Slime Octopi and Coral; Power 19

This is posted to show you one of the projects I’m working on and how it relates to my beliefs regarding games and RPGs, aka CSI Games.

The Power 19 are a design process or accessory that helps you formulate your ideas and present them.
Slime Octopi and Coral is a game that meshes Call of Cthulhu with Cranium Rats’ competitive theme and mechanics, and cranks it up even higher.
This will be a joined process with Eric Bennett, who is currently busy studying. This is my Power 19. It’s also posted on Story-Games and The Forge with no replies.

1.) What is your game about?
Elder/Outer Gods who land on Earth before the rise of Humanity, trying to control and manipulate (proto-)humanity and history to their goals.

2.) What do the characters do?
The characters compete amongsts themselves and against Humanity in order to control and shape it, or fend off the Elder Gods in Humanity’s(character) case.
Ultimately, the Gods try to reshape Humanity in their shape, as Servitor Races, whereas Humanity wants to throw off the shackles placed upon them by these External beings.

3.) What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?
The players play the Elder Gods, one of them plays Mr. H. They compete against one another over the limited Resource called Humanity and its future. They work out deals and backstab one another to further their goals, while being careful to not be overthrown by the strengthening(?) Humanity. Mr. H. fills in the GM’s role, and portrays the Gods’ effect on Humanity and Humanity and the world’s reactions.

4.) How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
The setting is initially that of one lone star hurtling through space, with “something” crashing on top of it, simultanously creating life and its rack. As time progresses the setting expands as culture and humanity progress, or do not, based on the Gods’ goals.
Humanity being a finite resource with a defined growth-rate leads to a boardgame mentality, with “wildcard” events acting as randomizers to keep people on edge.

5.) How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?
Character generation includes answering questions about what your God is, what it wants, what it wants from Humanity, how these relate to one another and so forth. This is the Function phase. This is done by drawing from a limited number of words to create the answers to these questions. Since the words will be mutually exclusive one can be ensured to have a character that will have a hard time to work with others, if at all.
The characters’ goals may also stand in stark opposition with their methods. Nothing like a ravenous entity that wants to breed lower beings.
Character generation will also have a Form phase, where you pick and choose different physical/spiritual aspects of your character, which give you certain weaknesses to be covered, and powers to exploit others’ weaknesses. Or relate differently to Humanity.

6.) What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?
Backstabbing and alliances, being able to plan for the long term while being able to respond to a quickly changing playing field.

7.) How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?
Those who cannot form alliances, uphold them, backstab others and protect themselves from being backstabbed will find their strategical position deteriorating as they are picked upon by the other players. Mr. H’s player is more there to portray what happens than form any interaction with the players, their relationship is that of cause and effect.
You need to be able to make and execute long-term plans that will be carried over several rounds of play-time in order to reach your goals and secure victory.
As you are not the only player present and other players as well as random chance are likely to throw monkey-wrenches at your character you will need to be able to think on your feet and redraw plans.

8.) How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?
Turns progress with Mr. H. narrating the overall results of the past turn and setting the new scene, or epoch, as each round of play is another notch on the progress of time. What the world does, what humanity does, etc. The players then describe their actions, with Narration being traded based on system and Mr. H.

9.) What does your game do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does the game do to make them care?)
You can win in this game. Everyone wants to win, or at least everyone participating in this game should want to win. Narration rights can be bought and move around quickly.
You make and break pacts with other players and constantly look out for number one. You.

10.) What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?
The Resolution mechanic of the game is based on that of Cranium Rats, albeit modified. You roll D6 and need to roll under a trait ranging 1-5, based in large on your Form and Function, those who compete in an action roll to see who will control the conflict, with those that rule highest on single dice gaining Narration.
There are Dice and Token as different resources that can be used to bolster rolls, stop others and so on.
How the mechanics will be modified from those of CR is not yet final, but there will certainly be advantages to controlling more of Humanity, having your people more advanced, more loyal, etc. Humans can die, be stolen and they can rebel. Resource management will be inserted and controlled by Mr. H., Humanity will be able to perform on a wider scale, but not as strongly, thus making several small “characters”. As Humanity’s numbers increase it becomes more dominant, harder to control and more likely to rebel. Probably done by having a limited number of pools and inverse relationships.
IE: Number+Loyalty=20. Number=10>Loyalty=10. Number=15>Loyalty=5.

11.) How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?
On the Gods’ front they relate to how each Elder God tries to shape History and make his vision become reality through the narration. On Humanity’s end it’s a resource game that will tend to lead towards Humanity breaking free and an end-game where they fight the Elder Gods for freedom or slavery, forever.
If the Elder Gods try to keep humanity down they will have a much harder time to gain their goals, and it will happen much slower, giving the other Elder Gods more time to thwart their plans.

12.) Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?
Humanity advances based on its reactions to Random Events and the machinations of the Elder Gods. It also advances based on its natural progression chart provided it is not messed with.
Elder Gods gain resources in a manner based on their Function, their Form may shift as they gain or lose conflicts. Their Function may change completely when challenged or proven ineffectual to the point of crush.

13.) How does the character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?
There’s a limited pool to draw from, so characters are forced to compete in order to advance.
Humanity is messed with in order for the EG to advance, so it competes against them.
Competition is encouraged and reinforced through advancement. In fact, there is no advancement without reinforcement of the game’s premise!

14.) What sort of product or effect do you want your game to produce in or for the players?
An urge to squelch opposition, to sit down and consider both the tactical and the strategic consequences of their actions, while trying to factor in what others do.

15.) What areas of your game receive extra attention and color? Why?
The setting. Well, H.P. has such a cool premise going on, and so many people like it, they and he must be onto something.
Well, to be frank, most of the difference between this and CR is the premise, and the premise is setting based. The rest of the mechanical shift from CR is there merely to support this unique premise, so it must be explored.
I want to explore the cold-lone space, I want to explore the inhuman and inhumane Elder Gods.
This game is about Control, but also about Freedom.
Eventually, it’s about Victory.

16.) Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?
The option to have a limited game-play length and how the Resource you’re vying for? That’s basically another player’s character!
Why? Because I feel this game may form a strong bridge between RPGs and Board-games, and could be modified with ease to be more of an RPG or more of a board-game, depending on what the group desires at the time.

17.) Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?
At the other player’s throats.
It lets people play a God. Just like in Black and White, you play a god-sim. You can play that in other games, sure. But not in other RPGs. Yours is the power to take control of humanity, of your people, and shape them according to your vision.
Your very distorted vision.

18.) What are your publishing goals for your game?
Publish as PDF, later as Book, joint effort with Mr. Bennett. Will be tied into Cranium Rats from which it had sprung.
Currently undecided if to publish/promote as a short limited-time game ala The Mountain Witch or a more medium limited-time game ala Polaris.

19.) Who is your target audience?
People who like H.P. Lovecraft’s works, people who like board-games. People who like God Simulation computer games.

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Memes and Games

I’ll begin with a quote, this quote is quite large, because it’s all good. This quote is taken from the book Memetic Magic which I’m currently way too poor to buy. If you want to buy it for me I’ll hug you lots. I didn’t read the book, but the excerpt is available at the link provided:

ARTISTIC MEMETIC MAGIC by Kirk Packwood
Opening the Portal to the Astral-Daemonic Planes Artistic Endeavors as Representations of Complex Memetic Structures: Spirit = Symbol = Complex Memetic StructureSymbols embedded within works of art are re-presentations of complex memetic structures which in many cases can be correctly labeled thought viruses. Since all human beings who have had any prolonged contact with society are programmed to some degree, large portions of the human mind (especially the thinking portion of the psyche which utilizes language) are constructed almost entirely of complex memetic structures. The complex memetic structures which form the cognitive linguistic (language using) portions of the human mind possess strong defenses, both passive and active, against contamination by invading thought viruses and memetic structures. A human mind will resist any ideas which do not bind correctly within the existing memetic structures which form the framework of its linguistic consciousness. Programmed minds will only listen to what they want to hear. Therefore, it is seldom possible for an idea to be taught to another person directly. Ideas which do not fit into the binding points within a mind will be resisted and rejected. In many cases an individual will desire to convey a specific idea to other human beings, but finds, when offered in their most diluted form, his ideas will be rejected. Oftentimes the solution to this problem is to create a work of art in which the artist’s message, or root meaning, is embedded. By work of art is meant any artistic endeavor which is traditionally considered to reside within the artistic sphere; be it literature, painting, music, movies, sculpture, etc. The artwork serves to focus the attention of the programmed conscious mind, while the root meaning (thought virus or memetic structure) embedded within slips unnoticed into the subconscious.
There is no inherent goodness in art. The idea to be conveyed in a work of art can have any quality from a startling revelation intended to better the human condition to a blatant deception designed to conceal truth and take power. On many occasions an artist will embed a root meaning into his art which he believes will serve the greater good, but in reality the artist’s concept of the greater good may be nothing more than an unusually complex example of the replication phase of a thought virus of which the artist has been infected without his knowledge. Most artists, like most people, are programmed by the dominant memetic structures, or cultural ideal types. Dominant memetic structures are only concerned with maintaining their dominance by replicating to as many minds as possible, not with the greater good of humanity, except in how the greater good of humanity serves to benefit the replication possibilities of the dominant memetic structure.

All artwork, even the most rudimentary, contains complex memetic structures residing at many different levels within the work of art. An intelligent mind can dilute a work of art much as a chemist can dilute a uniform mixture of diverse chemicals. Recognition of the root meanings inherent in artistic endeavors can lead an individual to a source of great understanding and power.

Artistic Symbolism

Every artistic endeavor contains numerous symbols embedded at many different levels within the work of art. Some of these symbols are imbedded into the art with willed conscious intent while others are the result of subconscious communication. Of the two types of symbols inherent in artwork the subconscious symbols are the most interesting. The consciously created symbols within artwork are complex memetic structures which can be correctly labeled thought viruses or thought contagions, depending on whether the memetic structure attempts to use the mind it has infected for the purpose of further replication.

A Memetic Magician wishing to spread fashioned thought viruses would do well to consider imbedding his creations into a work of art and releasing that work of art to a target population. The artwork serves as an outer guise concealing the true form of the thought viruses contained within. The entertainment or aesthetic value of a work of art engages the attention of the conscious mind of the individual partaking of the work of art, allowing the thought viruses embedded within to penetrate the defenses of the unaware target’s complex mental memetic structure. Once the thought viruses have penetrated, instructions can be disseminated and replication can commence.

The symbols contained within a work of art can assume a variety of different forms depending on the type of art being examined. For the sake of brevity, this chapter will focus primarily on literature and paintings. But the principals contained herein are equally valid in regards to any variety of artistic endeavor.
So we have Memes, and we have games. Games often have a moral that they want to teach us, or at least claim to teach us. But if we’ve learnt anything from the quote above(we probably learnt many a thing, a very long and meaty quote it is!) we’ve learnt that we resist the messages being given, and only hidden memes can bypass our conscious mind and infect us.

So let us begin with an example I’m sure all of you know. Monopoly.
What is Monopoly about(ergo, what is its overt message saying)? I asked my mother, and she gave me the obvious answer, “Monopoly is about buying and selling, it’s about acquiring, it’s about handling money.” That’s a very lofty goal, teaching the kids how to handle money, Market Forces 101. It succeeds in that, but the meme, the meme is what we’re interested in.
To perceive the meme one needs luck, one needs experiencing the right source material or having perceived the meme in its raw form beforehand. Monopoly’s meme is discussed in Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. I’m not going to tell you much of the book except I think every person needs to read it at least once in their life. I consider this book important.
So what is the secretive viral meme inherent to Monopoly which worms its way into you, and then makes you repeat it after you’ve been infected(or in turn makes you play Monopoly to transmit it further, the Kids, the Kids! Won’t anyone think of the kids?!)?
Building as much as the land could support. Not leaving one tile untilled.
That’s Monopoly’s corrupted meme, to acquire as much land as possible and then use it up. Build as much as the land can support and then some more.

Every RPG could probably be summed in one line, in what it is about. Its message. Its meme would probably take up to three words, if you can find it at all. What attracts people is the message, they don’t notice the meme in the beginning. Surely not in a conscious manner.
I believe I’d put another example in about now:
Dogs in the Vineyard is about moral judgement. That’s what you create the setting for, that is what your characters resolve, that is what you sit down at the table and play. That’s the overt message, that attracts players.
What is the Meme? Conflict and its Results. The game doesn’t really care about judgement, it cares about what you do to others and how the third law of Newton applies then, changing you in return.
People who post modifications, or did till now mostly posted based on societies with certain codes, such as Mafia. That is taking the idea, the hook and twisting it, cool enough.
As time passes by, people will realize they don’t need that. That is the setting which is there to create Conflicts, but the game doesn’t really care about how you get to the conflict, it cares that it happens and then how many changes are wrought by it, and how drastic those changes are.

Games have a Moral. Games have a Meme.
The Moral is easy to find, usually intentional, and it is that Moral which draws people to the game(that and the system).
The Meme is hard to find, often unconsciously put in and hard to modify. Find it and you’ll know what truly makes the game tick, what makes you stay with it.
Memes are hard to put in intentionally, because they don’t work that way.

This also relates to my last post, posted below, here. The question is “Why now?”, why do all these games come up now?
One answer is that the Board-game backdrop had been taking up a larger part in our sub-culture lately. They meet it, they like it, they try to reproduce it in other places of their interest.
The other answer is that those games share a Meme, they’re board-games, and Competition is often a key-word in their Meme pool. Recent RPGs also slowly spread that Meme, even if weakened at first because it was in the form of Factionalism(party Vs. GM). But now it’s out, and it progresses, and Memes tend to snowball.

We live in an interesting time.

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Direction Shift, Refocus; Board/War/Card Games and RPGs, an Observational Treatise.

First, I’d like to note that I was in a sort of a funk regarding LJ lately, which explains the lack of updates. I am now adding a new directional goal for my journal, that of exploring my RPG related thoughts and creations. This will lead to more posts, although they may be of limited interest to those not interested in exploring RPGs or my creations.
Sleeping World Journal is merely postponed, not abandoned, fear not loyal reader.

For those of you who missed it, I am currently working on an RPG that I call “Cranium Rats”, you may view it and other things of mine on Cranium Rats Central.

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The following is a treatise of sorts, regarding my experiences, observations and hypotheses regarding Competitive RPGs and how they relate to Board Games and Card Games. It may be posted later on the Forge in some manner, but remember, you saw it here first!

First, some experiences and observations thereof:
I played multiplayer Magic: the Gathering. Here are some specific cases. When we played in a three-way free for all combat one of us was about to be finished, leaving the other two players to fight amongst themselves. The losing player whined and so we let him live, he created a life-gaining engine which we let him use so he won’t whine and he ended up winning by Decking.
This showed me that unlike most board-games or card games created for the multiplayer format, Magic has a major drawback: Those who lose stay left out till this instance of gameplay is concluded. This is unlike Blackjack where one is only left out for a short while or Poker where it’s one’s own decision when to Fold. In games created for multiplayer format rather than have a “Loser Out” they have “One winner and game-end”, which results in no one being left out while others are still playing.

Another instance was of me creating a deck specifically for multiplayer. But rather than have a deck which hurts multiple opponents to my benefit, I’ve created a deck based on “Fear Factor”. The deck made use of Pestilence, a card which hurts all players and characters equally. I told the others so: “You don’t attack me, I may or may not use it, you attack me, I use it and everyone, including you, suffers”. It worked, no one wanted to lose, so no one attacked me, letting me watch with glee and mess with everyone as I saw fit. This was an especially good choice for me as I am often the “Strong Pick” and thus marked for execution early on, more on this later.

Munchkin, the card-game by SJG. In it you race in order to reach level 10, backstabbing, or rather, fore-stabbing is common and encouraged. You dump monsters and curses on other players, steal their stuff, while trying to muscle your way past your “friends” doing the same to you. I play this game with my family; myself, my two younger siblings and two of our cousins. My sister plays a mean style and tries to take me out, or rather, stop me from winning.
I always win, or did till now. Sister always came in second.
When someone considers doing something to me, I threaten that I will reciprocate the “Favour”, that is usually enough to deter them. My sister says to the other players: “So he’ll do it to you, and then he won’t be able to do anything more to anyone, because he’ll use his resources”, I answer, “Then why don’t you attack me and suffer the brunt of my retaliatory attack?”.
This shows us that while everyone wants to win, also no one wants to lose. Also, by creating dissent amongst your opposition you may go through relatively unscathed, or they will only join in too late. As I will show in the next paragraph!

Enter Settlers of Cattan, a classic if I ever saw one. I’ve first played Settlers of Cattan in a convention, where the three other players knew one another and I knew none. You may think that I had the disadvantage, that they will unite against the unknown, the outsider, and will only later turn against one another to finish business. That was not so.
People who know one another mark each other as “Strong” and “Weak”, “Ally” or not. They assume that the opponent they know to be strong must be stronger than the unknown. So I used it to my advantage, as two of the friends united I offered an alliance to the last remaining player, and dumped him the moment I got what I wanted from him, trusting in my own capabilities. His friends later would not ally with him for he allied with me, leaving him alone, as I was, but much weaker.
Towards the end the other players noticed my burgeoning kingdom and decided to ally together in order to stop me. This was too little and far too late. Their pooled resources could not stop me.
Board games and other competitive multiplayer games rely far more than your average game on your relations and knowledge of the other players, as it shows you out-of-game(or out of game instance) reasons to ally and target other players.
You want to win, and more than that, you don’t want to lose.

Enter Worms, the computer game by Team 17, my cousin and I play it together, us and two teams of computer opposition. We always say we’ll kill the computer first and only then turn on one another. We never manage to stay till the end, some targets are just too juicy, and we know we’re both better than the computer. No one wants to give the other First Strike.

Enter RPGs.
Recently I’ve witnessed the nascent snow-ball movement of what I will call “CSI Games”, CSI being Competitive Story Interaction. These are RPGs(“What is an RPG?” is a question I will leave unanswered for now, hoping you know what I mean) where there is a story being generated, but the social interaction is competitive and even antagonistic in nature, rather than the “Cooperative” mode suggested and propagated throughout our hobby’s history. In a way, this is us going back to Board/War games, from which our hobby draws much of its history. I’d say that we’re growing in the opposite direction, rather than regressing.
What is Chainmail, Dungeon and Dragon’s Proto-form if not a Wargame to which one adds little acting? So CSI Games are in a very real way RPGs to which you add a Wargame mentality!

Paranoia is the first game I’m aware of that supports, even suggests, such mentality. The backdrop of the game is little but a tool to foster a “Me or them” mentality, a “We or them” and “Me or we” mentalities combined. The setting is all for you being out to get others, while hiding yourself and covering your ass from being “Had”. The players know that all characters are traitors, and if a character proves another is a traitor, then that character’s iteration(yay clones!) is offed. This encourages you to look out to screw other players, protect yourself from being screwed over AND accomplish whatever the homicidal Computer/GM throws at you, so you won’t ALL be offed.

Rune and DonJon, both take D&D and turn it on its head. Rune has one going for points, technically, everyone is together except when it’s one turn to take on the “GM” mantle and create obstacles for the others, but since one “Scores points”, one is always looking for number one. Here’s a hint, every player’s number one is himself.
DonJon has the players act together against the GM, but the two are on adversarial terms, same as in HackMaster. All conceits of “We’re all here just wanting to play a game together” are thrown aside as drivel, we’re here to play together, but we’re here to win alone, or against one another.
My best friend treats almost all convention games as DonJon, him against the group but mainly against the GM and the GM’s world, seeing how fast he can break it, and how mangled it’ll end up.

Recently(in order) we’ve had Capes, which while I’ve not read seems to foster inter-player competition for resources. One need only glance at what had been brought up over the last two months, and a bit before:
Apocalypse Girl, which to me is very much like the Illuminati card game(non-collectible) by SJG.
Cranium Rats, my own game, which is very much like the Munchkin card game. You play one of three Aspects of one character, these Aspects control what the characters do and try to win them over completely.
The Uchtman Factor, where you bid and vie for definition of the protagonist according to your viewpoint.
Champions of the Gods, which gives a board-game feel where you try to complete a certain amount of quests. It came from Game Chef 2006, and as such also sports a limited time-play, board-game did we say?
Conflict:Eridani, which combines an RPG with a “Zoom out” to the Wargame strategic level, ala the Birthright computer game of the early 90s.

For those who look at the above list and say some of those games, especially mine and The Uchtman Factor deprotagonize the character, I say to you this: The character may be the protagonist of the story, but we’re playing these games also for the competition, for the game. And as such, the character is not the protagonist of the game, the Aspects the players play are. Also, who is a protagonist once you look at the “why” of their actions?

EDIT: Shit, forgot to actually write the text of the point this post was striving for.

So, why this at all, and why now?
Look at the board-game market, it’s blooming, as there is much cross-pollenation between our geekdoms, it is inevitable that many a roleplayer is affected by boardgames he’s been playing. Also, this may very well be a counterweight reaction to the Narrativist CA and the “Emo” movement of the 90s.
Same as against the Simulationist and tactical heaviness of the 80s we had Vampire in the 90s, and against the story-front lightness of the earlier decades the Indie RPG movement of the late 90s and the beginning of the new millenium came a Story-front, now we have a new void being filled. See a need, fill a need.

Board games are fun, dammit, all those that say they take “Less” out of you don’t know what they’re speaking of, competitiveness is involvement heavy. However, they give you back something totally different, a gratification that had been infused into your genetic pool, of proving your worth.
I think the snowball will keep on rolling, first the Meme infects you, then it makes you propagate it.
Next post will be about Memes in games!

Questions, comments, flames!

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