So yesterday (well, very early this morning) I completed my 24-hour RPG, The Droog Family Songbook. It is inspired by a mashup of the films A Clockwork Orange and The Sound of Music.
I started with two apparently very different stories (films) and a spark of an idea. I was actually most interested in doing something with A Clockwork Orange, while The Sound of Music seemed like a good juxtaposition. One was dark, violent social commentary, the other was a Stanley Kubrick film. Ha! I jest! When I started I wanted to explore the idea of the use of violence. I had this kernel that I wanted players to use violence to get their own way, but at a price. It took me a really long time to work out that price. It needed to cost the character something in the fiction (while simultaneously giving them what they want), but also had to cost the player something. The lightening from the sky moment was coming up with the “end game” – the Denouement Chart that would affect how a character’s story will end. This is kind of like Fiasco, which is something I hadn’t realised before. Cool. Knowing that a character’s fate would be determined by their actions in the game let a lot of other things fall into place. I knew I was defining characters by what was important to them (Favourite Things), but was surprised at how easily they fitted with the end game mechanic.
The setting is something that I am really excited about. Not that it’s really a setting, more like a bunch of ideas and cliches thrown up in the air. What I am really keen on is the kind of post-modern (that’s the right concept, isn’t it?) mash-up that draws on the fiction of the films and spins 180-degrees. When I realised A Clockwork Orange was set in 1995 my mind immediately leaped to the idea of using the historical setting, as opposed to the fictional one from the film. It seemed totally appropriate for the mash-up theme of the competition. By mixing this with the plot from The Sound of Music I had both my setting and story arc for the game.
The creation process
So how did I go about putting the game together? It started more than a few days ago when I looked over the list and decided I wanted to do something with A Clockwork Orange, but couldn’t decide on what to match it with. I thought about West Side Story, as both films have “gangs” of youth and I figured there was much to mine there, but I just wasn’t feeling it. I did some reading (on Wikipedia! Please don’t tell my students!) to refresh my memory of both A Clockwork Orange and West Side Story, then drifted around the web to look at other things. I toyed with doing 2001: Space Odyssey and a Kubrick double feature. I don’t know what lead my to The Sound of Music, but the thought of the Ultraviolent Droogs meeting Sister Maria just sparked something. The dark, violent youth of Kubrick’s film mashed with the family wholesomeness of the Von Trapps was too much to pass up and so I committed to the challenge.
I did a bit more reading about the plot of both films, and a bit of history related to both (I honestly had no idea that The Sound of Music was based on a true story – and yes my wife just looked at me like I was stupid when I let that out) and announced my participation on 1KM1KT.net. As with all my 24-hour games, I started with page layout so I could write straight into InDesign – it is MUCH quicker than writing and then laying out later. For me, anyway. This required me doing a fair bit of web surfing, where I put together a scrap folder of inspiring images. Nuns; people dressed as Droogs; Nuns with guns; that kind of thing.
I was thinking about setting, my goal of making the choice of using violence central to the game, and that kind of thing. At this point I was calling the game “The Sound of Droogs”, and the characters would fight Nazis in 1995. I wrote the “Austria, 1995″ text that appears on page 4 at about this point. As I read a bit more about the Von Trapps I hit upon the idea of setting the book out to look like the family music collection, and then I realised the characters could be members of the Von Trapps (or Von Droogs), trying to make their escape. I wrote the first bit of flavour text (page 2) and re-wrote a couple of The Sound of Music songs, as Alex De Large might have sung them. That’s when I realised that “My Favourite Things” would make an awesome central concept to hang a character on. Here these characters were, in German occupied Austria, fearing for their lives and worried about the things they hold dear.
At this point I had a pretty good idea about the “setting” and what the game would be about – the Von Droogs trying to save their Favourite Things. I had also hit upon the idea of using the Zombie Cinema resolution system at about this point too – everyone rolls dice and the high scorer gets to narrate. That way a player could choose to use Ultraviolence and automatically win, though I still had no idea what the draw back would be.
I wrote the character creation system. It was bizarre not having stats or skills or even a list of talents. Really strange having no numbers at all. But it was also really liberating – it reinforced for me that this game was about telling a cool story, not rolling it or min / maxing it. I banged out the character generation notes and the basics of task resolution (this bit on my iPad while I visited my parents). I must say, getting away from the computer can really help the creative process.
As I write (and take breaks for sustenance, or visit family for Easter!) my brain will churn over my ideas, fit my desires into the mechanisms of other games, and run through “scenarios” to see how things might play out. I suppose that is how I stumbled upon the Denouement Chart – I didn’t even make the connection with Fiasco until I began writing this reflection! By the time I got home again (car trips can give you time to think!) I had the idea that the player framing a scene can be rewarded for “forcing” the Spotlight character into using Ultraviolence. This was the last “price” I needed to make the concept work (IMHO). Now there are three things that can cause a player to carefully consider whether to use violence to resolve a situation – it might affect their denouement, they have to graphically describe horrible actions, and they will reward another player. That last one is probably the biggest discourager!
I banged out the rest of the rules and designed the “character sheets”. It seemed short, and I felt like I was missing a lot of stuff, but I realised because the game was rules light, GM-less and essentially a “one-shot”, there was a lot of stuff that I didn’t need to include. Character advancement, adversary stats, GM advice, that kind of thing. Hopefully my rules explanations are clear enough.
It was about 1.30am by this time and I had been working on the game for more than 16 hours. I figured it was just a simple matter of putting in some images, tidying things up and doing the table of contents before exporting it all to PDF. It was simple, I suppose, but I didn’t finish until 4am! There seems to be subtle differences between InDesign on my PC and In Design on my new Mac, and it was confounding me!
You can follow the link at the top of the article to see the final product. I am really pleased with the result. This is the second GM-less game I have attempted to design, but the first I think that really works. I am very happy with the rules doing what I set out for them to do – force players to make the hard choice between getting what they want by doing something unpleasant, or leaving the situation to chance. I also feel the game reflects key elements of both films. It draws heavily on The Sound of Music for plot and setting, and the Song rule adds some of the whimsy of the film. A Clockwork Orange comes through with the use of graphic, unnecessary violence, and also via the end game, where the character may end up undergoing reeducation at the hands of a Doctor Von Keeton. I also think the mashing of the two films gives the whole thing a slight surreal edge that reminds me of much of Kubrick’s work.
Take a look and let me know what you think.