So I failed to post the last couple days, but I have been working — I’ve been typing away like a storm!
A storm with a keyboard!
A storm with a keyboard and a definite, directed intelligence!
Some general housekeeping here, first things first and all of that jazz. Scrolling all the way down to the bottom of the blog will reveal that I have rearranged the gadgets in the bottom border. For now you will find Blogroll, Archives, and the Search function all snuggled up in the middle column. This is all subject to change once I start padding out my Blogroll probably! But for now, everything is roughly symmetrical and so my brain can sleep easy. Oh, but wait! You’ll notice now occupying the left column is a twitterfeed! Yes, I have twitter, and I went ahead and cleared it out of nonsense and updated its name and URL to bring it in line with the 20Facets blog. The username for that is @20Facets and I can of course be searched by Alfred Rudzki, or you can always just follow it here as it appears on the blog as a snippet of gaming thoughts and nonsense as I follow some of the names in role-playing. I’ll probably just be using it whenever I have a thought that doesn’t quite justify a whole blog post — although, to date, I think I’ve managed to wring blood from stones when it comes to incredibly thread-bare topics… for good or for bad, really.
Speaking of Rambling Unduly
So, on this computer of mine I have a folder which contains all of the RPG PDFs I own. Included in there is a folder for the projects that I’m working on, including a folder for Children Who Play With Monsters in which I have all of the notes I have written up, jotted down, charted out, slapped together, scribbled, or typed into being — most of which I went ahead and showed off here last month when I gave a breakdown of how I would go about building a character and handling conflict. Sure, there’s a little more in there — I have the beginnings of a table of contents which I’m using as a sort of check list of what I feel I need to write about. It’s led to me producing detailed listings of the options for Allowances, Problems at Home, Problems at School, and such. It’s useful for working on what to put into a test module that others could use to provide feedback. Since then, I’ve been agonizing over how to fit all of it together to produce some sort of meaningful end-game…
I suppose I’ve been doing this because, honestly, I don’t see Children Who Play With Monsters being about the Big Bad or the Vast Evil or the Immutable Tide, the Nothing, The Darkness, The Splicers, The Reckoning, The Black King, The Tar Aliens or whatever. Are they important? Yes. They are undeniably important. Maybe I should have written about this earlier, but I didn’t and maybe for that I should be ashamed — the Child who has fled from home cannot flee into a stable fantasyland. I mean, okay, you could try and pull that, but you would defeat half of the point in these stories… The Child has to leave behind a home where they connect with no one, and enter a world where they are almost singly the most important in the history of the realm. They must be the Chosen One, the Daughters of Eve, that-guy-who-winds-up-with-the-AURYN. They have to move from neglect and pigeonholing into admiration and being the mold from which heroes are expected to spring, basically. It’s kind of a ridiculous weight, but it’s what the Children get when they enter the fantasyland — because it’s the vessel to their maturity. If they continued as they were, with no one even paying them any mind, they would not improve and would only get worse (as I explained previously, when I pointed out most Children are on the edge of becoming real problems). By entering the fantasyland, however, they are forced and expected to grow up to cope with their sudden position as — basically — the “grown-up.”
There’s a reason every other occupant of a Child’s fantasy land is either emotionally immature, small of stature, weakened greatly, or physically undeveloped.
But! These things, they’re cool, they’re handy, they’re necessary — but they’re not the point. They are the means to an end. They are the anvil against which you hammer out the steel that is to be the Child’s end-game; I think that’s the best way I can conceivably put it! The metal is the Child, the fire is the Monster, the hammer is every single Conflict and instance of Big Trouble that happens along the way, and it’s all happening against the — necessary — backdrop of some great opposing force to which only the Child may respond. But that anvil isn’t the point of why you’re hammering; you’re after the sword. You’re after the Child, galvanized into self-reliance, self-confidence, competence, dependability by the interactions with, destruction wrought by, mischief caused alongside, dreams chased thanks to the Monster. You’re after the final moments, as the music swells tenderly and the Monsters squats on the shore of the island far away, waving after the Child’s sailboat — or the Children wandering back through the Wardrobe on a whim — or the Children discovering a whole world with families that love them beyond the ocean.
So, my issue has been this end-game. Because I feel like it’s the point. It’s the thesis to this grand, rambling essay that this game slowly transforms into as every day goes by. If…
It’s a game about your relationship with that Best Friend that defines your life. Also he’s a Monster, so that’s cool.
–Jared’s Three Big Questions
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.
–Jared’s Three Big Questions
…then at the end of the game, when all is said and done, those influences back and forth — that tested friendship — that relationship — what happens to it should be what we care about; did the Monster help the Child? Did the Child learn to solve his problems? Is his life better? Or is he instead just better at dealing with it? Is he going back? Is he running away for good because it really is bad? Did the Monster even make it this far…? This is the important stuff. This is what needs to be outlined, or at least pointed to by the rest of the game.
So how do we get to those points? How do we take ourselves from a mess of steel to an actual sword capable of doing some harm? How do we step from a lump of potential to actual, realized, glorious, gleaming final form? The Monster is the vessel for lessons and ideas, serving as guardian to the Child and imparting nuggets of wisdom and perfect observation to help him or her; The Monster also needs these lessons imparted back onto him, because he is just as adrift as the Child in many ways, and this makes the Child step up to the role of guardian in his own right; the two of them must invigorate one another, help one another, and even necessarily hamper one another for their own good — and all of this while they are tested and stressed to the breaking point by the conflicts and challenges of the world around them, and whatever test they’ve been straining to rise above since the Child first appeared.
Tear Out The Engine and Put It Back Together Before We Drive
I’ve basically completely gutted what I had previously written about Conflicts, and that necessitates some gutting of a couple of the elements of character creation. This is nothing too serious for the latter, and a massive overhaul in design and purpose for the former — but it’s all just an idea right now. I’ve kept my files for what is Alpha v1.0, and I’ll be considering all of this work to be Version 1.1… but by no means is it definitive at this point. I’m just exercising the brain with these ideas, but I’m liking them overall for the sake of this talk. If you were particularly attached to my last round of Children Who Play With Monsters talk, then just consider this alternate universe talk I suppose!
For the sake of illustration, I do hereby include two photos taken of my table work for this game. I don’t like to work on the game on the computer, except for: 1) when I am explaining and talking through ideas here on the blog, 2) when I am writing things up in an official capacity, 3) when I feel the need for definitive accuracy in my designs, or 4) I’m doing it for the explicit purpose of showing others. These are pictures taken from when I’ve simply been messing around with ideas as they occur to me… I suppose what I am saying it, I’m including these as a bonus and to illustrate some distinctions between Version 1.0 and 1.1, and I’m asking that the fact that they’re scrawled on a steno pad and note card not be held against me! These were originally never meant for anyone’s eyes but my own!
In my scribblings over what now constitutes I suppose two attempts to put what I was thinking into useful rules, guidelines, and actual game design, I conceived of the basic character making and conflict resolution processes of Children Who Play With Monsters. It was extremely simplistic to start and consisted of:
- Roll d8 and d12 if you’re with your Monster and it’s Allowed.
- Roll d8 if you’re alone.
- Roll d12 if your Monster is alone and it’s not a No-No
- Roll d8 vs d12 if it’s not Allowed!
- Roll without opposition from the Monster if it’s not Allowed but it’s a No-no!
- Add 1d8 to your d8 pool if your Wish-Fulfillment can help!
- Add 1d12 to the Monster’s Pool for each of his Blurbs that help!
- If Not Allowed, add 1d12 to your Child’s Pool for each of the Monster’s Blurbs that hinder!
This would generate a pool of dice ranging from 1d8, to 2d8 and 4d12 in really good circumstances, or 1d8 versus 4d12 in really bad circumstances. All while trying to hit or beat the number 6, or the versus roll whatever it might have been. Not too complex, and honestly not too bad overall. No real depth to it, I think, but it’s a pretty solid First Out of the Gate solution in terms of what occurred to me right off the bat. “I want to yell at the Spriggan for being a jerk!” Your Monster doesn’t allow Mouthing-Off! Roll d8 vs d12! “Well, he’s QUIET and wouldn’t silence me, so I’ll take an extra d12. 1d12 and 1d8 vs 1d12.” True, but he’s BIG and puts himself between you and the Spriggan, so 1d12 and 1d8 vs 2d12. Roll off, higher individual die roll takes the Conflict, add a detail to the Fable, continue play; if you wind up In Trouble, add a troublesome detail to the Fable, give someone else a scene, and later return to your “Oh No!” still-in-progress. Things missing from this set-up include any mechanical indication of a relationship with the Monster beyond the simple arrangements of present/absent/with/against quartet — such as, Present+Disinterested, Absent+Protective, With+Reluctant, Against+Supportive, or any other combinations…
Also, no mechanics supported dealing with the Problems listed on the Child’s portion of the character sheet — theoretically, in Version 1.0 you would play until the story-driven event of trumping the Great Badness, leaving the Narrator’s responsibility as maintaining the pacing so that it coincided with the Child learning the appropriate lessons of their life. Which is fine and all, but kind of hackneyed and really represents and entirely divorced effort. This is Mechanics||Storytelling; the two running parallel — one belonging basically to the players and the other to the Narrator… which again, is cool and all, but it’s basically two completely divorced components of what ought to be a single unit. I believe Vincent Baker charted out the interaction in role-playing games at one time, and it looked like people playing make-believe, referencing mechanics to justify the stories being told, with the stories further informing the mechanics called for. Something to that effect — the point is, they all worked together, not alongside one another.
The ideas conceived for version 1.1 firstly expanded on the dice system primarily because I felt that the initial set-up lacked depth. Whether appropriate or ill-informed, we’ll see, but that was the motivation — expand on the dice-rolling, and expand involvement in the dice-rolling. Each player needs 2d4, 1d6, 1d8, 2d10, and 1d12 to play — these are split between seven relevant parts of character creation. Your Child starts with a Maturity of 1d4, which represents their contributions at any given time as informed by the Profile you gave him (Dork, Jock, etc), and will rise and fall throughout the game in reflection/definition of your relationship with the Monster; speaking of whom, starts with 1d12 representing its contributions and its attachment to the Child. The two Allowances it grants you (instead of three, as per 1.0) are given 1d8 and 1d6, and allow you to roll them when attempting an act that falls under an Allowance. The remaining 1d4 would be invested in the Mischief your Monster causes (a replacement for No-Nos)* and the d10s would be allotted individually to your Child’s Problem at Home and Problem at School. The Monster’s Blurb would allow the rerolling of individual dice, and the Wish-Fulfillment would let you add another die equal to your current Maturity die. Conflict would proceed like this:
- Roll Maturity against a 6 when the Child is alone.
- Roll Monster against a 6 when the Monster is alone.
- Roll Maturity and Monster against a 6 when together, subtracting one from the other to produce a final difference.
- Add an Allowance to the final result of the above, whenever applicable.
- Use the Monster’s Blurb to call for individual rerolls from his pool.
- Use the Child’s Wish-Fulfillment to roll an additional Maturity die.
- The Narrator should roll your Problems + 6 against the Child and Monster, when appropriate.
- The Narrator should roll your Problems + Mischief + 6 against the Child and Monster, whenever In Trouble.
- The Narrator should roll Mischief + 6 against the Child/Child and Monster, when the Monster is causing problems.
- The Narrator should feel appropriate in rolling Mischief and adding it to the Trouble Threshold to make matters worse.
The idea operating behind this is that the Narrator is given a way to directly challenge the things that the players consider important — they can do this, by throwing in extra dice in favor of the opposition to complicate matters so long as the scene is narrated in a way to tap into the Child’s lingering issues and insecurities. Bobby wants to Mouth-Off to the Spriggan? Okay, but that’s how you get Beat Up at School so the Narrator grabs himself a d10 and gives it a good roll to find the new target number. Furthermore, the results of things not boosted by Allowances have the ability to fall on the low-end of the spectrum, resulting in Trouble which is good as far as this game is concerned. Something I failed to mention before, the option to set your Child’s Trouble Threshold belongs to the player in 1.1, and I would write up a guideline for choosing a number (ie, between 1 and 12, low numbers = slower game, less trouble; high numbers = quicker game, lots of trouble, cascading problems).
In this idea, I’d give the Narrator a pool of d8s equal to the total number of unresolved Problems the Children in the group have — the Narrator could throw these in at his discretion to further complicate the game session, as these should serve to represent the specific planned scenes of opposition and drama he has in mind. These d8s are what create the memorable scenes of, say, the Gmork in Neverending Story or boss fights in A Boy and His Blob, or the specific plot turns in How To Train Your Dragon. These dice are to give the Narrator some room to play around, and they’re his budget for a given session of play! And he should feel more than entitled to combine these with his tricks above, especially getting a particular Child in Trouble – as these dice roll over from scene to scene as long it’s all linked by Trouble.
Okay… So? What? That’s A Lot of Numbers, Man
Let’s look at the dynamic that is created by this. Really, it falls into four categories and the dice just exist to shuttle you between these four results…
- The Child Gets What He Wants And Nothing Goes Wrong (Success/No Trouble)
- The Child Gets What He Wants But Something Goes Wrong (Success/Trouble)
- The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants But Nothing Goes Wrong (Failure/No Trouble)
- The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants And Something Goes Wrong (Failure/Trouble)
Listed from generally most desirable to generally least desirable from a typical gaming standpoint. From the above dice-rolling-breakdown, players have the ability to: Roll Allowance, increasing their total on a given die roll; Roll Wish-Fulfillment, increasing their total on a given die roll; Reroll their Monster, Allowances, Maturity, increasing or decreasing their total on a given die roll. Players are pretty strongly in control of their ability to Avoid or Get Into Trouble more than anything else, especially when you consider that the Narrator can bring dice in to play to make straight-forward Success less likely. The Narrator can bring multiple Problems into play if it’s appropriate, increasing the difficulty; the Narrator can introduce Plot Dice, increasing the difficulty; the Narrator can instigate Mischief, increasing the Trouble Threshold as appropriate; the Narrator can engage the Child against his own Monster by adding Mischief to the difficulty.
So if players are going, honestly, to primarily be the arbiters of when Trouble does and does not start, then that should be the relevant portion of playing their characters and coming to terms with their stories and such, and it should put them at odds between two things they want; if the Narrator is looking like he is shaping up to be the controller of success and failure, then that is going to generally be the province of story-telling and plot-making — very similar to what I concluded about 1.0, BUT! At least now the Narrator is interacting directly with the players when it comes to Conflicts and dice-rolling.
So, thoughts: If the Child is supposed to be the hero to end the Grim Badstuff, and especially if the players want to do this, it should be possible. I am not above, however, making it the object of the very end of the game — effectively, even, treating it as a bonus on top of the real point of play: resolving the Child’s Problems. Almost, really, in the way that at the end of My Life With Master once the dice tell you that, no! It’s okay! You’ve thrown off the yoke! You have a scene to depose the Master and see what becomes of you and your vigor. In this case, I foresee something similar, with a degree of it being “see who is the chosen one, and see who helps/runs/weeps/etc.” I think the more critical point here is that the Narrator should bring their Problems to bear on this final confrontation, increasing the likelihood of failed Conflicts, increasing the likelihood of your Monster dying to defend you in the final conflict even as you win the day. But what if you want your Monster to make it through? What if you want the two of you to fly away into the sunset and mess with some bullies?
Well, you had better resolve those Problems on the character sheet and take away your Narrator’s weapons then!
- Play the game. Call for Conflict when you want a particular in-game effect (plot elements, etc); Narrator will call for Conflict when appropriate, to hassle the Child for his Problems, his Monster’s Mischief, and his own Plots. Conflict for in-game effects always has the chance to produce Trouble after all, which is useful in its own way, and vital to advancing.
- When in Conflict, roll the appropriate dice as listed above! By yourself? Maturity. Just Monster? Monster dice. “Working” together? Both and subtract. Try and work in an Allowance! Lead the Narrator into investing his Plot dice with cool opportunities in-game, by adding cool entries to the Fable when you get the chance.
- If you Succeed, narrate getting the nifty plot thing you wanted and add a new Entry to the Fable explaining where you’re off to now with your New Cool Plot Thing. (ie, You Managed To Sneak Into The Thousand-Walled City Despite Applecore Refusing To Stay Under His Tarp; tell us where to now, and give us something cool to play with!)
- If you Fail, the Narrator will narrate how you fail to get your nifty little plot thing you wanted. Write an Entry about how you didn’t get what you wanted. You have the option of Succeeding even if you fail, but only by reducing your Monster’s die size by 1 step — write an Entry about how you do get what you want, but at some cost to your Monster.
- If you get into Trouble, narrate how things get worse (paying attention to what dice got you there). Write out an Entry describing how things get worse, and let play focus on the other Children before coming back to you for your continued Conflict. When in Trouble, you can opt out of it entirely by running from the Fantasyland — and then increasing your Maturity, and Problems each by 1 step (up to their maximums of d12).
- If you’re in Trouble but manage to get out, write two Entries in the Fable. One for your awe-inspiring success (of course), and one for the moment of calm afterwards where your Monster imparts a kernel of wisdom to the Child or otherwise shares a defining moment that will drop whatever Problem was part of the recent Conflict by 1 type.
- For every decreases, drop the Monster’s die size by 1 type as his influence begins to wane, honestly, and your Child ought to be coming into his own right.
- If you’re Not in Trouble, no real need for narration here — but feel free to increase your Monster’s Mischief by one type to put yourself in Trouble! Maybe you’re pretty certain you can get out of it and get a decreased Problem out of it! Or, maybe you really need that upped Maturity die and you’re getting into it so you can panic and flee — who knows! Move them dice around!
- … and some other ideas and relationships I need to work out.
Just a whole lot of idea drop. I honestly feel like I may be getting somewhere with these more recent ideas, and my brain keeps firing off more connections the more I read — which, really, is how it ought to be. So, I’m going to keep on reading, keep on writing, keep on brainstorming, and see where it takes me. I think there is some progress in all of this, somewhere. I made it over a giant hump I had previously regarding mechanics and end-games… and even if this snippet isn’t anything like what I eventually come to, it is definitively more than what I started with previously and that gives me something to work on, respond to, and build from.
As always: Comments, Questions, Thoughts below — and my e-mail for one-on-one contact is as ever alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.
Time to finally let myself get a breather from this post! And then write another one really soon!