I played Smallville and Shock for the first time at Uprising and I’d like to thank Steve and Peter (I hope it was Peter. I’m ridiculously bad with names) for running them.
I’ve reviewed them for a non-gamery audience way over here, which is my work blog, and I’d love it if you nipped by, but in this post I’m going to write about what I can steal, in terms of game mechanics.
So, for me the revelation about Smallville was the way it used the relationship map to frame scenes, and the simple oppositional rolling. I thought that would make it a good system for pbp style play. It would need some sort of communal whiteboard tool, but there are a heap of those around. I think because we were playing a short session the game rewarded characters who were shallower and more extreme in their goals, but would be interested in seeing if that’s a persistent element or if the game is more rewarding for rounded characters over extended play.
For my own game design, what I took from Smallville is the power of diagrams as play contract design tools. Now I write mostly for Ars, and we have the idea that the place where the characters live is a living embodiment of play contract, so you can look at the map of a magi’s castle and see the structure of the stories told so far and various hooks for future stories, as it were, in the very stones, but the way Smallville ties in NPCs and forces connections between places and NPCs, so that complexity of use to the narrative emerges, that’s a really great trick. The key to it seems to be to get the players to contribute in formal turns, so that layers form, and each player can assess each layer before adding more material.
Shock was interesting to me because I have played few GMless systems, and its designed for shortform play, whereas Ars is very long sagas, by design. Mechanically its very sparse, so in terms of design lessons I can’t really nominate one thing I’ve learned from it that I’d like to steal for my own work. There may be some ideas in terms of saga design, or story arc design, but I’m going to have to ponder those a little more. The Ars system is virtue and flaw, so players bring their own issues to the saga. There may be something in the “I bid my emotional connection to X for the reroll.” that could be coupled with the Ars Magica Confidence rules, especially the Infernal variants.
In Ars, you can use your Confidence points to aid rolls. In Ars is you are playing a diabolist, your sins give you Confidence and then you spend it to cast malefic spells. I can sort of see something there, so that, like in Shock, you’d wager bits of yourself for demonic assistance. This would give you a sort of thing like in Books of Magic where the wizard trades the memory of his first kiss with the love of his life for demonic aid. I’m not quite sure how that would work, but it’s something to remember, in case I need it later.