Board Builder is going to be a scratch sheet of concepts and ideas as they’re turned into actual content. There will mostly be discussions about theme and translating the theme into the mechanics. As the game gets better polished and saucier eventually other things will emerge from the toxic slime of creation and appear as fleshed out ideas. In general these articles will chart the development and progress of an ideas as it goes from paper to production.
Keep in mind, I’ve never made a board game, so hopefully what emerges will be a fun romp through board game land where nothing really makes sense.
For the first project I wanted to tackle something tame with most of the mechanics in place already.
To do this we’re going to add a well known base and build a flavorful sauce to dump all over the pre-established mechanics. We’re going to take Dread, the super neat tabletop we played last year around Halloween, and pour a brand new narrative dressing all over it. Dread has a few extremely desirable qualities soaked into its pages that are going to be useful for our theme. First off, it’s a completely built system which functions independently of the narrative. It’s mechanics lend themselves well to the topic we’ll be tackling with this first project.
Dread also has a character creation scheme which involves no numbers. This means that there will be almost no fine tuning of stats and we can instead work out a series of interesting questions to help with roleplay instead.
What is Dread?
If you’ve been sleeping on The Skill Floor, you probably missed our Stranger Things Dread-A-Thon which ended with everyone dying a horrible death. Dread is a tabletop which uses a Jenga tower instead of dice. When the tower falls a character is removed from play (usually by dying). If the character encounters a situation which they cannot overcome by their native ability they pull a block to succeed. Players can also be compelled to make pulls when they are in danger. As the tower grows more unstable the tension rises creating meaningful drama.
This project will be centered around building a campaign based around the movie It.
Not only was the movie pretty heckin good, but it also incorporated a ton of themes about abuse and violence in addition to the spooky stuff. The bedrock that the movie is built in gives a lot of room for character exploration. We want the game to be scary, but I also really want to capture the small town summer vibes that resonate within the town.
Characters should be flawed just like in the movie. The main cast of characters call themselves The Losers and should act and behave like losers. We’re looking for speech impediments and the like, things that really get you shoved into a locker if you were in a 1980’s high school.
Of course we also need a cast of completely fucking awful adults. It seems like part of growing up in horror movies is becoming a heartless monster.
The only reason I’m choosing It is because it’s pretty fresh in my mind, there’s a lot of detail still swimming around my brain bits to pull from. I have no attachment to the book (which I have not read) or to the original movie (which I barely remember). There’s been a bit of me that’s always been enamored by the idea of a small town where ominous forces seep into the community reeking havoc. Some obvious inspirations come from shows like Gravity Falls and Twin Peaks.
There’s a pretty obvious and magical goal sheet for something like this, most of which is born off of what made the Stranger Things Dread campaign work so well. A good campaign incorporates a few different Lego blocks, we need a location which is full of opportunities, characters who do neat things, and a clear story arc.
It had incredible presence of mind when it came to location. The gorges were large and beautiful, the houses cramped and scary, the underpinning of summer kissed the running streams which crossed the town. The city of Derry, Maine is blessed with the Pacific Northwest’s uncanny mystery and the constant sensation of Summer.
The town needs a few amenities, a general store, a library, some sewers, an abandoned house, a back alleyway. Each of the locations should be distinct and offer a specific feeling or provide an opportunity for a particular encounter. Being alone in the alley should give the gang a chance to recover, discuss and regroup since they’re sheltered from public view, but that same privacy should be used as a duality. Privacy can also expose them to the town bully, or provide It an opportunity to wreak havoc.
In a town there are usually a dozen abandoned or under construction houses, there are also a number of distinct alleyways. For our purposes the town of Derry has one alleyway, there is only one abandoned house. Every location is unique so that it can be easily conscripted in the player’s mind. While the number of actual locations is limited, the world should feel pretty big and sprawling. The town’s feel should make it so that while home you’re entirely separated from the rest of the town’s offering, but while in town it’s easy to move around . Every place should be used, every location should offer a needed service. If the gang needs to get information on the happenings within the town, they probably need to go to the library. Some examples follow.
Library -> Info
General Store -> Supplies
School -> Regroup/Get Bullied
Home -> Rest/Provide Motivations
Gorge -> Summer Moments of Happiness
Sewer -> Spooks
We’ll get more into those in a later segment.
We’re working with an established cast of characters and while we plan to tilt shift the characteristics of each person into a shape that fits our story we’ve still got a ton to pull from. Everyone’s personality should offer volatility to the group dynamic. No group of friends functions perfectly, and its up to the players to exploit these limitations to create tension. These exploits will function a million times better if there is a pre-existing scaffolding which helps the fruition of these narrative beats. Dread’s character questionnaires let us easily grow these experiences in a tabletop vat for maximum drama right when things get tense.
Each character should have a distinct characteristic that highlights them as people in a positive or negative way. We also want these indicators to be more than just simple highlights though, they should be included within the character’s growth.
One luxury is that nobody is required to be especially capable, in general fitness and ability are precluded by our young set of adolescents. Because of the lack of physical ability, we get to focus on the internal churning of the gang and how it affects their relationships.
Story arcs are hard. There needs to be a definitive location of beginning. Maybe the last day of school, maybe a particularly violent fight outside the school? It the movie cheated and did two things, but since the players should ideally all be in on the action together, we don’t get so much luxury.
How about the rising action? One of the goals is to get horror and also the childlike freedom of summer vacation in one story. We want to combine the two elements, which means that we need to move quickly from introductions to the terror, then back to the summer wonder. We’re going to have to go around the Dan Harmon story circle twice to get this to work the way we want it to.
The first rotation should be the formation and completion of the group, either by finding another member or by unifying and opposing the bad monster. The second rotation and eventual climax should be the combat against the beast.
We need to compose a series of vignettes that capture that arc. This will probably be the last goal.
See ya next week when we tear into the setting.