So then we get to a long stretch of gaming that, frankly, is mostly playtesting new games. In this period we made Callisto and Polyp (a free incomplete game that’s very fucking weird) and little else, mostly still trying to get a grip on Soft Horizon and what it would be. We played some other games but I’m hard pressed to think of many that were influential. Many were interesting, sure, but they wouldn’t really change the way we design games.
And then some were a bust (for me: YMMV, IMHO, &c — I don’t mean to say you shouldn’t love these games. There is lots to love. I just didn’t love them). But a couple were influential.
This was my first exposure to a “Powered by the Apocalypse” game and I used it to extend a Whitehack campaign. It didn’t work out — for the content, Whitehack was much superior.
But key Apocalypse World concepts got delivered to the design brain, and those would have legs. In fact that would be the start of the Soft Horizon re-design. Some parts of it were really well-suited to the way we were playing: online.
Now a lot of the mechanism formalizes good play behaviour. As such it’s not novel — I already knew what to do — but as mechanism it was hard to slip and play badly. And some of the mechanism severely cuts down on prep by allowing for some cheap prep to reflect off character action and create new situations that were unanticipated by all players.
So it gave me player-facing dice. Since the ref doesn’t roll, this reduces the mechanical action-reaction rhythm of most games which can bog down online play. It also had impacts I related elsewhere (link above). This was something worth stealing.
It gave me fronts, which is an inexpensive way to prep. Here’s something bad in the world that will impact characters. Bring it in when things come to a lull. Colour other interactions with the fact of it.
It gave me GM moves, which are a list of things the ref can do. Sounds really obvious, but codifying the ref’s behaviour options is super powerful because it gives you a list to pick from. It’s hard to get stuck in a rut (which does happen to me when forced to invent constantly from whole cloth) when you can pick from a list. You pick things you might not have thought of.
It also convinced me that I am not interested in that kind of fantasy any more. But it basically made Soft Horizon go. You can get The King Machine now and take it for a spin. It is probably the best game I have ever written.
Robert Bohl’s killer game, Misspent Youth made me think deliberately politically. Mostly Robert did that, really, but the game provided an example. He also let me swear.
The game itself is clean and deliberate, lessons that reinforced what I already learned from Shock: Social Science-fiction. This wasn’t news by now, but more examples are always good.
But mostly it’s a game that’s deliberately and unapologetically political. It got me to research the politics of oppression — and especially how they develop to oppose, infiltrate, and divide resistance — which would factor highly in Soft Horizon games. This game turned The King Machine from an amusing echo of a non-existent strip from Heavy Metal into a real game that meant something to me.
There are a lot of games that I wouldn’t say were influential but that I nonetheless appreciate and steal from.
I nicked the dice mechanism from Blades in the Dark. I have serious philosophical problems with the game. I don’t like it, though mostly not for mechanical reasons. But I do love the “roll dice, pick highest” mechanism. It has a surprising number of axes of information for narration if you keep track of which die came from where.
The oracles I developed to make Elysium Flare work would follow through, streamlined and improved, to Soft Horizon. A lot got tested in the comfortable couch of a Fate game that would let me go in a more interesting direction later.
Night Witches made me think about things that will make it into a later game. I’ll talk about that then. Vehicles, women, war.
Fiasco is just awesome. I will never make anything like it.