As I work on mechanics, two separate versions of the game are starting to emerge in my head. Maybe there’s a happy medium between the two, but they feel like two separate beasts.
I’d particularly welcome suggestions, thoughts, critiques, and other comments on this one… (hint, hint). 🙂
1) The Underworld Voyage
Whether literally in the Seas of the Dead or not, in this version the voyage gets more attention, being about equal to the flashbacks, attempts at conenction, and humanity piece of play. Forming connections, flashbacks and all that are half the story (maybe even 2/3) rather than the sole focus.
In very broad terms, I’m picturing something like alternating between GM-driven Challenges (probably three Challenges, going for a mythic thing) and the player-driven attempts to connect (the flashbacks, et al, in my lat post). The GM-driven Challenges are conflicts on the ship or off the ship against external issues. Perhaps the ship crashes on an island full of hungry ghosts, or whatever. This gives a sort of Odyssey vibe combined with making the voyage to overcome the curse a literal thing rather than simply hinging on whether they can overcome their pasts and divisions.
I’m picturing something like Mouse Guard, with alternating turns where the GM runs a Challenge then the players each get one connection turn then the GM again then the players, and so on.
In this version, I’d probably have four stats under Humanity: Connection/Hearts, Power/Spades, Silence/Diamonds, and Violence/Clubs.
The red suits (Hearts and Diamonds) are both about openness–with an constructive side (reaching out/connecting) and destructive/reactive side(silence/withdrawing). The black suits would be about asserting yourself–with a constructive side (dominance/taking charge) and a destructive/reactive side (lashing out/violence).
Not surprisingly, I’m building up to a playing card system with this. I have some ideas (some of which I talk about at the bottom of this post) but for now that’s enough. There’d be stakes in conflicts (do you reach out? Then Connection and Silence are both on the table to be raised–Connection for success and Silence for failure, and vice versa for asserting yourself). The four stats would increase. There’d be no safety valve and no way to lower any of them later.
Those stats would matter for the flashback/connection conflicts as well as the GM-driven Challenges.
Finally, in this version I’d play down the End-Game mechanics or cut them. Reaching the last Challenge (the final judgment) is what triggers the resolution, rather than some balance of stats kicking it off or favor or whatever.
2) Focus on Flashbacks
This is the version I presented in my last post. The present is mainly a frame for the flashbacks. What happens in the present is the conflicts to reach out. Overall the story is a psychodrama; there’s no big events on the present voyage–at least until the End-Game.
It’s mechanically simpler. I’d probably only have Connection, Silence, and Violence (and no Dominance). Whether I’d use cards, dice, or something else is up in the air. (see below for some thoughts on the what I want mechanics to feel like). Either way, a single die roll or card flip on each side would be enough.
In this version, I’d probably go GM-less. I’d also really consider making it a game meant to be played in a single evening (possibly with some options and tweaks to allow longer games–maybe simply tweaking the speed of advancement of stats and the triggers for End-Game).
I’m going back and forth. So much so that I’m almost considering making both versions of the game concurrently and seeing which one turns out better and is more fun to actually play.
Some Musings about the Pomp of Mechanics in this Game
So I recently had a conversation with a friend about the role of mechanics, dice, etc… For games where the mechanics are basically a randomizer (i.e. not games where player strategies are as important as the dice) could really be stripped down to roll a bunch of dice, add some modifiers and the whole game’s done–the rest is just acting it out. But neither of us really liked that. The rolling, flipping, scripting, adding up numbers, declaring actions, or whatever that game involves, are part of the ritual, the pomp of role-playing. Whether they matter statistically is a lot less important than how they shape the experience of play.
For this game, the dice or cards are going to introduce elements that shape the story and your character in ways you can’t control, only react to. There’s a sense of waiting to find out how big a bastard you were in the past and whether you can overcome it or if you’ll sink deeper. So it should be a tense reveal. It’s fine to have a single roll or a single card flip, but you should be ready and waiting tensely… and you should be able to tell in a second or less what just happened. I want everyone to be watching the die or card flip and I want them to cheer or groan immediately.
Narration is also important. In fact, I think the roll or flip should happen early: Frame the scene, (set the stakes?), roll the dice, narrate. The point is to want something, have it hinge on the dice, then roll… and have the dice be immediately readable.
Another important thing, for this game, many things that are traditionally pure player-choice (how the character is played, PC on PC interactions, your backstory, etc.) are largely mandated by the mechanics in this game. In fact, the main conflict of the game (connection) would be a given in most games. You don’t have complete control over whether you reacted with anger or withdrawing, etc. in the past. There’s a balance where a lot of things are driven by the dice or cards but you have a lot of narrative control to weave it in and say what it means. I think that constraints aid creativity and tend to lead to better results than more open situations a lot of times.
Note: I’m talking about this game; for other games different systems may work better. For example, rolling lots of dice, adding successes, angling for bonuses, re-reolls, etc., can be satisfying, too. But for this game, the tension comes from the elements out of your control and those need to be spotlighted heavily and all the otehr stuff stripped away. But the spotlight’s got to be big enough, too… it can’t be a casual roll with no tension.
On the other hand, the first version of the game above might involve more detailed mechanics. In that one, I’m considering doing things like dealing two cards the player can look at and one face down. The two the player sees can be played in either order. The first card is the stakes (and the suit matters) while the second card is the score to resolve the conflict (and the number matters). Sometimes it’ll be easy–your higher card is different from the suit you prefer for the stakes, but sometimes you’ll have to choose which gets the one card that you want for both.
Like I said, I’m conflicted. Right now, writing this, I prefer the second game version and the simpler mechanics above (i.e. a single roll/card flip on each side). An hour ago I preferred the first game version and the mechanics in the paragraph above about choosing which order to play the cards. (Note: The simpler system could work for either version of the game, but I’d only use the more complicated, choose-the-order card system for the first version.)
Again, comments very welcome.
And that’s it for tonight.