Designer Diary: Pitching Black Mantle
One of the reasons I started this blog was to keep my hand in writing something, anything. It helps, because for some reason I can have ideas and be really lazy about writing them down. I have bad habits.
Anyway, this is my game. It’s called Black Mantle.
Fluff, Colour, Tone, Setting, Yadda Yadda
This is a game about a dystopian City where Citizens are born into “Work Philes” or vocational tribes. That will be their life unless they can ascend the PRIV ladder and become higher-tier citizens. But while the propaganda is that anyone can achieve a higher tier through hard work, the economic realities work against anyone even trying to make it out of zero level.
The exception is for Mantle pilots who plug themselves into the Mantle exo-suits and venture outside the City, at the behest of one of the City’s Corporations. No-one knows what exists Outside, and pilots contracted to the Corps are forbidden from talking about their missions within The Interior. But if you have the neural aptitude to sync with a Mantle, the Corps will want you. These are the Player Characters. They are young and inexperienced, and the only thing they know about the Outside is rumour.
Mantle pilots are rewarded handsomely with PRIVs. Previous zero-level workers can suddenly find them ascending the citizenship tiers (levels 1 through 10) and mixing with higher level citizens, including the movers and shakers in the Corps and Government. They’ll be instant celebrities. The PRIV system also allows them to take their family with them to the upper tiers; some do, others leave their old Work Phile far behind.
- What did you see Outside? Why does it Haunt you?
- What did you take back from Outside? Why do the Corps want it?
- Where is your family? Do you need them?
- Where and what is the City?
This is a consciously “heterogeneous” i.e. not unified design. It is also “asymmetric”. The Interior system which represents the characters as Citizens is fairly freeform and designed to cover the relationships between the characters. Not sure about this system; maybe borrowing something from Dramasystem.
The Exterior system is (at the moment) all OSR, with some tweaks (e.g. some of the Death Comes To Wyverley extra rules to change survival, and add scaling mechanics). Exterior missions should function very much like dungeon adventures including exploration, combat, and mission reward. Rewards specifically are experience points but these are an in-game property; do better in your mission and get PRIVs, rise up the ranks, and get access to better gear.
Other OSR-like bits include considering what is “player facing” such as charts and tables; and how to efficiently support the GM in managing factions and their motivations.
There is a feedback mechanism between the Exterior missions and the Interior setting, but I don’t feel confident in talking about that just yet. There’s also a collaborative element to starting the city, something that’s evolved since I thought of the “city accelerator” tool.
There should be a discussion about what happens when the meta-game Wall breaks down, and the Exterior OSR procedural-style games bleeds into the Interior drama-style game.
There will be Mecha and/or Werewolves. There will be Relationships. There may be Dice Clocks. TBD
Mainly influenced by two manga/anime which are surprisingly similar: Attack on Titan, and Knights of Sidonia. Both feature young protagonists with limited knowledge of the space outside the wall. In addition there are internal hierarchies and political struggles within the human community. Oh yeah, and giant robots / three-dimensional movement gear / titans.
Most important feature of these two series is their asymmetry. The protagonists work by a different set of rules inside and outside the “City”; this is particularly apparent in Knights of Sidonia where the interior scenes are all about exploring Sidonia and the relationships between Nagate, Izana and Yahuta, and these characters can be strong inside and weak outside, or vice-versa.
(it’s colour/fluff, but Izana’s non-binary gender also influcences gender in Black Mantle)
Mechanically influenced by Flatland Games’ Beyond the Wall. Various discussions of the transition between the interior (village) and exterior (beyond the wall) are elsewhere in my blog. Also influenced by various Sine Nomine OSR games.
- consciously derivitive of YA dystopian fiction e.g. The Hunger Games and Divergent
- but also inspired by much older YA (before YA was a thing) such as H.M. Hoover’s Children of Morrow
- Christopher Priest’s Inverted World
- China Mieville’s City and the City
The GM, and Secret Knowledge
I have strong views on settings, in that when I buy a game I don’t want to be spoon-fed someone else’s setting or worse, metaplot. One of the strengths of some OSR games is how they provide a framework for creation of the sandbox and the GM’s own setting, so I’m bearing this in mind.
Another issue is the Big Secret, which IIRC was a problem with the Engel RPG. It goes like this: there’s a big mystery to do with the world which the players are ignorant of, and which forms the central piece of interest in the GM’s section, and often the whole motivation for the core activity of the PCs. Once you know that, the central interest is lost. This is also a feature of some of the fiction above (notably the millenial YA genre) so while genre appropriate it limits the lifespan of the game.
This is a non-trivial problem to solve, and at this stage I don’t have a good answer. But something to be very mindful of. Having enjoyment as player limited by having previously GMed is something to avoid.
Other systems I considered:
- FATE, no way. Sterile, unified, boring. I don’t get on with it
- PbtA is a much stronger candidate, and the proposal above could almost be a hack of Night Witches (I guess; I don’t own it). However I know how much effort it is to design for that system, and it hasn’t clicked with me yet
- I love WaRP / Over The Edge. This might not be the game, but it’s always in the back of my mind as an option
Last, I stand by my previous comments on heterogeneous design which have come from ideas on the internal/external game and internal relationships in Beyond the Wall, e.g. here
To be continued