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Author Topic: The Coyotes of Chicago  (Read 1620 times)
PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« on: April 08, 2012, 10:50:55 PM »

So I think I have a pretty good framework for a game, but I need help with making it actually work. A brief introduction, since I haven't written the first section yet:

First off, did you all know that coyotes are amazingly awesome? I definitely did not know this before I started researching them. Not only did they somehow vastly expand their range over the past several centuries, they can even very successfully live in major cities. They switched from diurnal to nocturnal, just to avoid humans better. There are an estimated two thousand coyotes in the Chicagoland area. This is important to know, to understand my game. :P

The general idea is to model the "very competent action hero gets pulled into a conspiracy that is way bigger than she thought" style of fiction. Nothing like "failure" will happen here. The protagonist will succeed, but she'll be screwed anyway because things are way worse than she expected. No "you punch the guy, but he doesn't go down." Instead: "You flatten the guy with a perfect roundhouse kick. He's out cold. A second later his eyes open, showing pure white. He says, 'Good to finally meet you, Mrs. Stokes.'"

It'll be purposely ambiguous whether we're talking about government conspiracy, magical conspiracy, alien conspiracy, or whatever else. Determining what's actually going on should be part of the fun.

One player will play the protagonist, who is a coyote researcher in Chicago who starts noticing weird things and is pulled into investigating the conspiracy. Everyone else will play aspects of the conspiracy, discovering what is actually going on through the interactions of their individual roles. (The structure is pretty clearly cribbed from Dirty Secrets, with some differences.)

Here's what I have so far:

Quote
Playing Alex:

One of you will play Dr. Alex Stokes, a recently minted Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology and massive badass, who is working as a research assistant for Dr. Stanley Gehrt, the world's leading expert on urban coyotes.

Fleshing out Alex's personality and history is the first thing you will do as a group. If you already know who is playing Alex, go ahead and let that player take the lead here. If you don't know yet, just go with whatever sounds cool to people, and then decide after.

Most of your choices are just to give you a starting place, and don't have any mechanical effect. Just go with whatever seems cool, and gives you an interesting character to play. Remember that you will be investigating some creepy weirdness, so making Alex curious or brave or reckless or oblivious or something is probably a good idea.

You will make one mechanically important choice: Alex's talents. Choose one major talent and two minor ones. These are the areas in which Alex particularly excels. These can be pretty broad. “Martial arts”, “Public Speaking”, and “Parkour” are all perfectly good talents. Think a bit about how you might use these talents when investigating creepy weirdness. If one doesn't give you any inspiration, change it!

Creating Alex's character is important, because it's your first chance as a group to decide what sort of game you're playing. If Alex was raised by a secret society and has powerful fire magicks, that will lead to a very different game than one where Alex went to prep school and is especially good at data collection. I suggest aiming for something like Indiana Jones. You wouldn't quite call him “realistic”, but at least he doesn't break the laws of physics. But feel free to play with it, just so long as everyone is on board.

~~~

Gender:

Background:


Personality:


Major Talent:

Minor Talents:

~~~

Before you go on, make sure that you know who is playing Alex. If that's you, your job is to show how awesome Alex is, to react to all the weirdness the other players will be throwing at you, and to try to figure out what the heck is going on. Don't worry about doing the sensible thing. You're in a thriller movie, and you're a badass! (Even if you're a prep-school, data-collecting badass, you're still a badass.)

(Note: I'll use female pronouns to talk about Alex through the rest of the text, but of course you can pick whatever gender you want for your Alex.)

Playing the Mystery:

The rest of you, you get to be the weird, creepy world that Alex has to deal with. Each of you should take one of the mystery sheets for your special rules. Don't show anyone else your page, and don't tell them what's on it, either.

Most of the time, you can just say what you think should happen next. Your mystery sheet will tell you some things to say, and you can make up the rest. Give Alex plenty of things to react to, starting out small but getting really hard-core weird by the end. If someone else says something that inspires you, run with it! Don't feel restricted to the stuff on the sheet, say whatever you think is cool. You should always have a working theory about what is really going on, and don't be stingy about dropping clues or taking things in interesting directions. But you also have to be flexible, because at least the details your theory will probably turn out to be wrong. That's half the fun!

Of course, just because you have a lot of power in this game doesn't mean you get to be a jerk. If the other people playing the mystery don't like what you have to say, be willing to change it. The game only works if everyone is working together. Of course, don't be a jerk about that, either. Your first instinct should be to figure out how you can make whatever was narrated work. Only ask them to change it if it really ruins your enjoyment of the fiction.

All this lovey-dovey stuff goes out the window, however, when we're talking about the poor schmuck playing Alex. When it comes to her, your job is to make the world surprise her, scare her, frustrate her, and creep her out. Don't worry about making things easy on her. Alex is a badass, remember? She can take it.

To facilitate Alex's badassery, there's a special rule:

When you want to narrate something that screws with Alex or her plans, then you have to spend some of your mystery dice and roll them.

Alex is going to survive, and continue to be a problem for you. But the dice will let you make her life very complicated in the mean time.

[Insert tables and whatever for dice mechanic.]

A few words about the mystery sheets. Your sheet will have the following elements:

A motif. This is an image or idea that you should try to incorporate whenever possible. Be creative, and let yourself be drawn in whatever direction you find inspiring. Your motif will (and should!) change and expand over the course of the game. This is awesome, let it happen. And of course, you don't have to restrict yourself to your motif. Say whatever you think is cool!

A few key scenes. You don't start with any mystery dice, which you need to make Alex's life more difficult. This is how you get them. The first one is set up pretty explicitly for you, you just have to provide the cool narration! The others will require a little more interpretation. Don't worry about it until you get to the point where you want the dice, and then just go with whatever makes the most sense, based on the game so far and your current working theories. Since you can't show anyone your sheet, you're on the honor system here. Just narrate your thing, and take dice if you think you deserve it.

A motivation. This is a little bit more meta than the rest of it. This gives you a goal to shoot for, in relation to the things the other players are narrating. Don't worry about pushing this with every single thing you say, but keep it in the back of your head and do your best to bring it in when you can.

Mystery Sheet 1: Jack of the Lantern

[Flavor text about will-o'-the-wisps]

Motif: Strange lights, especially ones that lead somewhere.

Key Scene #1: One of the cameras set up to track the coyotes records an unexplained, floating light. The coyotes seem to be following it, and it leads them into an abandoned alley. [5 dice]

Key Scene #2: Alex sees a light in person, which leads her to something interesting or important. [3 dice]

Key Scene #3: The lights show signs of intelligence, purpose, or at least malice. [4 dice]

Key Scene #4: The mystery of the lights is finally explained, to whatever extent such an explanation can make sense to Alex. [3 dice]

Motivation: Interconnection. Try to tie together the things you say with things other people say. Say that your things are the causes or effects of the things other people are saying. Frame scenes where two people's things seem to be working together, or to have some sort of deep connection.

[Other possible motifs: “The Coyotes are acting weird,” “The people are acting weird,” “Everything is staring at me.” Other possible motivations: “The conspiracy is massive,” “Urgency(/the end of the wooorld!),” “Whatever is behind this is definitely not friendly.”]

Obviously, the first thing I'm looking for is general comments. Am I missing anything obvious? Will this all crash and burn? Is the idea and structure compelling at all?

Second, what are some good ideas for more motifs and key scenes? What creepy things might happen to people who study urban coyotes at night?

The final, and probably most difficult question, is what the dice mechanic should look like. My basic idea is that the mystery players can roll whenever they want to cause trouble, and spend their "hits" on various sorts of trouble for Alex. "Implant a creepy image into her mind, one hit." "Force her into a new location, three hits." Maybe this is too constricting for them, though? Maybe they spend the dice and can just do the thing they pay for, and the die roll represents something else (like how much Alex learns, or something)? Or maybe it's not dice, just tokens? Or maybe go the other way, and they roll on a random table, with maybe some ability to modify the roll? What is going to be the most useful, in terms of being interestingly unexpected, while still giving everyone sufficient room to do what they want to do?
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C. Edwards
Member

Posts: 589

savage / sublime


« Reply #1 on: April 08, 2012, 11:22:22 PM »

Hey, just want to say that I really dig your concept! The Mystery Sheet idea is interesting, is that something from Dirty Secrets?

The first thing I thought of when I read your title was "Oh, maybe that's an alternate take on Werewolves Of London." I think it would be cool to have a Mystery Sheet that frames the coyotes as lycanthropes. Maybe a way to work in Mimic if you're short on ingredients.

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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #2 on: April 08, 2012, 11:39:09 PM »

Hey, just want to say that I really dig your concept!

Good to hear! :)

Quote
The Mystery Sheet idea is interesting, is that something from Dirty Secrets?

No, that one's mine. It obviously is inspired by a variety of things: AW playbooks, the Dirty Secrets multiple-GM idea, and I'm sure plenty more. But I don't know of anything that does something quite like this.

Quote
The first thing I thought of when I read your title was "Oh, maybe that's an alternate take on Werewolves Of London." I think it would be cool to have a Mystery Sheet that frames the coyotes as lycanthropes. Maybe a way to work in Mimic if you're short on ingredients.

Yeah, I definitely think that should be at least a possibility. I'm considering either a "coyotes that act like people" or "people that act like coyotes" sheet.
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Nathan P.
Member

Posts: 590

emotional game design


WWW
« Reply #3 on: April 09, 2012, 06:49:42 AM »

I dunno if this came up in your research, but cool (I think, anyway) thing about coyotes in Chicago is that they're being used in a study on their urban behavior, and/or to control the rat population. A lot of them are tagged and tracked by the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control. Here's a news story! http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/chicago-using-gps-collared-coyotes-to-control-rodents.html

For your Mystery Sheets, some kind of relationship to pest control (giant rats, coyote's that have been "turned", etc) or the bureaucratic machinery of the city could be cool.
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Nathan P.
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #4 on: April 09, 2012, 01:21:00 PM »

I dunno if this came up in your research, but cool (I think, anyway) thing about coyotes in Chicago is that they're being used in a study on their urban behavior, and/or to control the rat population. A lot of them are tagged and tracked by the Chicago Commission on Animal Care and Control. Here's a news story! http://www.treehugger.com/natural-sciences/chicago-using-gps-collared-coyotes-to-control-rodents.html

For your Mystery Sheets, some kind of relationship to pest control (giant rats, coyote's that have been "turned", etc) or the bureaucratic machinery of the city could be cool.

Interesting idea! Thanks! :)

On the dice mechanic: I've been further pondering what I want it to actually do for me, and I'm starting to consider making the GM/player reversal I have going even more dramatic. Why not give the Mystery players something like Apocalypse World moves? "When you want to disorient Alex and cause her to get lost, roll 2d6..."
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Jonathan Walton
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Posts: 1424


« Reply #5 on: April 09, 2012, 03:41:20 PM »

Wow, that video of the coyote running down Chicago streets is amazing. Also this game concept is really cool.
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #6 on: April 10, 2012, 02:12:11 PM »

Wow, that video of the coyote running down Chicago streets is amazing. Also this game concept is really cool.

Thanks! :)

So I have a new idea. At one point in my brainstorming, this game had two PCs. I'm wondering if that's maybe an important element to put back in, so that there can be more interaction and discussion of the mystery and such. The problem is that I'm worried it will feel redundant, since Alex doesn't have much by way of mechanics and therefore mechanical differentiation is difficult.

One possibility I'm starting to like is the idea that a second character is actually someone's Mystery Sheet, in sorta the same way that every NPC is a threat in AW. They can have key scenes like, "Disagree completely with Alex's plan" or "Do something dumb without consulting Alex first".

Thoughts, on either another PC or else a character-based Mystery Sheet?

The other thing I've been up to is continuing to noodle over how the dice mechanics should work. One constraint is that they should have a pacing mechanic/resource economy built in. I'm having trouble deciding what the balance between "letting the mystery players have creative freedom" and "injecting uncertainty and surprise" should be. I have been considering several options, arranged approximately by increasing uncertainty/surprise:

Option 1: There are lists of things you can do ("capture Alex", "destroy her equipment", "threaten someone she cares about"), and they cost tokens. Spend the tokens to do the thing. No randomness, so it's basically just a pacing mechanic.

Option 2: Same as the above, but now you roll dice equal to the tokens you spend, and you get to spend hits. You can aim for a certain number of hits, but no guarantee you'll get it.

Option 3: Something like AW moves:

When you want to capture the PC, roll+tokens spent. On a hit, she moves where you want her to. On a 10+, choose two. On a 7-9, choose
one:
-She doesn't get a chance to tell anyone.
-You take away her stuff.
-She is still physically or psychically restrained, even in the new location.

On a miss, Alex can make a hard move.

Option 4: Random tables! Spend one token for a d4, two for a d6, or three for a d8. When you try to psychically influence Alex, roll on this table:

1: She turns the tables, not only beating back your psychic assault but also learning one of your secrets. She may ask you one question.
2. She has a fleeting desire to listen to you, which she is able to beat back.
3. You successfully implant an idea, image, or mood, but she knows it's foreign.
4. You get her to take some quick action of your choice.
5. You get her to believe something is her own idea, when it isn't.
6. You move her to a new location or change her mind on some important question.
7. You take complete control for about half an hour. She wakes up with no memory of what she just did.
8. You semi-permanently get her to believe something, regardless of how absurd or opposed to her own interests it is.

(You can make this slightly less random by being able to move up or down on the table to some limited extent, or by making it "d4, d4+2, or d4+4" instead of die sizes. You can make it more random by taking out the choice of die size, or by making the tables less thematically consistent.)

Thoughts?
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #7 on: April 10, 2012, 11:15:50 PM »

Hmm, smaller problem first: What sorts of things might the mystery players want to do in the first place?

Relatedly, what sort of fiction does the game so far remind you of? Any book/tv/movie suggestions?
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #8 on: April 12, 2012, 04:03:35 AM »

Here is the latest version! I added a pretty simple (but hopefully good) dice mechanic stolen shamelessly from AW, and edited a lot of the other text. I now need to actually put in the work to write the mystery sheets. My first attempt wasn't high-stakes enough; I want things to be more dire than "weird lights". I'm definitely going to have one of the sheets be the other research assistant, and I need something about either lanterns or mimics for ingredient purposes, but I'm still tossing around ideas of what exactly I want them to be. (I think there will be four sheets, supporting between three and five total players.)

Quote
Playing Alex:

One of you will play Dr. Alex Stokes, a recently minted Ph.D. in Wildlife Ecology and a massive badass. You work as a research assistant for Dr. Stanley Gehrt, the world's leading expert on urban coyotes. According to your research, there are over 2,000 coyotes in the Chicagoland area. You use video cameras, radio collars, and good old-fashioned leg work to study how they live in such an artificial environment.

The other research assistant is a grad student named Thomas Meyer, with whom you're on pretty good terms. You'll meet him later.

Fleshing out Alex's personality and history is the first thing you will do as a group. If you already know who is playing Alex, go ahead and let that player take the lead here. If you don't know yet, just go with whatever sounds cool to people, and then decide after.

Your choices are meant to give you a starting place, and don't have any mechanical effect. Just go with whatever seems cool, and gives you an interesting character to play. Remember that you will be investigating some creepy weirdness, so making Alex curious or brave or reckless or oblivious or something is probably a good idea.

Creating Alex's character is important, because it's your first chance as a group to decide what sort of game you're playing. If Alex was raised by a secret society and has powerful fire magicks, that will lead to a very different game than one where Alex went to prep school and is especially good at data collection. I suggest aiming for something like Indiana Jones; you wouldn't quite call him “realistic”, but at least he doesn't break the laws of physics. But feel free to play with it, just so long as everyone is on board.

~~~

What is Alex's gender?


How do friends describe Alex?


Who and what does Alex care about?


What are Alex's exceptional talents?


What is one weakness Alex has?

~~~

Before you go on, make sure that you know who is playing Alex. If that's you, your job is to show how awesome Alex is, to react to all the weirdness the other players will be throwing at you, and to try to figure out what the heck is going on. Don't worry about doing the sensible thing. You're in a thriller movie, and you're a badass! (Even if you're a prep-school, data-collecting badass, you're still a badass.)

Mechanically, you have a lot of power as Alex. You can pretty much just do what you want, and the other players will have to spend tokens and roll dice to interfere with you at all. You have to stick to narrating just what Alex does, but feel to make her incredibly competent and clever. You'll need it.

(Note: I'll use female pronouns to talk about Alex through the rest of the text, but of course you can pick whatever gender you want for your Alex.)

Playing the Mystery:

The rest of you, you get to be the weird, creepy world that Alex has to deal with. Each of you should take one of the mystery sheets for your special rules. Don't show anyone else your page, and don't tell them what's on it, either.

As a Mystery player, your goal is to make Alex's player go “holy shit, seriously?” as often as possible. If you don't mess with her, Alex's player won't have any way to show how badass she is. Try to scare her, frustrate her, and most of all, creep her out. Also, try to always have a working theory about what is going on behind the scenes. Your theory won't line up with what the other Mystery players are thinking, which means you have to be flexible, but it gives you a direction to take things.

Most of the time, you can just say what you think should happen. Your Mystery sheet will give you some things to work with, but you are not in the least restricted to those things. As a group, the Mystery players have power over everything in the world that isn't Alex herself.

Alex is special. As the hero of the story, she will run roughshod over all of your plans and creations. Because of Alex's badassery, there's a special rule about her:

If you don't want Alex to succeed at something she's trying to do, you have to spend a Mystery token and roll some dice.

Alex is going to survive, and she'll continue to be a problem for you. But the dice will let you make her life very complicated in the mean time. Here's how they work:

When you spend a Mystery token, roll two six-sided dice and add them up. If you want, before the roll you (or one of your generous fellow players) can spend extra Mystery tokens to increase your result. Each token is worth an extra +2 to the roll. After you roll, take your result and look at this chart:

1-6 means that Alex was just too much for you. Despite your best, most creepy efforts, she prevailed.

7-9 means that you get to mess with Alex in some ultimately temporary way. The thing she was chasing escapes, she gets separated from her companions, Dr. Gehrt is mad at her, she is supernaturally terrified and runs for her life, or something like that.

10 or 11 means that you get to do something that will more seriously interfere with Alex's life or her plans. She gets captured and taken somewhere mysterious, she loses important equipment, she gets injured, her best friend isn't speaking to her, she develops an unnatural fear of coyotes.

12 or more means that Alex's life is changed irrevocably. She is fired from her job, she loses a hand, or her best friend dies. These moments are rare, and are the scars that Alex will carry with her after the events of this story are over.

When narrating the result of a dice roll, remember that Alex is still a badass, no matter what happens. Most of the time she doesn't really fail, so much as she's overwhelmed by a situation she didn't anticipate. Don't narrate: “You punch the guy, but it doesn't do much. He laughs at you and grabs your wrist.” Instead, narrate: “You punch the guy, and he's out like a light. But as he lies there, his eyes open again, showing only white. He says, 'Nice to finally meet you, Dr. Stokes,' as you feel two men you hadn't seen come up behind you and grab your elbows.”

In fact, it is against the rules for you to narrate Alex directly failing at one of her exceptional talents on anything less than a roll of 12. (You should feel free to invoke her weakness in your narration, though. That's one place she does fail.)

Tokens and dice rolls are a limited resource. As you use them up, you're getting closer and closer to the end of the story. Once you're out, you're out. You can't roll any more dice, so you can't hurt Alex any more. She's escaped, she's won, although perhaps at great cost. Take another scene or two to wrap things up, and then you're done.

This also means that you can greatly affect the pace of the game based on how you spend your tokens. If you only spend them one at a time, and only from time to time, the game will feel like a long struggle that occasionally flares up with drama. If you spend them all quickly on a few rolls, then the game will be short-lived but constantly dangerous and high-stakes. If the game is moving at a pace that isn't working for you, change the way you spend your tokens!

So much for tokens and dice. Now a few words about the mystery sheets. Your sheet will have the following elements:

A motif. This is an image or idea that you should try to incorporate whenever possible. Be creative, and let yourself be drawn in whatever direction you find inspiring. This is just meant to give you a starting point. Try to develop it, and see where it leads you. If what starts out as creepy voices on a tape turn into machete-wielding cultists, that's perfect!

A few key scenes. You don't start with any Mystery tokens, which you will need to make Alex's life more difficult. This is how you get them. The first one is set up pretty explicitly for you, you just have to provide the cool narration. The others will require a little more interpretation. Don't worry about it until you get to the point where you want the tokens, and then just go with whatever makes the most sense, based on the game so far and your current theories about what's going on. Since you can't show anyone your sheet, you're on the honor system here. Just narrate your thing, and take tokens if you think you deserve it.

A motivation. This is a little bit more meta than the rest of it. This gives you a goal to shoot for, in relation to the things the other players are narrating. Don't worry about pushing this with every single thing you say, but keep it in the back of your head and do your best to bring it in when you can.
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #9 on: April 14, 2012, 08:13:30 AM »

I'm having a playtest this afternoon. Here's the playtest document!

http://semielgames.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/game-chef-playtest.pdf

Currently at 3035 words. :)
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #10 on: April 14, 2012, 12:00:06 PM »

The playtest went amazingly well. I need to tweak the token economy (probably just cutting it in half), and I need to think a bit about how psychic stuff should work, but it was overall pretty great. Hundreds of people stood in a neat order around the Chicago river, and disappeared by diving in in unison. Also a particular flavor of pie cures were-coyotes, apparently. Also the Agent was 14 years old and from some secret government agency. It was great.
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PeterBB
Member

Posts: 48


« Reply #11 on: April 15, 2012, 06:14:07 PM »

Turned it in!

Final version here:

http://semielgames.files.wordpress.com/2012/04/coyotes-in-dark-alleyways.pdf
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