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Month: March 2007

Inside the Egg: Background & Setup

This is not actual game text, which would want to be substantially more evocative.

Inside the Egg is set in a dystopian future, in the style of V for Vendetta, Matrix, or when you get right down to it we’re all stealing from Brave New World. (Not the superhero game.) The central paradigm of the government is the Egg; at an unspecified time in the past, something awful happened, and only the pure security of the World Egg can keep us safe.

There are no corners in the Egg. There’s no place to hide evil things. It’s pure in color, so you can’t avoid scrutiny from your fellow man. It is the perfect, safe shape. Architecture emulates the Egg. Everything does.

There’s a drug that keeps everyone happy by the simple expedient of grinding away their memories. This, in fact, is why PCs begin with nothing written down on their character sheet. While the player may know what they want their PC to be like, the characters themselves are tabula rasas.

The progress of a campaign is the progress of the characters towards self-realization. As time goes by, they learn more and more about themselves by virtue of rebellion against the Egg. By definition and mechanics, the arc of a character is complete at the moment that they themselves have realized completely one of their three aspects (Mind, Body, and Soul, as per the character sheet.)

Mechanical Rewards for Immersion

Required reading: Breakdown of RPG Players. There are a lot of theories about what people want out of gaming, and then there’s actual market research. I could rant about this more, but I already have.

Preamble and rant done. Okay.

It’s easy to reward Storytellers; you give them more narrative control. Primetime Adventures is a great example of this kind of mechanic; when someone does cool stuff, they get chips which can be cashed in for more control. Nice little positive feedback mechanism there. You narrate well, and in exchange you get more narrative control: you’re rewarded for doing well at something you like by getting more chances to do well.

Same goes for Power Gamers. Or for Gamists, if you will. You kill things, you get more powerful. That’s about as direct a link as you get.

I will ignore Thinkers for now. Maybe later.

How do you give that kind of reward to someone who likes immersive play? You’re looking for some kind of tangible way to make their desired style of play better, or easier, or some such. But there’s very little obstruction to immersive play to start with, given a sympathetic group.

I guess you could start out with a less immersive structure. Say… something where everyone shares a common pool of characters, and control of a specific character varies from scene to scene, like the NPCs in The Shab-al-Hiri Roach, but more so. And as you accomplish goals, you get more and more control of a specific character, presumably one of your choice.

I’m not sure what an immersive success looks like, given that it’s a completely subjective thing. It’s hard to tell whether or not someone’s being immersive unless you’re that person. You could be complex and hinge the mechanic on character choices that are clearly not in the character’s best interests, but sometimes immersive decisions are in the character’s best interests.

But maybe you don’t need immersive successes; maybe more traditional game successes could have that sort of reward? No reason why not.

Similarly, perhaps you could keep the one-player/one-character rule, but hold back control of the character from the player until they “earned” it. This might work well in conjunction with a dystopian world — something where the State owns your life until you’re rebel enough to take it back.

I kind of like that. I should look at Game Chef before it’s too late, which it almost is. But…


Yeah, I could work with that.

Any other thoughts? If you’re immersive, what do you want in terms of mechanical rewards?

Magic Money: The Setup

You knew a career criminal by the name of Nolan. First name unknown; she never used it, not even with her close friends, which not all of you are. She used to work for the Outfit, running a club in Central City, but that was five or six years ago before she ran into trouble with one of their middle manager types. For the last while, she’s been an independent, doing jobs here and there.

Right now, you’re in Iota City, a small time city a ways west of the Tri Cities, which are a distance west from Central City. A couple of you live there, and a couple of you are pausing there for a while. Nolan died there, a week ago, in the back room of the Thinker’s place. She was shot. It happens, in this business.

There was going to be a job. The Thinker planned it, as per usual. It wasn’t working for the Outfit, but it was something the Outfit was very interested in, maybe because of Nolan; she was going to use part of her part of the proceeds to pay them off, and now they’re expecting it. So it needs to be done even with her dead; and besides, there’s still enough money in it to make both you and them happy.

So there’s still going to be a job. It’s a four-person thing. The Thinker doesn’t usually come on these, but he’s going to have to this time. It’s a risky thing. That’s why nobody bigger has done it. It’s a lucrative thing. Everyone has to start somewhere, and for some of you, this is your start.

If it works out, you’ll have what they call magic money. Money enough, and time.

The Lives of Others

I don’t really care about the Oscars anymore, thanks to Forrest Gump. However, I’m still capable of getting curious about the winners, and if Best Foreign Picture didn’t go to Pan’s Labyrinth, a small part of me wants to know why.

In this case, The Lives of Others just happened to be a better movie. Not by a huge margin, but I have no complaints about the Academy’s decision in this case.

It’s about two intertwining lives; that of Gerd Wiesler, a Stasi agent, and that of Georg Dreyman, a playwright. One watches the other; the other performs, unknowingly, for the one. The third actor in the drama, Christa-Maria Sieland, is a pivot point for everyone else in the movie. Her choices create the context in which the others…

Fail to meet, because they don’t ever really. But it’s her actions which bring Wiesler to reconsider his life as a watcher, and which bring Dreyman to idealism and subversion.

Despite the humanistic, nearly redemptive ending, I have to think of this movie as a tragedy. You have — well, five interlocking wheels of motivation, albeit the three mentioned are the major ones, which drive inevitably towards a tragic ending. There’s a coda, after the Wall falls, but it isn’t anything other than bittersweet.

Organized Crime

I’m mildly addicted to Hard Case Crime books. (Parenthetical trivia: Charles Ardai, the editor and founder of Hard Case Crime, is married to Naomi Novik, who writes the Temeraire series. Fantasy Napoleonic dragons vs. noir thrillers. Small world.)

Anyway, mildly addicted. The new books are in the style of the old books, and the old books are a fun read. Slick, completely stuck in the preconceptions and prejudice of their day, but fun. Tough guys slouch around dealing with rotten people in seedy situations, and there’s a bad idea for every gin mill and a gin mill for every chapter. There’s something charming about a milieu in which the world isn’t measured by the time it takes for an email to get to you — I suspect that one of the key dividing lines of modern fiction is the point at which cell phones became so common that you had to assume them. It’s a fundamental change in the difficulty of interactions.

The view of organized crime is a really interesting difference between these books and modern mysteries slash thrillers. Blame the trinity of Puzo, Coppola, and Scorsese, I suppose. All these old books have an organized crime that’s almost completely a corporate matter. The Organization (or Outfit, or Family, but not Mafia) has lawyers. It wears three-piece suits and does business in a fairly chilly, austere kind of a way.

In Point Blank, the money quote goes like this: “Let me tell you something about corporations, Walker. This is a corporation, I’m an officer of a corporation, and we deal in millions, we never see cash. I’ve got about eleven dollars in my pocket.” That’s the size of it. You see hints of Sicilian heritage here and there, but they get shoved into the background a lot. Sometimes you don’t really see organized crime as much as you see a big businessman whose pursuits lead him across the legal limit now and again.

I figure this reflects the corporate mindset of the fifties. It wasn’t till 1969 that Puzo blew it apart with The Godfather, and Coppola and Scorsese nailed the coffin shut, or some such suitably violent metaphor. This is about a ten year lag from the point at which the Mafia as we think of it today first really hit the American consciousness, but that sounds about right for pop culture.

This primary realization, along with a week or two spent swimming in 50s-60s noir, was the clue that unlocked Edge of Midnight for me. You want to pull back a notch and go for that chilly, corporate feel or the world doesn’t quite make sense. At least, not for me.

This leads to my one-shot idea, which is an Edge of Midnight game set in the aftermath of one of those failed jobs you got all the time. I think I’d want to kill off the protagonist, or rather, the person who’d be the protagonist in the book. I could do worse than lift Max Allan Collins’ first Nolan novel, with a dead Nolan; that leaves us with the older guy who plans jobs, his eager but wet behind the ears nephew, his nephew’s friend the driver… I’d have to rework the girlfriend, who is in no way a playable character, but I’ll think of something.

Can't You Say You Believe In Me

Some geeks build things. A few geeks build things really well. Once upon a time, there was a geek named Tom, an MIT graduate, who worked for Polaroid. He decided he wanted to build a rock and roll band.

So he built Boston, and say what you will, but it’s my opinion that he built the best stadium rock band ever. Boston had the biggest selling debut album and held that record for over ten years, which is not trivial. That doesn’t mean it was great music, but stadium rock isn’t great music. They knew what they were doing.

They: Barry Goudreau, Tom Scholz, and Brad Delp. Cause nah, it wasn’t just Scholz and his magical effects boxes. Goudreau played guitar and wrote songs, and Delp’s voice was pretty much integral to the whole thing. Not that he was a great singer, although he was good, but he had great range and a wonderful harmony and it wouldn’t have been Boston’s soaring overblown overwrought flights of musical excess without him.

All of which is preamble to this: Brad Delp died today, at age 55, in his home in New Hampshire. I am sorely saddened. May he rest in peace.