To begin: I am the worst at my own design blog. Ok, now that we’ve addressed that.
Never More Deserving Of The Category “I Probably Should Have Been Working”
It’s been a while since I have posted here, and the time spent away has been split between a few pursuits: I’ve been reading through and playing a little bit of Houses of the Blooded (mentioned in a previous posting) and just generally being impressed with the — in my opinion — incredibly tight focus the system has on exactly what it is trying to do. It’s a game of blood opera, tragedy, courtly prestige and courtly betrayal, as I may have mentioned before, and to this end players will find the extremely simple conflict resolution mechanic* embraces everything necessary to fulfill the associated expectations. Systems, all of them just minor variations on the baseline mechanic, exist to handle Romance, Insults, Debate, Duels, Mass Murder… “The system is impressive” is the only way I can put it, and it’s not because of any particular depth or complexity; rather, it’s the breadth of the system and the way it adjudicates the necessities of the storytelling.
That is what I want out of this. I want my system to be able to handle exactly what I, players, and narrators need it to handle. I think that is a pretty reasonable goal, honestly.
And so I was reading this book and playing it with my friend Adam, thinking to myself about how to accomplish that with Children Who Play With Monsters. I have my ideas, as previously posted, about how to create the Child, how to create the Monster, and the rudiments of conflict resolution* — and even the first building blocks of an end game! But “how does it all come together” remains an unanswered question and it will be one that I have to contend with for a while more before I know the answer.
*Which on reflection, author John Wick is correct, sounds about as sexy as washing machine instructions
Something Wicked– Wick-ian? Wick-ish. Sorensenian.
Now, following my discovery of John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded, and the realization that he also is responsible for Legend of the Five Rings – possibly the most popular samurai role-playing game, period — I went ahead and I did a little digging around. And, hey! Seems the guy has a youtube account by the name of LordStrange and, while waiting for art for HotB to get in, he posted a series of videos that went by the title “Game Design Seminar with John Wick.” Seems like it would be exactly up my alley, maybe. I’ve watched it through Episode 2 as of this writing, and in that episode John Wick brings up Jared Sorensen‘s “Three Questions.” Listening to what Wick and Sorensen were saying, and absorbing their meaning (hopefully), the Three Questions seem to come down to how to implement the game in your head, and communicate it to other people — in the presentation, mechanics, even just the blurb really; to be able to explain it, period, and make it sound exciting and feasible.
Given that I’m having some difficulties overcoming some obstacles in working on this game, I figure why not go ahead and see if maybe my problem lie with the very concept I am bringing to the table. If you’re curious, the John Wick video talking about the questions I am about to answer can be found here. With that, I’ll try my best to answer these as straight-forwardly as possible — if I can’t explain simply, maybe I’m missing something. And I can’t answer simply, then I’ll learn how to answer simply.
The three questions are: “What is your game about,” “how is your game about this,” and “how does the game encourage this behavior?”
1. What is your game about?
As Wick explains in the video linked above, ‘what is your game about’ is not the setting it is attached to. Rarely is your game about the post-apocalypse or Orwellian dystopias that you think it is — instead, it is about the struggle for Hope in the face of Despair, or illustrating Control and how far you’ll go for it. Things of that sort — what you may be trying to talk about while playing around with your game. Some games are very straight-forward with this, admittedly. Two very different games are up front with this: Dungeons & Dragons and Dogs In The Vineyard spring to my mind immediately. D&D actually is about slaying monsters and getting treasure, and everything about it focuses on this objective… and Dogs In The Vineyard is about judgment — morality in the face of adversity — and its parts all point towards this, with players even simply being told that their judgments on the situations in the game are above reproach… the Narrator cannot tell them their decision was wrong.
John Wick is simplistic with his answer to this. Houses of the Blooded is about Tragedy, he announces at 3:17, by which he means a response to typical games wherein characters continuously get better as time goes on, getting better indefinitely. It’s about not being invincible.
Children Who Play With Monsters is about… what? Friendship? It’s not about the fantasy lands, though I want players to be able to create that themselves. It’s not even about the monster, although that was partly what caught my attention originally and the players are able to create it and play it in the game. “Growing up?” I had a Russian Literature course where the class argued for weeks about the nature of “childishness” versus “maturity” and the dichotomy was damn near impossible to qualify for our arguments. I see the question (and I’ve written on this before) as a matter of benevolent selfishness and learning to understand other people. Children Who Play With Monsters is about… what? Monstrous Best Friends, exactly what I billed it as? Is my aim really that perfect (unlikely)? “That individual person in your life that can invigorate you, stonewall you, piss you off, elate you in a single day; that will forever mark you in life even/especially when they leave your life (and they will, and you will scream and cry and bleed to stop that); that will teach you and rely on you; and you will rely on, and that you will teach. Also, they’re a monster.”
It’s a game about your Best Friend being everything you need, and also a Monster.
It doesn’t sound astounding or incredible or even particularly interesting when boiled down like this. But then, it’s about as straight-forward and ethereal as “Hope,” “Control,” or “Tragedy.” So there’s that.
It’s a game about that Best Friend that defines your life.
2. How is your game about that?
In talking about this question, John Wick cites purely from HotB so comparisons to anyone else are sorely lacking — but it’s not so bad. He explains that every Aspect a character has can be used for both bonus dice, and be used as a weakness by other characters to their advantage. How does he make his game about Tragedy, as defined in opposition to the constant upward climb to perfection in most RPGs? He makes every helpful perk of your character a weapon that can and will be used against him; you accumulate weaknesses as you play.
How is Children Who Play With Monsters about “that Best Friend that defines your life?”
In CWPWM, your Monster is treated as an extension of the Child — they both are created in the same process, share the same character sheet, and are assumed to be working together and making trouble for one another throughout the story and during all die rolls. Very literally, you create both and they influence one another (Allowances dictate what you can get away with; Problems at Home dictate your Wish-Fulfillment as granted by the Monster) — and in gameplay, the Monster will always protect the Child when he gets them into trouble and take harm on his behalf when he is in danger, and could even be driven off by you so you can get your way; conversely, the Monster can get into trouble of his own making or be reticent to perform things the Child needs, and there may even be incentive for the Child to protect the Monster (instead of vice versa) and he may drive his best friend off as a means to save him.
That seems like a very big answer, but I think it’s exactly what is needed here. How is this game about the Best Friend that defines your life? It’s not because of any reason that could fit for another game — it’s not because you fight other monsters (D&D) or because you are playing at being monsters yourselves (World of Darkness). It’s because throughout play, the core game-play opportunity should be for the characters to influence, improve, enjoy, interact with, and suffer for one another.
That means I need to cover those bases in design.
3. What behavior does this reward/how does your game encourage this behavior?
John Wick implemented Style Points to influence players to show off their character’s weaknesses, lining themselves up for Tragedy as he defined it — and giving them access to cool things in the meantime. As he says, Style Points really, really do run the entire game system. So I should be able to construct something similar to his answer for this question.
Children Who Play With Monsters encourages an interaction between the Child and the Monster, ideally making them near inseparable. I encourage this by letting the Monster exist entirely within the confines of the player’s design and control except for situations where the actual game takes over; that is, the player will not be stuck with a Guilty Spark or a Wheatley/PotaDOS (for whatever value of annoying these may have been to the reader). I encourage the Monster to matter to the player because the Monster is one-hundred percent their creation.
Is there any rewarding happening? I don’t think so — not at this stage. This seems to speak to the idea I had recently, regarding a transforming Relationship die (or dice). The shifting of this die type or die pool could certainly act as a reward incentive for players, with it growing in response to in-genre behavior, or behaviors that move the game forward. John Wick mentions his Style Points being a reward for exposing your weaknesses — really, he is rewarding your for moving the game forward towards its “theme,” as it were… TRAGEDY.
Similarly, I could see the transforming Relationship dice acting as response/incentive for reaching the endgame/theme of Children Who Play With Monsters. Extra dice flowing into the game whenever the action contributes to Best Friends defining one another — I see this as what is represented by Flashbacks and Trouble/The Fable in the current build. At least, that’s how I view it at this moment, but it is certainly worth review at this point.
Bring It Together
1. What Is This Game About?
It’s a game about your relationship with that Best Friend that defines your life. Also he’s a Monster, so that’s cool.
2. How Is It About This?
The Child and the Monster are inextricably linked in the game, from character design, to how conflicts are handled. The give-and-take of their relationship is a central component to game-play, and their mutual influences for better and worse inform the entire way dice rolls play out. The world of the game for the Monster and for the Child are each individually expanded and defined by how these characters cause (or solve) problems for the other.
3. Incentivize This Behavior – Go.
Bonus dice I guess. Bonus dice bonus dice.
Like Greek Happiness or any well-laid plan to conquer Australasia in Risk, you cannot consider it a success until you reach the very end — so, you cannot consider the theme of “your relationship with the Best Friend who defined your life” until the last dice drop. So, these Bonus dice will have to feed back into the above and keep propelling the game towards this final focus.
Wow That’s a Lot of Text
Yeah, I admit that it is. That seems to be par for the course of this blog, and so I thank anyone and everyone who reads my work and is nice enough get through all of it. I promise there are kernels of interesting though all throughout.
With some effort, I was able to answer all of these questions put forward by Wick and Sorensen’s camp — and it helped me focus my sights a little more on what I need. It may mean a brief overhaul of what I have, but that’s not even a problem honestly… I have so little to start, anyway. So, I need to invest some though in honestly achieving the things I outlined in response to the Three Big Questions. While I do that, I’m also going to be keeping my mind on a different set of three questions…
Y’see, while writing the above, I thought I had read these questions elsewhere on the internet before. However, it turns out I was wrong. From a game designer by the name of Vincent Baker, I found a completely different set of Game Design questions that he feels need to be answerable by the designer. I’ll be trying my hand at answering those tomorrow.
As always, please leave any questions, thoughts, or comments in the space below! I love receiving comments, let me tell you, and I enjoy responding to them if I can. Feel free, in the comments below, to try and break down any card game, computer game, or role-playing game by the three questions I’ve been discussing above! Sounds like a fun thought experiment to me. Tell me What They’re About, How They’re About That, And What Behavior Is Incentivized!
I can be reached, as always, at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com for any further discussion. Thanks as always!