Baxil's Game Thread

Started by Baxil, September 11, 2010, 04:15:28 PM

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Hi, everyone!  Another newbie to The Forge ... I'm a gamer and writer (aren't we all?), maintaining a shared urban-fantasy setting for myself and other authors.  Long story short, there's been interest among my friends for a Tomorrowlands Universe RPG for years; I've been slowly coming around to the conclusion that none of the systems I've read would meet the needs of a TTU RPG; and over the past year have been making slow progress on rolling my own (primarily tackling the issue of full-featured magic and, thus, deliberate player imbalance).  It's been an eye-opening experience reading through indie games (including many by Forgers) and seeing the many ways game mechanics can shape the story you tell.  So thank you all for that.  :)

Anyway!  Game Chef seems to have hit some sort of cosmic resonance point for me this year, since the journey/desert/city theme is RIGHT the heck in the sweet spot of The Shadowlands - the unspace surrounding TTU, where people go who are yanked out from the grid of reality.  See, see also.

So I think it's time to throw my hand in and make a Shadowlands RPG.  Your character is an exile -- detached from the Earth they knew into a hell of their own making, surrounded by endless desert.  In order to survive as the facade of the world around them cracks, they must come to terms with the transgression that detached them from the world, leave it behind, and walk into the wastelands.

As far as I can tell, it's okay to do this for Game Chef, right?  Come up with an adaptation of an existing setting, as long as everything that I submit to Game Chef for Shadowlands RPG is typed by me between now and 9/19?  (Note: I don't plan to use any of the mechanics I've already developed for TTU RPG; this calls for a much more narrative style than the simulationist system I've got going there.)

It'll be a good exercise either way.  :)


Yes, but you're suppose to include all of three of the four ingredients in meaningful ways... is that something that will be doable with your design goals, or is the TTU RPG a project better left for later? Maybe you could use Game Chef as an opportunity to create a game that could later be the basis for an RPG more focused on your setting, or maybe you could use Game Chef just to get some design experience.

Jonathan Walton


@masqueradeball: I think I out-digressioned myself.  The "TTURPG" I mentioned in the first paragraph is something I've been working on and will continue to do independently of Game Chef.  The attraction of Game Chef this year is that there's a whole flip side to the universe that works under different rules, and that flip side - The Shadowlands - dovetails very nicely with the competition.

The Shadowlands is an endless desert-like wasteland, and as a bit of reflexive self-protection your brain drops you down into that desert amid a tiny chunk of the world you came there from (the "city").  Edge is easy enough to work in as a mechanic; probably as the difficulty of escape (which you have to work to drop as your adversaries tear down your city/sanity).  That's three.

As for the big structure (journey), the goal is for everyone's character to confront themselves so they can escape their own city; get to the crumbling city of one pre-chosen member (the "innocent"); and save the innocent from themselves by building the city back up into stability.  Eliminated players take the role of adversaries in that final round, with the innocent also playing his own adversary (his only defense is the other players coming to his rescue).

Jason Pitre

Glad that this worked out well for you in terms of design.   In order to face those past transgressions, would they come from the desert or must the character journey out into the desert to discover them? 
Genesis of Legend Publishing
Telling New Stories around the Digital Fire

Darla Shockley

Why is the game fun for the innocent player?  Is this a sort of GM role (shared with the eliminated players), or something else?  He doesn't really sound like a protagonist.


Quote from: Jason Pitre on September 12, 2010, 12:41:48 AM
Glad that this worked out well for you in terms of design.   In order to face those past transgressions, would they come from the desert or must the character journey out into the desert to discover them? 

The city surrounding each character is a creation of their own mind.  The difficulty of leaving it is that you can't escape your own mind.  So it's outward journey as metaphor for the inner journey; the transgressions manifest in the city itself, growing more real as your character's sanity slips.

Quote from: Darla Shockley on September 12, 2010, 02:20:11 AM
Why is the game fun for the innocent player?  Is this a sort of GM role (shared with the eliminated players), or something else?  He doesn't really sound like a protagonist.

Pretty much.  The Innocent's player's job is inverted: they roleplay their own adversary, trying to convinvce themselves that their punishment is deserved.


And I've actually got a pretty good framework for the game already.  With one major problem.  The game that fell out of my head onto the page is a strategy game with some roleplaying elements (gameplay is sort of a Liar's Dice/Puerto Rico amalgam - declaring and/or secretly choosing actions in a turn-based sequence, and rolling dice to resolve some challenges, with roleplaying breaking ties). 

I playtested it last night with some friends and it's a fun system, but it isn't a roleplaying game, and I don't think it's competition-legal.  :(  So I'm going to set my work aside and start from scratch on the same theme, tackling it from the narrative core and moving from there to the mechanics, instead of the other way around.


Having scrapped my original mechanics and rebuilt the system from the core concepts, I'm a lot happier with the result so far.  It has turned out to be a "journey" more in the sense of the slide toward a final destination ... but it's definitely about characters going somewhere. Still nailing down the conflict resolution (it'll be pretty simple stuff - d20 to roll under your skill, with extra complications if you roll over your relevant Edge).

In terms of the themes it explores, this seems closest to Sorceror (i.e. a tragic story about mages and sin) - although this seems like it would play out differently enough to be interesting.  And characters' power is all their own ... which in a way is an even worse adversary to face.

Any thoughts?


EXILE (draft; working title)


   A typical roleplaying game is about growing into heroism: taking a character of little capability and discovering how they adapt to power.  EXILE upends that trope and shakes the box. 
   Your characters start out as powerful heroes - mages who have pushed the rules a little too far, and find themselves exiled into an urban hell of their own design surrounded by featureless wasteland.  They must adapt to their decreasing control as the self-created world around them eats away at their health, confidence and sanity.
   Will they be able to come to terms with their own transgressions in time to find a happy ending?  They can't escape - so they'd better darn well try.


Gather 3-7 players (it probably works best with a standard roleplaying group of size 4-6).  Choose one player to be the "Innocent".  This is a role similar to that of the GM in a normal game; the Innocent adjucates rules, describes settings, and by default will play the roles of all characters except for the Mages (PCs).

You will need one character sheet for each Mage; a bunch of d20s; and blank paper (preferably index cards) for the NPCs you encounter.  It can also help to have at least one person taking notes on important plot points as they develop.

Note that EXILE, by design, does feature some troupe-style play - each of the players has the opportunity to influence and describe events in a GM-like fashion, and can volunteer to roleplay specific NPCs.

Depending on the roleplaying experience (and comfort zone) of the players, this can range anywhere on the spectrum from traditional gaming (high GM control; players restricted to PCs) to round-table gaming (no GM whatsoever; fully democratic NPC control).  It's also possible (with some modification) to play without a designated Innocent, and have every character run a Mage, but we don't recommend it unless your group has prior experience with both these rules and a GM-less setup.




   The basic dilemma of EXILE is that anything is possible - except escape. The characters are creating the world around them; they are, in some literal sense, walking gods.  Balanced against this, though, is the Sin that got them banished to the Shadowlands - and the unresolved guilt/resentment that relentlessly wears them down by externally manifesting their inner struggle.
   Another of the characters' struggles is to figure out the line between reality and illusion.  In a world where they appear to be both creating and animating everything that occurs around them, to what extent should they treat their surroundings as real? 
   And what the game ultimately boils down to is purpose.  Faced with no apparent future beyond a slow degeneration into insanity, how will your characters make those last moments count?
   It's important to note that EXILE does NOT have to be played as an experiment in relentless futility - and in fact will be a lot more fun if you don't.  Yes, the game's guaranteed to end in character death, but simply by existing and chasing their goals, characters are affirming the value of life.  And in the defiant actions of a person facing their doom, you might find some meaning yourself.


EXILE characters are created from three major building blocks.

Whether Mages or supporting cast, the foundation of any character is their Drives.  EXILE is fundamentally a narrative game.  Every role - even the simplest, throwaway NPC - is defined in terms of the drives that guide the interaction between characters.

PCs and major NPCs will also possess Traits - numeric ratings of the skills and abilities that let them affect the world.  These are the statistics that influence success during dice rolls.  The catch is: Every time you use a Trait successfully, the world around you adapts a little more to your expertise, making failure more likely.

Player characters - and only PCs, since everyone else is a manifestation that their minds create - also have four statistics called Edges.  These statistics measure how "close to the edge" a PC is: when any of them reaches 0, that character has fallen too far out of mental balance to effectively influence the Shadowlands any more.  They can be thought of roughly like hit points - though as your character accumulates damage, the chance of unintended effects on the game world rises sharply.  Every time a Trait roll fails, one of your Edges degenerates.


This is gonna be down to the wire for me ...

I've got Codename: Exile, now named-for-reals Egregore, almost all done.  I need to run over to join my gaming group for some last-minute feedback, and playtesting for the Scene rules.

Link to the almost-complete version, complete with flavor stories and full setting details:


... And, fighting both the deadline and the sunrise, here's the final GC2010 version, in all its completified glory.

Egregore is a game about mages exiled from reality into a world of their own making, trying to discover the secrets of a deserted city before their own phantoms and emotions drive them over the edge.

Any further edits will be posted under a different URL; this one is my official entry, not modified after the competition dates.  (Modulo that whole "when does the 19th end" thing.  If this is a foul, I'll accept my disqualification with good graces.  It's my first GC competition, so I'm still figuring out the ropes as I go.)


Just a note to add that I've spent some time cleaning up Egregore post-submission - fixing some glaring errors (like how many Willpower you start with), elucidating a few unclear rules, reworking the index, and subtly improving the formatting.  (I kept it mechanically identical to the original, but I'm still glad that post-judging editing was sanctioned by the head chef; the changes really help.)

I've got a better game summary now, too!

With your magic, you committed an act for which you were exiled - not just from your home, but from reality itself. Now, in this cursed world of your own making, you have found companions, and a deserted city. You all must discover the city's secrets, and decide its fate, before your subconscious manifestations drive you over the edge.

Egregore is about characters' journey toward redemption, and plays like the bastard child of Sorceror, Universalis, and Wraith: The Oblivion. Its setting is drawn from the underside of The Tomorrowlands Universe, but the game is trivially adaptable to any setting with active magic.

The new version is at (the actual Game Chef submission remains at its original URL).

I also plan to continue posting extra Egregore resources at - I reckon it would help the game to post some pre-made Manifestations, sample gameplay, or expanded discussion of Epiphanies.  Let me know if there's anything you'd like to see!


Quote from: baxil on September 28, 2010, 07:59:37 PM
(I kept it mechanically identical to the original, but I'm still glad that post-judging editing was sanctioned by the head chef; the changes really help.)
Wow, I had no idea we could do that. I'm going to give Jonathan a heads up and upload my current version, then.
--Mike Olson


Quote from: devlin1 on September 28, 2010, 10:24:33 PM
Wow, I had no idea we could do that. I'm going to give Jonathan a heads up and upload my current version, then.

What he said was "once I've reviewed your game, it seems like you should be able to update it ... people may want to keep working on their games and it seems silly to make people play less good versions just to make the contest more 'fair' or whatever."

So I don't expect him to judge my game based on my revisions, but I do hope it improves the experience of my players!


Yeah, same here. My submitted draft has some inconsistencies and doesn't always exactly meet the reader halfway, but the continued work I did on it really made it more complete. I suppose it won't make a difference if it isn't a finalist, but... whatever.
--Mike Olson

Jason Pitre

Review of Egregore

I am in the process of reading through the pdf as I write, so I am providing my comments in a stream-of-consciousness fashion.  I hope these comments are helpful in the revision process.

Comment 1:  The inclusion of "Skin" and "Edges" doesn't quite feel in line with the rest of the proper nouns used in the game and thus it stands out somewhat.  It is implemented well, but it doesn't quite feel natural to me.     

Comment 2: The organization of the "Self" and "Drives" elements seem somewhat arbitrary, in that I don't really sense the underlying structure between what is part of the Self and what is a Drive.    If I was producing the same game myself, I would either bring them together in the same category or divide them differently.    Damnation, Sin and Guilt, all being related to the initial act which led to the exile, seem to be ideal to be grouped together.  The other elements of Skin, Attachment, Need and Fear are more personal elements of the character's underlying self which seem closer together.  If the character had not earned their exile, they would only have the later category. 

Comment 3:   When a character is banished to a mental landscape where will controls all, why does physical competency matter?  It seems that in the City, a character's physical athletics and physical combat capabilities would be unnecessary.  Personally I believe that limiting traits to the strictly mental or social could work out.   I would tend to smooth away the details, assume that the flavour of any action might be "with magic" and have more broad categories such as "Building", "Changing", "Destroying", "Conflict".  Then again, this is just my tendency for abstraction speaking at this point.

Comment 4: There seems to be a bit too much mechanical complexity, somewhat detracting from the appreciation of the heavy narrative elements of the game.  I am a systems junkie so I understand the appeal of using some of those elements, but I think a more... economical use of mechanical crunch would be ideal. 

Comment 5: In contrast with comment 4 above, I am a big fan of your explanations of "What to do when you own a scene".  I think it might be worthwhile elaborating on this content and expanding it at the expense of some of the other mechanics.  Explanations of scene framing and the need for conflict is particularly handy.

Comment 6: The GM content is good as well, generally useful content which I think could encourage good gameplay.  You may wish to elaborate exactly how  "It is possible for experienced roleplayers to distribute the City role between themselves, so that every
participant has a Mage,".   Some guidelines on that shared GM role could be useful in the GM section. 

Overall:  A very strong thematic and conceptual design, but one which requires a very specific audience to appreciate it.  This is _far_ from a light beer and pretzels game and it can be hard to organize a game of that seriousness.  There are some strong threads within the game, but I don't think that it's current iteration is quite for me at the moment.   

Cheers, I hope this is helpful in some way.   

Genesis of Legend Publishing
Telling New Stories around the Digital Fire