(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] There’s an interesting difference between how they get produced: playsets are mostly fan-created, and Bully Pulpit collects the ones they think are best in a series of playsets-of-the-month; playbooks are mostly creator-produced, and distributed through things like donation to a kickstarter, or by running the game at a convention. Both models are cool, and both involve a kind of community involvement or club aspect.

But here’s the real point: both are just large enough. There’s enough content that you can’t just tell it to someone. By way of contrast, consider Distinctions in Smallville—or, for that matter, Moves in Apocalypse World. You can (and should!) make custom Distinctions or Moves readily and easily. But they’re too small to distribute as a Thing. They’re more like an after-dinner mint than a recipe.

So, if you want to make this sort of continuing content for your game, it’s worth remembering that at the design stage. Becoming Heroes has no room for this, really: the equivalent content, arcs and threads, is much more like Distinctions or Moves than playsets or playbooks. But, because we’re interested in the idea, we’re working on this sort of content for Piece of Work and Et in Arcadia Ego. I’ll talk briefly about my ideas for this in Arcadia.

I’ve been wanting to make the existing social web system in Arcadia have more by way of teeth, and what I’ve realized is that is is a perfect candidate for this sort of content: content that is, in itself, reusable, but also allows room for many variations. So I’m considering something that has a range of possible elements of a social web, along with detail about the location and possibly the timeline. The idea is still barely formed, so there’s not yet much more to say.

But it’s shaped a lot like many existing things: Fiasco playsets, Apocalypse World Hx statements, and Technoir Transmissions. So what I’ll be doing over the next few weeks is looking at and extracting what ideas I can from those.

  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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  • James Mendez Hodes

    Good post!

  • Ivan Vaghi

    I love how this design factors in the larger community dynamics. It probably would not have made sense just 10 years ago, but it seems like the only way to grow a game now. 

    • Indeed. It’s pretty cool. I’d like to hear more of your thoughts on it, when you get the chance.

      • Ivan Vaghi

        I can see many parallels between what is happening in the world of storygames and in the world of opensource software. The frameworks that thrive are the ones that are easy to pick up, offer incremental rewards levels (the more you dig into it, the more goods you get) and are somewhat under-designed.. in such a way that they offer affordances for other designers to work on them and around them, creating their own plugins and extensions (think jQuery).  Once you have a few systems doing that, then you can really start a big movement around the system.

        I think the work of deconstruction that you are doing is very valuable for the community. You should post the basic idea on storygames.  

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