Something new, and dark

Ryan Macklin posted a challenge to his blog last week: in brief, create a game in 500 words or less, using at least two of the features set forth.

I dithered about whether to do it – whether I had the time to do it, since I’m getting art and working on the layout for House of Cards – and finally decided last night, the eve of the contest’s conclusion, to try to create a submission.

The idea came fast… almost too fast. I wondered how well it would go over: it’s a game about playing reprehensible, even irredeemable, characters in service of ultimate nihilism and madness. My mind went to the famous passage from Lovecraft’s “The Call of Cthulhu,” the paraphrase of Old Castro’s briefing on the Cthulhu cult’s beliefs, and I had the basic stats right away:

That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and revelling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return.

The countdown mechanic was easy to envision: the time until They return. I think there’s something more inspired in making that timer the finite pool of experience awarded to the players; in fact, I’m not sure I’ve seen a game that put a definite limit on experience points at all. There was going to be a madness mechanic, but that’s not only shopworn material from every other Mythos-related game out there, it didn’t fit: you’re playing those who have already gone functionally insane, from which the only way to go is to be completely subsumed by Them.

It’s not going to be for everyone’s tastes. It’s also extraordinarily compressed, due to the word limit and the fact that it was completed in not much more than 12 hours; you have to read between the lines to see what extra description was excised to meet the conditions. But, if you feel inclined, you may now download Iä: A Game of Dark Worship for free on the Games page. It’s in two parts: the player sheet and the GM sheet. As always, I welcome your feedback, and you’re encouraged to share the game under the Creative Commons license.