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Speculative Physics

The Road Once Traveled

by Mendel Schmiedekamp
Feb 24,2004


The Road Once Traveled

One of the most important rules of game design, and design in general, is that every decision should be for a definite reason. This applies to both positive and negative decisions, since, in game design, the choice to include some feature is as important as the choice to exclude a feature. If a design decision lacks any strong motivation it often turns out to be a mistake. And since each decision affects the previous and future decisions, this rule is especially important to holistic design. In this case the central motivation is always to keep the system and the setting as integrated as possible.

Note: This article continues the design in last month's article. To briefly recap, the design is a game where players have maps which represent the spiritual travels of their characters. In spiritual journeys and overcoming obstacles and quests characters travel in this world, changing spiritually, in search of some desired metaphysical state.

Step 4 - Directions and Challenges in the Setting

(System -> Setting)

Geographic directions on a map show how the different places on the map fit together, they generate a larger perspective about the map. While the map is (almost always) a local creation, the directions are more universal and allow the maps to be related. When each character's spiritual world is built from a map, these directions provide the more universal components of that spiritual world. In essence these are the spiritual values of the character, both enriching and corrupting.

When a character travels spiritually, the result is a movement in one or two directions. Since roads are not always straight, travel is always a risk. One might start in the right direction, but the destination is ultimately more important. It is the directions traveled the character's journey that provide the history of the character. As mentioned last month, these stay with the character and help define its capabilities.

Challenges are the spiritual wilderness of the character. These are the spiritual struggles which must be faced. The challenge is a test, which the character will either pass, and travel onward, or fail and be sent back, or to even punished. Having passed through a challenge is typically a rewarding experience, bringing wisdom if nothing else.

Step 5 - Directions and Challenges as Game Mechanics

(Setting -> System)

The second step of creating a character is to choose the directions of that character's map. (The first is to choose a map for the character.) Depending on the spiritual values of the characters this can be an individual or group process. In either case, a spiritual value is chosen from a list assigned to each cardinal direction on the map.

Directions are the second core game mechanical element of the game. In particular, since a character's ability is based on the directions traveled, directions contain lists of traits which will be increased as it is traveled. Some of these may be beneficial while others are problematic. Directions also include suggestions for regions, challenges, and destinations. Here is a sketch of one direction:






Because of the map structure challenges come in two kinds, lesser and greater ones. The first is the crossing of physical boundaries and short periods off the roads. The later is from the shaded quest areas and more protracted periods off the roads. In essence the lesser challenge is an alternate route which only travels a step or so, while the greater one bypasses a longer distance. Since it takes the place of several steps, it reduces the direction traits that could be gained, so it should have an appropriately greater affect on the character.

Step 6 - Challenges and Wisdom

(System -> Setting)

A challenge is a spiritual tale which is comes from both the spiritual world, and the trials of the outer world. Because of this a challenge is a unique opportunity to leave the road and experience the spiritual on a deeper level. Lesser challenges are a short detour into this wilderness, but greater ones are a prolonged tour. In both cases however, the major reward is the acquisition of wisdom, a special knowledge of the world, spiritual or outer.

In stories about spiritual journeys this wisdom takes many forms. Sometimes it is provides a clue about where the paths you take will lead you. Other times it can provide deep insights about yourself or others. Miraculous knowledge and visions of hidden things are also a common element. Lastly they can also result in esoteric abilities, inaccessible to those who do not pass a test of spiritual rigor. In this setting we can consider this miracle working to be another form of special knowledge, learning the secrets of the spiritual and outer worlds.

Step 7 - Mechanics of Wisdom

(Setting -> System)

When a challenge is faced and overcome the character changes. This change is evidenced by the acquisition of secret knowledge. In terms of game mechanics there are a few types of secret knowledge that can be acquired. Below, lesser gifts are gained from overcoming lesser challenges and greater gifts from overcoming greater challenges.

Lesser Gifts

Greater Gifts

Labels are the different elements of the maps which could be discovered. They include numbered requirements, regions, and destinations. Labels represent knowledge of the spiritual world.

Glimpses and visions are the esoteric abilities gained by understanding the relationship of the spiritual and outer worlds. Both can cause extraordinary effects. A glimpse is limited only to a specific effect in a narrow situation. A vision allows either a range of effects, or a broader situation, but not both.

A fact is knowledge which may be difficult to acquire, but is accessible through mundane means. A secret is nearly impossible to acquire, and in fact may be totally inaccessible except through a spiritual journey, for example because no living person knows it.

Next Month: Between the Steps

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