I’m still just amazed at how far Magical Burst has gone already as an unfinished free PDF. I think some of that is that there’s a very solid niche of anime fans who want RPGs of stuff that the RPG industry just doesn’t understand or cover. It’s not hard to find forum threads where people are trying to start up a magical girl game, but pre-Cel*Style it feels like with a couple exceptions the RPG industry’s forays into anime have basically been BESM and mecha stuff. I think it really lends credence to my contention that anime inspiration is vastly under-utilized in tabletop RPGs, and too many of the efforts that have been made have been tone deaf about anime as seen by people who actually care about and understand it. I don’t know how the numbers really line up, but if there can be a Leverage RPG, there sure as hell can be a Madoka Magica RPG.
Although I do want to make a pretty book out of Magical Burst (and try to capture some of the amazing artistic style of Madoka Magica’s witches and such), I’ve decided I’m also going to take a cue from Christian Griffen’s Anima Prime and keep having a free version of the game available. If I’m going to be spending money getting lots of art and such done I will need to make some amount of money from the whole thing, but I’m realizing that getting the game into people’s hands is the more important thing. In that respect this is a really successful game already, and it’s given me a lot to think about with regard to how I pursue RPG design in the future. I tossed up a rough draft with parts that make me wince (though I like to think it has some good ideas in it regardless), and it’s getting tons of actual play, with people invariably pitching it as a Madoka game. Also, with people already doing things like adapting the rules for Persona I most definitely want to encourage hacking.
I’m reminded of something I once said at a panel, which is that the guy who’s always hiding his game and making people sign NDAs and getting copyright paperwork done and stuff doesn’t usually produce anything worthwhile, while the guy who’s running around showing his game to people and thereby making it better is much more likely to have a great game in the end. Now that I think about it, that’s something I need to try to live up to more. Certainly Magical Burst wouldn’t be anywhere near as far along without all the feedback I’ve gotten.
The other day Ryan Macklin put up a blog post titled “Action Sequences are Conversations,” which I think points at the heart of where I’ve been dissatisfied with the combat system in Magical Burst. In dealing with fight scenes in RPGs in general I’ve often felt trapped between the extremes of a tactical sub-game (which is what I have in place right now) and noodly stuff that takes a lot of GM and player finesse to actually work well. I do enjoy throwing down with some D&D4e, but I feel that tactical combat just isn’t the right fit for a game like Magical Burst where the point is to build up to a certain melodramatic mood. Ryan Macklin’s post is about having action sequences be a conversation with rules that serve to moderate that conversation, and I think that’s the mental model I was missing while trying to grope towards what I want out of battles in Magical Burst. I want the conversation to be the primary thing, and for this game I don’t want a fight breaking out to yank you out of the normal flow of conversation. I think that’s what I wanted to do all along, but I didn’t know how to articulate it, much less design it. I don’t know how these ideas will really shake out, especially since when I try to figure stuff out in my head every time I move one part of the rules a bunch of others start to shift and look precarious. The fourth draft may end up looking pretty different, but then I’m realizing that that’s just how I design games.
Today I’m starting re-watching Madoka Magica to try to get a better feel for how the action flows. Reading Macklin’s ideas for Gun n Fuck I knew specific ideas inspired by Jason Statham movies weren’t what I needed. I want something that gets people narrating stuff like Mami going to town with her magical flintlock rifles or Kyouko’s spear splintering the concrete. Over on Google+ Ben Wright pointed out that the flow of action in Hong Kong movies bears very little resemblance to the turn-taking that’s all but universal in RPGs. I don’t know if I have the design chops to make that notion a part of Magical Burst, but I think it rings true in how fights typically work in anime too. Engaging an opponent means more than just taking a potshot at them, and characters don’t always get a chance to act, especially if they’re fighting an overwhelming opponent. I’m not yet sure what this is all going to look like, but I think fights in Madoka Magica have a rather small number of exchanges to them, and are present exactly as much as needed to drive the story.
Also on my to-do list is to formulate better advice and play procedures to help give the game the kind of mood and style it calls for. In large part that means the GM needs to come up with different story elements to use to mess with the PCs, and put them in at the right pace, in a manner very much like Kickers and Bangs.
So, that’s where I’m at right now. I’m getting really excited about this game all over again, and I’m about ready to dive back into intensive design work.
Persona seems to be another one of those properties where a solid tabletop RPG is something of a holy grail for a whole lot of people, with or without the serial numbers filed off. (And now I move “Finally play Persona 3” up a bit on my to-do list…)
And it’s the kind of thing I aspire to create myself with Slime Story/Quest. I could probably write a whole other blog post on why I like 4e’s combat despite not liking most board games or war games, but in short I think that both the “no winners and losers” thing and putting the “game” part into the context of an ongoing story are vitally important to me.