Monday, September 14, 2009

Two-Week Deadline

Since I have had hardly any time to actually type on the computer, I can't finish the expanded draft of A Sea Deep, Cursed and Rotting today. Instead, I edited the summary I created earlier, clarifying which rules are optional, rewording some rules, and adding some more detail on what the GM should do, plus a cover page with an illustration and the full-sized dice map as the last page. Here is the six-page summary version of A Sea Deep, Cursed and Rotting. For my elevator pitch:
When the zombie crew claims you, both Sea and Sky damn you to Life-in-Death. Return to your loved ones... or the truly dead.
Thanks to Noah, Eric, Mark, and Hans for looking over the rules and asking important questions, and to my co-zombie mariners Charlie and JB for encouraging me to go ahead with my design, despite the fact that we're all doing Rime of The Ancient Zombie Mariner. Their versions do seem to be taking a different slant on the material; check them out.

Friday, September 11, 2009

New Intro

Alone on a vile-dark sea, brine-choked, clutching shattered remnants of a lost ship’s deck, awaiting rescue... but the mournful fog spews forth a grim spectral ship, decayed, a corpse-crew clinging to its rigging. No sign of hope, only despair.

Bony hands dressed in bits of rotted flesh haul you aboard, dragging you silently into their damnation. What curse have you brought down upon your head?
This is the new flavor-text for the introduction. Much better than that previous piece of garbage I wrote.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Rules Summary

I've condensed the rules into a three-page summary and formatted them into a PDF. A Sea Deep, Cursed and Rotting. I know that, unless you've studied the posts here thoroughly, the summary might not be completely coherent, but I'd appreciate anyone who looks at the summary and comments on any obvious omissions or problems.

Now I'm behind, though. I will need to write quite a bit to get the draft done by Monday.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Task/Conflict Clarifications

mark vallianatos asked some questions about the 2d6 effects rolls, which I haven't described in detail here because I haven't needed to work on them as hard, but maybe I should give a run-down here to show what I'm thinking. As I've mentioned, I call the guts of the game that handle stuff you'd find in any RPG "portable mechanics". Task and conflict resolution, for example, are portable. So, too, are the effects of generic actions (damage, skill effectiveness.)

For my task resolution, I'm using a Drama-style mechanic: the GM decides if someone with the character's background and current situation could perform that action; if they could, they did. I then move on to whether that action was powerful enough or quick enough -- the 2d6 roll, with one result assigned to speed and the other to power. Finally, I use the tried-and-true method of conflict resolution: damage done compared to hit points. Since I generalize this to all kinds of conflict, I call the hit points "Luck". Do more points of "damage" than Luck and you make a permanent change in your target: if it's physical combat, you kill them; if it's social interaction, you create permanent feelings of trust, fear, love, or whatever you were trying for.

It seems easier and more intuitive to me to say that actions occur in order of speed. So, if you roll a 1 and I roll a 2, your action comes first, mine second. That means that low results for speed are better. On the other hand, if an action is resisted -- you parry my cutlass, I laugh off your mocking words -- the power of the action must beat (not tie) the power of the resistance; we both roll 2d6, and the higher power wins.

Most actions won't be directly resisted. If we're both swinging swords at each other, we compare speeds to see who strikes first, but unless one of us is wearing armor or has some other kind of protection, my resistance to your sword is 0, your resistance to my sword is 0. Weapons and armor are lumped together as "tools". In any conflict, having a proper tool adds +1 to your power or resistance, as appropriate. For more detail, compare the weapon and the armor to see which is better for this conflict; a wooden club against metal armor might be worth an extra +1 resistance, an arrow against chain or ring armor might be worth an extra +1 power. I wouldn't let the bonuses go very high, but other GMs might allow large stacks of bonuses.

There are a couple other tricks I would use. Some things are just not on the same scale, like a human being and a large galleon. If a human being were to try to lift a galleon, I'd just say "no, it's too big for you; try getting a team to lift it." Some things might act together in layers; an attacker's roll might have to beat:
  • the effect of shadows;
  • the effect of concealment behind an obstacle;
  • the effect of the opponent dodging or ducking.
Each of which might have a separate roll. The shadows might also (or instead) act as a "tool", improving the concealment by +1. A GM has to decide if and when to use that much detail.

Encounter Clarifications

I'm still editing the summary, but thought I'd post something in the meantime. I answered some questions in the comments, but I figured I might want to revisit and rephrase some of my answers here.

hansotterson asked me to clarify the game's structure: what's the game about, and how do you play it? It's a horror-adventure game with scenes broken up into:
  • horrific atmosphere, like meeting the captain, dealing with thirst and hunger, minor incidents on the ship or in port;
  • traditional adventure encounters, like storms, sea monsters, raids, chase and pursuit;
  • flashbacks to life before damnation, which set up relationships and thus aide in escaping damnation.
The traditional adventure encounters are generated randomly on the dice map. noahsgamechefpage asked for clarification on using the dice map: the dice map can actually be used any time the GM wants inspiration on what happens next, but the major events are intended to occur after sunset each day, with minor events and flashbacks filling up the rest of the time. Also, some of the major events and all flashbacks will create NPCs as a side effect. Can these be fleshed out? Certainly. When the Dutchman raids a ship, many of the living crew will be killed and eaten, others will try to escape, but a few may be taken captive as newly damned, which means the PCs can interact with them over the next couple days.

mark vallianatos had some questions as well about the guts of resolving tasks and conflicts, but I'll cover that in a separate post.

Monday, September 7, 2009

Status: Summary

I don't think I will finish the summary today. I actually probably have all the text cut-and-pasted over to a summary document which just needs to be heavily edited and rewritten in a couple spots, plus add spackle and format for two columns in 1-3 pages. I'm just not sure if I will have time to finish. in the next 2-4 hours.

I'm still set for the full draft on Sept 14th, though. The reason why the summary is so important to get right is because it will become the sidebar text. This is a format I've been building towards: put the highly compressed, complete rules into the margins, where it's easy to flip through to find what you need; put the full explanatory text and setting info in the main body, where it can be read when convenient but easily ignored in play.

Shore Leave

Eventually, the characters will make it to a port. The rules on land are slightly different; I've already covered the way gulls, rats, ravens and scavengers will react to the characters, as well as the nightly 2d6 roll to see if the rest of the crew attempts to reclaim the characters.

The PCs can attempt to hide in the city or flee overland, but this puts off the inevitable. What the PCs need to be concerned about are their damnation and their state of decay. Decay, of course, is already described. There is an additional trick when in port: if your character is damaged, but you can convince an NPC with whom you have a relationship to tend your wounds, in place of the 2d6 roll risking further Decay, you can substitute a 2d6 roll with a risk of revealing your zombie nature, adding +1 for the relationship factor. If an NPC is horrified, further interaction with them without taking steps to hide your zombie nature will risk losing the relationship completely.

Originally, I was going to include a Damnation score and have characters do damage to it, but instead, it's easier to use the ship's curse rating as the number to beat and simply give the PCs a "Damned" label. Every time a character protects or rescues a loved one or risks their own life for the good of their loved one, roll 2d6 and beat the Curse rating of the ship to earn 1 point towards escaping damnation. There is a risk of immediate visitation by the ship's crew, however.

Major Events, Part II

Continuing from a previous post: the GM rolls 3d6 on a dice map and interprets the results. You've already seen a list of suggestions, but the dice can show much more than those 25 results. If some of the dice match, or if a die lands on a boundary between two regions on the map, two values are interpreted together; the results can become very complex, such as Sea+Damned v. Living, which might be the crew attacking a helpless ship while sharks gnaw through the hull.

The lowest result on the 3 dice, in addition to indicating the threat, indicates the general strength of the threat -- how many hit points it has, relative to other threats. Many threats will only be 1 or 2, easily dealt with; rolling triple 6s will likely produce deadly, exotic threats.

To deal with the threat, the players will describe what actions they attempt. If you need to know the speed or effectiveness (strength) of their action, roll 2d6 and assign one value to each. If the character's action is opposed by another character, NPC or PC, or even by a force, that opponent rolls 2d6 as well. The lowest speed result goes first; if the strength of the action is higher than the defensive strength, the action overcame the resistance. The GM may compare factors in favor or opposed to the action and adjust one side or the other by +1 or +2.

After the threat is dealt with, if the ship is heading for a specific port, one player and the GM each roll 2d6 and compare the highest result; if the player wins, do that much "damage" to the distance needed to be traveled. Some events, such as whirlpools and gales, may actually add to the distance; a gale, if the PCs are clever, might give a bonus to damage.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

The Curse of the Dead

An orphan's curse would drag to hell
A spirit from on high ;
But oh ! more horrible than that
Is the curse in a dead man's eye !
Seven days, seven nights, I saw that curse,
And yet I could not die.
--- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, IV: verse 9

Major Events

I've mentioned major events. What are they? If a minor event is meant to merely convey mood, forcing the characters to explore the ship, a major event is meant to give them something to do. It's something big and unexpected that happens.

The dice map posted previously shows a box with an overhead silhouette of a ship in the center and four phrases posted at the four edges of the map. When the characters are finished temporarily with exploring the ship or taking care of needs, the GM rolls 3d6 on the dice map. Where the dice land determines what happens: the lowest result shows where the threat comes from, and the highest result shows what the threat endangers or otherwise acts on.
  • The Damned: The dead crew, whether long dead or newly impressed.
  • Unforgiving Sea: The raging Deep itself, or creatures in it.
  • The Living: The land, its inhabitants, and their ships. Generally indicates a merchant ship, warship or pirate vessel.
  • Uncaring Sky: The wind, clouds, sky, and flying creatures.
  • The Ship (center): Self-explanatory. Might indicate a mast that breaks, or a sudden breach in the hull.
Interpreting the dice combos gives inspiration for what events to hit the characters with. Some suggestions:
  • Damned v. Damned: several of the long dead attack the PCs.
  • Damned v. Sea: the crew tries to force a PC to walk the plank.
  • Damned v. Living: the crew makes a pirate raid or salvages a wrecked ship.
  • Damned v. Sky: the crew tries to lash one of the PCs to the mast during the day.
  • Damned v. Ship: a mutiny! Half the crew against the other.
  • Sea v. Damned: a wave swamps the deck, possibly washing a PC overboard.
  • Sea v. Sea: a whirlpool, which potentially slows the ship.
  • Sea v. Living: the PCs spot a sinking ship.
  • Sea v. Sky: thick fog rises, possibly slowing or threatening the ship.
  • Sea v. Ship: crashing waves breach the hull.
  • Living v. Damned: pirates attempt to board the Dutchman.
  • Living v. Sea: marooned or shipwrecked sailors thinking they are about to be rescued.
  • Living v. Living: the Dutchman interrupts a naval battle.
  • Living v. Sky: the Dutchman find a ship fighting a gale.
  • Living v. Ship: a fort on an island or a man o' war attacks the ship.
  • Sky v. Damned: gulls attack at night!
  • Sky v. Sea: a torrent of rain pounds the ship.
  • Sky v. Living: a ship blown off course.
  • Sky v. Sky: thunder and lightning.
  • Sky v. Ship: gale force winds batter and toss the ship.
  • Ship v. Damned: a mast falls, perhaps crushing or pinning a PC.
  • Ship v. Sea: the ship runs aground.
  • Ship v. Living: the ship unexpectedly rams another ship.
  • Ship v. Sky: the sails are torn or the ship is becalmed, losing time until the crew does something.
  • Ship v. Ship: one part of the ship collapses and breaks another, perhaps breaching the hull.
This should give a good idea of how the random events are played out, but I'll do a follow-up post.

The Ship and the Voyage, Part II

The voyage of the Flying Dutchman is fairly abstract. You do not need to play out every moment, but you must play out at least one shipboard event in between every major event. Prior to successfully convincing the captain to set sail to a specific port, you must play out at least one scene on board the ship. This can be nearly anything: an escape or mutiny attempt, trying to communicate with others who are damned, looking for food or water. Once completed, the rules are:
  • You must have at least one flashback to establish a past relationship;
  • You must separate flashbacks with other kinds of events;
  • You can attempt to converse with the captain before having a flashback, but the captain will not change course unless you have a past relationship established;
  • You must separate major events, including being captured, convincing the captain to set a course, and arriving in port, with minor shipboard events.
In other words:
  1. Start with being captured;
  2. Play one or more events, including minor interactions with the captain;
  3. Play a flashback, possibly one or more additional events;
  4. Convince the captain to change course;
  5. Play one or more minor events or flashbacks;
  6. Play a major event;
  7. Repeat 5 and 6 until you reach port.
Once in port, events take a different course, and may end with the player characters being forced back to the ship, starting the sequence again.

Setting Course, Part II

Now that I have a clearer idea of what happens in flashbacks and social interactions, I have a handle on how the player characters interact with the captain or change the course of the ship.

You can use the long term reaction goal mechanics in the Flashbacks post to determine whether the captain will set a course for a known port. This doesn't work at all if the character hasn't had a flashback to establish the goal (a relationship with someone currently located in a known location.) Interactions with the captain before having a flashback are all handled as trivial short-term interactions, with the understanding that the captain is very terse and probably won't react at all. Once you've set up a relationship, however, you can argue with the captain about how you need to see your one true love again, need to rush to your best friend's side, need to see your father before he dies. Rolling higher than the captain during your social interaction means that you do "damage"; if the total damage is more than the Curse rating of 5, the captain agrees to set course for the destination you request.

The risk, in this case, is the interference of the rest of the crew. One of the long dead mocks, threatens or attacks you in some way. Successfully dealing with this interruption lets you continue your argument with the captain.

You can use your relationship for a +1 bonus each time you present a unique example of your love, respect, or loyalty towards the object of your feelings. You describe a moment when you demonstrated the depth of your feeling, then make your roll. You may need more than one flashback, just to gain more examples of your true feeling.


The primary goal of a flashback is to define people you have met and formed a deep relationship with: lovers or fiancées, mentors, close family members. This attachment, once established, can be used for a +1 bonus on actions related to that relationship: rescuing, defending or rejoining your loved one. The flashback begins at the moment where your connection with a person changed from being casual or average to something more; as you play out the flashback, you describe what you did:
  • how did you get your first love to notice you?
  • when did you first realize you had to earn your father's respect?
  • when did you first feel the stirrings of deep loyalty for your king?
  • how did you meet the person who became your closest friend and confidant?
Earning someone's love, trust, respect, or admiration will not be easy; they either begin as strangers or as family members or acquaintances with no deep feelings for you. The GM plays the target of your attentions, creates rivals for affection or attention, and throws out obstacles and setbacks that interfere with your intentions. To win over the target, you must earn enough points to overcome the target's luck rating -- in other words, you do damage to the target's hit points. It's exactly like combat, but in a social arena.

Within this context, you make ordinary attempts to persuade, befriend, or change the opinion of your target. For each social interaction, you can decide whether your goal is short term (get a woman to agree to meet you in the garden alone, get a fellow soldier to follow you on a mission) or long term. For short term social interactions, if the request is trivial, the GM doesn't roll, but simply weighs factors like the character's recent behavior, personal benefit, or social taboos, then makes a decision. If the request isn't trivial, because it conflicts with the target's interests, both sides roll 2d6 and pick the best result, again weighing factors and giving a +1 to the side with more advantages, or +2 for a lot more advantages. The side with the higher number gets their way.

Earning loyalty, love, trust or respect, on the other hand, is a long term goal. This works the same as non-trivial short term goals, but with two twists:
  • If the player rolls higher than the target, the points are marked down as "damage"; if total damage is higher than the target's hit points, the player character has earned the loyalty, love, trust or respect they seek.
  • The roll comes with a risk that something unexpected will interrupt the player's interaction: a jealous rival or overprotective father bursts in, a battle breaks out, whatever is appropriate for the situation. If the 2d6 roll comes up doubles, the risk takes effect.
Once the player has met the target's hit point goal and wrapped up any unresolved issues like escaping immediate danger or dealing with the results of a risk, the flashback ends and the player marks down the relationship. There will be more on this to come.

The Dangers of Being a Revenant

There's no hard boundary keeping the damned from escaping the the ship or attempting to hide during shore leave. Want to build a raft out of boards torn from the cursed ship? Go ahead. Try to hide it, try to escape. Want to sneak aboard an unwitting merchant ship before the skeletal crew attacks and warn them to flee? Go ahead. You can try anything.

However, while you are still damned, there are some limitations. First, of course, is the way scavengers react to the damned. Second, if you have a Decay score, there are the limitations previously noted, as well as a -1 penalty to most social interactions; there is no way to heal Decay until you escape damnation, which is not the same thing as escaping the Dutchman.

Third, Damnation itself gives off a bad vibe, a feeling of dread that people sometimes pick up on; whenever engaging in social interactions, a roll of doubles on 2d6 results in the other person thinking of you as evil. They may still be persuaded or befriended, but that sensation may affect future behavior. This 2d6 risk roll may also be required in other situations where damnation might be considered a drawback, such as a risk of a dangerous accident on hallowed ground.

Finally, at sunset every day, the damned characters must roll 2d6; on doubles, the crew of the Flying Dutchman have found them and will attempt to drag them back. The characters can attempt to fight them off or escape again, but so long as they are damned, they will need to make this sunset roll for the rest of their accursed life.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Gulls and Scavengers

Gulls and other seabirds, as well as other scavengers, see the damned as corpses, not as living beings. They are attracted to the flesh of the damned. If outside in the daylight, there is a risk of seagulls showing up to attack; if in the ocean, there is a risk of sharks; on land, there is a risk of ravens outside during the day, or rats underground. Roll 2d6; on doubles, the scavengers attack.

Remember that, if damaged during an encounter, the player character risks gaining Decay at the end of the encounter.

The Sea-Gull and the Sailor

No person was seen upon her decks until she arrived within about a quarter of a mile of us. We then saw three seamen, whom by their dress we took to be Hollanders. Two of these were lying on some old sails near the forecastle, and the third, who appeared to be looking at us with great curiosity, was leaning over the starboard bow near the bowsprit. This last was a stout and tall man, with a very dark skin. He seemed by his manner to be encouraging us to have patience, nodding to us in a cheerful although rather odd way, and smiling constantly, so as to display a set of the most brilliantly white teeth.


We saw the tall stout figure still leaning on the bulwark, and still nodding his head to and fro, but his face was now turned from us so that we could not behold it... On his back, from which a portion of the shirt had been torn, leaving it bare, there sat a huge sea-gull, busily gorging itself with the horrible flesh, its bill and talons deep buried, and its white plumage spattered all over with blood. As the brig moved farther round so as to bring us close in view, the bird, with much apparent difficulty, drew out its crimsoned head, and, after eyeing us for a moment as if stupefied, arose lazily from the body upon which it had been feasting, and, flying directly above our deck, hovered there a while with a portion of clotted and liver-like substance in its beak.
--- Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Chapter X

The Nature of Life-in-Death

Player Characters are not truly dead, but neither are they really alive any more, because of their damnation. Rather than calling them "undead" (which carries unwanted connotations,) they are in a state of Life-in-Death. This means:
  • They feel hunger, thirst, and pain, and can be injured;
  • They can, at least at first, pass for living;
  • They can be killed, although they will remain part of the crew if still damned;
  • They cannot fool the seagulls or sharks, or rats, ravens or other scavengers; these all see the damned as dead and will attempt to tear at their flesh;
  • They cannot always heal, especially from attacks by gulls; the more injury they take while damned, the closer they get to a state of decay.
To track this, there is a special stat called Decay. It starts at zero when the characters first become damned. At the end of every encounter where the characters have taken physical damage, roll 2d6; on doubles, the character has gained a point of Decay. To heal a wound or disguise the effects of death, players must beat the Decay rating with their effectiveness.


Alas ! (thought I, and my heart beat loud)
How fast she nears and nears !
Are those her sails that glance in the Sun,
Like restless gossameres ?

And those her ribs through which the Sun
Did peer, as through a grate ?
And is that Woman all her crew ?
Is that a DEATH ? and are there two ?
Is DEATH that woman's mate ?

Her lips were red, her looks were free,
Her locks were yellow as gold :
Her skin was as white as leprosy,
The Night-mare LIFE-IN-DEATH was she,
Who thicks man's blood with cold.
--- Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, IV: 9-11

Events Dice Map

Here's the dice map for randomly determining events during the voyage of the damned. I'm still working out the details on this, but it works pretty much like the dice map mechanics I've used in previous games: you roll dice on a printed version of this dice map and interpret the results based on where the dice land.

Setting Course for Redemption

The basic structure for events on the ship is based on convincing the captain to set a course for a port you know, determining how long it will take, discovering what happens along the way, and finally arriving. Convincing the captain to change course obviously will require some kind of reaction roll, but what kind? I'm still debating. The captain is, in a sense, mindless. The conversation with the captain will seem almost one-sided, certainly. All I'm sure of is that the PCs can't pick a course for a port until they have established that port in a flashback scene, which is something else I'm working out the details for.

The distance to the port, though, is probably going to be abstract. I thought at first about just rolling for the voyage's duration in days and letting the players pick events that happen during the voyage: the events do "damage" to the "hit points" (days of travel), with more dangerous events doing more damage. Now, however, I'm leaning more towards setting an abstract number for the duration of the voyage, rolling for random events, and ending each event with a roll to see if the duration number is reduced by one.

EXAMPLE: through negotiation with the captain, the voyage duration is set to 5 (perhaps he says "it will be about 5 days".) The GM rolls for a random event; the players deal with that event, then roll 2d6 and pick the highest. If that number is higher than the duration number, the duration is reduced by one: there are only four days left. However, if the players roll doubles on the 2d6 roll, something unfortunate happens as a side effect; what happens depends on the kind of event.

A Ship of Corpses

Of a sudden, and all at once, there came wafted over the ocean from the strange vessel (which was now close upon us) a smell, a stench, such as the whole world has no name for- no conception of- hellish- utterly suffocating- insufferable, inconceivable. I gasped for breath, and turning to my companions, perceived that they were paler than marble. But we had now no time left for question or surmise- the brig was within fifty feet of us, and it seemed to be her intention to run under our counter, that we might board her without putting out a boat. We rushed aft, when, suddenly, a wide yaw threw her off full five or six points from the course she had been running, and, as she passed under our stern at the distance of about twenty feet, we had a full view of her decks. Shall I ever forget the triple horror of that spectacle? Twenty-five or thirty human bodies, among whom were several females, lay scattered about between the counter and the galley in the last and most loathsome state of putrefaction. We plainly saw that not a soul lived in that fated vessel! Yet we could not help shouting to the dead for help! Yes, long and loudly did we beg, in the agony of the moment, that those silent and disgusting images would stay for us, would not abandon us to become like them, would receive us among their goodly company!

Edgar Allan Poe, The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket, Chapter X

Captain of the Damned

You clutched a piece of flotsam and pulled away from the bony hands, but they pulled you in, an unhallowed rescue. They dragged you, your head reeling from the unnatural sight, your lungs choking on the rotting stench of these corpses dressed in scraps of torn flesh. You could not fight the grip of the damned dead.

You dropped to the blackened deck, forced yourself to look up. A pallid figure with mad eyes stood at the pilot's wheel. Clumps of sea salt clotted his wild hair and beard, his torn and moldering coat. He seemed unaware of you at first, but as you tried to creep away, those mad eyes gazed down at you, and you gazed back... into Hell.

"You're mine, now," the captain rasped.

And the damned dead dragged you screaming below the decks.

Friday, September 4, 2009

The Birth of a Zombie

RPG mechanics can be divided into two broad groups: the portable and the distinctive. For this game, the distinctive rules are those that maintain the structure already described, such as the rules that make catastrophes distinct from flashbacks. Portable mechanics aren't unique; it's stuff like "how to determine when someone's dead".

For my portable mechanics, I plan on using the character description and action effect modules that I've been developing, with just a tiny few setting-specific tweaks. In particular, character generation will be very light:
  • pick a couple broad backgrounds, like "sailor" or "physician";
  • define how many years you've spent in each;
  • add 15 years, set that as your character's age. Maybe add a cushion of years, since you can improve during flashbacks.
You can add up to two labels (descriptors that act as both advantages and disadvantages.) Then pick a broad class of goals/methods your character works towards (a class) and add a distinguishing adjective. Finish with a name, homeland, and any other short descriptive phrases that make the character distinct. It's all semi-freeform.

The big question, at this point, is whether I feel the need for generic abilities. Once that's settled, it's on to the non-portable, distinctive rules that define the structure.

The Ship and the Voyage

Here are some notes on the nature of the Flying Dutchman, its captain, and its voyage.
  • The Dutchman is a cursed ship filled with the animated corpses of the long dead; in addition, the player characters and perhaps a few NPCs in the crew are not truly dead, but damned to Life-in-Death;
  • The damned who escape the ship always carry the Dutchman with them and will return to it in time; until that happens, their presence in the lands of the living has dire consequences;
  • Escaping damnation, on the other hand, frees you from the ship and the consequences, although you can always backslide back into damnation; breaking the curse of the ship is much harder, but permanent;
  • Until the curse of the ship is broken, the Dutchman, its captain and crew cannot be truly destroyed, but will always be restored;
  • If the damned are physically killed, they join the rest of the crew as truly dead;
  • The crew does not speak more than a word or two at a time; the captain (Hendrik van der Decken) occasionally says a full sentence, but is mostly as mindless as the rest of the crew; they are permanently part of the cursed ship as a whole and have no individual personalities;
  • The captain and crew will act in the best interest of the ship, attempting to maintain the curse and keep the damned from escaping their damnation;
  • The damned can attempt to persuade the captain to choose a course for a port of their choosing; while in port, they can attempt to escape damnation, but there is a risk that the crew will bring death to the port;
  • The voyage to the port has the potential to be interrupted by storm, sea monsters, encounters with ships of the living, and interactions with the crew.

Plan of Attack

Here is my rough to-do list:
  1. Create mechanics and structure for points previously described;
  2. Complete summary of the game by the Sept 7 deadline;
  3. Collect literary quotes for use in chapter heads;
  4. Write very short original fiction snippets, much shorter than the fluff sample already posted;
  5. Write fuller treatment of summarized rules, with examples and setting info;
  6. Get minimal illustrations from public domain sources (probably a couple etchings from Gustave Doré;
  7. Layout draft PDF by Sept 14th, with summary above as sidebars, expanded description as main text;
  8. Get play testers for game;
  9. Revise text of PDF for second draft by Sept 30th;
  10. Consider publication and changes necessary for final version.

Thursday, September 3, 2009

The Dice Are Cast

The mournful dawn fog vomited pirates everywhere. No cannon, no flash of gunpowder, just hard, bloody men slithering relentlessly onboard, gutting the clipper's watch, kicking in doors, dragging you and others onto the deck of slaughter.

You knew they'd want your father's ring, your last reminder. Irrationally, you broke free, abandoning your shipmates, diving into the uncaring sea, as if her tortures would be better than theirs. You thought you'd escaped, though now you shivered and wondered why. But now the fog vomited again, a dark hulk moving towards you, bringing them back to you.

Except -- no. That ship looked old-fashioned, rotted. Frayed grey sails were its foetid shroud. It slid silently closer.

You whimpered in the icy brine, praying for death to reach you first.

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Structural Outline

Here's the basic structure of the game as I envision it:
  • Make sure everyone is clear on any special rules or setting details (changing historical period, using the guts of another game;)
  • Name each character, pick backgrounds, set age;
  • Play out or describe shipwreck/pirate attack and the arrival of the Flying Dutchman;
  • Confrontation with Van der Decken and first course;
  • Determine days to first destination, which determines how many interlude scenes occur;
  • Pick and play out interlude scenes (confrontations with the crew, catastrophes, piracy, flashbacks);
  • Reach first port, play out an attempt at redemption;
  • If unredeemed, continue to next destination.
The interlude scenes are opportunities to flesh out characters or improve them in other ways, but with risks in each case. There will be different kinds of interlude scenes, with different benefits and different risks. The redemption scenes are attempts to break the curse and return to the living, but risk destruction of loved ones or final death.

Sources to Contemplate

This is what is feeding into my creative process right now:
  • Coleridge's The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, obviously. Particularly the concept of a man cursed with Life-in-Death for some callous, petty action.
  • Tales of the Black Freighter, the comic-within-a-comic in Watchmen. Mainly the battle with the seabirds, the concept of the Black Freighter, and the way the protagonist is cursed to bring horror to the very people he loves.
  • Pirates of the Caribbean, even though I've only seen a few minutes of the movie. It's mainly the clips of skeletal pirates I'm thinking of.
  • Howard's "Hills of the Dead". Solomon Kane discovers a city of the living dead; the dead cannot walk in open daylight because the scavenger birds aren't fooled and swoop down to feast on their flesh.
  • Hellblazer, "On the Beach". The only issue I've ever read. However, the image of the seabirds attacking Constantine's "child" mixes with similar images from the Solomon Kane/Watchmen stories above.
  • Twilight Zone/Night Gallery/EC Comics. A bunch of stories about people who don't know they're dead coming back. Come to think of it, Lovecraft's "The Outsider" is a strong influence here, too.

Statement of Intent

The 2009 Game Chef has begun. I originally was not planning on participating, especially since the inspiration I had turned out to be close to two other designers participating... but they encouraged me to join, anyways.

I mainly participate in the Game Chefs and other design challenges because of the random inspiration, but also because of my theory that, if you do something 20 times, you might actually turn out something good one of those times. Practice, practice, practice.

Since the constraints are so light this year, I'm going to use very few of them. No, I won't be using the Intrigue theme. I won't be using most of the ingredients. Howevcr, three of the ingredients -- Dividers, Star, and Seabirds -- suggested something maritime, and Seabird in particular suggested the Albatross. That, and the special distinction badge for using zombie protagonists, made me think "I haven't done a horror game yet."

More to follow.