Monday, August 10, 2009

Setting Development Through Gaming

For the last 9 months we've been hard at work developing 'Solus' a post apocalyptic setting for our live-action airsoft game Firefight! After setting the premise and constraints of the game world much of the process has consisted of creating individual gaming events that fit our vision.

Brainstorming and LEGO-style snapping of ideas together takes the concept of developing "adventures" in a game world only so far. Typically what looks like a complete event outline has holes and leaps of logic that are not only inelegant but also difficult to bridge once the game starts moving. The gaps can be closed on the fly but this isn't an optimal approach because in live action hand-waving an NPC as an agent of change into or out of existence is quite difficult. In attempt to close holes ahead of time we've been using tabletop gaming to jump into the setting to test our outlines. As we have increased utilization of this technique the positive feedback given after game events has gone up.

We started with The Shadow of Yesterday to test the concept and it worked out very well. The system felt neutral enough to allow us to really play in the Solus setting. Next we tried PDQ and it worked great. Both systems are very good games and are flexible enough to accommodate virtually any setting.

I picked up Heroquest 2.0 because I had heard so many good things about it over the years but had never seen it. I had no idea that in time it would become the system that really kicked the setting dev process into high gear.

Heroquest has the qualities of fast and flexible but it also has something else. Keywords. A Keyword is a sort of macro that encompass a broad set of character abilities wrapped up into a single word or phrase. This feature allowed us to not only flex the system for our setting but it also helped us reinforce the setting with the Firefight! system even though they are two different rule sets.

In Firefight! there are 3 main character types; Brains, Jack of all trades, and Action. Each character type has exclusive access to system bits that provides unique abilities in the game space. The beautiful part is that these character types became Keywords. The benefits were myriad. Character creation time was dramatically reduced which allowed us to jump straight to the point of the endeavor - setting development. The amount of material covered in a very short of amount of time went way up. Concentrating on the setting took far less effort. Upon reflection I think the productivity gain is the result of reduced "context switching" between the setting in play on the tabletop and the live action system that will be used out in the field.

The scope of Solus scales up from the struggles of the individual through that of their comrades in arms to the actions of larger entities maneuvering to make life better and/or to snuff out those who get in their way. This too was pleasantly easy to handle.

Don't think that I look at Heroquest 2.0 as just a tool. It's a lot of fun and hope to get a proper campaign off the ground soon. Who know. Maybe it'll be Solus.

"Turning and turning in the widening gyre
The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed,..."

-W.B. Yeats


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