Sep. 25th, 2012


Sep. 25th, 2012 08:58 am
eurydicebound: (writing)
Taking an autobiography class right now. Doing so has pointed out to me the odd, half-life someone would find if they read my LJ -- the archive is not the same as the thing, you know?

Ah well. Enough of that.

So, I've been designing a game. This is my very first game that's all my own -- my first solo credit, as it were. It's called A Tragedy in Five Acts (I'm still working on getting the website set up to reflect it) and it's a one-night, one-shot story game. Basically, you and four friends work together to create a five act (three scenes in each act) tragedy that has a Shakespearean feel to it. You bid points before each scene to see who wins narrative control, and then you play the scene out. The person with the most points at the end wins control of the final scene's narrative and can hand out fates for all the characters -- Exiled, Forsworn, or Dead.

Each player has a set role (Daughter, Foil, Lover, Parent, Authority) that they can define as they like, in whatever bare bones setting and time period everyone agrees upon (it's a Shakespeare play -- setting is mostly just window dressing). Each character has extra narrative control in one of the acts, determining scene beginnings and endings as well as entrances and exits in a given scene. No character can show up in more than two scenes in an act, but people can play NPCs (recorded on the Dramatis Personae page).

In addition, each character has a fatal flaw. These flaws give extra points when you reveal them, but then they also dictate your actions once revealed. You can't have a character in a tragedy without a fatal flaw, after all.

Your goal in this as a player is to be the last one to die, thus making it all about you and winning the right to name the play. You can fight it out until the end, choose to support other players, or die/leave early and influence play on your own terms.

Now, as an English major, I think this game is really cool. But one of the things I love about it is not just the play, but how it breaks down what makes a Shakespeare tragedy Shakespearean. There are building blocks -- common roles, relationship webs, etc. that he uses that let you emulate the feel of his plays. That's really exciting to me, that chance to recreate that sort of "oh this is okay -- oh crap no it's not -- aw shit this just came off the rails -- oh wait, it might work out -- GAAAAAAH *stab* *sob* *fall over*" roller coaster experience that is so quintessential to Shakespearean tragedy.

I like that it has room for all sorts of interpretations. I like that the meta-game aspect of it takes the focus off the horror of the characters situations and lets you get that cathartic feeling. I like that there is enough room to tell the story you want to tell and let everyone have their moment in the spotlight. I like that there's both co-op and competition. I like that everyone has equal roles in telling the story, so no one has to be the GM all the time. I love traditional RPGs, but I really do enjoy the chance to have a more focused evening now and again, especially at cons, and I think Tragedy really shines in that mode.


I like designing games. There, I said it. That said, it's hard for me as an RPG designer, because the games I enjoy the most have systems that are very evocative of a specific play experience designed for that game. I feel like generic systems don't actually mesh to different stories, they shape the stories to conform to what the system can support. This means that, to me, every GURPS story feels like a GURPS story, and every D&D story feels like a D&D story. Human psychology is oriented to choose from what's in front of us, not dismantle our options and make a choice off the menu in hopes that it'll be fulfilled. By setting a specific system into play, you're setting the allowed choices for the characters to make -- and while individual choices can take you off the map, they rarely do so from a system perspective unless your player simply doesn't know how the system works or what their character can do.

I am okay with systems shaping stories, really. Most of my favorite long-term play RPGs do exactly that and do it well. That can be a lot of fun. But I'm also just arty enough to have ideas about emulation and crafting mechanics to do what I want them to do in order to evoke a certain feel in play.

For example, I've pondered doing A Comedy in Five Acts as a companion piece to Tragedy. It seems like something of a natural fit -- parts of the experience are actually pretty similar, and his comedies are, if anything, more formulaic than his tragedies. The system will have to change, though, because the meta game aspect is not well suited to the continual effort to come together that is the core of a Shakespearean comedy. You can't be trying always to win over the others and still have all your characters come together harmoniously in the end.

I dunno. I have ideas. I think some of them are clever in their own ways. Hopefully the market will think so too, because I don't think I'll stop designing on and off any time soon.


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