DIE, and other RPG development

I’ve been lucky to be part of several different people’s thoughts about RPGs in the past month.

At the beginning of April I was fortunate enough to playtest Kieron Gillen’s DIE RPG, which was quite excellent. It was also, unsurprisingly, full of feels. I’m excited to see more DIE in the future, and I’d love to have a chance to play (or run) more of it. If you haven’t read the eponymous comic, I recommend it.

Just today I’ve had fun talking with a friend about a Western shootout / showdown game that he’s been tinkering with, and it looks like I’ll have a chance to help him playtest that. It promises encounters that are easily constructed by a GM with a minimum of effort and planning, and resolution mechanics that sidestep dice entirely. Based on what I’ve seen so far, it looks like it could be anything from a fun little self-contained fighting game to a really elegant way to present combat in a larger gunplay-themed RPG. It might also be possible to port into other types of combat, but surely that’s for after playtesting.

And over the past week or so I’ve finally had a few small breakthroughs on an RPG that has been percolating in my head for ages. This isn’t the swords & sorcery one, but something more akin to the Old World of Darkness Changeling game.

Specifically, OWoD Changeling had a fascinating tension between the world of faeries and the world of banality. But it used a system that I’m not enthusiastic about, and it didn’t *quite* explore the themes that most interest me. Hence my desire to make something new.

I want something in which the PCs are kids, facing their lives and their fears both in their world of imagination and in the grown-up world. Ideally, I want there to be tension for the PCs in finding how and where to best face their fears and real-life struggles. As with OWoD Changeling’s themes of encroaching banality, I like having grown-ups and the grown-up world in this game exert pressure on the PCs to operate within the constraints of the grown-up realm.

Meanwhile, the world of imagination should offer PCs creative ways to face their struggles, sometimes reduce their stress, and imagine their way into a better place… at the cost of twisting and playing off of PCs’ mental and emotional states, sometimes giving rise to monsters that no PC can face on their own, and not always making sense. Any given game could have a wildly different feel or theme, depending on how you as a group want to interpret the power of fantasy. I see polar opposites between “maximum grown-up,” where imagination only ever changes PCs’ internal states, and “maximum magic,” where PCs are able to literally do the impossible and map their imaginative and metaphorical accomplishments in the realm of imagination onto changes in the grown-up world. You might even move from one of these into the other over the course of play, though that would certainly say something about the characters and the world.

Plus since I don’t have mechanics for this game yet, I’m not sure how this might be mechanically represented or narratively delivered.

I also want there to be situations in which retreating to the grown-up world is the safest course of action: something whereby you can let an adult that you trust protect you from threats in the world of imagination, at the cost of dropping out of the world of imagination and (maybe) making it harder to re-enter the world of imagination in the future.

Ideally, the grown-up world and the world of imagination should reflect each other as though through funhouse mirrors, with additional weirdness thrown in to complicate metaphorical connections. PCs should face their nightmares, the secrets adults keep from them, and their own dreamscapes… and they should be amazed and delighted by what they can accomplish, even as they sometimes find themselves in way over their heads.

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