Color theory based system, one sided dice and other design ideas in the rpg Maa


#1

I’ve just finished work on a roleplaying game called Maa, and I wanted to post about some of the ideas in it. The game has a rather unique backstory and at the moment you can’t really buy it anywhere, so I figured I’d put this here instead of the hype section.

The project got started when an American sculptor called Matthew Day Jackson came to Finland to do a retrospective exhibition at the Serlachius Museums in Mänttä, a small town in the middle of nowhere. He decided that instead of doing an exhibition catalogue, as is customary, he wanted to make a roleplaying game instead.

The museum complied and hired me to work with him to make a proper game out of it. So Matthew designed the game’s concept and systems, I acted as the developer and the art critic Tom Morton wrote the narrative and setting material. The game’s title, Maa, is Finnish and means Earth.

The basic pitch is this: After humanity has destroyed itself in a planetary catastrophe, the world heals for a thousand years, becoming a paradise. Then one day, the last remnants of humanity are finally forced to exit their dismal underground Bunkers. The question is, after having destroyed the earth, will the humans do it again?

In terms of game mechanics, much of Maa is built on color theory, the idea of the color wheel, adjacent colors and complementary colors. Color affinities and clashes guide the interpretation of the systems and a character’s stats are expressed as colors.

To help with this, the game has two spherical dice: a black and white one, as well as a rainbow. So you can roll orange or green, for example.

The basic progression of action is built on exploration, which happens by either going through story beats or drawing cards from a deck and interpreting the results. Characters are Scouts from one of the dying underground families, sent out to explore a new world and to engage its strange new inhabitants.

The colors can interact in all sorts of ways. For example, the characters are in terrain coded red and one has red as the adaptability color. Then they meet a creature coded as green. These sorts of interplays permeate the whole thing.

The edition we made was put together by a Finnish art book publisher in a pretty small print run, with both English and Finnish text. That’s why I wanted to post about the idea here because I figured they might be interesting to more people than who actually get to access the game itself!

Here’s two of the cards:

kuvakortit_etupuoli-23

kuvakortit_etupuoli-41


#2

This sounds super cool! I’ve been trying to make color work as a resolution mechanic (unfruitfully) for some time, so it’s very interesting to hear your thoughts on it.

Side question: What do you mean by spherical dice? Like, totally round? How do they stop rolling?


#3

Yeah, totally round:

They’re actually pretty good for rolling as long as you change your dice throwing habits a little. Instead of rolling onto a table like you usually do, you can drop them on cloth and it works fine. That way, they don’t keep moving.

For Maa, the key to the color system is that it’s all about finding affinities between things and is very much fodder for interpretation and imagination. We don’t really use it for resolution, except in the sense that a player can use color affinities to argue for success.


#4

I’ve seen six sided dice that are round before. The way to do this is to have the “sides” in the center, with a free moving weight which will tumble around and eventually rest on one place, which will force one number to be at the top.

*not these internal “sides” are not sides, but more likely valleys that will cradle the the free moving weight.


#5

For us, the motivation for making them perfectly round was to keep all results fuzzy instead of definite. That was part of the general design philosophy of Maa which revolved around subjective interpretation. In the case of dice, even interpreting the result is subjective, but it still carries information that can be used as basis for deciding what happens.