Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Five or So Questions with Josh Jordan on Mask & Crown

Tell me about your current project. What has you excited about it?

Now that Dangers Untold is in layout, I am starting to think more about my next game. It's true that I'm still knocking out a few extras for the Kickstarter backers, but most of my work for that game is done.
The project I'm bouncing around in my head right now is a duet of games called Mask & Crown. A duet of games is two games that can be played separately, but that have been designed to work well together. In this case, I'm designing games to be played in alternate sessions. You don't necessarily play the same characters in both games, but your actions in your previous session of Mask give benefits to your character in Crown, and vice versa.

Mask is a game about internal conflict. You play a seeker of enlightenment on the day of an important festival. You try to overcome selfishness, so that, by the end of the day, you become possessed by a divine spirit. The game uses tokens and a board to help you keep track of where your character is in his struggle, and what sorts of things he is struggling against. Each session covers one day of game time.
Crown is a game about family and noble house conflict. You play one of the noble houses, and can act as any member of that house. You want your house to rise to the imperial throne. You can pursue that through a number of skill trees. Once you advance a skill tree, you open up new kinds of conflicts for your house to face. Each session covers one year of game time.
I'm excited about these games for three reasons. The first and most boring reason is that I want to be able to play in a setting that explores these issues. I like the idea of telling a Game of Thrones-like story, where each player wants her house to seize the throne. And I also want the chance to focus in on a member of that household who just wants to become a better person and touch the face of his god.
Second, for a while now, I've wanted to explore the idea of interlocking games. Each needs to be complete on its own, but they should be even more fun together. I can think of card games that do this, but I don't know of any story games designed to complement each other.
Third, there's a physical element to these games that I want to explore. In Mask, there is a physical mask that starts the game covered, then becomes uncovered, and is eventually worn by the player whose character is possessed. This is a powerful theatrical element that can have a good emotional charge if done well. Likewise in Crown, there is a physical crown that players can seize and wear. Unlike the Mask, you can sometimes take the crown off the head of one of the other players and put it on yourself. Seize the crown!


What do you do mechanically to demonstrate the differences between playing on a personal level and playing on a House level?
The games are still in development, so some of the in-story elements of this need to be hammered out by playtesters. I can tell you that in Mask, you'll have a little token that you move around on a board that represents how close you are to enlightenment. You have a small, fixed dice pool that you roll to overcome challenges. In Crown, you gain a larger and larger dice pool as you overcome challenges and advance your house. By the end of the game, you are rolling a significant pile of dice as you try to control the entire kingdom.


How do you mesh the two games together?
A session of Mask represents one day of in-game time, and it always takes place on a festival day in the story world. A session of Crown represents a whole year of in-game time. So if you alternate sessions, the timeline should work out smoothly.
At the end of the text for each game are a list of various bonuses based on how your last session went. For example, if you were wearing the mask at the end of your last session of Mask, you gain extra dice to pursue the magical hermit/wizard approach to seizing the throne in Crown.


What benefits do you think there are to physical props at the table?
I think physical props are one way for players to engage with the story emotionally. They make the game into a ritual, which is a powerful category of human activity. Part of my intent with these games is to explore how physical props affect players' connection to the story. In other words, if we make a roleplaying game more like a ritual, how will players experience the game differently and how will they talk about their story after the fact? I know that, for me, it will make the game feel more important, but I want to see what happens for other people.


When can we expect to see Mask and Crown in the wild, and what's coming up next?


I'm planning on releasing a playtest version of Mask and Crown shortly after I finish delivering all the rewards for the Dangers Untold Kickstarter. I hope that means by September. We're trucking right along. Dangers Untold should go to print in June, and there are relatively few rewards left for me to create.
That means that Mask and Crown should be playable by October. I'd like to have the games in their final form some time next year.
Otherwise, keep an eye out for other Ginger Goat games in early 2015. I've started work on a trilogy of sci-fi games tentatively called The Soldier of Sympathy trilogy. And you can always check in with my podcast about storytelling, Tell Me Another, at tellmeanother.net.