Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Internet Goodness

So I've actually got some pretty decent feedback vis-a-vis the role playing forum sphere (Forge, Praxis, Story Games, RPG.net) and it made me start to think really hard about complexity, clarity and redundancy. I know I'm going to try and rewrite the whole thing in a more digestible way, and that I'm going to take a long hard look at the mechanics and make sure that they'll (in theory) do what I want.
Since this whole thing started as such a stab in the dark, I've also thought a lot about what the game is about and what I want to get out of it and its setting. Although I haven't seen them used a lot lately, I'm thinking about fishing up the whole "Power 19" thing and filling it out, as well as using some advice I helped flesh out over on the Forge (you can check it out here: defining the package ).

So, hopefully in the near future there will be a pretty, easy to use beta text for the game that I can start distributing, but we'll see. Also, a name change: A Light in the Darkness: The Story of a Revolution. Shadows seems to generic and though it has ample meaning in the game, its most obvious meaning don't mesh with the tone and theme that I'm striving for.

Also, this (Cute and Fuzzy Design Contest). I'll be doing a follow up to this soon with my own contribution...

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

The Right to Dream

I've talked quite a bit about Sim play over at the Forge (as masqueradeball) and I just finished listening to Vincent Barker talking about Sim play over at Theory From the Closet (which I'm working my way through backwards). I just wanted to weigh in a little bit here about what I thought about Sim, why I identify with it as much as a person can identify with a CA and with the additional caveat that all this verbiage spent on theory might be a waste of everybody's time.
So here's my take: The Right to Dream is about coming together with a group of people and establishing boundaries and then exploring the space within those boundaries with no end in sight other than to explore the world in question. You don't want to win and you don't care about coming out at the end with a good story, what you want is experience and exploration, to come closer to understanding and engaging in a fantasy than you would have ever had if you hadn't jumped into the sandbox.
No one is right or wrong, everyone wants to support everyone else's exploration, but it takes a lot of common ground to do this. Its dangerous, to hand someone your idea for a story or a character, or to invite someone into your vision of your favorite fictional world, and to let them bash around in it with you. They might break something you hold sacred. With no direction, too, play can devolve into strange things, highly personal nooks of dream space, places that only entertain or make sense to anyone but the one dreamer. In the Right to Dream you have to promise not to break anything and not to beckon people to go too deep.
So, thats it, the Right to Dream. Why would you do it. To play in that childlike sense, when in little moments you transcend and emerge through the game into the fiction. Its about wanting to act out in a way that isn't acceptable anywhere else. Its about exploring just how durable your visions are. There are so many reasons and so many reasons to buy into the Right to Dream, but that's my take on it.

Saturday, August 21, 2010


And now for some asides... two different game design ideas have floated into my brain and I don't think that working on them will have too much impact on the Shadows design. One is an idea for a one shot game about indie-kids degenerating at a party. The idea is to use cards with specified drama bits to keep play going, with different players using the drama cards to create scenes to block the other players from achieving their character's goals. Competitive but light-hearted.

The second idea is less well-formed, but might yield some interesting results. After listening to Ron Edward's interview over at the Walking Eye Podcast, I got thinking about the gaming culture (as I knew it) when I first started gaming. Second Edition Advanced Dungeons and Dragons was the game I started with and spent a decent amount of time on. I think it was already moving towards its death throws, Alternity wasn't too long after and from all reports its was sort of test run for ideas for the 3ed of D&D.
I wanted to revisit 2e and see what I would do with it now, sticking to its form and structure, but re-writing the rules to fit both my tastes now and to better reflect how we used to play it, as best as I can remember. We'll see how that turns out. My current plan is to do all the reworks here and maybe on some D&D related forums out there (EnWorld, anyone).
I know that the idea is a little out of date, but I haven't seen any love for 2e on the internets, but there have been countless OD&D/AD&D remakes and updates, so why not a 2e update. Someone, somewhere has to be with me.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Shadows Design Diary, Part 3

Just a quick little update to keep this little project active: So things are going okay in terms of the progressing design. Its been hard getting attention and finding people to discuss the game with, but I should expect that. This is my first game design that I've really tried to put out there in the public forum and don't have a lot of social currency in the online or any real world gaming groups at the moment. I'm doing my best to try and correct this. The newest written draft of the rules is going swimmingly, but I'm having a difficult of time writing the setting information out, because I'm reluctant to expand it. The setting right now is solid enough to create characters and situation, but not specific in a real world anthropological survey sense.
I'll be doing my best to get people to review the draft as soon as its completed and I'm hoping to get a little craigslist indie/story game group going on the weekend.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Shadows Design Diary, Part 2

So, as promised, here's a quick bullet point version of the system:
  • The GM (Director) never rolls dice, all dice rolls are resolved by the player.
  • All dice-rolled-for-actions (Moves) initiate a Conflict, which is similar to combat/social-combat systems in other games but which is used for all mechanically instances of play.
  • The primary attributes of a player character (Persona) are called Characteristics and they represent virtues/values that the character possess. These Characteristics are used to set various game-mechanics (Insight= Speed, Honor= Defense) to create an allegorical feel in how the Persona interact with the fiction.
  • Non-Conflict questions (things that would be handled with one-off dice rolls) are instead handled by a score called Stance. The GM (Director) has a Stance for each player character (Persona), the greater the Stance is for a Persona, the more aggressively the Director frames the narrative against him, the more often his non-diced actions fail, etc...
  • An Actor can initiate a Conflict whenever they want, by rolling their dice. The GM can only initiate a Conflict (forcing the Persona to make a Move) by reducing his Stance against him.
  • Conflicts can be won by the Persona by getting rid of their obstacles or achieving their goals, they end when the Persona gets what they want (in combat, when they defeat their enemies). Conflicts can be lost by players when they take enough "hits" (Negative Traits, in the parlance of the game). Losing a Conflict forces the Persona to surrender the tactic or approach around which the initial Conflict is based.
  • Although traits are gained by the Persona throughout the Conflict but they have no forced mechanical effects outside of the Conflict in which they were created. Actor can recall Negative Traits to gain mechanical benefits for later Conflicts. Recalling a Negative Trait involves having it limit the Persona's choices or work against his established interests in the narrative.
  • Persona have two sets of goals, the first is the Quest, which is a group goal and the second is are Investments/Desires. Investments happen when the Actor "specializes" his attributes around specific game elements and the Desire is what he wants the relationship with the Invested element to be.
  • Quests and Investments are what the Director highlights with his Conflicts, and what the Actors are trying to have work out in their favor. Achieving Quests and fulfilling the Persona's Desires are how Persona grow and change over time. Fulfilling Desires both increases and moves around the Persona's attributes while fulfilling Quests makes the characters less human and more mythical/dream beings, amping how magical in a fairytale/world creation mythology they are.
As far as theme and tone go, thats probably the least set in stone thing about the game, but whats emerged so far in the development process, is that I want the following things to be handles/highlighted in the game:

  • Grey v. Darker Grey: The fictional setting has bad guys (dick head Merchants with a mercenary army) and good guys (knights and their rebel allies) but neither is really all right. The Merchant's Coup could be cast in a heroic light pretty easily, and the knights are not perfect people, the commoners are uneducated and don't have any real answers, and the Philosophers are addicts and deviants who actually do some messed up things. Despite this the Merchants are clearly worse.
  • Unity and Loyalty and COMPROMISE: The game should focus on the tension between different rebels and their attempts to unify. Unity is necessary, the other option is defeat and return to a (now more) miserable existence. At the same time, even with the hope presented by the Accord, the rebels do not want or value the same things. I would actually really like to explore reconciliation with the Merchants as opposed to total war.
  • Fantasy: What I mean here is that the magic system that escalates as Persona completes Quests are very very magical. They can talk bridges into collapsing or woods into growing faster and do some really fantastical fairy tale type stuff. Also, the Animal Souls makes everyone different from the real world and in some serious ways much more powerful than normal people. So, at a certain point the whole allegorical element starts to become more and more apparent, until the game plays more like a dream than like a simulation of reality.
Anyway, thats the update. Still muddling through my play test experience and waiting (hopefully) for some responses on the Forge or elsewhere on the web, so more on that later.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Shadows Design Diary, Part 1

I'm hoping tomorrow will be the first play test of my game (Shadows), so I thought I'd put up an outline of the design process up to this point. Trying to recapture things to the best of my ability.
The game started out as an oft-repeated thought exercise that I'd always hoped would churn out an actual game design. I started off listing 10 different genres/settings under 10 different headers; I had one for anime, one for fantasy, one for historical and so on. I filled out 10 different entries under each header, alphabetized them, and then went across the first row adding 1000 words of game text (or thereabouts) to the rules document inspired by each item on the table.
This went through two false starts, one where I focused entirely on setting, and another where it was entirely on system. The third approach was a mix, mostly game mechanics but with enough setting materials to justify the mechanics that were being introduced. I got through the first row in about five days and then realized that there was so much game there that diluting it any further with additional concepts would be a mistake, so I took the work I had and, not wanting to start over again, decided I would instead refine it.
The end result was Shadows v.1, the game I'll be play testing tomorrow if all goes according to plan.

So, what is Shadows like, and what is it about:

1) The Fiction
The setting is a fairly typical Western European Medieval fantasy world, with a little Japanese and a little Frankenstein thrown in for good measure. The specifics of the setting are as loosely defined as possible to provide what I hope is an original context for play.
The specifics are as follows:
  • Everyone in this fantasy world has two souls, a human soul and an animal soul. A person's animal soul varies from person to person. Both souls have a physical form and these forms overlap in place and time, switching back and forth to the advantage of the person. Its not really shape shifting so much as overlapping realities.
  • Science doesn't work here, instead, there's Philosophy, which is kind of like alchemical sciences and kind of like magi-tech. Currently what Philosophy can do is pretty exact and includes the following: Automatons (simple fantasy-styled robots), Grafts (body mending medicines and "cybernetic" implants), Mirrors (can send messages long distance and create "astral spaces;" functions largely like a fantasy internet), Wands (phaser in a stick).
  • Philosophy is nasty stuff, its addictive to use and create and drains life energy to power itself. People who make it and use it are known as Philosophers and they're generally feared/despised.
  • There's a fantasy continent (as of yet nameless) whose center region is a large, lightly inhabited, heavily wooded, valley. The valley is known as The Shadows.
  • The nameless continent was ruled by a nobility divided into two distinct groups, one (The Court) was in charge of governing the realm, while the other (The Knighthood) was (Jedi-like) in charge of policing and protecting the realm.
  • Monsters are real and come in all the varieties imaginable, from pretty ladies to green skinned midgets to big winged reptiles, but what makes them all monsters is that they feed on human virtue. Some knights train monsters, forming pro-symbiotic relationships where the monster gets to feed off the knight in exchange for helping him do battle.
  • The knighthood was (mostly) good and virtuous, but worlds away from the Court, which became heavily indebted to the Merchant's Guild.
  • The Merchant's Guild literally purchased political authority in exchange for relieving debts and parlayed that authority into the eventual overthrow of the Court, but not before amassing an army of foreign mercenaries and automatons. The Merchants got the automatons from the Philosopher's Guild who they conned into thinking that they'd have a place in the new regime.
  • The Merchants use their army to hunt down and mostly exterminate the knighthood. The majority of the knights that survive do so in The Shadows, where they manage to maintain some strongholds and such.
  • The Philosophers are booted first chance the Merchants get.
  • 60 years of monopolistic oligarchy ensue.
  • A plague known as The Green Sickness sweeps the land. 1 in 10 people are killed by the disease, but a disproportionate number of survivors come from The Shadows
  • The chaos of the disease creates an opening for rebellion, with the Knights, Philosophers and various rebel groups striking against the Merchant Guild's hold.
  • They begin to lose the conflict before it really begins because their dis-unified forces pose no threat to the entrenched Merchants or their on-pay army.
  • A document called The Accord begins to circulate, painting a picture of what the government could be like once the Merchants are disposed of; it outlines equal representation and free markets with various human rights outlined as sacred under the would be law. Prominent members from various groups begin to support the Accord, signing it and distributing copies. Under the Accord the rebellion slowly begins the internal reform that may lead to victory.
  • And that's where the game begins....
Next time, over view of themes and motifs and as much of the game system as I can make sense of, as well as some actual play reports (if all goes according to plan)