Which creative needs go underserviced by story games?

edited January 2017 in Story Games
I was inspired to start a new thread about a couple of observations that resurface regularly. Here's Paul saying it well:
I think your expectations for a game which delivers on the whole "plotting and intrigue" dimension haven't been met yet, by existing game design*. I hope you're driven enough to break through that barrier yourself! :)

*: It is entirely possible - and even likely - that some *people* have, in terms of game practices and clever use of existing mechanics. I've yet to see that myself, though. And then the next step would be finding how to transmit those abilities to other people (whether through design or something else), which may be an equally daunting task.
So yeah, I agree with Paul on this: it is interesting how there is a glaring hole on intrigue games. The best games in the field are Paranoia, Amber, Diplomacy, Conspiracy of Shadows, Houses of the Blooded, Covenant and Spione (I'm sure there are others, that's just my list off the top of my head), and that's just a mix of old classics and games that only brush the topic instead of tackling it head-on. I think this is pretty interesting, as it's clearly a topic and an idea of gaming that has clarity: many people think of it, it's obviously appealing, and we can sort of see how it goes. There are many boardgames about it, too. Many of us have played highly successful campaigns around the idea of intrigue (myself included, with Paranoia), yet here we still are, without an obvious go-to rpg.

Compare this to some other clear, definite creative concepts, like "I want to play a tv show game" - the obvious answer is Primetime Adventures, an excellent and well-rounded classic text on the subject. If that doesn't satisfy, go for InSpectres or Cartoon Action Hour or - well, there are options.

Furthermore, intrigue is not the only big creative concept that has such a conspicuous lack of games. As we remarked here last month, slice of life games are also strangely absent, all in all; just like intrigue games, some do exist, but apparently none are comprehensive enough to rise to a prominent position as the obvious answer in the field. (I do not speak authoritatively on this, as I haven't read the recent field of entrants - for all I know that Ryuutama-whatsitsname is exactly this, for example, and I just don't know about it yet.) This, despite the fact that people regularly ask for games like that, it's a genre obviously entrenched in other artistic mediums, and it can be done in roleplaying.

So, this brings me to my question for the board: are there other similar interesting gaps in the game text selection? Things for which people routinely ask for, yet you can only suggest a generic title in good conscience, or some weird little game that takes 50 hours to hack into shape? Note that what we're looking for is not just a lack of tools, but a lack of tools combined with prominent desire for such. What is it that we, as a scene, are not providing for as of yet?

In case you're wondering why I'm curious, it's pretty straightforward: I love roleplaying, and am naturally interested in any challenges. The above two topics (intrigue games and slice-of-life) are obviously on my desk as challenges to be considered at some point in the future for the simple reason that we seem to be lacking in tools. If there are other similar blind spots out there, I'm interested in hearing more about them, too.

Comments

  • Interesting topic.
    About the Intrigue genre, if I could mention 2 titles that address specifically that (and might be interesting as reference for your personal challenge) would I be OT in doing so here?

    About other voids in the rpg-space ... do you think that Scary games would qualify?

    There are a thousand and one "horror" games that actually boil down to either a simple investigation or an action adventure, dressed up with some tropes and cliches from this or that horror saga. With more or less amounts of gore.
    So, not scary. Could be any vanilla fantasy quest.
    Then all "fear" effects that might be experienced at the table come 99% from thespian tricks adopted by the GM and Group to set the mood right and exploit it at key moment.

    Thinking about games that mechanically try to facilitate "fear-like" emotions at the table (unease, creepiness, dread) I can only think of just a couple of titles: Murderous Ghosts, Ten Candles and Touched by Evil.

    Another niche might be competitive rpgs, as in Player-vs-Player rather than PvE (where "E" could be the GM or the game mechanics themselves).
    Blood Red Sands comes to mind and King of the City, but that's pretty much it ... everything else I can think up falls into the "blood drama" category.

    What do you mean by "slice of life"?
    Could FIASCO somehow qualify?
  • Interesting topic.
    About the Intrigue genre, if I could mention 2 titles that address specifically that (and might be interesting as reference for your personal challenge) would I be OT in doing so here?
    Sure, I don't mind. It's a big topic that is worthy of much discussion, to be sure.
    About other voids in the rpg-space ... do you think that Scary games would qualify?
    Perhaps. I agree with your analysis of horror fantasy adventure games; that's what many horror games boil down to.

    On the one hand, there are some pretty good titles in this space, but on the other, there could be a more definitive one, too. But then again, how many people actually want super-intense horror games? Maybe it's a relatively minor niche, with actually some pretty passable service to it, in final analysis?
    Another niche might be competitive rpgs, as in Player-vs-Player rather than PvE (where "E" could be the GM or the game mechanics themselves).
    Is this something that people develop a desire for spontaneously? Maybe it is, I can certainly see the appeal. And you are right, it's an underdeveloped game type, all in all. Sort of a close cousin to the intrigue thing, in that one of the big appeals of the idea of the intrigue game would be in matching wits with the other players.
    What do you mean by "slice of life"?
    Could FIASCO somehow qualify?
    Slice of life is a literary genre/format typified by a focus on the mood and a lack of plot and dramatic events. It occasionally gets quite popular in limited niches. In our generation it's been going strong in manga and anime, for instance.

    Fiasco is more of a comedy or a blood opera, and very plot-oriented, so in that regard the complete opposite of slice of life.

    Speaking of comedy, that's another one of these under-serviced, oft-requested gaming topics! I was asked for solutions in that space like four times last year, and the only applicable options are often highly specific, or "you can make this a comedy if you know how to do comedy". I can remember thinking often about how I really should get off my ass one of these days and make some games that specifically delve into this one.
  • edited January 2017
    For Slice-Of-Life, I've heard Chuubo's Marvelous (something something) Engine been mentioned often, but I've never playtested it.

    Speaking of comedy, that's another one of these under-serviced, oft-requested gaming topics! I was asked for solutions in that space like four times last year, and the only applicable options are often highly specific, or "you can make this a comedy if you know how to do comedy". I can remember thinking often about how I really should get off my ass one of these days and make some games that specifically delve into this one.
    I would love to have a comedy game that can handle something slapstick like this:

    It's got elements of slapstick, and farce (Ruthless People is another example of comedy that I love). The only thing I can think of is Toon for the slapstick fights. Can't really think of anything else, though, that could handle a farce. Maybe a mechanic that generates hilarious misunderstandings.
  • Golden Sky Stories would be my go-to for Slice of Life. Ryuutama is the game people occasionally mix up with GSS for some reason, because both come from Japan and have cute art, but Ryuutama is about going on journeys and is relatively traditional.

    Chuubo's can also serve for Slice of Life.

    Honestly though, I don't think the genre has enough people in the RPG space interested in it, which is why it's not receiving a lot of attention.
  • edited January 2017
    I was reading RE's G/N/S essays a couple weeks ago and noted where he mentioned that there were very few games about sports, something that, since he wrote them 10+ years ago, I think is probably still largely true. World Wide Wrestling is the only one that immediately springs to mind, and even that is, I think, more about wrestling as entertainment and drama, not that that diminishes from it at all. I've been letting the idea for a competitive kendo/naginata game roll around in my head for a while, and I know someone started a thread on S-G sometime in the last year or two about sports in storygames that I don't believe gained much traction. It seems that on most traditional RPG forums whenever someone broaches the topic, they are inundated with a bunch of unhelpful responses telling them to go outside and play sports instead.

    Re: Slice of Life, I've long been an outspoken supporter of the idea that the Kancolle RPG (based on the Japanese browser game/media franchise Kantai Collection, about anthropomorphized WWII warships) comes really close; the core of the game takes place in light improv roleplay scenes that are randomly rolled off of a bunch of charts, which include results like "bringing snacks to someone on watch," "being stuck inside on a rainy day," "a fight erupts during exercises," etc... Of course these are also mated to a lot of board-gamey currency-juggling and occasional GM-inserted setpiece battles, usually with a simple objective that the slice of life scenes are just assumed to take part during the completion of, but to which they don't actually need to relate in any story-related way (if that makes sense).
  • So, here's the thing about comedy in RPGs: it's the failure state of so much gaming that's supposed to be relatively serious that I think a lot of people are allergic to it. I mean, think of the "stop quoting 'Holy Grail' at the gaming table!" meme.

    That being said, I've played a number of games that were supposed to be relatively comedic, and even facilitated one or two, like my version of Polaris where the demons are replaced with Angry Birds and all the knights are hapless stuffed pigs. I feel like the key is to run the premise completely straight-faced, and let the comedy emerge from the inherently hilarious juxtapositions.

    A game that comes to mind that is actually geared for comedic play, or at least drifts that way super-easily, is Lasers and Feelings and all its hacks. I actually drifted it in a more serious direction the one time I ran the core game, creating a morally compelling Star Trek-y dilemma based on my rolls on the table, but that was just to show it can be done.

    Actually, now that I think about it, Slice of Life is also a failure state pretty often. For instance, last night I played the new Adventures in Middle Earth 5E adaptation. It was pretty good overall, but the first scene of the game was just awful (it wasn't the GM's fault; he was running from a prepared module). We were plonked down in the middle of this market square with no motivation to go shopping, nor to talk to the NPCs, nor each other. Super awkward. Eventually he was just like, okay, you're leaving on your quest tomorrow. I also feel like, even here in the US of A, my friends who are into that sort of thing just go to jeepforms to scratch that itch, and have no need of tabletops.
  • edited January 2017
    Most games don't emphasize aesthetics mechanically, which typically pushes them to be either about plot, resource management or both. Stuff like themes, mood and aesthetics are seldom explored deeply in mechanics, at least in the games I get to play. Freeform seems to be slightly better at this, though the medium feels rather emotion-obsessed at the moment.
  • edited January 2017
    I was inspired to start a new thread about a couple of observations that resurface regularly. Here's Paul saying it well:

    "I think your expectations for a game which delivers on the whole "plotting and intrigue" dimension haven't been met yet, by existing game design*. I hope you're driven enough to break through that barrier yourself! :)

    *: It is entirely possible - and even likely - that some *people* have, in terms of game practices and clever use of existing mechanics. I've yet to see that myself, though. And then the next step would be finding how to transmit those abilities to other people (whether through design or something else), which may be an equally daunting task."

    So yeah, I agree with Paul on this: it is interesting how there is a glaring hole on intrigue games....
    This is exactly what I'm working on and why I'm designing my game. Intrigue done right (where there are secrets and betrayals not known beforehand by the players, etc). is hard to do in a collaborative Story Game. That is, if done right, it will break new ground. I haven't had time to get the write-up I promised done yet (too much work), but it is going to bring in a lot of new tools and ways of accomplishing this stuff and I really need to get the write-up done, because I can't wait for everyone's feedback and ideas on how build on it further and how to trouble shoot issues that come up :)
  • For intrigue, I find Paranoia a great choice, too. I would also toss in Hillfolk (Dramasystem) that can handle intrigue pretty well in my experience. It's especially great at establishing dramatic tension between characters (and within characters right from the beginning. Also, WWWrestling RPG (PbtA) can sometimes play out PvP situations with intrigue.

    What goes underserviced for me are Detective games. Unless you count, pre-fabricated murder dinner games, I don't see many games in that category. Maybe Bubblegumshoe would qualify. I'm looking for a light storytelling framework for solving murder mysteries together.

    I also see Ordindary Life underrepresented. I'd like to play more ordinary people in normal life circumstances. Perhaps some Japanese Slice of Life RPGs do this or Emily Care Boss games?
  • Oh, I love both of those observations. I was thinking about detective games myself, but then I was like "oh, but what about Call of Cthulhu, that basically defines the genre", and then I wasn't so sure if it's under-serviced. But whether it is or not (to the degree of some other examples), it's a certainty that I've got a sweet Gamist detective game waiting to flower in my desk drawer, and I'm solely motivated in that business because nobody is making me a game with challengeful detective simulation and possibility of real failure. So underserved or not, apparently it's on my list of things to do in the future.
  • Of course, the difficulty there is, how often is real failure on the table in most detective stories?
  • Well, yes, but that's only a problem if one is keen on specifically emulating detective stories - which I'm not. Emulating storytelling is one of the less interesting things for me in rpgs in general, when I could be e.g. doing actual original storytelling, using the tools and methods unique to the medium. Or, as in this case, creating a fun and workable fictional environment for the players to use their intuition and logic to solve (or fail to solve) murder mysteries in a more flexible logical environment than Cluedo offers.

    But anyway, according to my arbitrarily personal criteria, here's the list of undertapped potentialities so far:

    Intrigue
    Slice of Life
    Comedy
    Sports
    Detectives


    Lots of entirely sensible opportunities for fresh new games there. If anybody's feeling like doing something original instead of yet another fantasy adventure game, take your pick.
  • I think that the romance/romantic comedy genre is also "underserviced", although there are certainly some games which do that (e.g. Emily Care Boss's games).

    Still, considering how prominent that genre is in other media, I'd say there are relatively few games we can reach for, and fairly little variety, in terms of recreating it.

    I like the suggestion of "sports" games, and would add that art/music stories can often fit in the same genre, with similar story arcs and constraints. Any kind of competitive medium, really: martial arts, painting, music competitions, sports, etc. I've seen very few (any? perhaps Contenders?) games which handle this kind of thing well.

    I also know that lots of people love procedural court dramas. I've never played an RPG which handled that kind of thing well. Is that an area worth designing in, or have I just avoided the games which do it well?
  • Court drama has been speculated about on and off for about a decade or so, alongside many of the other things mentioned here, but nobody's taken up the gauntlet yet. For me, personally, court drama slots into this whole complex of related mainstream genres that might as well be called professional drama (the detective thing can also go in this box, depending on whether the story is really a professional drama about cops, or an old-school murder mystery). You know the list, particularly Americans have loved (and created an immense amount of) professional drama about doctors, lawyers, cops and other professions since the mid-century. I feel like there should be a game that basically just does this, it's such a no-brainer - so definitely counts for me!

    Romance is also a very obvious, very challenging field. It is not as under-serviced as some (really, Emily's games are very legit, and others have contributed to the field as well, including my spirit animal Ron Edwards), but a certain under-presentation probably still exists - I phrase myself uncertainty for the simple reason that I am not certain of how the Romance genre interacts with the intimacy issues of the rpg medium in wider cultural terms - we know that games about this topic, when properly designed, appeal to people like e.g. myself, and are feasible as a non-pretentious part of a gaming oeuvre, but it's possible that there just isn't that much of a real demand for it in demographic terms. If it's just me and 20 other drama junkies with intimacy issues who like the idea of romance games, then one might as well say that we're amply served by the existing base.

    I like updating my list concretely, so let's reiterate:

    Intrigue
    Slice of Life
    Comedy
    Sports/Competition
    Murder Mystery
    Professional Drama
  • edited January 2017
    It seems quite strange to me to point to the source of 'professional drama' as American TV and then say it is underserviced when -- in the same thread! -- you also pointed out that Prime Time Adventures exists and is a satisfactory 'go-to' for TV drama. Is there some version of this genre out there that is actually somehow specific enough to the profession in question that it would somehow not work as a PTA game, or would work better with some specific rules? The very fact that it is so easy to abstract the genre (whether it be cop, lawyer, doctor, whatever) suggests that these are in fact primarily television shows, and PTA as perfect a fit as one might reasonably hope for.
  • Perhaps that is the case. Matt conceived PTA originally for adventure tv, though - stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Of course that's irrelevant in regards to what people actually use the game for.

    What is more relevant, though, is that I personally feel like there is more power to be achieved in the gaming tools for this particular genre. PTA is great, but it's also very oriented towards its tv simile (which is also its greatest strength, of course); drop that, and who knows what might be achieved regarding the professional drama genre as a raw idea. My gut says that it's worth investigating.
  • Perhaps that is the case. Matt conceived PTA originally for adventure tv, though - stuff like Buffy the Vampire Slayer. Of course that's irrelevant in regards to what people actually use the game for.
    Actually, the book (whatever edition is it they've translated to Italian - I think the 2nd) includes references to such series as The Gilmore Girls or Desperate Housewives besides Buffy, suggesting a much broader applicability then just action/adventure. If you go by those examples, you have to conclude PTA can handle slice of life shows and mystery shows as well. IMO it can, but is at its best when those genres meet and clash, such as in cops shows.
    What is more relevant, though, is that I personally feel like there is more power to be achieved in the gaming tools for this particular genre. PTA is great, but it's also very oriented towards its tv simile (which is also its greatest strength, of course); drop that, and who knows what might be achieved regarding the professional drama genre as a raw idea. My gut says that it's worth investigating.
    Plus, having one single go-to game makes a genre definitely underrepresented. There are more than a handful sports story games, f'rex - of which I've only played Contenders, which I loved despite having no interest whatsoever in boxing - but that isn't enough to call the sports genre well-represented in story games: there are of course many more possible angles to it.
  • I don't want to speak for the designer here, but if you'll read the 1st edition, plus related discussions at the time, the early emphasis becomes more obvious. The 1st edition game text all but presumes an adventure series focus in the GMing instructions, examples and such. The game was powerfully reimagined and reapplied as more of a drama vehicle by its early player base around the Forge. It's a case of the game text being more traditional than how it ended up being used.

    This is not to say that PTA is not well suited for the other genres of tv mentioned here; it is, and I haven't in fact ever played a pure adventure show with it myself. The main bit where the initial adventure tv focus remains is in some dramaturgical ideas about story structure - particularly what the GM does to prep a session, and what is the presumed content for sessions where everybody's screentime values are low.
  • Nice to know, thanks! That definitely gives me a clearer picture.
  • Here's another type of game fiction I see people asking about every now and then:

    *Magic Realism*

    Personally, I don't see it as a gap - many games, it seems to me, would do this pretty well (starting with, perhaps, Over the Edge). But it does seem that many people consider it to be "underserviced", so I'll mention it here.
  • I'm not sure if this would fall under the umbrella of suspense, but I'm thinking that there isn't anything that can handle stuff like Hunt For Red October, which isn't quite action.
  • Slightly tangential to the main thrust of the thread, but if you are looking for comedy, you could do a lot worse than Roll for Shoes. It's been seven years since the system was off-handedly mentioned in a forum thread, and as I've, to my great surprise, been recently informed, people still play the damned thing.

    What's more (and what actually prompted me to make this post), I can actually use the game to fulfil Eero's other-thread request for a competent and compelling portrayal of the best roleplaying has to offer.



    This group of players has put more life into Roll for Shoes than I ever did, and in fact, far more than I ever thought was possible.
  • Given that Eero started the thread, I suspect he already knows my answer to what creative need of mine goes under-served: The use of miniatures ( and minis related goodies) in anything other than a tactical. gamist use.

    Yeah, I've spilled a lot of electrons talking about concepts regarding this, but damn it would be soooo much easier if someone else just plain wrote something ( or several somethings) up that I could just buy.

    So, get on that, you lot, right?

    Actually, it isn't just minis. I think the use of visual tools ( made by players or by designers) is an under-served tool/creative need. There's, um, Everway, Beyond the Wall, The Quiet Year, Archipelago, and How to Host a Dungeon that I can think of, and not too much else.

    Notably, all of them involve making a map as the visual component, except for Everway.
  • Oh yes, I was thinking about your miniatures quest a bit before starting the thread, but then I forgot to add that in there when actually writing that first post. It's totally an example of the concept of underserviced thing that totally has more potential than we're currently actualizing.

    Magical realism is an interesting suggestion, I like it as an inspiration. Ultimately I agree with Paul that it's actually pretty well in hand (partially because it's maybe not that substantial a thing, really, in terms of differentiating from other fantasy, but that's a different topic), so not really that under-serviced, but still a fine inspiration for stuff. It's sort of like how I don't feel that games emulating French movies are being conspicuously ignored - there aren't any (that I can think of right now), but French movies aren't that different from other people's movies, not so much that you couldn't just use the available tools to do that thing if you want to.

    Suspense - or thriller, more generally - is also an interesting suggestion. I want to say that it's sort of like the step-brother of drama in terms of how you go about doing it in a rpg, but then in reality I don't think that we quite have a canonical recipe for this yet. But then again, trad style GM railroads do a lot of thriller (essentially jumping off from the adventure party model, with railroad pacing carrying the ball home), so it's sort of a genre that's done a lot, but rarely in a particularly clarified form. I want it on my list, though, because I can 100% get behind the idea that I'd need to make a real game for this stuff instead of the usual bullshit. I've already got all sorts of James Bond, Frederick Forsythe thinking in the desk drawer, and it's all basically because there is a dearth of games in the genre.

    So let's update the list a bit. I like how many things it has.

    Intrigue
    Slice of Life
    Comedy
    Sports/Competition
    Murder Mystery
    Professional Drama
    Thriller
    Bob's Toy Quest
  • I think the use of visual tools ( made by players or by designers) is an under-served tool/creative need.
    I have vague memories of seeing someone talk about a game that started with each player presenting an album (the musical kind) cover, which appealed so much to me since some of my early, primal fantasy influences were old LP covers (I dream of playing a game set in a world of Yes album covers). Can't remember the name of the game or even if the album cover part was actually a major part of the game or not, but you just reminded me that it's a thing, somewhere.

    Fall of Magic is another neat game built around a strong visual prop. And while I tend to balk at the practice personally, it seems that visual aids have become a huge part of a lot of online roleplaying groups even for more traditional games, with character art and setting locales lifted from the vast fantastical, pictorial depths of the internet being key to a creating atmosphere. Not only is there a lack of games built around this sort of thing, but there's probably a not-insignificant market for them too.
  • Oh man, now I'm thinking of some sort of play by post charades thing where all or part of some of your posts has be in the form of something you got from Google Image Search.
  • Oh man, now I'm thinking of some sort of play by post charades thing where all or part of some of your posts has be in the form of something you got from Google Image Search.
    I believe Anna Anthropy has actually been working on a game like that. Not sure whether it's been released.
  • edited January 2017
    Suspense - or thriller, more generally - is also an interesting suggestion. I want to say that it's sort of like the step-brother of drama in terms of how you go about doing it in a rpg, but then in reality I don't think that we quite have a canonical recipe for this yet. But then again, trad style GM railroads do a lot of thriller (essentially jumping off from the adventure party model, with railroad pacing carrying the ball home), so it's sort of a genre that's done a lot, but rarely in a particularly clarified form. I want it on my list, though, because I can 100% get behind the idea that I'd need to make a real game for this stuff instead of the usual bullshit. I've already got all sorts of James Bond, Frederick Forsyth thinking in the desk drawer, and it's all basically because there is a dearth of games in the genre.
    Now I'm thinking how the adventure party format sucks life out of any genre which isn't based on adventure parties. Genre trappings can be rote and uninspired, but the party format is even more limiting.
  • Now I'm thinking how the adventure party format sucks life out of any genre which isn't based on adventure parties. Genre trappings can be rote and uninspired, but the party format is even more limiting.
    With you there 100%.
  • I'm not sure about thrillers/suspense being exactly in the same category, but perhaps the classic detective story would really benefit from a kind of super-gamey approach?

    The kinds of detective stories I'm thinking of are more the Chandler/Hammet/ Mosely type mysteries. Generally a single detective with some supporting characters ( so really maybe getting into a 1 on 1 play design as opposed to party play, but possibly with some 'troupe" play options for the detective player).

    By very game-y, I mean, we're going to keep score, and it is Step On Up at the player level.

    If the player figures something out or gains info ( a particular clue) it's worth 3 points.
    If the clue is gained through character abilities/rolls it's worth 1 point.
    If the GM has to "give" the clue eventually in some form, it's worth zero points.

    As with Clue/Cluedo, there comes a point where the player has to make the big, detective reveal, positing their explanation of the whole thing, again worth a certain number of points depending on how accurate they were. Positive points only, no negative points.

    ( Or they could drop the whole investigation, too stumped to continue, I suppose. The only real loss condition).

    As for the game as a whole, I imagine it a bit like Robin Laws' Rune, with tools for scenario designers/GMs to rotate through the role. Whether the group of players each have their own detective(or small team) or the whole group creates one detective team they switch up playing is really a matter of minor variation, since the points/bragging rights are for the players rather than the characters.

    [I also guess that inherently there is a bit of designer/GM scoring here too. If the player score for the adventure is too low at the end of it, it's a pretty good bet that the GM has made a too tough adventure/mystery for the capabilities of the other player(s)]

    Now, I also suppose this would still be a bit railroady, but I don't know that this is a problem exactly. I'm guessing that players who volunteer for this sort of thing aren't really looking for a big sandbox style of play anyway.
  • I do think detective duos could be a good idea, so 2 players and 1 GM, or perhaps 2 players, 1 GM and 1 NPC portrayer. It's a classic of the genre, and allows for some of the more usual RPG character interaction. I'm thinking of Mulder and Scully and all the detective pairs on Law and Order.
  • I could certainly see partners being a viable option. Mostly I'm just thinking of designing away from the idea that you're going to have a party with a minimum of 4 players ( and maybe more if you're old school!) as the main approach.

    I think even if you only have minimal action/combat, that kind of requires a really strong look at those aspects of game design in a situation with only a couple of players and a GM.

    I guess that would be something also a bit underserved, although I'm not sure it's a creative need: Action/Adventure games built to work with very few character players (1-2). Weirdly, that was my biggest beef with TSR's Indiana Jones game ( different from most every other person's complaint list, apparently).
  • I am fond of Bob's idea - I, too, am most excited by the notion of performative detective puzzle solving when it comes to adapting the crime mystery genre to rpgs. That scoring method right there already forms the basis of an elegant game.

    The dramatic approach is legit, too. The best game along those lines that I know of is the Finnish "Subdivision 23", sadly stuck in development hell for the last few years. It's an expansive detective drama set in an ersatz Bladerunner milieu with slice of life overtones. Technically Forgite, with elegant crime-creation and pacing of crime-solving. The player characters are independent crime detectives working the night beat in a futuristic city that never sleeps, trying to solve cases and not be too horrible as human beings while at it. My favourite part of the game is the way it paces the introduction and resolution of crimes: the GM preps a bunch of different crimes for every session, throws them at the players according to an in-game clock (so this crime would happen at 1 am, this one at 2 am, etc.), and lets them choose themselves who takes what crimes, and which are left to the incompetent uniform squad to muddle through best they can. The outcome is a wonderfully rich mosaic of slice-of-life setting stuff all flowing by, with the players privileged to choose what to focus on in more detail. Solving crimes and other accomplishments have their consequences, so there are all sorts of hooks and triggers for personal dramatic arcs in between the "barf forth cyberpunk" approach to milieu depiction that the game encourages.

    (Anybody knowing anything about my tastes in gaming will not be surprised to learn that I have sworn to finish Subdivision 23 with my own two hands if it isn't done by the time I clear my on-going projects. It's a much too excellent game to get stuck in the designer's desk drawer. Sort of like a Finnish Acts of Evil in that regard.)
  • @Deliverator, I love the idea of a "buddy game"! Detective or otherwise. It seems like a structure outside of the standard adventuring party that would really lend itself well to our medium. Are there any existing buddy games out there?
  • The only two games I can think of that design explicitly for it are an old Japanese RPG called Witch Quest, where players are divided up as young witches and their cat familiars, and Peek-a-Boo, a more recent (also Japanese) game about children engaged in "tests of courage" (stuff like walking through the woods at night without a flashlight, or whatever else kids do to prove to each other how not-scared they are) along with their ghost companions (it's probably worth mentioning that Peek-a-Boo is also pretty much an explicit homage to Witch Quest). Ewen Cluney translated WQ into English:
    https://yarukizerogames.com/2010/02/11/witch-quest-book-ii-release/
  • Hey, buddy games - just realized that my zany desk drawer raven game Valravnar for Asagrimmr has buddies - Hugin and Munin, ravens in Odin's service. They solve crimes, too :D
  • I like the idea of the challenge-based crime-solving RPG.

    A "buddy genre" version would work, as would a version where there is one detective, and a whole group of players collectively form the mystery (they all are effectively GMs). Each could be responsible for a particular enemy/NPC, or they could have different rights and roles in terms of presenting clues, or whatever.

    It would be extra fun if each "opposing" player's role mandated a certain outcome.

    For instance, the crime mystery is about Dr. Diabolo, who is planning to blow up the Big Ben. However, there are multiple parts to his plan. Perhaps one thing that has happened is that the nefarious Dr. has kidnapped the a Royal (a young princess). There is one player in charge of this "subplot"; if the detective (or detective team) scores well enough against them, the princess can be found before she dies.

    In similar fashion, every "subplot" or opposition player is tied to some element of the story at stake. Perhaps Eero and I are playing, and Eero is "responsible" for the princess's rescue, whereas I am responsible for the huge amount of money the Dr. has stolen. If he scores well enough, the princess dies. If I score well enough, the money is not found or recovered.

    In this fashion, we have a mystery with multiple possible outcomes. The nefarious plot to blow the Big Ben is unlikely to succeed (perhaps), but the end we play to find out whether the princess survives, whether the money is recovered, and so on. Nuanced endings with real stakes exist, depending on the scoring at the end of the game, including possible loose ends for the "next chapter" in the story.
  • For me, in a point scoring mystery game, the mechanics for the player end would be vastly easier to write than the mystery designer/presenter end methods/mechanics.

    As for number of players, I was mostly suggesting designing for 1:1 or 2PC: 1GM simply from the practicality of getting together with people to organize a game. OTOH, for groups that already have good social connections and meetups, I could see a more rotating presenter aspect of it, with the mystery designer perhaps even going further and designing the main detective ( and any assistants) that player(s) will use.

    Which is weird from a standard RPG/SG perspective, but one of the things I like as a mystery reader is that often an author's setting is part of the joy of the thing for me, as often there is some aspect that revolves around a culture or geography that I'm not a part of in my normal life.
  • It occurs to me that this scoring idea is very similar to what I do in my mystery archeology game Fellows of the Julenius Archive. It's competitive (in the blood opera sense, not as a wargame) and has objective scoring that's basically based on how constructive and active your own archeologist is in building up the joint hypothesis about the mystery site. Doesn't have the GM with a preplanned mystery, but aside from that it's got a good sense for how a points-scoring game like that goes.
  • [...] how many people actually want super-intense horror games? Maybe it's a relatively minor niche, with actually some pretty passable service to it, in final analysis?
    In my personal experience almost everyone sitting at a horror table hopes/expects to be somewhat scared/creeped. And when it works, THOSE are the moments they remember and tell stories about. Not the clue-gathering legwork, not the straight combat/action scenes. They remember and praise the creepy stuff, the horror stuff.

    Monsterhearts is not in this genre, nor Monster of the Week, not Buffy the Vamp Slayer or even Dead of Night for that matters. Not even the slashers gorefests like Geiger Counter or The Final Girl ... for those you sit in what you expect to be an over the top game, almost comedic.

    Problem is, in scary-horror sessions when you do manage to get the memorable kind of moments... using the usual suspect games (CoC, Kult, Dread, whatever) most of the times it's not because of how the game mechanics work, but because the gm and players were "good" and used thespian tricks.

    So I see both a desire for this kind of experience, and a lack of tools that effectively facilitate it.
    I created Touched by Evil exactly because I failed to find a game doing scary-horror properly :P
    Even Lovecraftesque and ToC are more about running an investigation that "looks Lovecraftesque" (eh eh eh) than touching on the emotional side of horror that summons dread and unease in the players.
    Sure, I don't mind. [Intrigue] is a big topic that is worthy of much discussion, to be sure.
    Now I'm not sure anymore what you mean by "intrigue".
    There has been a lot of talk about Player Level secrets and competitive PvP behaviours, but the best intrigue games I have ever had, the ones where the fiction ends up looking like a season from Game of Thrones or House of Cards, in my experience are those where there are no secrets among Players (except the natural "what will they do next?").

    Kind of like the difference mentioned somewhere else between a true PvP game and a cooperative "blood opera" where the PCs backstab to no end but the Players are all in together.

    So if you accept intrigue even without real table secrets, then I've had a lot of success with King of the City. It works without secrets, but it ALSO pits the Players one against each other in a truly competitive way, producing intrigue-looking fiction.
    I mean, you use an actual chessboard and chess pieces to perform maneuvers and betrayals against your opponents :D

    FateLess is not specifically focused on this goal, but apparently it gets it accomplished spontaneously as a byproduct of how the social rules work: you can play your PC to the hilt, pursuing its personal goals, without disrupting everyone else's game and actually such "egoist/competitive" behaviour fuels a bunch mechanics that make the whole game spin better for everyone.

    So far the only comparable results came from my old days as a Vampire Masquerade player, where exactly ZERO of the intrigue came from the game mechanics and 100% was thanks to the (un)natural selection of gm and players over the course of years, which polarised our unique will to "play political" ... so our game sessions would look like this:
    - gm recaps the public events of the last session
    - gm spends ~15 minutes alone with player-A doing his PC's private stuff
    - in the meantime the other players were doing nothing
    - rinse and repeat for all 5 players until the end of game night

    So, all secret. For real. True player skill vs player skill, with the PCs being more of an avatar adding randomness to our otherwise chess-like maneuvers.
    Incredibly fatiguing for the GM.
    Incredibly demanding in terms of dedication and discipline for the Players.
    It eventually led to a lot of gaming burnouts and real life arguments and broken friendships.
    So, fond memories and stuff, but maybe not really worth the cost, after all :P
  • In Edinburgh, the most popular request is intrigue games (by which I mean, games that tell stories like Game of Thrones or House of Cards).

    Comedy is an interesting one, because it's both a genre and a tone. There are plenty of games which lend themselves to being played with a comedic tone, and loads of games which are meant to be serious but which can be played hilariously with the application of player wit, but the only one I can think of that actually tries to emulates the genre itself is The Play's The Thing, and that's Shakespearean comedy specifically.

    I think the sitcom setup in particular lends itself to a gaming table vibe - a bunch of characters with complementing flaws who are trapped together. A sitcom story game would probably borrow more from improv than rpgs though? E.g. rewarding being funny with canned-laughter points or similar seems a bit empty, as being funny is its own reward anyway, and access/failure in actions isn't really a factor in a sitcom.

    Perhaps such a game would mostly take the form of roll tables that you use to generate characters, their relationships, and a situation?
  • Perhaps such a game would mostly take the form of roll tables that you use to generate characters, their relationships, and a situation?
    Yeah, that's basically what Maid does.

    More generally, though, there are many things that rpg rules can do aside from conflict resolution. I imagine that a sitcom system would help the players to set up situations (by directing character generation and situation generation to latch together in natural ways), realize character roles (that is, figure out who does what for the comic routines) and pace the story (that is, tell them when it's not yet time to resolve, and what it is time).
  • I will check out Maid! :-)

    Traditional sitcoms tend to be quite formulaic. I found, when I wrote my own studio sitcom, that once the situation (in the technical sense meaning the state of play which every episode of the sitcom begins and ends with) and format were working properly, writing episodes flowed fairly naturally—both on my own and in the writers room. I'm happy to believe this wouldn't necessarily be the case (or would be less fun) in a gaming context though!
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