Monday, 16 March 2015

Given My Druthers...

If my full-time job was designing games, and I had a sizeable budget for art and layout and all the rest of it, and for some reason big RPG companies decided to no longer protect their intellectual property, I would do the following three things:

Make an Inner Planes Campaign Generator: this would be a single, probably large volume. It would have a single set of hex maps and a large number of tables, a bit like my approach in Yoon-Suin with individual DMs populating their own maps, but the tables would be re-skinnable by plane. So you would roll a dice and consult a certain table, and the result would be abstract enough (e.g. "undead spirit of an ancient sorcerer who has imbued his soul into an elemental whose consciousness he has enslaved"; "Trading outpost populated by dwarves and protected from the elements by runic magic"; etc.) that it could mean something similar but different depending on whether it was in the Plane of Water or the Quasi-Elemental Plane of Salt or the Para-Elemental Plane of Ooze or whatever. Alternatively I would be tempted to make a setting book for every single inner plane, but that may be beyond even this pipe dream.

Make a proper version of Changeling: the Lost: White Wolf had some good ideas, but their games are all very precious and focused on teenage concerns: existential angst, feelings of alienation and difference, emotional highs and lows, etc. While in a sense this is part of their genius, in that they managed to bottle something that a certain portion of teenage nerds would respond to very strongly, it also often results in a very weak and amorphous sense of what is supposed to be going on beyond a group of people being sad they are vampires/angry they are werewolves/glum they are dead/ennuye they are fairies, etc. Changeling: The Lost is the classic example of this: the PCs are human beings who were kidnapped by faeries and taken as slaves, but who have now returned or escaped....which could make for a great urban fantasy sandbox affair if only the makers of White Wolf hadn't wanted the whole thing to be some sort of worthy meditation on victimhood and how unfair life is. The whole thing is ripe with interest: you've been enslaved by faeries for God knows how long, you have been replaced by a Fetch who looks like a bunch of twigs in human form but everybody else mistakes for you, you have this understanding that there is a supernatural other world out there, you know of a group of other people in the same position: now what? Forget all the sitting around whining about it and coming to terms with it. 

Make In a Jamesian Age: a story game using the In a Wicked Age rules and based on the works of MR James. Each time the PCs are antiquarians or academics investigating some mysterious church, country manor, library, or whatever, and the oracles contain things like "an ancient Anglo-Saxon crown", "a version of the testament of Solomon written on human skin", "a deep dark well", "a gnostic sorcerer" and so forth. Full of Satan worship, the Apocrypha, ghosts and devils, and mysteries left completely unexplained: forget all that Sword & Sorcery nonsense; this is Ghosts & Scholars. 


  1. I've come to the conclusion that most White Wolf games (especially the latter versions like Changeling: The Lost) would make better movies (probably in the anime style) than games.

  2. >>beyond a group of people being sad they are vampires/angry they are werewolves/glum they are dead/ennuye they are fairies, etc

    What the fuck are you talking about? You're (and so does everybody else so don't feel too too bad) talking about this stuff like you're only familiar with the stereotypes not the actual material.

    Wraith, for example, and this is something everyone seems to have missed, and I did too back in the day, but mother fucking wraith as an honest to badness mega-dungeon written into the setting.

    1. I'm talking about the actual games, which I perfectly well remember not knowing what to do with as a teenager because all the good ideas were buried beneath page after page of fluff, touchy-feely nonsense, and epic character generation sections.

      You make the point perfectly well yourself by admitting you missed what was gameable about Wraith: the Oblivion at the time.

  3. Some friends of mine have done great for years turning emotion focused games into ridiculous sandboxes, and for whatever reason changeling the lost seemed to be one of the more successful ones.

    You're powered off people, like the vampires, but you don't want people to just survive, you want them to have emotions and stuff you can harvest. That makes random cultural events something that you have a stake in, and so you can grab things from the news and let players muck about with their local cultural impact.

    The actual core of making this work isn't from the book, but it's about having players say what they will be up to for the next week or so via email about two days before the session, and having two or three GMs work through the different threads to mix them up with whatever supernatural stuff they have come across. Then players can help each other with the various complications, be put into conflict etc. As it's set in a hidden fantasy real world, there's a lot of "of course there would be one of those around, they can have that, but it also is linked to ....."