Sunday, 13 December 2009

History belongs to the Victors

She had been researching on the Tinterweb and fondly reminiscing about the days when you actually had to get up and go to a library full of actual books. She liked books, very much in fact, but this whole Aetheric Net thing did make life a lot easier. Especially when she had a history to rewrite.

The research was one of the things she enjoyed the most; the careful sifting through the facts, piecing together the clues, watching as the fragmented reality came together as a coherent whole. Some times the work was slow and painful. At other times, it was exhilarating, with all of the pieces positively throwing themselves into place.

So, the game was to be set in the Empire of Steam, an age of great discovery and advance. And without the work of one man, the age would never have seen the light of day. The timeline would diverge from her own in 1834; Charles Babbage, hater of street musicians, would leave the disappointments of his difference engine behind, and with the assistance of the Countess Lovelace, would triumphantly produce his analytical engine.

Add to this the engineering genius of George Stephenson who, with the aid of the Babbage engines, has effectively created an anti-gravity steam engine. And then there's Stephenson's son, Robert and his collaboration with the greatest engineer of them all, Isambard Kingdom Brunel, at the behest of Her Majesty the Queen (Huzzah!).

And just what are the Hudson's Space Company and Jules Verne up to in the wilds of the newly formed Canada? What about that fellow Edison, with his shifty eye and light fingers? Some chap called Tesla, too, with talk of this new-fangled electricity.

Just don't get me started on what Commodore Perry found when he got to Japan...

Monday, 7 December 2009

A Brief Interlude

This happens every time we go to a good games convention; we sit with friends, some old, some new and chunter on about the things we admire, the things that inspire us and just the general stuff that life throws our way. And after we've gone back to the hotel, or are sitting at dinner, or hanging around in freezing cold train stations, we start to plot.

This happened last year at Dragonmeet, when after listening to people like Gregor Hutton chatting away about independent games, I decided I should think about writing again. We hadn't done much roleplaying for a couple of years for a variety of reasons; I missed it and I missed writing for it.

Initially I had intended to write the creepy cyberpunk game I'd planned to run many years ago when I'd been working in the South West. Somehow, it metamorphosed into a game about fallen stars seeking a way home (with help from the chaps at Collective Endeavour, who pointed me in the right direction).

Then we went to Conpulsion, and the whole cycle started again. Intrigued by by the game writing challenge set at the convention, we frothed away on the train home about the sorts of games we might have written if we hadn't had a train to catch. That lead to a game based on a short story I'd written, about what happens in houses when the humans aren't about.

Writing on both games stalled as life, work and a lack of playtesters got in the way, but once again Dragonmeet arrived with yet more inspiration and creative outpourings (I'm holding all of you on the independent games panel responsible, by the way). So now I'm working on a game with the better looking half of our marriage to give away free and then it will be back to the other two to get them finished and something done with them. This blog is to discuss the decisions we've made and why we've made them.

Our passion for our games, our desire to tell stories and more importantly, to share them, is what brings us back to them again and again. Long may interesting and inspiring conventions (and panels) continue!

Sunday, 6 December 2009

Act 1, Scene 3: An Interesting Development

They both agreed that the rules looked simple enough; in fact, with just three stats and a profession to choose, players were more likely to take all night thinking up a name than creating their characters. Once she'd thrashed out the rest of the basics, she knew she'd have to pop in a box or two with some skill suggestions, but that wouldn't be a problem.

In keeping with fun and respected games such as Spirit of the Century, they would encourage evocative skill names, ones that would help to express the overall personality of the character. They would also encourage the GM to support creative skill usage by the players (providing they could flannel for <insert name of relevant country of origin here>).

But what about character progression? Neither of them really wanted XP (despite all the nostlagic coo-ing over Dragon Age and its retro dungeon-bashing hilarity), but both agreed that characters are far more entertaining when they have the space to grow and develop.

So they talked, and after many cups of coffee and some rather interesting maple and pecan galletes, they decided that players should be able to change skills, within reason and as long as they exhibited some imaginative flair. And narrated a montage scene, complete with soundtrack (if necessary; but then a good montage scene demands a good soundtrack, don't you think?).

This may play in to the hands of power-gamery types, but then, power-gamers will subvert anything and everything to their own ends eventually. They intended it to allow character flexibility and enjoyment, rather than the rigid straigh-jacketing of a leopard never allowed to change its spots.

So, not including a small box for a sample character (and the tables yet to be created), the entire rules with examples took up about 6 sides of A4. Possibly not as few as the inestimable Ghostbusters game, but then, she was using Book Antiqua 12, not tiddly-widdly font.

And next, the background; a few more facts to check before monkeying with them, then onwards and upwards into the Empire of Steam and Her Majesty's Flying Steam City Atlantis...

Friday, 4 December 2009

Act 1, Scene 2: Alarums and Diversions

They stared at each other. Which system should they use? Should they attempt to create their own from scratch, or should they avoid reinventing the wheel when so many others before them had tried and, quite frequently, failed?

He had always been a huge fan of the d6 system (West End Games). She usually gave up reading games when it got to the rules (numbers were a necessary evil, as far as she was concerned). What about an adaptation of the new Dr Who system (characteristic + skill + dice roll to beat a difficulty)? She quite fancied pulling little cards out of a bag (she was keeping the idea of sparkly, collectible beads for a sparkly vampire series that will remain nameless game) - nice and unambiguous and great fun when used within the Company and League. Only slight problem there: would people honestly be bothered to cut out all of the little cards? It would be even better if you could use the cake system from Company, except that would involve people baking tiny fairy cakes prior to every game. Highly inkeeping with the spirit of the piece, but something of a faff if you intended to play on a regular basis. Wouldn't do your figure much good, either...

He pointed out, quite succinctly, that gamers love dice. Glancing at her gigantic dice collection, she found it hard to disagree. So dice it would be. But how many and what shape?

(Section deleted as the author's eyes glazed over during the explanation of what the statistics were doing in terms of probabilities and the like. This, she thought, is exactly why she keeps her husband, so she doesn't have to worry about such matters).

In the end, they decided to go for three skills and a single six-sided dice, largely inspired by 3:16 (Gregor Hutton), Over the Edge and Gumshoe (Robin D. Laws). And a difficulty table, but a nice easy one with small numbers.

(And it means she gets to use her lovely steampunk dice that she bought at Dragonmeet)

Thursday, 3 December 2009

Act 1, Scene 1: A rainy Sunday in the local coffee emporium

She sat with her husband, their bones chilled by the incessant rain that beat against the steamy window, sipping coffee, her notebook on the small circular table before her.

"Well, my love, we have here a very promising idea don't you think? A steampunk game with simple rules set against a back drop of grand design and steam-powered obssession."

He nodded, pushing the blonde curls from his rain-speckled spectacles.

Taking a deep breath, she continued "Tell you what, you do the statistics bit and I'll do the writing. You know I'm not overly fond of the numbers".

He smiled and took to discussing all the possible ways they could make the game fast, simple and enjoyable. Then together they wove a fantastical history, mirroring fact but at once removed, crammed with historical figures, high adventure and tea and cake. Lots of tea and cake. You can never have too much tea and cake, especially if you're going to be Victorian.

"Cogs, Cakes and Swordsticks: Cracking Adventures in the Empire of Steam"

Now all I have to do is finish writing it...