Archive for September, 2011

Coalblack Night: A Jazz-Age Apocalypse

September 22, 2011

This is something that struck me as I was walking through downtown at night, after wrapping up the tenth session of my AW-in-space game.

Inspirations: “Sloosha’s Crossin’ an’ Ev’rythin’ After” from Cloud Atlas, Three-Penny Opera, Sleepy Hollow, City of Ember, Porgy & Bess, The Untouchables, Idlewild, Public Enemies, Chicago, The Giver, Dark City.

I member when the cities first got lit up. Twernt just candles in the windows but gas lamps and, then, the full-on real stuff, Uncle Edson’s lectric wonderland. Was a magickle time: erryone could see the future, right in front of em. But it was shortly affer when coalblack night done roll in, blockin out the sun, moon, and stars, coating errythin in darkness that no man’s light could pen’trate for long.

When coalblack night first roll in, lot of folk got dead reel fast. White folk obvusly blame black folk; black folk rightly point out that Ole Coalblack himself be unquestionbly a white man: impossible tall, pale like snow, in hat and tails as an undertaker or a sweep, but with those eyes and those teeth y’know. And the god-fearing ladies — black, white, or otherwise — just be tellin their men that the apocalypse o’ Revelations ain’t no time to go killin nobody, in fact just the opposite, and that Ole Coalblack is clearly the Devil an nobody ought listen to him.

But erryone listen ventuly, right? Ya don’t wanna, but ya caint help it.

Hush my darling, for we are deep in the COALBLACK NIGHT…

Playbooks:
Driver + Operator = The Wheelman
Skinner + Maestro’D = The Flapper
Hardholder + Quarantine = The Baron
Chopper + Touchstone = The Highwayman (w/ Horse & Hound)
Saavyhead + Gunlugger = The Greaseman
Angel + Battlebabe = The Raven

Replace when you open your brain with when you are all alone in the coalblack night and the lights are out, an impossibly tall man with skin like snow lights a cigarette, offering another to warm you against the cold. If you refuse, it’s always, “Suit yourself” and nothing more. But if you accept, Ole Coalblack makes you a bargain, though never straightforward and plain but in hints and strange questions, and whether you’ve accepted or not is sometimes only clear later, when you find out what he’s up to. Roll +Weird. On a 10+, Coalblack’s doing something in your best interests. On a 7-9, mostly so.

Randomness and “What Happens”

September 8, 2011

So I was thinking about the chorus of “play to find out what happens” that Vincent describes at one of his PAX panels.

Traditionally, the “what happens” emerges from a number of places, but a couple of the major ones are:

  • what the players choose to do (the biggest one, no question); and
  • what the dice say about their attempts to do things (which often leads to yet more interesting choices).

And I realized one of the things I really like about fortune-less games is that the interesting part of determining “what happens” has nothing to do with the dice, which in less awesome situations can become a crutch that provides tension to otherwise uninteresting “choices” or narrative moments.

Even in games like Apocalypse World, I’ve occasionally seen GMs (including myself, though less and less, I hope) reaching for the dice — especially “Act Under Fire,” which can be a catch-all move — when they think there should be mechanical tension but are unsure or too tired to set up the necessary narrative leverage to create a potent situation with an interesting choice.

Sure, in fortuneless games, you can still do cheap shock revelations and set up other lame choices that aren’t really choices (“Are you willing to kill… YOUR OWN FAMILY MEMBER!” “Choose between your own safety and that of the one you love!”). But there’s no dice to fall back on or help you spice up otherwise lame situations, which I find forces me to be better and think smarter about how I run games. It forces me to be a better GM and player, basically, where other kinds of games make it easier for me to fall on bad habits or otherwise mess things up.

In a game with dice, a relatively straightforward situation — “You’re fighting a dude for no reason!” — can be vaguely compelling just due to the uncertainty of how things will go down, but in a game without dice — just the interaction of player choices — you’re forced to try harder than that. Yes, good games that have fortune mechanics push you in that direction too, but sometimes I just want to be thrown into the ocean (without a life jacket) so I can really learn to swim.

Due Vigilance: Basic Moves, Part 1

September 8, 2011

I think I have a later version of these moves somewhere, but I can’t put my fingers on them. In any case, this is the direction I’m currently going in.

One of the core principles is if it’s not a crime, don’t roll for it.

When you assault & batter, roll+STAT. On a hit, inflict harm as established. On a 10+, they stay down. On a 7-9, the GM picks one:

  • they don’t stay down;
  • you get ’em, but not before they get theirs (you suffer little harm);
  • you expose yourself or someone else to danger.

If you assault with a deadly weapon, use these results instead. On a 10+, pick which one:

  • you inflict harm as established;
  • you inflict terrible harm;
  • you straight-up kill a dude.

On a 7-9, pick as above, but the GM will first tell you which one it’s NOT.

When you destroy property, commit arson, or sabotage, +workspace. When you have followed the necessary steps, you get hold equal to STAT. Spend your hold 1-for-1 to:

  • inflict harm as established;
  • shock, dismay, or frighten;
  • have the impact linger;
  • ensure this will never be made whole again.

You can pick additional options above, without spending hold, but they also apply to yourself. If you hold 0, you must do this at least once. If you have negative hold, spend as normal but you (and, perhaps, those with you) share in all consequences.

Thousand-Year Game: Drop-Shy

September 1, 2011

This is an entry for Daniel Solis’ Thousand-Year Game Design Challenge, pulled together in the final couple hours of the contest.

“Shai-zi” (色子) is Chinese slang for dice, which inspired the name Drop-Shy.

This game is played with a bunch of six-sided dice, however many you like, in whatever colors, divided evenly among the players. The dice should be roughly the same size and you will need a single die to serve as the initial starting point, known as the “instigator.”

The players begin by each rolling all their dice in front of them and then pulling the dice back towards themselves with a ruler or other straight edge, so that the results cluster along a line:

Next, roll the “instigator” die and place it in the middle of the table.

Go around the table, with each player attempting to place their next die against the instigator or some other die branching off of it according to the following rules:

  • The current player picks up and attempts to place the die that is (1) the closest to themselves AND/OR (2) the furthest to their right. There is a degree of arbitrariness here that players enjoy quibbling over, but any die that is either the closest to the edge of the table or furthest to the right is a legal choice. [For example, the player in the picture above might attempt to place their dice in the following order: 2, 5, 4, 5, 2, 3, 1, 3, 2, 2, 5, 1, 1, 1.]
  • Each subsequent die must be placed against one or more dice already in play such that it counts one digit up or down from its “neighbors.” A die showing 3, for example, could be placed against a 2 or 4. A die can be placed against multiple dice as long as all the dice it touches are appropriate neighbors. That 3 can never touch a 1, 3, 5, or 6, no matter how solidly it is connected to other appropriate neighbors.
  • If a player’s next die, however determined, cannot be placed, it is re-rolled by the active player and added to the far left of their line of dice.
  • Whether a legal play was made or not, play passes to the next player.

Players are not allowed to hide their remaining dice from the other players. Indeed, knowing what your opponent has coming up next is critical in the endgame.

The first player to connect all their dice to appropriate neighbors wins and the last player to do so loses. The other players get neither great glory nor great shame.

Traditionally, in the next round, the previous winning player rolls the “instigator” die and the previous losing player places first. The latter rule serves as a minor handicap, given the advantage that accrues to the first player.