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Forbidden City was the game in which I saw the most potential. Today's playtest gave glimpses of that, but also showed just how far it has to go before that potential is realized.

The players, who weren't used to the sorts of games that get designed around the story games forums, enjoyed contributing a lot to the story. It proved to be surprisingly cinematic, which I'm not sure was the intent, but it was enjoyed.

The mechanics needed to provide better guidance to shape resolution (degree of success was suggested, but that doesn't quite fit with the game).

It was suggested that, instead of putting dice that come up 6s back into the pool, to put dice that are chosen for success back in. We had an unusual number of rolls where 5 was the highest, and players accumulated dice pretty quickly because of that.

Collecting dice of different colours really gave the players a sense of where their characters were going. The way that players had to tell story to get dice also helped a lot. It took a while to find the right balance of description before a fight, since so much of the decision as to what happens occurs after mechanical resolution. There was also very little sense of risk in the mechanics, which made it harder to build tension in the story.

Wounds were a problem, too, as they didn't seem to do much. One player suggested that, instead of just damage, wound dice should somehow reflect a crisis that the character must face and overcome.

As the Emperor (gamemaster), I felt a little left out of the game, since I didn't actually interact with the mechanics much. Cowardice dice and smoke dice would somehow initially be held and used by the GM and added to the pool as the story progressed.

The lack of background to the game proved a real obstacle. I had my own knowledge of Chinese history and Chinese stories to pull from, but without that, I would have been in trouble.

Losing Control: superfluous. Winning by a method you didn't want effectively does this.

A minor detail. Gold vs. Yellow dice. Yes, it's easy to substitute another colour, but it's better if the rules don't suggest such similar colours.

Playtesting Forbidden City by MadUnkieGMadUnkieG, 01 Feb 2009 00:10

Thanks for the update. The local games club is restarting next weekend, so I hope to organize some promised playtesting around then.

Re: I Say Thee Noir by MadUnkieGMadUnkieG, 11 Jan 2009 01:46

Just in case anyone is still lurking or checking their feeds, I have made a final draft of my game, Promise Hollows, available for download here:

I streamlined the beginning stages ("town-building") and included card templates and cheat-sheets for the encounter resolutions. Otherwise, nothing new. Please let me know if you think I really Got Something here, because I'd like to take it further if there's interest.

Re: I Say Thee Noir by ozbotozbot, 08 Jan 2009 08:22

Whoops, didn't notice this thread, so I put the feedback in another thread.

Re: Too Little Too Late by MadUnkieGMadUnkieG, 29 Dec 2008 13:03

'Discovery is that “Aha!” moment when someone realizes who the killer is. For that to happen, the identity of the killer must be determined at the start of the game, which it is.'
I thought I had included this in the version sent but it probably came in later. Thanks for confirming the change. This is a competition rpg.
'This provides the sense of misdirection that murder stories have, but it is not purposeful, and that’s a bit of a problem. It is possible that all four players provide clues towards the wrong person, in which case the game was a bit off.'
Yes. This is one of the issues I was having. I'm working toward solving this but it is difficult. There is a good thread on Story Games addressing some of this.
I like your suggestion of the suit providing a clue and an alibi for the suit's character. I'm confused by the 'fourth card of a suit'. Do you mean the fourth face card of a suit? If so the alibi idea is implied by the text though not explicit. I should have made that more clear.
Having an accuser peak at the end is a doable thing. I will consider it and the results mentioned.
Thanks for the feedback. It really helps.
Thanks for the contest too.

Re: The Mystery Is ...Murder? by tomgurgtomgurg, 29 Dec 2008 03:04

Genre: Murder Mystery

- accusation, paranoia
- close group dynamics

A fixed number of players is just fine, and 4 is a good level to set it at.

Because the killer and victim are preset, there is something to discover, but there is a curious problem in revealing the murder victim at the end of the game. It’s an easy fix, though, just make the deceased a non-player character and let all the players accuse one another. The game should still end before reaching the final face card, which I’ll get to in a moment. So, assuming you fix that, does this game have the two elements of mystery: foreshadowing and discovery?

Discovery is that “Aha!” moment when someone realizes who the killer is. For that to happen, the identity of the killer must be determined at the start of the game, which it is. Foreshadowing is a little more difficult. Players’ “clues” are actually a descriptive way of hinting who they think is playing the murderer. This provides the sense of misdirection that murder stories have, but it is not purposeful, and that’s a bit of a problem. It is possible that all four players provide clues towards the wrong person, in which case the game was a bit off.

What will help is that certain suits may exhaust themselves. When the fourth card for a suit comes up, it should provide two things to the story, a clue, as normal, and an alibi for that suit’s character.

At any point, a character may make an accusation (involving all clues), proposing who and how, then looking at the bottom card while hiding it from the other players. If successful, reveal the card and the murderer is caught. If wrong,

The goal of the game now becomes to figure out who the murderer is before the third alibi is revealed. How to structure the results on a failed accusation is a little tricky. If everyone fails to guess correctly, or everyone but the murderer gets an alibi, the murderer escapes. If the murderer misses an accusation, maybe he gives himself away?

Genre: Superheroes

When brainstorming, I always find the first idea is not overly new, the second merely reactionary, and successive ideas are the ones worth exploring. So it is with this list: the first being to play sidekicks, the second being to play against superheroes, and successive ideas being the ones worth looking at. Of those ideas, I think elderly heroes have the most potential for really playing around with the genre (the mythical beings are sort of already done in superhero games as origin stories), but it needs a light touch. Slapstick would be too easy and quickly lose its charm.

Instead, if you wanted to continue with the idea, try to find the comic mini-series Common Grounds. There is a graphic novel that collects all the issues, and some of them deal with elderly superheroes.

Rules-wise, you would need some mechanic for degeneration over time, which means that accumulation of ability cannot be the goal/progression of the game. Other than that, you’ve got a pretty free range to work in.

Superheroes by MadUnkieGMadUnkieG, 25 Dec 2008 23:51

I know I said I'd do write-ups on the late entries, and I will. Like I said, I had some non-gaming life to deal with. Oddly enough, Christmas day looks to be quiet, so I will be reading games to pass the time between bouts of home cleaning.

I'm still here. by MadUnkieGMadUnkieG, 24 Dec 2008 12:28

Hey, thanks for reviewing my game and the contest itself! I agree with all of your comments completely and if I were to keep working on this game (I don't think it warrants that as it is such a simple idea) I would work to overcome some of those problems. I learned a lot (mostly about whether I even want to design) and for that this was worth it.


Re: Fuedal Japan by CodexierCodexier, 20 Dec 2008 14:35

I've read it (and I'm looking to read more of the Culture series at some point). It's a very different take on the same sort of phenomenon.

Re: Star Empire by Colin_FredericksColin_Fredericks, 20 Dec 2008 04:53

Another idea that went nowhere:
Players attain powers, but they are random and unknown to the character. The powers only become apparent during specific events. These can all be assigned randomly with dice roles:

6 Base Abilities (ie Psionic) each would have 6 Powers, (i.e emotion-reading) (of which the player receives 2 points of one and 1 point of another), and 6 'events' that are needed to trigger the power, (i.e. pain, fear, anger[not necessarily emotions])

The idea is that the characters must learn their powers AND learn how to control them.

that's as far as i got, there was some thought about the players being from a deep space exploration ship, whose mission goes awry, and they return to earth which has been enslaved by aliens.

Re: Too Little Too Late by langdonpikelangdonpike, 19 Dec 2008 23:43

I would Heartily recommend the novel Player of Games by Ian M. Banks.

It is about a society based on a game. The citizens are given jobs depending on their ability, to the point where the best player in the society becomes the Emperor.

It can even be considered Space Opera, and is one of his Culture Novels. Much of the novel is about the protagonist's thoughts as he is playing the game,
I just happened to have re-read it this Autumn,
(I would recommend everything by Ian Banks while I am at it.)


Re: Star Empire by langdonpikelangdonpike, 19 Dec 2008 23:19

Let me know when you will be in the Big City, perhaps we can arrange a game night

Re: Now What? by langdonpikelangdonpike, 19 Dec 2008 22:57

I will be in London for a LIMITED time over christmas, but will mostly be taken up/ eating and visiting, and eating.

Re: Now What? by langdonpikelangdonpike, 19 Dec 2008 22:56

Woo-hoo! Thanks for the compliments. If you want to see the full version with graphics and everything, it's at and on RPGNow.

The only real tweaks are that I noticed the section describing bonuses doesn't match up with actual bonuses given later on. It's a difference most people can figure out on their own, but I should fix it. Basically, unless it says to add dice, just add to the total.

This makes me quite happy.

Wow! Thank you so much for the thorough write up. I really see a lot of what you said and I'm going to use it to improve my game.

I'd actually never read any of what you'd said about mecha games—nor have I ever really played one. XD I just watched a lot of Voltron as a kid, and one or two episodes of that one anime whose name is escaping me.

I really appreciate the comments!

Re: Fathers of Talos by LadyRaneLadyRane, 19 Dec 2008 02:00

Well yeah, that's true. It did end up kind of wacky. But hey, that's what I get for designing the game without play testing in like three days. Anyways, it was an interesting experiment in any case. It does sort of have the big issue of roatating game masters not being able to build a mystery very well…for some reason I never really put in anything to help with that. Again, it was rushed, but whatever, it happens. I appreciated the chance to test out some of the rotating game master stuff, which is a mechanic I really like, but I'm not all that great at implementing in practice. Oh well, maybe after a few more contests I'll have it worked out.

Anyways, thanks for taking the time to comment on it, I appreciate it.

Re: Unity by whiteknifewhiteknife, 19 Dec 2008 01:39

Congratulations to everyone, especially ozbot and the runners-up!

This contest was a lot of fun. Thank you for organizing it, and taking the time to comment on each entry.

First of all, I will take the opportunity of the holidays to tweak a few things, prettify the pdf, and make some character sheets/reference cards. I'm going to enjoy revisiting things after taking some time away. Some quick reactions to your notes—->

"community spirit:" I kept thinking I should have made it more explicit— you uncover the "black and white" of the noir setting by using the "color" of interacting with others. It's being nice to everyone that actually empowers you to force others to reveal secrets and ultimately out of the game. I'm glad that this part of the "genre reversal" came through.

the President: As the rules are now, the Townspeople "win" by ousting the President. Perhaps it's another thing not explicit enough, but this would mean that the game is over, even if the Crime remains unsolved. In effect, the Criminal gets away.

resolution system: Definitely wanted to have a reference sheet as part of the .pdf (along with some illustrations/typesetting), but Life got in the way.

And yeah, it seems complex at first, but it's the one part that I heavily playtested with a bunch of people. Gray is "Stealing," as you noticed. I call Black and White two extremes of "Sharing." In effect, it's a game of chicken. The only way to win all is to Steal, but if both Steal, everyone loses. If you choose two extremes (Black/White) you win to a lesser extent (half of the pot), but if you choose the same extreme (black/black or white/white), everyone loses. So it actually pays to Share, but can you be sure the player is telling the truth?

So it may not have direct connection to the narrative, but it directly connects to the noir-ish themes of alliances, forced friendships, and betrayals. Also, the tricky part comes in when you allow a Third Man (the name of a noir spy story) into the mix.

Setting: Wow! Thanks for the kind words here. I'm going to take the opportunity of a re-edit to also add a lot more examples of the kinds of setting details that players can use.

Thanks again, everyone!

Re: I Say Thee Noir by ozbotozbot, 18 Dec 2008 15:13

I'm leaving to go home for the holidays day after tomorrow, and I'm so glad I checked in!

Thanks for such a great idea for a contest— I enjoyed the challenge a lot. Thanks for checking out my game and giving me some feedback… winning is the best icing on the cake I ever had. Thanks also to everyone suggesting the setting when I was pitching ideas out there. I probably wouldn't have ran with it until I saw your 'votes.' Yay!

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