Tuesday, September 20, 2005

Thoughts in Tandem [Mortal Coil]

For those of you not in the know, yesterday was my wedding anniversary (conveniently placed on National Talk Like a Pirate Day, to help me remember). Krista and I have been married for 13 years. What might this have to do with gaming, and Mortal Coil, you ask? Well, when you have been together with a person for as long as we have, sometimes your mental energy just links up.

As I was driving home from work last night, I was going over some things in my head regarding Mortal Coil. I am working on the design for this game, as I have been for many years now. It has been a real struggle lately, and the design work I am doing has drifted, rudderless, for a bit now. I was trying to figure out what to do about this as I drove, and came to the conclusion that I needed to determine the focus of the game in order to focus the mechanics (more on this in a bit).

But what should happen at dinnertime? Krista, unprompted, turns to me and says, "What is Mortal Coil about? What is the point of Mortal Coil?" I hadn't mentioned that I had been thinking about that very topic as I came home, it just popped into her head roughly the same time it had done so in mine. Who says telepathy doesn't exist? (And who knows which one of us thought about Mortal Coil first!)

So, what is Mortal Coil about? Like mentioned in my previous post, Dead Drop and Focused Design, the very first step in game design really needs to be an answer to this question. Mortal Coil had its origin (original working title Darklands) as a home-brew alternative to the classic Vampire: The Masquerade. Our group had grown a bit disenchanted with the White Wolf system, and I developed a supernatural game using The Legend of Yore system. As the years went by, I tweaked and mangled the system for Mortal Coil until it no longer resembled its original form in almost any respect. The basic problem I was having with it was that there was no focus. It was a combat/magic/everything else system. I needed to decide what sort of game I wanted Mortal Coil to produce, and design for that.

Here is the new focus for Mortal Coil:

Mortal Coil is a game of emotional drama with a supernatural theme.

The key to getting the game there lies in the newish mechanic called Passions. To get the play where I want, these Passions need to be the central mechanic. Here are some non-tested notes for the Passion mechanic:
  • Everyone has a set of Passions, rated between 1-5. There will be a total of 5 points distributed among these Passions, in any way the player sees fit (1-1-1-1-1, 1-2-2, 2-3, 1-4, 5, etc.). Passions of rank 5 are obsessions, not too emotionally healthy for the character. 4 is borderline.
  • Characters have a set of Passion tokens per session equal to the number of Passions they possess (the above examples would have 5, 3, 2, 2, and 1 respectively). These tokens can be spent in play to add the Passion rank to an action. Players can choose which Passion to spend the token on (you could spend it on your 4-point Passion twice, for example, rather than having to spend it on the 1-point Passion and the 4-point Passion).
  • If you spend more than one token on the same Passion in a session, it will rise one rank. Since you may only have a total of 5 points in Passions, another Passion must go down.
Obviously, this gives a mechanical advantage for bringing a character's emotions into play. The GM will be able to call on Passions occasionally, too, if he feels it relevant for the Passion to oppose a player's action. This system also gives the control of this key mechanic to the player.

I will need to see how this works practically, but it is a start, and I think it moves Mortal Coil in the right direction.


At 5:25 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


I had a thought about passions in Mortal Coil. What if your total pool of passions can increase over time, or is in some other way variable? This could be the equivelent of leveling up in some other systems.

It seems to me that people are not universally passionate, and if you're going to make passions the focus of the game, this might be a way to help do that. I think it will take a lot more than that to really make passions and emotions the centerpiece of the game, but I'm sure you're thinking about how to bring it all together already.

I do think it's a good idea to make players trade one passion for another. Of course, you could include a gradual increase in total passions and a trading mechanic.

Just my thoughts on what could be a great game,

At 11:50 AM, Anonymous Thor said...

Hey Brennan,

Looks like our discussion on the ride back from Origins bore some fruit! Awesome.

This definitely puts the focus squarely on obsessions, which is perfect. I know you're going for a Hellblazer/Lucifer feel (which I fully endorse), but I think you may also give the Unknown Armies crew a real run for their money with this.

At 2:45 PM, Blogger Brennan Taylor said...


I see where you are going with this. I think I would like the passions to be a relatively static set, so that the various permutations are very predictable. The reward system is going to be tied to passions, however, which will encourage their use, and allow you to advance a character through the use of passions.


Yeah, those conversations were very fruitful. I think this is really starting to come together. I want to get it finished in the next few months for playtesting. I will have something to show you at Ubercon.


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