Machinations: Progress Update

Today was my first day of full work on Machinations, even though it ended up being a half-day due to con-plague that came back from the dead and attacked my GI tract with the force of a thousand Galfraxian Death-Bots. I still managed half a day which meant I got my notes ‘organised’* and broke ground on the introduction. A lot of that’s standard boiler-plate stuff. The OGL, who I am, what Postmortem is, who Satine is etc.

These kinds of introductions are pretty standard in most games but I made a few key decisions that will influence how the writing unfolds and the changes and choices I make along the way. I know some people are interested in the design process so I’m going to lay these out here for you.

Old School Vs Indie

Stupid dichotomy since the OSR movement is self-published and as indie as you get. However, much like 80s/90s music the term ‘Indie’ has taken on a specific meaning in games and tends to mean the more experimental and ‘out there’ concepts and systems. I am neither truly Indie nor am I a traditionalist. My gaming groups have always been total game-whores. We love ‘the new hotness’ and we’ll play anything. I like it like that and as a designer it means my inspirations are many and varied.

I like both.

I think this puts me in a good position to take the best out of both camps, the nostalgia and simplicity of the OSR with some of the narrative flavour, focus and themes to be found in the Indie game scene. I think – perhaps foolishly – that I can meld these together.

The Value of a Gaming Book

The value of a gaming book is, in my opinion, threefold.

  1. The book as an object.
  2. The book as something to read.
  3. The book as game.

The book as an object is going to have more of an eye for design and look than usual and hopefully this will make it a pleasurable object to own whether in physical or PDF form. In meatspace it should be a weighty, nice feeling book thanks to its form factor. It should feel like something solid and powerful – which is what I hope it will be. It will also be beautiful thanks to Satine’s amazing art and she is very invested in and keen on the project which – in my experience – usually means good things!

I will be writing the book in a conversational tone. I want it to be fun to read. I want to pack it with ideas. I want it to be a toolkit and an inspiration. Most of all though, I want you to enjoy reading it. Rules texts can be dry and boring and dull because they have to convey information. I want to – somehow – go beyond that and make it a pleasure to read. I want you to come back to it time and again to read, not just to reference. I promise not to bloat it out with bad fic though!

A gaming book also needs to be practical and to produce good games. It needs to be reasonably easily referenced. So there’ll be references neatly collected in the back and I may even produce character/GM booklets as I did for Agents of SWING. They don’t seem to sell that well but I like ’em, so ner!

Implicit Versus Explicit Setting

A game like D&D, at least in its initial books, has an implicit setting. That is to say nothing is particularly graven in stone, there are no maps, no definitive world facts. You do, however, get an idea for how things are from the monster entries, the magic spells, the art and so on.

Conversely, something like Eclipse Phase is sold as much on its setting as its system. The world is revealed as much through the books as it is through play, new secrets and areas uncovered. Not exactly White-Wolf era metaplot – which is perhaps the apotheosis of such an approach, but a lot of games hinge on their setting.

Machinations has a setting, broadly, loosely, defined in my head but other than a few broad strokes I don’t intend to spell it out in the book. Rather – like D&D – it will be implicit. It will be hinted and steered by the art, the writing, the aliens, the weapons etc. There will be base assumptions in the setting (sexy, sleazy, swords & sci-fi) and its inspirations will be clear to see but an explicit setting isn’t really on the cards.

I think that will free people to pick, choose and create with a freer hand, without feeling bound to canon.

The universe is a huge place and there’s room for billions of adventures without bumping into each other!

*If ‘all in one place can be called organised.