Friday, 3 January 2014

Design Journal: LOST PINES (Part One)

Let me start out the new year of HTHD by telling you about the project that's occupying a lot of my brainspace these days, LOST PINES.

I've been trying to find a game idea for some time that would act as a kind of didactic text for some of the "best practices" that we've discovered after several years of play in the HTHD style. Of the published games I've played, Monsterhearts probably comes closest to what I'd hoped for -- something that would encourage people to get right to the drama. It's a great game, and one that everyone with an eye toward HTHD play should definitely read and play. The material seems a little limited to me, though -- eventually, you're going to have had enough of high school hijinks. Unfortunately, the rest of the *World games don't really lend themselves to filling the gap, as far as I can tell.

Fiasco is also a game that was very instructive to me, providing a great toolkit for quick, no-prep games which could be dramatic -- but then again, I've never played in a Fiasco game that took itself seriously. Although more serious games are presented as a possibility, I've never seen it happen. Maybe with the right same-minded group.

There are many inspirational things about Dramasystem, but the game I'm thinking about is something less formal and structured -- it would provide players with a rough structure and inspirational material, like Fiasco and Monsterhearts, but require less front-loaded work for play.

As a setting / inspiration to frame my ideas, I went back to something that had been percolating on the back burner for a long time: a RPG that channeled the deeply weird soap opera that obsessed me (and many others) in the early 90s, Twin Peaks. This seemed to have promise as a framework for my ideas -- TP famously uses and abuses the format of a soap opera to tell its tale of small-town America through a dark and surreal lens. Although soap opera is a genre that seems all-but-dead now, it seems to lend itself very well to gaming. Some gamers might balk at a game that's overtly centered on romance (I remember the backlash aimed at the 'Romantic fantasy' game Blue Rose, a few years ago, which I loved quite a lot), which soap opera certainly is, but I'm thinking that the themes of small town crime, corruption, secrets, and deep weirdness are very game-able.

People put off by the idea of romance in games? I'm thinking they aren't really the audience I'm trying to reach anyway.

Next time, I'll tell you about the format of the prototype version of the game I've been working on.

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