05 December 2005

The Current State of Things

I thought it might be important to begin with a summery of my current projects. Here they are, in order of priority:

Push vol. 1

Push is a progressive roleplaying journal which I plan to publish annually. The first volume will tentatively be out January 2006, since it'll take me the rest of December to finish up editing, layout, and the running contributor commentary that will appear beside the main text. The first volume will include pieces by Emily Care Boss ("Collaborative Roleplaying"), John H. Kim ("Immersive Story Methods"), Shreyas Sampat ("Mridangam"), Eero Tuovinen ("Against the Geek, Choice"), and myself ("Introduction: Negotiated Spaces"). It could possibly include contributions from Clinton R. Nixon and Gary Pratt as well. A few others have signed on to look over the text or provide guest commentary, including Ben Lehman, Rich Forest, Lisa Padol, and Thomas Robertson. The cover art is by Clio Chiang.

Volume 1 will be available as a PDF, direct from me, and a POD softcover through Lulu. Profits will be divided evenly among the main contributors, who can choose to keep or donate them as they will. Once the first volume is out, I'll begin inviting interested parties to propose pieces for Volume 2.


Vesperteen (a game about sin, teenagers, and monsters) started as a pseudo-sequel to Jason Blair's Little Fears (a game about sin, children, and monsters), but it quickly turned into something much more involved. I immediately discovered that Jason's original mechanics, or even a variant of them, would not provide the kinds of play opportunities that I was interested in creating. I wanted to make a game that was actually frightening, one which would allow the players to consensually scare or unnerve each other but also a game which would ensure that play was reasonably safe, preventing most opportunities for abusive or dangerous behavior. As a result, while Little Fears provides strong inspiration for Vesperteen, they are two very different games.

Vesperteen is not about the monster that's going to get you, but the monster you're scared of becoming. No one wants to remain a victim. And, while, sin is a path to power and respect, by indulging in sin you risk transforming into someone you barely recognize. How do you walk the fine line between being strong, seizing you potential, standing up for yourself, and, on the other hand, falling victim to power's seductive ways, becoming as corrupt as the bullies, vicious social queens, and monsters that torment you? It's that age old question: what are you willing to do to get what you want?

Systematically, Vesperteen is clearly inspired by other Forge games, but attempts to push things a bit further. There is no GM. Before play begins, the group collaborates on a chart which determines what levels of each sin the group is willing to explore. They also create a community, school, the protagonists, and notable minor characters. Play is divided into Day and Evening Phases. During the Day Phase, you, the player, take the lead in determining what happens to your character. Once the sun sets, however, the other players plot secretly together and then create scenes and situations for your character to deal with. During the Evening Phase, the other players are encouraged to really go after you, pushing you with challanging scenes and situations that you're not totally comfortable in, limiting your choices and forcing you to make difficult decisions.

Vesperteen is going to take some serious time and effort to put together. The layout for the book is going to combine digital and physical methods. Each page is going to be first created by hand, as a mixed media piece, which will then be scanned and have text placed on top (so that the text can later be edited, if necessary). I've already begun on what may end up being the cover. The mechanics and such have mostly been worked out, but there are still a few details that I need to nail down before serious playtesting can begin. And Push needs to be out before I can focus on that.

Lions on the Precipice

This is my reworking of Vincent Baker's Dogs in the Vineyard. I want to create a game about the Mountain People, but I suspect, as with Vesperteen that this will end up playing rather differently than Dogs does. First of all, Ghost Lions travel alone, which means it'll either be a single-protagonist game or the protagonists' individual stories will reflect and comment on each other, thematically (which would take some work to set up).

The back cover text goes like this (credit to Vincent for the original, Vampire-influence text):

The Great Sky King
is angry with the People.

They have grown weak,
dependent on the Strangers
for guns, supplies, & alcohol.

The spirits have chosen you
to rectify the People's actions,
reinvigorate the Old Ways,
& eliminate evil influences.

You stand in between tradition
and desperation.

You stand in between the People
and their own self-destruction.

You stand in between,
for you are no longer of the living.

You are a Ghost Lion.

Lions on the Precipice.

Roleplaying the Spirits' Emmisaries
in a West that never quite was.

Fingers on the Firmament

This is a game I promised Shreyas. The problem is, it might not be suitable for a game. It's about people reaching up into the night sky and yanking on stars, propelling themselves out into that big, empty void. And it's about the type of community (yes, community) that forms when you're all alone amid the blackness and so is everyone you meet (or, more likely, don't meet). Heavily influenced by the setting (but not the mechanics) of Aetherco's Continuum.

Nine Suns Must Fall, Arthouse Wuxia, Children of the Revolution

Three short games about China which I may never finish. If I do, they'll probably see independent publication in Push or as an anthology.

The Storypunk Project

This is the big, rock-your-socks, roleplaying-will-never-be-the-same game. If you want to a hint of what it might look like, search the Forge's Indie Game Design forum for earlier versions and related ideas, which have been called "Quixote & Coyote," "Storypunk," "Facedance," and "Humble Mythologies." It was also called, briefly, "Beneath This Facade," but I don't think I ever posted about it under that name. I have no clue what this game might end up being called. I was considering "When the Forms Exhaust Their Variety" (a quote from Calvino's Invisible Cities) and "Scheherazade Unbound," but it'll probably change another 12 times before then.

The game will be about masks and layers of masks, masks under masks. It's a game about identity and creating your identity by performing different character roles and retaining bits and pieces of every character you've been. It's a roleplaying game about roleplaying, basically (for another roleplaying game about roleplaying, see Rebecca Borgstrom's Exalted: The Fair Folk, which was originally called "Graceful, Wicked Masks" for a reason).

This game is a long way off. I'm not capable of writing it yet. But one day...


Blogger Legion said...


The Storypunk game sounds very inspired.

I may be stating the overly obvious but you know, it REALLY sounds like the life of an actor. :)

10:26 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

I hope so. That's somewhat intentional.

10:04 AM  
Blogger Mo said...


Ooooh. Ghost Lions. Can't wait to see more. I told Brand and he got that look in his eye, so I'd say you already have some takers.;)

Storypunk: Woohoo! I liked Quixote & Coyote best, as a name, by the by. This sounds very exiting to me because I am a leather maskmaker and a mask collector (and of course it goes without saying, an RPG Geek)with a penchant for meta-textual theatre (plays about plays like say... Tempest,orplays within plays like say... Hamlet, or Shrew).

Come to think of it, if you're interested, once you've published the game, I could probably be convinced to make you a mask in exchange for a copy.

1:42 PM  
Anonymous Rob MacD said...

Yeah, I've been psyched about Ghost Lions for ages.

This thing of games that are add-ons, answers to, adaptions of, other games (Little Fears -> Vesperteen, Dogs -> Lions, but there are other examples) is interesting to me. People have pointed out the collegiality of sci-fi literature - the extent to which much 20th century science fiction writing is a continuation or elaboration of correspondence about science fiction. The indie game ferment seems to have the same possibilities.

1:59 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Mo, you got yourself a deal on the mask-for-book trade.

Glad y'all are excited about Lions. Me too. I've been reading this book on the Hopi (along with a bunch of other Nat Am Studies stuff) to prepare for it. Oh, and a cover draft is up here (it's got wrap-around arrogant anthropologist text!).

Rob, I think the tendency to write supplements and variants in the indie community comes from close contact with creators (I was able to ask Jason and Vincent permission to "sample" their works) and wanting to get involved in the cool projects other people have going on. Didn't Dust Devils (and maybe Dogs too) start life as a Sorcerer variant? Matt?

In some cases, it's also similar to the "Heartbreaker" tendency, wanting to re-write D&D or Vampire to make it "right." I complained about an early draft of Dogs that featured the Mountain People more prominently, and Vincent eventually cut them way back. So now I'm gonna make them central (:

2:24 PM  
Blogger Matt Snyder said...

No, Dust Devils was always it's own beast. Inspired by other games, certainly, but always its own.

3:10 PM  
Blogger Legion said...


I'm sure you have but do you know about Le Coque's mask work? He's a french actor that did a great deal of powerful and innovative work with masks. My movement mentor for my MFA was trained in Le Coque and we did a semesters worth of work using some of the basic and intermediate techniques. Absolutely rivetting stuff.

5:38 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Thanks, Matt. Sorry about mischaracterizing your game.

Michael, the only maskers I know much about are Julie Taymor (because she was an Oberlin grad, so we studied her stuff a bit) and the guys from Bread & Puppet who do their awesome political pupperty rival stuff. I'll have to look up more stuff eventually.

8:18 PM  
Blogger Mo said...


Cool... creative bartering. I love it. I'll even design some kind of Ghost Lionish Mountain People kinda thing. Poke me closer to when you're releasing and I'll start thinking about what that could look like.

8:42 PM  
Anonymous Matthijs said...

Push! Push! Push! ;)

11:55 AM  

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