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Tough choices and personal sacrifice ... just a few topics in my new role-playing game

by Tova Naslund,
11 January 2016

I've always loved telling stories and that's part of the reason why I chose to study Creative Writing at Roehampton. I'm also a massive fan of role-playing games (RPGs) and as of December 2015, I got to combine my passion for both when I was given the chance to work with Pelgrane Press on their anthology of table-top roleplaying games.

For anyone who isn’t familiar, role-playing games are a form of collaborative storytelling, where each person plays a character and describes the actions they take. The kind of RPGs I enjoy are often small, independent, and have simple rules that drive the narrative. You play these by getting a group of people around a table and shape a story through discussions about what the characters are doing, how they react to the world around them and the conflicts within it. Think of it as improvised radio theatre to get a sense of what it's like.

This all came about because I joined the London Indie RPG group as soon as I moved to the UK, where I had the chance to meet Cat Tobin, Managing Director at Pelgrane Press. She told me about her project and asked me to pitch game ideas to her, and I'll never forget when I received her email saying that she wanted me to turn one of them into a game. I looked so happy sitting in a café after I found out that a stranger who sat next to me couldn't help smiling herself.

Seven Wonders

The anthology is called Seven Wonders and it features small, stand-alone games from new, aspiring game designers. My game is called Acceptable Losses. It's a family drama about a group of siblings trying to survive in a dystopian future. Buildings are self-sustaining and large enough to house hundreds of thousands of people. The rich live on the upper floors while the maintenance workers live on the lower floors in slum-like conditions, and spend their days reinforcing the walls. The siblings are a few days away from being evicted from their apartment and sent down a floor. The question this game explores is what they will do in order to revoke the eviction, and if someone takes the chance to pursue their own best interest. So it's about tough choices, personal sacrifice, and family worth.

Making the game has been a 10-month long process of writing and designing a rules system for conflict resolution, not to mention all the play-testing I've done. It was the biggest challenge I've had so far, but I was passionate enough to put in the work required. There were so many meaningful moments during the process that made it was all worth it though, like when I ran the games with close friends who had never done role-playing before, and seeing how they got it, and understood my enthusiasm about not only the game but role-playing games in general.

This project has given me an invaluable insight into what a design process looks like in publishing, as I've been involved in each step of the process. I've had several Skype meetings with Cat where she's given me feedback for me to work on and improve the game. I now have the knowledge, experience and support to start a new project and my head is buzzing with loads more inspiration.

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