• Design Diary: Borrowing Far and Wide

    by  • January 11, 2013 • Design & Art • Comments Off on Design Diary: Borrowing Far and Wide

    I believe that there are games that bring totally new setting, systems and experiences that are entirely new and based on nothing else but perhaps genre.

    I’m not currently writing any of those games.

    I’m writing a genre emulator for a pre existing system. And what’s more? I am SHAMELESSLY plundering fan fiction, fandom and forum gaming. Why? Because I can.

    And because sometimes delivering the game experience you want isn’t about reskinning the monster manual of struggling to make skill checks make sense in your setting. It isn’t about a ‘clever trick’ to use with your Willpower score. Sometimes it’s about taking your head out of gaming and looking at the broader world around you. The going theory is, that when you see a fantasy heart breaker, a big part of the problem is that the writer was so focused on their precious game, they didn’t see all the things other people were doing with their games.

    I want to take it a step farther. If there is something wrong with games in general, is that we get very caught up in what we’re doing and ignore creative endeavors and ideas outside of our niche.  As a result, we either miss the boat on neat ideas and tools for our toolboxes or we spend a LOT of time reinventing the wheel.  “I don’t need to know anything about theater to write a LARP!” …maybe you don’t, but twenty bucks says you wasted some energy in there because of some stuff you didn’t know.

    That’s preachy. It means nothing to you. Here’s some specifics.

    I’m writing a Fate Core expansion called White Picket Witches. If you’ve watched The Gates, Teen Wolf, Wolf Lake, Practical Magic, Haven or the Witches of Eastwick, you have the rough idea of what I’m going for. It’s telling stories of suburban drama plus some sort of supernatural influence. It’s telling stories of people trying to be normal and keep up appearances when, in fact, they’re anything but normal.

    So what I’m doing, in essence, is taking a TV show (and movie) genre and trying to use game systems to emulate the pace and beats of these sorts of shows. This is a common practice in game design, but the exploration of genre is pretty narrow in most games. (Yes, I know, Monster Hearts is an exception. I hear you.)

    So I’m following the beats of a genre type, and I could just hope that I can do it the best and possibly spin my wheels a lot OR I can look at the other creative types who have invested a lot of time and energy before me in creating genre-emulating experiences. Namely, those zany fan fiction writers who make genre emulation into a fine art. (Not a statement of quality, necessarily, but certainly a statement of definition.) And of course, forum gamers, which I feel like is an offshoot of fan fiction writing, but I don’t really have any scholarly study to back it up.

    Specifically, I’m looking at this part of the character creation I’m cobbled together.


    Roleplaying isn’t the most visual medium, but sometimes a little visual shortcut to character creation is a big help. As you’re describing your character, consider what actor you would want cast if a producer overheard your game and decided to make it into a TV show or movie.  Like a Leitmotif, make sure that you communicate and agree with the other players what your casting says about the character.

    This can be challenging if you aren’t a mediaphile, don’t have access to the internet on the spot, or can’t come up with actors quickly. That’s okay. You can fill in Casting with a brief description like ‘smooth brown-eyed boy” or “full-figured dynamo.” Just like the notes you’d send a casting director.

    If, after the first session, you change your mind about your character actor, the Casting Aspect can be changed. Think of the first play session like a pilot episode. For fun, you can talk to your GM about a surprise recasting between the first and second game to see how it changes the tone of your character.

    In forum gaming, they tend to call this a playby. The actor or celebrity that will be a short cut to visuals as you’re writing your character. There’s a lot of artistic effort to taking photographs and screen stills of these actors to use to set character mood along with the written scenes. This is transmedia, and it’s a fascinating means of communicating ideas and mood for a game in a different way. You’ll actually see similar examples of this use of images and word in some online chat games thanks to the liberal use of wikis. Here are two examples. However, I doubt it’s ever come up as a game tool at Wizards or the Forge1.2

    Why? Maybe femmephobia. Maybe because no one had just the right place to incorporate the idea, or maybe it’s just that the internet moves very fast, I have no idea.

    But so anyway, I’m drawing from the idea and dropping it in my game hack. So far, people have loved the idea. It maybe wouldin’t work for every kind of game, but it’s worth sometimes stepping out of your own circles and examining what other creative types are doing even if they aren’t other gamers.

    (And Shameless Promotion: Get in on the Fate Core Kickstarter and get my game White Picket Witches al well as many other expansions too! Fred’s gone out of his way to  include women writers in these expansions, you should take a look.)

    1. Prove me wrong. That would be awesome.
    2.  Before this even left the GaW inner circle of critique, I was proven wrong. Turns out casting is a part of Prime Time Adventure. YES! Does anyone know anything about the Dallas RPG? Did that have casting in it as well?  Any games I’ve never heard of that includes casting? Prove me MORE wrong!


    Filamena is a professional writer and game designer who isn't very good at writing bios. Having written for White Wolf, Catalyst, Green Ronin and a number of smaller table top games, she's been freelancing for several years. Interested in the indie game scene, Filamena also publishes independently with her life partner at Machine Age Productions. She's the mother of two (almost three) kids, an outspoken liberal and pro sex feminist.


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