Shh, they're watching me...

I've had conspiracies and authoritarianism on my mind for a while now (I blame this) but hopefully I've exorcised the obsession now with most recent two games on my blog.

Conspiripedia is a super short and simple game that you can play as a warm-up or in the downtime between games; you can even play it via text or messenger. It's basically "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" for tin-foil hat wearers.

The Leviathan Manifesto is a tribute to Person of Interest, but also a statement about what I think a good investigative RPG should be like: you should never fail to get an answer, the trick is in putting the answers together to solve the mystery.

Comments

  • The Leviathan Manifesto definitely looks like a game I might try out with my usual pals next time a one-shot game is required. If so, I'll tell you how well it worked.
  • Thanks Rafu, I'd love to hear how it goes for you!
  • edited May 2017
    The Leviathan Manifesto seems really interesting to me. I love to have an investigation in my RPG's and I think your right about your philosophy. The player might not get the answer they want, but they should get something!

    So the vanilla theme (crime procedural?) kind of turns me off, but that might just be my knee-jerk reaction. However this gets me thinking about hacking it. Not that it really needs hacking, just how my brain works I guess.

    My first thought is "how can I make this sci-fi?" Which really wouldn't be far off, thinking x-files, Fringe, warehouse 13, or even Agents of shield. Anyway that doesn't require any changes really you just all agree that's what your playing and wallah.

    But that did get me thinking about how to add specific elements in play. And I think with the playing cards it would be easy to create a sort of setting for the game, essentially you could create a play-set that corresponds to numbers 2-10, ace, jack, queen etc. Just make a list of locations, items, complications, disasters, whatever. They don't have to be long or super detailed. When a six of suit comes up you refer to the list, and work in the item from the play-set. Vary the play-set and you could get a lot utility out of it.

    I'm not sure if that makes this simple concept over complicated or not, but it could be a cool idea to consider.
  • I like the idea of an Oracular use for the cards, perhaps tying each one to a more specific theme or outcome as you suggest. There's also more I'd like to do with the characters, defining their goals and aptitudes in a way which makes a difference to the game, but that will have to wait until I have time to revise the basic design.

    Thanks for the feedback Kenny. :-D
  • edited May 2017
    Im not sure if I missed it, but is Leviathan manifesto a gm-less game? So everyone just generates the mystery as they go? Or is there a gm player?

    It seems gmless, just wanted to make sure
  • Yes, GM-less: I did think about making it GMed, but that just takes you back to the 'trail of breadcrumbs' style. If you always get an answer, without needing any kind of roll, then I think it's better for the players to make up their own answers rather than get them from a pre-existing plot.
  • I have a design I'm playtesting which is a GM-less investigation game, with a police procedural setting, where players make up answers as they go. After playing several awesome games and many great sessions of it, I can confirm going GM-less for this kind of game was the right choice.
  • So @Rafu played The Leviathan Manifesto with two players and I asked how it went...


    It did OK. I mean, I can see how it wouldn't have been as creatively demanding were we 3 or 4 players (I also suspect with 5 or more, too many cooks would spoil the pie).

    The only place in the rules where the number of player characters - and by extension players - actually matters is in field interventions, which get easier the more player there are, in that you have as many "extra lives" as there are agents in the field. We only did one such scene, though, with the deck stacked in our favor (the open stack consisted of just one black and two red cards by then) and called it a success after the first card flip - because, why not?

    Further discussion belongs in the game's own thread (linked above). Let's move it there!
    I think there is an issue with the game design in that it leaves all progress in the lap of the players: "Did we succeed?", "Sure, why not?" So, does this game need a GM? Or some objective progress mechanic besides the 'Three Kings Countdown'?

    Reading back the game I wrote, I can see the rough patches where I've skated over some parts in order to keep the blog post to a reasonable length, so maybe a revision should be in the pipeline?
  • edited August 2017
    I think there is an issue with the game design in that it leaves all progress in the lap of the players: "Did we succeed?", "Sure, why not?" So, does this game need a GM? Or some objective progress mechanic besides the 'Three Kings Countdown'?
    Nope.
    I mean, for the game session as a whole it's definitely a feature that
    it's up to the players collectively to weave a story together that ends in their success
    That's good because in this game you're collectively creating fiction in a fractal way, looking for a meaning and, while meaning is subjective, it's still a multiplayer game: you can't just say "we won" if everybody isn't satisfied with that. You need loose threads to tie together neatly enough to call it an ending. You don't need mechanics to "objectively" make that call for players, because people are better than mechanics at judging meaning.

    Rules for intervention, though, might be too wishy-washy: the lead agent frames the scene, sets the stakes, chooses the means and makes the call whether mission's accomplished? The problem here is, the risk - or, rather, the price - of intervening is based on the number of cards turned: the longer the intervention takes, the greater the chance you'll have to push it eventually - and pushing it is really the important part, removing cards from the deck and getting you closer to the dreaded third king. However, we almost didn't use interventions (just once, basically to end the episode), so I wouldn't really know: that's more of a reading review than playtest feedback. :-)
  • edited September 2017
    @James_Mullen I would have posted this as a comment on your blog, but that requires setting up a G+ profile and that isn't something I want to deal with right now. So, here you are instead: do what you want with it...

    HACKING LEVIATHAN MANIFESTO TO HIGHLIGHT PLAYER CHARACTERS
    ==========================================================

    Premise: after playing our first session of it, my girlfriend likened Leviathan Manifesto to Microscope, in that it's mostly about making up a story by building on each other's ideas in turns, but it doesn't really dwell on the interactions between main characters. We love crime drama, but what we most love about it are the quirky detective characters and the relationships developing between them, so we probably thought a bit too hard about our characters' concepts and backstories when setting up the game - more than the rules as written actually need or care about, anyway. Naturally enough, we started looking for ways to ameliorate that as we played, molding the game to our preferences. Here are the results so far.


    #1 THE SMALL INCOSPICUOUS HACK: IC CHATTER
    ------------------------------------------

    During play, you'll often be tempted to discuss what-ifs and the significance of the evidence collected so far. You know, stuff like: "Wait! If Mr. Bocelli refused to get screened by the metal detector at Bruxelles airport, it means what the man we know as Ivan Ilic stole from his hotel room must have been..."

    Do it, then, but do it in-character. It's not the players discussing the story, it's their characters discussing the case. Whenever you feel like making such a comment, do it in your character's voice - maybe you are at a briefing or debriefing meeting, maybe you're just rising your head and voice over your computer cubicle at HQ while everyone's busy screening different pieces of video, or talking over an encrypted connection into your team-members headpieces the very moment you put your fingers on incriminating paperwork. Any replies are considered to be in-character too.

    As a side benefit, since you'll probably take your turns Observing and Investigating in an out-of-character, director-like voice instead, adhering to this rule makes for a sharp distinction between when you are declaring fictional facts as your binding game move vs. just making up conjectures as table chatter.


    #2 THE BIGGER HACK: MAKING IT PERSONAL
    --------------------------------------

    Not recommended with more than, uhm, 4 players perhaps? And only use this hack if you are planning an ongoing series, not just a one-shot (or maybe introduce these rules from episode #2).

    You have a character sheet. On your character sheet, besides your character's name, mark what your Personal Card is - for example, "Aces" or "7s" (in all suits). To each player a different Personal Card, please. You can't choose Kings, because those are already reserved for the mission failure countdown.

    On your character sheet you can, at any time, write down your Personal Strengths - skills your character most notably excels at or most extraordinary personal traits. You can have any number of Personal Strengths and you can add more whenever you wish, but they have no quantifiable effect until you get to draw checkboxes next to them.

    Your Personal Card coming up represents your character's personal life and issues either getting mixed up with the case, in the worst possible way, or otherwise taxing them and impacting their ability to carry on the mission. This manifests as spotlight time for scenes which "waste" turns, not advancing the mission. As a trade-off, you get to activate your Personal Strengths for later use - to save the day or just have an easier time progressing in the mission when you really need it.

    When any player - you included - takes an Observe action and happens to draw your Personal Card from the deck, resolve the Observe action as normal, but the card goes to you instead of the Open stack. When, during an Intervention, any player but you chooses to "push it" and the card they draw from the top of the deck happens to be your Personal Card, it goes to you instead of being discarded to the Closed stack; keep playing the Intervention as normal. You could, but don't have to, introduce personal elements to the observation or field action, if fictionally appropriate, to pave the way for the upcoming personal scene.

    When your turn comes and you are holding a Personal Card, you have to frame a personal scene _instead of_ Observing, Investigating or Intervening (you may think of this as "skipping a turn"). After acting out a personal scene, put the Personal Card where it belongs - Open or Closed stack - at last, and draw a checkbox next to one of your Personal Strengths (you choose).

    A personal scene demonstrates a problem your character is facing. It can be just a conversation between your character and any other team-members, or it can be something more dramatic. If multiple personal scenes come up during the same mission (you have, in fact, 4 Personal Cards in the deck: one per suit) keep escalating that same problem to new heights or depths.

    If you are the lead agent in the field, "push it" and your own Personal Card comes up, then something happens to reframe the whole Intervention into a personal matter. Whatever was originally at stake is lost, failed beyond any hope of recovery, but you get to set new stakes for the Intervention - as long as those are strictly personal matters to settle, which don't really advance the mission. You can't pass on the lead anymore: if you draw a black card and choose not to push it, the Intervention is over and you lost (WRT your newly-established personal goal). Whichever the outcome, this Intervention "doubles up" as a personal scene, thus you get to add a checkbox. You don't have to skip your next turn either: you've effectively skipped this one, by failing to achieve the original Intervention goal.

    So, what are Personal Strengths good for?

    When on your turn you choose to Investigate, you can cross out an unchecked box next to a Personal Strength to benefit from that particular skill or character trait in your investigation. Choose a black card, and the data you access answers a question anyway - like a red card would. However, it *also* raises further questions, as appropriate to a black card.

    When during an Intervention you choose to "push it" and have any unchecked boxes available, you can check one instead of drawing and discarding from the deck. You overcome the obstacle or challenge by taking actions specifically related to that Personal Strength of yours.

    When the mission is over - no matter whether successfully or not - "reset" your character sheet by crossing out any boxes left unchecked. You retain any Personal Strenghts you named, of course, unless you decide those don't apply to your character anymore. Any notes you made about your escalating issue you retain as an addition to your backstory, but next time your Personal Card comes up in a future episode, start over with a new issue.

    Optional (hack of the hack): track the escalation of your personal issue on your character sheet. If all 4 of your Personal Cards come up during the same episode, it escalates to a stage where you're out of the case! As a player, keep taking turns to Observe or Investigate, but that's what the team does, not what your character does: your character is out of the action until the end of the current episode. You can't use your Personal Strengths and you can't choose to Intervene - in fact, you can't take the lead or even be featured in field intervention scenes (so there's one less team-member to go through before the Intervention fails).
  • Those are two beautiful hacks of the game Rafu: thanks. Unfortunately I'm not in a place personally to take the time to make amendments to the rules on my blog, but everyone should consider these to be canonical rules from now on.
  • You do me a great honour.
  • I've finally gotten around to updating The Leviathan Manifesto with the above hacks included; I should also say that I'm really happy with the changes, especially the personal issues that can suck your character in divert them from the case, as presented in the second, lengthier hack. That makes it feel much more like a proper, ongoing drama!
  • I'd somehow missed this update!

    Thank you for your official imprimatur, James. This feels exciting to me.

    On a related note, we're still playing the game. I can confirm it works as ongoing drama! We're currently trying to solve our 8th case (which we're counting as the 2nd in Season 2) and very excited about our characters and their world.
    "Season 1" climaxed with a detour through other rule-sets to try and make sense of a situation - originated as personal issues and escalated - that threatened the continued existence of our illegal surveillance operation. We played a bit of a confusing "episode" using Remember Tomorrow, then decided it wasn't a good fit for a number of reasons, interrupted play declaring the episode to be a "two-parter", and managed to put things back on track by playing a game of Microscope for the season's ending.
    Now we're playing by Leviathan Manifesto rules again, with a new overarching plot gimmick of a mysterious hacker-stalker (also first surfaced as a personal issue near the end of season 1) who seems to be an anti-surveillance anarchist and might be testing us, or endeavoring for us to fail. In response to the main structural problem we had in season 1 - establishing the starting incident - we agreed that each case in season 2 starts with a message from our hacker-stalker pointing out an identity to investigate (i.e. exactly what the computer does in Person of Interest). Thus, we expect some kind of "master plan" to be slowly surfacing.
  • That's awesome! If you blog about this game or post any AP reports anywhere, I would love to see them.

    I'm glad you're getting so much mileage out of such a simple game. :smiley:
  • Hey, i just (belatedly) found this game on Steam, after being pointed towards it by Lloyd Gyan: it occupies a lot of similar thematic territory.
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