I have been very fortunate to have received inspiration on how to resolve conflicts in Dream Palace from. . . a movie. The following scene is at the beginning of the movie, “The Majestic.” The writer, Peter is sitting down with the studio big wigs to pitch them his new script. He begins describing the first scene when the others start throwing in their thoughts:
Producer 1: What about the kid who rings the bell?
Peter Appleton: What kid? What bell?
Producer 1: The kid. After the mine caves in, he rings the bell to alert the town.
Producer 2: Is that in the script? What if we gave the kid a disease?
Peter Appleton: A disease?
Producer 2: Braces on the leg, that sort of thing.
Producer 1: But he runs.
Producer 3: He could hobble.
Producer 2: A How Green Was My Valley thing. Is that McDowall kid available?
Producer 1: Too old. Plus, he’s English.
Producer 2: So?
Producer 1: The script’s set in Tennessee.
Producer 2: Did I get that page?
Studio Head: Forget the disease. Nobody wants it. It’s depressing.
Producer 3: Boss is right. Who needs disease?
Producer 2: It’s horrible.
Producer 1: I hate disease.
Producer 2: Box-office poison.
Producer 1: Hold on. I think I got a “what if.” What if we give the character…What’s his name?
Peter Appleton: Floyd.
Studio Head: Terrible name.
Producer 3: Change it.
Producer 1: Say we give no-name a dog.
Peter Appleton: A dog?
Producer 1: A dog. No-name’s faithful companion.
Producer 2: Toils at his master’s side in the coal mine.
Producer 1: Cave-in happens, only the dog gets out.
Producer 2: ‘Cause dogs are smaller, usually.
Producer 1: And it’s the dog that runs up the hill and rings the bell.
Studio Head: Holy crap, that’s beautiful.
Producer 1: I’m choked up.
Producer 2: I got goose bumps.
Studio Head: Lassie pictures always gross high.
Producer 3: Instead of a disease, we give the kid a dog?
Studio Head: There is no kid. The kid’s a dog. -Could be just what the movie needs.
Producer 1: Let’s ask the writer. What do you think, Pete?
Peter Appleton: (Shot of Peter, with a stunned look on his face. ) Wow. That’s just. . .amazing.
-The Majestic, 2001
So Peter is trying to make art and the bosses shift things around in order to make the movie more marketable. Naturally, since the are the bosses, they win.
What I found intriguing was the way that they so easily changed the writer’s story. Whenever a conflict arises in a traditional roleplaying game, it forces you to answer the question, “Can I do it?” You roll dice and the random factor determines whether you succeed or not. This is the way that war games work, but not how stories work.
Dream Palace asks the question, “Who is in control of the story?” There are a number of storytellers all working with and against each other in an attempt to create a good story. This made sense since a movie is a cooperative effort, but it’s not unusual for those participating to jockey for a position in hopes that their ideas don’t end up on the cutting room floor.
Dream Palace heavily borrows from a card game called Palace. Cards a played into a pile, and each card must a higher than the one played before it. The player that deals out the high card has control over the story. This establishes an ever-changing hierarchy of storytellers.
Unlike traditional roleplaying games, Dream Palace doesn’t rely on estimates of “reality.” Screenwriters make movies to affect the emotions of the audience. The character’s emotional makeup becomes more important than the size of the gun he holds or his skill in using it. After all, isn’t everyone’s favorite story about an underdog that succeeds in the face of overwhelming odds?
This is an easy and fast-paced mechanic that has story power passing from one player to another. This can lead to some very exciting play as each of the players decide on how badly they want to control the story.