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February 6th, 2011
05:26 pm
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So! I entered the February round of the Ronnies, a 24-hour RPG design competition. I took quite a different tone this time than I did with Egregore. I'll let the blurb speak for itself:
You're a hard-boiled man (or woman) in a gritty, corrupt world. Lust, greed, vengeance, jealousy - one of these is the bitter taste in the back of your throat. Some might call it a sin. You call it a mission. And you're not going to let anything stand in your way (except maybe your own flaws).

Meanwhile, the city is seething around you. The night is steamy, and ready to boil over at the slightest provocation. And in the shadows, steely eyes glint from above a demonic black beak, silently driving people into ever greater acts of desperation ...

Waiting to unleash chaos and hell ... with one mighty CAW.

Deathbird Black is a comedy game in the film noir genre. Tongue-in-cheek, dice-flinging, bird-screaming fun.

I am still giggling over the fact I got to write the phrase "ritualized catharsis of incomprehensible crosstalk and flying objects".

I haven't yet playtested it - that's a tall order in a 24-hour competition - but if you're curious to play it, here's the alpha; let me know how it goes. Otherwise, I'll get some feedback in the Ronnies 2011 forum, and improve it from there.

Current Location: ~brainstorm
Current Music: "Razzle Dazzle," Chicago OST

(5 comments | Leave a comment)

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Date:February 7th, 2011 11:00 am (UTC)
Hey, thanks for giving it a read! :)

1) "Dice and Goals", p5: "for goals, you always use both of your dice. If you get doubles, add them up. Otherwise, take the higher number. If your roll meets or beats an 8, you succeed." Worth mentioning again in the free play section, which on reflection is where I would instinctively look. Is that where you expected to find it?

2) That's very much first-draft wording. I was writing some section or other, needed a phrase that was shorthand for "don't play this game in such a way as to step on other people's enjoyment," and settled in on it as a slangy 1980s-afterschool-special expression of mild disapproval. The other references all followed once the first was established.

I wouldn't have used, say, "gay" in the same fashion (even though it's the same vintage and same intention), so this one was just in my blind spot, and you're probably right viz. gamer-culture-in-general on it. My apologies at any offense. Any ideas for terms that carry the same tone without the privilege issues?
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Date:February 16th, 2011 11:03 pm (UTC)
I'm currently working on a revision in which I will replace "lame" with "birdbrained" and have a paragraph or two explaining it (basically: "These are things which will make the game less fun, and if someone's going to do them, rules won't stop it. So if you agree that you don't want these things, it's up to your group to enforce it via social contract.")

I've also added a sentence in Free Play referring people to "Dice and Goals" for how to roll, which is a step forward, though I may improve it further as I shuffle material around into a more logical order.
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Date:February 10th, 2011 06:13 pm (UTC)
Took me a while to realize that 'bigger' die means more sides. Probably just my drain bamage though.

It seems like the whole 'noir' scenario is always a triangle: some kind of external influence, the protagonist, and some kind of larger scheme. Then the story is about how the protagonist deals with the tension these create. The classic example is 'Double Indemnity', but you can also see it in MacBeth, Casablanca, Chinatown, Body Heat, The Big Town, Body of Evidence, and Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

I really didn't get the sense that you were setting up this sort of angling in the gameplay. Not that that sort of tension is necessarily appropriate for a free-for-all style of game. Regardless, I think each class could use a default route for influencing others:
Detective - blackmail
Femme Fatale - money
Ingenue - pity
Corrupt cop - police pressure
Writer - media pressure
Jilted Spouse - seduction
Grifter - deceit
Gangster - mob pressure
Claims Adjuster - ???
Reporter - ???
Priest - guilt or moral authority
Hobo - ???

IMO "Narration" is a bit over-the-top as a character flaw. All of the others would actually work in a more serious noir setting. You could aways go with cynic instead. (Won't trust anyone, especially people s/he should.)

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Date:February 11th, 2011 12:17 am (UTC)
Excellent feedback! I'm going to have to digest it a bit more. Initial reactions:

0) All of your suggestions are great, but my overriding concern at the moment is to keep it simple, especially considering that it's a comedy game. After juggling around the material a little, I want to have the total amount that all players need to read in order to understand play mechanics to be 4 pages or less (the rest is guidance, troubleshooting, or color). Complexczibilification would make it a more awesome noir game but get in the way of the comedy. So I will be looking for a balance as I add material to reinforce theme.

1) "External" and "protagonist" are great terms for movies, but get a bit fuzzier in the shared space of RPGs. My design goal was, by making all the player goals push them against and toward each other, to have the players be each other's "external". When I do some playtesting, I will make a special note of how this works out in practice.

1b) As for the idea of a larger scheme, you're right, the game is currently much more chaotic than the noir baseline and might benefit from guidance in that direction. Maybe there can be an overall or collaborative goal that players can either work for or against, in addition to the personal goals? But: Insert caveat on complexity. Also, I'm curious to see if noirish plots can emerge from actual play given Rules As Written, so I'll keep an eye on this during playtesting.

2) Default influence - Great list! I can't think of actual rules incentives that would make best use of it, but maybe there's a room for it as color, or an additional feedback structure during play. Insert caveat on complexity.

3) In hindsight, the flaw I'm most ready to drop is "author brain," but "narration" definitely is high on the silly quotient. I see "cynic" as more of a baseline rather than a flaw, but taking "cynic" OTT fits theme a little better than something Cosmic Shifty like Author Brain. Though the stereotypical detective has a weakness for dames in trouble, so replacing "narration" is possible.

I might make separate "OTT" vs "play it straight" lists.
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Date:February 16th, 2011 10:47 pm (UTC)
As it turns out, Ron (the contest judge) recommended losing the detective PC on the grounds that there's already a shared detective character - the hard-boiled cop who shows up after every murder. So I killed two birds with one .... um ... caw, and replaced detective/Narration with politician/Famous.

Thanks again for the feedback. :)
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