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Category: Game Design

The Collectors – Power 19

The Power 19 is another questionnaire like the Big Three that I used before. It goes a lot more in-depth and forces the designer to answer questions they probably hadn’t considered before. Below are my tenuous answers to the Power 19, many of which are purely speculative as I am still seriously struggling with many parts of the system for this game.

  1. What is your game about?

    The Collectors is a game about badass undead bounty hunters who fight powerful enemies, while trying to keep their souls intact along the way.

  2. What do the characters do?

    The characters hunt down escaped souls, supernaturally-powered humans, and creatures from both sides of the divine battlefield. They also try to keep in touch with their humanity, lest their souls be ripped form their reanimated bodies and sent back to hell.

  3. What do the players (including the GM if there is one) do?

    All the players work together to create a world that the players’ Collectors will roam in. Once play has begun, the players will manage the physical, emotional, and supernatural resources of their characters.

  4. How does your setting (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

    The Collectors takes place in a world mostly identical to our own, but one where divine and infernal forces played a dramatic hand in the course of history. The world appears the same as it does now, though seemingly mundane occurrences are actually tied to a grander, and more nefarious, battle between Heaven and Hell. This is a world steeped in religious (and pseudo-religious) horror, the perfect setting for a group of resurrected hunter-killers wrestling with their humanity.

  5. How does the Character Creation of your game reinforce what your game is about?

    (TBD – Character Creation is a work-in-progress. Here’s what I’d like it to reinforce)

    Character Creation in The Collectors reinforces the themes by making two things abundantly clear: Collectors are powerful, far more so than any normal human; and they are flawed: their souls are wracked with the sins that bind them to Hell. Collectors can be powerful in ways only limited by the imagination of their player. You want to hunt the bad guys with laser-eyes and lightning-fists? That’s totally fine, but Collectors are also tempered by the corruption that plagues them, dipping too deeply into your well of infernal power could have real and lasting consequences.

  6. What types of behaviors/styles of play does your game reward (and punish if necessary)?

    The Collectors rewards characters for doing their jobs as Collectors (hunting the bad guys for the Bad Guys), by giving them tangible rewards for completing contracts. On the other side, this game seeks to encourage characters to engage in “humanizing” acts with people and places

  7. How are behaviors and styles of play rewarded or punished in your game?

    Rewards come in many forms, such as hardened hearts, the currency of the infernal underworld; essence, mystical “soul stuff” which can be used to form temporary enhancements; and personal experience in the form of milestones.

  8. How are the responsibilities of narration and credibility divided in your game?

    In general, narration falls to the Gamemaster to set scenes and describe consequences. However, the cooperative world-building aspect of territory generation and the soft requirement for characters to engage in non-combat “humanity” scenes gives players an opportunity to effect the pacing of the game and narrate character-building moments.

  9. What does your game do to command the players’ attention, engagement, and participation? (i.e. What does your game do to make them care?)

    Players play an important role in creating the game world that their story will take place in. Before ever jumping into a game of The Collectors, the gaming group will create the non-player characters and points of interest that will serve as the foci of their story. This should serve to draw the players into the narrative of their characters and their world from the very beginning.

  10. What are the resolution mechanics of your game like?

    (TBD)

    This, more than any other question, is causing me trouble. I don’t know what sort of resolution mechanics will best represent the tone that I’m trying to set here. Most recently I’ve been working on a dice-pool mechanic using Sin, Pain, and Humanity as three pools Collectors can pull from to handle a situation.

    In this case, Humanity is a pool of six-sided dice representing a Collectors skill and natural will to succeed. If a Collector is willing to take a mental or physical toll, they may also add Pain dice to their roll. Finally, if the Collectors wish to use their supernatural powers or just generally call on the forces of Hell to aid in their success, the characters may add Sin dice to their pool. Once all dice are rolled, success are counted (rolls of 4-6) against a difficulty number or opposed dice pool.

    Using Sin or Pain can lead to a Collector having to take time in-game to recover from their injuries or re-connect with their humanity, sparking the humanity-building scenes I mentioned before.

  11. How do the resolution mechanics reinforce what your game is about?

    Assuming I’m using the mechanic mentioned above, then the Collectors are demonstrated to be powerful badasses by the fact that their chances of success are significantly greater than that of any normal human. Additionally, their use of supernatural abilities to resolve situations (by virtue of their Sins) gives them even more interesting ways to demonstrate their power.

    Collectors are shown to be flawed and human with this mechanic when they must seek physical, emotional, and spiritual succor to continue living.

  12. Do characters in your game advance? If so, how?

    Collectors advance through the compilation of supernatural benefits in the forms of currency, items of power, temporary abilities, and via milestones.

  13. How does your character advancement (or lack thereof) reinforce what your game is about?

    Collectors explicitly grow more powerful as their collection of mystical flotsam grows, but many of these boons can come at the cost of a Collectors humanity or relationships.

    Milestones allow characters to change without completely releasing them from the burdens of their new lives. When a character experiences a milestone, they should feel the simultaneous pull of their social and infernal lives tugging them in different directions, leaving it up to the player to decide which path they go down.

  14. What sort of product or effect do you want the game to produce in or for the players?

    The Collectors should evoke senses of thrilling action tinged with existential horror. Players and characters both should feel the temptation of power and sin tugging at them as they must choose between the mechanical and narrative benefits of drifting between the hell and humanity.

  15. What areas of your game receive attention and color? Why?

    There are few plainly defined areas or factions within The Collectors, with a bare few exceptions. One such area is the Red Market, a massive bazaar located in “a corner of hell” which can only be entered through large, fleshy portals in the material world. The Market serves as a hub area for currency-based character advancement and infernal elbow-rubbing.

  16. Which part of your game are you most excited about or interested in? Why?

    I’m most excited about the balancing act that Collectors must play between human and hunter, all while having the forces of Heaven and Hell breathing down their neck. The focus of The Collectors is on presenting action-packed adventure with aspects of religious and body-horror, hopefully bouncing its players between excitement and existential dread over the course of play.

  17. Where does your game take the players that other games can’t, don’t, or won’t?

    The Collectors puts the players into the headspace of normal, everyday people who have been summarily forced to hunt down others as a form of posthumous penance. This game asks the same question to players and characters alike: what wouldn’t you do for a little more power or a shot at spiritual redemption?

  18. What are your publishing goals for your game?

    I hope to publish The Collectors as a fully-realized tabletop role-playing game book.

  19. Who is your target audience?

    The Collectors is targeted at those who enjoy gritty, religious-themed action and horror. Fans of comic series like Preacher, Hellblazer, and Witchblade should feel right at home.

The Collectors – Big Three

After attending several game design seminars at Gen Con over the last few days, I’ve decided to buckle down and try a bit harder at formalizing the Collectors/Devils Debtors game I’ve been working on for several years. In the past I’ve tried converting The Collectors into several different systems, from its original incarnation using C.J. Carella’s Unisystem line, to Fate, then Savage Worlds, and most recently Monte Cook’s Cypher System. This went on and on until eventually I arrived at the fact that none of them really captured the heart of what I wanted the game to be about.

I’ve got the themes and the general tone of the game in mind, but I can’t shake this crippling sense of “analysis paralysis” I get when it comes to codifying any part of the system.

As one of the most basic steps of game design, many writers have suggested using the Big Three, three questions which help the prospective designer to focus what they want their game to be about. So, here’s a tentative Big Three for The Collectors:

  1. What is your game about?

    The Collectors is a tabletop role-playing game about revenant bounty hunters doing battle against the forces of Heaven, Hell, and their own faltering humanity.

  2. What do the characters do?

    The titular characters do what their name implies: they collect. They collect the souls of the damned and send them to Hell, they collect the heart and essence of slain supernatural foes, and they collect the physical and emotional wounds that come as the price of their work.

  3. What do the players do?

    The players create their Collectors, create their territory, and manage the supernatural, physical, and emotional resources of their characters and those around them.

I’m not sure how helpful these sorts of questions are to the nitty-gritty bits of the design process, but there you have a few truncated blurbs describing the game I’ve been mulling over for years. I know there are myriad other design questionnaires bigger than the Big Three (such as the Power 19) but I don’t know if all of that is really necessary just yet.