19 December 2005

Vesperteen Playtest Doc, Part 1 (Draft)

I've gotten my thoughts mostly straight on this, so I figured I might as well type it up, since I was needing a break from Push-related work.

The first thing the group needs to do is to collaborate on filling out the SCHOOL/COMMUNITY CHART, which provides some basic guidelines for the setting of the game. The characters will all be affiliated with the same school, which is some sort of secondary school (i.e. middle or high school) embedded in the greater community, which can be a town, a neighborhood, a borough of a larger city, or whatever else the players think is appropriate. The example chart depicts East Stapleton High School, which is located in the medium-sized town of Stapleton, South Carolina. The example is somewhat based on the school and community in the book/film, Friday Night Lights.

Each school and community is characterized by its SELF and its preferred way of indulging in each of the Seven Deadly Sins (ENVY, GLUTTONY, GREED, LUST, PRIDE, SLOTH, WRATH). A school or community's SELF is composed of three core values that give the student body or community residents their overall character as a group. For instance, East Stapleton High's students are known for partying, misbehaving, and winning the state championship in football, while the overall community is known for its church-going, patriotic, and well-mannered citizenry. The tension between the school and community's core values is intentional, since what teenagers like to do is seldom the same as what their parents, teachers, and older members of the community would wish for them. However, the town is not without its own problems, since both the school and community have their own preferred brands of sin. Stapleton, for example, is apparently a glutton for racism.

If necessary, the group might find it interesting to also collaborate on a chart for other significant schools and communities in the area, especially if one or more of them are rivals or sworn enemies of their own. Is there a posh, expensive prep school or military academy just 15 miles up the highway from Stapleton?

It is a significant event if either the school or the community ends up having to change any of the information on its sheet due to events in play. If, after a session or two, the players feel like the overall character of the school or community is not how it is described on the chart, they should feel free to make the descriptions more appriate. However, if the town changes, due to development or people moving in or out, that should be noted on the chart. Likewise with the school. [More town/community development rules may be developed later, in playtesting.]

After the school and community has been created, the players next need to collaborate on the SQUICK CHART, which sets the boundaries and stakes for the characters' indulgance in various sins. Sin and the characters' intentional or unintentional submission to its dark power is one of the major themes of the game. However, different players will have varying degrees of comfort in what they're willing to deal with in play, especially when it comes to graphic or disturbing sexuality and violence. The Squick Chart attempts to create a set of compromises, establishing guidelines to help prevent play from becoming harmful, abusive, or dangerous.

Vesperteen is, to a large extent, about allowing others to lead you into situations where you, the player, are uncomfortable, much like the game Truth or Dare, which many of us played as adolescents. The Squick Chart, then, is about how you, the players, feel about roleplaying the various sins and not about how your characters will feel about them. Your characters might think hand-holding and exposed ankles are naughty. This, actually, is why the group fills out the Squick Chart before you make characters.

The example Squick Chart gives you a basic idea of what you're going to do. You have to come up with an appropriate sinful act for each level (1-6) of each sin. The designations given for each number provide a general guideline. Level 1 is a Lapse, 2 is a Weakness, 3 - Indulgance, 4 - Revelry, 5 - Monstrosity, and 6 - Abomination. If one or more people in your group is unwilling to roleplay the situations or acts required for a certain sin level (the higher levels of Lust and Wrath are likely to be common concerns), cross that level out. If a player is willing to have those actions happen in the game, but "off-screen" after a "fade to black" or other technique that shields the details, draw a box around that level.

Note that the Squick Charts of two different groups are likely to be very different, since it all depends on the qualms and expectations of the individuals involved. It's very important, to promote safer play (just like with sex, there is no guarantee of completely safe play), for the group to reexamine the chart regularly, to make sure people are okay with it and to do this whenever someone leaves or enters the group, since the group dynamic may change. Additionally, the Squick Chart is also closely tied into the overall style of the game. If you're modeling play off of Volcano High School or some wacky anime show, the sins involved are likely to be somewhat different. "Slaughter your rival's entire family, to the third generation" might be an appropriate sin, in such a game. Likewise with a game based on Harry Potter.

With those steps completed, you're finally ready to begin play, which starts with a game of Truth or Dare. Don't fret that you don't have a character yet. By the end of Truth or Dare, you will.

[To be continued...]


Anonymous Thomas Robertson said...

Squick Chart? Brilliant!

That's all I've got...


8:46 PM  
Blogger Legion said...

Very interesting stuff. I love the set up for the school/community and the use of the Squick Chart is wonderful.

One question, and maybe this misses the point, but what is the 'intention' or 'focus' of the game? As the Squick Chart seems to indicate it's about exploring Sin. Is this correct or going in the right direction? If it is, what if the group wants to explore redemption instead of sin? Would you still create the chart but then then idea would be to work toward reaching a lower level on the chart? Again, I'm not familiar with much of your foundation for the game so this could be totally wrong thinking and way off base but it is what popped in my mind after reading it.

11:41 PM  
Blogger Jonathan Walton said...

Thomas, I thought you'd like it, since it's straight contraint. "Limit player input instead of player output."

Michael, I can see redemption working a couple of ways. First off, if you started out with a really high-sin character, you could try to work your way back down the chart. Or, player characters could encounter a high-sin character (either a PC or not) who was close to becoming a true monster and try to pull them back from the edge. So, yeah, that should be possible, though not necessarily the prime intention of the game.

3:15 PM  

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