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Author Topic: Tabula Rasa early development.  (Read 1496 times)
Jeremiah Lahnum

Posts: 16

« on: January 31, 2007, 08:10:24 AM »

So, recently a I took a trip to Dreamation with Bret Gillan. It was my first time at the convention and it was a total blast. I got to play with and meet a ton of great people who had designed and published games. It was an awesome time and it has inspired me to finally try my hand at channeling my creative energies into game design.

I have in the past kicked around ideas for games. Yet, I have never really mustered the motivation to follow through on many of these ideas. This time I plan on trying my best to completely write a game and produce something I hope is publishable in some fashion.

There is one other bit of influence for this game that I should mention. A couple of days ago I watched the movie Unknown at my mother's house. It's an interesting film about a group of men waking up with amnesia in a very violent and tense situation. There is a lot of questions about the identities of each man and what role they played in each others lives before they woke up with amnesia. It's an interesting movie and it directly inspired the subject matter of my forthcoming game.

The game itself has a working title of Tabula Rasa. Basically it is a game which will thrust characters into the role of amnesiacs working to uncover their identity. All the while the characters are trapped in some sort of odd and potentially dangerous situation. They have to work together to try and escape from this situation despite not knowing who themselves or each other at all.

I use the term situation because each scenario that the characters find themselves in will be determined by the group playing the game. For example in one game the characters may be a bunch of men awakening in a military bunker complex. All of them are wearing WII era uniforms in a mixture of Axis and Allies nations.

However, in another game the group may be a mixed gender group of people awakening in an abandoned warehouse. They've obviously each been recently beaten and some of them may be restrained.

The common threads to each is only that the entire group has amnesia, and that wherever they find themselves it should be inescapable until they've rediscovered their own identities. This is purposeful as escape from the situation should be a reward of end game. Yes, part of the game will be working to escape the confines of their environment. However, that should be seen as the end of the game. The majority of the game should be about the tension, and conflict of discovering who you are and how you relate to your fellow amnesiacs. Also, discovering how you came to be where you are and what events lead up to and caused your amnesia.

Actual play mechanics have yet to be fully developed. I spent a bit of time working on some things that I think will act as basic mechanics when I start pulling this together. Primarily I'm pretty certain this game is going to be GM-less. I see it as a collaborative exercise between the players and not something that truly needs one person acting as a facilitator for the in game action. Players will take turns framing scenes and initiating conflicts to accomplish things. I also know that some of the scenes framed will be acting as flashbacks that characters will use for two things.

First, they will be using flashbacks to further define their own identities and possibly the identities of the other people in the group. Secondly scenes and conflicts will be used to influence the overall situation. This could be something like using a scene to help free some of the other members who are bound in some fashion. Or perhaps a scene could be created in which the characters are trying to make contact with the world outside the confines of where they find themselves. The only restriction is that an escape scene cannot be framed until one or more of the PC's has achieved a strong enough sense of identity and understanding of the situation to trigger end game.

This brings me to another point of play that I'm working on which is the individual identity trait of the PC's. Right now I'm viewing this as a trait that increases as the game is played. As it stands I'm viewing it not as a numerical value, but instead as a series of descriptors. When the game begins the player may have a single word or perhaps a short phrase that describes their character and acts as an identifying trait. It should be something simple, and something that is noticeably a characterization of their personality or physical appearance in some fashion. For example at the start of the game my identity might simply be "Nasty Facial Scar." This indicates that my character has a nasty facial scar and that this all he really knows about himself at this point. Other examples might include your character's manner of dress, general attitude, or way of speaking. At the beginning these should all be surface values that don't really do much to give an in depth sense of the character's identity.

As the game progresses through the use of flashbacks, identity will increase. As identity increases the words you use to establish your character's identity will become more specific and descriptive. For example, "Nasty Facial Scar", might become after a couple of flashbacks "French soldier who took shrapnel to the face at the battle of Lorraine." This is a more clearly established identity. You now know not only how this man got his scar, but where he is from and what sort of life he has had. Also, of importance here we've named something that sheds some light on who all of the other players might be. Mentioning the Battle of Lorraine means that at least one of the characters involved was a French soldier during WWI. This is something I still haven't quite figured out. I would like characters to be able to do this as their identity develops. Eventually identity should include things that would color the identity of your fellow amnesiacs. I guess to clarify this I will need to work out exactly how identity is gained, and if it can ever be lost.

Right now I know that identity will be increased through the use of flashback scenes. Exactly how those work and how the conflict mechanics determine success or failure in how your identity grows I haven't figured out yet. I'm thinking that to initiate a flashback scene the characters will have to expend some sort of currency that can be gotten through play. Right now my initial gut idea is that currency can be gotten by framing conflict scenes either against the situation itself. (I.E. framing a scene aimed at improving the overall situation for the players.) Or, currency can be taken from other players by initiating a conflict scene against them. This leads me to wonder if currency might take the form of some sort of items that could be found throughout the environment the players are in.

For example if I frame a scene in which my character tries to do something to make everyone in the abandoned bunker scenario more comfortable. Perhaps I initiate a conflict scene against the environment to see if my character can find something that would make everyone in the bunker warmer. Let's say he succeeds and happens to find some rucksacks with blankets in them. He hands them out and also manages to gain a piece of currency which he can then expend to initiate a flashback conflict at a later date. This currency could take the form of one of the blankets. Or perhaps he finds something else in the rucksacks that triggers his memory. Basically I think it would be neat if currency took the form of items that would trigger memories for the characters involved in the game. (I.E. My character finds a locket in one of the rucksacks with the picture of a girl. The locket triggers a memory of my character and this girl making love. During the course of it he calls her Madeline.) That example would be of the narration that might come about after you succeeded in a flashback conflict.

Successful flashback conflicts increase identity. Unsuccessful flashback conflicts cause identity to stay the same. Either new memories are gained or they are not.

Alternatively when talking this over with Bret and my brother they mentioned an idea of a character gaining false memories. I'm not sure how this might work. Perhaps a character who fails a flashback conflict might still be able to increase identity. However, doing this means that the identity trait they take on is false in some fashion. At a later point through conflicts initiated by other players, perhaps any false traits will be put at risk. What I mean is that you can increase your identity even if you fail a flashback conflict. However, you run the risk of losing that false identity later on and actually reducing your overall identity score.

Finally, I believe there should be a certain point that needs to be reached in the way of character identity that would trigger end game. I'm not sure what that point is yet. Should it be the overall number of identity traits associated with a character? If so should it be a flat number, say 10 identity traits? Or instead should it be a predetermined number of identity traits determined by the group at beginning of play. I could see the latter being used to sort of adjust the length of play of the game. Therefore, a group that wants a short game might say end game comes about when someone has 5 identity traits. However, a longer game might be end game comes about when someone reaches 15.

End game as I see it right now will give players the ability to escape their situation. The person with the highest identity will trigger end game. They will be able to narrate what the players find outside of the confines of where they are. There will be sort of an epilogue narration for each of the characters as well to tie up their individual stories. I think that it would be interesting if the consequences for your character of end game were based on your identity score. The characters with the higher identity scores have the happy endings and the people with the low identity scores have the unhappy endings. The people who are more defined and have stronger ties to the outside world are more likely to recover from their experiences.

I appreciate any feedback that people have at this point.  I will try my best to answer any questions about the game.  However, things are in the very early stages at this point and I don't have a lot of things completely nailed down.  Still, discussion will probably be one of the ways that I manage to do this.  That and actual playtesting.  Which is yet to come, but I will be doing this when I feel I have enough of a game to do something with it. 
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