Who Is the Director?
The Director is You. There are several ways to Direct a Punklore game; the Phantasy and What We Pretend to Be Modes of Play– reliant on more traditional tabletop RPG methods of telling a story– can be done in the fashion of the ruleset chosen, such as Fate Core, the D6 system, or your favorite D&D edition. If you're doing one of these modes, no need to read any further. If you'd like to run a Tabula Rasa or Method game, however, then Punklore requires a different mindset and list of responsibilities than the ones to which you may be accustomed. Many of the storytelling responsibilities belong to the Players, and many of the Character and dice responsibilities that Players usually take care of belong to you. For the sake of maximum clarity, we will outline them as if you have never run a storytelling game before.
- Player: the literal, nonficitonal person who chose to play the game.
- Character: the being from The Realm that the player inhabits during the high fantasy portion of the game.
- Psyche: the configuration of the Player's nervous system, including their memories and personality
- Actor: the player Psyche in the body of a Character
- Phantasm: the Character's movie Psyche before you replaced it
- Make The Realm feel real.
- Keep the players’ lives interesting.
- Alter player reality in and out of game.
- Handle all game pieces and metagaming such as dice rolls, stats, tropes, and conceits.
- Nudge players once in awhile through direct interaction via Kori, the Director's numina.
- Play to discover what's next.
Everything you say, you should do it to accomplish at least one of these goals and no other. It’s not your agenda to make the players lose, or to deny them what they want, or to punish them, or to control them, or to get them through a planned storyline. It’s not your job to put them in double-binds or dead ends, or to yank the rug out from their feet. Go chasing any of those, you’ll wind up with a boring game that makes Punklore seem contrived, and you’ll be planning what happens by yourself, not playing to find out.
A common rule in theater games involves “the power of Yes.” Instead of shutting things down with a No, which limits possibilities, meet almost every challenge with a Yes, and... That Yes can be conditional, of course: Yes, you can try to pull the moon from orbit… and here are the consequences you probably don’t want to deal with. And sometimes you really do have to say No in order to keep the game from getting out of hand. (No, you CAN’T be a Witchhunter-Dreamender Kerbora street hex…) For the most part, though, let the power of Yes open the doors to further possibilities, so long as those possibilities fit in with your expedition as a whole.
Creativity Is Made Through Limits
All that being said, keep that creativity based upon a consistent foundations. Don’t let your expedition spiral into chaos. It’s easy, given Punklore’s wide variety of options, to get lost. So when you run your expedition, focus your What ifs around a central theme. The world has been constructed to focus on counterculture themes, so we recommend the kind of social, political, identity, and economical plots usually done within cyberpunk frameworks, transposed to a fantasy setting. The key differences being that the technology themes manifest through gnosis (magick) and its various disciplines, the most obvious being chimaestry (cybernetics). In Halcyon, magic and science are not opposed but synonymous. The opposite of magic is willful ignorance or worship of an exterior being. Pick one simple plot structure, not five (other, smaller plots will arise without your designing them). This will help limit the story and thus give it meaning.
We’ll cover the idea of a plot shortly. For now, just remember that your plot – combined with Tone and Theme, two other elements we’ll address shortly – will provide the necessary gravity for your adventures. By keeping them in mind, you can all be creative without making an imaginative mess of your expedition.
Rules of the Game
Magick has rules. So does Punklore. Think of those rules as laws of physics that keep things from flying off into space. And though the idea of rules governing a game about endless possibilities might seem a bit… um, paradoxical… those same rules help you define what those possibilities look like. A reliable structure gives you and your players a framework of consistency; without that, your expedition has no reliable form – endless whimsy, but nothing you can count on.
As the Director, you get to define just how much those rules affect your expedition. Maybe you prefer a loose improvisational style in which dice play a minor part in the overall experience. Or perhaps you need a firm set of rules so that your players don’t rip your expedition apart. Most often, you’ll probably choose a middle path between those extremes, balancing the needs of your story with the stability that rules provide. Fortunately, the Method System that gets detailed in the following chapters allows you a lot of flexibility. Detailed rules have been provided for those times when you need them – most especially in Chapters Nine and Ten; even so, the Golden Rule detailed in Chapter Eight (p. 384) allows you to modify or junk the rules when it serves the story to do so. The extent to which those rules constrain your imagination is ultimately up to you.
All the same, Punklore has elaborate rules for good reasons. The raw power of gnosis is enough to turn your expedition upside down. Given the improvisational gnosis system (detailed in Chapter Ten), you’ll need the reliable structure of those rules in order to define what your players can and cannot do and how they can go about achieving what they want to achieve. Improvisational theater games feature certain guidelines and constraints, and a Punklore expedition must do the same. Otherwise, you get chaos… and not the fun kind of chaos, either, especially not when you’re the Director!
The Director, though, isn’t the only person who depends upon the rules. Your players need them too, if only to help them figure out what their characters can accomplish. Consistent rules protect your players from capricious “story tyrants” and even protect the players from one another. Like the limits and boundaries discussed nearby, a set of clear, consistent rules allows everyone to relax and have more fun.
In your role as Director, be fair and consistent in your application of the rules. You don’t need to use every system in the next three chapters, but it’s wise to at least be familiar with your options. That way, if you need them, those systems will be there. Like the laws of physics (or of magick), game rules help define the shape and potential of your world.
You can think of a story as a series of questions to be answered. Questions drive the game forward. They immerse players in the story. Whenever you're reading a book you just can't put down, it's because the writer posed engaging questions you want to learn the answer to. Questions also divide a story into manageable chunks. If you feel overwhelmed, just ask a question and things will start falling into place quickly.
You can handle questions in four different ways. They work best when used evenly:
- Tell the story: Answer the questions yourself.
- Ask the players: Have players answer the questions.
- Randomize: Answer the question by generating a random result.
- Create a mystery: Pose the question, but leave it open for players to explore.
Start and End Sequences
One of your primary responsibilities during the game is to decide definitively when a scene begins and ends. This might not seem like that big a deal, but it is, because it means that you’re the person primarily responsible for the pacing of each session. If you start scenes too early, it takes a long time to get to the main action. If you don’t end them soon enough, then they drag on and it takes you a long time to get anything significant done.
The players will sometimes help you with this, if they’re keen on getting to the next bit of action, but sometimes they’ll naturally be inclined to spend too much time bantering in character or focusing on minutiae. When that happens, it’s your job to step in like a good movie editor and say,“I think we’ve pretty much milked this scene for all it’s worth. What do we want to do next?” We have more advice on starting and ending scenes in Sequences, Reels, and Scenarios.
Judge the Use of the Rules
It’s also your job to make most of the moment-to-moment decisions about what’s legit and what’s not regarding the rules. Most often, you’re going to decide when something in the game deserves a roll, what type of action that is (overcome, attack, etc.) and how difficult that roll is. In conflicts, this can get a little more complicated, like determining if a situation aspect should force someone to make an overcome action, or deciding whether or not a player can justify a particular advantage they’re trying to create.
You also judge the appropriateness of any invocations or compels that come up during play, like we talked about in the Facets and Plot Points chapters, and make sure that everyone at the table is clear on what’s going on. With invocations, this is pretty easy—as long as the player can explain why the aspect is relevant, you’re good to go. With compels, it can get a little more complicated, because you need to articulate precisely what complication the player is agreeing to. We provide some more tips on judging the use of rules below.
Create Scenarios (and Nearly Everything Else)
Finally, you’re responsible for making all of the stuff that the PCs encounter and react to in the game. That not only includes NPCs with skills and facets, but it also includes the facets on scenes, environments, and objects, as well as the dilemmas and challenges that make up a scenario of Punklore. You provide the prompts that give your group a reason to play this game to begin with—what problems they face, what issues they have to resolve, whom they’re opposing, and what they’ll have to go through in order to win the day.
This job gets a whole chapter all on its own. See Sequences, Sessions, and Scenarios.
Ups and Downs
Like mages, players often have very strong ideas about the “right” way of doing things. Such differences can usually be worked out without much trouble, especially when you bring a spirit of compromise to the group as a whole. Assuming that everyone chooses to be reasonable, it’s often easy to work through conflicts with a few brief words and a win/ win attitude.
Also like their mages, Punklore players are only human. Certain conflicts – nasty breakups, political rivalries, vastly different styles of play, and so forth – can be difficult to work out. In such situations, it’s a good idea to set the game aside while the players (Director included) try to find a comfort zone for everyone involved. If that’s not possible, the person or people who can’t sort things through might have to step aside for the good of the troupe as a whole…hopefully without hard feelings toward everybody else.
Realism Is Propaganda
In Punklore, don’t get bogged down trying to maintain continuity; the world itself is built around continuity errors and alterations! While verisimilitude (that's a fancy word for believeability and internal consistency) is paramount, realism and adherence to some real world standard or pessimistic worldview is just a passive method of avoiding change or upholding a status quo. Change the rules, toss a story twist, just make sure if you change something fundamental that you intend for your Actors to notice The game operates by the rules of drama, film, and fiction; use it to bend the rules. There should be very few moments in the game where the Actors are free of conflicts or problems to deal with, even if it’d be more “realistic” for them to get a long break.
When you’re trying to decide what happens, and the answer that makes the most sense is also kind of boring, go with something that’s more exciting than sensible! You can always find a way later on to justify something that doesn’t make immediate sense.
Tone & Theme
The subversion of cultural norms and interrogation of power using Jungian phantasmtypes should permeate every word and design.Pick a true story not usually told in history classes, or the experience of living as a variety of different characters in a historical situation, but once again, using our world. For instance, using the nyx ghettos in Hel, one could easily recreate any of a variety of historical concentration, relocation, or reeducation camps. Your players could find themselves on both sides of a recognizable but new situation by chance. Some as Nazi allegories, some as Jewish, black, homosexual, or Romani prisoners. The same scenario can have elements of the Catholic Inquisitions, modern day Islamic extremism, Communist purges, or any other purity-test style genocides throughout human history. Set up your corner of the Empire, and then place your players through chance or by design. From then on, however, they are in charge of what happens, and you merely set the scene and decide whether chance comes into play.