I’ve just completed a full version of Flotsam for external playtesting!
Flotsam is a roleplaying game about outcasts, misfits and renegades living in the belly of a space station, in the shadow of a more prosperous society. The focus of the game is on interpersonal relationships and the day-to-day lives and struggles of a community that lacks the basic structures of civilisation.
System-wise, it was originally a Dream Askew hack, but has wandered a great deal from those roots. It owes quite a bit to Hillfolk and Archipelago, too. Everyone gets to act like a GM some of the time, controlling one aspect of the game setting and the threats it contains, and everyone gets to play a Primary character some of the time, exploring their life and relationships.
If you like the sound of that, and you think you might like to give the game a try, please get in touch by commenting here or emailling me at flotsam (at) vapourspace (dot) net.
I’ve long had an interest in designing a Dream Askew hack, thanks to very positive experiences playing the game tempered by some issues that I wanted to address. I’ve been tinkering around with this concept for quite a while, and finally managed to get a working prototype to a playtest this weekend.
The game is currently a fairly thinly reskinned version of the original, since I want to concentrate on streamlining and reworking the design framework. But I didn’t want to just copy Avery’s game, so I’ve changed the setting. Space Askew is set in the belly of a space station, where outcasts and misfits live in the shadows below a more prosperous settlement.
- I felt that DA would benefit from some more in the way of relationship-building in setup. I’ve added a set of Hx-style relationship seeds to choose from, and some Hillfolk-style unrequited desires. In both cases the process involves choosing something yourself, then asking another player a question, the answer to which provides a completed background element.
- I wanted a clearer and more intuitive set of MCing guidelines for running the Situations. I’ve brought the MCing system a bit more back towards the way Apocalypse World works, supplementing each Situation’s Principles and Moves with a set of general Principles and Moves, and giving clear guidance for when an MC makes Moves. The Principles are a bit different from AW’s, focused more on small-scale interpersonal drama than constantly shifting external threats.
- I’ve placed question-asking at the heart of the system. When you want to create a bit of content for the world (a character, a location, a piece of technology, a rumour…) you don’t create it yourself; you ask someone else about it. This is true in setup and during play.
- I’ve created a more developed process for deciding what scenes should focus on, and for deciding who is MCing at any given time.
- I added a very simple harm system. Whenever someone tries to inflict harm on another character, they say what they’re doing in the fiction, then ask someone else what the outcome is. I want harm to be kept simple and fiction-based, and I want the decision to inflict harm to recognise that, once the bullets start to fly, you can’t entirely control the resulting pain and injury.
- I’ve switched the psychic maelstrom to a Battlestar Galactica-esque set of gods who you make sacrifices to and petition for aid.
- I’ve added a new skin called The Foundling, who was once part of a networked hive mind connected to a parent AI and has somehow become separated from the parent. They’re a bit like the Hollow in Monsterhearts, lacking a clear identity and anxious to understand humanity.
How did the playtest go?
- Character gen was fantastic. Beyond my wildest dreams, really. It took 45 minutes and yielded well-realised characters with charged relationships but plenty of undefined space to explore in play.
- The play itself went well, but I think that was more a testament to the quality of my players than the system I wrote. I suspect people were relying on their own habits of running fairly systemless games rather than my rules. (The excellent setup will have helped, of course.)
- This was partly the result of my failure to effectively teach the rules, and I’m clear that the game needs a Lovecraftesque-style teaching guide that guides you through the rules systematically.
- It was also partly the result of information overload. I should have realised this would be a problem, because I think DA was already pretty hard work and Space Askew added a bunch of extra stuff.
- I hadn’t fully appreciated how Play to find out and Ask questions aren’t particularly obvious or intuitive ways to play. As the only person who had read the rules outside the playsheets, I needed to do more to explain this (and the teacing guide would need to include this).
So what am I doing next?
- I’ve already begun work to streamline the amount of information in the game, reducing the number of Principles and Moves to a manageable level, and focusing on what is really core to the game.
- I’m going to write a teaching guide which ensures certain rules that aren’t on the playsheets gets mentioned, that key principles are explained in more detail, and that character gen is more structured.
- I’m going to turn the Situation sheets into something a bit more resembling a character sheet, complete with setup questions.
Watch this space!