The veil has been lifted and now everyone knows who wrote what. So now I can talk about how it went for me.
My stage one production was called Super-Dog, although the moment after I sent it I changed it to Dog-Watch. I’m bad at rules and good at setting so I kept the rules dead simple: you have two stats, Super and Dog, each rated with a die type, and if you roll a 4 or higher you succeed. I assumed a standard GM-player set up, and then wrote in a backstory about Laika returning from space, the aliens she met and the true history of the human race.
It was then received by Daniel Fowler, who added some amazing stuff to it. He turfed most of my setting but in its place did the lovely thing of describing most of my ideas as the dogs would see them. Which really worked instantly; Daniel clearly got and embraced my concept. He kept the core system, but added a rotating GM concept and an adventure structure (dogs are with their people, dogs notice something weird, dogs fix it, dogs go home) which is very nice, and has some lovely examples. There are also really good rules for how dogs act and their guiding principles (humans must never be hurt) and limits on superpowers (like very sensibly, no talking human talk) and super behaviour (nobody must know about our super powers). I love it and will be using almost all of it (putting my setting back in, dammit) if Daniel approves. I’m not sure I like the idea that dogs turn into monsters as they grow more super, ala Aberrant. That’s too dark for me.
As always, the smallest changes are the most curious. In my version, the sample character was based on a superpowered dog I made for a Mutants and Masterminds game, a black Afghan hound who can blend into the darkness (invisibility). Daniel made her a pure white bulldog. Does he own a bulldog? Not like Afghans? Curious…
Dean Baker’s first draft was called Under the Bed and reminded me a lot of Grimm and Little Fears – you were kids fighting monsters, and whatever thing you clutched tightly to could have super powers, and you were afraid of growing up. The system was confusing and not my style, but worse the setting hit me like a freight train because I’ve never really liked these kind of core ideas: being a child is not something I remember fondly and it certainly never worked like those tropes. I felt utterly stymied because I felt there was nothing here I could connect to. But Paul said we could change anything as long as we kept the core. So I asked myself, what was the core? Children and what they fear. So I decided to see what I would say about that core, starting from just that idea. I also would try to keep cards as the mechanic.
I remember my nights as a child as ones of relentless terror and uncaring adults, and so I wrote Fear of the Dark, where the adults have made a pact with something called the Shadow which eats fear, and of course prefers the strongest fears which come from children. So adults force their children into dark rooms, close the door, and go back to drinking wine and laughing loudly and watching movies that give you a funny feeling in your tummy and you have to think about how in the darkness in your room it would be possible for a scorpion with a screaming monkey face to get onto your pillow before you saw it. I really like what I wrote, it’s a relentless bonesaw on the nerves with a harsh as hell system where just getting a drink of water can damn your soul. Well, I think so. It went way over word count so I cut it down and then afterwards restored it and expanded it. Like Super-Dog, it assumes a standard GM and player set up. The only real connection it has to Under the Bed is the list of rooms in the house (cut for space in the end), a deck of cards, and having stats based on child experiences and their “magic toy”.
It then went to Vincent Baker who kept pretty much everything I wrote but changed the game to a competitive one. Chargen returned to being somewhat random, and the idea of playing to win came back too, which was a weird echo. Now you get points for facing challenges (win or lose, more points for harder challenges), taking them off the parents, assuming the parents have them left. If they don’t you have to recharge the parents by getting caught out of bed. The need to get caught and face high stakes drives kids to want to scare themselves and push themselves which is a really interesting mood and it comes through very strongly. It’s also very different to the mood I was going for, which is really interesting. My game was about choosing between the unimaginable horror of sleeping without your teddy vs the unthinkable danger of reaching across a shadow to get it and risking having your skin flensed off. Baker’s game is more about pushing your limits and scaring yourself deliberately. And he takes this one step further by suggesting that my mechanic of growing up doesn’t mean your soul is lost forever, but you just grow up.
I think there’s a fun game of “play the psychiatrist” we can do here. Like Vincent and Dean liked being scared as a kid, and I didn’t….
Baker added a play structure explaining how to GM (the kids set a scene, the darkness asks questions, cards are drawn to answer them). Not my style, but very much the style of the times – I guess it’s sort of Apocalypse World-ish? This and the points system also allowed him to develop what happens when you grow into a teenager, so now instead of being knocked out of the game you keep scoring points but using different rules.
I want to keep the development of playing a teenager. I want to make the play structure GM advice rather than rules. I think the scoring mechanism is interesting and could stay as an option, but I want my darker game back. This is the real tricky issue about this: we didn’t make one game we made three, and if we try to turn them into one game, we’ll have to figure out who is in charge. I lean towards just everyone making their own game, myself. Safer, easier, and no knife fights over tone.
Mark Nau’s sketch is pretty solid and inventive: the Old West, but with fairies, as in four-inch-tall wee folk messing with you. A round robin Moringstar character roster method sets up the town’s inhabitants and then everyone makes a fae interested in the character of the player to their right. Not unlike my first stage game, the system is very very tiny – deal out cards, high card wins.
Jay Treat took this sketch and put a lot of meat on the bones. The game got a name: Superstitions, and a setting (Arizona). The instructions were polished and made clearer. The cards were removed in favour for each player doing entire free-form GMing, using his fae wherever he wants, to GM for the player to his right (with some clever limitations on fae powers). Rotating GMs were very common, to my eye, in the competition. Jay also did heaps of research into the fae types Mark had listed, turning one line descriptions into rich paragraphs and linking their old world classifications with near-analogues in Native American culture. He also put in a rule at the end that fae support humans they see observing superstitions.
And that’s what struck me. I thought it weird that the fair folk of Europe had somehow come on the boat or there were perfect equivalents of them waiting in the US. It seemed really interesting to me to find a bunch of probably Catholic missionary types in a world, drenched in their old-world superstitions, running into spirits with their own rules. I began sketching out a game around the idea of terrified Irish people trying to leave saucers of milk out for the wee folk like their mam always told them would keep them safe and then the spirits getting made and killing the human babies in revenge. What happens when your rules stop keeping you safe?
As with Fear of the Dark I was quite ready to build my game from scratch around that concept, but as I did so I remembered a conversation I’d had with friends a few weeks ago regarding Lexicon games which we adore, and how a set of laws would be a great way to describe a culture (rather than a chronology like Microscope, or a lexicon). The end result was It Is Forbidden which poured out (way beyond word count) in almost full form in a day or two. I imagine my previous designers wondered where their cowboy game went, but you don’t question the muse, I say. And, as I blogged, I could never have written It is Forbidden without their game to light the fire.
But I do wish there’d been a third-stage game from their fae in the Old West game.I hope Jay (and/or Mark) take their game and make it. As I said with Fear of the Dark, we got three games out of each line, not one. If Daniel wants to make his own Super Dog game I give him my blessing but I’m taking some of his 2 ideas and going back to my one. And likewise I’m taking some of Vincent’s stage 3 stuff on FotD and adding it to my own stage 2 game. 306 games is better than 102, after all.