Even though I rarely make an appereance here I keep up with the Master Mines feed, so I’m aware of how you’re all doing, and even more aware of how much I am not participating, either with posts or comments. This (and some other stuff) has led me to ponder why I have not been participating, why I haven’t really been working on the designs I said I would work on, which in turn led me to ponder about the type of designer that I am.
The truth is that I don’t know that I’m the kind of designer that would really have a place here at Master Mines, at least not most of the time, certainly not now. Why? Because as a general rule, I’m not the kind of designer setting out to create a whole game, whether original or patched/hacked from an existing ruleset. It’s not that I wouldn’t mind doing it, it’s just that it’s not my natural inclination. I am a system hacker: I love adding fidly bits to D&D/d20, creating quick scenarios, coming up with alternate rules for one subsystem. For example, I wouldn’t necessarily create 1st Quest as Judd Karlman did, but I would totally put together an article-type product with a whole bunch of new keys and secrets for The Shadow of Yesterday, or grab a bunch of keys and secrets and translate them to d20, whether as feats or as a whole new subsystem for story goals and rewards. That is the designer that I am.
Another example: recently, my attention has been grabbed by three big projects I have going. One is a d20 Modern/Spirit of the Century setting that I am contributing to/lead developing along with a freelancer, the second is the official True20 versions of the ancient world Mythic Vistas settings (Testament, Trojan War, Eternal Rome) for Green Ronin, and the third is the 4C system. My attention shifts between these three during the day, and some days I am totally all about one of them to the exclusion of the others for a short while (thus why I have freelancers working on two of the projects). Right now I am enjoying immensely playing around with the 4C System, the open emulator of the Marvel Super Heroes/FASERIP system; the system was released last year, everyone apparently forgot about it, and now my friend/co-developer Mark Gedak and I are making support for it and finding out there indeed is a market for it.
Now, there is obvious design work going on here all over the place. Story is being crafted and revised on all projects, and mechanics are being converted, created, brainstormed all the time. But these stages happen haphazardly, in the sense that while we work on one main part, things are thrown back and forth for later use. I could come here and talk to you about the issues of meshing Anime, Pulp and Horror in order to create a slightly campy/slightly action-packed/slightly horrific setting that can support all three aspects in varying levels of concentration, but not exclusively, because I might be working on that today, and tomorrow I might be writing about how to effectively model a system of Piety in True20, or laundry-listing a group of cool villains for the next 3000-word-max 4C product we put out.
It may be that one day I will be able to put aside everything else to focus on one game, but the thing is that more than a designer, I am a publisher and a developer. I enjoy the process of taking an idea and directing its evolution as a conductor directs an orchestra. I love designing my own stuff, but just as well I love taking a manuscript submitted and tightening it, fleshing it out, slimming it down, rounding it out to a level where I can say, “I would/can publish this.” I enjoy discussing an idea on Monday, having Mark work on it on Tuesday, getting a manuscript on Wednesday, editing/finalizing/laying it out on Thursday, and publishing it on Friday. Even more, I enjoy the idea that I could be of help to any and all of you to get your games in front of a bunch of people using the connections, deals and lessons I have learned after 4+ years of self-publishing.
Satisfaying as this all is, it leaves me with the same question: do I, then, belong in Master Mines, a place created to support fellow game designers during the process of creating a game? As a commenter, yeah, sure. But as one of the main members of the group? I don’t think so. Not because I don’t like it, or like being a part of it, but because I’m not doing what the site, what the group, was created to support.
I will one day get back to work on Grand Tour, and I will quite likely create that generational mechanic to plug it into the True20 Ancients line, but the truth is I don’t know when. Whenever I do I’ll be happy to share it with all of you, but I can’t promise that it will happen in a way that meshes with the rules of this group, mainly because my design is scattered and based in great part on what I find awesome at the moment and/or what I can get ready for publication to start making money for the next project.
So as of now I am withdrawing from Master Mines, hopefully to make space for someone who will make the most out of this fantastic group we have here. I won’t be a stranger, at all, and I am rooting for every single one of you and your games.
So it’s been a while since I’ve done anything with Grand Tour, and at this moment I don’t see that changing. I like the idea, and I think using PTA as a springboard for hacking out a system for me to use is a good thing to do, but it seems every time I sit down to lay down plans I draw a blank. I think I need to let this one simmer for a while in the dark corners of my mind, let it solidify some more before I can handle it and mold it. That leaves me, though, with a void to be filled.
I’ve two projects that I could tackle now:
- Eldritch Rangers – this is a setting-like thing that I am developing with a co-writer as a project for Highmoon Media Productions. The basic idea is “Power Rangers vs. Cthulhu (if the Power Rangers had been created in the 1920’s by Nikolai Tesla, Alister Crowley and the Maharal of Prague, creator of the Golem).” It’s Pulp-Anime and it’s supposed to make you cringe the way you did when you read that description. We originally were going to work it as a mini-setting for d20 Modern, but after a chat with Fred, I will also be doing it as a setting for Spirit of the Century. The d20 Modern part is cake for me, and my co-writer, Scott Carter, has that part down pat for the most part. The FATE part is what I would focus on here, because, as light a system as FATE is, it is still crunchy enough to demand serious attention when creating new rules and fiddly bits.
- Unnamed Ancients Project – Anyone who knows me or follows my HMP product releases knows I am very much into historical gaming, and especially into Ancient World games/settings. I publish Targum Magazine, and through that I get to indulge my love for the ancient world, albeit in someone else’s sandbox, be it Green Ronin’s Mythic Vistas settings, or general d20. For a long time now I have had the itch to put out my own Ancients RPG, and while for a time I though to do it d20, then I also considered True20 (not an option I have yet tossed aside), I now also consider doing a new system. Or parts of a system. Because the thing is that aside from the cool Ancient World ass-kicking-adventure parts that would be a part of the game, one of the concepts I am most interested in developing is the idea of Civilization as a game mechanic, that not only would this game allow you to play a warrior in Biblical Israel, Mythical Greece or Imperial Rome (almost like 3 separate games in one), but also allow the option of creating a Family that starts in, say, Mesopotamia, where you play this one character, go and have awesome sword-and-sandal adventures with him, then you can flip into a macrocosmic level, trace the character’s Family through a couple of centuries until you reach a new era where you want to drop down into the microcosmic level, and play there again, and so forth. So, to give an example, you could play this guy named Abram/Abraham that starts in Ur-kasdim in Ancient Mesopotamia, go on a few adventures with him in the micro level, flip up to the macro level, develop the Family for a few generations until you reach the Hellenistic era, flip down to the micro again, and play this other character, Judah Maccabee (a descendant of your previous character), in a new series of adventures.
By sheer word count above, one might be inclined to think option #2 seems to excite me more, but they both excite me equally; it’s just option #1 is a lot more defined in my head than #2, and I needed to explain more here to share the idea.
So, I will think about this and make a decision. But I also would welcome very much your input.
Originally posted at Master Mines.
After my last post, there were two comments in particular (#7 & #8) that really left me thinking and have been bouncing about in my head for a while. This is the result of that.
First, Ryan asked if the game is about being in the trip, or about retelling a trip that has passed. An excellent and essential question that I thought I had addressed, but realized I had not.
The game, in all the ways I have envisioned it, has always been about telling the story of a trip. At first I thought there was no difference whether it was in the present or past tense, but since Ryan threw that out there, I have been mulling it over. I would rather the game happen in the present, say with a statement like, “And thus begins our grand tour,” as opossed to “And thus began our grand tour.” That choice of verb tense has made me realize that the mechanics I need to build have to support a present-tense storytelling experience where all the participants, or Travelers, are equally involved in telling the story but also being surprised by the unforseen twists that come during any tour. Which leads me to my next point.
Robert Bohl suggested that I “give in” to my system hack desires and start writing Grand Tour as a Primetime Adventures hack, then take it from there. I like his idea. I sometimes feel self-conscious about doing system hacking as opossed to writing rules from the ground up, like I’ll be looked down upon, like I’m not a real game designer (I know it comes from the fact that my main source of system hacking design is d20, but that is an issue for another day). So screw that. PTA showed me a lot of very interesting things about story framing and simple conflict resolution with ubiquitous items such as cards that I’d be a fool not to allow myself to be inspired by it. So Grand Tour, as it stands, is starting life as a PTA hack geared towards telling stories of people traveling on a tour.
What I most like about the PTA resolution mechanic is how the suits and colors play into the results of the conflict. I have also been inspired by the rash of games lately that are using rich rolling (to use Fred Hicks’ term), extracting as much information as possible from one roll. So coupled with the paragraph above and my target verb tense, what I need to do is create a way for the card-based resolution to yield a variety of information that can be used to dictate how the narration for a scene should go. Suit, color and value will obviously feature heavily here, but what I am trying to figure out is a way for the results to also introduce the complications.
I have a couple of ideas rolling around that I want to put down in writing: for example, having each suit represent an aspect of the Tour like Budget, Entertainment or Stamina, so that when a particular card comes up, based on the suit, it dictates something about the scene that needs to be incorporated; or having certain cards in the deck represent complications, so that if they come up, something just went wrong and all players are surprised by it; or having each player be represented by a suit or an individual card, so that if that suit/card comes up, it dictates who is involved in the next scene.
So that’s what I’m working on, grabbing PTA and figuring out what works and what doesn’t for the game I want to write, so that I can start hacking the system to accomplish the things I need specifically.
Originally posted at Master Mines.
So I’m coming back to the design of Grand Tour slowly after a (practially) 3-month hiatus, and I’m already running into a bit of a problem.
Grand Tour is a weird concept in that, while I have the theme down, I am still struggling with figuring out the meat of the game. In essence, right now, it is nothing more than a glorified storytelling session with a Travel theme limitation. I’m not saying that’s bad, but I can’t say that it is good either; at least it doesn’t feel good to me yet.
While at Gen Con I got into a couple of games (aside from all the ones I had a chance to look at/through), one of them being Primetime Adventures (the Star Wars Episode LV game run by Judd). I LOVED that game. I read it on the flight up to Indy, and while it sounded cool, it didn’t make much sense. Once I played it, though, it really zinged for me, and the very simple card-based mechanics really impressed me as a quick way to handle conflicts. The fact that it uses cards appeals to me too, because one of the design restrictions I have decided to work under is that the game needs to be travel-friendly, and cards are something that are cheap, can be packed away easily in a backpack and are available virtually everywhere in the world.
Cut to later, when I start thinking about Grand Tour again – now I can’t get out of my head the card-based mechanic of PTA as a very viable way to handle conflict between Travelers in Grand Tour. In essence, Grand Tour has become in my mind this very specialized thematic hack of PTA that can be played with the same rules. That sounds cool at first glance, but I am double-guessing myself here thinking, am I just taking the easy way out? I mean, this wouldn’t even count as system hacking; it’s be PTA with a thematic template on top.
I’m not necessarily opossed to Grand Tour being a system hack of PTA, but I don’t necessarily want to go for that option right off the bat without exploring other choices. For that, however, I need to better define what I want my game to be like, and about, which will be my next step.
It’s good to be back.
Originally posted at Master Mines.
So I finally got around to answering the Big Three design questions! These are three core questions that Jared Sorensen, John Wick and Luke Crane came up with to help a designer focus his/her efforts.
Next step, first draft.
- What is your game about?
Grand Tour is a game about travel: getting a group together, planning a tour, taking the trip and reminiscing about it afterwards.
- How is your game about that?
Grand Tour includes phases representing the stages of a trip as described above. Character generation results in the Travelers, who then cooperate to create a Tour, who then engage in shared narrative to describe the events of the trip itself. During this phase, players can narrate, add facts or throw in complications, seeking to rack up Memorability while avoiding Burnout and/or arguments that could make it a trip to forget.
- What behaviors will your game reward?
Grand Tour rewards a shared narrative experience where different players all combine to tell one story by awarding Memorability points to a scene based on the initial narration, and any added facts and/or complications thrown in. Players are encouraged to work together towards the creation of a memorable trip, which always include some good and not-so-good times, and penalizes players who try to hog the spotlight, or set out to create a narration where everything goes wrong, by awarding Burnout points.
I’m not entirely convinced with what I wrote, but it does give me a clearer vision of what I want to achieve. Have at it.
I’ve been thinking about a possible game I want to write lately. Let me throw out what (little) I have so far.
The game is tentatively called Grand Tour, and it is a game about Travel: the pre-trip hype, the excitement/trepidation of the actual tour, and the bummer of coming back home.
The players take the role of Travelers, the people going on the trip (kinda obvious). These can be of background/age/race/religion/etc. just like the travelers one meets on the road. Certain groups make some sense (high school/university graduates on a post-graduation trip, young and seasoned hostel veterans, retiree adventurers) especially once one figures in the factor of the Tour (see below).
Player characters would have a combination of hard and loose stats. For example, hard states include things like Endurance measures a Traveler’s energy levels and fatigue as the trip goes on; Resources measures a Traveler’s cash (probably pre-set at Tour creation?); and Stress measures both the initial amount of stress a Traveler begins the Tour with (you know, why one is taking a vacation for in the first place) and also the amount one accumulates as a party travels together, getting on each other’s nerves. Stress could be a sliding scale with Relaxation, with scores changing during play. Loose stats include player-defined Traits that define the Traveler (sort of like Aspects, if you will) and include things like who is the party clown, the stickler for schedule, the bar hopper, etc.
The skeleton upon which Grand Tour is played is, well, the Tour, and this gets constructed at the table much like a communal character. A Tour has stats as well, starting with Name: as simple as Cosmos Italy or Rick Steves Best of Europe, or imaginative like The Transfiguration Tour or The Hellhoot Adventure. (BTW, these are the names of 2 of the 4 trips I’ve taken to Europe with family/friends.) The Name kind of defines also if the Tour is Fixed/Pre-packaged, or if it is Custom/Free-form, with this decision affecting some of the stats below.
Then we have hard stats like Time (how long is the tour), Schedule (the trip itinerary which the Travelers will either strive to follow or blow to the four winds), Mobility (a measure of how much one has to move to hit all the locations in the schedule – interacts with a Traveler’s Stress and Resources), and Rigidity/Flexibility (maybe a sliding scale – how fixed is the itinerary, with pre-packaged tours being very much towards the rigid side, and free-form ones being more towards the flexible side, though there can be combinations).
The game would be played in a series of Phases, each part broken into parts and scenes. Phase 1 is the Pre-Trip phase, which includes Traveler and Tour creation, as well as defining all the variables for the particular tour and the establishment of the shared story of the Travelers.
Phase 2 is the trip itself, with each location in the schedule being a part, and sub-locations being scenes. So for example, if you are doing a Tour of Paris (6 days), and your schedule includes the Louvre, Versailles (hey, a side trip!) and the Eiffel Tower, Paris in general would be a Part and the Louvre would be a scene, Versailles would be a scene, etc. This is still kind of loose, because there are sub-locations you can combo up (see Napoleon’s Tomb and the Eiffel Tower the same day) and others which could take a whole day if not more (the Louvre ), thus needed more than one scene for the sub-location.
Phase 3 is the Post-Trip phase, in which the Travelers return home and may have to deal with the effects of post-tour funk or Bummer (this depends on the individual Traveler – some people comparmentalize their vacations and don’t let it affect their lives, while others take some time to gather back what they left behind, like me), or even if they returned at all!
As you can see, this still needs lots of work and thought, but I figured I’d put it out there to make it real, to stake a claim that I am doing this. And to fish for thoughts.Â
Have at it.