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.


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.

JiffyCon awesomeness

18 11 2007

So I got back from five days of awesomeness a few hours ago. Josh and Casey were phenomenal hosts, Shreyas was impossibly delightful (as one might imagine) as an adventuring companion, and JiffyCon was sublime.

The first game I played was Transantiago, which was as good as I thought it would be. I think the playtest pointed out some important things, and also showed that the game is really playable and full of vitality; I can’t wait to see its final incarnation.

Meg Baker saw me standing, hopeless and indecisive, by the signup sheets for the afternoon session, took pity on me, and squeezed me into her full game of 1001 Nights. I gushed at Meg at length about her game, and I believe most of the rest of the indie RPG world (you know, the people who played at least one indie RPG before.. yesterday, unlike myself) already knows that 1001 is fantastic, so I won’t gush too much. But I adore that you choose dice for beauty, that you tell stories within stories, and that the mechanics are so elegant and simple– there’s so much complexity with the individual stories and the meta-story, and playing characters which, in turn, play multiple characters, that it’s great that the dice are so simple. You get all of that dense, nuanced complexity with the plot and not the mechanics; the difference between 1001 Nights and D&D is the difference between baklava and a calculus textbook. Plus, the group was a blast to game with.

I was really excited that I got a chance to meet so many new people, and got to connect with so many online friends. Emily and Kat (I wish I knew her screenname, if any) really kind of encouraged me to dust off the wacky artsy Pygmalion concept I had a while ago, so a lot of ideas for that game started to come together during my layover in Cincinatti tonight. I’ll type those up either tonight or tomorrow. And I am now the proud owner of both Breaking the Ice and Shooting the Moon, not to mention the first three volumes of Scott Pilgrim! So I’m knee-deep in reading material for quite some time.

I feel energized and inspired!

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.