Well, now I've done it.
I went and committed to Game Chef 2010 - posted on the forums and declared I'd submit an entry. It's a matter of pride now. I've got to finish writing a short RPG system by Sunday.
This is only slightly crazy -- it's sort of the NaNoWriMo of RPG designers, except with a set theme ("Journey") and ingredients ("city", "desert", "edge", "skin"). But it will be good practice. I've been slowly moving forward on my TTU RPG for a while, and designing a simpler game start-to-finish will help me focus on the process and give me a little experience in putting together something that's basically playable.
Plus - this one is ending up being a Tomorrowlands game, too. :)
I realized the theme ingredients were right in the sweet spot of TTU's flip side known as "The Shadowlands." (You may remember several mentions of that setting in Legend Of Hero.) And so I have been assembling a game about mages exiled from reality -- trying desperately to find and fulfill their purpose in a world assembled completely from their subconscious mind. That world begins manifesting according to the mage's guilt/resentment over the sin that sent them there, and so it's a race against time as reality itself tries to kill them or drive them insane.
Once I get a finished draft written (probably tomorrow night), I'll need some test readers, and ideally some playtesters (but I doubt I'll get the time to do more than a cursory job of that). Any volunteers? Until then, I'll leave you all with the story snippet I wrote as flavor fiction for the RPG. :)
The phantasms were brushing past his senses ever more often, now. Half-remembered scents floated on intangible breezes; distant voices buzzed and whispered and roared from around corners; imperceptible forms flitted between the bright but indistinct areas that passed for shadows.
Ben could almost mistake the city for alive.
But these latest voices troubled him. The mocking laughter of children. It was close - in the alley around the corner. And there was one voice not laughing. A young, tormented voice - all too familiar.
He glanced into the empty parking garage, sighed, and abandoned his post. He had a few minutes before Emily returned, and if she ran into trouble, he'd still be in earshot anyway.
Rounding the corner, he recognized the scene instantly. Half a dozen sixth graders encircled a younger boy, almost within arm's reach. He'd been that younger boy, once upon a time, a world away.
One was holding the boy's lollipop tauntingly overhead. "You want it back?" their ringleader sneered at the frightened kid. "Fight me for it. Or are you too chicken? Ben the hen."
"Hey," older Ben interrupted, drawing himself to his full height.
The alley went still. Seven pairs of dark eyes lanced into him, and a long-forgotten fear chilled his bones. But he met the gaze of the diminutive bullies. A bunch of pathetic kids. I don't have to be scared of them any more. I could kick their asses with a wave of my hand -
He stopped that thought in its tracks. No. That's exactly why I'm here.
"You guys must be feeling pretty good, huh?" he asked with forced gentleness. "Taking that lollipop away. Makes you feel strong." He crouched down and locked eyes with the leader. "But you know what makes you even stronger? When you're able to give. Taking means you're ruled by your needs. Giving means that you've conquered them. And once you've conquered yourself, you've beaten the only opponent who ever mattered."
"I don't care what you say, mister," the bully retorted. "This is my sucker."
"And so are these." Ben reached inside himself for power and outside himself for raw material. Six more lollipops coalesced from darkness into substance in his outstretched hand. It was a risk ... but one he knew he had to take.
"Take them," Ben said, and the bully did, suspiciously. "No, really. They're yours. No strings attached."
"I know what you're going to say, and I'm still not giving any of MY suckers to that kid," the bully snarled.
"You don't have to," Ben said with a smile. "There's more where those came from. I could give him one myself. Even if you take it, I could simply give him another one, and another. I can make more lollipops than you can carry. But all that would do is humiliate you in front of your friends. Is that what you want? Or would you rather show everyone here that you're strong enough to decide who goes home happy?"
The bully stared in defiant silence, then dropped young Ben's lollipop on the ground. "I didn't want it anyway. C'mon, guys, let's go."
The children shimmered and faded away, mirages in the asphalt desert, and Ben let out a long breath.
He had won. And maybe - maybe -
- no. He didn't dare to turn around to check. But he didn't have to. He knew she was there.
"I hope you weren't expecting to hide the scent of your magic from me," Jenny's voice said.
"Mahathallah, archangel of the ancient temple." Ben began the invocation for the ritual of banishing, already knowing it was pointless. "Great Lady of Deception. Mother of the succubi --"
"Is that any way to treat a guest you just invited over?" she interrupted, feigning insult. "And after you've just sacrificed some of the last of your magic for the fleeting happiness of a phantom, too. If I didn't know better I'd think you're going as soft in the heart as you are in the head."
Ben turned around to Jenny's form, leaning casually against the building, looking the same as the last day he'd seen her. But no - it wasn't Jenny. Another phantasm ... one he couldn't shake. And she was becoming more and more substantial, more her, with every visit. Twisting the knife.
"It's not about real and fake any more," he said. "It's about right and wrong."
"Is it?" Jenny said, eyes twinkling. "Is that what you're going to tell yourself when you help your friend blow up the city?"