Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

This is me putting up.

Howdy. Like Paul, I too am I podcaster. Unlike Paul, that’s part of why I’m here. I do a game design show called Master Plan, yet I’ve never fully baked a design. I get to talk with others who have, and that’s awesome, but it’s about time I put up or shut up.

As a podcaster, the latter would make for a quiet and boring show.

Also like Paul, my current design is based on my Game Chef 2007 entry, and we share some elements since we both focused on much of the same elements. I say this because you might see something similar if you watch what Paul & I are doing, but the cool thing is that while we’re almost at the same starting point, we went in rather different directions.

(In Journalism, we call this whole “not getting to the damn point right away” thing “burying the lead.”)

I’m doing a game called Know Thyself. It’s a role-playing game, but not in the sense where you make a character. You start with an almost-blank character sheet and create a character while you play. You wander around this palace maze, regaining your memories as you deal with situations, and try to figure out why you’re in this place.

I have a draft up on the Game Chef site. I’ve playtested this twice — once with a Kill Dr. Lucky board just to toss the idea out to see if it was solid, and once with a map designed by a good friend of mine. That map is in the Game Chef draft. (You can grab the GC PDF at the Know Thyself draft page.)

The awesome things that occurred in playtesting I want to preserve:

  • The tension between choosing your memory and choosing how your succeeded/lost a conflict is a really awesome one. I’ve seen folks agonize over which they’re going to hand to the GM, because they only get to choose one or the other. I want to preserve that constant choosing (choice-making?)
  • The way individual rooms are handled seems fun — when you enter a room, you find out what sort of place it is metaphysically, and that influences what memories will come out of that room. You might enter a garden to find (after drawing two cards) it’s the Garden of Necessary Deceit. Somehow, “Necessary Deceit” will be a part of whatever memories you acquire. I’ve found that people also want to include that as part of what the conflicts of the room are about, as well as what the memories gained are about. A lot to chew on here.

The problems I’m dealing with:

  • The map leads to the idea that one should be able to escape. Escape would, as it currently stands, break the game. Thus, the map is a problem. The current solution I’m working with, after a friend talked about how dream-like our first playtest felt, is to make the map random via cards (like in Dungeoneer). This allows for some playing around with the arrangement of rooms, which I hope will enhance that dream-like feel.
  • The wager/coin system. Honestly, that was tacked on because I needed to choose either “Drug” or “Currency,” and I initially settled on “Currency.” It’s a pretty weak element over all. There might be something cool about how the end plays out (as it has to do with how many coins you have in the end), but it adds very little — if anything — to the play during the game. My current solution is to junk it, but I need to figure out how to retool the endgame.

That’s it for now. Unfortunately, this post probably requires some idea how how my game works to understand it, but I wanted to get out my ideas right now, and then go back to basics in the next set of posts. Most likely that will involve typing up my Design Agenda Document.

June 12, 2007 - Posted by | Know Thyself


  1. What’s wrong with being able to escape? Given that the existence of a map (which I think is cool) leads to that as a potential goal of play, why not figure out how to incorporate it? What if a successful escape attempt triggers endgame?

    Comment by ptevis | June 12, 2007 | Reply

  2. The perceived ability to escape (because it’s on the map) and the lack of ability to escape (because the rules don’t allow for it) was one of the issues raised in the Nerdly Beach Party playtest. Either way, that has to be resolved, and with my tunnel vision my resolution was always looking at how to keep the characters in.

    There’s definitely nothing wrong with *wanting* to escape. In all likelihood, some of these characters should want that right away (though, others might be too curious or afraid, so it’s not 100%). My previous frame of mind equated “escaping” with “ending the game too early.”

    But then you commented and, combined with another idea I had a couple days ago, I realized that the endgame could be all about escaping. I could work in a pacing mechanic (which I didn’t do well in the GC version, and am looking at for this next draft anyway) where ability to escape is nigh-impossible at first, and improves over time — even to a point where the Palace may eventually eject you and you might have to fight to stay in.

    Or escape is just one endgame, but I don’t want to overload the mechanics with too much bloat. I enjoy elegant, streamlined rulesets.

    It’s been many years since I’ve seen it, but I think I should re-watch Labyrinth for inspiration. It’s not quite going to be the same game if I focus too much on escaping over finding yourself, but I’ll accept that if it’s turns out to be a rockin’ game still.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 12, 2007 | Reply

  3. I am kind of drawn to the idea of escape being futile, but I think I’d have to play to know. I think this sort of denial is one of the most difficult things to get across as… being on purpose in a game design.

    Comment by misuba | June 12, 2007 | Reply

  4. If Know Thyself shifts its focus from the memory-regaining to the idea of escape, the futility of escape could be something to deal with. I’ve already been thinking that if you lose too many situations when the endgame happens, the endgame for you is bad. Maybe keeping track of that is keeping track of Futility (or Despair or something like that).

    But this could also sounds like trying to please everyone all of the time — those who want escape and those who want the futility of not being able to escape.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 13, 2007 | Reply

  5. Ryan, taking into account I have yet to read through the GC draft, could you tell me what is the purpose of wandering the halls in search of your memory? I mean, in general. I know you mentioned something about a wager, but I’m looking for something more. The whole idea of your game makes me immediately think of a hypnosis session played out, so while certain forms of play are possible, what is, ultimately, the overriding theme of this game where you are a blank creature reassembling a semblance of yourself?

    Comment by Daniel M. Perez | June 14, 2007 | Reply

  6. Daniel,

    The main “plot,” if you will, was that you woke up in a strange palace, got a letter stating that you are here of your own free will to settle a wager, and that whether your won or lost would depend on how you did in the palace.

    I’ll talk about this & the other thing that came out of play that I want to fight to preserve shortly, but I have meetings most of the day today.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 14, 2007 | Reply

  7. Ryan, I read through your current draft and I really like your game. Now, let me throw out a couple of things on my mind right now.

    1- Are you familiar with the Memory Palace technique (ars memoriae)? If not, you need to because you cannot be making a game about recovering memories by walking around a palace and not address this centuries-old technique. If you have, I don’t see it addressed in the text, and even if it is only thematically, I think you should.

    2- The initial premise of the “wager” still feels hollow to me. It’s not that it’s a bad one, but once you get to endgame, it isn’t really addressed by the Master of the Palace, presumably the person/entity you made the wager with in the first place. The Master Suite endgame sequence felt also hollow, like there’s this opening premise you kinda go along with to get the game going, then this awesome gameplay in the middle, and then a thematically so-so ending.

    I mean, I don’t think you need to explicitly state who the Master is (frankly, as I read through, I got the impression that the Master was each character him/herself), but perhaps a few suggestions would help tie the end to the starting premise.

    I have more thoughts, but I need to go through the text again to pull them out. More later.

    Comment by Daniel M. Perez | June 16, 2007 | Reply

  8. Daniel, thank you for reading the draft! I can tell you that the because of the ingredients on this year’s Game Chef that I used, Memory & Palace, I actually actively sought to make a game about those two together that avoided the idea of Memory Palaces. Granted, that was back for Game Chef, and now Know Thyself has to grow up. I hadn’t thought about going back and chewing on Memory Palaces, and I definitely will now. Thank you very much.

    I agree with you on the wager issue, and in fact is the core of my problem. The conflict system is mostly alright — it’s so simple in purpose that I don’t need to reality-test or anything, and there’s no power creep because it’s not about skill — that said, it’s still not baked either, just toe closest element to baked in the design.

    But the premise (or what I call the Initial Motive Force) of the game is weak and easily squashed. My conflict-to-conflict framework hangs on that initial motive force, so it’s weak. This is my major design issue, and I’ll be playtesting a new version of it on Monday night.

    I like your idea that the Master is each character. To be honest, that idea never occurred to me until now, because the game has a GM role. That’s an interesting take…

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | June 16, 2007 | Reply

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