Everyone ATM is drooling over Fairweather manor, the latest Nordic blockbuster-in-a-castle, this one based on Downton Abbey. Its huge, its pretty, it has a castle and gets good reviews. But it also has some really interesting design.
As with College of Wizardry, they’ve put their design document online. Its incomplete - you’ll spot it when you get to the end - but you can get a good idea of how they do it. And there’s some interesting tricks.
Firstly, like CoW, they chop the players up into several different groups - in CoW it was first, second and third-year students, plus staff (I think); in FM its nobles, artists, experts, and servants. Each has a different timetable to run to, some specific roles during the game, stuff they’re kindof expected to do (nobles give orders to servants and spread plot around, experts decide game reality in their domain, servants are at people’s beck and call and spread gossip).
Secondly, they do a lot of stuff through meta-instructions. So, Nobles are told to talk as if servants are invisible, servants to share gossip with nobles while grooming them, experts to shape reality (at least initially) to encourage plot rather than block it, and everyone to back their friends and share gossip with them. Its explicit instruction aimed at shaping play and encouraging people to share the fun.
Thirdly, the characters are incredibly loose. Obviously, they have to have them, because this is a game with a pre-defined setting and specific mood and themes it wants to explore. But where we would write characters with an intricate web of secrets and plots, they instead give the bare bones - an idea of who you are and what you’re about as a person, a minimum of relationships, and a bunch of questions you get to answer to flesh them out. I’m not sure if you have to give the answers to the GM team, or if they feed them back to other characters (in some ways it seems wasted if they don’t), but it seems to be an interesting middle-ground. Related to this is that apparently almost all character relationships are developed by the players in the pre-game, as we tend to do with campaigns. Again I’m not sure how much of it is passed on to the GMs and fed back in, but the meta-rules seem designed to ensure that if people talk about their (player-generated) relationships and secrets, they will get about and (hopefully) generate fun.
Fourthly, there’s a focus on shared activities. CoW had classes; FM has poetry readings / dance lessons / art classes, the sort of things the idle rich might have spent their time doing when there were a lot of them together. In other words, there is stuff to do during the game, which gives the characters something to talk about, talk during, maybe scheme over. And it gives the players something to do so they don’t get bored. I think the idea of activities is something worth exploring to lend structure to longer games.
And as a combination of 2,3 and 4: character sheets include an explicit list of “things to do”. These are phrased as hints and suggestions, rather than orders, but they’re both suggestive of character, and aimed at making fun for others. I’ve seen this done before in a game - Jenni and Paul’s Kirby High Reunion - and I think it works well. Its a trick well worth stealing (says the guy who hasn’t stolen it yet).
Anyone else spotted anything stealable?