Posts Tagged ‘quantum jumping game’

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 The days of issuing everything in a boxed set of multiple 64-page booklets were superceded by the single-volume 8.5″x11″ hardback running hundreds of pages, and if you look at those games, there is an intriguing chicken-and-egg effect, in which the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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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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Okay, so I took a couple of days off to defend my doctoral dissertation and finish my Ph.D. Sue me. 🙂

Working on Tore’s alternate-reality prompt highlights just how Manichean the standard trope of mirror worlds is: I even fall into the assumed duality in House of Cards, although I posited the Beyond as natural and not intrinsically malignant, the inscrutable motives of the denizens and alienness of the mirror-ways to waking logic make it seem hostile.

Looking for alternate inspiration, I recall a scam I recently heard about, one of those bogus pseudo-mystical courses you purchase as an audio program. This particular specimen, called “quantum jumping,” promises to teach you to tap into the expertise of the other versions of yourself in other parallel universes. Somewhere out there, according to the creator of the program, there is an iteration of you that has dealt with whatever problem you face, and if you can find them and reach across the many worlds to consult with them, you can use their advice to fix things in your own life.

Dubious personal philosophy, but there’s rich gaming material there. There of course has to be a catch, or else this premise would quickly become a multiversal utopia with nothing of interest happening. I’ll skip the obvious cue from the Jet Li flick The One – you don’t have to defeat your doppelgangers to get their power. Instead, there has to be a trade: something of value to you changes, as your universe begins to conform to that of the twin from whom you borrowed information. Thus, to get something you want, you not only get something you once wanted (to use Neil Gaiman’s phrase), but you have a ripple effect outward that may cause changes you didn’t foresee.

This might make it seem like tapping into the many-worlds versions of yourself for guidance would be more trouble than it’s worth, but people can adapt pretty well. If the changes are something you can live comfortably with, then there’s no real downside. It’s all in what you’re happy with. Douglas Adams posited that, if presented with an alternate reality in which only one minuscule difference existed that you couldn’t even reasonably know about, you’d still be able somehow to feel the divergence, and it would eventually madden you; I don’t think that’s necessarily the case, and would be counterproductive as a game-world element. Thus, Tore’s stipulation that ‘both realities are palatable choices’ is satisfied, so long as you can make peace with the dominoes that fall in response to your actions.

I realize I’m not getting too deeply into mechanics on some of these ideas yet, but I plan to come back and revisit them. I just want to make sure I have a solid start to each of them and then rotate through them with further elaboration. With that in mind, I’ll be going back to the questing game shortly, with some more pondering about matching up the moral qualities of the tokens and the narration of actions in the fiction.

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As I embark on this mad task of creating eight short games in a month, let me share with you the first three suggestions* I received. Tore Nielsen provided me with two ideas:

“A game that deals with the idea of an insidious/subtle reality taking over, and makes resisting it and going along with it equally interesting.”

“Hmmm, maybe a game inspired by TV shows like Reaper or Dead Like Me, only with the characters being handmaidens of fate and must try to get certain peoples’ lives to conform to Great Narratives (star-cross’d lovers, good man redeemed, etc.)”

John Lewis, meanwhile, gave me this prompt:

“A game where the characters have the ability to create quests for other characters and where levels are only really useful for the creating of quests to give to other characters. Something episodic and casual, the universe matters only slightly.”

I’m going to start with John’s suggestion, because he’s throwing me a rather heady mix of mechanical elements wrapped up in a deceptively innocuous pair of statements, and I like to dig into a new design on the mechanical end pretty quickly**. We already have a subversion: “level” is redefined away from individual might and toward having some kind of sway over another character’s adventures rather than your own. This suggests a social game. Further, my mental image of the giving of quests defaults to the standard fantasy trope of being summoned before a powerful lord or lady and charged with a quest.

However, from my work on Corona, I’m not sure I want or need to again explore having one player be directly more powerful than the others, but also sitting at home waiting for their hired minions to succeed at the quest, even if this position rotates. If one player is going to control a powerful noble in this game, then all of them are.

Hmmm… But if they’re all roughly equal in power, how do they give each other quests? It would have to be an agreement within the social power structure: the powerful adventurers only have “level” at the forbearance of their peers, making it a status consideration rather than one of personal prowess. Failing a quest, or just going on a boring one or even being boring about your dragonslaying, then becomes a faux pas that dings your standing within the coterie of other powerful adventurers.

But since you’re all off doing your adventuring, the only evidence of your deeds becomes your ability to recount them and recount them well. Sounds like The Extraordinary Adventures of Baron Munchausen*** to me. That’ll be my starting framework, with some significant tweaks. There will have to be some kind of way to reflect the actual relative “level” of characters to meet John’s requirements, since in Munchausen the players’ alter egos are mechanically of equivalent social standing regardless of the puffery of their titles. Further, I have an inkling that this conclave of adventurers crosses alignment lines; the idea of Sir Hubert the Paladin having a yearly drinking and storytelling meeting with Ebonskull the Necromancer amuses me greatly. More on this after some fiddling.

*I actually received one or two other early suggestions that I have to leave out because they weren’t something I’m actually in a position to produce: one a licensed game, and one a board game. They were good ideas, but not ones I can do anything about!

**Plus, Tore’s a good friend and I want to brainstorm a little longer on his suggestions in order to do them justice.

***If you don’t know this game, you should. It’s fantastic. It is, like so many fantastic things, not in print, but copies may be currently obtained via Amazon.

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