Master Mines

We’re digging RPGs

My Big Issue Now: Attachments

First of all, I dig on Paul’s “It’s like Quantum Leap without Al” statement about the new direction, because that’s a lot of what I thought. When I was talking with a friend today, I took that description a little further: it’s like Quantum Leap without Al, if Sam has all his memories erased and was leaping into his own life, and if in between each leap he had to fight his mind to control the next leap. Maybe it’s easier to say “Quantum Leap meets Memento” — at least that’s more of a Hollywood pitch as Fred Hicks might say.

I got to spend the evening talking with one of my core playtesters about Know Thyself & the new direction. I’ve found that the new direction has helped me understand how to tackle many of my problems, but I have one that’s still a big, unresolved issue: the Attachments.

(Incidentally, the PDF of the ashcan is up on the project page.)

I’ll present briefly what Attachments are, my design goals with them, and where they don’t intersect.

What are Attachments?

Attachments are an element in the game that the Chorus (everyone who isn’t the single Amnesiac player) get to define. They are items that are one of the two constants in the game (the other being the Impulse Statement the Amnesiac says over and over in the game). These items (should) keep coming up in the “dream scenes” (which need a new term) & the memory scenes, with carry-over from one scene to the next. They’re also essentially a memory seed, as whatever memories are regained will link back to these items. The Amnesiac has two, corresponding to the suit color in the deck.

What are my design goals with this element?

  • To have an element that exists in both the psychological space (or “dream” space) and the memories regained
  • To have a component during character creation that the Chorus can make up
  • To have a springboard for action during the first round of “dream scenes,” before any information about the character is regained
  • To have a visual component that I can play with when doing card design (admittedly, this is a weak goal)

Where I’m not meeting my design goals or am otherwise having problems:

  • The Attachments have no weight behind them. The game requires you to remember if the Amnesiac has an Attachment when a new scene begins, because he gets to still hold onto that Attachment when it starts. But there’s no reason to do anything with these items. Often, they’re just ignored.
  • As a springboard, they require an excessive amount of buy-in. You have to say “Hey, man, you totally feel like that old key is familiar to you,” but without any context why. In fact, you can’t even give context to that element until the memory scene occurs.

Why I’m hesitant to drop this element:

  • Honestly, I think the #1 reason is the card art. But that’s back with the idea of problematic cool that I’ve talked about on the ‘Plan.
  • I don’t want to lose the sense of connection between memory & “dream” that this element would provide if working properly.
  • I don’t want to leave the Chorus without input in character creation.

Another, related issue:

One problem the game has is that all the heavy interaction takes place in the “dream scenes.” Now, no one is suppose to actually establish facts about the character or anything like that here, because no one remembers those details. But, especially in the early game, this makes the game hard. One inclination is to create motivation by telling the Amnesiac he can solve your issue, like “I know how to save your brother, but you’ll never beat it out of me!” to start up some conflict action. Here’s the problem: this is a false start. Even if the Amnesiac wins (which gives him currency to get the right type of memory), in the dream there’s nothing he can get out of that other character.

There’s a part of me that likes this in the first of the Amnesiac’s subconscious messing with him and lying to him, but to go solely to that is uninteresting. I either need more things for people to do in order to kick this very formulaic, specific game off, or I need to make it so that in the example above, there Amnesiac can gain something. Maybe both.

In any case, this is me definitely getting back in the saddle with my game.


October 1, 2007 - Posted by | Know Thyself


  1. Hi Ryan,

    I did a quick speed read of the game text. I’m not surprised that folks aren’t paying attention to the attachments. As you say they have no weight. They don’t do anything. Attachments are just there, flopping about because you say they’re needed, but you don’t use them. If they are as important as your text suggests then you need to give them either serious mechanical weight, or they need to constrain someone’s (everyone’s) options.

    Two quick bad ideas to maybe help you figure out something good…. The person who uses an attachment for narration, or color in a scene can use the cards value as a bonus to the conflict. All scenes must include one of the attachments. (Think Shab al-hiri Roaches NPC requirements)

    Comment by iamclyde | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  2. Clyde, if these are your “bad” ideas, I’m looking forward to seeing what you call a “good” one. I like what you’ve just helped me think up here.

    First: the winner must incorporate their winning card’s associated Attachment in how that conflict plays out. If you play a Black card & win, you need to work in how that Black Attachment item is involved.

    Of course, the problem lies in elements constantly repeating over and over in the game.

    Second: once a Memory is associated with an Attachment, that Attachment is retired and a new one from the recent Memory is chosen by the Chorus in its place. So, if I had “Shovel” as an Attachment, and we had a memory about grave digging & stealing jewelry, maybe the jewelry or the person I stole it from would replace “Shovel” for the next set of “Dream” elements.

    Second-point-one: The person who has final say over that new Attachment is the person who worked the previous Attachment into the Memory. Or something like that to encourage people to not leave in hanging.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  3. Hi Ryan,

    I maybe missing something. You want the attachments to be recurring themes, right? Or do you want them to be a temporary element of the story?

    Comment by iamclyde | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  4. Clyde,

    What I want mainly on that front is something that serves as a connection between the “dream” and memory scenes. I don’t want them to be completely temporary, but I don’t want to cause issue with the game by having the same two (or four, if I go back to the one-Attachment-per-suit idea) elements that much constantly be reincorporated in every conflict over a three-hour game. But maybe that’s not so bad if there are only the 25 conflicts in the game.

    I went from four Attachments to two when the game changed & I found Attachments weren’t being well utilized. I thought be decreasing the number, I would achieve the effect I wanted. But if I try this new idea, maybe having two is too few.

    Must chew on things. Then must try playtesting them.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  5. Ah. I thought you wanted to have a recurring element that finally gets revealed.

    We keep seeing the shovel, and then finally we find out what the shovel means. Kind of like Mountain Witch fate cards.

    Comment by iamclyde | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  6. Hmm. Well, here’s how it *seems* to play out when it works (note the caveats: “when it works” and “how it seems to play, not how it will or even how I intended”) — you have a revolver with one bullet as an Attachment. When an Attachment relating to that Memory occurs, then you work that Attachment into the memory. Thus, you find out what that Attachment means not at the end, but at the time of that memory.

    But it doesn’t carry over into the next memory. The next memory doesn’t have any reason to link it to that Attachment. In fact, I’m only explicit in the text about having it happen the first time. Why? Because I’m not sure how useful it is or mind-breaking it is to have to incorporate elements in the memories when those memories may explicitly occur prior to the memory they’re introduced. (e.g. You find a ring — Attachment — on the ground and run up to give it to the guy who dropped it. What do you do with “ring” prior to that, if you have to describe a memory prior to that moment?)

    It could be that these Attachments start at one state, like say “shovel,” and maybe as the Memories occur you could swap it out or “upgrade” it for a concept that built off of that shovel. (e.g. the shovel could become “The shovel I used to bury my dead dog” or “dead dog”)

    Does that make any sense? I suspect I need to, at the very least, figure out how to phrase this idea better.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | October 2, 2007 | Reply

  7. Hi Ryan,

    Right now you seem to be saying, “I want attachments to change. Maybe.”

    The reason I ask is in fiction we sometimes see the recurring element we don’t understand that becomes clear at or just before the stories climax. This likely requires a different set of rules than using attachments to tie to specific memories. It tells a different story.

    For instance, take the Wizard of OZ. Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers. We have poor Dorothy who has no idea what’s going on, land her house on the Wicked Witch of the East. The Wicked Witch of the West comes to get them, and they magically appear on Dorothy’s feet. WWotW takes off pissed. The ruby slippers help Dorothy on her journey. WWotW catches Dorothy. Dorothy tries to freely give away the slippers but they have their own mind, and zap WWotE. The story later ends and we find out that the slippers basically represent the home that Dorothy had decided to run away from in the black and white part of the movie. She clicks them together three times and wakes up safe and sound in her own bed. That’s what I was getting from what you have right now for attachments.

    Now for why my ideas are bad. If you use the attachment as the only modifier to the conflict resolution, it’s likely the winner is already determined. The requirement of having to use the attachments isn’t bad per se, but you want to explain why it’s important, I think.

    Comment by iamclyde | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  8. Hmm.

    If we dive into “Attachment possession improves conflict chances,” it could be dangerous — as you say, if it’s the only modifier, it’s a heavy one. It could also determine the number of cards the Amnesiac has in his hand, representing his power over his own mind.

    It could also allow the Amnesiac to play a card from his hand for something other than conflict resolution — maybe having the Red Attachment allows him to play a Tone on a Chorus character, changing that character. Similarly, this would be because the Amnesiac has more power over his own mind. From a fiddly standpoint, though, it lets the Amnesiac bleed off cards he doesn’t like, so I suspect that’s not a good option.

    Now, to get to your comment about Attachments, Clyde. Could you perhaps show me what you mean, using Know Thyself’s current Dream-Memory cycle framework?

    I was talking with Lenny Balsera last night, and we talked about how perhaps Attachments could simply be required to be narrated into the result of an outcome — that way, in the Dream, they’re always involved.

    I *think* I’m coming to realize that one issue with Attachments is: once you have that first Memory involving that Attachment, it’s no longer a mystery. In the middle of the game, this Thing goes from being mysterious to not, and I don’t know if I’m handling that transition well.

    I need to take a day this weekend and settle on a direction. If I seem particularly scatterbrained, it’s because I’m a bit tired from work.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | October 3, 2007 | Reply

  9. Hey Ryan,

    I’m afraid I can’t do that until maybe next weekend.

    Comment by iamclyde | October 4, 2007 | Reply

  10. Clyde,

    That’s cool. I’ll probably be working on a revision this weekend, so I can get some progress done. I’m having a problem groking the Wizard of Oz example, because my game has mid-game revelations and WoO doesn’t.

    I really, really appreciate the feedback you’ve been giving me. This is really awesome — lots of good stuff for me to chew on.

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | October 4, 2007 | Reply

  11. Ryan,

    One of the problems we discussed at GenCon after I did the demo of Know Thyself was that it was too random for me. I wanted a cohesive narrative to develop, but the randomness of the cards threw me around (let’s just say I wasn’t looking for an improv experience, I wanted a story to grow).

    So, I adore the idea of Attachments, some piece that carries through to help build a story. I want this to be part of the game.

    Comment by orklord | October 5, 2007 | Reply

  12. Rich,

    Ah! Well, I can tell you that in Know Thyself, there is a “story that grows” element. The problem is that that wasn’t in the part of the game I demoed. That’s in the Memory Scenes. In Memory Scenes, you’re telling a story, albeit nonlinearly. In Dream Scenes, you’re having to deal with randomness on your fucked-up mind — which needs a bit more anchoring than it has now to work the way it needs to.

    So, I just need to figure out what to do to make Attachments work. You know, nothing big or anything… 😉

    Comment by Ryan Macklin | October 5, 2007 | Reply

  13. What if Attachments are Al? I know that sounds weird, but from a story perspective, what if the Attachments are those things which are helping you to know thyself?

    I find the part about once you have a memory about an Attachment, you draw a new one to be unsatisifactory. Perhaps I am too keyed in on to the term Attachments, as in something I have an emotional investment in. It’s hard for me to have any sort of emotional attachment to something that goes away.

    I like the part about the winner narrating how the attachment is used. I would keep the Attachment around throughout the full game (this may necessitate going to four memories for variety.) But like I said on IM, go with the Wizard of Oz thing. Let the Attachments grow and change as the character begins to remember more.

    For example, the Attachment is a knife, but through play, it’s not a knife, it’s a sword. Then it’s a sword that killed my father. I don’t know if that helps.

    I do think it is kind of a cop out to say it provides bonuses to conflict. However, if the Attachment becomes Al, perhaps you can sacrifice your memories of the Attachment or your emotional involvement with it for a bonus. Then again, that may stray away from your game too much.

    Here’s my final ramble. If you want to gain new Attachments everytime, then use the fact that the card that is played has a suit. This idea is a little half baked, but when the winner is narrating, give each suit some sort of bonus or benefit or color in certain types of scenes or when doing certain things. To totally pull an idea out of my ass, if you win and the attachment suit is hearts, then you are better able to remember a relationship. If it’s diamonds, you gain a feel about a money or a possession. That way there is a bonus to having Attachments without them being simple pluses in combat.

    I think though, too, that may be for a different game than Know Thyself.

    Comment by commondialog | October 5, 2007 | Reply

  14. “Dream scenes” -> Fugue Scenes.

    “No weight” -> Dude. Constant principle of design: if it doesn’t have a mechanical incentive attached to it, the “thing” in question will be weightless. That’s just how that stuff works. DRYH’s dice colors in an earlier revision only had narrative side-effects — no mechanical ones. As a result, they had none of the effect I wanted them to have on play. So here’s a rule: If you want people to behave a certain way, make sure your system bribes them to do so.

    “No buy-in” -> Your example sounds like something out of Mountain Witch, only without any of the Mountain Witch “fishing” method applied to it. In MW, you might say to a player, “As you look upon the portrait, it disquiets you. Tell me why.” This has the interesting effect of making the reaction externally determined: the player is told his character is disquieted by a portrait. But it gives the player the power to define detail within the constraint of the mandated reaction (“tell me why”). So it might be interesting if the Chorus gets a similar kind of power (along with whatever mechanical benefit) whenever they create attachments.

    Comment by fredhicks | October 9, 2007 | Reply

  15. Ryan,

    What if the incentive to use the attachments were minor, but fun. I personally would enjoy making sure the same elements kept cropping up and that would be enough dopamine-squidge for me to do it on my own but maybe if you don’t want the attachments to take over the game, you might want to make the benefit small but worth paying attention to.

    I also like the idea of rewarding development of the attachment. Maybe the amnesiac is rewarded for developing threads of history affixed to the attachments. In a similar, reciprocal way, the chorus could get rewarded for developing those parts of character creation which are entirely under the control of the amnesiac.

    Comment by robertbohl | October 11, 2007 | Reply

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