What started off as a Noir themed role-playing game ended up a memory-ish card game with an interesting Interrogation mechanic. For this second edition of Designstorming we’ll look at how you don’t always end up where you think you’re going.

Disclaimer – The card images are NOT MINE, nor do I pretend they are mine. These Designstorms are an exercise in creating game designs and generate idea’s not to go into full development. If any of the images are yours and you would like me to take them down, let me know and I will.

I took off wanting to make a “La Noir” like role-playing game. Straight away I opened Photoshop and made a lot of cards based on my role-playing system. I wanted the players to create a detective and solve murders. Like my role-playing system I wanted to eliminate the need for a GM. But when I was done designing this proved more and more difficult. I simply needed someone who could play the NPC and who would know what the “case” was the players would be solving. Trying to solve this, I strayed further and further away from a role-playing game and started looking more at games such as Mysterium. I ended up with an interesting interrogation mechanic I really wanted to test. So I whipped up a simple paper prototype version to test that mechanic. Surprisingly enough this stripped down prototype proved a very fun game… So I sticked with it! Though I just want to focus on the interrogation mechanic and the final game, I will still briefly explain the concept which formed the base for the prototype.

The game started as a co-op role-playing game in which players take on the roles of investigators and various NPC’s. The game would have decks of cards and a gameboard with locations in a fictional city.

Each game would start off with the players drawing a random plot card describing a murder/case for them to solve. Next a random (face down) NPC, weapon and location card would be drawn from special decks. These would be the perpetrator, weapon used and location where the story of the plot card took place, like in Clue.

I then needed a way to advance the game. This would be done in the form of “leads”. A lead would instruct a player to find a specific NPC on the map to question. Once that NPC was found, another player would take on the role of that NPC and would be interrogated by one of the other players. If the interrogation was successful the players would get a new lead. Some leads would allow a player to reveal one of the face down cards getting closer to the solution of the case. Once all three face down cards are revealed the players would have to catch the NPC to win the game!

All this worked a bit wonky and left me with many questions such as; How turns exactly work? Or how does one move on the map and discover NPC’s or enemies? Now, a designstorm does not yield a finished product, and could be whatever I want it to be. I contemplated leaving the design just as is and calling it a day. However, I was set on solving the biggest problem. The fact the players won’t have any actual information about the case they are solving. They would only have the information on the plot card (if no face down cards are revealed). So how would a player know how to play a NPC and if their character would have any useful information. Or when he or she would give up that information? Solving this proved a fun exercise. The solution the “interrogation cards”.

The interrogation cards are a deck of cards instructing players on how to play an NPC. Each card has three features. First it has a “tell”. A tell is a rule the player needs to abide to when role-playing the NPC. For The Punk for instance the player will need to be “respectfully” aggressive. For The Accomplice, the player would have to deflect all questions. Of course it’s up to the player to fill in the rest of the character and how to exactly go about doing so.

Next each card has a (Fight or) Flight and a Bust section with a condition attached to it. Whenever during the role-playing an interrogator satisfies the condition, it triggers either the Flight or Bust ability. Flight means the player playing the NPC may end the conversation and the interrogation fails (Fight is there because in one version of the game fights could break out with enemy NPC’s). If the interrogator satisfies the Bust condition the interrogation is successful and the detective is rewarded.

Now say there are 100 interrogation cards with different tells, flights and bust conditions. The sheer amount of information and possibilities would make it nearly impossible for an detective to successfully interrogate a player. To solve this each character in the game has a number in the lower right corner. When that character is interrogated this number shows the amount of cards drawn from the interrogation deck. Each of the drawn cards is revealed and may be read by all players. Then the player playing the NPC will choose one of those cards in secret and discard the rest (face down off course). Now the investigators will have some idea of who they are dealing with. A character card with a higher number would therefore mean the character is more difficult to interrogate. Simply because there is more information present.

To make this all work however, some cards Flight condition should be the same as some other cards Bust conditions and visa versa. If this wasn’t the case interrogators would just be able to quickly satisfy all Bust conditions they could remember. However if some of those would be Flight conditions as well they would have to proceed with care and steer the conversation trying to figure out the “tell” the NPC player has in order to bust him or her.

While designing this mechanic I really felt like play testing it. Because so many questions and design decisions where still to be made I whipped up a quick version using a simple “memory mechanic”. Simply placing the cards facedown would hide the NPC’s and enemies instead of using a map locations. For speed I also dropped the plot and weapon cards. You would simply layout all characters (face down) in a grid and draw a lead card. Then you would try to find the character described on the lead card in the grid. If you would reveal a different character, successfully interrogating that character would grant you to turn over another character card etc. Failing the interrogation would result in turning back ALL revealed characters. If you would find the character from your lead card and successfully interrogated it you would score the lead. When you would score your 3rd lead card you would win the game!

Strangely enough (as these things go) this super simple play-test version actually proved to be quite a fun game. Something definitely worth exploring in the future. And that is what these Designstorms are all about, just creating and seeing where it ends up. Sometimes at a totally different place you though you wanted to go, something taking the freedom to design can do!

I’d love to hear all about your designstorm’s and if you ever had a game design end up somewhere totally unexpected!

For the first article in the new designstroming series I like to talk about an easy Role-playing system, which is the base for more of my designstorm concepts.

Disclaimer – The card images are NOT MINE, nor do I pretend they are mine. These Designstorms are an exercise in creating game designs and generate idea’s not to go into full development. If any of the images are yours and you would like me to take them down, let me know and I will.

When I started this Designstorm I wanted to make my own role-playing system. Being a GM myself I love role-playing games, GM’ing and making stories. But from time to time I also like to just play… So I wanted a system without a GM. I also envisioned a game more accessible to casual players, I wanted the game just to be about the role-playing and not perse about, looking up spells, creating characters figuring out stats and such. And mind you the “system” is far from complete, but I think it’s an interesting take on role-playing.

At the base of any game is something the players need to do and in the case of a role-playing game, a narrative. For a role-playing game this will be provided (in most scenarios) by the GM, so my first instinct was to “replace” a GM. I thought of what the task of a GM is in it’s essence, my conclusion was a GM is always trying to make the game accessible and immerse players in the role-playing experience. His main priority to me is creating the setting and challenges the players need to overcome. Creating a simple setting and challenge could be captured in a deck of cards. Each card would have a setting (or location), a challenge (enemies, traps etc) and a text combining the two making a small narrative. However, I figured a single card containing all of these options would make the game to predictable. This solution would result in playing the same challenge at the same location every-time. Not very exciting. Therefor i decided to focus on a more random encounter driven game. To accomplish this I decided to split the challenge and setting cards in to two separate cards. The two different cards can result in facing a horde of goblins on a ship, making for interesting different possibilities to overcome the encounter (throwing them overboard for instance), more so then the more traditional combinations such as then facing a horde of goblins in a dark cave (setting a trap, dropping a rock on them?).

I opened up Photoshop and started fiddling around. When thinking of a role-playing game I instinctively go to a “fantasy” place, not fighting it I decided to just go with it, but I kept in mind the possibility to make it any theme I would like. When designing the cards I wanted the design of the card to make the narrative. I really like the feel of two cards crating one larger card, as seen with the meld cards from Magic the Gathering. In the example above you see this has the ability to create interesting and very narrative based encounters. For now that was enough to work with.

Now the players had an encounter to overcome how would one actually play the game? I wanted the game to be about people telling stories, stories how they overcome problems the face. Telling stories is fun, but most casual players will need some guidance as to what to tell. Adding to that many role-players will know a story where everything just goes as planned and agree that when this happens it’s no fun at all. How do you stop a player from just saying, “I kill all the goblins… next challenge!”. Off course there needs to be some good intentions involved when playing a game, but as a game designer you carry the responsibility to make players play your game and enjoy the experience. I came to the conclusion that I wanted to limit the players. These boundaries maximise the experience and decide what players can do in their stories. I have been a fan of Rory’s story cubes for a long time and it was the first thing that came to mind. After some more research my inkling was that Rory’s story cubes would not create the right guidance when trying to guide a player in crafting a story around a specific encounter. Thinking of the possibility to make the strangest and weirdest possible challenges and settings I needed something a bit more “generic”. So I came up with three types of dice. A blue target dice, a red outcome dice and a black trouble dice.

The blue target dice determines who can be the “subject” of your story. Say the player rolls the “party member” symbol. The subject of the players story must then be one of the other players. This would mean the player cannot target enemies or say the environment. A blue dice would have the following targets; party member, environment, enemy (challenge), enemy (challenge), self, free choice.

The Red outcome dice determines if the story must have a positive, negative or neutral outcome. The red dice is also used to advance and overcome the challenges (read on for that). So if the player rolled a negative outcome, the story would have to be negative for the players. For instance accidentally chopping of the hand of a party member. A red dice would have the following icons; + (positive), + (positive), – (negative), – (negative), +- (neutral), ++ (positive).

The black ‘trouble’ dice is something I didn’t quite figure out yet. The purpose of the black dice is that I wanted some encounters to add extra danger and to alter the conditions of the game itself. Making some encounters more unpredictable and possibly even ‘scary’. For instance the dice could make players skip turns, kill off players, re-roll dice, shuffle cards etc. However, the exact role (haha) this dice would play is something I didn’t make quite as concrete.

Players roll a number of black dice equal to the black dice on the challenge and setting cards (in the art example above 3), 1 red dice and 1 blue dice. Crafting a story using the parameters of their roll, but keeping in mind the stories of the other players. All players are telling one story together! For example; one player accidentally chopped of your hand, you would have to keep that in account when crafting your story. But you would just have to keep to the parameters of your dice roll (and stories of other players), the rest of the story could be anything a player wants. Want your character to have the power of lightning and fry your enemies, why not. Want your character to sprout wings and fly, why not?!

Now how does the story advance? For each ‘+’ symbol a player rolls he may place a token on the challenge card. If the number of tokens equals or exceeds the number printed on the challenge card (in the art example 4) a new challenge card can be draw, creating a new encounter. When I came up with this way to advance the challenges I initially though the players would draw a challenge and setting card. However this created an unnatural “flow” in the story where the players would be here this instance and there the next without a natural way of transitioning from location to location. So I decided to make some challenge cards “transition” cards. Only after the players would get a transition card they would be able to draw a new setting card. These cards would instruct the players to craft a story as how to transition between settings.

Now I stopped the designstorm at the point where I wanted to add another dice and give each player a deck of cards. Players could build their own decks using items, characters etc. The cards would be divided in sub-categories. A roll of the dice would let a player add a card from the rolled category from their hand to add an additional “restriction”/possibility to their story. A fun idea definitely worth exploring.

And there you have it.. the base of a story based role-playing system using dice and cards. This is one of those idea’s that really sticks and I might make into an actual game system someday! This idea would also be the base and inspiration to a few more of my designstorms, one of which is up next!