Archive for the 'Folkways' Category

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.

Setting Contest: Developments

2006 Nov 26

So one of the issues with designing Folkways is it’s really a meta-setting and not a setting, at least as it is now. There’s this outer story of tricksters working to gain release, but the content of the stories they tell is not specified, and that both 1) is really cool and 2) blows. I don’t want the game to just be a string of PTA one-shots tied together by a strange meta-fiction. There needs to be a stronger sense that these stories are related somehow, either thematically or by genre or the like. It needs to be an anthology of similar, interconnected tales — like the One Thousand Nights and a Night — not a literary journal.

I also need to emphasize the sense that the characters don’t stop being themselves when they put on masks to tell a story. If Coyote has transformed himself into a dark, brooding forest, the dark brooding forest should still act recognizably like Coyote. That’s where a great deal of the fun comes in.

Additionally, Folkways is really about the development of a working relationship and a family. It’s unmistakably an allegory for the act of roleplaying and borrows a ton from Nobilis‘ Chancels (which come almost directly from Ars Magica). Your character doesn’t necessarily like the other members of his/her troupe, but these are the people they have to work with in order to get the job done. Like family, you don’t choose them, but you’re stuck with them anyway.

So I’m thinking about being more explicit with elements of the meta-setting, creating specific leadership roles and responsibilities for each character in a troupe and maybe even starting with pre-generated characters. Maybe the game isn’t about the process that all tricksters go through. Maybe it’s about a specific group of characters who have a very unique situation imposed on them. Far too often, I suspect, we worry about creating an “adventuring class” for characters to come from when maybe it’s okay that this party of characters is totally unique in doing things the way they do.

If the characters start out with specific identities (which can, of course, evolve over time as their masks and totem do), then it seems like I can set a sort of genre for the maskers stories to be in, or at least a place to start from. I’m not sure I want to go ahead and define all the masks in advance (because that seems like it robs the players of a chance for creative expression), but maybe I’ll define a few major burdens that each character needs to work off, as examples. And then the types of masks that characters have goes pretty far to set boundaries for the types of stories that can be told.

Maybe I need to focus more on the folkways themselves and what they include. It could be that action scifi stories just aren’t a part of the folkways. Perhaps the folkways only contain stories that are really iconic and primordial, only things that would be considered folktales or folklore. But I also want the stories to have a unique flavor. I’m not sure what that flavor is yet, but I hope to stumble on it soon. Maybe if I create the starting characters and their masks, I’ll get a better sense of what that is. Maybe it’s the folklore equivalent of “mythic fantasy.”

I’m also wondering if character identity and totems should be singular, since that seems to deemphasize one of the major points of the game: that identity is a complex, plural thing, that you are different people for different purposes or audiences. Perhaps characters start out with multiple totems. Perhaps you begin play as Loki-Archne-Anansi, the multi-faced trickster spider.

I also need to figure out what XP does in a game where the only permanent statistics are your Pools.

Setting Contest: Masks

2006 Nov 19

The sages teach that a being, at its core, is nothing but the three Pools: Vigor, Instinct, and Reason. Everything else is ephemeral, the stuff of Samsara, the stuff of the folkways.

Whether this is true or not, one thing is certain: substance and identity are created through masks. Masks create a fiction that gives order to the inherant meaninglessness of the unformed world.

A mask is a false identity formed around a Key. A fancier or more complex mask may contain more than one Key or have a few Abilities and Secrets associated with it, which become available to the wearer.

Most fictional characters are not significant enough to have developed a unique mask of their own. Instead, they are the result of an assortment of different masks which create a unique combination of features or at least an interesting one.

Over time, a group of masks, if worn regularly in the same combinations, can fuse together to form a more complex mask. Likewise, masks can also be broken up into less complex, subsidiary masks, but any shard that does not contain a core Key is not true mask, cannot be worn, and will soon dissolve into nothingness.

Aside from combining with other masks to create a shared identity, a mask can also subsume or obscure the mask beneath it. Most of the time, a masker will remove one or more masks to reveal yet more masks underneath. Some characters are covered in so many masks that they themselves might not even remember who they are underneath it all.

As a trickster, a shinchanger, or a storyteller, each member of an indebted masker troupe begins play with a countless number of masks. The masks a trickster wears on his or her body are like an enormous suit of armor, heavy, cumbersome, and obscuring any identifiable features. Additional masks must be carried on one’s back in a huge Santa Claus sack. These countless masks are the debt the trickster owes to the folkways, the weight that holds them in the cycle, unable to find release.

In order to repay their debt to the folkways and escape the endless wheel, a trickster must let go of all their masks and leave them behind. Once they have done this, they Transcend to another realm. You let go of a mask by fulfilling certain conditions required by the Key at the mask’s core. These conditions are called the Buyoff. Masks that are bought off are not simply removed and placed in your sack (as usual), they are reabsorbed into the folkways and can never be used again.

To better facilitate communication amongst themselves, each tricker carries one or more totemic masks which represent their preferred identities, often ones they have worn countless times over the centuries. For example, the masker we know as Scheherazade may take on many other identities in many other stories, but she always returns to being Scheherazade, her totem mask, because it holds special meaning for her. When conversing with her fellow maskers, Scheherazade is the mask she wears.

Of course, when the time comes to leave the cycle behind, a trickster’s totemic masks are often the final and most difficult masks to release into the folkways.

In order to fulfill a mask’s Buyoff condition, one has to enter the folkways and make use of the mask in a story. This is the purgatory that the tricksters are confined to: they must work together to tell stories with the masks that they have, fulfilling the Buyoff conditions so that one mask after another can be released into the folkways, gradually earning their freedom.

Setting Contest: Initial Notes

2006 Nov 18

Yes, I think I’m finally ready to write this game. And Clinton’s Solar System is astonishingly appropriate. Andy K better watch out.

Possible Title



Tricksters, skinchangers, and storytellers owe a debt to the folkways for their gifts and must repay it with devoted service in a purgatorial afterlife until they work through all their masks.

At this point, that probably doesn’t mean much to anyone other than myself, and maybe the 3 people who’s payed attention to the various versions of Quixote & Coyote, Storypunk, Facedance, Beneath This Facade, etc. (all based on the same basic concept) over the last several years. I’ll get into the details more later.

The protagonists should be literary characters or historical figures romanticized in literature such they they are more myth than truth. Examples follow:


Marco Polo
Don Quixote
Victor Frankenstein
Zhuang Zi

Tricksters & Skinchangers

Sun Wukong

Note to Self

I need more female examples.

When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety

2006 Mar 9

(Cross-posted from a Story Games thread about dream games)

A mythopoetic, totemistic cross between JurisFiction and The Matrix, in which you play post-modern punked-out Gaiman-esque personae from classical literature or legends (Scheherazade, the Monkey King, Quetzalcoatl, Don Quixote, Coyote) who hack their way through stories, taking on various roles and playing out bits and pieces of hundreds of different tales, all in an effort to collect various character traits and personality components from the characters whose roles they usurp, constantly reconfiguring themselves in an effort to become the person they most want to be.

I know the first line of the text is going to be “Scheherazade bleeds Baghdad.”

The game doesn’t currently have a title, but it’s been called: Quixote & Coyote, Storypunk, Facedance, and Beneath This Facade. I sometimes think about giving White Wolf the finger and calling it Masquerade, which is probably the most appropriate title.

It is the game I’m not capable of writing yet. Some day.

I have recently considered calling it When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety, a quote from Italo Calvino’s Invisible Cities.

The Current State of Things

2005 Dec 5

I thought it might be important to begin with a summery of my current projects. Here they are, in order of priority:

Push vol. 1

Push is a progressive roleplaying journal which I plan to publish annually. The first volume will tentatively be out January 2006, since it’ll take me the rest of December to finish up editing, layout, and the running contributor commentary that will appear beside the main text. The first volume will include pieces by Emily Care Boss (“Collaborative Roleplaying”), John H. Kim (“Immersive Story Methods”), Shreyas Sampat (“Mridangam”), Eero Tuovinen (“Against the Geek, Choice”), and myself (“Introduction: Negotiated Spaces”). It could possibly include contributions from Clinton R. Nixon and Gary Pratt as well. A few others have signed on to look over the text or provide guest commentary, including Ben Lehman, Rich Forest, Lisa Padol, and Thomas Robertson. The cover art is by Clio Chiang.

Volume 1 will be available as a PDF, direct from me, and a POD softcover through Lulu. Profits will be divided evenly among the main contributors, who can choose to keep or donate them as they will. Once the first volume is out, I’ll begin inviting interested parties to propose pieces for Volume 2.


Vesperteen (a game about sin, teenagers, and monsters) started as a pseudo-sequel to Jason Blair’s Little Fears (a game about sin, children, and monsters), but it quickly turned into something much more involved. I immediately discovered that Jason’s original mechanics, or even a variant of them, would not provide the kinds of play opportunities that I was interested in creating. I wanted to make a game that was actually frightening, one which would allow the players to consensually scare or unnerve each other but also a game which would ensure that play was reasonably safe, preventing most opportunities for abusive or dangerous behavior. As a result, while Little Fears provides strong inspiration for Vesperteen, they are two very different games.

Vesperteen is not about the monster that’s going to get you, but the monster you’re scared of becoming. No one wants to remain a victim. And, while, sin is a path to power and respect, by indulging in sin you risk transforming into someone you barely recognize. How do you walk the fine line between being strong, seizing you potential, standing up for yourself, and, on the other hand, falling victim to power’s seductive ways, becoming as corrupt as the bullies, vicious social queens, and monsters that torment you? It’s that age old question: what are you willing to do to get what you want?

Systematically, Vesperteen is clearly inspired by other Forge games, but attempts to push things a bit further. There is no GM. Before play begins, the group collaborates on a chart which determines what levels of each sin the group is willing to explore. They also create a community, school, the protagonists, and notable minor characters. Play is divided into Day and Evening Phases. During the Day Phase, you, the player, take the lead in determining what happens to your character. Once the sun sets, however, the other players plot secretly together and then create scenes and situations for your character to deal with. During the Evening Phase, the other players are encouraged to really go after you, pushing you with challanging scenes and situations that you’re not totally comfortable in, limiting your choices and forcing you to make difficult decisions.

Vesperteen is going to take some serious time and effort to put together. The layout for the book is going to combine digital and physical methods. Each page is going to be first created by hand, as a mixed media piece, which will then be scanned and have text placed on top (so that the text can later be edited, if necessary). I’ve already begun on what may end up being the cover. The mechanics and such have mostly been worked out, but there are still a few details that I need to nail down before serious playtesting can begin. And Push needs to be out before I can focus on that.

Lions on the Precipice

This is my reworking of Vincent Baker’s Dogs in the Vineyard. I want to create a game about the Mountain People, but I suspect, as with Vesperteen that this will end up playing rather differently than Dogs does. First of all, Ghost Lions travel alone, which means it’ll either be a single-protagonist game or the protagonists’ individual stories will reflect and comment on each other, thematically (which would take some work to set up).

The back cover text goes like this (credit to Vincent for the original, Vampire-influence text):

The Great Sky King
is angry with the People.

They have grown weak,
dependent on the Strangers
for guns, supplies, & alcohol.

The spirits have chosen you
to rectify the People’s actions,
reinvigorate the Old Ways,
& eliminate evil influences.

You stand in between tradition
and desperation.

You stand in between the People
and their own self-destruction.

You stand in between,
for you are no longer of the living.

You are a Ghost Lion.

Lions on the Precipice.

Roleplaying the Spirits’ Emmisaries
in a West that never quite was.

Fingers on the Firmament

This is a game I promised Shreyas. The problem is, it might not be suitable for a game. It’s about people reaching up into the night sky and yanking on stars, propelling themselves out into that big, empty void. And it’s about the type of community (yes, community) that forms when you’re all alone amid the blackness and so is everyone you meet (or, more likely, don’t meet). Heavily influenced by the setting (but not the mechanics) of Aetherco’s Continuum.

Nine Suns Must Fall, Arthouse Wuxia, Children of the Revolution

Three short games about China which I may never finish. If I do, they’ll probably see independent publication in Push or as an anthology.

The Storypunk Project

This is the big, rock-your-socks, roleplaying-will-never-be-the-same game. If you want to a hint of what it might look like, search the Forge’s Indie Game Design forum for earlier versions and related ideas, which have been called “Quixote & Coyote,” “Storypunk,” “Facedance,” and “Humble Mythologies.” It was also called, briefly, “Beneath This Facade,” but I don’t think I ever posted about it under that name. I have no clue what this game might end up being called. I was considering “When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety” (a quote from Calvino’s Invisible Cities) and “Scheherazade Unbound,” but it’ll probably change another 12 times before then.

The game will be about masks and layers of masks, masks under masks. It’s a game about identity and creating your identity by performing different character roles and retaining bits and pieces of every character you’ve been. It’s a roleplaying game about roleplaying, basically (for another roleplaying game about roleplaying, see Rebecca Borgstrom’s Exalted: The Fair Folk, which was originally called “Graceful, Wicked Masks” for a reason).

This game is a long way off. I’m not capable of writing it yet. But one day…