Interested in a high school drama hack, but a little unsteady with Moves...

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As the title says, I want to do a high school drama sort of game. Monsterhearts is awesome and it was what finally made the Apocalypse engine click for me, but it's not quite what I want... it's a little too dark and a little too supernaturally focused. I'm not really against having some angst, or even having a supernatural setting as an option, but I'd prefer it to be more on the level of The Breakfast Club, Glee, or Degrassi (or on the supernatural front, Spider-Man or Monster High, for a particularly low-angst example).

First of all is there anyone who's worked on something like this already? I hate to reinvent the wheel.

Second of all, if there's not, could I get some coaching and/or brainstorming when it comes to moves? I find them tricky enough to write, and creating basic moves for an entirely new hack is proving to be especially tricky for me. There are one or two I might be willing to crib from Monsterhearts, but I don't want to take the basic moves from that wholesale because I think they tend to not be quite in line with the experience I want, which is after all meant to be slightly less brooding.

Getting the right moves is tricky, because they create play: each move is a tool and as they say, give someone a hammer and everything starts to look like a nail. Start with two questions:

  • What is this game about?
  • What do the characters do?

Your game's about high school, so start listing things that happen there: there are lessons, lunch breaks, rivalries, friendships, a lot of teen romance, people discovering what their principles are and so on. If you base a move on any of those, then that's what the characters' will do, because that's the tool the players have been given.

Say you make a move called stand up, where you stick to what you believe to defend yourself or another: given that move, players will look for situations to use it, especially if the stat they roll for it is highlighted that session and they mark experience for just trying.

What I've done before is to scribble down notes about the kind of situations I would expect to see in that setting and the kind I want to see in play, then pull the moves out of that; next, shape the outcomes of those moves so that the drama always moves forward in an interesting way, e.g. in my superheroes hack, the moves allow you to fight the villains, but they will rarely be caught even if they lose, because the outcomes the players choose from make that a much bigger deal than just letting them escape to fight another day.

Seconding everything James said. Good advice, there.

One thing that helped me a lot with my own hack was writing out the Principles of the game I wanted to make. Apocalypse World has stuff like "Look Through Crosshairs" and "Barf Forth Apocalyptica". Dungeon World has "Draw Maps, Leave Blanks", "Give Every Monster Life" and "Embrace the Fantastic". My own was stuff like "The Crew is a Dysfunctional Family" and "Paint in Primary Colors". After getting your Principles (maybe you have them already!), find a few Move names that evoke what you want players to do. Find terms that evoke not only the actions you want, but evoke the principles of your game. Group general actions that people in that situation would perform, and put them under one Move.

For example:

Bully
When you pick on someone weaker than you, Roll+Stat*. On a 10+, pick 2. On a 7-9, pick 2 but you get in trouble. (On a 6- you might lose Popularity or get in trouble or something)
* You hurt them physically
* You make them scared
* You make them angry
* They lose Popularity
* They give you what you want

*Knowing the names of your stats is very important when designing Moves.

Thanks very much for the coaching. I've got some ideas for my stats already. My brother, a couple friends and I brainstormed a list of basic moves yesterday. Here's what we came up with:

  • Turn Someone Else On*
  • Shut Someone Else Down* (though I also like your Bully move, Arch, I might switch to that instead or use it in addition, if you don't mind)
  • Act Out
  • Stand Up (thank you, James)
  • Lie Down and Take It
  • Talk Your Way Out
  • Try to Impress Someone
  • Slack Off
  • Apply Yourself
  • Open Up
  • Reject a Friend
  • Help or Hinder

*Yes, a la Monsterhearts. I said it was too dark, not that it was useless to me

That's a good list, so is that the number of basic moves you want? It's fairly long and though that's not a bad thing, I tend to find that things that seem like separate moves can often be collapsed together into one umbrella move: for example, could 'Reject a friend' and 'Talk your way out' be aspects of 'Acting out'? It's common for basic moves to be about the ends rather than the means as well, so 'Talk your way out' could even be something you do when you 'Stand up.'

I'd be really interested in seeing more of your thoughts behind these moves: what do they do and why does your game need them to do that? (That's meant to be constructive rather than challenging, I'm really interested in the thought processes that have lead to these choices.)

That's a good list, so is that the number of basic moves you want? It's fairly long and though that's not a bad thing, I tend to find that things that seem like separate moves can often be collapsed together into one umbrella move: for example, could 'Reject a friend' and 'Talk your way out' be aspects of 'Acting out'? It's common for basic moves to be about the ends rather than the means as well, so 'Talk your way out' could even be something you do when you 'Stand up.'

I'd be really interested in seeing more of your thoughts behind these moves: what do they do and why does your game need them to do that? (That's meant to be constructive rather than challenging, I'm really interested in the thought processes that have lead to these choices.)

I see "Talk Your Way Out" as being kind of the Ferris Bueller/Cher Horowitz MO-- sort of the "Manipulate an NPC" move.

Acting Out seems to me more the "misbehave" kind of thing, but I could see collapsing it with "Try to impress someone". I think that's one of the better moves I came up with in terms of what you're telling me, because it's all about the intended result. Reject a Friend is much more a means than an end, so that might be worth ditching/collapsing.

My thought process in designing the basic moves has been "What are things that a character in a high-school setting might try to get ahead regardless of their clique/stereotype."

*

As If

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It's not a problem having a large set of basic moves as long as the MC can recognize them clearly when they happen in fiction.  To my mind the more important distinctions between moves (the decision to collapse or not collapse any given pair of moves) has much more to do with the differences and interpretative possibilities of the fictional results attached to each move.

Differences in the number, variety or interpretive flexibility of results will point toward keeping the moves separate.

When collapsing is desired, rewriting the results of two moves to be more interpretively flexible as a set (i.e. making them more "vague but suggestive" and forcing them to fit within a similar spectrum of possibilities) can be one way to do it.  The act of resolving a move becomes more spontaneous and hermeneutic, based on whatever its context is at any given moment, which can work just fine.  But it's not always possible, and it's not always worth sacrificing the detail.  Back to point #1.
« Last Edit: April 19, 2014, 04:50:16 PM by As If »

One thing that's interesting to do is to actually take an ur-text -- like The Breakfast Club, or a novel or comic book (Archie?) that captures the feel you want -- and try to break it down into moves. Ask yourself, who are the protagonists here, and what are they doing that moves the action forward in each scene? Which things that they do are not incidental, but have consequences that move the action of the story in a particular direction? And what common patterns do these actions fall into? If you can say, "hey, actually what Betty does on page 5 and what Reggie attempts and fails on page 12 are actually the same", you begin to crystallize moves out of story...