Monday, August 8, 2011

Edge of Night: designing an SF/horror game

Time to open the shutters and dust off the place. It has been quiet here for too long.

I thought I would start sharing the results of my first foray into game design—an actual, complete game, that is, not just house rules or an expansion for an existing game.

The game that became Edge of Night is an SF/horror game set on the Hyperborea, a starship that mysteriously vanished fifteen years ago. The PCs were sent to investigate a distress signal claiming to be from the missing ship. Each character had a specialty and a secret reason for volunteering for the mission (which gave them goals, some of which were in opposition to each other).

EoN was a one-shot game for Bisbeecon XII, which had a space theme this year. Initial inspiration came from movies like Alien, video games likeDead Space and the complete run of the Walking Dead comic I was reading at the time. I wanted to capture the reactions of the people and groups in those situations: would they cooperate, or would their different agendas put the entire group in danger?

Anyway, here's the first file I'm sharing: the character sheets, with handy rules reference on the back. I'm not sure it's complete enough to play without an explanation.

The sheets are actually asymmetrical: you can fold them in half and trim one side to resemble a file folder. You can clearly see some of the game's DNA in the way resources are tracked, which are basically "countdown clocks" from Vincent Baker's Apocalypse World. The idea of time limits ticking down in the background was one that I had in my head while working on the game, and one that I wish I had pushed harder while actually running the first two sessions. The "choose from a list of options" mechanic was strongly influenced by AW as well.
So why didn't I just use AW? It's a great game! I actually considered it pretty strongly, but I had a couple of goals that made it not fit quite right. The game setup was designed to aim the PCs at each other and put them at odds, and I wanted a more symmetrical PvP mechanic than AW offered. I also loved how escalation worked in Dogs in the Vineyard (Vincent again)—it seemed to model the rising tension and stakes that happens in horror fiction—and I wanted a way to work that in.

OK, that's enough for now. More later, including the parts where I rip off people that aren't Vincent.

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