Games Design - Stitch - Back to the Drawing Board
Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Jun 11th 2010
Just before Games Expo I was sitting in Malcolm Craig's place and we were chatting away about games design and the various projects we were working on. Malcolm asked me about 'Stitch', which is a game I started designing a few years ago then abandoned as I couldn't get my head round a way to make it work. Since Reel Adventures' is entering layout, something I will be posting some details on when I get back from holiday, I thought I would try and get to grips with the concept again and see if I couldn't type up a new version. So here it is!
Stitch is heavily influenced by 'Twelve Monkeys' and is a game of time travel and memory. Each player takes on the role of a character who has survived a Catastrophe that wiped out the rest of humanity. Others have survived as well and have invented a way to travel back in time and try and put thing right. Your characters are the chosen Travellers, each of you having had something to do with the events that led up to the Catastrophe, to a lesser or greater degree.
During the game each player gets a turn to act as GM for the 'Knot', the moment in time that involves their character contributing to the Catastrophe. The other characters act as the Team trying to prevent whatever events in that Knot led to the wiping out of humanity. Over the course of the game characters have Blame assigned to them, depending on the outcome of their actions, or inaction. Once one Knot has been visited for each of the players, the game concludes and the Blame of each character compared to the successes and failures of the mission to decide their fate.
The core system is completely changed from previous version. The only thing I have kept in is a countup stopclock. Basically it is a dice pool system using D6s and a couple of, hopefully, neat little twists that will keep things interesting.
If anyone could have a read over what I have so far and give me some thoughts that would be great. In particular what do people think of the following:
Is 30 minutes too long? It would be easy enough for each Knot to last 20 minutes instead and that might make for a punchier game.
Is there too much going on when a 'Moment of Choice' is resolved? I don't mind the resolution taking a little while to work out, but if it goes on too long people will feel like they should stop the clock.
Should there be more for each character to work with from the start? Some sort of hidden motivation that makes them want to go back in time? At the moment they are just told they are going because they are but part of me feels there should be more.
Should memories be more strongly tied to gameplay? I think they are pretty useful on both sides during play, but their is potential to use them more.
If I can get the core system working, I am hoping to have this developed, but not released, by the end of the year.
I have not even playtested this version yet, but if anyone feels inspired to do so I can send them the basic sheets I have made up.
Posted by: Joe Murphy On: Jun 12th 2010
Nice one! Great to see this back in development.
1: Hard to tell short of a lot of playtesting. I can't tell from reading if dice play would be smooth and unobtrusive.
2: There is a lot going on then, yeah. I don't really know why I'd challenge. But for what is effectively a skill roll or narrative spotlight roll... it does a lot fo stuff. I wonder if maybe there's not some simpler way to accrue successes/failures to the timeline?
3: Yeah. I'm not sure from the text how competitive the game will be. Mayeb I want to hide blame? Maybe I figure blame isn't important but cooperating to avoid the catastrophe is key. Is that outwith the game's core concept?
4: I don't know if the memories provide enough backdrop, or when I'd use my own. Can we get more examples?
Here's some other thoughts:
Now that we've put GMs on the pyre, the terminology for who does what and when is tricky. But I found the mix of subject/target/traveller etc difficult to follow. Might be as easy to go with 'the Subject's player' etc.
Memories on p3 - they're not actually created 'for the character', are they? They're for a group pool. Later, the text on how to start a knot needs tidying. The initial interview is about the knot, but isn't actually a knot. And you could better explain how the other players pick memories too - it took me a couple of reads to see where that happened.
'Choose the player who looks the most guilty' made me lol. BUT, as there's no GM, who chooses? =)
The section on how time travel works was (appropriately) paradoxical. What points in time *are* fixed? Can play change events established in previously played knots?
The catastrophe itself can be averted in the endgame mechanics. So what actually, er, happens if the players win? Do you have to forget the game session and remember you played Cold City instead?
I quite like the removal of the needle and the spaceshippy elements from the previous version. Maybe suggest the players describe how time travel looks - wibbly lines, a lab out of Portal, the junk of Twelve Monkeys, etc.
I didn't really get how dice worked. I'd love a big example. Point 5 of 'a moment of choice' and the paragraph on 'changing the past' confused me. I wasn't sure when to remove dice and when to read dice for successes or failures on the timeline. The bit on matching dice didn't make sense to me. Spending remaining subject dice at the end of a knot also seemed *very* potent.
Oh, and I'd be tempted to rename The Catastrophe as The Event. Remain indoors! ;)
Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Jun 12th 2010
Good to hear, Iain.
This post reminds me to go and re-read Graham Walmsley's Play Unsafe. It has a bit in there about Stitch and I want to remind myself of what it is.
Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Jun 12th 2010
I have never read 'play unsafe'. In what context is stitch in the book?
Thanks for all the thoughts Joe. I have a train trip back to Edinburgh tomorrow during which I will do some work on the issues you raise, especially rules clarity.
Posted by: Iain McAllister On: Jun 12th 2010 edited
Had a chance to think over some of Joe's comments on the way home from a play I was at, and I think i have some interesting changes I could make:
Make it more 12 monkeys in the sense that characters are travelling back to find out what happened so it can be fixed, rather than changing the timeline via their actions. This means when they get back, there is no changed world but there will still be fallout from what was discovered.
All characters start with the same amount of blame, say 10. Challenges can be brought against the current Target to change that blame into specific events you were responsible for i.e. You pushed the button. Depending on the level of success that event would carry x amount of the blame from that character. At the end of the Knot any Blame left just as points will drain from the character.
Chuck the challenge pool of dice that the GM has. The GM has the power to author 'elements' into the narrative that are given a value between 1 and 5. These are then used to generate dice for him, but are also put on the timeline, basically a relationship map, to be used by other players during their turn at GMing.
Each time an element is used, it reduces in value by 1. Whenever an element is used it may be able to affect the blame of the character whose player created it. Still need to think that one through. Also need to look at assigning blame to characters when they are not the Target.
These changes would take away a lot of what is going on in the resolution mechanic, and I think provide for much more interesting play. It also focuses the game better on being about what these characters did, and how they were responsible for The Catastrophe, rather than the time travel elements.
One other thought that occurred is that you could also use this style of system to do a 'Mission gone wrong spy game' looking at what happened and who is to blame, or maybe even something like Reservoir dogs. For now it will be Twelve Monkeys based, but there is potential to put in a few different hacks in the finished product.
Thanks again Joe, your questions got me thinking in a different way.
Posted by: Gregor Hutton On: Jun 13th 2010
Ah ha, it's a very brief mention but it captures the essence of Stitch.
On p. 63 Graham writes:
Put on a show
When Iain McAllister runs Stitch, it's a perfomance. The table's centrepiece is the clock, which never stops running. He points at it, using his dramatic voice: "Once that clock starts, it doesn't stop, for any reason."
Whatever you do with Stitch don't get away from that, and put that advice in the text for people running and playing the game. I think it's a useful constraint and gives a sense of theatre to play, like the Jenga Tower does for Dread and so on.
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