I set myself a challenge the other day. A GAME DESIGN challenge.
By “one-shot,” I mean that I was to design a game meant to be played to completion in only one session… in practical terms, a game with a mechanically-derived narrative, rather than a GM- or player-constructed narrative.
By “one-day,” I mean that I would come up with setting, mechanics, rules, and fluff from scratch, and write it all down, edit it, and do whatever design and formatting I am competent at and able to do in Word.
By “one-page,” and this is my favorite of these riders I shall have you know, I mean that everything fits, legibly, on a single sheet of 8.5” X 11” paper. With one-inch margins. Now, you can use the back of the one page for a character sheet, but it can’t be a continuation of the rules! It’s just a reformatting and re-presentation of info which already exists on the front.
So, this was my challenge. How did I do?
Well, I did this.
Go on, give it a read. It’s only two pages. I’ve got some notes, but they can wait until you’ve had a look.
Okay, so, did I succeed? Sssssssssssort of?
One day? Well, 90% in one day. What few changes were made after the 24 hours were up were just that: changes. Minor alterations of wording and format, rather than new ideas incorporated from scratch. Also, both days I had other things on my plate… if one retcons the demand from “one day” to “one day’s worth of work” then I’m in like Flynn.
One shot? I ended up defaulting to the standard GM/Player binary, yes, but the core of the game is about one single event which WILL happen. Can’t say how long it will take, but by giving automatons the chance to be injured and no option to heal, I’ve assured their eventual doom. Plus, the plot is mechanically derived, even if it does boil down to “a bunch of crap happens and then you crash.” That said, while zany mode is likely to end rapidly, I could see serious mode stretched out, languishing in the futility and slow grind into meaninglessness. And in any case, the core PC mechanics don’t require the airship plot at all and need only add some Steam Capacity character advancement to be a long-term campaign so… uh… I’m calling this a win?
One page? Eeesh, barely. Eight-point font, cramped-in text, and even still it threatens to drop off the edge of the page. Yeah, I could have skipped the copyright notice to save a line, but everything else? Even considering that, I had to fudge my rule about the character sheets… the descriptions of components are pretty important, if only for intuiting their use, and the explanations of ship-parts and Major Disasters is, likewise, stuff which would be more helpful in the rules proper. Still, I technically fit, provided you look at it in the right sort of font. And I tried printing it out, and it IS legible, so there.
Verdict: I’m calling it a mitigated success as far as the self-imposed challenges. But is it any good? Oh, that’s a question for YOU, gentle reader.
My questions are three, and if you would take it upon yourself to answer one or more, I would be much honored.
Does it make sense? After all, I know what I’m talking about, because my head fills in any missing pieces. If there is unclear minutia, or if the central concept is not as well-explained as I think, please let me know!
Does it seem playable? Now, if you were to actually sit down and run a game… that would be crazy-awesome. But even if you just look at it… do the mechanics feel right? The sense of narrative appropriate? Let’s face it, most one-shot RPGs are designed to be intellectually appreciated and never actually played, but it should still feel like a workable game. And if you actually play it, well then you are my king.
Is it awesome? I mean, steam-powered robots on a drifting, directionless airship… is this the sort of thing which only works in my mind? I hope not. Because seriously. Seriously.
I did it again. Or, attempted it again. I saw this informal contest, and though I was certainly too late to actually participate in this little bit of business, by a week even, I was inspired and compelled to take part in it. Sort of.
“Sort of” in the sense that Mr. Macklin was looking for a five hundred word gamelet and I just about tripled that. So, rather than forcing myself to conform to that arbitrary delineation, I chose to conform to my own arbitrary delineation. One day. One page. One shot.
(With some thanks to Paul for supplying the title. I should invest in a new rule that all future iterations of this have incredibly bad pun titles. Everyone should have a worse title than the last.)
So, give it a look! Then come back so I can talk about it a bit.
So, the obvious first question: did I succeed at my task? Did I make a one page long one-shot RPG in one day?
Okay, one day? YES. Give or take an hour, because I wasn’t really paying attention when I started, but you know… that’s the barest of technicalities, and if I were being tried, I’d certainly have been able to work the fraction of a second faster to beat the clock. So I’m calling that a resounding success. With… with the following caveat which might undo everything…
I’d already planned out the mechanics. Not exactly, because you can only take mechanics so far without some sort of theme to attach to it but… still, I’d been working on the idea for a while now. In fact, if you take a look at that dice shtick in my most recent post, you can quite easily trace the logical chain from the narrative-assist dice pool to the control of a hoard… oh, the narrative is lost, but the mixed die-type pool and the mix of attribute types and whatnot. So… does that undermine me entirely? If the idea predated the day? I’ll argue that no, because that’s how inspiration works, isn’t it? There’s no such thing as a blank slate, after all. But for what it’s worth, nothing had been typed beforehand. Success? Sure, why not?
One page? Yes! Well, with caveats, of course… eight point font, fairly narrow margins and very tight text. I’d say there’s no avoiding it, but the real and the true of it is that I’m mostly just a wordy and over complicated bastard. I could have skipped rules for autonomy, or complications for using the lich’s attributes… I could have done any number of things to trim and pare down, but you know what? That’s not my style. Honestly, there’s a lot missing… it’s a mechanical document, and not a thematic one… if I had another page to work with, I could have perhaps had a bit more fun with how liching goes. Like, how currency is unimportant, but there’s a thriving trade in infants within the liching community. Ah, but whatever. I guess it’s not too dang-old important… my only real regret is how dry the document turned out, which is a factor of how many rules I have going on. Hm. Maybe next time I’ll work on something with incredibly easy or just straight-up borrowed mechanics… I’ll steal the one-roll engine, which is effective enough, or FUDGE, and work a more setting-oriented page off of that. Who knows, maybe I’ll even be able to write my page in 9-point font.
Anyway, compared to Steam and Storm it’s a lot more comfortable on a single page… there’s a hint of formatting, minor appearances of white space, and on the whole a document which feels less like it was written during time period when a piece of paper cost upwards of a day’s wages. In part, however, that’s because…
… it’s not a one-shot. Now, that’s a vague description, but I use it to mean a game set up for a specific narrative, with some sort of an end game. There’s none of that here. The original outline was for a competitive game, which made the obvious presence of a phylactory on someone’s character sheet much more important, because all you liches were battling to be the last, but that didn’t work out… the idea still has merit (each lich would have been the GM in his or her own tower, essentially) but I couldn’t get it to work out quickly enough, and in trying to write around it I ended up converting things into a much more standard party-and-GM style. Which isn’t bad, but it’s certainly an indication that I can’t take the triple-one prize today, nor the ten-thousand dollar stipend which goes with it.
Still. It turned out okay, right? Right? I need your attention and adulation, people. And the character sheet, while not a paragon of graphic design by any means, seems a bit more lively than a dang-ol’ spreadsheet… it needs some art assets in those big-empty squares, of course, and a lot of restructuring for flow, but it’s got a tower. A tower! And a little space to record how many infant you have for dark rituals! And the alignment already filled in “evil”, but with enough space for you to pencil in “lawful” if you think you’re fooling anybody! So, yeah.
Long story shortish; I am pleased.
And boy, when I say one day, I mean I had the idea four hours ago and decided to plug it through the night so that she’d be done before Halloween. When I say one-shot I mean that the game ends when all the players are dead, insane, or worse. When I say one page…
… well, I mean in a cramped little font in two columns with thin margins, but honestly, that’s ten point there, so I had way more wiggle room than I have had in previous attempts at this sort of thing.
Listen, kids, I don’t even know if this is good right now. It might make no sense at all, but… well, I just crossed the writing finish line and wanted to show off what I had. It is inspired, clearly, by Marble Hornets and all its imitators, and by trying to think of a gameplay mechanic which would adequately carry forth the emotional beats of horror—the secret, and something I’m sorry I had to elide over for space, is requiring the player wait a tick and drop his or her bead, rather than showing it right off. It’s a slight moment of tension-mounting, with a visceral payoff that has instantly noticeable effects and the potential for someone to say “wait a second!” and make a side offer. I love it. Does it work in practice? Who knows. Enjoy, and happy Halloween!
EDIT: So, this is an after the fact edit, a day later, after I’ve had some sleep and gotten a change to look things over. This now links to Slenderman RPG version 1.5… it’s much like version 1, but the language has been cleaned up, the introductory text reworked into something which makes any sense at all, and the mechanics of adding beads to cups altered to be reactive, instead of mechanical. It’s still on one page though, so I will hold on to my pride.