I'm using my child transmitted flu or cold or whatever to knuckle down on some ACTION MOVIE WORLD: FIRST BLOOD.
By way of progress, I'm feeling good about getting a playtest document out by the end of March *provided* mid-terms and a busy end of that month (Rafael-con, Easter, my stepmother's retirement party which has me cooking paella for twenty) cooperate. I say that more as a precaution than anything else; I'm feeling good, but I also know that 1/3 of the days in March are spoken for, with another 2-4 days on midterms. That's a not insignificant chunk of time.
Actually sitting down and writing is always clarifying for me in a way that notes and spreadsheets aren't. I like gaming books as a sort of quasi-narrative art form, rather than as instruction manuals. Always have.
Because of that, the difficulty I was having in firming up Scripts (the movie playbooks) just kind of melted away once I sat down, stopped thinking too damned much, and just started making them. Which isn't to say that *any* of this is perfect; it's not and that's what playtests are for. In fact, I see things I'm not entirely pleased with right now but I want to see what other people say before I nix them or alter them. There are times when I am (quietly, neurotically) extremely hard on my work. Not that you'd know, since I don't verbalize it too much, but it's there. My subpar bit of writing or awkward rule is another person's favorite bit of the whole thing.
But Scripts are coming together, which were the real final hurdle to making a playable document. These are the playbooks representing the movies which you play. They're recognizable and consist of several parts:
Background and Relationships - This is something which can be completely done without the aid of charts and such, but I wanted to include some in order to make things flow smoothly in case people were stuck for ideas. The start of a movie feels somewhat tough to me in a vacuum. There's no "what's a typical day for you?" situation as there is in Apocalypse World. While the players will drive all of the intervening points between A and Z, there still has to be an A and a Z.
So, a bit like Fiasco, you go around the table and establish a relationship with the person to your left. Everyone does it and, yes, in groups of four or more, not everyone will have a relationship with everyone else. This should grant a base on which to build.
Script Moves - These are exactly like playbook moves. Each Script has five moves related to the genre of action movie you're playing. Each player picks one and has it for the duration of the film. The only catch is that each move can only be picked by two players; if two people pick the same move, that one's off-limits for everyone else.
Extra-bonus: you can spend XP on making the script moves permanent, carrying them from movie to movie. This is where your cross-genre, potentially goofy mayhem comes in. I fully expect this is going to break the fictional tenets of the game, as Arnold Schwarzenegger does a ninja movie, learns the disappear into thin air trick, makes it permanent, and then uses it in a cyborg warfare movie. I'm completely okay with this.
Gear - Weapons, gadgets, and such. This is, of course, Script dependent. Everyone picks a gear package and that's what they have for the movie. So with the barbarian flicks, you can be the dude with the sword, the dude with the bow and arrow, the dude with the spear, etc, etc, etc.
Villains - So, action movies always have a big, bad villain at the end. He or she is motivated by whatever and things revolve around that. This is how to set up Point Z.
The players will pick who the villain is. Initially, the plan was to have this be a typecast actor. Think the group picking Danny Trejo and dealing with Danny Trejo moves for the duration of the movie.
The problem is that this did nothing to help gel the fiction. As work has gone on, it's increasingly clear that this game is about (referencing my earlier sentence) what happens between Points A and Z, not what A and Z actually are. Because A is determined on a per-movie basis and Z is always the same (hero kills villain, crowd cheers) in action movies with extremely rare exceptions. Incidentally, that sets up a very interesting, rather unexpected parallel with my playing of Pendragon and my work on Before Iron which I might write about later.
What will happen now is that each Script will present a list of villains and the players will choose one. This will be sort of like a mini-front. A list of possible motivations and techniques will be listed (I'm trying to thread a needle between too loose and too restrictive), along with a special move which pops up when the villain is active.
So, for the barbarian movie Script (the one I'm working on now), the villains might be a cult leader, an evil monarch, a ravenous barbarian tribe, and a master assassin. The cult leader might have possible motivations of "to conquer", "to convert", and "to lay waste" or something similar. Then, we'd have a move which might make it tough to directly attack him or her due to powers of persuasion. Those are all just examples off the top of my head (most of this Script is done except the villain specifics) but you get the general idea.
My hope, with the Scripts, is that a group will get enough starting and end point help that they can worry about the explosions and stunts in between, while simultaneously giving a heaping helping of player choice about how the beginning and ending work. I expect that how I thread this particular needle is going to be one of the things which shifts most in playtesting.