I haven’t been writing as much about game design on my personal blog since I started writing daily for Loreshaper Games, but I’ve been thinking on what I’ve been doing with some of the content for my games and in particular how the context of previous experiences is shaping my current work as a designer.
Many of you might be familiar with velotha’s flock, because it is something that I wrote about here as I was working on it, but for those not familiar with it it’s a surreal free-verse roleplaying game in which the players take on the role of were-ravens seeking the Promised Land.
It’s an interesting game, and it’s been a blast the few times I’ve actually gotten to play it (including with strangers at Crit Hit 3), but it’s been increasingly more relevant as I get back into work on my current side-project, Hwaet.
Hwaet is a game of epic roleplaying, which focuses on telling stories of characters who are larger than life placed in situations that are beyond our known frontiers.
Looking back on velotha’s flock, I’ve already hit a lot of the narrative high points that I want Hwaet to hit, though they didn’t always get clearly brought into play (one of the interesting points about a free verse roleplaying game: nobody, nobody, knows what’s going on).
Moving back to the point, one of the challenges of telling epic stories is hitting the points that you need to hit to get them off the ground.
This is because epics take place in a liminal space between the known and the unknown. I’ve been listening to Jordan Peterson’s Maps of Meaning (affiliate link) recently, and while a lot of it’s been above me, there are a lot of really interesting points about how we get used to our surroundings and how that fabricated meaning is important.
Epics (at least the ones that are the clearest inspiration for Hwaet) rely on that space where meaning is unknown to drive their story forward.
I think that this is what I was going for with velotha’s flock,
Maria Dahvana Headley’s novel The Mere Wife (affiliate link) really helped me get into this as well. It views the story from the perspective of Grendel’s mother, but in doing so and taking a different approach to storytelling it manages to turn the relatively mundane into something epic; my favorite example of this comes throughout the novel as a cluster of suburban widows who seek to form matches and manipulate society become Weird Sisters, plucking on the strings of fate itself, but always bound to the rules of our mundane reality: it is through their social status, not any supernatural power, that they work their wonders, and the chapters written from their point of view presents a collective viewpoint that is interesting from the perspective of both a reader and an academic.
In Hwaet, I want to try and deliberately push players into that liminal space; to give them the opportunity to grow and face challenges and become worthy of having their characters be called epic heroes.
I’m not fully sure how to do that yet, but I hope to have it done some time next week. I live on the edge, after all.
All I do know is that it will involve brave people heading into the unknown.
Maybe they will be following the trail of ravens.