Designer Diary: When the Dark is Gone.

For some weeks I have been writing a new game called “When the Dark is Gone”. It is an ambitious and unconventional approach to gaming (if I do say so myself) but I *am* standing on the shoulders of giants in writing it.

WTDIG is my response to games such as Fiasco, Durance, The Trouble with Rose and others. These are all very good prep-less and GM-less games. They have some huge benefits over a more traditional style of role-playing and the biggest is that in my busy adult life I have less time to prep games. These games offer me the chance to role-play on short notice when I haven’t have time to prep.


I also find the GM-less style both challenging and intriguing. Once you have overcome the shock of shared creation, there are many benefits and the stories that emerge are often more interesting due to the greater creativity resource. I have enjoyed them all a great deal, but in all I have found I am missing something.

What am I missing?…a good cry.

What I mean is that whilst these games have been fun and entertaining stories were told – none of them touched me emotionally. There was little to no character investment and indeed this investment is actively discouraged in most cases.

First I thought that emotional role-playing wasn’t possible in a prep-less setting. Perhaps genuinely touching games, games which can make you cry, can only happen with prep.

Well – I love a challenge 🙂

Goal number one: create a prep-less game which is emotionally charged, with full immersion and where people are completely invested in their characters.

But that wasn’t enough for me. I’d been watching with interest how people were designing ways of determining Out Of Character conflicts or assigning elements of story control to different people at different times. But I was looking for a fully immersive character experience; any pause to make an OOC comment (even discussing the direction of a scene) would break what I was looking for.

So, how do you resolve conflicting views about where the story goes in a game where no-one breaks character?…The secret…you don’t.

Goal number two: design a game where there is no need for a mechanism to resolve conflicts either in or out of character.

Stay tuned for my solution…

[The beta version of the game is released here but I’ll have some more Designer Diaries going up to document my design process in the coming weeks. There will be lots more play testing and refining happening before I release the final version.

If you want to play test it drop me a line here i’d love to hear from you.]


16 thoughts to “Designer Diary: When the Dark is Gone.”

  1. I’m (as a gut response) amazing that you consider these prepless games to discourage emotional investment. As far as my contact with them and the London “indie roleplaying” gang has suggested so far, their main raison d’etre seems to be to encourage an emo(tional) style of roleplaying. I concede that there’s a distinct chance that these emotions may be superficial, given the short duration of the games and the lack of need to identify with your character’s survival instinct (they’ll be history in a couple of hours either way, after all), but… isn’t that a function of the game being *short*, rather than it being prepless? You never identify with a character from a one-off as much as a character you play week in, week out for a several year long campaign… do you?

    Personally I find the freedom from “investment” in whether your character lives or dies a great boon to storytelling. All my worst ever roleplaying experiences, EVER, have arisen from players refusing to make the game a good experience for themselves or others due to risk-aversion. People in real life are story-averse because no one wants to screw up their life by taking chances. That kind of thinking makes for ridiculously tedious roleplaying games though. (In my humble opinion.)

  2. Matt: Re your second point, I think WTDIG will (probably) be immune from that problem – which I totally agree is a real and problematic one – because of the nature of the game. You’ll have to go and read it if you want to know why! 🙂

  3. Interesting points and obviously different people will find different things in games. I should also say that have enjoyed those games but they haven’t pushed the right buttons for me.

    I find that the prep-less games I have played to date have encouraged a more holistic view of a character’s story arc to a degree which means I don’t form strong relationships with the other characters or setting. In fact I take a step back from emotion to go through a more intellectual exercise about the bigger picture of the story arc. Again not necessarily bad, just not everything I want.

    Lastly I would just say that for me Character Investment does not mean merely living or dying. In fact the most emotional experiences I have had as a player have never been in life or death situations. To me it means being invested in their emotions, relationships etc. I would agree that life or death risks can make for less interesting role-playing but as I said this isn’t what I am after and it isn’t what I really mean by Character Investment.

    As for the short duration well I see you point but so far in the (admittedly first) play test of When the Dark is Gone the players found it deeply moving and Time In lasted only 2 hours.

    I would love you to download it, give it a go and give me your feedback!!!

  4. Ooh, I didn’t notice that it was available for download! It looks good and I am excited to read it further.

    Have you played Penny For Your Thoughts? It has a similar “therapy session” theme and when I played it various of the other players got REALLY invested. I by contrast found it very difficult to get emotionally invested, as I’m not very interested in exploring the darkest corners of my psyche to be honest. (Don’t have any!)

    I wonder if there’s a sense in which we’re just different types of people who want different types of things out of roleplaying? If at the end of a session we’ve got something which “reads” like a quality novel, then I’m totally happy. Other people might not care that the session though was fast-paced and exciting if they didn’t feel like the events meant enough to their character personally…?

  5. I am pleased you like the look of it!

    I have skimmed A Penny For My Thoughts and it does look interesting. I haven’t had a chance to play it yet, but your comments above have bumped it to the top of my list!

    I am sure that we’re just different people looking for different things. I love a good story too but I don’t want to just eat story in my role-playing 🙂

    Do let me know what you think of WTDIG though.

  6. (I suspect PC Cooling’s thesis may be about “how to write software that automatically spams blogs by posting seemingly relevant comments while including a link to an unrelated commercial website”.)

    I think Matt’s comments illustrate what I was going to say, which is that probably most people who play (and design) these games have been more interested in rapid development of interesting story than in exploring emotions. So it’s not that they can’t touch genuine emotions, but that they haven’t generally been intended to.

    You mention Durance above, have you had a go at that? I haven’t seen it out yet, although the premise looks interesting.

  7. (I know, but benefit of the doubt and all!)

    I think that you are right that they are not designed to be emotionally touching. At first I though (as Matt suggested) that this was also a facet of the prep-less short fire nature of them. Which is why I felt I wanted to try and create a more emotive game – just to see if it could be done. I think it can.

    I have played Durance – we were involved in the play-testing and I haven’t played it since the final version was released to the public (if it has yet). Therefore I didn’t know if some of my comments would still be relevant. I did really enjoy Durance and found it more interesting that Fiasco (but that is largely because I am not a huge fan of Cohen brothers movies).

    1. The final version of Durance hasn’t been released yet – due for this Summer I believe. Will defo be running it at a Final Friday once it’s out, so if you fancied coming down for it and then sticking around for the weekend that would be cool.

  8. Thank you, I would love to – it’s been difficult getting away lately because of my dad’s illness, but I might be able to make the July one if I can get my sister to cover.

    BTW is there a way of getting email notification of comments/replies on posts here?

  9. Hi Mo

    There is indeed such a way, but it requires me to install a plugin. I shall definitely do this – only hadn’t done it already because I assumed it would be part of basic WordPress functionality! Oh well. Thanks for highlighting it. I’m in Tunisia right now without the necessary access, but will sort on my return.


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