Monday 19 January 2009

Swordmountain - Concept Brainstorming

Yes that is a terrible placeholder name for any game. But I find that good placeholder names end up staying as final names in my projects! So this one will be replaced gladly as soon as I figure out what exactly the game is.

My initial idea was a game that shifted the scale of a traditional fantasy RPG upwards. Instead of spending an hour of game time travelling through some woods and playing out an encounter with giant spiders I wanted the characters to be able to spend that hour travelling through the woods, killing some spiders, finding a the bandit camp within, training them up to be an effective army and leading a strike against a nearby oppressive kingdom. I wanted one session to feel more like a whole Lord of the Rings book rather than just going through the Mines of Moria. I envisioned mechanics to encourage narrative and character development in this macro-scale world and a focus on travelling and interacting with whole kingdoms rather than barkeepers. A band of heroes that gained and lost members along the way. Raised and defeated armies and altered the world itself.

Then I heard about some game called HeroQuest...

At first it looked like my idea had already been done, unknown to me, many years ago. But should that put me off? Of course not. A game designed by me is likely to be much lighter on mechanics and I'm getting confident enough with design now that I'm sure I can match it in gameplay, with some hard work. I certainly wouldn't be tying the game to a setting like HQ and Glorantha. Most importantly, games have a habit of going into directions you don't always expect. So who knows, after a few more brainstorming sessions there might be very little in common left with HeroQuest. Just in the past few hours as I thought the game over some more I've considered moving into a no-GM direction that would put more of a focus on players collaboratively creating a story and setting as they go. Could some nice old-fashioned random tables fill the gaps left by a GM? I'll let you know as I carry on with this concept, but for now here's a rather hastily written Core Story to describe how I see a typical session of this game going.

A young warrior leaves his home in search of glory. Upon heading into the nearby forest he meets an aging woodsman, who helps him pass through some dangerous man eating vines. Here they find a young noblewoman fighting some flying tree-goblins and help her defeat them.
The three travel together until they reach the city of Kark. This city is at war with the mummies of the Empire of Dust and has been resisting their attacks for decades, becoming weaker each time. Trade routes have been cut off due to this war. The noblewoman gains an audience with the king and he sends the party out to kill the Dust Lord and end the war. They are given horses and a bodyguard of Karkian Heavy Cavalry.
They head out into the desert but are met by Mummy Chariots and their Obsidian Hounds. They battle and many of their guard are slain, but gradually the young warrior's strength forces the enemy back into the desert.
Upon arriving at the Tomb City the party are attacked by Dust Wraiths, which wound the Woodsman almost fatally. The young warrior presses on and into the Dust Lord's Palace, where he meets the Lord himself, cutting his head from his body and remembering the guidance of the king, burning the remains. Howls echo around the Tomb City and the very walls crumble as the Dust Empire's power collapses. The party hurry to find help for the dying woodsman, and a band of travelling nomads offer to help in return for escort to Kark. They heal the Ranger and upon being taken to Kark they reopen trade with the rest of the world and a celebration is held in honour of the heroes.
That evening the noblewoman is declared as heir to the throne of Kark but until her time of glory comes she agrees to continue travelling with the heroes.

I might have overdone it on the fantasy cheese but it gets across the sort of things I want the players to do. Now to go and see if I can hammer any effective mechanics into place for:
  • Travelling and Exploring
  • Promoting Character and setting development in-game
  • Interactions between Characters (Individuals only), Sites (Dungeons, Woods, Cities), Resources (Items, Armies, Monsters) and Factions (Guilds, Kingdoms)
Those four categories of entity were troubling me slightly but I'm happy that any device I can think of fits int one of them. Using the Core Story above we have...

Characters: The Young Warrior, Aging Woodsman and Noblewoman. The King of Kark, the Dust Lord.
Sites: Kark, the Desert, Tomb City, Dangerous Forest.
Resources: Mummy Chariots and Hounds, Dust Wraiths, Karkian Heavy Cavalry, Nomad Trade Caravan.
Factions: The Nomads, Kark, The Empire of Dust.

It's starting to make most sense in my head now. Stay tuned for progress.

1 comment:

  1. I'm glad you liked my article/my game. Thanks for the comment. If you ever need a third-party playtester, I'd be happy to help out.