to give you some guidelines when deciding whether or not to use it.

1. Play happens in real-time, with no turns or rounds.

Except for the restrictions below, there are no limits to how many articles a player can write or when they can write them. You may choose to write one a day, while another player may write five (assuming there are enough available hooks). Also, a hook goes to the first person to claim it, usually by writing an article from it (though see the Special Abilities below for another way).

Though this might seem to allow the person with the most free time or the fastest writing ability to dominate the game, most of the rest of the rules are designed to keep this from happening. This is also the core of the asynchronicity of the game: it’s designed to allow a player to play as much as they want, when they want, without having to wait too much on other people (though early in the game there may be fewer options available and there will be some waiting).

2. All new articles must come from an existing hook.

That is, what you write has to be based on something that has already been written. You can’t just decide to make up a new topic and start writing about it. In general, this is pretty easy to deal with, since it’s the way most wiki software works anyway, but I state it here just to be clear. Also, keep in mind that the hook does not dictate anything about the content of the article other than the title. The article must be relevant to the title, and it must conform with the other rules, but otherwise the player is free to take it in whatever direction he or she wishes.

3. All new articles must contain at least one new hook.

You’ll likely have (and want) more than one hook in an article, but it’s required that you have at least one. After all, if no one put in new hooks, the game would end!

Keep in mind that another player can make any text in your article into a hook by marking it as a link; therefore, it’s not strictly necessary to explicitly designate any hooks (i.e., you don’t have to actually make something a link, just have hookable text). Still, it’s probably good practice to make it explicit what you intend to be a hook: it avoids ambiguity, makes it easier for other players to spot new hooks, and it also may allow you to Compel other players to write articles later (see below).

4. Each player can only select one hook per article.

No matter how many hooks someone has included in an article, each player may only select one of them to write about.

The purpose of this is twofold: first, it helps to keep any one player from dominating the game through sheer output (especially early on). Though the the combination of this rule and the next may lead to a player not having any available options (especially early in the game), as the number of articles grows players should find that they don’t lack for hooks to use. Second, this rule helps encourage thoughtful play rather than simply volume. Choose something you know you can write an interesting article about, rather than just filling in a blank because it’s there.

5. A player cannot use a hook from his or her own article.

The idea here is to keep players interconnected and contributing to each other’s ideas. This rule prevents one player from digging deeper and deeper into their own creation, possibly not letting others join in the fun!

If each player has already claimed one hook from an article and there are still more left, and if all players agree, you may ignore this rule and/or the previous one. You can decide this on a per-article basis, or make it a global rule, whichever your group prefers.

6. A new article cannot contradict anything already written.

This is really the only restriction on the content of the articles, barring any “house rules” that your group puts into place. This keeps the world you’re building consistent with itself, and also encourages players to keep reading what the others are writing. As this can potentially get very complicated, there are also some additional rules and clarifications below related to spotting and correcting contradictions. Also, for In Character games, this rule can be somewhat relaxed or ignored; after all, what appears to be a contradiction may only reflect a difference of opinion or source material.

7. Links to existing articles are not required, but are rewarded.

A player’s article isn’t required to link to any previously written articles, but for each valid link to another article the player receives one Story Point. Story Points can be spent to activate Special Abilities (more on this below).

The reason I chose to incentivize cross-linking rather than requiring it is that I feel requirements can sometimes be limiting, especially early in the game. I’d rather players focus their efforts on being interesting and creative rather than wondering how they’re going to constrain themselves to fit in required items. That said, though, I think creating a tightly interwoven world is half the fun, and I want the rules to encourage this kind of play.

Contradictions

Though it seems simple in theory, in practice it can sometimes be difficult to determine what is and is not a contradiction. For example, if one article states that Milieu City was founded in the year 53, and another says it was founded in 72, that’s a fairly obvious contradiction. On the other hand, what if one article says that Milieu City is the most important city in Eastern Settia, while another says that the widget industry in Chronopolis has the biggest economic impact on the region? Is that a contradiction, or is it comparing two different factors? Also, if it is a contradiction, how do you resolve it?

A player who identifies a contradiction is awarded two Story Points, as long as no players dispute that it is a contradiction. The contradiction must be in an article written by another player, and the article it contradicts cannot be the one most recently written by the player making the identification. This is to prevent players from intentionally writing contradictions in order to get extra Story Points. (Of course, I know your group is made of mature and responsible story gamers who would never do such a thing; this is for those other people!)

The player who identifies the contradiction also has the first opportunity to resolve it. There are several ways the player can accomplish this:

  • The player may spend Story Points to Force an Edit (see the Special Abilities section) from the author of one of the contradictory articles, requiring them to change the article to eliminate the contradiction.
  • The player may use Story Points to Compel another player to write an article to resolve the contradiction (see the next bullet for more information on this). The Compel may also be passed to another player, per the standard rules. In this case, the player who writes the article receives the reward for resolving a contradiction.
  • The player may write a new article which resolves the contradiction. This article must still come from an existing hook (or make a hook from existing text), but the player is not restricted by the one hook per article rule or the rule against using hooks from his or her own article. The article must provide an explanation (to the satisfaction of the other players) of why the apparent contradiction is actually not contradictory at all. See below for examples. Any player who writes an article resolving a contradiction receives three Story Points, in addition to any Points gained normally for cross-linking, and also in addition to the two Points received for identifying a contradiction (if applicable).

If a player chooses not to exercise any of these options, then any other player may choose to resolve the contradiction as above. The first player who writes an article resolving the contradiction gains the three Story Point bonus, even if the resolution comes in an article not expressly written for that purpose. It only has to explain away the contradiction to the satisfaction the group. Note that the other players don’t have to like the explanation, or agree that it is the best explanation; they only have to agree that it does explain the discrepancy without introducing further contradictions or logical flaws.

Let’s take the first scenario above as an example: one article states that Milieu City was founded in the year 53, and another says it was founded in 72. A player could Force an Edit to change one of the two dates so that they match (but would receive no bonus for doing so). Alternately, the player could write a new article stating that though the charter for Milieu City was granted in 53, and the site surveyed at that time, actual construction of the city did not begin until 73 due to economic difficulties. This has led to two differing opinions on which date is most properly considered the founding date of the city. The player who wrote the article may include more information than that (and is encouraged to!). That player would then receive three Story Points (assuming the other players were satisfied with this explanation).

Note that resolving a contradiction is optional (unless a player Compels a resolution). If no player can or wants to write an article to resolve it, the contradiction merely stands. The identifying player still gets two Points for it. However, now both facts are considered to be established, and neither can be directly contradicted by new articles. Any player may resolve the contradiction as  above at a later time, and will still receive the three Point bonus for writing a resolving article.

If a player proposes that something is a contradiction, but the players as a whole cannot agree on whether or not it actually is one, no player gets the Points for identifying it. It’s up to the group whether or not players have to provide reasons why they think something is not a contradiction; it’s perfectly acceptable to just let a player say “no, I don’t think it is,” if the group agrees. If you do require an explanation, it doesn’t have to be detailed, and it doesn’t have to propose a resolution. It only has to be a satisfactory explanation as to why the two articles don’t necessarily contradict each other. If the group cannot agree as a whole that something is a contradiction for certain, no action is required and the text stands. However, any player who writes (in the normal manner) an article which resolves this disputed contradiction receives two Story Points as a bonus, again subject to group approval.

For example, take the second scenario above: one article says that Milieu City is the most important city in Eastern Settia, while another says that the widget industry in Chronopolis has the biggest economic impact on the region. If all players agree it’s a contradiction, then Points are awarded and it’s resolved as normal. If at least one player objects, then no one gets Points for identifying it. If a reason is needed, the objecting player could say, “I think importance and economic impact are two different measures.” This is sufficient reason, and the player shouldn’t be required to explain further. Later, a player writes an article stating that though Chronopolis’ widget industry certainly drives the economy of Eastern Settia, it is Milieu City that dictates the artistic, cultural, and political norms for the region. If all players agree this is satisfactory, the player who wrote the article gets two Story Points.

As stated above, the rule against contradictions is somewhat trickier when it comes to In Character games. After all, books and blogs are often full of “facts” that seem completely at odds with each other! The group may decide to ignore all contradictions, or treat all proposed contradictions as being disputed (i.e., no Points for identifying, two Points for resolving).

Special Abilities

Story Points can be used to pay for Special Abilities, abilities that let you alter existing elements or force other people to write certain things. The idea, though, is to add to the fun by being able to needle the other players just a little and throw challenges at them, not to dictate everything they write.

(Just to remind you again, this is a rough draft and these rules haven’t been playtested. If anything in the rules will need tweaking, it’s probably these. Caveat lusor.)

♦ Compel an Article – 4 Story Points.

The player forces another player to write a specific article. The article must come from an existing hook, per the normal rules, and the player being Compelled still has complete control over the content (minus any Dictated Elements — see below).

Any open hook is eligible for a Compel, even one the player could not normally choose on his or her own. It is, essentially, one player telling another “I want you to write this article.” If the Compelled player completes the article, he or she gains two Story Points (plus any extra points spent on Dictated Elements) in addition to the normal points he or she would receive for the article.

A Compelled player may also Counter-Compel for one point more than the cost of the original Compel: in this way, the player can “pass on” the Compel to any other player, including the original Compeller! When Counter-Compelling, you may not Dictate any additional Elements, though any from the original Compel are passed on. A Counter-Compel is otherwise treated just like a normal Compel, and can also be passed along again and again, with the cost rising one Point each time.

♦ Force an Edit – 2 Story Points.

The player forces another player to edit one detail in an article that the Editing player has written. The Forcing player may also Dictate additional Elements at the usual cost.

The Forcing player may dictate which elements need to be edited, but not what they will be changed to. The Forced Edit can be any small but (usually) significant change, and is the only way an article can be changed once written.

The Editing player may rewrite the noted elements in any way he or she sees fit, except that it cannot be the same as what existed before the Edit, cannot intentionally introduce a contradiction, and cannot orphan an article (that is, the edit cannot remove the only link to an existing article–removing links to articles linked from other places is acceptable, though, as is removing unused hooks). If the Edits introduce links to existing articles that were not present before the Edit, the player receives points for them as normal.

♦ Dictate an Element – 1+ Story Points.

This isn’t a stand-alone ability, but rather an enhancement that can be added to others. When Compelling an Article or Forcing an Edit, the player using the ability can add extra elements that the player being Compelled or Forced must use in his or her article.

These must be small, specific items, along the lines of a word, short phrase, link, or concept. The player Dictating the Elements may feel free to be as creative as they wish, but should generally keep in mind the theme and tone that the group has chosen or developed. If the Dictated Element is a link to an existing article, the player being Compelled or Forced receives a Story Point for including it, as normal.

The Point cost for Dictating Elements rises with the number of Elements: the first Element costs 1 Story Point, the second 2 Story Points, the third 3, and so on. Any Story Points spent to Dictate Elements go to the player who writes the article using them, in addition to any Story Points he or she would normally gain from the article.

For example, Player A Compels Player B to write an article (4 Points) and Dictates the additional Elements “rope” (1 Point), “ancient deity” (2 Points), and “oneiromancy” (3 Points). Player A pays the total cost of 10 Story Points. Once Player B writes the article, he or she receives 6 Story Points (1 + 2 + 3) in addition to any other Points received.

Note that Dictated Elements don’t have to be used verbatim, but must be recognizably present in the final article. In the example above, Player B’s article could tell the story of a king who has a powerful and unsettling dream of seeing himself hanged, which his court mystics interpret as being a reference to reviving the worship of the long-neglected god Shemshep.

♦ Reserve a Hook – 5 Story Points.

This allows a player to “stake a claim” on a hook in order to write an article for it at a later time.

As stated above, normally hooks go to whoever writes an article first. This ability allows players who have a really great idea for an article, but don’t have the time to write it at the moment, to put a hold on it and come back to it at a later time without worrying that someone else will snatch it up. The player Reserving the hook  must be eligible to claim that hook per the normal rules (e.g., hasn’t already claimed a hook from that article, didn’t write the article the hook is in).

A player can Reserve multiple hooks at a time, but must write any Reserved articles before writing any non-Reserved ones. In other words, by Reserving a hook, you state not just that you will write that article, but that it will be the next article you write.

Ending the Game

This is really an open-ended game, with no ending conditions to speak of. However, the saying about all good things still holds true, and at some point your group will probably feel that a world has been tapped out.

Your game (or your participation in a game) is over when you decide it is. If a player decides that he or she does not want to be an active player in a world anymore, he or she should let the group know (so that no one will waste Story Points using abilities on a player who won’t be there) and that’s that. It’s okay to rotate in and out, too! If the player decides to become active again later, then again he or she just announces it and is back in the game.

A group may have multiple story worlds (e.g., on multiple wikis) running at any given time. Each world should be treated as its own separate game (e.g., Story Points accumulate separately for each) and a player should only feel the need to participates in the ones he or she wants.

When all players decide that a world is “finished,” or are just ready for a break from it, there are a couple options. You could take the wiki down, or lock it so that no new material can be added–essentially preserving it as an “artifact” of your experience. You could also just leave it in place, allowing people to dabble in it from time to time as they like, perhaps still following the rules of the game, or perhaps in free-form. Perhaps other players will come along, take what your group has done, and continue to add to it! The choice is up to your group.

In any event, whenever you feel your world is getting stale, don’t be afraid to start a new one! Round up some players, pick a new seed text, and start the fun all over again.

Epilogue (and Next Steps…)

Whew! So I finally managed to get everything I wanted into the first draft of the rules. It all seemed so short and simple in my head, but it’s amazing how much complexity you find once you start actually putting down the words.

All the rules so far are fairly abstract, and I can already see where there might be some… challenges to implementing them in an online, asynchronous, wiki-based environment. I have some thoughts on those things, but I think I’ll save them for another post (since this one is long and crazy enough already). If you have thoughts on that–or anything else!–leave a comment and let me know. I’d love to get some feedback on what you think of these rules.

Also, let me know if you’re interested in playtesting, either with me or on your own! I’d love to get a good group together to actually play this game (since, y’know, that was kind of the whole point of creating it). Feel free to playtest on your own, though. If you do, just let me know what works and what doesn’t so I can revise the rules accordingly.

So, who’s in?

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3 Responses to “Jason’s Wiki Game That Needs a Better Name: Rules (First Draft)”

  1. This is great. I have to reread it a few more times to digest everything but I always was interested in the potential of creating such a game.

    • Jason said

      Thanks! I still haven’t had the chance to playtest it yet, but I’m hoping it works as well as I think it will.

  2. By the way, I’m in. I think I follow you on twitter. I’m @thousandheads if you want to chat about setting a game up.

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