Well, the Miasma RPG will probably never get finished, for those who remember it. But wait, there's more! While I was pulling guard yesterday I had an idea for an entirely different RPG. Though based on a kind of old idea (fiction coming to life), I don't think it's been put in RPG format before, or at least not that I've heard of. So, in the storm of inspiration that followed I wrote down the following yesterday evening.
World of Words
Imagine a world. A world can be anything, can't it? Perhaps it's a world like ours, with people not unlike us. Or perhaps it's something more, something different, a world of strange possibilities and alien denizens. Whatever world you choose, imagine the people who live there. Imagine your world's heroes and villains, their struggles, triumphs and failures, their thoughts, codes and histories. Imagine what they do, and why they do it. You have just imagined a Story, and in every Story there is power.
This Story is about a world where fiction lives, where every world breathes and every plot is a possibility. This is a world where Authors duel, setting worlds against one another in wars of conquest and glory. In every Story there is power, and it is an Author who wields it. Welcome to the World of Words.
In this game the "character" that you create is yourself, reimagined as an Author whose worlds and Stories can become real. Wielding the tool of your trade--a notebook, a laptop, a typewriter, a voice recorder, any means of recording and telling your Story--you will face other Authors in duels of Words, with the price of failure being the forfeiture of one or more of your Story's elements--a character, perhaps, or an entire world. Your imagination is your greatest weapon; keep it sharp, and use it wisely.
As an Author, you fight not with muscles and steel but with mind and tongue. As such, your skills are not measured in the weight you can lift, but in the worlds you can weave. When compared to other Authors, your strength is measured in the following categories.
Genre: Bend me a starship, and I will show you a western. The rank of your Genre score is the measure of your mind's flexibility. Each level of it represents a different theme your worlds can take. Science Fiction, Fantasy, Romance, Western, Alternate History, Cosmic Horror--as your imagination is your weapon in the game, here it is your weapon in the real world. Any genre you can imagine can be recorded here, as broad or as narrow as you like.
Setting: Behold the Hydra, who looks on many worlds. Your Setting score is the strength and number of your worlds. When Authors duel, they duel across the worlds of one or the other. As the duel progresses, the narration of the duel can cause the scene to change, moving from one Author's realm to the other's. When battling on a world of your creation, you have greater control over the events of the duel.
Character: What measure is a non-human? Your Character score is an illustration of the strength and compellingness of your worlds' heroes--or villains. Though a world may be fascinating and beautiful, wonderful and captivating, it is an empty void without Characters to fill it. When Authors duel, it is the interaction between their Characters that often makes the most difference over who wins out.
Plot: Here's the long and short of it, Jack. Your Plot score is the amount of control you have over the events of the duel. This is the bulk of many a Story, and it grants an edge to a dueling Author as well. Especially when battling in an opposing Author's Setting, having a strong Plot to justify a Deus Ex Machina can turn a duel towards your favor.
Words per Minute: The time, how it flies. This is the most basic and easy to understand of your attributes, a measure of your writing speed. Though both Authors are writing at the same time in a furious duel of words, the faster one will be able to complete an Event before the slower one. Game-wise, the Author with more Words per Minute gets more turns than his opponent in a duel.
When designing your Author persona, you are given 15 points to spend among the following attributes.
Genre: Simple to understand. Each rank in Genre gives you access to another genre of world, character or what-have-you. An Author with rank 4 Genre, for instance, might have access to Space Operas, Alternate History, Romance, and High Fantasy. What's interesting here is that you can mix and match any Genres you have access to. So our example Author--let's call him Fred--could create the H.D.S. Hammer of the Pharaoh, a starship crewed by the navy of the Empire of the Sun and including among its ranks powerful Mages who follow the "old ways" and wield power granted them by the Gods. This is a hybrid of Space Opera and High Fantasy at the least, and when one looks closer you might find a Romance blossoming between two of the crew members. As a note, an Author may write outside of his specialties at no particular penalty. When writing within one of his favored Genres, however, he gains extra points to spend on his Settings or Characters.
Setting: Each rank in Setting gives you a certain number of points that you can spend on your worlds. Within your accessible Genres, you may have as many worlds as you like, but the ones you spend Setting points on are the ones you invest time into developing. These are the worlds with the thickest histories, the ones whose conflicts mean the most and whose rules are most specified. Putting a lot of points into one world limits your options, but on the other hand it also gives you the most advantage when the duel lands on your turf--and the most damage if you manage to lose that world. Let's take a look at Fred again. He has rank 2 Setting, and being the eclectic guy he is he decides to spend his points on three worlds. The first, and most developed, is Fearless, the title of the series and universe where the Hammer of the Pharaoh dwells. When the duel shifts to this world, he has his greatest advantage. The other two Settings he's developed are As the World Burns--an Alternate History where the Nazis had access to the atom bomb, and the setting for a Romance between a young American news reporter and a Russian sniper--and Darkest Night, a High Fantasy novel where mages do battle with the Cosmic Horrors who unwittingly gave them their powers, with the fate of the world hanging in the balance. Though he might not have as great an advantage on these worlds as he does in Fearless, he also has different options, different Events he could introduce. It's give and take.
Character: Like Setting, each rank in Character gives you a number of points to spend on development, in this case on your heroes and villains. Also like Setting, there is a trade-off to be had between diversity and power. It's important to note here that, like Setting, you may have as many characters as you like, but more importantly the points you spend don't make them more powerful, but rather, more compelling. One could reasonably create a giant robot whose cannons kill stars and whose hands crush worlds, without spending a single point on it. Without those points in development, however, it would have no backstory, no reason for existence, no motivations for the reader to empathize with or hate it. And that's the important point: true power in a duel lies not in the power of the characters, but in the strength of their back-story. Let's see how Fred spent the points from his rank 3 Character score. As you might expect, his most compelling character comes from the world of Fearless. Specifically, he's put the most points into Margaret Ramone, the Captain of the Hammer. She has a deep story behind her: given up by her birth-parents to an orphanage of the Empire and adopted by the Navy, she had to fight the prejudice against those without a family every step of the way, clawing her way with great effort to her station of command. Her struggles have made her hard and cynical, but she is also worthy of their reward; she is among the best and brightest of the Empire's naval officers, and she's able to make the hard decisions that her station demands. His next two characters are those from As the World Burns: Natalya Orlov, the Russian sniper, and Jack Swan, the American war journalist. They are not quite so deep as Captain Ramone, but they still have a story to tell: Natalya is doing what she can to defend her country, and Jack is recording the horrors of the war in the hopes that he can inspire his country to end it. Their mutual struggle in a war-torn world brings them closer together, and a defiant battlefield love blossoms between them. The last "pointed" character is Lackly Maruna, a powerful mage and the main character of Darkest Night. This is Fred's least developed Story, and Lackly has relatively little personality, fighting because the only other choice is death, wielding power because he can. Still, he has a pinch of development in that the first assault the Cosmic Horrors made on his world destroyed his hometown, killing his wife in the process and making the fight personal. Any of these characters can aid in a duel. Captain Ramone could lead her ship and crew into battle, fighting whatever comes their way, absolutely Fearless. Natalya and Jack, torn from the world they know by the duel, could find strength in one another, fighting to stay alive and hold onto each other even As the World Burns. Lackly, familiar with the unfamiliar, would take on his challenge as he's taken on all the others before them, wreathing his arms with power and howling at the Darkest Night. In the hands and mind of the Author, strongly developed characters may overcome any obstacle by being sympathetic to the Reader.
Plot: Your plot score represent how skilled you are at narrating the Events of the duel, how talented you are at guiding the actions of your worlds--and the worlds of whatever Author you are dueling, as well. When dueling, the interactions between your characters and your opponent's rely on the strength of your respective characters--the points you've put into them, and how well you can tell their stories. Things which don't directly relate to developed characters, however--the actions of the nameless armies, natural disasters, weather conditions, and anything else you can think of--are considered Events, and the strength of the Events you can make depend on your Plot score. Fred, our plucky hero, has a low Plot score of 1; in his works, he relies on the strength of his characters and their personal struggles to keep the Story going. When dueling in another Author's Setting, he is at a rather grave disadvantage to act, and can only narrate minimalist Events. The good news is that Plot receives a bonus when on one's home turf, so when in one of his own Settings, especially Fearless, Fred has much more leeway. For instance, during a duel with a rival Author--we'll call her Sheila--he's stuck in one of her Settings; specifically, it's a world in the Slice of Life genre known as Pills, Punks and Opera-House Makeouts. While here, Sheila has much greater control over the Events of the duel, and guides Natalya and Jack--Fred's on-scene characters--into a raver party where they become separated. All that Fred manages to do is bump Jack into a random partygoer who points him in the very general direction that Natalya might have gone. Later, however, the Setting and characters have shifted to Fearless, and Fred is much better off. Sheila's on-scene character Lucy Lo, an anarchist street-fighter from the above Setting, challenges Captain Ramone to a duel. Instead of letting the duel happen--because Lucy's backstory is about as deep as Margaret's, and he knows the interaction might be a toss-up--Fred writes an Event. The ship comes under fire, and the duel has to be postponed. Margaret gets to display her command skills, as well as her loyalty to her crew and ship, instead of indulging in a petty fight. All that Lucy can do, however, is either try to insist on the duel or begrudgingly let it be postponed. This round, Margaret has displayed deeper characterization, and won the interaction. Plot is an important skill to have, but it must be balanced against the others.
Words per Minute: At last we come to this--pure speed. Regardless of the Author's tool of choice--voice recorder, notebook, typewriter, or anything else--this attribute is a measure of how fast he can effectively tell his or her Story. Fred has 5 ranks in this attribute--obviously he types faster than 5 Words per Minute, but this is simply his speed relative to his fellow Authors, and in that sense he's quite fast. He will have more turns in a given period of time than slower Authors, which with proper use could offset his low Plot score. While in a rival Setting, he might not be able to write very strong Events, but two or three minor ones could have effects comparable to a single larger twist, or perhaps even a full-blown Deus Ex Machina. Words per Minute is an important Attribute, like the others, but each extra turn you gain comes at the cost of a bit of character or world development. One should also note that an Author can attempt to write faster than his Words per Minute would normally allow, but this comes at a stiff penalty to his technique--be it writing shorthand, making typos, or simply glossing over details, the Story is weakened. Like everything else, it's a tradeoff.
Stuff I've thought about but haven't ironed out yet.
Points: I think that for each rank in Character or Setting, you get 1000 words to spend on people or places. You have to write at least as many words about them in the real world as you have points put into them in the game, but this is a lower limit, not an upper one. In-game, it's mostly a gauge for the Editor (GM) to use when judging character interactions or Plot bonuses. I think that for every 500 words spent on a Setting, you get an effective Plot bonus of 1 when on that Setting. When writing within your favored genre(s), you get a 25% bonus for each one you are writing in, to a maximum of 50% (trying to cram too many elements in gives you diminishing returns.)
Dueling: I think each turn--called a chapter--would include each Author taking different actions, such as writing an Event or making an interaction between characters (maybe they can do one each? Like a character interaction is a standard action and an Event is a move action, or something). The amount of actions each Author gets during a chapter is equal to his Words per Minute plus one, and they are spread as evenly as possible (i.e., each Author gets as few actions in a row as possible. I think.)
Events: I'm thinking there could be different types of Events, as well as different levels. One special type I've thought up is Revisions--making changes to Events that you already wrote. These can't actually change large parts of the duel's Story, but they could set things up for future changes. For instance, changing the Event with the Hammer being attacked to include radioing headquarters for help could set up a later scene where help arrives. One other type is Meanwhiles--changing the scene the Story is focusing on to a different one, likely one on your Setting instead of your opponent's. The different levels would be pretty self-explanatory: minor Events like bumping into someone, all the way up to a Deus Ex Machina--like the cavalry arriving out of nowhere, or moving to a different Setting and bringing the on-screen characters along for the ride (dimensional portal, anyone?)
Equipment: I already mentioned that you can use different methods to record your works; I'm thinking they work differently, granting different bonuses and penalties. No one of them should be more powerful than another one, so I'm trying to balance them out. A typewriter would be the basic one, with no advantages or disadvantages to its use. A notebook (the spiral kind, not a laptop) would probably include a penalty to Words per Minute, since it is slower than the others. To balance that out, however, every few chapters or so the Author using a notebook can treat his Plot score as one higher; doodles and notes made in the margins give him a burst of inspiration. A voice recorder might grant a W.P.M. bonus, since you can record as fast as you talk, but maybe you wouldn't be able to do revisions (or maybe they just take longer, as you have to rewind the tape and tell the scene again).
Advancement: You do get stronger as the game goes on. If you win a duel with another Author, you can take control of one of their Characters. Furthermore, if you win the duel while in one of their Settings, you can take control of that entire Setting (perhaps with the characters included, perhaps not. Haven't worked that one out). They become part of your Portfolio, and are treated as being as strong as they were when the other Author controlled them. The Author who lost them gains a refund of words equal to their value, but cannot re-write what he lost. Also, I'm thinking that you can earn words, or perhaps even attribute points, by reading and writing, or maybe even watching movies or plays. It seems to make sense, but I haven't worked out a mechanic for it yet.
So... what do you think? This system could be finished up without a whole lot of effort. It would be pretty rules-lite and roleplaying-heavy, obviously, and every good play session could be made into a good story in its own right. Might not appeal to the power-gamers (which is why I would have a boatload of trouble finding playtesters around here), but I think the creative types would have a lot of fun with it.