Jonathan Hicks, author of Those Dark Places: Industrial Science Fiction Roleplaying, is back on the blog to tell us why he chose to design a story-driven game. You can find more from Jonathan on his blog.
So, why did I decide to design a story-driven game?
When I first started to put Those Dark Places together I thought about what kind of system I would like to use and I wondered how much detail I would need. I looked at crunchy systems with plenty of detail and thought about all kinds of ways to roll all kinds of dice. However, the more I planned the more I realised that I didn't want to create a simulation; I wanted to create a story.
I love my crunchy games but the older I get the less I want to have to remember things from a hefty rulebook as I'm more about keeping the story flowing. There's one major thing I dislike in some games and that's when the story gets to a tense, dramatic moment and suddenly... a ruling has to be made and the GM/player spends time on sorting modifiers, perhaps flipping pages to get a reminder, perhaps consulting tables to get a result, and any tension that has been built to that point is suddenly lost in the rush to figure out 'how this plays out'. Instead of a flowing, action-packed moment there's a sudden lull, and the story falters in favour of the mechanics.
Art by Nathan Anderson
There's a time and a place for crunch in a game but it's something I wanted to remove from Those Dark Places so that I could focus on the story. It's also why the die used changed over time, from a D20 to a D12 (my favourite die!) and finally to the humble D6. The other dice were great but they were giving me results that didn't suit the kind of game I was trying to design, but the D6 gave me everything I needed, and the three levels of success - Yes/No/Yes, but... - were adding tension to the sessions.
At this point I decided to drop a whole slew of rules I had written for starships in the game. Vessels are huge lumbering things built for labour and as I wrote the game I realised that rules for them were superfluous at this stage of the game's development. They are simply a means to an end, and A to B plot device, and stats for them would simply be another set of rules that would detract from what I was trying to do with the game. That's not to say there won't be rules for them in the future...
I also chose a story-focused game because I really enjoy that sense of collaborative and spontaneous storytelling. The idea that the players can make some dicey decisions (considering how the levels of success can really turn things upside down) and roleplay out situations is great, but the sudden changes in the flow of the story thanks to certain die rolls or player input forces creativity from the GM and the players alike; how the GM handles the die results to really make the players sweat and how the players handle the pressure and react to the uncertain situations the mechanics provide can really create memorable and fun sessions as the group stumbles in the dark.
Take my recent session with Garblag Games for example; one of the players mentioned his PC's father as a drunken loser who he didn't care for and that immediately gave me an idea. Instead of a random corpse screaming in the PC's face - you'll have to watch the video to understand what I'm talking about (just watch out for the profanity) - I decided it was going to be an image of the PC's father, and we even ended the one-shot on that note. The players making comments like this immediately sparked ideas as to how I could adapt and adjust the situation to make it more personal to their PCs, and I didn't have to worry about mechanics or how it affected the rules. I decided on a change and just went for it.
Could you do this with any other RPG? Most likely, but Those Dark Places pushes the mechanics to the rear and focuses on the drama unfolding at the table, the rules are so simple that they fade into the background and the GM and the players don't have to give them a second thought as they plough through the story. The drama takes centre stage and the die is simply there to help.
Of course, that's how I play it. Once the book is in your hands, how the game unfolds is completely up to you...
Excited to head into deep space? Those Dark Places publishes in November, preorder your copy today!