September 16th, 2010


Gamechef & The Flavour of the Month

Originally published at Figures of Text. Please leave any comments there.

The annual GameChef contest has rolled around again. This year, the ingredients are CITY, EDGE, DESERT and SKIN. Normally, I’d leap at CITY, so I’m deliberately staying away from that – creativity through constraints and all that. I’m still fuzzy on what I’ll do with DESERT and SKIN (I’m considering a Moorcock-inspired surrealist fantasy involving a tear in the skin of reality in a desert, with lots of sitting around in tin shacks and truck stops on an infinite highway), but I want to make EDGE the core mechanic.

Enter Hamlet’s Hit Points, by Robin Laws. A while back, Robin did a beat analysis of Hamlet on his blog, tracing the emotional and procedural upbeats and downbeats of the story with special emphasis on its relevance to roleplaying games. The book discusses this technique and adds beat analyses of Casablanca and Dr. No. (It’s worth reading if you’ve an interest in narrative construction and writing. I got my money’s worth ten minutes in, at an observation about maintaining suspense in literary fiction which helped me crack an problem in a decidedly not-literary outline.)

Hamlet’s Hit Points has a whole list of beats – Commentary, Anticipation, Gratification, Pipe, Question, and most importantly Emotional and Procedural upbeats and downbeats. My initial idea for Gamechef is to create a system that uses beats. The basic idea – in a conflict, one side or the other has Edge. If you have Edge, you’re going to win. If you don’t have it, you’re going to lose.

The game’s called Beatdown. Getting it into a workable state in time for the GameChef deadline is unlikely (blame Halo: Reach), but I’ll kick it into shape regardless.

However, if you lose a conflict because of Edge, you get Edge in the next fight. The gimmick is that the PCs will have to suffer several defeats in a row to accumulate enough Edge to beat the big bad guy. Conflicts don’t have to be physical – you suffer a nasty emotional blow, and you get to kick ass next scene. If the mechanics properly balanced, you should get a nice emotional arc to the game.