Who I wish you were

7 05 2008

So I had a breakthrough on my paper-doll Pygmalion game, Created, yesterday at work. Everything in that post still stands, pretty much.

There are five slots for clothing, right: head, arms, feet, chest, legs. That’s also the order of play, because this is a relationship game. A relationship game where you don’t get under-the-sweater action until the fourth date, apparently. (Not that this game is going to progress in dates.)

The clothes for each slot will be available in two primary colors, and one secondary color. The primaries will represent a personality dichotomy. Example:

Head: Beauty (Yellow) vs. Wit (Red)

Arms: Building (Blue) vs. Performing (Red)

Feet: Grounded (Red) vs. In Clouds (Blue)

Chest: Armored (Red) vs. Bared Heart (Yellow)

Legs: Planted (Blue) vs. Wandering (Yellow)

We’re sticking with primary colors because we’ll need some differentiation for the special third piece of clothing for each slot, which is a secondary color made up of the two primaries. This third piece of clothing (purple, orange, or green depending) represents coming to a halfway point. You can’t start with a piece of secondary clothing, and there is only one piece per clothing slot.

Every time you choose a piece of clothing in character generation, you also write a secret desire/imperfection beneath the piece of clothing which is in opposition to the clothing’s trait. Example: Alexis chooses “Feet: On the ground” on her turn. Beneath the clothing, she writes “I wish you’d dream of something more.” During conflict resolution, when the clothes come off, this secret desire for that character will be revealed.

After resolution, two things happen: first, both characters change the article of clothing for that scene, to reflect how the other person has permanently affected their personality. The change can either be to the opposite color or to the secondary color– but there is only one piece of secondary clothing, so someone changes completely and the other person changes partially.

The second thing that happens is that the desire gets replaced with a lesson. Whereas the desire was written in the voice of the second character, the lesson is written in the voice of the character whose sheet it is.

I realize this is complicated and I’m not explaining super well, because my notes are spotty and I’m not caffeinated. Here is an Example!


Douglas has chosen Armored (Red), and Jenny has chosen Bared Heart (Yellow).

The secret desire written on Jenny’s character by Douglas says “I wish you were less sensitive.”

The secret desire written on Douglas’ character by Jenny says “I wish you’d tell me about your past.”

There’s conflict, which I’ve not written the rules for yet.

Jenny replaces Bared Heart (Yellow) with Armored (Red).

Jenny replaces her desire with a lesson: “I won’t let anyone in.”

Douglas replaces his Armored (Red) with Compromise (Orange).

Douglas replaces his desire with a lesson: “I am not an island.”

Essentially the game is about how we’re profoundly affected by the people we love, whether we want to be or not, and how– no matter how sure you are that you want something– sometimes you can never be sure what it is you want at all.

Chat with Charlotte: randomizing, and storytelling vs. minigames

11 12 2007

meSo we should talk more about Audeamus

Like do we want to die types of dice into types of support, or types of traits

 Charlottewell let’s see, we have how many die types?  20, 12, 8, 6, 4



And we have four types of traits– Things You’ve Experienced, Things You Can Do, Things You Know, and Things You Believe

 Charlotteoh i was thinking about being able to start with a division between number of dice and number of bases, btw, that would be different for each ‘class’

 meWhat do you mean

I’m kind of out of it but it sounds interesting

 Charlotteok say there’s a total of 5 starting slots for things.  the things that can be in it are dice and bases.  bases meaning number of towers you’re allowed to start

so one class has 1 base, but starts with 4 dice.  another can make up to 4 bases but only has 1 die to start with

so one class starts with power but is fragile, the other one starts slow and has a broader base of options later

because you can’t knock down 4 towers of 1 each

 meThat’s an elegant way to balance

I think Gladiators and commoners would probably have the one base, and patricians have the 4 bases

 CharlotteI think so too [smile]

and maybe another class has a 2/3 split

 meWell, like

 Charlotte(maybe 5 is too wide?)

 meTo be more specific, non-senate citizens could have the 2/3 split, since they are essentially the “middle class” if I’m remembering my roman history right

We’re going to have to start on the research soon

 Charlotteooh good

booo research!

 meSo maybe the dice you earn through your own actions– by being true to your creed, for example– are the stable ones


 meAnd the less stable dice are the ones you earn by playing to other people’s creeds

 Charlotteman it would suck to be most gladiators with a code of honor

 meAnd if you betray yourself by going against your creed, that’s when someone else can take one of your d6s and replace it with a d12 or something

 Charlotted4! d4!

meIt depends on the code though

I mean, being a gladiator with the code “Death before Dishonor” would be okay


unless you consider it dishonorable to fight someone whose skill is so far below yours it’s more like murder


So here’s my question

When does the dice-stacking happen

Or do the stacks just hang out the whole time

 Charlottewhen you get or lose dice

and they have to stay up for x time

(and you can leave them up the rest of the time, but falling only counts during the countdown)

 meWhen you get or lose dice, do you have to rebuild from scratch

 Charlottebecause otherwise the aforementioned cold could break the game

 meYou know, Jonathan had a pretty interesting idea for a randomizer


 meInstead of rolling dice, it’s how the dice land when the towers fall


so like a target map

 meMaking the most of the pieces of your shattered self-power

No, still with numbers

 Charlottewith bases, and then falling areas

ooh i see

 meAlthough falling areas is a really compelling idea too

But then we’d need maps

 Charlottemaps = penis


 meThis is going to be the most Gamist game about difficult decisions and personal integrity ever




10 12 2007

So I woke up this morning with a new game in my head. This is irksome, because I really need to rewrite Complicated, and this game in my head is dense and intense and even requires research, but I think it will be awesome, and Char is going to work on it with me, and.. Yeah. I’m really excited. It’s tentatively titled Audeamus, which means “Let us dare.”

It is a historical non-fantasy game about ancient Rome– this big, grand, bloody, decadent thing teetering on collapse and senators vying for what little power they can grab before it all comes apart. There will be senators and gladiators and Christians and lions and citizens and rebels and prisoners. The theme is basically about discovering just how much of yourself and your principles you are willing to sacrifice in order to get what you want.

Alea iacta est

The main mechanic we’ve got is dice-stacking. No, not what you’re thinking. You earn dice in various ways– all different types, from d4 to d20. You collect them, and you stack them. You can sabotage other players by stealing their dice, or replacing more stable dice with less stable ones. When dice fall, Something Happens.

Nosce te ipsum

Character creation works something kind of like this. The first thing you decide is What You Are. You are a senator, or a gladiator, or a citizen, or a rebel, or a Christian, or who knows. What You Are determines what categories you can choose your attributes from.

(This part is, I believe, kind of a riff from the way Jonathan handles charms in his Exalted hack. Thanks Jonathan!)

There are four types of attributes: What You’ve Experienced, What You Can Do, What You Know, and What You Believe. This isn’t fleshed out, but just an example:

I am a senator. I’ve helped send men to their deaths just to make a point. I can bend the ear of Caesar’s most trusted advisor. I have studied astronomy, and I believe in death before dishonor.

Eventually, the examples will be more flowery and compelling, but you get the idea. What You Believe ties into your creed– something like “Virtue is the only nobility” or “Let them hate, so long as they fear” or “The world is not enough”– which is the cornerstone of your tower and the foundation your character has built itself upon. If you act in a way which is contrary to your creed, you can lose dice or be otherwise affected; by betraying yourself, you give other characters the opportunity to hit you where it hurts, because you have shown weakness of character.

Coming soon(ish): more It’s Complicated

9 12 2007

I’ve been fortunate enough this week to get a lot of good feedback from David Artman and Ron Edwards at The Forge, as well as some great conversations with friends and playtesters in #indierpgs. After reflection, I’ve decided that I’m not going to revise the current document so much as write an entirely new one. New sections will include:

  • Scene framing tips
  • Framing scenes with multiple relationships
  • Types of scenes
  • Things you can accomplish in scenes besides revelation
  • Expanded definitions of Oddity and Dysfunction
  • An absurd amount of examples
  • Potential scenarios
  • Tips on story arcs vs. scenes

That’s a lot of stuff, and if any of it turns out to be unnecessary, I can cut it. But as of right now, those’re basically things that people who have played the game have requested, and so they seem important.

Someone– I forget who– told me this game was going to have more explanation of how the rules work than of the rules themselves. I’m okay with that. Actually, a big part of the influence for this system was when I was working on the token mechanic for Addict— I had a bunch of little systems going, and Jonathan told me that I should think about having a single elegant system that did everything. Little did he know..

Battle of the boards

3 12 2007

I’ve been plugging away at Retrospective, and the introduction and game prep sections are now on a page! Just click the “Retrospective” tab at the top of my blog. Now I just need to tackle the “How to Play” section..

So, I’ve been getting poked a lot about It’s Complicated lately, which has really been forcing my hand with the editing and the revising and stuff. I still haven’t finished altering the rules, but the changes are simple enough; the main reason I have not updated the page or PDF is because I can’t do that until I have a new character sheet for the diagrams!

Here are the two contestants:

sheet_small.jpgSo this was the original thought I had. Yes, you can move between all four lines, but you can only hit a line adjacent to yours; that means that the middle two lines have more play options than the outlying lines. This creates a ton more space, but also could make things more difficult for purposes of connection. It would definitely slow down the “mess” factor which tends to happen toward the end of a round, where you can’t make a move without having to declare a relationship with everyone else playing.

sheet2_small.jpgThis second sheet was based on a bunch of “OMG” feedback I got from the first one. JR Dowda spent a not-insignificant amount of time scribbling out alternate layouts, since his reaction to new sheet #1 was so strong. (It’s nice to have people that invested in this project, even if it’s demonstrated by HATRED OF SIGNIFICANT GAME CHANGES!) This one offers less choices, but is still a freer experience than the original board. I’m not certain it solves the “mess” problem, though, so much as it delays the mess until later. Which might be just the thing I’m looking for, actually.

I’ve got some people who want to run one game with both boards and see how it goes; hopefully we’ll be able to get some extra players and try that this week. In the meantime, hypotheticals and thoughts on both are more than welcome. 🙂

What’s the point?

28 11 2007

My blurb author, #6, revealed himself in dramatic fashion (okay, maybe not that dramatic) on my blog yesterday! This game is for Mark “I am not a number, I am a FREE MAN” Vallianatos. It is a pleasure to meet you, Mark! I hope you’ll like this. If something does not sound cool to you, please, feel free to speak up.

Mark had an excellent question:

I like the direction you’re going. Will there be any ‘editing’ together of the answers/ scenes as the narrator or all players try to construct a storyline, or is the point that one can’t create a central narrative from the 4 individual memories?

That’s an excellent question, and one I’ve been thinking about since last night. Having to puzzle out an accurate account of the events would certainly make for a neater story and a real goal; however, it kind of feels done to me, you know, like those “How to host a murder” parties. Certainly, going the “there’s no way to know for certain” route feels more innovative, and reinforces the feeling of subjective reality; I feel like part of the point, part of what seperates this from murder-mystery-type games, is that no one is actually, consciously lying– they’re just relating the truth as they know the truth to be, colored by emotion and distorted through the lens of time. But if that’s not the point, then what is endgame? There’s no satisfying conclusion unless the stories tie together somehow.

I was whining to Shreyas about this quandry earlier, and I think he’s right– the answer is somewhere in the middle. The idea isn’t fully formed yet, but I’m thinking there will be some kind of mechanic which allows you to cement a certain detail of your story as truth; ensuing stories must accept this kernel of truth. Maybe it’s kind of a PvP-ish thing, in which players come into conflict and jockey for their version of events to be accepted as true, or rather, more of their version to be accepted as true than anyone else’s.


19 11 2007

Nov. 21st edit: I just started reading Shooting the Moon today, and a lot of the ideas I had for Created— the obstacle stuff especially– already exist in Emily’s game, and are awesome and elegant. I think that, should I finish Created, it will be a really odd hack of StM. (I should find out if Emily will mind.)

So these are the notes I wrote up during my four-hour layover in Cincinatti. I realize that two-player relationship games have been covered pretty thoroughly, but this is kind of approaching self-realization through the back door of interpersonal interaction, I guess. The point of the game is to discover who your character is through what your character wants. And to demonstrate an important concept: just because it’s meant to be, doesn’t mean you can’t screw it up.

This is super rough and missing a bunch of things even in what’s already been written, so bear with me.


“I dreamt you
I drew you
Long before I thought that I might never find you
I chased you
I traced you
And held your picture up into the light”

-Mike Errico, “Ever Since”

The characters in Created meet under miraculous circumstances; one character makes something which affects the other, and brings both together. Decide what these circumstances are, and what the object is. Here are some examples:

  • An artist paints a series of pictures of a woman without reference, just from his imagination. During his exhibition, a patron asks him how long her roommate has been posing for him. The artist explains the paintings were done without a model. The patron offers to introduce the two.
  • A man happens to be in a bar one night while a no-name musician is passing through on a small road-trip tour of the country. One of the songs is so heartwrenchingly beautiful that he can’t stop thinking about it for weeks. Despite her lack of fame (and her resulting obscurity), the man is determined to find her and let her know how she touched his life.
  • A woman buys a handmade rocking chair from a flea market; the chair is lovely and comfortable and comforting, and signed with a small carved symbol. This chair becmes part of the woman’s nightly ritual, and as she becomes more enamored with it, she becomes more curious about the carpenter. She goes back to the flea market and tells the seller that she wants to buy more things by that artist; the seller has no idea where the chair came from originally, but gives the number of his supplier. She follows the trail until she finds the carpenter.

Character Creation

Each person has a paper doll; there are six places on which clothing can be attached to the doll, and twelve articles of clothing; two per slot. Each piece of clothing represents a different quality. Each person takes turns choosing an article of clothing; the other person gets what is left. Choose what your character longs for, not what your character is. Choosing goes in this order:

  • Feet: down to earth vs. in the clouds
  • Legs: adventure vs. home
  • Hands: building vs. touching
  • Arms: embracing vs. striking
  • Chest: armor vs. vulnerability
  • Mask: wit vs. beauty

The doll you have is, in fact, the other player’s character.

“I looked up at your window
Hand out as if to touch you
You used to be so perfect
Why did I ever meet you”

-Lucky Boys Confusion, “South Union”

Now you get to decide a conflict. Each player comes up with a reason why their character should not get involved with the other. Maybe their character is moving in two weeks, or is already involved with someone, or has taken a vow of chastity, or comes from a wildly different social class or culture. Each character should bring their own conflict to the table; obviously the conflicts are problematic for both characters, but the one you choose is the one most important for you.

Finally, on a small slip of paper, write down the one thing your character wants most from the other: not love or devotion, but a specific sign of or sacrifice for that love or devotion. It can be informed by the other character’s conflict and traits; it should not be something easy.

Play is staged in six scenes; each scene involves struggling with and trying to solve the relationship conflicts while discovering the differences between the two characters. The scene order is: mask, chest, arms, hands, legs, feet. There will be interesting mechanics and more stuff talking about scene framing, and at the end you figure out if what you thought you wanted was, in fact, accurate; sometimes the relationships we learn the most from are the ones that show us that we don’t always know what we want at all.

It’s Complicated: first playtest

11 11 2007

Huge thanks to Shreyas, Tom, Dave, Charlotte, and Liam for helping me take this game out for a spin. It was.. totally indescribable to have people actually following rules I wrote! And frustrating when the rules’ failings became obvious. And amazing when things worked well! Here is what I learned:

  • The R-Map Twister chart was called “genius” three separate times. Everyone loves it. I’m psyched.
  • I thought the first scene might be boring due to exposition? Try almost every scene other than the last few. The first round of Oddity and Dysfunction placement needs to happen before the first scene is ever framed; probably without any lines touching or crossing.
  • I need to emphasise the flow of “Due to [Oddity], I [Dysfunction.]” The Dysfunction is a direct, external expression of an internalized Oddity.
  • Since the game creates  the framework for character development, the main thing the players really have to bring is the action in any given scene– coming up with a strong sense of what the backdrop is for the scene points is vital, otherwise it’s people standing around expositing.
  • Apparently people like the fact that you mold a scene around the different notes you have to hit.
  • Instead of declaring the nature of every Oddity/Dysfunction/Relationship being revealed in a scene before it happens, the player should be free to reveal as much or as little as they want, for surprise reveals if desired.
  • The key to a tight scene is not having more PCs in it than you need.
  • Some of the coolest scenes are when a PC declares their side of a relationship with another PC.. And the second PC is not in the scene.
  • Giving the first player a second turn at the end creates a neat little hook that makes you look forward to the next session.

I’m sure I’m forgetting a ton– the guys gave me amazing feedback. I hope we can do it again at some point, so I can see if a non-establishing session really cooks!

Balancing Act

6 11 2007

So I think I have a more unified mechanic for Addict. Having three separate systems for resolution wasn’t very elegant, so I’ve been trying to think for the last few days about a system which could take care of all three. My daughter woke me up insanely early this morning and did not want to hang out in my room, so I got my spiral notebook and a mechanical pencil and hashed this out analogue-style.

Sure, addiction is about filling a void– but that’s the addiction itself. Trying to kick the addiction, which is what the game is about, is a careful balancing act. You need things to lean on until you’re strong enough to not need crutches; you have to be dependent on something, but if you’re too dependent, it will be impossible to ever walk on your own.

You start with 8 Obsession Points, 4 Resolve Points, and 4 Dependency Points. Assign those Dependency Points to between 2-4 Dependencies. This creates balance! If you ever have more Obsession Points than you have in combined Resolve and Dependency Points, you relapse.

When you relapse, your Dependency Points go away; the only way to get back to balance is by burning off Obsession Points by injuring your relationships and resisting recovery.

When you face a Trigger, you gain a point of Obsession. You then call on a Dependency to restore balance; roll a d10. If the result is 1 or 2, you lose a point of Dependency and gain a point of Obsession. (Since you are able to have more points in your Dependency/Resolve pool than Obsession, this will not always send you into relapse.) If the result is 3-6, you neither gain nor lose, and must try again. If you get 7-10, you successfully get another Dependency point.

However! If you ever gain points in a single Dependency which are equal to your Obsession Points, that Dependency becomes another Obsession. Those points are removed from the game, which may send you into relapse.

This seems more complicated but perhaps less confusing; I don’t know. I have a niggling sensation that it might not be a great idea to write crunch at 7 AM.

I also had a weird idea last night/this morning for a paper-doll based Pygmalion game inspired by Lucky Boys Confusion and Mike Errico.  It is probably too nuts to ever possibly publically explain without embarrassment. And also, man, it would be nice to have ideas which do not revolve around dysfunctional relationships; why are functional relationships so boring for exploration with roleplaying? I’d like to think it’s because functional relationships are ground which is richly covered by real life, but that might be naivete.

Overall game themes

2 11 2007

I was talking with Liam last night about a bunch of thematic stuff in regards to Addict; naturally my computer crashed in the night, I did not have the foresight to save the log, and I barely remember the conversation because it occured at 1 AM. What I do remember seems pretty important, though, so I’ll post about it, and I’m sure everything else will show up in bits and pieces later.

I’ve got an important question, and please, if you’ve been stopping by here much at all, I would love if you’d answer it for me: to you, what do you see this game as being about?

Liam doesn’t like the rules which tie the characters together socially and emotionally, because he believes this game is just as affective if it’s about four drunks dying alone. I was surprised, because– as I keep saying– this is not supposed to be a game specifically about substance abuse. It’s a game about recovering from dysfunction and obsession, whatever those dysfunctions or obsessions are. The game in my mind was centered around dysfunctional relationships– because your relationship with your Obsession is so dysfunctional, ALL of your relationships become dysfunctional. I am starting to get the feeling that this is not what my game does well.

I’ve spent a lot of time and energy trying to appropriately model the experience of addiction and recovery, which can be a rewarding narrative on its own; since addiction is such an intensely nuanced thing, I don’t know that there’s room in the system for even more relationship-based mechanics than I’ve got, or how much that would muddy the experience. And, I mean, addiction is essentially a relationship between the addict and the obsession; everything else really is incidental. So if this really is where this game is headed, I can accept that.

I’m thinking that once I’ve got Addict in a marginally workable, first-draft-completion kind of form, I’m going to take the lessons I learned here and write a game that really focuses on quirky, broken dynamics between emotionally close people, within a family or close group of friends. Probably with a lighter tone, because man, addiction is Sadville USA, population: one.

Maybe someday I’ll write a game about happy, functional people having healthy relationships and, I don’t know, hugging puppies and planting flowers. We’ll see.