Metatopia was great. That’s the short of it. It was a relatively small con, but full of good smart people. I played two games, besides my own playtests, but went to a lot of panels and talks and spent a lot of time hanging out at the bar discussing game design. It was just what I was looking for.
Rob said it well. So I don’t have much to add about the con per se, but I do want to talk a bit about what the con did for Et in Arcadia Ego.
First, with the version of Arcadia that I brought, I’d tried something inverted from the usual, in that you were flipping cards to not fail, as opposed to succeed, and it turns out that felt punishing. There are two more components of that worth mentioning: one, failure was more likely the more you cared about something, which was just plain kicking you while you were down, and two, failure engaged the crunchy mechanics a lot more, making it more salient and notable.
Second, it was unclear how and why magic would be useful or interesting to the characters you were playing. How it was relevant to their interests.
So, the panels and talks and the conversations at the bar proved really useful. In particular, hearing things I’ve known and heard before from new people was helpful. Something Kenneth Hite said really helped me figure out what the game needs to be, and I’m killing a few darlings that I had been hiding from the axe before.
Ken (as Vincent and many others have said) said that a game needs one system per thing that it’s about, and to sing, you want those systems to interact with each other. He gave a particular example: in a Three Musketeers game, you need a system for duelling, a system for intrigue, and a system for geopolitical machinations. Because the game is about those.
When he said that, I realized what this game is about. It’s about success in love, getting ahead, and saving what you care about from monsters (in this case, fairies).
And this list provides ideas, immediately, about what systems we need, and what sort of connective tissue we need between them.
The first part, falling in love and getting ahead, are intertwined deeply—in a Regency setting particularly, you can woo someone with, let’s say, four tracks: passion, principle, position and per annum. Yeah, I love alliteration, sue me. That is, by being an ardent lover, being a person of moral character, a person with status (title in the church or military or peerage, sway in the village, whatever), or a person with income (note how Darcy has £10,000 a year [about $600,000 a year, in terms of purchasing power in 2011 dollars], but does not have a title—money and position are intertwined, but not the same thing. Consider how many poor nobles want to marry into money, and how many rich commoners want to marry into a title.)
Now, the last part, saving the things you love from a monster, is a lot like Annalise, but interestingly, doesn’t depend on the parts of Annalise I particularly love. It depends on pacing—on gradual escalation of the threat from the supernatural. Some people observed that 22 spells felt like a lot of options, and kind of befuddling. I found myself agreeing, even though only a small subset were on the table at any time. And I realized that you might be able to use the tarot for pacing, instead. Tie the development of the threat into a kind of escalation. Like in Dogs in the Vineyard, how the towns have this spiral of five steps of sin that they can go down, and the strength of the demons depends on how much of that you’ve discovered.
Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell has a very compelling structure, in that the magic in the beginning opens the door to the threat that motivates the big fantastic magic at the end. So, what we need is something whereby you can widen the crack in exchange for getting past a hard social challenge in the present. Have I mentioned that Transneptune loves temptation mechanics? It’s really up my alley.
There was a lot of other good and productive stuff, but that’s the core of my thinking. I want to nail the social game, and make it full of awkwardness and difficulty, and then make a magic system that fits into that spot—crack things open a bit more for a little bump right now, and think about the consequences later.