2008-03-26 : Conpulsion 2008 story 2: 24-minute RPGs

John Wilson, one of the con organizers, says that he doesn't have the attention span for a 24-hour rpg design challenge, so he instituted at Conpulsion a 24-minute rpg design challenge. You get your inspirational kick, 6 minutes to think, and 24 minutes to write.

This year the inspirational kick was in two parts. Part one: Jon Hodgson and Andy Hepworth, the artist guests, provided between them 6 prints. Roll a d6 to find out which your game's to be based on. Part two: draw 3 random words and discard one of them.

Last year apparently there were 20+ entries. This year there were 7. I was surprised to learn, on my way to steaks with Fiona and Sarah, an hour before the prize was to be awarded, that I was not a judge of the challenge, but the judge of the challenge.

No problem, says I. 7 entries? Most of them fit on a single sheet of paper? I'll judge them while we're waiting for the steaks to come to our table, and phone you with my verdicts.

And so it was. I awarded 4 prizes and an overall winner.

I'm afraid that I don't remember who all wrote which all games, so I'm not going to name any of the authors (except Gar, my fellow guest), and I'm also afraid I don't remember all the games' precise titles, so I'm just going to identify them as best I can. All the games were interesting. All of them would require actual development to be made playable. But I'll tell you what I thought was cool about each.

Runners Up

The one with the high-gravity hallucinagen miners: you'd go along taking actions, and then whenever you wanted to contest what someone else had done, you'd roll a die. That many past actions were a shared hallucination, it turns out, not real, so go back that far and pick up from there. I dug that you can't control how far back you negate; you might lose stuff that you really wanted. (This game was by my fellow con guest Gareth Hanrahan.)

The one where you play the fates and you have a secret favorite: I don't know whether the author intended it, but this game was quite a sharp commentary on the kind of game where the GM has a secret favorite character (like, his girlfriend's). Co-GMing, but where the main GM duty that's shared out is this funny dysfunctional one, to arrange things behind the scenes so that his favorite character comes out on top. Funny to take this irritating behavior and make it the core of a functional game.

The one where you explore the ends of the earth and do you forget yourself there?: I could see this game as a companion piece to Psi*Run, similarly fun, similarly set up, but introspective where Psi*Run is action-action-action and about forgetting instead of about remembering. Mechanically it was the most ambitious of the games, built on a feedback economy (that was certainly not going to work in its current form, but that's fine) balancing your own self-integrity against loyalty to your fellow explorers against going native.

Most Incomprehensiblest
The one where you raid cybercathedrals to win hope against bitterness from cyberpriests. Apparently the author wrote it while playing in someone else's game. It was, what, 10 sentences, a sketch and a schematic, absolutely unreadable to anyone but the author. Still, evocative: the sketch showed a jagged clifflike cybercathedral, and the schematic clearly contained something interesting about how the dice would work.

The one where you play elemental fish (from the periodic table, not earth-air-fire-water) swimming through The Everything looking for true love. Atomic weight figured significantly in the resolution mechanism, and stay away from the noble gasses! They hold themselves apart, you can't find true love with them.

The one designed to simulate a bad shroom trip. Setup and character creation were designed to put the GM into as bad a mood as possible (including making her drink a cup of salted tea), so the trip would be guaranteed to go wrong. Just 24 minutes, but the writing was funny and in quite a lively voice. (I think the author was offended that I called her game funny, but I meant it well. It was the runner up for Best in Show.)

Most Perverse and Best in Show
The one where you mess with each others' character sheets without conferring. If you know me, you know that I admire pervisity in game design (not just perversity in subject matter) and that character ownership is one of my favorite things to take shots at. In this game, you guess what challenges the GM's about to throw at you, and change the other players' characters to meet them (never your own). The character sheets are a framework into whose spaces you stick post-it notes, all with the other players' handwriting on them. Your character's niche is at the mercy of the other players' best guesses.

David Donachie's new game Solipsist came out of last year's contest. This year, any of the 7 entries would make worthy finished games. I hope their authors consider it. Authors, if there's anything I can do for you, let me know.

1. On 2008-03-26, Scimon said:

I've written up my 24 minute game with a bit more detail on LJ. The concept as I see it is you are playing part of the subconscious mind of one these truly annoying people for whom nothing can go wrong. Or something like that.

Right now I want to get some people and test it out, I think it could be cathartic.


2. On 2008-03-27, Mytholder said:

That P&P page is years out of date. I have killed many more trees with Mongoose products since then.

It was good to chat to you at the con. I really must make it back to GenCon again one of these years.


3. On 2008-03-27, Gregor said:

Yes, I was the (accidentally) anonymous writer of Spyre, the one with cyberpriests and cybercathedrals that was Most Incomprehensiblest.

I must get the entry off John at some point and see if I can do something with it. While it was less coherent I did manage to get the grain of my idea down there so that I could pick it up later on. I found the artwork I got was a big kick of inspiration. While I heard some people found the more abstract images difficult, I thought they were more open to interpretation, really.

Thanks for judging!


4. On 2008-03-27, Hituro said:

I think the lack of entires this year was due to the contest sharing a slot with full games, rather than being run during lunchtime (or over a whole day) as it was before.

I know I certainly wanted to enter again, having, as you said, designed Solipsist at a previous one, but I ended up running Solipsist in that slot instead and never got the chance. I also had to run before the judging, so really I missed the whole thing.


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