Gamethink

Monday, May 24, 2004

On Planning....

posted by Doc Blue

This post is part of a work in progress.... Actually, _three_ works in progress, and that's sort of the point.

I'm in the process of planning three very different 'role-playing experiences' for three very different audiences. (I choose the term 'role-playing experience' very carefully. It's hard to avoid semantic difficulties, so I'm trying to describe things in a new way.)

Let me describe the three basic premises I'm working on:
1) I'm working on an experience for two to three experienced gamers.
2) I'm working on an experience using role-playing as a teaching and personal exploration tool.
3) And I'm working on an experience for a toddler.

From last-to-first.

3) My son is not quite three-and-a-half years old. He loves super heroes. And he loves to play super heroes. So, being the gamer-geek dad that I am, I want to work him toward role-playing. Because to be honest, I love playing super heroes too, but I call it role-playing.

2) In addition to being a father, a gamer, and a statistician, I'm a Christian. And as such, recently, I was inspired to put together a bible study series/role-playing campaign that follows the life of Christ, has traditional role-playing elements, and also provides an opportunity for youth to explore how they feel about and react to things. I anticipating this being a bit of a mixed group, but generally low on the experience side. In fact, I'm planning as if none of the players know games.

1) I tend to be a bit of a Junk Yard Gamer. I like to mix-and-match settings and ideas and mechanics. That's where the idea for Exalted: Sixth Age came from, more or less. E:6A is going to be a Mutants and Masterminds game, set in an alternate modern age, using chunks of the Exalted backstory, and more or less justifying the Super Hero myth. My players are experience gamers. They probably know the M&M mechanics better than I do.

So looking over these three projects, I realized there are some common themes.

*) Mechanics. Every game needs mechanics. No, scratch that, every game needs a _system_. (A system combines both the hard-and-fast rules and the style of play as was well-stated elsewhere.) For the game with my son, I need to keep the rules simple and provide flexibility for him to do what he wants without losing my mind to the "cants". I also need to provide the ability for expansion as he grows and wants more rules. For the 'study', I also want simple mechanics, but I want something that grows organically as the players learn more about themselves and thier characters. I envision a system that allows 'facts' about the characters to be added on the fly. (EPICS is one inspiration here.) Finally, for the experienced gamers, the system was easy - but we got immediately down to the level of simulation of Exalted characters - did we want characters true to the Story Teller rules or more super heroic characters inspired by the original. We ended up with a much more comic book or manga feeling character direction.

*) Setting. Character interaction doesn't happen in a vaccuum. It needs to happen somewhere. With my son, I doubt he will care much, initially, where things happen, but I need to know what sort of world that Batman and Buzz Lightyear can hang out together in. For the 'study', I actually intend the first session to be about world and character creation, Genesis and geneaology. I want char gen to be short, but I want the players to decide what adventure means to them and to design the setting as a group. Char gen will be simple, basic - even superficial - ideas about who a character is to be expanded on in the coming sessions. This experience will be highly experimental and require lots on improvisation as I will want to tie themes from each session's bible study into the story, even if the role-playing setting seems utterly unrelated. For the experienced players, setting was easy - the modern day. But then I started to alter the landscape to make America look more like the inside cover of the Exalted book, but to do so in a comic book-y, anime-like way. D.C. was destroyed and abandoned, the capital is now near Cheyenne mountain. Vast swaths of forests dominate most of the East Coast instead. Lava men attempted an invasion in the past, leaving scattered islands leading off into western sea. California was broken off by a super-villain and now stands as an indepedent island. Each piece lead to another piece of the backstory. Which leads to my third point.

*) Scope. How big, how long, how vast? The game for my son will need to have short 'sessions' except when he doesn't want to quit and will need to be infinitely expandable except when he's bored of it. Easy, eh? The 'study' experience is going to be carefully planned. Right now, I'm figuring on 12 sessions, the Genesis and Genaeology session, 9 story sessions, a Climax with a stomache-churning cliff-hanger corresponding to a study of the Passion, and an uplifting conclusion corresponding to a study of the Ressurrection. I can envision a second 'season' following the lives of the early Church post-Ressurrection, but that's a project for another time. For the experienced players, I just learned one is going to Grad School at the end of the summer. So this may very well be a very short term game. Which got me thinking. When Blue Planet first came out, I wanted to do a world-tour of sorts, focusing on each possible character type. I'm thinking of something similar for E:6A - Six Sessions each with the same PCs. The first would focus on the PCs as Solars. The second would feature interactions with Dragon-Blooded. Then Lunars, Abyssals, Sidereals. And then a final session wrapping up the campaign. A major story arc told all the way through. Very comic book mini-series.

So this is a good start. I've got three situations going, one or two where I may need to write a game-system of sorts from scratch. A spectrum of definition, improvisation, and pre-planning. I'm interested in thoughts, comments, and suggestions. If there's interest, I will expand on any or all of these as time goes by.