Tuesday, 16 August 2011


I am the Warden!!

A lot of people don't know this but I'm a film school dropout. One year at Humber College in Toronto and a large majority of it was theoretical, not practical. We learned what all the equipment is for, what is does, and how it does it but those suckers were smudge free as far as first year students went. Since those days, my interest in filmmaking remains though I keep it to a casual hobby rather than striving to break into the movies.

I've been using movies in my games for near on 5 years, right around the time I purchased my iBook G4 laptop and it came with the free version of iMovie. Actually, I was doing it for a year or two before that with whatever "program" I had on my PC. Opening credits, title sequences, scrolling text, and flashes of artwork set to music. They've been an incredibly effective way to setting the mood and getting players right back into the action without the bore of reading text aloud. With the Optional System, I'm looking to take this a bit further and turn these sequences into an aspect of the game.

As previously established in version 0.3 of Optional: Playtest, each adventure is broken into scenes and from there you get your character into fights and challenges. The end of a scene is more than a pat on the back for making it through that last bitch of a fight - your character regains all skill uses spent during the concluding scene. I had originally written this as "you regain all skill uses at the end of a fight or challenge" and this quickly became too easy for characters to get back into the swing of things. One player pointed out that the technical definition of a fight is anything requiring an attack roll; his point was that if a scene requires the heroes to escape from a pursuing band of orks (which it was at the time) and said heroes had used up a large number of skill uses, they could simply shoot at a deer and get the skills back to full once the deer was killed.

Under normal circumstances, I would not address this problem and let it fall under Section 3, Paragraph 2 of Warden's Book of Common Sense: "Really? Come on, let's be serious here. That's not going to happen." That being said, the definition of a fight depends on the danger in each individual fight or challenge. Converting it to scenes makes more sense as each scene is written as an elongated series of events grouped together based on common goals and effort. Stretching out the length of a scene forces the players to conserve their skill uses instead of loading up with dice on every roll.

That's where the movies come in. Each scene is marked by a short clip detailing the name of the scene and offering a purpose at its beginning. And since this game is inspired by movies, why not add a little flavour to spice this sucker up. Allow me to demonstrate.

This first scene for Friday's adventure clearly dictates its purpose. Having met up with a thief named Fulcher at the end of their last episode (adventure), the heroes must now talk to him and learn about what he wants with them and how they can work together to establish the plot for the current episode. The movie lays out the foundation for this scene - exposition - and offers a visible marker for the players to gauge. Once this scene is over, they regain any skill uses and can recover 1 hit of damage. Cue the next scene.

These objectives do not necessarily have to foretell the entire context of the scene, oh no. Anything else unexpected can still happen but those surprises are not essential to the success of a scene. If I suddenly drop in - oh, let's say, a dragon! - the scene is still completed as soon as the heroes get the information they need from Fulcher on whatever "the Cortex" is. If they don't kill the dragon, no harm, no foul. What I'm also hoping for is that it narrows the players' focus on a scene and prevents any unwanted detours. Players aren't the only ones who meta-game, you know.