Pen and paper role-playing game designer David Hill tasked a theatre packed with PAX East attendees to create an RPG in sixty minutes, resulting in a thrilling game of journalistic intrique - with talking dinosaurs.
The Design an RPG in an Hour panel at PAX East was already underway when I arrived, the room overflowing with gamers eager to get in on the action. Basically, Hill, a game designer at Machine Age Productions, was leading a giant design meeting, creating an outline for a successful role-playing game based on the audiences suggestions and analytical discussions.
As I entered, the projection screen at the front of the room indicated that a main theme had already been chosen: journalism. How ironic.
Audience members were now suggesting the types of characters players would be stepping into the shoes of. Suggestions included photojournalists, embedded journalists, and tabloid journalists, all good suggestions. One person suggested Editors, to which Hill replied, "Aren't they the enemy?"
We seemed to have a rather well-rounded cast of characters involved, until one last suggestions was taken. "Talking dinosaurs!" And the crowd went wild.
As this game design session was a democracy, and gamers love dinosaurs, the dinos stayed in the picture.
But why would dinosaurs and humans be co-existing? Building on the conspiracy elements of the tabloid journalist character class, it was decided that the dinosaurs had been hiding among humans for a long time, in the shadows. Sometimes in really big shadows.
So now we have a theme and a plot, what about the conflict.
The audience came alive, suggestions flying. Armageddon. The search for the truth. Racial tension between humans and dinosaurs struck a chord with the audience, drawing a round of appluase. Other suggestions included giant robots, meteor people (and not meatier people), and the most dreaded journalistic conflict of all time - deadlines. I shuddered.
Narrowing it down, we wound up with a fight against the end of the world, with racial tension, cover-ups, and deadlines. Those damn deadlines.
Next we moved on to the setting. A show of hands indicated the audience preferred dinossaurs interacting with modern day humans rather than humans in the Jurassic age, wo we ran with that. We determined that the dinosaurs have powers, either magic or advanced technology, far beyond human understanding. Over time they gained control of the government, hoping to eventually kill all of the humans, perhaps through bloodsport - fights between the two races for sport.
One of the most important elements of an RPG is player stats. The board slowly filled with journalism-centric stat suggstions. Insight came first. Prestige gave way to reputation. Composition transformed into communication. Integrity was axed (go figure). Voting between Moxie and Balls, the crowd overwhelmingly voted to cut balls, which I found slightly scary.
Everntually we narrowed it down to insight, reputation, intrigue, communication, moxie, and learning.
And how would those skills be used? One membewr of the audience suggested we used straight die rolls to determine success of actions. Another chimed in with die rolls plus stat bonuses. Both interesting ideas, but the audience decided to go with a resource-based system, where players wager their skill pools against die rolls. Skill gambling, if you will.
After a bit more discussion, we ironed out the basic gameplay scenario. Actions like interviewing witnesses, researching, taking pictures, and undercover work would be assigned skill points. The amount of points ammased at the end of any scenario would determine how successful your story is. It's the sort of system that encourages teamwork. I like it.
Now all that's left to do is name this beast. My personal favourite suggestion, Tyrannasaurus Rolodex, was immediately shot down, as was Velocireporter. DinoStory, Fever Pitch, and Jurassic Journalist also got the axe.
The winner? Scoop!, a rather generic name, but the tagline one audience member came up with to sell it more than makes up for it.
Scoop!: A Game of Cold-Blooded Journalism.
See what large groups of gamers can do when we work together?