Transneptune Games

warm games, cold nights


So, this weekend past I went to NerdNYC’s Recess. Normally, of course, we Transneptune folk are off in Colorado, but I happened to be in town this weekend, and made the best of it. I met some nice folks and played in some good games (particularly one run by the inestimable Jenskot), and picked up a copy of Robert Bohl’s Misspent Youth off the swap table, which is, I think, the most correct way of getting this game.

It was good to get to meet some folks I had only internet-known, but there’s a particular thought about game design that came out of it, for me.

I’ve written and thought a fair bit about the three parts you need for a story and the one part you need for a game (setting, situation, motivation, mechanics), but Jenskot’s game made me think a bit more about situation in particular. He ran a D&D 3.5 hack has a sort of Iron GM training, so those of us at the table came up with some elements and he went off and had to use them. While he was gone, we fleshed out our characters and made some initial inter-character situation: Lula played the disenfranchised princess, I her loyal servant, the other two a pair of outsider-dwarves who were the ones we needed to work with to attain our quest.

So we had divided into two groups and were each making, well, situation. But it made clear to me that there are (at least) two facets to situation. For lack of really good terms, I’ll call them inward-facing and outward-facing. Inward-facing situation is not motivation, though it looks a lot like it at first glance. Really, it’s the relationships between the characters (PCs and major NPCs) that provide the flare and sizzle of inter-character dialogue and action, and sometimes the motivation. Outward-facing situation is a lot like setting, but if it is, it’s particularly those bits of the setting that push on the characters and make them act. It’s the fact that if the Dwarves don’t retake their fortress, a horrendous beast will be let loose as there’s no one to perform the ritual that keeps it captive. It’s the bit of situation that mediates between setting and motivation.

So, there’s not a lot to do with this thought beyond recognize that one way responsibility for creating and maintaining situation can be divided is along this axis. I think that these two kinds of situation call for somewhat different degrees and kinds of mechanization, too, if you’re designing a game. Particularly, inter-PC dynamics are often-but-not-always better to be more hands-off with.

That’s just some idle thoughts. What am I missing here? A lot, I’m sure.