GHOST/ECHO: Oracle Game Experiment and PDF

edited February 2009 in Story Games
Last week, I needed something to run as a one-shot in place of my regular game, and this crazy idea popped into my head. I created a kind of one-sheet thing with my notes for the game, and then added a second page with some simple resolution rules, inspired by Vincent's Otherkind dice. Then I rounded it out with a few pieces of inspirational art grabbed from the interwebs.

When it was done, I had what I needed to run the game. Then I looked at it and wondered: Could someone else run a game with just this? It's kind of like an Oracle -- there's just enough to inspire, but it only presents questions; it doesn't answer them. You have to play it to get at the answers.

So, I'm calling it an "Oracle Game." It's got bits of color and situation like an oracle, plus a compact resolution mechanic. This one is called GHOST/ECHO and it looks like this:


Are you game to give it a try? If so, download the pdf and give it a go. I know what this material sparks in me, so I'd love to see what interpretations you and your groups bring to it.

I'm also interested in talking about the "oracle game" concept. In chatting with Judd about it, he had a great idea for a 2-page D&D version. What do you think? Is this bare-bones, micro-game format something you've seen before? Is it functional?


  • Dude! This is right where my head's at nowadays. BEAUTIFUL! Short, sweet, evocative delivery of setting, that the players flesh out. Wow.
  • Glad to hear it! I was kinda thinking of a group like yours when I wrote it.
  • I think this is how adventures/games should look like. Awesome.
  • edited February 2009
    Its interesting how much this looks like the document I made for the pseudo-Roman game I'm running, using Otherkind dice.

    (Well, actually, my document looks nothing like yours, as yours is actually nice and such. I meant in terms of lists of names and places with a few pictures.)

    The thing I quite like is mandatory dangers for action types. It could make the action snap a little quicker, as there is sometimes a pause while coming up with dangers in Otherkindish games.

    However, I don't think I know your inspiration sources well enough to make this one work for me. That being a danger with oracular games, I think -- if you don't have a background in the genre, you're a little screwed.
  • edited February 2009
    John, did you see the brilliant-but-simple pacing mechanic that Dev came up with? Reading your bare bones mechanics reminds me of it a little bit. I definitely really like the idea of dead simple micro-games like this. It seems a bit like an super-American (as opposed to Nordic) take on the "roleplaying poem" concept, yeah? Lots of awesome genre-fiction color wrapped around a clever mechanic or two. Oh yeah, I can dig it. Especially with layout like that.

    P.S. Brand's right in that I think you need, like, two sentences worth of concept at the top. Like: dealers smuggle illegal psychic drugs in the bodies of mules, but one of the mules is secretly a cop. Too bad the effects of the drugs have made it completely unclear which one is the cop... even to the undercover agent himself. Go!
  • Thanks for the positive feedback, all.

    Brand, Jon, I think you're right that there's not quite enough stuff there. In the first draft, I had a one sentence synopsis of the game idea (basically Shadowrun + Ghostbusters, in The Matrix), but I took it out. I figure, the color excites you enough to fill in the blanks and play it, or it doesn't and you give it a pass. I'm okay with either reaction. But maybe that's not the best approach. Maybe a touch more explanation would add more value to the piece.

    Something to think about. I'm already working on another one and it promises to be three pages instead of two.
  • It reminds me of Lacuna but with slightly less substance. I'd give it a go but if you're already rewriting, I'll wait for the new version.

    That said, one of the attractive things is that you don't force meaning on the background and I should like to see that maintained in a new version, but with perhaps a few more guiding questions.
  • I'm not going to alter GHOST/ECHO, so feel free to give it a go.

    I may do a second, different oracle game with a bit more substance. We'll see.
  • Brand is talking out of his bottom. The minimal background and introduction is great.

  • edited February 2009
    That looks a Dogma game. describes the concept and the rules for writing a Dogma game, however it is in Swedish. There used to be competitions in writing such games on that forum a few years ago, most of the games that came out of that were low/no-prep games.

    The Dogma rules (abbreviated and translated):

    * One double sided A4
    * No smaller type than 7pt Arial
    * Minimum of 5mm margin around all edges.
    * Illustrations permitted.
    * Given the above rules, layout is free.
    * Must be released as PDF. (Some games required printing and elaborate folding to be finished.)
    * The reader can be assumed to be an experienced roleplayer.
    * Lists of skills, items and such do not need to be complete, but enough examples should be given that readers can extrapolate the missing ones.
    * Only one single item of randomization may be used. One die OR one std deck of cards OR one coin.
    * Special cards are allowed, if they fit on the A4.
    * Character sheets may be used, and may be put on an additional A4, however no sheet may be bigger than double sided A6. So that four may be fit on one page.
    * Any world or setting may be used.
    * The game should be aimed at low or no prep games.
    * It should have rules. 'Freeform' or 'GM deciedes' are not enough.

    Collections of such games were released after each competition. But my googlefu is to weak to find them atm.
  • I don't have any background in the crazy Wachowski ghost-tech genre but I could run this easily. I think you provide exactly the right amount of stuff. Is that DIN? It looks great.
  • Seems like knowledge of genre is irrelevant since the genre and setting are constructed completely in play. I was actually thinking nothing like the Matrix but more ghosts/radiation signatures in a post apocalyptic cyberpunk world and I think that would work.
  • John, I know that you're wanting people to adjust this for their group as necessary, but I do have one question.

    You have people roll when suffering Harm. One of the consequences of channeling the ghost field is harm. Did you /intend/ to have this be a chain reaction roll?

    I understand each group will work it out on their own, but I just wanted to know your impression on that. I know that this was basically your own 24 hour RPG challenge, so any answer will suffice - no critique intended.
  • John, that is lovely. I love stuff like this that just hint at setting and such. Hits the same urges as Legends of Alyria.

    You get extra points from me for Ghost/Echo/Others.Crane and Ghost/Echo/Places.Anvilwerks.
  • Some questions:

    Do you roll different color dice for the goal and danger or do you roll dice and then decide how to apply them?

    You say that the GM always creates a second danger, so you're generally describing an action, then rolling three dice and applying 1 of them to your goal and 2 of them to the dangers? And you have the option of adding additional dangers (meaning you roll 4 dice but then applying all of them, one to your goal and 3 to your now 3 dangers? So almost everything you attempt there is a pretty big chance of one or two dangers coming true or partially true, especially if you want to have much of any chance of the goal actually being achieved?

    When you suffer harm you immediately check for a chance to to be incapacitated and your implied goal is "I'm not hurt too bad?" and there's an additional danger that the GM has to think up but which won't really have a mechanical impact?

    I'm very interested in giving the game a try but if I understand it the players are in an a much harsher environment and are weaker than even the typical Call of Cthulhu protagonist?
  • edited February 2009
    Graham: Cheers.

    Thanks for introducing me to Dogma games, Wilhelm. GHOST/ECHO does seem to fit those requirements. I'd love to see other examples if you can find them (I'll Google around, too).

    Jason: Cool. I'm glad you feel confident about running it. And yes, that's DIN. You can never go wrong with DIN.

    Bret: Your radiation ghosts are a great idea. To be honest, I wasn't really thinking "in the Matrix" either, just channeling a bit of the Wachowski style.

    Mark: Yeah, that was my intention. Some rolls can result in harm, which then triggers the harm roll. The harm roll might also be directly triggered by fictional events, too (Poison'd style) but that's open to interpretation. Also open to interpretation: when you actually make the harm roll. Immediately? After the fight? etc.

    Jamey: Thanks. Inside jokes are fun.

    Matthew: That interpretation is totally valid. I think "How tough are the protagonists?" is a question that you'll have to answer in play, and the system is probably very malleable to a variety of answers. "What constitutes harm?" and "How serious/lengthy is incapacitation?" are other important bits.
    Posted By: nemomemeSo almost everything you attempt there is a pretty big chance of one or two dangers coming true or partially true, especially if you want to have much of any chance of the goal actually being achieved?
    That's the main consequence of the system, yeah. As you increase your odds of getting your goal, you increase the odds of dangerous stuff happening.
  • My first response was "where's the rest?"

    Then I figured it out and was pretty damn impressed:

    1. The layout's amazing

    2. The setting's evocative in a few images and a smattering of text

    3. The mechanics actually seem pretty fun

    I'd like to see it in play. The only thing that I feel is missing is some sort of character differentiation, but that might break the awesome form of the game. Looking at it, I guess it's always possible to make yourself 'worse' at something by limiting yourself (something like "I'll never assign a dice over 4 to infiltrate or steal cause I'm not subtle"), but a want for something more is probably just personal taste.

    I gotta say, this also feels like an awesome challenge, maybe I'll try to knock one of these out sometime.
  • John, you're getting lots of love in this thread, and I feel you need some negative feedback to counterbalance. So I just wanted to say that it's too short, it doesn't give any guidance for the GM and you haven't given any details of upcoming scenarios, leading me to believe there's no ongoing support for the product line.

    OK thanks.

  • Posted By: sageThe only thing that I feel is missing is some sort of character differentiation, but that might break the awesome form of the game.
    Sage, there IS character differentiation. I mean, there's no way that Coil is anyway similar to Demon, other than common interests. I imagine that the fun will come in finding out why Coil, Demon, Hull, Grip and Vixen call themselves that, and finding out what they are called in other areas.
  • I love the look of this. Unfortunately, I'm still hung up on old school, traditional gaming habits. I'm doing my best to break those ingrained dependencies. But, just to satisfy my curiosity, how are others treating Harm? Is it physical harm to the character, affecting your dice rolls in some way? Or do you just work it into the fiction, narrating the damage, with no actual mechanical effect? I was thinking maybe have stages of physical Harm: Bruised, Injured, Disabled, Unconscious.

    + Bruised: No mechanical effect. You're sore. And maybe a little humiliated.
    + Injured: -1 on Die Rolls. Your injury has a slim chance of affecting your Actions.
    + Disabled: -2 on Die Rolls. You've sustained a severe injury that seriously affects your ability.
    + Unconscious: You can't go on without help.

    As I said, this is just the traditionalist in me. Curious to see how others might treat this.

  • I guess if you need Character Differentiation you can give each character a +1 die for one of type of action... done! Call it their "Differential."

    Of course if this is in G/E v2 or any of the expansion packsi expect to get a portion of the proceeds.
  • M,

    A -2 on a dice roll means you can never succeed.

    The way I deal with injury/harm in Otherkind dice games is pretty narratively. That is to say, the harm isn't generic harm, we narrate something really specific. Like, if your "under pressure" thing is riding a motorcycle and leaping it from one rooftop to another, we won't just say "if you fail on that dice you'll take harm" we'll say something like "if you fail on that dice roll you'll wipe out and break your leg." Then if it happens we really graphically describe the break, how bad it is, what it looks like, what it feels like.

    From then on if the character is doing something that involves their leg (like, say, walking) then its a narrative problem for them. They either have to explain how they deal with it, or make a "suffer harm" roll if they do anything strenuous. So if they want to run down a mark with their broken leg, they totally have to make a roll in which one of the dangers is that they're incapacitated. OTOH, if they'd broken their arm they wouldn't have to make the roll, so long as they aren't using the arm.
  • John,

    Apologies for more praise, but this thing is really cool. At first I found the lack of definitive setting detail confounding, but then decided I rather liked it so that I and my group (in a hypothetical G/E game) could make shit up on the spot (MSUOTS?). An actual Matrix milieu would have killed off a significant portion of my interest, though YMMV.

    Anyway, very nice. Thanks for putting this out there. I look forward to the fifteen-word supplements.


    Thanks for sharing your take on Harm. I like that approach too.
  • Posted By: Mark CauseyPosted By: sageThe only thing that I feel is missing is some sort of character differentiation, but that might break the awesome form of the game.
    Sage, there IS character differentiation. I mean, there's no way that Coil is anyway similar to Demon, other than common interests. I imagine that the fun will come in finding out why Coil, Demon, Hull, Grip and Vixen call themselves that, and finding out what they are called in other areas.

    I completely agree, I just mistated my point a little: I want something mechanical to differentiate my character. I think this is more personal preference, and might break the awesome brevity of it, but I want to be able to say Hull is tougher than Grip and have it reflected in the game.
  • Sage,

    Jason's idea has been used in other Otherkind dice games. Every character has one specialty (or so) and when they use that they get to roll an extra dice and then discard one dice after the roll.

    I see no reason it wouldn't work here too, so long as you're careful to keep the specialties narrow enough and flavorful enough.
  • Yup, I like that fix a lot. I'm not saying G/E is unfixable, or that I don't like the existing fix, just suggesting it as the one thing I'd try to squeeze into those 2 pages.

    Granted I've never played, so I shouldn't be suggesting changes before seeing it in action.
  • edited February 2009
    I was this close to adding a line that said, "When you're especially well-prepared, trained, outfitted, or talented (any or all of those), roll a single extra die."
  • John,

    I like that a lot. Just so I as a player don't have to figure out a suitable mechanical way to represent being good at something.
  • Sage, take one characteristic per character, for instance Hull being "tougher".

    Come up with uses for it:

    This trait will allow you to act tough, intimidate by physical bulk, or rip a door off of its hinges.

    Then, come up with a danger:

    Danger: Being tough and thick skinned all the time can make you less aware to subtlety. You don't notice the Wraiths tracking you.
  • Nice solution Mark. Maybe have this be character 'creation'? I think it'd be interesting to see what different players come up with based only on the rules, the 'feel' and the character name (or codename?).

    However, I'm not sure how to fit this into the text. Maybe:

    //Describe the thing you do well
    //Describe the danger that happens when you do that action
    //Only you may roll dice for your specialist trait./
  • You could also have items or equipment, if your group needed that level of interaction.

    Ghost Skin
    With this, you can go undetected, enter the Ghost World, or confuse Wraiths.
    Danger: If the Wraiths lock on to your signature, Ghost Skin acts as a beacon.
  • I like that, Mark. Having traits that directly impact the fiction without being quantified in any way kick serious ass and are definitely a hot area of design.
  • Thanks! I'm liking it, too. It's setting building, character building, plot building all in one. This reminds me of this on an idea I had once where you had to fill in the following blanks:

    I am/can _________ despite / but unlike the others that can / but I can't __________ .

    For instance:

    I am a Wraith-clone despite the fact that I have free will.
    I can see Ghosts but unlike the others that can the Ghosts can't tell I'm looking.
    I'm addicted to Echo Juice but I can't forget the nightmares like other junkies do.

    Basically, it's "come up with a populace, identify with it, but make yourself unique" within it, giving immediate story to run with.
  • John,

    This is an interesting and inspirational format. I like GHOST/ECHO, but I like the way you've stated the idea even more.

  • edited February 2009
    Thanks, Clinton. I'm doing layout for Brand's two-page Roman game (also using Otherkind dice) later this week. Maybe this will kick off a little "Dogma games" movement in English.

    Mark, Sage: Rock on.
  • edited February 2009
    (This isn't really part of the game... I'm just playing along with Mark now)

    //When you perform a supernatural feat, name the unique power you possess, describe its implant or tech, and say what special effects it produces when used.
    + If you specify a unique danger when using the power, make a note of it for future use.
  • Mark: What you're suggesting is turning GHOST/ECHO into Puppetland (or, more precisely, into MLWM's More/Less Than Human, which was explicitly inspired by Puppetland). I'm not saying that's a bad idea — the way I see it, almost any game can be improved by recasting it into Puppetland — just that it's what you're suggesting. It does have the disadvantage of adding a karma-based resolution not already provided for in the rules, although that doesn't seem too objectionable to me as a potential player of GHOST/ECHO.

    It leads me to my own suggestion: How about also importing Puppetland's time limit rule, or something like it? Let the brevity of the game design translate into an unremitting pace-dictation rule.

    Also, I thought I might point out that there is a differentiation rule (ruloid?) on the sheet: "What ghost powers does your particular crew member posess?" So differentiation might be "Hull can channel the Ghost Field to undo Harm, Coil can channel it to leap tall buildings, Vixen can trick and command Dogs..." or whatever your group decides. Listening for Echoes might be another place where ghost powers come in: "Demon can read the local datastream for incoming Wraiths, Grip can find Loot...".

    I could facilitate a small group in making a story with these elements in an hour, and have it be rewarding. It could be the RPG equivalent of "Majesty of Colors," which I certainly am glad that I played.
  • Colin's right, Mark. That's MLWM all the way.

    One thing I might suggest for running Ghost/Echo... Shreyas is working on this game where player contributions are measured in breaths (I may have seen that before, too, but I forget where). These, of course, get shorter and quicker as the players get more worked up during conflicts :)
  • Posted By: ClintonJohn,This is an interesting and inspirational format. I like GHOST/ECHO, but I like the way you've stated the idea even more.

    John brings the pretty as always, but what interests me is people taking just this sparse document and playing with it. Once that play is done, getting together with other people who played just off the document and talking about their techniques and house rules that fleshed the space between the color and the system.

    Neat stuff.
  • edited February 2009
    Yeah, that's the stuff, Judd. I'm imagining a third page add-on: "How to run Ghost/Echo" which is a collection of accumulated techniques created via play. Maybe it'll need a wiki at some point.
  • edited February 2009
    An attempt at character creation:

    ?CommonTrait=ReRollDie@You Listen for Echoes

    [I can <Manipulate Echoes> despite the fact <Echoes aren't always well-disposed>]

    ...//SpecialtyTrait.Temporal Fugue
    ++ 01: Summon Ghost/Echo/Temporal.#Azure (Duplicates of Myself)
    ++ 00: Summon Ghost/Echo/Darkened.#Crew (Dark Duplicate of One of my Crew)

    ++ 01: /Place.HeavenHouse
    ++ 00: /Fault.Wraith-fink

    EDIT: Added CommonTrait for /Crew.Grip

  • John, I love the one-page format.

    Jon, breaths are inspired by a short-lived, perhaps forgotten samurai game posted on the Forge (which I can't find anymore) that calls out a quotation from Hagakure about how a samurai should make his decisions in the space of seven breaths.

  • edited February 2009
    Both for character differentiation and for increased power, I'm gonna give allow each PC two Aspects and corresponding Fate points that allow re-rolls. I ran through several "conflicts" on paper and the PCs find lots and lots of danger and not quite as much success as I'd like.

    Looking forward to running this next time someone from one of my regular groups can't make it.

    Incidentally, I've done "one-sheets" like this a few times using a bare bones FATE hack for nights where someone can't make the regular game. I'll take two or three pieces of artwork from the internet, a few NPC names, a few possible locations, and a couple possible situations and everyone makes 6 Skill FATE characters with 3 Aspects each and we just go. Grew out of my improv classes from a few years ago - some of our best game sessions...
  • After playing tonight, I demand that the third page be SEC.C. Because it will be.
  • edited February 2009
    Tonight's game was hot. I totally figured out what the Ghost World is, even though Ben and the others probably have different ideas.

    But .SPIDERS? Yeah, we know all about them. Creeeeepy, for starters.

    I took a bunch of notes and Brandon actually recorded all of our dice rolls. I think I might change one sentence (and fix the typos). Tomorrow.

    + Danger: You are just too damn sexy.
  • Posted By: shreyasJohn, I love the one-page format.Jon, breaths are inspired by a short-lived, perhaps forgotten samurai game posted on the Forge (which I can't find anymore) that calls out a quotation from Hagakure about how a samurai should make his decisions in the space of seven breaths.
    That's Tris' game, Falling Leaves.

  • I just realized you can play GHOST/ECHO with Fudge dice!

    Right? Two negatives (1-2), two neutrals (3-4), two postiives (5-6)?
  • I can't believe I missed out on the inaugural session of Ghost/Echo because of work...
  • I'd love to see a collection of "dogma games" in some kind of printed format. Maybe loose sheets so you can just pull the one you want? Dunno. Part of the appeal is the graphic design of course.

    It might also be interesting to wrap them with some kind of "how to get the most out of this format" type of annotation. Not a hardcore "how-to" since figuring out the "how" appears to be half the fun -- more like, some good ideas on how to address the material in front of you (regardless of which game, which will probably include its own specific "ask these questions in play" type section) in a provocative and fun way, as well as notes on what these games don't do well.

    I was a little turned off by the format/concept on first blush, but the more I look at it the more interested I get. It's my first exposure to the Otherkind concept, so I was looking for something with more mechanical traction.

Sign In or Register to comment.