[ATTIKA]: A PRINCIPIA Hack

edited July 2011 in Game Design Help
After reading Tony Dowler's PRINCIPIA, I've thought of creating a hack called ATTIKA, centered around ancient Athenian politics. Spanning the Classical Age (508-322 BC), the game would be a close historical simulation of life and death in the Athenian social and political arena. Players would create a citizen of Athens, a member of a circle of friends of the same age group who would aid one another in their triumphs and their tragedies -- or perhaps grow resentful and seek to do political harm to their one-time friends. War, commerce, politics, back-stabbing, prosecution, ostracism, exile, redemption . . . it would cover the spectrum of ancient Athenian aristocratic life. Would you risk exile to avenge yourself against an enemy? Would you seek wealth and court disfavor by dealing with foreign powers? Would you go to war against the Thebans, the Aegintans, the fearsome Spartans? Would you attend the great religious festivals and broker for power in the shadows, or expound your convictions from the couches of the wealthy at exclusive symposia?

Currently, the game idea presupposes two things: 1) that the characters are all male, and 2) that the characters are all sons of citizens in good standing with the Athenian polis. This seems narrow when judged by the standards of the hobby, where ancient gender bias is often overlooked, but if ATTIKA seeks to recreate accurate history then it must also recreate all its warts and flaws. But, there were some quite influential women in the Classical Age, such as Pericles' mistress, Aspasia. How might a game of political dealings take advantage of women's roles, when women were forbidden from taking part in the process (and, indeed, most were forbidden from leaving the house without a male family member as escort)?

And what should come first? Should a game like this launch directly into character creation, or should it begin with an overview of the city and the times? Is there a way to combine the two by weaving the history in with the mechanics? I love the system used in PRINCIPIA, but I'd also add a way to determine a character's name, father's name, deme and tribe. What gifts might the gods have graced characters with? A silver-tongue, a sculptor's eye, a lion's courage? And, how will these gifts be used? How can delivering a rousing speech before the Assembly or staging Aeschylus' new drama for the City Dionysia become an exciting facet of the game?

Would IAWA-style oracles be a good way to set the scene for players who may not have a deep grounding in ancient history? Or the scene-setting tables from FIASCO? Or is there another way to impart very location-specific information to players so they might help bring the scenes alive?

Finally, should an unstated goal of ATTIKA be the teaching of Classical history? I recall Samuel Goldwyn's advice to writers: "If you want to send a message, call Western Union!" Should the same hold true for games?

My thanks in advance!

Comments

  • edited July 2011
    You are asking some good questions here, but instead of trying to answer them right away, I'm just going to bask in the joy I feel radiating from the fact that you're taking on this idea!
  • Bask away, good sir! I hope I can do your creation justice with my poor Frankenstein's Monster of a game! I think elements of it will port over quite easily, since the Florentines (even the alt-Florentines) and the Athenians shared quite a few traits: a love of physical beauty, art, learning, philosophy, and literature; their politics were both very rough-and-tumble by modern standards, and violence between factions was a distinct reality.

    I hope no one minds, but I'll probably use this thread to hash out some of the problems and maybe illustrate character creation by translating a historical figure like Themistokles or Alcibiades into game terms (once I have the game terms fixed, that is).
  • edited July 2011
    The more I read over the PRINCIPIA rules, the more I believe using it for ATTIKA is less a matter of "hacking" and more a matter of "re-skinning": change the setting, replace Resolve with Arete, and write a new set of Positions. The mechanics evoke the period of Classical Athens as wonderfully as they evoke alt-Florence.

    Some Positions I've come up with so far are these:

    The Actor
    The Artist
    The Eupatrid (ancient Aristocracy)
    The Landowner
    The Merchant (covers all sorts of tradesmen, factory owners, etc)
    The Olympian
    The Orator
    The Philosopher (the sciences were also grouped under philosophy)
    The Poet
    The Seer

    I plan to add a "track" to the character sheet that charts public opinion (probably something like -3/-2/-1/0/+1/+2/+3). Called Philotimia when it's positive and Atimia when it's negative, it's voted to a player by other players or the GM, in response to good/bad roleplaying, in-character deeds, acting contrary to one's position, etc.; it can be used during Controversy as advantages or disadvantages.

    Another mechanic I've given some thought to is something that mimics Greek reliance on omens and oracles: a roll performed at the beginning of each game session that checks if the character is operating under divine favor or disfavor for that session, along with guidelines for expiating any disfavor in-game as part of the narration. I worry, though, that too many additional dice or penalties might upset the game's balance.
  • edited July 2011
    This is exciting stuff! Go Scott go!

    One note about gender roles:
    History has been written with biases, as I'm sure you well know. Just because certain scholars utterly failed to grasp the vital and powerful roles played by women throughout the ages, that doesn't mean they didn't exist. For a roleplaying game spanning the classical age of Athens, playing a female should not only be viable, it's arguably more interesting and primed for gaming than playing a male is. I'd urge you to keep digging into the material, and find the hooks and possibilities to make both options fun (and also maybe offer more than just a binary choice -- the ancient world had more roles than just man/woman, after all).

    (For inspiration, check out the Sagas of the Icelanders hack, which features gender roles as a major character component -- males and females get different moves!)
  • Very good points, John! From a game standpoint, it would be more fun to play Aspasia than to play Pericles, himself -- the latter need only decide what direction to take the polis and garner enough votes in the Assembly to make it happen (through deal-making, bribery, or outright intimidation), while his mistress has a whole different set of hoops to jump through in order to make her vision of Athens a reality.

    One possible way to do this might be to divide the Positions into citizen and non-citizen. Non-citizens (foreigners, called metics, women, and even slaves) were barred from taking part in city politics, but still helped shape the city. Using the "Metic Rule" would open the landscape up to Ionian orators, Theban seers, poets from Keos, landowners from Euboea . . . all equal in wealth and social standing, but lacking the ability to overtly influence Athenian politics.

    Women's roles might include Hetairai (well-educated courtesans like Aspasia or Thais, the woman who goaded Alexander the Great into burning the Persian city of Persepolis), Seers or wisewomen, priestesses, poets (think Sappho); and if they're of the aristocratic class in Athens, part of their panoply might include a body servant or guard.

    The overall goal to ATTIKA is to make a Mary Renault novel come to life, and I think the inclusion of women and non-citizens would go a long way toward meeting that goal. Thanks, John!

    And The Saga of the Icelanders is awesome!
  • First off - this is a game I would play!

    Second, a little part of me wants to call this Arche instead. With the definition being anything from 'origin' to 'rulership', it has the same delightful spectrum of meaning that, say "principal" (Principia!) has, but it also just so delightfully greek.

    Anyway!

    Reading through, I couldn't help but wonder if your general aim of recreating the period as it is isn't a bit at odds with what seems to be the core mechanic from Principia - defining philosophical issues as truth or falsehood. So if we want to find out if women can be part of the polis, we make that a big fat Question. Wrecks the history of it, probably, but maybe works as a game? Not for me to judge, except as personal preference - I think I may actually be interested more in that mythical Athens from which everything western came, a kind of defining point in history, than the historical Athens of awesome dudes doing awesome stuff, a bit like but different from other awesome dudes of history.

    Not sure if my comments are in any way useful to you, but I will be definitelly watching this until completion!
  • edited July 2011
    Posted By: DWeirdA little part of me wants to call thisArcheinstead. With the definition being anything from 'origin' to 'rulership', it has the same delightful spectrum of meaning that, say "principal" (Principia!) has, but it also just so delightfully greek.
    You know, I DO like the word [i]Arche[/i] ([i]Arkhe[/i]?) as a title -- it hearkens admirably back to the source material. I will consider it strongly, DWeird! My thanks!

    And I am coming around to to the idea of making it less rigorously historical. The trappings of history remain, such as only allowing citizens (males) to take an overt part in city politics, but allowing for the kind of back-channel intrigue that surely *must* have existed. Thus, foreigners (metics) can use wealth or public opinion to sway the voting bloc, women can use their skills, charms, or shrewd good sense to make the men do what needs to be done (perhaps Aristophanes based his [i]Lysistrata[/i] on some real women he knew . . . or didn't "know" *grin*). It takes it away from "awesome dudes doing awesome stuff" and perhaps opens it up to history as seen by the less awesome, by the rank-and-file who just want to make a good living and not piss off the gods or their fellow man . . .

    The answering of Questions that is central to Principia should be central to Attika/Arkhe, as well. It's such a Greek notion! Hopefully, I will have some honest to Zeus progress to show in a few days, though I'm still casting about for Greek terms for Advantages, Secrets, and the like. And I'm worrying over including Hetairae as a social class for women AND as a Position (if you choose Hetaira as your social class, must you also choose it as a Position?).

    Any ideas?
  • One thing I've been struggling with is how to convey the setting to players who may not have as deep and abiding an interest in ancient Athens as others. But, I found a public domain text on daily life in ancient Athens that was written by an early pioneer of popular history -- it's written in a very engaging and conversational style. It's called A Day in Old Athens, by William Stearns Davis (1914). Though he embraces a later date than the game to serve as his "day" (360 BC, when the city was at its architectural height), it still oozes relevance to ATTIKA; pair this with quotes from Xenophon, Plutarch, Pausanias, and the different philosophers and playwrights, and it would create quite a vibrant portrait of the city where the game's action takes place.

    So, what do I do with it? Excerpt relevant areas, with proper attribution, to serve as an introduction to the game world? Sprinkle the game manuscript with quotes from the work? Or maybe reproduce the whole manuscript with the game rules as sidebars, footnotes, and appended chapters (which would make for a 200+ page game/book) and Mr. Davis as co-author?
  • Here's a mock up of the first chapter of ATTIKA, just to see how the format I have in mind might look: Chapter One

    The core text is William Stearns Davis' A Day in Old Athens, which nails the setting, likely in too much detail. The rules, a hack of Principia, will go in the sidebars. The headers and possibly footers will contain historical info and possibly an IAWA-style oracle generator (based on a random page-flip) to help spur players and GMs. I worry the layout is already too busy . . .
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