Last night was a fruitful night for Et in Arcadia Ego. We’ve been talking a lot about feminism, sexism, privilege, and judging the past by modern standards. All of this is, of course, of immense importance to any game trying to put itself in a period of immensely inequitable gendering and even worse class divides. But the key thing that I want to talk about right now is what this brought us to, in terms of game mechanics.
I’ve been thinking lately about the different kinds of play encoded in classic card games. It’s kinda cool, really: most card games are highly social games, in terms if where the locus of interaction lies. This means that they can do a really good job of informing the more game-y elements of our RPG design.
So, as work on our cyber-noir game Piece of Work, I see it more and more as having Texas Hold ‘Em at it’s core, where there’s common information and there’s hole information, and you need to second-guess the forces arrayed against you and use what you have to win by strength or bluff.
As we work on Austin’s top-secret game about what it’s like to fight for your home against its enemies, both internal and external, I see it as being shaped like Hearts. You take on some pain and risk as you fight, but you could go another route: take on all the pain and shoot the moon. If you fail, you fail bad. But at a certain point, do you have another option?
And as I work on Et in Arcadia Ego, I see it like Blackjack. You push for what you want, but constantly risk going too far. Then the façade of civility falls, and everyone sees the raw human malice and desire and need under it all that they’ve been furiously denying, and they turn their faces from you, making you carry the burden of their shame.
Of course, Arcadia is the only one of these games that actually uses cards. But the structure is there regardless of the implementation.
Metatopia was great. That’s the short of it. It was a relatively small con, but full of good smart people. I played two games, besides my own playtests, but went to a lot of panels and talks and spent a lot of time hanging out at the bar discussing game design. It was just what I was looking for.
Sometimes, I think about game development in a computer-game-y way. Particularly, I divide system—procedures, rules, crunch, etc.—from assets—the pre-provided things you use to engage with those systems.
As I’ve been working on Et in Arcadia Ego, and particularly thinking about how to make room for continuing content, I’ve realized that the continuing content has to be an asset, though not all assets have to be that pluggable. I’ve also realized that making assets is a very different skill from making systems, and engages people differently.
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I’ll be at Metatopia the weekend of November 4th, in Morrisotwn, NJ, representing Transneptune Games. I’ll bring Et in Arcadia Ego to play in its current form, and I’ll be officially running it at 8pm-midnight on Friday and 3pm-7pm on Sunday. If you’re there, come say hi!
You know what’s great? Buying a game, being a fan of it, being able to go to your friendly local game store and get more for that game and incorporate it into your play, reinvigorating it and helping you keep enjoying this game you love. Or maybe you don’t even have to buy it, if the designers release it for free—less support for the FLGS, but easier on your wallet. Or maybe you don’t have to buy it, but you do have to do something for it, some kind of weird activity.
At this point, we’ve moved beyond the “single simple perfect game” vs. “supplement treadmill” debate, I hope. The problem isn’t supplements, it’s poorly-thought-out supplements, it’s supplements with too many moving pieces to interact with the core and the other supplements cleanly. It’s supplements produced cynically to keep milking a property. But neither is a single-book game perfect. If the book is a seed to the random number generator of our brains, we sometimes want or need other books (or content) to get more seeds to get more outputs.
So, we’ve started to see some games doing an interesting thing, making free well-considered content that fits in and adds to the replay value of the original game. The two big examples of this are, to my mind, Fiasco‘s playsets and Apocalypse World‘s playbooks.
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- Let me say: I don’t think that any but the second of these claims can be made substantively, but the other two are at least perceived to be the case sometimes. [↩]
- While the names are very similar, they’re importantly different: playsets are collections of content for different settings, to be used one-at-a-time in each game. Playbooks are types of character, to be combined in the same game with the other playbooks and with the playbooks in the core Apocalypse World book. [↩]
John and I were talking recently about Exalted, a game that Austin has a deep and complex relationship with, that I have never cared for or about. I was trying to hash out what my problems with it were, and we stumbled on something I think is interesting. What follows may be rambling.
Other people have talked about implied setting before, notably Ryan Macklin. The short version is that there are two ways to communicate the setting of your game to the potential players: one, stated setting, is by outright telling it to them (“The Order of the Basilisk was formed in 1132 by the archmage Rowan Farlight, to counter the forces of the warlord Grum…”) and the other, implied setting, is by hinting at it through bits of the game’s content (“Spell: the Basilisk’s Eye. When you cast this spell, anyone loyal to the warlord Grum glows with a faint aura visible only to you…”).
What I want to talk about, though, is a distinction that is related, but different: the distinction between living setting and calcified setting. ETA: by living setting, I mean setting that is amenable to addition, typically through play. By calcified setting, I mean setting that has a definite canonical form that does not admit of change.
This is a post about a general topic, inspired by an issue I’m working on in Et in Arcadia Ego. I’ll start with the specific.
In Et in Arcadia Ego, conflict and drama revolve around social issues. The question of duels is still an open one, but generally speaking, no one is going to throw a punch. So, that said, I’ve been thinking about what kind of harm and consequences one can derive from such a conflict. To do that, I’ve had to think about what I mean by “harm and consequences”.
I’ve been continuing to work on Et in Arcadia Ego, my Regency-magicians game. The current issue is how the magic in the game should work. For magic to be weird and a bit wild, it has to strain the boundaries of something very important to a story-game: cause and effect.
3:16 Carnage amongst the Stars action announcements Apocalypse World authority balance Becoming Heroes being awesome blank pages boundaries cards character creation choice D&D death design designers Dread epic Et in Arcadia Ego Exalted Fiasco fun game tasting gaming Gen Con GM history How We Came to Live Here Leverage mechanics models motivation Mouse Guard My Life with Master narrative space Primetime Adventures setting situation Spirit of the Century story theater theme theory world-building
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