The Mechanics of Collaboration
SFU is a collaborative, GM-less ttrpg. Which is interesting, given how, if I had to voice my honest opinion, I’m not a huge fan of such games. I can’t recall if the initial design inspiration had included the game being collaboratively run, but I don’t think it would be the right call to have it require a dedicated GM. I think the game actually thrives on the aspects of collaborative play that I consider to be the weaknesses of the format. Primarily, not everyone wants to be in charge, or share the responsibility of creating the entertainment that they’re indulging in. Collaborative games only really work when everyone is fully invested in the format, and it becomes very apparent the moment any person starts flagging. But with SFU, the mandatory sharing of responsibility, and the awkward negotiation and unsettled emotions that can result from that only add to the game’s “table feel”, as do the moments of warmth between a group who was successful in creating a really impactful moment organically.
Another more subtle factor that I feel good about designing in SFU is what I’d like to call “consent of participation.” We’re not talking about content warnings or X cards or any other meta-narrative level consent factors. Rather, I’m talking at the mechanical level, wherein the game is run collaboratively, but there are also options for players to “step out” when they want to, and not have the gameplay dragged down as a result. Two places where this happens are in the star mechanic of “Going Around”, and in how the game is ended. With Going Around, all players have a chance to add details to a situation or Challenge that occurs. But the text of the game is clear in stating that players shouldn’t feel pressured to add details if they can’t think of anything good, or just don’t feel like it in the moment, and indeed, if everyone added a detail every time they had the opportunity to, the game would get bogged down and not run optimally. I’m of the strong opinion that all players (or at least, players with ADHD-influenced experiences like me) benefit from regular mini-breaks, and ones that they have some amount of control over, that also affect the shared experience of gameplay as little as possible for everyone else.
The game session ends by having characters retire for the day, either by going to bed or just announcing that they’re not doing anything noteworthy for the remainder of the day. A player may choose to retire earlier in the day than everyone else, taking their character out of narrative circulation; they may either excuse themselves from participation in the game itself after that, or they can continue to act as a player, but not a character, as they wish; the game doesn’t end until half or more characters retire for the day. This prevents the game’s length from being dictated by the one who wants to retire first (who might otherwise push themselves to stay engaged past when they want to for fear of disappointing the other players). It also prevents the game from dragging on for as long as the most ardent player wishes it to, instead having the mechanics side with the will of the majority.
Building It Together
I love the idea of perpetual shared worldbuilding. While each group can do whatever they want, I wanted to put the idea out there that Pilot City is a place that’s basically just a bunch of liminal spaces all crammed together, as much of a “place of mind” as it is a physical space. If a player wants to introduce the game to a new circle, they don’t have to leave their favorite character behind in a one-shot; both the mechanics and the narrative make space for them to show up in new stories and create new relationships with new people. The growth of SFU characters is far more lateral than vertical, meaning there isn’t much worry about some older character being “too overpowered” for the narrative. Just like real life, people extend themselves and widen their repertoire of skills along with the experiences they have. Sometimes those skills only relevant for one point in their lives, other times they become a core part of their identity, but we have the constant freedom to make and re-make that choice.
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