More thoughts on a new title

Posted in Game Chef on October 5, 2009 by Dan

As I mentioned, I’m working on a new title for my Game Chef game: Trilogy: An RPG of Epic Fantasy. I was thinking about trying to tie it more strongly into the idea of stories or legends. One idea was to do “Lorekeeper of _____”. I sort of liked that, but there’s something that doesn’t feel right about it. Right now, however, the leading idea is:

Final Hour of a Storied Age

On one hand, I really like “storied” since my game is very much about collaborative story building. On the other hand, playing with double meanings like that might be very cheesy. The other problem is that ending the title with “Age” might be too reminiscent of Vincent Baker’s In a Wicked Age. Some of my mechanics were inspired by IAWA and I don’t want to risk coming across as too derivative. The “Final Hour” part helps to key in on the idea that the epic fantasy stories generated by the game are about determining whether the new age will be an age of darkness or not.

I’ll need to sit with this idea for a while to see if I really like it or not, but right now that’s the leading candidate for the new title.

Need a new title…

Posted in Game Chef on October 1, 2009 by Dan

I found out in this thread over on Story Games that Stephen Bretall and Greg Bretall wrote an RPG called Trilogy for Jake’s Awesome Fantasy Contest. They want to develop further and so do I. It doesn’t make sense to try to compete over the name, even though I’ve been getting pretty attached to Trilogy, so I’ve got to come up with something new.

As I mentioned in a previous post, it would be nice to have a title of the “The ____ of _____” pattern, but I haven’t come up with anything good yet. Right now I’m looking at the words: Turn, Cycle, Wheel, Change, Seasons, Tide, Sweep, Age, Epoch, World, Doom, Era, Eon, Time, Juncture, Hope, Destiny, Crux, Essence, Heart, Hour, Trial, and History. I’d like something that evokes the idea of a turning of ages, or a dramatic change in the world. Epoch has some interesting possibilities since the definition is:

1. a particular period of time marked by distinctive features, events, etc.: The treaty ushered in an epoch of peace and good will.
2. the beginning of a distinctive period in the history of anything: The splitting of the atom marked an epoch in scientific discovery.
3. a point of time distinguished by a particular event or state of affairs; a memorable date: His coming of age was an epoch in his life.

But “epoch” sounds a lot like “epic”, and I’m not sure that works. I’m also not liking “Epoch” as a standalone word title, the way I liked Trilogy.

edit: I’m considering “Axis of Ages” now. Axis has potential, since I want to be evocative of turning points, but the WWII connection is a big downside.

edit2: Maybe “Tides of Hope and Sorrow” or “Cycle of Hope and Sorrow”

edit3: Maybe “Seasons of Hope and Darkness”

[Trilogy] One Month Draft

Posted in Game Chef with tags , , , on September 30, 2009 by Dan

I have a new draft for Trilogy: An RPG of Epic Fantasy, in time for the one-month Game Chef 2009 submission deadline.

It’s mostly the same as the last draft I posted, but I changed the token economy a bit. I wrote a python script to simulate random bidding, and with the previous arrangement the protagonist was winning far too many scenes and the antagonist was always getting frozen out. I increased the number of tokens that Supporting Characters and Antagonists get from 2 to 3, and the Antagonist can choose to take those tokens as Spotlight, Adversity, or any combination. The results of the random bidding seem to be a bit more equitable, but I will definitely need to try this with human playtesters to see if it’s broken. I’m also a little concerned that I’m getting too many tokens into a chapter now, but that may be counteracted somewhat by the need to burn tokens to introduce new characters. That’s another question that I’ll need playtesting to answer.

[Trilogy] Revised Playtest Draft

Posted in Game Chef with tags , , on September 28, 2009 by Dan

I have a rev 0.2 playtest draft of Trilogy: An RPG of Epic Fantasy available. Trilogy is a GM-less no-prep game designed to create the kind of stories you see in your favorite epic fantasy novels or series.

I made a number of improvements based on the first playtest session. There are still parts that need work, such as the scene bidding economy, but I think I need more playtests to better understand what changes need to be made there. I’m interested in getting more playtesting done via Skype, so if anyone is interested in trying it out with me, let me know. Also, any other feedback is appreciated!

[Trilogy] Playtest Report

Posted in Game Chef with tags on September 20, 2009 by Dan

I ran a playtest of Trilogy tonight over Skype with fellow game chef Dave M and non-game-chefs Nate and Shane. On balance things went well, and I got some great feedback for ways to improve things.

We started the situation/setting generation by rolling on the Theme Table.

Dave needed to create 2 seeds: Fire, Star, Small, Mountain, Large, Truth which he interpreted as “Fire from the Dawn Star will strike a small hole in the Devil’s Teeth mountains and reveal a great truth about the nature of good and evil.” He also got Crown, Rich, Family which he interpreted as “The Somerset family’s struggle for the crown will cause them to lose their riches.”

Nate needed one seed: Gold, Throne, Learning, Prophecy which he interpreted as “No amount of gold will allow the throne to learn of the prophecy.”

Shane also needed one seed: Rich, Noble, Summer, Love, Sword, Corruption which he interpreted as “The rich noble Berrengen seeks to end Summer’s Love with the Sword of Corruption.”

I needed two seed. Summer Division Inherit Rich Mountain Throne clearly meant “The summer elves are taking advantage of the dwarven dispute over the throne of the Gold Mountains.” Male, Duty, Star, Female meant “The bodyguard of the star priestess is ever vigilant.”

We cast the star charts for the seeds and Dave’s “Fire from the Dawn Star” became the source of the Protagonist/Status Quo and my “summer elves” sentence became the source of the Antagonist. Things got a little bit rocky here as we tried to work this into a protagonist/antagonist plot axis for the game, partly due to less-than-ideal explanations on my part and partly due to playstyle differences between me and Dave. Eventually we decided that “Gold Mountains” and “Devil’s Teeth Mountains” were different culture’s words for the same place, that dwarves were generally considered “evil” by the world at large and the elves usually considered “good”, that Dave’s character was a dwarf who knew the prophecy of the Dawn Star and wanted to overturn the good/evil stereotypes, and that my king of the elves wanted to seize the fragment of the Dawn Star which would enable him to perform a magic ritual to exterminate all dwarves. We decided that “Summer’s Love” was a reference to the summer elves’ desire to posess the dawn star fragment. Nate combined his “no amount of gold” seed with the “bodyguard” seed to create a bodyguard of the Star Priestess character. Shane created the dwarven noble Berrengen as his character.

We selected traits for our characters and that went pretty smoothly. Dave created Fursythe with the traits Power of Prophecy, Compassionate, _____ (I forget what it was originally, but he later changed it to Charisma), and Guardian. Nate created Egam with the traits Intimidating, Erudite, Semper vigil, Master Swordsman. I created King Goldleaf with the traits Elven Magic, My word is law, Grace and Speed, Elven Troops. Shane created Berrengen with the traits Shapechange, Spirit Control, Intimidation, Swordmage.

We then created the plot segments for the characters, and this part was a little rough. I went for “Assault on the Enemy”, “Acquire the Dawn Star”, and “Magic Ritual”, based on what we had talked about earlier for what the Antagonist would do that would alter the status quo.

Nate’s first instinct was to take “destroy the Dawn Star” as his plot segment, but that created a conflict with mine since it would preclude me from finishing my segment 2 if he finished his segment first (it was also slightly stomping on Shane’s seed, since we had decided that the “summer’s love” in his seed was related to the Dawn Star). Nate agreed to change his plot segment to relate more to the dwarven succession, and took “Place Star Priestess on the throne.”

If I remember correctly Shane’s original idea related to killing my character, but that had a similar problem of short-circuiting the story if he succeeded in completing that plot before the end of the game. He switched to “Acquire the sword of corruption”.

Dave took “Travel to potential allies”, “Make alliance”, and “Abolish Stereotype of Good Elves/Evil Dwarves”. We went back and forth on this for a while, since I was concerned that his segments were too similar to each other and would provide the kind of variability in the story that the plot-segment mechanic is supposed to provide. What we went with seemed to be working out in practice, though. Overall, I definitely need to do more work in the text explaining how the protagonist’s plot is supposed to work. Dave felt like I was constantly shooting him down in terms of what he was proposed, but I felt like his idea for a proactive plot for his character wasn’t properly mapping to the protagonist/antagonist axis that I think is central to the epic fantasy story structure.

We decided to skip the map-making step, since it didn’t seem like there was going to be a lot of global travel and questing. The setup phase took us about 2 hours. Using GoogleDocs to create the star charts was a pretty big time sink, though. Something that probably would have taken less than a minute with pen and paper took significantly longer. Despite some of the rockiness, everyone seemed to agree that the setting/situation creation mechanics were working pretty well, and established a good starting point for us to tell a cool story.

We finished the setup right around dinner time for one of the participants, so we took a half hour break and then moved on to playing out some scenes.

The bidding economy worked fairly well. Dave’s protagonist starred in most of the chapters, escaping from the dwarven lands to the elven lands where he made contact with the underground dissident movement, then escaping back to the dwarven lands to meet up with the dwarven dissidents. My character tried to lead an armed assault against the dwarves, but Shane provided the adversity both times and whomped me pretty soundly in both battles. Nate never got a chance to be in the spotlight, although he provided Adversity a few times, and Shane got one spotlight scene (I think). I definitely need to do some tweaks to the economy, though. I was close to bottoming out on tokens, and it didn’t seem like I would ever be able to get out of the hole I was getting into. The playtesters gave me a few good ideas for fixes here.

I really enjoyed the dice mechanic in the chapters a lot more than I expected I would (especially in King Goldleaf’s epic confrontations with Berrengen). There is definitely some tension between putting lots of dice forward to get more chances to win and not wanting to risk exhausting too many of your traits at once. There were a few times where there was a disconnect when people wanted to narrate things that couldn’t be supported mechanically (e.g. Shane had shapechanged into his dragon and wanted to decimate my elven troops with its fiery breath, although I still would have been able to bring in my elven troops dice on the next round). Dave also felt that there was some mechanical weightlessness to the mechanic, since there is no mechanical effect after each exchange, just at the end of the chapter. There were some ideas for how to improve this, the most promising of which is adding the option to spend victory tokens before the battle is over in order to establish temporary traits like “demoralized” or “on fire”.

We quickly discovered that there weren’t enough valid choices for the Adversity Player to spend his victory tokens on after the fight. I’m definitely going to have to revisit that.

I think it was a very useful playtest and I got a lot of useful stuff out of it, both from my own observations and from feedback by the participants.

Starring Florida Lee and Seabird!

Posted in Game Chef with tags , , on September 16, 2009 by Dan

I fully intend to continue development on Trilogy, but as I was taking a walk tonight I had an idea for a game that would do a better job of incorporating the Game Chef theme and ingredients: “Florida Lee and Seabird in: Mysterious Mansion”.

The idea started when I was thinking about vampire movies (since I was pondering the upcoming playtest of Dave M’s Steampunk Crescendo), and I realized that I had never gotten around to seeing Bela Lugosi’s Dracula. This, naturally, led me to think of the Bela Legosi Dracula performance I did see, which was in Abbot and Costello Meet Frankenstein. This, naturally, led me to thinking about how much it must suck to be the villain in a movie like that, since you are inevitably foiled by someone you consider a bumbling imbecile. And that led to the thought “could that be a game?”.

So the idea is that the players are representing the villains in an Abbot and Costello kind of movie. Rather than risk copyright infringement, I would file the serial numbers off (and incorporate a few Game Chef ingredients) by having the movie star the comedy duo “Florida” Lee Johnson (dimwitted, uses physical comedy) and Albert “Seabird” Ross (straight man, the “brains” of their operation). The movie in question would be some kind of murder mystery in a mansion (intrigue!), where play would encourage the players to come up with elaborate plans that would comically come crashing down due to Florida Lee and Seabird’s involvement.

I really have no idea where I would go with this, except that the murder mystery thing reminds me of the board game Clue, so perhaps it would be a board game. Florida Lee would need to be able to get out off tricky situations by using physical comedy. And Seabird would need to generate some useful resource by bullying or tricking Florida Lee.

Odds are that this idea won’t ever go anywhere beyond this post, but I needed to get it out of my head or I wouldn’t be able to think about anything else.

A brief update

Posted in Game Chef on September 14, 2009 by Dan

Based on my conversation with Rich Rogers in this Story Games thread about Game Chef, I offer this piece of advice to all my fellow contestants: If you want help from other game chefs, ask for it! There has been a lot of low-level grumbling about the lack of mutual support in this year’s Game Chef, and a lot of people seem to expect everyone else to make the first move. If everyone is waiting for everyone else, nothing happens. Be proactive about making connections. Ask for specific help. Comment on other people’s work. Offer commitments for mutually beneficial arrangements. Do your part to make this the kind of community you want to be a part of. OK, down from my soapbox…

I wrote some scripts to analyze the dice probabilities in Trilogy, but haven’t done any more design work on it. I don’t want to risk building too much on top of a questionable foundation, and I haven’t been able to playtest my basic mechanics yet. My effort to arrange skype playtests among game chefs is making some progress, but isn’t moving with blazing speed. Let me know if anyone else wants to get in on the action!