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May. 26th, 2011

uncertainty, opinion

A Bunch of Stuff, Mechanically Titled.

 So what was that I was gonna talk about?

Oh yes, the Tee Shirt RPG or Blue Buddha and the Bifrost Valkyrie.

Well you're lucky - I have a lot to say so I'm gonna talk about both. And I'm gonna talk about Touranne!

First a little context on what I'm gonna chat about. It's a pretty well established maxim of indie game design that one should not strive to create something unique just to be unique.

Of course, if one happens to stumble upon uniqueness that happens to integrate itself in the design of your game, that's pretty well accepted as being OK.

A lot of what I like to do with designing games is to take a mechanic or theme or whatever and go "What if you did it this way? What would happen then?" Not always does this lead to success. Sometimes - like integrating Conditions from Lady Blackbird with Moves from Apocalypse World - I like to think they are.

As for the following ideas - well I guess we'll just have to wait and see - they don't seem stupid at first pass.

Touranne really gets me excited when I think about it. It's inspired by Casablanca which must be one of the greatest movies I've ever seen (right up there with Shawshank Redemption, Clueless and Mean Girls). It's also inspired by crazy takes on the occult. I'd put Touranne aside from the longest time due to a block I was having with it and then I happened to listen to a Podcast called The Mask of Innana (www.themaskofinanna.com/ go off and listen to it now, I'll wait).

Whilst the Mask of Innana isn't identical to Touranne it felt like it touched enough of the same themes and motifs that it sparked Touranne in my brain again. There was still the issue though, of what to do with Touranne.

My problem related to the mechanics. Y'see, dice (much loved by gamers everywhere) didn't feel right for the game - partly to do with the note-passing that the game was designed to incorporate. After all, when you're on an Occupied Island, you'll need to pass coded messages - dice don't work for that.

So I was fiddling with cards and whilst they inspired the magic system for Touranne, it wasn't so tied in that it was essential and it didn't sit right. Then I thought - just today in fact - about dominoes. Now there's something that could do the trick!

Dominoes could be used in a fashion where one side represented success and the other consequences (as selected by the player). Higher skills mean more dominoes - which allows either greater choice, or the ability to string dominoes together to get better results and more loose ends for extra effects. And, being a discrete and discreet object, they could be used to facilitate the note passing.

My worry - and the first question of today's entry - "Will this be too fiddly? Will it draw players too far out of the fiction as they try to get the best results?"

Blue Buddha and the Bifrost Valkyrie:
This is a game for which the rules are mostly written a totally awesome person is making it look so sleek and pretty I hardly recognise the game. Awesome de nada?

Part of Blue Buddha is that it taps into this whole Social Media thing (that one that all the kids are so down with) and takes some of the best of it back to the tabletop. Despite me calling it my "twitter RPG" twitter is not needed to run or play the game, though a rudimentary understanding of social media will no doubt help people grok some of the layout and rules.

One of the things I was considering though, was having some sort of database online (preferably through an existing portal) through which people could post the cool from their game in such a way that people playing later, could, at their choice, use to extend their game by enriching their characters with the experience and characterisation of previous games.

Question the second is - "Does this appeal to people who aren't me? Is this worth going through the hassle of setting up or will it not be a draw towards the game? Or worse will it put people off?"

The Tee Shirt RPG:
(Bonus Question for extra points - come up with a better name than that)

The Tee Shirt game is designed to be printed on a tee shirt and easily accessible to all.

I intend for it to employ "Outward facing mechanics". I will explain what I mean by this through the use of an enlightening example.

On your character sheet it might say something as follows:
"Sneak +12" or "Worlds Greatest Shot 2d8" or "Jen must be protected from the Cult of Agolia"

For the most part, these mechanics are inward facing - they direct something about you - either how well you sneak or shoot etc. Now this is all pretty cool and easy to work with. I have Sneak on my sheet so I know to say "I'm being sneaky here." Inward facing mechanics are awesome.

Outward facing mechanics are awesome too. Outward facing mechanics are things on your sheet that gets other people to act in a certain way towards you. It makes Jen threaten to defect to manipulate you. It makes people challenge you to shoot a quarter from between their fingers. Outward facing mechanics get other people to act in certain ways with regards to you - what could be more awesome than that?

So the tee shirt game uses outward facing mechanics. Some of them are more general "Ask probing questions" and "Pursue your interests with vigour". Other ones are more specific - "When I reach for my gun, take cover."

I'm not sure if there's a question in this section, but feedback and ideas on cool, outward facing statements would be appreciated.

Next time I might talk about Beneath a More Auspicious Star some, or I might talk around something else.

May. 23rd, 2011


Work in Progress

So before I start seriously talking about the stuff I'm working on (and this time I'll do it I swear!), I thought I'd enumerate those games which I'm currently working on but have not yet properly finished (that I can recall).

Games not listed here are those which I am officially done with even if they're currently with someone else being made pretty (also known as As the Tea Leaves Grow and Blue Buddha and the Bifrost Valkyrie) or games which technically haven't been written down yet (The Aristocrats).

In no particular order other than that which they come to me in: -
  • Samsara - a game about story telling in a Buddhist vein.
  • The World Riddle - another game about searching for enlightenment originally conceived for Game Chef 2010
  • The Tee Shirt Game - an outward facing game designed to be printed on a tee shirt, played without props and accessible to anyone regardless of experience.
  • Touranne - A Voodoo Casablanca game, set on a mysterious island occupied by a faux-Nazi force. Mechanics currently under revision but built on an Otherkind, Apocalypse World and Board Game framework.
  • Beneath a More Auspicious Star - My one "true" Apocalypse World hack. Inspired by Romance of the Three Kingdoms. Currently on hold.
  • Spiral Sentai Go! - My FATE Powered Magical Girl game. Should be playable but remains untested.
  • As the Rainbow Shines/A Town Called Melancholy - Post-Apocalyptic Care Bears. Will use a Worry/Joy/Care dice system built around non-aggression.
  • Beneath the Gaze of the Angry Sun - the fourth game in my series of mini-games (following Escape from Thanatos! Terror of the Serpent Men! and As the Tea Leaves Grow) set in a Sword & Sorcery world.
  • 10 Stations to Hope - A hippy indie game about the journey of finding hope from the depths of despair.
  • Eternal Recurrence - A game using Nietzsche's metaphysics and morality as the basis for character change and growth.
  • Turbo Race Mecha Grand Prix Omega - A game that uses queex 's Brinksmanship mechanic to replicate the high velocity world of Near Future Racing.
  • Stellar Sages - A supplement for Queex's Rivers and Lakes that takes Wu Xia action into a Space Opera setting.
  • Twelve Paths of Heaven - Another suplement for Rivers and Lakes in a mythical setting inspired by Jade Empire and Avatar: The Last Airbender.
  • Adventures in Illyria - A handful of related one-shots using the Lady Blackbird system each (loosely) based on a novel or play.
Any of these excite you? Let me know - I'm happy to talk about any of them (and/or bump something up my list of priorities). Obviously some of these games are easier or quicker to design than others.

Hope to have another entry soon either on the Tee Shirt game or Blue Buddha and the Bifrost Valkyrie.

May. 22nd, 2011

My tweets


May. 21st, 2011

My tweets

  • Sat, 12:02: Just finished @laurenbeukes Zoo City. Better than Moxyland - probably due to having a single narrator. My heart fell at the start of part 2.

May. 20th, 2011

My tweets

  • Thu, 19:48: Hey game-playing people! Would a game where what happens in your game affects others' games appeal? #rpg #design
  • Thu, 23:18: It turns out, Opera and Ballet are very expensive if you want proper tickets. More so for champagne and smoked salmon sandwiches. Who knew?

Sep. 19th, 2010

wizard, magic, spell, project, learning

Game Chef 2010 - World Riddle

For the past 8 years or so, the roleplaying world has held a competition known as Game Chef - a design contest engineered to provoke thought and create interesting and exciting games.

The theme this year was Journey and the ingredients (of which one should use three) were City, Desert, Edge and Skin. These act as design constraints (along with the week length to produce the game). The idea is not to produce the most polished and perfect game but to create something with potential and something fun.

I'd like to think with World Riddle, that's what I've done. I don't want to prattle on for ages about what World Riddle is and the intricacies that hide behind and within it. Mostly because I don't think there's that much to World Riddle.

What I will say about it, is that it's designed to be fun. It's designed to be easy to play. Most of you who are reading this likely don't roleplay at all - let alone understand a flurry of terms like GM, AoO, d20+3d6-4 or r7k2. World Riddle is written (I hope) in plain English.

It designed to be a Journey towards Enlightenment. How well each person succeeds on this journey will depend on the actions you take in the course of the game. The colour however - what kind of people are taking what sort of actions towards Enlightenment are up to you the players as a group.

Hopefully you'll take a look at the game. And hopefully you'll like it. If you do, grab a few friends and give it a play. Then, if you're a really awesome person, you'll tell me what you think - even if it's horrible criticism.

You can find the game here, and the playaid (the set of cards) here.

Jan. 21st, 2010

wizard, magic, spell, project, learning

The Project

 So the Warwick SF&F society are currently (and have been for the past two months) working on a collaborative RPG project. Which you can find (if you're interested) here. If you're not particularly interested then I'd suggest you avert your eyes from this post because I'm going to spend it discussing the design decisions we've made and are making and how it's all coming together.

The Project (which is still unnamed and if you have any sensible suggestions let me know) began a couple of months ago when we bandied around the idea of creating an RPG which was Big. I use the term Big rather than Crunch heavy because this will also be a very Fluffy project. For the uninitiated, Crunch refers to the actual mechanics and rules texts of an RPG - think the bit of Monopoly that tells you to roll two dice and move your counter that many squares. Fluff on the other hand, refers to the flavour of an RPG - the story behind it and the impressions it leaves you with - to refer again to Monopoly, that would be the the bit that tells you that you're a property mogul and the fact that the board tiles are named after places.

The problem Big games often encounter are two-fold. The first is that sometimes the mechanics (or a subset of the mechanics) are what is termed broken. That is to say that they either don't work as intended or that they produce a discrepancy in play that belies the fact they are presented as equal choices. Some older games were purposely designed with these so called "traps" for newer players who would assume that certain paradigms hold (e.g. that a Wizard needs to take abilities that prevent them from dying) when in fact the paradigm was either incorrect, or was not best achieved through the obvious choice (e.g. that rather than abilities that increased a Wizard's staying power, the Wizard should instead focus on shutting the enemy down before their frailty becomes an issue). Alternatively, two abilities will be costed the same, leading one to presume they have the same effectiveness, when in fact, one is far more useful than the other. Without knowledge of this, two new players may come up with characters that cost the same points - e.g. the fast, dexterous swordsman compared to the slow, powerful fighter - only to discover that one has by accident happened upon a far more effective character than the other. Sometimes, an option might appear in play that simply does not work as the designer intended it to because, for example, they did not count on it being used in a certain way or under certain conditions.

Common wisdom now holds that in the first case at least, a designer should not actively try to deceive their players - suboptimal choices should simply not be present or the text should make clear that they are suboptimal for a certain approach (if for example, a fighter greatly benefits from the ability to draw their sword instantly, when the unarmed wizard does not). I, at least, hold that when two options are presented as equal they should be equal - if it is far more effective to be quick than to be strong, then they should be costed as such so that being strong does not require the investment that being quick does - or that they should not be in competition in that fashion. Or simply, one can alter the system so that strength and quickness are of equal value.

When it comes to options that do not work as intended, the only solution there is to test rigorously and to determine all the conditions under which an ability can be used. Here the what one requires are as many pairs of eyes as possible - preferably as many divorced from the assumptions under which the ability was designed so that they can only see the rules rather than the intent of the ability.

A greater problem with Big rules is that often the fluff and the crunch disagree. One can write about how the world is full of master swordsmen who fly under their own power and then provide rules under which one starts as a weak swordsman and provide no rules for flying. In this case, what is at fault? Is it the fluff for providing unrealistic expectations? The crunch for failing to deliver? Both? If I am told my character is a hero before whom the world trembles then the rules should reflect that. If I am told that a game is based upon ancient myth and legend, then let my character be like those characters in myth and legend. Don't you dare make me start as a weak hero who is hunted with no means to defend myself. Don't you dare stop me from making Odysseus or Samson or Rama or whomever.

The solution of course is to ensure that the two halves are not in fact two halves but a single cohesive whole. Thus was born our challenge - to design within a Year a roleplaying game which was Big - with detailed crunch and fluff that was still cohesive. An RPG where everything was balanced (in the sense that the effectiveness of various options were out in the open and accounted for).

We began, lacking in any direction, by suggesting that each person who wanted to work on the RPG (and such a thing is still open) should provide three elements that they wanted to see incorporated. Thankfully none of them contradicted each other and we found a few good starting places. We also let non-contributors suggest elements to be included as well (and this to is still open) though as yet we've not had any. 

Somewhere along the line we've picked up a handful of ideas that have become central to how we conceive of the game. One such idea was born out of how to do the base statistics or attributes which determine a character. One of the requests was that these attributes be "non-traditional" so one evening after board gaming, we all contributed (with great help from everyone present) in suggesting the various types of actions that one should or could perform. These were quite broad and abstract things - hurting people physically, moving oneself, moving oneself on a vehicle, enduring things, building things. We then grouped these abstract actions into categories and created seven groupings of themes of actions - understanding, knowledge, physicality, awareness, motion, interaction and construction which we eventually tied to the various celestial bodies within our cosmology.

The fact that everything to do with Motion all comes from a single attribute - Rosh - as well as all magic to do with Air and Sonic - colours the way I think about the setting and the mechanics - that all Physicality is tied to Ruby - that Blood magic and Fire magic comes from Ruby - drives me to think how a group of Pyromaniacs (for example) are likely to have a high Ruby attribute.

This ties in quite nicely to Kits which is essentially a package of skills. A Kit is, in its simplest form, a bonus you get when you take a certain action - fighting with a sword, intimidating someone - whatever. Due to the set up we have with broad attributes and skill packages as Kits (which have varied costs depending on what they grant) allows us to simulate at least to some degree the difference between someone who is naturally strong (i.e. high Ruby) and a dexterous master swordsman (i.e. a Dashing Swordsman Kit). It also allows us to bring in the idea of a Polymath - an idea that appeals to me and an archetype I feel most RPGs neglect as they force specialisation over broadening. By having Kits grant bonuses all about the shop - e.g. someone with a degree is trained in eight disciplines (Logic, Natural Science, Theology, Music, Law, Medicine, Swordplay and History) and by going for a Kit like that, they perhaps lose out less to the person who bought instead a professional swordsman Kit (which would grant a larger bonus but only for fighting with a sword) than another system might force.

With any luck this long and somewhat rambling post has given you a taste for the project we're engaged in and that it's a taste which has whetted your appetite leaving you eager to find out more.

Though more likely I have been shouting things at the empty air that it already new...

Jan. 16th, 2010


Ananke - Episode 1: Enter Mr. Brown

By way of a prologue - my new campaign, utilising the fantastic Dr Who Adventures in Time and Space RPG by Cubicle 7, tells of the trials and tribulations aboard the starship F.R.S. Ananke - an old military vessel turned museum, hijacked by an intrepid crew when the space station it was attached to came under attack. Now severely undermanned and under equipped in a Solar System fraught with war and danger and a crew with incompatible goals and agendas; the Ananke flies on to whatever destiny awaits her...

Starring: -
Captain Monica Lai, the beautiful ex-N.E.A. soldier now on the run from her former compatriots
Dr. Silvia Grace, an extraordinary, one armed, Science Officer in search of Alien Life
Galileo Smith, en engineer always in search of his next business opportunity
Mr. Ellam, an opportunist and brilliant helmsman - if a somewhat shady one
Doc. - the ship's medic, a quiet reserved but brilliant physician whose past - and name - remains a mystery

We join the crew in the mess hall where some of the passengers are questioning the Doc on whether the pick 'n' mix raided from the ship's gift shop was really the most appropriate diet for the much longer than the three months they had already been enjoying it. Their suspicions confirmed, we find the Captain interrupted in the shower, forced to endure a tirade of complaints from the passengers whose presences the Captain has already found to be an inconvenience. Consulting the rest of the crew, Mr. Ellam assures the Captain that they can secure supplies on Pluto - though it is two weeks travel away. Undercut by Dr. Silvia observations that an early terra-forming experiment has left an asteroid with a pineapple farm on it, the Captain issues her orders to head to this closer destination.

On the bridge, Mr Ellam notices the com. panel flashing up with a message which he ignores twice as Dr. Silvia appears and points out that the helm is the other seat. Dr. Silvia notices the missed call and tries to trace it but it leads to an uninhabited asteroid of no consequence. When the call comes again, a clearly robotic sounding voice relays the message that they must make the payment at the established location in seven hours. Dr. Silvia leaves to alert the Captain of this whilst Mr. Ellam looks suitably perturbed.

Mr. Ellam tells the Captain that they'll need to make a quick stop to gather some papers first, but otherwise they're making good time to the pineapple asteroid. After doing so, the Captain is disturbed again by Dr. Silvia, alerting her to the strange call. The Captain, concerned, suggests that they head to the munitions room and make sure that the weapons systems are online. The Captain also asks Dr. Silvia to identify the missiles used by the ship so they can procure more if needed but preliminary scans reveal nothing conclusive.

After leaving the munitions room, Mr. Ellam sneaks in to retrieve the package that he needs to deliver, and takes the tea trolley that he intends to take it on. Returning to the bridge, a passenger trips over the tea trolley and promptly heads over to the Captain's quarters to complain. After giving the Captain an earful, the Captain puts in a request to Galileo for a lock for her quarters. Then the Ananke arrives at the asteroid.

Mr. Ellam wheels the trolley and the item to the designated location and is wandering back when he encounters a man with a business suit over his space suit who indicates to Mr. Ellam to switch on his communicator. The man - Mr. Brown - informs Mr. Ellam that there has been a change of plans and he is to take the item directly to Pluto accompanied by Mr. Brown. Mr. Ellam retrieves the item and they head back to the Ananke where Mr. Ellam attempts to explain Mr. Brown's presence to the Captain. The Captain, immediately suspicious, allocates Mr. Brown quarters.

Galileo then informs the Captain that there are no locks that he can find and the Captain requests that he make a bar that she can at least slide into place. The Captain then discovers that rather than head to the Pineapple Asteroid, they should go straight to Pluto - advice, Mr. Ellam claims, straight from the mouth of Dr. Brown. When Mr. Ellam stops the Captain from contacting Mr. Brown in his quarters, the Captain heads off the Bridge and attempts to do so from the nearest available com. panel.

Dubious of the intentions of Mr. Brown, the Captain and Dr. Silvia head to his quarters and walk right in due to the lack of locks on the ship. They find Mr. Brown and one of the female passengers - the frequent complainant - in a somewhat compromised position and the Captain suggests they clean themselves up. Whilst Mr. Brown is in the shower, the Captain and Dr. Silvia investigate Mr. Brown's briefcase which appears to contain only a single piece of paper bearing the message: "Everything is going according to plan. T.H.S." This seems to puzzle Dr. Silvia for a moment before Mr. Brown reappears. Questioning Mr. Brown reveals nothing, though he does provide some sort of code for the helmsman to input.

When Mr. Ellam does so, the Ananke increases in speed dramatically, causing the ship to race off towards Pluto. Galileo meanwhile informs the Captain that the only viable item to make a bar out of is the tea trolley which appear to be missing and the Captain suggests that a leg from the helmsman's bed will work just as well. Galileo observes that the engine seems to be working at a greater capacity than normal realising that parts of the engine which he'd never previously noticed are humming merrily - though no parts, he notes, which correspond to any one would find in a normal ship (which is by no means unexpected).

The Captain receives complaints from passengers of motion sickness and also that the Gyroscopic Particle Arc (G.P.A) which governs the anti-gravity mechanisms were failing in many of the corridors. Informing Galileo, the response is that the engines were drawing more of the power to sustain the speeds needed to make the journey and that the G.P.A could wait. The Captain covered in cereal was not of the same opinion.

Turning to work on the G.P.A, Galileo notices Mr. Brown in the engine room who addresses him and informs him that Galileo will be accompanying him when they disembark on Pluto to see his boss.

Join us next week for the exciting continuation of Ananke! 

Nov. 3rd, 2009

wizard, magic, spell, project, learning

Magic Words

Roleplaying games, having a long history intertwined with fantasy, have, probably quite predictably, a rich and varied approach towards magical powers.

Rather than going into an exhaustive list of what kind of stuff is out there and why none of it quite scratches that itch, I'm going to list a handful of rules or axioms that I'd love a magic system to follow. That is to say, what kind of magic system would I be interested in creating a character and playing with that magic system. The axioms are by nature rather idiosyncratic - they're the kind of stuff that appeals to me but I've learnt in designing stuff that if you know what you're designing for, then the design works better because you have a yardstick to use. I don't therefore expect anyone else to find these rules compelling but here goes: -

Magic can do everything – you can't.

Anyone who knows the rules is dangerous.

When you have Magic as a hammer, everything looks like a nail.

Magicians cannot - physically cannot - break a promise they have made.

Magic always has a price - breaking the laws of the universe hurts.

The destination is defined by the journey – every action defines who you are as a Person and a Magician.

Practise makes perfect – the more you perform something the better you do it.

What I'm after then, is a situation where Magic is simply what happens when a Magician tries to fulfil a promise that he is prevented from keeping somehow. Entwined in this is Magicians being able to make a promise with their own price - by promising X, they are able to do Y (where X might be eating eyeballs or sacrificing virgins and Y is predicting the future or summoning supernatural entities). You could cut off your own hand in order to throw about fire or by giving away half of your meal to animals, you can speak the language of beasts.

The small scale stuff is *similar* to Unknown Armies approach with taboos in exchange for power, but I'm after something less naturally alienating and encompassing in favour of smaller prices for smaller boons (so your world view isn't entirely the product of being able to mess around with alcohol or based on the fact that you see yourself as a modern day prophet or saint). For those unfamiliar with Unknown Armies worry not - this part merely demonstrates a difference for those going "Wait, doesn't UA do that?"

The problem then is codifying these things into a rules set - both a subsystem for the actual magic (which one would want to be more than mere flavour) and in terms of a greater system. How fleshed out does one want to make the bits of the system that don't deal with magic? On the one hand one might say not very because that's not what the game is about. On the other hand, one wants to provide functionality for it precisely because it is what the game is about. The axioms above outline a scenario where magic means are set opposed to mundane ones and the choice to use magic has meaning precisely because it is a definite action where someone says "At this I will succeed and achieve my goals despite any odds". Additionally, for me, the most compelling Magician is the one who commands others precisely by not resorting to magic but merely through the threat that he might (and if he can command X without actually doing any magic, how powerful must his magic be that he doesn't need to use it).

How does/should one quantify all the large and small promises character makes? How can one present magic like this in a compelling way? How can one reinforce the Magic as Hammer axiom?

Actually that last one I have a couple of ideas on but none of them mean anything without a wider framework to present them in.

So, answers people? How can I turn this into the game I want to play? Should I even try?

Oct. 28th, 2009

Karma, Wheel, Samsara

Open hand Mechanics

Today, as I write up the Enlightenment Phase mechanics for Samsara, I got to thinking about the difference between closed and open mechanics and what that means for storytelling in an RPG.

I'll start with explaining what I mean by closed and open mechanics though: -

Closed mechanics are a mechanic of a system that the players are not allowed to fully grasp - it is kept hidden in some way from them. The example I'll use are Hit Points in Unknown Armies and Enemy Statistics in Dungeons and Dragons.

Open mechanics are any mechanic of a system that is fully out in the open for players to grasp and deal with in whatever way they choose. I'll take as my example the Levelling mechanic in 3:16 Carnage Amongst the Stars and Alize's Trait Testing in my own Delightfully Strange (see my previous posts for the mechanic and a draft copy of the game).

Closed mechanics are things you don't know. You don't know just how tough that Owlbear (a particular foe in Dungeons and Dragons) is. You don't know exactly how close to death you are in Unknown Armies. These things are done for a reason but in some ways they remove power from the hands of the players. Which you might be all in favour of. It's not even a bad thing - the tension in both these games created by the hidden mechanics are in many ways laudable.

It's not always what you want to do though. In 3:16, players know from the start that the character who has killed the greatest number of aliens in the previous mission gets to level up automatically (and only one other character gains that opportunity). Thus each player will try to manoeuvre the various combats in ways that allow them to gain the most kills. It should be noted that kills in 3:16 are mostly decoupled from winning a combat and completing a mission. Thus it is totally appropriate for players to work things in their advantage and normally against the interests of the other players.

If this mechanic were kept hidden (and I'm not entirely sure how one might go about doing that), what kind of tactics would develop? Would the players still compete against each other for the most kills? Perhaps but they'd either do it because they'd discovered the mechanic or because a purely narrative reason. Why not reinforce what you want to happen by encouraging it through the mechanics.

On to Alize. Alize's mechanics are entirely in the open with the player adding points to a losing trait as Alize represses it. Alize then ends up seeming inconstant and not in control of her emotions as pent up emotions burst out and demand recognition. All this is right in front of the player and they can see it happen (and indeed drive this mechanic).

Now it's quite out in the open why certain mechanics are kept hidden - they are designed to create uncertainty within the player that reflects uncertainty in the character. The choice then, over how a mechanic is presented and foregrounded can matter as much as the mechanic itself in reinforcing the themes you want to explore in play.

(Aside - it's here I realise just how much of my discourse is influenced by numerous threads on the internet discussing roleplaying games and design as well as my own degree Philosophy and Literature which encourage (or theoretically encourages) one to think critically not just about a text but also about the presentation of a text and what it might mean for the themes within it. /End Aside)

What then does this mean for and in terms of Samsara? Well today I've been sketching out the Enlightenment Phase which occurs at the end of the game. This particular phase is provoked by and dependent on transformational scenes which are a measure of a character's opportunities to change and whether or not they seize those chances. The table of results for the enlightenment phase looks like this: -


  • All successes, no failures: - Your character experiences a change as they grow into a new person. They move round the wheel to a new stage of being.

  • All failures, no successes: - Your character has failed to grow from any of their experiences and remains stuck, unchanged in any meaningful way.

  • More successes than failures: - Your character has a glimpse of enlightenment that pushes them towards a fuller understanding of the universe.

  • More failures than successes: - Your character has a brief moment of enlightenment that they fail to grasp the significance of.

  • Successes and failures equal: - Through strife and understanding, your character has come within a hand's grasp of enlightenment. They are in some way transformed into a Bodhisattva – a Buddha in waiting.

  • Successes and failures equal and you possess either the Buddha card or are Human: - Your character's trial and efforts have brought them to enlightenment and they have found Nirvana and inner peace.

  • All failures, no successes as a Deva: - The luxurious life of a Deva has caused your character to grow complacent rather than compassionate. Without strife, your character will never be transformed in a meaningful way. They are reborn either as a Preta – jealous of the luxuries of others despite their own fortune or as a Demon – hateful of those they see as more fortunate than themselves depending on which feels more appropriate.

  • All successes, no failures as a Demon: - As a demon, your character has known strife and hardship and has worked to become a better person, grasping at any opportunity to improve. Your character has become a Bodhisattva – a Buddha in waiting, helping others to find enlightenment.

Whilst doing this, it occurred to me that players would then play their transformation scenes differently depending on want kind of outcome they wanted. Did the player want the character to achieve Enlightenment (ostensibly the "best" ending)? Well then they've got a tough job cut out for them, balancing their cards and scenes just right to achieve the results needed. Totally appropriate - it's not easy to attain enlightenment (Zen wisdom - it's instead the easiest thing in the world). If they instead wanted a different ending, that would put different burdens on them.

However, the card mechanic within transformation scenes, is simply an extension of the mechanics employed elsewhere in the game and one has to manage one's cards elsewhere to have the *opportunity* to manage them in the transformation scenes. After a moment, it occurred to me that the players almost have to have this information about the endgame upfront. The way this knowledge interacts with the mechanics (at least theoretically - playtesting still needs to be done) and the players have deeper strategic choices to make.

It also reinforces the players' strange relation with regards to the characters. The player acts almost as the karmic stream for the characters rather than the characters themselves. Whilst in many cases this may seem to be the same thing, it is not identical and by playing the role of the karmic stream (and thus anthropomorphising it in some ways) the player can act with this meta-game knowledge whilst still acting within the role of the character. Or something - in short the player and the character are very different things within Samsara and oft-times the player may act at immediate cross-purpose to the character they play.

Happy gaming, I'm off to see Shakespeare!

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