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Author Topic: [ATTIKA] A Principia Hack  (Read 955 times)
Scott Oden
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Posts: 6


« on: July 06, 2011, 10:25:38 AM »

(Originally posted at Story Games)

After reading Tony Dowler's PRINCIPIA, I've thought of creating a hack called ATTIKA, centered around ancient Athenian politics. Spanning the Classical Age (508-322 BC), the game would be a close historical simulation of life and death in the Athenian social and political arena. Players would create a citizen of Athens, a member of a circle of friends of the same age group who would aid one another in their triumphs and their tragedies -- or perhaps grow resentful and seek to do political harm to their one-time friends. War, commerce, politics, back-stabbing, prosecution, ostracism, exile, redemption . . . it would cover the spectrum of ancient Athenian aristocratic life. Would you risk exile to avenge yourself against an enemy? Would you seek wealth and court disfavor by dealing with foreign powers? Would you go to war against the Thebans, the Aegintans, the fearsome Spartans? Would you attend the great religious festivals and broker for power in the shadows, or expound your convictions from the couches of the wealthy at exclusive symposia?

Currently, the game idea presupposes two things: 1) that the characters are all male, and 2) that the characters are all sons of citizens in good standing with the Athenian polis. This seems narrow when judged by the standards of the hobby, where ancient gender bias is often overlooked, but if ATTIKA seeks to recreate accurate history then it must also recreate all its warts and flaws. But, there were some quite influential women in the Classical Age, such as Pericles' mistress, Aspasia. How might a game of political dealings take advantage of women's roles, when women were forbidden from taking part in the process (and, indeed, most were forbidden from leaving the house without a male family member as escort)?

And what should come first? Should a game like this launch directly into character creation, or should it begin with an overview of the city and the times? Is there a way to combine the two by weaving the history in with the mechanics? I love the system used in PRINCIPIA, but I'd also add a way to determine a character's name, father's name, deme and tribe. What gifts might the gods have graced characters with? A silver-tongue, a sculptor's eye, a lion's courage? And, how will these gifts be used? How can delivering a rousing speech before the Assembly or staging Aeschylus' new drama for the City Dionysia become an exciting facet of the game?

Would IAWA-style oracles be a good way to set the scene for players who may not have a deep grounding in ancient history? Or the scene-setting tables from FIASCO? Or is there another way to impart very location-specific information to players so they might help bring the scenes alive?

After some thought:

The more I read over the PRINCIPIA rules, the more I believe using it for ATTIKA is less a matter of "hacking" and more a matter of "re-skinning": change the setting, replace Resolve with Arete, and write a new set of Positions. The mechanics evoke the period of Classical Athens as wonderfully as they evoke alt-Florence.

Some Positions I've come up with so far are these:

The Actor
The Artist
The Eupatrid (ancient Aristocracy)
The Landowner
The Merchant (covers all sorts of tradesmen, factory owners, etc)
The Olympian
The Orator
The Philosopher (the sciences were also grouped under philosophy)
The Poet
The Seer

I plan to add a "track" to the character sheet that charts public opinion (probably something like -3/-2/-1/0/+1/+2/+3). Called Philotimia when it's positive and Atimia when it's negative, it's voted to a player by other players or the GM, in response to good/bad roleplaying, in-character deeds, acting contrary to one's position, etc.; it can be used during Controversy as advantages or disadvantages.

Another mechanic I've given some thought to is something that mimics Greek reliance on omens and oracles: a roll performed at the beginning of each game session that checks if the character is operating under divine favor or disfavor for that session, along with guidelines for expiating any disfavor in-game as part of the narration. I worry, though, that too many additional dice or penalties might upset the game's balance.
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John Michael Crovis
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« Reply #1 on: July 11, 2011, 04:01:46 PM »

It seems like an interesting premise, but I'd really would need more material before I commented... Sounds very strong on the role-playing aspect, but without seeing more, I can't say how it would work out mechanically. Could you provide more details?
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Scott Oden
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #2 on: July 12, 2011, 05:39:18 AM »

Hi John.  Thanks for the comment.

Mechanically, the game is identical to Tony Dowler's Principia (located here: http://planet-thirteen.com/Principia.aspx.  It's a Fudge/TSOY hybrid set in an alternate-history version of Renaissance Florence.  ATTIKA strips out the alternate history aspects and ports it to ancient Athens.  I'm backing off the all-male citizen-character angle and plan to include options for playing freed slaves, women, and metics (resident foreigners like Aristotle).  Hopefully, this will encourage players to explore the "small stories" of history: family dynamics, social injustices, and the like.

Coming from a traditional background, it's been a challenge for me to work with an idea wherein violence is not the default answer to character dilemmas.

The setting has been difficult, specifically how to relate the basic info that would give each player, regardless of their interest in ancient Athens, equal footing.  And how to make the concept of daily life interesting as a game has also been vexing.  I'm considering a series of tables for the latter -- sort of Fiasco meets En Garde!.  For the former, I've found a slim book from 1914 (solidly in the public domain) that presents a very engaging look at life in Athens; I've thought of using it as the backbone of the "world" section of the rules: maybe using excerpts and pull-quotes in the rules then including the book in total as an appendix for further reading.  Or merge the rules with the book via sidebars and all.  Still unsure, and I'd appreciate any opinion on the matter!
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Scott Oden
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #3 on: July 14, 2011, 07:53:07 PM »

It's still extremely rough, but this is what I have in mind: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B0vtjR2fba5qNWY5YmVmYjktNjUzNy00ODlkLWFmYTQtNjU5NjY2ZTQyOGU3&hl=en_US.  The core of the game would be William Stearns Davis' (as co-author) public domain A Day in Old Athens (published 1914 originally); the rules would be in the sidebars, with possibly timeline info or a flip-a-page-at-random Situation generator (kind of like IaWA oracles) in the headers -- or both if I can figure out a way to do it without it looking cluttered (because it's already looking a little busy, and I've not even considered illustrations yet).
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Ron Edwards
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« Reply #4 on: July 19, 2011, 06:59:35 AM »

Hi Scott,

I want to encourage you in this, especially because I'm impressed and intrigued by the depth of your inspiration. I've never read A Day in Old Athens but I think now I will.

What sort of personal agendas and conflicts of interests do you have in mind for play? Without having read the book yet, and running off my own knowledge of the time, I find myself thinking about philosophical debate, political debate, and elections, perhaps even as a way of illuminating (celebrating, critiquing, parodying) those things as we see them today.

Best, Ron
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Scott Oden
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #5 on: July 19, 2011, 08:51:22 AM »

Hi Ron,

Thanks for the encouragement, and I do hope you enjoy A Day in Old Athens.  I consider myself fairly well-read on matters of ancient Greek history, but the way William Stearns Davis brought the city crackling to life was an eye-opener for me.  Coupled with Mary Renault for inspiration (especially The Praise Singer or The Mask of Apollo), it makes for a powerful look into the heart of ancient Athens.

That's my primary design parameter, as well: bring a Mary Renault novel to life; allow players to take part in symposia where great philosophical questions are answered, where character-assassination is high art (and comes with very real social ramifications), and where bloody rivalries can be formed from a misspoken word to a young lover.  Let them orate and try to sway public opinion in the law courts or in the Agora, to save themselves or their friends from ostracism or worse.  They can take part in the great festivals and contests, such as the spectacle of the Olympics or the Greater Dionysia, where characters might be sponsors, actors, or athletes, and where more secretive deeds can be done by night, such as bribery or blackmail (or even worse).  Resident foreigners and women take their parts in all this, too.

But more than witnessing history, I need to make sure there are enough active hooks to hang some interesting plots on.  Maybe a friend of the PCs is in trouble and needs their help -- hints of murder, threats of being sold into slavery, etc.  Maybe one of the PCs is entrusted with an embassy to a foreign city and his friends come along to see to their own interests.  Maybe one PC gets saddled with an expensive task, such as sponsoring a tragedy in the Dionysia, and the other PCs band together to share the Glory or the ruin (and hopefully take down a few rivals along the way).  And maybe even some "smaller" stories (smaller in scope but not importance) dealing with love, fidelity, and the like.  Davis' text has quite a few hooks embedded in it, and the great historians, poets and tragedians (and even the comic authors) can supply many, many more.

I'm keeping character creation very simple -- as per Principia.  Player chooses gender and position (citizen, metic, wife/widow, or hetairai), choose three advantages that inform the character's role or skill-set and three conditions they play off of (with corresponding twists and fallouts), write down two facts and three drives, choose a name and off they go.  Players need to describe how such a diverse group interacts: perhaps one player is a citizen, another is his wife, sister or hetairai, a third plays a friend from a foreign city . . . that sort of thing.  And coming from a staunch traditionalist play-group, this sometimes seems very odd to me ;)

Thanks, again, Ron!
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Scott Oden
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #6 on: July 22, 2011, 06:50:53 PM »

I've created a rough draft of the character creation section of ATTIKA on Google Docs, if anyone would care to take a look.  It still needs some work, and the setting info is not included, but the basics are there.  At this stage, a good ancient Greek encyclopedia would be a good idea . . .

Here's the link: https://docs.google.com/viewer?a=v&pid=explorer&chrome=true&srcid=0B0vtjR2fba5qNzZlZDQyYzUtZGJjNS00YmUxLWFlZWYtZjY0NmVjYzU5ZTA4&hl=en_US .  Any feedback, comments, or whatnot would be greatly appreciated!

Thanks in advance!
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Scott Oden
Member

Posts: 6


« Reply #7 on: September 18, 2011, 06:02:49 AM »

Hi all,

Giving this a bit of a bump in hopes someone will try out the character creation portion and post their results and their opinion.  I'm going to try and have this ready for its publication to coincide with the release of a novel I'm writing (due out in 2013) with similar subject matter -- part of the novel is set in Athens after 480 BC.  It might be an interesting exercise to see how the publication of one impacts the other and vice versa.

Thanks!

Scott
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