Of prophets and home towns

This is posted as a PSA or didactic point that game design fumbles and bumps its way along, requiring “encounter with the enemy” in order to know what is and isn’t working. Nearly everything you see in the video underwent sandblasting after this discussion, so it’s an exercise in discovery. I hope that makes sense to people who are currently working on their own games, and that however certain or instructive one may seem at the table, the design itself is subject to change based on how it went, often based on intangibles or “negative space” in the interactions.

This is for Dreams of Fire, conceived as a companion game to Circle of Hands.

Someone’s bound to ask, so, “Hey, are you designing another game?” (bonus points for “But what about [insert title here]?” The answer is that designing game B is a great way to let your brain work on designing game A with less stress. … That’s an answer; another valid explanation would simply be that I’m a hopeless head-case.

I should also clarify that, these days, I don’t work with deadlines and announcements (the more so now that I just spent a year doing exactly that). I’m designing a bunch of things “in my backpack,” and whatever gets some progress will get it in due time. It’s true that I’d like to get back to Vigil. This and the early-RuneQuest mod that I’m playing around with are perhaps a way of clearing my head of other superhero games in preparation for doing that.

Now for the point: in the Design Curriculum series, Justin and I talked about the back-and-forth process of character creation (and other creative/set-up prep), meaning switching-up cognitive acts in a specific sequence. Sometimes you pick from a list, sometimes you roll for a value, sometimes you assign points, sometimes you make something up … in s specific series, with each new step considering the entire product of what has gone before.

This is an incredibly important phenomenon which has received way too little attention. After this discussion, I decided the sequence needed changing, and here’s what it looks like now:

  • Roll 3 dice to discover the eligible family background and profession options (there are six; you will have one to three, and you can assign which is which)
  • [from those dice, also] Set base scores
  • Choose Traits for final score values; this also sets ethnicity, which provides the range of names or phonemes associated with names, as well as minor city knowledge
  • If you haven’t nailed down the background and profession, do it now
  • Roll 3 more dice to discover Status (Power + Reputation); also to establish the type of what you cherish (Love, Value, or Hope)
  • Choose the eligible social rank (this is limited by Traits and details of Status; it’s impossible to be eligible for all four)
  • Make up what you cherish

This back-and-forth is quite compelling and maximizes the enthusiasm that arose too late during the session, partly due to my mistake in skipping Status, partly because I didn’t have the right sequence yet. And wouldn’t have had unless I tried out the first version of it.

I’ll make a little video for it later for the comments.

Here’s an idea I developed from some dialogue you’ll see in the video as well: that at least two of the above steps (family background and profession) provide the player with customized maps of the city. So if you grew up as a scholar, you have a different “view” of the city from someone who grew up as a soldier; if you are now a venture merchant, you have a different understanding of the city’s position and resources from an administrator. You therefore have a personalized pair of maps of the city, as a setting resource and as a unique lens for your character.

Also, I now have a pretty good grip on the magic, which I was almost free-associating in the discussion. The same idea applies, regarding heartbreak and social deficits, but it’s much less clunky or threat/punishment than what I semi-articulated there. I pulled up every artifact image from Alpha, Arabian Nights, and Antiquities, and the whole mechanics for it just fell into my brain from there.

And wait ’til you see the rules for the Visions, i.e., the fire-demons, which are now extremely awful and thrilling. They require encounter with actual players too, in order for me to assess and very likely completely rewrite them as I did here with character creation. In the video, Aybars was reasonably curious about what play looks and feels like, especially how the player-characters have anything to do with one another, and I think that is well in place now. I really look forward to seeing whether it runs, including whether it doesn’t so I know what to do.

6 responses to “Of prophets and home towns”

  1. Reaction

    Listening to the video, things which leapt out at me as being hooks for interest are:

    • Normal characters in abnormal times
    • Visions being the impetus for characters to act and see the world differently
    • Visions being sent by ? about ? leading to the need for decision and interaction
    • Growing familiarity with a locale (the holy city) 
    • Growing familiarity with the Visions and whatever that comes to entail
    • My list is similar, focusing

      My list is similar, focusing very hard on "ordinary life" for the characters, so that the weirdness is genuinely disruptive to their obligations and goals. Rather than take hours to front-load a bevy of family and acquaintances for each one, I think I'll borrow a little bit from Shahida, and provide a blank relationship map so they can invent kin and other very close ties as they go along, but with structure so they're not forced to spitball.

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