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Button Kin Blog

Dungeons and Flagons and Development Diary

Oct 20, 2023

Why do I love the lead up to Halloween so much? I can’t stand horror films. I have never tasted pumpkin spice. Every time I attempt the words “Spooky Season” I do a little psychic shudder at their combined twee-ness. I do love fancy dress but rarely get to indulge as a childfree person surrounded by other adults who don’t share my enthusiasm. What does that leave?

Truly it’s the celebration of oddness and kookiness that draws me in. Also as someone who thinks and talks about death a lot, the sensation of the veil thinning, even figuratively, is strangely comforting. It’s one for the weirdos, isn’t it? Our special time.

Speaking of which…

Dungeons and Flagons Halloween Weekender! Manchester folks have heard of Dungeons and Flagons before. They run board game evenings and all dayers all over the city. I’ve been admiring their work for a while and recently finally stepped up to sponsor an event: their upcoming Halloween Weekender. There’ll be a huge board game library to borrow from, some excellent trade stalls selling a variety of game related goods, and bookable TTRPGs sponsored by the lovely folks over at Hive Mind Games. I’ll be running a stall myself and will have copies of all my games available. See you there 28th & 29th October at Manchester University Union!

Development Diary

I’m still writing a solo, journaling TTRPG about divorce, satirising “parent trap”-style media. See the last newsletter for more on why I would choose to do such a thing, or if you’d rather not open yet another browser tab (relatable, tbh), last time I said:

”At first my concept was more than a little snarky... I wanted to make a game that explored the deep selfishness and cruelty of manipulating two unhappy people into staying together… I still want a dash of that, but the more I mulled on it and the more I reflected on my own childhood experiences, the more I wanted to ground things in compassion for all involved. I want to make this a story about growing up, making formative mistakes, and coming to see your caregivers as the imperfect but hopefully still loveable people they are.”

The concept has continued to evolve along these lines as I write. I’ve been keeping a list of influences as they come floating through my brain. So far I have:

  • The Parent Trap (the Lindsay Lohan era Disney movie)
  • It Takes Two (the video game)
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole (the book series by Sue Townsend)
  • Clarissa Explains it All (Melissa Joan Hart was my childhood IDOL)
  • The Wonder Years
  • My So Called Life

I’m unsure about those last two, mind. They centre around older teenager drama, while this game will be about life as a preteen, with players writing from the perspective of a 12-13 year old protagonist. This is partly because I can’t imagine an older teen spending time on a complex and occasionally wacky plot to get their parents back together. I was out in clubs at that 15. I already had my first tattoo. Yes, I was raised by a very relaxed mother, but I digress.

What you perhaps can glean from this collection of influences is that a lot of what I’ve been working on is “slice of life” preteen narrative generation. I’m using tarot as my randomisation tool and there’ll be a four-part set of diary entry prompts creating a storyline for every card in the Major Arcana. Basically I’ve found myself writing twenty two, bare-bones outlines for what could be episodes of a sitcom, leaving most of the details and outcomes to the player to decide.

Challenge number one has been balancing how much content to generate for the player. Do I give my players a rich world to build on, doing a lot of the foundational work for them but potentially restricting their agency as story tellers. Or do I give them the barest of outlines, a bit of structure and a resolution mechanic, and let them do the rest? Teach a player to fish or give them a month’s supply of canned salmon? This is a question that has to be answered by every TTRPG. It’s a tough call and I suspect wherever you land on the continuum between these extremes there will be some players who feel they’re being constrained by your authorial choices while others would like more guidance.

So what’s my solution? I can only be guided by what I would like as a player. Which is harder than it sounds since what I would like as a writer is often at odds. I’m writing these arcs and trying to give them a bit of a four-part structure, but I have to leave room for the player to make meaningful decisions about how things actually go. One thing that does help is the knowledge that in this game adding or progressing a storyline is always optional. If players don’t like a set of prompts, or if they only like the first couple in a set, they can choose to skip entirely or be selective. And the intention is that they will have multiple Major Arcana arcs running simultaneously along with the plotting of “traps”.

I’d like to have that first play test done before I next write to you all. In fact: that’s me setting a goal. My next development diary entry will be mulling over the first play test and getting a bit more specific about how this all is going to work. Hold me to it!

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