morsla: (mantis04)
Most of these thoughts end up locked away in Evernote these days, but I thought I'd put this one out in semi-public. It helps to keep me accountable, and if it turns out to be a terrible idea I can point to major sleep deprivation clouding my judgement. Today isn't a great day for being able to string coherent words or thoughts together.

I want to run a short RPG set in the time before your typical Changeling story would take place. It's a story following some of the Lost through the hedge and into Arcadia, where they find themselves part of a world of unbridled madness; continually shaped and reshaped by the capricious entities that have carved out realms to suit their every desire. Maybe some of them will find their way back, though that's a story for another day. Most will fight against the changing world for a while, then gradually embrace the new powers it gives them. Some will embrace it too closely, losing the path that might one day lead them back home again. It's a story about imagination and transcending the mundane, and about the darker things that lie within all good fairy tales.

I think that the perfect rules-light system to handle this type of story is Don't Rest Your Head, with one small tweak. Discipline is still what lets the characters hold themselves together; Madness remains a source of dangerous, easy power if they want to risk delving into it. I'm renaming the iconic Exhaustion concept (a cumulative boost in power the longer you force yourself to remain awake, destined to ultimately crash you when you use it too much) for Belief. It works exactly the same way, but represents how much the characters begin to accept the weird world they find themselves in. To survive in this new realm you'll need to believe at least a few impossible things before breakfast. Believe too many though, and you might never make it back home - or if you do, you'll be so changed by your time away that you never fit back into the world you left.

DRYH is a simple but elegant narrative system that focuses on the stories of the characters, rather than crunchy rules about how to resolve all the minutiae. It takes all of five minutes to learn, helping to avoid the yet-another-game overload for a group that already plays a lot of different games. Most importantly, it does exactly what I want it to: taking characters away from humdrum reality and dropping them down a rabbit hole into a place where dreams can literally shape the world.

On a related note, Don't Rest Your Head is especially relevant after a small person has screamed in your face until 4AM. I am waiting for my insomniac superpowers to kick in at any moment.
morsla: (lookin)
As often happens when surrounded by work, I've been thinking about games.

[livejournal.com profile] jod999 organised a group to talk about games - kind of like a book club, but talking about computer games instead. I enjoyed the first meeting this week, using Osmos as a starting point - I bought a copy last week, and [livejournal.com profile] aeliel and I have been playing the hell out of it on the iPad. It works really well on a touch screen, even if I'm still to master any of the orbital levels. As with most computer games, [livejournal.com profile] aeliel is much better at it than I am.

I've also found myself trying to be as minimalist as possible for ages after playing it. Do I click on this thing in the web browser? No, just wait until the page you were looking for drifts into view. It's hard to shake out of that kind of slow, ambient mood.

Back in 2001, Ron Edwards wrote an essay on "GNS" for The Forge. It broke gaming down into three main categories - Gamism, Narrativism and Simulationism. I'm sure there are other ways of breaking down the genres, but it's the one that has stuck with me over the years..

"Gamey" games can be great, but I'm not very interested in them as roleplaying games. I love games that are challenging to learn, master and win - but that is why I play miniatures systems like Warmachine. Roleplaying game mechanics are peripheral to the story for me: I enjoy them when they are invisible, and when they don't get in the way of story-driven decisions.

As you can probably tell, narrative games are the reason I like roleplaying. If I'm playing an RPG, I'm there for the story. Not just the story being told by the person running the game - if I wanted a static story, I'd read a novel. I want to see how it evolves once there are living characters in that world. I've happily played in games with no rules or system at all, but I also like games that are designed to encourage the creation of a story.

Simulation-style games bore me to tears. I couldn't care less how accurate or realistic a system is, as long as it doesn't break my suspension of disbelief while I'm playing. It's partly a streamlining thing: I'm yet to see something elegant that captures all the detail a simulation wants to cover, as the default style appears to be pages of bloated, over-complex rules. I'll pass on these ones.

Years later, some people on RPG.net coined a tongue-in-cheek movement of their own: Cheetoism. "We game for the snacks. And also the dice. But mostly, just to hang out with friends and tell tall stories." I think that really sums up the thing I most enjoy about all the time spent with [livejournal.com profile] miss_rynn, [livejournal.com profile] bishi_wannabe, [livejournal.com profile] mousebane, [livejournal.com profile] aeliel, [livejournal.com profile] umbra_mentis and Lon over the years. There have been lots of games, using lots of different systems. But ultimately it's been an excellent excuse to spend time with friends, eat more than we really ought to, and tell stories.
morsla: (troll)
This is the start of a character idea for [livejournal.com profile] miss_rynn's Changeling: The Lost game. I've cheated a little, by adapting a character concept that only saw one session of play in a much older Changeling game.

Alistair Cowl's childhood was marked by strict expectations and solemn, disappointed reproach when those expectations were not met. His parents were brilliant doctors - one a cardiac surgeon, the other an optometrist. Long before having children, they had mapped out careers for each of their offspring. After his brother and sister had entered medical school, it was assumed that Alistair would soon follow suit to qualify as a dentist.

But Alistair lacked the drive that had spurred his siblings to greatness. His grades were never good enough, and the course offer never arrived. On a special appeal from his father, Alistair was granted an interview with the university panel: one final chance to convince them that he could meet his parents expectations. True to form, he flunked it.

Sitting on the university lawn, wondering how to explain this latest failure to his family, he saw a tiny, wizened figure pulling a cart across the lawn. The man stood scarcely taller than a blade of grass, and strained against the weight of his cart. Alistair remembered stories about the Fair Folk - little leprechauns, able to grant wishes - and smiled, thinking that he had finally discovered a solution to his problems. He trapped the little man under a bottle cap, and demanded help: he would become a talented dentist, successful in his practice, and his family would be proud of their son. From beneath the bottle cap, the man spoke: "I accept your contract." Alistair freed the tiny creature, and all went dark.

When his vision returned, Alistair found himself in Arcadia - servant to the Merchant of Ivory. At normal size, his keeper was horrifying... hunched and twisted; scowling face nestled among garlands of human teeth. At first, Alistair simply pulled the Merchant's cart as they travelled the land, buying and selling slave-children for the nobility. Later, Alistair was given a more gruesome task: drawing the valuable baby teeth from the children. When their teeth grew back, the children were sold on as "undamaged" specimens - though the merchant's ivory stood as tangible reminder of their terrified captivity.

For one season each year, they sheltered in a court where the Merchant had some influence. Here, Alistair stole away from his keeper when he could, in order to speak with others who had been kidnapped. Each year, some of the court's changelings had vanished, and he grew more hopeful of escaping Arcadia - until finally he had an opportunity to break the chain that tied him to the Merchant's wagon, and flee.

Returning to the mortal world, Alistair tried to visit his family. But several years had passed, and the fetch left in his place had grown to be the ideal son... studious and successful where Alistair was not, and the very image of his parent's dreams. They would not believe that the wild-eyed stranger was their true son, and called the police when he tried to force his way into their home.

Forced to begin a new life, he has fallen back on the thing he has come to know best: teeth. Unregistered and lacking formal qualifications, he can rarely practice in one location for long. But the parents of his young patients find a grudging respect for his unorthodox methods - as scared as the appointments make them, the children become fastidious about their health lest they earn another trip to see Mister Cowl.

And if, sometimes, he might be a little too enthusiastic at pulling those teeth... at least those children will be a little less attractive to creatures like the Merchant, and a little less likely to meet the same fate that he did...

Alistair seeks some kind of closure on his old family life - even if that is simply accepting that they are no longer a family for him. He is a reasonably skilled medic, and strong as an ox from his ordeal in Arcadia; stubborn and loyal as a bulldog, and prepared to lend brutal and violent support to aid his new friends.

Mister Cowl is as close to an old-changeling Redcap as I can make him: an Ogre from the Gristlegrinder kith, with leathery skin and blunt, grinding teeth that can devour just about anything (via the Iron Stomach merit). His magic comes from the contracts of Fleeting Autumn (inspiring fear) and Stone (battering aside obstacles and brawling with a terrible rage).
morsla: (mantis04)
[livejournal.com profile] qwade ran an old-school Worlds of Darkness game last weekend - in which a group of Mages, Werewolves and one very lost Kuei-Jin ran around trying (with, er, 'limited success') to prevent the western suburbs of Melbourne from being torn to shreds by escaped laboratory creations. It was a good chance to get out of the house and see people. I was also amused by the way an "old fashioned" pen and paper RPG works when almost everyone at the table has a tablet or smartphone... text search and PDF rules reduces all that time spent looking for rules, and you can also conjure up maps and aerial photos on a whim.

[livejournal.com profile] miss_rynn mentioned Changeling on Tuesday night, when we were talking about games that we've loved (or hated) in the past. I bought a copy of Changeling: The Lost today, and had a look through it on my lunchbreak. I haven't looked at any of the newer Worlds of Darkness games yet, as we've been playing other systems (Exalted, Weapons of the Gods, D&D) since it was released. I'm impressed with the breadth of the game, from my first glance at it.

The game is a lot sleeker than it used to be. I loved the old Changeling game, but it had some terrible flaws. Mechanically, a lot of it really didn't work alongside anything else in the setting. The character types felt fairly restrictive straight from the main book, and only became more interesting as new books were published. The new game takes a much older look at the Changeling story: characters that have been spirited away into other realms, and changed by their time away. When they finally return to earth they discover that they are nothing like the creatures they once were, and they also find that they aren't the only ones to have made that journey.

Most importantly, every Fae archetype that I can think of can be brought to life straight away. I haven't had a single idea so far that caused me to go "oh, but I can't actually play one of those in this game." I like games that help to build on the imagination of the players, instead of restricting it.
morsla: (Dawn1)
Some time in the last couple of days, I've forgotten how to sleep. I've tried just waiting for sleep to arrive (unsurprisingly, it didn't). I've tried getting out of bed and doing some exercise to get the blood flowing (still no luck - just ended up with weary and sore muscles). Now I've started writing (or typing) until I can't focus on what I'm doing any more. It's been marginally more successful, but I'm still sitting here at 2:30am...

Last night, [livejournal.com profile] aeliel and I went to see Inception at the Nova. I really enjoyed it - it's a beautifully constructed film, and manages to successfully juggle four or more simultaneous stories taking place at different speeds. A relatively small group of concepts used in their dreamscapes (subconscious projections, acceptance of the dream, the 'jump' and a dream's collapse) are used in a consistent way to build some great stories.

A few hours after seeing the film, I headed out to the couch and grabbed my laptop. By about 4am I had written my first properly fleshed out roleplaying system. It takes some of the dreamscape concepts from Inception, and adds some other elements that I wanted to play with: a player-driven mechanic for increasing the challenge in each scenario (think Grand Theft Auto's threat ratings), a cooperative-play mechanism where the group always has tangible goals to work towards, and a way to manipulate the "luck" element of the game via player skill.

It's going through the hypothetical Jye-and-Lon tests at the moment :)

Test 1: the Gamist. When treated purely as a mechanical system and pushed to its limits in order to "win" the game, does the game still require active participation in the story by all the players? Are the mechanics robust enough to support the kind of story and gaming environment I want to achieve, without needing the GM to arbitrarily rule whether things can work?

Test 2: the Narrativist. Can players choose to make purely story-driven decisions in a way that's supported by the game mechanics? Are the underlying mechanics robust enough to keep things moving towards a shared story goal, regardless of what direction the players choose to take the story in?

I'm enjoying the mental challenge of thinking through the game design at the moment, and would like to try running a few games to try it out. I've drafted up a writing plan, and will keep chipping away at it while the muse (or the insomnia) take me. If I'm still happy with it in a few months, I'd like to take it through design and layout, and develop it into something I can sell through a site like IPR.

September 2014

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