I had the idea for Slime Story around 2006, while I was playing Maple Story (which, somehow, is still running, so it’s had a lifespan that’s virtually unheard of in free-to-play games). It’s a Korean-made MMO/sidescroller hybrid, and thanks to spending a couple dollars on cosmetic equipment I had a girl walking around in a pleated skirt and raglan shirt, whacking monsters with a spiked club thing while listening to music on her headphones. That image became Rita (pictured to the right), who in turn became kind of a signature character for the setting. She’s an archetypal Slime Story monster hunter, and she has a popular video blog about monster hunting.
The setting is a world like ours, except that 10 years ago one-way portals opened up all over the world, dropping these MMO-like monsters into the world. It turned out that certain pieces of these monsters were useful for various purposes, from weapons to obscure industrial uses to healing potions. In many places the portals became the property of corporations or warlords, but in other places subcultures of monster hunters have popped up. In small-town America, monster hunters are mostly teenagers looking for spending money or just something to do. A company called Monster Mart has dominated the business side of monster hunting, and is the easiest place to do trade-ins and buy monster hunting gear.
It took a while for it to come together, but the first full Slime Story RPG I wrote had a manuscript of some 47,000 words. It more or less worked, but it wasn’t ever quite right, and I didn’t know how to fix it. As soon as I entertained the idea of making it as a Powered by the Apocalypse game, it started to fall into place. The first thing that really made it for me was the idea of dividing fights into mobs and raids, and handling mobs with a few quick die rolls–the “fight mobs” move. The previous game had fairly detailed combat for every single fight, whether against a dangerous dragon or mopping up slimes, and the whole concept of “summarizing” some fights is I think something I’m going to be playing with a lot in the future. It’s winding up owing a lot to Monsterhearts, but then my game is about teen drama too, albeit with a bit more of a Kevin Smith vibe, or maybe Rainbow Rowell if you prefer. Where Dragon World has a lot of my usual verbosity, so far Slime Story has a lot more of the economical writing style of Apocalypse World and Monsterhearts, which I think fits.
The big thing I realized is that deep down Slime Story is going to be a commentary on how geeks socialize. Recent events in gaming have certainly been food for thought in that respect, and I’ve been thinking a lot about the contrast between what people are saying on the surface and what lies beneath. A lot of the harassment and such we’re seeing happening seems to be rooted in a fear of marginalization, for example. Which isn’t to say that geeky relationships are always bad–far from it. It’s also about friendships formed through common interests, I think. It fits into the “being human together” thing I’ve been talking about to the point where I added “Be human together” to the list of Agendas.
The setting presents monster hunting as a hobby scene and a fandom. That creates kind of a terrarium where we can look at an artificial model of a fandom, and play around with it at the distance that creating fiction allows. How that’s going to play into the actual game is something I need to think about more, but in the setting I’ve built up monster hunting has its own weird little subculture. There’s stuff like a nerdcore rap artist called who does monster hunting songs, a documentary about hunting a dragon in New England, a middling MMO based on monster hunting that’s influenced the terminology of the hobby scene, and MonsterCon, a yearly con held at the Los Angeles Convention Center. It has its perennial issues (especially when it comes to their weird relationship with regular game hunting and firearms) and identity politics and so on. But being a physical activity mostly available in small towns (in cities portals tend to fall under the purview of companies or the authorities), it can develop more distinctly on a local level, like some kind of larp community stretching across the daily lives of a town.
Putting together character options is proving to be a really interesting exercise, since it’s a setting that cleaves a lot closer to reality that what I’m used to dealing with, and involves thinking about how people are in real life, trying to distill things down without resorting to caricature. That’s how I’ve ended up with things like the Geek’s “Looks” section turning out like this:
- Nerdy T-shirt, worn T-shirt, or swag T-shirt
- Overweight, scrawny, or average
- Thick glasses, no glasses, or stylish glasses
One thing I’ve had to do is rethink the selection of cliques. I decided to keep the concept of characters having a clique and a class from the old version of the game (though it’s required some tweaks to make it work in the PbtA framework). Your class is how you fight monsters, whether with a sword (fighter), a bow and arrows (ranger), with cunning ambushes (ninja), etc., while your clique is how you function socially. Cliques were originally a set of stereotypes (Average, Geek, Jock, Popular, Punk, Weirdo), but I felt the game needed the cliques to reflect who a character is rather than the label being attached to them. A person who identifies as a “punk” could act like the queen bee, a “jock” could be a stereotypical bully, but could equally be really nice, or just really focused on self-perfection. (This also helps avoid having clique stuff overlap too much with class stuff.) The compactness of the playbook type format also makes it easier to make more of them, and it’s easier to keep from setting myself the task of squeezing out an inordinately long list of Talents for each splat.
For the time being I’ve settled on 8 classes and 8 cliques, just enough to cover some basics and fit in a couple oddballs in each category. While the cliques include the Geek and the Rebel, they also include the Touched, which is someone who’s started to commune with the slimes. This came straight from a Slime Story novel I want to write some day (“Slime Story: The Song of Michael”), and it generally plays into how the word “slime” being in the title is in fact really significant. The selection of classes meanwhile kept the ones in the old version of the game, but add the Mastermind (basically a leader/warlord type class) and the Tank (which is indeed a tank/defender).
Anyway, that’s about where I am with it right now. I’ve got my copies of Apocalypse World and the pocket Pokedex book on my desk to look to for ideas.