[GenCon] Free Tyr + Secret Letters

At GenCon, I was inspired to put together two handouts. (Apparently, deadlines work for me!)

For Dark Sun / D&D: Free Tyr, and adventure framework for playing a “real time” campaign as things in Tyr get interesting. Lots of random tables and plot hooks for improvisational play.

For Dance and the Dawn: Secret Letters, a set of expansion rules for the basic game.

I have more to say about the “Free Tyr” game once I’ve got time to write about it.

ETA: I have an updated version of “Free Tyr”, include a timeline-tracking sheet as originally intended.

Dance and the Dawn: What's the game like?

The Dance and the Dawn is a game for 3-5 players and is played over a chessboard. One player plays the part of the Narrator (and will control the Duke and Queen, as well as several Lords), and the other players will each control one of the Ladies. The game is a bit of a fairy tale and a bit of a puzzle: each Lady is trying to determine the character of the various Lords, and must pick one at the end of the game.

The game is inspired by the imagery and symbolism of chess: each character is represented by a chess piece, and each piece has its own characteristics and implications. (For example: Ladies represented by the Knight piece are likely to be willful, driven and reckless.) There’s a light setting with plenty of room and guidelines for you to fill in the rest; the text also includes some suggested settings and pre-created characters.

The flow of gameplay is structured: there are three dances (with duels being held as an interlude between the dances). Within each dance, the players move their Ladies and their chosen dance partners around the board. The Ladies exchange questions and answers with their partners, attempting to gain a Lord’s favor while understanding the past. To quote the text: “They will dance until dawn, when each Lady will select one Lord. If they select their True Love, they will find a happy ending. (If they select someone else, their outcome will be less pleasant.)”

In playing the game I’ve experienced a most interesting series of characters, rivalries, couplets, intrigues and witty repartees. (And I’ve also opened up some interesting conversations.) I hope the game does the same for you.

Dance and the Dawn: a retrospective, and some news

The Dance and the Dawn was developed in the course of the “Iron Game Chef: Fantasy” contest, where participants had a week to develop a fantasy-themed game in a week’s time, using a number of pre-established elements, such as “Dawn” and “Island”.

I developed the game in a mad rush over a few days (1 2 3) when I should have been working on my exams, and yet I ultimately created a game I was quite proud of. The game was reviewed and ultimately earned the rank of 1st-runner-up.

The game has undergone a great deal of revision and playtesting since then, but I think it has the same charm. I’ve gotten good feedback on it. (Indeed, some friends of mine were inspired to make a LARP spinoff based on the game. That’s quite a compliment.)

The Dance and the Dawn will be released at GenCon ’09 at the Design Matters booth, and I’m very excited. I’ve been collaborating with various game designer friends (including Elizabeth Shoemaker for copyediting and Nathan Paoletta for design), and I’m quite happy with the results.

Dance and Dawn: Why you should pick Lord Cruelacious

This isn’t something that came out of play (so I’m kinda underlining it) but its an interesting possibility. The endgame has each player pick the Lord they want, and of course if someone else picks your Lord you’re likely screwed. Of course, one of the Lords is always the Really Wicked Bad One.

Suppose there’s three of us (John, Dev, Nathan), and John picked the dreamy Lord Aentham, who i was 90% sure was my Lord. I could pick jovial Lord Briggs, who maybe has a long shot at being my pick (but is more likely to be Nathan’s match). Or I could pick Lord Cruelacious, who has revealed himself to be a insane jerk (and probably the Wicked Bad, instant-lose).

I probably should be a good guy and pick Cruelacious, screwing myself but giving a Nathan a better chance at not losing. But most players will (understandably) go after their second-best pick, and thus many games do end up in this case where some errant picks mess up everyone’s choices and there’s unhappy endings all around.

This is a picture of Lord Cruelacious.

latest in borrowed ideas: style sheets!

Yes, I’m borrowed Jonathan’s style sheets to patch a possible issue in the text of “the Dance and the Dawn”. I’m providing three style sheets, to get players on the same page in terms of setting and limitations:

  • A Faraway Land Straight-up fairy-tale aesthetics.
  • A Different Steel More of a slightly dark fairy-tale, with slight proto-feminist (maybe?) indications.
  • A Second Chance Total after-life metaphysics stuff going on. Darkest.

Duels (between Dances, before Dawn)

First, two turns of phrase: the Duel of Roses and the Duel of Leaves. Damn. I’m using those, but there’s no way I can do them justice. If you want to steal those phrases and rerender them into something more fabulous, please do.

Duels should break up the dances/discussion that make up most of normal play. Ideally they can act as a relaxing interlude (the players can be entertained, the GM isn’t constrained by the question-and-answer, and the overall affair is rather quick). Ideally it should also raise the tension about what’s going on during the dance, and give people a chance to revisit their choices. (I’m also trying to avoid adding more rules. In doing so I don’t think I’ll establish mechanical differences between these two duels.)

Here’s how I imagine it happens:

  • The Narrator (as the Queen of Ice) will pick two of the Lords of Ash to duel, with some goal in mind at why this duel has been chosen. (“This duel will force the Lady Bishop to reconsider her attachment to the Lord Rook.”) The Narrator may take suggestions from the Ladies, but it’s her call.
  • The Narrator will narrate the back-and-forth of the duel, taking pauses for the players to throw their favor behind one Lord or the other; the Narrator should given that Lord a little more advantage as a result.
  • However, the final result is still up to the Narrator. A Lord that loses a Duel must skip the next dance (but will never be forced to Duel again).

It’s arbitrary, but much of the game plays on playing amidst that arbitrariness, and it’s an interlude anyway.

Dance and Dawn: What's Next?

The Dance and the Dawn (link) is one of my games that’s closest to complete, and one that I’d really like out there so that others can start carving and reusing it for their own purposes. So, what else needs to happen?

For one thing: I’m still adjusting with the tokens that the Duke and the Queen give you. Their economies aren’t just quite right, though they do a lot that I like. A more tricky problem is something of pace: in truth, having six different dances to talk through (from midnight until, yes dawn) can be really exhausting. Each of these rounds consists of tricky question-and-answer volleys that require a lot of creativity and improv from all the players (including the GM).

Some fixes to be tried: firstly, less dances and more swordplay. (I’ll elaborate only once I got something elaboratable.) Also, encourage “gossip” during other players turns, to keep dialogue going and to basically buy other players time (while tying up players’ characters with each other.) I also need to brainstorm some pregenerated questions – things the players and GM can fall back on while they’re still trying to feel out the characters. That can do a lot.

I really think that, in another game or two, I’ll be ready to tie it up and let Other Folks playtest it, without my intervention. That, there, will be the challenge.