Does having a set ending mean I should go for another system?

  • 5 Replies
So for the last couple of days I've been thinking about making a game about kids going up against some supernatural threat the adults can't deal with because they don't believe in it while also dealing with their own shit of being kids. Very It. And yes, I know there are other games like this, but I want to make my own because I like making games.

My initial impulse was that using AW style moves and playbooks would work great for this. However, it seems that the way I envision this game it will have a strongly defined story arc, and specifically it will push towards an ending where the kids win or, well, they don't and that means they probably die or something. So the structure could be quite different from AW where things are more - I want to say "fluid", but I'm not sure that's the right word. Maybe it would be like playing AW where there's a single front? I dunno. My experience with AW is also fairly limited, having run a couple of sessions as well as three or four sessions of Monster of the Week but that's a different beast, and now that I think of it that's probably closer to what I'm doing anyway.

So did I just answer my own question that I have yet to pose, which is this: Does having a clear ending point with the game driving hard towards that mean I should use a different system, or does it just mean that while I can use the "superficial" mechanics of AW I should look hard at the procedures and make sure they support the rest of the game?

Or something else. Any advice gladly accepted.

Re: Does having a set ending mean I should go for another system?
« Reply #1 on: July 10, 2016, 11:51:35 AM »
I'd say you can do this, if it's only the game plot that you want to have a predetermined ending for and you allow each character to have their own personal story against that backdrop: just make sure that the outcomes of your moves are pointed at the characters, so that it is their story that changes and thus effects the condition they will be in when they reach the end-point. It sounds like the question this story asks is not can the kids overcome this horror? It sounds more like what will it cost the kids to overcome this horror?

On the other hand, trying to predetermine the ending for a game becomes more difficult the more precise you are: if the ending is just the kids overcome the horror, then you're fine to go ahead, but if the ending you have in mind is more like the kids overcome the horror by confining it in the Hall of Mirrors and burning the ancient painting of it while each sacrificing the thing they treasure the most, then you should prepare for disappointment. You will almost certainly have to compromise some parts of this vision as the game unfolds, not least because the players are likely to come up with ideas that you like better than your own.

Re: Does having a set ending mean I should go for another system?
« Reply #2 on: July 10, 2016, 12:33:28 PM »
Exactly right about the cost of victory (or loss, winning shouldn't be assumed, I think) and the idea of the final confrontation being set but not what form it will take. I'm not even sure the horror itself will be defined when the game starts, other than that it's taking children in some way.

Also, I'm not sure yet if defeating the horror will be the main focus with kids dealing with issues being secondary or the other way around. Ideally they would be connected in some way, though preferably not as directly as to defeat the horror the kids must deal with their issues.

Re: Does having a set ending mean I should go for another system?
« Reply #3 on: July 26, 2016, 07:46:06 PM »
Reading your posts I am not even sure that you have a set ending. Frankly it sounds to me more like you have simply already prepared a front before the first session, which is unusual, true, but not game breaking in any way I'd think.

What you truly seem to want is a game with a strong theme and a clear ending. And, as a horror fan, I think you only want a game with a strong theme, as it is part of the theme of your game, these specific types of teenage horror flicks, that there be a clear ending. Hear, hear:

Your initial buy in is strong. If your players know what they are in for, chances are they will emulate behaviors from the media that inspired you. They'll know that they have to "fight" the monster and prepare for it.

If they don't emulate those behaviors on their own you have the tools of the genre at your disposal. Why do the kids band together to fight the monster? Because they cannot escape the monster (Running away from home for good is not a thing for a 12 year old). Because they cannot fight him on their own. Because they cannot ignore the monster. All this organically leads to the confrontation.

If they choose to act against any of these tropes, well, you don't have to railroad them. That's actually kind of awesome!

Just imagine, you now have the story of a 12 year old kid who ran away from home, with the whole world trying to get him back. If he manages to go away for good, good stuff! He's out of the focus and he's now part of the story, get the player to make a new character and, maybe, drop his dead body in the sewers at some point. If he doesn't? Imagine the terror at being brought back to the "thing" you escaped by people who only mean good! This, in itself, is a staple of the horror genre!

If they ignore the monster? That's just gold! Have them play out their little lives, their drama, their friendships. Have them believe it is all just a bad dream. And then, on a random failed move, just crank up the clock of your threat by one and drop the bomb: "You've come to see Thomas? Oh, he hasn't come home yesterday. We were hoping he was at your house actually." Instant chills.

Even if it ends with just one of the kids alive, finally descending into the lair of the beast it will be a good story, really.

"How apocalypse world deals with set endings" is, I think, a good question in itself. I, however, don't truly think that it is the question you want answered here.



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Re: Does having a set ending mean I should go for another system?
« Reply #4 on: August 02, 2016, 07:59:01 AM »
I don't think you are out of bounds at all. You've already looked at other hacks, so I know that you know that messing with the format totally works. Monster of the Week is an *awesome game*, and it's prep (the idea of creating mysteries and determining the monster the players will face) flies in the face of "play to find out" (in my opinion), but it works perfectly for that game. Don't be afraid to add to the game. That contribution may just end up being your gift to the PbtA world.

I'd never tell you to just play Monster of the Week. Game design is fun, and hacking Apocalypse World is super fun! (when it isn't frustrating as hell..) I'm writing a cyberpunk hack and I've managed to write it slow enough that about a half dozen others have made it to market before me, but I'm still writing it!

Re: Does having a set ending mean I should go for another system?
« Reply #5 on: November 08, 2016, 07:39:45 AM »
Thanks for the replies and the encouragement! I've kept thinking about this game, especially after watching Stranger Things which, like, yeah, that's what this is.

Actual work on the game has been almost non-existent as I've been busy with other projects but this has been percolating in the back of my head as something I want to get back to, but I think I need more experience with PbtA games before I can finish it. Fortunately I've been able to play a little Monsterhearts, and I'm in a PbP Masks game that is just starting up and if things turn out right I'll get to run Masks face-to-face as well. Fingers crossed.

In short, your input is appreciated and very useful. Thanks again!