After coming home from Fastaval, I’m always filled with a great desire to write more roleplaying games. This year was no exception. In no time at all, I spurted out a number of scenario ideas. Now, the synopsis deadline is early this year, which means that I’d better get started on developing an idea for a scenario.
And so, in this post, I am going to sketch out some ideas for games. I would love to hear your feedback on them, so that I can tune my ideas.
In Cthulhu-games, we almost always play the investigators facing murderous cultists – but cultist are people too!
This game is a Cthulhoid game about the human beings inside the crazed cultists in the robe. You play a cult trying to summon… something. Some strange and dangerous being that you believe will bring you fame, fortune, wealth, vengeance… whatever. The “now” of the game shows the cult preparing for the time when “the stars are right”, gathering resources, stealing books, dealing with pesky investigators (maybe you even get to play the investigators trying to investigate the cult, getting flashes of what the cult looks like from outside? That might be a fun ploy, if it doesn’t get too complicated). Ever so often, you see a flash-back from the previous lives of the cultists, showing you why they decided to join the cult.
The scenario is – of course – a humorous tragedy. The flash-backs will show the cultists as real people, damaged and hurting from the things life has thrown at them. At the same time, their present shows them slowly sacrificing everything they value in order to serve their new master.
The game is obviously rather similar to the game, Soth, which I have not played. I would like it to strike a less absurd note, being instead a game that can hurt a little, between all the laughs.
First Mech Division
When the aliens attack, we won’t be drafting muscle – we’ll be drafting brains!
In fifty to a hundred years, when the aliens attack the human settlements on Mars, Earth will send squadrons of mechs to fight the war. In this game you’ll play the crews of the mechs, landing on Mars to take on the aliens threatening humankind.
This game started out as a novel I was writing for NaNoWriMo a few years back. The idea was this: that with the technological advances we are making, we won’t have much use for loads of muscle in the next war. Instead, we’ll need people with technical skills to operate the advanced equipment being developed. It’s easier to train an engineer to run a mech than to train an elite athlete. At least, that’s my claim.
The novel didn’t really take off, and the idea has been hidden away in a corner of my brain since then. At some point, I realised that it could also work as a roleplaying game.
I envision the idea as taking place on three levels: One level is the battlefield, with the operators manning different posts in several mechs within the same squadron. Another is at home on the base, with the soldiers trying to deal with the realities of being at war on another planet. Finally, the third level takes place in the situation room of the main command, with the players taking on the roles of generals and officials, determining where to send the troops next. The idea is of course that the generals will have to make tough choices, sending the player’s mech squad into increasingly horrible encounters with the enemy.
I think the battles will be Powered by the Apocalypse. I envision maybe three or four different playbooks, like Pilot, Gunner and Commander, with each being required to run the mech. Each has some basic moves related to the function he carries out, and which provides benefits to the other functions. The gunner might have “Lay down suppressive fire”, which provides benefits to the Pilot, while the Pilot might have “Acquire favourable position”, potentially giving benefits to the Pilot and Commander.
Each player will play a main character, while also taking on minor characters manning the other mechs. The main characters will have one or two special moves, setting them apart from the minor characters. I also want to make it so that the minor characters work to support the main characters instead of taking equal spotlight. For instance, if the Pilot is the only main character, he will get to decide what kind of ground to make, while the gunner and Commander mostly react, either by rolling, or simply by narrating.
This being a story of war, death needs to be present. That is another reason for the minor characters. In the first couple of scenes, the GM can kill off a few minor characters. Later on, main characters can die, and the player can take a minor character as a new main character.
If and when I do write this, I think I need to look closely at Night Witches, to see how that game handles a game about war. 3:16 – Carnage Amongst the Stars is another obvious inspiration, but the battles in that game are a little too simple for my tastes.
Weald and Wyrd
A little village caught in the middle.
This game is a development of an idea I had for a medieval-ish hack for Apocalypse World. This would be about narrowing it further, defining the characters and the threats and turning it into an actual scenario.
The game is centred in a village on the outskirts of the Empire (you know, the Great and Civilized Empire of Known Mankind) that suddenly finds itself caught between several powerful forces, each threatening to destroy the way of life the village has known for generations.
On one side, the village faces the Empire. The Empire has been through a tumultuous time, and has mostly left the village alone for a generation or so. But now, they are turning their attention outwards again, bringing with them new laws, new customs and a new faith.
On the other side, rumblings have been heard of a horde of barbarians approaching. A fearsome force, conquering and pillaging all that lays before them.
In the forest around the village, strange creatures live. For many years, they have been appeased by old covenants with rites and sacrifices. But the old customs have waned, and the fay look upon the humans as invaders. Thus, they turn nature itself against the humans in the village.
Finally, within the mountain or under the lake, something ancient is stirring. Long imprisoned underground, this creature sees humans as little more than tools to secure its release. Then they can be shrugged off and discarded as it reclaims the earth as its domain once again. It takes over the weaker folk in the village, whispering dark things to them, making them do its bidding.
This game would be a sandbox-y kind of a game, in which the GM and the players explore the parts of the setting that tickle their fancy. It’s supposed to be a bleak and dark game in which the players are threatened from all sides – the Empire threatens their culture and identity, the barbarians their possessions and homes, the fay threaten their livelihoods while the Thing Below threatens their friendships and their sanity. All of them threaten their lives.
Olsen Banden Tager Stik Hjem
Olsen Banden is a very popular series of Danish comedies, filmed from 1968 to ‘98. They revolve around a gang of very inventive, but rather inept, criminals. All of the films are all heist comedies, structured around the same formula: Egon, the leader of the gang, comes out of prison with a plan to steal a stash of money. The plan always involves inventive use of a list of mundane items, some of which must first be procured.
The plan usually works perfectly. But alas, something always goes wrong afterwards, and they lose them the money. After a shouting match and a break-up, they come up with another plan to recover the money. This plan usually goes as well as the first plan – but then there’s another hitch, and the film ends with Egon being taken back to prison.
There are more fixed points that are common throughout the movies. For instance, the major external pressure to go through with the plot usually comes from Yvonne, the wife of one of Egon’s two sidekicks. She’s the only character in the gang with ego and willpower to match Egon’s, and she usually has something she needs money for, whether it be a new house or just money for her son’s confirmation. Throughout the film, she will keep reminding them of the pressing need for the money, thus egging them on towards the coup. She will also often be the instigator of one of the crises in the film, saying: “I’m telling you Egon – you’d brought many things upon us throughout the years, but this!”’
And because the films are so formulaic, Danes know by heart, not just where the story beats fall, but how they are supposed to look. Reference a moment in one of these films to a Dane, and most of us would be able to tell you roughly what’s going to happen next.
And right there is the basis for an idea I’ve had for a long time – more or less since I wrote Antihero some four years ago. I’d like to make a scenario in which the players create their own Olsen Banden film.
In making the game I would appropriate a technique from my own Antihero in putting all the scenes out in front of the players, showing them the structure, and letting them set the scenes. The structure is so fixed that it should be fairly easy to make that structure.
The heists are an important part of the films. In all of them, Egon starts narrating a list of objects they need while the camera cuts to them already carrying out the plan. I’d emulate this by providing a set of cards with random objects, and then have the players play cards from their hand to improvise the plan. I might also give a set of cards with backdrops/settings for the heists, to give the players something to help them set a good tone for the heist.
Finally, what will the players be playing? Well, the films have three characters who are in pretty much all the scenes: Egon and his two sidekicks, Kjeld and Benny. They are obvious choices for characters.
They are not created equal, however. Egon is clearly the main character, with the other two serving as his, well, sidekicks. One person (I believe it was Morten Greis) suggested making him the GM. I’ve considered this, and still won’t rule it out. My experience with Death of a Playwright, however, has shown me that it can be fun to have a main character, and I think that I might like to repeat that here.
The other two characters will be playing minor characters. They will represent the two groups that Egon is fighting: on one side the Proletariat that he is trying to break free from. On the other hand the Upper Crust (Danish: “Parnasset”) that won’t let him in. Each will control a number of minor characters, with Yvonne most likely being shared between them. She might also be the GM’s character, but I think she fits in really well with the two minor character players.
The final idea I have actually came out of the Særimner project, and I might send it in to them if I still have time (I forget when their deadline is). It’s a short scenario about a conflict that never ends. It’s a game for four players. The players will be on two different sides. Each scene will portray a conflict between the two different sides, with one person on each side representing the old, and the other representing the young being taught to carry on the fight. It starts with a small conflict over a cow or a lawnmower or something similar, but in each generation, the fight grows and grows, and never concludes.
Those are the ideas I’m currently working with. Olsen Banden is probably the one I’m most excited about, but it is also the most complicated – I need to make a working heist mechanic as part of the scenario.
Anyway. Let me know what you think of these ideas, and feel free to tell me which one(s) you’d like to play later on. Also, if something isn’t clear, feel free to ask – that’s one great way for me to improve my ideas!