I continue to post about Haunted here because of its connections to the Ronnies. I played it again last weekend at Big Bad Con in Oakland. This version had only very minor clean up revisions from the one I had played at Gamex previously. The game continues to function at a very base level being very sensitive to the players involved as well as the setup for the game.
These thoughts are somewhat inspired by Vincent's post here, if you haven't read it: http://lumpley.com/index.php/window/installment/24
Where I'm at right now is that I'm not really convinced the game will function without me as a guide. The setup has to hit some pretty important markers for the game to work. The brief answer is that both the murderer and ghost have to have unfinished business and there must be one or two characters that they care about the fate of. Those two things can intermingle. If either of those things are absent the game is lopsided. The ghost or the murderer end up being very one note characters.
Now, I could basically write a very detailed essay explaining to whomever is reading the game exactly the kinds of things I look for during setup. It can delve deeply into the kinds of questions I ask and the kind of characters I look for. Where I'm kind of unhappy with this is that I've noticed that people pay more attention to procedural text than instructional text. For example, you'll notice that people talk more about the GM Moves in Apocalypse than the GM Principles.
I think a lot about the popularity of Fiasco (Haunted's nearest relative) and wonder if part of what has made that game so "grabby" is the playsets. Would the game have gained so much attention if the rules simply stated: Pick an environment for the game. Define a relationship with the player on your left and right. For each of these relationships pick a Need, Object or Location. If Fiasco had simply given instructional text on how to generate these things and left all the details to individual play group would it have been so popular? Is the "killer app" of Fiasco the hand-holdy setup procedures?
Up until this last year I would have thought that clamping down on the group brainstorming would have been too intrusive. But I've been developing The Extraordinarily Horrible Children of Raven's Hollow at the same time and I had similar fears when I switched to pre-generated, children, ravens, adults and locations. NOT ONCE have I heard, "But I want to make my own child...", "But I want to use a different location...", "But I have a cool idea for a raven..." Not. Once.
So I keep circling this idea that Haunted needs something LIKE Fiasco's playsets. Maybe not that procedural but definitely something along the lines of lists and tables to choose from and pointed questions that must be answered. Part of me doesn't like it. But part of me wonders if that's the only way the game will function without me or someone willing to read lots of instructional text about how to guide setup.
The second issue concerns "endings." Currently the Ghost starts with lots of Influence (the main stat for getting anything done) and the Murderer starts with very little. The game has gone through several iterations concerning how the Ghosts loses Influence and the murderer gains it. The current rule is: When the murderer permanently resolves part of the developing situation then a point of Influence transfers from the Ghost to the Murderer. This sort-of like the Kicker resolution stuff from Sorcerer but smaller. It just has to be a subset of the situation, not the whole thing. For example, in the game we played this weekend this rule kicked in when the murderer successfully helped the ghost's mother reunite with a cousin and thus gain safe living conditions.
This again requires someone at the table to understand what I mean when I say, "the murderer resolves part of the situation." And again I could write lots of instructional text explaining that but I'm afraid that isn't effective. The problem is that this is the most thematically appropriate way I've thought of to conduct this transfer. But it's vulnerable to group arguments, misinterpretation and hedging and I'm not sure I'm comfortable. But I can't think of strictly procedural way to express this.
Yeah, so I'm very frustrated with Haunted right now. It feels very close but I don't know how to resolve these two issues.