No se apoye contra la puerta

20 03 2008

Waiting ’til Wednesday:

 Notes for an M Doughty Roleplaying Board Game

To play this game, you need:

  •  A large map of the United States
  • A shitty-looking matchbox car
  • A deck of playing cards
  • A deck of dream cards (included)

The concept:

You are a singer-songwriter drowning in self-destruction and loneliness. Your name begins with the letter M,
because that’s what people call you. You’re driving from LA to NYC in your shitty car, stopping to play accoustic concerts in dive bars along the way in order to write new material and fund the trip and find yourself. There’s a metamorphic shadow woman who haunts your dreams; you don’t know who she is or where to find her, but she gives you lyrics for sad and poignant songs. It’s Thursday.

The goal: to kick heroin and make it to NYC by Wednesday.

How it works, maybe:

There are three stats: Car, Heroin, and Girl. If Car hits zero, your car is busted. Game over. If Heroin hits zero, you get penalties during your concert performances, but you need to hit zero before you get to NYC. If Girl hits zero, you don’t get any new songs. Lots of car doesn’t do anything in particular; your car is always shitty at best. Maybe you get special car songs that aren’t as good as the songs about shadow women but people like to sing along to them anyway. Lots of girl gives you more songs for your concerts! Lots of heroin gives you concert bonuses.

Every concert you have gives you points, which you can spend on your three traits.

Insert concert rules, possibly stolen and warped from Dev’s awesome game Ancient Committee is an Emo Band here

Insert stuff about the dream cards, which you draw at the beginning of rounds and have snatches of lyrics on them which affect play in certain ways, here


Minigame fun

16 03 2008

So I’m away from my computer (no monitor yet), and therefore away from my draft-in-progress of It’s Complicated. I’m still itching to work on a game though, but I don’t think the game I’m itching to work on is that one, since I’ve got some serious writer’s block there.

I’m toying with the idea of writing a minigame based on the music of Mike Doughty– lots of travelling the country in shitty cars, chasing metamorphic shadow women, trying to kick heroin and make something beautiful. We’ll see.

Belatedly Jiffy

13 03 2008

So last weekend, Shreyas and I headed to Boston for some great gaming and great friend-time at JiffyCon. It was a fantastic time, and I got to see a lot of my favorite people and play two of my now favorite games!

Annalise, by Nathan Paoletta: I hate horror games for two reasons– I’m easily scared, and horror games either are scary or stupid. I don’t like cheesy suspense or ridiculous tropes, and I don’t want to be up all night freaking out or have nightmares. I’d heard excellent things about Annalise, including stuff about the “secret” mechanic which I thought might be a great jumping-off point for an issue we’ve been having over at Two Scooters with Thousand-Leaved Grass, so I decided I’d risk being scared silly or bored sleepy and sign up for the playtest. The system sounded cool, and I figured even if the game wasn’t my thing, I’d get to see something interesting in action.

The game was an obscene amount of fun. Obscene.

Annalise isn’t just a vampire game; it’s hard to describe what it is. It’s a puzzle, it’s dark and lovely but not sad or spooky: it’s suspenseful without nailbiting, introspective and badass at the same time. There’s a surprising amount of revelatory moments for a GMless game; you never know what’s going to happen, or how things will turn out. It was one of the finest play experiences I’ve had in a long time, and I want to play again soon, and badly.

Mist-Robed Gate, by Shreyas Sampat: You might claim that I am biased when it comes to this game, since its origins are rooted in me tugging on Shreyas’ sleeve and saying “Could you write me an Exalted game without all the suck and superpowers? You know, something sad and wuxia based, all tears and kung fu?” And you’d be right. But as anyone who was at JiffyCon (or anywhere in Central Square, I think) can attest due to the insanely loud, boisterous playtest, any bias I have is totally irrelevant in the face of the awesomeness that is this game.

What is there to say? There’s a knife-passing ritual with an actual knife that is one of the most viscerally affecting experiences I’ve had in a roleplaying game. The game generation system creates stories which are complex and nuanced and still familiar somehow. The color is astonishing. The game needs a combat system, but other than that, it was essentially completely finished out-of-the-box, which is a hell of an accomplishment for a first playtest. That was the single best playtest I’ve ever experienced, and one of the best game sessions of my life, period. I want a weekly game of Mist-Robed Gate so badly I can taste it.

Oh, I should have mentioned

1 03 2008

My apologies for falling off the radar for a while. I’ve been gearing up for a big move; this Wednesday I’m picking up and heading to western Massachusetts. I’ve got a place to live and job interviews and all of that good stuff already handled, but getting ready for such a drastic change of scenery has put my game projects on hold. I’ll hopefully get back into the swing of things as soon as my monitor and keyboard arrive at my house (I’m shipping them the day before I move), and I’ll see some of you folks the following weekend at JiffyCon!

Secrets of the City: a hack of It’s Complicated?

1 03 2008

So, I’ve been trying to figure out the best way to express setting for It’s Complicated. Currently, it’s going to be represented by a haphazard photo album in the back of the book, but here’s the intial idea I had for setting. It turned out that it altered gameplay in a fundamental way, taking the emphasis off of the interpersonal interactions and emotional issues of the characters and putting it on to the wackiness of the setting. I think this is an awesome game, but it’s also not the game I’ve written. So here’s the hack.

Secrets of the City

The City is under quarentine; no one can enter or leave. The reason for this is up to the players; there can be some sort of exotic contagion going around, or maybe no one ever leaves and it’s not for any particular reason. Any reason is an acceptable reason.

The City has issues. These issues include Oddities and Dysfunctions! If you’re playing a Buffy-inspired game, a Dysfunction would be something like “Corrupt Government officials” and an Oddity would be “Hellmouth.” Or for a more realistic game, a Dysfunction would be “very little petty crime,” and the Oddity would be “Extremely powerful organized crime family.”

Instead of the last person to frame a scene placing their traits and line first, the City always places first. The City can be run by a GM, or if a group prefers, the City’s traits can be decided by consensus. When you cross the City, your character declares feelings towards it– The City never declares relationships. When you touch one of its traits, you become involved in some of the City’s intrigue– in the previous examples, you get absorbed into the crime family, or get blackmailed by a corrupt official.

Other than that, play is as normal.

Play Unsafe and writing dangerously

31 01 2008

Graham Walmsley released his well-received roleplaying handbook, Play Unsafe, as a PDF earlier today. Since I’m in the process of packing up my worldly belongings to ship them elsewhere, I haven’t been keen on the idea of getting more stuff shipped here, so I’d been waiting for the digital download. I’m glad he finally released it in PDF form, and I think the price ($10) is perfect for what you get.

There’s a lot that’s good about Play Unsafe, so much in fact that we should get the only negative out of the way– that way, when you buy this (and you should buy this) you don’t ask, “Elizabeth! Why didn’t you tell me about the layout?” It’s not the best. Sometimes the blockquotes are hard to read. It’s not slick eye-candy, and you squint sometimes, but it’s worth dealing with that for the content.

Let’s get the normal review bits out of the way too, so we can get to what I’m truly excited about: the tone of the book is great. Graham talks quite a bit about playing outside the comfort zone, about relating things to personal tastes and fears– and he brings up some of his own. The tone is conversational without being too talky, and the fact that he brings himself into the equation does nice things; if, as he says, we tend to dislike characters with status higher than our own, the fact he speaks to the reader as a peer is probably one of the reasons this book is so likeable.

The content is spot-on. There are a lot of important concepts: collaborate with the players, don’t plan ahead, don’t try to be too clever, just build on the story as an ensemble. Create mysteries and solve them together. Figure out how to reincorporate elements, and be aware of accidental promises you make to the other players. My favorite bit of advice is one I’ve always tried to live by, so it only makes sense that it works for roleplaying too:

If you find something difficult, do it until it’s not. If something scares you, do it until it doesn’t.

The thing that excites me the most about Play Unsafe, however, is the idea of reversing the information here. There are games which encourage the kind of play this book evangelizes– Jonathan’s Transantiago is the immediate example that comes to mind, and I think there’s a decently-sized chunk of it in It’s Complicated as well. But why stop with rules that merely encourage this kind of play? Why not make games which specifically, through the mechanics and the general system requirements, prohibit planning? Railroad the players into spontanaeity and collaboration?

I feel like this approach could be the direct response needed to the great conversations Jonathan and Chris Chinn have been starting about RPGs and our wargamer roots. If non-gamers don’t understand stats, why have them? Everyone understands stories. If you give people the tools to tell compelling and fun stories with a minimum of effort– enjoyable effort– then, well, I think you’ve got a game worth playing, for gamers and non-gamers alike.

If you’re already playing games from the frontier, the concepts in this book might not seem too new to you– but if you’re having trouble wrapping your brain around some less mainstream games, you’ll find this a godsend. If you’re designing games on the frontier, these are concepts you may have thought about but not known how to articulate– this book is a great reminder of how deceptively simple it can be to create enjoyable play. And if you’re anyone who likes RPGs at all– but especially someone transtioning from the world of trad gaming– get yourself this book. When everyone at the table can point out why a story is good, and everyone has the confidence to adapt and trust and keep from trying too hard.. Well, that’s a game I’d want to play in.

It’s Complicated: cover in progress

29 01 2008


Art by George Cotronis