Master Mines

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A Realization & Explicit Social Contract

So, I’m starting to read Keith Johnstone’s Impro, as per the recommendations of several folks (including our own Paul Tevis).  I’m only around a quarter of the way in, but a seriously thought has occurred above all others:  I need to rethink not my mechanics (well, maybe that too, but still), but I need to rethink what I’m not telling the players.  In other words, I’m telling people the mechanics of the game but not how to actually interact with each other in the roles of Amnesiac & Chorus.  It’s like I’m building this vehicle that works dramatically differently from a car, and I’m telling people that the foot pedal is the stereo volume control and the nose pedal is the pitch, but I’m not telling you how to actually drive the vehicle as a functional motorist alongside others driving the same type of vehicle.

I’m handing people a hovercraft with a manual on what the things on it do, but without lessons on how to co-operate.  Or something like that.  In any case, what this means is that some of the pressure of the game should be places of explicit social contract for this weird little game of mine rather than attempt to come up with some 100% mechanical solution.

This is something I’m going to chew on for the next playtest.  Previously, I was less comfortable with this idea because it felt like I was telling people how to role-play or some ivory tower crap, as if I’m some expert.  Now, I’m seeing it as a necessary element to achieve something closer to the effect I want — especially if that makes the game work.


November 7, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 7 Comments

Shelving Know Thyself for now

So, I have come to realize that I need to put Know Thyself down for a couple months. I haven’t received feedback from the ashcan, and the issues I have are, from my point of view, unique enough that I don’t yet know how to solve them.

The latest issues that I haven’t been able to solve: my game has no motivation in the “dream” scenes. I set up the scene and initial actors, but not direction whatsoever. This presents two problems: (a) the Chorus tend to look at different directions and step on each others’ toes, or (b) the Chorus and Amnesiac have no idea what direction to go because the scene is devoid of context. I have a couple ideas of how to deal with this, namely by turning the Memory Token areas on the card into a different element involving verbs, and using that to create a potential initial action.

That said, that doesn’t solve all my problems, because even with an initial action, the scenes are devoid of context. I spoke with Paul last week, and we talked a bit about improv. I’m looking forward to my copy of Impro arriving, and I may jump back into KT after reading that, but all in all the lack of feedback from the ashcans has honestly produced a current lack of interest in my continuing development.

I’m going to work on a design challenge my friend threw down involving dominoes, and then perhaps I’ll come back with some notes on Damned Anonymous, if I’m not ready to re-tackle Know Thyself by then. I’ll probably post up notes on my blog about my domino-based war story game, since this isn’t a forum for design challenges.

I’ll still be around to comment and the like.

October 29, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 5 Comments

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 | 15 Comments

Figuring out what my game’s about

So, I’ve been chewing on what Know Thyself is really about. On my blog, I posted that I think it’s less about an amnesiac and more about someone traveling in time who becomes an amnesiac in the process of going back in time. I came to this conclusion because the game centers around a bad event that happened to you that you want to change and that during the process you learn about the future of that event.

This doesn’t mean much mechanically, except that it gives me the context many of my questions need, like the issues I’m having with Attachments not quite having a place in the game.

Anyway, here are my initial notes:

September 26, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 5 Comments

Know Thyself’s Ashcan Deck

Not much of a post here. I just wanted to share the deck with the group:

The next Master Plan will involve me talking a bit about the production process, since I did the printing on my own (with someone else’s equipment), worked with my photographer on the photos, and gave the cards to Kinko’s to cut. Many, MANY hours were put into this, and I just got the cards back from Kinko’s. I’m fairly pleased.

August 9, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 5 Comments

A Productive Break: the Cover

So, after working on the text a bit today while I was waiting for the Finis shipment to arrive, I (a) got an idea for a cover (thanks to Paul Czege’s recent Story Games post about his cover), and (b) needed a break from the text. So, I designed my cover. It’s designed to print on a piece of legal paper with 0.25″ margins, since that’s what I can do easily. It’s a big image, so here’s a cut.  I’d like to know what ya’ll think.

Continue reading

August 1, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 5 Comments

About to finalize the draft

Hey, guys.  I’m about to finalize the draft for layout & printing.  I know a couple of you mentioned in IM or elsewhere that you had some comments for me, so if you could get those to me by the next day or so, I would appreciate it.  For those who haven’t had a chance to sit down with the draft, don’t worry about it — it’s right before GenCon, and we’re all crazy busy.

In either case, thanks a lot for being here, helping me out with my draft, spurring me on.  Ya’ll are freakin’ awesome.

July 30, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 1 Comment

Know Thyself v3: Finally, a Draft

So, uh, clocking it as nearly 9250 words (564 of which is title & TOC) is my latest draft of Know Thyself: (347K Word doc, thanks to me not shrinking one image)

I put the asides I’m likely to include in the marginalia in orange boxes for now. I’m not at all looking to stick with the format. But here’s what I need from you folks who are willing to read through my 26 pages (of which the first 2.5 are title & TOC):

  • Does my text make sense?
  • What do you find difficult to understand?
  • Does the game sound interesting/fun?
  • Could you run my game?
  • Would you want to?
  • What could I cut?
  • What do I need to flesh out?

You know, just your basic call for “Okay, so, I just wrote this. Please rip it to shreds and light it on fire so it’ll be a better document.” Fire away.

Also: I’ll be including an Appendix that I mention in the first section later, but ya’ll have basically already seen it if you’ve looked at my spreadsheet of card values.

Thanks a lot, guys. Your help has been very appreciated, and will continue to be so. I hope to get feedback in the next week so I can revise the draft before printing it, but I need at least a couple days off from it right now, since I’ve been working on this game every night for the past couple weeks.

Edit: And I think I should move to the Polishing mode now.

July 25, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 2 Comments

Another good playtest & almost a new draft

We had another good playtest of Know Thyself last night, finally testing out the endgame rules. I originally half-wrote four potential endings to the game, and my two players said the ideas in them were weak. We agreed to play out three rounds of memories and then trigger endgame to see what would happen, and I’m happy to say we figured out how to do a single endgame that makes every memory feel important.

One of my desires was to avoid making a memory meaningless, and I felt that if you had a “good” or “bad” ending depending on how many memories you had (i.e. “If more than half of your memories are Drive memories, you win!”), it would kill the game partway, just like in a board game when it’s obvious who’s going to win because it’s statistically impossible for them to lose (or vice versa), but you keep playing anyway.

We also thought that making the endgame come down to something like a single card draw would be anti-climatic.  One of my players proposed playing out the Endgame Scene like a Dream Scene rather than the pure narration of a Memory Scene, and playing until one side got a certain number of successes based on the memories.  With the two types of Memories in the game, Drive & Pain, if there are more Drive memories, the Amnesiac needs two successes and the Chorus needs 2 + (Drive-Pain) successes.  The converse is true if there’s more Pain than Drive.

We also completely tossed out Talent Effects, which I haven’t explained to this group anyway.

In further news that lacks context: After removing the designer’s notes sections & doing some trimming, I’m back down to 6K. My target is no more than 8K for the final draft, and I still have new sections to write. I’m planning on finishing it up tonight.

Last night fixed a lot of miscellaneous crap, but I’m not doing a good job or re-writing my draft since I’m writing this up instead. 🙂

I’m so looking forward to doing something on Monday nights other than playtesting my game. I’m getting some serious game fatigue here, and my patience is wearing a bit thin. Our group needs a break, though I think we all are on board for one final game before GenCon.

July 24, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | Leave a comment

Draft update before the weekend

So, it’s almost 3am here, and I’m at 5,138 words. (I’m not happy with my progress, but I can’t change the past.)  I think the draft will clock in at around 8K.

Recent additions: Ending a Dream Scene, much of Triggering Memories, a bit more on designer’s notes (notably how I have some false memories and how that’s made it into the design).

This game progressed a lot when I dropped the “This game could be used for character creation for another campaign” idea. Sure, it still could be, but I’m no longer allowing that as a design goal, so I’ve become free to experiment. I’m really liking what I’ve got here, though it’s become a lot more specialized since its origin. I have to wonder if I’ll be able to find ten people who like the idea & game play.

July 21, 2007 Posted by | Know Thyself | 2 Comments