Voyage of the Damned – Playing Card Mechanics Thursday, Sep 3 2009 

This is not a complete mechanic, but I thought I’d jot it down (for one thing I’m curious if it’s been done before–I’ve seen a fair number of games, but by no means all or even most).

The Deck

A standard 52 card deck of playing cards.  For now I’m assuming the Jokers are taken out, though maybe I’ll decide to keep them if I think of a use for them.

Divide the deck into two piles.

  • All the face cards (K, Q, & J) plus the Ace – 16 cards (4 cards x 4 suits)
  • All numbered cards (from 2-10) – 36 cards (9 cards x 4 suits)

Numbered Deck – The numbered cards (2-9) are used for conflict resolution.  Flipping a card is basically the same as rolling a d10 (well, 1d9+1 technically :-P).

In addition, each suit acts as a minor oracle introducing color into the scene.  These are more color or flavor and don’t have any mechanical impact.  I’ve started toying with what each suit would introduce, but it’s still really rough (I’ll put it up in later posts).  I’m leaning towards having two or three categories:

  1. The Court: This is what the suits mean in the flashback scenes.  There would be an emphasis on intrigue, and all of the options would be fairly negative (betrayal, threats, theft [of ideas, credit, etc.], and so on).
  2. Connection: This is what the suits mean in the present, during the attempts to connect.  They would either be tied to the four stats (symbolically–Silence equates to fear, withdrawal, secrets, etc.), to the thematic ingredients (Desire, Seabirds, Death, the Star, etc.), or to both.  Probably to the stats and corresponding reactions, unless I don’t have “The Journey” as a separate category
  3. The Journey:  This is what the suit means in relation to the journey through the Seas of the Dead, the curse, judgment, etc.  It would probably be used in conjunction with the face deck (see below).

Here are my initial rough ideas on the four suits:

  • Spades: Power (it’s strandardly the strongest suit, it’s black, which pairs with violence for clubs, and because the Hearts and Clubs seemed obvious)
  • Hearts: Connection (because, you know, it’s a heart)
  • Clubs: Violence; the Court (because the clubs symbol looks like the fleur-de-lis, which is tied to the queen and faith, and so the court, and clubs as weapons connects with violence)
  • Diamonds: Silence (mostly because it’s red, like Connection and the Connection-Silence and Power-Violence connections make sense to me), which means it will also be fortifying, webs of lies, etc.

Face Deck – The face card deck acts as an oracle; a card is drawn and it colors the following scenes.  Each card represents something.  Also, the suits have meaning here as they do in the numbered deck (see above).  This is at the Journey level.  It might be drawn once per cycle of player turns, but I think it more likely it will be drawn at the start of each player’s turn:

  1. Face Deck oracle draw (introduces the threats and events in the journey–narrated by GM, plus represents characters that the players need to weave in to the flashback narratives)
  2. Flashback draw (number deck) by target player for the flashback scene
  3. Present draw (number deck) by acting character to resolve whether connection made or failed 

Also, the specific face card has meaning, obviously.  In the flashback scenes, they are people or other elements that have to be woven in.  In the present, they may also be characters–though the Captain, the zombie Crew, the Seagulls, the other PCs not involved, etc.  The below associations are rough and likely to change.  The characters listed first are in the flashback and the characters listed second in italics are in the present:

  • Ace: The object of Desire (the subject of the brief Desire image–pulling this requires that Desire to be examined on a bit in the flashback); The Star–it represents your Desire and the overwhelming animal need for what it represents that was strong enough to keep you trapped and damned on the ship instead of passing on–it is a reminder of your need and desire, driving you on.
  • King: Another player character in an allied role (almost certainly temporary and for that character’s own interest–after all, the rules of the game will almost certainly turn them against you in an upcoming scene if they haven’t already back-stabbed you)–that character will be woven into the story (they won’t have a narrative impact, unless I do something with the face cards impacting resolution–see note below); The Seabirds–they represent the impulse towards humanity, connection, and self-judgment; their touch is painful but it helps lift the fog of amnesia and confusion the characters arose with.
  • Queen: The Queen herself (whether directly, indirectly, through her agents, etc.), also her favor; The Queen, again, as well as the original goals and schemes of the voyage–this draws you back into ambitions, jealousies, etc. of your time in court, it helps you remember the other characters and your past, though that tends to galvanize you towards anger, hate, revenge, etc.
  • Jack: Another player character in an opposed role, scheming against you and likely helping the target character (though also likely opposing you both)–that character will be woven into the story (they won’t have a narrative impact, unless I do something with the face cards impacting resolution–see note below); The Crew (if your Violence is higher, the Captain notices you and draws you in, while if your Silence is higher, the crew begins interacting with you and pulling you into their mindless actions–I’ll post more about my ideas for the crew and captain in a later post)–they represent your potential damnation and the pull away from any sort of redemption–if they get their way, you’ll be part of the crew (maybe even replacing the captain) forever…

Note that the acting character is the focus of the scene, so any reference to “the player”, “you”, etc. refers to the acting character.  The target character will also be developed, but their function in that scene is in relation to the acting character.

I mayalso have some other significance that interacts with the number deck resolution system.  I’m not leaning that way, but I’m leaving the option open (maybe letting the audience of the other players assign it or something like that?).  If I did, it would probably be a way for other players to give bonuses to one player, likely based on who they feel is telling the best story or something like that.

 Suits and Stats

The last thought I thought I’d throw out in this post is that the suits correspond with the four stats.  I might do something with that, where if it matches your suit, it does something (a bonus, changes the stakes, etc.).


And that’s my initial thoughts on cards as resolution mechanic, major oracle, and minor color oracle.  I have to say that I really like the idea of splitting out the face cards into an oracle deck and having just the the number cards in the resolution deck, with the suits spreading across both decks.

-John B.


Voyage of the Damned – Flashbacks and Conflicts Wednesday, Sep 2 2009 

I’ve been working on specific mechanics today.  I’ve had a lot of ideas I liked, though none are quite there yet.

Here’s what I want to do (I’m intentionally not jumping into specific mechanics):

The core conflict is connection and regaining humanity.  The characters have to work to regain their memories to remember what they need to do to resolve the curse.  They also have to reach out and find ways to work together, even though all the recovered memories give them reason to fear and hate each other–the characters intrigued and plotted and schemed against each other in the past to get on the voyage.  There are some other factors (the Seabirds act as consciences of a sort, prodding them painfully by making them face their own less than savory pasts, while the Star is tied to their driving Desire which isn’t resolved and the Queen in the flashbacks represents everything they were originally scheming and fighting for) but that’s enough for what I’m discussing this post.

On the one hand, the characters have to form connections because it’s the only way to play the game.  But I’ll tie features of the setting in to make that drive make sense (from the Seabirds, Star, etc., to the certainness that it’s the only way to resolve the curse, to the fact that they can’t really help it).  But that isn’t the focus of this post.

The game basically requires the characters to make connections with each other now that they’re dead because they have to work together to succeed in resolving their cursed state.  But it’s not a question of player’s simply deciding to get along; the core conflict system (probably the only conflict system) in the game is that it’s hard to connect or to accept someone else reaching out, especially based on the characters’ shared history, current state, and own issues.  (In fact, the other conflicts, such as the intriguing to get goals for the voyage in the flashbacks are a part of the present-day conflicts to connect).

(Note that connection is probably not the word I’ll use in the final version–I don’t want to force it to be “good”.  Dominating others into following you works in addition to trying to resolve issues or form meaningful emotional connections.  The main trick is cohesion on the ship rather than a ship of vipers.)

To add some pressure, it’s a bit of a race.  The flashbacks act as a timer of sorts for the campaign.  As a sort of game within the game, all the characters are competing for the Queen’s FAVOR (which is how you “win” the intrigues in the past).  Only one character will win the FAVOR.  I’m still deciding what other benefits there are for winning the Queen’s FAVOR, but it’s worth noting that it isn’t optional–you can’t pull your punches towards getting it.  The main effect of a character winning the FAVOR is that it triggers the END-GAME, a flurry of conflicts that resolve the curse one way or the other as well as individual characters’ resolutions.

To put it more simply–connecting is always a conflict and the other character(s) always oppose you (whether they want to or not).  You try to connect in the present and they oppose you through a flashback of them getting the better of you, betraying you, etc.  If you win, you increase your Connection.  If you lose, it’s harder and harder to trust or reach out later.

But if you don’t succeed at creating enough connection on the ship by resolving enough of the bad blood and/or by establishing

An Outline of the Conflict System

  • Player turns go in order around the table
  • On a player’s turn, they try to connect with another character
  • The acting player frames the scene in the PRESENT
  • The target character frames a FLASHBACK
  • The target character rolls (or draws a card or whatever I decide on)
  • Both players narrate the outcome and close the FLASHBACK (emphasizing how the target used, betrayed, or hurt the acting character)
  • The acting character, back in the PRESENT, has to roll to connect against the roll the target made in the FLASHBACK
  • (Effectively it’s an opposed roll, though the target player rolls in the FLASHBACK and the acting player rolls in the PRESENT)

That’s the core.  There are some gaps.  For example, the FLASHBACK scenes are how FAVOR is competed for.  Also, increasing SILENCE or VIOLENCE is a risk (see below).  The exact mechanics are still in progress.

Note that there may be more rolls than just the two (one by target player in FLASHBACK and one by acting character in PRESENT), but the above is teh heart.

Some Rough Notes on Stats

All characters are assumed to be competent in the polticial, intrigue arena.  There are no social stats or skills or anything like that.  There might be some modifiers (such as bringing the DESIRE in to a scene), but it’s assumed that the characters are pretty equal–making it largely come down to the dice.

In fact, most likely the only stats will by HUMANITY, which is the sum of your VIOLENCE, SILENCE, and CONNECTION scores.  You can’t do much without those scores (see below) but they’re particularly important for the End-Game mechanics, too.

VIOLENCE: is your tendency to react to threats (perceived and actual) by going on the offensive.  It’s basically the “fight” reaction in a social context.  It is about hurting the other person but isn’t particularly about physical violence (in fact phsyical fights have no  meaning except as narrative description of intrigue or social interactions and have no mechanical representation)

SILENCE: This is pushing others away, closing off, withdrawing, etc.  Any action to avoid, hide, or protect by withdrawal (including hurting others to get them to leave you alone).  Basically it’s the “flight” reaction in social situations.

CONNECTION: This is raised in play when you successfully connect.  It’s your ability to avoid SILENCE or VIOLENCE and instead interact, dialogue, etc.

Exactly how CONNECTION will work is up in the air.  For one thing, I don’t want to force “positive” behavior, and I see dominating others into following you as a viable path to getting ship unity.  I have several ideas how this will work, but I’m running out of time for today.


This will be a stub because I’m out of time.  The fate of the ship is based on scores and factors in play up to that point.  It could be a tragedy or a tale of redemption.  I’ll also intentionally leave the answer of what redmeption means vague–whether it means returning to life happily, being released form the curse to rest, etc., will be left up to the group and the campaign.  There will be guidelines in the rules for narrating the outcome.


Yeah.  I know it’s mushy; I’m still working out the details.  I’m still in a preliminary stage of the process and everything above is subject to change.  I think tomorrow I’ll talk specific mechanics (whether talking about what I decided on or else putting up the conflicting ideas and areas I’m stuck and asking for comments).


-John B.

Voyage of the Damned: Of queens, intrigue, and faith Tuesday, Sep 1 2009 

The Queen and her kingdom were the Defenders of the Faith, so much so that the symbol of the Faith and the symbol of Her Majesty’s royal house were the same–the Fleur-de-Lis.

It was an age of splendor.  The queen’s court attracted the brightest and best the world had to offer. 

It was an age rotting from within.  The queen’s court attracted the worst and the most corrupt the world had to offer.

The wars defending the Faith made Her Majesty’s kingdom into a voracious beast, always hungry for more, cannibalizing itself and devouring everything it could.

Then the bright new Star appeared over the far western horizon.  Her Majesty’s priests, oracles, and magicians (of which she had many) bickered about what this protent meant, but all agreed it heralded a great opportunity for Her Majesty and the Faith.

An expedition was planned.  Many clamored to control the destiny of the voyage, to ensure their own agendas.  Did they seek personal glory? Perhaps the glory of the Faith? A chance to explore a new world? Simply to foil a hated rival? Were they driven by love? Hate? Revenge? Family duty? Perhaps they sought to sabotage the voyage to weaken the Queen?

The answer to that question is up to you.  The players will create one of the men and women who schemed and intrigued to shape the voyage and who accompanied it in person.

Not only will you discover the motives and agendas of your character, you will also struggle with the other players and others who seek to twist or stop your plans (played by the GM).

Of course, things did not go quite as planned….

When play begins, each of you along with the entire crew of the ship, have been cursed into a wretched half-life as zombies.  And you can’t go home until you lift the curse.

What was your Transgression that brought the curse down upon you?  You’ll discover that together in play.

What is the meaning of the Seabirds that travel beside your ship now?  You know that you follow them home, for your compasses and instruments failed you and only the now baleful star fills the sky.  But are they friend or foe?  They lead you to many strange, terrible, and wondrous islands which seem intimately tied to your own sins.  And do you really hear them whispering to you sometimes…?

How will you lift the curse?  Or will you be damned to wander the sea forever without rest as zombies?

Come play and find out together.

-John B.

Voyage of Damned (simmer the ingredients for 20 minutes…) Monday, Aug 31 2009 

So while waiting for some queries to run at work, I had a flash for my game based on all the ruminating in my last post (…bring-the-heat/).

Premise: A ship full of zombies trying to remove their curse so they can return home

Structure:There are three time periods of play and three major Events.  Play starts in the PRESENT (sailing towards home and working to remove the curse), with flashbacks to the PAST court intrigues that led up to the voyage, and all building towards the CONCLUSION when the curse is resolved… or the crew is doomed forever.  The flashbacks (PAST) will begin in the courts full of intrigue and lead up through the destination of the initial voyage and the TRANGRESSION that led to them being cursed.  The voyage home (PRESENT) will begin with the voyage home already underway and will go through the struggles of the voyage (sort of like Homer’s The Odyssey) and will end with their HOMECOMING (tied to the TRANSGRESSION structurally).  The CONCLUSION of both other timelines will play out the TRANSGRESSION and HOMECOMING and will determine whether they remove the curse and go home or are damned forever to wander as a ship full of zombies.

The Characters: The player characters are not the crew of the ship (though the crew shares their fate), they are powerful people who intrigued to get the voyage launched in the first place and then led the expeditions personally, whatever the reasons.  The reasons for the voyage, the characters’ role in the voyage, the cause and source of the curse, and the resolution will all be created in play.  At the start, only a handful of pertinent traits will be defined (likely as simple as an archetypal role–The Priestess, The Conqueror, The Explorer, etc.).  None of this is to say the crew is irrelevant.  Instead they are expendable, literally.  As the quest to remove the curse and get home is played out, crew members can be EXPENDED for some system or narrative power (no idea what yet, but thinking of Homer’s Odyssey and the “expendable crew” trope has me really wanting to make it a mechanic).
As for the ingredients…

Intrigue will tie very heavily into the Past/Flashbacks portion of the game.  I see the first portion of the Flashbacks being an in-game contest as different characters scheme to shape the voyage to their own goals.  Similarly, in the Present/Voyage Home, they’re still going to have different goals and reasons, though they’re also forced to work together to succeed and get home.

Dividers as used to measure divide a path into segments 9easy to correspond with legs of the journey)–I think I’ll do something with the scene structure and switching back and forth between the present and flashbacks based on that).

The Fleur-de-Liswill probably tie to the initial court intrigues and setting up the voyage and  transgression that causes the curse.  I have some very rough ideas, including some I’ve posted before, but it’s all pretty vague at this point.  Then again, I’m leaning towards the details being worked out in game, so it may be presented as a vague ingredient that the players have to work in to the flashbacks… we’ll see.

The Seabirds will probably tie into the voyage home, and be tied to the curse intimately.  As such, they’ll be tied intimately to the present voyage home portion of play.

The Starwill probably be tied to both the intrigue portion and the initial voyage up to the Transgression (in other words to the flashback).  Structurely I’m seeing the star in the flashbacks/initial voyage and the seabirds in the present/voyage home playing contrasting but complimentary roles.
Obviously still pretty rough, but I’m getting excited.

-John B.

Which ingredients bring the heat? Monday, Aug 31 2009 

I’ve been going over the theme and ingredients to figure out which ones to use.  My first reaction was luke-warm, but I’m warming up as I dig in.  I’m not decided on anything yet, but some ideas are percolating.  To start, I’m assuming I’ll use all the ingredients and the theme (though I may cut one or two as  I go).  Oh, and “protagonists as zombies” jumped out at me when I began getting into the mariner headspace… so protagonists zombies, here we come 😀

  • Theme: Intrigue – The first thing I told myself going in is to be careful not to get too caught up in setting or premise until I figured out what the game would be.  It’s not  just supposed to be pretty or fascinating (though those sure aren’t bad things), it’s supposed to be fun and playable and it’s supposed to belong to the group playing instead of me.  Well, “Intrigue” helps tell me what the game’s going to be.  The players are going to intrigue (probably their characters will, too, but that’s still to be seen).
  • Ingredient: Fleur-de-Lis – I started with the Wikipedia link in the Game Chef site.  I’m not interested in the obvious French associations (though I reserve the right to change my mind).  Instead, the religious components jumped out at me, particularly it’s association with feminine virtue and spirituality.
  • Ingredient: Dividers – This is the ingredient I think is coolest for some reason, but I don’t really have a lot of ideas yet.  Measuring distances by walking the dividers across a map… I’ll figure outa way to make it work.
  • Ingredient: Seabird – Keeping with the sailing motif most the ingredients have, and digging into the Wikipedia entry again, the relationship between sailors and certain seabirds (especially albatrosses) jumped out at me.  The superstitions against harming certain seabirds and following seabirds to food or shore seems cool.  Keeping intrigue in mind, opposing religions or maybe sects within religion came to mind.  Sailors as men and the women playing some other role (based on the fleur-de-lis) also is gurgling aroun in my head.  I’m not sure what will float to the top yet.
  • Ingredient: Star – My first thought is to tie this to the seabirds in religious symbology.  But like the divider, stars are heavily tied to the mechanics of early navigation.  Those aren’t exclusive uses.  Hmm.  I’d like to do more with it, though.  Stars also evoke astrology or meteors, bright new stars, and other signs in the heavens that suggesst portents to travel in a certain direction (like over sea…), etc.  Possibly portents read in different ways by different groups… or even hinting that certain events in the near future could determine the destiny of nations (something worth intriguing over, for sure :D)
  • Extra Spice: Zombie protagonists (Archeological and Zombiological Sciences medal) – Mariner zombies are cool to me.  So how do zombie protagonists tie to an intrigue game involving sailing, portents in the heavens, and competing religions?  A bunch of ideas are percolating.  I like tying zombies to seabirds. It feels sort of evocative of stories like the Crow movie, with a nautical flavor.  Also, seabirds that migrate over the sea and back has a lot of cool potential for traveling back and forth between the worlds of the living and the dead.  Alternately, seabirds could be oposed to zombies–we’ll see what shakes out better.  As for the other group(s), do they have zombies, too?  Most likely.  Going back to the Fleur-de-Lis… raising from the dead done by “virtuous” women figures is intersting and there are some twists I could do with that.  the other variant is that virtuous, spiritual women become zombies with the fleur-de-lis tied in symbolically or literally.  Hmm, I’ll have to see how everything else shakes out.  So… why zombies and why zombie protagonists?  The three ideas that come first to mind are: a) if zombies raised from the dead are “chosen” with religious overtones (both the “seabird zombies” and the “fleur-de-lis zombies”), but competing religions or sects, then they could be in leadership roles (whether overt or more hidden) and be the intriguers, b) zombies are the “cannon fodder” on both sides of the conflict (maybe as the sailors–the don’t get scurvy, they just rot), or b) the entire setting takes place in the land of the dead (or rather the seas of the dead).

All of the above is (obviously) just ramblings and early musings.  I may do something very similar to all of that, or go a different direction.  But I’m liking what I’m seeing.

-John B.