So, I’ve been posting to G+ these snippets: they’re a little too small and underdeveloped for the blog but I thought I’d do a round-up and save them here. If you want to know more about how Piece of Work is going, take a look over here:

On the topic of damage.
On the topic of perspectives.
On the topic of the core mechanic.
On the topic of purchasing gear.

There’ll probably be more as we finish our final playtesting and toss around more rules edits. Hope you enjoy!

So it’s been a few weeks since our last post because we’ve been working on a panoply of things. I want to get all of it down, because it seems impossible to be doing so much. Also, there are some exciting things in the works.

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They say that a picture is worth a thousand words. I think that character sheets are the pictures of the games they’re from. With that in mind, here’s a sneak peak into Piece of Work.

Piece of Work character sheet

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While we’re generally all about Becoming Heroes, we’ve recently hit upon one part that is harder than it needs to be—character generation. Right up front, we ask you to decide eight traits, three circumstances, and three ties. We don’t give you a lot of guidance around selecting these traits and people get stuck around six traits in.

Now, I don’t think getting stuck is a fatal flaw—it usually clears up when you talk about it as a group—but we’re going to add trait suggestions to each arc in our next revision. For instance, the Lost King should probably have some trait relating to their nobility. The Dutybound should have a trait related to where their duty comes from. Lots of places can inspire traits; the system just doesn’t yet help you find them.

In designing Piece of Work, we’re addressing character generation directly. We’re using a Dread-esque questionnaire that walks you though building your character. It works phenomenally well. First, it breaks up tasks like “allocate your skill points” or “pick your gear” into a series of discrete steps. Because those are smaller decisions and those decisions have context, they’re much easier to make.

Second, it lets us gently reinforce the tropes and setting of the game. Instead of just picking a random piece of gear, you have an item you picked up when things started to go wrong. Instead of just knowing the person to your left, you’re childhood friends. This added context pushes characters to create conspiracies, attach nostalgic meaning to things, to have conversations with other characters fraught with historical subtext—all staples of the noir genre.

I’m now on the hunt for other systems that use smaller choices to reduce the strain of creating a character. Dread is obviously one. Spirit of the Century‘s phases works this way. And Leverage not only has bite-sized char-gen steps, but moves some of those choices out of char-gen and into actual play. What are some of your favorite char-gen systems, and how do they help create a character?

It’s been a while since we’ve made as much good progress as we did tonight on Piece of Work. We’ve had trouble developing the game. At its core, there have always been problems with its cohesion. On one side, we want a game with cyberware and grit. On another side, we want it to play to noir tropes and carry emotional weight. And we wanted a game that spoke about corporate greed and responsibilities that go beyond one’s personal issues.

So here we are trying to make a game that does all these things but not understanding how to put it all together. Somehow in all the muck, neat ideas, and rough attempts we’d forgotten one of the lessons from Metatopia, or perhaps I’m just characteristically slow. What is clear now, though, is that this idea that a game should have a system for each thing it does turns out to be a lot more than talk. We’d already created one system for the cyberware, and one for the noir. But despite really wanting to drill down on the activist angle, we didn’t have something to address it. Until tonight.

What stuns me, even hours after we’ve stumbled upon a solution is that it just clean works out. We’d already been using three dice in the core mechanic, one gear and one motivation, but the third’s been difficult. We’d already created a system for bringing existential crisis to the front, and, of course cyberware, but only recently came up with something for bringing the day-to-day life home. Realizing that there are these three things the game is supposed to do, we’ve been able to tie the third one in. I can’t speak yet to how well it works yet, but it feels like the third post of a tripod.

Once the details have been fleshed out, there’ll be more to say, but for now all I can think about is breaking down games into the stories they tell and the systems they use to tell it. I’m keen to hear other people’s experiences with systems per principle.

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(Ramble warning.)

You know what’s great? Buying a game, being a fan of it, being able to go to your friendly local game store and get more for that game and incorporate it into your play, reinvigorating it and helping you keep enjoying this game you love. Or maybe you don’t even have to buy it, if the designers release it for free—less support for the FLGS, but easier on your wallet. Or maybe you don’t have to buy it, but you do have to do something for it, some kind of weird activity.

At this point, we’ve moved beyond the “single simple perfect game” vs. “supplement treadmill” debate, I hope. The problem isn’t supplements, it’s poorly-thought-out supplements, it’s supplements with too many moving pieces to interact with the core and the other supplements cleanly. It’s supplements produced cynically to keep milking a property.[1] But neither is a single-book game perfect. If the book is a seed to the random number generator of our brains, we sometimes want or need other books (or content) to get more seeds to get more outputs.

So, we’ve started to see some games doing an interesting thing, making free well-considered content that fits in and adds to the replay value of the original game. The two big examples of this are, to my mind, Fiasco‘s playsets and Apocalypse World‘s playbooks.[2]

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  1. Let me say: I don’t think that any but the second of these claims can be made substantively, but the other two are at least perceived to be the case sometimes. []
  2. While the names are very similar, they’re importantly different: playsets are collections of content for different settings, to be used one-at-a-time in each game. Playbooks are types of character, to be combined in the same game with the other playbooks and with the playbooks in the core Apocalypse World book. []
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So Kit keeps pestering me to write, and since tonight was particularly productive for developing Piece of Work, I thought I should write about that. Also, I’m in a writing sprint with the indefatigable Nora Last, so apologies if this ends up rushed. It’s for a good cause.

Tonight we settled out how motives work, figured out how to do gear and money, and fleshed out how cyberization and longevity research play into the work economy. We’ve come a long, long way with Piece of Work, and I’m really fortunate to be working with two brilliant designers. What started out as the “most trad game Transneptune will ever write” has become a thing of indie sensibilities after all.

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A Piece of Work has a long, sordid history. It originally started out as a zombie “survival” RPG called Do Not Go Gentle—a game which might get made at some point, but which we had trouble nailing down. Then it became a kind of straight up cyberpunk game with heavy existential themes. Finally it settled nicely into a genre that seems to call itself cybernoir. I’ve made reference to it in my last post. The term is by no means RPG-specific, and is used to describe a lot of different works.

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Kit’s been beating the Transparency-in-Design drum lately—explaining the benefits of drawing back the curtain and getting people’s inputs on design. I admit, my instinct when developing something is to hide in a cave and not come out until the “masterpiece” is finished. But frankly, that’s how most design problems occur. One of the unique benefits we’ve had is that there are three of us discussing and playing off of each others ideas. So, here’s an idea we’ve been talking about rather a lot in relationship to Piece of Work.

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