I always had the vague notion that what I had termed Joys and Sorrows was where the core of this game I’ve been working on lied; in a game about the loss of Humanity, the loss of the Self, Joys and Sorrows represented that which defined what was being lost. But for some reason that I couldn’t pinpoint I wasn’t entirely happy with the mechanic (and I call it that only as a technicality, as it never really became part of a moving system but remained only a cog off to one side).
A few weeks ago while at work, I had a small Eureka moment in regards Joys and Sorrows and the central place I wanted them to have but hadn’t quite achieved. The game, in essence, is about the loss of that which makes you Human, and the stories that emerge from that downward spiral. I was on to the right idea with Joys and Sorrows in that these are player-created statements that describe that which is important and connect the character to their Humanity, as well as defining where the sources of interest and conflict will lie as the story develops. But it was still clunky. I hadn’t found a way to express mechanically, on the physical game level, the loss of these bonds.
And then it hit me.
Over a year ago I wrote about two traits I wanted to focus on in my vampire game, traits I called Joy and Sorrow. These were to be brief phrases that described something that brought Joy to the vampire or cause her Sorrow; either way, they were emotional triggers that kept the vampire connected to her Humanity in the face of the imminent loss of it to the Beast.
Through all the various thought processes, version of the game I’ve assembled in my mind, playtest drafts, moments of frustration, through them all Joy and Sorrow remain at the core of my design. It’s simple why, really: to me, they are the fuel for conflict in my interpretation of the vampire myth via a roleplaying game.
Since V20 was announced, my mind has been churning old thoughts around on the back burner (I am in the middle of classes, after all), stirring them over low heat. Every so often a bubble escapes and a half-formed thought comes to the forefront, teasing me with things I won’t have a chance to pay closer attention to at least for another month. This past week, it was Joy and Sorrow. Again.
Yes, I know that I wrote a goodbye post to this series earlier this year, but what can I say, events in the last few weeks have conspired to bring this back from the dead (pun firmly intended). I’ll talk about the biggest one now.
White Wolf has surprised the gaming world by announcing a very special project to be published later this year, the Vampire: The Masquerade 20th Anniversary Edition, to be released at the Grand Masquerade in September.
This quote from the Basic Design Directives for V20 by Justin Achilli sums it all up beautifully:
Vampire is our crazy ex-girlfriend and we’re scrawling her a handwritten note confessing a desperate, to-hell-with-everyone-else kind of love, and she’s agreed to give it one more go with us.
I was listening last week to episode 18 of Dice + Food + Lodging Podcast, the second part of a conversation between host Tim and guest Robert Bohl. It was an interesting chat all around, but around halfway through the episode they started talking about innovation in gaming, and my ears perked up.
I have a love-hate relationship with that word when it comes to game design. And I’ll admit up-front that it’s my own baggage, by the way.
As a game designer, I fall squarely in the System Hacker camp; I like to tinker with systems I fall in love with and add fiddly bits to them to make them do extra things that appeal to me. That’s why the d20 era was so great for me. As I started to work on my Vampire rebuild, I very quickly copped to my (self-imposed?) limitation saying that I was setting out to put together elements I liked, not to create the Next Big Thing in Gaming (TM). In short, Hey, I’m just messing with existing parts, not creating new ones. I did this because I have never thought of myself as that kind of game designer: I see some of the really nifty ideas-turned-games out there and I appreciate the elements they add to the general gamer/designer toolbox, but never think I can do it as well. Again, my own baggage for another occasion.
The point is that innovation is this bugbear in my game design highway that I constantly feel I need to be on alert for. So when I hear the topic come up in this conversation, it immediately recalls to my mind all these thoughts and feelings. But this time, there was an extra piece that had never been there before.
It’s been months since my last entry in this series, since the last time I dedicated serious mental space to the topic of vampires and to the game that began to emerge from these ruminations. I am here to put the proverbial nail in the coffin, or more appropriate, the stake in the undead heart. Sunrise has come; this series is now over.
When I started what would eventually turn into the Rebuilding Vampire series, I was simply gushing enthusiastically about a game that still holds a special place in my heart, Vampire: The Masquerade. From there, I went on to deconstruct certain elements of the vampire myth that I felt VtM was underserving and found myself designing the beginning of a new game, one centered on the issues of the vampire’s story that I found most appealing, namely: the struggle with the beast within, the certainty of the fall into the abyss, and the struggle of how to best live during the inevitable fall. I can tell you that those are still items that are of essential interest to me and to my enjoyment of the vampire myth.
The problem, as it were, lies in what this developing game latched onto within me as I worked on it. In 2009 I lost my mother to cancer, and it affected me in ways which I refused to acknowledge, even as they drove me down into a deep dark pit and affected every other relationship in my life. Working on the vampire game, this game that I eventually came to call When The Fall, became a way to tap into that darkness within towards some productive goal. It worked, it focused the pain I felt and helped it move out of me, but at a great mental and spiritual cost at times. If use the word drained please don’t think it’s merely a clever pun.
This first playtest for the rough first draft of the vampire game was indeed played at Gen Con 2010. Let just state it up front, in case you want to move on to other things: it was a disaster; the kind of good disaster you want a playtest to be, but a disaster nonetheless. If that’s all you wanted to know, then you’re free to go do groceries or whatever else you had planned; if you want to read more, you are a masochist, but in that case, just go on.
As I prepare to leave for Gen Con, I whipped up a simple character sheet to use for the playtest of When The Fall…
[RAW]When the Fall… – Gen Con Playtest Sheet [/RAW]
It’s incredibly bare bones right now, containing only the stats I have outlined here in previous posts. The main statistic is the Humanity/Beast scale, front and center. To the left are the Blessings of Humanity, where a player writes his Joys and Sorrows; to the right are the Curses of the Beast, where the vampiric powers are recorded. At the bottom is Willpower, grounding everything in reality.
The spaces at the bottom are for recording Consequences taken during conflicts, and I may have other uses for them if I can organize my thoughts in time before the game (guess what I’ll be doing during my flight to Indianapolis).
I’m going with a dice mechanic of a total dice pool of 10, with players choosing how many dice they commit to any action up to that number, with minimum Humanity/Beast dice based on the trait they are using, whether a Joy/Sorrow or a Vampiric Power. Target number will start at 7 and be adjusted during gameplay as needed, with 2 successes needed for any Easy task.
I haven’t written yet about Feeding, but very quickly, I’ll be using that as a scene option that a player can call for. After framing the scene and roleplaying the action, dice are rolled: if successful, Willpower is entirely refreshed if the vampire kills the victim (which triggers a Humanity check), 2 points are refreshed if the victim is left alive (which triggers a Frenzy check as the Beast does not like to be denied). These checks are rolled with the character’s Humanity or Beast dice respectively, and they need to score more successes than they have current Willpower points to not succumb to the Beast.
I’m both excited and nervous to run this game on Saturday night. I’ll be sure to write about the experience after I return from the convention.
Ok, it’s time. Gen Con is in a week and a half, and I want to run my first playtest of this game there. I’ve dropped the ball a bit on blogging and development during the last couple of weeks, due to traveling and vacation time, among other things. It doesn’t mean I haven’t been thinking about the game, about the parts I had yet to build, about where to take this. I have, it’s just been all behind the scenes. But that doesn’t matter now. What matters is that in a week and a half, I need to have a working draft of this game to play at Gen Con so I can start putting the idea and the system through its paces.
I’ll be running the playtest on Saturday, August 7, from 9 PM to Midnight, almost assuredly at the Embassy Suites. The game information is already up on my Gen Con Schedule post, as is the list of the players that have confirmed their attendance.
I must warn: this will be work. Playtesting is fun, but it’s a different kind of fun than just roleplaying. We’ll be making characters, seeing how that moves, then play a few encounters, both pure roleplaying and conflicts, to see how those parts of the system behave. If something’s not working, we’ll make changes on the fly to see if we can fix it. I want and need feedback, and that will only come from putting the proto-game through the wringer. After it’s all done, we’ll chat for a bit and I’ll gather the playtester’s feedback, then we can all go and enjoy the last night of Gen Con.
Lastly, I now have a working title for the game (though the series will continue being called Rebuilding Vampire). Through all the development, one phrase has been the clearest idea of what the theme of this game is, and in my mind, it titled the game a while ago; I’ve just come to accept it. For the time being, the game is titled “When The Fall Is All There Is, It Matters.” Or more simply, “When The Fall…”
Ready or not, here we go.
In Vampire: The Masquerade, vampires can enter a state called “torpor,” an extremely deep slumber basically comparable with stasis. This word entered my household’s regular use years ago and is one we sometimes whip out in front of “normals” without noticing except for when we see the confused faces wondering, what language are these two speaking? That’s two very long sentences merely to get to my point that I feel like I’ve fallen into torpor regarding development of the vampire game.
It’s not that my interest has waned in any way, but that the forced breaks during classes have cooled my writing engine and now I’m finding it very hard to get it restarted. Obviously I’m trying – this post, which really doesn’t say much – is me turning the key in the ignition, letting the car sputter, hoping the car will finally turn on.
Ok, enough of the car analogy.
My point is, to have stepped away from this project for months (and the occasional short post I threw in there was merely a way for me to keep the topic current in both my mind and yours, but not really a full-fledged effort at actual on-the-fly game design) makes it really hard now that I have time to go back to it with the same level of enthusiasm as in the beginning. Not impossible, just hard.
I’m not saying anything that doesn’t apply to any writer, I know. I’m just working through my own awakening from torpor.
I continue to hold Gen Con as a deadline for a playable-with-me first draft (this being a draft that is playable only if I’m running it, that is, one full of mnemonics, short phrases completed in my head, references that I’ll understand), which leaves me about a month’s time to work through the parts I know are still missing and put the entire thing together into some semblance of order.
I’m also fighting an innate tendency in my own personality: the close-enough-you-can-see-the-finish-line drop in interest on a project. By nature, I’m far more efficient on the early stages of any project; I have energy, ideas, desire to get the thing going, motivation. I’m a starter, one who gets fires burning. But I have a problem in the long term, as I lose steam or get distracted by other new projects. It’s simply a reality, and unfortunately I have not had the fortune of partnering up with others who can complement my early-in-the-game fire with the endurance needed for the long haul. Given how writing this game has been such a solitary endeavor, it means it is up to me primarily to work through the lethargy and find the inner reserves needed to see this project to its end. Which I desperately want to do.
So, one month left, and perhaps about 25% more of the game to get designed enough for a first playtest draft. I can do it. I just have to shake off this torpor and get designing again. By Dracula’s teeth, I will finish my first full-fledged game.
I love when little things like this fly by my Twitter feed. This is a parody song about Twilight sung by what looks to be Count Dracula. It’s awesome. And beyond the comedy, it does hold certain truths I happen to agree with about the interpretations of the vampire myth in the last couple of years. You could say my vampire game-in-progress is all about growing a pair…