A Dimension Not Only of Sight and Sound, But of Mind

edited September 2007 in Game Design Help
I'm mentally brewing an entry for Jason Morningstar's Sight and Sound Game Design Challenge.

The challenge involves choosing an image, a sound and a concept and write an rpg using them in 3500 words. This last bit may be the hardest part, for me. Department Nine is almost 9000, and I thought that was decently short.

My first coherent thought for the game is to combine some seemingly disparate elements: the image of a man in a tunnel, the children's story about fairies (in sounds) and the concept of "liminality". Stir these together in my mind and you get a cross between The Third Man and Stardust*. Cold War espionage with the other side being some decidedly alien fairies.

Somehow, World War II was averted by an opening of the portal to the realms of the Fairies**, who stopped Hitler's march across Europe, but also probably attacked the Allies as well. After the war is resolved (once the Allies figure out Cold Iron hurts the fey enemy), London is divided in half between opposed sides, like Berlin in the Cold War.

The fairies pretend - and demand to be treated as if they were - happy go lucky cartoon elves, but really are more like strange alien visitors, who don't understand our human concepts of things like causality and morality. They follow their own set of rules which are largely opaque to mankind. But they have strange magic abilities, which the Allied governments are eager to get ahold of. What tyrant wouldn't want the secret of eternal youth, and what democracy wouldn't want the ability to turn Castro into a newt?

I don't have any clear mechanical ideas yet, but that will likely come in time. Is it a GMed game or GMless? I don't know yet, but the fairies should either be group controlled in a GMless game (to give them an upredictable, erratic behavior) or have a good "weird behavior, beliefs and abilities" generator, comparable to Dogs town generation, in a GMed game. Some way or making them not act like human character with pointy ears. More thinking about this. If I get any prototype system developed, I may convene a playtest on Saturday or so (or since it would be low level WLD next week, playtest it sunday evening. Or both.)

Feedback is, of course, appreciated. The whole idea might be scrapped at any moment, I don't know. Maybe some other combination of sights and sounds will occur to me and be much, much cooler.

*Other inpirations include the fairies as shown in Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell, Hellboy stories dealing with faeries (particularly The Corpse), the obvious references in the footnote below, "The Story of Your Life" by Ted Chiang, a blog post by Mike Mearls concerning a homebrew D&D setting and some other stuff.

**This portal either involves four British kids in a wardrobe or it involves King Arthur coming back to stop the Blitz, I'm not sure. But Arthur was supposed to come back in Britain's hour of greatest need, right?


  • Just FYI, I flip-flopped and changed the length requirement - it is now four letter or A4 pages, however you want to use them, and up to 5MB of audio or video if you want. You should still be able to squeeze 3500 words on there if you are ruthless.
  • Nick,

    I have a mechanical suggestion, based on the book The Memory of Earth (Orson Scott Card): The players are members of this society (whether government agents or average citizens) who are trying to unlock the mysteries of these alien fairy tale elves. When they seem to be close to "unlocking" some secret, the elves can interrupt them with crazy gonzo weird behaviour. At the game table, that looks like this: a semi-ritualized process of investigation, and whoever is governing the elves (at that moment, or as a static role... however this turns out) is able to spend currency to interrupt them by talking/yelling in an annoying elf/clown/circus voice.

    Example, with example ritual phrases in italics:

    Johnny (as a citizen): Based on those observations, I think that we need to talk to the Germans a bit more. I believe the answers lie with -
    Mark (interrupting as an elf): *spends a currency* Wooo ha ha ha ha ah! It's totally fun in England! The elves are organizing a country wide parade! La la la! No contact with the Germans will occur during the Happy Fun Time Parade!
    Johnny (out of character): You bastard.

    Just a thought. It's an image of gameplay that immediately popped into my mind while reading your thoughts.
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