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)

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