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:

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!

Foresworn Confessions — Week Two

I worked more than 55 hours this week. Plus the standard “taking care of the family” obligations. And my temptress of a wife is upstairs saying “there’s a retelling of Taming of the Shrew on BBC America.” These are the things that stand between me and a finished game. But the overtime is the truly the biggest culprit. Thus:

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

My goals for this week were:

  • Settle on a list of resources and stats (i.e., be able to write up game stats for a character)
  • Stat out two example characters
  • Self-test the die-rolling mechanic with said characters

I only got the first two done this week. The self-testing will move to goals for next week. Life happens.

Here’s a little more about Foresworn. It’s a game about knights and feudal society. But not about chivalry. It’s about upholding one’s oaths when the only code of behavior is the one you make for yourself.

Being me, I’m not interested in details of Setting and evocative Color. I want Situation. All. The. Time.

Characters have a number of Oaths, that give them certain abilities, but if you break your Oath, you lose said ability. Foresworn will require the players to manage Resources (finite, expendable dice that are generated by villages, manors, orders, and other social groups) and their own Stats (reusable dice that belong to an individual character) to acheive the goals required of them by their Oaths. Here are the Resources and the Stats:

Color Description Resource Stat
Green physical needs Food Body
Yellow wealth of the world Goods Skill
Blue the pull of society and the approval of one’s peers Standing Charisma
Red violence Might Ferocity
White spirituality and insight Wisdom Soul

I also statted up Sir Stone, a young knight in love with Agnes, the youngest daughter of the head of his order, and Sir Will, the head of the order who has promised that Agnes will enter the local nunnery. You don’t get to see them, yet.

In the coming week I intend to:

  • 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.

Next weekend is Labor Day, so I may hold off on updating this until Monday.

Foresworn Confessions — Week One

I’ve been thinking about what I’ve commited myself to: Reporting on my progress week after week. It brings flashbacks of my Catholic boyhood. And thus:

Forgive me, Foresworn, for I have slacked. This is my first confession.

In the past week I have:

  • Announced my intention to design and publish Foresworn
  • Devised a schedule of writing, playtesting, editing, layout, and printing that will enable me to complete the game.
  • Felt my way through some preliminary explanatory text about the rules
  • Narrowed the list of potential resources and sketched out brief definitions

In the coming week I intend to:

  • Settle on a list of resources and stats (i.e., be able to write up game stats for a character)
  • Stat out two example characters
  • Self-test the die-rolling mechanic with said characters

I had to put in five hours today, and work looks worse for the coming week, so we’ll see how well reality matches up with my intentions. But I’ve got less than a month to start internal playtesting!
See ya in 7!

Foresworn Development Schedule

I heard so many exciting little bits of stuff at GenCon. One that stuck with me was someone (I forget who) complimenting Luke on how good Dictionary of Mu looks. Luke’s response was something like this: “I didn’t do anything. All I did was send Judd an e-mail every week asking how it was going. Eventually, he started sending me the e-mail about how it was going.” That’s it. A little nag about a little progress. Those small measures of progress add up.

I thought to myself “I could do that. I don’t even have to single out one of my friends to nag me about it. I can just use my blog.” So that’s what I’m going to do. Every Sunday, I’ll be posting what progress I’ve made in the previous week on Foresworn, my game-in-development. It’s not as big and involved as John Wick’s excellent Game Designer’s Journal from the days when he was developing Orkworld. However, I hope it can generate some of the same enthusiasm that column did. It will also keep me moving. It’s one thing to let yourself down. It’s another to let yourself down and tell all your friends about it.

That said, I’m sure that there will be weeks when my only report will be: “Worked an insane number of hours this week. Didn’t work on the game at all.” I hope those weeks will be at a minimum and that I’ve left enough room in my schedule for them.

Let me fill you in on some of my goals for Foresworn. I want this game to create and play out multi-player, conflict-ridden situations. In watching my wife write her Everway LARP, in playing Luke’s BW convention games, in watching a lot of Shakespeare, I’ve found that I like the excitement that comes from everyone having their own agenda and pushing hard to achieve it. I also know that setting up such conflict-intense situations is a skill. I want to make a game out of it. I see the game working in two phases. The Setup Phase is where you create the characters, their interrelationships, their resources, and their agendas. By the end of Setup Phase, you’ll have a situation primed to blow with juicy conflict. Then, in Resolution Phase you play out the results of that setup.

Since Resolution Phase will play more like a traditional RPG/resource management game, I’m going to playtest that part first. Once that is pretty well set, then I’ll move into the relatively-uncharted territory of the situation Setup Phase.

Oh, and I’d like to have it out by Origins. Why? Less new hotness hits the shelves at Origins, so my game would get more notice. It would have a few weeks to get played and discussed before GenCon. Plus, if I do end up missing my deadlines, I can still make a GenCon release.

Foresworn Tentative Schedule:

June 26, 2007: Finished books due back from printer
May 28, 2007: Complete interior & cover due to printer
May 1, 2007: Complete text & art due to layout
April 15, 2007: Final draft text due to editing
April 15, 2007: Final art due
March 31, 2007: Complete external playtesting feedback due
February 15, 2007: Complete external playtesting document out to playtesters
February 1, 2007: Complete internal playtesting feedback due
January 1, 2007: Begin Complete internal playtesting
November 15, 2006: Begin Setup Phase internal playtesting-Setup Phase first draft due
November 1, 2006: Complete Resolution Phase internal playtesting
September 15, 2006: Begin Resolution Phase internal playtesting-Resolution Phase first draft due

What I’ve Got

I’ve got 200 freshly-printed copies of With Great Power… in the trunk of my car.

I’ve got between 2 and 3 dozen boxes of IPR game books in my garage.

I’ve got a reservation for a rental minivan to pick up tomorrow evening.

I’ve got an feeling in my gut that’s a mix of excitement and nervousness.

I’ve got an awesome wife who’s got her own excitement and nervousness.

I’ve got an awesome daughter who’s none too sure about this whole “game convention” thing.

I’ve got about thirty-six and a half hours before I hit the road for GenCon….

…and counting.