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Author Topic: Epistolary  (Read 1761 times)
ThoughtCheck
Member

Posts: 7


« on: April 07, 2012, 04:25:09 PM »

Front page of the Whitechester Lantern, September the 21st, 1912.

TRAGEDY AT SEA!

Dateline: Inlet Beach --Beachgoers were shocked this morning as a Ruritanian merchant vessel, arriving seemingly out of nowhere on a calm, windless sea, abruptly ran aground, burying itself fifty feet ashore on a popular stretch of Inlet Beach at 7:13 this morning. Witnesses described the event as “shocking, unprecedented,” and claimed that “the d---ed  thing showed up out of nowhere.”

Officials reported to the scene within minutes. Police Constable Thomas Quincy had this to say: “It was pandemonium, pure pandemonium. People were running, screaming, the boat had caught fire where a lamp had hit the deck… the only thing what was calm was the water, which didn’t even have a wake behind it. Took us an hour to see that nobody was hurt, calm down the men and comfort the women, before we could even see to the vessel itself.”
No Whitechester residents were injured in the crash, though eight have been admitted to the hospoital, citing “shock” and “distress.”

The ship, the Var Brasto, had been reported missing after departing Kolayoh two months earlier, and had been assumed sunk or stolen. No crew or corpses were found aboard, and the log made no indication of what cause the crew to abandon, bar a cryptic final entry: “September 2: IT LOOKS LIKE A MAN, BUT IT’S A BEAST. MY THOUGHTS FOREVER WITH YOU, KATRINA.”

Officials have declined to comment on the potential causes of this incident.

-----

The name: Epistolary

The story: You are members of a small town which is being hunted by a monster which can take the form of a human.

The conceit: The story is told in an epistolary format, as journal entries or letters written between the PCs and as newspaper reports handed down from the GM. You needn’t actually WRITE letters, but you will narrate in monologues that begin “Dear Whomever.”

The twist: Is one of you actually the monster? (Hint: yeah, probably.)

The inspiration: Dracula, arguably the finest horror novel of all time.

The ingredients: Lantern (informing both the newspaper’s central role and the time period) and Mimic (the monster). Additionally, a focus on investigation, culled from the random thread: http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=18687.0. The last ingredient isn't quite gelled yet, though of my other random threads, one (http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=20387.0) has some ideas abut chargen I might work with, specifically with regards to the importance of backstory.

(Of my other threads, one I found unhelpful (http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=9213.0), and the other (http://indie-rpgs.com/archive/index.php?topic=12079.0) features both time limits and giving up, and thus can be folded in if necessary.)

The theme: Three-part: first, it’s meant to be a coherent one-session narrative. Secondly, Whitechester is the last chance for the PCs to stop the monster before it is loosed upon the world. Finally, the nature of the monster and its abilities is a secret, only to be revealed when the game has progressed… though I may elect to have  a handful of different monsters to allow for SOME replayability.

The mechanics: Hahahaha I have no idea. Some sort of secret bidding… perhaps something inspired by the Battlestar Galactica game or another “one of you is secretly evil” game… perhaps something as simple as a note passed to the GM to inform him of whether your ‘letter’ is the truth or a lie, or perhaps a method of flagging questionable actions in another player’s narrative for later review. This… this I gotta think about.
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jackson_tegu
Member

Posts: 61

what a delight / the internet, tonight.


« Reply #1 on: April 07, 2012, 04:40:51 PM »

This looks rollicking so far, which is a cool tack for a "one of us is secretly evil" game. Usually they're so grim.
And by usually, i mean i only know a few.

I love your voice! Write the game that way and i'll be hella stoked. I mean, charmed in the utmost.
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sure of ourselves, aren't we?
mrteapot
Member

Posts: 40


« Reply #2 on: April 07, 2012, 06:13:01 PM »

"Doctor" fits very nicely into a Victorian narrative.  Doctor characters fit the genre and characters like Dr. Van Helsing could be really helpful during a horrific investigation sort of thing.
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ThoughtCheck
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #3 on: April 07, 2012, 08:43:55 PM »

This looks rollicking so far, which is a cool tack for a "one of us is secretly evil" game. Usually they're so grim.
And by usually, i mean i only know a few.

I love your voice! Write the game that way and i'll be hella stoked. I mean, charmed in the utmost.

Haha, thanks! I shall do my best to make sure you are hella stoked come the final product.

"Doctor" fits very nicely into a Victorian narrative.  Doctor characters fit the genre and characters like Dr. Van Helsing could be really helpful during a horrific investigation sort of thing.

Hmm... I am considering character archetypes, of which "Doctor" would most likely be one (along with "monster" of course) and what else? Aristocrat comes to mind, along with a Businessperson, a Captain, a Student, a Madman, a Servant... worthy options to consider.

I've been having a think about the mechanics in an epistolary format, and my casual plan is this: at any point during a player's narration, another player may hand a card to the GM. At this point, all other players, including the narrator, may hand the GM a card as well; each player has a hand that includes several cards which say either "success" or "failure," and a few which say something like "I arrive on the scene," or "a clue is discovered." In addition, the GM draws a card or two from her own deck, which has successes, failures, and perhaps a few surprising developments, just to keep everything a little in the dark as to who played what.

The GM counts the cards; if the failures outnumber the successes, the character fails. The GM tells the player the results, and if there are any other effects ("You failed at the task, but as you did, the Doctor arrived on the scene," or something like that). At this point, the narrating player resumes, factoring in the GM's edicts.

Each archetype may have specific, powerful cards to use... the Monster has cards that include "A beast attacks from the shadows," and the Student has "You realize where you've seen this before" or something of that nature. Each archetype has powers they can use as well, in given circumstances... the Servant can try any physical task twice, because he was raised to work hard, and the Aristocrat can try any social task twice, because he's got money out his ears, etc.

As for the nature of the cards, I suspect each player will have a small hand and deck to work with, so at any point they have limited options, but the cards the hand the GM come back to them to get shuffled back in to their deck, so they don't lose any particular powers.


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mcdaldno
Acts of Evil Playtesters
Member

Posts: 578

Joe Mcdaldno


« Reply #4 on: April 08, 2012, 11:26:40 AM »

ThoughtCheck,

The cards thing is really cool. As you started to describe it, I had in the back of my head a voice saying, "That wouldn't work, because how would the GM know who played that 'X arrives on the scene' card in the first place?" And then I kept reading, and realized you were thinking about having a specific deck for each character. And I thought, "But, then the assembly prep for this game would be so labour intensive, with 3-5 decks of cards to assemble!"

And then I finished reading and had an idea. Maybe each archetype starts with only a hand of 4-5 "special powers" cards (and no deck). So each player has a hand without any Successes/Failures in it, to begin with. There's a big Successes/Failures deck (maybe with a few generic "twists" cards in it, too!) in the center of the table, which everyone shares. This could even be a simple deck of playing cards, with black=success and red=failure and ace=twist.

Whenever a player plays a card, they replenish their hand by taking a new card from the top of the Successes/Failures deck. But if the card they played was one of their "special powers," they can instead choose to retrieve that card. So at the beginning, people can't really succeed or fail at tracking down the monster - they can only show up, demonstrate their role in the community, etc. Its only after they've begun to let go of their "But I'm just a helpless aristocrat" identity that they become capable of actually succeeding in stopping this monstrous creature.

Anyways, that's a thought. I originally was going to suggest it because it'd cut down on needing multiple decks, but in typing this out I started to think it had some cool thematic content. Use it or not, as you wish!
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I am a game chef.

Buried Without Ceremony
ThoughtCheck
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #5 on: April 08, 2012, 01:03:12 PM »

ThoughtCheck,

The cards thing is really cool. As you started to describe it, I had in the back of my head a voice saying, "That wouldn't work, because how would the GM know who played that 'X arrives on the scene' card in the first place?" And then I kept reading, and realized you were thinking about having a specific deck for each character. And I thought, "But, then the assembly prep for this game would be so labour intensive, with 3-5 decks of cards to assemble!"

And then I finished reading and had an idea. Maybe each archetype starts with only a hand of 4-5 "special powers" cards (and no deck). So each player has a hand without any Successes/Failures in it, to begin with. There's a big Successes/Failures deck (maybe with a few generic "twists" cards in it, too!) in the center of the table, which everyone shares. This could even be a simple deck of playing cards, with black=success and red=failure and ace=twist.

Whenever a player plays a card, they replenish their hand by taking a new card from the top of the Successes/Failures deck. But if the card they played was one of their "special powers," they can instead choose to retrieve that card. So at the beginning, people can't really succeed or fail at tracking down the monster - they can only show up, demonstrate their role in the community, etc. Its only after they've begun to let go of their "But I'm just a helpless aristocrat" identity that they become capable of actually succeeding in stopping this monstrous creature.

Anyways, that's a thought. I originally was going to suggest it because it'd cut down on needing multiple decks, but in typing this out I started to think it had some cool thematic content. Use it or not, as you wish!

Interesting, and I like the idea of the monster hunters trading in aspects of themselves in order to excel at hunting. Especially since the Monster player will also have secret cards of this sort, of which two are tied to its cover, and the remaining three are exceptionally useful but, of course, reveal it to be the monster.

And if I do go with playing cards, I might complicate the successes/failures a bit. Rather than a simple black/red, each suit could have a particular meaning... Spades are a feat of strength, Clubs are a show of agility, Hearts is a charismatic speech and diamonds a cunning deduction, or something along those lines, with success being defined as drawing a card that matches the action you're attempting and failure as drawing a card of a differing suit. Face cards might be neutral, or treated as "Another character arrives," and aces could well be twists or the appearance of clues. Hm.
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #6 on: April 09, 2012, 12:49:40 AM »

I am totally digging this game. The premise is fun, and the epistolary format is an interesting gimmick. The card mechanic is also great, I love the tradeoff of having to decide whether to influence the outcome or else use one of your special abilities.

Can the monster have cards that are special monster powers, but don't reveal its identity? I'd love to see the paranoia of having everyone trying to figure out who just did that big bad thing that happened.
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ThoughtCheck
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2012, 08:43:42 PM »

I am totally digging this game. The premise is fun, and the epistolary format is an interesting gimmick. The card mechanic is also great, I love the tradeoff of having to decide whether to influence the outcome or else use one of your special abilities.

Can the monster have cards that are special monster powers, but don't reveal its identity? I'd love to see the paranoia of having everyone trying to figure out who just did that big bad thing that happened.

Hey thanks! I think you're right, it would make more sense to give the monster some secret attacks, because paranoia is awesome. I also think that I should make a handful of different archetypes for the monster, with varying powers... something in a werewolf might be able to attack lone hunters, while a demonic monster can cause property to burst into flames or whatnot. Of course, on a gamechef deadline I'll probably just focus on one monster option.

I've been having a think about how I want the cards and narration to operate (which has been difficult, as the work week is here). I'm trying to settle some thoughts in my head, and figure, hey, here's as good a spot as any to post them.

So, the basic unit of narration is the Letter, which is a monologue that begins "Dear Whomever," and ends "Yrs Sincerely, Etc." or something like that. When you encounter another PC, then the two of you can have a conversation in the normal fashion (after all, folks in epistolary novels have a freakish capacity for recollecting dialogue). Otherwise, you are not supposed to speak to the other players. This is to keep things feeling like a collection of letters and articles to the greatest degree possible.

(Some conversation may be inevitable, for instance "Right, I'm going to share with the other hunters the contents of the Constable's letter," or other statements that make clear how information is flowing. I'm okay with that, as long as planning and acting is kept in letter format).

At the moment, I think there are three flavors of cards:
  • Archetype cards: These are the unique cards for each monster hunter and the monster; these mostly benefit yourself (or harm the monster hunters). These you can play at any time.
  • Skill cards: These are playing cards in a pile in the center of the table, and each suit relates to a different sort of skill, with face cards being considered neutral. When you attempt a difficult action, the GM draws some to determine if its successful, at which point other players may spend cards on the action as well, handing them to the GM in secret. One caveat: you can only use them on other players, and can never play them when you, yourself, are narrating.
  • Prop cards: These start out as blank index cards, and they are narrative currency. Important locations, items, and NPCs get written on these cards as they become important (or if you want them to become important). They're played in two ways: you can give another player one of your prop cards as a means of encouraging him or her to make that prop important (e.g.: you think a player should visit the hospital, you hand him the "HOSPITAL" card. If he accepts it, then his narration must take him to the hospital). Additionally, if you have a prop card relevant to a challenge (for instance, you face a difficult task at the hospital), you can discard it to add to your successes.

While you don't have a hand limit, you start with five Archetype cards, and you only draw when your hand is less than five at the end of a letter (yours or someone else's). When you draw, you may grab one of your discarded Archetypes back, get a random card from the Skill pile, or pick up any discarded prop card. Thus, it's a decision between how interested you are in self-preservation, teamwork, or narrative power.

I think, ideally, that the prop cards will help players feel invested in the story, even when they aren't involved at the moment, and of course they allow some measure of meta-game planning without breaking epistolary format, and they are further encouragements for teamwork.

Skill cards, meanwhile, are made to be spent. It's hard to effectively stockpile them, because you can't use them on yourself so it's not easy to plan for what suits will be useful. Earlier I suggested that face cards represent people, but I've changed my mind; if face cards are valueless, then they take up space in your hand, so you want to spend them whenever possible. Of course, if someone attempts an action, and you use the opportunity to hand the GM a useless card, and the action winds up failing, you look mighty suspicious. Ha hah, paranoia!

Archetype cards speak more or less for themselves... some are essentially skill cards that you can only play on yourself, others are more specifically useful (e.g.: the Constable has the card "Unerring shot: Whatever the Constable shoots at, he hits, regardless of failures drawn"). A player might have one or MAYBE two cards that help other players (the Doctor seems a likely candidate for something that lets another player draw a card, for instance), but on the whole, becoming a good teammate means sacrificing your own safety and success. That said, discarded cards don't stay gone... the Constable might lose his unerring shot early on, but when it comes time to hunt the monster for real, he would be wise to pick it up again.

Goodness, this turned into a rant. I'll start winding down... I had an idea about how to handle health (in brief, getting hurt or shocked will "lock" a card in front of you, out of your hand and unusable, with locked skill or prop cards counting against you in challenges. You can unlock a card to remove the penalty or regain the archetype power, but you only get, say, five unlocks, after which you are considered killed), but what I'm not sure about is how to handle the important question of "who gets to speak now?"

I mean, there's always the option of starting with the GM and moving clockwise, but I'd like something a bit more elegant than that, you know? I was considering a system of tokens and bidding and whatnot, but I don't know, I worry that I have enough going on here that adding something else would push me straight into convoluted.

Alright, looking over that, I'm pretty pleased with how it sounds. Thanks for letting me unload all that... tomorrow I'll spend some time seeing if it's at all workable.
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ThoughtCheck
Member

Posts: 7


« Reply #8 on: April 15, 2012, 08:08:32 PM »

If I've learned nothing else about myself, it's that I am a Wordy Fellow when I want to be. A hair over 3,000 words for the rules, and a hair under 3,000 for supplemental materials.

... yes, I'm counting that as eligible, as the supplemental materials is half optional fluff and tips, and half archetype cards that need not be read all the way through.

The rules proper: https://thoughtcheckgames.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/epistolaryplayerguide.pdf

The additional materials: https://thoughtcheckgames.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/epistolarygmguide.pdf

Alas, I was writing up to the wire due to life and stuff, so it's woefully undertested, but I think it did come out looking interesting, at least. Enjoy!
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