An update about a game I thought would be super simple
Thanks to the xenophiliacs on Patreon for telling me to take it easy this month after my first vaccination shot pretty much wiped out a week of productivity for me. I really appreciate it. I’m dropping a couple of process posts here to let you know what’s going on, rather than going dark, though.
A couple of months ago, I got excited about Eyes Wide to the Stars, my roleplaying game of goofy space sci fi, inspired by Blake’s 7, Firefly, Star Wars, and the artwork of Angus McKie, Jim Burns, Chris Foss, and the like. I’ve wanted a game that felt like that for a long time and I started to see how much I could sort of start to design for alternating experiences of adventurous conflict and wonder.
It’s something that No Man’s Sky does pretty well, and without the constraints of a video game, I feel like we can have our giant alien artifacts, psychic powers, and space empires that fit within a moral framework that feels to me like home.
But, in trying to write the first prototype of the game, I realized that there were bad problems with what had first seemed like trivial syntheses between Shock:Social Science Fiction an The Bloody-Handed Name of Bronze.
Bronze represents the synthesis of my game design thinking from 2006, when Shock: first came out until 2020. That’s a lot of evolution. I’ve changed my opinion about how to engage players in meaningful, thematic play and, delightfully, I no longer have to explain what it, or my games, are. The players have come along in a huge, creative moving party, generating more new indie RPG game designs in one week on Kickstarter than the Forge Booth released in a year.
Shock: is deliberately very rigid. It tells you when to speak and tells you what to talk about. You take turns (a really unusual move at the time in RPGs). And then I don’t at all say what to say. There are no creative constraints, other than the authorship invested in each player.
Since then, I’ve come to realize that you can put players in a space where their best interest is to listen to each other and think creatively; once they have every reason to behave prosocially and productively, they do. And their input is really good, so long as you give them creative constraints.
That softer approach turned out to be surprisingly incompatible with Shock:s structure, and you could really feel it in the irresolute way Audience could work. I hadn’t torn the role down to its elemental interests yet, and where I thought it could have input, I was leaving them unclear about how to think about the situation.
Antagonists, likewise, are different in Bronze. Shock: draws its compromise from opposed die rolls (What I want vs. Keeping You From What You Want). To my knowledge, no one had ever written a roleplaying game about compromise and irony before; they were byproducts of player dynamics when they came about. But I wanted to support that kind of play directly. It was a mechanic typical of first attempts: it did the job, but it was hard to do. It’s like the first multi-geared bicycles, where you had to get off the bike and move the chain by hand, then get back on.
So, in Bronze, I decided that I could embed the places where the Antagonist could get what they wanted, and the player, themself, would have to choose the subject matter on which they would hand control to their opposition. Antagnonists aren’t even a necessity in moment-to-moment play. They’re a pressure that can erupt at any moment, and not all characters explicitly even have one (though, heh heh, the rules generate one for you on the fly without you noticing very often.)
Finding that synthesis has been hard and I’m starting to see my way through. I just don’t think I’ll be able to fit the game into my current µShock: format. I might have to actually staple the thing. Dammit.