Updated: Jan 21
Emergent narrative is a term for the story telling that occurs outside of what's written specifically into a narrative. For example, in a comic book or graphic novel, what happens between the drawn panels is emergent narrative. It forms a significant part of most story telling and the creator/audience relationship. In table top games it explains why you rule over a kingdom of quite so many mines or why your deck of supplies arrive in the order they do. SSO has a significant amount of emergent narrative.
For example, in SSO missions are not solutions. Something happens, such as the ship venting oxygen, which triggers a mission requiring crew to load personal oxygen so that they can cycle the system and stop the venting. In game play mechanics the reward for this mission is extra oxygen rather than searching for and removing the cards that vent oxygen from the deck, which would be fiddly and unbalance the mission. This means the oxygen could vent again after the mission is successful. The fact that at that point cycling the oxygen was simply a plan that failed whilst if another vent card never turned up it would have been a brilliantly effective plan or why the plan failed is our emergent narrative.
So, why am I bringing it up, other than to show that I know what it is and hopefully reassure you that I know a little of what I'm doing? I suppose because as a gamer I don't entirely trust emergent narrative, primarily because I know other gamers who have created amazing, hilarious, complex narratives during games which neither earned or deserved them. Because some games leave unsatisfying gaps and some gamers save the game by filling them in. Equally, any game that asks you to tell your own story in your way needs to leave you the space to create it. So I suppose I bought up emergent narrative to make the promise that SSO is a game about space, not gaps.
On the subject of emergent entities, emergent game play is probably my favourite thing in table top gaming, emergent hopefully for my players and sometimes for myself. For those not aware, emergent game play are the moments inherent but not explicit within a game's rules. For example, a mission in SSO requires crew to man the solar arrays, and a module allows crew to shut locations down. My lead playtester quickly set about shutting down solar arrays when this mission came up, making the mission easier to complete. This never occurred to me in writing but it fits perfectly narratively, since arrays would be easier to maintain if shutdown. It also works perfectly in game play because it involves exchanging risk if the mission is failed for making success easier. The plan is perfect, but is entirely emergent within the rules as set rather than explicit within them.
In order to have emergent game play a game needs layers of rules that interact in an implicit fashion. So in the example of the solar arrays we have three separate rules; one is that face down locations cease to count as their location type, two that the computer module allows you to turn a location face down, and three that the mission is complete when all solar arrays (min 1) have crew in them. If a player spots the rules interaction they gain a new interesting choice and an alternative mission solution.
In order to achieve this the rules set of SSO has a series of elements, abilities, rules and missions that layer over each other allowing a design space thanks to their interactions large enough to build challenge decks within them. Which comes to the point of this blog update, since each layer of rules adds a certain level of complexity. Suffice to say, every layer and each rule exists for a reason and comes with a reward, hopefully sufficient to excuse any rise in complexity.