Alright....into the meat of the game.
It's post apocalypse. Life is out of balance and the dreaming needs to be redreamed.
There is an ancient network of song-lines across the nation, like the webbing of a spider; it holds the world together. But it has fallen into dissarray. The old spirits have lost their way, and new spirits from immigrant cultures have found themselves in a dangerous world far from their homelands. The old rituals need to be refound and new rituals need to be created. Spirits old and new need to be appeased through new rituals appropriate to a new age. The ways of pre-colonial times have lost much of their relevance, but so have the ways of the colonial era. It is time to reforge a new dreaming, using whatever is available.
I'm pretty much ripping the guts out of my game "FUBAR".
Characters begin defined by 4 traits. These starting traits are considered permanent.
Dance: The way you move. In cultures around the world, the spirit world responds to the energies of biological movement. But there is something more to it, dance describes how you do other things. Are you graceful? Are your moves sudden and dramatic? Are you fluid? Do your movements convey deeper emotion? Are you intricate and subtle, or sweeping and grandiose? A variety of dances will be provided, each with five types of associated action. A player starts by underlining two of those actions to reflect talents they have acquired through their study of the dance. Dances might include traditional types from around the world, various ballroom styles, hip-hop, crumping, or even martial arts such as tai-chi or capoiera. A character may learn additional dances from the others their are travelling with, or people they meet along the way.
People: Who you identify with. This is less about the genetic heritage you might possess and more about who raised you. This incorporates the mannerisms you might possess, the idiosyncacies in your language and the way you view the world. A variety of people will be provided, and in most cases a bonus will be gained from dealing with other people who also share that upbringing, while there will be other groups who will raise an immediate distrust of the character due to their mannerisms. A character may choose to forsake their people, but they will automatically suffer distrust at the hands of their former people and they need to prove themselves to a new people before they may claim another trait of this type.
Edge: Your advantage over others. This might be a genetic heritage, or it might be a tool that you possess from the old times. Whatever the case, it is something you posess that the others around you do not. It is something that marks you as different, even if it doesn't appear scarred into your skin. Again, a variety of edges will be described, including vehicles, weapons, genetic mutations, special training, etc. Like dances, each character begins with one edge, but they may pick up new edges along the way. Similarly, they begin with five associated actions that might gain a bonus, two of which have been underlined/mastered.
Scar: Your first marking. All of the characters in Walkabout are possessed with at least one sacred marking. It could be a tattoo, it could be a ritual scar. Whatever it is, it means something sugnificant to the character and to the spirits of the dreaming. Possessing such a mark shows that you have accomplished a deed and have been recognised for it. Any time you attempt to perform the deed again, the people around you will be expecting a repeat performance. All scars are marked on the character sheet. A character may have a maximum of 13 scars (Torso (Front and Back) - Abdomen (Front and Back) - Thigh (x2) - Shin (x2) - Upper Arm (x2) - Lower Arm (x2) - Head).
Note: A common Edge trait among spiritual leaders is the ability to paint temporary scars onto people to give them bonuses for upcoming encounters (some characters may learn this edge), they may never paint these scars onto themselves unless they possess a scar allowing them paint in the outlines.
Over the course of play, characters pick up temporary traits, they may make these temporary traits more enduring by having someone paint a temporary scar onto them. If they earn enough successes to make a trait "permanent" it lasts until the end of the current story unless it is permanent carved into their flesh as a tattoo or scar.
I'm still working through this in my head, there are a few things that don't quite sit right, and a few other concepts I'd like to incorporate...but that's my current working plans for character development.
As for what the characters do...everything will work in cycles.
The characters will be trying to push a wheel clockwise while the forces acting against them will be pushing counter-clockwise. The characters will be encountering a series of scenes to cleanse a song-line, while the dark forces of the world will be trying to prevent them from doing this.
Every success a character gains will be an opportunity to improve their abilities and gain new traits, or an opportunity to restore some of the world's balance. Players will be forced to choose whether to use immediate gains or build up for the long term.
A story may focus around the cleansing of song-lines of a few kilometres or a few hundred kilometres, depending on how long the session is intended to last.
Since the song lines bind the physical world to the dreaming, characters will be forced to encounter people, mutants, spirits and all sorts of strange things on their quests to cleanse the world and restore the dreaming balance...
Now the songline sheet...
A similar drawing depicts the songline being cleansed, this is effectively the character sheet for the environment in which the game occurs. A single path passes across the centre of the page with a number of "campsite circles" along it. A quick game will have three or four campsite circles representing a line that is only a few kilometres in length. An epic game might have twenty or more "campsite circles" (representing a few hundred kilometres), but such a song-line is better divided into several smaller songlines (no more campsites than the number of characters involved). The characters literally travel along this path, cleansing it as they go, issues to be "rebalanced" are represented by a pile of tokens are spread across the songline.
Note that it isn't necessary to cleanse the songline in order from one end to the other. A group of characters could find things easy at one end (few tokens between the "campsite circles"), and hard at the other (many tokens). Another group might find it easy at both ends and difficult in the middle. Yet another group might find a balance across the entire songline.
The idea is the remove as many tokens as possible from all parts of the songline, making the journeys safe for future travelers along the path.
Playing the game...
All players (including the GM) create a character, an antagonist (randomly allocated to a character), a tool useful for eliminating an antagonist and an imbalance symptom. Characters and antagonists are made the same way, useful tools and imbalance symptoms are written on index cards as quick sentences to be fleshed out in the course of play.
The imbalance symptoms, useful tools and antagonists are shuffled. Each time the characters investigate a part of the songline, they reveal one of the imbalance symptoms. When they start making headway against the imbalance (eliminating at least a third of the original tokens), they may be rewarded with the next useful tool on the pile. Once they reach a climax (eliminating about two thirds of the original tokens), they face the next antagonist...with successful investigation, the GM reveals how this particular antagonist was behind the imbalance.
Short songlines may have more imbalances than sections, in such cases, resolving the initial imbalance simply reveals the next set of problems...perhaps the characters have caused this new imbalance while trying to rememdy the first set of symptoms...or maybe the new problem is simply more insidious and was hiding behind the original problems.
Long songlines may have sections without an imbalance, there is no problem with this either. Not everything has to have problems associated with it.
The GM sets scenes, the players initiate actions within those scenes (pretty traditional). Everything defaults to a standard difficulty, unless the GM wants to make things harder. If the GM wants to make things harder, they draw from the tokens on the songline section, each token makes things 1 degree incrementally harder.
A sequence of actions makes a scene. Once there are no more immediate actions being taken, a scene comes to it's conclusion. Any situational traits gained during the scene are lost (whether bonuses or penalties).
At the end of a scene, the players may agree to call the end to an act. Any short-term traits currently possessed are lost (whether bonuses or penalties), the GM rolls a die for every expended token. On a 5 or 6 they may return the expended token to the location where it was used, or one of the adjacent songline sections. On a 1-2 the tokens are discarded from the game entirely.
A session reaches it's conclusion in one of several ways:
1. If all the tokens have been removed from the songline it is once again considered a safe path for travel. (If there are still antagonists left, then they may need to be faced again later, but their immediate dangers have been subdued).
2. If all the antagonists have been eliminated, the initiators of the songline imbalance are gone...but there might still be unresolved problems. (If any songline section still has two or more tokens on it, then there may be another antagonist waiting to cause problems in a future session).
3. If all the characters have been eliminated (through death, fleeing the area, insanity, or something else), the area is still dangerous.
At the conclusion of a game all long-term traits are lost (whether bonuses or penalties). One permanent trait may be kept. Only one permanent trait is kept this way per game, unless the player is willing to mark their character sheet with a permanent negative trait. If they keep a second trait, they mark a section of their body with a scar indicating a single bonus and a single penalty. The player may choose to write a single sentence describing the circumstances this scar/tattoo commemorates.
When you do body painting to your character, you pencil it onto your sheet...it can be rubbed off the body or rubbed off the character sheet.
When you ritually scar your character, you mark your character sheet in pen...these markings become a permanent part of the character.
I had just been thinking of using this game as a "rewritten-from-scratch" update/hack for my FUBAR game.
The chaotic free-for-all has been working really well in a game about betrayed people seeking vengeance, but these posts have really made me think more deeply about the experience of this game.
As a result, I'm thinking of changing some of the core defining traits of characters...and changing up the structure a bit.
My first thought was to create a singular game that focuses on a single section of a songline...a number of these singular episodes would build up to the cleansing of an entire songline. In this method, the game might run a bit like "Silent Hill" (I'm thinking more of the movie, because I haven't played the computer game). In this set-up a group of characters would encounter problems (represented by tokens held by the GM), they would solve these problems in the physical world only to find that there was something deeper at work (tokens eliminated in the physical world would transfer across to the dreaming). Characters would then be forced to confront the deeper issues causing the problems in the dreaming (tokens eliminated in the dreaming would be removed permanently).
In this set up, tokens basically flow from the source of the problem into the dreaming, and from the dreaming into the physical world. Characters work to prevent the problems by following this stream in reverse.
In a basic five act structure:
1. Identify the problem in the real world.
2. Hold back the immediate symptoms long enough to investigate where the breach between physical realm and Dreaming occurs.
3. Step through to the Dreaming and draw close to the source of the spiritual issues.
4. Face the source of the problem in the Dreaming.
5. Eliminate the residual issues now that the source has been dealt with, and return.
(This basically follows the structure of the archetypal "Hero's Journey").
Character traits now become:
Dance: The way you move. I still like this the way it is, no real changes here. I'd love to see a dreamtime hip-hop battle, or a dreamtime headbanging heavy-metal air guitar showdown. Advantages from your dance are always available.
People: The people whom you identify with. Aboriginal culture (hell, ALL culture) is about community, it's about who you deal with and how you deal with them. Your first people will be the culture in which the character was raised. Each culture will have a range of stereotypical abilities that are available in the physical realm.
Edge: Your advantages in the physical realm. Your first edge is either a signature tool (possibly a vehicle, weapon or genetic mutation), or a signature skill (occupational or otherwise). It only provides an advantage in the physical realm.
Scar: Your advantages in the spiritual realm. Your first scar is a mark allowing you to cross between the physical and spiritual realms. Future scars may allow you to manifest your edges in the dreaming, the bonuses associated with your people, or other bonuses that might be accumulated along the way. As characters continue their journey through life, they make suffer wounds that permanently disfigure them (thus stripping away their total available scars).
Now we also add:
Sojourner's Path: The method you use to breach the barrier between physical world and Dreaming. This could be hallucinogenic drugs, it could be a form of astral projection, literally sleeping and engaging in lucid dreaming, or a variety of other methods.
Let's look back at the character sheet, the humanoid figure at the centre stays the same because the use of scars is effectively unchanged (in fact they're probably now more important). But my thoughts about the outer ring have started to crystallise, it represents effective hit points in the dreaming. Characters place tokens in a number of the outer circles based on their preparations for entering the dreaming (some characters may have scars that automatically improve these preparations). While in the dreaming, any time the character would earn a negative trait (or lose a positive trait) they may instead choose to lose one of these tokens.
Sometimes a character may suffer such a dramatic injury that their very soul is corrupted by the damage. In such a case, one of the circles is completely removed from the outer ring (either crossed out or physically ripped away from the sheet). Characters who lose all of the circles on their outer ring are never able to cross into the Dreaming again.
In the physical realm, the outer ring doesn't do a lot. I'm not sure whether to tie it into some kind of mechanism for characters in the physical realm to resist possession or relate to other powers from the dreaming...it seems a bit of a stretch at this point, it doesn't seem a neat fit, and I don't want to force something that just doesn't for the sake of it.
Now for some thoughts about the set up structure for the game...
FUBAR uses the idea where each player contributes an antagonist, a location and a magic widget/maguffin. Over the course of play, these are incorporated into a story by the GM. When things slow down, the GM randomly draws a new antagonist, when they can't think of a location they draw one from the relevant pile, when they think it's time for a reward after a conflict or after an objective has been achieved the next random one is up for grabs.
My ideas for Walkabout have had the same kind of notion. It gives all of the players some vested interest in the unfolding drama...
"Will my card be drawn next?"...
"I wonder if my antagonist will be the big one at the end of the story"...
I'll admit that it's a bit erratic, and has the potential to get silly if one of the players isn't serious when they write up their card(s). But it's designed for a fun game.
I guess that's where my next thoughts lie...
Do I want Walkabout to be a bit of fun? In which case I'd tweak the FUBAR system but keep it relatively intact.
Do I want it to be more dramatic? In which case I really need to think of something more. I haven't had a good experience of a dramatic game without a strong visionary in control of the narrative. I've struggled with creating a GM-less game, or a game with shared GM responsibilities where good drama is the aim.
Do I want something scary? Stephen King wrote in Danse Macabre (his essay on horror): “I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I'll go for the gross-out. I'm not proud.” A lot of so-called horror games simply play to the "gross-out" angle, many of the Cthulhu based games I've played have tried to play to deeper emotions but have fallen flat. In my experience, trying to develop something that captures this emotional resonance requires a good GM using and abusing the systems to their own ends for a specific scenario. I could really see this game premise working well to that end with nightmares of the Dreaming and potential soul corruption, but ten days isn't long enough to really refine this style of play. If I wanted to do it, I'd want to make sure it is done right.
A bit more brainstorming...
What do the characters do?
I've established the idea that characters will restore balance to the world by restoring the songlines. I'm now thinking of pulling the whole lot back to the original facts about Uranium mines.
There is an imbalance in the world. There are mutations and energies of chaos running rampant in some areas, and there is a life-draining stasis in other areas. These are both linked to quantum stability...if an area is too stable it starts to metaphysically collapse in on itself (like an orbiting body slowing down and crashing into the larger mass), if an area has too much quantum flux it becomes unstable and metaphysical energies start to leak into the physical realm. Each of these is crudely measured through a by-product of radioactivity. Areas of high radioactivity are thus the homes of spirits. The location of Uranium mines have been spiritual homes for aeons.
The aboriginal people have known the rites and rituals of the spirits, communicating with them over time and achieving gifts from them (the coming Europeans took these gifts as degeneration at first, and genome mutation once they unlocked the sciences of genetics). Some of the Aboriginals kept the old ways alive, working hard to placate the spirits. But as more Aboriginals left their ancient songlines, it took more and more effort for those remaining to keep the spirits at peace. The tensions in the spirit world grew more severe when uranium mining began. Lower levels of radioactive materials weakened the spirits ability to interact with the mortal world, they grew weaker and more frustrated. Some of the spirits chose to lock their essence into chunks of uranium-ore, moving across the globe to find new homes where the quantum flux was still high. Suitable new spirit homes were found in nuclear reactors and arms depots around the world, but without the aboriginal shamans to placate them, the spirits became insane.
As creatures of the Dreaming, the spirits drew on the dreams and nightmares of the people in their new homes. They also contacted the spirits native to their new homes and either forged alliances or waged war.
Tainted by the darkness of angry spirits, and the lunacy of spirits gone mad, it only takes one person to throw the switch.
APOCALYPSE on a physical and spiritual level. Spirits in the religious heartland of the US draw on the dreams and dogma of the devout...when war rages, they manifest as warring angels and demons. Those in the deserts of the middle-east draw on the myths of the Jewish, Islamic and Orthodox Christian faiths. Across China they draw on the Taoist and Buddhist ways. It is not only dispossessed Australian Dreaming spirits who lash out in this manner, there have been subjugated spirits across the entire world for millenia and they take this chance to manifest.
Those who respect the old ways of the Aboriginals say "Oh no, not again! This is just like what happened when the Atlanteans stripped the uranium from our lands for their global conquest ten thousand years ago...and just like the Lemurians before them. Looks like we'll have to travel the world again to reclaim the spirit rock from those foreign lands and restore it to the sacred places where we can watch it again and ensure it causes no more harm."
The characters are a caste apart in a world fallen to ruin (It is traditional in the hero's journey that the hero be an outsider). Separated from their original people, they travel the world to reclaim uranium that has been taken from the Australian mines, and either placate the angry spirits or restore the mental state of those spirits who have gone insane.
On their journeys they meet Taoist exorcists wandering the Middle Kingdom of China, Shaman of the North American Natives, Gurus among the Hindu and Sikh communities, Catholic exorcists, Wiccans, Shinto adherents, and many others who know how to deal with spirits native to their homelands. Belief fuels the spirits and the quantum flux makes it easier for them to manifest.
This game is not about determining which faith is right, it's just about people encountering a variety of cultures and weaving the stories of how they react to those cultures. Restoring balance to the world is something that cannot be accomplished alone, but these stories focus on the groups of individuals who follow the ways of this particular culture. Hence dance plays a major part of the rituals, songlines are used to find the source of the problems and ritual scars are used to create an affinity with the spirit realm.
A Shinto variant of the game might use inscriptions of kanji, it might focus on the "shattered spiritual hotspots" of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, it might take more of a dystopian cyberpunk angle...but that's another game for another time.
Again...these are just my current thoughts, they are highly subject to change.
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