(Shattered Mirrors is a storygame I’m writing, blogging the process here to entertain and hopefully get some advice/feedback. For the introductory post that lays out the design goals of the project, look here.
To check out the last storygame I produced, head over to gamesfromthewildwood.itch.io/endlesssea. To read the history of its design, check out the 'across the endless sea' tag on this blog).
Alright, so let’s pick design for Shattered Mirrors back up. Things haven’t advanced as much as I originally intended, because I accidentally tripped and designed an entire other game from scratch, but I’m pushing on regardless.
I think it’s time to talk about mechanics.
Firstly, I think this game draws a distinction between what for now I’m going to call (titles pending) ‘vignettes’ and ‘scenes’. The former is framed entirely by one player – it’s pure narration, pure storytelling. The latter involves two or more players, and is framed around a conflict.
This game has a distinct and deliberate structure of three (or maybe five, and lean Shakespearean?) Acts, with different lengths, tone, goals, and mechanics for each.
The first Act is a series of vignettes. Each of the core fictional playbooks (The Child, The Departed, The Ghost, The Authority) takes it in turn framing a vignette that illuminates and introduces certain elements of the story, and answers certain questions.
This is where we see the despair of the Ghost and how the Child is affected, this is where we see that the Departed is a hole in the life of the family, this is where we meet the Authority and see this tyrannical controlling force that insists it knows best for the child (benevolent, well-meaning).
During these vignettes, each other player is allowed (but not mandated) to request elaboration or doubling-down on a particular element that interests them.
This Act ends with the Authority’s vignette, in which we see the arrival of supernatural badness.
The second Act is a series of scenes. It is far and away the longest of the Acts, as it contains the bulk of the story. This is the portion of the game in which the Child’s quest for the return of the Departed is carried out, as well as much of the build-up involving contact with the Authority’s agents and possibly (indirectly, through a dream or in the world) the Authority themself.
The draft procedure for what these scenes will look like goes something like this.
1: The Child decides what the next scene is about. Where are they going? What are they doing? Is this scene about healing the Ghost, or following the Departed’s quest, or [INSERT OTHER CHOICES?] This is where they set the stakes of what is at stake to be won.
2: Based on that choice, the Antagonist playbook passes to either The Departed or The Authority. Whichever didn’t take it, claims The Judge playbook.
3: The Antagonist
onsults the choice that they’ve made on their playbook and thinks about where the story is currently at, and frames the scene.
4: Narration goes back and forth between the Antagonist and the Child. The latter says what they do, the former introduces opposition / monstrosity / difficulty and describes what it does.
5: The Judge and the Guide watch and listen closely. When their roles call for it, they decide how well things work and tell the Child what and how many to choose.
6: Once the question of the scene’s stakes (the next step in the Departed’s quest, an attempt to help the Ghost, an attempt at exerting control by the Authority) has been resolved through play, the Antagonist closes the scene.
(This question, given the genre we’re emulating, isn’t really a question about if the Child wins what they wanted. It’s more a question about what it costs them, and how much they gain).
The third Act is made up of one scene and then maybe a few vignettes. It is, essentially, the final confrontation and then the epilogue. The Antagonist is always the Authority, in this scene, and the Departed is always the Judge.
Otherwise, I think it probably plays out normally? The exception is that here it is possible to fail – this is where we get the ambiguous tragic Pan’s Labyrinth ending. Whether that’s just a player choice about tone or a different list for Things Lost, I’m not sure.
With all that structure in mind, all that really remains is to specify and refine the mechanics for resolution. And here, I think, I’m just going to double-down on what worked very well in Across the Endless Sea by doubling the number of players who get to assign choices.
- When the Child and the Antagonist’s forces come into opposition, the Judge decides how it goes (it works completely, it works partly or at cost, it doesn’t work) and how much is won or lost.
- When the Child calls on the magic of the Otherworld, the Ghost decides how it goes (it works completely, it works partly or at cost, it doesn’t work) and how well it works and how much is cost.
So we end up with one player advocating on behalf of the Child and another arbitrating on no-one’s behalf but in a way and with a set of priorities and mechanics that will necessarily favour the Antagonist (simply because the Child will usually lose something, or pay a price, and thus end up weaker by the time Act Three arrives).
And that's what I'm currently looking at. Without a doubt the next step is to actually write a playbook and work out what those will look like, as well as figuring out how these rules will actually be communicated.
That's design work I'll probably try to do on stream?
No set thoughts on timing yet, but if watching me work on a game and getting to make suggestions is something that interests you, the time and date for that will no doubt be posted up on my Twitter eventually.
Otherwise that about wraps things up for this week's project. Hopefully by next time I'll have some excerpts of a playbook ready to show y'all (or maybe something to celebrate my resurgent love for Monsterhearts 2...)
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