Saturday, September 18, 2010

[ctd] Playtest B

Maybe I should summarize the changes we made last week?

Death and Memory: We had some deaths, though we haven't been able to test the Memory system yet because the deaths occurred at the end of the session. We did, however, decide that players should get a play mat, rather than a character sheet, and then use an index card (or I'll probably make a character pad and sell it cheap-like with the book) to make the character. Once I make a mock-up, this will make more sense, but the idea is that the players can make one character at the start of a session, and then make another (just distribute the numbers and define one Scope, but nothing else) that they can pick up in the midst of the session if their first character dies. We also talked about taking over NPCs, and decided that players should absolutely have the option of taking on an NPC (and thus statting him up real quick, with the GM giving some input for Scopes and the like).

We also talked about letting players play a red joker to switch characters without having their existing one die.

Between Points: On that subject, NPCs opening gates does add to the Between point total.

Removal Challenges: Some good changes here.

  • If you've got a relevant Scope during a Removal Challenge, you can draw an extra card during Resolution (this rule worked out nicely, because it gives you a fighting chance and makes burning Memory to remove cards from the deck more useful).
  • We need to nail down the order of players who draw during the Resolution of a Removal Challenge. I'm planning to say "common sense," but it just needs to be addressed in the book.
  • I'm thinking that 8 aces is too much to form the basis of the Resolution deck; gonna try it with 4 next time.
  • A Removal Challenge refreshes all decks for all survivors.
  • We removed the Reserve deck entirely. We're just using two cards from any that the player has access to to form the Resolution, plus the aces.
  • A suggested rule: The GM and the players each choose four cards, one from each suit (if they have 'em) and turn them over at the same time. No escalation unless the GM plays a black joker, or maybe just ditch that rule entirely.
  • Another thing to try out: You can donate a result card if you're involved in a Removal challenge with another player (or request one). So if I draw a heart and that means I'm safe, but another player draws a spade and that means they're fucked and I'm OK with dying but they aren't, we can swap. We have to make that make sense in the context of the game, but that's not usually hard.

Character Challenges: If you go from a four to a king, there should be some roleplaying accompanying that. It can be as simple as "second wind," but players should use that progression to flesh out their characters more.

Card-Caps: Characters can accept a card-cap voluntarily (in our game, Matt's character was blind, and so he had a cap on actions requiring sight). We decided that when such a cap comes up and hinders a character, the GM loses a Between point.

OK, next step: I want to make up a playtest packet that I can send out to other folks.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

The Breakdown of Society

He removed ethnicity, religion, politics, economics and all of the other artificial divisions we'd made for ourselves. He forced them out of us. He killed those that didn't comply, and that result in a dip in the world's population that's nothing short of surreal. He commanded us to use our skills, whatever they might be, for the good of all humanity. And then He disappeared, maybe into the Between, maybe on some now-depopulated estate somewhere.

It's easy to picture Him in a dark room somewhere, maybe one of the Hindu temples in India, nothing but rats and Them around, looking through a thousand shadows, searching for hints of dissent.

But as the world's gotten smaller, he has to look harder. The number of people has shrunk, but not the number of shadows. You just don't see Them as often anymore. You don't see shadows opening randomly.

It's not that He's gone. He makes his presence felt. The fact that the Symbol still works is evidence of that, because I firmly believe that They would kill anyone in the Between without His will to keep them back. That said, when I've been in the Between lately, I've felt something different. There's a hunger that wasn't there before, and I don't know if that means His grip is slipping or if He just doesn't care as much.

If He has any conscience at all, any concept of the billions of lives He ended and what that really means... I hate to say it, but I really hope He doesn't. I think we might need Him.


curse the darkness

Thursday, September 9, 2010

[ctd] Setting - What do characters do?

OK, the long-awaited post on what characters do.

Lemme tell you, I've been dreading this post. Not because I don't have any ideas, because I do. But because...hell, I don't know. Because I hate explaining things like this. I hate telling people what my stories are about; I'd rather you read the story. "Mistress" isn't really about dogs, it's about loyalty and submission, but when I tell people about it, I usually say it's about dogs. Argh.

Anyway, curse the darkness is a game about what's important. It's about survival and about freedom, and which you choose when you're really up against the wall. It's about a world where stupidity really does get punished...but how that reveals that all of us have our blind spots. It's about memory and which details of people stick with us.

So how does that translate into the game itself? Well, let's consider the setting. The world is largely fucked. Some years ago, He showed up and killed off many of the most powerful people in the world. World leaders, military leaders (both of official and unofficial armies), CEOs, religious leaders, drug kingpins and anyone else who had built a cult of personality and was using it to exploit, all vanished or died openly. Monuments to ideology were destroyed, starting with obvious stuff like the Dome of the Rock and St. Peter's because it's obvious. He completely annihilated Jerusalem, and used that as the staging ground to reveal Himself.

Then He made the Riyadh Address, in which He outlined the rules for the world. No more religion, no more ideology. The whole of the law, basically, was that you did what you could and you took care of the rest of the world - one race, one planet, one nation. Except that He backed that up with "or else you're dead," and He only ever delivered the Address in English. It was translated and retranslated, and yes, it spread across the world, but it wasn't always delivered in pure form. It hasn't reached everywhere, and it's not enforced evenly everywhere.

Overt displays of religiosity or fervent belief in a...well, belief system, spiritual, economical or otherwise are a good way to get killed. Covert displays aren't safe, either, but they're safer for longer. Entrenched belief dies hard...but it's dying, because He's been killing off the people who are willing to fight for it. Parents take a big risk by teaching their kids to pray, because as any parent knows, kids don't know when to keep their mouths shut. You instruct your kids to believe in God and they say something at the wrong time, He might hear, and if He hears, They aren't far behind.

But quite beyond that, the world is in shambles. In some places, basic amenities like water and power still happen, because people are willing to go to work and produce them. But officially, money is verboten, and that means you don't get paid for your work. You're supposed to have everything provided for you by providing for everyone - if people were involved in production before, they still should be, only now they're doing it because that's how they keep their part of the world running. And in some places, that might happen, at least for a while.

But remember Office Space, and the discussion about the hypothetical "what would you do with a million dollars" question? Michael's response is that it's a bullshit question, because if everyone went by that there'd be no janitors, because no one would clean up shit if they had a million dollars. And something similar happened here - the people on the other side of the world are out of sight, out of mind. There's some import/export because you can Open a gateway (Openers aren't uncommon, but no one knows how common they really are) and go anywhere, but people are afraid to cross the Between. Communities grow insular because it's hard to sustain a larger community (every person not working is a burden on those who do), but people are afraid to set up any kind of working system for fear He'll take issue with it. As a result, people live hand to mouth, people steal, people kill and prey on each other.

Now, why doesn't He prevent it? He does...if He knows about it. But despite what people believe, He can't see everything at once. Life in this world is a constant fear that He's going to open a shadow at exactly the wrong moment, peak in and hear you say "thank God" or something out of reflex and send Them to kill you. Life in this world is fighting for food, shelter and other basic necessities, and then worrying once you get them that He'll see and figure you're hoarding. Mortality rate is high, and it's small victories that matter.

But I want PCs to be outside that, in some ways. There's got to be some resistance, people that figure that if they can learn enough about the Between, about Them, Him and what's happened to the world, maybe they can change it. I want the PCs to have some hope, and to have some reason to be brave. So a game of cure the darkness might involve hooking up with other resistors, transporting data, trying to get people established and communities running smoothly (so there's a base of operations), figuring out how the Between works and under what circumstances the Symbol works and doesn't, and other such dangerous work.

Need some suggestions, here. Brainstorm with me, folks. Oh, and you can read the existing curse the darkness posts by clicking here and working backwards.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Rules summary to playtest A

I'm running a playtest game of curse the darkness on Friday. As such, I need to note the workings of the system as I'm seeing it now. This post is mostly just for summary's sake. What I would like from the dedicated band of systems tinkerers (and man, you guys are awesome) isn't so much suggestions on how to change the system, but on what I'm missing that needs to be there so I can run the game.



  • Distribute 10 points between Focus, Stability, Stamina and Humanity. Minimum is 1, max is 5.
  • Define Scopes (1 per point in Attributes) - optional.
  • Sacrifice a point in Humanity to be an Opener, or a point in anything to have a cool piece of gear that's hard to come by.
  • Name and quick description.

Game Setup:

  • Decks: 1/player (Character decks) + 1 (Reserve deck), and 1 for the GM. GM's deck is shuffled and set aside.
  • All aces removed from Character decks. Separate into suits, shuffle suits, deal out cards to each player equal to Attribute for the appropriate suit (Hearts = Humanity, Spades = Stamina, Clubs = Stability, Diamonds = Focus).
  • The rest of the character cards are kept separated for Refreshes.
  • Players choose one card at random from each suit to be the Action card for that Attribute. It is placed face up in the appropriate slot on the sheet, with the other cards of that suit face down below it.
  • Players each draw X cards from the Reserve deck (x = number of players, excluding GM) and place them face down in their Reserve.

Character Challenges:

  • GM describes the situation requiring the Challenge (or player initiates). GM assigns a difficulty, which he may or may not tell the player, depending on the situation.
  • Player can: Play the current Action card in that Attribute (equal to/higher than difficulty succeeds, card is discarded, top Action card revealed); play the Action card from a different Attribute at a higher difficulty (GM's discretion; otherwise plays the same way); play the Action card but pay a Memory point to keep it; play the Action card but keep it (only if the card value > difficulty by 3 or more).
  • A player can expend multiple cards on a Character Challenge if the Challenge is within a character's Scope.
  • A player can expend a card with a lower value than the difficulty. By itself, this means the character fails at the action, but the player can use this as an opportunity to get shed of a low card or to define a Scope.
  • Player can use Character Challenges to define Scopes. A player that does so receives a Memory point. The GM can require a Scope for specialized knowledge, but the player still gets the point.
  • If player has no cards in an Attribute (he is Exhausted), he may draw a card from his Reserve (Exhaustion Draw). If it is the correct suit, he can keep it. If it's not, he can pay a Memory point or give the GM a Between point to keep it. He can keep drawing until he gets the right suit, but this depletes the Reserve.

Removal Challenges:

  • GM assesses which players are initially involved in the challenge. GM draws 5 cards from the GM's Deck, adds them to any cards gained from Memory point expenditure.
  • GM describes the situation. Player(s) explain responses. GM plays a card of a given suit, player responds. This continues until all four suits are represented (either party can pass, and you don't have to play even if you can). Players can "open" a suit. At this point, the player can up the stakes by playing a new card of any suit. When the players pass, the GM can play one more card.
  • Player of highest card in a suit defines it, starting with the highest card on the table (ties go: Clubs, Diamonds, Hearts, Spades). Definitions are: Fail/leave, succeed/leave, fail/stay, succeed/stay.
  • If a suit isn't represented, it is defined last. If two aren't represented, the GM defines them both.
  • Resolution deck is composed of aces from the Character decks + the highest cards from Suit Assignment + two cards from the Reserve decks of all involved players + 2 cards from the GM. GM can spend Between points to remove cards from the deck before drawing, players can spend Memory points to do the same.
  • Players cannot choose not to put cards into the Resolution deck. They must put two cards from the Reserve (if they have them), though they can choose which ones.
  • Players and GM can choose the cards their removing before the Resolution Draw (so you choose the suit you're removing, otherwise it doesn't make much sense).
  • Active player draws for Resolution. Players can choose to draw for their own Resolution or accept another player's. Player that assigned that suit gets narration rights.

Memory and Between:

  • Players can give the GM Between points. Doing so allows a player to keep a card during Exhaustion draw, to Refresh a pile (points equal to the Attribute), or the Reserve (2 points).
  • Players can spend Memory points for any of those things, as well as spending Memory to remove cards from the Resolution Deck.
  • Every time the players spend a Memory point, the GM draws a card and sets it aside for use in Removal Challenge.
  • Players get Memory points for bringing up and discussing fallen characters, for discussing their own histories, for defining Scopes or for helping to define the world.
  • Players are not permitted to take notes on other characters.
  • Shutting down a Memory exchange grants the GM a Between point, but it allows the player in question to change the Action card on the appropriate Attribute.


  • Jokers beat any other card, except another Joker (black jokers win ties).
  • If a player draws a black joker, he immediately passes it to the GM and something unpleasant happens to him.
  • If a player draws a red joker, he can keep it or put it on the table. If he puts it on the table, he gets to swap out any one of his Action cards or discard the active one and draw a new one (and take his chances). No Between point for that. Doing so increases any existing card-caps by one. Any player can use that joker, but only once.
  • The player can use a red joker to Refresh any pile on the table, even if they don't control it.
  • The GM can use a black joker only in Removal challenges.


  • If an Attribute pile is empty, you can do an Exhaustion Draw from the Reserve.
  • If the Reserve is empty, you can spend 2 Memory points or a red joker to Refresh it.
  • Reserve is automatically Refresh after a Removal Challenge.
  • Character decks get discarded by suit. Reserve gets discarded separately and reshuffled when there's no deck to draw from.


  • A player can assist another player, donating an Action card during a Character Challenge at a -2 penalty to the face value (so it's usually more economical to just take on the Challenge yourself, but that might not always be possible).
  • During a Removal Challenge, a player can donate cards from his Reserve to make up the difference for a player that doesn't have 2 card in his Reserve, but the total is always 2 Reserve cards/player (before spending Memory to remove them).



Sunday, September 5, 2010

System 1.1

Some really good suggestions from the last post. To wit:

One thing that I was concerned about, and from the comments rightly so, is that there just aren't enough cards in one deck to use suit the way I was. In a 5-player game, if everyone gets dealt 8 cards (one for each suit, plus 4 in the Reserve) you've lost 40 of the 54 cards. There's a fair to middling chance that someone's not going to have a card of each suit, etc, etc.

Someone on my LJ points out that while my desires for the Memory system were pretty well defined, I didn't spend a lot of time talking about the way I envisioned other systems running. So let's think about that:

Where non-lethal conflicts are involved, I want players to be able to succeed if they want to. I hate the "chuckle behind the screen" model of GMing. I like torturing players with twists in plot and the eventual realization of the consequences of their own actions, when it's thematic (which it may not be here), but the point is, I like it when the players make the story happen. One of the reason I like GUMSHOE so much is that this is built into the system - you get the facts, but you have to figure out the truth.

So for curse the darkness, I want non-lethal conflicts' success to be mostly determined by the player. Failure is useful because it can be memorable, which can help the group later (after you die). Success is useful on its own merits. And I know that players might deliberately fail at a non-lethal action just to get a bad card out of their Action slot, especially if it's the kind of the thing that another player can pop in and say, "Hang on, I'm good at this" and throw down a king. And that's fine - I'm good with people using the system like that. That's what it's there for.

Ooh, I got it. I want non-lethal conflicts to help define characters. Tell you what I mean.

I'm playing a character who (currently) has a king in Focus. We find a survivor (maybe a new PC) who just popped through the Between and fell onto some debris, breaking his leg. Setting the bone is a Focus action, the GM sets that at 10 because it requires specialized knowledge and we don't have the right tools to hand, but again, I've got a king there. My character steps forward, says, "OK, calm down. I'm going to help you."

Now - why does my character know how to do this? I need to figure that out, because someone in the group is going to ask.

"How the hell do you know how to set a bone, Jack?" one of the other PCs asks.

"Well," says Jack, "Dad took us off the grid right after Jerusalem. We lived up in the mountains in Tennessee, and Dad taught my sister and I all kinds of stuff like this. Setting bones, what plants are edible, building fires, trapping."

"Cool," says the other character. "How'd your Dad know all that stuff? He in the Army?"

Jack shrugs. "Actually, I don't know how he knew. Dad wasn't the kind of guy who talked about himself."

We have now defined a great deal about Jack's life, and, you guessed it, this will be of great help later when he dies and folks need to remember him.

Now, right off the bat, I can see an issue forming: If I have a high card in a stat, I'm god. If I have a low card, I'm for shit. The fact that this can happen quickly is actually OK with me - you can get second winds, you can push yourself or run out of gas, and that's fine. But what I do worry about is that a guy with a King in Focus, for instance, is a surgeon as well as a genius and mapmaker and everything else.

So, with that in mind, here's a revised system:

You still have the same four stats: Focus, Stability, Stamina and Humanity. They still mean the same things. But each of those stats has a numerical value, 1 to 5. That's the number of cards you can have in that Action's slot. When you create a character, you get 10 points to spread out. For each point in an Action slot, you can put down one...defining point (I need a better name. "Scope" comes to mind, as in "scope of practice"). You can do these during chargen, but it's perhaps better to do them in play.

So let's take Jack, up there. He's got, let's say, Focus 3. When he tells his little history, I jot down "survivalist training" under Focus (that could also work under Stamina, if I wanted to double up, which is acceptable - maybe even advisable). This defines the scope of my training. It means that while Jack might be good to set a broken bone, he's not going to be performing appendectomies anytime soon, no matter what my active card in Focus is.

Also, having multiple cards in a given Action allows for better use of Refreshes. Offhand, let's say I can spend a Memory point to Refresh any given Action slot. I'd need to burn more Memory to Refresh all of my Action slots (that might also happen, as Jon suggests, when something important happens in-game - after someone dies might be a good idea).

And, obviously, one deck isn't going to be enough. One possibility is one deck stays broken down into suits, and one deck remains shuffled all together. I don't know what I'd use that breakdown for, but it's there.

Lethal Actions: OK, when you're taking a lethal action, it means you stand a good chance of dying or otherwise being removed from the game. As I may have said, mostly that'll involve dealing with Them, but getting into firefights with loyalists and the like works, too. So how's this gonna work?

Lethal actions have two phases, Exchange and Resolution. In the Exchange phase, you either win or lose quickly. If you win, you get to assign a suit to one of the four outcomes (which are, remember, escape but fail, escape and succeed, die and fail, die and succeed). If you lose, the GM makes that assignment. After an Exchange, the winner can attempt to force a Resolution.

When Resolution happens, the player takes a card at random from his Reserve. This determines the outcome. The odds are already stacked in favor of death, which I want, but this gives the player a little bit of edge - the GM doesn't necessarily know what's in the player's Reserve.

OK, so two issues right off the bat: 1) What if I have no cards in my Reserve? and 2) What if the Resolution pulls up a card that hasn't been defined in an Exchange?

Well, 1 is easy enough. If you run out of cards in you Reserve, maybe you automatically draw X cards. Maybe you draw the top card of the player's deck - or choose randomly from the GM's hand or deck. Either way, if you don't have a Reserve you have no idea how to play the Exchange.

But what if you Resolve but draw a suit that isn't defined? One option: The player defines it with one of the options left open. That might be good or it might utterly fuck you.

OK, we need to figure out how Exchanges work. They need to be quick, so let's make it a straight-up high card wins kind of thing. The GM puts down a card and says what's happening. The player puts down a card from one of his Action slots and says his response (this allows the player to either win or lose right away). The winner then defines an outcome, and can force an outcome by immediately playing a second card that beats the winning card (any suit).

Concrete example, for the love of God. OK, so let's say Jack slipped into the Between and now They are coming for him. This is a lethal conflict - Jack basically needs to get away before They catch him (once They catch you, you're done). The GM plays a 6 of hearts (suit is actually not relevant for GM purposes), and says, very simply, that They are slithering out of the Between and coming toward Jack.

I respond by playing a 7 of hearts from my Stamina slot. I say that Jack runs back toward the opening, hoping that it's still there and that I can make it somewhere safe. Maybe They won't chase me. I won the Exchange, so I get to define a suit.

In my Reserve, I have four card, three diamonds and a spade. I've obviously got the best chance of drawing a diamond, so I define diamonds as "escape and succeed." If I have an 8 or better handy, I can force Resolution. It's actually in my best interest to do that if I can, because I've got such a good chance of getting away. I play an 8 of something out of one of my Action slots, force Resolution, and the GM picks a card at random from my hand. If he draws a diamond, I'm home free - Jack gets out of the Opening, They don't chase him, and we're golden.

But that's too easy. Let's say the GM draws the spade. Spades aren't defined, so I now have to define them as one of the other three options. Assuming I like Jack and I don't want to make a new character (and you never know, sometimes it might feel like a dramatically appropriate thing to let a character die), I should choose "escape but fail."

This is a weird situation, in that "succeed" here means "escape", but I suspect that's really not going to be all that uncommon. OK, so moving on, I say that spades means "escape but fail." So I get to the opening, but They do follow me through. The circumstances have changed significantly (we're out of the Between, there might be more characters about, etc.). So what's happened, here?

Obviously if there's not an easy definition to the "succeed/fail" portion of the scene, then "fail" should fuck you in some non-lethal way. I'm OK with it leading to another lethal action scene, though maybe any cards already defined should stay defined? Like, Jack's outside, the circumstances are different, but we immediately enter a new scene but keep diamonds and spades the way they are? Yes, that favors Jack just at present, but that won't always be the case. Or maybe we enter a new scene and ditch the original definitions.

I think, at this point, I'm drifting beyond the level that pure discussion is helpful. Need to playtest.

Before that, I need to consider the important question: What do characters do? But that's another post.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

More systems

OK, try this:

Each character has five slots on the character sheet. Normally, four of them can only have one card at a time (Actions) while the fifth (Reserve) can have any number. The PCs share a deck, while the GM has a deck all to himself. Both decks have both jokers. For sake of argument right now, let's call the four actions Focus (diamonds), Stability (hearts), Stamina (clubs) and Humanity (spades).

Focus: If you've got a high Focus, you can apply your mental faculties to the task at hand. Covers remembering facts, finding your way through an unfamiliar (or formerly familiar) area, performing medical procedures (though this might be combined with Stability), and coming up with plans. If you've got a low Focus, it doesn't mean you're stupid, it means you're fried, hungry, tired, whatever, and your brain just isn't online right now.

Stability: If your Stability is high, it means you're coping well with the world. Yes, it sucks, but you're able to push the horror of the situation out for now and do what needs to be done. You'd make Stability actions when coping with loss, blood, death, grief, addiction and things that just scare the crap out of you. If your Stability is low, you just cannot cope anymore, and you might get too loud, cry, feel suicidal or just shut down.

Stamina: Physical tolerance. If it's high, you can run, carry, lift, engage in non-lethal combat (like restraining a low-Stability PC), defuse a bomb (again, probably also involving Stability). If it's high, your muscles are burning, your lungs are bursting for air, your heart is pounding, or maybe you're just so fucking exhausted that you can't even lift your arms.

Humanity: If this one's high, you can deal with people. Not the people in your group specifically (but them, too), but everyone. You see humanity as worth saving, and you've got some hope for the future. You'd use this Action to convince people you don't know to follow a plan, to counsel another person through a tough time, and probably some other stuff I'm not thinking of right now. If you've got a low Humanity, you're being really misanthropic and emo. It's not that it's not understandable, of course. You're making tasteless comments about the destruction of Jerusalem or any of the other massacres that have taken place, and you just don't give a shit that your friend lost his wife because she forgot and crossed herself on impulse.

OK, so, you've got a card in each of these. The higher the card, the better you're doing. When the game starts, you draw X cards and assign four to these Actions, and keep the rest in Reserve. You cannot refresh the cards in your Reserve until it's empty (normally). It makes sense to start off with higher cards across the board, if you're starting from a place of strength and respite. If you're coming into the game already on the run, maybe having one or two low cards isn't a bad idea. Also, say I wanted to play a character who is a dedicated misanthrope, or has a physical handicap of some kind, or who has ADD and can't focus, or whatever? I might never put a card higher than 5 in that Action, and consistently fail those types of things.

Now, why would I do that? Because it'll make my character easier to Remember. It might not be the nicest thing in the world if the other characters make use of my character's Memory by calling to mind how he almost got us killed because his gimpy leg made him slow, but it's a legitimate memory of the character and it'll work to allow refreshes and whatnot. Actually, I'm getting ahead of myself.

When a character takes a non-lethal action, the player plays a card from one of the Actions. It doesn't matter what suit, though the number can be higher or lower as a kind of "setting difficulty." If all four of your Actions are low numbers, you're tired, wasted, emotionally beaten down and you're seeing movement in the shadows even if there is none.

It's possible for Actions to require more than one type of suit. For instance, say my character is trying to defuse a bomb, for whatever reason. I need Stamina to cover the manual dexterity of it all, but also Stability because I'm freaking right the fuck out (this assumes my character knows how to disarm a bomb, but I'll get to that). The GM says I need a 5 or better in Stability (not so bad; that's 10 cards that are successes and only 3 that aren't, not counting jokers) and a 9 or better in Stamina.

(Now this is actually a bad example because if the bomb goes off, that'll kill me, which is pretty much the opposite of a "non-lethal" situation. But I think what would happen then is that the situation becomes Lethal, and we make everyone who's not at a safe distance take a Lethal action, which we'll get to).

If you can't or won't play a card at difficulty, you fail the action. Failing a non-lethal Action cannot lead to a character dying or otherwise leaving the game. It can result in injury, card-caps, and a situation immediately turning lethal.

Card-Caps: Say you go to jump across a gap in a bridge and the GM tells you "take a Stamina action." He doesn't tell you the difficulty because it's dark and you can't see how far it is to the other side. You take a leap of faith, and are immediately rewarded with an object lesson in how stupid an idea that is. Your character falls and lands badly. Your Stamina is capped at, say, six. You immediately check your Refresh for a heart of 6 or lower. If there aren't any, another player can (but does not have to) donate one. If that doesn't work, you just don't have a card in Stamina and you can't take Stamina actions until you can heal up (until there's some kind of Refresh happening). If They choose that moment to pop out of the shadows and come from your group, you stand a much better chance of dying.

Refreshes: When the PCs' deck runs out of cards and one player runs out of cards in his Reserve, all discarded cards are reshuffled.

Players can use Memories to force a Refresh.

A player can spend a red joker to force a Refresh.

Memory: You can Remember a dead or gone character at any time. It has to be stated in character, however (in soliloquy counts). Example: The unfortunate bridge-jumper (let's call him Bob) from above died shortly thereafter; he couldn't run fast enough to get away from Them. My character (who apparently survived his ill-advised bomb defuse attempt), is sitting on a pile of debris, other surviving characters nearby. My character reaches into his pocket and pulls out a photo. "Bob's kids," my character says. "He gave me this picture before he jumped. I guess I forgot to give it back in the confusion afterwards."

Now, at this point, my GM gives me a Memory, probably in the form of a chit or glass bead or something.

Another player picks up the cue. "Did he mention their names?"

A third player glances down at her sheet. She's currently got a 3 of Spades in Humanity. "Who gives a fuck? They're dead anyway."

That's a dick move. If it's a big enough dick move - like, it changes the topic of conversation and we drift away from Bob and his kids, the moment is lost and we can't follow the Memory more, that player gets to make a Swap on her sheet, changing out a bad card (including that Humanity) for a better card in her Refresh. She doesn't lose the bad card, she just tucks it back into her Refresh. If the other players ignore her and keep talking about Bob, that doesn't happen.

But let's say she doesn't take the dick move, and says, "I know the older one is Andy. I can't remember the little girl's name, but I remember he said she was named after her aunt."

Holy shit. That's two more Memory points, and the player that asked the question ("what were their names?") gets one, too, for setting it up (which wouldn't have happened if the third player had shut down the conversation).

So obviously it's possible to get lots of Memory points for free-form conversation. It's up to the GM when a Memory conversation has run its course, but there will be some guidelines. But here's the deal about Memory - you can't just make it up. You can misremember details (maybe it wasn't Andy, it was Adam), but you cannot make up another character's story. And, the player cannot write down these details. The player has to be memorable enough in her portrayal of a character for the other players to be able to use that Memory later.

Yes, that means characters are going to blur together in a long game where lots of people die. Yes, that means players have to pay attention, put their goddamn phones down and stop texting, and interact. Yes, that means you need to think about the specifics of your character's situation and how to bring that out. And, yes, that means this game rewards freeform, conversational RP. All of those things are things I want for curse the darkness.

The GMs' Deck: The GM has one deck, but reshuffles as needed. The GM does not normally play cards during non-lethal actions, though sometimes characters will take contested actions and it becomes "beat this card" rather than "beat this difficulty." During Lethal scenes is where the GM really gets to use cards.

The GM has a hand equal to the (number of players) x 1.5, rounding up, so 6 cards for a four-player game. The GM, like the players, does not draw to replace lost cards - he needs a Refresh for that. The GM gets a Refresh when:

He's out of cards.

Someone ends a Memory conversation in order to better their own situation (the "dick move", which will need a real name).

The GM uses a black joker for whatever reason (the Refresh is just a bonus).

A PC dies or leaves the game.

Jokers: Red jokers are good for players. Black jokers are good for the GM. When a red joker comes up in a players' hand, he can do one of two things with it: Keep it or put it on the table. If he keeps it, it becomes part of his Actions or Refresh as usual, and beats any other card except a black joker. If he puts it on the table, any player can use it to force a Refresh for the players, or any player can use it in an Action (non-lethal or lethal). Any player who puts a red joker on the table gets a Swap, but unlike a Swap gained for a "dick move," a joker-induced Swap you can use to discard a crappy card and draw a new one from the deck (so it might not get better, but then again, it might).

If a player draws a black joker, it immediately gets passed to the GM, and the player that drew it redraws. The GM should immediately do something unpleasant to the character that drew the black joker; a temporary card-cap is one possibility. Whatever is done, it should relate to Them or the Between in some way.

If the GM draws a red joker, it immediately goes on the table for use by the players. Any existing card-caps increase by one (that is, if you were capped at 3, you're now capped at 4) as the characters get a second wind.

If the GM draws a black joker, he keeps it out on the table for future use.

Lethal conflicts: Hokay. I said before that lethal conflicts have one of four outcomes: You die but fail, you die but succeed, you escape but fail, you escape but succeed. Here's the deal: In lethal conflicts, the usual suit breakdown doesn't apply. You are fighting for your life, and so you are using everything you have available to you. Running out of cards in the players' deck doesn't force a Refresh during a lethal conflict, but using a red joker or Memory points will work.

If They are the opponents, usually everyone's involved because you can't really hide from Them. If you're fighting, say, a bunch of loyalists with guns, then it's feasible that one character might hide and wait it out, and is therefore not involved. If you're not involved, you can jump in, but until you do, you can't assist.

More on lethal conflicts when I return from Teagan's first day of soccer. Meantime, anybody spots any obviously holes, punch through 'em.

Thursday, September 2, 2010


So, I've been thinking about curse the darkness a lot lately. One of the things I've been thinking about is using cards as the random element, rather than dice. I know gamers like their dice, but I also know that you can grab probability from a deck just as easily as a dice bag, and I have some ideas about using suit and number that make cards more ideal for what I want.

The other thing I've been considering is that I'd like two types of conflict resolution. For the moment, call them "non-lethal" and "lethal."

A non-lethal conflict is pass/fail. You know the fact or you don't. You find the clue or you don't (and with all due respect to Robin Laws and the awesome GUMSHOE system, if the game goes off the rails because a player missed an investigation roll, the problem is with the GM, not the game). The stakes in this kind of conflict are non-lethal and, for the most part, binary. Yes/no, pass/fail.

A lethal conflict, though, has four possible outcomes: You escape and succeed, you escape but fail, you die but succeed, you die but fail.

That is, you've got a 50/50 shot of living through this, and a 50/50 shot of failing. This kind of conflict gets used for life-and-death conflicts, or, more specifically, conflicts with Them.

I want conflicts with Them to be a bad idea on the face of it. Unavoidable, sure, but if you're fighting Them directly, you're going to die sooner or later. That's why He was able to conquer the world so quickly - He controls Them. You can still "win" in the sense that you can achieve the goal of a given conflict, but odds are even that you won't live through it. And I want high mortality, here, which I know is going to turn some people off.

But see, here's the thing. One of the things I like about Chill is the lethality. Most creatures of the Unknown aren't vulnerable to bullets, and a lot of them can kill you easily. For people who are risking their lives because it's the right thing to do, that kind of lethality is appropriate. In a lot of games, it's not, because the protagonists are the PCs and so on. But in curse the darkness, I want character creation to be fast and life to be short.

I also want some kind of trait that lets people draw on your character memory after s/he's gone.

Anyway, just my thoughts for now. More coming.