02 June 2009

Game

It's been a long time since I've held polyhedra dice in my hand. I'm feeling the call of the geeky habits of my wasted youth.

A friend has talked me into volunteering to GM a monthly game of dice ’n’ bad acting to be held in the East Bay; I'm thinking first Sunday of every month, or something like that. We'd like to have about half a dozen players to make it work, so I'm recruiting.

Don't live in the Bay Area? Don't know what I'm talking about? Then never mind.

On the other hand, are you a Bay Areän geeky enough to hear the siren song of adventure when I say “Swords! Steam! Zepplins!” then I say read on, McDuff ...

My first thought had been to scratch my longstanding itch to play Delta Green, which is sort of a mix of X-Files and Lovecraft. But that seems like enough of a downer that it would be hard to get a group together. So it's steampunk to the rescue. Is there nothing that can't be solved through proper application of top hats and brass?

Here's what I'm thinking, though of course I write all of this to spark prospective players' input:

Style

I'd like the game to be swashbuckling, escapist fun: lots of hammy roleplaying, with a liberal splash of intrigue and adventurous derring-do. That should include a little combat — if you don't get to wave a sword around at least little bit, then you're missing a good opportunity for fun — but it shouldn't be the central focus of the game. (If you're hip to GNS theory: primarily narrativist, with a secondary gamist strain.)

In terms of rules system, that means I want something on the rules-light side. Not going all the way to diceless, but die-rolling should punctuate the game, rather than be the game.

Without getting too serious, I'd like a bit of moral sophistication in the game. Our heroes shouldn't just be out killing bad guys lightly and thinking it's okay because their foes are “evil.” That just creeps me right out. Fighting will be sometimes necessary, but NPCs shouldn't be getting killed right and left. And while I love a good dastardly villain as much as the next guy, even bad guys need to have reasonable motivations, rather than being simply evil.

I'd also like to make game sessions mostly free-standing adventures, threading in a little Joss Whedonish meta-plotting to loosely pull the campaign together. That goes with a premise that also admits occasional character absences so that if players miss a session, as they inevitably will, it doesn't disrupt the fabric of the game.

Premise

Our heroes are the crew of a privateer Zeppelin in service of the England in the steampunk 1890s. Their adventures include stuff like smuggling secret MacGuffins, spying on European rivals, rescuing kidnapped royals, archeology, and stuff like that. They have allegiance to the Queen but are not subject to the close direction of ordinary naval vessels; in a world that has telegraphy but neither wireless nor telephony, our heroes necessarily have a great deal of autonomy.

The aristocracy of Europe is constantly a-buzz with rivalries that threaten a war which England would prefer to avoid. Mad inventors like Nemo and Robur crop up as sinister threats. The European powers don't have colonies in this world, they have complex and delicate trade relationships with mysterious far-flung foreign nations like the Middle Kingdom, Wakanda, and the Lone Star Republic to supply a dynamic economy with precious materials like copper, cavorite, and red coal.

The skies are alive with great Zepplins and fleet, willowy ornithopters. The French are rumoured to have duplicated at least some of Nemo's submarine technology. Russia is criss-crossed by great triple-decker leviathan trains. Every shopkeeper keeps a Babbage calculator by the register, and the Mechanical Turk has defeated the greatest chessmasters of Europe.

System

Lacking a game system that I'm entirely happy with for this purpose — GURPS is too complex, Falkenstein too bizarre, and I don't know d20 well enough — I'm thinking I want to take the plunge and finally roll my own. Or sort of: I've been working on how to get the style I want from Fudge, a flexible system of simple mechanics. I have some ideas for cool swordplay rules ...

Interested?

Drop me a line and we'll confer. Since I'm still thinking through what kind of game I want to do, so if you have another idea, offer it up.

8 comments:

misuba said...

"I'd like the game to be swashbuckling, escapist fun: lots of hammy roleplaying, with a liberal splash of intrigue and adventurous derring-do. That should include a little combat — if you don't get to wave a sword around at least little bit, then you're missing a good opportunity for fun — but it shouldn't be the central focus of the game. (If you're hip to GNS theory: primarily narrativist, with a secondary gamist strain.)"Since we're friends I hope it will not annoy you too much if I put on the pedant glasses for a sec and intone "I do not think that word means what you think it means." Narrativist play means play in which the thematic content of the game - actually "premise" from Lajos Egri's The Art of Dramatic Writing but you've already used the word "premise" here - can be questioned by players' actions in the game. The rest of this post kind of communicates that you're fine with that, but the quoted 'graph is of the kind that leads to people being convinced that the GNS stuff all means something it wasn't intended to, and then they come on forums and argue and then I start bleeding from the eyes.

Anyway. But your game sounds fun! I'm interested to hear how your Fudge experiments go.

Jonathan Korman said...

Dr Misuba, you are of course correct in every respect. Yes, I was abusing the term “Narrativist” more than a bit. Yes, I'm envisioning a game not nearly so purely Narrativist in permitting all players to reshape the premise as, say, Universalis permits. And yes, I do nonetheless prefer to have all players participating in premise-building.

d a r k c h i l d e said...

oh, oh, oh...please say you will be costuming and taking many, many photos... I'd love to see.

Kate said...

Please see me email......

Mom

Kate said...

Good man!

Shataina said...

So envious! Would love to play.

Question: Have you read "Seventh Sea"? If not, I think you should. The world could easily be adjusted for your setting, and I think the system does a lot of what you're looking for.

Shataina said...

The old version, by the way! Not the d20 version. The old version isn't incredibly easy to find, but is so so worth it. Published by AEG. You might be able to get PDFs on DriveThruRPG if you can't find the physical books.

Jonathan Korman said...

I was tempted to pick up Seventh Sea to study the design, but realized I wasn't going to actually play so I refrained. Now I'm sorry.