Lessons

I took Foresworn’s resolution system for a little spin with Kat and Michele last night. It was … insightful.

The parts I thought would be fun weren’t. There was a tiny glimmer of potential fun in a part I never suspected. The whole thing crashed and burned in less than an hour. For an initial playtest, it was very productive. That’s what initial playtests are supposed to do.

But it certainly wasn’t “fun.”

Afterward I figured I commisserate w/ Luke over IM. Luke never lets one rest in self-criticism or resignation, though. Within he had me writing a mission statement for my game without realizing I was writing a mission statement. Tricksy abzu!

So, with regard to preparing the game for release at Origins, I’m in really, really good shape. I have continually reinvigorated purpose. I’ve discovered some ideas that don’t work and some ideas that might work with more development. This is a good place to be.

However, with regard to running the scheduled game at Southern Exposure this Saturday, I’ve got nothin’! No way am I going to be able to cobble this together into something that will entertain a group of strangers for four hours. But I’ve committed to run and I’m not about to throw in the towel and quit! So what do I do?

I cheat, that’s what. I grab an already-designed-and-published game, write up a scenario for some of my setting ideas, and run that. I’ll tell any players that “Foresworn isn’t ready for playtest, but I’ve prepped this other game to run instead.”

My first instinct is TSoY, due to its similarity of tone, but I’ve never actually run nor played it, just read it. I’ll go with something I know a little better: Sorcerer. Humanity = Idealism. Demons = Pragmatists, things of the world. I’m sure I’ll learn a great deal by adapting my character concepts to Sorcerer in any case.

Foresworn Confessions — Week Six

Work is bad. What else is new? Several poor nights’ sleep have also taken their toll. Although it’s not progressing fast, it is progressing.

Forgive me, Foresworn, for I am a snail. It has been one week since my last confession.

My goal for the previous week was:

  • Write up a five-character space opera scenario. Don’t worry about game stats nearly as much as conflict-rich possibilities and interrelationships.

I have indeed sketched out 5 character concepts in a plot pulled right out of The Maltese Falcon. I ran them past Kat and she infused them with her trademark dramatic punch.

I appealed to Paul Czege, the patron saint of emotional mechanics, for some suggestions on my emotional mechanics. I don’t quite have a playtestable framework, but I have a plan for that framework, so I’m happy with that. I’m scheduled to run the game in six days. So, I’ve got only one goal for next week:

  • Be ready to run the playtest at Southern Exposure. If folks actually show up, run it.

Doesn’t that look so simple? Sixteen words. How hard can it be? Well, in order to do that, I need:

  • Five character sheets, plus NPCs.
  • An overview of the system, as specific as possible.
  • A self-test of said system.

It will be quite a week. And work will be heinous this week as well. But no one ever said doing what you love would be easy, right?

Foresworn Confessions — Week Five

The project at work that was keeping me there so long a few weeks ago returned on Wednesday demanding tribute in the form of hours. It’s supposed to be back for 3 days of the coming week, also. I’m not exactly swimming in time these days. Thus:

Forgive me, Foresworn, for I have slipped. It’s been one week since my last confession.

My goals for the previous week were:

  • Have a skeleton of the game, no matter how rough, ready to playtest with Kat & Michele.

That was a fairly ambitious goal. It didn’t quite happen. However, I did make a first version of a character sheet, just to organize my ideas about inputs into the resolution system. Like all my early-draft character sheets, it’s ugly with a capital “Ugh,” but it will serve for now.

I had some cool ideas about streamlining setting creation with character creation. I’m thinking about having a massive list of every skill I can think of possibly appropriate for a space opera game. The players and GM all choose the skills they like. All the other skills are not used in the game. They do not exist within the game world. For instance, if no one chooses “Personal Force Field Use” skill, then there are no Dune-style personal force fields.

I have rough idea of how I want things to work, resolution-wise. I chatted a bit about them with Kat and will get her to playtest it with me later in the week when she’s (hopefully) over her sinus infection.

However, I also have less than 2 weeks until that Southern Exposure game! While it’s highly likely that no one will show up, I still need to be prepared. That’s the whole point of signing up to run a convention event this early in the playtest stage! This leads me to my goal for the coming week:

  • Write up a five-character space opera scenario. Don’t worry about game stats nearly as much as conflict-rich possibilities and interrelationships.

I’ve been focusing rather exclusively on high-level, abstract systems and space-opera in general. Perhaps specifics will be helpful. That’s all for tonight. See you in 7!

Foresworn Confessions — Week Four

Whole bunch of jumbled, disorganized stuff to throw out there. Watch out for the mess.

  • I read Dictionary of Mu this week. Probably the greatest setting book I’ve ever read. Why? Not primarily for its red, testosterone-soaked sands and evocative prose (although Marr’d is definitely chest-beatingly cool and the prose does say more in a few sentences than most games say in a few chapter), but rather because the dictionary form slaughters the old paradigm of setting-book-as-atlas and performs a demonic ritual with its corpse. Judd gives us Mu like he’s dumping his toybox on the table. We can pick up and play with what we want to, how we want to. In a world where “RPG setting” has too often meant “imaginary place where your game, characters, and tastes don’t matter,” The Dictionary of Mu is as refreshing as an oasis in a bood-soaked desert. I will be shamelessly aping Oghma, son of Oghma, when it comes time for Foresworn’s setting.
  • Consider yourselves warned: I’m 95% certain that “Foresworn”‘s days are numbered. As a title, at least. It worked well when it was a game about knights and feudal society. But it doesn’t say “swashbuckling adventure across the stars,” does it? At some point, it’ll have to go.
  • This early phase of game design is one of my favorites. The game is so open and full of potential that it feels like it can do anything. Little ideas have been jumping into my head all week and I’ve been jotting them down. That’s a lot of fun. But it hasn’t quite all jelled together yet. Thus:

Forgive me, Foresworn, for I am scattered. It has been six days since my last confession.

My goals for the previous week were:

  • Draft base stats/skills for characters
  • Outline basic resolution mechanic (probably still opposed dice pools. I just like ’em.)
  • Sketch out ways that Oaths can modify the basic stats/skills when used for resolution.

Let me talk about that second point a little bit, because it feeds into the others. At this point in a game design, I feel a little like this:

http://incarnadine.indie-rpgs.com/miraclel.jpg

I know the kinds of things I want on the character sheet–the kind of things I want the player to have to decide among. I know the sort of outcomes that I want the resolution system to provide. I’m just not yet sure how they’re going to intersect with the dice (yes, dice rather than cards this time). I know that all characters (not just the space knights) will have four Emotion pools: Anger, Fear, Joy, Sadness. Think of them kinda like a cross between Sorcerer’s Humanity and WEG d6’s Force and Character Points. They’ll fluctuate through game play. They enable you to do things normally out of bounds, but they also tempt you to do things normally out of bounds. Oaths will still be part of the game. Very specific while Emotions are very general. I’m still debating the inclusion of skills. I normally don’t like ’em, but if the Emotions and Oaths modify your basic numbers, the basic numbers have to come from somewhere, right? That just seems so clunky! But, it will work for playtest, till I find something more elegant.

As far as the outputs, I know that bonuses and penalties need to attach to different actions and scores. I know there needs to be a not-uncommon result that causes the stakes of the conflict to go up, because that’s one of the best things in With Great Power… and I’m totally stealing that. I know that you can’t win anything in a conflict unless you put some part of yourself at risk. How that works, I don’t exactly know, but I’d better get something worked up for playtest soon.

Holy Impending Deadlines, Batman! My original schedule would have had be start playtesting this coming Friday. After last week’s jumping-horses-in-mid-stream, there’s no way that’s going to happen. But, I have already signed up to run a 4 hour slot at Southern Exposure at the end of the month. I want to run the game through its paces with Kat and Michele before I display it to strangers, so that doesn’t give me much time. I’ll have to have something ready to playtest by next week’s journal entry. Thus:

My goals for the coming week are:

  • Have a skeleton of the game, no matter how rough, ready to playtest with Kat & Michele.

There. One goal. Simple, right? I’m just now realizing that I haven’t playtested a new game of mine in over two and half years. So I’m rusty and unprepared. But hey, it’s only a game. And the future looks bright.

Foresworn Confessions — Week Three

It’s been a tough week here in my head. I very nearly shelved Foresworn this week. I debated how much of this struggle to put online, and reminded myself of the three reasons I’m doing these confessions out in front of God and everybody:

  1. To get me to the keyboard every week. Motivating myself is the biggest reason and that’s been pretty successful so far.
  2. To raise awareness of the game. That may or may not be successful, but will only happen if I honestly post the design process. No one’s going to be interested in glib, sanitized spiel. Authenticity is the name of the game.
  3. To encourage other designers. Whenever I hear one of my fellow designers talk about their difficulties with game design, I feel encouraged in my own efforts. The sense of comradery that comes from “Yes, it’s hard for everyone” is important. I can only contribute that if I honestly document my own difficulties.

So, I’m not looking for sympathy myself, but rather to give encouragement to others. Thus:

Forgive me, Foresworn, for I have strayed. It has been eight days since my last confession.

My goals for the previous week were:

  • Self-test the die-rolling mechanic with Sir Stone and Sir Will (probably w/ Agnes thrown in for luck)
  • Write up at least ten different Oaths, one focusing most heavily on each of the 5 Stats and 5 Resources.

I sat down with the Sir Stone and Sir Will stats, a pile of dice, and absolutely no idea of what to do with them. I mean, I knew what the dice would do when I rolled them, but I could not imagine the characters in action. I completely blanked. Some vague notions of “a game about knights, but not about chivalry” were not enough to get me exicited about playing this game. How could I ever hope to excite others? I was bummed.

Frustrated, I tried to write through the block, but ended up staring at the screen for the better part of an hour. I called it a night and decided to finish watching Baz Luhrman’s Romeo + Juliet that I’d started earlier in the week. I loved it, and watched some of the special features. Here’s a paraphrase of something Luhrman said about why he made R+J:

“If you’re going to be getting up every morning for the next two years and working on this project, that takes a tremendous amount of passion. It has to upset you enough, it has to scare you enough, to carry you through.”

In the version I was working on, Foresworn didn’t upset me enough. It didn’t scare me enough. I couldn’t do the self-playtest because I didn’t know quite what was going on. I couldn’t quite see play in my head. Anyone who’s read With Great Power… or Play Right! knows that envisioning play is not one of my shortcomings.

I had to find my way back to the initial spark that had started me on this path. I’ve been jotting down notes on this game for four months. What had gotten me fired up in the first place was my deep and abiding love of Star Wars. I love Star Wars. Love it, love it, love it. Always have. But the Prequels are a blight upon my love’s visage. A stain. They enrage me. I’ve got to do more than just put Foresworn in space. I’ve got to make my Star Wars game. Star Wars the way I see it.

I want laser pistols and space walks and energy swords and lost princesses and oppressive jack-booted thugs and ancient technology and the good fight and massive scale and grand romances that span solar systems and the fate of a million lives hanging on single duel. I want the romance of the past with the zing and excitement of the future, all of it impacting and influencing the mundane present. I want the triumph of the individual over the dehumanizing System, the glory of a fight well-fought, the danger and peril of a harsh wilderness and a zealous, intolerant overlord. I want victory without guilt. I want the aching romance, excitement and adventure of Star Wars, where anything can happen and everything matters and it’s all so big, so fast, and so very, very desperate and personal. Where if you don’t find yourself in time, whole worlds will die. That’s what I want.

So, I will continue to develop Foresworn in this new direction. This is the jolt I need. Some of my work is salvagable. Some of it isn’t. It’s far better to hit this bump now, rather than months down the road. I’m feeling reinvigorated. Plus, any time in the future that I’m feeling lost for direction, I can simply pop in Revenge of the Sith and find myself frothing with passionate outrage.

Which brings me to my goals for the coming week:

  • Draft base stats/skills for characters
  • Outline basic resolution mechanic (probably still opposed dice pools. I just like ’em.)
  • Sketch out ways that Oaths can modify the basic stats/skills when used for resolution.

So, it was a troubling, but ultimately very productive week. I’ll see you in 6!