Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Design Journal: LOST PINES (Part Two)

Today, let's talk about characters.

The prototype version of LOST PINES I'm working on has a lot of "bits and pieces". I've had to make mock-ups of a lot of different things that are designed to go on cards, rather than traditional RPG-style character sheets and tables.

The playbooks / "skins" in Monsterhearts inspired me to provide Archetypes for the game instead of making character generation a wide-open affair. Sure, once players get the idea of what a LP Archetype looks like, they could easily make up a new one -- but like MH, the point here is to give people a flavourful starting point.

Each Archetype has something that they're good at, something they're not so good at, and a special ability they can use once per session. That's pretty straightforward. The player gets to customize the character by deciding on two things: one I'll get to in a moment, and the other is a Secret.

Soap operas are all about the Secrets. Secrets are an easy way to create tension between characters and motivate them to take reckless action to protect themselves. Secrets go hand in hand with things like romance and crime, the other thematic components of the game. Oh, and weirdness, of course, though that's more of a symbolic part of things -- it hints at the netherworld of Not Small-town Cute lurking below the surface. So it's important for characters to have secrets, and have the player decide what one of them is.

As a HTHD practice, I champion the mantra of No Secrets Between Players At The Table. That does mean that sometimes player characters have to take action and avoid out-of-game knowledge, but it's a critical ingredient of this style. If you know someone's Secret, you can help increase the tension on that character and build interesting scenes in the same way a GM does in a traditional game. So Secrets are key.

The other customizable element I was talking about was Casting the character. I've made up a large number of cards that have faces on them, so that players can choose which "actor" plays their character on the fictional soap opera they're building. This, as Jonathan Tweet described in his classic game Over the Edge, gets players thinking about their characters in a different way, and makes the world of the game more concrete.

The side benefit of this game element is that Cast cards can also be used to fill out the supporting cast of the game, in much the same way that a relationship map works in games like Smallville. So your character's got an abusive boyfriend? Pick a Cast card for that character and put him on the table next to your character. Once everyone's got a few Cast cards on the table, it's easy to start making connections.

The other part of the "map" is the other player characters, of course. The element that connects the player characters, who I think of as the Main Cast, is a stack of cards I call Fires (which is, of course, a shout-out to David Lynch). Fires are provocative statements that are set down between two Main Cast characters to define their relationship. Stuff like "Only I know the truth" and "You know you can trust me." The idea is to present an open-ended idea that the players can shape into anything they like, but provide them with a starting point that has a real edge to it. This is definitely something with Fiasco DNA in it, but pared down further to create drama.

Next, I'll talk a little bit about how the game is meant to go down mechanically.

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