So I’m a game designer now. That’s pretty neat.
In the time since I’ve last written here, I submitted an entry to the 200 Word RPG Challenge. It’s both the first game I’ve “officially” designed and the first formal writing contest and/or challenge that I’ve entered in quite some time, and I’m happy with how things shook out. Here’s what I thought of the whole thing, now that the finalists are picked and I feel like I can talk about my entry without potentially making it weird for judges or readers.
The Challenge Itself
The 200 Word RPG Challenge is exactly what it sounds like: entrants create a complete tabletop game in 200 words or fewer. It encourages everyone to try and make a game, from writing and editing to playtesting and maybe even eventual collaboration with other designers. Each year has finalists and winners chosen by the challenge’s official readers: at the time of writing, 2019’s winners haven’t been announced, but some of my favorite entries are among the finalists, so make sure to give them a look.
This was my first game jam ever, so I can’t speak to how this compares to other ones or even past challenges, but my experience was good. I don’t normally like low word count limits (flash fiction was the bane of my college writing classes), but the 200-word limit actually worked very well for me this time around—in fact, I had an easier time with this than I did with trying to write even a short Dungeons & Dragons adventure over the summer. That I was only responsible for an idea and 200 words of content and not pages of layouts, art, rules, and other trappings of game books made it significantly less overwhelming, which is exactly the point.
My entry wasn’t a finalist, but it did receive feedback from a couple of the readers that looked it over. Their feedback was very helpful and positive, and I agreed with a lot of what was suggested. These were some of the nicest (while still constructive) anonymous reviews I’ve ever had of my writing before, so thank you to whoever those readers that read my game and liked it enough to say nice things and make suggestions were: you worked really hard, and I appreciate it.
Until the Spell is Broken
All of that said, let’s talk about my contribution to the challenge.
My game is entitled Until the Spell is Broken, a title that I’m actually extremely happy with: normally titles are hard for me (It also doesn’t hurt that it’s one of my better “1:30 in the morning the day before submitting” ideas to date). It’s a small-scale, cozier fantasy where players take the roles of characters afflicted with various supernatural curses that emotionally support one another and possibly find ways to reverse the magic. For media comparisons, you can pick any number of Disney-esque movies from the 80s and 90s that involved magical curses being reversed through the power of interpersonal relationships and character development, and anime and manga fans could easily draw parallels to Fruits Basket.
Obviously it’s very simple: developing a dedicated setting wasn’t a priority, and the most game-like thing about it is an option to roll on tables to determine the nature of your character’s curse. I loved the collaborative storytelling, rules-light, and emotionally evocative nature of The Skeletons and drew inspiration from it for the experience I wanted to convey here. The challenge’s readers would have liked to see more mechanics, specifically with regard to giving the social interaction some structure, and I do agree with that and it’s one of the things I’m giving some thought to.
As for where the premise came from, it’s one that I’ve actually tried to work into a novel manuscript a few times. I had characters and ideas for supernatural afflictions and narrative arcs, but I couldn’t bring them together in a larger story that really worked, and I didn’t love any of the iterations enough to do anything serious with them. Long story short, I realized that it wasn’t a novel, but a narrative game that I needed other people to help me finish. So I kept the ideas that were compelling to me in the first place, changed them into narrative prompts, and turned the reins over to players.
It’s something I’d absolutely love to expand on in the future, so, uh, designers and other potential collaborators that might be out there: Hi! Thanks for reading! I don’t bite hard or often!
As for players, Until the Spell is Broken is a complete game playable in its current form, and a good fit for quieter groups and nights. It would also work for those times when your full group can’t show up and you need to scratch a storytelling itch. If you do run it, I’d love to hear what you think, here or any of the other places on the internet where I tend to be.