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what I did for Iron Game Chef: the Court of 9 Chambers

Started by talysman, October 20, 2002, 02:31:17 AM

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I waited a few days before starting my post-mortem, so that I could think about the game a little more.

obviously, when I created the concept of the game, I concentrated on the words "Art" and "Numerolog". now, I knew there were a number of indie game designers with actual published rpgs involved with the competition, so competition was going to be tough, especially with me being an unknown and all... I knew my game would really need to stand out. what I needed was a great concept supported by a simple but effective game mechanic.

I figured no one would dare try a numerology game mechanic (boy, was I wrong...) so I thought about starting there. I had actually tried fiddling with such a mechanic before, but could never figure out how to get numerology to work well as a mechanic. but this time, I was concentrating on "simple", and I thought of how numerology's mod-9 arithmetic reduces names to a single digit number... and thought "hmmm... maybe this could be used with a 10-sider".

so then it occurred to me that I could use a dice pool technique to match the number derived from a character's name. odds would be low, but if I emphasized that this is a conflict resolution roll, not a task resolution roll, I figured it would be ok. (actually, I didn't emphasize this enough. this should go in the next edition...)

so I still needed a concept. since I was concentrating on the word "art" as well, and since I went daring with numerology-as-game-mechanic, I thought "why not do an rpg where the conflict is artistic rather than martial or magical. "hmmm... people fighting each other with art..." this made me think a bit of the surrealists, especially since I used to hang out on USENET's alt.surrealism group for a while: there was certainly a LOT of conflict there.

when I started thinking in these terms, I tied it back into numerology. this reminded me of Austin Osman Spare, an artist contemporary of Aleister Crowley, who believed in an artistic approach to magic. he had this technique of expressing his desires as a simple sentence and reducing it to a symbol that he worked into art to "cast spells". not exactly numerology, but it sparked an idea... artists making paintings with numerological basis to affect reality or themselves... or each other? making symbols or... motifs!

remember when I made the vague post about having a killer idea? that was right after I had that lightning bolt of inspiration. it's hard to explain, because it wasn't just pride or something like that; it was a feeling that no matter who had come up with it, it was a fantastic concept... and it practically started writing itself at this point... egotistical artists... mystical incliniations... the power of artistic motifs, used in combat...

I decided to restrict the concept, however. if I really wanted an unusual game, I felt I needed to avoid traditional combat, even magic and superpowers. I decided to go with a very realistic setting. yep, that's right, realistic. the artists can influence their own dreams and believe they share a dreamworld with their rivals. if I kept the power of motifs in the dreamworld, the whole "shared dreamworld" aspect would just be a special effect. you could think of it all as a metaphor for artistic competition in the real world, too; artists struggling to make their art more memorable than the other guys.

so I built the game around that concept. this seemed to make my decision about using a low-probability resolution system look better, since these guys are assumed to be normal artists, not superhuman wizards or warriors. still, it seemed a little low... plus, there are only 9 possible numbers to match, so some characters might wind up stalemated. hmmm... but if there were a rule allowing someone to match more than one target number, this would improve the odds and allow for tactical decisions. so the idea of Motifs adding dice and target numbers to a roll was born. real-world actions were still a little weak, but I didn't want magical effects in the real world, so I adapted the Motif concept and came up with Tools. once I did that, other parallels were easy to see (in fact, I just yesterday thought of how to handle Jobs and Knowledges using pretty much the same mechanic. more stuff for 2nd edition!)

I deliberately wanted to emphasize action in the dreamworld over the real world to make the characters seem to become detached from reality (how else do you explain an artist shooting a colleague to prevent him from transcending the 9th chamber?) but I also decided to force players to make their improvement rolls (other than transcendence) in the real world, to make them balance their activities. and I made paintings and critiques harder to do (two rolls, and a failure on the first was an actual botch, unlike other actions.)

early on, I still thought in terms of adding up all the letters of names to get the important number used for die-roll matching (which at first I called "Harmonic Value".) but I realized this was going to bog the game down, so I simplified it, switching to monograms and first letters of words. that pretty much nailed down the system.

the concept of the Court... well, the tic tac toe diagram is actually based on a similar kabbalistic diagram called the Qaballah of Nine Chambers. sometimes, in occultism, some ideal worlds in the astral plane are called "courts", so I thought it was a nice touch... make the ultimate Kether-like goal of the artists into the Court of the number zero, which contains the other nine numbers (the Chambers) within it.

I only tossed in Africa later on, as an extra seasoning, once I read some comments about surrealists in French North Africa between the world wars. (Burroughs -- William, not ERB -- also apparently went to Tangier, but he may have been after a more mundane kind of transcendence...)

there's a lot more about the system I need to think about, to catch problem areas that need to be smoothed out. I certainly want to reorganize the material I have written, moving as much of the repeated decriptions as possible to one place and condensing it. Acquisition rolls, for example, need to be described once, with a note that this is used to acquire Tools, Allies, and so on.

anyone else spot anything you would question?
John Laviolette
(aka Talysman the Ur-Beatle)
rpg projects:

Paul Czege


Nothing much to say, other than that I enjoyed your contribution to the contest, and that it's very cool in retrospect to see your design notes here. I'm a big fan of design notes.

My Life with Master knows codependence.
And if you're doing anything with your Acts of Evil ashcan license, of course I'm curious and would love to hear about your plans