Archive for November, 2007

Déplacement: A Game About Artful Résistance

2007 Nov 28

So… I really want to make a game about what’s going on in the suburbs of Paris, the explosion of racial and culturally-based violence that starts with (in people’s memories) the 1961 massacre of 40-some protesting Algerians and continues up to this day with incidents in 2005, a riot in March, and more just recently.

There’s some really fascinating stuff coming out of this conflict and the urban ghettos of France. Parkour is perhaps the most famous thing, along with French hip-hop. But there are many pro-active forms of resistance happening, many not directly related to the urban immigrant populations, but inspired by their forms of resiatance, such as UnterGunther breaking into the Pantheon and restoring the ancient clock there over the course of a year, based out of a secret workshop they built there, under the noses of the guards. That is way awesome.

So I kinda want to write a game that takes a slightly exaggerated perspective on this whole movement in urban resistance (without having it become too much like a bad Luc Besson movie), but set in real-world France with all the social, racial, political, economic, and cultural issues intact. I want the main characters to be displaced traceurs, immigrant youth who are told that they don’t belong, but who are trying to create an identity for themselves and work for a better social and political environment in constructive but often illegal ways. Chase scenes would replace combat as the core action of the game, so you’d use your “kewl powerz” to flip over obstacles and escape the police… after you’d just finished clandestinely building a playground for children on undeveloped public property in the projects. Yes. I wanna play THAT.

Hmm, clearly I need to contact some French game designers for help. Where’s Jarome Larre when you need him? :)

EDIT: As I just told Elizabeth, it’s fun playing people who are so fed up with injustice that they become vigilantes (cross reference: Black Panther Party). It’s like being a superhero, but a real-life one. And because it’s real and the consequences, issues, and people are real, there’s an edge to the violence and a real sense of subversion.

Child Soldiers in Angola

2007 Nov 25

Just picked up a new book today, Child Soldiers in Africa by Alcinda Honwana, on the involvement of male and female children in the civil wars of Angola and Mozambique. While this material is really upsetting and I wasn’t originally going to include it in updates to Mwaantaangaand (the Angola civil war is disturbing enough), I feel like it’s important stuff that people should know about. Also, after playing in Emily’s A Day in the War at JiffyCon, I feel like war roleplaying games (like the best war movies) are a great opportunity to educate people about conflicts and terrible circumstances in a way that is still… for lack of a better word… fun. Fun in the same way that watching Saving Private Ryan or Letters from Iwo Jima is fun. And, as Gregor Hutton pointed out, “We need more games about, and set in, Africa,” because few people in the West know anything substantial about it. Roleplaying games can be a teaching tool through their setting content as well as through encouraging problem solving and experimenting with social interaction.

Transantiago v0.2 Coming

2007 Nov 23

Spent today working out some updates to Transantiago, based on the playtest I ran at JiffyCon. The updates aren’t written out yet, but basically involve mixing the game up in a blender with When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety. Here’s the game record sheet I worked up:


JiffyCon Recap

2007 Nov 19

Playtested a slightly revised version of Transantiago with Shreyas, Elizabeth, Rachel, Emily, John, and Casey. I didn’t have a character, but participated anyway and moderated a bit. That seemed to work excellently, which was nice to learn. We turned the weirdness up to 11 and, surprisingly, the game could totally handle it. It didn’t even buckle, much less break. In the second to last station (after we’d opened all the others), half the characters converged on it all at once. We had previously determined that it was jam-packed with faceless policemen. Somebody, I think, happened to call it a “sea of policemen,” which led Elizabeth to declare that she was literally swimming through the sea. And then I said the subway car was floating on the sea like an arc. And then Rachel said it was full of singing animals, refugees from two previous stations (one full of music, the other full of animals wearing caps). And then John said the green ooze (from yet another station) was leaking down the tunnel and causing the policemen it touched to disappear, creating a kind of green landmass amidst the ocean of blue uniforms. But the weirdness never got in the way of the kind of abstract problem solving that is at the core of the game. At one point, John basically realized, “Hey, clearly we have to feed the strange little girls with multicolored balloons to the tattooed green slime monster that just emerged out of the wall.” And, he was right. Based on what had been established in the game, that was what needed to happen. So, overall, there are a few things that need to be tweaked or explained better, but it was really solid. I don’t think the game necessarily HAS to be that weird all the time, but it’s good to know that it CAN be that weird and the game can still handle it just fine.

After lunch, I played Emily’s A Day in the War. I’d link to the Knife Fight thread, but it’s already changed a bunch. Basically you play people involved in the ongoing mess in Iraq, split among various factions, and you play out the events that lead up to their death. Originally, Emily had a rule about basing your character on a real person who died, in an effort to remember them, but that continues to feel really uncomfortable for many players (I didn’t end up picking a person) and Emily said that was likely going to get dropped. Despite that issue, the game played really great with the mechanic she borrowed from Eero Tuovinen’s Zombie Game, which has one character move towards their death for every character that moves towards achieving their goals (though you still die even if you achieve your goals). it felt like playing Otherkind or Bliss Stage, where you have a limited number of resources and too many baskets to put them in, such that something is always left wanting. In this game, some character was always left wanting, with their situation growing more grim, no matter how much we wanted to do the right thing and make sure everybody got through this. The characters were a Shiite businessman with two sons in the US, a military contractor for Blackwater, a US officer in charge of a checkpoint, a CNN journalist looking for a big story, and an aid worker trying to perform vaccinations. I really had a great time with the other players, who were from Northampton, but I don’t remember their names, unfortunately. A few of us felt a little uncomfortable, I think, enjoying the game so much, when it was directly inspired by a horrible ongoing conflict (that emotional reaction, I suspect, may be what Em’s looking for), but I definitely think it helped me work through some feelings I had about the war, especially about military contractors, though I found I wanted to play it more, maybe playing multiple sessions (like 3 or so), with different goals each session that I could win or lose, even if I still died at the end of session 3. I’d be interested to see if the game could work in that format. Also, I kept thinking about the Angolan and Chinese civil wars and how the system, which was fairly sparse, could work in any complex, terrible conflict. Definitely a good educational tool for showing the multiplicity of any given situation. Can’t wait to play it again and watch it develop.

Firmament Progress

2007 Nov 12

I haven’t been posting as much here because the Firmament project is suddenly really active. I told Justin I want to have something worth playtesting by Dreamation and that’s beginning to look more and more possible. Check out my reworking of the core d20 attributes and the three “sciences” of Fingers on the Firmament (Astronomy, Cartography, Anthropology) into a chakra-like diagram:
This game is gonna be sick.

Subway Map of the Internet

2007 Nov 10

Those Who Tarry at the Door

2007 Nov 4

In a further effort to consolidate all my past and present design work on this blog, I just posted my non-entry to Game Chef 2006, When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety. It is, without a doubt, the most Out There thing I’ve ever designed. The premise goes something like this:

    The game is for eight players, who, in the beginning, represent Those Who Tarry at the Door, a.k.a. The Petals of the World-Flower, a.ka. the eight doomed Bodhisattva. They are enlightened individuals who have chosen to return to the world of suffering even though the future age is near at hand. They will be trapped in the ashes of this world’s destruction and will not escape to enjoy the salvation of the Pure Land. They have made this sacrifice because they are the ones who must seek out Those Who Come in the Night, a.k.a. The Seeds of the Blossoming Flower, a.k.a. the eight emergant Buddha-to-be, who will, in their unity, bring about the next age.

I’ve promised Kevin Allen Jr. that I’ll finish this game one day. Interestingly enough, it’s recently been a strong influence on character classes in Firmament and the general feel of Transantiago.

I’ve been thinking about making Transantiago into a game I could publish. The name would probably have to change, because the Santiago public transportation system is the IP of the Santiago city government or the Chilean national government, but that’s okay. I’ve already started calling the full version of the game Lines in the Earth, at least in my head. And that version might incorporate a handful of mechanical and conceptual ideas from When The Forms Exhaust Their Variety to give the game additional structure and direction.