Archive for October, 2007

Transantiago Draft Posted

2007 Oct 24

I didn’t get to polish it up as much as I’d like before the draft deadline, but a rough version of Transantiago is up. Once the game has been reviewed as part of the contest, I’ll probably polish it some more and make a few changes before playtesting it at JiffyCon in November. I promised Emily Care Boss I’d write a structured freeform game and bring it with me to try out. I think this one is it.

More Transantiago

2007 Oct 23

In a game of Transantiago, players take on the roles of characters who are interpretations of themselves — who have their own names and personal histories, aside from any events that “happen to them in Santiago” over the course of the game. The players should simply pretend that they are touristas visiting the Chilean capitol. If a given player has actually been to Santiago, they can choose to play themselves as an expatriado, an expatriate living in the city, someone with much more local experience than the average tourista.

The narrative portions of play take place entirely on the Santiago Metro. Anything that happens in another location must take place off camera. In this sense, the Santiago Metro is like the bar in Cheers; people exist outside of it, but you don’t see any of that portion of their lives. Characters can even meet, hang out, do things, sleep together, etc. but, if they don’t do it in the Santiago Metro, it’s not a part of the game, though discussions of outside events and the repercussions of them can be brought into play.

Separation Anxiety vs. the Madness of Crowds

Subways and public transportation in general is often used as a symbol of loneliness and solitude in movies and other media (frex: Evangelion). On public transport, crowds of people congregate in closed in spaces but everyone generally minds their own business, doesn’t talk to strangers, avoids eye-contact, engrosses themselves in a book or music, and generally pretends like no one else is there. Subways represent the social barriers of modernity that prevent people from connecting to each other.

Transantiago is about those same themes but in a very different way. The Santiago Metro is an overcrowded madhouse, not the kind of place where you spend your time shoegazing and pretending you’re not looking at the cute person sitting across the empty car from you. People are pushed up against each other until they can barely breathe. It it loud, smelly, and, most likely, people will know immediately that you are a foreigner and / or an outsider. There is a separation between you and those around you, but it is not a physical or socially imposed one (in fact, you may wish for more physical distance or a bubble of personal space), but one based on identity and culture.

Station to Station

Each station represents an opportunity for the characters to make a difference in the lives of other people, to have some interaction that goes beyond the usual pushing, shoving, and other rude treatment that occurs on the Santiago Metro. Each station is defined, then, by a particular Issue that, for some reason (practical or serendipitous), will not be properly addressed until one or more of the characters figures out how to deal with it. Each Issue can generally only be dealt with in the station in which it is originally located, but characters may be required to travel around the Metro in order to accomplish things or gather the resources necessary to address a given Issue. It is often necessary for a character to enlist the help of one or more other characters in order to deal with a particularly difficult Issue.

In the beginning, most Issues are normal, everyday problems that people have, but exaggerated to the point of being a little weird. For example, perhaps it’s raining outside and one older gentleman doesn’t have an umbrella, so he is stuck in the subway station, terrified of leaving it and going out in the rain. Or perhaps there is a baby that is crying inconsolably and its young mother seems unable to stop it. A hint of “modern fairy tale” style or X-Files supernatural weirdness is great, but make sure to keep it subtle, at least at first.

Interestingly, Issues evolve as characters try to address them. What seems at first to be a simple problem, a momentary issue that a foreigner can easily step in and help with (someone’s choking!), will undoubtedly end up drawing you into the grander mysteries of Transantiago. Issues evolve in the manner of traits in the Avatar game, where you keep track of the things characters did to attempt to address an Issue and, whenever the GM or Station Master (a player assigned control of a specific Station and its Issue) decides, alter the Issue a bit to reflect new developments. So, if a character finds an umbrella for the older gentleman, he will thank them profusely and then realize that he has a message that he needs delivered to a friend, a friend who lives… in a subway station that the characters have not even heard of (i.e. one that’s not even on the map yet).

In this way, Issues evolve similar to “fetch-quests” in Zelda or other adventure-oriented video games, always with something else to do, but they also get progressively weirder and more involved. Additionally, sometimes an Issue can seem to be wrapped up, but then return later. If a character manages to quiet the baby, perhaps the next incarnation of that Issue doesn’t appear until the next character happens through the station, at which point they see signs that indicate the baby was kidnapped by the “young mother” who was trying to quiet it.

There is no right or wrong way to address an Issue. This doesn’t, however, mean that any attempt at addressing an Issue will make it evolve in a new and interesting way. Sometimes Issues evolve in really mundane ways or ways that don’t necessarily indicate success. Perhaps you fail to quiet the baby, leading the young mother to decide that she doesn’t like you. That is certainly a development of the original Issue, if a pretty mundane one. Perhaps you steal an umbrella to give to the old man and end up being detained, lectured, and warned by the Transantiago Police. All of a sudden, the Issue may evolve to focus on your status as a known trouble-maker.

Right now, there are no resolution mechanics to decide how attempts to address an Issue are born out. I could leave it up to the whims of the GM or individual Station Masters, but that’s not all that interesting. This is, I suspect, the last core element of the game that needs to emerge before I’m ready to pull all this together and submit it.


Transantiago, as its name suggests, is a transitory place, a place that is developing, thanks to the Nasza Lines that run under all its tracks, into another realm, another plane of existence. It sits in-between this world and another world, a undeniably liminal space. As the Issues of its stations develop and are refined, they become larger and larger, weirder and weirder, closer and closer to this other space.

Eventually, when an issue is determined to encompass an entire station and all of the people in it, the GM or Station Master of that station says, “This Road Is Opened.” After that point, characters do not travel to that station any longer. It’s not that they CAN’T precisely, they just tend not to. Perhaps they might stop in that station in the process of addressing an Issue in another station, but that’s all. If this was a video game, everyone in the station, if you tried to talk to them, would say: “Thanks for all your help here! Good luck with the other parts of your quest!”

When all roads are opened… Transantiago transcends. What does that mean for you? Well, that depends on what’s happened to you in your game.


2007 Oct 23

Shreyas is working on a neat hack of my Avatar game over at Secret Wars. It’s a game about gods, the nations that honor them, and the people that have direct and personal relationships with them. He calls it Skyflower and it uses an interesting version of a “relationship map” as the chakra that determines scene framing, instead of the four-element chakra of Avatar.

Building a Subway

2007 Oct 23

This post explains the movement of pieces and the creation of subway lines in Transantiago. It does not explain the scenes that occur as a result of these movements. That is a whole different issue.

Starting Positions

Each player selects one space on the board to be the station at which they start out (stations are represented by colored circles). Players each choose a name for these starting stations from a list of the actual station names of Santiago’s underground. Each player also has a uniquely colored pawn that represents the their location in the Santiago Metro (the colored dot).

Basic Movement: The First Round of Turns

Players can move their pawns, in a straight or angled line, anywhere on the board, creating a “subway line” that follows the trail of their pawn. Lines cannot normally “branch” into multiple alternate lines, but must take the form of a single curving thread or a loop, just like most subway lines in the world. Pawns only move station-to-station, however, so wherever they stop becomes a new station if it isn’t already one, complete with a name chosen off the list. In the first example, below, the blue player moves their pawn north and creates a new station.

Following this move, the red player, who goes next, moves their pawn south and east, creating a new station in the bottom right corner.

Finally, the yellow player, going third, moves their pawn west. The yellow player is not able to move their pawn across the newly formed Red Line of the Santiago Metro without first creating a “transfer station” where passengers can switch from the Yellow Line to the Red Line. So the yellow player creates a station where their lines intersect.

More Complex Movement: The Second Round of Turns

In the second round, the blue player begins by doing the same thing the yellow player did on their turn, connecting up to the Red Line by creating a transfer station. The blue player does this by moving south, bypassing the station they started from, and expanding the Blue Line all the way to the bottom row. Players, when moving pawns, can bypass any number of established stations, stopping wherever they like as long as it’s on the same line they started on.

The red player, moving second, connects the Red Line up to the Blue Line at the northernmost blue station. Notice that, because the red player lands on a previously established station, they don’t have to create a new station.

Finally, even more interestingly, the yellow player, already sitting on a transfer station, moves down the Red Line to join the blue player at the newly-built transfer station on the Red & Blue Lines. Players can travel on each other’s lines whenever they like, but can only travel on a new line if they begin their turn on a transfer station. This means, in a given turn, a player can only travel on a single subway line, though they are free to switch lines however they want between turns. However, note that players cannot establish stations on other players’ lines. They are limited to traveling between previously established stations.

Other Types of Movement: The Third Round of Turns

First, the blue player moves parallel to the Red Line for a few spaces, but ultimately connects up to the original station on the Yellow Line. Multiple lines can move in parallel without necessarily establishing transfer stations in every space.

Next, the red player turns the Red Line into a loop by connecting up to the original station on their line. However, the red player chooses to bypass that station, since the red pawn doesn’t have to stop there to create it, and continues down the Red Line to finally stop at the transfer station connecting to the Yellow Line.

Finally, the yellow player make a somewhat unusual move, connecting up with their original station in a manner that seems backwards, moving from a station that’s not on the Yellow Line to a Yellow Line station. This is only possible if, as in this case, the move would be legal going from the other direction, that is, it does not create a fork in the line but merely extends it.

I’m still less than totally convinced that I should include this kind of movement, since it’s not as intuitive as the other kinds and breaks the basic rule of “yellow player on Yellow Line can extend or build stations on the line; yellow player on other players lines is limited to what the other players have built.”


The only type of movement I didn’t show here is the rare type of movement that involves forking a line. I’m not sure at this point if 1) I should allow this, even though it is reasonably common for one or two lines of a subway system to fork, though Santiago doesn’t have any forking lines, or, 2) if I were to allow forking, how it would work.

Creating New Lines

This only happens if you add new players to a game already in progress. If players leave the game or are absent for one or more sessions, their subway line still stands, but cannot be extended. New stations can still be added to it, but only by other players connecting their lines to it.

Visitor’s Guide to Transantiago

2007 Oct 22

This blog post is an amazingly cool guide to the Santiago Metro and has some great pictures as well.

Transantiago on NPR

2007 Oct 21

In Chile, Commuters Sue City Over Transit System — Julie McCarthy

To see why Transantiago is still dominating the headlines, cartoons, and congressional hearings, we descend into a cavernous subway station. Riders literally inch their way down broad corridors bulging with humanity, sullen and unsmiling. Queues are long and tempers short. Someone faints, but there is no room to fall down. Shaking his head, commuter Alejandro Gonzales says a million more people are now crowded onto the subways, since Transantiago did away with many of the old bus routes. But even though the subway now goes to more places, he says, it still cannot accommodate all the rush-hour riders.

Latin American Cities: Santiago — Martin Kaste

This is Santa Lucia Hill, a bluff that rises from the middle of downtown… From up here, Santiago’s problem is clear. The city sits in a bowl, the shear wall of the Andes to the west, a smaller mountain range to the east. A layer of grimy pollution blankets the whole thing, like skin on a pudding. Things are worst in the winter, when cold air traps the smog. Nearly six million people live here, 40% of Chileans, and the ever-growing population depends on urban factories and widespread car ownership.

Transantiago Basics

2007 Oct 21

Another month, another design contest. This one’s called Make Game$ Fast and it’s based on phrases pulled from spam email. I really, really like the format because there’s no unnecessary restrictions, just pure inspiration.

The game I’m writing is called Transantiago and it’s based on some interesting conversations I’ve been having recently with a couple different people about the capitol of Peru and its terrible, overcrowded subway system. It’s also got a bit of Dr. Who (the new one), Neverwhere, and this game that John Harper organized called The Line. There will probably be some speculation about Nazca lines too.

Here’s me explaining my plans so far to Shreyas:

me: so Transantiago
7:15 PM each player starts out with a pawn of a primary color
7:17 PM the movement of that pawn, initially, defines the track of the metro line of that color
Shreyas: okay
me: each player starts out on an arbitrary space on the map
which is a station of their choosing
7:18 PM they then move in one direction until they come to the End Of The Line or switch to another line
which means crossing onto a line defined by another player
7:19 PM Shreyas: mhm
this is starting out pretty boardgameish
me: yes
that's the base i'm building on
7:20 PM so… i want each station to be a combination Key, Dharma Path, and Lore Sheet
like the stars in Firmament, which this is a test run for
7:21 PM each one is a mystery that can be unlocked to allow the players to do different things
like build new lines
or connect distant stations together
which eventually opens this weird Nasca Line mystic chakra thing and ends the game
Shreyas: and that puts me in mind of Neverwhere
7:22 PM hold on for 2 minutes, i have to move my computer
me: okay
7:23 PM Shreyas: okay, i'm back
7:27 PM so, a station is a mystery, hm
that's interesting
what does one look like?
7:28 PM i'm thinking about how key/dharma/lore are kind of different ways to dissect the same kind of story organism
7:31 PM me: yeah
i'm not sure yet
i want them to evolve
7:32 PM and the design contraints mean i have a couple options, since i can't make a "monster manual" of them
i can have examples
or they can be really brief
or maybe i can offer the first few and then have the players invent them from there
i imagine they are characters or locations or other bits of setting to interact with
7:33 PM but ones that are bang-like in demanding the players' attention
but maybe they aren't triggered if the players are already dealing with too may problems
like, players could have several slots for problems
and, if they have an empty slot, a new one triggers when they encounter it
7:34 PM Shreyas: yeah, i think that is a good thing
me: i also want players to be able to trade off problems, so different players can complete different "stages" of the problem
i'm also not sure about people accomplishing things together
or whether there's always a point person
7:41 PM Shreyas: hmm
i'm trying to think of what makes mysteries interesting
7:42 PM but all my exposure is like to agatha christie, who is stylized in a really particular way…
7:43 PM where there is THE BIG MYSTERY, which is usually a smokescreen for some subtler crime, and some obvious suspects, and some clues that JUMP OUT at you as you encounter them
7:45 PM me: right
i definitely want more complex situations to arise from seemingly straightforward ones
7:46 PM Dharma Paths do that well
Shreyas: mhm
7:49 PM me: i guess i'm not sure how to structure them yet
also, i'm not sure if the mysteries are location specific
or player specific
do you carry them around like burdens?
or can you only work on them in the space in which they are happening?
Shreyas: my urge is to say they are local
7:50 PM which is probably agatha talking again…
me: right
i'm also unsure how to handle movement between stations
this is an attempt to complexify the chakra
Shreyas: i can imagine that some of them are more personal
i'm just not at all sure how that would be executes
7:51 PM me: maybe you can carry the mystery if you it becomes your own person problem, if you promise to solve it
Shreyas: yeah, sure.
7:52 PM regarding movement…i think maybe you might be able to move around pretty freely, except that you can be intercepted at a station if something problematic enough is going on there?
me: sure, that's possible
i had one idea, but i'm not sure how it works
it's like this: everyone has a clock
or a watch
when they do stuff, you move the watch to represent how much time has passed
7:53 PM Shreyas: mhm
me: when you switch turns, it always moves to the player with the earliest time showing
when two players meet each other, they "syncronize their watches"
playing out whatever events happen between them and changing their watches to match the same time at the end
7:56 PM Shreyas: hmm
then how do you decide which of them goes first next time around?
unless one of them meets up with another character in the meantime
8:00 PM me: well, they'll either still be together or they won't
if they're still together, they go together
if they're not, you just pick one, i guess

Angola Today

2007 Oct 14

The NYTimes has a neat article about present day Angola for Mwaantaangaand fans who might be curious.

Development Hell, Part 1

2007 Oct 11

A bunch of people on IRC made me write this game, but it basically wrote itself. Here’s the first part.

A Game About Making Games

Development Hell is inspired by the card game Mao, John Tynes’ account of the heyday of Wizards of the Coast, and too much time spent reading the White Wolf Developers Blog.


Tired of waiting for long-delayed supplements for your favorite game? Annoyed by the direction a new line developer is taking the game in? Rest easy! Now YOU can take on the role of a writer for your favorite game company and share in the fun of supplementing a game line into mediocrity, gonzo insanity, or oblivion! Enjoy the cathartic release of destroying things yourself and spend less time complaining while other people do it!

Development Hell offers you the opportunity to:

  • Include dozens of new character classes!
  • Invent ornate optional subsystems!
  • Split the game line into multiple incompatible lines!
  • Struggle to appeal to a different demographic!
  • Convert your game line to another, more popular game system!
  • Turn antagonist-only groups into viable character types!
  • Hire fans or other people you want to sleep with!
  • “Fix” previously “broken” mechanics!
  • Make the new edition backwards compatible!
  • Re-launch the game in a new era!
  • And so much more!

Game Line Creation

Start a game with a relatively simple or simplified set of rules: Basic Roleplaying, the D&D Basic Set, any of the White Wolf Quickstart booklets, GURPS Basic, Fudge, etc.

Name your game line. This needs to be something specific, not something general like Gameline: The Supplementing. Call it Spirit Knights of the Arctic Wastes or something. Talk a bit about what the corebook of the game line is like. What are the major character types? What are the major factions? What are the major antagonists? What parts of the game world are established from the beginning? If the basic rules you are starting with already establish these details, by all means, go with them.

Writer Creation

Each player, in addition to their role as a character or GM in the game, will also play a writer for the game line. At any given time, one of the writers will also be the Line Developer, but this is chosen after writer creation Writers have two permanent traits, Creed and Flaw, and one fluctuating trait, Mood. Each player should determine these for their writer in discussion with the other players.

A writer’s Creed represents their dominant motivating ideology. Perhaps they are anarcho-socialist, libertarian, fascist, feminist, neo-conservative, po-mo beatnik, nihilist, or polyamorous. Their Creed need not be political in nature, but it can be. It simply represents how they see the world and the subculture that they identify with.

A writer’s Flaw is a common indulgence or complaint that gets in the way of them being really productive or effective in their job, partially because they focus on it all the time. Perhaps they are hypocritical, alcoholic, conceited, messianic, disgruntled, slutty, overweight, mentally unbalanced, or, on a more sober note, dealing with long-term medical problems. I suggest avoiding the latter because it’s not funny, unless you’re a horrible callous individual with no soul.

A writer’s Mood varies, based on whatever’s happened in their life on a given week, including whether people are posting rumors or criticism about them on internet forums. This is, I would suggest, the downside of being a cult rockstar. An initial Mood should be chosen for each writer and a new Mood can be chosen between the release of each new supplement for the game line (explained below), whenever a player feels like their writer has moved on.

Once each writer has been created and given a name, one should be collectively chosen to be the initial Line Developer. This can either start out being the same person who is the GM (because the Line Developer, at least, is likely to change over the course of play) or these can be different players from the beginning.

Character Creation

This happen exactly the same as it normally does in whatever game system you’re using. Feel free to use pre-generated character, if you like, since, with all these supplements coming out, their abilities aren’t likely to do the same things or continue to be relevant for very long.

Creating a Release Schedule

The Line Developer, with the advice of the other writers, should determine how often a new supplement will be released for the game line. Now, in Development Hell, this should be measured in terms of “months” but the group needs to decide what constitutes a “month” of play. I suggest that each scene or significant conflict constitute a “month” as far as the game is concerned. So the characters and GM will play through several scenes before the Line Developer and writers release a new supplement.

In the beginning, it might make sense for the Line Developer to set a varying release schedule. After all, with getting the books printed in China and some writers turning in material late, nothing ever comes out exactly when you intend. Also, in game terms, it gives you a chance to experiment with different amounts of “months” between releases (first one month, then three months, then two months, then six months) to see what fits your group’s preferences best. Supplements can also be moved up or delayed based on external conditions or on the Line Developer’s whim, so you can definitely tweak things as you go.

For each supplement on the release schedule, the Line Developer picks one of the writers to be Lead Writer on the project and gives them a general sense of what the supplement is supposed to cover. The Lead Writer and other writers working on the supplement (which may or may not include the Line Developer) are then free to horribly misinterpret or ignore these instructions as much as they please. In choosing Lead Writers, the Line Developer should probably try to spread the love around, but they can pick favorites if they want to be an evil tyrant and earn the ire of certain writers, who may eventually seek to topple them.

The release schedule for supplements, including the assignment of the Lead Writer role and a basic description of what the supplement is supposed to be about, should probably be determined 6-12 months in advance. The Line Developer should feel free to call a halt to play in between scenes or conflicts (or, if they’re really feeling like a prima donna, in the midst of a conflict) to declare alterations or additions to the release schedule.

Soon To Come…

  • Releasing Supplements
  • Developer Stunts
  • Releasing Errata
  • Releasing a New Edition
  • Ending the Game Line

Folkways: Forge Threads

2007 Oct 9

This post is part of my ongoing archiving and consolidation project. Specifically, it collects the posts about my personal Great White Whale, a design project that’s gone by many names but it now called Folkways.