Posts Tagged ‘eight games’

I’ve been buckling down and doing a lot of writing, and in between juggling a lot of ideas (some old, some new), I hadn’t really popped in to discuss what’s going on. So here’s what’s going on!

  • As I rewrite Corona, it occurs to me that I might want to not release it ahead of some of the other spin-off games I have in mind for it: rather, it might be served to put the weird hybrid-style game out after the IP has had a chance to get some traction in other forms. What those other forms are remains nebulous, but I think there may be a good game set among the nomads on the causeways, outside the reach of the autarchies and subject to their own interesting cultural dynamics. (Out there, there’s much less shell-hopping, so people are more attached to their bodies of origin, moreso when you consider that they’re subject to time dilation for so much of their existence that a nomad who looks young might be much older than they appear. Also, despite the perception by autarchy dwellers that nomads are bumpkins, they’re likely to be quite cosmopolitan, since they come into contact with so many distinct ‘bubble cultures’ in their travels.)
  • I’m planning a rather significant Delve supplement in the mega-dungeon vein, while being aware that the underlying premise of the mega-dungeon kind of flies in the face of what Delve is about. 🙂 My intention is to provide an example of what the Delve equivalent of a mega-dungeon would look like, as well as framework rules for how to devise your own.
  • I think the mini-games I did in October will be released as pay-what-you-want when I have them cleaned up and suitable for showing.
  • Ghosts of Atlantis hasn’t come out of its fallow period yet. I think I may cannibalize an idea or two from it for another idea that’s burgeoning – ironically, a revisit of the idea behind Daisho, from which I took a mechanical idea or two for Atlantis in the first place.
  • The horror game is out for playtesting, and I’m waiting to hear back. (And, as the sages tell us, the waiting is the hardest part.)

So that’s what’s up, apart from one or two things that are so sketchy at this point that they’re not even worth blogging about yet. Stay tuned.

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I’ve put together a simple one-sheet guide and organizational aid for the current iteration of the quest-giving game. Feedback is encouraged!


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Metatopia continues to grow both in size and energy. The show was tremendously instructive, as usual, and I’m going to revise the priorities of many of the projects on my agenda currently to reflect the feedback received:

  • During the first Ghosts of Atlantis session, I made a spontaneous change to the rules that went over smashingly, and then took that change to the second session, which was disastrous. While I continue to mull over the disconnect between the two experiences, the game goes into the drawer for later work.
  • The horror game was a hit with the focus group, and we also came up with ideas regarding what form factor the game will ultimately take. I think that’s going to move to the top of the queue.
  • The card game idea (tentatively titled Yūgen) will serve as an interesting complement to other development, and gives me a nominal NGDM project, so that is going alongside the horror game in the development queue. 
  • Pitches for the quest-giving game received modest but positive response. I think it’s more salable if I find a stronger hook. I’ll give that one some attention this month between working on the other games.

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The message is the medium, Marshall McLuhan said, and for a game design, the format it comes in contributes to how it feels. The days of issuing everything in a boxed set of multiple 64-page booklets were superceded by the single-volume 8.5″x11″ hardback running hundreds of pages, and if you look at those games, there is an intriguing chicken-and-egg effect, in which the games themselves became more sprawling to fill that page space, while at the same time the content of the games had to escalate to match, leading to ever thicker core books. (Remember that the original D&D boxes didn’t individually cover everything you’d need: they progressed in stages, teaching you at first how to explore dungeons in Basic, then the wilderness in between dungeons in Expert, the cities you would eventually encounter in Companion, and so on.)

Now, we have a surfeit of options for publishing: games can be completely ephemeral, existing solely as data files that can be in whatever format we desire, but with the expectation of print-and-play, they still conform largely to one or more of the extant output options – but there are still dozens of those, from playing-card sized reference tools to the upper ends of the European A- or B-series sheets.

The way a game is formatted affects the way it feels and says something about what the game is like, or at least it does if the designer puts any thought into that (and indeed if he or she has any input into that end of things). I laid out Delve at half-letter pages so it could be printed conveniently on four sheets of paper, folded into a booklet, and stowed for quick play, because that’s the sort of game it is; House of Cards, meanwhile, is in digest format, not only because it’s the size in which one would most commonly find Victorian compilations of fairy tales or children’s stories, but because it’s also become associated with the indie story game movement, and the game attempts to convey those influences. (Grace Palmer‘s amazing page borders and Sara Otterstaeter’s woodcut chapter illustrations certainly don’t hurt, either. They’re still some of my favorite art ever.)

Now that the October games are approaching completion, I’m starting to consider the form they would take, in order to best fit the feel of each project. I like the idea of the “quantum jumping” RPG mimicking the spiral-bound presentation booklets one would get at a motivational seminar, written as if it actually were the introductory manual for a New Age self-help program. Meanwhile, the “agents of fate” game would be best packaged in a traditional RPG format, but with small page dimensions to easily pack it with the playing cards that would be necessary. (I considered whether actually making it the same size as playing cards would be a possibility, but I imagine the lists of powers for each office would inflate the size of the text to a degree that makes that untenable.)

My first instinct for the quest-giving game is to make it a digest-sized hardback like my copy of Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen, but that might be a little bit on the nose! It should be portable, of course, to facilitate play, and the rules are relatively short. (Note that, if one chops out the purely narrative portions of Baron Munchausen, it is likewise only several pages long. But the Baron loves to talk, as we all know!) I’m planning to prepare playmats for adventurers to set in front of them, as an organizational tool and quick reminder; one is tempted at first to perhaps print the rules on the back of the playmat, but with tokens arranged on top of them, you don’t want to be lifting the mats during a game. Depending on the size of the mat (which only needs three “compartments” – one for your level tokens, one for the tokens wagered for someone else’s quest, and one for the spoils of a successful quest) one could format the book at the same size, putting the playmat on one page of the centerfold spread next to a quick summary.

It is unlikely that any of these games will actually have a print run, being released electronically for players to print, or not, as they wish. But the impact of layout decisions on a game’s overall feel can’t really be ignored in that case either, because the possibility of players printing them remains on the table. (We have not yet achieved a fully electronic universal gaming environment, nor do I think we will at any point soon.)

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Which is both a relief and a stressor, because it doesn’t look like I’m going to be able to meet my self-imposed challenge. I’ll have perhaps four games out of the experience (thanks to an idea I stumbled into a couple of days ago), which is half of what I had set out to do, but at the same time, I also acknowledge that it was a pretty difficult bar to set for myself to create eight fully-functional games in 31 days, particularly since I knew that this month was going to have some other very important tasks to complete outside of my game design work.

For the final week of the month, I’m going to focus on refining these games, as well as Ghosts of Atlantis and the new horror game, so that they’ll be showable next week. Tomorrow, I hope to have an initial post on the fourth (and ostensibly final) game design, a card game of abstract expression.

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Metatopia draws nigh, and so I’m scrambling to get everything into a showable state with less than two weeks to prepare. The October Challenge games aren’t on the event schedule, but will be present in very rough form for pick-up play (the quest-giving game will probably see the biggest workout, since it’s the most robust design out of the three). I’m also bringing Delve, with a new dungeon sheet, and will be testing Ghosts of Atlantis (it finally has a working name!) and running a focus group for the nascent untitled horror game system.

The gaming event schedule doesn’t go live until a couple of days before the show, but the panel and seminar schedule is up for perusal.

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The “quantum jumping” game is probably going to be the lightest, most free-form of the ideas discussed so far, primarily because it’s so wide open. The real kernel of the system is going to be a currency arrangement whereby character resources can be exchanged with conditions attached. I had a bit of a brainstorm as to how this might work, inspired by a minor rule in the forgotten RPG Immortal: The Invisible War. For those not familiar, the premise is that you – the game assumes you’re playing yourself – discover that you are an immortal being who had suppressed your own memory in order to live as a mortal but are now reawakening to your actual nature. Experience points in that game are thus called “memory” because you’re not picking up new skills – you actually are just recovering abilities you’ve already attained throughout your millions of years of existence.

A novel spin on a classic mechanic on its face, to be sure, but there was another innovative twist: it deviated from the ubiquitous White Wolf-style experience market, wherein points are like hard cash that you can use to buy your new powers or skills, by introducing the idea of credit. Simply put, you were no longer capped ruthlessly by your acquired memory points, and could “go into memory debt” to buy an ability that you couldn’t yet afford, so long as you paid the difference with the memory yet to accrue. As I recall, the one stipulation to prevent rampant abuse (i.e., players simply giving themselves every ability available and being in “experience hock” forever) was that you had to be able to pay at least one point toward the new skill – you could only get one such ability in experience escrow and couldn’t go into debt if you were already broke or in debt, in other words.

To provide a rough example of how that would work in my own game, all of the skills and assets you have available are treated as fluid by the system (although to you they are fixed). When you need a new trait, you figure out its value and then choose how to acquire it: with experience that you already have, by sacrificing traits already possessed, or by mixing the two. Thus, if you’re a veteran quantum jumper, you have probably built up enough “potential points” and can simply attain a new skill or relationship or whatever, but if you’re really in a bind and low on quantum potential, you can still make the hard choice, letting your existing universe be partially overwritten as a consequence of inviting the new universe in. If you have a little bit of quantum potential, you can mitigate this, and take a lesser consequence instead.

Here’s how I imagine it works: you’re a quantum jumper who needs a bunch of money right away. You cross to a different timeline where you’re quite rich… but you never married your sweetheart and had kids. In the fiction, you’re trying to keep both results, and if you’ve got sufficient quantum potential, you can have both. Let’s say that, mechanically, we’ve defined your relationship at 3 points, and you’re looking for 3 points worth of wealth (to make things easy). Thus, if you have 3 points in quantum potential banked, you pick up the new wealth and return to your marriage as normal. If you have no quantum potential, you could get the wealth, but the reality you acquired it from bleeds back into your own, and you go home to an empty house. If you have a point or two in quantum potential, you might be able to hold onto the marriage and bring back the wealth, but your relationship might be strained, or you may find you didn’t have a child together after all… Obviously, this could work the other way, as well: you might decide to settle for a lower wealth asset if you’re a bit short of potential, so as not to cause destructive resonance back in your own reality.

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