Archive for February 2nd, 2009

Thing That Hit Me on the Subway

2009 Feb 2

So you have one stack of cards that’s labeled “complications” on the back. On the fronts of the cards (there are at least 30 of these, maybe more) are listed things like:

  • Unprepared: You lack something that you need.
  • It’s Locked: Your access is forcibly barred.
  • I Don’t Think So: Someone important is unconvinced.
  • It’s a Trap: Someone set you up.
  • Your Mistake: You did something wrong.

Whenever you face a mundane obstacle in the game, you or one of the other players should draw one or more cards from the complications deck (more cards for a tougher obstacle) and narrate them into the current situation. Complications that you draw and narrate can be overcome, but not in this scene. Place the complication in front of you to remind yourself, discarding it in a later scene when and if you overcome the obstacle. Complications that other players draw and narrate can be overcome in the same scene, but only once you’ve satisfied the narrator of the obstacle.

There’s also another set of cards, which for simplicity’s sake I’ll call “monster cards.” Monster cards come in sets of multiple cards, with each set representing the various complications that a single monster creates. Once the group decides that a monster has appeared, it places the set of cards for that monster on the table and also draws a number of mundane complication cards. Perhaps the number of mundane complications is listed on the back of the monster cards or, even, when you draw a monster card it tells you to additionally draw 0-2 mundane complications. The monster card descriptions are much more vivid and less general than the mundane complication cards. For example:

Kayongo (Card #3 of 6)
Kayongo is a the spirit of an ancestor who was gifted with the power of divination. Twisted by dark science, Kayong blast a horrid vision of the future into the mind of the target character.

Monster cards are implemented in play just like mundane complications, but with their associated mundane complications occurring when the target character attempts to overcome the monster card. For example, if my character screamed and shook his head frantically in an effort to clear the vision from his mind, he might draw the complication “It’s Locked,” which could be interpreted to mean that he’s stuck seeing the vision until someone figures out how to stop it. Or, if my character had tried to fire his gun at the monster, maybe it jams.

There’s also probably room for “monster” style complications that aren’t monsters, but since I was pondering this in relation to Mwaantaangaand, that’s what came to mind first. On the whole though, this seems like the makings of a pretty cool diceless, GMless, pacing-based, low impact system.

Thinking Smaller About Design

2009 Feb 2

Over on the College of Mythic Cartography (which you should be reading, if you aren’t), Willem’s wondering — as I have in the past — why really short, dead simple, elegant games aren’t popular as a viable publication form. Recently there have been a host of these created as non-commercial and generally unplaytested drafts (as “roleplaying poems” or contest games) but none of them have been yet released as final or commercial products. The closest ones I can think of are Kevin’s Primitive, Meg’s 1001 Nights, Ben’s XXXtreme Street Luge.

It’s honestly a bit perplexing. I mean, the entry bar for publishing an indie RPG has been set artificially high in many ways. Why not whip one of these 10-page contest games out, playtest and edit the hell out of it until its a streamlined beast of a game, and publish it as a little booklet? Why start with something much more mechanically dense and textually complicated to make? But people seem to inevitably drift towards games that are about as big and difficult as the games that inspired them to design a game in the first place, whether D&D or Dogs in the Vineyard.

This totally applies to myself as well, as I seem to have this kind of mental barrier in place that has prevented me from finishing any games. A significant chunk of that barrier has to do with my preconceived notion of what a ‘real game’ looks like and the hoops I have to jump through before I can publish one. For example, the rules for Transantiago could fit on a single sheet of paper. So why haven’t I published it by now? I have at least a half-dozen games that are 50-75% finished, but I’ve been sitting on them partially because I have the (insane) desire to turn them into fifty-page booklets instead of 10 page booklets.

When it comes down to it, I definitely think the Cheap Ass Games model could be applied very successfully to RPGs. The true genius of Cheap Ass products was not just that they were inexpensive and assumed you had dice, counters, etc. at home to use, but because the rules were short, dead simple, elegant and — at least in the games that I played — thoroughly playtested and fun.

Hopefully Willem has just inspired me to finish a few things.

Priority Reordering

2009 Feb 2

Since I missed the deadline for Jared’s contest, I’m gonna put off finishing up Last Days of Old Macau until the final edits of Mortal Coil Revised are off to Brennan and Murderland reviews are all posted. Still trying to keep my New Year’s Resolution to finish things I’ve started. As always, my priority list is being kept on the left side of my blog, as a reminder.