November 16, 2011

Deceit and DramaSystem

Commenter Carl, over at my See P. XX intro to DramaSystem, asks about the role deceit plays in the game. Is there a mechanism to ensure that characters who are deceived act accordingly?

It depends on whether the interaction is procedural or dramatic. In the first instance, it occurs in pursuit of a pragmatic goal, free of emotional content, with a minor, GM-run character we don’t much care about. In this case you can con the character and he’ll act as if conned.

In general deceit occurs in DramaSystem because the core interactions mimic drama in fiction, which in turn is a condensed version of the way we behave toward one another in real life. One person seeks an emotional payoff from another, and in the process may choose to lie, dissemble, or hoodwink. If you’re playing a dramatic scene, you can make the choice to act as if the character is deceived, or not. Unlike Skulduggery / Dying Earth, the system does not force you to be fooled. This is because the character who acts on false information belongs more to the melodrama than the drama. Drama is about choices; deceit robs characters of true choices. Deceived characters work in drama when they are, perhaps subconsciously, choosing to be lied to. When Lear buys Regan and Goneril’s flattery and rejects Cordelia’s frankness, he is, on one level, fooled. But really he’s allowing himself to be gulled, because he’s petitioning them for ego gratification and wants to get it. In the DramaSystem version of this scene, Lear’s player decides to act as if fooled—he isn’t required to do it by a die roll.

If deception belongs to melodrama, its equivalent in drama is self-deception.