What's sitting around in your design drawer?

Just a note - I added a rule for this thread asking you not to suggest similar games.or ideas unless specifically invited. I understand the impulse, and it can be valuable when a designer is ready to look at prior art, but at all other times it runs the risk of being really demoralizing and counterproductive.

For anyone thus demoralized - no two games will ever be the same, because you are the secret sauce. Similar or even identical themes and techniques will still result in wildly different games!

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Sword, Axe, Spear, & Shield is my first design I got serious about wanting to realize as an actual product. I spent hundreds of hours on designing and refining its mechanics, writing and rewriting the rules, and even commissioned some professional illustrations for it. It’s currently shelved indefinitely.

There are two main issues with the game I affectionately call SASS.

  1. As I developed the game, I learned more about my own taste in games as a player, facilitator, and designer. Frankly, the product I originally set out to make was no longer something I was really interested in playing or designing. Attempts to move the design into a space I was more comfortable with didn’t end well and created something really ugly and janky.
  2. The game’s themes were way too close to stuff Nazis would be really into. When I started the project, before the 2016 US election, I thought I could write the game in a way that was unfriendly to white supremacists. But during the last playtest in late 2018, I found that I wasn’t super comfortable with the fiction the game output.

My current main project, Plunderlight, is more or less completely different from SASS mechanically. It’s actually derived from some scribblings I started before SASS that hadn’t coalesced into its own game yet. But it’s benefited from all of the lessons about design, and my own tastes, that I learned while I was working on SASS.

In terms of design elements from SASS I can see myself revisiting? There was a cool subsystem for superstition. Basically encouraging players to try and get into a magical mindset by interpreting mundane things as otherworldly omens to earn a metacurrency. So, later they could spend an omen and tell the facilitator how the supernatural gave them insight into the situation to reroll the dice.

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I had a resolution and conflict system based on tarot cards that I keep wanting to trot back out, but nothing has shown up in my headspace that would “click” with it yet.

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Oh. the other thing in my drawer that I love but which will probably stay there indefinitely is my Game Chef 2015(?) entry, the first RPG I ever designed, which is about spies trying to secretly pass on intel at a makeover party through color-coded nail painting.

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A couple years ago I wrote a mini-game called Cops and Corruption, a game about police officers changing their minds about things, as a sort of proof of concept for a mechanic based on changing beliefs. I was interested in how Burning Wheel and Lady Blackbird handled beliefs and goals, but thought more could be done to centralize those ideas in play.

The big mechanic is called a “Reckoning”:

When you act against a Belief, you gain 1 point of Dissonance.

When your Dissonance hits 5, you have a Reckoning.

When you have a Reckoning, you must Renounce a Belief. It does not have to be the Belief that you’ve been acting against.

When you Renounce a Belief, you replace it with a new Belief and reset your Dissonance score to 0. Your new Belief can come from another archetype, from the examples above, or something you make up, so long as the GM approves it.

Example:

You’re a Rookie, and your partner is going to get caught skimming money from drug busts unless you cover for him. You decide to protect your fellow officer, but in so doing you go against your Belief in upholding the law, so you gain a point of Dissonance. Eventually, you hit 5. You have an Reckoning, and decide to Renounce your belief that you should help other officers no matter what, and take on the new belief that the department is corrupt and needs to be reformed. Your Dissonance resets to 0. Then you learn that your captain is actually working for one of the leading gangs in town. To get the evidence you need to prove it, you have to break the law. You do it, and your Dissonance goes up to 1 again.

I’ve never had a chance to test the game, and I also feel ambiguous about ever releasing it because, well, it’s a game about being cops and I’m not sure how to do it in a way I feel comfortable. I don’t want the whole thing to come off as “geez whiz, it’s tough being a cop so we should just give them the benefit of the doubt.”

I might find another use for the Reckoning mechanic someday.

(Oh, and I’d welcome feedback or comparisons).

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I realized I didn’t actually answer my own question! I have a bunch but here’s one that’s been rotting on my hard drive since 2011. It’s a game about dying cowboys:

It’s 1899, and you’re in Sunny Slope, a tent city and sanitarium north of Phoenix, Arizona Territory. The west isn’t so wild any more and, being powerful sick, you’re come here to die. Sunny Slope is paradise, there’s nothing to do but rest and take in the palliative breezes. It’s as if God made it so you could go easy.

And yet here you are strapping on your barking irons with a bunch of other pox-ridden, busted up wrecks. It is a puzzlement. What could compel a posse of diseased rejects on death’s front porch to saddle up for one last hard desert ride?

Spaniards. Spaniards in Cuba is why. Every able-bodied patriot got on his horse and rode to Cuba to kill him a Spaniard just now. Every cowboy, every lawman, every decent, God-fearing right arm of civilization in the Territory. And behind them every rascal, every lunatic, and every black-hearted outlaw licked his chops considerable. Fox is going to eat well in the hen house tonight.

Well, maybe.

You can still stand up and shoot after a fashion, so maybe not. You may not be the strong right arm of civilization, but your failing mortal vessel and grim resolve are all that stand between things that are good and things that are very bad. It will have to be enough.

…and I’m not super interested in heroic cowboy narratives any more, but I love this setup, the inversion of some tropes, playing syphilitics and sad old people with rheumatic fever and trying to do one last good, kind thing as they not so gradually collapse into death. I really enjoyed researching patent medicines and terrible 19th century diseases. In the drawer it stays for now.

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That sounds neat. Since you used GUMSHOE, were you (or are you) adapting Fallen London as an investigation/mystery game?

That’s a valid choice. I’m just curious.

Sort of, but also not. One of my reasonings was definitely that Fallen London is a game about uncovering secrets and clues of what’s going on in the city, so GUMSHOE made a lot of sense there. You spend points, you discover secrets about what’s going on. From that standpoint, I basically figured you’d convert the various Connections and maybe even other Qualities into “Investigative abilities”. So you might spend points of your Connection: Bohemians to learn secrets about revels with Prisoner’s Honey, for example.

I don’t recall 100%, but I think I also noodled around with the idea that instead of just spending points from Qualities to learn secrets, you could also spend points from Qualities to get advantages or do certain things. It was a much, much more flexible take on GUMSHOE that might be cool to revisit.

I also considered making it more collaborative and improvisational, allowing players to spend points to make up secrets that their character new, sort of bolstering the atmosphere of discovery and adding a touch of collaborative weirdness.

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I’ve got a few that i’ve been working on for a while but are nowhere near ready for even basic playtesting.

Mutanthearts: a monsterhearts 2 reskinning with the characters being characters at a Xavier school for the gifted-like establishment

Minions, inc: a hacked apart Bedlam Hall but characters are workings in a villains organisation trying to fulfil the projects of the various board members (who may be Dragons, ghosts, sorcerers, supervillians, brains in jars, vampires ect). very much inspired by the show Better off Ted and Wolfram and Heart from Buffy/Angel

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I’ve had an idea bouncing around for years now under the title Through Shadow. It’s eventually going to be somewhere in the venn diagram of “dungeon crawl,” “different player/world roles ala Doomed Pilgrim,” and “influenced by Ocarina of Time;” the idea was a singular hero player character, a singular “guiding spirit” player character in the vein of OOT’s Navi, and any number of additional “GM” type players throwing challenges at the pair. I’ve taken this thing back to the drawing board so many times, and bothered so many people for a critical eye, I don’t even know what I’ll ever do with the idea. I feel like I need to have something useful to say before it’s worth continuing the development.

I’ve also got three different minigames about life in the military. They’re varying forms of done; one is openly just a bit of absurdist humor in the form of a game, while the other two are actually playable and complete, and have been shared on Google Plus but never actually “published” in any larger sense.

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I completely LOVE this idea. Bedlam Hall is superb fun, and this is a very natural reskinning of it!

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I’m currently drafting two expansions for my Movie Night RPG while chipping away at two other systems, one of which I’m foolishly working on five settings for.
Gotta keep busy!

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I have a LARP series that I’ll come back to some day, that utilizes the fact that schedules tend to be chaotic, and you can’t count on the fact that you’ll have the same players on two episodes of the same LARP series. I decided to treat it as a feature and design around that, so now I have a model of a series of LARP events for five groups of seven people who play alternate-universe versions of seven characters. Think urban magic, splitting realities, heavy symbolism and Mage:the Ascension vibe. It would be neat to finish it. I even have a sad, angsty playlist for this project.

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Many moons ago I designed a game called Great Wall that was about high school friends getting together as adults in a chinese restaurnt with unfinished business between them.

The central mechanic revolved around gradually opening and eating fortune cookies, or, if you don’t want the fortune to come true, eating the fortune.

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A few different things, games each with about 10,000 words done. These include:

() Doomed demigods in an age of myth. It’s rules complete. But there’s no setting, no real theme, and it feels too generic and not standing out from other things.
(
) Hard SF agents of the Concord who travel from system to system to fight rogue AIs and an information-based war with an alien Civilisation. But the hard SF framing game me logical differences and the direction of the theme was leaning fascist, so I stopped to recalibrate.
() A set of hardish SF rules revolving around a bunch of freelance operatives in a space ship. Nothing makes it stand out.
(
) A fantasy game in Elizabethan England, based on the Liminal rules, but where groups of wizards and hangers on replacing the crews of the modern game, and more powerful magic. I’m not sure why it needs the more powerful magic and isn’t just a historical version of Liminal tied into the same history. The second sounds more interesting.
(*) After the Empire, dark ages fantasy with the tropes turned up. Orcs as Vikings, strange elven nobles isolated from the world since the Empire’s fall, dwarven city enclaves, civilisations in the south now free of the Empire’s rule, but petty warring kingdoms and barbarism in the North. I’m genuinely enthused by this idea, and there’s what I think is good setting stuff. But… rules? Nothing so far, even if I know what notions of magic are present. And what do the PCs do? I want something that’s not just wandering adventurer mercenaries.


I’ve come to think of all these ideas as tools in my drawer, which can see use and further development as part of a greater idea. It’s happened before with games in my drawer, so I’m not unhappy.

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Uh, lots of things. I have as much as 5-6 protects semi abandoned, but will only write about the most recent one.

It is a little experiment: I want to test how would it work if a player got to be a city, location, god, force of nature, and given a lot of power without being expected to be fair.
The forest of Numria is the center of the kingdom of Lathrydur, ruled by wizards who constantly vie with each other for power. The forest is the source of magic and power of the ruling elite. In this competitive, GM-less game, wizards travel around the kingdom, collecting ingredients for a tribute to the forest while they battle each other. At the end of each season, PCs present their tribute and the forest (a player) chooses a winner, and awards him power. Apart from this, after each round the forest gives the wizards spells to use against each other. So the focus of the game is to attract the attention of the forest to receive gifts from it, and craft interesting tributes to gain power. I’m currently working on the map locations and possible ingredients each location contains. It will take me a few weeks before testing the game.

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