Recently, I started watching the anime Higurashi: When They Cry after falling down a rabbit hole from a random meme. When They Cry follows a boy recently moved to a small village and his friends in a sort of slice-of-life way. However, as the episodes progress, it becomes revealed that the boy isn’t really the center of attention, and that the anime follows a different character ‘looping’ through a couple weeks in 1983, all ending in her brutal death by one of her (seemingly randomly cursed) friends.
There are other medias like this, namely, the titular Groundhog Day, though Happy Death Day also comes to mind as a horror one.
Of course, this concept of ‘looping’ is something that I think could be interesting to bring to TTRPGs. Repeating previous ‘sections’ is something many roguelike video games do, though TTRPGs avoid repeating anything. My question to you all, is, how can you make repeating interesting?
I have a couple theories myself, though none of them fully fleshed out beyond the base concept.
First, simply skipping (completely) repeated sections. If there’s an important moment that’s different somehow, you could then zoom in to highlight that difference. However, how’d you’d exactly do so remains to be seen.
Second, have some ‘pool’ of sections to be ‘played through.’ This way, there’s almost always a different combination of variables to change things, though the sections themselves may be pretty similar. It could still end up proving tedious, however, which is a real concern.
What do you all think? Thanks!
Player agency comes up a lot, often in dubious contexts, but I think this is one situation where it’s a real hazard. How do you loop a scenario in a ttrpg without negating player agency? Because the tendency will be to either nullify player choices each time you reset — in which case, they’re likely to conclude (and perhaps rightly) that their choices don’t matter — or to railroad player actions so that they don’t derail the loop.
One option, it seems to me, is to run loops a bit like Forged In the Dark flashbacks. Make the loops small, mechanically expedient, and at least marginally voluntary. So instead of walking the party through an entire repeat of play, have them say how they’d do a section of play differently, then run that difference as a few discrete moves, and narrate the result. That focuses play on the differences rather than the consistencies, and emphasizes the agency players bring to the loop. Attach some sort of cost to additional loops so that they have the capacity to get better results, but aren’t encouraged to repeat every scene ad nauseam in pursuit of the perfect outcome.
For bigger slabs of time, I’d say run loops according to the pattern of Back to the Future II. Use your record of previous loops to describe the action, and have the characters play from a different POV along the edges of the repeated action. That gives them some discretion over how to interrupt the cycle, without having them in the position of going through their previous motions.
I think this can be very hard. But to me part of why this is hard is because, to me, it’s focusing on the wrong thing.
For me, what makes things that have lots of repetition interesting, is “change”. That may seem contradictory, but for me it’s not. The things that change are what’s interesting.
Let’s look at time loop media, like “Groundhog Day”, “Edge of Tomorrow”, or “Palm Springs”. For me, what makes these interesting is how the central characters change and learn and try to break free from the time loop. The repeat stuff is not actually fun or interesting. Sure maybe the first few moments are fun as jokes, but it gets old real quick.
So like I said the original question is focusing on the wrong thing. For me to make it interesting is to focus on the change NOT the repeating stuff.
For me if you look at Roguelikes and other games that have lots of repeating content. Again for me it’s not the stuff that is the same, but the stuff that is changed, new, and different. For me most Roguelikes are about adapting to the current situation and making the best of what you got. The fact that much of stuff is repeated allows me to focus on the stuff that is different. I learn what those things that stay the same are and then I don’t have to spend a lot of effort thinking about them and can instead spend that effort thinking about other more interesting problems, like, “how the situation this time is different”.
So taking this to TTRPGs, I would try to have a lot of the situation remain unchanged, where players (and their characters) can learn how things are consistent and remain the same, in order so they can spend less time on those things. This probably means less screen time on those things too. Then once those things are comfortable the players (and characters) can start to focus on what’s different and how that might be important.
So again, ultimately for me, the focus should be on what is different rather than on making the “repeating part” interesting.
Sure! You can definitely make the repeating interesting by skipping it. I guess, to rephrase,
How can you effectively navigate repeated scenes in an interesting way?
Sometimes it’s difficult to tell when a scene can move on. I feel this could be especially prevalent without some form of “moving on” procedure.
So I think it’s still focused on the “repeating part” not on what’s changed. Sure you can have a “moving on” or “skip cutscene” procedure. And that will probably work fine. But I’d rather the focus be explicitly on what is new, different changed. Movies have the glorious thing, “editing”, where they can remove all the boring stuff that is really just repeats of stuff that the character goes through, but the audience doesn’t actually see. But by doing this they focus on what changes. Think of the scene in Groundhog day where Bill Murray is learning piano, it’s a montage of him learning. It focuses on him getting better and better and better. The montage ends with the joke by the Teacher, “This is really the first day learning piano” (or something like that). It’s funny because from the Teacher’s perspective it is the first day, but from Bill Murray’s and the audiences perspective it is definitely not. That dramatic irony is what makes it funny.
BUT what the montage does it focuses on the new and changed. It doesn’t show the whole lesson. It doesn’t show the rest of the day that is NOT the lesson, it shows like 1 second of the lesson and skips to the next improved day again and again and again. It’s focusing on what’s changed and totally ignores ALL of the boring repeated stuff.
For me, do NOT play the repeated scenes over and over again with a “move on” procedure. Sure it might work, but it’s probably still going to be rough. Instead have a procedure that FOCUSES on what is changed and how it’s different, CUT to that moment or montage it or what ever, but don’t even give the repeated stuff screen time.
I’ve thought about this as well but never made much progress.
I might be inclined to have some simple mechanic where, during the course of play, certain moments are Marked as significant, and rather than entirely replaying or skipping, on each loop you revisit those Marked moments (either through RP or just talking it out) to decide how things play out differently.
And then, definitely the GM, but probably separately also the players, should Map out the sequence of Marked moments and the different possibly outcomes, like a Directed Acyclic Graph.