I might have reached a point in one of my game designs, several years into it, where I ended up designing something I didn’t want. Which is interesting and clarifying and maybe even one kind of success! But now I’m faced with the big decision: proceed or shelve it or something in the middle.
When I started working on the Secret Project (code name Monsterknights), my goal was fairly modest: write Pendragon World. KAP is great but it’s old, surely it can’t be that hard to reframe the good stuff into a sleek, fast PbtA machine.
And since it’s not that hard, well gosh, maybe I can start getting at some of the deeper thematic stuff that KAP really doesn’t. Like, it’s so great because everything is so old-school literal, even as it’s being driven by a very new-school metaphorical conceit (the Glory chase). So, joking around in a thread years ago, I mentioned that the Round Table is more or less like the classroom setup in Monsterhearts. Petty, tightly interconnected, lots of sex and secrets and insecurities.
But then if I’m going that way, then maybe there’s room to get at some of this neat pre-Christian druidic animism stuff that shows up in all kinds of revisionist Arthurian fiction. So sure, let’s build that out.
And oh hey, social class issues are interesting to me, so let’s build class into the structure of the world. There’ll still be feudalism and shit but that doesn’t even especially matter if you go back to the source. That is, the same well that KAP dipped into.
Stafford went (pseudo) historical to stitch together the Arthur myth. I went allegorical to stitch together the Arthur myth.
Drift, drift, drift. Add a bit here, discard a little more real-world anchoring there. Oh heck, why not, let’s add this mechanical flourish. Drift drift drift.
And now, maybe three years later, I’ve ended up with more-or-less a dark superhero story with broadly allegorical ties to the oldest proto-origins of the Matter of Britain. It’s so far removed from its original intent. In play it’s so far removed from normal human concerns. It’s like Nobilis in ways, and has the same problem (for me) of not being relatable and human and visceral.
Which, you know, maybe it doesn’t need to be! Maybe there’s an audience for a heavily allegorical pseudo-grail-knight story featuring animal spirits and superheroes and weird fairies.
The thing is, me personally? I’ll take normal human drama over allegory and abstract problems any day.
In deconstructing every tidbit of research, in indulging my best design talents in the worst possible way, in letting the design meander and drift to a point where even I can’t recognize where it came from…I think I defeated myself.
It’s not a bad thing. Not really. It’s only bad if I give up on the whole endeavor. It’s not bad if I find ways to use all these ideas.
I may post up something playable-ish at some point just so folks can see what all the fuss was about. I’m betting 99% of the readers will shrug and wonder what the point of it all was. What I’m sure of, though, is that I need to find a way to let this go. Because right now I’m spending an unhealthy amount of bandwidth on trying to salvage my sunk costs.
Next time, I think I’ll try to make sure my motives are coming from a better place as well. I’ll keep thinking about games I’d actually want to play, and not trying to achieve any goal more abstract than that.