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I’ve been thinking a lot about horror gaming, and in particular about how I have yet to successfully design one. I’ve tried, but so far all I have to show for it is a cluster of folders of unfinished drafts and discarded mechanics. I think it’s time to try again.

Here’s a rundown of what I have so far:

Character creation is done in terms of three broad traits – your character’s Vocation (closest thing to a “class”, but functionally more like an Aspect from Fate, helping define what skills and equipment you would reasonably have), Drive (personality and motivation, which helps guide role-playing and serves as a hook for psychological mechanics), and Distinction (something that makes you different, such as being bio-engineered or having psychic powers or being an alien).

Once you pick these three things, there’s a Tarot card draft, which ends up with players attaching three Minor Arcana to the character’s traits. The narrator, meanwhile, is going to be building a “Crux”, a modified Celtic Cross spread that determines factors about the scenario.

Resolution for most actions is inspired by Trollbabe/Lasers & Feelings/etc. – you want to draw a random card that is higher than your number for “external” (affecting the world around your character) actions, or lower for “internal” (affecting the character themselves) actions. Criticals are called “Surges” and are based on suits rather than numerical value: you get a Minor Surge when you draw a court card (Page through King), and a Major Surge when you draw one of the 22 Major Arcana. A Major Arcanum also triggers a Revelation, a new piece of information about the story, and replaces one of the cards currently in the Crux. When the Crux is full of Major Arcana, game over, for good or ill.

As for tone: the universe does not inherently make sense, entropy always wins, and no amount of transhuman tech or knowledge can prevent that. I’m bucking a trend in game writing by explicitly weaving nihilism into both in-character and game text (something I think Apocalypse World did interestingly and could stand to be emulated more widely).

As of right now, here’s what’s been accomplished so far:

The plan is to have seven each of the Vocations, Drives, and Distinctions (which comes out to a whopping 363 core character builds, not counting sub-options that those choices give you). All seven Vocations have solidified, but I’m currently at six Drives and five Distinctions. The hitch so far has been keeping all the options unique, so that all combinations are both narratively and mechanically viable – one idea for a Distinction had to be cut because it overlapped too much with a Drive, for instance.

In broad terms, each of the three pieces grants characters an advantage: Vocations will give you access to skills, Drives will assist your characters in dealing with the horrors they’ll face in the game, and Distinctions grant special but limited powers. There will be a sample of specific advantage options under each choice, along with the option to create a custom advantage.

The Crux mechanic is functionally complete, but has not been playtested yet. Still trying to round up a group to try the game in its current nebulous state.

Setting will be implied heavily through flavor text, as with most of my games; the universe contains limitless horrors.

GM advice is going to make up a more substantial part of the text than I typically give it, because creating a good horror gaming experience is harder than just letting players kick in doors and kill dragons. There will probably even be a corresponding player advice section, because I don’t think enough players have actually been provided guidance on working with the GM to maintain the mood of the game.

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Happy new year, and sorry for the long silence: I’ve been tinkering away on many different projects, meaning that each is moving proportionally slower than even my usual glacial pace. Here’s what’s up in terms of games I’ve talked about here:

A Silence in Heaven has had a small beta update over at parenthesispress.itch.io; I’m at the stage where I’m finishing the individual powers for Sphere+Element combinations, which is slower going than I had thought as I try to create as few duplicates or overlapping abilities as possible. Once all that skeleton is in place, I’ll go back and add more meat to the document.

Similarly, Skald has its core system in place and now I’m working on the kennings and galdr (abilities and spells) for character creation. I’m planning to do a setting write-up at some point, but I don’t want to be too derivative of other existing works such as Ragnarok: Fate of the Norns, which has quite a thorough overview of the Viking world and lore. The preview of that is also up over on parenthesispress.itch.io.

Now, concerning games I haven’t mentioned previously here, but may have alluded to elsewhere:

After bouncing back and forth on several core mechanics for Aphelion, I’ve settled on – brace yourself – Tarot cards. This time, however, I’m pulling inspiration from some very different sources. Traits are resolved somewhat like the core mechanics in games like Trollbabe or Lasers & Feelings, in that you have a numerical rating which requires a result higher than the trait’s rating for one type of action, and below for another. There’s also a pseudo-Celtic Cross spread managed and interpreted by the narrator known as the Crux, which fills in as Major Arcana are drawn and push the plot along to its inevitable conclusion.

I’ve got a rough framework for Jewel of the Sea, including the essential mechanic (a tripartite token economy), five decks of encounters for different locations, and three endgame decks that are chosen based on decisions or events during the course of the game.

With all this other stuff going on, I’ve handed over control of my collaboration with Tore Nielsen to him; I’m now contributing bits and pieces, but he’ll be in charge of the project overall.

Alright, now time to make 2020 a productive year!

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Against the Frozen Lord!

Max Vanderheyden whips up a rich locale for Portal Rats using Hex Kit – check out the Ice Floes of Stygia over at the Shoalmont Games site!

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It’s true – W3M is on the list for Best Setting among the 2019 Indie Groundbreaker Award nominees! Awards will be announced at Gen Con on July 31.

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On Kickstarter, magister ludi is running a campaign to fund their game moonflower. It looks gorgeous and interesting, and I recommend all House of Cards fans to give it a look and maybe your support.

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On the Silence in Heaven front: The progress is slow but steady! A skeleton of mechanical resolution is in place, about 20% more of the Sphere+Element powers are written, more lore for the game has been set down (e.g., all the Archons have a description now), and things are looking better than before. Soon, I hope to have a preliminary draft available for followers to comment on!

A wild Game Idea appears! Neal uses Collaborate with Tore Nielsen: it’s super effective! Yes, while plugging away at A Silence in Heaven, another concept for a game sprang to mind, and I realized it was going to be more than I could develop on my own. Thus, I turned to the inimitable Tore to assist me in designing that project, with other potential collaborators in negotiations to join the team. The pitch? Dark Sun meets Into the Badlands with a dash of Brotherhood of the Wolf. Intrigued? Stay tuned for more…

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Still working on angels!

A Silence in Heaven is coming along well: I’m up to about 6000 words now, and I think the final product will be about 10,000 total. Hopefully I can crank that out in the next week in order to make the deadline for the Roll to Craft Jam, but even if I don’t, I’m definitely going to finish this game and put it out into the world.

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