Archives for category: Work-in-progress

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!
And hands.

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

…and…

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!

Steno pad page of a brief sketch of the character sheet

You'll notice some artifacts here, with abandoned ideas like pips, and a silhouette/profile thing for scaling Monsters.

Note card with a more recent sketch of the character sheet

Some new ideas here with new approaches to them... greatly reduced the meta, a great deal more dice involved, and redesigned No-Nos

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…

Lookit this grid! Bam!

How delightful.

  1. The Child Gets What He Wants And Nothing Goes Wrong (Success/No Trouble)
  2. The Child Gets What He Wants But Something Goes Wrong (Success/Trouble)
  3. The Child Doesn’t Get What He Wants But Nothing Goes Wrong (Failure/No Trouble)
  4. 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!

 


Yesterday I talked about the “Big Three Questions,” as they are known, espoused by game designer Jared Sorensen (see my last post for a link to his site). Specifically, I was talking about these questions in regards to my current project Children Who Play With Monsters; I tried to create or show an understanding of what my answer would be to each of the design considerations put forward by Sorensen and John Wick, partly as a mental exercise, partly as good practice for the future, and partly to help steer me through a designing rough patch I feel like I’m passing through. Today I’m looking at a few more questions, this time from a different source.

Vincent Baker’s “Insights”
Vincent Baker is a game designer responsible for a number of independent properties with a lot of really interesting ideas churning right underneath the surface. His contributions to the hobby include Dogs in the Vineyard, Apocalypse World, In a Wicked Age, Poison, and others (not linked here because, honestly, you should just look them up. Really! Go do it!)

Vincent Baker maintains a webpage by the name of anyway where you can find a lot of talk about game design in general. The man thinks and writes big. That is the only way I can describe it. I enjoy what he writes, and a part of me aspires to be able to identify and discuss the elements of play with the insight and verve that this guy does. Well, deep in the recesses of his blog he has a blog post that can be found here — the long and short of the post goes like this: when you design an RPG, you are making three statements specific to your game. If you didn’t have something to say, you wouldn’t be making the game! You are saying something about your subject matter; you are saying something about role-playing in general; you are saying something about human behavior, too. He calls them “Insights.” Go read the initial post of Baker’s blog if you’d like — it’s interesting to read how he applied these ideas to his own game. I’m not going to repost his entry here because it’s just one internet hop away. I’m just going to go at it.

My Insights — What Am I Saying
1. Subject matter: My subject matter… It’s about monsters, fantasy lands, and children who need someone who understands them — it all goes together as far as I’m concerned; it’s about escapism, and that’s where you see them intertwined in spades. You know, I once heard a study that suggested that when children are growing up there are typically two “classes” of fantasies that they engage in. One, more popular in girls apparently, is pretending that their surroundings are different, or that they come from a different family altogether; in boys, it is apparently instead a fantasy of being someone else altogether. I’m saying that the ‘monstrous best friend’ genre appeals to that sense of childish belonging deep down in the belly of someone’s being.

2. Roleplaying as a practice: What am I saying about role-playing as a practice? Part of me thinks that part of the reason for role-playing is to play the game, play out the story, to find out how it ends. It’s about discovery. You don’t really want to know how it ends… until you get there. You don’t want to orchestrate the ending, you want to set it in motion and let the dominoes fall and watch for the patterns. That’s something I want to aim for… the pieces of the game to move together, towards the eventful final moments when you discover what the world(s) have in store for the Child.

3. Real live human nature: Everyone likes telling stories. Everyone likes escapism. The people sitting at the table are going to be getting into trouble and trying to get out of trouble, and they’ll get out of it by running from it further (More Trouble, the Fable) or by falling back on when things were simpler… using something they already know (Flashbacks). When people run from their problems, that doesn’t guarantee that things will get better… Everyone needs that someone to rely on. Everyone needs that one person. And you’re probably going to hurt that person. You’re probably going to hurt them a lot early on, until you get your head screwed on you and figure shit out. You’re probably going to be hurt, be cramped, be drowned out by them — going to feel smothered, maybe. But they’re that someone you need, and they need you.

So Hey, That’s Interesting
I found this post so much easier to write than the previous one. So that’s actually kind of exciting! Even if I may or may not have a perfect grasp on the framework (the about, the how, the behavior) I’m building my game in, I do know what I’m thinking about when I try to make these decisions. Or at least, I do now. Some of the stuff I wrote above were thoughts I’d had all along — and some of it, especially the third question, occurred to me as I was writing and I tried to just go with it and see what I was trying to say.

And I liked what I was trying to say. I really do. It even works with some of what I’ve been saying before! (Like the idea of how success and failure interacts with the well-being of your Monster.) I have a bit more of a vector on what I want to do with this idea, and I think that will help me.

What’s Up Next
Can’t give a  forecast as to what is coming next this week. Nothing else has really caught my attention at this point; I’ll be playing some more Houses of the Blooded this week, so I may talk more about ideas I get from that. Honestly, that game has inspired some thoughts about another game of mine that I haven’t spoken about yet on this blog — although, that idea may have to be finally trashed (sadly), as I can’t see anything new I can bring to the project in light of games such as Houses and Apocalypse World. Maybe I’ll write about it anyway! We’ll see how it goes! I do, however, have a vague plan to put together a testable module for Children Who Play With Monsters by the very end of next week/end of the month (whichever comes first)! Maybe I’ll accomplish that. I’d like to.

What do you think? Have any thoughts on the idea of role-playing games sharing three “insights” on gaming, content, and people? Do you see any of this in the games you play? Do you see how it doesn’t work this way? Want to give it a try like last time and construct another set of answers? Have fun!

As always, any thoughts and comments on the ideas espoused here can be left below, and I look forward to reading and responding to anything the readers may have to say. I can be contacted, of course, at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com. Thank you for reading, as always!


Disclaimer
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!


Nothing particularly exciting to report, honestly. I’m still contemplating the mechanics of the resolution system, and I’m staring longingly at the observations I made last time, and I think I spotted something interesting:

The idea of Flashbacks representing a tie to our world.

And maybe the idea of entries in the Fable representing a tie to the fantasy land.

I’m trying to conceive of how these interact exactly, because I feel like they should! Something like, whichever is more filled-out by the time a certain criteria is fulfilled, determines whether you go home or stay in Fantasia. Maybe.

I figure, as of this writing, something like when you get In Trouble, you’ll have to make a Fable Entry. To reduce your Trouble Threshold, you’ll need to have a Flashback. When you have a Flashback, it’s harder for you to get In Trouble, thereby stifling continued Fable Entries. Maybe a converse, like something regarding Trouble will keep you from having Flashbacks.

I’m trying to work out how precisely these flow into one another! They need to, somehow. It’s how game systems work.

Maybe your relationship die with the Monster acts as the time, actually. Starts as a d4, or what have you. When it reaches d12, you’re on the cusp. You’re about to have to decide, once and for all. Or vice versa. And the player will actually navigate the ups and downs of their adventures, with this “clock” in mind.

All ideas I’m working on, and considering.

However, I admit here and now that I’ve been distracted this weekend by John Wick’s Houses of the Blooded. He calls it “the anti-D&D” and its an extremely evocative declaration. So far, it’s delivered as far as I can tell on the implied promises therein. It’s very interesting, very streamlined in terms of its rules. Very interesting in the way they all interact. I would recommend reading it for anyone who enjoys D&D but has issues with it, or anyone who enjoys an honest to goodness well-crafted game.

No major reports today. Just a work day.


Time for some more mechanical dump about Children Who Play With Monsters! And some further general musings! However, this post got immensely out of my control and can best be described by the Thinking Out-Loud tag I keep using. Thoughts were spawned while typing out things that I considered pretty solid thoughts, and now a lot more work needs to be done. But, it is presented here as they came to me, with the brain blasts italicized for your convenience.

Character Creation version 1

  • Write out your Child’s Name
  • Write out your Child’s Profile
  • Write out your Child’s Problem at Home
  • Write out your Child’s Problem at School
  • Write out your Monster’s Name
  • Write out your Monster’s Blurb
  • Describe your Monster’s Wish-Fulfillment
  • Select your Monster’s No-nos
  • Select your Monster’s Allowances

The Resolution System (maybe!)
So currently I’m looking at a pretty straight-forward system of conflict resolution. Since I’ve gotten out of Dungeons & Dragons (does Wizards of the Coast really need me to link to them?), and honestly drifted more than a little from d20 System in general, I’ve found myself drawn more and more to more straight-forward resolution systems. Besides a game of Blue Rose that I have going on, Dust Devils and My Life With Master come to mind as possibly the most “crunchy” games I’m interested in at the moment. This may change later, but for now I’m going to stick to some simplistic mechanics and see how far it can take me; it will take the form of a simple d12 or d8 roll against a static number to determine success, failure, or a worsening of the situation. Read on for more.

I’ve selected a d12 for a couple reasons. The first is that, honestly, the d12 is an awkward, strange, misplaced, unique little die. Often overlooked, often unused. Its weird, and I imagine it might have provoked a raised eyebrow or a bit of intrigue when I mentioned it in the above paragraph. That is why I picked it — not for the weird value itself, but for what it can represent. Because the d12 represents the Monsters efforts to accomplish something for himself or on the behalf of the Child, and I feel like the mechanical metaphor was too good to overlook. Especially given the second point supporting the d12: the difference between the d12 and the d8 is about appropriate to represent the discrepancy between the Child and the Monster in terms of capabilities — if I set the difficulty of accomplishment at, for example, 6: the Monster is likely, half of the time, to accomplish what it sets out to do. Similarly, this places the Child in fairly dire straits on his own, and introduces the opportunity for trouble and complications. d12 and d10 feel too close; d10 and d8 feel too close. So, for now, d12 and d8. We’ll see what happens with that!

So what sorts of things will this resolution system deal with in the game? I already know two things it should generally not have to interact with: whatever the player has selected as the Monster’s Allowance will happen without any sort of roll to see if it can happen, although a roll may occur to determine the success of the attempt under certain conditions; additionally, any action that would contravene the Monster’s No-Nos will similar not even be given a roll should the Monster be attempting it, although a roll is still possible by the Child alone. I figure that a Conflict roll will occur whenever:

  • the Child attempts something that is not covered  by the Monster’s allowances.
  • the players or characters need to resolve a difference of opinion in how the story should progress
  • the Child is specifically opposed by an antagonistic force
  • Possibly if a situation would involve the Child’s Problem at Home (I need to think more on this! Possibly a way to tie this all together more tightly!)
  • the player interacts with an unused entry in the Fable (see below)

TANGENT: And at this exact moment as I type this, the idea occurs to me of having some way of keeping track specifically of the relationship with the Monster, and when attempting an Allowance: You pool the dice of the Child and the Monster; when attempting something Not covered by the Allowance, you roll those dice against one another; when attempting something that is in fact a No-No, you roll only the Child’s dice with no opposition. I’d have to look at this, but this is intriguing to me automatically, especially if the die used by the Monster corresponds to the strength of the bond between it and the Child — meaning a higher die size as the bond grows, improving the Child’s efforts so long as the Monster agrees, and a smaller die size if the bond wanes and an easier time defying the Monster… I’d have to really emphasize the benefit/detriment balance of a strong/weak bond with the Monster, and determine a method of changing the die size in relation to events in the story.

TANGENT: Continuing along this now stream-of-consciousness post (I apologize formally if this has stopped making sense, and will work to clarify things in the end), I could see the relationship die size juggling becoming a focus of play if it improves or impairs a given effort of the Child — or rather, an ends of play whose means include pursuing challenges and getting into trouble. Consider a situation wherein a player was counting on a high die type to accomplish something, only to suddenly be reduced to a less appealing size. They then voluntarily place themselves in the way of danger or story-telling complications to restore the die size. This could in fact work well with an idea I’ve been struggling with and calling “The Fable,” a listing in the form of ‘storybook sentences’ of story elements introduced into the game by players — in so far as, drawing from this list of potentially relevant conflicts-in-waiting to introduce complications voluntarily. A few things worth thinking more in-depth about, certainly!

Getting into Trouble
Inheriting the noble tradition of ‘critical failures’ of bygone games, Children Who Play With Monsters calls rolling a 1 “Getting into trouble” and considers it an opportunity to introduce additional difficulties into the lives of the Children and their Best Friends, push the game and story forward, and potentially flesh out their fantasy land. In the above section, I described a conceit called The Fable used to keep track of what beings, places, and happenings enliven the fantasy world and make it more than normal — and a conceit that is used when a Child Gets into Trouble, as they will add a new entry describing a new section of the world, or revise an older entry to reflect their current involvement with it.

Trouble doesn’t end there, however, as rolling the highest possible value on the die signifies an outstanding, smashing success — and that kind of thing can’t go on for too long without drawing the ire of fairy tale irony; rolling the highest value on a die in a conflict is still a success, but raises the Trouble Threshold by 1 (from 1 to 2, 2 to 3, 3 to 4, etc) — meaning rolling anywhere within this window will trigger “Getting into Trouble” now. This Trouble threshold needs some way of being reduced, I imagine. I conceive currently that such a reduction can be called for, but it requires the player’s next scene to take place as a flashback to their life at home or at school, somewhere in the real world! The Child goes to sleep, and we are treated to a scene of the life before and we get to understand them a little bit better.

TANGENT: And another brain blast as I sit here writing this right now — I consider the possibility of treating Trouble instead as a static value determined at the start of play when making the Child. From then on, rolling within this Threshold triggers “Getting into Trouble” as described above; related, an interlude as described above can only ever reset Trouble back to this initial value. This divorces Trouble from the dice and places it on the protagonist him- or herself, which I think is another attractive metaphor worth establishing. From here, it’s worth considering that reducing the Trouble rating to Zero could be the/an objective of play — possibly that the Flashback scenes to positive, fulfilling moments of the Child’s life are listed on the character sheet in a section that, once completed, signifies the end of the Child’s adventures. That’d make the objective: Get Trouble to Zero, with “Awaken Fulfilling Memories” the incremental steps towards this objective. If that were the case, then the flashbacks really shouldn’t be simply summoned by players when their Trouble Threshold rises during play — and maybe Trouble Threshold rising shouldn’t then be a matter of maxed out die rolls. Possibly some sort of seesaw relationship between Trouble and the Relationship idea as mentioned in the earlier italicized stream-of-conscious paragraphs — that maybe they should interact, in determining how the campaign ends for the Child.

Tilting the Odds
Remember the Wish-Fulfillment and Blurb settled on when creating the Monster? They come into play in the form of giving the player some help in accomplishing the things they want to do. I imagine players can, in a Conflict, add an additional d8 to their efforts if the object of the Wish-Fulfillment would help them. A Child living a life without the money to buy new shoes will find their Monster the possessor of a vast wealth, and anytime those doubloons would help out: the player receives a bonus for it. Similarly, additional d12s are granted for every word of the Monster’s Blurb that would be beneficial in a situation! If it does not benefit or if it impedes, it is simply discounted or may serve as a story complication at the player’s and the GM’s discretion. And should any part of the Blurb impede the Monster in a conflict between it and the Child? Those  bonus d12s go to the Child! How the tables have turned!

In Summary (of the not stream-of-consciousness sections)

  • Conflicts occur whenever
    • Children attempt something outside the bounds of Allowances
    • Children attempt something that involves their Problem at Home
    • Children are opposed by an antagonistic force
    • Children interact with an unused entry in the “Fable”
    • Players cannot settle a disagreement regarding the direction of the story
  •  The dice used in this game are d12s and d8s
    • Players earn a single additional d8 whenever their Child’s efforts would be improved by Wish-Fulfillment in a Conflict
    • Players earn additional d12s in a 1:1 ratio whenever the Monster’s Blurb words improves their efforts to succeed in a Conflict within the Monster’s Allowances
    • Players earn additional d12s in a 1:1 ratio whenever the Monster’s Blurb words improve the Child’s efforts to resist the Monster when attempting something outside the Monster’s Allowances
  • Conflicts are versus a static difficulty of 6
    • Multiple dice do not stack; instead, players select which rolled value to use
  • Rolls within the bounds of the Trouble Threshold trigger “Getting into Trouble…” and players must add to the “Fable” and describe the nature of this trouble
    • The Trouble Threshold starts at 1
    • Rolling the highest possible value on even one die in a Conflict increases the Trouble Threshold by 1
    • The Trouble Threshold can be reset to 1 by a Child going to sleep
    • When the Child sleeps, the Player narrates a meaningful scene from their previous life

Seriously, you’ll just have to read the stream of consciousness sections. I think they may be FAR more interesting than what I had going into this post. I envision an immense overhaul of this in the days to come, almost without a doubt in my mind. I am really intrigued by the idea of a fluctuating die size/die pool based on strength of the relationship with the Monster and its relation to a static measure of the Trouble your Child is in, emotionally and physically; I’m intrigued by the idea of collecting a score of meaningful snapshots of the Child’s home — a sort of homesickness picture album — serving as the road to completing the game and seeing how your Child’s life turns out; I’m intrigued at tying the Fable in more tightly to the rest of these alternative ideas — Maybe! The Fable representing a sort of fantasy land alternative to the homesickness picture album idea? That it is the opposing system tethering the Child to the fantasy land?

I don’t know! A LOT of ideas, a LOT of stream of conscious! Leave your thoughts below on this jumbled mess, if you so dare! I’d love to hear what anyone reading this thinks, honestly. If your response has to do with number crunching, or story aesthetic, or really anything relevant, let me know. I have a lot to think on at this point, and the only thing that will help me is feedback.

As always, I can be reached at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.

I’ll come up with something, I suppose!


Time for some more mechanical dump about Children Who Play With Monsters! And some further general musings!

What We Have To Work With
According to the final breakdown I gave in my last post, the components to creating a character in Children Who Play With Monsters include:

  • A Name
  • A Profile
  • A Problem at Home
  • A Problem at School

It’s worth spending some time discussing the Monster now, as it obviously critical to play. There have been games that entertained the notion of circular play, wherein one person at the table is responsible for performing a role relevant to another person at the table. Wraith from White Wolf’s defunct World of Darkness line spring to mind, though I’ve never played it, with the other players at the table taking on the roles of a given character’s dark nature, or as the ghostly players in reenactments of the characters background. RPG-in-development/on-hiatus Utopolis from Eric J. Boyd Designs spring to mind as well, with a character playing your reeducated police detective’s plucky, vacuum-tube robot sidekick. However, I don’t consider this the direction I want to go in with Children Who Play With Monsters, at least not at this point. I consider the Child and Monster inseparable, and I want to try treating them as such — making them part of the same character creation process, and played by the same player. To this end and in-fitting with the fiction, I see this dual-character approach as a convenient way to make use of complications, short-comings, and the general idea of hampering the Player Character’s efforts that crops up in a lot of storytelling games. Besides, who doesn’t want to design a Monstrous Best Friend and then actually get to play that adorable mountain of fur (feathers, scales, fangs, etc)?

In contemplating how Monsters work, I feel that the following observations are fairly often true — often enough that I should consider them:

The Child’s Monster is going to have things that they will always let the kid get away with, or do with the Child. These are the hijinks they get up to whenever they’re frolicking and exploring and having a good old time of things. That said, there are always some things that the Monster won’t allow the Child to do, or will try to stop them from doing — things that the Monster knows better than to do. Why is this? The Monster relates to the Child on a level it can more easily get on with, yet this restriction instills in the Monster a sense of guardianship, and maternity/paternity that is enough to ensure the Child’s safety in its truly loving care; it also serves to see the Child chafe under its watch.

Also present there will occasionally be restrictions on the Monster’s individual behavior — things that inhibit its relationship with the Child or the world around it. These are never staggering impairments, but often appear comedically as moments of value dissonance between a Child who enjoys bath time and their Monster who is loathe to bathe; or a vegetarian Child whose Monster would sooner starve than eat greens! These restrictions can be truly childish, in that they mirror other typical child-like behavior that the protagonist has already moved beyond, or fears and concerns that belie the Monsters size or imposition. Occasionally they are very simply physical impairments, such as inability to speak, or inability to manipulate objects (such as a four-legged Monster might be impaired).

The Monster will always contribute to a sense of wish-fulfillment, if this wasn’t obvious by now. However, this wish-fulfillment will invariably serve as an inverse to the Problem at Home experienced by the Protagonist that feeds ideas of grandeur, and would appear to resolve or contribute to resolving any lingering Problems at School.

The Monster will, finally, be a being that is superior in many ways to the Child, and potentially inferior — as has been previously acknowledged. These advantages and shortcomings will interact with the Child in helpful ways, and also as hindrances on occasion.

Following my pattern from yesterday, I now distill the components to the Monster:

All Monsters will have Allowances, Permissions, or Pass-times: These are things that they absolutely love to do! And they love that you love them! You’re this adorable little pink human monkey thing that loves to roll down hills? That’s the best thing ever! Yes we can do that all day! Yes we can do that outside of the Gnomehold! They won’t get mad that we crush their daisies! I envision categorizing actions broadly into types of Allowances, such as Rough-house or Rumpus.

All Monsters will have No-Nos, Taboos, Reservations, Hindrances, or Never-evers: These are the things that the Monster will, himself, never ever do. You can’t make him, nope. He will never cross running water, he will never cut his nails, he will never brush his teeth, and he will certainly never go to bed on time. While possibly hard to emulate (or, more likely, just a part that will need to be fleshed out and worked on especially), this section seems important to me if I really do want the Monster to serve occasionally as a complication, as a convenient way to bypass the trouble they could make.

All Monsters will have a Wish-Fulfillment section. This is simply an inverted statement of the Problem at Home, or a state of being that resolves it as far as the Child would be concerned. I foresee this as representing an advantageous situation, piece of equipment, or status that will inform, describe, or improve (bonus dice!) how the Child handles problems in the fantasy land.

All Monsters will have a Blurb written out, similar to the Child. I envision three words describing the Monster, and I am imagining right here and now that they will grant bonus dice whenever the description helps the situation, and subtract dice whenever the description makes the situation more difficult!

Character Creation Alpha version1.0
It would appear that I now have the barest semblance of a very first form of character creation! That’s certainly something. As I type this out now, I consider an additional trait to be added to the list but I will hold off on describing it until my next post, as I feel it will work better to include as I talk about the conflict resolution system. Yeah, that’s what I’m banking on showcasing next time! A look at how conflicts will be predicated, resolved, and complicated in the current form of Children Who Play With Monsters! Will it be pretty? Probably not! We’ll see what comes out of it.

As always, please comment below with questions, thoughts, whatever comes to mind. Thoughts on my breakdown of Monsters included in this post? Thoughts on movies, books, comics that treat it differently? Sources are always helpful in my musings!

I can, as always, be reached at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com, as well!


Time for some mechanical dump about Children Who Play With Monsters and some more general musings.

Source Material
For the sake of disclosure, here are some of my influences, right off the bat:

  • How to Train Your Dragon
    Hiccup is possibly the Number One best example of Hang-Ups and Issues, as I have them conceived at the moment.
  • NeverEnding Story
    A good resource insofar as the relationship between Atreyu and Artax; and its hard to ignore the scene with a Racing Snail and a Bat used as a hang-glider.
  • Hook
    Especially useful for the scenes with Hook and Jack, and for seeing what the interaction between a Child and Parent might be like; another useful example of Issues.
  • Chronicles of Narnia
    To a degree, from what I’ve seen, the movie could be considered to apply with; at the least, I keep Narnia in mind as what it means to me: justifying Faith in a war-torn world, and that is an extremely strong Issue to me.
  • The Cat in the Hat
    I consider this my yardstick for a night of loose and fast play of Children Who Play With Monsters. If this can’t be replicated, then I’ve done something wrong.
  • Where the Wild Things Are
    The number one idea that exploded in my head when originally conceiving this, its influences can be seen, I think.
  • A Boy and his Blob
    A good level of adorable, an example of cooperation, and good to have in mind for how varied Monstrous Best Friends and the scope of campaigns can be.
  • Majin and the Forsaken Kingdom
    Another good level of adorable, and my personal ideal for the tone of a Children Who Play With Monsters campaign given how well it handles balancing the serious and the light-hearted; again, a good example of cooperation.
  • BioShock 2
    On here because I consider it an interesting example of Monster-heavy play, and also just how dark a campaign of Children Who Play With Monsters could get if one really wanted it; still, the interaction between Little Sisters and Delta is not to be ignored.
  • Homestuck (especially Hivebent)
    A popular multimedia story viewable online, it is ostensibly about children playing a game; it evolves (degenerates?) into children in far off lands catered to by helpful family spirits or Monstrous guardians, and the various issues and general failings to be expected of adolescents; recently the themes of growing up and lost innocence were specifically lamp-shaded and discussed by the characters themselves.

The Set-Up
In all of the resources I’ve examined, certain elements stand out and I consider them the set-pieces and concepts that fuel this style of storytelling. Across the board, in the stories about the Children who go on to play with Monsters, the ideal protagonists are immediately pre-pubescent to mid-adolescent in terms of physical and mental age: they are not yet capable of taking care of themselves, though they think but especially act otherwise to a typically heightened degree. Alternatively, they desire to act otherwise, and find themselves halted at every turn — leading into the next point.

The protagonist exists in a state of melancholy exacerbated by the actions of their parents or the dynamics of family interaction, wherein typically some element or desire is stifled through malicious action/benign neglect. This melancholy, as stated, is made worse by their home life but it typically is part of a vicious cycle that is birthed, fed into, and used as tinder by the negligible social life the Child (barely) has. Despite any efforts (and those that exist may be meager or full-hearted), the Protagonist does not connect to those around him, and will typically feel scorned and ostracized; beyond one or two mediocre friends, acquaintances, or next of kin, the protagonist is on their own and — it is vital to note — host to a sense of “benevolent selfishness.”

What is meant by this: though the Child is not a truly bad seed (yet), they do not necessarily put what is right or good for others before their own individual desires. This will lead to acts typical of a child reaching out to connect, such as acting out or testing of boundaries — and will lead to misbehaving, theft, violence, disrespect or other mild scenarios. However, overall the Child will act more out of a sense of ignorance for the well-being of friends, family members, strangers, and the community — rather than out of pettiness or more negative motivations. However, though not acting especially to harm those in their life, the Child will push them away and remain wanting in terms of relationships. These relationships, with their mutual give and take, are what are necessary to truly grow up.

From there, the protagonist will — almost always while or by acting out — find their way to a fantastic land and encounter their Monstrous Best Friend, but it is possible for it to not occur in that order. The Monstrous Best friend may appear first, and in fact serve as the guide into the mysterious world of adventure. What happens while there tends to consist of a harrying juxtaposition of light-hearted friendship, revelry, and wish-fulfillment tempered by scenes of sometimes exaggerated darkness, and the spotlighting of degenerated, stunted, or immature relationships and the bleakness surrounding them.

The protagonist will then, as a result of these excursions, grow enamored and complacent in the benevolent selfishness of their new adopted lifestyle (represented in media by scenes of plucky protagonists making plans to be best friends forever, before being told that they must leave soon). In this way, they risk growing worse or devolving into caricatures, or man-children (the titular Hook, or potentially the scenes immediately preceding the ending to the first Narnia film). There is no reconciliation, no value to any lessons learned, and usually no return to the family or the mundane world.

Or, as a happy ending, the Child will develop the capacity to regard others as they regard themself, and they will learn the lessons they were meant to learn from their excursion. Almost universally, this lesson justifies their own desire and avenue for self-fulfillment by making the object of the Child’s quest that one thing they’ve always held back — Faith, Imagination, and the like — while lifting the blame or fault from those dearest to the protagonist responsible for quashing their actions. If not this, the protagonist has simply received the tools to hold no otherwise justifiable grudges.

More recently, as I discussed elsewhere, the Death of Innocence has become a popular ending because of its strong tragic overtones and the sense of maturity attached to it. Typically, this will be deployed in fiction to showcase the Child’s own emotional shortcomings or relationship disconnect between them and others and more directly illustrate the harm that may come from it — it is almost always employed between the Child and their Monster, and no third-party. If the Death of Innocence is embodied by the Monster it is, like a true tragedy, the result of a hubris exhibited by the Child and it will be a hubris motivated by a self-interest that does not intentionally hold any malice. Should the Death be embodied by the death of the Child, it will almost always in fact be a sign of maturity, as it will occur in the defense of new and valued relationship.

What Does That Leave Us?
This leaves us with, in my opinion, the building blocks to understanding what is relevant to playing such a character in this set-up. In that spiel above there are the elements that contribute to a true story of Children Who Play With Monsters; the character traits, character motivations, the capacity for tragedy and comedy, for learning and loving. I’ve had some of the following in mind for a while, and some of this is motivated by having typed out The Set-Up above; I’m not going to bother to distinguish, I’m just going to go and let it rip.

All Children will have a Name. I am not really going to explain this.

All Children will have a Blurb, Concept, Type, or Profile. A short and sweet Two to Four word summary of their character.
Maybe other players will supply you with a couple of choice mean nicknames your Child has received, and you should jot those down so you know your kid’s self-image. Maybe you jot down “bookworm, library resident” and someone in your group shouts out “Four-Eyes.” He can do better than that.

All Children have a Hang-Up, Problem at Home, Squabble, or Disconnect. The point is, its something that tremendously impacts how they interact with the world around them, because it is what their home situation is, what their parents are teaching them, that kind of thing. It can be no art classes, no money, any of those things that sent you running to your room as a kid yourself. A Hang-Up is that moment when you come home from school, nose bleeding but stopped up miserably with tissues and your mom tells you she is so proud you didn’t swing back at the bully. That kid I just described, his Hang-Up is “Non-Violence,” “Won’t Protect Myself,” and the like. Your Hang-Up is going to color how you handle yourself, and it is going to create your Issue.

All Children have an Issue, Problem at School, or Dream. It’s that thing they want more than anything else at their age but they can’t have it. It could be wanting to be popular, wanting to have friends, wanting to have faith in God, just wanting to go to the bus stop without being tossed in the dumpster. It could be boredom, it could be just being a sour-puss. The point is, your Child’s Issue is only an issue because your Hang-Up makes it one; and you’re only hung up on your Hang-Up because you have an issue. Remember wanting to impress that girl who was really pretty back in 8th Grade, but you couldn’t speak with your fat lip from a sucker punch by the flagpole? Hang-Up, Issue, Issue, Hang-Up.

And as far as I am concerned, that is how you define a Child in Children Who Play With Monsters — no real use for numbers here, and part of that concerns me just a little bit, but I’m not too worried. Honestly, typing all this out has made me feel a lot better about it overall from where it has been percolating in my head and on my hard drive for a while now. Let’s leave it at this for now, given how long this post has gotten, and I’ll come back to it very soon to take a look at what all this means, how it relates to the Monster, and conflict resolution.

Please, leave comments and questions below! What do you think of my breakdown of “Monstrous Friendship” fiction? Again, I’m open to example that fit or break the mold as far as you may be concerned, and it’d be fun research. Share any thoughts regarding what you’ve read here, as far as what I’ve had to say about character creation so far as well.

As always, I can be reached for questions, comments, etc at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com. Thanks for reading!


“End-Game?” Where’s the Rest of It?
Possibly the weirdest post I could have gone with to start talking about Children Who Play With Monsters, considering that I’m still working out the kinks of the system; yet, here I am, beginning with the end. My reasoning is that a really huge part of me thinks that I really just shouldn’t bother with the rest of the project if I can’t get the ending to work correctly — what could be worse than sessions and sessions of build up, and suddenly no payoff right when it matters the most? I imagine players don’t enjoy being Blue Diced — and I know for a fact that in the past I’ve felt taken out of the moment, or like I had missed a great opportunity when the resolution of a game I’d been playing in simply seemed tacked on. It wasn’t fulfilling.

So what counts as fulfilling ending? A fulfilling ending, in general, needs to:

  1. Make Sense. An ending apropos of nothing does not work, unless the prevailing thread throughout the story being told itself is “Apropos Of Nothing.” (which isn’t necessarily an unworkable theme, honestly)
  2. Come from the protagonist’s action (not his inaction). The protagonist needs to have gotten himself here, if not actually “pull the trigger” that ends the story (and I think that might be a necessity too).
  3. Resolve something relevant to the character who is experiencing his ending. In the case of Children Who Play With Monsters, this would be the understanding reached regarding the flaws of the parents/flaws of the world and the Child’s personal desires (ie, the real summary of NeverEnding Story is that Bastion learns that his imagination is all that can save the world, but he shouldn’t rub it in his Dad’s face for hassling him about hard work — remember, the Nothing was powered by everyone disregarding Fantasia and imagination)

Looking at these, what work is there for me to do?

Number 1, I have no control over – that is up to the player groups and is really all about them having fun. Moving right along.

Number 2, “Come from the protagonist’s action” is straight-forward enough — players are the sole arbiters of their individual story’s conclusion, and their story should not be considered resolved without their input, and especially their action to bring about a resolution. Do I really need to do anything here? Are there really any rulings to fashion? I imagine that a framework could be put up, one which helps keep things on a “proper timetable” for when the protagonist should go ahead and resolve things. Some sort of system to ensure that endings can only happen during “endings” and not during beginnings. A sort of plot immunity concept? This doesn’t quite have the ring to it that I want, though — honestly, I think this sort of thing is best left solely of the hands of the players; nothing in the final project needs to hold up, protect, spotlight, or highlight the ruling of “YOU ARE THE SOLE ARBITER OF YOUR PERSONAL NARRATIVE’S CONCLUSION,” except maybe a line that says exactly that.

That said, a form of this could be said to exist in Paul Czege’s excellent (from what I’ve read) My Life With Master. Throughout the game, your character’s scores fluctuate based on the outcomes of several scenes until a certain threshold is reached and the finale is entered into and one of several endings is determined — again, based on how your scores compare to one another. This idea right here has a lot going for it that might be worth looking into further, to see what can be gleaned from how it works and how it interacts with MLWM, and what it would require of Children Who Play With Monsters to make it work — the idea of tracking the Child’s interaction with the fantasy world around him, how he is affected by his journeys, and then the final resolution. It’s worth dissecting.

My Life With Master has 6 possible conclusions for each player character involved – they can integrate with society, be killed, eliminate themselves, wander still in the mindset of a minion, seek out a new Master, or become a Master themselves. These conclusions themselves function, in a way, as Number 3 above: They will resolve something relevant to the character and the player… in this case, just what happens to your abused Minion when everything is said and done? Were there a similar set-up with Children Who Play With Monsters, regarding possible endings/the most relevant theme of the game, it would have to revolve around what I explicitly stated above: the understanding of the flaws of the world around you, your individual maturity, and coming to terms with your Hang-Up or Issue (more on these concepts later). And honestly, when I think about it, there are only ever two ways this kind of story can reach its conclusion, a point made clear enough by others already — maybe not so literally, but in the genre it is definitely a question of innocence or maturity. So, I see it as playing and wondering throughout play whether your character will experience the Death of Innocence or the Birth of Maturity.

The distinction here between Death of Innocence or Birth of Maturity is possibly too slim worth considering — though, actually, I personally do not believe that. I see Death of Innocence as what happens when you grow up into a possibly scarred, or more typically just a scrooge of a person, or otherwise stunted. Birth of Maturity would be considered in fantasy story-telling terms as mastering two worlds — you’re not the problem-riddled child you were, but you haven’t lost that defiant spark.

Death of Innocence is what you see in, say, BioShock 2 (really just a very dark game of Children Who Play With Monsters) when Delta harvests a Little Sister… Birth of Maturity would be saving them. Very straight forward, very blunt — but a fairly apt examination of the most truly literal way of interpreting these conclusions, although more loose definitions of these endings are absolutely viable.

In Hook, the sequences where the Captain has been brainwashing Robin Williams’ son, are effectively the type of play to be supported by this game (as long as you ignore the terrifying kidnapping overtones, which are not present in the game). The idea being: Your Child is in a fantasy land, they have everything they absolutely desire, and they have a best friend. Never-Never Land? Check. He’s being groomed to be a pirate captain and he has his own baseball team? Check. Pretend Captain Hook is in a Lion suit or something, and you have a Monstrous Best Friend. The son is reveling in childhood now, but he will HAVE to grow up. That is the point of Children Who Play With Monsters stories — its whether he will develop stunted, or fully formed. And when the time comes, and enough adventures had been had, and the player acts on it, something may be in place to determine the son’s ending. (At first I wondered about how to handle a grown-up like Hook being so very childish; then I remembered in this example he is actually a Monstrous friend, and it only makes sense for him to be an overly zealous child. Interesting idea, the final confrontation being to get away from your friend who just wants to never stop playing)

Maybe track scenes in which the Child’s Hang-Up comes into play, and score it whenever the player succeeds/fails — eventually, having failed so many times involving their Hang-Up, the only possible ending would be Death of Innocence, or vice versa depending on how things develop? To start, I’d have to clearly delineate what I mean by these two options, what is encompassed by them, find some examples of what I’m talking about — and link them to parts of the character creation/character play process. And then, it’s just a matter of the play test grind, I suppose.

Please, feel free to leave your thoughts and comments below! Just a general musing this time over some possible ideas, some thoughts I’ve been having. How about you? What do you think of the Death of Innocence/Birth of Maturity dichotomy? Can you think of any books or movies that have an applicable scene or characters worth looking at?

As always, I can be reached directly at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.


Dragonhoard

A really terrible doodle, meant for my own entertainment

What is Dragonhoard?
Dragonhoard is a competitive card game intended (as of this writing) for 2-to-4 players (although, maybe it can support a few more? We’ll find out!). Players each take on the role of a Dragon intent on ravaging the countryside, harrying kingdoms, kidnapping princesses, and accruing the greatest treasure hoard in all of the land. Dragonhoard is played with a specially-made deck of approximately 80 cards, including such types as:

  • Conflicts: Someone or something has come to slay you and raid your hoard! Whether it’s the delusional crusader Don Jalapeno, or a wandering party of pimply teenagers with dice, its all the same: If your Dragon is Old Enough, he’ll make short work of them. Defend your lair, or the other dragons will have their pick of your loot, and then its all gone!
  • Challenges: It’s time to go on the offensive! Is your dragon decked out appropriately to overcome challenges such as Baron Bloodthroat’s Fuliginous Fortress? Or will you be stumped by Old Man Omaha’s Cattle Corral? When the Success Requirements of a Challenge is met, the player rakes in more Loot than they otherwise would!
  • Dragon Parts: They say it happens to everyone sometime — your voice starts to crack, you’re suddenly taller than your Dad, your scales turn metallic and you begin to breathe fire and crave roasted pigs by the truckload… right? Dragonparts are yours to use as trophies in your Hoard, inflict on other players, or enhance yourself with to give your Dragon the competitive edge!
  • Treasure, Loot, Spoils, Moolah… Hoard Cards!: A large selection of cards that exist solely to hang over your mantel, fill the Change*Star at the supermarket with, or to clean “conveniently” when your daughter’s boyfriend comes to visit; these cards straightforwardly boost your Hoard’s value — however, some may come with a curse and are more trouble than they’re worth!

Throughout play of Dragonhoard, players have the opportunity to build up their own Dragon into a true terror of the countryside, pillage villages and kingdoms for all they’re worth, battle armies and wizards, and capture princesses — all possible through the use of the cards in the deck. Players must, from turn to turn, make decisions that will influence their chances to come out on top when the game ends and the hoards are tallied. Will you build up your Dragon’s Size and hold a larger hand of cards for the whole game? Or will you instead drop that Dragon Part into your Hoard for an extra 3000Gold? You could always drop it on the player across the way, and watch as his Dragon is suddenly too small to succeed at the Challenge he just drew! Success and Sabotage are all at your fingertips in Dragonhoard — and in fact, are the point of the game.

But WHY Dragonhoard?
Dragonhoard is honestly inspired to a degree by Steve Jackson’s Munchkin: specifically the competitive nature of the game that can only, honestly, be described as “screw-over-y.” It’s hilarious! It’s fun! It’s fast! However, while the screw-over-y tone significantly informs the game-play of Dragonhoard, the style of play is different enough and clings to the trappings described above; that is, Giant Flying Lizards Being Greedy Grubby Monsters. The focus of Dragonhoard is not specifically on acquiring levels of power (or increasing the Age of your Dragon), but is instead on amassing a substantial hoard of shiny pretties for your dragon to stare longingly at himself in. Aging your Dragon is secondary, and while it is in support of the first goal it is not necessary to have a fully tricked out Dragon to win the game — and in fact, it may be impossible for everyone to have a fully enhanced Dragon as I currently consider limiting the number of Dragon Parts in the game (who knows! Speculation!) but the point is: Aging is useful, but Gold is how you win the game.

I wanted to conceive a game that was visceral in terms of how it played out; a fast-paced game based around hampering everyone around you, everyone ganging up on everyone else, and slamming down cards in a messy heap in front of you and imagining throwing gold coins and dollar bills over your head while pulling a Scrooge McDuck. The idea of aging/upgrading your Dragon occurred to me early on as just a fun element of enhancement and development, and then later turned into a critical element in terms of how it interacts with Conflicts, Challenges, and how it balances out how one spends their turns during play (what has become in my head the Monty Hall-esque problem of Upgrade-ScrewOver-Lootpile). As it currently stands — which is to say, unplaytested — it seems entirely likely and typical that players will actually go through several generations of Dragons in pursuit of the greatest hoard that man has ever known, killing off and robbing their kin as just a matter of procedure… Awesome, to say the least!

So in the end, Why Dragonhoard?

Because you want a fun (I hope!) card game of greedy dragons robbing the kingdom blind, growing into enormous Elder Wyrms of untold power only to be felled by the combined machinations of three of your chromatic kin, and revenge your guardian’s slaying through the clever applications of cursed treasure and wizardly minions.

And at the same time that is happening on your side of the table?

The other three players are doing something similar to everyone else also.

Cue “Yakety Sax.”

Coming Soon:So How Does One Play?

Of course, questions and comments are always welcome and appreciated in the comments, and I can be contacted at alfred_rudzki[at]yahoo[dot]com.


Maybe your parents are divorced — or maybe you’re orphaned, growing up in the care of someone else. Your parent may be out of work and the kids at school may bully you, waiting outside of your house in the morning to chase you all the way to the bus stop. The girl that you Like-like doesn’t even know you exist, and when your math teacher read your note in front of the class, she laughed the hardest. What if your Faith is being tested by a World at War — or what if, honestly, you’re just a miserable brat?

The point is, it’s all too much for you, so you run away — from home, from school, from your problems. You sail on a boat made out of your bed to an island, or hide in a storybook land in the attic, or take off to an alien planet.

And that’s when you meet your Monster.

Your Monster is everything your family is not. She lets you stay up as late you want to, be as loud as you can be, wrestle in the mud and not wash up for dinner (which is anything you decide to eat)! Your parents couldn’t afford new shoes for you, but Applecore is King of the Penguin Slaloms and he gives you all the doubloons you ask for.

It’s all perfect.

It’s exactly what you want, and best of all you never have to leave.

Right?

–Opening to Children Who Play With Monsters

Una and Lion, by William Bell Scott

Children Who Play With Monsters


What Is This?

Children Who Play With Monsters is a concept that formed in my head around Christmas time of 2010, as I found myself inundated with media relevant to the theme of “monstrous friendship” — the idea of children taken away or running away from their homes and families, for however brief a time, and escaping into a realm of adventure with their monster to protect them. I was watching The NeverEnding Story, my best bro was playing Bioshock (and then Bioshock 2), and my group of friends were reading the excellent work of Andrew Hussie known as Homestuck. Fresh in my mind were the plethora of movies, books, and games all attempting to capture that element of “monstrous friendship” that I now hold central to this project… How to Train Your Dragon, Where the Wild Things Are, and (soon) The Last Guardian: each of these approached the idea and did its own part to bring it into focus for me, and spurred me on to try my hand at the genre. Who hasn’t while growing up had an imaginary or invisible (monstrous or otherwise) friend? The entire idea of running away from home and finding a family that really “appreciates” you is a quintessential human experience; the desire to find a place you belong, where everything you want is provided for you by people who love you.

The absolute necessities to replicating this storytelling niche, as far as I can tell, include:

  • A monstrous best friend out of your wildest dreams
  • A relationship in which the participants are, at the same time, each other’s guardian and ward
  • A fantastical world that is a significant departure from the norm that caters specifically to the children (and in effect, the players)
  • A chip-on-his-shoulder protagonist; a protagonist who has a reason to abandon the world
  • Probably more that I can’t think of at this moment…

As of right now, the game is effectively in the Alpha stage — I am working out mechanics, looking for what I need or want to cover, seeing how they fit together, and trying to make something that flows as seamlessly as is possible. In the weeks to come, I’ll be posting what I’ve come up with, generally musing about the options available to me and the decisions I’ve made, and possibly working through a problem spot in setting-writing.

Leave thoughts and comments below: What do you think of the genre I’m talking about here, or the idea of “monstrous friendship” in general? What comes to your mind when I talk about these things?

»Image above is “Una and the Lion” by William Bell Scott, found on the internet