Blending pen and paper role playing games with interactive storytelling

I've been following the work of Chris Crawford ever since he graced the cover of Popular Computing as "Atari's Secret Weapon". I was an impressionable fifth grader at the time and dreamed of the day when I too would become Atari's Secret Weapon. Through the years I've been looking in on his work with interactive storytelling, and becoming more and more fascinated with the idea of having the computer work as a medium if creative expression. His latest attempt at codifying his approach to Interactive Storytelling is "Wumpus", which follows in a long line of other attempts to bring these technologies to not only the game designing public, but also to authors seeking new means for their creative works.

I've also been immersing myself in role playing games (as a reader, and sadly not as a player). This has lead me to deeper understanding of how role playing games are designed and what effects the designer of the game is seeking to achieve. The one designer that I've found fascinating in this area is Robin D. Laws, who is the author of many role playing games and fiction. He is also the author of Hamlet's Hit Points and Beating the Story, which introduce his concept of story beats. The worked example of story beats for dramatic role playing games are in the excellent Dramasystem game Hillfolk, which lays out a framework and game system that encourages dramatic interaction between players and GM.

These may seem like disparate ideas but I think that combined they could create a powerful framework for interactive storytelling. One of the things that I've learned about role playing games and role playing game design is that many of the mechanics are designed to allow each of the players to have some spotlight time. Things like "Fate Points" in Fate, "Drama Tokens" in Dramasystem, and even turn order in D&D (and the disappearing spells from D&D) are designed to balance the game play between all of the characters. They're about sacrificing a resource in order to drive the story. Those mechanics aren't as useful in a computer game, and many of them aren't easily ported to the computer (The reason that D&D's mechanics were ported to computers was because they were simpler, and allowed for a game play where your character could advance. That's why in many computerized RPGs you spend a lot of time killing various wildlife in order to advance and train yourself for the larger creatures at the end.) If you're the only player in a computer game then you get all of the focus. Robin's Cthulhu Confidential is a one-player, one GM version of Robin's GUMSHOE series of games set in the Cthulhu Mythos. Noticing the differences between the multi-player version of GUMSHOE and the one-2-one version of GUMSHOE crystallized more thoughts about what the differences between single-player and multi-player storytelling.

My ideal game would be a game that blends the relationships of Dramasystem with a pValue-like relationship system that Chris Crawford proposes. I'd also love to add some level of AI where the computer can formulate what the characters are feeling into ways that can be better understood by humans. And I would love the computer to understand the difference between Story Beats to help drive the intensity of the story. I think that's something that's missing from Interactive Storytelling.

I'm understating this case right now because I have more to say on it in further posts, but suffice to say I would love to have a panel between Chris Crawford and Robin D. Laws to discuss their various techniques. I don't know how I would manage this, or even if both parties would agree to it, but I think both of them are doing interesting work and have the most cogent takes on what makes for a good interactive story.

I'll do my best to synthesize my thoughts on this and where we can go from here