Archive for the ‘design’ Category

Perhaps I should have held off on this morning’s blog post about presenting background, as this afternoon Jeremy Keller has expanded on the notion of Transmissions by bringing the goods to the table and showing us an actual Transmission. A thing laden with promise, I’m sure you’ll agree, pulsing with ideas just ready to be used in the pursuit of story.

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A while back I thought a little about how best to present background as part of a roleplaying game and I wanted to revisit that topic with some fresh ideas.

Something Jeremy Keller posted a few weeks back as part of his design thoughts struck a chord with me and is potentially the missing piece of the puzzle that I’ve been looking for – how best to present background and get the players to buy into that.

With regard to his latest game, Technoir, Jeremy talks about the role of Transmissions, which are self-contained capsules of information regarding different aspects of the setting (chiefly different cities), principally as a means to generate plot ideas for the GM. This got me thinking – what if these capsules not only delivered plot ideas for the GM, but also in-game background for the players to easily digest?

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One thing I’ve been wrestling with recently is the notion of background material in rpgs, and how we can best convey it to a) the reader and b) the player. This has come about because, unlike Dead of Night, a couple of my current projects have background of their own, and I’m pondering how I can get my own ideas about a setting across in a useful and relevant way.

Historically in rpgs, the way this has been done is very much top down. The background was presented via the medium of rulebook and supplement to the GM (and often the GM alone, because, you known, campaign secrets/spoilers abound). The GM would then convey the setting material to the players by some nebulous and unspecified means – perhaps by showing and telling in the game, perhaps by handouts or maybe even by homework of reading vast reams of text.

I used to do this, but inevitably grew frustrated when the players didn’t always pay attention or get onboard with the background – but why should they? They had no buy in, no investment, no connection in their own to the world . I remember Weapons of the Gods strove someway to alleviate this, with aspects of the background that the players could ‘buy’ as their own, almost giving ownership of different areas of knowledge to different players. But in many respects this still wound up with the same problems as the GM imparting knowledge – fundamentally the players had to do the legwork by reading up on all the background to see what interested them in the first place.

Of course, the pendulum has swung the other way somewhat. Many games nowadays don’t have set background at all (or only very roughly sketched background) and instead the players create the background around the table as part of play. Burning Empires coined the phrase ‘world burning’ and the name has kinda stuck. This gets all of the players onboard, investing them in the setting by harnessing and using their own ideas and creations.

But sometimes you don’t want to make up the setting, sometimes you want to play in an established setting that you know and love (but the players might not). What to do then? Is there a compromise? How can you create buy in and investment without necessarily creating from whole cloth?

The game I’m hoping to publish next is Lost Days of Memories & Madness, which was my Game Chef entry back in 2007 (the same contest that Paul Tevis’ A Penny for My Thoughts came out of) that turned out to be rather fun in play. Rather unusually for me, I’ve not gone about commissioning art and then writing the game, but have written the game and am now commissioning art.

I’ve admired the art of George Cotronis for a while now, even since he did the cover for Don’t Lose Your Mind, in fact. There was something sinister, otherworldly and faintly insane lurking beneath the surface of his art that was unique, and a perfect fit for Memories & Madness.

Anyway, here’s the rambling art brief I sent him on Monday – hopefully I’ll be able to share some of the ensuing illustrations soon.

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One of the things I love about TV series such as Supernatural or Buffy is that they have their own mythology, their own way that monsters “work” within the confines of the setting. Movies do that too, but because they’re so focused on a single monster or a single premise, you rarely get to see it develop. There are exceptions, of course.

A demon in Supernatural works in a certain way, dies in a certain way. Likewise a vampire in Buffy. The audience is taught this, expects this, which – later, once this is established – allows the writer to mess with those expectations and create tension and drama in the process.

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A guest blog by James Mullen.

I’ve wanted to run a zombie apocalypse game for a long time and the release of Dead of Night, 2nd edition seemed like the ideal opportunity to do so. The game I had in mind would riff off Max Brooks’ World War Z and Robert Kirkman’s The Walking Dead, so it would be a long-running soap opera with Zombies, spanning weeks, months or even years of the characters’ lives in a post-apocalyptic world.

It was readily apparent that no one had ever run any sort of campaign using Dead of Night before, so the question was: would it work? My experience of running and playing in one shots suggested a high mortality rate and the rules only suggest refreshing 2 Survival Points for each character who survives to appear in a sequel session. If I was going to keep the characters alive for more than a session or two, I was going to need something extra to assist their survival.

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So Dead of Night has been out for a little over a month now, and thoughts have turned to the inevitable question: what next? Of course there are countless other games on the go, including a couple that will surface sooner rather than later, but that’s not really what’s being asked. It’s what’s next for Dead of Night.

Well, I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t thought of it, as I have. Quite a bit. In the final stages of Dead of Night’s writing, both James and Scott suggested the same idea, which I’d also been mulling over – a book of scenarios.

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